Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The wild sandy yonder

As you've all probably guessed by now, I'm working hard spending most of my day on the computer, which isn't as interesting as it might seem. Heck, I'm even spending a lot of time on Facebook, which isn't as interesting as it might seem. Consequently I'm not quite as interested in spending time blogging as I once was back in the day, which is of course why it's so vitally important that I do blog. Right? Right.

Abraham our forefather went out from his homeland, at the age of 75, to the land where I will show you. What did he have to gain? Not a whole heck of a lot. How did he know he wasn't hallucinating? Did he have any proof that the voices he heard weren't some products of a fevered imagination? All right, so he survived the fiery cauldron that was Ur Kasdim. I don't know, maybe he had a fire-retardant suit or something? And where was he going anyway? He had no clue. For all he knew, he was gonna end up in the Payatas trash heap or something? How miserable would that be?

Point is, you can't trust the voices in your head. No, sorry, that's not the point. The point is that Abraham, at 75 years of age, showed some major gumption in leaving his homeland and setting out for who knows where. And his wife? What did she have to gain? I suppose she would have lost her hubbie, but it's not like he had even so much as looked at her before, so I don't suppose it would have been such a great loss.

I could write a nice little paragraph about the souls which they made in Haran, but after a little contemplation I realized that they're not worthy of such an honor. After all, they were all brainwashed. Perhaps something about their kids though. I bet they were a bunch of skeptical Lubavitch BBTs...

So there they went, riding into the sunset, setting off for a new life in the land they would be shown preparing to begin the epic story of the world's two great religions. Yup.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The best wedding picture ever

To the ground

As noted by e, tonight there was a poetry slam in good 'ol Crown Heights. I read two pieces- the first was originally published on this here blog 167 days ago, called "Traumatize this!", and the second will be originally published on this here blog right now. Here goes:

A poetry slam.
No Mushkie, you can't slam people's poetry.
What does slam mean then? Um, you slam?
What do you slam? Don't ask questions like that. Judaism doesn't appreciate questions like that.
So why doesn't slam mean telling people off?
People don't appreciate criticism.
Even if you say it's constructive. It hurts their feelings.

No, you can't boo; it's not right. People don't like that.

So what do you do by a poetry slam?

You listen? You listen to poetry? Who wants to listen to poetry? I would only come to talk. To recite. To recite poetry.

So what if it's pretentious? Or obnoxious? Is the point of a poetry slam really to listen to others? To understand them? To try and figure out what drives them? What makes them tick?

Yeah, like, whatever. Absolutely ridiculous. I'm supposed to listen to others? As I said, I'd rather just talk.

Because really, when you think about it, we're all just cogs in the wheel of a vast thingamajiggie. Or something like that.

OK, was that good? Did I slam correctly? Anyone's feelings hurt? No? Good?

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Should I try writing something tonight? Like, is there a point? My wife is talking to me, but I can type and look at her (and pay attention! a miracle!) at the same time. We're discussing the proprietors of Why? Because how much discussion can you do about the proprietors of

Anyway, it's past 1:00 in the morning, we just got back (just is a a very vague word) from Empire Kosher, and we're both tired. So maybe I just write a little about our adventures picking up a bookcase from Fort Greene and sticking it on top of a car for the ride back to Crown Heights, or else picking up a couch from Boerum Hill and sticking it on top of the car for the ride back to CH, and then taking off the door of our home sweet home (no matter how humble) in order to maneuver it inside (many thanks to Yehudah brother of Cheerio). Or maybe I just go to sleep. Yeah, that's a good idea.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dangerous Ground

Last night I was walking home from the lchaim of Yitzchak Lerman, with whom I spent countless hours last year commuting from Morristown to New York. As I was walking back from the festivities (and some decent sesame chicken) I ran into a couple of friends of mine, Shaya Lowenstien and he who (intelligently) prefers not to be named, and Shaya mentioned that he's never been mentioned on this here blog. I told him that I'd mention that he's single and looking for a soul mate, and he laughed and said "Great!" I don't think he believed me when I said it though...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Wishes spoken, desires known

I just got back from a mini-blogger convention... e, Nemo, and oh yeah, SZB. Did I mention that this little convention was in fact SZB's lchaim? Nice, eh?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blues can be a good thing too

I'm sure people want to know why leading Mussaf services on Simchas Torah in Milwaukee's Lubavitch House, otherwise known as "The Shul East" fulfilled a lifelong dream, right? Right.

