Isaac Kaplan

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

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Freedom vs. Discipline in Yeshivos, Pt. 2

There's a ton more to say on this issue, and, as I alluded to in part 1, the freedom vs. discipline debate ultimately hinges on the unique groups and personalities in question. But there are a few things I'd like to focus on, that I believe have relevance for all groups:

- I think the approach to rules has to based on a cost-benefit perspective: what's the cost: how much will it adversely affect the bochrim? How restrictive will it be? And on the flipside, what is the level of spiritual danger if there is no such rule? How much will the learning be affected? And another very important factor: will the rule be very commonly broken anyway?

The way I see it, there are two commonly-used rationales for rules, both of which I think are faulty approaches: 1) to avoid any kid doing or seeing anything inappropriate. So because some newspapers, there can be no non-Jewish papers in the dorm. It doesn't matter whether it's the Wall Street Journal or the U.S. News or the New York Post - it's all no good! And because one kid went off the derech because of goyish books - ban 'em! And then 2) what are the other places doing? Which rules would be good for the school's reputation? Dress codes are a good example of rules coming from the latter rationale.

The latter approach's flaws are obvious. The first approach has a tendency of being too overreaching. A lot of those rules are based on unusual incidents or wishy-washy concepts like "the kedusha of the yeshiva" and stuff like that. And very often, these rules end up going further than they need to go.

Also, many people think that simply having more rules makes one a better Jew. There was a comment thread on UOJ's blog about a certain yeshiva, and one commenter defended yeshiva x by saying, we're the best because we have more rules than any other place out there! What stupidity. Does that make for better learners? Or for more mentally stable guys? Does one get more olom haboh for going to a place with more restrictive rules? Not in this religion, to my knowledge.

People seem to lose focus when discussing or setting rules. I think the point of rules is to keep some order in a yeshiva and to ensure that things that are clearly objectionable aren't brought into a dorm (so for example, I'm all for a rule banning porn). At the same time, though, there have to be outlets for all sorts of people; basketball and bull sessions are not always enough. And this is where the cost-benefit analysis comes in. So let's say a guy's into literature. Nothing wrong with that, especially if he has a chush for that line of thought. So if he sticks to classics and stays away from the steamy romance junk, I don't think there's anything wrong with that. An across-the-board ban of novels, in my opinion, is too overreaching.

- Another important factor is that if yeshivos are going to take away people's pleasures, they have to provide alternatives. And that means making learning enjoyable and meaningful.

The yeshiva I went to, as restrictive as it was, was nonethless a very successful place. I believe that it was because the rabbeim taught with joy and enthusiasm. Torah was something you can enjoy, and not just something you had to do in order not to burn in hell because of bittul Torah. If the rabbeim are charismatic and passionate about Torah, then it's a much "easier sell" to the guys. The most successful rabbeim come off as being happy and content, not burnt-out and miserable. So if they're of the hand-wringing "I'll-shout-till-I'm-blue in-the-face" variety, then I don't see a place with rabbis like that turning out decent guys. Maybe they're learning, but chances are they're miserable.

Another aspect to the whole discussion is high school vs. beis medrash. That's for a different time. I've rambled enough for now.

- By the way, I'll be busy for the next month or so. Things will be a bit quieter here.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thoughts on Gym Nuts

I was at the gym the other night, and I was thinking about some of the regulars, the ones who are ridiculously muscular. And I was wondering, why? Why do they go?

When I think about people who go to the gym, there are two categories: 1) people who go to stay fit, energized, and healthy, and 2) people who go because they want to look buff.

I fit into the first category. When I came back from learning in Israel, I started driving everywhere and eating all the food I missed in Israel (Dunkin' Donuts, Entenmann's, etc.). And I put on 35 pounds, and started feeling sluggish and lazy. Thankfully, I was able to take some weight off, and no longer have to deal with having a pot belly before I was 40. So for me, going to the gym is all about keeping off the excess weight. It's also refreshing and it really wakes me up.

But the people in the second category, what's up with them? I find it weird when a guy is into his body so much. It's interesting how a man can sometimes be so feminine and so masculine all at the same time.

Now if the guy's gay, then I don't have any taanos. That's what they're into in that community, so whatever.

But otherwise, what for? If you look decent and have some personality, brains, and most importantly, self-confidence, you shouldn't have much of a problem attracting women. You don't need to look amazing. And if you have no personality or you're a schmuck, having the huge pecs will only take you so far. And if someone's wife/girlfriend is that demanding about the guy's looks, then come on. If that's all they care about, then you're talking about a lousy relationship. Then again, if the guy is super-demanding about how his significant other looks, I can't fault such a woman for giving her man a hard time.

