Isaac Kaplan

"Is it any wonder I've got too much time on my hands?"

Monday, May 31, 2004

Yarmulkas anyone?

I was standing outside shul today, a few minutes before mincha, when I was approached by two people who didn't look too religious. One of them asked me, "can you get an extra yarmulke from my friend?" Considering I had just bought mine yesterday after my old one fell off the face of the earth, I had to say no. Which brought to mind the following point:

In many modern-Orthodox shuls, there are bins in front of the sanctuary containing yarmulkes and taleisos. These come in quite handy for the non-frum and others who don't wear one all day and want to daven mincha. I beleive that every shul should have one. By having one, we are basically appealing to all Jews- we are inviting all Jews to Shul, whether they're as frum as we are or not.

The arguments against it are that in an Agudah-type shul, there is no demand for it. I beleive that in spite of this, there's no reason not to do it. The expense for putting up a bin and putting in a few satin yarmulkes is no bank-breaker. Besides, I remember a similar incident to the one above happening a few years back in my Agudah, when a large group of Russians came to daven, and a similar frantic search for a yarmulke and talleisos took place. So there IS a need (granted, not a huge one) for the yarmulke bin.

The other argument against it the old "it doesn't look good" argument. "It looks too modernish." What? It doesn't look good to be looking out for other Jews? It doesn't look good to invite all Jews in? I'm not asking these shuls to have doily bins for the women (not a bad idea, either), but I can't see what's too hard about yarmulka and tallis bins.

I know of one Yeshiva that has a hat-and-jacket g'mach. Now, this certainly is a nice thing (after all, have you ever seen a g'mach that wasn't nice?), but I believe that having that g'mach while lacking the yarmulka-tallis g'mach reeks of the awful "if-you're-not-as-frum-as-me-you're-not-Jewish" ideology.

BASEBALL NATION: Why 2004 kicks 1998, pt. 2

Now, there are two counter-arguments that I would like to deal with. I can hear all the devils' advocates complaining: how can you compare one-third of a year to a full season? Let's see what happens in September this year!? There is some truth to this argument, but let me ask all these advocates: can you name me one team that's gonna run away with it this year? The Yankees, potentially dealing with a Boston that's getting Nomar and Nixon back? The Angels, dealing with a ton of injuries, including slugger Troy Glaus' season-ending shoulder injury? And in the NL: preseason favorites Chicago and Houston have injuries to the pitching staff. And no, the mighty Aaron Harang will not help the Reds go all the way. The Padres? That group hasn't ever been in a pennant race, and they lack depth.

Another counter is that the home-run race of '98 was unmatchable. However, I'll take a September extra-inning game between two teams tied for first, with the tension of every pitch, over watching a whole game just to see Mark McGwire come to bat (my apologies to Eli Marrero). The suspense just isn't there. And the Yankees going for yet another win (trying for the record) against the hapless Devil Rays? Please.

Besides, even if you happen to be a fan of individual acheivements, 2004 is full of them. Think Barry Bonds passing Willie Mays, Roger Clemens' incredible start (and passing Steve Carlton on the K-list), and Ben Sheets' 18 K's followed by Randy Johnson's perfect game. (I'm not Gary Cohen or Ed Coleman, so I apologize in advance for leaving out Mike Piazza's record-setting HR.)

One thing I agree with: following the strike, '98 was a huge impact year, as it brought many fans back into the game. But in terms of pure action and excitement, '98 was far from the "Perfect Season."

One more point: One guy not getting enough credit for this year's excitement id the often-maligned commissioner, Bud Selig. Click here for an article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel giving this guy the credit he deserves.

BASEBALL NATION: Why 2004 kicks 1998, Pt. 1

A few weeks ago, I was looking for old baseball books on eBay. A book by one of my favorite broadcasters, Tim McCarver, caught my eye. It was called "The Perfect Season," a book about why 1998 was baseball's greatest season, how the Yankees won 125 games, the whole Sosa-McGwire thing, etc. I looked some more and saw another book, this one by the Daily News' Mike Lupica, called "Summer of '98." Seems '98 was one great year. But in my opinion, with one-third of the season done, the year so far is probably the one I've enjoyed the most as a fan; in fact, I'm enjoying it a lot more than '98. Some things haven't changed since then: the Yankees are still (basically) on top, and still kicking the tar out of the awful Devil Rays. But this year is much different, in a really good way.

