Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Thanks, But No Thanks.

It was a clear, cold, quite night, the moon shone pure silver over farmer Yanki’s barn.

A quite rustle could be heard as the turkeys started congregating towards the barn. Imported wheel-barrels were double parked outside, and the excitement could be felt in the air.

It was the annual meeting of the turkey knokers who had come from all over to mull over, and contemplate what could be done to stop these American influences that were spreading throughout the farms especially this goyishe minhag, this absolute narishkeit of Thanksgiving and of course what to do with the never ending problem of today’s youth, and all other subsequent issues.

I mean how many times must we explain that a turkey is supposed to act like a decent turkey “fin diy haym”, not like todays crazy feigalach? An elderly turkey was saying.

And the housing it was ridiculous! A little coop in the middle of the farm was going for a kings ransom! Yenta Turkey exclaimed while trying to get into her gloriously expensive feather coat.

Education! Our young ones need to be able to provide for a family! Shouted one turkey, while adjusting the “shmooz” magnet on his late model, but slightly dented wheel-barrel with New Jersey plates that he really didn’t need “davkeh”, it was just mamesh a mitziyeh, and yeah my shver took out a second mortgage to pay for it. I mean not every one is made for kollel!

These self important turkeys knew what to do, they had the answers to all of the problems the turkey community faced around the world, and every year they came to Farmer Yanki’s barn for this important “asiyfeh”

Farmer and Mrs. Yanki were away at the Agudah Convention, they had gotten free tickets as they did every year from the milk distributors, and were more then happy to go. The topics really didn’t matter as long as somebody else was milking the cows, and gathering the eggs, they were happy. Little did they know that back at the farm the chickens, or in this case the turkeys were running the coop.

There were round table discussions, square table discussions, late night tea parties, early morning daf yomi parties, the program was designed to keep every turkey busy from Thursday night till Sunday afternoon.

One of the important topics was politics. Was the president really a friend of the turkeys? Avadeh he issued a presidential pardon, but was it real? I mean how can we know if the Turkeys really did get let off the hook? (so to speak)
Have they ever been interviewed by Nachum Seagull? Have we ever heard anything from them? Might it all just be bull chips, (excuse my Hungarian) maybe they get the pardon, but were then shipped directly to Perdue!

The discussions went on and on.

Sunday came along, the turkey chasan warbled his final note, the feather coat struggle ensued once again and the wheel-barrels were warming up as they said their goodbyes.

Contently they hit the dirt road back to their little farms, “another great weekend”, Yenta turkey gobbled to Mr. Turkey on the way home to five-farms. “We discussed all the terrible problems that plague our community, we bashed American culture, solutions? Oh it’s the thought that counts; the main thing is we make an effort.”

And with a sagely nod of Mr. Turkey’s head, this story ends.

We have the privilege of living in a country that has allowed us the freedoms to do basically as we choose.

We are not persecuted, we have section 8 and food stamps, and don’t forget the per child tax credit, what could be better?

We live in a country were we are not only enabled, but encouraged to go to self-importating meetings, to discuss the various issues, or non-issues, to further our causes, our rights, our collective voice.

A little bit of appreciation to the flag that waves gently yet firmly at any hint of oppression, or degradation in my opinion is to be commended.

This Thursday is Thanksgiving, what are your thoughts?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Believe It or Not

This post is a response to Mr. Shtreimel on his blog, A Hassid and a Heretic. It was too long to post in the comments, so I figured I would post it here.

I really should begin by saying that I am far from an expert on this topic, everything I write I have either read over the years, or have come to that paticular conclusion on my own.

I am open to other opinions and comments as I like to think of myself as a student of life, I try to learn from everything.

Well here goes nothing,

This argument as to who or what created the world, and yes that includes the universe and beyond, is as old as time itself.

I will attempt to argue the two primary theories that have arisen. I will try to bring “proof” for both of them, and I will conclude by telling you my personal beliefs. Understand this, what I believe is what I have researched and thought through extensively and decided that it has a lot of validity. It does not make it TRUE.

Evolution :

Simply put it means to change, to adapt to surroundings, to bend to whatever environment introduced into and be heavily influenced by such. Essentially it is based on “the survival of the fittest” or what some scientists would refer to as “natural selection”.

Let me explain:

Almost every living being has what is called a Phenotype and a Genotype. A phenotype generally refers to the outer appearance of the specific being, and the Genotype usually refers to the inner “genetics” or DNA makeup of that being.

Let’s take a human for example; the phenotype is directly dependant on the genotype map. The simplest way to understand this is to look at the difference between males and females.

