Sunday, February 01, 2009

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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Melavah Malkah Machshava

Mushrooms get a a bracha of 'shehakol nihyeh bidvaro'.  The Gemara says that this is on account of the fact that they do not grow from the ground - they can grow on detached pieces of wood suspended in the air, this proves that they do not draw any sustenance, they therefore receive the 'baseline' bracha of 'shehakol' - the "catch-all" blessing.  Truth is, the very fact that this benediction is so broad in its application (case in point: if you accidently make a 'shehakol' on a food that gets a 'mezonos' - you're yotzei your chiyyuv of making a bracha and can go right ahead and eat; nifty, huh?) reflects how profound in nature it (a blessing of 'shehakol') really is.  In it, we express the infinite power of G-d; everything was created in His name.

Mushroom clouds are a reflection of something pretty powerful too - weaponry that can destroy wides swaths of countries in the blink of an eye.  An aged Albert Einstein was quoted as having said something to the effect of: "If I would have known what my discoveries were to lead to...I would have become a watchmaker."  After '45, Earth truly became a brave new world - arguably even darker than Aldus Huxley's vision.

Am Yisroel are all, individually and collectively, a 'chaylek Elokah mi'ma'hal', with great potential and kinetic capabilitiy; and although it might be relatively miniature and finite next to G-d's, it is nontheless comparable on some level, as it is He who vested us with our abilities.  We can destroy worlds - but we can also use our ingenuity to create them and bring more G-dliness into this world.  No character trait is good or bad in and of itself - it all depends on how it is channeled (my apologies for the requisite cliche').  

Friday, January 30, 2009

Erev Shabbos Fiction:  'Isaac' (Part One)

I* drive around Wilmington with a car full of Berettas* and Blackberries* I bought with my thirty gra*nd stash.  I go to eac*h bum-inhabited street corner, equipping each one with heat and a phone.  Creating an arm*y.  Mobilizing the* troops.  A*wait further instruction.  Two years later, I was running the show in D*elaware.  I was*n’t the Governer – that post did not exist anym*ore, I dubbed my*self Chair of the Frameworked An*archists of the Mid-Atlantic.  C-FAMA.  We sprea*d north and south, and then east and west.  Ten years later, we were in control of the entire Western Hem*isphere, and had a fe*w major strongholds in the Eastern.  The consensus was that what we had done was natural and to be expected, it was simply democracy’s natural evolution.


It was a windy day, and Isaac was standing by the bus stop huddled up in his parka, waiting waiting waiting for the bus to arrive.  A scrap of paper was suspended by the wind against the yield sign in front of Isaac.  He grabbed at it out of unfocused, boredom-infused curiosity and read the italicized delusional record of non-events quoted above.  The bus arrived as he crumpled the note into his pocket, figuring that he should save it to show his grandmother upon his return home.  She would get a kick out of it.  Isaac got on the bus.  As he paid his fare and the doors swooshed shut behind him, the bus driver grabbed Isaac – his two dark hands clasped tightly around Isaac’s neck.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

My Niece and I (Part Three of I Don’t Know How Many Parts [previous parts down below])

We get off the expressway, and now we really are in sooth almost there. At least physically. Sadly, the mall’s parking garage is, this evening, a fully-stock jumbo-car dealership. There’s less outside noise within this clusterphobia-inducing car-park building, so lines of easier vocal communication can now be opened up between me and Chavie.

“What we doing?”

--Looking for a space sweetheart.

“A space?”

--For the Car.

“Oh,” followed by a momentary pause and then a “Why?”

(Here I forget to employ my sister’s ‘trick’).

--Well sweetie, I’d love to drive through the glass pane doors housing Nordstrom and upend Versace-wearing manikins as much as you would (my mental video player turns on and distracts me to a stream of Chavie giggling and clapping as only she can while she joyfully dons a Burberry cap she has taken off a decimated edifice of plaster crafted into the image of the way a woman is supposed to look, people are taking photos all around with their phones [I can’t – mines broken] of my pummeled car as the police close in), but that is not ‘civil’, so instead we are going to drive around in circles for a longer period of time than it took to arrive here, until a 5X9 swatch of concrete opens up for us, okay honey?

She stopped listening to my diatribe (honestly, she’s only three, I should know better than talking to her as if she was three-and-a-half) when I said the word ‘manikin’. She is cracking herself up. She loves the sound of the word and repeats it to herself on an endless loop, the laughter it illicits from her is getting louder and fuller with each repetition of it. Well, I’m happy if she is. Finally, a Hummer lounges out of its space and we are free to roll in. I kill the ignition, readjust my scarf, open my door, get out of the car, close my door, open her door, unbuckle her seat belt and help her (she really only needs a little assistance) out of the car. Her sneakers now firmly planted on grey ground, she promptly asks me something; her face a fully-dimpled smile: “Uncle Ezz, what is man-ee-kun?”