Basically, on Simchas Torah by Mussaf you can do whatever the heck you want. You're loaded with spirit, you have no voice left (and if you do have one, shame on you!), and everyone is waiting for a show. Here's a more detailed look at my Mussaf:

After many years of partying on the high holy days, my voice lasts about ten minutes. Sure, if I didn't scream it would last a lot longer, but it's difficult to modulate properly after the heavy imbibing of spirituous liquids. This year I lost my voice on the night of Shemini Atzeres and never really got it back until after the holiday. You know how on car racing games there's a turbo function, where you can speed up for a short amount of time? So I can do that with my voice, for about a minute at a time, which comes in handy when the rabbi is trying to end the hakofa and I have to keep it going. This doesn't help much for extended periods though, so my mussaf was hoarse, which was fine, because mussaf on Simchas Torah is supposed to be hoarse.

Alcohol plays an important role in the Jewish religion. For example, we do the blessing of the Kohanim in Shacharis on Simchas Torah, not in Mussaf, because we assume that that priests (among others) will be too drunk to do much by Mussaf time. In my case, I made kiddush at about 11:15, farbrenged for a while, and was slightly recovered by the time Mussaf rolled around. When I stood up to lead the congregation in prayers one of the local shluchim declared that the kohanim's saying their blessing early shouldn't be for naught, and he poured me several generous lchaims to get me back in the party spirit.

The last and most important factor in Simchas Torah Mussaf is the ability to do whatever you want. For example, through Kedushah I used the nusach for Shemini Atzeres (the blessing for rain). I can't see myself davening on Shemini Atzeres ever, but for a few minutes I was able to sing for precipitation. I continued pretty normally after that, embellishing in the (in)appropiate places and leading all in the rousing tunes that make up our prayer service. By Birchas Kohanim I did the traditional fake benediction, another thing which I can't see myself doing for a while (principally because we don't do Birchas Kohnaim until Pesach).

Overall, it was a great experience. The only thing to mar it was the absence of some extremely important persons, but I suppose that even in our greatest joy we must recall the destruction, or something like that.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Simchas Torah Blues

Last year I had some problems on this night. Read on:

I knew something was wrong the moment I walked into the door, and realized what it was as I chanted Havdala tonight. The problem was that I didn't have a hang-over, and I didn't plunge immediately into bed upon coming home. What kind of Simchas Torah is it where I can make Kiddush on Mahke three times and never feel the effects once? What is the world coming to?

Still, basically, Simchas Torah wasn't too bad at all. It wasn't quite as inspiring as it has been in previous years. There was no great Farbrengen which brought the gathered throngs to instant repentance, nor any pithy wisdom which could reduce the most inebriated baalaboss to tears in nary a moment. Sure, it's great to hear local exalted figures belittle themselves and say, "I'm so full of #$%&" over and over again, with innovative invective at every turn, but after a while it begins to wear. "All right," I wanted to say, "I can accept that you are full of it. In fact, I'm convinced. But can you stop focusing on your own shortcomings for a little while and try to actually accomplish something?"