And if you're doing it for yourself, then what's that all about? So you can feel good about yourself when you're in the shower? Or at the pool? If that's the case, that's sad. That just means that you don't have a whole lot going for you, so you figure that by working out like crazy and having a chiseled physique, that'll give you value as a person. As if that'll make you feel good about yourself and give you self-confidence. See a shrink, buddy.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Freedom vs. Discipline in Yeshivos, Pt. 1

Back in my yeshiva days, I went to many of the "top" places. Most of the guys were serious learners. Sure, there were some clowns, as there are in any yeshiva, but not as many as other places.

The high school and the yeshivos I went to were very strict about rules. For example, when I was in Israel, many neighborhoods were off-limits. So if your uncle wanted to take you to Cafe Rimon? Too damn bad. You had stay in yeshiva and eat the stuff they served there. And novels, newspapers, and non-Jewish music were off-limits. There were strict dress codes, to boot. In a different yeshiva, radios were a no-no. The yeshiva even had raids, where the mashgiach went into the dorms and confiscated anything he found objectionable.

And when people questioned the authorities about the rationales behind such rules, the answers were always the same: "these distractions will take you away from learning," "such materials don't belong in the heilige yeshiva," and "it's all tumah and the yetzer hora."

A few years later, I met many people who had frummed out in other yeshivos. And these yeshivos, mind you, weren't nearly as rigid as the places I went to. And nevertheless, these guys didn't embrace their taavos and choose a life of bar-hopping and hanging out at the beach. Instead, they were shtarker and enjoyed learning much more than I did.

And on my side of things, while at that time, I understood the rationales for my yeshivos having such rigid regulations, and enjoyed learning, I still felt something missing. I felt the urge to see what was out there, to be able to roam wherever I wanted, to go to the bars and the beaches, and see what it was all about. Was it my yetzer hora? Or an actual urge to see the world and have a good time? Maybe I needed a break?

So for a while, I was a little jealous of the guys in the more relaxed yeshivos, the ones that could do whatever they want. And after they got it out of their system, they could learn like crazy.

At the same time, however, I could understand why my place was so strict. After all, for every guy who went to a yeshiva with fewer rules and frummed out, there were guys who embraced their taavos and became obsessed bars, movies, and the like. And then there were a few who'd get into drugs. Not cool. And maybe in a place with strict, rigid rules, that doesn't happen.

So what's the better approach? A strict approach that attempts to ensure that nobody will develop a taavah for something other than learning, or an approach that gives someone more freedom to feel out their passions and desires?

The simple answer? Chanoch L'Naar Al Pi Darko.
The complex answer? Part 2 of this piece.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Top 10 Billy Joel Albums

I have a thing for lists. So when Burry Katz put up part 3 of the '90s "Jump-the-Shark" series, I got jealous. So it was time for another list from yours truly.

I've been a big Billy Joel fan for a good few years already. I've gone from being casual fan to becoming a fan of the b-sides and the songs you'll never hear on the radio or in concert. And unlike many other artists, it seems like many of his albums have a unique sound or theme to them. And for the list, greatest hits compilations and live albums don't count.

This looks like a Listmania list from written by some punk with nothing better to do. Too bad. Let the countdown begin!

10 - Streetlife Serenade (1975) - Good all-around album, though unspectacular. The Entertainer is a classic, and Los Angelenos and The Weekend Song sound better live. Roberta is underrated. Interesting tidbit: it was the last Billy album with instrumentals (and no corny lines about his classical album, please).

9 Glass Houses (1980) - Amazing Side A (You May Be Right, Fantasy, Don't Ask Me Why, Still RnR, Leyna). Crappy Side B (especially the French song).

8 River of Dreams (1993) - solid final album for Billy, but not as great as his classic stuff. It was cool when he did "Great Wall of China" and "Lullabye" on his last tour.

7 Piano Man (1973) - I'm real sick of the title track, but the rest of the album is great. Has a country-western feel to it (Traveling Prayer, Billy the Kid, Stop in Nevada). And there's "Captain Jack," too.

6 Cold Spring Harbor (1971) - Where it all began. Billy's style on here seems totally different from all of his subsequent stuff; I can't pinpoint what it is. Maybe it's because his voice sounds whinier on here. And that could be why I could never really get into this album. Nevertheless, "Tomorrow is Today" and "Falling of the Rain" are must-haves.

5 Storm Front (1989) - So many great songs on here. Many songs sound lame on the album (thank you Mick Jones), but are killer live. Get concert versions of "We Didn't Start the Fire," "Storm Front" "That's Not Her Style" "Extremes" and "Shameless" and see what I mean. Plus, "Leningrad""The Downeaster Alexa" and "And So It Goes" are some of his best ballads.