The male characteristics are mapped out in the “Y” chromosome. The female’s characteristics are derived from the “X” chromosome. Hence the phenotypical male’s chromosome analysis will result in a genotype of “XY” with “Y” being the determinant factor of male. While a phenotypical female’s result will be “XX” and in this case it is the absence of “Y” that determines the female appearance.

Now just as the genotype can produce an extremely drastic difference such as the difference between testicles and ovaries, so to does it play a role in every single one of our phenotypical appearance. Therefore every subtle difference that exists whether it is significant enough for us to notice or not are directly caused by a specific gene.

When we reproduce a random process called meiosis takes place. In brief it is the fusion of genetic material, or for our purpose data, of the mother and the father. Hence the child derives traits in every aspect, characteristically, predispositionally, emotionally, and physically from both genetic donors, this data creates a new genetic map, that in turn dictates the phenotypical outlook of that person.

Very small and subtle outward appearances might not be noticed, but if we look at the general population as a whole these subtle changes are very significant. For example the Chinese eye, or the Irish chin, or yes even the Jewish nose.

Over time these subtle differences, plus any mutations that have taken place would, when comparing the great-grandfather to the greatest-grand son, create two very different beings with genetic makeup’s that merely shadow one the other with no substantial likenesses.

In layman’s terms, the grandfather could be an ape-like creature with minimal intelligence while the grandson could be scratching his head while reading this, and the direct cause of these differences?


The genes have changed over a huge amount of time with the stronger ones surviving, while the weaker ones were diminished into oblivion.

My proof to this is very simple.

The medical community today has been dealing with a kind of evolution that is not taking millions of years, but rather years and months, and the environment is not the universe but rather something as simple as a petri dish, the evolution of germs, or pathogens. Let’s take a simple single celled organism called Enterococcus. It has evolved over some time to resist even the most advanced medications. Medicine labeled the new organism VRE vancomycin resistant Enterococcus. It resists the most advanced antibiotic treatment to the point of, the patient being treated with the antibiotic, and the germ surviving.

So here we have a simple “being” that has adapted itself by reproducing the genes that are strong enough to withstand the antibiotic, and in doing so have created a “grandson” that can survive in an environment that the “grandfather” would not have.

The germ was forced to evolve in order to exist, so too any other species must have evolved to have any continuity.

Creation :

This word is not at all easy to understand, as is the entire theory itself. Simply because the word represents something that appears out of nothingness, producing something when nothing was there before, a particle of matter that appears in a complete void.

It is very difficult to understand this as none of us have been in a void where everything ceases to exist, or has never existed.

There are many branches of this theory, the simplest being belief. A person is taught that G-d created the universe, he believes it, and that’s that.

The second perhaps more scientific thread is the idea of Intelligent Design.

Within the parameters of this theory there lie many different channels and pathways. I will try to explain some of the significant ones.

Primarily there is the design argument, or what could be referred to as the Teleological Argument. What this argument states basically is that the universe is way to intricate to have just occurred. In other words every design must have a designer, that lace curtain in your window could not have knitted itself. The complicated watch on your wrist is proof of a talented watch maker is it not? Just as a master watchmaker or weaver is required to create a simple masterpiece, and we understand that as a given, so too the universe MUST have been created by a master creator, a higher being.

A different vein of thought could be that of Mr. Newton’s second Law of Motion which states that; every action creates an equal but opposite reaction. Hence if the reaction was the universe there had to have been an action, and the action must have been caused by a creator otherwise we would be tracking actions back to time and beyond.

Good ‘ole Aristotle just complicates matters even more as he states that there has to be a “primer” to have started, and to keep the motion of the galaxies.

Yet another train of thought is that there are too many species that have “so called evolved” and yet they cease to exist, (think dinosaurs) eventually there would have to be a decline in the quality of these species,” UNLESS” a superior being makes the decisions for the actual processes of reproduction and in turn directly influences them.

And then there is this little matter of well, Matter.

Matter is used as a proof to creation.

I will try to explain Matter in the simplest terms that I can think of. Matter comprises everything, be it solid, liquid or gaseous, as long as it occupies space, or time, it is made up of matter.
The one catch is that matter can not be created out of nothing, there is an argument that states that it must be possible to create matter as we see that it exists, but modern science has yet been able to create matter out of void or vacuum, or to explain how it came into existence. By this I mean with experimental properties that are documentable.

Hence if something exists it must have been created as matter cannot under any circumstance create itself.

My Own Personal Belief :

This topic has been bothering me for a very long time. I have struggled to understand both sides of the coin, and I would be lying if I told you that after much debate and discussion I finally understood them.

Both sides present a very valid argument.

