Monday, July 16, 2007

Ending the Madness

There is an organization called End the Madness whose goal it is to help those orthodox singles find a mate. The organization bemoans the fact that the traditional means of finding your "bashert" currently employed by the orthodox Jewish community does not work. Part of the main problem is that the singles and their families are often more concerned with the things that don't count more than the things that do. Chananya Weisman, who is the founder of End the Madness just wrote an article that was forwarded to me this morning, that really hits home on this. While I don't like to take up lots of space with pasting someone else's articles, since I cannot find a link to it yet, I post it here: (below the article is the actual message of today's blog)

Living a Contradiction: By Chananya Weissman

You work for a living, and you work hard for your living, at that. You spent many years and many more thousands of dollars to receive a higher education, and you value the fact that you are a worldly, well-rounded person. You follow the news in a variety of media. You enjoy the many wonderful advances in science and technology of our modern world.You have a variety of hobbies and interests that may include sports, literature, art, music, travel, and so much more. You are politically informed, place a premium on independent, critical thinking, and believe that every person is and should be unique. You send your children to schools that reflect this understanding of the diverse needs of every individual and that prepare them to have a variety of options as they prepare for adulthood.In your professional life you often have to deal with members of the opposite sex. You ride buses and trains that carry both genders, and frequently dine in restaurants in which men and women stand on line together and sit at tables together. Occasionally you encounter someone who is not dressed appropriately and you avert your eyes, but you recognize that such experiences are normal and don’t feel any religious obligation to eat only at home as a result. You or your children may have even attended schools in which males and females are not completely separate.Your wife either does not cover her hair, covers it grudgingly, or covers it with a very expensive shaitel that is designed to make her appear stunning and the envy of all who see her.When you grew up, and certainly when your parents grew up, it was normal for people to meet and go out on dates. You met at school, in camp, in shul, at chessed projects, at political rallies, and in general through being open to meeting new people. Friends introduced one another. Shadchanim offered their services, but you hardly knew anyone who wanted or needed their services. Personal ads were something you would get a chuckle out of. It was generally pleasant to meet people, go out on dates, go steady with someone, and ultimately find someone to marry. The men were gentlemen, the women were ladies, and people acted appropriately. This was how rabbis met their future rebbetzins, too. It was nice. One glorious day your child announces that he is getting married. Chances are that his dating experience was far less pleasant, and that he relied primarily on shadchanim and online personal ads to find people to date. You understand now that this is more religious, this is what Hashem wants, and this is in fact the way it probably was throughout Jewish history. You accept what you hear. After all, that’s what people are saying, and who are you to question?Your first reaction upon hearing that your child is getting married is not joy, but relief. Your darkest nightmares – which have come true for so many others – have been averted. Your child will get married after all.You plan a wedding. And plan, and plan, and plan. There are lots of details to consider, but one thing is certain from the outset: the husbands will not sit with their wives, and the single men will not sit with the single women. First of all, you have suddenly become concerned that someone may dress or act inappropriately, despite everything else about your upbringing and background. Second of all, you heard that some rabbis with a mystique about them, a certain aura, and a large devoted following are against the idea of men and women interacting