Category: Personal


Dear Loyal Readers,
It’s been a while since I’ve done a personal post, mostly because there hasn’t been much going on worth reporting. Then again I suppose you could say I haven’t blogged regularly (even by my standards) since I changed jobs in accordance with their internet policies. At any rate this last part is now moot since my position at JPMC no longer exists, i.e. eliminated, downsized, or whatever term is in fashion these days.
While the result is similar to being fired, my current circumstances are really not as severe all things considered other than looking for another job. It was a good run at JPMC – I may be applying to other positions there – and I’m looking forward to resetting priorities and approaching the next challenges and opportunities.
In the meantime, I’m brushing up computer and Rabbinic resumes and hope to use the time productively. Of course any leads would be greatly appreciated…

Christmas In Brooklyn

Like most people, there are some experiences in life I usually try to avoid. Most of the time it’s part of an aversion to some sort of discomfort, usually phusical or psychological. Then there are those aversions which are completely irrational and get their own category:
I call one of them, “Brooklyn.”
I can’t really explain why I get so unnerved in Brooklyn. It could be the multi-million dollar mansions situated in anotherwise aesthetically depressed area, or the overwhelming particular Jewisness of the area one that can only be circularly defined as “Brooklyn.”
Still, all fears must be confronted at some point so yesterday I joined my mother and grandparents on a little errand running excursion to Coney and J. The thinking was that while the rest of New York would be shut down – I can’t remember crusing down the West Side Highway that quickly in midday – Brooklyn would be running along as usual. I didn’t break out into hives or start convulsing, but there were definately some notable Brooklyn highlights:

  • I was in Eichlers and overheard a father and mother (different families) with respective children recently engaged (not to each other) were comparing notes on wedding preperations (ketuvah, “backup tenaim,” etc). In the course of their conversation, the woman complimented the man’s tie. In the spirit of holiday, the man replied, “You like the tie? It’s yours. I can get these for $5.” and proceeded to take off his tie, puts it on the counter, and gives it to the dumbfounded woman.
  • Waiting for my mother and grandmother in one of the Brooklyn dress shops, I noticed that the background music was not only sung by female, but the song was “White Christmas.” I can excuse the vocalist because the only men who would enter the store would presumably already be beyond saving. But regarding the song choice, perhaps they consider it Jewish Music after all.
  • Someone behind the counter of a pizza shop called over a teenager and asked him if he was new in town. The teen said yes and asked how he knew. The man said it was because he noticed that every time the teen got up from a table someone else came and took it, adding with a smile, “you’ve got to be more careful around here – don’t be so trusting.”
  • And finally there was this priceless exchange at the same pizza store with an obviously appreciative customer:

    “God bless Christmas”
    “Yeah, only a Yid could pull this off.”

You know, I may need to take Brooklyn off the list.
Maybe just for Christmas anyway.

How To Miss A Point

One of the things we talked about in the Devar Torah Workshop is that no matter how well you organize your thoughts and how well you deliver your message, there may be people who just won’t get it. They may be distracted, bored, or – let’s be diplomatic here – lacking the ability to comprehend.

Then of course there are those who fall into their own unique category. For one surreal example, this past Shabbat I delivered emergency fill-in devar torah for seudah shlishit, after which I was blamed for the Holocaust.

I suppose some background is in order. For various reasons due to Thanksgiving no one was slated to speak during seudah shelishit. At some point during shaharit I reminded myself that I spoke last year and figured out a way to tweak the old message and even have it tie in to Thanksgiving. Granted, it was not one of my best efforts, but I thought at least it was passable.1

When I went to sit down down, and older gentleman and prominent figure in the shul come over with the obligatory “yasher koach” and asked if I attended the shul’s annual Kristalnacht event. I hadn’t. The gentleman then ranted that no young people came because we have no interest and don’t care about the Holocaust, and had we cared more back then we could have prevented it.

