Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow – What a Supportive Community Looked Like in 2006

Ed. note: This posts and the comments show what a supportive community looked like in 2006. It was all hugs and kisses, but it was a good discussion with many people looking to give support.

I recently started growing my payis. They have gotten long enough so that when I tuck them behind my ears you can see a little bit of them peeking out from the bottom of my ear.

When one of my coworkers, an FFB, noticed that I had started growing my payis he said, “Don’t be such a ba’al t’shuvah.” Even though he didn’t say it, what he meant was if I wanted to be more frum, growing my payis was not the way to go about doing it. Instead, I should focus more on torah learning and middos development.

I like having them, but at the same time I am definitely very self-conscious of them and find myself often hiding them behind my ears especially in the presence of teachers and mentors for fear of feeling foolish because I know they would disapprove.

I always wanted to grow my payis but now that I have them I need to ask myself if my decision to grow them is truly serving G-d, or is it serving myself by helping me to feel more like someone I would like to be instead of who I truly am.

My Brother’s Big Fat Secular Wedding

Blast from the past, first posted on Nov 8, 2006.

We had asked our rabbi if we were even allowed to attend, and he told us since there is an assumption that Jewish weddings on the whole are at least kosher style that we were permitted to go but that, of course, we shouldn’t eat anything. I was relieved since I knew that telling my family, my mother in particular, that we wouldn’t be able to make it would be the start of World War Three. Besides, I had already rented the tux.

I was asked to speak and, as you might imagine, I was quite nervous. Besides trying to put feelings into words, which is especially hard for me, it was to be in front of an audience of three hundred or so secular Jews and I hoped that I would be a Kiddush Hashem. When I told another rabbi that I would be speaking he
advised me to try to convey some kind of positive Jewish message.

I spent the good part of two days trying to find the right things to say. I managed to borow a good line or two from a couple of speeches I had heard and to recycle a poignant d’var torah that I planned to give over. However, because of an incident, both tragic and sadly ironic, that occurred shortly before the big speech, much of my plan changed.

We listened to the father of the bride k’vell over his daughter and make the typical jokes about how he’d be paying for the wedding for the next twenty years. Then the bride’s sister spoke about the time she stole her sister’s sticker book and paid the price for it. The best man was very heartfelt as he congratulated the bride and groom, and then I, the brother of the groom, was summoned to speak.

I briefly acknowledged the presence of some of the more senior family members in attendance and related that it was an honor to be asked to say a few words. I swallowed hard and decided for sure, at that moment, that I was actually going to say the words I had concocted in my head, only a half-hour earlier as a result of that tragic and sadly ironic “pre-speech” incident. I continued, “I had prepared to say something very deep and meaningful about G-d and torah…” At this point I felt the collective breath of the crowd drop as they clearly had no desire to be bored by some religious guy talking about the one thing that they absolutely didn’t feel like listening to at that time. I continued “…but after one of the waiters offered me a scallop wrapped in bacon at the cocktail hour, I decided that maybe speaking about G-d and Torah wasn’t the way to go at this event.”

Would you believe me if I told you that the roar emanating from that reception hall was so loud and filled with laughter that it could wake a dead man? Well, it was.

Now I knew that the line was funny and ironic before I said it, but I guess I didn’t really comprehend its genius until I heard the crowd’s reaction. After that I could have gotten away with saying just about anything! It’s true! Chazal wasn’t kidding when they said that a person should open his speech with a joke! Good advice!

In the end, I did manage to discuss a Jewish concept, albeit very briefly, and with the response of a good deal of laughter from the crowd. I focused on the concept of breaking the glass underneath the chuppah. I related that Chazal instructed us to break a glass under the chuppah because at the time of our greatest joy we are to remember the great loss we suffered with the destruction of our holy Temple in Jerusalem. I emphasized, however, what was implicit in the words of Chazal, that this day is the time of the couple’s greatest joy, that indeed today, their wedding day, is the happiest day of their lives and that from this day forward….it would be all down hill. I was joking of course…and did they ever laugh! Who knew I was so funny?

May we all soon merit a time when we Jews witness the rebuilding of our holy Temple in Jerusalem and a time when Jews no longer serve scallops wrapped in bacon at their simchas!

The Whole World In His Hands

A blast from the past. Originally posted January 24, 2006

The most empowering moment of my life was when I learned that the torah was written by G-d. Immediately, I understood that my actions affected the entire universe. If I did a mitzvah I brought the world that much closer to the coming of Moshiach, and conversely, if I did an aveira, chas v’shalom, I delayed his arrival even longer. There was so much to learn so I left my life behind to go to yeshiva and tried to make up for all of the lost time.

Today B”H I am married to a wonderful woman and I am blessed with two beautiful children. I wear a yarmulke, tzitzis, a black hat, and payos. I say modeh ani when I wake up in the morning, wash nitilas yedaim, make brochas, daven three times a day, keep kosher and the laws of taharas mishpacha. I keep Shabbos and I am kovaya itim. I’ve even been zocheh to make a number of siyumim. However, for all of my changes and accomplishments, I am not so sure I am a better person.

