Month: December 2017

The Secret to Unity: Sweat

unity

The Secret to Unity: Sweat

Anyone who knows me even a little knows I’m a tad obsessed with Mixed Martial Arts. There are so many aspects to this incredible sport that I love, one of which is how level the playing field is.

People compete from all over the world, black and white people hold titles, men and women compete on the same cards. We’re repeatedly seeing times when women’s matches are the main event for high profile Pay-Per-View events and some of the most famous and highest paid athletes in the sport are women, something unprecedented in pretty much any athletic competition.

Amanda Nunes

And I’ll always fondly remember when Amanda Nunes became the bantamweight champion. The media tried to make a big deal about the fact that she was the first openly gay champion in the UFC, and you could tell from everyone sitting alongside Amanda that to them this wasn’t a news story at all. It was normal. It was irrelevant. Amanda Nunes was gay before she won the championship, and nothing had changed now. Respect was there beforehand, and wasn’t going anywhere.

The next level in the cessation of the world’s biases is not success, but indifference.

Let me explain.

The Second Black President

I believe that having the second black president is far more important than having the first. The first is a big deal. The second means it has become normal. I don’t want parades and excitement about the miraculous change in American society. I want a shrug of the shoulders from everyone because something obvious occurred. We shouldn’t jump in the air with excitement because a person of color made it into office. We need get to the point where we can ignore externals and focus on character traits and policies, able to look past any other details, because they are wholly irrelevant.

And I believe that in Mixed Martial Arts we’ve received a taste of this new world. Religion, politics, gender, and race, they do not matter. Talent is the biggest factor in someone rising to fame and success. The media might not yet understand this, but everyone in the cage putting their health and well-being on the line for our entertainment has reached this next level. They’re not hugging someone different from themselves at the end of a fight, reluctantly or to make a statement. They’re doing so because they had a shared experience through which they are united, and those other details entirely do not matter.

Defining Experiences

When I was younger I had a couple of defining experiences that have since shaped my view of the world, a view which I consider to be evolving daily.

I arrived in Israel when I was twenty. I was hot-headed and reactionary, and after a violent and awful Intifada impacted my life all too personally, I became hardened in my perspective.

One day I was walking with a friend. He was a Palestinian who had converted to Judaism. I noticed some Arabic graffiti on the walls of the Old City. Convinced that all Arabic writing must be anti-Semitic propaganda, I asked what was written. It was a silly teenage love note! Such-and-such loves such-and-such. No more, no less.

Another time I was in the Israeli Consulate in East Jerusalem, with my ex-wife and our baby. The whole time we were there an Arab woman kept on looking over at us. We felt her penetrating gaze, as she judged us with seething hatred… until she gently apologized to us for staring. She had a child at home the same age, and she missed him terribly. It was warming her heart to look at our baby!

Please don’t misunderstand me. There are real problems in Israel. The conflict here is pure insanity, and looks as if there is no end in sight, or at least not in the foreseeable future.

But it really doesn’t have to be this way.

Waking Up

These moments woke me up to the idea that not every Arab walking around Israel wants to cause me harm. No, they want to work, sleep, eat, and spend time with their families, just like I do. Circumstances have led to a violent confrontation between our peoples, but most of us stand on our respective sides of the fence longing for a better day. Most of us are ready to move forward and start the process of living side-by-side, moving closer to the day where the unity is no longer a hot topic… but irrelevant!

But how? Where can we put all of our differences behind us? Where can we let go of a complicated and hostile history?

I feel fortunate that I see the answer to this question every day: At the gym.
I’ve belonged to two gyms here in Jerusalem (enthusiastic shoutouts to City Gym and Pro Fit), and despite the gyms having a solid representation from all walks of life in Jerusalem, everyone’s always getting along. There’s no conflict, no tension. We’re side-by-side, all happy that we’ve made it to the gym that day.

Maybe we’re all united in being the few people in the world who give a damn about their health. Maybe we’re all just happier than average, enjoying the endorphins rushing through our bloodstreams. Perhaps we are joined together in different common enemies. Enemies such as the guy who’s grunting ever too loudly as he does his curls. Or the dude occupying a bench in order to send text messages.