This year, in all six divisions, there is no clear favorite. The largest gap between the first-place and second-place team in any division is 2.5 games back. In the NL, there is no clear favorite. The Reds and Marlins, both good but not great teams, are both the league's best with 30-21 records. The AL has the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry going for it as well as great races in the Central and West. And seeing teams like the Brewers, Reds, Padres, and Rangers finally playing competitive ball is just terrific.

Contrast that to '98. In '98, the only close race was the AL West, where Texas edged out Anaheim by 3 games. The second-closest gap? 9.5 games. In September, everyone was watching McGwire and Sosa, partially because there was nothing else going on (with the notable exception of the Cubs and Giants wild-card race).

In addition, 1998 had arguably the most boring postseason ever. What was the most exciting moment? Chuck Knoblauch arguing with the ump while two runners scored? Yawn. Also, the world series matchup of the Yankees-Padres had to be one of the biggest mismatches ever in series history. In fact, on the basis of their thrilling postseasons alone, I'd take 2001 and 2003 over 1998.

The Future of Boys' Summer Camps

With Shavuos and now Memorial Day weekend in the books, that means the next thing we're looking forward to is: the summer! And for much of our youth, that means a trip to camp in the Catskills or Poconos. I believe that camp as I knew it and camp as we will know it in a few years will be VERY different:

As the rift between the modern and yeshivish gets even more pronounced every day, camps are starting to shift as well. Many of the Yeshivish are getting stronger and stronger in advocating learning camps for the summer (except, of course, for Morasha Kollel. You can go to camp like Manavu and not learn a word, but CHAS V'SHALOM to learn in Morasha Kollel!), and others are getting strict about guys staying till Rosh Chodesh Av. When I was a kid in camp, I had many counselors who were borderline yeshivish, your average Torah Vadaas/ Ner Yisrael guy. Now, many of these guys were able to be counselors for both halves. I had a few buddies in my bunk who were really into camp; in fact, they would cry when camp was over! They always talked about how they wanted to stay in camp till they got married, and all that stuff. (Yes, I know, they most definitely needed to get a life.) But, fast-forward to a few years later, these guys are 18, they should be color war general, but NO! They're only going to camp for one half. They've gotta learn during the first half. And, a few years later, they're spending the whole summer learning. Granted, there are still a few rabbeim out there telling kids how important it is to be a counselor, to influence kids, etc. But that's only for the kids that aren't the sharpest knives in the drawer, the ones without the zitzfleisch to learn all summer. The really good guys are told to learn. And with the ever-fierce PR war still going on between Brooklyn schools, it won't be long unitl all kids are required to go to learning camps, because it won't look good otherwise.

The fact of the matter is that the shittoh against mainstream camps has some backing to it. I have seen it brought in the name of R' Moshe that summer camps are assur, and that this psak should even be publicized! However, this seems to be one of those psaks that haven't been practiced by the mainstream, such as the summer school psak, the air conditioner on a timer psak, etc. (For more anout the double standard in following R' Moshe, I refer you to my buddy Burry Katz's article (click here) about the Flatbush eiruv.)

And on the other side of things, it seems that the modern kids have gravitated more towards co-ed camps. I know of a few modern boys who were in Manavu and ended up switching to Mesora. A friend of mine was in camp in the late '80's/ early '90's that appealed to the frummer YU type. It was a boys-only camp, but the clientelle was more modern than your average Munk / Agudah guy. But in the mid-90's, enrollment was dropping, and the new kids who were coming were Russian immigrants and not the modern type. In the end, the camp was revamped, with a new head staff and more of an appeal to the yeshivish. It seems clear that most modern kids are going for the co-ed camps.

So with the Yeshivish going to one extreme and the modern to another, I believe that the camp situation in a few years, in the words of Billy Joel, will be "too high or too low, there ain't no in between."

Picture yourself in 2020 (if, ch"v, the Messiah hasn't come). Your looking to send your son to camp. It's between Morasha, Moshava, Morris, and Harim. Sounds strange, no? But to me, it sounds all too real.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Peyos: does anybody care?

I've seen a few mitzvos / aveiros get a lot of press over the last few years. Lashon Horo, Shatnez, and even standing for a talmid chacham have gotten plenty of press time. But, after seeing another person with a really short haircut, I'm wondering if the mitzvoh of peyos is falling by the wayside. With the fad of buzzed haircuts as popular as ever, it seems that quite a few people have stopped caring and have decided that looking cool is more important. One of my Rabbeim said at least a "3" is necessary to be mikayem the mitzvoh. I'm sure there are those that argue, but I've seen some haircuts that just can't be legal? Where's the Peyos Heritage Foundation when you need it?