--You’ll see one in just a minute or so, Chav’s…

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

My Niece and I (Part Two of a Previously Indicated Two, Maybe Three Part Series, But Now Maybe as Much as a Sexogy [That’s a Double Trilogy, Man])

If you're new to this story, please click "My niece and I (part one of a two [or maybe three] part series)" on the left to get up to speed. 

The moment Shabbos is over, I make my own Havdalah, throw on khakis and a sweater, and don my Neo-from-the-Matrix-length black wool coat, quickly buttoning it up.  My shvugger walks in from Ma’ariv a moment later and he tells me that yes, it is perfectly cool for me to kidnap his daughter for part of the evening.  Now I have to ask Chavie if she wants to come with me.

“Apple Store?” Chavie responds to my query with the dialect of those who hold their tongues while talking or are under 40-some-odd months old.  She wonders for a moment, but quickly turns ebulliently ecstatic – “Ya!” she explodes.  She starts saying a lot of things at a swift super-excited and gaggly pace to her mother and father – I can’t make it all out, but it sounds like she's listing all the yummy fruit she plans on picking out with me at apple store. 

Chavie’s mother bundles her up in pink, and I walk with her (Chavie) outside to the car. I help her into the back seat, in back of the driver’s side.  The mall is about fifteen minutes away.  I drive through the darkness towards the expressway and feel awkward.  There is too much background noise from the road and the vent for me to really have a conversation with Chavie.  I hope she’s not scared.  If I were three years old and was being taken somewhere on a dead of winter night by a relative I only barely knew, ya, I’d be piss-scared. 

I realize that I’m emitting negative vibes throughout the car.  They’re permeating my niece's coat, clothes, and epidermis.  They’re seeping past her blood-brain barrier, and the unconscious decision that I’m ‘the scary uncle’ is coalescing.  I turn around hazardously to her (I must look like a mutant praying mantis in the dark), and virtually scream so that she can just hear me: “would you like me to put some music on, Chavie?”  She nods, very sure that she does want music – that she needs music.  And then I remember that there is no music.  Sure, there’s FM; but nothing that Chavie’s mother would let her listen to – no Uncle Moishy or MBD.  I lie and tell her that the CD player is broken.

“Why?” she asks.

-          --Because there’s a CD stuck inside the player and it won’t come out.


-          --Because somebody put gum inside of it.


-          --Chavie, why did somebody put gum on the disc, causing it to get stuck inside the player?

“Because,” she says – as though I should have a fundamental built-in understanding of what the answer is. 

With that ‘because’, I successfully end a string of ‘whys’ that could seriously continue till the sun goes supernova.  Chavie’s mother (my sister) taught me this trick of taking the last thing you say to her daughter and flipping the onus of the ‘why’ back to her (Chavie).  It’s eerie how well it works, but for now, it does.

There’s some mild traffic on the highway, so our predicted time in the car now looks like it is going to be more like twenty minutes.  Of course, I’m telling Chavie every few minutes how we’ll be arriving in a few minutes, losing all the integrity this little three year old has for me by the second – you can’t win trust back; not when you mislead someone at such a young and deeply impressionable age.  

Creator of (false?) Hope

A number of weeks ago I was visiting a friend of mine in Philadelphia at his parent's house. Turns out the dude's mom is a pseudonymical writer who freelances for all sorts publications, including those of the Jewish persuasion.  Stories of Hashgacha Pratiyus are something she gets a real 'see-puk' from submitting - as they tend to spread hope and inspiration amongst a great many of our brethren.  What can be wrong with a chessed like that?

Essentially nothing.  But I was a little internally nonplussed when she (pretty much) cavalierly indicated that many of the Divine Providence stories that she sends in to her editor are in fact products of her beautifully upbeat and spiritual imagination.  Do the means (story fabrication) justify the ends (her aim to uplift people [and that is assuming that she is really earnest about this 'end', and not doing this for some ulterior motive])?

Remember the Dybbuk tape from a decade or so ago?  After some people played it in my yeshiva, our high school dorm was suddenly lined with born-again angelic saints.  At the time, rabbis stated that no one ever 'flips around' for good due to an open miracle.  Something always goes wrong, and the 'flippers' tend to return to their previous plane .  Real change comes gradually, through extensive soul-searching and copious Torah study.  

In the case of the Dybbuk story, the thing that went 'wrong' was the fact that the story was exposed as being a sham.  We don't have to think too hard about the sense of contempt that such deceit engendered in the hearts of those who shtyged through the motivation of a lie.  What does this sense of animosity breed?  Very likely, not a return to a previous level of observance amongst the deceived - quite possibly a markedly lower one.

