Month: December 2018

Back in the States, Part 2

the states

The big trip to the States is rounding the corner and coming up on its end.

The excitement of ubiquitous Christmas lights and shopping craziness will soon be behind me until the next time. The second leg of my trip was colored by a handful of interesting experiences.

The Street

The most noteworthy part of the whole adventure was my walk up a street that will forever remain in infamy to me. Some loyal readers may remember that a while ago I talked about an intense moment in my life where I was walking up a street to avoid a fight.

While on the street I was beaten to a pulp, and left with a couple of physical scars and who knows how many emotional scars.

Not too long ago I had mentioned to my fantastic bride-to-be that I had a quasi-bucket list item of one day walking up that street once again. In my heart, I knew I had to do so fearlessly with my head way up high. Devorah contemplated for a moment, and then said she wanted me to go there on this trip and she wanted to do it with me.

And so I returned to the scene of the crime, a mere 26 years later. With zero recollection of the details of the incident, and not a clue how I might react to seeing the spot where such a tragedy had occurred, we took a late night drive to the middle of nowhere.

And I did it.

What Does It Mean?

How do you feel, walking in a place knowing in heart that the last time you were there you were physically assaulted? Knowing that your only connection to the spot where you stand is that one intense moment there cataclysmically and permanently changed the entire trajectory of your life?

I’m still collecting my thoughts and feelings. Considering it took me five years to realize the significance of the original event and 26 years to revisit the place, I can only imagine how long it will take me to fully grasp what this moment will mean to me.

Escape Room

We had our second proper date night of the big vacation. This time we checked out an escape room in good ole Staten Island (check out the picture) and we had quite the good time.

Not to brag or anything, but first of all, the room could accommodate up to 11 people, and Devorah and I did it by ourselves. According to the man in charge, we should not have been able to finish it in time with only two people.

But apparently, we’re one super-smart couple. And we came and conquered that room like the champs we truly are.

Saving The States

And while I’m not bragging… please note that the game was a World War III simulation in which the two of us were single-handedly responsible for saving the entire United States of America. So, we didn’t just kick butt in the escape room; we saved the entire country from inevitable violent and grotesque deaths.

You’re welcome.

Seriously, if you find yourself bored in Staten Island (not an unlikely scenario), check out Unreal Escapes. It was quite the fun evening, very reasonably priced, and, of course, who wouldn’t want to get fun pictures of themselves in silly sailor hats?

Christmas in Staten Island

I know I mentioned Christmas lights in my previous post, but I got to see everything at a whole new level that’s worth mentioning.

I’ve often said that Staten Island really only has one thing going for it: Pizza. Sadly the only bad pizza on the Island is the kosher one… so basically I can no longer even benefit from the thing that makes the place great.

But I had forgotten about the magic of overzealous destroyers of everything electric! This area is covered in brightly lit magic. And one house I went to was so over the top, it was truly unforgettable. The house was covered from top to bottom with moving figurines and gorgeous lights. And there was music playing and a snow machine. People were lined up down the street to see every part of the house.

I was feeling the Christmas spirit!

Odds and Ends

Speaking of which, I can’t get these songs out of my head. These ubiquitous catchy melodies are flooding the country right now! I swear I’ll be singing Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer in my sleep tonight.

So, here we are. The trip is coming to a close. I’m about to swing past Belgium for a brief moment, and soon I’ll be back in my good ole routine.

Israel might drive me insane sometimes (all the time), but one thing is abundantly clear to me. I like routine. In fact, I thrive on it. This trip has been hellish on my body. I still loathe just about everything involved in the travel process. I miss my kids a whole lot. And I definitely need to get myself back into my normal, everyday crazy.

More Stories

But I’ve got a few more experiences under my belt. I was blessed to meet a whole bunch more of Devorah’s friends and family. Shabbats in Washington Heights and Cambridge, Massachusetts, were lovely. My parents met my future wife and fell in love with her. And they were angels throughout the vacation.

Some wedding clothes were purchased. I’ve got more stories to tell. I’ve been more places and seen more sights. I actually felt what a night shift feels like that’s done at nighttime (good job wonderful co-workers… I do not envy what you do all the time).

Now I’m ready to get back to relative normality. I’m ready to hug my son and let my dog jump all over me and excitedly lick my face.

I’m looking forward to getting back to wedding preparation. And seeing how my whole life unfolds.

A bright and happy future awaits!

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Posted by jaffeworld in opinion, personal story, travel, 0 comments

Back in the States, Part 1

The States

I’ve been in the States for a few days now, my first time out of Israel in over two years.