One more point on peyos: people who grow briskers and play with them tick me off. If you've got 'em for the right reasons, you should realize that they're not toys, they're holy, so don't play with them! And if you're doing it for shtick, just cut them freakin' off. Grow a choop instead and play with that.

Thoughts on Brits

I was in class the other night, and a few of us and one British guy were discussing Memorial Day weekend. The Brit was making fun of a few morons who had no idea what the day was all about. The guy said "I guess the Americans just wanted an excuse for a vacation." Yeah, and I'm sure this schmendrique finds all of the British holidays meaningful.

Another pathetic argument I've heard is that British history extends back for thousands of years, while American history only extends for 225 years. (Then again, according to your local politically correct historian, American history also goes back thousands of years, as the fine, cultured Native Americans lived in the land for many years until a bunch of evil white men chased them away.) I heard this, and I'm thinking, "so what's your point?" So your history goes back many years. Big deal! And what do you have going for you now? A leftist, anti-Israel state with a miniscule birth rate? In fact, a letter I saw recently said the BBC is so bad it makes CNN look like a Hadassah convention! Yeah, some country. I guess they're just embarrassed that they got their butts whipped in 1776 and still can't get over it.

What's up with the media portraying Brits as jerks? Is there truth to it, or not? And what can the agenda possibly be? The two Brits that come to mind are Anne Robinson of "The Weakest Link" and that jerk Simon Cowell from American Idol. I know of a few nice Brits, but are they the exception or the rule?

And why do these people think they're so cultured just because they drink tea? I've never really understood that. I can see why it's more cultured than beer, perhaps, but if I drink coffee, what's the difference? It's also hot, in a mug, etc. And what of the schoolkids who get smashed every day during lunch hour? What are they drinking?

Shavuos '04 In Review

Yes, this is my first post since Tuesday. And after getting ready to receive the Torah by setting up this blog and putting up the first few articles, it was time for the 'ol Festival of Weeks:

1) This Shavuos marked an addition to my list of people that need good beatings. Now on the list "People who sing during the schacharis the morning after staying up all night" and "people who just plain shlep during davening the morning after staying up all night." Any time a davening like this ends after 7 AM, it's either a cruel, sick joke, or.... well, I guess it's just a plain cruel, sick joke. If not because I hate starting machlokes, I'd put up a petition calling for the gabbai's resignation.

2) At two of the meals that I ate, I saw one of the silliest things I've seen in my life: pareve cheesecake. Can anyone explain this to me? At last check, there's only a point in eating dairy products. I've never heard anyone say anything about cheesecake, unless, of course, it is a dairy product. Funny thing is, however, I kinda like the parve type better than the real thing. (Which is kinda weird; like my buddy who says he thinks diet coke tastes better than regular. whatever.) Problem with the real thing is, the cheese is just too heavy. And if you have too big a piece, does it ever do a number on your stomach! But because parve is fake, the texture is lighter, it tastes almost as good, and I think there's just more flexibility in the recipe. Interestingly, my good friend Joey Levin is a big cheese danish fan. Those I agree on; the texture is just right. Problem is, they're too small and I end up eating way too many of them. Best cheesecake overall, in my opinion: Entenmann's crumb cheese cake. The key there: more dough than cheese.

3) The way things worked out this year, I had no dairy meals. Which, for me, worked out just fine. Dairy meals are like kissing your sister: nice, but no effect. What do you serve? Fish- not filling, and very hard to do right. One of my worst childhood memories is that nasty fishy salmon smell that filled our house every Wednesday night. Pasta- I like, but I think you need a fish/meat dish on a Shabbos meal for the full effect. Blintzes- my personal favorite, but they only cut it for a side dish. I think that essentially covers it. Bagels, pizza, and cereal are a pathetic excuse for a yomtov meal. This isn't Tuesday lunch: we should be able to do better than that!

4) Staying up all night: is it just me, or does it get harder every year? This year, I couldn't sleep the night before or the afternoon before. This brings to mind a story I once heard:
One of my Rabbeim told us a story of how, when he was a kid, his Dad, also a great Rabbi, said to him: "you're staying up all night tonight, and I'm not. Now, let's see who ends up learning more hours this Shavuos." After yomtov, they made a tally, and, needless to say, the father trounced my rebbi.

Gotta point there!

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

MEDIA NATION: Quite Im"press"ive

In my other post about the Jewish Week, I quoted a Jewish Press editorial. I've been a Press fan for a long time, and this past week's editorial was a real winner. Entitled "A Sharp and Telling Contrast," it basically compares Bush and Kerry's positions on Israel. Show it to all your frum liberal buddies!!

