religion

From Nothing to Confusion: My Religious Odyssey

From Nothing To Confusion

It’s that time again. I worked really hard. I edited like a beast. Did everything I needed to do to make this happen, and now my latest book (#3) is ready for the masses. If you haven’t checked out Teach Like a Ninja and You’re Doing Everything Wrong, please have a look. From Nothing to Confusion is my latest attempt to make sense of all the crazy thoughts swimming around in my head. I hope you enjoy!

From Nothing to Confusion is about my religious journey. It’s about how I grew up, all the religious developments that occurred along the last forty years, and where I am holding now. Sometimes it’s painful. Other times it’s filled with joy. And the whole time it’s a thoughtful journey. And I want to welcome you along for the ride.

Here are some tastes of what you’ll find within:

From Nothing to Confusion: Born to Believe

“It’s always a curious thing, being born into a faith. It doesn’t make all that much sense, with just a bit of thought. You can’t be born into a belief system. Hell, you are born believing nothing.” -Intro

In the introduction to my book I talk about the quite confusing ways we attempt to educate our children to follow in our religious paths. It’s very odd (with admittedly no obvious better choice).

Logic would dictate that religious beliefs would be something people would choose rather than something they are told to believe. Yet, outside of people with stories like my own, this almost never happens. And much of my introduction laments the fact that facilitating an experience like mine is borderline impossible.

From Nothing to Confusion: Raising the Little Ones

“We do what we can. There is no right answer. Probably not even close. In the meantime, we try to model actions and behaviors we’d love to see in our children. Then we keep our fingers crossed, and sit back and watch as their lives and belief systems unfold before our eyes.” -Intro

Some of my children are struggling with Judaism. It’s not terribly surprising. There are many aspects I’m struggling with myself, and I’ve been doing this a heck of a lot longer.

But the best path in how to raise children to love what you love is a mystery to so many of us. And you can do everything “right” and get unfavorable results. You can always “luck out”. But ultimately we’re all trying to unlock this mysterious code. We’re trying to find out how to create the right balance of rules and freedom, of forced education and space for self-growth.

But no matter what we do, so much remains out of our control. And hope fills the void.

From Nothing to Confusion: The Need for More

“Feeling good about efforts that are accomplishing little to nothing was not my goal…. I wanted and needed something bigger.” -Ch. 6

In this chapter I speak about some of my experiences in college in which I was trying to grow past some of what I had experienced in high school. There are many out there who will shout out to children about how to be a responsible adult, who works hard to make the world a better place. But, sadly, they’re often teaching you how to create an appearance of doing good things… and how to pat yourself on the back for all that you’ve supposedly accomplished.

But once you recognize what’s happened, it’s hard not to see it in so much of what we do. It’s hard not to recognize that we’re not really making that much of a difference at all. And if we wish to leave the world a better place than the one we came to, this is unacceptable. And we are prompted to seek something bigger and better.

From Nothing to Confusion: Human Interaction

“No human being can be fully fulfilled without human interaction. Love is connected to touch. To say otherwise is naive at best. Manipulative and controlling at worst.” -Ch. 18

This chapter discusses an element about Orthodox Jewish culture that I think is taught with a definite agenda, and one that ultimately can and does hurt a lot of people.

Sexuality is taught in a way that gears people toward marrying, and marrying as soon as humanly possible. Every element is strategically designed to accomplish that goal. But teaching about healthy relationships and building a strong foundation based on confidence and self-respect are not part of the agenda. They don’t accomplish the goal, and many are left lacking severely vital components of a healthy adult personality.

I believe this is the single greatest flaw in the modern Jewish world. And whereas on paper it appears to be effective and effective immediately, the long term results are hurting people. Many people, myself included, are victims of a dangerous and backwards perspective. One that is prone to hurt people and is entirely unsustainable.

From Nothing to Confusion: When You Fall into Dark Places

“When things are falling apart all around you, it’s hard to trust in the system. It’s borderline impossible not to fall into a dark place and assume that a flaw exists.” -Ch. 20

From Nothing to Confusion takes you through many complicated parts of my story. I join the Reform Movement, start tinkering with Orthodox Judaism, move to Israel, get married, have lots of kids. Everything appears to go as planned. Everything looks great, like the system had another tremendous success story. The entire Jewish world can pat itself on the back for producing, yet again, another picture-perfect Jewish family.

But picture-perfect we were not. And despite decades of assumptions, despite years of trust and elated participation, I fell. I lost my balance. I was no longer what I once was.