4 52nd Street (1978) - Billy's jazz album. Many of my favorites are on here, like "Big Shot," "My Life" "Stilletto" "Zanzibar" and "Honesty," plus great lesser-known tracks like "Rosalinda's Eyes" and "Until the Night."

3 The Nylon Curtain (1982) - Very interesting album. It took a while to grow on me, and once I figured out that it was a tribute to Lennon, I really came to appreciate it. Though this album has hits like "Allentown" and "Pressure" on here, for me it's all about the album tracks (he played a bunch of them on his last tour, which was pretty cool, except the casual fans in the crowd had no interest in hearing "Laura" or "Room of Our Own")

2 The Stranger (1977) - This album has more radio hits than any other Billy Joel album ("Scenes" "Only the Good Die Young" "Just the Way You Are" "She's Always a Woman" "Movin' Out" and the title track), which overshadow gems like "Vienna" and "Get it Right the First Time" (he used to do the latter at concerts in the late '70's, and hasn't done it since. Nowadays he has to sing everything on a lower key - it would probably sound horrendous).

1 Turnstiles (1976) - There's one lousy song on here (track 3 - All You Wanna Do Is Dance), but otherwise, the album is a home run. No, a grand slam. Great songs through and through, and a lot of interesting themes - New York ("New York State of Mind" "Miami 2017"), leaving California ("I've Loved These Days" "Say Goodbye to Hollywood"), and pursuing your dreams ("James"). The arrangment on this album aren't great, and everything sounds better live, but the songs themselves are just terrific. Plus, this has a cool cover, so that helps catapult this album to #1.

Didn't make it - An Innocent Man: I like this tribute to the 50's, but hearing clips of Uptown Girl on all those promos for the "Movin' Out" musical got me sick of it. I have to be in the mood for cheesy music for most of the stuff on it. Cool music videos from this one, though (especially "Keeping the Faith").

The Bridge - very mixed bag. I like Matter of Trust and Baby Grand, but I hate Running on Ice. And even the good songs don't really stand out. Overall, it's just a very mediocre Billy Joel album; still better than most of the stuff in your record store, but it's very hard to get excited about this one.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

GUEST POST: Things That Have Jumped The Shark Since the 90's, Part 3

Burry Katz is a blogger from the pre-blog days currently making a comeback. A lot has changed since his first go-round, and, appropriately enough, he's decided to add to the list of things that have fallen off since the 90's. And yeah, check out his blog; it's one of my favorites.

I am deeply humbled and honored to give you Part Three of this truly original series. So without further ado, here goes:

(1) Essex on Coney - To borrow a late '90s phrase, this used to be "The Place." Where did the yeshiva guys go before Dougies? Essex ! Aside from the Pepsi cans on the ceiling, it had the early 1900s mystique with the nostalgic murals and the poster of baseball's 500 homer club. It seemed like some guys went there every freakin' night! In the early 2000s they tried to make the place upscale, but it never regained its luster. Sure it's still kicking, but it ain't what it used to be.

(2) AOL - Before anyone knew what a DSL was, there were only a few ways to access the web. Sure, the computer nerds knew about modems back in the '80's, but for the rest of us idiots, AOL was THE way to get online. I remember when my friend Nick and I visited our buddy Billy in Queens . This was shortly after AOL allowed unlimited access and the lines were always busy. Nick picked up the phone and Billy's roommate busted a gut. "It took me 15 minutes to get online! And now I lost it" Nick almost broke down and cried. But once cable modems and DSL made dial-up a thing of the past, AOL had to scramble to come up with a reason you should pay 27 bucks a month for something that's essentially free.

(3) Video Stores - Along the same lines, video stores were big, but then came Netflix and goodbye Blockbuster. Sure, you find one here and there, but who'd pay 5 bucks to rent a DVD when you can pay $17 a month and get however many you want? Blockbuster responded with a mail-order business of their own, but too little too late.

(4) Collarless Shirts - This was such a fad that David Schwimmer even wore one on an early Friends episode. My friend Chris loves to dress fashionable, so he picked up about 15 of these, and hasn't worn one in about, oh, 10 years.

(5) Dress-Down Fridays - When the dot coms were hitting it big, it became a cool thing to go to work in casual clothes. After all, if you're sitting in front of the computer all day, who needs to wear a suit? So all the guys with their hot stuff attitudes showed up to work on Fridays with a loose-fitting button-down shirt and khaki pants. And they thought they were sooooooo cool. How cool did they think they were when they were collecting unemployment three months later?

(6) Starbucks Imitators - My friend Floyd wasn't a big Starbucks fan, and not because he refused to pay three bucks for a cappuccino. Rather, he preferred Timothy's. Poor guy. Once the recession hit in the early 2000s and people didn't have as much money to burn, the Starbucks competitors went bye-bye.

