Category: Personal

Flower Power

Right before the Pesach trip to Israel, I picked up the Canon Powershot A700. Fortunately, while I was there I was able to experiment with the “Foliage” setting (and the 6x zoom) to see what it could do. If you’re interested in getting a digital camera, you may find these samples useful.
The following pictures are some of my favorites taken from the Rose Garden in Jerusalem and from my sister’s front lawn. Again, I must remind you that I am not a professional photographer, so go easy on the comments. If you happen to like any the pics, let me know and I can send over the full sized version.

Post-Pesach Post

It’s about time I got the Pesach recap in order. Just a quick head’s up on the bandwith that there is lots of pictorial goodness below and I’m splitting up some of the pics to ease up on the load times.

Erev Pesach Dispatch

Shalom Uvracha Meha’aretz! Things are good over here and thankfully there haven’t been any major incidents. Just a few things worthy of bullet points:

  • Security going to Israel went by much quicker than I thought it would. Perhaps this is an Iberia Airlines thing. We’ll see about going back.
  • The airport in Madrid is stunning with its mountain views, but is far too large and inefficiently built.
  • I sat across the isle from someone I dated and had absolutely no recollection of her. None. Complete black out. Normally I can remember at least one quirk or minimally a name or I could remember actively repressing a memory. Totally blanked on this one. I’m either getting too old or I’ve dated too many people. Possibly both. Thankfully I blamed lack of sleep
  • Walk The Line was a decent but thoroughly overrated movie (as was Reese Witherspoon’s performance)
  • Despite the changing planes in Madrid, Iberia did not lose the luggage. Yes, this deserves a bullet point
  • I need to start a new series here called You Make the Pesak for all those times where you need to make a halakhic decision on the spur of the moment. More on the impetusfor this when I get back.
  • Ben Gurion’s new airport is nice and all, but frankly I do miss holding on for dear life as bus traverses the tarmac. It was part of the charm
  • Israeli Moment 1: Despite the new and improveness of Ben Gurion, the luggage conveyer belt broke. Rather, the belt which goes around in that big oval broke. The belt which drops the luggage on the larger one was working fine, as evidenced by the major backup and avalanche of luggage onto hapless passangers. Of course the best way to solve this problem was not to fix the larger belt or even to switch to a different one, but to mill about and send more bags on top of each other. Gotta love Israel.
  • Amazingly, the Orange Big Talk phone I bought when I was in Gruss, *still* works (though they added a random 4 to the number), had 75 shekel left on it from the last time my parents were there, and the phone book was still intact including several people I dated when I was in Gruss (most of them married – one just got engaged last week). On the down side, it now has a battery life of roughly 7 minutes.
  • I really miss talking to Haham Faur.
  • Raising kids is easy – just give them food and make sure they don’t kill themselves. It’s raising *good* kids that’s difficult, but a whole lot more worthwhile.
  • I’m planning on being in Alon Shevut for Shabbat and yes I’ll send generic regards to random strangers. In the meantime, Hag Kasher V’Sameach again, and enjoy your sedarim!
    Heh. Sedarim.

Welcome Back, Yuter

After a long protracted search I’m finally back iin Washington Heights and pretty much set in the new apartment give or take a few things.1 In honor of this auspicious occasion, I’d say the following is in order:

    Welcome back,
    Your dreams were your ticket out.
    Welcome back,
    To that same old place that you laughed about.
    Well the names have all changed since you hung around,
    But those dreams have remained and they’re turned around.
    Who’d have thought they’d lead ya (Who’d have thought they’d lead ya)
    Here where we need ya (Here where we need ya)
    Yeah we tease him a lot cause we’ve hot him on the spot, welcome back,
    Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back.

1. And just in time to head out to Israel for Pesach

Chag Hasemikha Wrap-Up

To answer the question that’s been on everyone’s mind, I did not get hammered at Sunday’s Chag Hasemikha (although I probably could have were I keeping score). For the most part, everything went off as expected between the camaraderie, mixed emotions, and a really long ceremony.

