Game of Thrones, the Hurt Still Lingers

Game of Thrones

Months ago I wrote a post about my disappointment in the way the 8th and final season of Game of Thrones was headed. It’s now long behind me, and I still find myself, for lack of a better way of phrasing it, hurt and angry.

Just a TV Show…

Let’s get a few things out of the way right off the bat. I am more than well aware that Game of Thrones is just a television show. The characters and storyline are quite fictional and it has no direct impact on anything in my or anyone’s lives.

Nevertheless, a show like this was a commitment. For a decade, many of us watched with excitement. I’ve never had a show that I needed to view right when it aired for fear of having the experience tainted. If you touched Facebook, YouTube, or even the news, you were likely to be shocked by what you’d find going in the lives of Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister.

Game of Thrones Nerds

I have a confession. I got so wrapped up in the craze that was Game of Thrones, I even got excited when Duolingo started offering High Valyrian as one of its language options. There I was, the king of Game of Thrones nerds, learning a fictional language for no purpose reason whatsoever. It was just another way to demonstrate my fervor and commitment.

And with each passing minute as season 8 progressed forward, I felt like the writers betrayed the audience. And as everything came to a close, one of the least satisfying endings in the history of television, I felt like a piece of my last several years was tossed into the waste basket.

Television Rarities

It’s a rare and beautiful thing when the artists who create a television series take their craft so seriously, they refuse to let things go in the middle. Everything starts off with a bang, capturing the viewers attention. With each episode you are drawn further into a mesmerizing plot, entranced by the brilliant character development.

But everything has the potential of getting stale. Boredom lurks around every corner. And it is the true artist who decides that their integrity is of far greater importance than their wallet.

Writers always have the option of having some episodes or even seasons that serve as fillers. They can bulk the series up so that there are more opportunities to grab some cash. Or they can drag the series out well past the point when it’s enjoyable to most audiences. In such situations, if the quality deteriorates, the writers might be forced to end the show prematurely. Or worse, the series could just get cancelled, leaving everyone wondering what would have happened.

Television and the Curse of Popularity

And then there’s the curse of popularity. What happens when your show’s greatness pulls in a large audience, one loaded with expectations for how a show is supposed to look? The true artist continues to create, regardless of the thoughts and opinions of the onlookers. And they might suffer because of it. Some viewers might not see the beauty of what the writers do. They will not understand and they will fall to the side. And, of course, this means the money won’t flow as readily as it once did.

So the option exists of catering to this now larger and more mainstream audience. The option exists of sticking to tried and true patterns that have succeeded in the past. They are void of creativity. But they work!

Television and the Curse of Patterns

I’ve noticed a pattern in some shows I’ve watched or attempted to watch. Ever seen a show where the police try and solve crimes with the help of a consultant? The consultant can have any number of skills, many of which make sense, like forensic science or lie detection. And they can range all the way to the absurd (mathematics, author, the Devil, etc). Some shows were amazing and original; others were just blah blah. But television producers keep producing them, because they work. They bring in audiences. They make money.

Breaking Bad: The King of Television

In fact, after years of dazzling myself with television entertainment, I can only think of one show that had the entire package. Breaking Bad was great from start to finish. There were no wasted seasons among the five. Arguably there may have been one throwaway episode along the way, but one episode in five full seasons is hardly something to complain about.

The quality never dipped. The plot was fascinating and unique. And the acting was superb. And Breaking Bad likely had the most complete, impressive, and intriguing character development in the history of television.

Five Seasons of Amazing

Five seasons is certainly a satisfying amount of a television. The writers, despite probably losing oodles of money by not doing so, could have gone longer. They could have unnecessarily stretched things out further. But they decided to cap everything before any of us had a chance to get bored or distracted. And to top everything off, they left us with a fantastic ending. All loose ends were neatly tied up. There was nothing left we needed to know or find out when Breaking Bad was no longer going to be a part of our lives.

Breaking Bad is easily one of my favorite television series of all time, perhaps even my favorite. But that favorite spot was slated to be quite taken over by the phenomenon we call Game of Thrones. Walter White had nothing on Joffrey Baratheon!

Game of Thrones, the Bigger they are…

But the bigger they are, the harder they fall. For certain there was already a slight waning in quality as Game of Thrones progressed toward its climax. But nothing was as dramatic as a final season that abruptly ended plots we had been following fervently for a decade. It was nothing short of painfully jarring to see events we had waited years for fall so far from the mark. We wanted the magic to which we had become accustomed to accompany us all the way until the end of the series. And instead we were given drivel. I believe the finale was the worst episode of the entire series.

Yeah, Game of Thrones was just a television show. It was just images on a screen. But there were expectations and excitement and years of commitment. And the greatest fall from grace in television history. It hurt. It made my stomach ache. And even if just a little, the hurt still lingers.

***

*Enjoying? Sign up for email updates and never miss a new post again!

*Enjoying my writing? Check out my eBooks!

Posted by jaffeworld in Entertainment, opinion, 0 comments

Two Questions Divorcees Never Ask One Another

Divorcee

Divorcees have their own subculture, their own little understanding and kinship with others like them. It’s sometimes fun and interesting, you’re standing there in front of someone and it becomes clear that your family structure isn’t exactly traditional. Then they reveal that their world is your world, and the smiling and camaraderie begins.

The Two Questions

I’ve noticed over the last few years that there are two questions I receive all the time. But I never receive them from other divorced people. They are the result of extreme (and understandable) curiosity. And they are by no means hurtful. However, they are never asked by other divorced people.

The first question sounds something like this:

When did you know? I mean, how early did you have some inkling of a clue that something wasn’t right there?

The second question:

If it was so bad, why did you stick around? How did you last as long as you did? Why didn’t you get out sooner?

The main reason, I believe, divorcees don’t ask each other these questions is because they already know the answers. It’s almost always the same for all of us.

Divorcee Question #1

When did we know?

Disturbingly early.

Most people could look back and say something chilling like, “I had an understanding that something might be off during our first date, but I kept on pressing because there was something about the experience I was enjoying.”