I started from nowhere. I traversed my way across a system quite unfamiliar to me. I climbed mountains, and fell into a few swamps along the way. But I came out unscathed… until I was hurt, and hurt bad.

And it threw me into a dark space I have not yet fully crawled out from. And here I am: Confused.

I went from nothing to confusion. And I hope you join me in learning about how it all happened.

***

*Enjoying? Sign up for email updates and never miss a new post again!

*Enjoying my writing? Check out my eBooks!

Posted by jaffeworld in book announcement, judaism, personal story, religion, 0 comments

Healthy Religiosity, Israel vs. the World

religiosity

I’ve noticed a bit of a trend lately. Folk who come to live in Israel, and slowly but surely their religiosity starts to dip.

The Religiosity Counterintuitive

On the surface, this is quite counterintuitive. There are so many reasons why one would think this could never happen. First and foremost, we’re in the Holy Land. On every corner there’s a synagogue. Everywhere you look there are religious people, objects, and opportunities. And the land itself is covered from top to bottom with history and significance. So how could it be that in an environment such as this, one could possibly lessen their enthusiasm, observance, or religiosity?

I’d like to suggest five possible reasons:

1) The Israel Challenge

Israel is generally a challenging place to live.

If you are elsewhere, and you live in a beautiful, large home, your high-power job pays a fantastic salary, and you are surrounded by endless activities, life in general can be much easier.

But who has time to think about going to classes and services when they’re not sure how they could possibly cover their rent or where their next meal is coming from?

On a philosophical level, it’s easy to say that one’s connection to God and religiosity should never parallel how great one’s life is. But in reality, that’s how it is for most of us. It is far easier to stay strong and focused when we’re happy, fulfilled, stress-free, and well fed. Throw some powerful life challenges into the mix, and it seems reasonable that some observance might shrink away simultaneously.

2) The Adversity Discrepancy

On the flip side, there are certain challenges to living outside of Israel that can possibly strengthen one’s connection and religiosity.

When you are surrounded by people just like you, the tendency is to become complacent. It’s easy. Being one of the Chosen People is a given, and takes no work whatsoever.

But when you find yourself surrounded by hatred, the tendency is often to pull yourself together and learn to love your circumstances even more. I have watched as barely connected Jews stared bravely into the eyes of evil antisemites. They didn’t consider their own wellbeing; they were pushed to stand up for what’s good and right in this world.

Being just a face in the crowd of a bunch of people exactly like yourself, might encourage complacency. Needing to defend your people, may encourage loyalty and pride.

3) Challenge Breeds Awareness

It’s a bit odd. I sometimes miss certain inconveniences of living outside of Israel.

There are two obvious examples of where this comes into play all the time: Kashrut (Jewish dietary laws) and Shabbat observance.

In Israel, and especially Jerusalem, you can meticulously observe both practices while barely breaking a sweat. The society is designed to make them simplistic. Entire grocery stores are filled exclusively with kosher items, and many areas are lined with kosher restaurants. The city shuts down for the Sabbath, and the best way to spend the day is feasting with family and friends.

But not so outside of Israel. You need to work harder to make sure you’re always purchasing the appropriate items. You must look at literally everything you take off the shelf. If there’s no kosher bakery around, or you’re dissatisfied with the selection, you’ll need to learn to make those beautiful Shabbat challahs on your own. Yeah, all of this is a pain… but it promotes awareness and a stronger connection to what you are actually doing.

Another great example is something called an eiruv. According to strict Jewish law, we may not carry anything outside during the Sabbath. In order to get around the rules, we create something called an eiruv (a virtually invisible, and extraordinarily complicated, legal structure). And voila, we carry items like there never was a rule in the first place. In Israel, it’s easy to forget this is even happening, since there seems to be an eiruv everywhere, and someone somewhere is in charge of caring for it. In many places outside of Israel, this is something that may require greater focus.

Sure, these issues can be a pain or an inconvenience. But when we work for something, we tend to have a greater appreciation for it. And further religiosity may ensue.

4) The Opportunity to Shine

Take someone out of their pond and place them elsewhere, and that’s when the opportunity to shine comes up all the time. Here in Israel, I almost never have the chance to explain Judaism to a perfect stranger, something I felt was practically a daily occurrence when I lived elsewhere. And nothing makes your love of your own people grow more than when you know your conversation partner is listening attentively to every word, and yours might be the only explanation they ever hear.