A Brief Break

Whatever it is, I feel that every day of my life I get a brief break from those elements that cause us to walk around annoyed and aggressive. The politics, the animosity, the bad blood, we leave it all at the door and we sweat our way to a better life.

Perhaps it’s all connected. Maybe the secret to people getting along is shared physical experiences (or maybe any shared experiences), and ceasing to focus on the external factors that bind us, but rather on common interests or pleasures.

The media loves to draw our attention to the examples in sports of where people are not seeing eye to eye. The ignored handshake or the taken knee. Meanwhile they’re pulling our attention away from the fact that nothing in this world brings people closer together than sports. Maybe the secret to a united world has been staring us in the face all along.

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in Fitness, Health, Israel, opinion, 0 comments

Is College Useful Anymore?

college

Is College Useful Anymore?

Really off the beaten path with my posts, but this is just a topic I’ve been thinking about a ton lately. How can I not? I’ve got two degrees, a job that has nothing to do with either of them, and four kids who will one day enter the work force.

I’d be crazy NOT to be thinking about this every minute.

Previous Generations

Several months ago I had a bit of an argument with my father. I told him it wouldn’t bother me if my children didn’t go to college. My father is an extremely even-tempered person… but he was quite the displeased with my statement.

And why shouldn’t he be? My father comes from a generation in which the elite went to university. End of story. You were an outcast in better circles if you didn’t. There was never a question in my youth about whether or not I’d attend college. The only question was which one.

In addition, in previous generations a college degree basically guaranteed you employment.

But we’re living in a very different world now. We’re certainly exposed all the time to wildly successful people without college degrees, like these low class slackers. Universities are getting more and more expensive (understatement), and degrees have become commonplace and by no means even come close to guaranteeing employment. So what do many do? Graduate degrees! More time outside the workforce, more debts, and still no guarantee of employment. That’s no guarantee for any employment, let alone quality employment.

The Analogy

This is the analogy I make when speaking with my son.

Imagine two kids in high school in America (we’ll call them Will and Bill). Will decides to take the traditional route. He studies hard, does well on all of his tests, all with the aim of getting into a fantastic college, with hopes and dreams of using his degree to launch a remarkable career.

Bill really doesn’t care about academics or college, but loves to learn and explore. When he was fourteen he found some free online program to learn a computer programming language. He kept up the studies, and by age sixteen he was extremely proficient and had already written his first program.

Will succeeded. He found his way into a top notch private university, and even though it was well beyond his means, a small scholarship and some hefty student loans made everything possible.

Bill decided he wanted some time off before college. Instead he found a lowly job using his computer skills. The job did not pay well, since they were reluctant to hire someone so young and without a degree. But they decided to take a chance, since he really knew his stuff.

Will in College

By age 20, Will was well along the way to completing his degree. He even decided on a major! True, he still lacked real world skills and was tens of thousands of dollars in debt. But he could almost taste his precious degree. Bill, on the other hand, truly proved himself at his workplace, and had since switched companies. He’s now making double his original salary. He’s still living at home, so his bank account is overflowing. (And he forgot to go to college!)

By age 23, Will is still proud of his degree, but has had lots of trouble finding employment. Everywhere he looks he’s passed over for people with experience, which he is sorely lacking. Furthermore, his debts are suffocating him. He just doesn’t know how to get himself out from under all of them.

And Bill keeps trucking on.

By age 25, Will is part of the way through his graduate degree, has more debts than you could imagine, still has no quality professional experience, but he remains hopeful. For sure having TWO pieces of paper will propel him toward a utopian future!

And Bill just paid off his first house.

But Bill’s a Failure!

Sadly, Bill flunked calculus in high school, has zero debt to brag about, and painfully lacks in pieces of paper to cover the walls of his beautiful new home. He’ll just have to make due with professional and financial well-being.

Are either of these scenarios far-fetched? I really don’t think so. If anything, I think I’m underselling my point. Bill, with the right motivation and luck could develop a unique program and after just a few years sell it to major corporation for millions of dollars. Will could find himself trapped in a black hole of student debt that he might never be able to climb out of. (See here if you’re unsure about how horrendous student debt really can be… and you want a few good laughs too.)

