Archive for the ‘Judaism’ Category

Play Date

by Aaron under Date Night,Entertainment,Judaism,Single Life

When I was little (okay, sixteen), nothing was cooler to me than action figures. I would manipulate Shredder from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles into teaming up with Spider-Man and Wolverine to take on the evil likes of Magneto and other villains. It gave me such a feeling of joy to sit and play with my toys and create new stories.

As the years went on, I started to grow out of my toys and into dating. As an adult, dating became one of my favorite pastimes. However, while Shredder and Spider-Man have yet to show up on any date I’ve been on, one of my favorite traits about the dates I’ve been on has been the imagination and effort put into them. Sometimes I’m the one with a brilliant idea, or sometimes the girl comes up with something fun, and sometimes it’s a combination of the two.

Regardless of who takes credit, it’s always fun to do something different. I always wanted to explore Dallas more before I left, but even my last dates there were still very basic: bowling, dinners, etc. I explored things on my own, such as two-stepping and indie concerts, but never had such fun dates.

And yet, when I was away, I became a master of fun dates. I guess it started with a date in Arkansas that stretched all the way to Memphis, but since moving to New York I’ve discovered the beauty of exploring a city with fresh eyes. Some people might groan at the touristy things to do in a city, but sometimes tourists go places for a reason. Though Times Square would still mostly be a no-no in my eyes, there are a lot of great options in the Big Apple and elsewhere.

My dates have been as simple as a Shabbat walk in Central Park or watching the sun set on the Hudson, or extravagant as trips to Coney Island and the Empire State Building. Being in New York has allowed me to see things with a fresh eye and excitement, and I think that fresh way of thinking has really enhanced the dates I’ve been on recently.

We all want to see the world from fresh eyes and be whisked away on an adventure, and you don’t have to be new to a city to do it. Try to take some time to go to that touristy place around you where no locals ever go — from Graceland to the Fort Worth Stockyards to the World of Coke to the Sears Tower. Sometimes things can be pricey, but they can also provide a new adventure, and definitely something different (and also probably more worth paying for than a dinner date). I don’t see myself playing with action figures any time soon, but in a sense the world is the greatest play set I’ve ever had, and I love trying new combinations of characters and places in it.


New Experiment

by Haley Plotnik under Date Night,Judaism,Relationships

In the last year, I’ve learned a lot about modesty in Orthodox Judaism. While I don’t follow it, I am finding that I like a lot of the principles behind it. About a month ago, I started covering my body more on a first dates.

Why, you ask? Dating is supposed to be fun, maybe a little bit flirty if you feel chemistry. But first dates in the long run are also about looking for a life partner. I evaluate men based on character, manners, values, and other traits that typically require having an engaging conversation.

Looking presentable and being hygienic are important in that they show effort, but they’re not everything. “Presentable” for women, especially in the summer, doesn’t have to mean “mostly naked.” I am generally more comfortable in my skin when it’s not all on display.

With this in mind, I’ve begun a new experiment. I try to look fashionable, but without showing my thighs, knees, shoulders, or any cleavage. Some guys are more receptive to this than others, but I think it’s become an easier way to dodge a bullet. If a guy seems bored or distracted by me, or he checks out scantily clad women while on a date with me, I can cut my losses and move on. I’ve been in situations before where I was keenly aware that a guy was only interested in me in a physical way. While it can be flattering, it’s not good for my self-esteem in the long-term. I like to be appreciated for my internal qualities, which can easily be overlooked on first dates.

I don’t have any data to prove it, but I think I now get more compliments related to qualities other than my looks on dates. I found them to be a rarity prior to my experiment. I’m also finding it easier to connect with people on a more personal level, and I think I’m going to stick to my new plan indefinitely.


Ease of Life

by Aaron under JBloggers,Judaism

M’shana makom, m’shana mazel — this is the phrase people kept repeating to me as I decided between Dallas and New York. The phrase means change your place and change your fortunes. I was doing fine in Dallas, but I can tell you New York is a different world entirely, and I love it. There are more Jews to date here, more things to do on Shabbat (the Great Lawn in Central Park and touring the Upper West Side’s Kiddushes with my roommate have become my favorite activities each week), and best of all, more places to enjoy Kosher dining.