We have a very special responsibility to the world. Every day we must represent our people to the best of our ability. And that responsibility, as daunting as it may be, has a huge impact on how we carry ourselves and conduct our daily lives. Remove us from the world at large, and even though that responsibility is alive and well, it’s quite easy for many to think it’s irrelevant. And without the many watching eyes upon us, it’s simple to cease being our best selves.

5) We Are Unique

It’s very easy to feel faceless in Israel. I am just another one of the thousands and thousands just like me. My contributions are minimal and my knowledge is hardly unique. I’m surrounded by others who know everything I know, and many of them know much, much more.

But place me somewhere else, and now I’m something special and exotic. In Jerusalem, no one ever asks me why I don’t eat milk with meat. Elsewhere, I’m something different. And those differences matter.

We don’t always want to be special. It’s so much easier and more convenient to just do what everyone else around us is doing. Sometimes it’s simpler to just be faceless and to disappear into the crowd. But for many it feels quite nice to be something special. And it affects how we act and feel every day of our lives.

What do you think is the reason for this paradoxical religious shift?

***

*Enjoying? Sign up for email updates and never miss a new post again!

*Enjoying my writing? Check out my eBooks!

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

Religion and the Next Generation

generation

We work hard. Every day is a struggle to be better versions of ourselves. And as much as we basically have total control over who we are and who we wish to become, we have so little control over the next generation, over what happens with the future of our little ones.

Moshe vs. Yehoshua

I used to question the designation of Moshe (Moses) as the greatest leader of the Jewish people. His successor, Yehoshua (Joshua), seemed to have all the same leadership qualities. And he even merited to have some of the very same miracles occur for him as Moshe had. But whereas Moshe was not allowed to enter Israel, Yehoshua would forever have the accolade of being the one who led the entire Jewish people into the Holy Land. He would be the commander of the greatest conquest our people would ever experience.

So why Moshe as our greatest leader and not Yehoshua? My answer: Moshe was greater than Yehoshua because of Yehoshua. Moshe set up a situation where the people could be happy with and confident in the leadership even after he left this world. But what followed the reign of Yehoshua? Hundreds of years of craziness and disaster! The truly great person not only considers what happens when they’re around, but does everything in his power to ensure the next generation is taken care of. The next generation must be able to thrive as well.

The Next Generation Code

Moshe unlocked a code. He did something almost no one knows how to do. He could pass on his greatness for another generation. He was great not just because he was great, but because he took his greatness a huge step beyond, unlike anyone before or since.

What About the Kids?

It’s damn near impossible not to be concerned when you’re a parent. Everything you say and do can impact the decisions and actions of your children. And as much as ones positive influence is strong and utterly important, it seems to get overshadowed by any of the mistakes we make. Each day we tiptoe around our children’s souls, and every time we turn and knock something over, we are just inches away from irreparable damage.

So what is the key to passing on religion from one generation to the next? If one holds steadfast to his values, and thus believes his ways are the sole way of getting closer to God, how could he not want to pass every last bit of it along to the next generation?

There are no easy answers. Not even close.

The Next Generation

We all know the family where most children followed the path of the parents, but others didn’t. Or most left the fold. In other cases there are parents who did everything objectively wrong, only to find themselves with children who are everything the parents could have ever hoped for. And others where they tried their hardest, sought the best advice, and did everything they could think of to preserve future generations, yet their results were anything from unsuccessful to downright disastrous.

And let’s not forget for even a moment that parents are just one piece (albeit a very important piece) of a giant puzzle. Influences, positive or negative, come from peers, siblings, schools, and communities. Everyone is working together to create a final product. Except even though their influence is upon the same person, their methods, motivations, and behaviors are by no means coordinated.

The Next Generation Models

There are certain models available, each with its own fears and flaws. Probably the most common is to force your ways upon your children. In many aspects, it’s also the easiest. Everyone in your household is required to do as you do, no questions asked. And hopefully this will work for all children, there will be no rebellion, it will carry into adulthood, and the same methodology will be passed down to the next generation as well.

The system seems flawless… for a while. Little children are given candy as positive reinforcement for doing what they’re supposed to do. Little achievements are celebrated. And laughing little people, devoid of any discernment or baggage, play along. They don’t love the way of their people. They’re just forming habits.

Teenage Years Are Coming!

But those teenage years are creeping up. They’re just around the corner, waiting to pounce upon the unsuspecting parent. Now, suddenly, questions begin to form. Things they’ve heard and experienced over the years aren’t adding up. The children see elements that don’t sit well with them. They recall some negative associations with their religion. All just as their emerging minds are trying to figure out the best way to rebel.