Let's say for a moment that the Dybbuk lie was never exposed.  Then we would arrive at a proverbial 'tree falling in a forest without..." and "what you don't know can't hurt you" theoretical backdrop.  In that case, things may have been okay in the sense that contempt would not have developed in those who went through a life-changing experience by listening to the tape  (sure, they may have returned to their previous level of observance over time, but for the more general aforementioned reason that real change does not come through exposure to one big open miracle, but that is off point vis-a-vis the what I am trying to flesh out).  

This being the case, if that were to have happened (read: if the tape had never been discovered to be fraudulent), that may have been okay.  Outside of the fact that the embedded philosophical issues could have easily shifted into an actualized problem:  Just the fact that it was clearly strongly possible that people would learn that they had been lied to must be taken into consideration.  Great, when all is said and done, no one may have found out, but is it really worth taking the risk in the first place?

Therefore, should my friend's mother really be writing that 'fictionally real' story of the guy that just missed his plane and 'oh-how-terrible-but-no-how-incredible-because-the-plane's-pilot-was-a-diabetic-and-went-into-glucose-shock-and-long-story-short-everyone-on-the-plane-died'? 

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Movie Review 'Taken,' Starring Liam Neeson:

Movies are assur.  'Taken' is a movie.  Therefore 'Taken' is assur.  I learned this line of rudimentary Aristotelian logic back in the day when I tried cracking the LSATS.  I never could wrap my mind around some of those logic games.  Which is why 'Taken' is a nice diversion of the 'Bourne' (at least the first and third of that Matt Damon trilogy) and 'Enemy of the State; (excellent film - remember it) variety - it's intelligent, but you can have an IQ hovering around 100 and not feel like you have to keep up. Don't get me started on the first 'Mission Impossible' flick or any other incomprehensible rubix cube downer.  

Liam Neeson is one bad-tuchus dude who is always deliberate in his roles - and it shines through in 'Taken'.  He's got to take on more of these type of flicks.  Even though they may be lacking for substance, it does not matter much - it's a primal joy to watch him thrill as he kills in his elegantly mannish, reasoned, and purposeful Euro-style.  He's in control, and he'll get you for taking his daughter - this guy's all staggered testosterone.  I'm not going to ruin the movie for you with particulars, but if you liked recent bare-bones fare like American Gangster, you'll leave the multiplex sated enough, and meditating on how cool it would be to be Liam Neeson. 'Taken' hits an assur multi-plex near you on January 30.  Stay tuned for a review of the hot to the touch 'Watchmen'...

My niece and I (part one of a two [or maybe three] part series)*:


As my younger siblings progress with their lives and build their families in part through procreation, I am sometimes afforded the opportunity to spend time with said procreates.  I have a total of three nieces and nephews, with one G-d willing on the way.  This is a story about a (quite short) road trip I took with my nearly three year-old niece; Chavie:


Backtrack.  This really happened:  I dropped my four month old Iphone in the toilet at work a month before the trip.  I did not drop it per se.  I left it on the toilet’s tank.  Commensurate with Newton’s basic laws, the force of my self-ejection from the seat was rebuffed by enough shaking on the toilet’s part for my phone to fall right into the ugly waters below.  

After a few second delay of processing facts like: ‘Yes, that is my phone, and yes, its present location is very undesirable indeed’, I temporarily quarantined my germaphobic sensibilities and scooped the wet phone out of its miserable environs.  

I (kind of) did what everyone advised me:  “Wipe the phone dry.  Clean it with some rubbing alcohol.  Put it in a container of rice, which will help to demoisturize the device’s innards at a possibly swifter rate.  Leave it like that for at least a week.”  I did remarkably well following these instructions, but the last step tripped me up.  

I tried turning the phone back on after about two days.  A sign appeared on its screen, which may well have said “You idiot, you weren’t supposed to turn me on for another five days, I’m still wet in a few spots dude - &*^% this hurts!  You really messed up, pal.  Do you hear that hissing sound?  It's the hissing of my stir-frying circuitry and five hundred of your hard-earned dollar bills vaporizing.  Goodbye.”  The sign may actually have been more like a fuzzy Apple logo that flickered out after a second or so; same difference - the phone was fried.


            And we shift to present tense:

Enter Chavie.  My sister’s prima donna.  Her little diva.  Chavie comes with her tatty and mommy to spend Shabbos with my parents recently.  

So Erev Shabbos, I go to Apple’s nook on the web and schedule a ‘Motzahey-Shabbos-Kodesh; Oh-Shabbos-We-Are-So-Sad-That-For-The Next-143.45-Hours-We-Will-Be-Able-To-Do-Melacha-Oh-How-Will-We-Make-It-Through-Till-We-See-You-Again’ appointment with a member of Apple’s Genius Bar.  

