Month: October 2018

Should the Ultra-Orthodox (Haredim) Really Serve in the IDF?

Haredim IDF

I went to the Israeli Army when I was in my early 20s, a solid deal older than everyone else in my group. And I quickly learned that I arrived somewhere very unexpected.

I thought I was entering a place filled with excitement and fervor. Dedication and commitment. Pride and a devotion to do anything to serve this great nation.

My disappointment was palpable.

Although my experience has little to do with one of the most heated debates in Israeli society, I think ultimately there is a powerful connection.

Haredim in the IDF

There’s a constant and contentious debate in Israel over whether or not Haredi (ultra-orthodox) Jewish males should be required to serve in the military. To give a drip of background: Every Israeli citizen is required–barring serious medical issues–to serve for three years of military service from age 18. There has been an exemption that applies almost exclusively for these folk since the very beginning. The general idea is that in lieu of their military service, they will be studying Torah all day, every day. In fact, during this period they are prohibited from working. The idea is (very oversimplified) that while the others are defending the nation physically, those who are studying are, in effect, supporting the spiritual backbone of the country. And in that way, they are keeping the country safe. (Again, this is a drastic oversimplification.)

Is it a “good” law?

There’s a lot that could be said about this law. Some might see it as outdated or hokey or even offensive. But one thing cannot be ignored: It is and has been the law for quite some time. There are those who have violated the law in many ways. But those who were actually studying during the period they were required to, were behaving within the law.

But should the law be changed or scrapped?

Let’s take things a step further.

A Unique Nation

I believe Israel is a unique nation. Its citizens share a history and culture. We stand together knowing that we are surrounded daily by existential threats, and we can lose everything we have in the blink of an eye. We might have lots of bickering and contempt, but deep down we are all in this together, and I’d like to believe everyone knows that.

But there are ways to unite a nation. And there are ways to just create greater amounts of animosity and mistrust among groups that already have trouble seeing eye to eye.

My IDF Experience

When I joined the army I was shocked. Here you have a privileged American immigrant, shlepping across the world and joining a foreign military. I didn’t know what I would expect from those around me. Certainly I didn’t expect bowing and a ticker tape parade. But after just a few short moments, I would have settled for a gentle nod of extremely mild appreciation. I certainly did not expect and found it jarring that the most common reaction was shock that I would do something so utterly stupid. The almost-universal sentiment: We have to do this. Why in the world would any sane person choose this?

And I think this relates a lot to the issue of forcing all citizens to serve in the military.

I know why I believe everyone should. And I waited patiently for others to echo my sentiments, and was greatly disappointed by everything I heard.

Why Join the IDF?

Ideally I like to think of Israel as one united family. Everyone working together to contribute to the greater good. When each and every citizen fulfills his mission, when they participate in the process of a building a great nation, the package is complete. Everyone should enthusiastically want to be a part of the magic. Everyone should run to the induction offices to give of their time and become a part of living history. To become a part of the process of keeping our people safe once and for all.

And they should be welcomed with open arms. When someone is not a part of the family, when someone is off to the side and regretfully not experiencing belonging to something so much greater than themselves, we should feel pity for them. We should feel sad that they are not having this incredible experience that all of Israel’s citizens should benefit from.

But…

But I never heard this or anything like this.

Not once.

Not even close.

The Truth

What did I hear?

I’m miserable. Why shouldn’t they be miserable also?

Do you know what kind of an argument this is? It’s a toddler’s argument. It’s the logic of small child. Are we that petty and childish that the only thing motivating our thoughts and our goals is so that others can suffer too? This is like a six-year-old whose Barbie doll gets broken so she runs to her mommy to insist that her sister’s doll gets broken as well.

Is there a requirement in a society for shared misery? Are we so bothered by others feeling some level of happiness and contentment that we are uneasy? I would love to believe that’s not the case. What happened to the IDF of old? What happened to the days when we joined with our heads held high, proud and honored to serve our great nation? And what happened to the times when people would flock from other lands to serve Israel in its greatest times of need or when people would choose to serve extra reserve duty even after they were exempt from service?

The Nation of Old

If we were still that nation, if we were still in awe of what we are and how far we’ve come, we would look at those who don’t serve and feel bad for them. We would pity what they’re missing out on. A proud army does not want the service of wildly unwilling participants.

If our only motivation is shared misery, I suggest we either revamp our military so that people aren’t so unhappy. Or we revamp our attitudes and let others just go on doing their thing. No matter what, I don’t want to be protected by those uninterested in protecting me.

