Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Shavuot Offers Lactose Intolerant Jews Much Needed 'Spring Cleaning'

Note: this was originally intended (and may still appear in) YU's satire newspaper, thequipster.org.

Still reeling from the pangs of Passover, many Jews' innards seek relief in a milchige' menu. Some use cheesecake, others lasagna, crepes, homemade mozzarella sticks, a cold cup of chocolate milk during an otherwise ordinary Yumtif meal, but all have the same intent. This holiday will send me to the bathroom. And I don't care for how long.

Shavuot, like most Jewish holidays, is known almost exclusively for its dietary requirements. The laws might not be quite as liberal as Rosh-Hashana's or Chanuka's ('let's add a cup of sugar/oil to every recipe!'), but they do allow for eating leavened (read: digestible) products and allow them to be eaten inside a permanent (read: not-being-blown-away-by-ungodly-October-winds-just-as-I-step-out-to-eat) dwelling. Shavuot food is, just, well, different.
Shavuot food provides us with challenges in its preparation (as opposed to, say, difficulties with its elimination). We can't just substitute potato-starch for flour in the Yerushalmi Kugel (OK, so maybe that never really worked anyway). We can't just serve the chicken soup cold, and sprinkled with a little bit of evergreen. Chulent doesn't even make sense. Instead, we have to make new soups. We have to put cheese in the Kugel. We have to figure out how to prepare fish that hasn't already been gefilte'd. But no one said holiday cooking was going to be easy.

Luckily, there's a happy ending. One might go as far to say that Shavuot is a happy ending to a long seven weeks. No, I don't mean that Lubavitchers can finally listen to music. I mean that for some (possibly none), dinner of Leil Shavuot is what finally gets all that Matzo stagnant since Pesach out of their system. Seven weeks is, according to a recent article in BSMJ (Bio-Scientific Medical Journal), the longest any non-gum food can remain in one's digestive tract. And perhaps, this release of a seven week bowel-buildup resulted in the other well-known Shavuot tradition. The custom of staying up all night on the first night of Shavuot probably didn't originally involve any Torah learning at all.

But the original intent of the Minhag doesn't matter as much as how it is put into practice in our lives. And just as eating copious amounts of cheesecake and listening to our Chavrusas sporadically yell at us to stay awake while we fall asleep to the soothing aroma of a Daf of Chulin (Talman edition) has become the focus of staying up all night, perhaps, even in our days of Lactaid, Lactagen, and bananas, we can still find meaning in the custom of consuming dairy. Perhaps, Shavuot tells us to switch it up a bit, cast aside our carnivorous souls, and accept the Torah with new ones, which are still kinda shy about killing animals to eat them, except fish, because fish are Parve. Or, something like that. I'm sorry. You'll have to excuse me. I'll be back in half an hour.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Recap (Part I)

Is any life so boring that its story doesn't belong on the internet?
Crude? Yes.
Painful? Sure.
Boring? Maybe.
But boring??? I think not. I think it's time for...


Or maybe not; we'll see how long this keeps me entertained.

To start, perhaps an update on my life. Many things have remained the same since the last time I shaded in slivers of the area under the curve. I still watch TV. I still drink coffee. I'm still 6' 3". My mom still makes my lunch every morning. But the details are what matter, right? Like what was in the lunch, and which TV shows, and how much coffee, and why do I wait until 96% of my shul is telling me that my hair is too long to get a haircut.

I think this has been my favorite semester at college so far. I'm taking four Physics courses but don't have any lab reports. I have good professors for all of them, and my biophys professor hooked me up with a colleague of his who had a research project for me to attack. (That also worked out because I have a paper to do for that professor, and this gave me a topic.)

The problem with biophys is that it incorporates biology, and I was never much into that. It's a funny class because 2 of us are physics majors and the rest are biology/biochem. So me and the other physics major have no clue what the pretty pictures mean and the other eight don't understand the equations. We all just thank G-d the tests are take-home.

