Archive for the Me Category

A Quick Brag

Posted in Me, Reviews on January 12, 2010 by frumpunk

If I haven’t been posting (and I haven’t) it’s because I’ve been on vacation for the past three weeks. And if I’m posting now (which I am) it’s merely to brag about my current status in life, for I (Frum Punk) and just this much better than you. Or at least I feel this much better, mainly because I’m writing this from the complimentary computer in the private office located in the British Airways First Class Lounge, a place so nice I want to stay here twice.

Who would have thought that I, a simple country boy from Bumbleweed, Nebraska would someday be rubbing elbows with the upper crust of air travel? I didn’t expect so either, but then BA messed me around so many times that they apparently felt compelled to bump me to the upper crust of air travel society. And sitting in this ergonomic chair listening to the smooth jazz sounds and sipping my complimentary beverages, I no longer feel any animosity towards them.

Pretending to be rich reminds you of just how nice the service industry can be when they’re paid to suck up to certain passengers. I bypassed the initial check-in line with a contemptuous glance at all the poor people queuing up like insects while I stepped right up the the counter in my exclusive section. While my bags were taken care of I exchanged light banter with the friendly lady behind the counter. Then I was wisked through security, all of whom asked me how my stay was and expressed their sincere wishes to meet me again, sooner rather than later. Then with time to kill before my flight I stepped into the private lounge area and with a second contemptuous glance at all the people flying business I was escorted into my private lounge, with its computer setup, comfortable chairs, bar and choice of almost any drink I could desire, all on the house of course. In a short while I shall be stepping into my first class, fully reclinable seat, where I shall change into my complimentary pyjamas and settle down for a restful overnight flight.

You too could be flying this way, if only you’d worked as hard as I have to earn this level of luxury I’m accustomed to. It’ll be difficult though when the flight is done and it’s time to leave and go back home, a place without helpful attendants and smooth jazz. I’m grabbing onto my seat. They can’t make me go. Don’t make me go back there. I like it here…

Dress For A Funeral (It’s A Frum Wedding)

Posted in Frum, Girls, Heimish, Me, Politics, Weddings on November 22, 2009 by frumpunk

While my brother and his fiancée (is it frum to say ‘fiancee’?) plan their wedding, I get to sit back and watch so I can learn to plan for my own someday. Sadly for my own laziness, I’ve had to be involved in a small way, coordinating my various relatives expectations of what they can expect and be expected to do at a frum wedding.

My father’s family are not frum at all. Never were, probably never will be. My brother and his betrothed are both recently-flipped-out-in-Israel frum. (Last week he bought a Borsalino. True story.) The only religious functions my dads family has ever had to attend were our bar mitzvas. which compared to a wedding are pretty low scale events. All they had to do was show up in the right section at shul and not wear anything cut too low on top or too high below.

So I was on the phone with my cousin, trying to explain to her what to wear to the wedding, as their idea of traditional wedding outfits wouldn’t quite cut it amongst my brothers new crowd. Until I hit the simplest solution and directed them to onlysimchas.com with the instructions to “just wear what those girls are wearing”. Thousands of frum girls at hundreds of weddings must give them some idea of the expected outfits, right?

They called me back in less than five minutes wanting to know why everyone seems to be wearing black. Cue a montage of the girls outfits at every wedding I’ve ever been to in my mind and I realized the obvious. “Just dress for a funeral”.

Because it’s true, black is not the new black for frum Jews, it’s all there ever was. And not just for the girls, black suits, black shoes, black hat… if not for the white shirts we’d be invisible at night. The most color I ever see on most frum girls is maybe a pink sash or bow, but only over her all black outfit. Maybe that’s why jean girls are the casual standard, because if formal wear limits you to one color, who wants to have to wear it during regular days too? Although that doesn’t explain why the GAP hoodies are always navy or black as well.

I don’t have a closing. I just have a request for the girls. Why the all black and who enforces it? Because someone must be directing this mono-fashion show.

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.

Mazel Tov Part II

Posted in Me, Shidduchim, Weddings on November 3, 2009 by frumpunk

I was never “in the parsha”. I never had a dating stage. I somehow managed to go from “I’m not dating right now” to my current status of “semi-engaged”. But before that period, I got the usual amount of people telling me I should totally go out with this or that girl. Because they’re just so heimish and lovely and if I procrastinate I’ll miss out. (Proved you wrong.)

My brother went back to Israel two years ago when he got laid off from his job. After a few months he realized he wanted to stay in Israel for the long haul and started getting in touch with shadchans, shadchonim, hockers, sem teachers, yentas, ballabustas and anyone else who might know the perfect girl and felt like playing matchmaker. About a month ago he told me he was finally dating someone he really liked. Two weeks ago he told me he thought this just might work out. And then a few days ago he confided in me he was going to propose to her. After hanging up with him something was nagging at me about this whole thing. The girl sounded familiar, but I was sure I didn’t know her. Suddenly I recalled a conversation I had with someone over a year ago:

Friend: Hey, I have the perfect girl for you! She went to sem with me and she’s really sweet, nice and funny and (insert adjectives here). Sarah * from *. You should think about dating her.

Me: I’m not exactly dating right now, but I’ll consider it…

And that’s who he was dating. And now they’re engaged. At the l’chaim I asked her if she remembered my friend from sem. I then passed on her mazel tov and sent an email to my friend asking her if she remembered suggesting her to me. Her response: “Well at least I had the right family! I’m getting better.”