We clearly see evolution as we see how people adapt to different environments and their physical beings actually change, or morph, or mutate to aid in the adaptation that is required for survival.

On the other hand I do look at the watch on my wrist and wonder could this possibly have evolved?

I don’t mean these two examples specifically, but I hope you get my point.

My answer to all this was a kind of hybrid between the two theories.

Firstly I should mention that I do believe in G-d, I do believe in miracles, and I do believe that I can not possibly understand everything.

This having been said my believes run along the following lines.

G-d created the world, and yes the dinosaur fossils are 3 million years old, they were created 299,999,995 years old! Yes the tree has rings which represent millions of years; it was simply created with all those rings. Sure cells can evolve; they were created with the ability to do so!

There are many comparisons but all of them can be put to this formula.

I am not saying that this hybrid of mine is right or wrong, I really don’t know enough to authenticate, or dismiss it with any authority, I will say this; it works for me.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Get In the Spirit

Wine, whiskey, scotch, bourbon, vodka, gin, rum, cognac, beer, et al have never meant much to me. I mean what kind of masochist do you have to be to actually drink a nasty-vile-tasting liquid that burns like fire on the way down?

Oh sure I have been to many a Kiddush and made a L’chaim on the standard fare, but I have never understood why people go all agog over these bitter brews. “Green Label is better then Blue label”, “Coors haaa,, you call that beer?? Heineken is the only real beer” are comments that I routinely hear all my friends sprout with a knowing look in their eye. A bunch of nuts was always my opinion; I mean do I go around saying that Listerine is better then Scope? They are both horrid!

That was all before my Sommelier’ial education.

I can now say with a complete and educated confidence, they’re all a bunch of nuts!

Here is how I ended up slurping wine at a, “wine tasting”, in a very fancy store in Manhattan getting “educated” on the finer points of grape juice.

The other week I was having dinner at a very nice restaurant in Manhattan with two non jewish clients, great guys, and terrific business men but with a weakness for the grape. Now normal people would order an entrée, and then perhaps pair it with a wine or other beverage. Not these wine junkies. First they studied the wine menu, and then they pared their main dish to match the wine. Not wanting to look like a total ignoramus I agreed with everything they said, “yeah sure, the “cab” sounds great”. Little did I know they were not referring to the obnoxious yellow automobile.

Our waiter arrives with the bottle, and begins to parade it around the table for everyone to see. I look at him, look at the bottle, “um yeah, sure this is great”. With a flourish worthy of a royal court he opens the bottle and pours about half-an-ounce of the red stuff into my glass. Ok I think, he is trying to save me money, great, it was logical , less in a glass means the bottle lasts longer, which means I only pay 86$ once, or so I thought.

So I am sitting there waiting for him to put the bottle down and go away, but nope, he is just standing there and staring at me. A few very uncomfortable seconds go by, and my client goes, “so Chaim, are you gonna try it?” Ohhh, so that’s what this ceremony was all about, I take a sip of the wine, try hard to fight my gag-reflex, and sputter “delicious, absolutely delicious” the waiter beams and proceeds to empty the bottle into our glasses.

There went my hopes for a less expensive dinner.

My guests pick up their glasses, swirl the wine around, the legs they were looking for had nothing to do with what I thought it did, sniffed at something they called a bouquet, which I had always thought was what I spent money on erev shabbos, and finally tasted the wine. Eye’s closed in ecstasy, or was it intense concentration they gargled it around in their mouths, sorta like I would mouthwash, swallowed, and complimented my choice.

Sitting at the table right next to us was a bunch of Chasidim having some kind of party for one of their friends. The restaurant itself was not a very quite place, and they were not speaking in muted tones to say the least, so inevitably we were able to listen in on their conversation.

They had all finished ordering, when the waiter innocently asked if they would like some wine with their dinner. Their conversation stopped short as their heads snapped to attention, the waiter almost dropped the 12$ bottle of flat-water in surprise. It was as if he had just asked if any of them would like to buy a private jet... Each face around the table acquired a very sagely look. Eyeglasses dropped to the tips of noses, faces intently studying the wine menu, you could tell the decision weighted heavily upon their learned shoulders.

I shared an amused glance with the people around my table. Their ears perked up as they awaited the verdict from the wise sages next door. After much debate the council decided on a bottle and in ringing tones the elder amongst them gave his verdict. “Chardonnay.” My dinner guests snorted into their wine glasses, and choked from laughter into their napkins. Our fine neighbors were oblivious to their reaction.

The waiter regained his composure, kept his calm, and asked if they were “absolutely sure”. The look they gave him could have flash frozen vodka, and off he scurried to fetch the fermented juice of their choice.