Suddenly, the cute children who did what they were told for the eagerly anticipated sweet is starting to see a bigger picture. We created a utopia, where little ones ecstatically behaved like their parents, but it was all just one fleeting performance. It wasn’t real. And it came with an expiration date.

What Happens Next?

Then what happens? Do we continue to promote a fake show, void of any real connection to what they’re doing and feeling? When there’s resistance, do we just push harder, forcing our ways upon the children?

Do we give them room to make mistakes and room to grow as they see fit? If so, when does that begin? And how much room do we give? There are also many additional factors. Preserving the sanctity of our homes. Ensuring our other children aren’t overly influenced by things we don’t wish for them to see.

How much can we rely upon schools or social pressure?

And when all the smoke clears, when everything is entirely out of our hands, how do we react when the results are drastically different from what we had hoped for?

The Results

In the final analysis, every parent wishes the best for his or her child. And if one is a true believer, the “best” includes the children following in the parents’ footsteps. And every day is a brand new struggle to try and positively influence children to land where we want them.

There will be ups and downs. Some days will be filled with joy, others with utter disappointment.

And an ongoing struggle to be joyous and loving regardless of the results.

***

*Enjoying? Sign up for email updates and never miss a new post again!

*Enjoying my writing? Check out my eBooks!

Posted by jaffeworld in parenting, religion, 0 comments

Religion and the Neato Factor

neato

For the most part, every religion wants the world to believe they are harbingers of the one truth. Some are very brazen about their beliefs, while others are far more humble about their approach. Some are very intellectual, while others prefer anything from appeals to emotion to the worst forms of manipulation.

Judaism is certainly different from the average religion. Like with all religions, the Jewish people believe that Judaism is truth. The Torah is real, the stories within the Torah are timeless pieces relevant to the entire world, and Judaism is the path all Jews must take to achieve the greatest Heavenly rewards.

Nevertheless, Judaism is unique in that it doesn’t believe every human being alive needs to or even should be Jewish. The world at large has many paths to take to come closer to God, and whereas Judaism is one of them, it is by no means mandatory.

Everyone or Just Some?

It’s a curious piece to Jewish theology. I’ve often wondered what others must think. On one hand, it’s a point of pride for many Jews. It makes our religion unique, it reflects a certain level of confidence and self-sufficiency, and it prevents us from being a nuisance to so many people. On the other hand, if you truly believe you are correct, why would you not what to shout it out to anyone who could possibly listen?

Nevertheless, the theology is very different when it comes to other Jews, for whom the belief is that every Jewish person must accept upon himself the beliefs and practices of the Jewish faith.

There are many paths that people take to try and influence others to adopt their religious practices. Some choose rigorous debate, replete with complicated philosophical explanations. Some appeal to emotions, and speak of the continuity of our people.

My favorite “method”, and the one that I believe reflects the greatest amount of confidence in ones faith, is just living your life to the best of your ability, and letting others decide for themselves. Don’t shove your beliefs down the throat of others. Invite people to your home for a Shabbat meal, encourage someone to come to your class, and let their own curiosity and intelligence take it from there. Since, after all, religion is something one should choose, not something they should be forced, badgered, or manipulated into. Anything less produces a tenuous and superficial relationship with the religion.

The Neato Factor

And then there is what I like to call the “Neato Factor”. These are things people use all the time to boast about the veracity of their religion; however, these “proofs” aren’t actually proofs. In fact, they are nothing but minor elements that at best complement real intellectual rigor. They prove nothing in and of themselves, and at best just make things a little more interesting.

When someone tries to proves their religion using one of these three ideas, the only reaction that makes any sense to me is, “Neato. But now what? Is that all you’ve got?”

My three Neato Factors:

1) Neato Codes

I don’t know if other religions make claims such as these, but there are elements among the Jewish people who explore Jewish texts with such detail, they’ve found what they consider “codes” hidden within the text. These so-called codes are without a doubt fascinating. They’re very fun. Some are even shockingly impressive.

But that’s where everything stops. Even if we were to explore each and every one of these codes, and determine that the statistical improbability borders on miraculous, we still have to ask the question, “So what?”

What do these little additions to thousands of years of tradition and philosophical debate really add to the discussion? It’s like when I discovered that the person I was dating had a Hebrew name with the same numerical value as mine, the chance of which is off-the-charts unlikely. It was certainly cool. Worth noting. A fun story to tell our friends and great grandchildren. However, if I were to base whether or not I would marry her on this alone, I would be nothing but a fool (there were TONS of other great reasons #HeChoseWell).

