Peculiar Travel Suggestions

Peculiar Travel Suggestions

Sometimes being an adult can get quite frustrating. Life can lack the adventure and spontaneity that colored our youth. Or at least the amount of unplanned craziness we all expect to have when we’re younger.

Many years ago I was introduced to an author who would later become my favorite: Kurt Vonnegut. I was quickly attracted to his unique and entertaining style of writing. And I found concepts and ideas throughout his books becoming a part of who I was.

The Cursed Kurt Vonnegut

A great example is an idea in the book Hocus Pocus. The character spoke about his reason for never cursing. He believed it weakened the strength of his thoughts and opinions.

Now, I grew up a classic potty-mouthed New Yorker. But I also grew up wanting to make sure any point I make gets across as quickly and effectively as possible. So it was imperative I gave this idea some thought. I considered all the most famous quotes and speeches I had heard. And the people I knew who had the most influence on me and others around me.

And not a curse word to be found.

I took this to heart, stripped my vocabulary of the expletives, and watched as over time the words became somewhat repulsive to me. I also watched as the words became more powerful. Their infrequent use made them more intense when they were actually used.

Peculiar Travel Suggestions

Vonnegut’s influence on me had no bounds. There was one phrase from his incredible novel Cat’s Cradle that has had more impact on me than any other: “Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.”

As you make your way through the twists and turns of life, every once in a while someone will suggest you do something you’ve never done before. You will have an opportunity to wander outside your comfort zone, and see things differently than yesterday.

Those moments aren’t just fun one-time breaks from your normal reality. They are the bread and butter of who you will later become! And so it has been for me, time and again. In my youth I was invited to a youth group meeting. It was something outside my realm. Something that I really did not understand or see the point of. But it was a peculiar travel suggestion, with potential galore for changing my life forever.

And it most certainly did!

That one decision was the starting point for a path I am still trekking down. For sure there have been other peculiar travel suggestions along the way. Many I’ve followed, and many have had their impact. The path hasn’t always been an easy one, but it certainly has always felt like there’s been some type of plan guiding the way.

Dancing Lessons from God

In more recent years I was invited to a friend’s home to hang out and play some games. I didn’t know my host very well, nor did I know any of the other guests. My instincts and inertia could have easily gotten the better of me. After all, it was exceedingly hot outside. I was better off just staying home, reading, and napping.

My host’s peculiar travel suggestion would be a key moment on the path eventually leading to our marriage.

And thus has been the pattern of my existence for as far back as I remember. When my days had too much of a pattern, and I was too rigid and unwilling to follow the ebbs and flow of life, or there were elements holding me back, little noteworthy happened.

And therefore when I told stories about myself, I noticed they were all old. Anything and everything that seemed interesting or noteworthy about me happened a long, long time ago.

In the Comfort Zone

And now here is where I stand. I find comfort in day-to-day routines. I like knowing what my day will look like and what’s coming up in the near future. Any break from my routine, even a small one, upsets my balance. Leaves me somewhat unnerved. That’s why they call it the “comfort zone”…

Yet at the same time there are changes that need to happen. There are improvements to myself as a person I so vehemently wish I could make happen. And if things continue on the same path they’ve been zooming down since I was a teenager, these changes won’t just happen on their own. Change happens when a peculiar travel suggestion enters my world, and I’m brave enough to follow the unknown path.

Shaking Things Up

And it seems this is the only true way meaning occurs in my life. It’s like a snow globe that settles into whatever it is, but the true beauty shines when things are shaken up.

But the shaking can’t happen by force. I can’t just shake my own snow globe or artificially insert my own peculiar travel suggestions. This disingenuous method of finding meaningful change is unlikely to produce any results.

Waiting for Peculiar Travel Suggestions

That’s not to say I have no control, nor that I lack an important role in inevitable and exciting changes that lay ahead. I must lay the foundation, and create the right atmosphere for change to naturally flow from what’s happening in my life.

There is so much I want to happen in the future, so many goals I wish to achieve. I want to see new levels of professional and financial success. I wake up daily yearning to return to levels of religiosity and Zionism I haven’t felt in what seems like ages. And I want joy in my days, the extent of which I could not have imagined.

I’m out there. God, I am wandering through life, each day awaiting Your peculiar travel suggestions. I patiently seek Your dancing lessons.

I can’t wait to see what happens next.

***

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Posted by jaffeworld in opinion, personal story, religion, 0 comments

My 100th Post: Why a Blog in 2019?

Blog

Blog? You write a blog? What year is this!?

This is my 100th blog post (including guest posts). I work on the blog a little bit every day of my life. But… some days I wonder why I bother.

To date, I haven’t earned a penny. In fact, it costs me to maintain the blog.

I’m not famous. It hasn’t put me into the limelight or tossed me in the way of some prestigious writing position.

But I keep at it. Week in and week out, nearly two years now. Consistently publishing at least one post every week.

And here I stand. This is my 100th post. And I have no plans to stop. I love it. It’s really fun for me. And I hope to keep it up for quite a long time to come.

It’s 2019 and I’m still blogging. Here are five reasons why:

1) Writing is a Muscle

The people of the world don’t know how to write anymore. Sadly, those among us who love style and grammar and just common decent awareness of the English language, we can’t shut off. Not for a minute.

Each and every day I’m literally sickened by the lazy writing I see or the blatant and heartbreaking lack of attention to detail.

And I pledge to never be that guy. I want my sentences to flow from one to the other. I don’t want to toss important punctuation and grammar rules into the trash can. I’m perfectly happy being the last American alive who knows how to spell words, and values that correct spelling as well.

But one thing is for sure: Keeping the writing skills alive won’t happen by accident.

I treat writing like a muscle. If left unused long enough, it will atrophy. I want to write every day of my life to prevent this vital muscle from withering away. The muscle needs to constantly be developed and refined, and hopefully through my daily exercise it will grow and sharpen to the height of its potential.

