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

Toward a Religious Truth

truth

My third book will be published in just a matter of weeks. This one’s called From Nothing to Confusion: My Religious Odyssey. It’s never been a better time to talk a bit about some serious religious topics. The first one I’d like to address is missionaries.

A Mormon Truth

First, a couple of stories. Way back when in, my Cornell days, we received a knock on the door one Shabbat afternoon. It was a couple of young Mormon girls who came to teach us some facts about the one true religion. The girls were polite and sweet from start to finish of their visit. And it was a delight to have them join us in our humble home.

However, at some point our pleasant conversation needed to come to an end. And it was fairly obvious when that moment came.

We inquired how they knew theirs was the one true religion. Like a couple of programmed bobble heads, they nodded enthusiastically and told us, “Because it’s written in the book.”

OK, not a great answer. Fine. But we pushed further, and questioned how they knew the book spoke of truth. The happy nodders exclaimed, “Because it’s written by the Prophet.”

Alright. We were finally inching toward the one-two punch that would have us moving to Utah the very next day. We wondered how they knew the Prophet was real. And we were told, “Because it’s written in the Book.”

Thus the circle was closed. And our delightful conversation had come to an end. I escorted our new friends to the door, and bid them a lovely and enjoyable afternoon of door knocks and theological rigor.

Ultimately, my vistors were harmless. If not wonderful guests. However, not everyone who knocks on the door is always so peaceful. Not everyone’s intentions are noble or praiseworthy.

A Washington Square Park Truth

I had another experience, early on in my days exploring Judaism, when I attended a yeshiva in Crown Heights for a couple of weeks. On Fridays we would head off to Washington Square Park for an exhilarating afternoon of finding Jewish males to put tefilin on.

The experience was always fun. And always meaningful. However, it’s New York. There’s always a surprise or two lurking behind every corner.

At one point I was accosted by a group. One of the ladies in the group, a young girl wearing large, dangling Star of David earrings, started chatting with me. During our small talk, I discovered that she was from some city in Middle of Nowhere, USA.

I got very excited. It’s one thing to be proud of being Jewish. It’s a whole other world to brazenly show off your love of our people way off in the schticks, in a place where the Jewish population is likely less than one percent.

We talked some more. In the conversation she mentioned the name of her college, which I thought had a curious title. I asked her what type of school it was, and she said, “It’s a theological seminary. I’m a Messianic Jew.”

An Isaiah 53 Truth

So, knowing what I know now, I would have realized the group was Messianic immediately, since the first words spoken by one of them to our crew was, “Have you read Isaiah 53?”

For the uninitiated, these are code words for: I’m a Christian missionary. I believe that everyone alive must believe what I believe. And I’m now about to pull all stops to aggressively try and convert you to my belief system.

And thus began (and concluded) my first exposure to a world I would later become all too familiar with. The world of the missionary. Robotic Christian conversion trolls, sent to all four corners of the world to persuade and argue and flatter their way to your heart. All in the hopes you will come to understand the one truth.

A Religious Truth

Now, I have a love of all religions (or at least all the ones I’ve studied and been exposed to). However, I cannot say the same for all religious practitioners.

I think it’s mandatory to call everyone on their nonsense, even if they’re hiding far behind walls of good intentions or righteousness. But there is a qualitative difference between these two groups I need to address.

The two Mormon girls may have not been ready for the task ahead of them. They weren’t masters of knowledge, supremely capable of dealing with challenging questions. I think some sincere person in a dusty room somewhere in Utah sent these girls out with zero training, hoping the simple folk of the world would see the truth. I bear them no ill will. And I wish them only luck in their journey.

However, the group that approached me in Washington State Park had an agenda. They were trained manipulators, willing to do whatever it takes to get others around them to see their point of view. This could include anything from using sources very out of context to straight up lying.

Present me with facts and information and I will passionately explore them and draw my own conclusions. Provide me with experiences and I will sincerely evaluate them. I will see if and how they could become a part of who I am. And it might be that ultimately I disagree with you. But I will always politely respect you.

Try and manipulate me, and you are nothing to me. I have zero tolerance for lies and bastardizations of the truth. You poorly represent your faith. In fact, you’re an embarrassment to both your religion, and to religious people in general.

Misusing Faith

And just so I’m clear: I do not discriminate in this regard. If someone misuses my faith to justify throwing rocks at a car on the Sabbath, or in any way deceives people so they conform to another’s way of practicing, their dishonesty disgusts me.

So we’re left with a bit of a problem. What’s truth and what’s fiction? Who speaks with us with positive intentions? Who is truly being intellectually honest with us, and who is bending the truth for their own gain, for their own agenda? We should all be so lucky to know at every turn.