The other three are the standard upper level undergrad physics courses: Classical Mechanics, Electromagnetism, and Quantum Mechanics. I find them all really interesting, and each class makes some equation or mathematical relation significantly more meaningful than I had understood it before. (I get it, I'm a nerd.) It also helps that the textbooks for each of them (used almost universally across college campuses) are exceedingly clear and concise, and one of the authors is even pretty funny.

Lest I forget how to write (and lest they don't graduate me because I failed to fulfill a humanities requirement) I'm also taking a philosophy course on Nietzsche. Apparently, being a godless heathen was a prereq for this course, so its been interesting. (Granted, having some familiarity of Neviim Acharonim is definitely a prereq to understanding Thus Spoke Zarathustra.) A combination of the professor's father being Jewish and me being the only one who does the reading (slash only one willing to open my mouth during class) makes for such great class discussions as "What do you have to do to become bar-mitzvah?" and "How do you kasher metal keilim?".

My last class is part of IIT's Inter-professional PROject initiative. (Can you spell needless waste of time?) The requirement IIT has is that every student has to work on some project with team of people from assorted majors. None of the projects ever seem to get anything done. This semester they started a class where you get to build a project from scratch and learn how to work in a team. I signed up for it with a bunch of friends, and somehow at the end of the semester I seem to have gotten what I wanted out of the class. I'm on an IPRO for next semester with a fairly competent group (I chose the project based on the people I saw heading it) working on a project that I don't see as a complete waste of time. More details to follow in theoretical subsequent posts.

In summary, my life is basically doing physics problem sets (I bought a white-board to work on!), writing a paper on Nietzsche every other week, and gchat. I try to play tennis every once in a while, and the weather's been actually somewhat permitting so far this season, but I guess that's about to end.

So I never got to which TV shows or any good quantification of exactly how addicted to coffee I've become. Alas, I am tired, and quantum mechanics is at 8:35 tomorrow morning. Stay tuned for (the tentative) Part II!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Shopping at Real Stores is Stupid

I came completely unprepared.

1. Stop at Best Buy on way home from shul to look at webcams and hard drives. No significant sales; go home.

2. Buy webcam off ebay for $10 less than was at Best Buy.

3. Head over to Carson's to get Aba coat, and see if mine went on sale more since getting it on Wednesday. (5 minute drive)

4. Spend about half an hour looking for a parking space. Getting honked at, honking at others. F-bombs galore.

5. Find a parking space, head into Carson's.

6. Find last right type of coat that's size large. Also get gloves that are 50% off.

7. Get to front of line. Random woman hands me $10 off coupon, because she has no use for it.

8. Get done with transaction. Ask for receipt. Told "its in the bag" which is overflowing with coat.

9. Leave store. Discover receipt "not in bag".

10. Spend 20 minutes looking for car. Numerous people looking for parking ask me where I'm parked. I embarrassingly tell them I have no idea.

11. Take wrong exit out of mall. 5 minute drive turns into 15 minutes.

12. Get home, determine this was slightly more interesting than normal routine; i.e., blog-worthy.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Tuesday morning was just like most other school mornings. Got up for the 6:45 minyan, got back to the house around 7:30, grabbed my lunch bag, coffee filled mug, paper-towel bib, car keys, and drove off toward Lake Shore Drive. (You mean you don't protect your shirt when drinking coffee while driving? ARE YOU FREAKING INSANE???)

Anyhoo, traffic is always a little backed up on Ridge just South of Peterson at 7:50 AM, so while stopped, I pick up my mug to take a few sips. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch the bearded, 40-something guy in a red sedan in the right lane doing the same thing, picking up his mug and drinking. And he sees me. And he smiles, and lifts his mug toward mine, as if to toast me over the 7-foot distance between us, divided by two car doors, two closed windows, and a lack of past interaction.

And I'm flabbergasted. I smiled and quickly looked away, because after all, who the heck does this guy think he is? It's not like we know each other. Does he think we're special or similar because we're both on our way to somewhere we don't want to be, drinking coffee at 8AM while stopped at a red light? Is this something we should bond over? Like no one else drinks coffee while stopped at a red light. The nerve of this guy. Trying to be social and cheery at 8AM.