2) Blog as Written Catharsis

As any loyal reader knows, the last 41 years haven’t always been easy. I’ve done a great deal to try and survive the many hardships that have popped up along the way. Writing for me is both a way of processing my thoughts and feelings, as well as an emotional release in and of itself.

For certain, there are many pains that I cannot process through writing. And for sure plenty of pain for which I haven’t even scratched the surface. Nevertheless, pockets of difficulties I’ve had, I have managed to get through just because of this blog.

We all know that feeling of release when a pain slowly but surely dissipates. I’ve had that feeling a few times. Whether it be contemplating the complications of returning to Israel or closure at the end of a decade’s worth of work as a Jewish Educator, this blog has consistently given me great emotional catharsis.

This alone would be reason enough to keep on going.

3) Collecting My Thoughts

I’m not a liberal or a conservative. I have no political affiliation. And I begrudge (almost) no opinion out there. Nevertheless, I’m a thinker and I do have strong opinions.

I am a work in progress, constantly listening to what others have to say and trying to piece the world together. I make mistakes. A whole lot of them.

But the goal is and always will be to understand as much as humanly possible. And the single best way for me to collect my thoughts is by trying to write them down. If I can clearly and concisely get my thoughts into the written word, and I can answer a handful of questions about what I’ve said, competently and confidently, I have successfully added another piece to what I think, feel, and know. My mind is just a little sharper than it was before.

Clarity. I write, and that’s how I achieve clarity.

4) Me, the Minor Celebrity

There’s a cute little psychological effect that comes with sharing so much of yourself in such a public forum. It’s fun when someone quotes you or has a little bit of knowledge of what’s going on in your life or has a deep understanding of your thoughts and opinions.

Obviously I’m more than aware of my relatively minor influence in the vast world out there. No delusions of grandeur over here. Only the pleasure of knowing somebody out there might be listening. Somebody out there might have a care or concern for what I can add to the conversation. It’s enough to keep writing. It feels great.

It’s a funny world. The words “rich and famous” often get lumped together, and whereas I would love to be rich one day, I can certainly live quite happily without fame. I appreciate my privacy. I love it, in fact.

And in my heart I see no contradiction between my adoration of solitude and the joy of having my thoughts out there for the world to read. When I need or want to be private, it’s always there for me. And it’s always great.

5) Keep Hope Alive

Maybe it’s online youthful innocence. Or maybe hope is the greatest motivator the world has ever seen.

But I still keep waiting and watching. I still keep hoping that at some point things will “take off”. And that can mean all sorts of things. My blog could all of a sudden become the cash cow I never imagined. Or my blog could travel far and wide and it or some portion could end up influencing the lives of thousands of people.

All I know is, as long as I keep on plugging, the chance exists of some sort of magic occurring. And those chances end the moment I close my laptop and throw in the towel.

So I keep on writing.

See you in Post #200.

***

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Posted by jaffeworld in opinion, 1 comment

Five Easy Ways to be Healthier… I Just Can’t Manage to Do

healthier

I want to be healthier. I want to wake up everyday refreshed and strong, with a positive feeling when I look into the mirror.

And I do a lot of the things you’re supposed to do to get there. I eat relatively healthy and exercise a whole lot. But I’m never happy with the results, and certainly not happy with a whole slew of my health woes.

No one could ever 100% pinpoint the main reason or reasons they can’t achieve their goals. But sometimes the biggest complications are staring right at me, and no matter what I do, I can’t seem to improve.

What’s worse is these ways to be healthier are objectively easy. And after years of strategizing how to develop better habits, I still fall short. Every single day.

Who knows? Maybe airing my health-related “dirty laundry” will be my motivation to improve.

Any tips world?

1) Stretching is for the Birds

I love to workout. I love getting to the gym and attacking the weights with alacrity. Sometimes I have a problem getting out the front door, or motivating myself to actually get to the gym. But once I’m there, it’s a great workout almost 100% of the time.

I don’t love cardio. But there are a handful of cardio activities I do really enjoy, like hitting the heavy bag. And when I’m into it, I’m into it.

But the evil and daunting stretch? I hate it each and every time, and the thought of stretching bores me, before I ever find myself trying to touch that toe. Sometimes I want to keep working out just to avoid needing to stretch afterwards.

Most of the time I want some excuse to leave early so I don’t have a chance to stretch.

What is the secret to enjoying this miserable necessity?

2) Water, So Mighty, So Dull

There are few topics in the world of health and fitness that don’t inspire controversy. One source says red meat is the God of all healthful items. Another says it is the devil, waiting to destroy anything you’ve ever accomplished.

Whether it’s soy or coconut oil or whole wheat bread, there’s someone out there to sing its praise, and just as many others ready to burn the sucker to a crisp.

And when all the smoke clears, the only two items everyone seems to universally agree are still healthy are vegetables and water.

But how does one learn to enjoy water? It’s so dull. It’s so non-invigorating.

Sure, it’s quite refreshing to down a bunch of ice-cold water on a super hot day. But we all know we never seem to be getting enough. Why? Because we need to be drinking the stuff even when we don’t want to.

What’s the secret to enjoying this banal necessity?

3) The Elusive Sleep

I love sleeping… but I hate going to sleep. First, it’s not and has basically never been easy for me to fall asleep. And mornings are really tough for me. Sleep just seems like that thing I do before I have to deal with waking up.

Furthermore, I like to do a lot with my days. Besides my family and my job, there are a million other things that will easily fill up any given day. And it always feels that if I want to make it all happen, I need to sacrifice something.

And when something has to go, it’s almost always sleep. If I sleep two hours fewer, bam, like magic my day has an additional two hours.

The logic is highly flawed, but never feels flawed at the moment it’s being applied. How do I get the sleep I need in the puny few hours of the average day? How can I have my sleep and eat it too!?

4) Put Down that Damn Food

I’ve got a food problem. I love the damn stuff. And I just can’t get enough.