***

*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

Five Uncomfortable Facts about Bullying

bullying

No matter what I do and no matter where I go, one awful concept seems to follow me around everywhere: Bullying. I’ve been the victim, I’ve been the perpetrator. I’ve helped the victim, and I’ve let the victim get chewed to pieces.

Certainly as an adult I have a refined perspective on the concept of bullying. However, this awful behavior still creeps into the picture wherever I go. With each year I understand the world just a drip more, and here are five facts of bullying I’ve come across along the way.

1) Bullies Rise from the Weakness of Others

The way I always explained bullying to my students was very simple, and these truths should let any bully know the sadness of their path. Bullies are weak and/or unimpressive people. But it is a human need to feel strong and noticed.

What do you do when you’re talented or capable? You naturally show off your ability just by being yourself. However, the bully doesn’t have any of that. They can’t impress the world with who they are. So they seek a target on whose shoulders they could stand. And by weakening their victim, the bully emerges on top of them, inherently feeling more powerful and superior.

We should all be blessed with the ability to win the adulation of those around us, not because of who we can harm, but because of who we are. No one should need to rise above others in order to shine.

2) Male Bullying vs Female Bullying

In Baltimore, my son attended a school with only male students. Bullying was fairly common, albeit very typical male-style bullying. Boys are aggressive. They hit. They choke. The scars are mainly physical. And the best way to deal with it is to stand up for yourself.

The following year my son found himself in a grade filled with mainly girls, hellbent on demonstrating to him that their style of bullying was superior. They could bring someone to tears with a mild glance. A few well-timed words, and they could have you begging for mercy.

And these wounds don’t heal with Bandaids. And they are far more difficult to point out or prove to the authorities. In the immortal words of Louis CK, “Boys… do damage to your house that you can measure in dollars, like a hurricane. Girls… leave scars in your psyche.”

The takeaway: Bullying that is non-physical is a) still bullying and b) potentially far more damaging than any punch or kick.

3) Bullying Exists at Every Age

Bullying is something we come to think of as a kid thing or a school thing. But it exists at every stage of our lives, just manifesting itself in different ways.

But it’s still bullying.

It’s still abhorrent behavior that we should keep an eye out for. We should stand up for those being tormented. And we should fight for justice in every place we see the mistreatment of others.

I’ve been bullied in the workplace, as I’m sure most people have. Sometimes it comes from those in positions of authority. However, very often it can come from just about anyone.

The rule is the same: If you can’t feel good about yourself because you’re talented and amazing, the tendency arises to try and feel good by forcefully placing others beneath you.

4) We All Do It

Many times I’ve asked my students if they’ve ever been bullied. Usually every student in the class will raise their hand. I’ll then ask who has ever bullied someone else. It might take a little longer, and the reactions might be a bit slower, but generally every hand will go up for that question as well.

It’s scary to think that something we all loathe so much can also be something we’ve engaged in. We’ve all hurt others. We’ve all caused somebody, somewhere to question their worth. There’s a person or people in the world who have shed tears because of our words and actions.

And now we’re adults. And we’re doing it all over again.

It is imperative that all thinking adults, anyone with a strong sense of character and morals, evaluate their everyday actions and activities. We should be able to look deeply at our interpersonal experiences and recognize when we’re bringing someone else down in order to artificially feel better about ourselves.

As adults, we tend to be able to justify what we do easier. And we can cast away our misdeeds as being necessary or light-hearted banter. And in some cases, it may be true. Firing a lousy employee is not bullying. And joking around with close friends is fairly likely to be innocent and harmless as well.

But we know better than that. There are lines we shouldn’t cross, and people for whom it wouldn’t take much to realize we’re causing harm. And we absolutely should never cause harm. No one should suffer unnecessarily as a result of our words or deeds. And if they are, we need to know we’re the cause, and kill the behavior immediately.

5) Bullying Can Easily Draw You In

It’s a sad reality, but even the gentlest and most well-meaning person can easily be pulled into bullying. The group starts teasing someone for whatever, and before you know it, you’re participating as well. After all, if everyone is involved, how bad can it be?

None of us are immune to this. Whether it’s poking fun at the new kid in school or teasing a co-worker about their mismatched socks, when the group starts in, it’s so easy to just slip into the mix. You might do this with your own obnoxious comments, or you might do it by laughing along with everyone else.

And you’re fairly likely to participate by not noticing when someone is being hurt, or by not doing your part to make things better.

We should all be blessed to recognize when we are acting as bullies, to be sensitive to the feelings of those around us, to have the strength to not get pulled into bullying situations, and the wherewithal to always stand up for what’s just and right.

***

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

*Enjoying my writing? Check out my eBooks!

Posted by jaffeworld in opinion, 0 comments

Five Movies You Need to See… When You Just Need to Shut Off and Laugh

movies

It’s time for as lighthearted a post as I can write. Day to day life isn’t always easy. And sometimes we all just need to shut off our minds for a couple of hours, grab some popcorn, and simply laugh a whole lot.