This reminds me of the old joke, where a Rabbi on Yom Kippur gets so inspired that he cries out, "Oh G-d, I am nothing!" The chazzan, not to be outdone, follows suit with, "Oh L-rd, I truly am nothing!" The gabbai doesn't wish to be left out of the fun, and he too screams out, "Oh G-d, I am nothing!" The Rabbi turns to the chazzan and says, "Huh, look who thinks he's a nothing."
Yeah sure, we're really proud of you that once a year you pretend that you recognize your own shortcomings, but hello? Does anyone really care? We all know that we're a bunch of morons, and most of us are drunk enough to think that we want to change. And what happens instead? We end of eating crackers and salsa (the chips were all stale-for shame!) and drinking Cherry Coke Zero because no one can come up with anything intelligent to say.

Of course there were some nice things about Simchas Torah this year. We danced with the scrolls, made Kiddush, screamed at each other, got annoyed by hordes of little brats who seem intent on ruining as many lives as possible. And what was the whole point of this exercise? That our kids should stay frum. All right, I don't have any kids. And if I did I would certainly object to them being called brats. Be that as it may, why do we have this whole shindig? You think we do it for out health? Have you seen the state of our liver?

No, we make this whole production because we want our kids to stay frum. All right, so we enjoy it too, but that's only a fringe benefit. And sometimes it can be even more annoying to write royally than it is to read it. And pretentious too.

That's a problem. I hate sounding pretentious, and I know that in the past I've failed miserably in this regard. Who am I to tell anyone else to do anything? Of course, this attitude can have negative consequences. Last night someone asked me why they should go to a Lubavitch BT Yeshiva versus any other BT Yeshiva. I told him that he should go to a Lubavitch institution because we're better. This was of course after I had made Kiddush. I then proceeded to tell him that of course every Jew thinks that his Judaism is better. So what's the difference? We know we're better. Except that everyone knows they're better. So what's the difference? We learn Chassidus. So does Breslov. We learn Chabad Chassidus, plus we're not always high. Who says Chabad Chassidus is the way to go? We do. And they say that Breslov Chassidus is the way to go. Plus they're always high.

Fine, but at the very least we're far superior to Misnagdim. After all, we learn Chassidus, and they learn Mussar. Of course, a Misnaged will tell you that this is exactly the reason why his way is better. And how about the modern orthodox? At least we're not Judaism-lite, right? Ahh, but the MO will tell you that the only way for a Jew to be successful is to integrate himself into the world. And that way is the best.

Perhaps, at the end of the post, the only thing to do is to quote Rashi (which I will now fail to do) in today's Chitas, when he says that at the end of the day, all the Jewish people are blessed, and they're all wonderful, etc. etc. etc.

Isn't it nice to be able to clothe a lack of strong moral value in a cloak of Judaism? And if this can be said of Jews, why not invite the whole world into the mix? Why can't the whole world, devoid of malice and money, just be friends?

If you think I'm pandering to the Obama camp, trying to avoid being one of the first against the wall when the revolution comes, then...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Esau don't like us

I heard a story from an older Russian Doctoress, Tzilia Lotman this Sukkos which interested me. Many years ago, there was a cruise ship which was renovated by the USSR. They decided to take it on a tour of the Western world, to show how advanced the Soviets were. 50 members of the Russian "intelligentsia" were selected to come on the cruise, along with 40 members each of the other 14 Soviet republics. Dr. Lottman, a university professor, was also invited, the only Jew to be so honored.

So there they all were, going on a tour of the Mediterranean, stopping for a week or two in each port and engaging with the local literati. One day in Naples it was discovered that one of their number had defected to Italy. Immediately of course they were rounded up, but it was difficult, because they were spread throughout the city. Dr. Lotman was one of two people missing when she came back to the ship, and she was greeted with thunderous applause. She wanted to say something, but she was too choked up to be able to get anything out, so she just got onto the ship. A KGB officer who was part of the security detail, and a friend of hers, came up to her later and told her that the guy who had defected was found in Rome and was "being taken care of".

Dr. Lotman said, "It was only then that I truly realized that I needed to leave the Soviet Union. Over six hundred people on that boat, and who did they all assume was the one who defected? The lone Jew. That's why they all cheered, because they were so surprised that I came back. Only then did I realize that they truly hate us, that no matter what we do..."