Thursday, April 29, 2010

new song!!!

the few people who follow this blog are probably well aware, but...
ben wallick, the wonderful producer/singer/songwriter, and i have put out a new song, called "your body's like the aibishter" (video here)
and it's awesome
the aibishter is another way of referring to god
and my neologism appears and is defined in the video. however, for better formatting and whatnot -- and because i love to show off -- i'm posting the definition here, too.

beau‧ti‧frum /ˈbjuːtɪfrʊm/ [< English beauty AND < Yiddish frum pious, devout.]
(1) At once possessing the qualities which constitute beauty, and conforming to strictly orthodox Jewish laws.: a. of people. b. of objects, actions, or phenomena.
(2) pej. Excelling in grace of form and other qualities which call forth admiration, albeit relative to fellow pious Jews.
(3) (a) Of or relating to those females who cover their elbows and dance to music, provided there is a barrier between them and males.
(b) Of or relating to a good Jewish girl.
(4) rare Of or relating to everyone at Pardes.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Anatomy of a Mockery

"All censure of a man’s self is oblique praise. It is in order to show how much he can spare. It has all the invidiousness of self-praise, and all the reproach of falsehood." - Samuel Johnson, quoted in James Boswell's "The Life of Samuel Johnson"

Last week, I attended a wedding. The bride's family and mine have been close for a long time; needless to say, my sisters and I were invited. Over the years, at Shabbat meals and semahot, I've gotten to know -- or at least recognize -- many of this family's relatives.

In the inter-'od-yishama,' food-getting period, when I and a certain young man were passing each other, we both stopped for what to me was an obligatory hello. He is married to the first cousin of the bride, and he was dressed in a black hat and a long beard; the smile on his face was genuine. I can't remember if he asked me what I did or if I was in school. I know he asked my age, and I told him. Twenty-two. Then, perhaps inevitably...

"Are you looking for a shidduch?"

My response came immediately: "Nooooooo." (If I were writing in pinyin, I'd write "Nó"; I didn't say the word very loudly, but I said it with a distinctly rising tone, beginning with my head down and lifting my chin on the follow-through. Ok, I think I've about overdone this image.)

A few moments pass, as the unexpected, irreverent, obnoxious response registers. I then said, (something like) "I know I'm supposed to say something like 'thank you,' but... [trail off]" And it was over.

Immediately afterward -- hell, even now, as I write this almost a week later -- I was glad, maybe even proud. It's hard to explain the emotion, because it was mostly a hop-up-and-down, yesssssssssss feeling, as if I'd done something so awkwardly magical, so brave, so clever. What a great story this will make! Let me text everyone!

But... alas.

Background time. It's not so much for having grown up in Flatbush that I so hate Flatbush; it's much more for having spent my young adulthood here. So the topic of dating and shidduchim and marriage is one I've long since thought, emoted, upchucked, and spoken (debated?) about. Still, was I making a point? NO! I would be lying to myself (and whoever my audience happens to be) if I claim to have taken some sort of principled stand for all that is moderate and normal and righteous. I wasn't. I lashed out from an insecure place, an aggressive place, a disingenuous place, and mocked this (I'm assuming) well-meaning dude.

Some more background. In the last year.5+, I've lost my religion, so to speak. Or not so to speak... I don't observe Jewish law, and I certainly don't affirm any of the various faith declarations I was educated to affirm. I am an apostate, I suppose. (A nice-sounding word, that. Uh-pah-steyt.) This leaves me in a particularly uncomfortable position in the Orthodox world. The trouble is, this dude had no way of knowing this. I mean, granted, I wore a kippah serugah; so, nu, he's modern, ach veis nisht, i know a mizrachi girl! So here I was, in my Ortho get-up at an Ortho wedding, being asked by an unknowing Ortho guy, effectively, if I'm doing what Ortho guys my age do... but I messed it up. I mocked the idea, the institution; and I mocked this man. Now, I have plenty to say on the idea and the institution, mostly bad. (Sorry.) But that's not where I was coming from.

In turns I've felt like a jerk, a hero, and a harmless nobody -- come on, as if this guy went home and cried about our exchange -- about how I dealt with it. And I ask myself, would it be better -- for me, for the questioner, for the oylam -- if I play the part of the religious-but-not-ready guy? "Thanks so much, but I'm really not looking right now. B'ezrat Hashem, when the time comes..." I'd feel like an ass. Am I, then, honest (and justified) if I mock the question and the institution, etc.?