This is a list of five comedy movies I love. In my mind, they are timeless comedic classics. They are all extremely quotable and memorable.

When you need a little innocent pick-me-up, and you’re looking to try something different, you can’t go wrong with a solid comedy to make everything right.

In no particular order, here are five recommendations for hilarious movies that could brighten up almost any day.

My Blue Heaven (1990)

One of the most quotable movies ever created is for some reason forgotten by so many. This classic has oddly faded into obscurity, but it should make a comeback with a vengeance.

Steve Martin plays a gangster in the witness protection program, in which a hardened Italian criminal must somehow learn to live the smalltime life in the middle of nowhere. As you can imagine, this scenario provides countless opportunities for comedic fodder.

Steve Martin and Rick Moranis are the perfect duo, and their fantastic performances result in endless unforgettable moments. (Apparently they’ve been in three movies together. I’ve never seen Parenthood (1989), but Little Shop of Horrors (1986) is amazing. Did you know that there are two different versions of the ending?)

With My Blue Heaven, you’ll find yourself grabbing moments from the movie and making them a permanent part of your life and speech. For example, I can’t go to the grocery story with my wife without reenacting this hilarious moment:

And in case you’re wondering, that superb pick-up line works just as well for me as did for Steve Martin.

So grab My Blue Heaven. Heck, grab 25 copies… ya know… in case you want to watch it more than once.

Capiche?

Clerks (1994)

Sadly, the only movie on this list that might not hold up anymore. I remember seeing Clerks in the theaters and loving it so much I went back to see it again. But you kids these days just can’t seem to handle the black and white!

Clerks is about a couple of nobodies in New Jersey who are working at a convenience store and an old school video shop. They have several adventures along the way and a handful of mishaps with customers.

The humor is not for everyone, but it certainly was for me. I still laugh when I picture Dante talking about the customers who search for the milk that will never expire. Or the countless customers asking if his store is open. Or pretty much anything Randal does.

If you want a nice, silly belly laugh, and pretty much a documentary of Jersey life, Clerks is the way to go. And it’s an apt introduction to the world of Kevin Smith movies, which include other classics like Mallrats (1995) and Dogma (1999).

37!

Office Space (1999)

Everything from the hysterical dialogue to just about the best soundtrack you’ll find in any movie.

Follow the trials and tribulations of a nerdy computer programmer whose life is basically meaningless, until he figures out a really unique way to turn everything around.

And before you know it, this badass conquers his workplace, replete with the amazing gangster rap you might be expecting. If you’ve worked for even a short period in any office, you will love Office Space, and everything from the overbearing bosses dwelling upon the most minute details to the rage against the copy machine.

And you will certainly want to take yourself over to the first occupational hypnotherapist you can find and set fire to your T.P.S. Report cover sheets. Because that’s when things start to get real!

Airplane (1980)

If you have not seen Airplane, you are under-qualified to discuss comedy films. Every parody film that has come out since Airplane, strives to create a level of perfect silliness on par with this masterpiece.

Whether it’s someone beating up airport solicitors, old women speaking Jive, or very unique drinking problems, the humor in Airplane is timeless.

This movie even gave birth to some important moments that effect my life more often than I or anyone would like to admit. Ever have one of those times when you’re trapped in a lecture or speech you are just praying will end already? You may even get to the point where you’d rather commit hara-kiri than listen for even one more minute?

I call those “Airplane moments”, after the many characters who’d rather take their own lives than listen to our protagonist tell his story anymore.

Also, keep your eyes open for my son’s absolute favorite answer to the question, “How do you take your coffee?”

Airplane throws everything at you to brings tears of laughter to even the toughest eyes.

So I Married an Axe Murderer (1993)

Mike Myers at his best. This movie has everything from beat poetry to thick Scottish accents to a cameo from the greatest living comedian, Stephen Wright.

So I Married an Axe Murderer has fallen into a bit of obscurity for reasons I’ll never understand. Usually I get an odd stare from most folk just by mentioning its name.

Throughout this hysterical movie, follow all the crazy mishaps of Charlie MacKenzie as it slowly becomes clear to him that his new main squeeze might be a bit more than he expected. (I mean, who hasn’t slowly discovered they might be in a relationship with a psychopath?)

Did you know that So I Married an Axe Murderer is the most popular movie ever created that uses the phrase “hard hearted harbinger of haggis”?

For those who need a good laugh and choose to listen to me and grab one of these movies… you’re welcome!

***

*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, 0 comments

42, Still Kickin’

42

Yup, I’m 42. The yearly bitter birthday post. I keep trying to be be younger… the years keep piling on.