Jewish life in New York, to put it simply, is really easy. I tell my company it’s Shabbat on Friday nights and I get to be out in time every week. People on my block in Harlem know how to properly get a mezuzah affixed on a doorway. There’s a kosher section in my grocery store in an area where there are few Jews. And even in this (Jewishly) remote area of town (The middle of 150th street, where the nearest synagogue is a 30-minute walk), even the far walks of one hour to synagogues with numerous young people is closer than the two or so hours it would take me to walk to any shul in Dallas from my house (not to mention how easy it is to walk here).

It makes me wonder though — is life more meaningful when it’s difficult? Wasn’t there more meaning to the fact that in Dallas I was still attempting to keep Kosher, I still kept Shabbat every week (although by staying at different homes every week), and I still only dated Jewish despite a small dating pool? Life was definitely not tough, luckily, but there were some strange challenges. People thought I was nuts when I told them I dated long-distance to have a bigger dating pool, and the first time I told a group I’d not be able to meet during Shabbat got some weird reactions. Did my continued efforts despite people’s lack of understanding mean anything more came out of it?

In some ways, yes. I gained a great deal of confidence by standing up for my decisions that a lot of people didn’t understand, and my efforts in keeping Kosher, keeping Shabbat, and dating Jewish, no matter what it took, led me to great places that have made living in New York more exciting and meaningful than if I’d just waited to do those things here. But to call New York “easy” is still relative — the truth is, those things are still difficult here. Sure, there are 2 million Jews, but 10 million people overall here, it’d be much easier to date a non-Jew. There are tons of Kosher restaurants, but there are also hundreds more non-Kosher restaurants, many with great smells and sights in their windows. It’s not a rare occurrence for me to drool over the smell of Subway or the sight of a chicken and cheese sandwich. And while Shabbat is easy because of the number of people in my life who keep it, there are definitely moments where I don’t want to take a walk or read a book and instead just pop open my laptop to goof around.

Judaism, and life in general, is full of challenges and tests. Some are easier than others. But just because things are made easier doesn’t make them any less of tests, and any less special when we stick to our guns. I felt guilty when I got here and it seemed like everything was so much easier, I thought life needed to be more difficult. But I think it’s just become relatively easier, and new challenges have started to show — prepping my own home for Shabbat every week or finding the budget to keep kosher. The only bad thing, really, would be for me not to keep pushing myself to grow and find new challenges around me. Whether it’s Judaism for you, or a new place, or whatever the thing in your life, don’t hesitate to try and make it easier. New York has been a great experience, and even better, I’m sure it will bring me many more challenging experiences to help me grow in ways that wouldn’t have been possible when the now-easy parts of my life were difficult.


Picking Wrong

by Haley Plotnik under Judaism,Relationships,Single Life

Two years ago, when I was at one of the lowest points in my entire life, I started a relationship with a man I’ll call “Ted.” Ted was a good guy in a lot of ways, but he also had a dark side. He wouldn’t ever let me see him in his darkest state. The longer we were together, the more I was scared to break up with him for fear that he wouldn’t be able to handle it. After 9 months together, he told me that he didn’t think we’d last for the long-term. So I said, “Fine. Let’s break up.” I was so relieved he’d been the instigator, even if I swung the axe. Two weeks later, he begged me to take him back, but I couldn’t. As he wallowed in his poor choices, I started feeling more confident in my choices than I’d felt in a long time.

I am historically bad at picking suitable guys to date. About a month after Ted and I broke up, I decided to get a little help picking out men from the peanut gallery. I let people set me up left and right. Most of the time I would rule out guys after the first date for one reason or another, but every now and then, I’d find someone who seemed like a potential keeper. Right when I would start to doubt the new relationship, Ted would contact me. It was like he had a super power. I’d feel guilty, and then I’d shoot my budding relationship in the foot.

I made myself a promise when I broke up with Ted that I would only date someone with better qualifications. I wanted someone who stood head and shoulders above the previous guys I’ve dated, not a repeat of the same old thing.

Fast forward to now: Ted and I have been broken up for 15th months. I’ve dated quite a few guys, only to land on the conclusion that I’ve been somewhat wrong. I fundamentally believe I deserve better treatment than I’ve had in the past. However, the traits I’ve associated with such treatment are totally oversimplified. I guess I thought that dating Jewish would help alleviate some of the alienation I’ve experienced in past relationships. It really hasn’t. I feel more alienated at times, just in ways I’d hadn’t anticipated. I date Jews and non-Jews at current. With Jews I don’t have to subtly screen for anti-Semitism, but I’m not willing to bet all of my chips on Jews just yet either; limiting my opportunities to find happiness with <1% of the US population of males feels about as risky as placing a $5,000 blind bet on a poker hand. What do you think? Am I playing the odds… or I am playing it too safe?


