Archive for the Israel Category

I’m Not Israeli

Posted in Israel, Me on August 1, 2010 by frumpunk

I’m not Israeli, I’m Jewish. I don’t have a middle eastern culture, I don’t like humus or tahina, heck, I don’t even like falafel. How do I feel about israel? Well I’m certainly not against it. I absolutely recognize israel in it’s historical context as far as the history and traditions of Judaism go and I also recognize the cultural and religious ties to the land inherent in Judaism. What I don’t feel though, is any obligation to have to automatically defend, argue or debate the current political landscape or recent history of the land of israel under it’s modern government and it’s policies or decisions. I’m not some sort of anti-Zionist or neturai karta, I just don’t feel that simply being Jewish makes me some sort of expert on how other Jews thousands of miles away feel about things and certainly I don’t feel any insight to explain or defend the decisions of a government in a country that I don’t hold citizenship in.

I’ve been mulling this fact over for a fair few years now, basically ever since I entered secular society and the workforce and realized that people seemed to decide my opinion on issues related to the middle east automatically, based on my act of wearing a yarmulke.

Let me be clear. I’ve visited israel and I support the right of my fellow Jews to have their home, but I barely manage to have time to keep up with what congress or parliament are doing, never mind the Knesset.

(Post written on my phone at 4am. Please excuse the spelling or grammatical errors.)

Spotting The Greenhorn

Posted in Frum, Funny?, Heimish, Israel, New York on March 7, 2010 by frumpunk

So there he was, spotted as soon as I entered the shul. Couldn’t have been more obvious if he’d been wrapped in neon and fitted with the bass system from a riced out Honda Civic. He eyed me the same and proffered an Ashkanazi siddur, one of the rare ones in this little nusach Sefard chassidic place. I accepted the siddur and sat down next to him. He asked where I was from, I told him. He apologized for not recognizing me, offering by way of explanation, “I’ve been in yeshiva for the past few months, this is my first time back since Elul.” I smiled at him. “I know,” I said. “I know.”

You can spot them everywhere at certain times of the year. Many greenhorn spotters (or “grotters” as we prefer to be known) will tell you that chanukah is the best time for this widely practiced, yet little talked about sport. Others, the ones with less finesse, you might say, will dig out the binoculars and set up camp only at pesach time. Not to be too arrogant, but they’re amateurs. My preferred game is the unexpected. It takes more skill to find them, but when you do they’re unawares and therefore easier prey. I tag the species and the location in my little book and release them back into the wild. Just this past week I saw a fantastic example of a Medrash at J2. Perfect specimen, a prize catch. He was talking about how he’s just recently started to buckle down and work on himself. It really made my week. I eschew the obviousness of catching them when they come back for yom tov in favor of spotting the ones who trickle in here and there for the family bris or wedding. It makes them more of a catch because you never know if there will be many, if any at all.

They’re an interesting species to be sure. This time last year they were just another batch of seniors obsessed with pog cards and their hippety-hop music (I think. I have no idea what the kids are into these days), totally unaware of the evolution that would soon transform them. They head off to Israel to their chosen (or not so chosen) yeshivas and then, I wait. When they start to trickle back, the season begins.

 There are certain signs to start your hunt with. My favorite is the linear siddur. You know the one, the hebrew is on one line with the english below it so the words match up rather than the block of english text being on the opposite side of the block of hebrew text. These siddurim are used by only two people; those becoming frum who are trying to learn hebrew, and newly minted yeshiva guys trying to learn the meaning of all those words they’ve been mumbling daily since they were eight. You could also look for the copy of Pathway to Prayer, that little book where it goes into detail about one part of the davening (the greenhorns tend to prefer the shemonai esrei one), but I think that’s too easy. Other things to note: the white shirt. Is it crisp, like it’s new to him and he still takes pride in his appearance? A favorite tactic of mine is to check the collar if it’s on shabbos. Is it buttoned up to the neck, with the tie properly done? See, if it looks like it fits correctly, then he’s new to this. Look at the ex-yeshiva guys in their late twenties and thirties. They’ve been wearing it for so long that the neck hasn’t fit in years, so they simply go to the second button and pull the tie up partly, for comfort. If he’s more Mad Men than Hocker, you’ve got a greenhorn on your hands, my friend. Other things to look for are shoes, belt, glasses and type and frequency of chumash used for leining, but this has become a wall of text so those, my friends, are for the next installment.