As much as I try to improve, I still have many of the same bad middos I possessed before becoming frum and I still allow my yetzer hara shlita over me during moments of weakness. I am neither as kind nor as patient nor as charitable or magnanimous as I’d like to be, and I could certainly improve in many other areas.

As much as I have integrated the Torah into my life, I am still far from the level I would like to be. I still view my life as lacking in many ways both spiritual and physical. I know this is not torah thinking and I know intellectually that Hashem gives me everything I need.

When I first started learning and becoming frum it seemed so clear to me that my every action made ripples and was affecting the universe. Now that I am so much more entrenched in the everyday of life (family, work, learning, health, growth, etc) and don’t have the leisure to sit and learn in yeshiva all day, my actions don’t seem as potent as they once did. I wonder if I wasn’t better off back when I felt so clearly that I held the keys to the coming of moshiach in my hands.

Princes and Princesses We Were

I was not given many limits as a child and was raised to think that the world was coming to me. (I do not think that many FFBs are taught to think like that.) There are obviously many negatives to being raised in that regard, and many of them become crystal clear to me when people like the guy I work with, an FFB, pronounces his disbelief with the way I went about handling any one of many situations. “Aryeh, you can’t DO that” he will tell me. Or “Aryeh, what’s WRONG with you?” he’ll ask?

Now I don’t want to comment on his delivery…whether it could or should or couldn’t or shouldn’t be better…that’s a conversation for another time. What I would like to discuss is that often, after he points these things out I find myself saying “he’s right.”
Read more Princes and Princesses We Were

Maror (Step 9) – The Eating of the Bitter Herbs

The Haggada asks: “For what reason do we eat these bitter herbs?” The answer, known by most, is because the Egyptians made the lives of our fathers bitter by burdening them with back-breaking work.

The Me’am Lo’ez haggada advances a different reason. He explains that there are three words for romaine lettuce in Hebrew: maror, chasa, and chazeres. We have already explained why it is called maror, because of the bitterness we experienced in Mitzraim.

It is also called chasa because Hashem took notice of the Jews suffering in Mitzraim and had mercy (chas, in Hebrew) on them and brought them out of servitude.
Read more Maror (Step 9) – The Eating of the Bitter Herbs

Still At 61!?

“Still at 61!?” That’s where my “Hair Today Gone Tomorrow” post has been holding for weeks now on the “Most Commented Upon Posts” section of BeyondBT and it’s beginning to really irk me. I mean, is there no one in the whole World Wide Web to bring it up to 62? Come on people! We’ve got lists to top.

But seriously, I do eye that section on BeyondBT every time I log in to have a peek at what’s on the minds of my fellow BTs and FFBs. I think that to some degree it’s even one of the reasons I have neglected to contribute a post for so long. I mean the pressure to outperform the others in your sector can be quite burdensome.
Read more Still At 61!?

The Bris Party

What To Do, What To Do?

Since our son’s bris was to fall on the first day of Succos, we called a posek to ask how we should deal with the fact that our not-yet-frum relatives would most likely be making the trip to attend the bris on Yom Tov.

His first suggestion: Stage a mock bris. Even though I was trained as an actor, I did not think that even Sir Lawrence Oliver could have pulled that one off. I deferred and requested another suggestion.
Read more The Bris Party

How to Live a Really Long Time

Ba’alei T’shuvos recognize that a Torah lifestyle, more than any other lifestyle enables a Jew to grow and achieve one’s potential.

Many a well-meaning and concerned parent of a BT, however, has felt threatened by their BTs newfound commitment to all-things-Torah and has feared losing their child to that which the BT holds so dear.

The Halachos and mitzvah observance that BTs embrace, parents often shun. Whereas a BT might yearn for boundaries, parents of BTs often eschew them. This can often strain the BT/parent-of-a-BT relationship. Read more How to Live a Really Long Time

You’re a Conformist!

There is a certain freedom in conforming. Non-conformity takes a lot of effort, creativity, and energy. To go the way everyone else is going is easy, to think for yourself sometimes you must fight the tide. Conforming relieves you of that pressure to stand out.

I grew up believing that I would become an actor. I studied acting seriously in college and in NYC after graduation. While all of my friends were becoming boring investment bankers (oh, how I wish now that I had become an investment banker then) and accountants, doctors and lawyers, I was busy with art and performance. I was not going to just become another “nobody,” another working stiff like everyone else. Nobody else I knew was going to become an actor and I felt a sense of elitism and pride at my courageous and dubious choice of profession. When I became friends with a certain famous actor and started working in the industry my sense of self-importance grew even greater. While my friends from high school were busy getting their graduate degrees and starting their (boring) families, I was hobnobbing with Hollywood and partying with the power players.
Read more You’re a Conformist!