Literally. I find myself thinking about the next bite while eating the current one. And no matter how how much I eat, I never quite feel full.

It’s a real issue, and a real blemish on my health resume.

Not to mention, it can be embarrassing. And it can get expensive.

I know I have an unhealthy relationship with food. Sometimes I hear about people who get stressed, and they just can’t eat when they feel that way. They hate it… and I feel envious. Pretty much the only thing I can think of when the stress starts pouring on is to start shoveling in the food.

I just ate a beautiful, delicious hamburger. How come I feel like I need another? How come I want the fries too, and the never-ending plate never satiates?

Why can’t I just put the food down and walk away?

5) Just Relax Already!

There are few items in the health world with endless solutions. If one wishes to relax, there are recommendations galore. Everything from certain vitamin complexes to yoga to meditation to power naps.

And yet relaxation just never seems to be a part of my life. I mean, after all, who has time to relax!? Seriously. There are only so many hours in the day. Who has the time to just stop doing and creating in order to sit back and simply enjoy God’s green earth, in peace and harmony.

Fact is, I think I’m genetically predisposed to not relaxing. Or maybe circumstances in my life led me to feeling this way. Or some level of both.

But there’s no denying that I’d rather be writing this here blog than lying down staring at a ceiling, just paying attention to my breathing. What’s the secret for me to just relax already?

***

Healthier around the Corner

And there you have it. I’m well aware that I could inch closer to becoming the pinnacle of health I so desire. All I need to do to be healthier is stretch more, drink more water, sleep a little, stop shoveling in the food, and relax already.

No problem. Healthier is right around the corner…

***

Bonus: Like everyone, I’d probably be healthier if I were to just drop alcohol from the routine… But hey, let’s not get crazy now…

***

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Posted by jaffeworld in Fitness, Health, 1 comment

The Teacher Itch: Five Things I Miss About Being a Teacher

teacher

Am I still a teacher?

It’s been over three years since I left education. It wasn’t even a mildly complicated decision at the time. Almost as if the field itself had chewed me up and spit me out. It was time to go. I was done.

But for my first year after I was done, I still had bits and pieces of teaching opportunities here and there. I was always able to find students who wanted tutoring. I taught a weekly class at my synagogue. And I even had the occasional moment to hone my public speaking skills.

All the Teaching is Gone

And upon moving to Israel, I was basically deprived of any and all opportunity to teach. And every once in a while it hurts, and makes me even a little sad.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t miss being a teacher. I really don’t.

The days are long and the profession follows you home. Expectations are extraordinarily high, with a hardly comparable compensation. And it very well might be the lowest wage job in America that still requires you to wear a tie.

A tie! Every single day.

Nevertheless, there’s something about the role that becomes a part of your soul. And without it, it’s like I have an itch somewhere in the middle of my back. I can grab at it all day long, and I can shimmy myself all over the wall, but the itch never properly gets scratched.

What do I miss about my former profession? Let’s explore five elements of being an educator I would love to have back in my life.

1) When Being a Teacher Actually Works

Every once in a while, there’s a click. A student looks up at you with understanding eyes. Or they master a concept that seemed out of their reach. Or you try something with an individual that you wouldn’t try with the other students, and the success is obvious and immediate.

If these moments happened all the time, you’d be a master teacher. But occasional occurrence is the norm. And when they happen, they are brilliant and, in many ways, life changing.

I miss the glorious moments of when teaching works. I miss seeing sparks of understanding, and knowing that I was a part of the process of getting there.

2) The Ultra-Creative Teacher Spirit

I love my job. But it’s an understatement to say that it affords me few opportunities for creativity.

During my decade as a teacher, I thrived under all circumstances where I was given room to be as creative as I wanted. When that happened I found myself creating Parsha PowerPoints, writing and producing student movies about Tanach, and covering rooms with beautiful and meaningful murals.

For certain there were those along the way who smothered my creativity. But at least I knew I was in an environment where I realized my creativity mattered. Every ounce of creative energy I expended made someone’s day better, and fostered a greater learning experience.

Life without that creative outlet is different. And lacking.

3) Delving into the Unexplored

Teaching for me was a wild adventure of trial and error. In my most glorious moments along the way, error was actually fairly common. But I was among supportive people who made my mistakes feel like they were just part of the natural process.

I had classes along the way that flopped, sometimes dramatically and embarrassingly. And every last one of them was part of the process of getting to a class that would be wildly successful. Perhaps even unforgettable.

And it was all worth it. The exploration was a reward in and of itself. Knowing that with a little work and perseverance, a gem is likely hidden waiting to be found. I miss that beautiful search for the known.

4) The Smiles and the Laughter

I was a bit of a silly teacher. Yes, of course among my goals was always to foster knowledge and skills acquisition. But if the kids weren’t laughing and smiling along the way, then what was the point?

Fact is, being a Jewish studies teacher can be quite thankless. And there can be a lot of forgotten information along the way. But the feelings you help create within your students, be they boredom or bliss, might stay with them for a lifetime. That’s a responsibility I didn’t take lightly.

I loved the smiles.

And I do miss brightening the day of a few good kids.

5) The Forever Teacher

I am proud to say that I have a connection that has stood the test of time with multiple students. I love watching as my students of all sorts have developed into young adults. Former students of mine are married. Many have children. They are professionals, philanthropists, and adventurers.

And I love every minute of it!

One of the best educators I met along the way once told me it takes a full decade before you can appreciate and really feel proud of having been a teacher. Basically, after all the hardships, over ten years later you can finally feel like it was all worth it.

Is it fair to have to wait that long to reap the rewards of all your hard work? Absolutely not. However, when the day comes and you are told by a student that you were their favorite teacher, or she rattles off things you taught her years earlier, you can sigh a breath of relief. It may have been grueling, but it truly was worth it.

I have many strong connections with former students. And I hope those connections stay with me for the rest of my life.

***

No, I don’t want to go back. My days of teaching are behind me forever. I am more than aware of the pain this peculiar profession caused me.

