Monday, June 28, 2010

Memories of Manhattan

They say that you can turn on cruise control, fall asleep, wake up, have lunch, turn the steering wheel, and be all good while driving on the I-70. Point is, it's a straight road. Not too much to look at either. Since it's the three weeks we can't listen to music, so instead I popped in a CD of a Farbrengen with Rabbi Gordon. Which Rabbi Gordon? I have no idea. Not that's it's too important anyway.

Here comes the inspirational part:

Rabbi Gordon said that some people ask, "Why go out and help Jews? Live in your own world, keep your kids religious, and let everyone else do their own thing." The answer is best explained through a parable. Life is a big sea. And when people come down into this world, they're dropped into that sea. Some people happen to fall onto boats. Some people are immediately swallowed up by the dark, frigid, shark-infested, non-chlorinated, probably salty waters. The guys on the boat get to suntan. And some people even fall off the boat. Now what's the law if you see someone foundering in the depths? You must go save them! There's no Well- I-have-a-schedule-plus-my-wife-will kill-me-if-I'm-late-what's-in-it-for-me type of talk. You go and rescue the drowning person. And if the cry of "Man Overboard!" is heard? Everything stops! The man (or woman, or child, or whatever) immediately becomes the focus of attention. You must save them!

The analogy is clear. Some lucky people are born into observant homes, where Torah is learned and Mitzvos are kept. And some people are born into the opposite. And they're drowning. And it's our responsibility to save them. And if someone leaves their religious lifestyle? A man is overboard? How much greater is our responsibility?

Inspiring, huh? I certainly thought so. And guess what? There's more! Joy!

Rabbi Gordon was one of only a few Bochurim with a beard when he was growing up in New York in the forties. He and a friend once went on the train, and the entire car (the people therein) stopped whatever they were doing to stare at two young men with beards. It was simply unheard of. Then in the sixties all the hippies started to grow them, but back in the forties? For a Jew to proclaim his religion? To follow in the footsteps of his fathers? And now look at us. So far, thank G-d, no anti-semitism. It's got to be weird to be stopped in the street by someone wearing a black hat and jacket (in 98 degree heat) and asked if you're Jewish. Someone even asked us if we had horns! (OK, I made that up, but it could have happened. This is Kansas for crying out loud.)

What I'm trying to say is, there's no longer any need to be ashamed of being Jewish, no reason to hide your identity. Just say it loud and clear and people respect you. This is America!

Sorry, this is getting soppy. I'm sorry.

As we always end Farbrengens (Chassidic gatherings) with, "Tomorrow will be totally different!" And sometimes it actually is.

Anyway, We were driving on the I-70, and in between getting inspired by the mysterious Rabbi Gordon I made some phone calls, which went pretty well. Two people were interested in meeting us, one had no interest, one was a wrong number, and the answering machines were as always quite sweet.

Our first stop in Manhattan was the local mall. They had really cool sinks in the bathrooms. You put your hand in, and soap automatically comes out, followed shortly by water and then a grand finale of hot air to speed you on your way. Quite exciting, to tell the truth. The only problem (and there are always problems in this long and bitter exile) was that before one eats bread, one needs to wash from a cup, and those super-high-tech sinks were not conducive to filling cups. Like true Shluchim of the Rebbe, we persevered. That's what water fountains are for. After enjoying Challah and tuna we went off to search for Jews among the stores. No luck.

We went outside, and started going up the street, asking everyone if they were Jewish. Again, no luck. We did strike gold in the courthouse though. We had gone into a lawyer's office, of course he wasn't Jewish, and now met him in the local courthouse. Guess what? No, he hadn't suddenly performed a Halachic conversion, but he did know someone who didn't even have to. Mrs. Lawyer (I'd use names, but the goons at would come and smash my windows) came out. Yes, she's Jewish. Her husband is a professor at K-state. She lights Shabbos candles. Does it get any better? On our way out the palace of justice a young man wearing a large cross and a black hat stopped us and asked us where we got out hats. "Brooklyn," I replied, and answered his next query that they were Borsalinos, and cost about $160. Ridiculous, huh? The price you have to pay for fashion (religion).