For the moment, let us ignore the specific implication that our current apathy towards shul events precipitated the most horrific genocide in our people’s history. Rather, I simply intended to demonstrate that as admirable of a goal it is for a speaker to connect with the audience, there are times when you should just let it go.

1. Hopefully I will get a chance to write it up at some point.

Great Moments In Package Design

A few weeks back I bought a generic pair of scissors from a downtown Duane Reade. Of the many ways in which a pair of scissors could be packaged, these in particular were attached to a cardboard backing with a metal washer fastening a loop around one of the handles. Thus after tearing off the backing, the loop was still firmly attached like so:

Now if only I had some utensil, device, or mechanism which could sever this superfluous and intrusive connection.
Oh wait….

Rating The Rides

In light of the recent subway outage I actually decided to fill the MTA’s rider report cards for the trains I take most frequently. Overall I’m not terribly impressed with the A’s sporadic service especially during off hours, but I’ve generally found the 2-3 and 4-5-6 to be pretty efficient.
A better question would be if the MTA actually takes these things seriously since there is little incentive to improve. In free market economies competitions drives innovation and a greater concern for customer service as dissatisfied consumers would simply take their business elsewhere. But for many New Yorkers, the MTA is the only realistic option for transportation. Cars are too expensive with purchasing, ownership, insurance, and parking. Cabs and car services are not only expensive but their service is unpredictable depending on the neighborhood. Bicycles are a cheaper alternative, but are more dangerous, require physical stamina, and are impractical for transporting packages. We also cannot ignore the elderly population, many of whom are physically unable to drive or bike or are on fixed incomes and could not afford the other alternatives. Because of people’s dependence on public transit, the MTA could hike fares with only political opposition as opposed to facing a consumer revolt.
Furthermore, I’m skeptical how much the MTA can improve its service. Aside from management being politically motivated, the reliance on union labor and its regulations ensures that even mediocre (or incompetent) employees will be overpaid for as long as possible (not to mention pension obligations).
My guess is that just like every other year the NYPost and Daily News will write a few stories on the pluses and minuses of each line, there will be editorials bemoaning the negatives and life will go on as usual. Then again New Yorkers are never shy about sharing their opinions – usually unsolicited – so go ahead and let them know what you think.
Bonus: Try filling one out in Hebrew or Yiddish.

Speaking on the UWS

This Shabbat I will be speaking once again at Kehilat Rayim Ahuvim on the Upper West Side. The topic will be “The Seven Stages of Consolation” – the first of which I covered regarding Nachamu but will be expanding the theme through more of the shiva dinehemta. True, it’s not quite as irreverent as “Existential Teshuva And The Incredible Hulk,” but it should be no less interesting.
Davening times permitting, it’s called for 11:15 AM at 241 West 72nd Street, 2nd Floor.

A Long Strange Trip

“And that,” put in the Director sententiously, “that is the secret of happiness and virtue – liking what you’ve got to do. All conditioning aims at that: making people like their inescapable social destiny.” Aldous Huxley – A Brave New World p. 16

Like most New Yorkers, I’ve had what could best be described as The Commute From Hell. Thanks to a tornado assisted torrential rain it took me about 5 hours to get from 184th and Bennett to 4 New York Plaza. Normally this is a simple matter of taking the A-Train to Broadway Nassau/Fulton and then the 4/5 to Bowling Green and it takes about 45-50 minutes.
Today’s commute reads more like like one of Billy’s adventures in
Family Circus:

  1. A-Train from 181st stop gets stuck underground for 30-45 minutes, finally reaching 145.
  2. I head topside at 145 to see how the buses are running. After some waiting there I head back down into the subway where the train from which I had disembarked is still parked.
  3. A-Train goes local until 110 or so. I get fed up and walk a few avenues to the 1 line
  4. The 1 not faring much better, I walk to 96th street to hedge bets with the 2/3.
  5. Turns out that line is messed up too, so I take a crosstown bus to try the east side.
  6. Pick up the 6 at 96th and Lex.
  7. Due to the flooding at 59th street, the 6 stops at 68th street prompting a transfer to the N line.
  8. From the N I transfer one more time to pick up the R.
  9. R goes to Whitehall Station which is a block or so from the office