unless they are married or planning on marrying one another very soon.Third of all, you don’t want to fight over it. Your kid is getting married. So what if the singles at the wedding would like the same? Besides, maybe someone of the same gender will set them up, or something like that. That’s right. Hashem can work it out if He wants. They just have to daven and believe. It’s not your headache.Fourth of all, you want your chassidishe cousins to be comfortable. That’s the most important thing.You don’t ask yourself why you are suddenly taking an extreme approach regarding the separation of the sexes, one that does not manifest itself in any other aspect of your family, social, or professional life. You don’t ask yourself why you are so vitally concerned with what certain rabbis think about this issue when these rabbis are not your poskim, do not share your philosophies and values, and in fact would consider pretty much your entire lifestyle to be outside the pale. They would accept nothing about you and how you live, they would hurl insults at your religious outlook, and they would accept your children only as reclamation projects, not as good Jews. All they would accept of you is your tzedaka dollars and that you have a yiddishe neshama. But you don’t ask yourself why their opinion on mixed seating at weddings is suddenly so important to you.You don’t ask yourself why you don’t follow these same rabbis when in comes to watching an occasional movie, having an Internet connection, reading a newspaper, reading a book, having colors in your wardrobe, working for a living, allowing your wife to pursue ambitions outside the home, and so much more. You don’t ask yourself why your local rabbi is suddenly no longer good enough to rely upon.You don’t ask yourself why you aren’t living in Bnei Brak and learning in a kollel, if that is what you REALLY believe Hashem wants of a good Jew. You don’t ask yourself why you are being so inconsistent by following these extreme opinions on matters like mixed seating, shidduchim, certain matters of kashrus and the like, yet live a lifestyle that suggests you have a religious outlook that isn’t always black and white, one-size-fits-all, don’t ask questions, just say no.You don’t ask yourself any of these things. Maybe then you would realize that your religious observance is based more on social expectations than religious values, tradition, and compelling teachings. Maybe then you would realize that you are dancing from doorpost to doorpost, desperately hoping only to be accepted by your neighbors. You have separate seating at your child’s wedding because that’s what some people expect of you, not because you really, truly believe it’s right. But you say nothing. After all, you want your grandchildren to be able to get a shidduch.
All of this brings me to the original reason behind this post, which is, of course, "the Boy." The 20 year old daughter of a friend is (make that "was") dating a nice young man from England while she studies in Israel. They met a few weeks ago, and "the Boy" as she liked to refer to him, seemed to be having a very nice time with her. Clearly she liked him very much, and was very infatuated. In fact, she even started changing her behavior for him, like not wearing pants when they went out, but wearing a skirt instead. He was thoughtful, attentive, bright, handsome and liked her very much. Or so he said. He would email her after the dates and tell her what a great time he'd had. and looked forward to seeing her again. And then, apparently, last night, the Boy told her that he came from a family that only used shadchanim, (matchmakers) and that things between them could never work out. And with that, unceremoniously, the relationship ended, and "the Boy" was gone. Just like that. I won't bother to go into the obvious social gaffes here and the feelings involved. Perhaps a different time. It just struck me as amazing that here, the night after this awful event, I am sent Rabbi Weissman's article that seems to me to fit this to a tee, and felt that I had to share it with you. Maybe he, and his organization will be successful in helping other "Boys" or girls who have to deal with them make better choices with fewer outside influences.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Virgins get in free