My Generation

I’m in a unique generation, born after the most important time in history to get a college degree, with children born into the least important time in history to bother with one. I grew up thinking college was everything, and developed into an adult who thinks college is wasted time and money for most people.

And it’s not just about careers. It’s about knowledge. I grew up thinking–probably accurately–that all wisdom lay in the minds of the great university professors. I also grew up before Google took over the universe. We no longer need to seek scholars to become knowledgeable, nor do we need to pay gargantuan fees or traverse dusty libraries in search of wisdom. It’s right at our fingertips. And those who wish to learn are just inches away from easily filling their minds with a greater variety of information than has ever been available.

Obviously there are still some careers that require a degree or professions where specific degrees serve as prerequisites. Perhaps even there the system could use some revamping, but until that happens, people need to do what they need to do. But what about the other 90%? Is college anywhere near as important as it used to be? Is there any benefit to incurring endless debts in order to become a college graduate? And why would someone in this generation shell out their financial well-being for an education they can get for $1.50 in late fees from the public library?

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in career, education, opinion, 0 comments

Jerusalem, What’s Different?

Jerusalem

Jerusalem, What’s Different?

It’s a unique perspective to live in a city, then leave for eleven years and come back to see what’s different. Many watched changes evolve slowly, to the point where they may not even feel that something’s changed. Whereas others came long after I left and never saw it any other way. It’s a profound perspective to be able to contrast Jerusalem from two completely different angles.

For the most part, the city itself feels exactly as it was (with the goods, the bads, and the uglies), with five key changes. Four of them are quite positive. One… not so much. I’m going to explore each of these changes with a bit of a plea to go back in time on that last one, or at least call for some improvement.

1) Oh My Goodness, There’s A Train

I’m still in awe every time I see this beautiful, little light rail running up and down Jaffa Street. Recalling Jaffa Street filled with cars and buses, busy and dirty and uninteresting, is amazing when you think about what it looks like now. No cars are muddling up what’s undeniably the most important street in all of Jerusalem, and there’s a quaint quasi-European feel as you walk through cafes and past bicycles, pedestrians, and dogs, occasionally interrupted by an unassuming train gently zipping by.

This one simple addition has changed the entire feel of the city, and it’s a profound improvement. I know there’s controversy over expanding to have other light rail projects throughout the city. Some concerns are somewhat warranted, but ultimately very short sighted. Perhaps even selfish. The train has improved transportation in a mega-crowded city with way too many cars, and has brought an intense vitality to an area that has lacked any level of intrigue or excitement for far too long.

2) That’s Not The Shuk

Not only did I spend a lot of time in the Mahane Yehuda market (the Shuk) once upon a time, I used to live in an apartment right above it (unquestionably the most horrific apartment I have ever lived in).

The Shuk has always been interesting and exciting. That is, until nighttime. All of the stores closed and there was absolutely nothing to say about it. It was just dark, filthy alleys with nothing happening.

What do I return to find? The whole area has been covered with amazing street art, and a magical changeover happens every night as this confined space becomes a strip of bars and restaurants, and the single best nightlife spot in all of Jerusalem.

It’s an incredible and very welcome change to the city.

3) People Have Chilled Out… A Bit

This one’s up for some debate, but even though the city is certainly filled with tension, and it’s most definitely the center of more religious conflict than other places in Israel, it still feels to me like a lot has dissipated.

When I walk through the aforementioned Shuk nightlife, I see such a variety of people. Jews and non-Jews, and every level of Jewish religiosity, all sitting in close proximity, enjoying craft beers and scwharma, without the feelings of animosity I grew accustomed  to the first time I lived here.

It always used to feel like the elephant in the room in Jerusalem was that different types of people did not intermingle and that the more conservative among the city kept to themselves and were outcasts if they ventured into the “other” parts of the city.

Now it feels like everyone’s everywhere, people aren’t engaged in endless bickering over their differences (implicit or explicit), and it’s a much better city for it.

4) It Is Much Calmer

Perhaps this feeling stems from the times. The majority of the time I was living in or near Jerusalem was during the Second Intifada. Tension was off the charts. It was a rough time in the life of anyone living here. Just about everyone was directly impacted by some form of terrorism, and the feelings of anger and fear that builds up in each individual have a detrimental effect on the society as a whole.