Other things to say. No more for now. Thoughts?


Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Pre-Manifesto

I'm thinking a bit about graduate school these days. I don't mean "a bit" as a euphemism, or as stylistic placeholder, in that sentence; I really mean I'm thinking about it a little bit.
Five years ago, I was going into my last year of high school, and I was thinking a LOT about college: where I wanted to go (probably Columbia, but I hadn't yet seen the disarming apparent Jewtopia that is Penn), how I'd do on the SATs, which electives I'd take, how I'd pay for it, what I'd write my essay(s) about, what I'd major in, what I'd say I'd major in, &c. &c. &c.
There were of course other things on my mind -- girl(s), sports video games, general off-and-on misery; the usual -- but college was really all there was.
So after one year of finding myself -ish and three years of transcript-building (and -demolishing), more or less always assuming I'd head into the world of the academy, because a) I like reading and fancy myself an intellectual, albeit a meek one; b) being in school is much less taxing, having-responsibilities-wise, than most anything else; and c) for various reasons good and bad, I cannot really think of any other path. But, at the same time, I don't really want to follow that path as much as I thought I would...
On the cusp of my senior year, therefore, I am tugged at by a bunch of different (maybe irreconcilable) goals and needs, and am unsurprisingly as lost as I've ever been, with the stakes raised to levels that seem almost unfair.
For one thing, I need -- stress on NEED -- to get the hell out of OrthoJew-dom, ASAP. The urgency of this cannot be overstated. Basically, I'm not part of the 'faith community' (if I'd validate Brooklyn enough to call it either a community or an entity in any way related to faith), and I certainly don't share any of the values flying around these parts. And living away from home would probably be good for me.
Second, I need at least one good friend. I learned a few things in my yeshivah year -- e.g., Bnei Akiva-brand Religious Zionism is crazy, Americans can be crazier, Tanakh can be cool, it's really fun to really acquire a language -- but none more strongly (in this connection) than the fact that I can't get by without friends. (This knowledge was reinforced in a big way by my experience in China almost two years ago. I was lonely, and my having a girlfriend -- she wasn't there with me, but my being in a relationship at all -- didn't help as much as I would have thought.)
Third, I need to have books close at hand, and outlets for talking about them. Working on/picking up a language would be a big plus.
Fourth, I need to have some kind of Jewish involvement. I don't know if this means socially or intellectually or emotionally or communally or what, but something. This doesn't mean kosher food or minyan, per se -- God knows that's no sticking point -- and it probably doesn't mean MO-issue discussion group; but whatever it is, even if it means a Judaic Studies section of a library, or an occasional Kabbalat Shabbat service, I'm pretty sure I'll need something Jewish. This may just be a manifestation of a conservative-religious-identification-holdout strain, but I'm really not that good at getting myself.
Fifth, I'd like to figure out some kind of career-ish path, and do something that'll help me get there. I'm not feeling super-invested in this at the moment, but I feel it's not something I should ignore completely.
... So what to do? The options are as follows: I can look for entry-level jobs in writing- and editing-related fields (maybe publishing, maybe journalism-type), if such things are available. Or I can look for teaching positions in middle America or Europe or elsewhere (Goob sent me this site for teaching English in Korea). I can look into graduate programs in history, Judaic studies, religious studies, geography, education, or whatever else humanities/teaching types would be into. I can look into shorter-term programs like Yeshiva University's Revel Graduate School, where I can get a Master's in Medieval Jewish History. I can move to Wisconsin, look for work in a diner or library or congressman's office, and live in an apartment that will surely be cheaper than just about anything in New York.
That's what I've got so far.
Pretty lame blog post, if you ask me...

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Self-Image (1)

Note: Remember how I said I'd be consistent about maintaining this blog? Well, about that...

The Second Note, or Note II, or NII: I actually first started writing this post weeks ago, with the purpose of lovingly criticizing The New Yorker (2), but it ended up making a better case for a different kind of post.

Introduction, or the Part in Which Something Begins to be Said

I talk to myself.

I talk to myself all the time. I talk to myself in soap and grime. I talk to myself (3) in the shower and in the street. I talk to myself in the rain and in the sleet. I do it when it's night and day. I do it in the grass and hay.

But that's not really the topic of this post (4). The real topic is talking about oneself to oneself, a wholly different phenomenon, as I hope will become clear.

