Thursday, August 30, 2007

Evolution of a mustache...

I've always wondered how people decide that they will wear a mustache. Do they just wake up one day, and decide "you know, I think I'll leave that caterpillar for a while and see where it takes me..."?

Now, I've had a beard in the past. There are things you can do with a beard. You can trim it into a neat little thing, or go Bohemian and let it out (I usually chose the latter option). I had fun with my beard. In class, I would tuck a cigarette or my pen in there (mine got quite nappy after a certain length), and affect a sort of suburban/whiteboy/jewish version of the "pickcomb in the afro" look that our dark skinned brethren have mastered.

But a mustache?

I mean, there isn't too much in the way of style, right? You've got the bushy mustache that sort of mops up any residual food or drink that doesn't make it into your mouth. You've got the Fu Manchu look, but you sort of need a kimono to pull it off. The Hitler 'stash is just wrong...Or, you could go for the "gay frenchman" waxed job. Of course, there's the good old fashioned handlebar mustache, but that takes a lot of time and patience...
I just couldn't figure it out. What would compel someone to make such a decision?

I realized a few weeks ago that the idea isn't spontaneous; it's developed over time by a process similar to osmosis.
I'll explain.
At the beginning of the summer, I went to the barber to get my hair cut. It was after the three weeks, so my beard was pretty healthy then. Since I was home, I had to get rid of it as well. I asked the barber to trim it, in order to make my shaving considerably easy.

The barber did my sideburns, and then my neck and chin. When it came to my mustache, she paused.
"Do you want to keep the mustache?"
Huh? It was so random. I asked her why, and she shrugged. "You would look good with a mustache. You have the right type of growth there."

I took the 'stash off, but that moment stayed with me.
I would look good in the mustache?
My hair was right for it?
I just didn't see it.

Still, a few weeks later, the thought, the idea, was still bouncing around inside my head, floating to the forefront of the murky fishbowl I call my mind.
Gradually, the idea was seeming less alien to me.

After all, there are other folks with mustaches, right?

Some people even looked good in them.

Hell, a mustache is sort of disarming, right? I mean, you can't be scared of a guy with a bushy mustache, can you? It makes one more approachable, in my mind...

And so, last Friday, when I was shaving my several week old beard, I left my mustache. It would be an experiment, of sorts.
I went to Walgreens. The cashier called me "Sir."
Not bad...
I went to Yeshiva. The few guys who saw me snickered and made some comments, but the overall reception was pretty good.

I was almost sold. Maybe I did in fact look good in a mustache.

Sadly, when I was doing a once over with my crummy shaver before Shabbos, I accidentally chopped off half of it, and had to shave the rest.


Friday, August 24, 2007

An interesting thought...

This past Shabbos, as we were reading the weekly Parsha, I came across something I found to be interesting.
Devarim 18:09 - When you come to the Land that HASHEM your God has given you, do not learn to do like the abominations of these nations.
The narraritive is describing when the Jews will enter the Holy Land, how they will encounter the other nations their, and witness their practices, religious and otherwise. We are warned against learning from these nations, and adopting their actions, and the Torah continues to enumerate the various nations and what they do.
Rashi (the foremost commentary on the Torah) adds in a very important - and in my opinion, revealing - comment:
18:09 - "Do not learn to do" - but you should learn, in order to understand and teach ( a quote from the Sifri ). This means, to understand their deeds, and how they are cursed, and to teach your children "don't do such and such, for those are the ways of the nations."
Isn't that interesting? Rashi is teaching us an important lesson in the fundamentals of parenting: education.
The question, however, is how we go about applying this lesson? What exactly does it mean?
Many would like to say that the best way to raise our children to be God fearing Jews would be complete insulation from the outside world. It's possible that that choice could be the best way, in an ideal situation, where we are able to properly insulate ourselves, i.e. when we are self sufficient, and do not depend on the outside world ( when that is is another discussion entirely).
But what about nowadays? Whether we like it or not, the reality of our situation is that we are in exile. More than that, we are firmly entrenched in a world that is rife with secularism, where gratification of the senses and pursuit of bodily pleasure is King.
Do we, in fact, educate our children in the "ways of the world"? If the answer is yes, then how do we educate? What are the parameters, what are the limits? What is proper and necessary, and what is gratuitous and dangerous?

Any suggestions?

Friday, August 17, 2007


This is a really old one...