Schedules & Options

by Haley Plotnik under Judaism,Rabbi

I was talking to a Catholic friend of mine the other day, and she brought up that she had to head out to church. I asked if she goes to the same service every week, and she said something that really resonated with me. “Some people schedule their week around church. They go to the same service every week, and they almost never skip that service. They know when they go they’ll have the experience they’re looking for. Other people just fit in a service when they can. Sometimes it’s every week, sometimes once a month. They’re the types who fit religion around their existing schedule.”

Sometimes I struggle with a balance. Do I go Friday at 8:00 PM? Saturday at 10:00 AM? Do I go every week? What denomination?

Jews aren’t the only people that have this problem, but it’s nice to be in an area where there are choices. Most of my life, my Christian friends have had so many options, they can do a taste test (so to speak) of churches or styles of service they want to attend. This summer, I am grateful that I have options, despite some being less proximal. I’m just lucky that I liked the closest one, which happens to be the first one I tried. I didn’t go this week, but I know that if I want to hear another inspirational message from the rabbi, I’m only a 10-minute drive away.


Playing Cat & Mouse

by Haley Plotnik under Date Night,JDate,Judaism,Online Dating,Relationships,Single Life

There are some profiles on JDate I’ve viewed five or more times. It’s not because I’m in love with the profile, or even that it’s more remarkable than all others. It also doesn’t necessarily mean I am romantically interested in the person. I have a predicament I call “profile overexposure.”

Here’s how “profile overexposure” works: At some point, I view someone’s profile. The person views me back. Then… nothing. Sometimes I will re-click on their profile, forgetting I’d already looked a month back. I call this “playing cat and mouse.” There are so many profiles out there and so much to look at. How can anyone possibly remember the important details without having a spreadsheet or taking notes? I sometimes consider devising a system for this issue, but I then convince myself it isn’t worth my time.

My frustration with this “Cat and Mouse” phenomenon sometimes leads me to accept dates with non-Jewish men. Non-Jewish men take more interest in me than Jewish men for reasons I cannot fathom. Perhaps it’s because I don’t look “that Jewish” (according to many of my peers). Regardless, I accepted a date with a guy I’ll call “Chris.” Chris and I had a great initial interaction. No major butterflies, but we’re both engineers, and we had a lot to chat about… until he asked me what I had done earlier in my weekend. I mentioned I had been to synagogue for Friday night services. He knew I was Jewish when he accepted the date, but it appears he found me to be too Jewish. If you’ve seen my previous post on not being Jewish enough, you can imagine my delight when someone found me to be “too Jewish!”

The conversation took an odd turn when he realized I partake in Judaism, rather than just wearing it as a cultural badge of honor. He then admitted he “didn’t really like Jewish food,” and I could see him sizing me up against stereotypical Jewish “boxes.” He outwardly compared me to some of the most typical ones: nose, hair texture, and athletic ability.

People ask me why I go on so many first dates. To be truthful, it can get very tiresome. Chris said he was “nonreligious,” but when push came to shove, I sensed his discomfort and misunderstanding of Judaism. He tentatively asked, “Isn’t every child born to a Jewish woman automatically Jewish?” He was clearly not okay having a Jewish child. At that, I was ready for another round of “Cat and Mouse” on JDate.


Why I Cried During The Zombie Movie

by Aaron under Judaism,Online Dating,Relationships,Single Life

Before I was on this blog as a narcissistic storyteller every week, I was struggling with my dating life quite a bit. Break-ups were especially hard for me when they hit; I had a tendency to over-invest in relationships that were probably less real than I thought them to be.

One such afternoon comes to mind, and that is when I popped in a DVD I’d rented from Netflix called Warm Bodies. Now, this movie is literally a movie about a braindead zombie following a guy around for 80 minutes. That’s the entire movie. Somehow, in my shaken up state, I began to see parts of my life over the last few months reflected in the movie: “Wow, the way she stares at him and can’t say anything was just like our romance!” or “The way he shoots a gun at some other zombie for her is just like how we do things here in our Texas romances!”