(7) Secaucus, NJ - When you wanted good clothes at an affordable price, you went to the Secaucus outlets. I remember going there with my brother and circling for a spot. The place was packed! Revisited in 2004, and it was a ghost town. I'm talking grass growing in the street cracks. The fact that all the stores were spread over many blocks and you needed a road map to get around was always retarded, but once Jersey Gardens opened and you had a choice, you had to be a nut to shop in Secaucus.

(8) Boy Bands- Backstreet Boys, N Sync, 98 Degrees… Huge. Now? They're in the bargain bin along with New Kids on the Block. Damn, I was so jealous of those guys! Little did the girls know how uninterested these boys were in them.

(9) Connie Chung - In 1993 co-anchored the evening news with Dan Rather on CBS. Now, she's lucky she's married to Maury Povich or she'd be completely forgotten. Last seen on a Saturday night show on MSNBC (which is the graveyard as far as TV ratings are concerned) and cancelled after about a month. How the mighty have fallen!

(10) Dr. Laura - Cultural icon ala Dr. Phil, she had it all - a hot radio show, bestselling books, a TV program - and then she offended the homos and she was gone so fast it made my head spin. Leaving Judaism didn't win her any points, and yes, she's still on in some parts of the country, but she's become an afterthought.

(11) Dot Bombs - In late '99 when the dot coms started failing, people got all horny and it became a huge thing to make fun of these defunct companies. Books and websites popped up all over mocking the founders of,,, and asking, what the hell were they thinking? "This company wasted $50 million. That company blew through $70 million." And so on. When a dot com folds now, nobody sneezes.

(12) Fetish for One-Hit Wonders - I remember shows and albums dedicated to One-Hit Wonders. Aha's Take on Me, Toni Basil's Mickey, Chumba Wumba, et cetera. People loved it. Now? Ah. (Hand wave.)

(13) Chicago Bulls - Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Bill Cartwright - the names roll off the tongue. Those guys were unbeatable. And just when you thought they might get beaten, Jordan would hit a shot at the last second and win the game. The Knicks could never overcome them, and neither could the six teams they faced in the finals during the '90s. Once MJ left and they dismantled the team, they disappeared off the face of the earth. Granted they've made the playoffs a couple of times lately, but nobody pays attention to them. They might as well have gone the way of baseball's Montreal Expos.

(14) Rabbeim Without Beards - Unless you're a Modern Orthodox school, forget it. No beard, no job. It's that simple.

(15) Using the Word "Phat" to Describe Something Cool - Who doesn't remember saying that you went to a phat concert last night? Ah, the bad old days.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Backs to the Wall

I'm sort of embarrassed to say this, but I'm looking forward to hearing the Agudah's discussion of blogs next Thursday night. I'm excited to see them confront the issue for the first time. But don't blame me. It's my parents' fault. I grew up seeing the Jewish Observer come in the mail every month, with the cool, enticing covers staring me in the face. When we got the "Kids at Risk" issue (in '97 or '98), that was a huge deal. They even gave out free copies to every kid in my sister's school.

And part of me is delusionally optimistic that, unlike so many issues they've dealt with before, the Agudah will actually deal with this issue normally.

You see, I think they've got a lot at stake here. Blogs are the biggest threat the Agudah and the Charedim have faced in a while. Bigger than TV, movies, rock and roll, the internet, wealth, and Vegas.

Why? Because blogs like UOJ, Daas Hedyot, and Harry Maryles (who would cringe at seeing his name in the same sentence as those guys, but whatever) are great at creating forums for those disenchanted with the chareidi system. I can't tell you how many times I've been on those blogs and seen a thought that had come to mind in my yeshiva days, only to have been drowned out by a strong rush of kool-aid. There are lots of problems with the chareidi hashkafa and system. But in a world where any dissent is stifled and condemned as being "k'neged daas torah," (or simply the voice of your yetzer hara) problems are allowed to grow and fester.

(I don't think blogs like Misnagid or Ben Avuyah are a threat to Agudah. Those blogs aren't anti-charedi; they discuss emunah issues, which affect YCT, OU, and the RCA and every group of Jews. Those issues don't interest me. I don't think Judaism's authenticity can be proved by logic; if it were, we probably wouldn't have the nisyonos of emunah and bitachon. Anyway...)

So part of me hopes that Zweibel and some other rabbi will get up there and deal with the issues. Maybe a rabbi there will say, "the blogs have raised a lot of important and difficult questions, and we'd like to address them tonight. Kollel is a great thing, but it's not for everyone. And it's not a system that can sustain itself. And people should encourage the girls to go for working guys, and discourage the sems and yeshivos from brainwashing people. And about the wedding takanos, and the Slifkin affair? Listen, gedolim are human. They're extraordinary humans, humans that are very intelligent and caring. Humans that deserve a lot of respect. But they make mistakes on occasion, too. And we at the Agudah will do our part to help everyone find Judaism to be meaningful and important."