Things like the Codes are fun. But they are spices, and nothing more. We could eat a steak without spices. Sure, it might be bland. But we’d enjoy it nonetheless, and we’d benefit from its iron and protein. However, we’d get quite little from downing a few spoonfuls of salt and pepper…

2) Neato People

Another tactic used by those who wish to prove their religion is demonstrating that theirs either has really special practitioners or they’ve heard the veracity of their claims from great people.

Years ago I was reading Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis. I like his books. I find Lewis very intellectually honest, and very philosophically astute. However, he basically stated that the reason he believes in Christianity is because he heard of its truth from great people, who heard it from great people…

There are countless reasons I find this to be a weak argument. At best when you can show me a great religious person I will think to myself, “Neato. That sure is a nice person. I’m really glad you have such wonderful people in your life.”

However, there are flaws galore to this as a “proof” of any religion. For every amazing member of your religion, I can show you a handful of absolute bastards who practice the very same religion. And I can show you a whole bunch of equally wonderful people who practice other religions, or no religion at all.

3) Neato Miracles

Which leads to my least favorite way of “proving ” religion: Mentioning all the different miracles that have occurred to you and other members of your religion. Miraculous moments so unlikely, their existence can only be attributed to the one true God.

Go to any religion and you’re bound to hear miraculous stories. They might be amazing, even inspiring. But once every religion has its own stories, we’re just left with one giant stalemate.

All we can say is: That story is neato. But what am I supposed to do with all these miracle stories? Should I absorb all of them and thus accept all religions as truth? Should I toss them all in the waste basket, since their existence has by definition negated all the other ones? Or do I pick and choose, and if so, what’s my standard of measurement?

So in the final analysis, we’re left with three concepts used to show the truth of religions, three concepts that are no doubt fun to explore. They are, in fact, neato. But they do nothing to show the truth of anyone’s claims.

For that, we must look just a tad bit deeper.

***

*Enjoying? Sign up for email updates and never miss a new post again!

*Enjoying my writing? Check out my eBooks!

Posted by jaffeworld in religion, 0 comments

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.

***

*Enjoying? Sign up for email updates and never miss a new post again!

*Enjoying my writing? Check out my eBooks!

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.

***

*Enjoying? Sign up for email updates and never miss a new post again!

*Enjoying my writing? Check out my eBooks!

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

Peculiar Travel Suggestions

Peculiar Travel Suggestions

Sometimes being an adult can get quite frustrating. Life can lack the adventure and spontaneity that colored our youth. Or at least the amount of unplanned craziness we all expect to have when we’re younger.

Many years ago I was introduced to an author who would later become my favorite: Kurt Vonnegut. I was quickly attracted to his unique and entertaining style of writing. And I found concepts and ideas throughout his books becoming a part of who I was.

The Cursed Kurt Vonnegut

A great example is an idea in the book Hocus Pocus. The character spoke about his reason for never cursing. He believed it weakened the strength of his thoughts and opinions.

Now, I grew up a classic potty-mouthed New Yorker. But I also grew up wanting to make sure any point I make gets across as quickly and effectively as possible. So it was imperative I gave this idea some thought. I considered all the most famous quotes and speeches I had heard. And the people I knew who had the most influence on me and others around me.

And not a curse word to be found.

I took this to heart, stripped my vocabulary of the expletives, and watched as over time the words became somewhat repulsive to me. I also watched as the words became more powerful. Their infrequent use made them more intense when they were actually used.

Peculiar Travel Suggestions

Vonnegut’s influence on me had no bounds. There was one phrase from his incredible novel Cat’s Cradle that has had more impact on me than any other: “Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.”

As you make your way through the twists and turns of life, every once in a while someone will suggest you do something you’ve never done before. You will have an opportunity to wander outside your comfort zone, and see things differently than yesterday.

Those moments aren’t just fun one-time breaks from your normal reality. They are the bread and butter of who you will later become! And so it has been for me, time and again. In my youth I was invited to a youth group meeting. It was something outside my realm. Something that I really did not understand or see the point of. But it was a peculiar travel suggestion, with potential galore for changing my life forever.

And it most certainly did!

That one decision was the starting point for a path I am still trekking down. For sure there have been other peculiar travel suggestions along the way. Many I’ve followed, and many have had their impact. The path hasn’t always been an easy one, but it certainly has always felt like there’s been some type of plan guiding the way.

Dancing Lessons from God

In more recent years I was invited to a friend’s home to hang out and play some games. I didn’t know my host very well, nor did I know any of the other guests. My instincts and inertia could have easily gotten the better of me. After all, it was exceedingly hot outside. I was better off just staying home, reading, and napping.