So here's the skinny (5): We peoples, maybe especially we American peoples, have this tendency to talk about ourselves. Our self-esteem needs it (6); our potential enablers of matriculation, suppliers of capital, and lifelong bedfellows demand it (7). But every so often we talk about ourselves to ourselves, and that is where identity and selfhood and [synonyms] are fashioned. These are the times when we reveal to ourselves (and those who drop eaves, and those who lope between, and those who pass tresses and those who hear over) what we see and think and doubt and want. For me at any rate it is often maddening, but it is always productive and instructive.

The Next Part, in Which Something is Supposed to be Said

Self-reflection aside, there is a kind of awesomeness in watching this phenomenon in action. I take particular joy in the moments when I catch people and characters and Institutions in the act of talking about themselves to themselves (8).

One such catch was the following passage from an essay about the late John Updike, in which the writer, speaking (I'll say) for the magazine, reveals in part the self-perception of the character that is The New Yorker (9):

If he gave so much to the magazine, he took something from it, too. He took, and kept, a tone. Updike the humorist is probably the least known or recognizable Updike of them all, but something of the White-cum-Thurber sound of the New Yorker that he joined—that bemused, ironically smiling but resolutely well-wishing, anti-malicious comic tone—lingered in his work till the very end....

He flourished in his early years here... the material of comedy remained implicit in almost every sentence he wrote: the dancing recognition of the likeness of the unlike, the will to treat the organic mechanically... The common sense that regularly inflected his judgments of big writers and dubious ideas had its origins in a humorous tradition, too; in his criticism he caught the notes of Wolcott Gibbs and Brendan Gill as much as those of Edmund Wilson.

And the comic current ran deeper even than that. Despite the lyrical surface of his prose, Updike was a realist, as comedians must be, and never even marginally a romantic. He was genuinely unseduced by all the myths of American romanticism: gorgeous Daisys and vast sinister Western landscapes are equally absent from his books. His girls and women are real, with scratchy pubic hair, and his American landscape of car dealerships and fast-food retreats held no place for doomed, exciting, existential gunmen. He was, for all those perfect shining sentences, a realist; the sentences sing, but they don’t ennoble.

Given how seamlessly he fit here, it’s a miracle that he ever got out; he could have stayed at the magazine, tried out all the chairs, and become a local god. But he did something braver. He fled New York for Ipswich, and then made a bolder journey into writing, absorbing the hardest and highest of the moderns—Proust and Nabokov first of all, but Borges and Henry Green and so many others—without abandoning the old sounds he loved, either.

In writing about Updike, what is really being described is the quintessential New Yorker, the New Yorker as it sees itself -- perfectly balanced, home of the most thoughtful and crafty writers of the generation. The beauty of Updike is the beauty of what a writer should be, of what The New Yorker doubtless is -- humorous but not overly so, creative but never to the point of inviting incredulity, highly attuned to the lives and quirks of normal people and never intolerant or mocking of them -- nuance and subtle brilliance. The monologue that comes out the mouth of the person, kivyakhol (10), of The New Yorker is one that reflects the self-assuredness of the magazine. This is but one monologue, however, and I look forward to catching more such glimpses as I keep reading the magazine. We'll see what else comes up.

The End, in Which I Conclude; or Conclusion, in Which I End

Point is, there's this type of self-interaction that can be illuminating about people and magazines and what-else-not. Being on the lookout for it in others can be an amusing pastime, but applying this kind of self-reflection and -knowledge and -criticism is, I think, the most important thing of all.