I Can’t Eat This

Posted in Food, Frum, Funny?, Heimish, Israel, Me, Yeshiva on November 15, 2009 by frumpunk

I’ve done time. Hard time. Yeshiva time. I went to yeshiva, post high school for multiple years. When it comes to food, I’m a tough battle-hardened son of a gun. I’ve had the month old cholent. And yes, I cooked that cholent in my dorm rooms George Forman. I’ve choked down my fair share of grease based meat substances.  I’ve got stories of rummaging through left over simcha food that could make your intestines curl up and beg for mercy. I once had milk that was four years old. It was a little crunchy, but still good.

Or so I thought.

One of the standout meals I had this past year was a shabbos lunch spent with a chassidic family in Jerusalem. When I say chassidish I mean Chassidish, capital C. The women ate in the kitchen. Everyone but me owned a streimel. Yiddish was flying haphazardly in all directions. The peyos  were swinging and the gartels were tight. For the appetizer, my host was brought a massive tray with about thirty hard boiled eggs and several whole onions. While we watched, he proceeded to shell the eggs and chop the onion, enrapturing us with what was presumably a chassidic tale from his rebbe about how generations before us had prepared their own egg and onion dishes at the shabbos table while the guests waited slavishly wondering if for the main course, he would be brought a live chicken and all the ingredients of a cholent, to prepare it in front of us and tell us more tales in yiddish, leading us to take mental bets on whether or not we would finally be eating by tuesday.

It’s not that I’m spoilt. I can appreciate different customs and foods. It’s that I’m squeamish. Very American, chicken-soup-and-brisket type. I can try new things, I just don’t like to eat them when they’ve been passed hand to hand to reach me. I was polite, I ate my eggs and fish and it wasn’t bad, but seeing it passed under all those beards made me choke it down. Something that was almost reversed when the next course was passed down – boiled cows hoof. They told me it was boiled for a full day until it was just a blob of wobbly gelatin. I can try new things, but not the part of the cow that spends it’s life wading through feces. And it looked… wrong. It doesn’t look like food, and watching people slap it on bread and eat it with a gusto made me reconsider my previous plans to digest my food rather than regurgitate it across the table. (I found out afterwards that it’s more common than I thought. My grandmother knows what it is, but I still don’t understand why you would eat that part of the cow unless forced to by poverty or some sadistic poretz.)

But nothing could have prepared me for the main course. Initially I breathed a sigh of relief when the cholent was served. Finally, something familiar. Meat, beans and potatoes. Nothing can go wrong with this, right? That was until the boy next to me shows me the special delicacy his mother puts in the cholent. A whole chickens foot. Bones, skin and all. The whole thing, sitting right there on his spoon, practically squawking at me a warning to consider what other delights might my cholent contain. I’ve never lost my appetite faster, especially as he described how she cooks it until the bones are soft so it doesn’t crunch that much in your mouth. I’ve nothing against chicken feet per say, but they don’t look like an appetizing part of this complete breakfast. I spent the rest of the meal picking the potatoes in my bowl, too grossed out to eat the meat, but trying not to appear rude.

I’ve never thought before that there were things I simply couldn’t stomach to try and eat. Years of yeshiva food is supposed to steel you for anything. By all rights I should be able to eat anything anywhere. But I learned there’s a difference between spoiled litvish food and properly cooked chassidish delicacies. And I’ll risk the infection of a piece of schnitzel from three months ago thats been sitting under my dorm mates bed, before I’ll attempt to eat a fresh chicken foot, cows hoof or even a fresh piece of salmon passed hand to hand to hand.