My host’s peculiar travel suggestion would be a key moment on the path eventually leading to our marriage.

And thus has been the pattern of my existence for as far back as I remember. When my days had too much of a pattern, and I was too rigid and unwilling to follow the ebbs and flow of life, or there were elements holding me back, little noteworthy happened.

And therefore when I told stories about myself, I noticed they were all old. Anything and everything that seemed interesting or noteworthy about me happened a long, long time ago.

In the Comfort Zone

And now here is where I stand. I find comfort in day-to-day routines. I like knowing what my day will look like and what’s coming up in the near future. Any break from my routine, even a small one, upsets my balance. Leaves me somewhat unnerved. That’s why they call it the “comfort zone”…

Yet at the same time there are changes that need to happen. There are improvements to myself as a person I so vehemently wish I could make happen. And if things continue on the same path they’ve been zooming down since I was a teenager, these changes won’t just happen on their own. Change happens when a peculiar travel suggestion enters my world, and I’m brave enough to follow the unknown path.

Shaking Things Up

And it seems this is the only true way meaning occurs in my life. It’s like a snow globe that settles into whatever it is, but the true beauty shines when things are shaken up.

But the shaking can’t happen by force. I can’t just shake my own snow globe or artificially insert my own peculiar travel suggestions. This disingenuous method of finding meaningful change is unlikely to produce any results.

Waiting for Peculiar Travel Suggestions

That’s not to say I have no control, nor that I lack an important role in inevitable and exciting changes that lay ahead. I must lay the foundation, and create the right atmosphere for change to naturally flow from what’s happening in my life.

There is so much I want to happen in the future, so many goals I wish to achieve. I want to see new levels of professional and financial success. I wake up daily yearning to return to levels of religiosity and Zionism I haven’t felt in what seems like ages. And I want joy in my days, the extent of which I could not have imagined.

I’m out there. God, I am wandering through life, each day awaiting Your peculiar travel suggestions. I patiently seek Your dancing lessons.

I can’t wait to see what happens next.

***

*Enjoying? Sign up for email updates and never miss a new post again!

*Enjoying my writing? Check out my eBooks!

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

Five Crappy Things about Israel that Need to Change… Yesterday

Crap

OK, I’m a cynic. I get that.

But that doesn’t mean I’m wrong about everything. Nor does it mean my country gets a free pass on me pointing out its garbage.

A lot of people here treat Israel as if it’s a utopia, void of any major issues. People brag left and right about Israel’s accomplishments and constantly regard simple moments of humans acting like humans as “only in Israel” moments.

They’ve been ignoring Israel’s problems for so long, sometimes I think people have learned to meditate themselves into a place where they can rest and relax treating all of the problems as if they’re distant memories of Israel’s past.

But they’re not. Israel has real issues. And no excuse for not working tirelessly to fix all of them. Or at least improve upon them.

This post is about five of those problems. They should be far better by now. We can do better. Much better.

1) Housing Crap

If you want to live in a city in Israel, it’s going to cost you. Big time.

So why do we do it?

Well, in some of the more remote areas, getting around without a vehicle is borderline impossible. But getting around with a vehicle is expensive, stressful, and extremely time consuming.

The city is where most of the stores are, all necessities, and any semblance of a social life. And outlying areas are by no means designed for single people in any way.

But city rent is high with low value for your dollar. The “system” places renters at the mercy of the owners. And you have minutes to grab a desired home before someone else snatches it up.

And whereas rent is outrageous, purchasing is downright impossible for most people. The prices are mind-blowingly high, and the percentage needed for a down payment makes me throw up in my mouth.

In the end, there really are only a few choices: 1. Leave the major cities, with all the hardships that comes along. 2. Rent in a city, and deal with almost inevitable poverty. 3. Or come to the country rich.

2) Customer Service Crap

We’ve gotten to the point where if a waiter smiles at us, we are ecstatic, we brag to everyone we know that things are really turning around here, and put a post on Facebook exclaiming that we experienced an “only in Israel” moment.

Fact is, the norm is to be barked at by customer service representatives, ignored by clerks, and generally made to feel like we’re unwanted in any store or restaurant we enter.

We Americans are confused, knowing full well that any establishment could make considerably more profit just by being a whole lot nicer. However, I genuinely feel this is just not of interest to the average Joe on the street here. If we were to explain that being pleasant and helpful would generate 20% more revenue, they would say, “No thanks. Keep your money. I enjoy being unpleasant and no amount of money is worth changing that!”