The clock shows it's time
emitting a soft glow
I've been lying here for hours
yet the minutes pass so slow

If you stare into the darkness long enough
the blackness will take form
the images flood my imagination
far-flung, away from the norm

Try to think of relaxing things
that will possibly serve to soothe
my blanket is all rumpled;
the sheets no longer smooth

Is it for fear of sleep that I'm awake
afraid to lose myself
sickened by dreams that plague my soul
that disturb my mental health?

Or is it because I might not rouse
once I've succumbed to Morpheus' dust
an eternal sleep, forever unconcious
so awake I stay, I must?

I think over the day's happenings
examining the past events
could it be the discussions so innocent
were really malicious in intent?

Now I finally remember
what I've forgotten in the day
but when I need it, it's already gone
the memories slip away...

Replies that I could have used
only come to me in the black
when I need it, then it eludes me
when useless, it comes right back

My paranoia runs rampant
throughout the restless night
double meanings to every word
compliments only said in spite

Or is it my sins come to haunt me
to remind me of what I've done
tell me in my unrest there's no absolution
my inner battles never won?

Outside it begins to lighten
the world awakens to dawn
another day I must begin
always, I must move on...

Friday, August 10, 2007

Where it all began...

I meant to mention this earlier in the week, but as I wanted the previous post to get decent face time, I let it slide for a few days.
This past Tuesday marked the 20th anniversary of the release of Joe Satriani's debut, Surfing With The Alien.
Joe is an electric guitar virtuoso, known not only for his inpeccable riffs, licks, and hooks, but for the soul which he infuses his works with. He is where it all begain, in my book. He mentored Steve Vai ( who's incredible to the point of possibly surpassing Joe in technique, but lacks any trace of emotion ), and taught Kirk Hammett ( of Metallica fame ) most of what he knows.

Most of Satch's music is instrumental, and ranges from blistering solos and pure octane to mellow, bluesy tunes.

The debut CD Surfing With The Alien has been rereleased with digital remastering and a whole slew of goodies. And it's worth getting; it has a picture of the Silver Surfer on the album cover!

Here are some faves of mine:

Monday, August 6, 2007

Drawing a line...

Two weeks ago, Noah Feldman wrote an essay for the New York Times' Sunday Magazine. The essay, entitled Orthodox Paradox is his own personal complaint against the system that he feels contributed to his developement, his worldview, and where he is holding today. You see, Feldman went to a Modern Orthodox yeshiva, where the message he recieved was that it was possible to be both a jew and a professional in the non jewish world. However, after embracing the secular world - ultimately marrying a non jewish woman - Feldman now turns to his Alma Mater - which has proceeded to omit the mere mention of him in their alumni newsletters - and cries foul.
My brief summarization can't possibly do the article any justice. Here's the link; I hope it works, and although it's a very long article, it's worth reading.
The reactions varied; many lambasted Feldman, and as an interesting note, it appears that Feldman didn't just piss off folks in the religious community. Allan Nadler of The Forward seriously questions Feldman's sincerity in his choices to remain outside the parameters of Orthodoxy.
Gary Rosenblatt of the Jewish Week was by far the best response.

That was the background.

When I first read the article, I struggled. As one who aspires to work in the Kiruv field professionally - specifically speaking, with jewish teens who reject religious life - I know the importance of not writing off people right away. A lot of times there are misunderstandings, etc. On the other hand, this Feldman fellow blatantly violates numerous Halachic rulings, is aware of it, discusses it in an open, public forum, and has the cajones to blame the system that he came out of, all the while justifying himself with the pithy excuse of "trying his best, in his own, flawed way."
My question - and this wasn't addressed by any articles I have seen - is this. What is the line? What do we consider the point of "no return"? When do we indeed pull up the stakes and pack it in, because there's no more we can do to help this person who is so intent on rejecting the faith? In Kiruv, we deal with kids who are at all sorts of levels of rebellion. Aside from the dangers of desensitizing ourselves to this behaviour, at what point do we move on?
When is it more than an option, but an obligation?
How do we face that moment, and how do we live with that rejection?

Any suggestions? I'm open...

Note: I just found this article, which lends a significant twist on the whole story.
An added point that I forgot to mention was that I was irked at how much attention the Matisyahu "debacle" got from bloggers in light of the fact that the Feldman story happened at basically the same time. I haven't seen any bloggers responding or discussing this very important ( in my opinion ) issue...