Monday, December 23, 2013

Little Old Me Getting Inspired About The Phantom of the Opera Yet Again.

672 Posts and years later, only four of you are left following my blog.  So... perhaps all of my old readers who hated the person I was have all left, and I'm all by my lonesome again to write a real journal without worrying who is watching every word I say.

I am feeling a bit saddened tonight.  I found a "Pianist HD" program on my tablet a few nights ago, and I decided to support the developers for making a good product, and I bought the entire program.  The program in one sentence converts the MIDI music files into a "Guitar Hero" format for the piano.  So, I loaded up the Phantom of the Opera medley, and I followed along with my real piano [which I have not touched in around seven years] playing the tunes and hitting the chords just as the program was signing the vocal portions of the various songs at the same time.

First, since playing Phantom of the Opera was my musical to play on the piano, I knew the words to the songs and the chords I was terribly hammering out.  Yet, as I was playing, I noticed that my fingers began to remember what notes to play next.  It was a bit eerie.

I stopped the program, and played many of the jazz and blues tunes I mastered as a younger child.  It was a bit eerie to me that I no longer remembered many of the tunes, but my fingers remembered how to play them.  So I played through a classical piece I spent years working on, then got the bumble-bee something tune playing with metronome precision (I remember how hard I used to work to get the left hand to play the same time as the right hand).  Then, as I was playing a Phantom song, my heart opened up and I ran to my wife to call her over so she can hear me play the phantom song -- something I once could do, but until now, I forgot how to play.  She didn't seem that interested -- she patted me on the shoulder, and got back to researching more important things for us.

I continued to play now with the door closed, but I was saddened.  This playing brought out such emotion in me, and all of a sudden, I felt distant from my wife because the feelings that were being evoked were past feelings of hope, dreams, excitement, and pain -- the many emotional experiences both terribly rewarding and many painful that I went through before and during college.  I was a young boy with hopes and dreams to live the life of theater, and all of that died when I decided to do what was "right," and so I went to college to become a doctor.  Oh well, who knew.

All my years I always was bewitched by the story in the Phantom of the Opera.  I identified with the Phantom, but I had the voice of Christine.  I was pulled in to the story -- the love, the romance, the rejection the Phantom experienced daily, and the excitement of teaching a young talent as a maestro to be great.  Why?  Because the phantom, as deformed as he was behind his mask, he was great.  He was idealistic, he was educated, he was talented, and he was very skilled... yet he was an outcast as I often felt that I was.  I identified deeply with his sadness because it was in spite of his sadness that he reached out to help someone to greatness while he sank deeper and deeper into his shadows.

Anyway, I didn't feel like doing the ordinary thing and watching Netflix, or playing a video game -- tonight after experiencing what I did, I wanted to WRITE.  I also wanted to sing, but I have no audience, no current training, and no desire to leave my law practice so that I can pursue my dreams of broadway and stardom.  I also have a family which is the most important thing to me.  I wouldn't ever give them up, even if the dream materialized and the gates to broadway, movies, singing, acting, and superstar opened up for me.  It is just a reality that I live with -- knowing that I can, but dropping the skill on the side of a road with a thump, ditching the G-d-given-skill as if it was a lump of coal never to be heated or used for oil or heat.  Rather, it is a stained, dirty rock that has no use to me.

Anyway, life is a mess, the world is a mess, the governments are a mess, the economy is a mess, and my dreams are dead, and I am doing what my grandfather and his grandfather did before him.  I am raising a Jewish family, working to provide comfort and security to my family so that we can raise our children in a chassidishe environment so that they can grow with the moral and spiritual foundations and the security that I was not given as a child.  I do what my rabbi does -- I live life one day at a time.  I work on little goals, accomplish one thing at a time, and I remain small and invisible to the world.  I am just one more "hat" in the crowd.  I am just one more father with five kids, all young and very close in age.  I never ended up fixing my faults in yiddishkeit (as in not showing up for minyanim or socializing with the CH community), but I am quiet and people see me and say hello.  But I will never be famous, and I will never amount to anything big.  I will never have the Phantom of the Opera story happen to me from any perspective, but then again, I will never be seduced by a deranged maniac for my abilities, nor will I be hunted by those around me.  I live a boring, simple, perhaps meaningful life.  I am a mildly successful, but very small lawyer with clients and a very small practice.  I support my family, pay the bills, have enough for tzedakka, yeshiva education, the occasional new gadget, and regular vacations for my family and kids.  I work hard, I play hard (with my kids), I contribute both emotionally and physically to be the father my wife and my family needs me to be, I play video games, I watch Netflix, I learn lots of Torah, I mess with operating systems and accidentally open and disassemble external hard drives and break them while trying to fix them, and I try to get by life without expending too much energy because in my life, that is the one thing I squander by not being organized.

This is little old me.  Getting pepper streaks in my hair, not nearly as healthy as I would have wanted myself to be at this point in my life, but I am happy.  I like my life, I love my kids, I love my wife, and I love the person I have become.  I don't know what will happen tomorrow, nor do I know what direction I will take my now-stable-but-formerly-dying-law-firm, but I trust in G-d and hope that he'll direct me because it is no longer only my own life that I am taking care of, but now I have many lives that are dependent on me, so I do what I need to do to get by.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Thoughts about Kashrus and Community Standards (after many years of living in a Chabad community).

It feels as if it has been many years since my last post.  The reason I am writing this post is because ON MORE THAN ONE OCCASION, I have done searches online for innocuous questions, such as whether a "V hechure" is kosher, and my own twisted articles on Triangle-K popped up (back from when I was figuring things out as far as frumkeit and yiddishkeit).  For this reason, I am writing this article.