The incident threw me off for about the next two hours. I think sometimes we need breaks in routine, to remind us that we're alive.

Or, maybe he just liked the bib.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

A Letter to the SET Corporation

Note: I really sent this.

Why, in all hell, did you guys make two of the colors in SET green and red? Nearly 10% of ALL males are green-red color deficient! I LOVE the game, but am constantly asking my friends if a card is green or red, because I DON'T KNOW!!! And I know, you offer advice about drawing lines on the cards to distinguish them, but there are so many other colors to pick from! Black, yellow, orange, blue--- but instead you guys chose to lock 5% of the total population out of your fun little clique, because they're born differently.

I'm really getting pissed about this. I hope you can tell.


S. F.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Torah Tuesday!

WARNING: Much speculation ahead.

The strangest part of parshas Pinchas has to be the section that begins וידבר משה אל ה לאמר. Moses striking up the conversation is a strange change of pace. The section continues to describe Moses' plea that G-d appoint a leader over the Israelites, one that will lead them out of the desert and bring them into the land of Israel.

One of those seemingly obvious necessities, right? So why didn't G-d to think to do it before? Why, after commanding Moses to come up to Har Haavarim, to be gathered unto his people (i.e., die) must G-d be advised to appoint a leader for His people? It almost sounds like G-d didn't really agree with Moses, that G-d didn't see a necessity in His intervention in appointing a leader, or that maybe Bnei Yisrael didn't need one at all.

Moshe did see a necessity. He couldn't comprehend how the Israelites could last on their own, after their last mishap. In the beginning of Pinchas G-d commands Moshe to wage a war- to literally inflict pain- against the Midianites because they inflicted pain on the Israelites. That pain was twofold: 1. The matter of Peor (seemingly including both the idol worship and immorality) and 2. The matter of Cuzbi (which had to include Zimri) who openly displayed their immoral behavior. The physically painful aspect was the deadly plague that G-d sent on the Jews, which abruptly stopped after Cuzbi and Zimri were killed by Pinchas.

But only Pinchas seemed to figure that out, that Cuzbi and Zimri needed to be killed. Only he reacted. And it wasn't that hard a problem to fix.

Moshe saw that, and saw the need for someone to be in charge, because otherwise it wouldn't be everyone taking charge, it would be no one. In Moshe's eyes this was a defining moment for this generation of Bnei Yisrael, and it did not define them as very self-motivated.

So Moshe advised G-d to appoint a leader, because he couldn't understand how Bnei Yisrael could make it otherwise. And G-d acquiesces. And apparently the command to go up to Har Haavarim has also been postponed. (For a whole Sefer.)

In the beginning of Matos, G-d again commands Moshe to wage the war against the Midianites, but the terminology has changed. Originally the war was a צרור, a paining. Now it is a נקם, a vengeance. The war has become a symbol that Bnei Israel have lost something, and must avenge their loss. Perhaps their loss was that ability to continue in Israel without any leader, to be able to have a more direct relationship with G-d that did not require a middleman.

But there's more. G-d now discloses what He didn't say before, which is why Moshe's ascent to Har Haavarim and subsequent death has been delayed, beside for the need to appoint Yehoshua. G-d says, "avenge the vengeance of the Israelites from the Midianites; then you will be gathered to your people." The irony of Moshe telling G-d that the people needed a leader is that in the same instance that the people failed to act and kill Zimri, Moshe also failed. The "new" reason to wage war against the Midianites applied to Moshe as much as everyone else, so he had to live to be involved in it.

Saturday, July 4, 2009


This past weekend we commemorated one of the great lives of the past few hundred years. One who's legacy lives on in thousands of individuals, to whom he spread his ideals and knowledge to bring greater meaning to their lives. That person, was none other than R' Shmuel Yaakov Weinberg Zatza"l, the previous Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Israel.

