Wednesday, June 30, 2010

My Stranger; My Sister

Our eyes locked momentarily, hers black, darting back and forth, uneasy. She scanned me briefly from head to toe and then shifted her gaze as if it were all a mistake.

I’d never seen her in my life and yet just the sight of her made me uncomfortable. Our distinctions were loudly conspicuous, it was hard to imagine having anything in common with her. She spoke Yiddish and I, English. Her hair was cropped short while mine fell past my shoulders. She was dressed in a conservative suit, I was wearing a sweatshirt.
We were absolute opposites, our silent exchange was nothing but the encounter of two perfect strangers, so as turned the corner I couldn't help but wonder what is was about her that gnawed the way it had?

Which is crazy, isn't it, it dawned on me after...She was a Jewish girl, like me. She lights candles every Friday night; like me. We pray to the same G-d and celebrate the same holidays. We have differing traditions, maybe. Follow different trends, sure. But aren’t we sisters, nonetheless? Don't we descend from the same nation? Haven’t we come from the same past? And aren’t we headed toward the same destiny?

How did it get this way? When did we let it get so far? Isn’t it crazy that I can look at her and pretend we have nothing in common when we only have the same blood pumping through our veins?

Our eyes lock momentarily, hers black, darting back and forth, uneasy. She scans me briefly from head to toe and then shifts her gaze as if it were a all a mistake.

I’ve never seen her in my life but I smile, like I know her.

She smiles back, slowly, surprised that I’ve picked her out of the crowd at DSW.

My stranger.

My sister.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

If I Was a Rich Girl

"Are we rich, Ta?" I remember asking my father as a little girl. He looked at me with a twinkle in his eye, a great big smile crossing his lips. "Sure," he said. My eyes grew wide.

" in nachas."

My face fell.

If he would tell me that now, my eyes would light up like a million neon Vegas lights. But it wasn't now; it was then. And back then, "nachas" had the net value equivalent to a mushy banana.

The truth was we were of course not rich. Not in any sense of the word. Even so, I still managed to have been one of those obnoxious privileged kids we all secretly love to hate. Minus the trust fund.

I grew up with a different kind of privilege. One most children aren't lucky enough to have. Born to parents, most children aren't lucky enough to be born to. There wasn't a question they couldn't answer. Not a thing they wouldn't do for us. They were the heroes of my community. They changed people's lives. Did I notice it then? Barely. Sure, I opened the door to dozens of desperate faces, hungry souls, and when we escorted them out, they left different people.

But did I realize who'd changed them? Never.

I always wondered, though. Wondered about these people. Why they came. What did we have that they didn't? What possessed these doctors, these lawyers, and business executives to come sit in a tent on our porch in the dead of October?

They'd gather around our table with talk of "meaning" on their lips. And go on about the lengths they'd gone to find it. I'd shiver in my skin and wonder what could possibly be so thrilling about a journey that landed them on our claustrophobic deck in below freezing weather. But they'd continue to speak, as if wind or snow couldn't stop them. They spoke with an excitement I couldn't understand. An enthusiasm that didn't belong. And electricity that couldn't be silenced.

"What's so special about meaning?" I'd muse aloud; the amateur cynic.

"Meaning," they told me, was a special place that had taken them years to find.

"'Where is it?" I challenged. "Show me."

But they couldn't. So they didn't. All they did was point to the left side of their chests and say, "'Meaning' is not a tangible place. Not a place you can fly to or point out on a map. Only a place you could find within yourself."

I laughed.

A mistake, perhaps, since I could already begin to see sparks of, oh I don't know, envy combined with horror, crawling in their eyes. They were stunned. Astonished by my wild disregard. Here they were, killing themselves, turning over their very lives just to obtain something I already had and was throwing away. Why, they couldn't at all understand, did I not appreciate the things they fought so hard to find?


