Overcoming Oppressive Guilt

Guilt

The last couple of decades have not always been easy. I’ve got more than my fair share of trauma to speak of. And just when I thought I was starting to get a handle on things, physical pain started to become an all-consuming reality in my life.

But one of the biggest plagues that has harmed me over the years is guilt. The ever-pressing feeling that I’ve done things and made irreversible decisions that have and continue to cause myself and others harm.

Oppressive Guilt

And it isn’t easy to live with yourself when each and every day these oppressive feelings swarm into your mind. It isn’t easy when you cannot let yourself have a moment to breath without negativity creeping its way back to find whatever little crevice it could crawl its way into.

And when moments of happiness are marred by guilty feelings, you know it’s time to make some changes. You know it’s time to look deep into yourself and figure out if there’s anything that can be done to either fix the past, or at the very least move on from it.

Collateral Damage

And it would be so much easier if the past only hurt me.

My decisions along the way were mine. Only mine. If they harmed me or continue to cause me pain, so be it. But when the aftermath spills out and burns others in my life, especially those closest to me, sometimes the guilt is just unbearable.

Forgiving Myself

So I’m setting out with one of the more difficult tasks I’ve ever had to perform: Forgiving myself.

I don’t expect this to be a short and easy road, but it all begins with me putting one foot in front of the other.

The Past Lingers

One roadblock will inevitably be that the elements that caused me grief in the past are still around.

There is a Jewish teaching about someone who goes to a ritual bath to get purified while holding something that inherently causes impurity. They can immerse in the waters all day long, but every time they emerge, they are becoming impure once again.

Their Sisyphean task will never be complete.

And that is how I feel right now. I need to not only work hard to forgive myself for the errors I’ve made, but I need to work tirelessly to not allow things to enter my heart that will set me back. All that accomplishes is increasing the hurt exponentially, and the guilt comes pouring forward once again.

The Challenge of Self-Forgiveness

Why is it so hard for me to just look in the mirror and say, “You got this, Yitzchak. The past is the past. Let’s kick ass from here on out!” Why can’t I just let go and realize the blessings in my life far outweigh the challenges that have beaten me down along the way?

Why?

Because life is complicated. And the human spirit can only take so much before it is weakened to the point of submission.

No Excuses

I make no excuses. My failings are mine and mine alone. And I have by no means given up hope.

But I need to recognize the reality of the situation. No matter what I accomplish, no matter how good things can get, and no matter how much time has passed, there is one thing that still keeps kicking me down every single day of my life. And that is guilt.

Guilt marred my ability to be truly happy in the year before I moved back to Israel. How can I smile knowing full well that my children are an ocean away from me? How can I let myself even have even small moments of joy when I’ve made decisions that continue to cause grief to me and those closest to me?

Guilt Snaps Me Back

I sometimes see folk do a workout at the gym where they tie a resistance band around their waist and anchor it to a pillar or the like. Then they run forward. No matter how hard they push, ultimately the band will snap them back into place.

It looks like a fantastic exercise, but it’s a sad and unfortunate metaphor for the impact I believe guilt has on my life.

There is so much I wish to accomplish. And for certain I am not walking around without which to be proud. However, I don’t think I’ve accomplished a fraction of what I’m capable of. And I believe it’s guilt that’s holding me back.

Do I Deserve It?

Every time I move forward, every time I’m sure I’m going to get to some next stage in life, that exercise band just snaps me back into place. The feeling swarms me again that I’m not supposed to have great things. That somehow or other since people have had rough times because of the decisions I’ve made, there is an inherent limit on how much success and happiness I deserve.

Is any of this true? Is there a basis in reality for anything I’m feeling or experiencing?

Guilt is Poison

You might look at me with pity and tell me thoughts and feelings are silly or baseless. But they’re still there. They’re like a poison that seeps into my blood and crawls throughout my system whenever I feel like progress has been made.

And despite the philosophical knowledge that I can take all my guilt and let it go, when was the last time life were that simple? When was the last time anyone was able to take pervasive emotions and just cast them aside because on paper they don’t make sense.

And the guilt only makes the problems worse. The people who’ve suffered along the way, suffer more because of my guilt.

Fighting the Uphill Battle

I have an uphill battle ahead of me. I have so many years of being pulled in the wrong direction, that moving forward feels simply impossible.

However, the guilt can’t win. It doesn’t deserve to win.

I have all the tools in place to start fighting back. The next step is just to dive in and start learning how to forgive myself.

Today’s the first day of forever. And it’s going to be a good one.

It just has to be.

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Posted by jaffeworld in divorce, judaism, opinion, personal story, 0 comments

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

videos

It’s been one of those decades.

Earlier I wrote about five movies that are a little off-the-beaten-path. Movies that consistently give me pleasure and enjoyment, well past their primes.

But we don’t always have time for movies. And sometimes we just need to get to that point where tears are dripping from our eyes with laughter. Sometimes we just need to shut off all the crud that’s been bothering us about the past ten, twenty, thirty years, and laugh our asses off.