Keeping in mind that all this included numerous delays, slow running trains, packed corners, and hot muggy weather. Total time: just under 5 hours.
Still a few good things came out of it. For one, between both commutes I started and finished Aldous Huxley’s dystopian tale A Brave New World. And keeping a positive attitude during this trek, I did get to meet a whole slew of interesting people whom I’d otherwise have ignored from bankers, lawyers, to a Hofstra PhD student. As a whole people seemed exasperated, but some in better spirits than others. But while I was imagining a transit strike under Bloomber’s theoretical congestion pricing scheme, I was also privy to some of my fellow commuters erudite discourses of civil engineering and political theory, featuring such profundities as “these guys are all morons” and “this is f—ing bulls—t” (an apparent consensus).
O brave new world that has such people in it, indeed.

On Turning 30

There’s something about round numbers that affects people as if the presence of a 0 in the one’s place necessitates additional introspection. To some degree there is a practical element since we tend to count in base 10 so every 10 units serves as a useful metric for evaluation. But in the context of age, our culture attributes certain societal values and expectations to the decades of your life be it 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, etc. such that the turnover can be viewed as an actual benchmark on one’s life. Of these markers, the change from the 20’s to 30’s is perhaps the most significant transition, representing an absolute break from the immaturity of youth to the responsibilities of adulthood.

“Thirty was so strange for me. I’ve really had to come to terms with the fact that I am now a walking and talking adult.” – C.S. Lewis

Depending on one’s personality, this can be particularly depressing. For one it’s likely that no matter who we are we know someone whom we would consider to be “better off” than we are at the same stage, or worse, life may not have met the expectations formulated in our youth. In either case, there can be a sense of lost vitality, opportunity, and idealism. Who we are at thirty is likely who we’ll remain, thus sentencing us to continue our lives as it is – for better, worse, or redundant.

“Life is islands of ecstasy in an ocean of ennui, and after the age of thirty land is seldom seen” – Luke Rhineheart
“The conceptions acquired before thirty remain usually the only ones we ever gain.”
William James

“It is well for the world that in most of us, by the age of thirty, the character has been set like plaster, and will never soften again.” – William James
The boy gathers materials for a temple, and then when he is thirty, concludes to build a woodshed. – Henry David Thoreau
“A poet more than thirty years old is simply an overgrown child.” – H.L. Menckin
However, not everyone is content to go gently into that good afternoon. As Julie Lynem writes:

No one has all of the answers or reaches every goal. The important thing is to keep striving toward one.
So you’re not where you thought you would be at 25, 35, 55 or 65? Everyone’s life plan deviates off course at some point. What matters is that we make the most of the journey.
Now that I’ve turned 30, I’m no longer afraid of what’s in store. Unlike a birthday present, life is not always neatly packaged and tied with a bow.

And indeed some have embraced thirtydom tempering youthful spirit with the maturity from experience. R. Boruch Leff offers more practical compromise:

Indeed, the Talmud (Pirkei Avot 5:26) [sic]1 declares: “At age 30, one receives strength.” This is the strength of character needed to pursue life’s goals. The 20s process of trial and error leads to a more secure decade of the 30s, when a person is focused on true talents, pursuable goals, and genuine accomplishments.
The old cliche is true: A jack-of-all-trades is a master of none. The 20s are the training ground to become a jack-of-all-trades. The 30s is the time to focus and master those talents that can be applied in practical directions.