Moving onto the next stop we discovered a ninety year old man who owns a business. We didn't actually meet him, as he was out to lunch (literally, not figuratively) so we just left some brochures and business cards. A guy in a jewelry shop told us about another guy, (ad infinitum) who also owns a shop. We did speak to him. Born in Manhattan, lived there all his life. Goes to Shul on the High Holidays. Good for him! Again, some brochures, etc, (another no-no in school, this time in 6th grade, "Don't you ever write 'etc.' on any reports!") and that was it.

Our first appointment in Manhattan was something else. He's an Israeli professor at K-State, she works with autistic children in Topeka. They have three kids, two grandkids, and like Chabad. Plus they know the scoop about everyone in town. We talked about the three weeks, the problem of assimilation, and even put Tefillin on him. It was really nice. Assimilation is a major problem for these small town Jews. The synagogue is little more than a social club, and there's no real sense of Jewish pride, or even Jewish people to hang out with. And that's why we're going out, trying to remind people that yes, they are Jewish, they have something to be proud of, and they should stick with the faith.

At 5:50 we realized that #1, we had an appointment at 6:00, and #2, that we didn't know the directions, and that #3, we hadn't finished up with our current appointment. Twenty five minutes later we were knocking on the door. It didn't open. Oh well. I called, very apologetic, but there was nothing to be done.

After our aborted attempt at a meeting, it was time to go to our favorite hangout: the local library. Unlike in S. Joseph, the librarians were not too helpful. Sure, they were nice enough, but they said something about privacy and we knew it was a hopeless cause. So we left. Man, we sure do seem to do a whole lot of leaving. As we were making our departure I saw a woman staring at me. Being the naturally shy, reserved, (look on for more synonyms) and generally me person that I am, I ignored her. But she continued. So I asked, "Do you know anyone who's Jewish?" And she replied, "Well, actually I'm Jewish." Of course she's a professor at K-State. Like most college towns, it seems that everyone either works at the university or is somehow supported by it. She had never seen a Chassidic Jew in the city. Heck, I had never seen any type of Jew in the city. Which isn't too surprising, since we only arrived about seven hours before. Be that as it may, she was interested, so we gave her the standard pamphlet and business card, and even told her about this blog, which she promised to visit.

Continuing our search took us around town, which is rather empty, as it is summer break at the aforementioned university. So onto Bentonville's pride and joy, the neighborhood Walmart. And unlike the men's rooms at the mall, these mens' here were quite disappointing. The thing flushed every thirty seconds. Quite disconcerting. We davened Mincha in the parking lot, getting more stares than your average elephant in New York, and started to head home, just ahead of an impending storm. Our car was, to put it nicely, a compact, and we felt every gust of wind. But we said the Tefilas Haderech (traveler's prayer) and made it safely to Lawrence, where a hot supper was waiting (thanks Zalmy).

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Wondering justly

I asked the following on FB but didn't get any pertinent responses, so I figured I'd go for it over here too:

What would the Rebbe say about the hordes of hippies, yuppies, and various other invasive species currently gentrifying Crown Heights?

Meanwhile, in other news, after long discussion with everyone's favorite tippler and toppler, I have come to the conclusion that when you believe in something you should just say it outright. So, without further adieu, and in the interests of spurring further commenting from our wonderful commenters:

The reason I have not attended a poetry slam in many months is because I believe it is morally and religiously wrong.

There, I've said it. Now I can go to sleep with a clear conscience.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Rounded, polished, and smooth

Apparently the boys are out on Merkos Shlichus again. Meanwhile, I'm in Crown Heights. That's right, I'm comparing MS and CH, even though they're apparently incomparable. Well, once again "apparently" is wrong, because MS and CH are the same thing. They're both states of mind. Just this past Friday I saw two Kollel guys doing mivtzoyim right outside the Brooklyn Musueum. Quite heartwarming that was. As for CH, well, I know plenty of bochurim on MS who've gotten up at 11:00, gone to Mikve (admittedly not necessarily in an actual Mikve) and only gotten around to actually accomplishing something much later in the day. Point is, here's some MS shtuff from three years ago in S. Joe, Missouri.


The first city we visited was S. Joseph, Missouri. It was a hot day. For some reason we couldn't find any contacts that the previous groups had made, so we were basically on our own. We were walking by the police station when we suddenly heard banging. Of course we looked up, and there was a guy waving at us. "Hey," we thought, "this is pretty easy! These guys are begging us to come!"