 

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Posted by jaffeworld, 0 comments

The Storm of Engagement

engagement

Engagement is stressful. That’s what everyone says. That’s what I’ve experienced personally.

But why is that? And does it really need to be this way!?

It’s always an odd perspective, doing something a second time. It gives you a lot of interesting ways to look at things, and insights you otherwise might not have.

First, why is it so stressful?

Engagement and a Sole Focus

I think the primary reason engagement is stressful is the nature of taking something so relatively small (a wedding) and making it the primary focus for months. It takes its toll on the system.

What do I mean? A wedding is, of course, a magical moment. It’s fun and beautiful and full of life. However, in all the time leading up to the big day, life doesn’t slow down for you. You just have this other major thing that needs to get done.

And this gigantic event, despite being so wildly significant, is objectively small in comparison to every day that follows. Now it’s time to start a life. Now it’s time to merge lives. And now it’s time to build a family and learn to live together with another whole person.

But shouldn’t something so important as all of this take precedence? Of course it should! But instead of learning how to be a perfect couple, we’re busy getting fitted for dresses and picking out flower arrangements.

And the search for the perfect day, the perfect moment, all while pushing to the side everything in your life that comes before or after that day, is inherently stressful.

The Countdown

Well, the countdown is on. I am engaged. In a matter of months I will look my beautiful bride in the eyes, and we’ll be starting a new and fantastic life together.

I have no doubts that I’m engaged to my soulmate. I have no doubts that dating was an amazing, enjoyable, and life-changing experience. And I have no doubts that we will build a tremendous life together, filled with love and mutual respect.

But can we break through the engagement norm? Can we survive the next however many months without quibbles over guest lists or napkin patterns? Can we focus on the big picture, and remember every single day that our love for each other transcends the actual ceremony?

Reality Check

I  think another element is the shock of the reality. Up to this point the couple has been dating. It’s fun, with light responsibility, and an easy out whenever needed.

And even though there is the ability to back away post-engagement, with each passing day from this point onward, with every element of the wedding getting planned, and more and more people finding out and congratulating you, the weight of the future can become so burdensome as to break the union.

Of course I cannot say for sure that the next chunk of time will be fight free. And it would be very presumptuous to assume I have the tools and perspectives to break down what unfortunately normally happens.

But that’s what I want. That’s what I so desperately want.

And these are the methods I’m hoping to take to get there.

Perspective

It’s always a good idea to remember that a wedding is just a giant, grandiose party. No more, no less. There is something far greater being built here. The couple should still date throughout engagement. There should be dates where wedding preparation is not discussed. Phones put away. And the primary focus should be on simply continuing the beautiful relationship, just like when it was “just” dating.

Good enough

I used to take guitar lessons. Whenever my teacher would tune the guitar, he would use the phrase “Good enough for rock ‘n roll.”

I loved that. I always have. And I’ve adopted it to my life in so many ways. Even to this here blog. I have a system for I how I write each piece, and how I edit and promote them. If I wanted to, I could spend extra hours in every post far beyond what I currently do. The results would be great, and you beautiful readers certainly deserve that. But at some point the bad starts offsetting the good. Maintaining the blog becomes a chore and not a beloved hobby. And it starts to stress me out. And ultimately I would stop.

I believe wedding preparation should be done in the same manner. It shouldn’t take over life. It should be an activity and should be enjoyable. And if it ceases to be enjoyable, it’s time to take a break. Set a timer and say that you’re only doing prep for an hour, and after that it’s dinner and a movie and no more wedding talk. If it interferes with the enjoyment of the life you’re trying to build, it’s likely not worth it.

Learn to say “Good enough for rock ‘n roll”!

Delegate

Many, many people will ask to help. For sure, it’s your own wedding. No matter what. And you have every right to have every detail done the way you choose. However, that does not mean you should do everything yourself.

I know for many of us in this crazy world, we are absolutely certain we could do everything ourselves, or minimally could do things more competently ourselves. But taking upon that responsibility is both daunting and unnecessary. Your friends and family (and probably a few perfect strangers) would love to take some of the burden off of you. Let them. In the end, you’ll be much happier that you did.

Love Conquers All

Maybe it’s a trite and overused phrase. Maybe it’s naive to think it’s really a true concept. Or maybe deep down somewhere in me I’m still a hopeless romantic.

Nevertheless, I think that when two people look at one another and they have some perspective, and they know how much they truly care about each other, they’re able to withstand the storm. They’re able to fight against the forces that are producing undue stress. They’re able to look at each other and say it’s all worth it.

We were meant to be together.

And we will be until the end of time.