But we’re all at fault here. We tolerate it. We’ve done a poor job letting the country know we’re not coming back if you treat us like garbage. And, sadly, they’ve done a pretty decent job preventing us from letting the world know how we feel.

3) Smoking Crap

Israelis smoke. They smoke constantly and in every nook and cranny they could find.

Often I’m standing somewhere minding my own business, and someone will just wander up next to me and light up a cigarette.

At moments like that I wish I could just secrete some nasty odor that wafts in their direction. “My goodness, that’s vile,” they might exclaim. And I could turn toward them and say, with all of my masterful sarcasm, “I’m sorry. Does this smell irritate you? Is it bothersome? I simply had no idea that when doing something disgusting next to a perfect stranger, the possibility exists I might be causing them a disturbance.”

In all seriousness, how is this still a thing? Israel brags left and right about being ranked the 10th healthiest in the world. And we are all aware of the financial struggles that are rampant here. Yet, our society is riddled with this lung-piercing, overpriced nonsense that harms the population, and fills the air with stink and the streets with litter.

I often ask people to stop smoking in areas they’re not allowed. Sometimes right next to a sign! Nothing is enforced, and no one seems to care.

The time has come to rein in this nonsense.

4) Political Crap

I’ve been watching Israel’s political scene for a while now. It seems like every time I vote there is something different about the system. We didn’t get it right the last time around, let’s have another go.

The only thing that ever seems to stay the same: Paper ballots.

I feel like I’m voting for class president.

Anyhow, when the recent elections ended, I felt something in the society I don’t believe I’ve felt before: Mass apathy and exhaustion with the way things are and will seemingly always be.

Ultimately, that’s what these elections represented. The guy who’s been around forever against the guy who has nothing to offer but not being the other guy. There are 20,000 parties, but ultimately only really two viewpoints: Left and right. There are thousands of ignored issues and unheard voices. And there is inherent pandering to anyone who holds any amount of political power.

All you need is a few seats in the government, and boom, you get everything you want just so the top dog can build a coalition and stay in power.

And everything just stays the same. We become complacent. We had a burst of hope dashed by the reality that things are very unlikely to get better anytime soon.

I don’t know what system would be better. Maybe term limits would help. Perhaps better checks and balances for the Prime Minister. More representation for smaller parties. An overhaul of the current system. Who knows? But once again, we can do better.

5) Religious Crap

And each time around, it seems there is no greater beneficiary to the faults in our political process than the ultra-religious, who seek to impose their will on the entire society.

No doubt about it, Israel is a fantastic place to be a religious Jew. The freedom to practice is unmatched. Kosher restaurants abound. There are many aspects of a religious lifestyle that you could keep by accident here!

But religion is supposed to elevate people, not create anger and resentment. Judaism and its leaders are supposed to be something that unifies us, not something that brings hatred and divisiveness.

There are many ways to be a great Jew. An endless search for control and power is not one of them. Separation of Church and State is a tried and true system of many a well-functioning democracy. It certainly wouldn’t hurt if it wormed its way over here. At least to some extent.

***

Israel has a lot going for it. And it’s nowhere near the worst place to live. But there’s a lot of crap. Loads of crap. And the first step in fixing a problem, is admitting it’s there.

Let’s own up to our crap, put it all out on the table, and start making our homeland the place it could and should be.

***

*Enjoying? Sign up for email updates and never miss a new post again!

*Enjoying my writing? Check out my eBooks!

Posted by jaffeworld in Israel, politics, religion, 0 comments

The Shameful Marriage Industry

Marriage Industry

The smoke has cleared.

And I am now blissfully married to my one true love.

Everything was beautiful and we are working hard every day to have the dream life we’ve both always wanted.

But I can’t walk away from the experience without expressing some deep and painful concerns. The marriage industry is out of control, and there are countless aspects I need to speak out against. In this article I’d like to address just two.

The Rabbanut

For generations, the concept of a rabbinic body’s purpose in this world was to help improve the lives of those around them. Sadly, instead the Rabbanut of Israel has become synonymous with greed and inconvenience.

Everyone in Israel is forced by law to get married through the Rabbanut. The process is basically to “prove” that you are Jewish, single, and that you have fulfilled certain wedding requirements based on Jewish law.

I panicked as I entered the process, knowing full well that my divorce might cause problems. So, I called a handful of friends with similar situations and it seemed one of the recurring themes was people leaving the Rabbanut’s office in tears.

In tears!

Seriously.

