Category: Personal

The Statistics of Shidduchim: An Updated Case Study in Futility

Back in 2011 I wote a post called “The Statistics of Shidduchim – A Case Study In Futility” in which I tried to quantify my experience in the Jewish dating world. I personally don’t keep a log of all the times I’ve been set up or how dates have gone, but I do have a an account on a website which does just that (more or less).

Since I’m approaching my 5-Year Aliyahversary, I thought I’d take a look and see if anything changed in Israel.




Maintaining the Rabbinic Figure

About a year ago I tweeted the following, kind of as a joke, but not really:

And indeed I did. I think this was the first time since I moved to Israel that I had a burger at a kosher McDonald’s.1 And, as expected, the nutritionist put me on a new diet which restricted my options. With one year down, let’s see how it worked.




One Year Aliyahversary

On August 12, 2014 I landed in Israel as a new immigrant, beginning, a new chapter in my life. For many Olim Aliyah can be a formative change, but this is not something I have experienced yet. Not that I’m surprised, after all, a new chapter is just an extension of the same book.

There isn’t much more to add since my Half Year Aliyahversary. The main “goals” for my first year have been met. I’m employed, and finally found a place to live in Nachlaot. Work takes still up most of my time 1, and I’ve been able to continue learning/reading on the commute. 2 I have started thinking about “what next,” which I confess is a bit difficult, especially with limited time and energy. I’ll probably try new things, take periodic breaks from others, and deal with the unexpected as best as I can.

In other words, nothing too exciting either good or bad, just a continuation of life as I know it.

Notes:

  1. As jobs tend to do.
  2. I’ve kept up with DafYomi thanks to Koren’s fantastic Talmud PDFs and according to Goodreads I’ve finished 28 books so far this year. כן ירבו




Not Much to Say

One recurring theme on this site is that no matter how busy or neglectful I’ve been, I usually try to force myself to write something on my birthday. This isn’t always a bad thing; having artificial standards or deadlines can be useful for getting myself out of my head and produce something. But the truth is, right now I’m tapped out. I’ve got nothing.

Years back when I created this site as a personal platform, I made a conscious effort to contribute a unique perspective which was otherwise going unstated. Barring that, at the very least I didn’t want to contribute to the noise on the web. 1 Unfortunately, noise has historically been the coin of the realm on the internet, and social media has only inflated its value.

If you follow me on Facebook you might have noticed I’ve been relatively quiet as of late, particularly with everything going on in Israel in the past few days. Israel generally evokes heightened emotions, which are thrown into overdrive any time there are tensions. Invariably, the discourse is one of attacks, defensiveness, and counterattacks, based more on partisanship than principle. I’ve seen people who regularly condemn “all Arabs” pleading for nuance and understanding that a few lone individuals do not act in the name of the whole. I’ve also seen some of the most vitriolic statements coming from people who in other circumstances, religiously call for “compassion.” 2

Now, I’m fully aware I have a hyper-sensitivity for hypocrisy, or any sort of intellectual dishonesty when people tell others how to think or act. I don’t expect people to be fully consistent, and I’m much more ok with it when it’s kept to themselves. People are free to work out their own issues. However, my alarms go up the moment someone tells someone else what’s best, right, proper, in an attempt to get another person to change their behavior to conform accordingly. This is compounded by the total lack of awareness and empathy captured by the Golden Rule, “what is distasteful to you, don’t do to others.” I’m also fully aware that people generally don’t appreciate when you point these sorts of things out, which means people will just continue talking past each other. Frankly after a while, it simply becomes exhausting.

I’m not giving up on writing or on any of my other quixotic quests, but with managing a full-time job with Aliyah, 3 I’ve decided to spend more time observing on the sidelines and choose my windmills more carefully.

Notes:

  1. For those who don’t remember the J-Blogging days, imagine all your friends’ posts as separate web pages.
  2. I call this phenomenon, “weaponized compassion” where individuals care less about compassion itself than being the authorities determining when it should be granted or withheld. Alternatively, refer to the Book of Armaments Chapter 2, “O Lord, bless this thy hand grenade, that with it thou mayst blow thine enemies to tiny bits, in thy mercy.”
  3. Especially no Sundays




Flying the Flag of Failure

After several weeks of intense fighting in Israel and Tisha B’Av fast approaching 1 celebrations will be be more subdued this year. 2 In a sense it’s kind of fitting given how eventful this past year has been for me personally. As I announced last March, I left my position as Rabbi at the Stanton Street Shul to make aliyah. 3

While friends have been very encouraging, supportive, and congratulatory regarding this significant life change, I’m not sure how many people realize that this past year for me, in many respects, was marked by some pretty significant failures. Some of these are public knowledge; I got priced out of my neighborhood, and other professional and academic pursuits did not end in success. Other failures have been more private (at least for the time being) though to be sure no less spectacular.