Others knew during engagement, or while walking down to the marriage canopy. And there are countless reasons they followed through anyway. The range is baffling. Some seem silly in retrospect, such as those who had already paid a hefty deposit for the wedding or sent out the invitations and didn’t want to deal with the shame and embarrassment of calling everything off.

It might sound silly. And few would admit it. But even if these aren’t the only reason people go through with a marriage they aren’t sure about, they are contributing factors for many.

A Feeling in the Pit of their Stomach

But there are bigger reasons. Some truly believe the red flags that are popping up are nothing in comparison to the happy moments and feelings. Others are so committed to the idea of marriage that they are willing to endure almost anything to follow through with the original plans. And others are blinded by what they can only assume is love.

Whatever reasons, most divorcees had a feeling in the pit of their stomach that they were making a terrible mistake. And that feeling didn’t start ten years into the marriage.

Are Doubts OK?

Now, I need to differentiate for a moment between this feeling I’m speaking about and doubts. Doubts, on the one hand, are natural. They are to be expected of both members of all couples. Doubt in the face of an enormous decision like this is as natural as fear while walking down a dark, quiet alley at nighttime.

If you don’t have doubts, I’m actually a bit worried about you. You are about to spend the rest of your life with another person. No doubts likely means you’re following your emotions exclusively and have left your intellect behind. This is rarely a recipe for success in life.

Normal people have doubts. However, if you have a powerful feeling in the pit of your stomach like you are making the biggest mistake of your life, this should not be ignored. There is no greater red flag. Follow your gut, and if necessary, walk away. Turning around and leaving only gets harder as time goes by.

Divorcee Question #2

So what about the second question? Why didn’t you leave? Why didn’t you run as soon as you were sure there were problems, problems that were very unlikely to ever be solved?

The answer is complex. Perhaps unsatisfying. And the question is also extremely unfair.

You see, we’re now looking back. Someone can easily look back at a decade’s worth of complications and pain and say, “Gee, that was loaded with unsolvable issues. I can pinpoint at least 20 times where I could have and probably should have just walked out the front door.”

But life is never that simple. Every day is its own day. Each and every day of your life you need to look at the entirety of the situation standing right in front of you. You need to evaluate, and there are countless considerations you must pore over.

Can I handle the financial turmoil that’s about to come my way? Am I ready to not see my children every single day? Am I making a decision based on current anger and resentment, rather than a careful, well thought-out one? Can I face up to the challenges that are about to be thrown my way, more challenges than I could ever imagine?

Fears and Second Guessing

And most days of the week, the fears and second guessing will be so powerful that you will head to bed that night still a married person.

So the questions isn’t really a one time, “Why did you stay knowing full well that it was so tough for you all of those years?” The question would need to be asked once a day, every day, for the duration of the period of suffering. And every single time the question is asked, there would be a host of different details that went into that day’s decision.

We could never have known that we would look back with absolute clarity and see that there really was only one choice all along. Sadly, that’s just not how the world works.

So What About You?

So, next time you’re thinking of asking a divorcee friend one of these two questions, you should have in mind a) they’ve most certainly been asked the questions before and b) the answers will be challenging, and likely some variation of what I just said. If they’re like me, they won’t have any issue answering your question. They’re open and honest and comfortable with how they feel.

But try not to pass judgment. And don’t second guess the decisions we made. You might have trouble with both these answers. But you don’t understand. It wasn’t you. You should thank God for that. And don’t assume you would do anything differently.

***

*Enjoying? Sign up for email updates and never miss a new post again!

*Enjoying my writing? Check out my eBooks!

Posted by jaffeworld in divorce, 0 comments

Israel’s Strange Love Affair with Donald Trump

trump

Many months ago, I was asked if I could write a piece for an American-Jewish newspaper and I tossed together this article. Sadly, for whatever reason it was never published. But I thought I’d hand it over to Jaffe World instead. Enjoy my take on the odd relationship between Donald Trump and the Israeli people.

***

November 8th, 2016. An infamous date for many an American: The day Donald Trump was elected as the 45th president of the United States of America. But for me, there was a completely different connotation.

Two days earlier I hopped on a plane, the first of four epic rides, to ultimately arrive in Israel on this auspicious date. I was coming to reunite with my children, and to start my life over again from scratch.

November 8th

I was really glad to arrive on November 8th. America seemed to be anywhere between a silly little mess to a downright disaster. I loved having an excuse to not vote, since the election seemed all about choosing the lesser of two evils. And after all, shouldn’t we always learn to live for something, rather than focus our time and attention fighting against something we dislike?

So I dodged a bullet. This bizarre election would be foreign to me. I would be up in the sky while Armageddon happened below. And I was more than happy to not watch it all unfold.

Quiet Trump Support

The political climate in the States was odd. My last stomping ground in America was Kansas, a state that has consistently voted for Republican candidates for the last sixty years. Yet even in this bastion of Republican fervor, those who supported Trump tended to do so quietly, or even with a hint of embarrassment.

So, there I was. Leaving on a jet plane, from a country about to descend into an endless stream of political inanity, where seemingly no one took pride in their soon-to-be Head of State.

The feeling in America was disheartening; however, the feeling in Israel was downright shocking. My first night in Jerusalem was a rough one. I managed to score a key for my new apartment, but I did not have too many necessities. I lay down on a mattress on the floor, cold and confused, completely detached from the outside world.

4AM in Jerusalem

I woke up at 4AM, without a thing in the world to do. I took a stroll through Jerusalem’s empty streets and was pleasantly surprised to find some sports bars that had been open all night. I left Israel eleven years earlier, and a thriving Jerusalem nightlife was not among my expectations.

However, I didn’t find soccer games and cheering fans at the bars. No, I discovered that several establishments throughout the city decided to remain open all night for election coverage. An election that frustrated and bored the population of America seemed riveting to scores of Israeli citizens.

Trump Trump Trump!

But that was just the beginning. I meandered into Mike’s Place, a famous bar in the city center, and one of the most American places you’ll find in Jerusalem. As I descended the stairs I was greeted by an excited chant of “Trump Trump Trump.” And it was then that I first discovered Israel’s odd obsession with one of the most complex and polarizing figures of my lifetime. Whereas the vast majority of those living in the States either loathed Trump or tolerated him with a mixture of shame and embarrassment, Israelis absolutely adored him.