But sometimes I miss it. Sometimes I remember the days I woke up thrilled to go to work.

And sometimes I just need to scratch an itch.

***

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Posted by jaffeworld in education, 0 comments

The Moshav, Help to Rise Once Again

The Moshav

Living in Israel isn’t always easy. You never know what to expect. And everything feels so close to home, so damn often.

And just when you think you’ve cried all of your tears, and felt every emotion there is, another surprise awaits. This past week, a pain went through my system I had not yet known.

The Moshav and the Fire

I was reading the news to find out information about the fires that were ripping across Israel, until I saw a name that means more to me than I could possibly convey in a single blog post, Moshav Mevo Modiin.

Or the Moshav, as so many of us call it.

I panicked, and went to Facebook for more information. And I texted some friends. And no matter what I read, I was in utter disbelief. This lovely village, representing endless memories for me, was devastated by fire. Essentially, it was gone.

Ashes. Nothing but ashes. And memories. And disbelief.

Moshav: A Second Home to the Masses

When I moved to Israel a couple of decades ago, Moshav Mevo Modiin became like a second home to me. I would spend Shabbat there once a month and worked at their amazing festivals. I was always warmed by the immense hospitality, virtually unmatched anywhere I’d ever been.

Countless people have passed through the Moshav, where they have sang gorgeous music, danced in complete joy, and relished in a welcoming atmosphere. They’ve enjoyed art and nature and meaningful conversations. And before they walked off for another adventurous week, they were dazzled by the loveliest havdallah service I’ve ever experienced.

I can go on and on about the Moshav. Memories galore! I can talk about the many fascinating people I’ve met there and the different things I learned. And I have so many stories to share.

However, when I think of the Moshav, nothing stands out to me more than their capacity to open their homes to others. But within all of the beautiful crazy, one story encapsulates so much about how I feel about the place. One story has stuck with me throughout all these years, and guides me every day of my life.

The Moshav and its Unmatched Hospitality

Many moons ago I was spending Shabbat with one of the Moshav’s many beautiful families. The plan was to go there with friends, a young, newly engaged couple. Just a day before Shabbat, one of the friends called me and asked if they could bring another couple of friends as well.

I now know it’s not the best plan to rely on engaged folk. They are often floaty, so focused on objectively more important matters, they drop the ball on other smaller items here and there. It was close to Shabbat, and I felt uncomfortable asking the family if they could accommodate any more guests. So I requested the bride call and ask. She said she would, and I forgot about the matter.

I was the first to arrive on Friday, and I saw the table set for the original number of guests. I assumed either the family couldn’t host more people, or my friend decided against asking. Both assumptions were wrong.

I watched from the window as the four guests just moseyed their way over to the house. She had forgotten to call, and brought the additional guests anyway.

And I got nervous.

And then magic ensued.

Magic of the Moshav

I watched as this beautiful family added extra seats to the table, and without hesitation or even the mildest frustration, they adjusted. The bride never knew she forgot to call. The additional guests never knew what occurred, and never for even a moment felt like they were last-minute stowaways to the experience.

The family transitioned with ease. Like being perfect hosts was a part of their DNA.

It was a beautiful Shabbat from start to finish. And I’ve been a better person ever since. Hosting guests is not just something you do. It’s a lifestyle. A mindset. It becomes a part of your soul. Some do it with such artistic perfection, they should be admired. And learned from.

My precious Moshav Mevo Modiin embodies the concept of welcoming guests.

The Moshav: Time to Give Back

The Moshav has been there for endless people since its creation. Now it’s time for all of us to give back. These tremendous, warm, and caring brothers and sisters of ours have opened their homes to us thousands of times. It’s time for us to open our hearts and do what we can to show our gratitude.

I have no doubt that the Moshav will return. It will be back, better and stronger than ever before. Homes will be rebuilt on the ashes, and the doors will again open wide for any and all visitors. Flowers and grass will bloom and beautify the Moshav once again.

But in the meantime, the undeserving are suffering and need our love and support. The time has come to give back, in whatever way we can.

Please contribute whatever you’re capable of giving, and spread the word as far and wide as possible.

***

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Posted by jaffeworld in Israel, 0 comments

Jerusalem Community Theater, Hidden in Plain Sight

Jerusalem Community  Theater

Wait, what? There’s community theater in English in Jerusalem?

I found myself hanging out just on the very edge of a fascinating and beautiful community. One I didn’t even know existed. How did I find out? Well… I married an actress.

But if it weren’t for that, I may have never noticed it was there.

The community is thriving, with over ten companies and a wide variety of shows performed every year.

But like anything else in the world, there’s room for improvement. And certainly room for expansion.

Why Jerusalem Community Theater?

People get involved in Jerusalem’s community theater groups for all sorts of reasons. According to CB Davies, the founder of JET, “Some people were involved in theater at some point in their life and want to do it again. Some … love the show … and so want to be a part of that … [and] there are those who want to continue to do theater and use their skills.”

However, it’s the social aspect that intrigues me the most. According to Rivka Deray, JET’s Content Manager, “It’s an incredible way for people, especially new Olim [immigrants], to find a community and create a social circle in Jerusalem.” She adds that, “New people join all the time, and there are people who always welcome them in and make them feel at home.”

There are many great adjectives people use to describe this community. The community is welcoming, diverse, and extremely supportive. Davies says, “We’re very multicultural. People join from all parts of the world.” And Marty Weisel, founder of JET Venues and a member of JET’s content team, says, “The best thing about the community is the people … surrounding myself with friends who support me and care about me.”

Room for Improvement

But as with anything great, there’s always space to grow and develop. And there are those working tirelessly to take this hidden gem in Jerusalem and make it even better.

Some speak about taking the performances and bringing them to the next level of quality. Weisel says, “The productions given by the community are incredible, however … there is always room for improvement. There is so much talent in the community … and we need to find the way to raise the standards all the time.”