If there’s a difference in myself at 37 is that I no longer equate failure in specific endeavors with failure in life, nor must failure necessitate feelings of regret. At some point this past year, I realized that virtually all the times I’ve set out to do something specific, I’ve either failed or otherwise come up short. In contrast, the most amazing experiences I’ve had were more often the result of serendipity/hashgacha or otherwise things I never would have imagined, let alone intended. 4 This by no means demonstrates that my efforts were worthless, only that work with one goal in mind frequently opened up opportunities I had never considered. 5

Thus as I turn 37 I am proudly flying my flag of failure, the “דגל הבל” if you will. 6. And as I venture off into the great unknown of Israel, I look forward to the many varieties of new failures I have yet to experience, having full faith that in the end, וַיִּהְיוּ כַּטּוֹב, the ultimate results, while unintended, will be just as good. 7

Notes:

  1. The “Sad Trombone” does not constitute impermissible music during the 9 days.
  2. At least I can fulfill Ecc. 7:2 and Ecc. 7:4, and you know it’s a Good Time whenever you’re following Ecclesiastes.
  3. Lots of people have been asking me the same questions so I’ll save some time: My flight leaves next Monday August 11th landing in Israel Tuesday August 12th, I’ll be staying in Arnona, Jerusalem with my parents until I find a job, at which point, I move to wherever it makes sense based on the job location and my budget. I’ll initially be looking for tech jobs as there are more positions which tend to pay better, but I’m open to all possibilities. More on that later in this post.
  4. My trip to Medellin Colombia comes to mind.
  5. דער מענטש טראַכט און גאָט לאַכט / Man plans, God Laughs
  6. Not a literal translation, but in addition to the rhyme, the gematria of “דגל” and “הבל” are both 37.
  7. Both “כַּטּוֹב” and “וַיִּהְיוּ” also have the gematria of 37. Incidentally, the gematria feature alone is why lazy rabbis ought to splurge for the Bar Ilan.




Ep. 151 Levaya / Funeral for My Grandfather, Mayer Bender (Meir Yechiel ben Moshe Ephraim V’Leah)

“It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice”
Sign in LBC Clothing

Dear Friends,
This past Thursday, April 10th 2014, 10 Nissan in the Hebrew Calendar, my grandfather Mayer Bender Meir Yechiel ben Moshe Ephraim v’Leah passed away at the age of 94. The following is an audio recording of the funeral, in which you will hear in detail just what an exceptional person he was. Those who knew him invariably loved him, and I consider myself privileged to have had a relationship with him, and honored to have been his grandson.

Levaya / Funeral for My Grandfather, Mayer Bender (Meir Yechiel ben Moshe Ephraim V’Leah)




It’s Time

Dear Friends and Loyal Readers,
In shul this past Shabbat I formally announced my intentions to the community to step down as Rabbi of The Stanton St. Shul with the intentions of making Aliyah this summer. 1 For those who know me the decision to make Aliyah itself should not be surprising. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while, my immediate family is all there, and of course it’s a religious obligation. 2 But making Aliyah is still a huge step. It’s probably the only time where you can give up a career, family, friends, security, and the entire life you knew for a completely uncertain future and people will still wish you “Mazal Tov” for doing so. 3 The question for me is less a matter of “why” than it is “why now?”

Notes:

  1. Ideally on the August 11th Nefesh B’Nefesh charter flight from JFK, though I’ve learned from experience nothing is final until it’s in writing.
  2. See M. Ketubot 13:11 and B. Ketubot 110b. For an interesting halakhic fact, according to Rabbinic Judaism the halakhic consequence for a woman not wanting to make Aliyah with her husband is that she gets divorced and loses her entitlement to her husband’s estate as defined in her ketubah. This is the exact same consequence if a married woman goes out without a head covering (M. Ketubot 7:6). While it is undoubtedly easier to put on a hat than it is to move to another country, women’s head covering has ironically become an identifier of religious commitment among Orthodox Jews, at least in America.
  3. Tell your parents you’re going to become a rodeo clown and see how that works.




Birthday Thanks

הָפַכְתָּ מִסְפְּדִי לְמָחוֹל לִי פִּתַּחְתָּ שַׂקִּי וַתְּאַזְּרֵנִי שִׂמְחָה
You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy
Psalms 30:11

Dear Loyal Readers,
Normally when I do my annual birthday post I tend to write something observational, reflective, or otherwise “rabbinic” on turning a year older. This year when I sat down to collect thought I not only ran out of ideas for the usual theme, but it occurred to me that the usual theme couldn’t quite capture what this past year has been for me.

Without getting into details, this past year was not easy and in fact most of it was quite difficult. I admit when it comes to personal struggles I’m usually stubborn and used to going at things alone, but this year that proved impossible. In short I was only able to make it through some painful periods with the help of some important people who took a particular interest in maintaining my well being. Cliche` or not the truth is I really could not have done it without you.