For more of a play-by-play of the Chag Hasemikha, see Avraham’s comprehensive write-up of the details. Sadly, I wasn’t taking notes during the day so my recollections will be a bit fuzzier and stream-of-consciousnessy, but you’re free to check out the upcoming re-webcast.

The preliminary meet and greet turned into several mini-reunions from different chevras of shiur, Revel, Gruss, or the denizens of the 5th floor. Not surprisingly, the snark was fast and furious. The best line of the day goes to Rabbi Ben Skydel’s heter allowing the black-hatters to remove their haberdashery for the group photo on the grounds of sha’at ha-shemad. Nicely done.

But while there are many more humorously snide comments I could add – I even got in a whole slew of – IY’H By You’s – I believe I’ve already fulfilled my quota for sarcasm. Also to be truthful, the Chag Hasemikha is indeed a significant event, and perhaps the closest YU comes to having its own “State of the Yeshiva.” I don’t have the time now to get into the details, so I just share some personal reflections.

As expected, the speeches and presentations covered all the themes you’d expect from a YU Chag Hasemihka: the contributions of YU, the legacy of R. Soloveitchik, and of course the importance and challenges of being a Rabbi. R. Charlop’s honor was well deserved, and I’m still bewildered at the Marcos Katz receiving the “Etz Chaim” award. Yes he deserves recognition for his generosity and support, but the name of the award is ironic to say the least.

R. Lamm probably got too much flack for rambling (which in fairness, he did), but his message was probably the most important for future Rabbis. Short version: when things go badly, suck it up and move on because you’re really working for God. Granted he was more eloquent, but the point is well taken. Too many rabbis get caught up in the personal egotistical aspects of their job that they forget their mission and as such are more likely to get disheartened by setbacks.

On the other hand, there are several Rabbis out in the field doing excellent work – and YU showed a video to this effect, featuring Rabbis in the pulpit, education, chaplaincy, and outreach. I knew two of the featured Rabbis personally – one from Gush and one from R. Ben-Haim’s shiur – and both of whom are excellent people and well suited to their current positions.

On a personal level, the speeches, presentations, and socializations, all reminded me of how almost-but-not-quite fit in the YU model. By now it should be obvious to recurring readers that my hashkafa isn’t typical YU. Nor should it be surprising that my style is drastically different than most other Rabbis. But what I’ve been more aware of recently are the professional differences between myself and my colleagues. Many pursued careers in the Rabbinate, education, or academics with varying degrees of success. And as noted repeatedly during the ceremony, most of the musmakhim got married at some point and quite a few have already started having families.

Like most people at reunions, I started thinking about how things in my life have turned out in the three years since I finished semikha. And like my time spent in YU, I was once again made perfectly aware of how I’m hardly a typical model of, well, anything.

Not that this necessarily a bad thing, but the constant reinforcement of “outsider” status can be grating eventually. Case in point: Richard Joel said that it is impossible to get through semikha without the support of our spouses, which made me question if in fact I did somehow manage or if my mystery spouse was working behind the scenes in some way doctoring my Contemporary Halakha exams.

The thing is that even during my RIETS tenure I didn’t exactly follow the crowd either. R. Katz’s (AH’S) shiur wasn’t a popular choice, and despite the random acts of shehita, neither was R. Ben-Haim’s. I was one of three or four Talmud majors in Revel, though now it’s apparently “cool” again. Outside of YU, I participated in Meorot and Clal and held a computer job on the side. Maybe I shared individual experiences with a few people, but as you could expect, there was very little overlap between the different experiences.

As someone told my father during one of the receptions, my reputation is that I follow my own beat, but I’m serious. An accurate description, but I also must say that the Chag also reminded me that there are a few other intruments who do join in periodically. All those people from the different chevras went their own ways as well, and it just so happened that our paths converged every so often. I’ve often noted that althought YU will never admit it, it is the most religiously diverse and I daresay pluralistic Jewish institution such that it was possible for such various chevras to even exist.

In bringing back everyone under one roof, the Chag reminded me of the opportunities which are out there, as well as what is actually possible to accomplish. I’d say that’s four hours well spent.

