Weekend Wrapup

It’s 3:00 A.M. and I want to go to be-eh-ed…
Ok not exactly, but it took some time to recover from the weekend’s festivities (Monday wasn’t terribly restful either, but that’s another story). It’s really amazing what getting out and hanging with lots of good old friends can do for one’s disposition. The short summary is that everything was energizing, entertaining, and even enlightening at times.
The long version is, well, longer.

Back At The Bridge
It’s always nice to be back in the heights for me. True it’s gotten much bigger, but I’ve got too many connections and too much history to feel intimidated and I can just enjoy being around the old chevras.
As always we had a nice but small crowd at the bridge shul and I was honored to fill in for Rabbi Bloch for the week. It’s always hard for me to get a sense of how my derashot are received, since no one will say to my face that they didn’t like the speech. Still, I tend to think they tend to go over pretty well mostly because I’ve never spoken longer than 10 minutes.1 Why I don’t speak for much longer is a discussion for another time, but I realized this week just how the shorter derashot work better in general. The first and obvious benefit is that it is much easier to keep the congregation’s attention. Even if the speaker is charismatic or the topic is interesting, few people will tolerate long winded sermons.
But I also realized that intentionally leaving out tertiary ideas can be very useful in piquing the interest of the congregation. For example, this past derasha I addressed the issue of attributing events to God’s intervention by comparing Yosef in 45:7 and 50:19 with Pat Robertson’s comments after Sharon’s stroke. Dealing with such theological issues is always challenging, and I could have covered most issues by giving my theodicy shiur. While this would have been more comprehensive I would have lost most of my audience. But by intentionally leaving out anything which did not directly address my primary message2 I had people discussing the derasha afterwards, specifically pointing out what I had “missed.”
You Say You Want A Revolution
The O.A.R. / Matisyahu concert was amazing, strange, and almost didn’t happen since I forgot the ticket at home. Fortunately this small detail occurred to me while on the bus and in somewhat reasonable walking distance from the house such that I was able to get off, walk back, get the ticket, and head out again. Thanks to the monthly bus pass I didn’t even lose the fare, and in the process of all this got some much needed exercise as well.
The concert started surprisingly promptly; the arena was only 1/2 full and still filling when Matisyahu first took the stage. There was a decent sized pop for Matisyahu which was probably more for the concert starting and a fast thumping bass than it was for actual recognition or for the first black hatter to take the stage at MSG since the siyum hashas.
Matisyahu’s performance itself was impressive, but I felt suffered from poor acoustics or a criminal overuse of the “echo” effect. Much of Matisyahu’s skill is in his rapid-fire articulation, but in the cavernous MSG most of his lyrics were unintelligible (at least from the floor). The crowd didn’t really seem to care and really got into the faster songs like King Without A Crown and Close My Eyes, but many around me seemed disinterested with the slower songs.3
For what it’s worth I’m sure Matisyahu’s image is helping his popularity, but he’s definitely got talent and puts on a great show. The band is tight and plays infectious melodies and very worthwhile to hear live at least once. If you’re interested, he’s playing Chicago on March 4th and back in New York on March 7th.
Of course the real reason people were there was O.A.R. whose fans are so devoted that the only way they’d leave disappointed is if O.A.R. started playing Barry Manillow – and even then it’s a toss-up. The set featured a nice mix of the new album Stories of a Stranger and older favorites; the “Oh My-y”5 at the end of the show generated the loudest pop I have ever or will ever hear.6
Sadly, not everyone enjoyed the concert as much as I did. Before the show I was shmoozing with Nice Usher Man who hadn’t heard of either O.A.R. or Matisyahu and was somewhat amazed that these no-names could sell out the Garden. The music didn’t help matters as Nice Usher Man was unimpressed with the tonal quality of the performances: “You kidding me man? I’ve got the Stones coming in two weeks. The [deleted] Stones, man. Ain’t no way this noise compares to The Stones.”
A fair point indeed. Personally, the only negatives I felt were from the social weirdness of being a geeky Rabbi among college hippies and hipsters. I’ve never been the club type and it’s not like either YU or U of C threw such slammin’ parties. It’s more than likely I could use some help in loosening up – one friend even suggested that I get a puppy – or next time I go to one of these things I’m dragging one of my hippier friends along.
Update: The Times has a much more articulate if not unnecesarily cynical review of the concert
Wedding Reunion
Since simchas are private and personal affairs, I normally wouldn’t comment on them. However, Miriam and Oren’s wedding was the most fun I’ve had at a simcha since duct taping Yossi’s huppa to a minivan in Nashville.7 The entire atmosphere was more like an Israeli wedding where people seemed less concerned with silly pretenses and was just happy to be there and be mesameach hatan v’khallah.
The secret to such simcha is the quality of people involved and you’d be hard pressed to find a more special group of people than what we had at U of C.8 Maybe it was because we were so small that everyone was forced to get to know each other, or it could be that being in the “midwest” we could safely ignore the religious politics which often get in the way of collegiate Jewish communities. The point is we had a tight group of people who knew how to get along either as friends or as neighbors. It was so close knit that virtually the whole community found its way to the wedding to the point that we could notice who wasn’t there. Even those who hadn’t seen each other for some time went right back into the old dynamics.
In any event, thanks to you guys for inviting me and everyone else up with whom I was able to catch. It was great seeing everyone again, and I’m already looking forward to the next time.

1. In fact I may have broken my previous record of 9:30 by 15 seconds, but that could be due to my thanking the congregation for having me back.
2. Ask me later.
3. There were of course exceptions. Quite frankly I never expected in my lifetime to see people making out to a Lubavitch rapper and yet, there I was.
4. No recollection on how I found that, however. Check out the previous episodes from 5 and onwards – episode 7 features Macho Man Randy Savage.
5. If you’re a fan you know what I’m talking about.
6. Accounting for the resulting hearing loss.
7. Again, ask me later.
8. It helped that Oren and Miriam had the advantage of having so many mutual friends so instead of the usual limits of 25 for the groom 25 for the bride, you had 50 for both (or more but you get the idea).

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