Trump and Israel Policy

Israel’s strange love affair with Donald Trump can later be attributed to some of his policies. To be sure, Trump’s controversial decision to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was quite welcome to a great deal of the population. But no one could have anticipated such a move. And Republicans do have a greater track record when it comes to supporting Israel’s autonomy in its struggles against terrorism and outside aggression. But I never saw such intense support for previous Republicans in office. No, the Israeli obsession with Trump—possibly the only country in the world that feels this way—is particularly unique.

The Israeli Government

Years ago I read with excitement and dread a book called Shut Up, I’m Talking: And Other Diplomacy Lessons I Learned in the Israeli Government, by Gregory Levey. I was excited because not only was the title hysterical, but I was utterly fascinated by the whole idea of a North American seeing the functioning of the Israeli government from up close. However, I also feared the book. I had lived in Israel for eight years and saw more than a few reasons to be frustrated with my homeland. I really didn’t need any more excuses to justify not moving back here.

Israel’s Personality

What I saw was Israel’s government as a giant exaggeration of the personality of the country at large.

People say what’s on their mind, and they say it however they choose. Israelis plow through the world, focusing on completing whatever task is at hand, while completely disregarding any feelings they may trample on along the way.

And from a distance, a tiny nation watched as one man entered the system wildly different from all other politicians in America. He didn’t talk the way they did. Trump didn’t pretend to be anything other then himself, with all his brashness and lack of attention to his words’ collateral damage. He just does and does every single day. Pleasantries and feelings are thrown to the side.

In a world where Donald Trump angers the masses, why is he so beloved in my backyard?

Why?

Because Trump truly is an Israeli.

***

*Enjoying? Sign up for email updates and never miss a new post again!

*Enjoying my writing? Check out my eBooks!

Posted by jaffeworld in Israel, politics, 0 comments

Netanya, Truly a Gift from Above

Netanya

My oldest daughter, Netanya, just celebrated her twelfth birthday, an enormous milestone in Jewish tradition. Sadly, I didn’t have an opportunity to speak at the birthday festivities, so I thought I’d tell the world what I think of her right here.

Unbreakable Bond

My Netanya and I have had an unbreakable bond since she was a small baby. When she just a wee little nothing, there was only one way to get her to sleep at night. I had a cozy little lazy boy in my Baltimore living room. Netanya would settle herself down right across my chest, and before I knew it, she was soundly asleep. More than half the time I would fall asleep right there with her.

And within a short period of time, this became my favorite part of the day. I waited all day long for that fantastic burst of relaxation. And I honestly still miss it all the time.

Netanya

Netanya is a Miracle

Netanya is a walking miracle. Doctors can sometimes be a bit hard to handle when bringing a little bundle of joy into this world. They don’t know everything, although they would certainly like you to think they do.

In fact, my Netanya story is probably the primary source for why child birth is one of the few areas in the world where I put faith a good chunk ahead of science. Throughout Netanya’s time in the womb, the doctors tormented us with tales of horror. She was going to be born with a whole host of problems. Inevitable problems that would follow her throughout the rest of her life.

And before I could blink, little Netanya Temima was born into this world. Her name was chosen for it’s esthetic value; however, it’s inadvertently laden with an abundance of meaning. The name means “God gave something perfect and unblemished.” The doctors predicted the worst. But they were oh so very wrong. The Netanya that came into my life twelve years ago was absolutely flawless, and she is the blessing of the century. I truly couldn’t imagine life without her.

The Bond Between Father and Daughter

The bond between father and eldest daughter is one that words will always fail to explain. It’s an uncanny allegiance, and an overwhelmingly powerful dedication. But one thing is for certain: People say they would die for others all the time. The words often feel meaningless. When a father is blessed with a daughter, the words take on a profoundly new and intense meaning. It’s like day one of the timeline begins when a father is just waiting to say the immortal words from Clueless, “If anything happens to my daughter, I’ve got a .45 and a shovel. I doubt anybody would miss you.”

And I would do anything–ANYTHING–for my Netanya.

So, who is this Netanya of mine? I would like to speak of three character traits that exemplify who my incredible daughter is.

1) Netanya and Next-Level Empathy

Netanya

Netanya doesn’t just have empathy. She has next-level empathy. I recall times when as a small child, she knew what I was thinking and feeling, better than anyone else. She has always wanted her Abba to be so happy, and like no one else around, she could tell when I was not.

Netanya, the eternal diplomat, wants everyone in her life to be happy all the time, and works tirelessly to try and make that happen. This can certainly take its toll on her, but she faces up to the challenge all the time.

And that’s why everyone around just can’t stop adoring her. Human and animal alike!

I remember a time when I was looking after a friend’s pet. Her dog and mine pretty much ignored each other for a week. And the other dog didn’t really have much of an interest in being best friends with the human folk of my household either. That’s why I couldn’t get over it when I found both dogs curled up asleep next to Netanya one night. Everyone and everything senses how her caring nature is unmatched. And who wouldn’t want to be around that!?

Netanya

2) Netanya and Insatiable Curiosity

My precious Netanya wants to learn and know so much. I had such a lovely conversation with her recently as I was trying to figure out things other people and I could get her for the big upcoming birthday. Her intense interests ranged from art to boxing.

I had the pleasure of being there when she opened up a gift from my wonderful new in-laws. They got Netanya a pair of pink boxing gloves. Her mouth went wide as can be and her eyes lit up like nobody’s business.

This young lady wants to learn everything and is dedicated to grabbing a hold of all the knowledge she can. Whether it’s reviewing words with me in first grade or battling her way through Spanish with Duolingo, when she wants to learn something, the dedication and passion are inspiring.

And look out world. She’s known since she was a wee nothing that she wants to be a doctor. I can’t wait to celebrate with her when she finishes (and aces) medical school!

Which leads nicely into number three…

3) Netanya and her Endless Potential

This little angel has no idea how great she is. No clue at all.

Meanwhile, the world is at her fingertips the moment she shoves her shoulders back, lifts her head up high, and realizes how truly amazing she is.

Smart, talented, and beautiful, my little angel has it all. She’s just the right kick in the tush away from achieving whatever she wants in this world.