I just wanted to share some observations, if I may, through the eyes of the (often unnecessarily) overly observant.

Israel vs The States: Simple Differences

First of all, here are a handful of small differences between Israel and the States, things that I can’t help but notice each time I come back:

  1. There’s a real lot of water in the toilets in the States. It certainly has it’s advantages. However, it does play tricks on the mind though. The toilets in the US always look like an Israeli toilet when it overflows. It can be a little jarring sometimes.
  2. And while we’re in the bathroom… something that’ll never make sense to me about Israel is why bathroom light switches are on the outside of the room. And despite the senselessness, you still can get used to just about anything. And boy is it odd how many times I’ll walk into a bathroom here… and turn on the hallway light while feeling confused as I walk into a pitch black bathroom.
  3. Maybe it’s overstated at this point, but the shopping experience in the two countries couldn’t be more different. Everyone in the States is oozing an artificial politeness; whereas in Israel you’re still lucky if you can even get a clerk’s attention.* The variety of choices is beyond overwhelming here. And, boy oh boy, I can’t tell you how excited I was at having the option to put that amazing little plastic divider thing in between customers’ groceries. It was a small slice of heaven. Oh Israel, please figure that one out soon!

Business Class

I was beyond ecstatic to cross a major item off my bucket list right away on the trip. I got the unbelievable experience of flying Business Class for the first time in my life. And man oh man, the differences couldn’t be more pronounced.

Several times throughout the flight I had to walk around and take a peak into coach just to remind myself how much of an upgrade this really was. It was like driving my Mercedes out from the mansion in order to come and peak at those on skid row, who were eating dirt off the floor and wallowing in their own filth.

I almost feel guilty for how much I enjoyed it!

Well, almost…

Back in coach, you’re cramped into a wobbly little box, eating off of paper and plastic, while those of us enjoying the pleasantries of fame and fortune are lounging with couch-like comfort, and getting champagne from flight attendants who are actually acting as if they want us there.

Weddings: Israel vs. The States

While here in the States I attended a wedding. The wedding was lovely with tons of delicious food. However, if there’s ever been something that I love more about Israel than America, it’s the weddings. True, it’s very possible that at an Israeli wedding (or even a funeral) someone might answer their cellphone. And there might be an unfortunate cloud of cigarette smoke that wafts over the ceremony.

However, the same ultra-laid back environment that creates these unfortunate realities, also creates weddings that are objectively more fun and entertaining. You’re inherently more at ease due to the extremely lax dress code. There’s nothing more refreshing than wearing an untucked white shirt and sandals at a wedding! And who doesn’t love just piling around the ceremony? No seats, no patterns, few expectations. You just come, stand, and enjoy. 

All of this combines together with a society that simply adores weddings, and you have a beautiful recipe for an event that is fun and non-stop excitement. 

Date Night: Part 1

Last night was date night, a rare combination of shopping in excess and the mass excitement and stimulation of Dave and Buster’s. I didn’t have a lot of goals for this trip, but one was to introduce my beautiful bride to the entertaining wonder that is Dance Dance Revolution (the greatest arcade game in the world).

Sadly, they didn’t have the original. They had the far inferior (and much weirder) Japanese version. I’m not going to lie. It was super fun and I did get a bit sweaty along the way. But it still doesn’t hold a candle to the original.

The world is a crazy place, where you can have what feels like a giant amusement park smack in the middle of a food court of a local mall. I don’t see such things coming to Jerusalem anytime soon, but that would certainly add a bit of fun and color to a relatively colorless city.

Odds and Ends

Today my beautiful fiancé and I went hat shopping (check out the post’s picture), saw the absolute best view of the New York City skyline from the Staten Island Ferry, and were mesmerized by all the Christmas lights covering Staten Island homes. I am not even close to a fan of my hometown, but to date, one of the best things about this ridiculous borough is the over-the-top decoration insanity that dominates the month of December.

So, my initial thoughts of my big return to the States: The land of plenty is still the overly simplistic mecca of stores on top of stores. It’s still quite frustrating how required a vehicle is to live comfortably in most places. And in a short period of time, I seem to have consumed enough sodium to kill a small rhino.

But honestly, I miss it. I miss the ease of the States. I miss the variety. And the ability to hunt for bargains. I miss customer service. And I miss English. I miss endless fun activities. And I missed my parents so damn much.

And let’s not forget those lovely dividers in the supermarket. God, do I miss those! (Part 2)

*For the record, one store clerk (of unknown gender) was completely obnoxious to me… leading me to feel a bit homesick. I called it “Israeli-style customer service”.