But then I wake up and realize that the chances of this happening are about as great as George Steinbrenner saying, "I've come to the realization that having a payroll of over $200 million is terrible for the game. Competitive balance is the lifeblood of baseball, and we would like to do our part to make baseball fun and exciting in all 30 ballparks. So Brian Cashman and I have decided to trade Jeter to the Royals, A-Rod to Pittsburgh, Rivera to Washington, Abreu back to Tampa Bay, Damon to the Marlins, all for single-A players. And we threw some cash in the deal, too."

And I realize that all that will happen is that Agudah will put blogs on the taboo list. Down there with TV, movies, the internet, and all the other things responsible for every issue in the frum community. That's right. The kids-at-risk, the shalom bayis issues, the materialism, the hidden aveiros -- all because of Hollywood, the media, and Western culture. And now blogs, too.

So much for all that.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Why White?

Let's face it. White shirts are boring. After wearing nothing but white shabbos shirts for as long as I can remember, I'm getting tired of it.

Of course, in judgmental Brooklyn, I'm probably better off walking into shul in my boxers than wearing a blue shabbos shirt. Why is it such a big deal? Is it because the MO do it? Is it not part of the mesorah or something?

When you think about it, much of the shabbos garb that we wear has changed drastically over the years, and I don't just mean the emergence of single-breasted suits. Take ties, for example. Ties as we know them have only been around for a couple hundred years, according to Wikipedia. Yes folks, the Rambam did not wear a tie. Neither did the Gra. So wearing ties on shabbos is not a Jewish tradition. And that's one of the reasons the chassidim don't do it.

So our shabbos dress code has evolved with what's considered formal in each generation. And these days, colored shirts are fine. Plenty of people wear blue shirts for interviews. Even President Bush wears one on special occasions.

Besides, the machers with the bright ties would probably look half-normal if they wore a colored shirt. Those bright orange ties go better with blue than with white.

The whole thing makes no sense. A suit with loud orange pinstripes? No problem. A loud, hot pink tie? Totally fine. But if someone walks in with a striped shirt? The guy's an oddball. Folks, there are some very stupid people out there.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Getting An Aliyah

I never understood why some people go crazy about aliyos. Some people fight tooth and nail for an aliyah, they'll pay tons of money for one, and they'll scream at the gabbaim if they're not called up often enough. What's it all about?

I just don't get it. I mean, it's a kibud, but how many people really take it seriously? Has any ever said, "you know, I thought Chaim Yankel was a real loser, but now that he got shishi, hey, the guy is cool! I wanna be his best friend." No. Doesn't happen. So why do people go so crazy about aliyos? I'll admit that Maftir Yonah is pretty cool to get. But the richies who get it don't need that kibud to get everyone slobbering over their tuchuses. They just buy it to rub it in our faces. (Nah, seriously, it's nice to see them giving lots of money to a shul.)

Besides, the few people who go home after davening and analyze the aliyah recipients like Tony LaRussa goes through his lineup card are in serious need of a life. (Gabbaim, of course, are the exception to the rule here. It's there job to follow this stuff, after all.) One guy in my brother's shul always has to know "who got shlishi? who got revi'i?" Get a life. You're telling me you have nothing better to worry about? In that case, I envy you.

One thing that I find nice about an aliyah is that you get to express your pride as a Jew and a recipient of the Torah. I try to think about "asher bochar bonu" and "v'chayei olam nota b'socheinu" when I get an aliyah. It gives you the opportunity to think of how we're supposed to feel honored and priveleged that we've received the Torah. However, I wonder if the people who go nuts over getting called up to the Torah actually think of the brachos when they're up there.

Some people get excited about an aliyah because then they get a mi shebairach for them and the family. Heck, we all get one. Ever look at the Mi SheBairach after Yekum Purkan? It says "kol khal hakodesh hazeh." Everyone's included. So who needs a mi shebairach where every cousin has to be mentioned by name, and a tremendous bizayon bais haknesses occurs as a result? I'll pass, thank you very much.

So overall, I can't go too crazy about an aliyah. I won't turn one down, but to lose sleep over not getting one? Please.

-- One thing I find VERY patronizing: People who give a big shkoyach to the kohen after a Monday morning aliyah. Come on. The guy only got called up there because he was the only kohen in the room. That doesn't earn a shkoyach in my book. Certainly not one with a big cheesy smile and double-handed handshake.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The 90's JTS List, Part 2

In part 1, I listed 15 things that have jumped the shark the most since the 90's. A few commenters left some fine suggestions. Well, here's 15 more:

1) Republicans in Congress - the Republican Revolution of 1994 feels like a million years ago. They came in with a lot of promise and a "Contract with America," and left with record spending, huge deficits, and scandals.