The Best Israel Has To Offer

Posted in Food, Israel, Me on October 8, 2009 by frumpunk

I never had a childhood trip to Israel. Didn’t get to go until I was twenty and paid for it myself. You might feel bad for me, a childhood spent never experiencing the kedusha of the Kotel, the warmth of Eilat or the scenery of the Golan, but don’t, because all I missed was the crunch of a McDonalds fry. Tel Aviv? Keep it. The Old City? Pfft. But the idea that there was a magical place where all the food we wanted was kosher was more than we could handle, those of us in my class who shared the same Israel-less fate. When classmates came back from a Pesach spent in the holy embrace if the Jerusalem Raddisson, we would immediately corner and “grill” them (see what I did there?) on the first day back at school.

“Tell us”, we’d say, our eyes glazed over with childs wonder, “tell us about KFC. Do you really get a bucket, just like the commercials on TV?  What does it taste like? Can you… can you possibly describe it?”

If we were lucky they might even have procured a ketchup packet for us to ooh and ahh over. Proof held in hand that our promised land did exist. It was like having a coat hanger from the closet that led to Narnia. Or maybe they had pictures of those familiar signs and colors, twisted with the addition of Hebrew but recognizable nonetheless. Smiling family members waving under the sign, the expressions on their faces showing hints of their inner promises to their stomach that they were about to experience gastronomic delights of the sorts that kosher America could never offer. These lucky ones were about to enjoy the food that we lusted after in the mall and food courts while being resigned to our packed sandwiches or whatever had an OU on.

Israel for me is so much more than the country, people and sites. It’s about being able to go to a mall and have hot chicken for lunch. It’s about a pizza from Pizza Hut and a burger from Burger King. It’s the eternal argument of who has the best schwarma and where the best cheap pizza is. It’s a muffin grabbed from a bakery while I’m in town and it’s the wrap I pick up for dinner.

It’s not just me, I know. On Avenue J there are two places to get a sub and Subsational is far superior, yet the kosher Subway is still in business. Even after finding out this for myself, I still went back a second time just for the thrill of being able to order a sandwich at Subway, buy a drink and chocolate chip cookie, and sit down at a table with my Subway tray, Subway cup and Subway napkins and for a minute feel like I was experiencing the forbidden.

You Can Take It With You

Posted in Food, Frum, Funny?, Heimish, Israel, Uncategorized on August 7, 2009 by frumpunk

It’s an odd time of the year to write this, considering now is the time when the fresh crop is heading to Israel, but I’ve just left my summer inspiration tour, so deal with it. In fact, you should probably print this out and tape it up in your dorm room so you know what to do when you get back home. How do you take the holiness and heimishness of your year in Israel back with you? Here’s what to do when you get homesick:

Burn A Trash Can

Thursday night schwarma just isn’t the same without the sweet smell of burning plastic in the air. Bring a little back with you by tossing your lighter into the first dumpster you see. Crowd around, bring the marshmallows. If someone asks you what you’re doing, simply yell “free the yenta!”, give the black power salute, and run away.

Negotiate, Negotiate, Negotiate

Bring the art of negotiating the price of everything back as a keepsake. Before taking the subway, go up to one of the booths and offer them fifteen cents to take you to Long Island. Go as high as forty if you have to. If you reach a standstill just walk away. They’ll call you back.

Bring Some Penguins

You might get sick of seeing colors other than black, white and cholent everywhere. In fact, a leading cause of post Israel hospitalizations is stress shock brought on by depriving the brain of vivid colors for a year and then going to the village (or wherever it is the kids hang out these days. On that note, gettoff my lawn).

Am I saying you should rob a zoo? No. I’m just suggesting you populate the streets with a life form that walks upright and wears only yeshivish colors. I might also be handing you a map of the best back entrances to a zoo, but if you get caught, you never knew me. You can also try pandas, but since they’re not upright you might find yourself more accurately recreating purim.

Add Some Grease

Lets face it. What you’re eating isn’t really food unless you find that when you wrap it in a laffa you have a puddle of grease on your plate from the residue dripping out the bottom. Otherwise, what you have there might be more appropriately be termed “quasi food. Semi food. The Diet Coke of food.”

Furthermore, Israel is widely considered to be the second most heimish place in the world (right after Brooklyn). As you know, I’m something of a heimishologist and while the subject requires further research, I firmly believe that the addition of grease raises the heimish in your average foodstuff by several thousand percent. And heimish means frum. And don’t we all want to be frummer?