Notes, in Which I Ramble and Bore

(1) Honest Injun, this isn't what it sounds like.
(2) I called it "that eternal beacon of literature, Culture, and the left-leaning upper class," going on, "It should be established before I go on that pretense and pretentiousness and suchlike are not to me entirely opprobrious concepts or categories. If anything, my embracing of the style and the worldview that attends it is probably apparent in a way usually not so easily detected in my fellow young, über-exposed, self-righteous, semi-to-very privileged, if genuinely curious, East Coasters. Let it be known, then, that I read The New Yorker (and The New York Review of Books, as well as African literature and all the other things teased by StuffWhitePeopleLike) and enjoy it; I appreciate hyper-vocabularized and -wordplayed writing, and even aspire to successfully do the same in my own; and, I must admit, I can't help but think myself a bit superior to those who fail to exhibit curiousness or humility (ironic, I know; don't stone me) in their opinions or at least an attempt at nuance and some sort of more sober wisdom. Even so, I find what to criticize in The New Yorker, the publication I would die to work for but rather die than work at."
(3) And I don't mean talking-to-yourself-is-one-thing-but-oh-no-dear-sir-having-conversations-with-yourself-is-quite-another talking to myself. I mean full-on talking to myself.
(4) I break that damn fourth wall entirely too much, no?
(5) I don't know where this expression comes from, and I'm vaguely curious, but not enough right now to look it up. At home I have a Dictionary of Cliches, which has been very useful in the past, but I neither have it handy nor do I think it would have this particular phrase.
(6) Mmm, says the blogger.
(7) I hope I'll have some kind of blog-rant on this some day, especially re: the employers and educators.
(8) It's fun and at least a little mind-blowing to find yourself in a discussion that begins with the thought, for example, "Imagine the character of God in Tanakh/the Hebrew Bible/the Old Testament. [Or, Imagine Tanakh as a composite character.] What do you think he's like? What would it say about itself?" The reason this is a footnote is because I had it in the previous version of this post, and it has nothing to do with what I'm trying to do here, and I didn't really want to cut it.
(9) Ahh, that's why it was relevant. Disregard the end of the note above.
(10) Poor translation, from the Hebrew, "as it were" or "if one could say."

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

CAJE Closing

So, according to this page, the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education is closing. I don't know much about the organization -- it sucks when you only find something great when it's too late; or, you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone -- but it seems like they've done great work.
In order to pay off their debts, they're appealing to anyone who can to make tax-deductible donations to help cover their outstanding costs as they close their doors.
Any help will surely be greatly appreciated.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Sonic Itch's Latest (1) (2)

Isaac Raisner and Benjamin Wallick, of Queens' third most popular two-man folk band, Sonic Itch, have released a new song and music video, "How About Me?" Until they get their own show on the Home Box Office network, this may be the best way to follow up on the band's career.
The video can be found here.

(1) Note: Not "most recently deceased." Rather, plainly "more recent."
(2) Isn't this a much better way to footnote than the asterisk craziness?

Friday, January 30, 2009

Post-Shabbat Ruah and Mah-Lo

First Thing's First

I haven't written a post in a while. In fact, I haven't written a post since the first one, which means I haven't written a stitch about my crusades course/program/trip, the ostensible raison d'etre* of this very web log. Here we go!

But first, a note on blogging: I'm inclined to radical honesty in real life,** uncomfortable as that makes me (admittedly) and those around me; in writing, I will only indulge that more, the counseling of those who warn of over-exposure and suchlike be damned. So fret not, dear reader, it's just me, and furthermore, bear in mind that it's all been done before.***

What We Did

Basically, we criss-crossed the Golan and Galil following in the footsteps of Jesus the Nazarene -- or, more accurate if not more to the point, following in the footsteps where some people, mostly more than a thousand years later, thought He had walked and taught and healed and died. So we went to Tabgha (site of the miracle of the loaves and the fishes -- but were there enough dishes?), Capernaum, the Mount of the Beatitudes ("Blessed is the geek, for he will inherit the earth," for example), Golgotha, and other places.

These towns and dig sites tended to have churches and/or ancient synagogues, which had something of a coolness factor, albeit without the expected soul-spirit stuff. At least not for me. In fact, I wasn't even so much plagued by the "why-am-I-not-feeling-anything-am-I-so-numb-and-empty-inside-tLinkhat-I-can't-even-be-moved-by-this?" thing. (I guess that means I have my answer to that question...) The stations of the cross walk in the Jerusalem's City that is Ancient**** was actually incredible. Duh, they may be mis-attributed in a big way, but duh, that's hardly the point these days. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which housed the last few stations, is a study in mixology.***** Every denomination of Christianity lays claim to the Church, so each one controls some part of it. This leads to complications, however... See here, here, and here.
In the church itself, there is a surprising amount of uniformity, though, at least to these eyes: There are icons and altars and pews and candles and halos and maddens aplenty, everywhere you turn. I'm not good at this distinguishing thing. Sorry.

We also saw some crusader stuff. That is to say, most of the places we visited were sort-of-formally established as Christian sites and en-church-ificated during the centuries of crusading. But then there were places that were politically crusader-ish: Nimrod's Castle was pretty sweet, and Lord-of-the-Rings-like in its grassiness and stoniness and battleness. The Horns of Hattin (Qarnei Hittin) was not exciting visually, but the battle that took place there ("when the battle was done, the blood of the dead came up to the knees") was recounted to us in situ, and that was pretty damn cool.