I had intended to go on about the trials and tribulations of my vacation, but this was too ridiculous not to pass on. I am really not much of a prude. Nor am I shy about many things, but having been raised in a small town in PA, I am still taken aback at times by what passes for normal in New York City. It is a great town, with much to offer, but at times, you have to scratch your head, and say, geez........ In this morning's paper, there was an Associated Press article about giving free tickets to a new off-Broadway show called "My First Time," a comedy, to anyone who can demonstrate their chastity. The show, based on a 1o year old website inviting users to anonymously describe their losing their virginity.
Which, as the article goes on to ask, begs the question.... just how will the theater know?
Well, enter Sebastian Black, the human lie detector. Black is a self described mind reader/hypnotist who is a "master of body language." He will conduct interviews and determine whether or not those before him have ever done the dirty act. Apparently he is pretty good at figuring out who is telling the truth. The producer, Ken Davenport would not say how many virgin tickets are available, but commented that "there are not that many virgins in New York. What can you expect from the town that spawned "Sex and the City?"

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Summertime, and the blogging is slow

During the summer my time to blog is somewhat more limited as I imagine most of yours is as well. Couple that with the occasional vacation, and you are in blogging limbo. I have just returned from such a vacation, and have not had a chance to sit down at the computer to write since work and life have gotten in the way. Today's post is short, a warm up to tomorrow. Having just returned from Florida I will issue one piece of advice that I am sure many of you already know about this time of year.... (with apologies to all the Floridians out there) DON'T GO!!!!!!!!! I really like the Sunshine State. I have been there many times. What I don't like is the Sunshine State, or at least the lower part of it, in the summer. Hazy, Hot and Humid takes on new meaning. And if you are like me, it is impossible to go outside without your eyeglasses fogging up. I think someone should, if they have not yet, find a way to make glasses that don't fog when you go from the air conditioning to the steamy Florida outdoors in the summer. Thankfully, most of the places you go in southern Florida are close to the water, so at least you can take a dip. It was even too hot for the Florida wildlife. Being the adventurer that I am, i dragged my wife to Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples, Fla. Expecting to see alligators, herons, frogs, turtles and birds of all kinds, what we found was a beautiful gift shop with a proprietor who said "don't expect to see too much wildlife out there. The drought is keeping them away." Well he was right, except for one thing that I found in abundance. Mosquitoes. Or should I say they found me. You see, I obviously emit whatever chemical that says to them "come bite me" and they do. By the time we left, I had seven bites and needed a drink. No gators or wildlife of any kind we could see. Despite all the complaining, my first trip to southwest Florida showed it to be at least as beautiful as its eastern cousin. The gulf is amazing. Incredibly warm, with calm shores and waters. The sunsets, as we were told over the phone when we booked our hotel, were not to be missed. They are truly an awesome sight. Sometimes, however, life interrupts, and vacations, while pleasant, turn out to be something different from what you expected. But more about that tomorrow......

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

You can't take it back - family and other hazzards of life

As a therapist, I often have to live life looking at it from several perspectives. There is the one perspective that wants to be like most people and just react to life. Then there is the other one that says "you have to have empathy, compassion, understanding" when all I really want to do is shake the people in front of me so hard that their eyeballs pop out. The latter persona (calm, empathic and compassionate) is usually the one that wins out in the end, so you can feel free to visit me at the office and I won't shake you too hard.
Recently I had such an experience in my own family. My niece got engaged. There was just one tiny little problem. She had neglected to tell her parents about it. A tiny little problem which loomed much larger as the engagement party, hastily put together, was to take place. (A mere three days after the announcement) Well, you can imagine the mayhem that ensued as it turned out that her parents were not too keen on the engagement, given the length of the dating period (less than two months) and the daughter, determined to marry said young man, did not intend to seek her parents' endorsement. Enter the uncle....... which would be me. I was asked to support the young bride and her intended (emotionally) which I said I would gladly do. That was until I found out that the parents were a negative request at the upcoming party. My lovely niece decided that it was best for all if her parents did not attend given their marked reticence. She was concerned that there might be "a scene" despite the fact that is was not at all their style. And so began a flurry of last minute negotiations between uncle, fiancee, siblings, parents. Everyone who was going to go originally had now opted out, turning what was to be a joyous occasion into something that was going to leave many of us with hurt feelings, and irreparable rifts. I am not exactly sure how, but in the end, my niece changed her mind, and we all went and had a wonderful time celebrating what we hope will be a long, terrific life together for these two young people.
One of my wife's mantras to anyone who will listen is that "you can't take it back", one of the things of which she reminds me regularly, that I have come to experience again and again. (luckily not between us.... yet!) What she means by this is that there are things in life, once uttered, or performed, that are indelible, unchangeable and damaging beyond repair. No matter how much we didn't mean it when we said ____ (fill in the blank) we can never take it back. We may forgive, we may overlook, we may say we will forget, but more often than not, we can't. And this is why we have to be so careful in the first place. I told my niece "this is one of those things you can never take back." I don't know if she heard me, listened to others, or listened to her inner voice, but in the end she did what was right. Even if it didn't feel right at the time. And this is what we all need to do a bit more. Don't do or say things that we can not take back. There are no (or at least very few) do overs in life. Why chance it?