Is Jerusalem completely safe in 2017? It would be foolish to think Jerusalem will ever be 100% safe. Hell, I moved to peaceful ole Kansas just a few years ago and within a matter of months there was a deadly terrorist attack against two Jewish establishments. Nowhere is every completely safe. However, the feel of walking through the streets of Jerusalem is relatively serene.

Jerusalem should always feel this way!

5) Where Have All The Hosts Gone

I must say that there is only one aspect of life in Jerusalem that I think has taken a drastic downturn. A huge percentage of this city either observes Shabbat (the Sabbath) or at least enjoys attending Shabbat meals.

When I used to live in Jerusalem, I found getting invited to meals as easy as breathing. I had more invitations than I knew what to do with, and I knew places I could go where an invitation was inevitable. And this was before everyone had internet on their phones and social media had taken over all of our communications.

I’m not so sure what has happened. Facebook groups and special online programs seem to have taken control of the hosting industry. And despite their noble and spirited efforts, they’re just not succeeding the way the brick and mortar ways of the past did.

Since returning, I have had many Shabbats where despite great efforts, I was unable to make plans. And I have watched as multiple people have desperately posted online at the last minute that they are looking for a host, with little or no comments.

I have no doubt that the kindness of the city has not decreased in the slightest. And I truly believe that everyone looking for a host could and should easily find one. But there’s some kind of disconnect, and I believe it’s an offshoot of the times. Everyone’s communicating so much, yet the level and quality of the communication has taken a turn for the worse.

But that’s neither here nor there.

No one in Jerusalem should enter their Shabbat nervous. Nor should  they find themselves sitting lonely in a dark apartment eating crackers for any of their Shabbat meals.

What could be done?

Many synagogues across the world have two practices I love, both of which I think need to be incorporated into every place of worship here:

a. Kindhearted people who are always willing to take last minute guests, who wander around and ask people if they’re all set.

b. A central person who knows the people who like to host, and makes an announcement that anyone who would like a place to eat should see them at the end of services.

Jerusalem has certainly come a long way. There’s room for improvement; but there’s definitely no room for decline. We could do better, and with a little concentrated thought and effort, our beautiful city can improve each and every day.

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in Israel, 0 comments

Israel: What I’ve Learned So Far

Israel

Israel: What I’ve Learned So Far

So I’ve been here for a year now. It’s been crazy. Lots of ups, lots of downs. I can say for certain I have way more to learn, but I can also say I’ve figured out a few things along the way. I’ve now lived in Israel for a total of nine years, and these are five things I’ve learned about how to succeed here:

1) Set Low Expectations

Israel is a very imperfect, challenging, and inconsistent place. Therefore, it’s imperative that a newcomer adjust expectations accordingly, or he will inevitably be miserable here.

When I moved back to Israel, one of the first things I was required to do was visit Bituach Leumi (the National Insurance office). My experiences in government offices in Israel have always left a lot to be desired, and I had heard from multiple sources that not only was this the single worst office in all of Jerusalem, but that I was very likely to be slapped with an enormous financial penalty for not paying my insurance fees during the eleven years I was out of the country.

I went in with the expectation of being there for three hours, getting chewed out and harassed by an obnoxious, unsympathetic government employee, and having my bank account depleted by an enormous, unreasonable fine.

The wait was annoying and it would be a complete lie to say the person I dealt with was pleasant, clear, or helpful; however, I was only there for a half hour and I walked away with no fine whatsoever.

And I was dancing through the streets of Jerusalem, so pleased with my amazing experience at Bituach Leumi.

Recently I was giddy because my landlord fixed the drip in my bathroom ceiling right after I told him about it. I was even afraid to tell him! Why? Years of landlords who ignored my every request. My low expectations made non-exceptional behavior appear phenomenal.

Do this at your every turn in the Holy Land, and you’re bound to love the experience!

2) Buy Expensive Stuff

I very much mastered bargain hunting in the States before I left. Amazon was my best friend. I could find almost anything for ridiculously amazing prices, and the quality was top notch. And everything came quickly and in perfect condition.

But that was the past, and I live in a new reality now.