Davies wants to expand the community, a suggestion that means a lot to me personally. I love theater. And yet I lived in Jerusalem for over a year without even realizing there was community theater at all, let alone in English. Davies wants to see the theater community “marketing itself better, reaching out to bring more people into the community, giving more people a chance to perform or use their skills [and] training.”

Some ideas are simpler, just to add a little pizazz to what exists. Deray offered a novel suggestion. She would like to see annual award ceremonies to celebrate some of the most impressive accomplishments in the community.

Next-Level Integration

However, the most common sentiment was that despite everything amazing that’s happening, a certain level of unity is lacking. “I would love to see it better integrated,” says Deray. “I’d love if there was a more interconnected system where any company could receive supplies, funding, etc as needed.”

Davies would also like to see a stronger “connection between the different companies.” He states that “they all give something different to the community, but in the end we are all the same artistic community.”

They believe the community is made up of multiple disparate parts, each one great in its own way. However, when the groups can come together under one banner, the potential is limitless. The whole will be far greater than the sum of each of its parts.

JET (Jerusalem English Theater)

And that’s where JET comes in. JET (Jerusalem English Theater community) was created to foster unity, and give all of its members everything they could have ever hoped for. “JET’s goals are to create a single place for companies to lean on,” says Deray. “Whether that is by providing locations, or advertising for all upcoming performances and auditions, or helping companies coordinate show schedules to avoid event conflicts. We want our site to become the Google of Jerusalem community theater, where people who aren’t as familiar yet can go to one beautiful website and find out all they need to know about upcoming performances and how they can be a part.”

It would be “a website that brings all the community into one place”, according to Davies. Replete with “blog posts to let people see what happens behind the scenes, promote the community, and let people express themselves.”

And part of the greater overall vision is to not only have a website, but an actual physical location (JET Venues). “A space that is geared towards performing arts”, says Weisel. “By having classes and opportunities available all the time … actors can hone their craft … and do what [they] love all year round.” Davies sees JET Venues ultimately as “a place that the community can call home for its artistic endeavors. This hopefully will allow artists to emerge, create, and bring new material and stories to Jerusalem”

And, of course, for the overall benefit of the community, everyone would love to see more and more involvement from a wider array of people. “I would love to see the theater community circle expand ever greater,” says Deray, “becoming home to more and more people and talents.”

Jerusalem Community Theater… is a Potato Chip

Davies says about much of these changes and developments, “I think in a way it is happening already, but I’d like to see more of it.”

Jerusalem Community Theater is a gem, hidden in plain sight in Jerusalem. It’s growing and improving all the time. Nevertheless, some folk want and need more. And they’re working to make that a reality.

Ultimately, Jerusalem’s theater community is a joyous one. “The shows themselves are like potato chips”, says Deray. “Once you’ve experienced the incredible feeling of putting your all into a production, working with and getting close to friends, old and new, you just have to come back for more.”

Yup, a fantastic community. However, there are a handful of folk out there hoping the community sees days with more, even tastier chips.

***

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Posted by jaffeworld in Entertainment, Israel, opinion, 0 comments

Not the Game of Thrones I Remember

Game of Thrones

Warning: This article is loaded with Game of Thrones spoilers. Beware!

I love Game of Thrones. Yeah, I know, it’s me and the rest of the world. But it doesn’t change the fact that I love everything from the intense action to the riveting dialogue to the top notch acting.

But Game of Thrones, whereas I do love you… I just don’t like you sometimes.

I think it’s important to explore some elements about why I love the show… in order to understand why I’ve been disappointed so much lately.

Game of Thrones is Anti-Hollywood

I didn’t know anything about Game of Thrones when I began watching it. Then again, I come into almost everything I watch blind. But Hollywood consistently leaves me with little to keep me on the edge of my seat. The good guys win, some characters are untouchable, and the love interest will put cute smiles on all our faces. All wrapped up neatly by the end.

But Game of Thrones shocked me time and time again. I watched a child pushed out a window in the first episode and knew something was quite different about this show. And at the infamous Red Wedding, as I saw the “good guys” systematically and brutally decimated, in jaw dropping fashion, I knew I was hooked.

My emotions were entirely trapped in the show. And like in real life, I never knew what was coming next. And I’ve spent the last several years on the edge of my seat.

Game of Thrones, Surprisingly Unsafe

In conjunction with the element of surprise, I love the fact that no character is ever truly safe. We’ve seen our beloved decapitated. We’ve seen their pregnant wife stabbed in the belly. And we’ve spent seasons growing to adore certain characters, only to see the show yank on our emotional wellbeing and toss it to the trashcan. One moment we look at you with admiration; the next, you are permanently removed from our lives.

No one is invincible. Everyone can get everything taken away from them in a heartbeat. Even in an embarrassing and disrespectful manner. As un-Hollywood as it can get!

The Patient GoT

In addition, Game of Thrones is patient. If the most important thing needed to create a dramatic impact is time, then so be it.

My heart was pounding when Jon Snow and Sansa Stark were reunited. They said goodbye to each other in the first season, and not knowing anything about what the other had been through, saw each other again five seasons later. I felt chills when it happened. I have never known a show willing to wait even remotely that long to create a sensation so special.

We Love to Hate

Finally, many shows have great heroes. But no one has mastered the villain the way Game of Thrones has. It’s harder to understand why hate and anger are as important as love and respect. But it’s true. Yes, we all love Tyrion, Arya, and Daenerys. But we went to sleep at night dreaming of how Joffrey could finally be out of the picture. We were restless for weeks wanting to know if Ramsay Bolton would get what’s coming to him. And the Night King has cost many souls a night’s slumber.

Season 8, Episode 3…

I’m writing this post shortly after watching the epic third episode of the final season of Game of Thrones. The episode was a masterpiece that kept the world breathing heavy for 90 minutes.

I loved it.

And I’m also terribly disappointed. All of the principles I mentioned before were ignored. Hollywood inserted its venom into the episode, and even though it was extremely entertaining, regretfully I believe ignoring what makes the show great, will ultimately make its ending quite forgettable.