I cannot thank you enough and I hope I can justify your faith me.

Josh




Modesty Mussar For Rabbis

With the topic of tznius/modesty buzzing around the Orthodox Jewish world I wanted to share a brief but personally significant story from my rabbinical school days. In 2001-2002 I was in my third year of semikhah and fortunate enough to study in Yeshiva University’s Gruss Kollel in Bayit Vegan. It is perhaps one of the most unappreciated perk of YU’s rabbinical school in that accepted students pay they way to Israel but get free room and board, allowing for greater focus for one’s studies.[1. Academically it was a wonderfully productive year for me. I completed Yoreh Deah, 4th Year Halakhah Lema’aseh, and a triple Revel paper.] The dorms are not what you’d consider “new” with relatively thin walls, thinner doors and apartments stacked on top of each other,[2.Yes, I know that’s how apartments work, just using an expression.] My year of the 30 or so students only 9 were single, while the rest were married rabbinical students, some with children.

One day after our regular Yoreh Deah class, the Rosh Yeshiva called us in to give us some mussar. There was a concern that husbands and wives from other couples were socializing excessively with each other. After all, the Torah teaches “Be Holy” (Lev. 19:2 which Ramban interprets as “הוו פרושים מן העריות ומן העבירה” – separate yourself from illicit behavior and sin, and so forth.

I will stress here that I am/was unaware of any incident which could be classified in any way as inappropriate. Most of the kollel couples knew each other before coming and the relatively cloistered environment would understandably lead to inter-socialization. And even the Rosh Yeshiva had mentioned that he wasn’t responding to anything in particular, but was just making a general observation and expressing a concern.

Strictly speaking, this concern is not entirely unjustified. M. Avot 1:5 states explicitly, “Do not talk excessively with women. This was said about one’s own wife; how much more so about the wife of one’s neighbor” and B. Nedarim 20a explains that it is because this speech will lead to adultery.

Something else occurred to me at that time. The audience here consisted of rabbinical students who would at some point venture into communities as actual rabbis, which at some point would entail talking to women. One would hope that rabbis ought to be able to converse with female constituents without viewing them as sex objects, and if there were any doubt on this point then perhaps they ought not remain rabbinical students. If there was any concern of the moral integrity of the future rabbis of America, then perhaps we had bigger problems on our hands.

But it also occurred to me that it is precisely because of the nature of our profession that this mussar was appropriate. Most professional rabbis have countless interactions with congregants or students. If a rabbi is particularly outgoing or friendly, it is not inconceivable for a conversation to be interpreted in a way other than what was intended.[3. While rabbinic scandals do happen these are a negligible percentage compared to the rabbinate at large.] In short, if interpersonal boundaries are important for Jews, they are much more so for professional rabbis.

I do not know if this was the message the Rosh Yeshiva actually intended, but it was an important lesson nonetheless.




When I Was A Lad

Thoughts on turning 34

I believe I’ve passed the age
Of consciousness and righteous rage
I found that just surviving was a noble fight.
I once believed in causes too,
I had my pointless point of view,
And life went on no matter who was wrong or right.
Billy Joel, “Angry Young Man

 

This year’s birthday post will probably be an improvement over last year’s, which in retrospect was kind of depressing. To be sure, it reflected where I was at the time and if anything conveyed a sense of forced optimism. While today I don’t feel a sense of enthusiams or exhilaration, I can honestly say I’m much calmer – perhaps even using the term “stable.”

The funny thing is that nothing specific happened this past year to account for any significant change in mood. Of the two major life issues of family and career there has been little progress if not outright setbacks; my fultile experiences in blind dating are now well documented and I faced the disappointment of not getting into PhD programs.

So what happened?

My best guess is that while in the past I’ve tended to obsess about the “big questions,” this year I’ve been working on handling the smaller, immediate, and more controllable issues which come up every day. Instead of viewing each decision as an immensely important life defining choice, I realize while all actions have repurcussions few result in the dire consequneces I would sometimes imagine. It’s not that things aren’t important anymore, it’s just that I’m seeing things from a new perspective.

In short, I think I’ve mellowed in my old age.

I’m only partially joking here. Despite what the AARP thinks, I know that 34 isn’t really “old” (though I suppose it’s relative). But I do think that at 34[1. “לד” in Hebrew, hence the gematria inspired title of this post with the bonus Gillbert and Sullivan reference, FTW.] I’m starting to approach life differently. It’s not that I don’t have priorities, goals, or dreams,[2. I’m still clinging to my delusions of academia] but I am reevaluating exactly how to accomplish them and manage the inevitable disappointments, keeping in mind that life is much bigger than anything I can imagine.

I have no idea how long this new attiude will last or if it will help result in any of the meaningful changes to which I still aspire, but I can guess that I’m going to find the process much more enjoyable.

And of course, I have my friends and Loyal Readers along for the ride.