Saturday, July 24, 2004

Mincha at the Shteible  revised

15 minutes to shkia* and just 5 guys are in the house. I say my hellos, put down the groceries, and head to the shelf for a chumash.The gabbai is on his cell drumming up business.  After a minute or two, a man walks in. 10 minutes to go.

L is here, too,  and he ambles on over. He sees that I am learning, but, after catching my eye and receiving a small nod, he starts talking. Three minutes left, three empty seats.

Ok,  announces the gabbai with the phone, help is on the way: M is around the corner, N  is on his way out, and O says he'll be here in fifteen minutes.

I interject: What good is that? Shkia is in two minutes!

L digs into my grocery bag and pulls out the box of Entenman's donuts. He throws it on the table.

Don't be so frum, he hisses, we see the donuts. 

It's not until the middle of shmonah esray that L's complaint is understood. Of course The donuts aren't cholev yisroel. L must be  thinking: Why is a shagetz about cholev yisroel, throwing a fit about davening Mincha before shkia? Why won't he  just get along? Why is he showing up the six men who are willing to wait?

Why indeed? After I finish praying, I try to make the peace. I try to explain to L the difference between a stringency and a requirement. I invoke Rav Moshe. I give examples. It all makes not one whit of a difference. "Rav Moshe wasn't a Hasid, so who cares?" is the gabbai's answer.

And L, dear old L, is no help at all. He doesn't understand. All he has for me  is that stupid, little shrug, the shrug that says, "hey man, this is a shteeble, lighten up."

The gabai still isn't speaking to me. I know I embarrassed him, but I'm embarrassed, too.

For it's back. The anger at the shteeble, along with the anger at myself, has returned. Why are the RNs so certain that they are too frum for shul? Based on what? And why do I put up with it? What - for the love of god what-  is keeping me in the shteeble? What am I trying to prove, and to who?

*Shkia is sunset, the time most (but not all) authorities set as the deadline for saying Mincha.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

I had a Mister Invisibility moment today, one that gives the blog an extra wrinkle, I think.

Today, the big boss invoked his supreme authority, and moved the date of the Christmas Party. (Yes, it's early. No, we're not yecks. This is just how it's done where I work.)

The little boss did not like this change even one bit. She stormed into my office to make sure I was in that loop.

"Can you believe the nerve of the big boss, moving the Christmas Party to December 18. Who goes to a Christmas Party on December 18? I'll be shopping on the 18th. Everyone in the world is Christmas shopping on December 18!!"

Thought 1 - Aren't I in the room?
Thought 2 - Aren't I wearing a kippa?
Thought 3 - Does this mean you want a gift?

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Red alert. Red alert.
The lapsed Catholic in the next stall has sent me an email. Do you know the Hebrew word sotah? 
Of course, I know the word. I also know why she's asking. This has to be about that Ragen book.

I prepare for the balancing act. Can't make the faith look stupid. But I won't misrepresent it, either. There is a source in the tradition for recognizing the tradition's own shortcomings, I tell myself. But who am I to decide what is a shortcoming and what isn't? What to leave out? What to leave in? She's going to think we're seriously weird....

First question: Is there really a moral squad? [Sort of, but I don't think they get into white slavery like the squad in the book.]

Second question: Are the matchmakers ever women? [Are they ever!]

Third question: Do those yeshiva boys really learn all day? [Yes, definately, but not all of them are learning Torah]

Fourth question: Why was the Mea Shearim family disappointed when their youngest daughter married a soldier. He was religious, wasn't he? [Yes, but...]

Fifth question:  Can a girl go to yeshiva, too, if she wishes? [Yes, if Drisha's a yeshiva]

Sixth question:  Why is it all about money? [Ouch! Low blow, lady!] Shouldn't two people be able to marry regardless of the ability of the girl's family to pay for an apartment?

We talk for an hour. I bring up Bruriah and Devorah. (questions 3 and 5) I remind her of Fiddler on the Roof (Questions 2 , 4 and 6) I say a few words about Rabbi Akiva's 24 years of devotion and his 24,000 students. (Question 3) I mention Velozhin and Slobodka (question 3) where
wherever you went and wherever you stood you saw nothing but yeshiva-boys, you heard nothing but the  mournful gemorrah-melody, and you could not escape the feeling, that the whole world was exclusively yeshiva-boys, who had no interest in life, and sought no future for themselves, other than simply to study and study and study.

"Is your Judaism anything like that?" she asks. I detect a note of awe. I think: Do Bruriahs and Tevyas still walk among us? Would our orthodoxy accept the simple-ignorant, but pius man, or the learned woman? Has Slobodka been rebuilt? I'm no romantic. I know the past, like the present, had problems a-plenty. But for now, I smile and leave it to her imagination.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Rejected Names for the Blog

  1. Chasidim in the Mist
  2. Broyges*
  3. Mee Ke'amcha Yisroel?
  4. Chakira
  5. When Worlds Collide
  6. Misfit
  7. Wasting Time at Work

Rejected psudonyms

  1. Man in the Middle
  2. Terech **
  3. Better Than Thou
  4. Misfit

*This is yiddish, or Middle German if you perfer. I am not sure what it means. Something about arguing.

**Why Terech? He's the middling man's patron saint. Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot, his daughter-in-law Sarai,  and set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there. Terech never made it to Canaan. He stopped at Haran. Despite his very best intentions, Terach only made it half way, or maybe because of his good intentions, he was zoche to finish half the journey. Either way, he was Abraham's father, and that's a dream worth having.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Who are the baynonim?

Who are the baynonim?
  1. Jews who are neither completely righteous nor completely wicked.
  2. Men in the middle.
  3. Mediocrities. (modern Hebrew: baynonit)

My neighborhood is the inspiration for this blog. It's full of Jews, who, generally fall into one of two camps, which is convenient because we only have two shuls. To my right are the RNs, the religious neighbors. They pray at the shteeble, boast fine yeshiva educations, and in some parody of the non-Jewish bride, are careful to always wear something black, be it socks or a velvet kippa.

To my left, in their knitted kippot are the OMJs, the Orthodox Modern Jews. Their shul is quiet and dignified, their rabbi professional and articulate. Many OMJs give their time and money to Zionism and Israel, but they can't learn like the RNs. 

The truth is I like them all, but I don't like any of them. Know what I mean? I attend both shuls, but after a few consecutive weeks at either one,  I go running to the other. We're all baynonim, including me, Mr. Mediocre himself, fanning the smoldering embers of his literary ambitions with this stupid blog.

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