So we walked in, and the kind receptionist said, "People banging and waving? Oh, those must be the prisoners." And no, we weren't allowed to go and see if any were Jewish. The lady did give us the names and addresses of the two local synagogues, so we resolved to check out the situation. On our way back to the car I noticed the county office, so we went in. The commissioner was also very nice, and he was even friends with a (minister? priest? reverend?) "clergyman of another faith" who sits with the rabbi of one of the local synagogues on an interfaith board, and so we got a phone number. No one picked up the phones, or was by the synagogues, which was too bad.

...Ah yes, City Hall. Magnificent building, made even more magnificent by the, well, magnificent air conditioning. Do I get a prize for using the word "magnificent" three times, in a relatively intelligent manner, in one sentence? I did mention it was hot, right? Anyway, no new info from the secretary, and so we drove off to the Pony Express Museum. None of the horses had any Jewish affiliation.

There was a store that we meant to visit, but by the time we arrived it had already closed. Oh, well. But right next to that was a beautiful park that we drove and walked around, finding many beautiful vistas but unfortunately no Jews. Then we had a brilliant idea. Where do people hang out? Baseball games. So we tried to find the baseball game. Forty minutes later we ended up at the town library, so we walked in.

Gold. Both librarians were very talkative, which is perfect, because so am I. Turns out there are no decent jobs in S. Joe, but there is plenty of meth. Sounds like a good place for a nice Jewish boy, huh? We did look in the White pages though, and finally found him. The one we'd been waiting for. The whole reason we'd come into northern Missouri. A JC Penney's.

Just kidding. We found a Jew. He didn't really want to meet with us. And so of course he didn't. We don't force people to do anything. It's counterproductive.

And besides for a quick stop at the local mall, punctuated by some more talkative but unfortunately non-Jewish people, that was basically it. A success? There's a famous story that two students went a'roaming and came home depressed, having accomplished nothing. And that Shabbos, the Rebbe said that no, they had accomplished. An old woman had seen two young men walking around, with beards, hats, and jackets, and decided to light Shabbos candles. Point is, you never know what you've done. And as I said, we certainly did our fair share of walking around in beards, hats, and jackets. So please do your part and light those Shabbos candles. ;)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Long frock and all

I came to the Rosh's farbengen tonight charged with a mission: to record his every word for posterity, and provide inspirational messages for the masses.The good news is that I managed to hear lots of good shtuff; the bad news is that I didn't manage to transcribe it. The reason for this is that I sat down right next to the Rosh, and I figured he wouldn't be too pleased to see me pecking away at my iPod while he was speaking.

One thing that did stick in the hemp weave that is my memory was a statement which pretty much summed up the evening: "The truth is not negotiable- once you compromise, it's no longer true."

He also said a long vort about how the Torah starts from the letter Beis and not from the letter Aleph because the letter Aleph is the number six (trust me on this one) and Beis is nine. This is in contrast to the traditional explanation, where Aleph represents curses and Beis represents blessings. Regardless, when you count the Sefiros starting from Midos (Chesed, Gevurah, etc), the sixth one is Yesod. When you count the Sefiros beginning from Chabad (or Kesser), the ninth one is Yesod. So what's the difference? It's very simple. When you start everything from midos, from emotions, because you want, then that's what you are left with- self. Everything flows into yesod, and when the only thing is self, then that's all that gets passed down.

Chochmah, on the other hand, is very different. It's not emotions or ego. Chochmah is the spark, the first illumination that precedes comprehension, the smallest point of dawn. When you begin with chochmah, when you start your journey with nothing, then when it comes down to Yesod it remains nothing, a vessel empty of ego and self pretension, a vessel that can receive G-dliness.

This is the curse of Aleph: Aleph is I, the ego, the person who has no room in his life for anyone else but himself. The Beis, is different though. The Beis allows for someone else, is willing to listen and put others ahead of itself.

Today there is seemingly no need to listen to anyone else. Everything is written down and easily searched. There are thousands of Sefarim that have been printed, an answer provided for every question, a solution for every problem. Who needs a mashpia? Just because you're a little older and wiser, just because you saw a little more, heard a little more, felt a little more... you think you're any better? I can read any Chassidic story I want, I can learn any Sicha I want, I don't need you!