During this time, we were led by our brave professor, Dr. Helen Gaudette, our guide, Tikva, and driver, Cushi. Tikva knows much, leads magnificently, and teaches music fun-ly. Cushi, a settled Bedouin, brought us to his home, where we met his family, ate and drank some, and generally spent an enjoyable afternoon-evening in each other's company. 'Twas nice indeed.

When our tours with Tikva and Cushi were at an end, we relocated to Jerusalem, where we stayed for eight days. There, we dug in our heels (is this an expression?) and geared up for the main part of our course, The Game.****** The Game is a pedagogic tool that reminds me much of skits put on in camp on the Ninth of Ab or in opening tokhnit.******* We the students, in order to form a more perfect crusade (nothing came to mind, guys; my agony over this failure far outstrips yours, believe me), became the Council of Acre in 1148, and were to debate on and decide whether or not to launch the second Crusade, then who would be its leader, then which city would be the first target. Each of our characters had her/his own (secret) agenda, and ze had to obtain hir personal objectives. I was Fulcher, Patriarch of Jerusalem and overseer of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and I had a pretty obvious agenda: I wanted the crusade to happen, I wanted to be chosen as its leader, and I wanted a city other than Damascus to be our target. I only got the first one.
I was a really bad actor, even though I had prepared for the debates and written spanking good essays towards the debates... (We had to write short-ish essays laying out our positions. I didn't sleep much during Jerusalem week. Others slept less. It was grand.) ... Until the second half of the second day, when I whipped out the I-can-be-a-complete-jerk-when-I-need-to-be part of my personality (or, ahem, Fulcher whipped out the ... part of his personality, as you prefer) and destroyed one of the other candidates; and the next day, when I gave the best speech of my entire life, citing our hallowed histories of Middle Earth, specifically the battle at Helm's Deep, when the riders of Rohan came charging down the hill, destroying the orc armies laying siege to the fortress. I feared that, in surrounding Damascus, we'd similarly expose ourselves to the orc-like armies of the savage and clever Nur-ad-Din of Mosul. What I'm trying to get at is, I kicked some war-council-naysaying ass. And it was wonderful. And then my side lost the vote. And it was wonderless. And then The Game, and The Class, was over. And it was wonder-neutral.

Other Things

Honestly, they'll just have to wait. This is long, and the hour is late, and the degrees are few, and the parties are a-waitin'.

The next blog post, I hope, will come sooner than a month from now. And there will be more, or other, than just summaries of things. Thanks, and goodbye!

Notes and Asides, for Your Pleasure

* Yes, yes I did just pull out a pretentious, intelligentsia-employed, high/cultured English (aka , in this case, French) phrase.

** "In real life" denotes in person, as a general rule. Over the course of this program, to my friends and instructors and such, I would often return to this trope, referring to my typical comportment and reception throughout the year, in the company I usually keep. For example, I am less wanting-to-be-and-successfully-being-the-center-of-attention-y in real life than I was in this group; for another, I am found less funny and more ugh-that's-awkward-than-aww-that's-kind-of-endearing-awkward in real life than I was for these three weeks.

*** I like this quote. I can't call to memory where I got it from, but I think it's in at least about five songs. Point is, 'tis true, friends.

**** See previous post. ;-)

***** As in the study of mixing. Not mixing in terms of races or ethnicities or religions or whatever (in other, 11th-grade Jewish history, words, not mischlinge-style), but the way Snapple comes up with new flavors. Anyone remember when Kris accidentally put together a batch of Lemonade and a batch of Iced Tea, thanks to which we have the -- actually a-ma-zing -- Lemonade Iced Tea flavor? No? Well, I guess that is the factum less remembered by, and that has made all the difference.
Also, if so, "a study in mixology" sounds redundant, but isn't. Think about it, a'ight?

****** It should be noted that this does not refer to the The Game as found on Wikipedia, which I just made you lose. (Sucka!)

******* The ninth of Ab is the saddest day in the Jewish year: According to tradition, both Jerusalem temples were destroyed, the decision that Israel would wander in the wilderness for forty years, and various other tragic national events occurred on this date.
Opening tokhnit is the set of plays and things the staff puts on for the campers as they get off the bus at the beginning of the session, setting the tone for the theme and narrative of the coming month.
Point is, they're kind of fun and cute and educational, and they involve role-playing and costumes and, more often than not, replicating some kind of violence. Guten zeiten, yo.