The Shameful Rabbanut

Your organization should be ashamed. After generations of service to the Jewish world, selflessly giving to communities in a passionate attempt to make the world a better place, you now have reduced yourselves to aggressive harassment of couples in need of help. You have debased yourselves and the field, all in the name of a pathetic and pushy attempt to hold on to power.

And you charge a crap load of money in the process!

What are some of the “services” the Rabbanut does to earn their paycheck? They look over marriage and divorce documentation to make sure people are Jewish and not currently married. And couples send witnesses to them to testify that they are currently single.

The process is invasive, yet shallow. A five year-old could poke holes in their procedure, yet for whatever reason they’re obnoxious enough to send already stressed couples to the street sobbing uncontrollably.

The Incompetent Rabbanut

A great example of the Rabbanut’s silly incompetence was when I was required to go to the Rabbincal court in order to validate my divorce documentation. The office I needed to go to was in a terribly inconvenient location, with just as inconvenient office hours. My ex-wife had already been married with the same documentation in the same city. So I had to miss a great deal of work in order to be charged a large fee for them to essentially just print out a piece of paper, which I then had to deliver to others myself.

Why? All of these things could have been taken care of in minutes in a world with powerful computers and instant email capability. So why would they need to put me through all that? Why would I need to miss work, waste time, and throw money in the trash during an already busy and stressful time in life?

Greed.

And control.

And probably a hefty amount of incompetence.

Rabbi Revisited

Way back when I wrote about how I don’t like to be called “rabbi” anymore. I didn’t expect to have another reason. These people have turned the role into a joke at best; an embarrassment to the entire Jewish world at worst. I would never wish my name associated with such immorality.

Please, for the love of God, check yourselves. Figure out why you’re doing what you’re doing, and find out whether or not you’re causing more harm than good. And then do everything in your power to give the Rabbanut back its good name.

The Marriage Industry Bubble

I fear the marriage industry is a bubble. Alongside of other unsustainable ridiculousness of our generation, such as universities, I don’t see how the marriage industry could continue like this indefinitely.

The industry preys on the fact that everyone not only feels a religious, cultural, or moral obligation to get married, but they feel there are certain standards that must be met. Women need a certain level of fanciness in their wedding gown (or just need a wedding gown). There must be halls and caterers and photographers and a band and on and on and on.

And the industry responds by charging outrageous prices for every last detail with unimaginable hidden fees. And when the smoke clears, and you think you can’t handle the pressure of everything, what happens? Wedding planners swoop in to save the day! And another fee gets tossed into the pile. (Side note: Our planner was great and I’d recommend him fully and completely.)

The Marriage Industry Aggression

First of all, when those getting married are seeking advice, it is wildly inappropriate to use that as an opportunity to just sell us your services. I felt like every time I posted anything online about my engagement party or wedding, a half dozen people sent me messages aggressively trying to get me to use their band or whatever.

I’m asking for advice. I’m under pressure. And just because I mention a wedding, doesn’t mean you need to swarm like vultures and devour me. My joyous occasion should not be your platform for aggressive marketing.

Marriage Industry Alternatives

Second of all, there are alternatives. Many alternatives. People can elope. Or they can just remain together unmarried indefinitely. And on and on. I fear this is the direction we’re headed if prices keep climbing and the industry keeps everything as fantastically stressful as it has so far.

Do we really want to undermine the institution of marriage for our own greed? Or do we want to do what we can to allow people to become wed in relative peace and harmony, without an additional looming threat of financial ruin?

The wrong choice is bad for everyone.

Choose wisely.

A Quick Shout Out

A quick shout out is in order for those who were shining lights in all this craziness.

The flower shop that gave us petals for our flower girls. When you told me they were free, I didn’t believe you. “Free” was not a word I was used to hearing during this process. It seemed like every time I sneezed, someone handed me a tissue and sent me a bill for $50. People, buy their flowers. They deserve it.

To all the friends and family who helped out or offered to help out, it is beyond appreciated. And to anyone who understood that a bride and groom need a lot of space and as little as possible to add to their stress, you are beautiful. Keep up the good work!

As for the rest of the industry, marriage is not an institution meant to be exploited or undermined. Shame on you.

*Enjoying? Sign up for email updates and never miss a new post again!

*Enjoying my writing? Check out my eBooks!

Posted by jaffeworld in Israel, judaism, opinion, personal story, religion, 0 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.

 

*Enjoying? Sign up for email updates and never miss a new post again!

*Enjoying my writing? Check out my latest eBook!

Posted by jaffeworld in judaism, personal story, religion, 2 comments