Speaking of which, for an interesting article about the Yeshivish and the Jewish Press, click here.

MEDIA NATION: The Jewish Week goes Weak

This past week marked a big change in my personal list of shittos. You see, I had always been a big fan of the Jewish Week, mostly because they seemed to be pro-Israel and also because I enjoyed hearing their spin on the Yeshivish world. (Although I'm still waiting for "Rabbi Svei to comment." Why does he always "refuse to comment" or "not return our calls"? Why do I feel like I'll have to wait a while? )

However, the Weak lost a ton of credibility this week, at least in my book. Gary Rosenblatt published an editorial which basically criticized Bush for trying to buddy up with both Israel and Saudi Arabia. The argument itself I can hear (in fact, on my long list of books to get to is "Crude Politics," by Paul Sperry, a conservative writer for who rips Bush for being too pareve with the Saudis). I do feel, however, that liberals have no right to give Bush a hard time about the Saudis. Coming from the anti-war, "let's-make-peace-with-the-religion-of-peace" crowd, they should be thanking Bush and giving him credit for not giving the Saudis a hard time.

My problem with Rosenblatt is that he sells out to the pathetic "Bush is Dumb" a.k.a. "We can't argue the issues" ideology. My proof is in the following quotes:

1) I have read your letter of concern (actually I had Condy read it to me) about my alleged promises to Prime Minister Sharon.

2) P.S. Book stores? I don’t read much, but I do like the pop-up books Laura reads to me.

Aside from the ridiculousness of the "Bush is Dumb" claim (read "Bush Country" by John Podhoretz for a solid rebuttal), the fact that Rosenblatt even brings it up shows his liberal colors. (In which case, like I said, I believe that he has to THANK Bush for buddying up with the Saudis!)
Hey Gary, I'm sure President Kerry will be great for Israel. I mean, it seems he's got a "tough love" policy towards Israel. (Let's see how tough he is with the Arabs.)

I quote the Jewish Press's editorial:

In recent weeks we have focused on Senator John Kerry`s
seeming fascination with "evenhandedness" in the Middle East.
Most recently, we noted his statement at an ADL dinner that,
with respect to the Middle East, he would be "more engaged" and
an "honest broker." Viewed against the backdrop of the American
Left’s (and the Arab world’s) criticism of President Bush`s "tilt"
toward Israel, Kerry’s eagerness to proclaim a new approach to
Middle East peacemaking, coupled with his apparent proclivity for
a "tough love" approach to the Jewish state, should raise large red
flags among supporters of Israel.

Besides, how long till he flip-flops on the issue and says, "Screw Israel. No love at all!!" With Kerry's history of switching positions, his statements don't give me much confidence in what he says.
I do give Rosenblatt some credit for somewhat dealing with the issues, but as for the "Bush is Dumb" junk, he should switch to MAD magazine and Comedy Central for that. I'm sure he'll do well there.

Baseball Cards on Fire, Pt. 2

In the first installment of this article, I discussed how kids no longer collect baseball cards to see their heroes, but rather to make money. As a result, burning baseball cards today, in my opinion, is rather pointless. If baseball cards are assur, the geeks who collect rare stamps and coins should also be reprimanded! After all, they're all doing it for the same reason. But, we go on:

2) As the media has gotten sleazier over the years, we know more about the players' personal lives than ever before. Even such icons as Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio have had books written about them potraying them in a very negative light. Times have certainly changed. Longtime Mets announcer Ralph Kiner writes in his new book how, as a kid, Babe Ruth was his hero, but that was before he found out about Ruth's nototrious nightlife. These days, a kid can barely get to the boxscores without reading about BALCO and Barry Bonds. It's hard to be a hero these days.

3) In a similar vein to #2, the escalation of salaries has tarnished players' images. A-Rod may hit many homers in his career, but the number forever to be associated with him is 252: as in, the $252 million deal he signed a few years ago. In my case, the '94 strike and cancellation of the world series made it impossible for me to ever idolize a player. When a kid's favorite player on a team signs elsewhere for more money, it's hard for him to remain a hero. Granted, this argument is rather weak in a place like New York,as the Yankees are one of the few teams that can afford to keep its stars for years, but in other places this argument is all too true.