Several few weeks ago I found myself in the Old City of Jerusalem, dumbstruck by the incredible air of holiness, when a bunch of local children ran past me. "Can you imagine growing up here?" I marveled, my voice laced with a sentiment fairly akin to jealously. "I bet these kids don't even realize how lucky they are "

As soon as those words left my lips, I regretted them.

I am them. The kid, who grew up in the Old City, skinned my knees on cobblestones and never noticed the magnitude of it. The girl who was born on a mountain, oblivious to the climb one must endure to get there.

Fast-forward ten years, a hop skip and plane ride from Buffalo and I finally understand what they saw when they looked at me. It finally clicked when I was offered a glimpse through the eyes I watched for so many years. The eyes that got wider and wider and with time more astonished and bewildered. The questions that filled those eyes, without them having to utter a single word. How can you not appreciate blatant holiness!? How can you not see G-d when He's staring you in the face!?

This time I saw it, if only for a moment. I saw what I once considered trite and feigned. But this time it was different. Because this time I believed it.

I realize now, it wasn't that I resented "truth" or "meaning" or whatever it was that made these people so crazy; it was that I never got the opportunity to know it. To appreciate it by my own will. It wasn't that I mocked their journey; it was that I envied it. All I ever really wanted was the chance to make my way of life something I chose rather than going along for the ride of something that had chosen me.

The truth is, 'truth' doesn't just want to be recognized in a crowd nor does it wish to crowd surf through throngs of screaming fans; it wants to be found. Sought out and pursued. Certainly, it could be raining all around you, in your bedroom, in your coffee, in your hair, but if you don't reach out, pick it up and internalize it, it means little, if anything at all.

You have to search for it. Under your bed, in your heart and in your soul. You have to want to find it. No matter the cost. You have to earn it. And then earn it again. And again.


Monday, June 14, 2010

If you are a single girl in the city (and by 'city' I mean Crown Heights) there are three things you ought to look out for. Yourself, oncoming traffic, and…well, Dov.

On paper, Dov was everything a girl could ever want. Sweet. Funny. Intelligent. Easy going. And at twenty three, three years Naomi's senior- he was juuust about ready for marriage.

He requested her on Facebook one night and they started up a casual flirtation via Facebook messaging. Since neither was terribly conventional they opted to skip the traditional shandchan process and go ahead on a date.

She heard that piing sound saw his message. 'Pick you up on Sunday at two,' it said, and it filled her stomach with jitters and butterflies and all kinds of wonderful pre-date creatures.

The night before their date she gets a call from Dov. They had a great conversation and just as they are about to hang up he says, "My brother won't let me borrow his car, so can we take yours…?"

Now, the whole shidduch thing was still unprecedented territory for her but she was still pretty damn sure this behavior was tacky and inappropriate first date etiquette. Regardless, she wasn't about to throw a hissy fit over the phone with a guy she hadn't even met yet. So even though she was inclined to get on the floor and kick her feet in a rapid motion, instead, she graciously agreed.

Eager, but kind of bummed, she got up at ten o'clock the next morning, in her dress and heels to clean out her car. The thing was, she'd been really antsy all morning and in the time it took her to clear all of her crap from her car, she'd polished off three Red Bulls and really needed to use the bathroom.

He invited her inside. When she emerged from the bathroom, he was sprawled out on his ratty leather couch. He looked at her with a grave expression and said, "Wanna just stay here and play video games?"

Now there were two possibilities. Either this guy was drop dead hilarious. Or he was total moron. She tried tried coax herself into the first option. It had to be a joke.

"See, that’s just the type of guy I am," he continued.

It wasn't.

'This can't be happening,' she whined in her head.

Oh, but it was.

"I'm chilled," he carried on. "I like to just kick back and take it easy…."


The truth was, if she knew what was good for her, or had looked out for any signs of male pattern infancy, whatsoever, she would have grabbed her heels and ran far, far away from a guy whose idea of a grand first date was video games in his parents' basement.

But she didn't know what was good for her, or let's just call her optimistic. Instead she said, through gritted teeth. "I think we should go out."