Curb Your Yichus

Posted in Frum, Me, Uncategorized, Yeshiva on October 19, 2009 by frumpunk

Yichus is a big deal. In shidduchim, it’s up there on the question list, right after what detergent you use to wash the shabbos tablecloth and whether she uses an electric or standard toothbrush. (Electric might indicate she’s careful about hygiene and health and therefore will be a good mother, but then again it might just mean she’s too lazy to move her hand in a circular motion and will be the kind of mother who sits on the couch and makes her infant children cook for her, whipping them with two belts tied together so she doesn’t have to get up from the couch. And you always thought those sort of questions had no value, didn’t you?)

The questions must be asked; is yichus a valid question? Is frum society valid in it’s assumptions that past ancestral performance indicates future decisions and abilities? Or is it just another way to marginalize and divide religious Jews further into social classes and castes? Is the very fact that I would bring it up an indicator of my own lack of worthy yichus? Some would say yes. Most people don’t read my blog (anymore) and therefore are caught between ignorance and apathy. So I’ll answer for those people too: yes.

During the off hours of my yeshiva summer this year I tried to research my genealogy. Armed with a folder full of scanned pictures from my fathers family and a three thousand credit international phone card I annoyed various relatives for hours attempting to put names to faces and put faces in order of marriage and children. Rather than finding a heimish genealogy to boast about in Brooklyn I found the exact opposite – I’m around a sixth to an eighth not even Jewish, ancestrally speaking.

I'm not Jewish. But I married one. Three cheers for matrilineal descent!

I'm not Jewish. But I married one. Three cheers for matrilineal descent!

A few days into my research my dorm-mate from across the hall came to check on my progress. Not yet realizing how shameful it was, I told him the facts of what I’d found. I thought it was interesting, learning about my family so many generations back. Luckily he put me straight. First he ascertained that no, I hadn’t found any great rabbis amongst my ancestors yet, then he explained how his father had hired a professional to go back to the old countries and plot their families illustrious line back hundreds of years, uncovering a great many rabbis and community leaders. I wasn’t jealous, because luckily it proved my point. Your yichus is nice for what it is, but it has no bearing on the type of person you might be. My friend for example, skipped afternoon seder regularly to play video games and find unsecured wi-fi. I’m no saint, but at least I know I don’t have a thousand years of rabbis staring down disapprovingly if I do it.

And I even managed to avoid the shidduch problems because I found a girl who is more interested in who I am than who my ancestors were. Me: 1 Society: 0.

(In fact, greatness is rarely passed down. Most gedolai yisroel of the past didn’t have grandchildren who followed in their footsteps to such great heights. I discussed this with one of my rabbis who theorized that maybe the shadow cast by most fathers was too large for their children to live up to. Our modern day lineages of rabbi fathers to rabbi sons is largely taken from the chassidim who were the first to create royal courts and dynasties.)

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.

Thrifting Around

Posted in Books, Me, Music on August 27, 2009 by frumpunk

Here’s a secret: I was raised in thrift stores. Everything I ever owned for the first twenty or so years of my life once belonged to someone else. I got my first new clothes when I was eighteen. Green cargos and a blue plaid shirt from the clearance rack at Marshalls. I found it odd when I first met people who shopped at thrift stores when they didn’t have to. For my family it was a necessity. For them it’s fashion or some sort of cultural statement. I could wax poetic on my feeling towards people from affluent backgrounds who slum to pretend to be like people from my actual background, but that’s for another rant that will probably never get written. Fun fact: most of my rants never get written. I just don’t like being negative, not to mention judgmental. And now that I’ve followed my usual habit of digressing from the point in the first paragraph, let’s talk about thrift stores.

Even now that I don’t have to, I still love going back into thrift stores. It’s a blend of reasons, from the personal pride in no longer having to dig through racks of corporate picnic t-shirts to find something vaguely wearable, defined in my adolescence as not being something that my classmates, most of whom were the more affluent sort, to the fond memories of the little treasures dotted around that I’d spend hours with. While my siblings looked for clothes I’d browse the thousands of old and strange books that only thrift stores seem to have or dig through old electronics and computer systems from the eighties.  There’s a line from an Oasis song “my body is young, but my mind is very old”. It resonates with me because my experience of things is from a timeline inconsistent with my age. My first computer was state of the art in 1980, with its green and black screen, dot matrix printer and no hard drive. I was using it in the days when my friends had Windows 95. I read books that were given as Christmas gifts in 1975, when other people were lining up for the latest Goosebumps release. The age of my clothes was a given. I apparently rocked out at Seths bar mitzvah, even though I was only seven at the time.

Thrift stores contain all the little treasures of the past that society has discarded. I’ve never owned a record player but I did own LP’s, because I couldn’t think of anything cooler than owning the original Star Wars soundtrack.  Those cassettes came in handy when I turned seventeen and owned my first car, which in true thrift life aesthetic, was older than I was. A 1984 Pontiac 6000. Originally baby blue, it was involuntarily brown by the time it passed into my hands. And while my classmates got new cars with fuel injection (oooh, how fancy!) I was rocking a carburetor in a rust colored piece of Detroit vintage. In retrospect, I may have unintentionally been an ironic hipster, except there was nothing ironic about it and I wasn’t very hip.

I went back into a thrift store today in a whim. I took in the sights and smells. Appreciated the fact I can now afford to wear clothes that weren’t previously sweated in, and headed to the one part that I’ll never leave. The book racks. After a gut wrenching decision, I left with three new reads I’d never have heard of otherwise. But when I got home I discovered I literally can’t fit any more books on my shelf. I hadn’t realized I was at that point yet. Maybe I should donate some to a thrift store?