Two years ago I got this blog started and felt awe and discomfort about turning 40. And now it’s two years later. I’m still going. Hopefully strong. And somehow or other I made it to 42. Yup, twice the age of being able to legally purchase liquor in the the Old Country. More than half my way to 80. Old enough that I can’t stand up without grunting. And certainly old enough, no matter how young I may look, that I can’t go to 20s/30s events without guilt and/or a few surprised reactions.

So, I’ve reached this coveted age of great wisdom. What are some giant takeaways I’ve gained at 42? What newfound knowledge has popped into my brain as yet another year has advanced me forward?

Let’s look at five:

1) Still Lessons to Learn

At each stage of my life, it seemed the life lessons would slow down. There was far less to be gained. I learned what I had to learn, and now just needed to put those lessons into practice. And coast from here on out.

And as usual, it turned out I was wrong. Quite wrong.

In my 42nd year I fell in love, got engaged, and got married. One could say it was quite a big year for me.

What’s crazy is how unexpected all of these things were for me. I entered the relationship, arrogantly stating that I have four children, and that’s plenty for me. I’d prefer not to add to the numbers. And before the relationship, I talked about my proud and happy single status.

And yet I told a story at my wedding when my fiancé and I were reading about how you know you are with the right person. One suggestion stated that you know you’re with the right person when you look at your partner and would be ecstatic if your children grew up like them.

We looked up at each other, and for that moment, everything was completely obvious to both of us.

In just this past year, my thoughts and opinions have shifted over and over again.

I can’t even imagine what the future holds.

2) Every Year, I’m Less and Less Defined by My Job

Many of us dread that moment. We’re meeting a brand new person, and the inevitable question rolls around: “So, what do you do?”

I can talk on and on about my wife and my kids. I can tell about my hobbies. My passion for health and fitness. My love of languages. And on and on.

But I can’t escape it. Eventually they’ll catch my clever diversion and ask what I do for a living.

Now, I’m by no means embarrassed by or ashamed of my job. It’s just that no matter what I do, it’s guaranteed to be a conversation killer.

“I do customer support for an email marketing company.”

Cue the crickets…

In any case, I used to be a teacher. It was very important to who I was, but also something I desperately needed to run away from. And like has happened so many times in my life, it feels like a distant part of my past. It’s just gone, like it never was.

Why? Because my job pays the bills. Hopefully. But that’s where it’s importance ends. I am made up of so much more than just my job. Sure, it’s a part of the puzzle, but merely a small part. My answer to their dreaded question isn’t flawed. It’s the question itself, and the underlying expectation behind the question that needs to be changed.

I am me, with all my 42 years of complexities. My job is just one of the many things I do.

3) How to Get Attention? It’s All About the Individual

Two years in a row I’ve participated in ALYN Hospital’s out-of-this-world skydiving fundraiser. And both years I slogged my way through weeks of grueling fundraising.

In two years, I raised nearly $6,000 for this incredible hospital. But I’ll be honest: I hated every minute of the fundraising. I don’t know if there’s anyone out there who enjoys asking others for money. I know I’d like to participate in a fundraiser each year. However, I’m not sure I can stomach this again.

I did learn an important lesson, however, albeit the exact reason behind the lesson is still unclear to me.

I posted weekly on Facebook and LinkedIn. And I posted in different public groups. Others posted on their Facebook pages as well. I even wrote a blog post about the fundraiser. In two years of fundraising, not a single donation ever came from a public post of any kind. Not one. 100% of the money came from people I reached out to directly.

No one listens to what’s said to the group. You want attention? It’s all about speaking directly to each and every individual.

4) Even Skydiving Can Become Routine

I also learned that routine is routine. Skydiving is a major thrill, certainly unlike any other I’ve experienced. And falling out of the sky from 14,000 feet is an objectively wild experience.

But even that makes me think: Been there, done that. What can I possibly tackle next?

I thrive on routine. I like knowing, at least generally, what my days will look like. However, I also need constant growth. Constant novelties that spice things up in my life.

And even the things that are amazing or thrilling, need to be topped all the time. There is absolutely nothing that cannot become routine.

5) I Was Wrong

You’re never too old to find out you have no idea what you are talking about. That’s a lesson I learn yearly.

I was wrong when I was 40 or 41. I will spend a whole lot of time wrong as a mighty 42-year-old.

And I expect to be wrong time and time again as many more years of my life pass on by.

The trick isn’t to never be wrong. That’ll never happen. The trick is to learn to not let it bother you, and to instead embrace your own mistakes. See them as jumping points for great change and improvement in your life.

***

So, here I am. 42. A whole spattering of young and old. With a lot of cynicism, combined with a whole heaping load of hope.

It’s going to be quite the year. I can feel it in my bones!

(I can feel a lot in my bones these days… )

***

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

*Enjoying my writing? Check out my eBooks!

Posted by jaffeworld in opinion, 0 comments
Load more