K, so I spent July 4 at Ner visiting friends there, and literally didn't remember that it was Independence Day until about Havdalah time. And it was the Shabbos before R' Weinberg's Yahrtzeit, so I learned a whole lot about a guy who I'd never heard of, in the form of forty-five minute speeches at all the meals during which we were apparently expected not to continue eating. Seemed like a nice guy.

But probably not my most memorable July 4. That had to be when I was sixteen, during the first vending summer. It's not exactly the highest class work, so you get to meet some interesting (/shady) people. I got a call on the afternoon of July 3 from my friend S asking me to go to Grant Park that night and sell glow-sticks with him. Apparently, he and a couple other of my friends were offered by an older vendor this incredible opportunity, but for one reason or another all the guys bailed except for S, who probably sensed the shadiness involved, and didn't want to go alone. I hadn't any other plans and Grant Park sounded like a cool place to be for fireworks, so I agreed, and as instructed brought an overnight back to hold the merchandise.

We spent about fifteen minutes trying to find our vendor in GP, but eventually we got the stuff and got to selling. Mine weren't going too quickly, perhaps because I just couldn't fathom how anyone in their right mind would spend $3 on a single glow-stick, even if it was 2 for $5. I guess you kinda have to believe in what you're selling. I was walking within 15-20 feet of S, selling on the other side, when a cop yelled him over. We had both suspected that it was probably illegal to sell anything in downtown Chicago without a permit, but figured it was a really slight risk. I decided that the cop didn't really care about me, because he was a lot closer to S, so I just continued walking. To which I heard, "HEY! Where the hell do you think you're going?"

Yeah, apparently cops don't like to be run away from.

I went to join S by the cop, who was wearing jeans and a tucked in short-sleeve shirt, and looking pretty scary to me, who knew this was how I was gonna not get into any colleges. He flashed his badge, asked us for permits, and told us they were getting all the illegal merchants. He pointed to my friend and told him to give up his merchandise. He turned to me and said "You- you're going down to the station. Just a slight misdemeanor." He told me to turn around, and put my hands behind my back. I could have sh*t myself. It was probably the scariest moment of my life.

We begged, told the cop I was an idiot who probably didn't deserve to live numerous times. In the end he had mercy, and just took my stuff away. I lost an overnight bag, but at least I didn't get raped in a jail cell. I counted my blessings. S and I went back to our vendor, collected our commission on what we sold, and ditched the fireworks, which we were no longer really in the mood for.

And we came out with a story. For a fairly good-two-shoed person, I now had an encounter with a cop that almost ended in handcuffs on my resume. Even better, it wasn't one that I had to put on a college application in the space where they ask you if you've ever been arrested, because I hadn't! I was kinda happy about the whole thing. It had some semblance of adulthood which seemed cool.

This summer has been mostly away from the parents' house, but I can't say it's felt very independent. My program put me up in an apartment so no rent bills, and I haven't done much extravagant cooking because I don't have a kosher oven. I've learned to grocery shop, but not much more. When you're seven hundred miles from home, however, there is a slightly better chance of needing to be able to cope on your own.

Like Saturday night. Motzei Shabbos my phone decided not to turn on. It continued to refuse to be turned on for the remainder of the drive back to College Park from Baltimore. Including the point at the end when I decided to take I495 South instead of West. Thereby missing my exit. (I should mention that even Google wasn't clear on these directions.) So I got a little lost in a foreign city at about 11:30 PM with no cell phone. I didn't get as far as the 'F' word, but I did get to 'S', so you could sense the freaking out going on in my mind.

Eventually I found my way back to the highway going the other way and made it back to College Park, but it wasn't exactly a thrilling experience. It was one of those times where I was really appreciating Chicago, where getting lost just means you have to find a place to turn around, because on the grid there are only four directions to go. (Granted I would not want to have to stop somewhere in Chicago at 12 AM and ask for directions. Not that I did that here, because y'know, I'm manly like that.)

In other words, being independent in the sense of being cell-phone less kinda sucks. I'm sure it has advantages in other areas, like say Israel, or the U.S. but I'm not sure I see the point of moving out just yet.