2) Pleats - Thanks to all the metrosexuals, Structure became ExpressMen, and now Gap's pleated khakis are no longer available in store. What a shame. Pleated pants are much more comfortable, and less exposing, too.

3) Celine Dion - When Titanic came out, everyone thought "My Heart Will Go On" was the best song ever written in the history of mankind. I wasn't impressed. I'll take Mariah Carey over her any day, both in the looks and voice department. And Mariah's had a huge comeback, while Dion has slipped into irrelevance.

4) Bonkers Bagels - Two lessons here: 1) don't expand too fast; 2) Israelis do pitas and lafas, not bagels. When my cousin went into the Har Nof branch and was told he couldn't get a bagel, only a cholly roll, we knew these guys were done.

5) Light grey suits - Borat wears one. Enough said.

6) The Yankees - their payroll shot up like crazy, and all the classy guys left. Now they've got jerks like A-Rod, Moose, and Randy Johnson, and all those guys can't do anything in the clutch. They've been an October embarrassment for the past five years. Give me O'Neill, Brosius, Curtis, Leyritz, and Sojo over those clowns any day.

7) Scott Ferrell - "You Da man!" "How could I be the man if you the man!?" The yeshiva guys loved this nut. Plenty of Yankels and Yossels from Brooklyn called up and heard him do that stupid pouring sound effect. Aside from Buster Olney's blog, the term "The Man" is no longer used. And the yeshiva guys have moved on to ESPN Radio's Stephen A. Smith.

8) Teal - The Marlins were into it, the Mariners were too, and so were the Devil Rays. This is embarrassing, but I was into teal suits for a while, too. But with the Diamondbacks being the last baseball team to officially drop teal from the unis, I think teal has officially jumped the shark. It's about time.

9) Newt Gingrich - I had teachers who despised this guy back in the day. He was probably the most hated Republican of the 90's. Once he started talking health care reform with Hillary, I knew he lost it. These days, he does a softie interview with O'Reilly every now and then. His book from a few years ago is probably in the B&N bargain section by now.

10) The Atkins Diet - everyone thought they were hot stuff when they melted off 50 pounds in a month. Then they realized it's kind of ridiculous to swear off carbs for life. And guess what? They got sick of eggs and steak, whipped out the challah and Entenmann's, and got fat again. And to top it off, Atkins filed for Chapter 11.

11) Music stores - First The Wall went down, then Sam Goody, now Tower is closing up. Who's next, Virgin or FYE?

12) Wal-Mart - The libs really started ripping them the past few years, and now Target is on their tail.

13) Ford - when my grandfather got his '91 Escort, my oldest brother couldn't contain his excitement. Now the Escort and the Taurus are no longer, and Ford has been taking quite a bath lately.

14) Car alarms - Thanks, Rudy. I hated when it would rain on Shabbos and all of these would go off. I was always fascinated by the evolution of the alarm chimes. At one point, the various alarms had unique chimes. Near the end, though, the alarms featured a medley of all the different chimes. One of my creepy neighbors was once singing along to the chimes medley.

15) Michael Jackson - I was watching the 1993 Super Bowl halftime show on YouTube the other night. Wow. The guy was talented, and worshipped. After his Yidi Kolko incident and a few lousy albums, he's sold Neverland and is trying to appeal to European countries ten years behind.

Hey, there's still more to come.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Thoughts on Small Talk

- Small talk fascinates me. No, not the actual small talk itself. Please, I'm not THAT creepy. It's the concept that I find very interesting, especially the way many people deal with it.

- Generally, there are three types of people. People who are always up for small talk, and are very creative in bringing up topics. You know the types, the ones that just walk out of the pages of Dale Carnegie's books. Then you have those who just don't do small talk. They have no interest. They'd love to talk in-depth about a halakhic or hashkafic issue, or about what the Mets need to do this offseason, or what makes a certain person tick. But the small stuff? When you give them small talk, you get a bunch of one-word responses: "yeah," "uh-huh," "right." For them, it's a waste of time.

I find that I, and many others, fit into a third category. For me, it depends on the place, time, and person I'm talking to. So if I'm tired and not in the mood, I don't want to hear about the newest restaurant in town. But on a good day, I can talk about my weekend plans for hours. And it depends on the person, too.

- Problem with small talk: whatever category you fall into, it's a necessity. If you want to get a job, you've gotta be able to chat about crap. And if you're walking home from shul with the neighbor you're not that friendly with, time to talk about the kids. The worst is when you have someone over for a Shabbos meal that you don't know too well. It's either small talk or a meal full of dishes clanging and cole slaw chomping.