***

Netanya

Netanya, we were close from the day you were born. We are super close now. And I am honored to watch as you get older and more amazing every day. I’m so happy I get to keep watching you grow.

You are a true blessing in my life. Thank you for being there for me. Thank you for being you.

***

*Enjoying? Sign up for email updates and never miss a new post again!

*Enjoying my writing? Check out my eBooks!

Posted by jaffeworld in judaism, parenting, personal story, 1 comment

From Nothing to Confusion: My Religious Odyssey

From Nothing To Confusion

It’s that time again. I worked really hard. I edited like a beast. Did everything I needed to do to make this happen, and now my latest book (#3) is ready for the masses. If you haven’t checked out Teach Like a Ninja and You’re Doing Everything Wrong, please have a look. From Nothing to Confusion is my latest attempt to make sense of all the crazy thoughts swimming around in my head. I hope you enjoy!

From Nothing to Confusion is about my religious journey. It’s about how I grew up, all the religious developments that occurred along the last forty years, and where I am holding now. Sometimes it’s painful. Other times it’s filled with joy. And the whole time it’s a thoughtful journey. And I want to welcome you along for the ride.

Here are some tastes of what you’ll find within:

From Nothing to Confusion: Born to Believe

“It’s always a curious thing, being born into a faith. It doesn’t make all that much sense, with just a bit of thought. You can’t be born into a belief system. Hell, you are born believing nothing.” -Intro

In the introduction to my book I talk about the quite confusing ways we attempt to educate our children to follow in our religious paths. It’s very odd (with admittedly no obvious better choice).

Logic would dictate that religious beliefs would be something people would choose rather than something they are told to believe. Yet, outside of people with stories like my own, this almost never happens. And much of my introduction laments the fact that facilitating an experience like mine is borderline impossible.

From Nothing to Confusion: Raising the Little Ones

“We do what we can. There is no right answer. Probably not even close. In the meantime, we try to model actions and behaviors we’d love to see in our children. Then we keep our fingers crossed, and sit back and watch as their lives and belief systems unfold before our eyes.” -Intro

Some of my children are struggling with Judaism. It’s not terribly surprising. There are many aspects I’m struggling with myself, and I’ve been doing this a heck of a lot longer.

But the best path in how to raise children to love what you love is a mystery to so many of us. And you can do everything “right” and get unfavorable results. You can always “luck out”. But ultimately we’re all trying to unlock this mysterious code. We’re trying to find out how to create the right balance of rules and freedom, of forced education and space for self-growth.

But no matter what we do, so much remains out of our control. And hope fills the void.

From Nothing to Confusion: The Need for More

“Feeling good about efforts that are accomplishing little to nothing was not my goal…. I wanted and needed something bigger.” -Ch. 6

In this chapter I speak about some of my experiences in college in which I was trying to grow past some of what I had experienced in high school. There are many out there who will shout out to children about how to be a responsible adult, who works hard to make the world a better place. But, sadly, they’re often teaching you how to create an appearance of doing good things… and how to pat yourself on the back for all that you’ve supposedly accomplished.

But once you recognize what’s happened, it’s hard not to see it in so much of what we do. It’s hard not to recognize that we’re not really making that much of a difference at all. And if we wish to leave the world a better place than the one we came to, this is unacceptable. And we are prompted to seek something bigger and better.

From Nothing to Confusion: Human Interaction

“No human being can be fully fulfilled without human interaction. Love is connected to touch. To say otherwise is naive at best. Manipulative and controlling at worst.” -Ch. 18

This chapter discusses an element about Orthodox Jewish culture that I think is taught with a definite agenda, and one that ultimately can and does hurt a lot of people.

Sexuality is taught in a way that gears people toward marrying, and marrying as soon as humanly possible. Every element is strategically designed to accomplish that goal. But teaching about healthy relationships and building a strong foundation based on confidence and self-respect are not part of the agenda. They don’t accomplish the goal, and many are left lacking severely vital components of a healthy adult personality.

I believe this is the single greatest flaw in the modern Jewish world. And whereas on paper it appears to be effective and effective immediately, the long term results are hurting people. Many people, myself included, are victims of a dangerous and backwards perspective. One that is prone to hurt people and is entirely unsustainable.

From Nothing to Confusion: When You Fall into Dark Places

“When things are falling apart all around you, it’s hard to trust in the system. It’s borderline impossible not to fall into a dark place and assume that a flaw exists.” -Ch. 20

From Nothing to Confusion takes you through many complicated parts of my story. I join the Reform Movement, start tinkering with Orthodox Judaism, move to Israel, get married, have lots of kids. Everything appears to go as planned. Everything looks great, like the system had another tremendous success story. The entire Jewish world can pat itself on the back for producing, yet again, another picture-perfect Jewish family.

But picture-perfect we were not. And despite decades of assumptions, despite years of trust and elated participation, I fell. I lost my balance. I was no longer what I once was.

I started from nowhere. I traversed my way across a system quite unfamiliar to me. I climbed mountains, and fell into a few swamps along the way. But I came out unscathed… until I was hurt, and hurt bad.

And it threw me into a dark space I have not yet fully crawled out from. And here I am: Confused.

I went from nothing to confusion. And I hope you join me in learning about how it all happened.

***

*Enjoying? Sign up for email updates and never miss a new post again!

*Enjoying my writing? Check out my eBooks!

Posted by jaffeworld in book announcement, judaism, personal story, religion, 0 comments

The Day My Daughter Saved My Life

daughter

This past weekend I had a very crazy and unforgettable moment with one of my daughters. She was in a terrible mood, due mostly to the ever-present fighting with her sister. So we split up into separate groups, and I walked holding my precious daughter’s hand.

We had a beautiful and fascinating conversation about bullying. She was as attentive as I’ve ever seen her. Impressively so.

We started walking across a major street in Jerusalem. I began crossing the middle section. When all of a sudden I heard my daughter shriek, “Aaaaaabba!!” And I felt her tugging on my arm as hard as can be.

I looked at her confused, and then turned around to see a huge bus passing the spot where I was standing just a split second earlier. It took me a moment to collect my thoughts, and clear the fog roaming through my head. And when I did, I realized what I had done.