And that attitude, as they say, is just plain wrong.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


I'd like everyone to take a moment to recognize one of the more beautiful computer-designed headers anyone's seen in quite some time. Thanks to the inimitable Yossi, I finally have my very own customized header. Yup. If you'd like him to design something for you, just ask.

Meanwhile, he also designed this for me:

Here's the original:

What say you?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Firing synapse

Random thoughts upon completing the dishes and laundry from TRS:

Does Merkos Shlichus equal the great American road trip (listen to act two)?

In baseball, what comes around goes around (but as bad as this?)

It really hurts to type after you've been washing dishes for a while and your skin is all ridged and whatnot.

Seriously, if you have the best ballpark (depends who you ask, here or here) in baseball, why must you constantly stink?

Is there any reason why (at last count) eight people had to post that video of that kid on Facebook?

Why couldn't Lipa have cut out two or three songs (Hora Yes Loshon Hora No, Mi Chochom, Meimka D'Lipa [English]) and made some of the others (Ve'anpaha Ne'hirin, Mizmor Lesoda, Ayei) significantly longer?

Why do Tom (what a pic!)and Ray Magliozzi constantly demean themselves so much? Is it some sort of psychological thing?

Sorry, if there's no food by the lchaim I'm not staying.

Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo (what kind of stupid website posts people's addresses and phone numbers?)

So what do you tell the Lubavitch women now?

Having a side table in the living room is actually a really good idea.

Anyone want to sponsor an air conditioner?

Even a fan, we're not picky.

Who knew a book about violins could be so good?

And yes, we're still looking for a good luthier for a little cello fixing.

Do violinists get offended when you call their instruments a "fiddle"?

If you fall asleep while doing Chitas, do you get a prize?

When was the last time the average American dressed classily every day of the year?

Not too shabby.

What kind of a dorky name is "US Men's National Team"? How about something more along the lines of, "La Furia Roja", "A Selecao", "Oranje", "The Three Lions", "Beli Orlovi", "Azzurri", "Selecao das Quinas", Les Bleus", "The Elephants", "The Indomitable Lions", "Danish Dynamite", "El Tri", "La Roja", "The Black Stars", "Super Eagles", "The Fighting Jondas", "La Albirroja", "Zmajceki", "La Celeste", Schweizer Nati", "The Socceroos", "To Piratiko", Bafana Bafana", "Taegeuk Jeonsa", "Nippon Daihyo", Los Catrachos", "Les Fennecs", "Choilima", or "All Whites"? Heck, even "Die Mannschaft" or "La Albiceleste" would be superior. Isn't the US the greatest marketing concern that ever lived?

And seriously, you've heard of Google, I'm not putting hyperlinks there for you.

Camp starts when?!

One last thing- if you want a Farbrengen, you can count on us.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Not too sunburnt

On Sunday there was a whole lot of boat-going in the RS household. Chief among these was a visit aboard the USS James E. Williams (DDG-95), courtesy of Fleet Week. The USS James E. Williams is a member of Destroyer Squadron 26, which also included the destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG-81). As a courtesy to her namesake country, a member of the Royal Navy is assigned to the ship's crew at all times. Isn't that awesome? And it's not like they've got a limey manning the stoves either- for two years the navigator was Lieutenant Angus Essenhigh, RN, of Portsmouth, England. I'm not going to even mention the awesomeness of having someone on your boat with the name of "Angus."

I seem to be getting off topic, eh? The Williams' official page is rather sparse. While it looks about the same as most other ship's pages, that is to say amateurish, there's really very little info available on it. Contrast that to the Churchill, which has all sorts of goodies, including a link to the ship's official newsletter. Not that I'm saying anything, but they could use a few tips from Gan Izzy in the humor department. Still, a boring newsletter is better than no newsletter, right?

The apparent reason for the Williams' lack of information is that there was recently a bit of an issue on the ship. I hope they sort it out quickly, because, well, why not? It's our tax (China's, really) dollars at work here, and we expect every man to do his duty. We do not expect the following:

Though I suppose it's fair to say that shtuff happens.