The age old maxim “You get what you pay for” truly applies in Israel. And the process of trying to save a buck can get very, very expensive.

I’ve now had the same experience over and over again. I find an inexpensive item in the store, it breaks rather quickly, cruddy return policies force me to eat the loss, and in the end I have to buy the more expensive version anyway. There’s a difference between bargains and inexpensive items. Bargains include quality with the great price tag. And so far I have found no evidence that they exist here.

If you don’t buy the expensive item right away, ultimately you’ll need to buy it after already buying the other one… so it’s even more expensive now. Better off just skipping the middle man.

3) What If

Don’t try and over-schedule in Israel. It’s a recipe for profound disappointment. I find that every day needs to have a minimum of two hours completely void of scheduling, in what I like to call Israel’s “What If” Factor.

If you have every minute of your day planned out from when you wake until you lie down to sleep, something will come up and ruin your plans. Your internet will suddenly stop working and you’ll spend the next two hours on the phone with Bezeq trying to figure out why. You’ll get contacted by a government office that will tell you that you owe money from 12 years ago and when you try and contact them you will navigate a labyrinth of automated messages for two hours. You’ll take a bus somewhere and traffic will be off the charts due to some inane protest. Something will happen! (For the record, all of those examples have happened to me.)

If you save two hours every single day for incidentals, either you will remove the stress of watching your neatly planned life fall to pieces, or you will feel the bliss and harmony that accompanies realizing you have extra time in your day. You can’t lose. Do it, and you’ll be an inherently happier person.

4) The Interrelated Good With The Bad

Everyone in Israel has had experiences with the clerk who just let them go even though they were underpaying. Why were they underpaying? Usually because the store didn’t have enough change or the clerk just didn’t want to be bothered to search for it. It’s a different way of looking at the world.

I was in Chicago a couple of years ago, and needed tires replaced. When I went to pay, their machine wasn’t working. I was in a very serious rush, but they were unwilling to accommodate any of my suggestions, despite the fact that it was their machine causing the problems. I offered a check. Nope. I offered to leave contact information and copies of identifying material, so they could contact me to pay later. They wouldn’t hear of it. Their policy was their policy. And an incredible amount of time was wasted so I could get to an ATM and pay in cash.

But in Israel, in one year of living here I think I’ve gone on the bus maybe fifteen times when their card reader didn’t work. In every instance, they just told me to go on. Their machine didn’t work; I got a free bus ride.

Good?

Is this a good quality? You tell me. On one hand, their system caused the error, and they in no way inconvenienced me because of it. On the other hand, why in the world do their card readers never work!?

I think it’s all interrelated. People have come to realize that the systems are flawed, so they’ve learned to adapt to those flaws. The guy in Chicago might have not made my morning hell if this were a daily occurrence. He’d have no customers.

Maybe the members of this wacky nation have become accustomed to things not working, but they’ve learned to deal with it in the best way possible, due to their uncanny ability to just let things go.

5) Let It Go

Every society has qualities they excel in and qualities they’re not all that great at. Israelis are pushy and loud, and the customer service is atrocious. However, they have one quality I’ve consistently witnessed that I think is essential for enjoying the Israel experience, and honestly is worthwhile for everyone to become good at.

Israelis are exceptional at letting go.

The typical mental picture is two people on a bus screaming their heads off at each other. To an unsuspecting American onlooker, they are fighting and there is animosity. But: When the bus stops, they smile at each other, say goodbye, wave, and move on. They were never actually fighting. They were just talking.

And this is really a small piece of the greatness of the true Israeli spirit. Israelis take everything in stride, they are extraordinarily forgiving, and they don’t hold grudges.

I was first awoken to this reality when I was in the army. I loathe cigarettes, and everyone on my base was all too familiar with how much I hated them. One very stressful day, a comrade lit up his cigarette right in front of my face. Without thought, and in a moment of anger, I smacked him across the face with a rolled up magazine I had in my hand.

I felt terrible. I later found him to apologize and I was amazed by his response. He looked at me confused and nonchalantly said, “For what?”

Israelis are gifted at moving on and not taking things to heart. Learn how to do that, and you can handle whatever craziness Israel throws your way.

So what have you learned so far about how to make things work in Israel?

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in Israel, 0 comments