The Jaywalker

I crossed the street on the red. I am a typical New Yorker, at least in that jaywalking is something that I think all human beings should do and do freely. And I’m also typical in that I’m usually extremely careful. I always look both ways, even on a one-way street. I trust no one.

And in 42 years, I’ve done so without a hitch. But this time was slightly different. I was sleepy, first and foremost. And it was Shabbat, so there were hardly a lot of vehicles to begin with. I wasn’t paying great attention, since I was so thoroughly engaged in the conversation with my daughter. But most importantly, I had for a split-second forgotten that this part of the street had two-way traffic.

And there I was, nonchalantly stepping into an empty street… right in front of a bus that was making a turn.

The Forever Hug

When I finally realized what was going on, I grabbed my daughter, and we hugged for what felt like an eternity. I didn’t want to stop. I was bizarrely calm. But she had tears running down her face and was shaking like a leaf.

And thus became the theme of the next 24 hours or so. My gorgeous daughter clung to me like never before. And every time her mind gave her a moment to think, the tears came back.

This was a special moment for me, on so many levels. One I expect to someday reminisce about with my daughter’s children. Here are five takeaways from my brush with danger, and my child’s amazing instinctual reaction:

1) My Daughter Loves Me A LOT

Kids complain. They complain a lot. And it could take years before they develop essential life perspectives, like empathy and priorities. And because of all that, it’s very easy to forget how important you are to them as a parent.

This moment gave me some perspective I would not have otherwise. My girl can be challenging sometimes. And sometimes the way she acts can make me feel like she doesn’t even want me in her life at all, God forbid.

But that shriek and passionate tug on my arm erased years of trying to cope with all the complications. She loves me. She really, really does. And she couldn’t fathom a world without me in it.

2) Laden with Blessings

Listen: I’m not going to say you should wander in front of a bus in order to see how it impacts your relationship with your children.

However, I can’t deny that something was different after the incident, and something undeniably positive.

Throughout the weekend she wanted to hold my hand every free moment she had. And something felt qualitatively different than when she held my hand in the past. It was filled with more love, more admiration and appreciation.

I love my daughter with a passion. But this is the closest we’ve ever felt to one another.

3) How Quickly Roles Can Shift

I am a typical father. I am grossly protective of my children, and would unthinkingly fight to the death to protect any one of them.

It’s just an innate sense. I must be there for them in every way. It is my duty in this world to keep them safe at all times.

And in one quick moment, the tide can turn. My wife and I spent the weekend assuring my precious 9-year-old that even when she wasn’t watching my back, I was safe. She needed to know at all times that even when I was out of sight, I was being careful, and there were others making sure I was out of harms way.

It is beyond humbling when your own child needs to be the one protecting you.

4) Surprises Lurking behind Every Corner

I’ll be honest. My daughter acted with efficiency and speed. Her reaction time was flawless. And I’m not sure I could have predicted things happening the way they did. She rose to the occasion, exceeding expectations.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. This is the same little girl who I recall a whole five years earlier charming every person she met. I’ll never forget our time in the airport on our way to New York. She would sit down next to a perfect stranger and start asking questions. At first, they’d be annoyed, and wished to return to their newspaper. Within 30 seconds the newspaper was set down next to them, and they were fully engaged in conversation. The same scenario happened several times!

To this day, the same daughter makes new best friends everywhere she goes. And instantly.

This little angel is not one to be underestimated. Ever!

5) Something’s Different Now

I can’t quite put my finger on it. Words are failing me to express what’s different today than yesterday. However, it’s clear to me that something has changed. Perhaps I’ll understand at some point, perhaps I’ll never quite grasp it.

This is not my first brush with danger. It’s not the first time where I looked back and said I was inches from death. But it is most certainly the first time that the danger was averted at the hands of my very own daughter.

I am humbled.

I am grateful.

And I am ecstatic to continue using my gift of life.

***

*Enjoying? Sign up for email updates and never miss a new post again!

*Enjoying my writing? Check out my eBooks!

Posted by jaffeworld in parenting, personal story, 1 comment

Healthy Religiosity, Israel vs. the World

religiosity

I’ve noticed a bit of a trend lately. Folk who come to live in Israel, and slowly but surely their religiosity starts to dip.

The Religiosity Counterintuitive

On the surface, this is quite counterintuitive. There are so many reasons why one would think this could never happen. First and foremost, we’re in the Holy Land. On every corner there’s a synagogue. Everywhere you look there are religious people, objects, and opportunities. And the land itself is covered from top to bottom with history and significance. So how could it be that in an environment such as this, one could possibly lessen their enthusiasm, observance, or religiosity?

I’d like to suggest five possible reasons:

1) The Israel Challenge

Israel is generally a challenging place to live.

If you are elsewhere, and you live in a beautiful, large home, your high-power job pays a fantastic salary, and you are surrounded by endless activities, life in general can be much easier.

But who has time to think about going to classes and services when they’re not sure how they could possibly cover their rent or where their next meal is coming from?

On a philosophical level, it’s easy to say that one’s connection to God and religiosity should never parallel how great one’s life is. But in reality, that’s how it is for most of us. It is far easier to stay strong and focused when we’re happy, fulfilled, stress-free, and well fed. Throw some powerful life challenges into the mix, and it seems reasonable that some observance might shrink away simultaneously.

2) The Adversity Discrepancy

On the flip side, there are certain challenges to living outside of Israel that can possibly strengthen one’s connection and religiosity.

When you are surrounded by people just like you, the tendency is to become complacent. It’s easy. Being one of the Chosen People is a given, and takes no work whatsoever.

But when you find yourself surrounded by hatred, the tendency is often to pull yourself together and learn to love your circumstances even more. I have watched as barely connected Jews stared bravely into the eyes of evil antisemites. They didn’t consider their own wellbeing; they were pushed to stand up for what’s good and right in this world.

Being just a face in the crowd of a bunch of people exactly like yourself, might encourage complacency. Needing to defend your people, may encourage loyalty and pride.

3) Challenge Breeds Awareness

It’s a bit odd. I sometimes miss certain inconveniences of living outside of Israel.