Now I do understand that there is a “culture” of drunks, errr I mean people that enjoy these adult beverages and even spend loads of time and money on their alcoholic addiction,,, errrr I mean hobby. A perfect example would have been my two clients. They spend more time and money picking and purchasing a single bottle of wine, then a Chusid spends on his esrog.

After my table-mates managed to control themselves I asked what was so funny. Their answer was a look of disbelief “Chaim, you order red with meat, and white with fish.” “Of course,” I said with a knowing air, “so what was so funny?” “Chaim” he said, as if to a slightly backwards two year old, “chardonnay is a white wine”. Their hysterics knew no bounds. My secret was out I was an am haaretz when it came to wine.

No longer pretending to enjoy wine, I ordered my usual, a glass of orange juice, and no ice.

After duly teasing me, the made it their mission to educate me in the “art” of wine, and a two hour lesson ensued, all on my Amex card of course.

Dinner was great, I was able to say that the orange juice I was drinking had a very “smooth taste, and clean palate, with a slightly acidic finish” , business successfully accomplished, guests happily tipsy, next door neighbors loudly singing happy birthday as the “birthday boy” kept desperately trying to prove that his birthday was not for another six months. It was indeed a successful night out.

The next morning I walk into my office and see an overnight FedEx envelope on my desk. That’s funny I thought, I wasn’t expecting anything, as I pick it up I recognized the return address it was from the two guys I had to dinner the night before. I opened it up and out tumbled two tickets to a kosher wine tasting event in a very fancy store in Manhattan.

I was gonna feed them to my shredder when my cell phone rang. “Chaim Chusid” I said, “Hey Chaim, It’s Peter...” one of the guy’s from last night, “Hi Peter, what up.” “Did you get the invitations to tonight?” “Yes, but I don’t know….” “Great” he interrupts me “we’ll see you there, oh and bring a friend!” a click told me that any protest would fall on deaf ears, or a disconnected line.

I called my wife and asked her if she was interested in joining me, she was less than delighted, but did have a good suggestion, call your friend Mendy, he would love to go.

And so Mendy and I went. We watched grown men in fancy suites take a sip of wine, and then spit it out into a special garbage can. At 80$ a bottle I wasn’t spitting anything out, and became rather “happy” very quick. My two associates were delighted to introduce me to their buddies, who kept on suggesting other bottles to taste, at that point my memories of that night get foggy, but I do remember having a great time watching these “cultured” professionals spitting out mouthfuls of wine, sorta like my 2 year old does with food she dislikes.

To those of you that can tell me the difference between a Chardonnay and a Shiraz, I say L’chaim, to the rest of you I say, good for you! You have the courage to go against the flow! It sometimes takes the innocence of a child, or what we think is a childish question to convince the world that the emperor is indeed not wearing clothes, and that they, the whole world, are fools.

On life’s journeys the paths we take are influenced by many factors. Whether we are true to the cause, or rebellious, whether we wear a shtraimel or a little kipa, seldom do we sit back and actually think about what is right or wrong, true or false. How many times have we gotten caught up in a zealous frenzy thinking that our goals are just and in the end it turned out we had erred?

Just because the world likes wine or whiskey, does that mean that I need to drink it?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Your vote counts!!!! (For what?)

The other day was Election Day; long live the tradition that is the backbone of every Democracy!

Being a sound American Chusid, I was all hyped to fulfill my civic duties.
After work I drove straight to the voting place, found parking a block away, and marched purposefully through the rain (no umbrella) to “choose” my next representative.

My shoes made squeaky noises as I trod on the freshly waxed floors, my targets were three little old ladies with blue hair sitting at a rickety desk looking very important.
“What’s you name, honey” asks one of them. “Chaim Chusid” I bark, back straight, looking her right in the eye. She looks through her register, “ok sweetheart go to line 123”. I resist the urge to salute, turn on my heel and walk towards the line she indicated.

I got into line, and started putting on my gartel, thinking about an appropriate “hininie michon” to say, when a very annoyed voice grumbled “Hold it right there sonny, I need to make sure your signature matches before you get on that there line!”
I looked down towards the voice, and there was a very sweet looking African-American female octogenarian about 4 feet tall, furiously waving a be-ringed finger at me.
At first I was at a loss for words, how did so small a thing create so big a sound? “Well, don’t just stand there, we have to match your signature, my desk is over there.” Obediently I followed her to her desk.

“Hmmmm,,, Kaim, Kaim,” she murmured as she ran her finger down the list, “nope no Kaim’s at the address you gave me” “But that’s my signature right there!” I protested, pointing to my name with the signature next to it. “That’s Tshaim, not Kaim,” she said with highly suspicious overtones.
After a lengthy explanation, and showing her my drivers license she agreed that Kaim and Tshaim and Chaim are indeed one and the same, and issued me a flimsy little piece of paper, which in turn granted me the privilege to get back into the line.