Game of Thrones, Predictably Safe

What do I mean? There was nothing surprising about the episode. Nothing at all. It was a pure Hollywood delight. Yes, some characters who we have gotten to know for several years now perished. But every last one of them was expendable.

Does anyone really care if Theon Greyjoy finally met his Creator? Or if Beric Dondarrion will not be around for the next three episodes? Frankly, I don’t. Yes, they’re significant in the show, but they’re really not our heroes, nor are they characters of consequence.

But they all die amazing, heroic deaths. No one was slaughtered with their guard down or in some incredibly unexpected way. Everyone died like a champion. Even little adorable Lyanna Mormont took out a giant as she met her fate.

But what about Jon Snow and Daenerys and Tyrion? Completely and totally untouchable. For eight seasons, we haven’t seen Daenerys touch a single weapon. And now, just when it’s convenient, she’s a master killer of the Night King’s army. When we know the good guys are going to win, and the heroes cannot be harmed, Game of Thrones ceases to be Game of Thrones. We’re not kept on the edge of our seats. We can calmly watch knowing everything will be OK.

A Path Already Traveled

Game of Thrones seems to be taking a path already traveled, returning from a multi-season adventure where we never knew what to expect. It’s a world where Theon Greyjoy can die but Arya Stark cannot. A world where Theon gets to die a heroic death, as a great and valiant warrior.

We’re no longer waiting for a buildup to a great moment. And we’re watching as villains are dying like flies. The dreaded Night King, who poured fear into our hearts for years, whose spear took a dragon right out of the air, can be conquered by a single knife wound from a young girl.

GoT, What Will Be?

I miss the days of not knowing what will be. The days where heroes and villains had ambiguities. When plot and depth of character intrigued us, rather than being pulled in by just action and excitement.

Television has progressively become more and more disappointing. Few shows can capture my attention for more than a few seasons. Game of Thrones, you have been my shining light in a dark, dark cave. You’ve got three episodes left. Please don’t disappoint.

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Posted by jaffeworld in Entertainment, opinion, 0 comments

In a Stranger’s Grave

In a Stranger's Grave

Last year, Jerusalem’s community theater group Theater and Theology put on a remarkable play. The show tackled the issue of how a religion deals with an ever changing world. Off the Derech Dolorosa was not only a pleasure to watch… I’d definitely give it two thumbs as a fantastic play to propose after.

And this year, they’re back to tackle an extremely divisive and potentially painful issue: The retroactive cancellation of Jewish conversions.

The Conversion Crisis

There are some crazy and complex things that happen in Israel’s religious community. Sometimes they’re amusing. Sometimes downright heartbreaking. And sometimes so perplexing, they feel impossible to wrap one’s head around.

In Israel, there are assorted issues surrounding conversion to Judaism that are complex talking points in our community. Small and enormous travesties abound. These issues inspired Miriam Metzinger to tackle them in her play, In a Stranger’s Grave.

“I … was re-reading Sophocles’ Antigone,” Metzinger said, “about Oedpus’ daughter Antigone who was not allowed by the king … to bury one of her brothers because [he] felt this burial would cause a kind of moral pollution. I immediately thought about a story I had read in the newspaper about someone whose body was denied burial … because the conversion was not recognized in Israel … The issues in Antigone … are still … current many centuries later.”

One of the show’s stars, Avital Macales, said, “Before getting to know this play, I had not heard that something like this could happen. I found it quite shocking when I finally heard about it. And I look forward to hearing the scholars speak after each performance and finding out what they think about the matter.”

Shocking Awareness

Personally, I was stunned as well. I’ve been studying Judaism for quite some time now. And despite my many reasons to be wary of the actions of Israel’s Rabbanut, initially I thought the play was addressing either a non-issue, or an extremely obscure topic.

After all, in Jewish law, a Jew never stops being a Jew. Even if one wants to, the DNA sticks to you like super glue. Neither casting off your beliefs nor renouncing your connection to the Jewish people, will have any impact whatsoever. And, of course, when one converts to Judaism, there is no difference. A Jew is a Jew. And once you’re a part of the tribe, there’s no going back. No matter what happens.

In a Stranger’s Grave

Sadly, I was wrong. In a Stranger’s Grave is based on real stories. True events that challenged the lives of real people, with real feelings. Tragedies that hurt people, and caused long-lasting impact.

Macales plays Esther Gottlieb, in her words “a 23-year-old woman who grew up in an Anglo Yeshivish environment in Jerusalem to a loving mother (a convert) and father, and one sister, Chana, with whom she is very close. [They] unfortunately suffered the loss of their father and, six years later, their mother.”

The story centers on the Rabbinic reaction to Esther’s mother’s conversion and the issue of whether or not the conversion can be retroactively invalidated. “The different reactions of the family and community members to the crisis highlight current conflicting values in the Jewish and Israeli world,” according to Yael Valier, the show’s director and the founder of Theater and Theology.

Macales describes Esther as “strong, opinionated, idealistic, and [someone who] looks truth straight in the eye”. Thus she is the perfect character to stare right in the face of a complex issue that can easily be misconstrued as black and white. She’s also a delight for Macales to play, seeing as she pours on the sarcasm, whereas her portrayer offstage likes to “keep all [her] real-life sarcasm bottled up inside”.

A True and Present Danger to Israel and the Jewish people

Valier describes this conversion disaster as “a fraught subject that is reaching crisis proportions in Israel”. But how can it be that something so complex and damaging is simultaneously obscure and ignored? Valier says, “the people affected don’t talk about it because by their very nature, conversion problems are kept quiet.” This topic, and others like it, is a true and present danger to Israel and the Jewish people. “It can [happen], it does [happen], and we should be aware.”

Miriam Metzinger wrote In a Stranger’s Grave to address an issue that needs to be discussed. Yael Valier and Theater and Theology produced In a Stranger’s Grave to make sure the word gets spread. But it’s up to the rest of us–those who care deeply about our country and people–to make sure issues like these are not swept under the rug.