Some of that is exaggerated, but it actually took me two days to finish this very mundane movie for the fact that I couldn’t keep my mind clear. All I could think about was the girl who had just broken things off with me. And then something changed.

You see, I found the secret to getting over a lot of issues in life, and that is by creating a routine only I have control over. It’s easy (and a little dangerous) for the world to dictate where you go from day to day, whether it’s your job or an overcommitment to someone of the opposite sex. So as I waited for grad school to start and had a month of funemployment last summer (and was freshly back on the dating market), I started doing things. I started taking more of an active interest in my Judaism by learning Talmud, putting on tefillin every day, and keeping Shabbat as to have a pattern in my life that kept me calm. That’s not necessarily for everyone, but it worked for me. Similarly, I spent the last five months learning improv a few times a week, and that calmed me like nothing else. It’s all about finding something that works for you.

There’s obviously a balance between living a life out of The Truman Show where you’re saying, “Good morning, and in case I don’t see ya, good afternoon, good evening, and good night!” every single day, and uncontrollably weeping during teen movies. But if you’re struggling with finding yourself, take some time to do things that are distinctly for you. What started with tefillin and Shabbat has now become much more (though those are both still present), from writing these blogs to just learning new talents or having dinner every week with a few friends. There’s no easy way to make yourself invulnerable to being hurt, and you really shouldn’t, as vulnerability is a powerful thing in itself. However, you can definitely live a stronger dating life by giving yourself a little consistency. After the zombie incident, the next break-up was a lot easier, and I went right back to wrapping tefillin the next morning.


Just How Jewish Are You? And Not Feeling Jewish Enough…

by Haley Plotnik under JBloggers,Judaism

I’ve spent too much of my life feeling like an inferior Jew. First of all, it’s hard enough to define one’s Judaism. When I was asked what type of Jew I was in the past, I’d answer “I was raised Reform,” or “I’m culturally Jewish.” Now I sometimes say I’m “Con-form” or “Refervative.” The only reason I won’t commit to Conservative is because I want to join a synagogue that acknowledges the importance of gender equity.

When I was a growing up, I played with Barbie dolls and Thomas the Tank engine play sets. My engineering school has a male-heavy environment, and I’ve faced a lot of disrespectful comments and gender discrimination during my engineering education and various internships in engineering roles. From “You must be my new secretary!” to words too offensive to post online, I face gender-based discrimination more often than anyone should have to. Sometimes I wonder how Orthodox women do it. I had jobs that required wearing pants, and I wonder what would happen if I were strictly following Halakha. Which brings me back to the topic of not being Jewish enough.

The following things make me feel like I’ve missed out on a lot of aspects of Judaism that a lot of young Jews share:

  1. Going to Jewish sleep away camps (Too old now).
  2. Going to synagogue every week (Not quite ready for this yet).
  3. Having weekly family Shabbat Dinners (Why not start? I may have to find a makeshift family of other rogue Jews).
  4. Going to Jewish day schools (Too old now).
  5. Reading the Torah start to finish (I’m reading Exodus at the moment).
  6. Belonging to a youth group (They have groups for young professionals)!

Maybe I’ve missed out on a lot of Jewish activities, but that doesn’t have any bearing on my future. I was raised in a primarily secular household, but I think I still picked up a lot of core Jewish values. Missing out in my childhood just makes me more motivated to participate as an adult.

Last summer, I lived in one of the least Jewish areas in the United States. When I went to the only Reform synagogue in reasonable driving distance, I met people who felt like family to me from day one. They hugged me when I told them I was coming to say Kaddish for my beloved grandfather; and when I told them I was 2000 miles from any family, they jumped at the opportunity to make me feel welcome.

It can be scary to reach out, especially in a new city, or if you feel like you don’t know much about Judaism. Through my recent exploration, I’ve realized:

  1. I know more about Judaism than I give myself credit for, and you probably do too.
  2. I’ll never feel like I am knowledgeable about Judaism if I don’t put in the effort to learn.
  3. There is always more to learn, regardless of how knowledgeable you think you are.

The Plight of Monica Lewinsky

by Aaron under Israel,Judaism,Relationships,Single Life

Listening to the radio this last week, I was surprised to hear a name being talked about that I hadn’t heard in a long time. That name, as the title spoils, was Monica Lewinsky. Without me even writing anything else about the story, I’m sure you already know what they talked about.