But, of course, we’ve all experienced those moments where nothing is doing the trick. We’re down some awful rabbit hole on YouTube, hoping and praying that something can bring laughter, or even a light smile to our faces.

What we really need, more than anything, is a few go-to videos. Videos that consistently make us cry with the giggles each and every time. So I would like to present five of mine, in no particular order. Here are five videos that have made me crack up more times than I could count.

A brief warning: I don’t like cursing. It’s not my thing. But for humor’s sake… I’m happy to make a few exceptions (for both curses… and perceived curses).

The $*%&*^ Count

Many of you have probably been blessed to see Jimmy Kimmel’s famous bit called This Week in Unnecessary Censorship. For this sketch, brilliant and fantastically patient writers comb the media looking for great places to bleep out words (and sometimes blur images) to create an hilarious effect.

While diving down the rabbit hole of these endless comedy treasure troves, I stumbled upon the following video, and I still cannot watch it without cracking up hysterically.

OK, so my sense of humor might still be trapped in middle school. I get that. Perhaps this enhanced my experience as a middle school teacher

But if you can make it through this video without cracking at least one or two guilty smiles, you may have no sense of humor whatsoever.

Even Stephen Colbert is Laughing

Stephen Colbert is a very funny man. And God knows, I truly miss the Colbert Report, when comedy was original… and not exclusively about Donald Trump.

But the only thing funnier than when Stephen Colbert dazzles us with his whit and composure, is when he can’t hold it together. In extremely rare moments this comedic icon just can’t keep character. And those short instances might just even be better than the show itself.

There are some legends surrounding the reason for Colbert’s reaction, but I don’t know how much of any of it is true. However, I can tell you that I have shed tears watching this clip multiple times. It’s priceless.

By the way, there’s another great example, where Colbert discusses a new beverage called Dewitos, which is a Doritos-flavored Mountain Dew drink. Sadly, I could no longer find the clip on YouTube. But hunt for it! If you find it, you won’t be disappointed.

Louis CK on Divorce

I’ve written once or twice about divorce. It might be a subject I know a little about.

However, whereas I write about divorce extensively, both in this blog and in the form of eBooks, the masterful (albeit controversial) comedian Louis CK has done so much more than I could ever imagine in just a few short minutes.

Now, this clip isn’t just funny to me. During some of my darkest days I would listen to these hysterical words over and over again. There is something so refreshing about taking a painful and damaging subject and injecting such levels of humor into it.

The process of surviving that period was not a simple one for me. But laughter is one of the ways I got through it all. And I am forever grateful for those who have so mastered the art of comedy that they were there for me when I needed them.

But even if you don’t need any pick-me-up in a difficult time in your life, just listen and enjoy. These jokes are golden!

My Favorite Substitute Teacher

OK, I know I am by no means the first to recommend this video. It’s quite the popular.

But I had to include it. It’s extremely funny. Every facial expression from every actor is perfect.

And on top of that, there are so many little bursts of truth embedded in the video. And I couldn’t create a list like this without paying tribute to Key and Peele.

I’m not sure what’s funnier to me: The humor of the video or the fact that I’ve heard real Baltimore inner city stories that are just as bad as what we see here.

Regardless, this video didn’t just make us all laugh. It changed American culture. And has even had an impact on the names people choose for their children. If your name was Jacqueline or Aaron before Key and Peele’s famous Substitute Teacher sketch, it’s guaranteed some things have changed for you since.

Sorry about that. We appreciate that you took one for the team though.

The Only Four Chords You Need

Finally, this is my favorite YouTube video of all time.

I’ve easily listened to it a hundred times.

Now, this video, albeit humorous, is not exactly a laugh-out-loud or an uncontrollable giggling kind of video. It’s a brilliant commentary on the state of music over the past several decades in the most pleasant and exciting way.

These Australian musical comedy geniuses deserve to be listened to by the masses. I just listened to it again. Still entertains me each and every time. If you’ve never seen this video… well, you’re welcome.

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And there you have it. Five fantastic videos that could brighten up just about any day. Thank God for YouTube. And thank God for laughter. Today was tough… and now it’s that much better.

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Do you have any videos that consistently make you cry from laughter year after year?

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Posted by jaffeworld in Entertainment, 0 comments

Three Amazing Eras of UFC

UFC

UFC’s Era of the Dominant Champion

When I began intensely watching the UFC several years ago, I started during what I like to think of as the Era of the Dominant Champion. The sport was loaded with individuals we thought of as borderline invincible. And we tuned in to see if there was anything that could ever stop them.

There were iconic figures like Anderson Silva, who would knockout fighters while toying with them in the ring like they were small children. And George St. Pierre, who many to this day think of as the greatest fighter to ever live.

And of course there was Ronda Rousey, who blasted her way through opponent after opponent in seconds. She was a trailblazer, and I’ll never forget the day her match was bumped up to the main event. I stood in the back of a sports bar and watched her maul some sorry Brazilian chick in 34 seconds. That day changed the face of Mixed Martial Arts and sports in general. People love basketball… but no one seems to care that women play basketball too… However, there was a three-hour wait to get seated at Buffalo Wild Wings that Saturday evening.