Of these comments I find R. Leff’s comments resonate the most. For the past several years I’ve been mostly involved in three different worlds: computers, Rabbinate, and academia – with significant subdivisions therein. For each field of which I have been a part I see friends who have chosen and stuck with one career path and often find them successful. Classmates who took tech jobs straight out of college have built up nice nest eggs and moved up the latter to positions of management. Some friends who went the Rabbinic route are established in their own shtellers, and others who did PhD programs are published, delivered papers at conferences, and are either finished with their programs or finishing shortly. Professional development aside, most friends of mine are married, and/or have children, or are otherwise “further along” in their lives and goals.
On the other hand, I’m reminded that life is not about accomplishments as much as it is about living. To quote Vincent Van Gogh:

“I do not intend to spare myself, not to avoid emotions or difficulties. I don’t care much whether I live a longer or shorter time. The world concerns me only in so far as I feel a certain debt toward it, because I have walked on this earth for thirty.”

Of course, Van Gogh later shot himself at thirty seven, but that’s not really the point. Turning thirty I do look back on my life thus far and where I currently am and I’ve realized that despite all the roadblocks and downturns I have been extremely fortunate in many areas of my life. Being a “jack-of-all-trades” has also allowed me to encounter some truly wonderful people. And by being exposed to so many different environments I can approach the world with a particularly unique perspective.
For some people turning thirty represents a psychological change, and for others being thirty is no different than being 29 and 364 days old. I don’t think for me there has been any immediate change, but I’m must more aware of how I’ve developed personally and emotionally in the past 10 years. And while I would still to be satisfied in a more stable situation, I hope that I will be able to be as open to possibilities and have faith when doesn’t go as expected.
To everyone who has been part of the first thirty years of my journey I thank you. And to everyone whom I have not yet encountered, I am looking forward.
Until the next round number…

1. Actually M. Avot 5:21

Random Roundup

Nothing major today, just a few interesting links and thoughts:

  • Page Six reports that a movie is in the works covering the rise and fall of electronics retailer Crazy Eddie. Aging New York couch potatoes no doubt remember Eddie’s frenetic commercials – our prices are innnsaaaaaaaaaaannnnne. As it turned out that Eddie Antar was crazy like a fox, fled to Israel and eventually was sentenced to 8 years in prison for massive fraud and assorted SEC violations. Page Six reports that Danny DeVito will play the role of Eddie.
  • Apparently if you try too hard to get out of jury duty, you might wind up facing one yourself. A Cape Cod man is facing charges for making up excuses in the hopes of an exemption. What’s interesting here is that we have a real life case of the classic Liar Paradox

    “I’m frequently found to be a liar, too. I can’t really help it,” Ellis added.
    “I’m sorry?” Nickerson said.
    “I said I’m frequently found to be a liar,” Ellis replied.
    “So, are you lying to me now?” Nickerson asked.
    “Well, I don’t know. I might be,” was the response.

    Ok so he doesn’t know if he’s lying but even if he was, how could he have answered the question? The exchange continues:

    “I have the distinct impression that you’re intentionally trying to avoid jury service,” Nickerson said.
    “That’s true,” Ellis answered.

    Or is it true? There’s just no way to tell. And for the coup de grâce:

    Ellis could face perjury and other charges.

    In other words, Ellis is facing perjury for lying in court when he said he was a liar.

  • Shaya sends in an AP story from today covering the declining state of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge which we recently visited. The article implies that the marsh is deteriorating due to increased levels of nitrogen from the city. It would be a shame to lose the marsh, even if so few people know it exists. If you’re in the NY area, try stopping by one nice Sunday while it’s still there.

Fourth of July in Jamaica (Bay)

In my quest for good local hikes around Manhattan, I asked resident expert and new hatan Max Davis for some ideas. Max suggested I check out a wildlife refuge on an island off of the A-Train. As a longtime rider of the A-Train, I was skeptical about the existence of such an environmental oasis in New York but sure enough waaay down the line – the stop past JFK Airport – is the small town of Broad Channel home of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.
Subway Map
With the few days off I have at my disposal I thought the Fourth of July would be a perfect time to go exploring. So what does a “Wildlife Refuge” look like NYC style? Pretty much everything you’d expect.
(Pics in the post below)