I guess all I want to say is that there were many (many) posts in my past where I gave messed up and twisted viewpoints as far as frumkeit, yiddishkeit, halachas, and specifically Chabad and Lubavich, and all I can say is that I was certainly NOT a halachic source because I was just becoming frum myself trying to understand everything.

Like the hataras nedarim ("annulment of vows") that we say before each Rosh Hashanna, I do not "rue" the things I have said or done, especially because each blog posting was done in good faith with the intention of investigating and understanding each issue that an orthodox jew faces.  There were many times that I came to the wrong conclusion, or that I had a twisted argument or conclusion.  Now many years later, I am still growing in my frumkeit, and for many things, I am not sure whether I have understood everything, or whether I have simply taken the halacha for what it is.  As a general rule, I follow both halacha (Jewish Law) and the community stringencies simply because 1) I am a Jew, 2) I am part of a jewish community.  I no longer question as much as I did years ago because 1) I have no time, and 2) I trust that the rabbis from previous generations had their heads on "way more straight" than our self-destructing society does.  So, relying on halacha becomes that much more convenient rather than figuring things out with my limited intellect.

In hindsight, my first introduction to the Lubavich yeshiva world was a boot-camp-like school for baalei teshuva bochurim (jewish men who are returning to orthodox judiasm after many years of not practicing the faith), where we were pressured by our peers and our Rabbis, and we were indoctrinated with rules and halachas, many times without explanations.  The yeshiva I went to simply wanted me to understand the laws and know "this is what we do, and this is what we do not do," rather than "this is the halacha, and this is where we are more stringent and here is the reason for our stringency."  The fault I experienced in my yeshiva was that the "rule" often came WITHOUT an explanation.  This frustrated me, especially since I had my step father whispering into my ear things that are patently FALSE, such as "if you go to the so-and-so [not kosher] meat plant, you'll find chassidic orthodox jews working there; thus, you can certainly eat their meat without a hechure."  Chos v'sholom! Not true.

Now I obviously have no intention of slurring a company or a hechure, and I have not seen this particular "we answer to a higher power" hot dog brand in many, many years.  That being said, you obviously need a reliable hechure on the food, and if a company doesn't have it, you simply do not eat that food.  Same deal with triangle-K, and many other so-called kosher certifications -- if you are careful about only putting kosher food into your body, you eat only kosher foods with good hecherim.

Now obviously there are many hecherim -- some better and more preferential than others -- and if you have a choice, you make a judgement call whether you want to eat the OU or the star-K.  Both are probably fine.  But, if you keep cholov yisroel, then things change, because even the OU certifies foods which are kosher, dairy, but not cholov yisroel.

Last, but not least, while even now years later I hold the assumption that there is probably corruption in the various kosher certification organizations, meaning that business tactics, high prices, and possibly bullying and misinformation about other hecherim are used, I still rely on the majority of orthodox rabbis who hold that certain hecherim are good, and others are simply not.

What I like, however, is that a number of kosher certification companies put out list of other certifications which are reliable.  For example, cRc puts out a list of kosher certification that we can rely on. That way, when you're in the store and you do not recognize a hecure, you can just look it up with your smartphone.

Anyway, in sum, the rule in jewish law for most things is that "you go with the majority."  So if most of the jewish world believes a certain hechure is good, you can rely that it is kosher.  If not, then it is probably NOT okay, but 1) question the hechure yourself by calling them up, 2) ask a rav, 3) find out what those in your community do, and then 4) make your own decision.  Keep in mind that on the strict side, many people keep stringencies such as "cholov yisroel," "pas yisroel," "bishul yisroel," and many people eat certain brands of meat (e.g., various "chassidishe hechures"), so what is "kosher" does not always mean that it is "kosher for us," a distinction I often teach my children while going through the isles in a Costco.

Also, now that we have been in a community for many years, in order to "fit" with the community (e.g., to have parents have their kids over our home without ANY questions of kashrut, etc.), there are also "community standards" that various communities adopt.  For example, when the Starbucks kashrus article came out a year or so ago, many communities (including mine) were drinking regular coffee from Starbucks without realizing that it might be considered dairy (a problem for us who keep cholov yisroel).  Now, because we know more about their practices of what-hot-water-goes-into-what-shot-glass, etc., many of us now order a cafe Americano (an espresso shot poured DIRECTLY into the cup, WITH NO SHOT GLASS). 

In sum, as you'll learn when you get married, have children, and become part of a community, you not only follow halacha, but you also adopt the stringencies of your local community.  And, you keep it BOTH IN AND OUT OF THE HOUSE.  I know this personally because I myself have made mental notes to myself that "so-and-so does not keep cholov yisroel," and "so-and-so eats XYZ meat sold at Costco," etc.  I love all these people and consider them to be my friends, but when my kids go to play at their house, I'll tell the parents not to feed them or to go out to get a pizza.

One more thing I have observed -- there are a lot of bad feelings when it comes to kashrut, specifically from people who do are more lenient, or from people who do not understand or follow the stricter stringencies of halacha and kashrut.  If you are more lax, I won't fault you -- I just won't eat at your house.  If you are stricter than me (e.g., schmaltz on Pesach), I admire you, but I wouldn't want to be you.  For me, I keep all the yisroels -- cholov yisroel, pas yisroel, bishul yisroel, and I only eat meat from Chassidishe hechures.  I wasn't always at this level, but I credit my wife for this, who has been the rock that forms the basis for the kashrut in our home.  It is very easy to keep all the stringencies when your wife is the one that does all the shopping.  She is my aishes chayil, and I adore and appreciate her for the hard work she has done over the years, and with G-d's assistance, more many, many more years to come.