Back in line, my gartel firmly fastened, I am next to vote. As the lady in front of me goes into the booth, and the lever gets pulled I can’t help thinking about how funny it is that the world’s most advanced super power uses such an archaic method to choose its leaders. With all the computer advancements we develop you would think that someone would think about computerizing the system, after all the image of an average man going into a booth to pick his leader is the epitome of what America stands for. It’s a little odd that the image should contain machinery that has been around since the early 1900’s. A bit of an oxymoron but anyway I was the next one to vote.
I hand the lady my paper, get into the booth, click the thingies, B’dafkeh don’t vote for Hillary, (because I can) yank the lever, mission accomplished!

A lovely tale, here is my question:

We make an effort to go and vote, but do we accomplish anything?

I understand the argument that people in a neighborhood, be it chasidish or not, need to vote so that the candidates will take their requests seriously, but does it really make a difference?

At the end of the month will my taxes be lower? Will my kids have a better school? Will I be able to smoke in a restaurant or bowling alley?

Does it really matter who wins???

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Brother, Can You Spare A Kugel ?!?

Just a quick thought,

I went to daven maariv at Shomer Shabbos tonight, and I was finding it very difficult to concentrate.

The aromas wavering about were not very appealing.

Now I am all for helping people, really I am.

Rides to Lakewood, or Seattle Washington are a wonderful thing, all the other great services that this beis hamedrish offers are truly phenomenal, but a soup kitchen in the middle of a shul? What started out as a coffee station might have gone a bit too far.

The menu consists of ancient potato kugel, aged cholent, antique bakery goods, pizza that has seen better days and leftovers from approximately 89% of the simcha halls in Boro Park etc. etc. (to name but a few items)

The sanitary conditions of these gastronomical delights (?!) are not even the issue, it just strikes me as a bit odd to see people milling about balancing plates of food, while others are trying to daven.

Some might say that this is the epitome of “avodah” helping others even though it might cause you some inconvenience, (in my case unsavory scents, and characters) but on the other hand, there might be a proper place and “setting” for this kind of chesed, and I wonder if a shul is that place.

What thinks you?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Car and Driver

My alarm clock rang at 6:30 this morning, as usual.
My wife growled “shut that thing off!” at 6:45, as usual.
Showered, got dressed, turned on the coffer maker, and looked for my car keys, out of the house at 7:15, as usual.
Get to me car and see a fresh dent on the bumper, as usual.
Clench my teeth in frustration, do some quick in-through-the-nose, out-through-the-mouth breathing. I get into the car, take a long slurp of coffee, I am ready to navigate through the inevitable traffic, as usual.

We Chasidim tend to drive fully loaded, top-of-the-line high performance sedans. (Or mini vans, or SUV’s, etc. etc.) Now there is nothing wrong with wanting to drive a nice comfortable car, the problem I have is with the drivers.

You would think that with such snazzy cars their driving would be up to par with what you come to expect from somebody that is paying as much a month for his car as he is his mortgage, namely:
Hands on the wheel at the ten and two position.
Seat belt fastened securely.
Headset firmly attached to skull.
Courteous and friendly disposition.
A little Vivaldi in the background,,, I think you catch my drift.

Had you thought that that was the case you would have been very wrong.

Have you ever been chauffeured in a 25 MPH zone at 72 MPH in a giant Infinity truck, by a driver that is on the phone (no headset), programming his Nav system, and steering with his knees, all the while checking his rearview mirror for any cops?
Let me tell you it is an experience.

A stop sign takes on a whole new meaning, instead of stop, and look to see if there are any cars coming. There is now an amendment to this law. Stop and check on the car in back of you, if his car has more power then yours, you better watch it because he will try to scoot around you.

Is it me or do they teach all new drivers to park-by ear. The process is basically back into a spot ‘till you feel, and preferably hear a solid thump. Pull forward ‘till you experience the same “thump”. Repeat while turning the wheel in any direction until you achieve desired results, which usually is a perfect park about 2 feet away from the curb, and everyone’s bumper has a lovely souvenir of your parking adventure.

Double parking is the norm, if you don’t practice it, they think your nuts.

Stopping in the middle of the street to let your mother in law come to the car and load it up with the carriage you left there last shabbos? Perfectly normal. The line of cars three blocks long in the back of you can wait the “2 seconds” it takes.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of good decent drivers out there as well…… I think……hello?.............Anyone?