There are two obvious examples of where this comes into play all the time: Kashrut (Jewish dietary laws) and Shabbat observance.

In Israel, and especially Jerusalem, you can meticulously observe both practices while barely breaking a sweat. The society is designed to make them simplistic. Entire grocery stores are filled exclusively with kosher items, and many areas are lined with kosher restaurants. The city shuts down for the Sabbath, and the best way to spend the day is feasting with family and friends.

But not so outside of Israel. You need to work harder to make sure you’re always purchasing the appropriate items. You must look at literally everything you take off the shelf. If there’s no kosher bakery around, or you’re dissatisfied with the selection, you’ll need to learn to make those beautiful Shabbat challahs on your own. Yeah, all of this is a pain… but it promotes awareness and a stronger connection to what you are actually doing.

Another great example is something called an eiruv. According to strict Jewish law, we may not carry anything outside during the Sabbath. In order to get around the rules, we create something called an eiruv (a virtually invisible, and extraordinarily complicated, legal structure). And voila, we carry items like there never was a rule in the first place. In Israel, it’s easy to forget this is even happening, since there seems to be an eiruv everywhere, and someone somewhere is in charge of caring for it. In many places outside of Israel, this is something that may require greater focus.

Sure, these issues can be a pain or an inconvenience. But when we work for something, we tend to have a greater appreciation for it. And further religiosity may ensue.

4) The Opportunity to Shine

Take someone out of their pond and place them elsewhere, and that’s when the opportunity to shine comes up all the time. Here in Israel, I almost never have the chance to explain Judaism to a perfect stranger, something I felt was practically a daily occurrence when I lived elsewhere. And nothing makes your love of your own people grow more than when you know your conversation partner is listening attentively to every word, and yours might be the only explanation they ever hear.

We have a very special responsibility to the world. Every day we must represent our people to the best of our ability. And that responsibility, as daunting as it may be, has a huge impact on how we carry ourselves and conduct our daily lives. Remove us from the world at large, and even though that responsibility is alive and well, it’s quite easy for many to think it’s irrelevant. And without the many watching eyes upon us, it’s simple to cease being our best selves.

5) We Are Unique

It’s very easy to feel faceless in Israel. I am just another one of the thousands and thousands just like me. My contributions are minimal and my knowledge is hardly unique. I’m surrounded by others who know everything I know, and many of them know much, much more.

But place me somewhere else, and now I’m something special and exotic. In Jerusalem, no one ever asks me why I don’t eat milk with meat. Elsewhere, I’m something different. And those differences matter.

We don’t always want to be special. It’s so much easier and more convenient to just do what everyone else around us is doing. Sometimes it’s simpler to just be faceless and to disappear into the crowd. But for many it feels quite nice to be something special. And it affects how we act and feel every day of our lives.

What do you think is the reason for this paradoxical religious shift?

***

*Enjoying? Sign up for email updates and never miss a new post again!

*Enjoying my writing? Check out my eBooks!

Posted by jaffeworld in Israel, judaism, religion, 1 comment

Religion and the Next Generation

generation

We work hard. Every day is a struggle to be better versions of ourselves. And as much as we basically have total control over who we are and who we wish to become, we have so little control over the next generation, over what happens with the future of our little ones.

Moshe vs. Yehoshua

I used to question the designation of Moshe (Moses) as the greatest leader of the Jewish people. His successor, Yehoshua (Joshua), seemed to have all the same leadership qualities. And he even merited to have some of the very same miracles occur for him as Moshe had. But whereas Moshe was not allowed to enter Israel, Yehoshua would forever have the accolade of being the one who led the entire Jewish people into the Holy Land. He would be the commander of the greatest conquest our people would ever experience.

So why Moshe as our greatest leader and not Yehoshua? My answer: Moshe was greater than Yehoshua because of Yehoshua. Moshe set up a situation where the people could be happy with and confident in the leadership even after he left this world. But what followed the reign of Yehoshua? Hundreds of years of craziness and disaster! The truly great person not only considers what happens when they’re around, but does everything in his power to ensure the next generation is taken care of. The next generation must be able to thrive as well.

The Next Generation Code

Moshe unlocked a code. He did something almost no one knows how to do. He could pass on his greatness for another generation. He was great not just because he was great, but because he took his greatness a huge step beyond, unlike anyone before or since.

What About the Kids?

It’s damn near impossible not to be concerned when you’re a parent. Everything you say and do can impact the decisions and actions of your children. And as much as ones positive influence is strong and utterly important, it seems to get overshadowed by any of the mistakes we make. Each day we tiptoe around our children’s souls, and every time we turn and knock something over, we are just inches away from irreparable damage.

So what is the key to passing on religion from one generation to the next? If one holds steadfast to his values, and thus believes his ways are the sole way of getting closer to God, how could he not want to pass every last bit of it along to the next generation?

There are no easy answers. Not even close.

The Next Generation

We all know the family where most children followed the path of the parents, but others didn’t. Or most left the fold. In other cases there are parents who did everything objectively wrong, only to find themselves with children who are everything the parents could have ever hoped for. And others where they tried their hardest, sought the best advice, and did everything they could think of to preserve future generations, yet their results were anything from unsuccessful to downright disastrous.

And let’s not forget for even a moment that parents are just one piece (albeit a very important piece) of a giant puzzle. Influences, positive or negative, come from peers, siblings, schools, and communities. Everyone is working together to create a final product. Except even though their influence is upon the same person, their methods, motivations, and behaviors are by no means coordinated.

The Next Generation Models

There are certain models available, each with its own fears and flaws. Probably the most common is to force your ways upon your children. In many aspects, it’s also the easiest. Everyone in your household is required to do as you do, no questions asked. And hopefully this will work for all children, there will be no rebellion, it will carry into adulthood, and the same methodology will be passed down to the next generation as well.

The system seems flawless… for a while. Little children are given candy as positive reinforcement for doing what they’re supposed to do. Little achievements are celebrated. And laughing little people, devoid of any discernment or baggage, play along. They don’t love the way of their people. They’re just forming habits.

Teenage Years Are Coming!