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Posted by jaffeworld in opinion, personal story, travel, 4 comments

But I’m Blessed…

Blessed

I’m a cynic. A natural born cynic.

And frankly, I have more than a few things to be concerned about in this world. I’m watching pieces of my youth disappear. I’m feeling the sting of health complications. I’ve watched pieces of my life fall apart and I’ve felt pain in my heart I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. 

And everything just seems to be so exacerbated right now. Today I felt something I haven’t felt in quite some time. I felt my system shut down from stress. I was nauseous and fatigued and unproductive, and I couldn’t get myself out of bed to do anything with my day.

When the dust settled and I had wasted enough time and was done feeling sorry for myself, I realized a few important things, and I pulled myself up and started my day afresh.

Time to Reset

The first thing I realized was sometimes you need to just push life’s reset button. I had a daunting to-do list, which instead of motivating me to get my day moving, was making it harder. So, I scrapped my list, re-wrote a more manageable one, and told myself today would be over before I knew it. I needed a good night’s sleep, and a large reminder that tomorrow would be a new day. Everything that was weighing on me and harming me would vanish away into nothingness, and I could start over like nothing ever went wrong.

Yesterday’s pains and hardships were just that. Yesterday’s. It’s so easy to dwell. It’s so easy to feel bad for yourself. To look at the crud that marred a different day and treat it as if all of the problems are still there and bringing you down just as much as if they just occurred.

But the problems are only ever-present if you treat them that way. And if you learn to move forward, yesterday’s darkness can just disappear into nothingness.

Yesterday’s Darkness

Perhaps better yet, yesterday’s darkness can be a phenomenal opportunity to learn about yourself. A common refrain in the mixed martial arts world is: “You win, or you learn.” For certain we all prefer winning and the rush of the experience is objectively better for the psyche.

However, if you knock your opponent out in 35 seconds, there is a limit to what you’ll gain from the experience. For certain, there will be a confidence boost, which should never be discounted. But there is still a limit to what can be gained. Imagine the football coach of the winning team going over hours of tape with his team. “You see what you did there? Awesome. Do that again. Lots of times.”

Pats on the back. But no real useable information. You’re great… and tomorrow you’ll be the same great.

Now imagine hours of pointing out the subtle shifts and changes that can take a good team and make them a great one. Or the little maneuver a player could make that will lead them on a path to utter greatness.

Loss into Blessing

And that’s our lives in a nutshell. Some days will be horrendous and have us begging God to know why we even bother. We can treat them like the worst days ever. Or we can accept that days like this will happen on occasion, and turn them into the most fruitful piece of our lives.

So my misstep, my hellish day, is long gone. A piece of my past. A part of my story. But it is so much more than that now. It has transcended its misery and become a fundamental part of my development into the human being I wish to be.

Remember the Blessing

Furthermore, I realized after a day of feeling broken and agitated, that I owed it to myself to actively remember all of the great blessings I have. 

I’m not a lover of comparative joy. I’ve always been a huge Dr. Seuss fan, but I’ve never particularly liked his iconic book ‘Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?’ The message is very off-putting. The primary theme seems to be, “Hey, your life isn’t so bad. Look how absolutely crappy these other people have it!” 

I don’t think joy should be something we experience in comparison to others. It should be something we feel deep within our soul. The joy comes from within, not from looking at your life in relation to any external source.

Nevertheless, every once in a while I think it’s healthy to stop, take a breath, and put everything into perspective.

 Blessings on Top of Blessings

Yes, I only have custody of one of my children. I see my other ones infrequently and had to schlep across the world to make even that possible. But I’ve got four healthy children. There are people who seek children tirelessly, with no results. Others have children with health concerns or other stressors. And I am more than blessed to live with my fantastic, beautiful, brilliant, and creative son, who helps makes every day more fulfilling than the one before.

I’ve watched people handle unimaginable situations with the care, kindness, and finesse most of us could only dream of. And others, myself included, feel broken at the hands of relatively simple concerns.

Seeing the Blessing

Your blessings in life are only there if you are open enough to see them.

The pain in my leg is sometimes so violent and overpowering, I’ve wondered whether it would be better to not even have the leg. And if I want to be honest with myself, I need to ignore the pain for a moment and think about what others go through, what I’ve been spared, and all the fortune I’ve experienced over the years. 

I have suffered through a complex marriage and an even more complex divorce. Heartbreak has seemed like the norm through most of my life. And yet here I sit, engaged to an angel, when many will never even taste a fraction of the love I feel.

My last few posts have reflected a certain heightened level of suffering, both physical and mental. And those pains are real. But they don’t reflect the big picture.

Blessed

I am blessed.

I have been for my whole life.