And that’s the big problem: poor Monica Lewinsky can’t escape her stupid scandal no matter how hard she tries. The story talked about how she can’t get jobs, she can’t date easily, and, in general, any mention of her name (as demonstrated above) draws an instant connotation. In short, Monica Lewinsky, now age 40, seems doomed as long as she carries her name.

The easy answer, I suppose, is to change her name. It’s not like people would recognize her on the regular all these years later. Although she may illicit a familiar vibe just by seeing her. She could just become that woman who reminds people of… Monica Lewinsky.

You’re probably thinking, “this is the weirdest dating-related blog ever — who cares about Monica Lewinsky?” Well, for one, I feel bad for the poor lady. Heck, she may even be on JDate with us! But more than that, I feel like her story is a great hyperbole for how stuck we are in ourselves, and an awesome inspiration for how we can endure our reputations.

Reinvention is something a good number of us aim for regularly, especially those of us in our twenties and thirties. Reinvention is easier said than done, however. “A tiger doesn’t change it’s stripes!” people will tell you, and then we settle into our old ways. We can change our habits one by one and slowly change, but more than that, we can choose to change.

While eating hamburgers together, one of my rabbis and I talked about changing when we moved. I was expressing excitement at who I would begin life in New York as, he talked about when he first moved to Israel. What I really enjoyed about his story was his take on the month of Adar. He said before he went to Israel, he thought dancing around and being joyous during services for a month was bogus, and it drove him crazy he couldn’t get into it. When he got to Israel, he realized no one knew him as the guy who hated Adar, and he suddenly became very excited to celebrate the entire month. He set himself to be the guy who loves Adar, and it happened.

You don’t have to move to change, however. Sure, it’s definitely easier, but sometimes it can be as simple as just choosing internally to do something. My rabbi could just as easily have decided to be happy at home during Adar, and maybe people would have been surprised, but it would have quickly become normal.

So why Monica Lewinsky? More than anything, I wanted to make a point, and the rabbi story solidifies it. We get so wrapped up in who everyone thinks we are. We think everyone associates us with a certain story, a certain trait, a certain something we don’t control. Maybe Monica Lewinsky has a lot of publicity to deal with, but chances are your reputation is much less widespread than that. You can be anyone you want; all you have to do is choose that it’s what you want. Maybe it’s being the happy guy, or just the girl in the blue dress, but either way, only you get to choose.


If You Build It

by Aaron under Judaism,Relationships,Single Life

As I get ready to move, one thing really scares me: the idea of not having a built-in group of friends around me. Luckily, I have some family and friends in NYC; it’s just not quite the network I have in Dallas where I’m a regular at a few shuls, and have made a great circle of friends and acquaintances.

What comforts me, however, is knowing that I have the skill-set to manage. When I got to Dallas after college, I felt like a stranger in a familiar land. I was from Dallas, but not a part of the community I was trying to break into. I grew up conservative, regularly going to USY events, but the people I largely grew to know were not those same people from my youth.

The big challenge I found in my first year in Dallas was finding people to date. I wanted to date someone younger, but being 21 in a community of young adults (who were largely much older than me) made that difficult. I did make friends, however, and found the second year to be a much easier experience. Friends would set me up with newly graduated girls they knew, and I found it easy to find dates when I was a regular at events and had people to introduce me.

If there’s one thing I’ve found since entering the real world, it’s the strength of a network. Whether it’s for getting a job (I had a friend send a recommendation for me to a recruiter hew knew and often found ways to make new friends through LinkedIn by having local friends introduce me to New York contacts), or just getting a date, a strong network can change everything.

So when I think about New York, I still worry a bit. I’m worried largely about that first Saturday night, about the first time I walk into a shul I don’t know for a class, and about where I’ll be spending Shavuot. And then I think of the people I already know, and the people I met as I networked my way to New York. I think of the first time I walked into an event in the Dallas young adult community, and I remember the first time I finally just learned to sit in a circle and listen to a rabbi’s class, letting my worries take a back seat for just a minute and then managing to make friends.

And that’s how I know it will all be fine — life is scary, but the more you put yourself out there, the more you’re bound to inherently build a network and move forward. Chances are your Besheret is not going to be sitting at the next Jewish or secular event you go to. Looking for that would be silly. Instead, consider that his/her best friend may be checking out a class that night, or their boss, or their cousin’s dogsitter. The world is a wide place, but if you just focus on the people around you, and constantly add new people into your life, life has a great way of surprising you by eventually adding the right people in.