- And when you see someone on a semi-constant basis (like classmates and neighbors), when do you take the next step and talk about deeper issues, stuff you actually care about? If you move too fast, the other person will feel too uncomfortable. You gotta ease your way into it.

Take my dad, for example. He has a neighbor named Bernard, a nice guy that he's not that close with. My Dad complains that every time they end up walking home from the local shteeble, Bernie only talks about his grandkids. "Shloimie just started walking, Rivky's in first grade this year," same stuff every time. Problem is, between my dad and Bernie, nobody wants to take the next step, and risk actually talking about a topic with substance. So every time they meet, it's all about the grandkids.

- That's the problem with small talk. You've gotta be a little creative. And certain topics are taboo.

If you haven't seen someone in a while, you can't bring up family or work, in case G-d forbid there was a divorce or someone got fired. The worst is when you ask a no-longer-engaged person "when's the wedding?", only to find out there is none.

So what can YOU talk about? That's for another time.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Esau or Jacob? (Pride and Protests, Part 2)

I've been thinking more about the upcoming parade in Jerusalem. Actually, I heard that a Haredi rabbi called this a "war" in Jerusalem, and he publicly cursed the head of the Israeli Supreme Court, saying the man should die of a heart attack. And he said that the head of the Jerusalem police should die by choking on a piece of treif meat. (Great kiruv scheme right there. I'm sure the non-religious would love to hear that one.)

All the talk of reacting violently to the parade is sickening. The last person I've heard to publicly wish for Jews to die -- the president of Iran. Is this who the Haredim want to emulate? Is this who they want to become?

In a few weeks, we'll be reading about those famous twins, Esau and Jacob. Every second-grader knows the story: that while Esau battles with his hands and with violence, Jacob's power is with his voice, with the power of prayer. On my first post on the issue, I said that we should pray that the parading transgressors should see the Light and do tshuva. I haven't heard anything like that from the Haredim. All I hear is "war."

I saw a great editorial on Ynet regarding this matter. The guy makes a lot of sense, though I wouldn't go as far as he does. I wouldn't say I support the parade - I'm against it, but I'm also against any Chilul Hashem from the other side.

And I agree with Jak Black's take on this one - the Haredim should take a cue from Gandhi, not from Ahmadinejad.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Things That Have Jumped The Shark Since the 90's, Part 1

Ah, the 90's. It's been just a few years, and not surprisingly, many things are still the same. The internet is still huge as ever, with Google, MySpace, and YouTube giving tech a small comeback. Cellphones, too, are here to stay. Hillary Clinton is still one of the most powerful and influential women in America, as is Oprah. Rush Limbaugh is still the king of political talk radio. And you still hear a Seinfeld or Friends reference come up in everyday conversation.

But some things have fallen off since then. Big time. Here goes:

1) The New York Knicks - when was the last time you saw a bunch of hotshot Yeshiva high school kids chanting "go New York go New York go"? Yeah, I can't remember either. And nobody's cared about the Rangers since '94, while we're at it.

2) Dedi - everyone was so crazy over the guy back in the day. Now it's all about Shwekey and Lisa Schmeltzer. I guess in this century, Sfardim and Chassidim are cooler than Israelis. And Dedi's breakup with Yossi Green was a huge factor here.

3) Hilfigers - I remember when there were crowds waiting outside the door to get into the Hilfiger outlets in Woodbury Commons. Now, nobody's in there, except for the people from countries that are ten years behind on every trend. Was that BS email about his anti-semitic rant on Oprah what did him in?

4) The Expos - Larry Walker, Delino DeShields, Pedro Martinez, John Wetteland, Vlad Guerrero and so many others.These guys were supposed to be good, real good. Then the strike hit, and Montreal died a slow, painful death. Thanks, Bud (and George).

5) Grunge rock - I think rap did them in. Or maybe it was Kurt Cobain's suicide. Many of these bands still exist in some form, like Audioslave (Soundgarden and Rage) and Velvet Revolver (GNR and STP), but nobody really cares. One of my favorites, the Gin Blossoms, put out an album this summer. Nobody noticed.

6) Netscape - who even uses this browser anymore? Between IE and Firefox, they're done. At one point, they were the Pepsi to IE's Coke. Now, they're RC Cola at best.

7) Big round gold-framed glasses - Plastic frames have made a big comeback, but these guys haven't. And I have a feeling they won't be coming back anytime soon.

8) MTV and VH1 - In the 90's, they occasionally showed videos. I especially miss Pop-Up Video and Divas Live.