And the blessings are growing by the minute.

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Posted by jaffeworld in opinion, personal story, 0 comments

Desperate Search for Perfect Health

perfect health

My relationship with health and fitness (and my desperate search for perfect health) has been a roller coaster.

Doctors and Perfect Health

Throughout my childhood I didn’t care much for healthy eating. I quickly learned to distrust doctors. My main example came from years of silly attempts to diagnose my violent chest pains. They were later discovered to be heart burn due to acid reflux. A half dozen doctors couldn’t figure out that a Tums would have made me feel better!

When I was 18, some friendly roughhousing from a friend, a popping noise, and a painful collapse to the floor would impact the rest of my life. I received a small tear to my ACL. Many years later I would tear the rest of the sucker along with my meniscus, and to this day I walk around with a perpetual fear of my knee giving out on me.

It All Caught Up With Me

My cruddy diet and inactive lifestyle eventually caught up with me, and in my 20s I was diagnosed as pre-Diabetic. And now, here I am. I’m 41 years old. I exercise almost every day of the week. I try to eat healthy almost all the time. And I’ve done my part in trying to get rid of chemicals from my household that are doing who knows what to my system.

And what do I get? Chronic stomach pains. Violent calf pains when I try and run. And what is likely piriformis syndrome, which basically means intense pains in one of my legs as a small inflamed muscle is strangling my sciatic nerve.

Now, my point isn’t to complain. And I certainly don’t want to compare my situation to others, since many people have it far, far worse.

But I can’t help but wonder each and every day when I yank myself out of bed in the morning: Is there a best way to live life? Is there a path I could take that will lead me down a road of less suffering and more success with my health?

Easy Answers and Fairness

I, like everyone else, want easy answers. Yes, I want to be able to drink a special tea twice a day that will give me endless energy, slim out my waist, alleviate aches and pains, and make me sleep like a rock at night.

I, like everyone else, want fairness in health. Why does one person eat whatever he wants, yet never gains a pound and lives comfortably until he’s 100? Why can someone feel like they’re doing everything right, and the results continually equal pain and discomfort?

I, like everyone else, want to be able to quickly and easily find out what exactly is wrong, and to be able to Google a simple solution that will fix the problem in a matter of weeks.

Sadly for me though, this is what I want… but I’m too educated and jaded to still have hope that any of this can happen.

Waking Up In Pain

I’ve been waking up in pain for months now. Go to the doctor, you say. Should I go to the doctors in America who couldn’t figure out to give me an antacid, or the doctor in Israel who messed up my anesthesia so I remained awake and gagging uncontrollably during a simple medical procedure? And which type of doctor should I choose? For what I have, my research has told me that the average sufferer has gone to countless different doctors over the last several years, shelled out ungodly amounts of money, and they’re still waking up wincing in pain every day.

I have chosen a life where health and fitness remain at the core. It is very clear to me that the results of my research and hard work have paid off.

Perfect Health and the Mighty Contradiction

However, I also feel confused all the time. There are constant reports of food items one person says are the answer to all health issues, while another says they will escalate any and all health issues. There are exercises some say will fix problems and others say they are everything from useless to dangerous.

Some foods are fantastic for you. Too much, whatever that amount is, becomes toxic. Exercise is obviously great for you… but do something ever so slightly wrong, and pain or injury ensues. And do just a little too much, whatever that means, and now you’ve overtrained, and the problems begin to exceed the benefits.

Frustration

If you feel frustration in my tone, it’s because I have no idea how to figure out the perfect balance, despite years of searching for it. And no matter what I do, I have trouble falling asleep at night, my stomach hurts all the time, and my legs are so riddled with miscellaneous pains, I don’t even know where to start to put these guys back together again.

Every day of my life I read more and more articles about health and fitness, and the more I read, the less I feel like I’ll ever be able to get a full handle on how to do things “correctly”.

To make matters worse, maybe it’s drastically different for each individual. Perhaps for person A this exercise will cause accelerated fat burn, for person B it will cause vicious pain later requiring physical therapy. Perhaps for person A this food will cause them to have more energy and sleep soundly at night, and for person B it will cause them headaches and constipation. I mean, in a desperate attempt at relaxing shot nerves a few years ago, I decided to heed some age old advice and I took a nice relaxing epsom salt bath. And it worked! That is until I woke up the next day with some allergic reaction with painful bumps covering my entire body.

I work really hard. I have been for quite some time.

All I want is to see the fruits of my labor. And I want to wake up without terrible pains.

And it wouldn’t hurt to be able to find reliable sources for help and advice.

Is this all too much to ask?