I’ve said it many times before: We could be doing better.

What is Theater and Theology?

There are many community theater companies in Jerusalem. However, this group is different. One of the novelties of the Theater and Theology experience is the speakers. There is a scheduled talk after each performance, a scholar who addresses the play’s subjects. The scholars approach the issues from a number of different perspectives. Some noted speakers include Rabbanit Shani Taragin and Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo.

The fascinating subjects are all meant to get you thinking. They spur conversation and open up doors for discussing topics we’re not always comfortable talking about. All of these fantastic scholars help us delve just a little deeper into subjects we care about immensely; however, we sometimes don’t know exactly how to collect our thoughts and feelings about them.

In a nutshell, Valier says that Theater and Theology “brings fascinating, current angles on philosophical questions to theater goers, and it takes scholars out of the lecture hall and into the theater. For me, that’s heaven.”

You can click here to learn more about Theater and Theology and to buy tickets for In a Stranger’s Grave. And keep your eyes wide open for more interesting productions in the future. Miriam Metzinger has upcoming dramas and comedies in the works. And Jerusalem’s theater community is a hidden gem in Jerusalem, with a lot more to come.

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Posted by jaffeworld in Israel, judaism, 0 comments

Five Crappy Things about Israel that Need to Change… Yesterday

Crap

OK, I’m a cynic. I get that.

But that doesn’t mean I’m wrong about everything. Nor does it mean my country gets a free pass on me pointing out its garbage.

A lot of people here treat Israel as if it’s a utopia, void of any major issues. People brag left and right about Israel’s accomplishments and constantly regard simple moments of humans acting like humans as “only in Israel” moments.

They’ve been ignoring Israel’s problems for so long, sometimes I think people have learned to meditate themselves into a place where they can rest and relax treating all of the problems as if they’re distant memories of Israel’s past.

But they’re not. Israel has real issues. And no excuse for not working tirelessly to fix all of them. Or at least improve upon them.

This post is about five of those problems. They should be far better by now. We can do better. Much better.

1) Housing Crap

If you want to live in a city in Israel, it’s going to cost you. Big time.

So why do we do it?

Well, in some of the more remote areas, getting around without a vehicle is borderline impossible. But getting around with a vehicle is expensive, stressful, and extremely time consuming.

The city is where most of the stores are, all necessities, and any semblance of a social life. And outlying areas are by no means designed for single people in any way.

But city rent is high with low value for your dollar. The “system” places renters at the mercy of the owners. And you have minutes to grab a desired home before someone else snatches it up.

And whereas rent is outrageous, purchasing is downright impossible for most people. The prices are mind-blowingly high, and the percentage needed for a down payment makes me throw up in my mouth.

In the end, there really are only a few choices: 1. Leave the major cities, with all the hardships that comes along. 2. Rent in a city, and deal with almost inevitable poverty. 3. Or come to the country rich.

2) Customer Service Crap

We’ve gotten to the point where if a waiter smiles at us, we are ecstatic, we brag to everyone we know that things are really turning around here, and put a post on Facebook exclaiming that we experienced an “only in Israel” moment.

Fact is, the norm is to be barked at by customer service representatives, ignored by clerks, and generally made to feel like we’re unwanted in any store or restaurant we enter.

We Americans are confused, knowing full well that any establishment could make considerably more profit just by being a whole lot nicer. However, I genuinely feel this is just not of interest to the average Joe on the street here. If we were to explain that being pleasant and helpful would generate 20% more revenue, they would say, “No thanks. Keep your money. I enjoy being unpleasant and no amount of money is worth changing that!”

But we’re all at fault here. We tolerate it. We’ve done a poor job letting the country know we’re not coming back if you treat us like garbage. And, sadly, they’ve done a pretty decent job preventing us from letting the world know how we feel.

3) Smoking Crap

Israelis smoke. They smoke constantly and in every nook and cranny they could find.

Often I’m standing somewhere minding my own business, and someone will just wander up next to me and light up a cigarette.

At moments like that I wish I could just secrete some nasty odor that wafts in their direction. “My goodness, that’s vile,” they might exclaim. And I could turn toward them and say, with all of my masterful sarcasm, “I’m sorry. Does this smell irritate you? Is it bothersome? I simply had no idea that when doing something disgusting next to a perfect stranger, the possibility exists I might be causing them a disturbance.”

In all seriousness, how is this still a thing? Israel brags left and right about being ranked the 10th healthiest in the world. And we are all aware of the financial struggles that are rampant here. Yet, our society is riddled with this lung-piercing, overpriced nonsense that harms the population, and fills the air with stink and the streets with litter.

I often ask people to stop smoking in areas they’re not allowed. Sometimes right next to a sign! Nothing is enforced, and no one seems to care.

The time has come to rein in this nonsense.

4) Political Crap

I’ve been watching Israel’s political scene for a while now. It seems like every time I vote there is something different about the system. We didn’t get it right the last time around, let’s have another go.

The only thing that ever seems to stay the same: Paper ballots.

I feel like I’m voting for class president.

Anyhow, when the recent elections ended, I felt something in the society I don’t believe I’ve felt before: Mass apathy and exhaustion with the way things are and will seemingly always be.

Ultimately, that’s what these elections represented. The guy who’s been around forever against the guy who has nothing to offer but not being the other guy. There are 20,000 parties, but ultimately only really two viewpoints: Left and right. There are thousands of ignored issues and unheard voices. And there is inherent pandering to anyone who holds any amount of political power.

All you need is a few seats in the government, and boom, you get everything you want just so the top dog can build a coalition and stay in power.

And everything just stays the same. We become complacent. We had a burst of hope dashed by the reality that things are very unlikely to get better anytime soon.

I don’t know what system would be better. Maybe term limits would help. Perhaps better checks and balances for the Prime Minister. More representation for smaller parties. An overhaul of the current system. Who knows? But once again, we can do better.