See, Naomi was ordinarily a pretty laid back girl. Flexible. Low maintenance. But when they got back in the car and he asked her where she wanted to go, suddenly she wasn't feeling so "flexible" anymore. Disheartened, and annoyed that he hadn't planned a proper date, she sighed, "I donno, how about the Tea Lounge or Starbucks."

"The Tea Lounge is stupid," he huffed, shaking his head. He was loads classier than that. Obviously.

They drove aimlessly for about twenty five minutes and when they passed the same corner for the fourth time, she knew she had to take action.

"How about we get something to eat?"

This seemed to excite him a great deal. He claimed he knew of this great place with fantastic burgers. "You a burger fan?" He asked her.

"Sure, why not." She was pretty much a fan of anything that wasn't on wheels, 5x5 and making her want to hurl.

But just when she thought the date couldn't possibly get any worse, he told her to park.

It was Schnitzy's. A greasy little schnitzel joint off of Ave J in Brooklyn.

This was worse. Much worse.

It occurred to her as she forced one embellished foot in front of the other that this might very well be what hell was like.

The entire restaurant, including the orange clad employees, turned to stare at her as they walked through the belled doors. Silently, she cursed her roommate for coercing her into get dolled up, and the douchebag who had taken her to the kosher equivalent of McDonalds.

He ordered a super-sized burger, complete with rainbow colored sauces oozing out and about five pickles too many. She ordered fries.

After over an hour of strained conversation, complete disdain on her face and sauce on his, he shoved his tray on top of the garbage and grabbed some toothpicks for the ride home.

The fifteen minutes it took to drive from Flatbush to Crown Heights were the longest fifteen minutes Naomi had ever known. When she pulled up in front of his house and put the car in park he climbed out of the car and started to say, "So I'll know for our next date…."

Aww, how adorable. He thought there were be a next date.

"We'll be in touch," she told him and sped away.

Far, far away.

And they never FB chatted again.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

My Corrupt Fashion Affair?

My article on about fashion and Judaism stirred a great deal of controversy and criticism due to the fact that many believed that the two were an inappropriate, offensive comparison that didn’t belong in the same breath.

The biting comments that followed made me sick to stomach and humbled me thoroughly. I've heard that you can’t write anything without getting bad rap. Where there’s good press, there’s bad. And where there’s bad, there’s really bad. But if I was wrong and wholly mistaken I wanted to know and stand corrected. At first I was stung but then I couldn’t help but wonder if they were right. Was I completely misguided as to say that a person could be a fashionable Jew? That a person who might normally get revved up about a pair of shoes could channel that excitement toward their Judaism? Or had my readers completely missed the point?

The crucial focal point throughout my article was that, like football or art or really any pastime, fashion is something that is desired and often leaves a trail of followers. The purpose of my article wasn’t to promote fashion worship but to promote the idea that a person could be as excited about Judaism as they are about fashion.

I understand that there are flaws in fashion and I don’t dismiss them. The industry is fickle and immodest, sometimes to the point of immorality. A person could easily get caught up in material, vanity and the shallow belief that exterior appearances are all that matter. One could fall so head over heels in love with fashion to the point of slavery and reject all notion that there is anything more to life than their body.

That is not the aspect of fashion we ought to learn from. Reb Zushe teaches us the that we can learn positive behavior even from a dishonest and completely corrupt individual; from a thief!

Was he suggesting we become thieves?

Or was he proposing something totally novel? That we are possibly smart enough to discern between the significant and the shtuss!?

Fashion may not be completely kosher and we’ve never mixed kippas with couture but the two may have more in common than we’ve ever cared to admit. The question is, are we strong enough to separate the poison from the message and learn a trick or two from the runway without getting trampled by a parade of six foot, pin-thin models?

Ps. BTW- I shop at Forever 21 (a fashion crime, I'm sure) and I have never met Michael Kors- in person or in the form of a dress. Fashion is eye candy to me, not my life, G-d forbid. As much as I wish I could afford to drip materialism, I can't...