Always The Mesader Kiddushin, Never The Hatan

I briefly mentioned, this past Sunday I officiated my first wedding. I can’t really say “performed” since the mesader kiddushin usually doesn’t do all that much in the ceremony itself. I wasn’t asked to speak under the huppah which was fine by me and of course, the rest of the guests. For obvious reasons, there isn’t much I’d feel comfortable telling an about-to-be-married couple since, not being married, I’m hardly an expert on how two people should live together.

As far as I can tell the wedding went off without a hitch. Or rather, it went off with one major hitch, but we were all very happy about it. I did made a few rookie mistakes, which though understandable considering my inexperience with weddings, is still very annoying. Then again, such is the point of shimush. I must say though that both families were extremely helpful in treating the wedding primarily as a simcha and instead of stressing the details, were just able to appreciate and enjoy the wedding. From my end, this meant being able to function significantly more calmly and minimize mistakes caused by performance anxiety.

Of notable quirks, The Excelsior had a player piano in the lobby which was apparently set to “Simon and Garfunkel.” As such, I can now add “Mrs. Robinson” to the list of most inappropriate songs I’ve heard at a wedding.1 There was also a contingent of random Lakewood people who showed up and not only provided a healthy dose of leibedik, but also some of the most bizarre shtick I’ve seen. Neshomo Orchestra was good as always, and major props to the bassist for playing a Carvin.

At any rate, as much of an honor it was to be asked to officiate a wedding, there’s something special when you just know the couple is right for each other. Truthfully, there wasn’t much I could tell them about marriage since both of them really “get it” already and compliment each other so well that even were I married with years of experience, I doubt I could give any insightful advice they couldn’t figure out on their own.

Mazal Tov!

1. Although the hatan did point out that 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover would have been significantly worse.

What’s in a Name?

Happy Shushan Purim to All!
All is well in YUTOPIA, some quick updates:

  • In a nice case of v’nahafoch hu, I recovered the previously lost comments
  • Moving back to the heights soonish, likely spawning many interesting happenings.
  • Had se’udah at future apartment with a bunch of YCT folk.
  • Digital camera came in today
  • Withheld a Purim posting because in the process of writing it, I realized I lost my sense of humor. Note that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I have standards to uphold.
  • Sunday I will be officiating my first wedding. More on this at some point.

As some of you may or may not know one of my first cousins is Deena Grant, married to Chaim Davis with whom I attended Gush so many years ago. Anyway, last week Deena gave birth to a really cute baby boy. At the bris this morning, the baby was named Akiva Eliezer, which as Chaim explained is partially after the baby’s 10th generation ancestor (on the father’s side), R. Akiva Eiger.
Sounds nice, but I’m personally schepping the irony. As Chaim noted, R. Eiger was known for his staunch opposition to all things haskalah. Deena, on the other hand, is a PhD student in Bible at NYU (hamaskil hameivin yavin).
No word yet on seismic activity in Bratislava, but I’ll keep you posted.

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.

Busy Weekend

For all those interested I’ll be celebrating Groundhog’s Day a little early this year and finally leaving the hermitage for some much needed human interaction. Among the highlights:

  • I’ll be in Washington Heights this Shabbat, and giving the derasha at the Bridge Shul. Or at least I should be unless someone messed up confirming it.
  • Mozaei shabbat concert at MSG featuring O.A.R with opening act Matisyahu
  • A Sunday jaunt up to Boston for Miriam and Oren’s wedding.

I’ll try to recap If I’m conscious on Monday, but if you’re around any of these things please stop on over for a shmooze.

For The Rabbi Who Has Everything

As a public service for those who complain that I’m too difficult to shop for, I’m hereby publicizing my Amazon Wish List and linking to it on the sidebar. Yeah, you could probably get stuff cheaper at Walmart or elsewhere, but people seem to like Amazon.
So if you’ve been pondering what to get your favorite socio-religious, guitar-playing, inconsistently blogging Rabbi, you now know where to go.1

1. If you’re not into the whole gift-giving thing, I’ll just pull out Proverbs 15:27 (sonei matanot yichyeh). I win either way.