But those teenage years are creeping up. They’re just around the corner, waiting to pounce upon the unsuspecting parent. Now, suddenly, questions begin to form. Things they’ve heard and experienced over the years aren’t adding up. The children see elements that don’t sit well with them. They recall some negative associations with their religion. All just as their emerging minds are trying to figure out the best way to rebel.

Suddenly, the cute children who did what they were told for the eagerly anticipated sweet is starting to see a bigger picture. We created a utopia, where little ones ecstatically behaved like their parents, but it was all just one fleeting performance. It wasn’t real. And it came with an expiration date.

What Happens Next?

Then what happens? Do we continue to promote a fake show, void of any real connection to what they’re doing and feeling? When there’s resistance, do we just push harder, forcing our ways upon the children?

Do we give them room to make mistakes and room to grow as they see fit? If so, when does that begin? And how much room do we give? There are also many additional factors. Preserving the sanctity of our homes. Ensuring our other children aren’t overly influenced by things we don’t wish for them to see.

How much can we rely upon schools or social pressure?

And when all the smoke clears, when everything is entirely out of our hands, how do we react when the results are drastically different from what we had hoped for?

The Results

In the final analysis, every parent wishes the best for his or her child. And if one is a true believer, the “best” includes the children following in the parents’ footsteps. And every day is a brand new struggle to try and positively influence children to land where we want them.

There will be ups and downs. Some days will be filled with joy, others with utter disappointment.

And an ongoing struggle to be joyous and loving regardless of the results.

***

*Enjoying? Sign up for email updates and never miss a new post again!

*Enjoying my writing? Check out my eBooks!

Posted by jaffeworld in parenting, religion, 0 comments

Religion and the Neato Factor

neato

For the most part, every religion wants the world to believe they are harbingers of the one truth. Some are very brazen about their beliefs, while others are far more humble about their approach. Some are very intellectual, while others prefer anything from appeals to emotion to the worst forms of manipulation.

Judaism is certainly different from the average religion. Like with all religions, the Jewish people believe that Judaism is truth. The Torah is real, the stories within the Torah are timeless pieces relevant to the entire world, and Judaism is the path all Jews must take to achieve the greatest Heavenly rewards.

Nevertheless, Judaism is unique in that it doesn’t believe every human being alive needs to or even should be Jewish. The world at large has many paths to take to come closer to God, and whereas Judaism is one of them, it is by no means mandatory.

Everyone or Just Some?

It’s a curious piece to Jewish theology. I’ve often wondered what others must think. On one hand, it’s a point of pride for many Jews. It makes our religion unique, it reflects a certain level of confidence and self-sufficiency, and it prevents us from being a nuisance to so many people. On the other hand, if you truly believe you are correct, why would you not what to shout it out to anyone who could possibly listen?

Nevertheless, the theology is very different when it comes to other Jews, for whom the belief is that every Jewish person must accept upon himself the beliefs and practices of the Jewish faith.

There are many paths that people take to try and influence others to adopt their religious practices. Some choose rigorous debate, replete with complicated philosophical explanations. Some appeal to emotions, and speak of the continuity of our people.

My favorite “method”, and the one that I believe reflects the greatest amount of confidence in ones faith, is just living your life to the best of your ability, and letting others decide for themselves. Don’t shove your beliefs down the throat of others. Invite people to your home for a Shabbat meal, encourage someone to come to your class, and let their own curiosity and intelligence take it from there. Since, after all, religion is something one should choose, not something they should be forced, badgered, or manipulated into. Anything less produces a tenuous and superficial relationship with the religion.

The Neato Factor

And then there is what I like to call the “Neato Factor”. These are things people use all the time to boast about the veracity of their religion; however, these “proofs” aren’t actually proofs. In fact, they are nothing but minor elements that at best complement real intellectual rigor. They prove nothing in and of themselves, and at best just make things a little more interesting.

When someone tries to proves their religion using one of these three ideas, the only reaction that makes any sense to me is, “Neato. But now what? Is that all you’ve got?”

My three Neato Factors:

1) Neato Codes

I don’t know if other religions make claims such as these, but there are elements among the Jewish people who explore Jewish texts with such detail, they’ve found what they consider “codes” hidden within the text. These so-called codes are without a doubt fascinating. They’re very fun. Some are even shockingly impressive.

But that’s where everything stops. Even if we were to explore each and every one of these codes, and determine that the statistical improbability borders on miraculous, we still have to ask the question, “So what?”

What do these little additions to thousands of years of tradition and philosophical debate really add to the discussion? It’s like when I discovered that the person I was dating had a Hebrew name with the same numerical value as mine, the chance of which is off-the-charts unlikely. It was certainly cool. Worth noting. A fun story to tell our friends and great grandchildren. However, if I were to base whether or not I would marry her on this alone, I would be nothing but a fool (there were TONS of other great reasons #HeChoseWell).

Things like the Codes are fun. But they are spices, and nothing more. We could eat a steak without spices. Sure, it might be bland. But we’d enjoy it nonetheless, and we’d benefit from its iron and protein. However, we’d get quite little from downing a few spoonfuls of salt and pepper…

2) Neato People

Another tactic used by those who wish to prove their religion is demonstrating that theirs either has really special practitioners or they’ve heard the veracity of their claims from great people.

Years ago I was reading Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis. I like his books. I find Lewis very intellectually honest, and very philosophically astute. However, he basically stated that the reason he believes in Christianity is because he heard of its truth from great people, who heard it from great people…

There are countless reasons I find this to be a weak argument. At best when you can show me a great religious person I will think to myself, “Neato. That sure is a nice person. I’m really glad you have such wonderful people in your life.”

However, there are flaws galore to this as a “proof” of any religion. For every amazing member of your religion, I can show you a handful of absolute bastards who practice the very same religion. And I can show you a whole bunch of equally wonderful people who practice other religions, or no religion at all.

3) Neato Miracles

Which leads to my least favorite way of “proving ” religion: Mentioning all the different miracles that have occurred to you and other members of your religion. Miraculous moments so unlikely, their existence can only be attributed to the one true God.

Go to any religion and you’re bound to hear miraculous stories. They might be amazing, even inspiring. But once every religion has its own stories, we’re just left with one giant stalemate.