Why People Leave

Posted in Frum, Girls, Israel, Politics on July 4, 2009 by frumpunk

Before I get to the post, let me ask a question: Is there any point in life in which you’re old enough to be around girls? I just had a great shabbos, and at shalos seudos I jokingly asked if we could come back every week. They laughed and said they’d love to, but their house is usually filled with seminary girls at shabbos. I said that was fine. I’m taken, and my friend needs to get married anyway. And they laughed again.

But seriously, those girls are going to be dating when they get back to New York anyway. It’s July, which means they’re probably only a few weeks away from being in a hotel lounge with Yanky for the first time. My point being, doesn’t it make sense to let yeshiva boys and sem girls meet each other if they’re both dating anyway? A shabbos table with a family seems as kosher a place to start as any other. (Incidentally, I’m not kidding when I said my friend needs to get married. Anyone interes ted? He’s 5’10, athletic, dresses well, polite, likes to learn. But he’s 26, yet looks 21. Which means if you’re a beard lover, you’re out of luck. He’s in Israel through July and will be back next September.)

The family I stayed at made aliyah for the second time a few years ago. They originally lived here through yeshiva and sem and stayed when they got married. They said they lived in Neve Yaakov and Ramat Beit Shemesh in the mid nineties. They said they left when they sensed that the religious communities were becoming polarized beyond what they considered comfortable. The first straw was when his wife was told that if she continued to wear denim skirts and tennis shoes, noone would want to be friends with her. The second was that the kids started coming home from school with stories about violence that their friends were involved in (stone throwing, protests, tzniyus patrol…). The last straw, so he said, was when someone wanted to open up a trade school for wayward teenagers. Get them involved in metal and woodwork, as he described it. The community rabbis forbade it, out of concern that the kids would enjoy it too much, and therefore never return to learning.

He said that he figured their kids could go one of two ways. They could stay and be over is issur of sinas chinam, or leave and risk the possibility of them being over giluy arayos. They returned to America and later made aliyah to a settlement where all types come together without polarization of any kind. And they couldn’t be happier.

How To Throw Stones

Posted in Frum, Funny?, Israel on June 21, 2009 by frumpunk

One thing that becomes immediately obvious being in Israel is the line drawn between those who keep shabbos and those who don’t. Religious neighborhoods do everything they can to keep cars from driving through on shabbos. Some places have fixed gates that swing shut come Friday eve. The more ghetto places have stolen police barriers, plastic fencing, and I’ve even seen uprooted trees and road signs dragged into the road for the sake of shabbos.

The most interesting fixture to me though is the screams of the Israeli kids (and by kids I mean, people into their early twenties) of “SHHHHAAAABBBBBBOOOOSSSSS”  at the passing cars. I’m not sure what the purpose of this is. I have yet to see a car stop, it’s driver get out apologetically explaining how he had no idea, and how grateful he is to them for informing him of this fact. I’m fairly certain they can’t even hear the shouts, what with the engine, the radio and the thrust of a diesel engine moving them past the screams at speeds of thirty miles per hour. Really, all they’re doing is annoying me. Some of those kids can shriek.

Luckily, the shabbos patrol has hit upon another method of carrying out their duties as modern day town criers. The hurling of small blunt objects, such as rocks or unruly children. This makes far more sense to me and heeding the commandment to keep the shabbos day holy, I eagerly join in the launching of these airborne kiruv minerals. Of course, I asked about the proper way to go about this.

For starters, you have to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. If you see someone driving on shabbos, you have to assume that his wife is having a baby or someones ill and it’s a matter of life and death. That’s why before shabbos I write “Mazel Tov!” on one side of the rock, and “Get well soon” on the other. Only then do I feel comfortable delivering my message of goodwill right through their windshield.

You also have to keep in mind that not everyone is Jewish. Israel is also populated by Arabs and various Christian groups. That’s why I also wrap a few printouts of Noachide shirum around the rocks with rubber bands before launching my gift of kiruv into the driver.

Don’t call me a hero, I’m just trying to make the world a better place. Okay, you can call me a hero. Just once. Maybe twice. You know I can’t resist adulation from you.