Air of Invincibility

There were others who didn’t necessarily deserve their air of invincibility, but it was there nonetheless. Who could forget when Cain Velasquez sent Brock Lesnar spinning out of control to the ground, humiliating that monster of a human being? And how do you not get excited when Mr. Wheaties himself, Anthony Pettis, runs up the side of the cage to deliver the most exciting kick in MMA history?

We tuned in to see these legends win in spectacular form, and we tuned in to see if there was anyone who could lay a finger on them.

UFC’s Trash Talk Era

But all the mighty fell. Some fell hard. Some decided to step away. Others couldn’t keep up with their own lifestyles, and their fall took place outside the ring.

While the unbeatables were getting defeated, other transitions were happening. The UFC was sold for billions of dollars. The way fighters presented themselves was quickly becoming as important as their talent in the ring. And a few key individuals discovered that if they can hop on a microphone and dazzle audiences with their voices, this had the potential of transforming their careers. And just as importantly, this could translate into massive financial gains for the fighters.

And thus the Era of Trash Talk began. Fighters would lay harsh verbal criticisms upon one another, and they’d get everyone’s attention. And we’d watch the fights more intrigued than ever before. It became like one gigantic testosterone-laden soap opera… and we couldn’t look away, not even for a second.

Problems with the Trash Talk Era

Now there were and are a few problems with this new era:

Some fans are purists. They don’t care for the theatrics. We choose to watch real athletes participate in true competition. If we wanted to watch pro-wrestling, then there is certainly plenty of that to watch as well.

Despite that many of us would like to believe otherwise, MMA is still up and coming. It is still worlds away from the popularity of sports like football and baseball. And it is arguably quite imperative that those running the show recognize that whereas all this drama is great for getting attention and quick, enormous paydays, for the long haul this might not be what’s best for the development of the sport.

Antithetical to Martial Arts

Others might inherently dislike the concept of trash talk. They might think it is antithetical to what martial arts is supposed to be. We all have that mental picture embedded in our minds of people bowing respectfully to one another before a match. Thus, watching two grown adults criticize one another on stage could be very uncomfortable for many of us. We thought we left all that garbage behind in high school.

Not to mention the fact that entertaining trash talk is a slippery slope. Before you know it, people are saying hurtful and offensive things absolutely no one wants to hear. It could stay playful and fun for only so long. Eventually the camel’s back will break, and after that, mayhem ensues.

Lousy Trash Talk

Finally, although some fighters truly dazzled audiences with their antics, others made and continue to make us squirm in our chairs. Their words are ridiculous or the fighter looks uncomfortable. Some feel like they’re reading a script or they’re just forcing a persona in order to get more attention and make more money.

And they might get attention. And they might generate ticket sales. But they are doing nothing positive for the image or longevity of the sport. Ultimately, they are just making the whole industry look silly. If you don’t have the microphone skills, don’t bother. Just do what you’re good at, and entertain us with your skills in the ring.

UFC’s Respect Era

A recent fight ushered in the current era: The Respect Era.

But it all happened on the coattails of one of the darkest moments in UFC history. A phenomenal fighter, Khabib Nurmagomedov, defended his title against the most famous and one of the most controversial fighters in the world, Conor McGregor. In the lead up to the fight, McGregor was relentless with his taunting, crossing lines repeatedly as he insulted everything from Khabib’s father to his religion.

And a stoic Khabib just looked on.

Until the dominant fight was over. An infuriated Khabib leaped out of the cage and got into an altercation with one of McGregor’s training partners. Members of Khabib’s team stormed the ring and attacked McGregor, and pandemonium broke loose. There was almost a terrible riot.

And everyone went home with an uneasy feeling in the pit of their stomach.

The Hug that Changed Everything

Fast forward to Khabib’s very next fight. After yet another dominant performance, Khabib once again launched himself into the crowd… and ran over to hug the president of the UFC.

His opponent, Dustin Poirier, is as nice as nice gets. After each of his fights, he sells his fight gear and donates the proceeds to charities. Shortly after the hug that changed everything, Khabib put on Poirier’s t-shirt and dedicated himself to selling the gear. Khabib ended up donating over a hundred thousand dollars to Poirier’s charity. And the UFC president decided to match the donation, as well.

High-Profile Respect

And thus high-profile kindness and respect pushed years of venomous trash talking to the side. We enjoyed the theatrics for a little while. It brought needed attention to the sport. But we’re ready to return to watching athletes doing what they do best.

The Respect Era is when we know that everyone in the ring is just doing their jobs. Those who excessively try to draw attention to themselves are mocked and shunned. And we can’t wait to see how these two incredible performers react after one of their hands are raised. Their characters and well-being are as important to us how much they’ve entertained us that evening.

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Posted by jaffeworld in Entertainment, opinion, 0 comments

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

***

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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.

***

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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.

***

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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.

***

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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?

***

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