Month: August 2019

The Folly of Religious Coercion

religious coercion

There was a raging debate in Jerusalem a few months ago. One of the hottest new hangout spots is First Station. Not only is it loaded with restaurants and shops, but there are tons of activities all the time, and it’s generally got a great feel to it.

However, in a town loaded with wall-to-wall religious folk, it seemed inevitable that someone would have to poke their nose in and ruin everyone else’s fun. You see, Jerusalem is a city that pretty much stops running once a week. Most bars and restaurants are closed. Buses stop going. A huge portion of the city is observing Shabbat, so street traffic is radically reduced. And places that are jam packed the rest of the week, like the shuk, are ghost towns once Friday night rolls around.

Shabbat and First Station

But not First Station. I’ve walked past it many time on Shabbat to see half the restaurants going strong, and the wonderfully lively and friendly atmosphere continuing on through the seventh day as well. In fact, it seems like First Station is the one place left in the entire city that is still pumping on a Saturday afternoon.

But some people out there can’t sit idly back and let other people enjoy their time.

What’s Your Problem?

I’m not exactly sure what their motivation is. Three guesses: 1) They think it’s inappropriate to have such frivolities and Sabbath violations occurring in the holy city of Jerusalem, in a public and sanctioned manner. 2) It creates a ruckus, and disturbs the peace of their day. 3) They believe that if others are restricted in what they can do, they will ultimately make the decision to accept upon themselves the holy Sabbath day.

Regarding #1, Jerusalem is a diverse city. It is filled with non-religious Jews. It is loaded with non-Jews as well, not even considering the extremely popular and important tourist industry. And whether or not you like to accept it, those elements are essential for making Jerusalem more fun and interesting. Remove it, and all you have is a bunch of synagogues and old buildings.

As far as #2 is concerned, I have never noticed or heard anything from First Station any time other than when walking right in front of it. And when I’ve done so, it was my choice. There are plenty of ways to get from point A to point B. If it bothers you so much to watch other people having a good time in ways different from yours, choose a different path. It’s really that simple.

Religious Coercion is Not Effective

But it’s point #3 that I’m really here to address, a point that disturbs me to no end. Your silly obsession with religious coercion is not effective. If anything, it’s quite counterproductive. In the immortal words of Rabbi Berel Wein, “To date, no one has ever decided to observe Shabbat because someone threw a rock at their car.”

One of the most chilling moments I had in my career as a teacher was one morning during prayer services. As usual, the teachers’ jobs were to “police” the setting. We would be meandering around the room, telling students to stop talking, and insisting they pray. Sometimes things even got heated. You can imagine how inspiring it is, being forced to pray. Nothing brings a teenager closer to God than being yelled at for not praying correctly.

And one morning, as I mindlessly fulfilled my inane role, this thought crossed my mind: If I were brought up this way, I probably wouldn’t have ended up religious.

My Path of Inspiration

My path was one of inspiration, role models, education, and choices. The students at my school were just being told what they had to do. If many ran away screaming, I don’t blame them.

Fact is, religious coercion is and always has been a terrible idea. Even under the “best” circumstances, when the coercion is actually effective and someone continues with their religious practices, what is the end result? Mindless religious robots? Thoughtless beings who do what they do out of fear or habit? Coercion might, sometimes, produce someone who appears to be a follower of the religion. But their practice is likely to be shallow, with an undertone of resentment.

Religious Coercion vs. Choice

In order for someone to truly love what they do, there needs to be an element of choice. Any teacher can tell you, try and tell your students about almost any subject of interest to you, and you’ll get yawns and eye rolls. But if they ask it to you as a question, you may just have the full attention of your entire class.

And shouldn’t our faith be something so amazing we have confidence that others would choose it, with the right education and experiences? Doesn’t religious coercion send a subtle message that you’re not confident in what you do, that maybe you think your faith is flawed?

Religious Coercion and Resentment

The bottom line is, religious coercion does not work. The best it offers is a sad and weak connection to religiosity. But more often than not, it just builds resentment. It makes people angry.

If you want someone to see the world through your point of you, great. Be amazing, do incredible things, and let others choose of their own free will whether or not your lifestyle is right for them.

But stay out of other people’s business.

A Win for First Station

I observe Shabbat every week and I’ve been doing so for over two decades. I think it’s a beautiful thing and I love that it’s a part of my life. In addition, I believe everyone could benefit from having such a day in their lives. I thought this before cell phones were a thing… and now that people can’t stop staring at their little device, I think it so much more. Everyone needs to shut down every once in a while. Everyone needs to learn to communicate properly, to look another person in the eyes.

However, I was ecstatic when I found out First Station would remain open on Shabbat. Why? I was ecstatic because it was a moral victory for those of us who truly believe in freedom of choice. If you don’t want to observe Shabbat, that is your business and your business alone.

If you smoke in places you’re not allowed, or you drive overly aggressively, or you throw trash on the ground wherever you choose, I’m OK with you being pressured to leave my city. I don’t care if you’re religious or not.

Please Stay

But if you’re a decent person, please stay. The more of you the better. Follow your heart. It can lead to a whole lot of great places. Religious coercion will lead to the breaking of spirits and massive feelings of resentment. With absolutely no positive outcome, short of some ill-conceived notion of justice prevailing. But even when you’ve “won”, you’ve weakened our people and our nation. Thus everyone loses.

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Posted by jaffeworld in judaism, opinion, religion, 0 comments

Toward a Religious Truth

truth

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

A Mormon Truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Washington Square Park Truth

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

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

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

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

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

An Isaiah 53 Truth

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

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

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

A Religious Truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

Misusing Faith

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

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

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Posted by jaffeworld in judaism, opinion, religion, 0 comments

Five Uncomfortable Facts about Bullying

bullying

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

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

1) Bullies Rise from the Weakness of Others

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

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

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

2) Male Bullying vs Female Bullying

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

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

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

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

3) Bullying Exists at Every Age

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

But it’s still bullying.

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

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

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

4) We All Do It

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

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

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

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

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

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

5) Bullying Can Easily Draw You In

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

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

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

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

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Posted by jaffeworld in opinion, 0 comments

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

movies

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

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

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

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

My Blue Heaven (1990)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Capiche?

Clerks (1994)

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

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

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

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

37!

Office Space (1999)

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

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

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

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

Airplane (1980)

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I Married an Axe Murderer (1993)

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted by jaffeworld in Entertainment, 0 comments