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in Fitness, Health, opinion, personal story, 2 comments

Farewell to Kutz Camp

kutz camp

A week ago I woke up and saw a friend’s impassioned post about how devastated she was about the URJ’s decision to close Kutz Camp, the reform movement’s central leadership academy in Warwick, New York.

The news hit me hard, and I’m still a bit queasy thinking about it. I am so terribly saddened by the knowledge that the single most influential location of my youth will simply never be a part of my future. Or anyone’s.

I may have strayed quite far from the path that I learned at Kutz Camp, but the experiences and the memories are a huge part of who I am today.

My Last Kutz Camp Hurrah

Twenty-two years ago was the last time I stepped foot into Kutz Camp.

A funny story actually, albeit somewhat anti-climactic.

For three summers, Kutz Camp was the center of my life. I waited all year to be there. It was truly my favorite place in the world.

However, after that third summer, my religious practices started to change drastically, and as much as my Kutz memories were exclusively fond, it was no longer the place for me. But I still wanted to visit. I still wanted to see all my friends.

The problem was this. I had started keeping Shabbat, which meant that from sundown on Friday to nightfall on Saturday night, I don’t travel or handle electricity, and a bunch of other things as well. Visiting Day at Kutz was on Saturday morning. I didn’t know what to do, so I contacted the director and asked for special permission to stay in the staff lounge for the entire Shabbat. I promised not to emerge except during visiting hours. She categorically denied my request.

Where there’s a will…

I was bummed. And actually quite pissed. But extremely determined as well.

I went home and started plotting my crazy plan. I tried to find camp grounds within walking distance to Kutz, which ultimately I found. Finally, I made plans to lodge at a Christian camp site about a two-mile walk from Kutz Camp.

And then in the middle of the night, when everyone was fast asleep, I snuck into the camp, woke up a friend, and she and I and a group of old comrades went and hung out in one of the lovely pagodas all night long.

In the morning I snuck off campus, with plans to come back during visiting hours like nothing had ever happened. That’s what I did… and a matter of minutes after I arrived, I was escorted off camp grounds by one of the assistant directors.

They found out what I had done, and they were furious.

They found out because someone told someone who told someone…

And I went back, hung out with some friendly Christian campers for the rest of the day, and went along my merry way.

Sadly, that was the last time I ever visited Kutz Camp, the place that made my last few years of high school not only bearable, but remarkable. In a funny way, it was kind of the perfect way to say goodbye. My Kutz experience was always memorable with a fun bit of tension. Why not say farewell that way as well?

What Was Kutz to Me?

It was at Kutz Camp that I met some of the most amazing people, many of whom I’m still in touch with over twenty years later.

It was at Kutz Camp that I had a class with David Frank that sparked my interest in Israel. This would later lead to my choosing to spend a semester there, the later decision to stick around for a second semester… and the ultimate choice to hang around for another seven years.

It was at Kutz Camp where I tore my ACL. It’s where I met my second girlfriend, the fourth longest relationship I’ve ever been in. It’s where I got in trouble for breaking curfew night after night. During my Kutz experience is when I saw Tommy on Broadway (and sadly Carousel as well).

Three summers at Kutz Camp I skipped around the room on my birthday (once with my pants around my ankles).

What Else?

Summer after summer I sang and yelled at song sessions. I participated in Israeli dance classes with excitement and joy. It’s there where a simple compliment from an inspirational teacher sparked a flame in my heart that would lead me on a path toward becoming a rabbi.

Kutz is where I snuck out of cabins in the middle of the night countless times. It’s where one of my counselors put my mattress in a director’s cabin to “punish” me for sneaking out. Well played!

It’s where another summer counselors woke all of us up to Tetris played on a guitar amplifier. Where waking up to find out what pranks were played the night before was an intrinsic part of the summer fun and excitement.

Kutz Camp was where in one evening of intense conversation, friendships could be formed whose spirit would stay with you for the rest of your life.

The nostalgia and the memories are never ending.

Light After Dark

My first summer at Kutz Camp followed one of the darkest times in my life. I was terrified and yearning for something new and exciting to take my life in a whole new direction. I am beyond grateful that Kutz was there when I needed it.

And I am equally saddened that it will not be around for others who need it in the future.

Farewell to Kutz

I may no longer live and die for N-F-T-Y, and my parting from Kutz may have not been all that traditional. I may not have planned to send my children to Kutz. But the fact of the matter stays the same. Kutz Camp and all of the experiences I had there and all of the people I met along the way will always be a part of who I am.

And I’m beyond grateful.

Farewell Kutz Camp. You will be missed by so many.

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in opinion, personal story, 0 comments