9) Law and Order - Jumped the shark after they put the ditzy Elisabeth Rohm on there. (Angie Harmon was my favorite ADA.) And since Orbach left, forget it. Looks like SVU and CI are Dick Wolf's only hopes.

10) Mark McGwire - I still remember watching Trachsel give up that now infamous homer, and then seeing McGwire hug his kid, Sosa running in from right field, and the embrace with the Maris family. Big Mac was on top of the world. As late as 2001, if you would've told me the Cardinals would make the World Series and McGwire's name would totally go unmentioned, I would've thought you were outta your box.

11) Abie Rotenberg - He had the Marvelous Midos Machine and kumsitz classics "Hamalach" and "Acheinu" (both overrated, but whatever). Aish was pretty good too. But all his stuff from the past few years is horrendous. Name me the last time you were at a wedding and heard an Abie song post-1997.

12) Discmans - thank Steve Jobs for that one. I feel like an idiot for spending 180 bucks on one of these dinosaurs, not long after my bar mitzvah.

13) Dougie's - once the hottest restaurant in Manhattan. I remember exactly when it jumped the shark - our whole family went to the Brooklyn restuarant right after it opened, we couldn't wait to hit the ribs and wings -- and the food turned out to be nothing special. Then the other branches' food (including the original one) got lousy, too. The franchises live on, of course, but that destination on W. 72nd St. is no longer.

14) Wuss music - Yes, I miss Richard Marx, Bryan Adams, and Michael Bolton. And "Walking In Memphis" by Marc Cohn is one of my all-time faves. The hand-wringers got upset about the "Christian" line in that one.

15) Double-breasted suits - they have about five of these left on the racks at Syms. I wouldn't be caught dead in one. And to think that so many of us thought when single-breasted came back in the late 90's, they were merely a passing fad.

There's more to come, but I'm open to suggestions from the commenters.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Pride and Protests

The Gay Pride parade is approaching in Jerusalem, and the question is, of course, whether to protest or not, and how to protest?

I think we're much better off not protesting. Don't get me wrong; I believe in the Torah's view of that sin being an "abomination," and I find many gays to be creepy, to boot. But for a few reasons, I think we should just sit tight while the gays prance through Jerusalem:

1) When you look at the history of such protests in Jerusalem, they always seem to lead to chilul Hashem. Whether it's throwing rocks at cars, or spraying bleach at non-tznius women, or even the stabbing that occurred last year, we always come out looking terrible. I was going through R' Baruch Epstein's Mekor Baruch over the yomim tovim, and he discussed how his father R' Yechiel Michel ZTL, when doing business with goyim, went above and beyond the relevant laws in order to avoid even an inkling of chilul Hashem. Shouldn't we take the strong possibility of chilul Hashem seriously? Shev V'Al Taaseh Odif.

2) And let's say we protest. Will that turn the gays straight? Will that suddenly make them attracted to women? What good will come out of this protest? To the mainstream media, we'll come off as intolerant bigots. Whether they're right or wrong is not the issue (of course they're wrong), but the question is what effect will such a protest have. I don't see much good coming from it, and the potential for negative press is huge, especially if people get violent.

And most frum Jews know how evil homosexuality is, and hopefully most of them are bothered by the aveiros in Jerusalem. So by protesting, we're just preaching to the choir. As for the non-frum, I think there are better methods of kiruv out there.

2a) Building on point #2, do we want to develop an image of being anti-everything? When you look at the portrayal of Haredim in the press, it's generally very negative. We're anti-this, anti-that. As wrong as the parade might be, you've gotta respect the gays for being proud of who they are. Where's our pride? Is our religion about being proud of Judaism, the Torah, and our relationship with God? Or is Judaism about hand-wringing and complaining over everyone who doesn't agree with our worldview?

3) Besides, plenty of other aveiros are done in Jerusalem. I've been to the Old City, where women shamelessly walk scantily clad just a few yards away from the Kotel. So let's protest that. Let's protest the people who gleefully speak lashon hora, a sin tantamount to the "big three." Unfortunately, we're still in golus. So why pick on the gays? Plenty of straight people have made out in the streets of Jerusalem.

Speaking of golus, I think we should address the issue as follows: by praying as we did a month ago, that God place His fear in all people and that they should repent. I'd be cool with an Agudah-style kinus tefila, though that would seem like a strange response. But a protest? Things will get ugly, as we know all too well. Dirocheha darchei noam.


This post reminds me of a hilarious exchange on last week's episode of "The Office":
Toby: Okay, Michael, are you aware that you outed Oscar today?
Michael: What? What does that even...
Jan: Coming out is a significant moment for a gay person. And they should be allowed to select the timing and manner of announcing it.
Michael: Well, gay pride, right? Gay pride parade? It's not like..Gay Shame Festival.