All we can say is: That story is neato. But what am I supposed to do with all these miracle stories? Should I absorb all of them and thus accept all religions as truth? Should I toss them all in the waste basket, since their existence has by definition negated all the other ones? Or do I pick and choose, and if so, what’s my standard of measurement?

So in the final analysis, we’re left with three concepts used to show the truth of religions, three concepts that are no doubt fun to explore. They are, in fact, neato. But they do nothing to show the truth of anyone’s claims.

For that, we must look just a tad bit deeper.

***

*Enjoying? Sign up for email updates and never miss a new post again!

*Enjoying my writing? Check out my eBooks!

Posted by jaffeworld in religion, 0 comments

The Folly of Religious Coercion

religious coercion

There was a raging debate in Jerusalem a few months ago. One of the hottest new hangout spots is First Station. Not only is it loaded with restaurants and shops, but there are tons of activities all the time, and it’s generally got a great feel to it.

However, in a town loaded with wall-to-wall religious folk, it seemed inevitable that someone would have to poke their nose in and ruin everyone else’s fun. You see, Jerusalem is a city that pretty much stops running once a week. Most bars and restaurants are closed. Buses stop going. A huge portion of the city is observing Shabbat, so street traffic is radically reduced. And places that are jam packed the rest of the week, like the shuk, are ghost towns once Friday night rolls around.

Shabbat and First Station

But not First Station. I’ve walked past it many time on Shabbat to see half the restaurants going strong, and the wonderfully lively and friendly atmosphere continuing on through the seventh day as well. In fact, it seems like First Station is the one place left in the entire city that is still pumping on a Saturday afternoon.

But some people out there can’t sit idly back and let other people enjoy their time.

What’s Your Problem?

I’m not exactly sure what their motivation is. Three guesses: 1) They think it’s inappropriate to have such frivolities and Sabbath violations occurring in the holy city of Jerusalem, in a public and sanctioned manner. 2) It creates a ruckus, and disturbs the peace of their day. 3) They believe that if others are restricted in what they can do, they will ultimately make the decision to accept upon themselves the holy Sabbath day.

Regarding #1, Jerusalem is a diverse city. It is filled with non-religious Jews. It is loaded with non-Jews as well, not even considering the extremely popular and important tourist industry. And whether or not you like to accept it, those elements are essential for making Jerusalem more fun and interesting. Remove it, and all you have is a bunch of synagogues and old buildings.

As far as #2 is concerned, I have never noticed or heard anything from First Station any time other than when walking right in front of it. And when I’ve done so, it was my choice. There are plenty of ways to get from point A to point B. If it bothers you so much to watch other people having a good time in ways different from yours, choose a different path. It’s really that simple.

Religious Coercion is Not Effective

But it’s point #3 that I’m really here to address, a point that disturbs me to no end. Your silly obsession with religious coercion is not effective. If anything, it’s quite counterproductive. In the immortal words of Rabbi Berel Wein, “To date, no one has ever decided to observe Shabbat because someone threw a rock at their car.”

One of the most chilling moments I had in my career as a teacher was one morning during prayer services. As usual, the teachers’ jobs were to “police” the setting. We would be meandering around the room, telling students to stop talking, and insisting they pray. Sometimes things even got heated. You can imagine how inspiring it is, being forced to pray. Nothing brings a teenager closer to God than being yelled at for not praying correctly.

And one morning, as I mindlessly fulfilled my inane role, this thought crossed my mind: If I were brought up this way, I probably wouldn’t have ended up religious.

My Path of Inspiration

My path was one of inspiration, role models, education, and choices. The students at my school were just being told what they had to do. If many ran away screaming, I don’t blame them.

Fact is, religious coercion is and always has been a terrible idea. Even under the “best” circumstances, when the coercion is actually effective and someone continues with their religious practices, what is the end result? Mindless religious robots? Thoughtless beings who do what they do out of fear or habit? Coercion might, sometimes, produce someone who appears to be a follower of the religion. But their practice is likely to be shallow, with an undertone of resentment.

Religious Coercion vs. Choice

In order for someone to truly love what they do, there needs to be an element of choice. Any teacher can tell you, try and tell your students about almost any subject of interest to you, and you’ll get yawns and eye rolls. But if they ask it to you as a question, you may just have the full attention of your entire class.

And shouldn’t our faith be something so amazing we have confidence that others would choose it, with the right education and experiences? Doesn’t religious coercion send a subtle message that you’re not confident in what you do, that maybe you think your faith is flawed?

Religious Coercion and Resentment

The bottom line is, religious coercion does not work. The best it offers is a sad and weak connection to religiosity. But more often than not, it just builds resentment. It makes people angry.

If you want someone to see the world through your point of you, great. Be amazing, do incredible things, and let others choose of their own free will whether or not your lifestyle is right for them.

But stay out of other people’s business.

A Win for First Station

I observe Shabbat every week and I’ve been doing so for over two decades. I think it’s a beautiful thing and I love that it’s a part of my life. In addition, I believe everyone could benefit from having such a day in their lives. I thought this before cell phones were a thing… and now that people can’t stop staring at their little device, I think it so much more. Everyone needs to shut down every once in a while. Everyone needs to learn to communicate properly, to look another person in the eyes.

However, I was ecstatic when I found out First Station would remain open on Shabbat. Why? I was ecstatic because it was a moral victory for those of us who truly believe in freedom of choice. If you don’t want to observe Shabbat, that is your business and your business alone.

If you smoke in places you’re not allowed, or you drive overly aggressively, or you throw trash on the ground wherever you choose, I’m OK with you being pressured to leave my city. I don’t care if you’re religious or not.

Please Stay

But if you’re a decent person, please stay. The more of you the better. Follow your heart. It can lead to a whole lot of great places. Religious coercion will lead to the breaking of spirits and massive feelings of resentment. With absolutely no positive outcome, short of some ill-conceived notion of justice prevailing. But even when you’ve “won”, you’ve weakened our people and our nation. Thus everyone loses.

***

*Enjoying? Sign up for email updates and never miss a new post again!

*Enjoying my writing? Check out my eBooks!

Posted by jaffeworld in judaism, opinion, religion, 0 comments
Load more