5) Religious Crap

And each time around, it seems there is no greater beneficiary to the faults in our political process than the ultra-religious, who seek to impose their will on the entire society.

No doubt about it, Israel is a fantastic place to be a religious Jew. The freedom to practice is unmatched. Kosher restaurants abound. There are many aspects of a religious lifestyle that you could keep by accident here!

But religion is supposed to elevate people, not create anger and resentment. Judaism and its leaders are supposed to be something that unifies us, not something that brings hatred and divisiveness.

There are many ways to be a great Jew. An endless search for control and power is not one of them. Separation of Church and State is a tried and true system of many a well-functioning democracy. It certainly wouldn’t hurt if it wormed its way over here. At least to some extent.

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Israel has a lot going for it. And it’s nowhere near the worst place to live. But there’s a lot of crap. Loads of crap. And the first step in fixing a problem, is admitting it’s there.

Let’s own up to our crap, put it all out on the table, and start making our homeland the place it could and should be.

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Posted by jaffeworld in Israel, politics, religion, 0 comments

Leaping for ALYN

ALYN Hospital

Another year… another leap from an airplane.

My son and I are once again jumping from a plane, for an absolutely fantastic cause. We would love it if you could contribute. Every dollar counts.

ALYN Hospital is Incredible

So first, why should you donate to ALYN Hospital?

ALYN is the only rehabilitation hospital for kids and teens in Israel. If children are involved in a car accident, hurt in an act of terror, or suffer some other trauma leaving them with serious injuries that impact their ability to lead independent lives, ALYN is likely their best hope.

ALYN Hospital will create a unique plan for each child depending on what they need, which often involves a variety of therapies and equipment. A child may receive any number of different therapies, including physical therapy, occupational therapy, hydrotherapy, pet therapy, and gardening therapy.

Everyone is pulled from every direction as to where to donate their hard-earned money. Personally, I prefer to give to a cause that everyone can agree upon. No politics, no biases. Just making the world a better place.

Children’s rehabilitation hospital?

No brainer.

Skydiving to Glory

I love participating in fundraisers. I love seeking new and exciting adventures. And I love any and all excuse to have quality time with my amazing son.

In addition, I’ve been plagued with a slew of injuries lately that have made more traditional fundraisers (like races) difficult if not impossible for me. So when I heard about the possibility of combining all of this together, I jumped at the opportunity (pun very painfully intended).

My son and I participated last year and are ecstatic to do so again. This is the fourth consecutive year for this unique style of fundraiser. And I’m hoping we’ll be diving for many years to come.

Skydiving was nothing like what I was expecting.

My top three observations after jump number one:

Pushed out a Plane

1) You don’t really jump out of a plane. It’s more like getting nudged out of one, or “tumbling out of a plane”, in the words of Julie Zola, a program participant. Or in another participant, Dana Adler’s, words, “listen to the instructor, trust in them and LET GO! You are not in control and sometimes that’s a great thing.”

In fact, there’s something truly liberating about having minimal control over what happens next. If you’re up against your fears, you’re facing them head on. And you will conquer them. Dana says, “Once you’re up in that plane, there’s no going back. This mirrors what the parents of the children in ALYN go through once they enter the doors of [the] hospital and… have no choice but to be strong.”

Learnin’ to Fly

2) Skydiving doesn’t feel like falling. More like floating or soaring. Or in the words of Dana Adler, it’s “the feeling of flying and being weightless, seeing the world from an entirely different perspective.” Julie describes it as “serenity filled with adrenaline… Once the parachute deploys, it is incredibly peaceful.”

However you want to describe it, skydiving does not have the expected terrifying feeling of plummeting to your doom. It’s not actually scary at all. Partcipant Dani Schijveschuurder says, “Any feelings of fear, is your brain playing mind-games. The actual jump is far less scary!”

No, it’s not a terrible fall at all. In many ways, slipping off your chair is far scarier. Skydiving is a serene and peaceful flying through the sky.

Done. What’s Next?

3) Dani says the skydiving experience is followed by “the irrational realization that it’s addictive and you just need to do it again. And again. And again!” I completely understand where she is coming from. However, when it ended for me, for sure I was excited to do it again. But something else interesting happened. All I wanted to do was find the next big thrill.

I don’t even know what to try. Jumping from higher up, bungee jumping, cliff diving. It’s quite a while before the intensity calms down, even just a little. Before that happens, all you want to do is find the next big challenge. You can’t wait to see what life brings you next.

ALYN Skydiving Fundraiser

It’s true, skydiving for me was a dream come true. I’d been wanting to jump literally for decades. The right opportunity just never came around.

For my son it was a right of passage. We’ve done a whole lot of really interesting activities together, from shooting to trying Brazilian Jiu Jitsu together. I was there when he bravely faced his first roller coaster at Dutch Wonderland. And I was there when he first jumped out of an airplane.

He’s come a long way. And we’ve come a long way together.

But some life lessons are more important than others. I need to raise my children to be kind. I need to raise my children to treat the needs of other people as paramount.

So I’m beyond ecstatic that not only are we doing something super special together. But we are doing so for an amazing cause.

The impression is powerful. And I hope the impact stays with him for a long time to come.

As Julie says, “My favorite thing about this fundraiser is that I think we all have a tendency to take for granted that we are able to walk and do things that others do not have the ability to do. This fundraiser raises awareness that there are people who deserve a chance to live a life without disabilities.”

ALYN: What Can I Do?

So… you can’t join us for the jump. What else can you do for ALYN Hospital?

Come visit and learn more about the unique work of ALYN. Join their projects, which are all based on pushing a participant past his or her comfort zone. The children treated at the hospital must do so every single day.

And, of course, you can contribute to our campaign.

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A warm thank you to Yarden Frankl for helping me with compiling all the necessary information for this post.

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Posted by jaffeworld in opinion, personal story, 0 comments
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