Let’s stop right there momentarily.  ‘Genius Bar’?  Are you kidding me?  A crew of skinny tattooed bohemian emo-haired kids that moonlight stocking shelves at Wal-Mart?  Gotta hand it to Apple – best snake oil sales people this side of Nigeria (all you Iphoners, just wait for the Palm Pre, don’t worry – I’ll look away when your envious noggin sends a neuro-signal to your bowels to automatically release contents therein).  

Tangent over.  So I’m thinking that I’ll bring Chavie with me to the store right after Shabbos (this being the aforementioned ‘road trip’).  She’ll be my secret weapon.  Everyone, (maybe even nerdy bass-guitar look-alikes selling Ipods) love young kids, right?  I’ll give them my water damaged phone, and they’ll be hypnotized by the powerless three year old beside me, and, under a Jedi-mind-trick-like trance, they’ll swap the liquifried phone for another one, a process that would for sure go as smooth as I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.    

*Photo of my niece's stunt double, on loan from the Smithsonian Museum of Plagiarism.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Fake Shidduch Resume

I'd like to deconstruct yesterday's sobering post shortly. In the meantime, now's as good a place as any to note that the Gemara is a dialectical text, constantly vacillating between two sides of the (suprisingly) same coin. In that vein, I'm going to go with a milsah b'deechoosah today:


Shidduch Resume For Yanky Crayola

Thermomeson Amu"sh

Born: Tisha B’Av, 1982

Height: 5”7, 5”9 when not hunched

Weight: 140 lbs. (due to a terribly unfortunate incident involving the loss of his large-intestine [sucked out by a swimming pool pump] he is a little underweight).

Resides: Due to a schizoid condition, he currently lives in Lakewood and Monsey – simultaneously.


Father: Rabbi Dr. Jerome “Herring” Thermomeson; author of the acclaimed book: You + the Torah + Chilled Vodka = Homemade Lubavitch Chassidus.

Mother: Rebbetzin Chaya Sorah Faygeh Hinda nee Rue-Canal nee Smith (once received a ‘get’, but it was the husband that was the problem, really, our rav said so).

Siblings: There are kn”h thirteen, three were chosen out of a hat…

Yossi - Eighteen years old, attends Yeshivas Tikkun Mishkav Zochur, he’s having balls of fun and making steady progress in his rehabilitation, b”H

Yanky (2) – Twenty-six years old. Brought over from Chaya’s previous marriage, he is somehow a virtual doppelganger of Yanky, whenever they are in the same room they walk towards each other, thinking they’re looking into a mirror. Yanky (2) attends the Saint Marco Polo Center for Persons with Restless Leg Syndrome.

Esther – Sixteen years old, student at Hinda Mirah’s School for the Blind, b”H she has 20/20 vision, we are happy that we gave her the opportunity to be at the top of her class.


K-8: Yeshivas Torah Is To Sweet As Crack Is To Awesome

Curriculum based on a vomited-out worpage of the Montessori teaching method lined with educators that don’t know what 75% of the words on this resume mean.

9th-12th: Yeshivas Be’er Mayim Raglayim

Graduated, receiving his diploma for Being Able to ‘Go’ Without Drops Hitting the Seat.

Madrasas Osama

Accidently enrolled there for Beis Medrash; very similar tautology to that of the typical yeshiva, he really had a blast there.


Rabbi Izz Moeleztin: Rebbi muvhuck since childhood; was also Yanky’s Bar Mitzvah teacher.

Rabbi Ahmad Fadeel al-Nazal al-Khalayleh: Rosh Yeshiva; Madrasa Osama. Yanky learnt Nefesh HaChayyim: Suicide Bomber Edition with him b’chavrusah.

Fleeky: Yanky’s imaginary friend.

Post-postmodern Judaism

Never read this book, but I thought the juxtaposition of the words in the title were apropos of this post's crux: Okay, what would the great, holy Amaroim of yore say about today's societal disconnect and the fallout it is indirectly causing?  Don't know for sure, but a friend just told me that Rav Matisyahu Solomon said, in one form or another: "Thank G-d I was not born in this generation - I don't know if I would have remained religious in the contemporary social milieu".  Pornography has become (dare I say) 'accepted' by many, a result of the spiritually-nutritionless plasma that is being infused into our collective bloodstream.  The battle for and against G-d's existence amongst the rational world is now akin to a pile of somewhat-smoldering ashes which, any day now, might be - it's so dire that it can now occur almost unwittingly - dusted away, resulting in...poof, the notion of a Creator completely vanishing from the entire consciousness of the elite.  Too bad, because this, like everything in the secular world, rubs off on the Jewish world to varying and troubling degrees, leaving many existentially disillusioned.  It was one thing when Nevuah left the world and G-d hid Himself (viewable though through history - see: Purim story, etc.), but we are confronted 'these days' with a second wallop; the belief by a critical mass of people that G-d is more than just hidden...
So how does an aspiring 'ben Torah' deal?