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in opinion, 3 comments

To Be a Baal Teshuva Again

baal teshuva

In the Jewish world, I’m what’s called a Baal Teshuva. This literally translates to “Master of Repentance”, and refers to someone who was not brought up in a religious setting, but chose as an adult to take upon himself a religious lifestyle.

Becoming a Baal Teshuva

My process of becoming a Baal Teshuva was long and challenging, filled with ups and downs, and constant philosophical awakenings. And consistent learning and growth.

I remember with such fondness my initial days of learning about Judaism. I was an overjoyed sponge soaking in word after word, experience after experience. It was all new. And it was all fascinating.

I want to tell a story that reflects upon the innocence upon which I went about my search. I became religious along with a group of Jews known as Chabad. More precisely, it was at the home of a wonderful Chabad family in Albany, New York, but the family members were the only Chabad folk there. Everyone else was what’s known as Modern Orthodox.

One thing these two groups had in common was they both disliked some mysterious group called Satmar. The word meant nothing to me. The Modern Orthodox folk apparently disliked Satmar because they were against the State of Israel. Why Chabad didn’t like them seemed less clear to me. It almost sounded like a silly sibling rivalry.

Regardless, I wasn’t brought up to just discount a group of people because someone else said they didn’t like them. And I was determined to see for myself who these people were so I could make my own judgment call.

Finding Satmar

And there I was.

Home for break in New York. Wishing to spend a Shabbat (Sabbath or Shabbos) with Satmar, and not knowing where to begin. I had only two details. Satmar were Chassidic and they were based out of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Unfortunately, the word “Chassidic” meant very little to me at the time, and the only reference point I had was Chabad, who were also Chassidic. And I assumed similarities.

Very, very incorrectly.

Chabad is known for being very open and welcoming. It has centers all over the world, known either as a Chabad House or a Beit Chabad. Chabad members are extremely well known for accepting all comers into their homes.

Satmar, on the other hand, is very insular. Their members keep to themselves and their community.

But I had no idea.

And there I was, in my kitchen, trying to figure out how I can spend a Shabbat with this group so I could make an educated judgment call.

I picked up the phone book (remember those?) and I looked for either “Satmar House” or “Beit Satmar”. Little did I know, those were not things that have or will ever exist.

The closest I could find was “Satmar Meat and Poultry”.

The Call

So… I called. I took a shot in the dark, and hoped for positive results.

Dopey, naive, and adorable me:

“Hi, my name is David Jaffe. I was hoping that you might be able to assist me. I’m looking to have a Shabbat host home experience with a Satmar family in Williamsburg. Do you know who I can contact to set this up?”

Extended pause…

And then there he was. The owner of Satmar Meat and Poultry, talking to a starry-eyed vegetarian in Staten Island, eking out the next few sentences with a strong Yiddish accent, clearly dumbfounded by what was happening:

“Um… uh… we don’t really have such things in Satmar. Uh… I don’t live in Williamsburg, I live in Boro Park… ehhh…

But if you’d like… you could come to me for Shabbos.”

And that’s how I ended up spending one of the most amazing Shabbats ever with a beautiful Satmar family in Boro Park, Brooklyn.

The Satmar Experience

And what an experience it was!

It felt like they had done this a thousand times before, when in reality it was probably their first and last time. Being kind and welcoming to this odd guest in their home was so very natural, even to the young children who kept offering me food and beverages.

I saw from inside an extremely special community. The prayer services were intense and inspiring. Everyone who noticed a new face came to introduce themselves and welcome me to their synagogue. The family even insisted I stay for an extra night to not risk a late night trip to Staten Island.

 

A Special Time in my Life

This was a very special time in my life. I was a Baal Teshuva, in the throes of discovery. Each day brought new and exciting adventures. And my mind was free to bask in awe at everything I was learning and taking in.

I was the proverbial kid in a candy store. But even better! It was like it was the first candy store I’d ever seen, and everyone kept pointing out the amazing things I was allowed to eat.

And with starry, innocent eyes I kept soaking in the magic, and learning anything anyone was willing to teach me.

 

Yearn to Return

Fast forward two decades, and I’m going through the motions. The times when I learn or experience something shockingly new and amazing are few and far between.

And I miss them. Oh boy, do I miss them.

I miss loving what I see and trying to appreciate everything. I miss trying new experiences with an open, ignorant mind. And I miss the longing for the next new adventure.

Now I just assume they won’t happen anymore.

You only get to be a Baal Teshuva once. But God knows I’d love to do the whole thing over again.

 

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

Devorah, and a Life of Never-Ending Joy and Fulfillment

Devorah

Something happened.

Something’s different now.