If I can suggest an alternate route for rabbeim to discourage kids from worshipping athletes, I would say that replica jerseys of players should be banned. When I was in camp, there were always kids on the basketball court with the Ewing and Sprewell jerseys. And boy, did these kids ever feel like hot stuff!!! The kids aren't getting the jerseys because of their value (I don't think they'll ever make hundreds from selling their Reebok replica jerseys), but rather because they want to be like these stars! Today, it's clearly the jerseys, NOT the cards, that are making the kids want to be like these heroes. Even in my first year in camp, one of my buddies got a camp t-shirt with 18, because it was Darryl Strawberry's number. I call upon every summer camp to ban these replica jerseys for the same reason my rabbeim prohibited sports cards. Posters of athletes should also be discouraged. (After our cleaning lady ruined our Kirby Puckett poster, that was enough discouragement for me.)

My little brother quoted his rebbi as saying that jerseys are fine, as the kids are only respecting the athlete's playing, but not his personal lifestyle. The problem with this argument is that the same case can be made for baseball cards! Yet, such arguments never worked with any of my rabbeim or principals.

Besides, as a Yankee-hater, few things would give me more pleasure than seeing one of those stupid Derek Jeter t-shirts going up in flames!


A few years back, my buddy Jack told me about who criticized his disciples for eating sushi. Why? Because we were trying to be like the goyim, with the trendy foods, etc. I respectfully say I do not understand the argument. Almost every food we eat today (aside from shabbos food) is goyish. Take breakfast, for example. Apple Jacks and Cocoa Pebbles are about as Jewish as the Pope. For lunch, say, you'll have pizza or pasta, which happen to be ITALIAN foods. And how about some KD for dinner; hey, KD is pretty much a kosher McDonald's; and no, the gedolim in Europe never had General Tso's chicken. So why is sushi any different?
The argument about trendiness is also weak. The trend of cafes is still going strong throughout Brooklyn. Yet I haven't heard any Rabbi criticize that! If cafes are okay, sushi's not any different.
The only argument I can think of is that sushi is a rip-off. A friend of mine recently told me that in Japan, sushi is poor man's food. Before dismissing it as just another Jewish rumor (right there with the Satmar girl who won mega-millions), I realized, hey the guy is right. You've got tuna and rice. There's no reason it should cost so much. The stuff costs peanuts to produce. Considering that our money is really G-d's and He's only entrusting it with us, we should be careful to spend wisely. However, no rabbi has told anyone not to spend 6 bucks on a tuna sandwich in Circa!

Baseball Cards on Fire, Pt. 1

This past Shabbos, I was reading the letters to the editor in the Jewish Press, when I saw a letter defending a certain yeshiva's decision to make a bonfire of baseball cards. I don't remember exactly what this guy's argument was, but it certainly got me thinking.
When I was a kid, we had fun with our baseball cards. On the school bus, kids played all sorts of games with their baseball cards. But once we got to yeshiva, those cards would be nowhere in sight. After all, they'd get taken away by the rabbeim, who explained that these players were not role models, not people that yeshiva guys should look up to. (As an aside, eventually ABC-News came to my yeshiva to report on the popularity of gedolim cards. These days, this would NEVER happen. Today's kida aren't suppoed to know that Channel 7 exists!) I must say that I, too, got caught up in the hype. In fact, the '85 and '86 Topps cards of Bobby Meacham, my favorite Yankee of that era, are still prominently displayed on the door to my room.
These days, however, I believe that my rabbeim's (as well as the guy who recently torched a bunch of cards) arguments are moot. Here's why:

1) For better or (more likely) worse, the Jewish-Brooklyn culture is all about money. While in the '80's things like Toyota Corollas, bar glasses, one-bedroom bungalows and Pierre Csrdin ties were commonplace, these days many Jews wouldn't be caught dead with such things! (I think I know one guy in the E. 20's who's still got his bar glasses. I must say I respect the guy for not giving a darn.) These days, our lives are full of Acuras, summer homes, the most expensive fashions, etc. just to show we've got the dough. And don't think this fact has been ignored by kids. The shrinks are right about how kids are strongly influenced and affected by their environment. Therefore, when a kid today sees a baseball card, he's not thinking "oh wow, my hero, Barry Bonds!" Rather, he's thinking "how much can I get for this on eBay." Kids today would never play those silly games with those baseball cards. Instead, straight to the plastics they go!
If any kid today would show off his Enrique Wilson card (today's equivalent to Bobby Meacham), he'd be laughed at.
Because kids collect cards today for the money, gedolim cards are not gonna cut it. Rav Pam may have been a holy man, but his picture won't get you a whole lot of cash.