Just a matter of months ago, I was happy. Or at least content. Or perhaps I just wasn’t sure what happiness looked like, since it’s very possible I’d never experienced it before.

The Change

I hadn’t dated in over a year. By choice. My head wasn’t in it. I didn’t enjoy myself. And here I was, sitting with girls who were very serious. They were interested in moving along with their lives, and I was just busy working, parenting, and growing.

A relationship simply didn’t fit anywhere in the mix.

Until  it did.

Devorah Levine walked into my life and everything was and will always be different.

A full year of hardening my heart, and instantly (sort of) it just melted to the floor with ease.

If I may, I’d like to share some things I’ve learned over these last several months:

Only in Darkness Can You See the Stars

I host meals for a program called Shabbat of a Lifetime. Unfortunately, because of the dynamics of tourism, last-minute cancellations sometimes happen. I was contacted and told my group was no longer coming and thus my plans got turned upside down. And I was quite upset about it. I had turned down multiple invitations, and now I was sitting there, not knowing what I was going to do with myself.

I quickly dusted myself off, called a friend, and put new plans together.

*And it was at that new meal that I met Devorah.*

How often in life do we punch a wall in the face of minor disturbances, only to look back and wonder how immeasurably different things would be if it weren’t for the “inconveniences” that crept their ways into our lives?

Life is like a series of mishaps leading to a buried treasure.

Thank God, I found mine. (Well… if I’m going to be honest, she found me.)

And everything’s different now.

Everything’s better now.

Would we ever become agitated if we knew what the future had in store for us? Would we ever fret knowing that perhaps our bumps and bruises were just necessary hiccups on a path to something unimaginably wonderful?

We would walk through life smiling, knowing blessings can be hiding around every corner.

We All Need to be Healed, and the Time is Now

There are levels to being “fixed”.

No one sets out to get divorced. No one hopes they find themselves in situations like mine, broke, broken, with their kids an ocean away.

But it happened. And my choices were to either fall to pieces and crumble under all the pain. Or I could get myself back up, push my shoulders back, and fight to put myself back together again.

And that’s what I did.

And I thought it was working. Only to realize that the pain in my heart was still real and very present.

I thought I was OK, and that I had patched myself up. Finding love brought back to my heart an abundance of pain, and made me recognize that all those who’d been pushing me to get help were right all along.

It’s not easy to look that deeply into oneself. But the stakes are too high not to. We all need a whole lot of healing, and we owe it to ourselves and those we care about the most to do what needs to be done. And without hesitation.

How Well Do I Really Know Myself?

My life resume is jam-packed. I have two degrees, and certifications ranging from personal training to bartending. I have had a ton of different jobs, been married, have four beautiful children, hosted over 130 couch surfers, lived in two countries, served in the IDF, and I’ve had a million experiences and met a million fascinating people.

My life has been active and fulfilling… but sometimes it takes something to shake your life up just enough to realize it’s not nearly as fulfilling as you think it is.

It occurred to me at one point that among many of the reasons I enjoy hosting couch surfers so much is because of the overwhelming amount of love in my heart I have to give.

In my mind, the many people who passed through my home were like perfect mini marriages. I got to be there for them, help them out and make them feel warm, comfortable, and safe.

But then they’d go. We would part with big smiles, so happy for the time we had together. All would end before there was a chance for things to go sour. And thus I was inherently saved from what I considered to be inevitable hardship.

Temporary Love

But I wasn’t built for temporary love.

I wasn’t born to give to someone for a moment, and then walk away forever.

Just a matter of months ago I saw the pleasure of putting a smile (and what a smile it is!) on Devorah’s face, and now making her smile is my single favorite thing to do.

I feel honored and privileged that I found someone so perfect, so special, someone for whom I have no doubt that I can give my whole heart to day in and day out for the rest of my life. And when all the smoke clears and it feels like I have nothing left to give, I will dig in deeper to find a way to give more. Because there’s nothing I want to do more.

What is Love?

Finally, I’ve been thinking so much about the concept of love. Why do I love Devorah? How do I know I do? Is it something about her?

And the answers are so complicated and so simple at the same time.

If I wanted to list things I love about Devorah, I could go on endlessly. With ease. And I find new dimensions all the time.

However, that’s not what’s happening here. I didn’t fall for character traits. I fell for a whole person. Someone unique and special and unbelievably remarkable. Remove anything from the theoretical list, and you still have that person left behind. And I’m beyond in love with her.

I am so overwhelmingly blessed to have Devorah Levine in my life.

It should be a life of never-ending joy and fulfillment for us both!

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in opinion, personal story, 4 comments