Two Of Them Almost Kissed Last Night…

I went to Chabad for the first time in awhile tonight. It was the “midsummer Chabad event” thing or something, I don’t know.


I was going to save this story for the first Shabbat of the school year, but I can’t wait that long, so here it is.

Shabbat is a time for seeing and greeting friends, especially those you haven’t seen for a while, or at least since last Shabbat. I think it was one of the first Friday nights of my senior year at UMass Amherst. I was (and still am) a pretty affectionate person, and at Hillel, the rules of negia were not always in play. I mean, I usually messed up the first time I met anyone because I have terrible negia-dar, but after awhile, you know how to greet which friends, and you do it the same way every time. I would do the man-shake with a male friend, or a quick hug. With a non-shomeret female friend, I’d do the squeeze thing and maybe an air kiss or a cheek kiss if I felt close enough to her.

So, one Friday night, I was greeting people like I usually do, but with a bit more enthusiasm since it had been a while since we’d seen each other. I went to hug one of my female friends, who was similarly happy to see me as I was to see her, and with our heads turned to our left, I kissed her cheek briefly without my lips directly touching her face. Like I usually do, I exited the hug by stepping directly backwards, keeping my face turned away from hers until I was out of her personal space. Only this time, as we released the hug, she turned her head to the right, and her lips brushed against mine for a millisecond.

I know, I know, accidents happen, and this is nothing to write home about, but it was one of those moments that’s so sweet that it’s awkward and so awkward that it’s sweet. Her eyes went big as did mine, and we looked around; thankfully, everyone around us was talking and hugging each other so nobody noticed.

Well, until she started giggling awkwardly, and someone near her said “what?” and she said “Nothing, we almost kissed.”

Then it got a little awkward. I started apologizing, and she said something like “no, I know you weren’t trying to kiss me, our heads just went in the opposite direction.”

But fortunately, it was only awkward for like five minutes. Then everything went back to normal.

I will not be identifying said friend, but should she read this, she’s a pretty cool chick and a good sport. This story had no point, I just wanted to tell it.

Please enjoy this clip from Friends.


Prayaz Club

Another way in which Orthodox Jewish men compete with one another is in prayer.

This might surprise you, but it’s true, and not just because Elana Maryles Sztokman talks about it in her book. It’s something that I’ve experienced firsthand.

Gents to the left, ladies to the right.

I’d say that prayer is probably the number-one thing that divides up the Jewish people. Everything about prayer says something about the person who’s in the group, and the person who chooses to not join the group. In the Orthodox tradition, men and women pray in separate rooms or in the same room, but divided by a partition called a mechiza. They never sit together. Orthodox women do not lead services, or read or carry the Torah (at least in a mixed group, womens’ minyans are growing in popularity), but in other forms of Judaism, they do those things. Orthodox services are generally conducted entirely in Hebrew; other services may or may not include any Hebrew. Some Orthodox services have singing, but none (at least those on Shabbat and holidays) include live instruments or recorded music. And it gets even more specific than that. At the synagogue I grew up attending, the mechiza is relatively small; upon standing, you can see the women from the waist up, which some Orthodox Jews would find distasteful. In other congregations, they have a trellis dividing the men and the women, and I’ve heard that for the women it’s not so much fun having to watch a group of men stand, sit, and bend through wooden slats. I can imagine that would be headache inducing. At the Western Wall in Jerusalem, there is currently no space where men and women can pray together; it is divided in “half” by a trellis. I put “half” in quotation marks, because every year, the trellis seems to magically move a few inches closer toward the womens’ section, making it easy for men to go up to the wall but a virtual scramble for women to get anywhere close.

The 21st century has seen prayer undergo many changes, especially in the Orthodox world. Congregations such as the one I grew up with are doing away with cantors, otherwise known as the prayer leaders that pick the tunes and control the services (I actually can’t say anything too bad about cantors since my grandfather was one, and an awesome one, and I still remember when he called me up to the Torah on my Bar Mitzvah, one of my all-time favorite memories, and probably one of his, too, since I was the only grandson he got to do that for) and instead, just having members of the congregation assume those roles. Technology is also a factor. In the 1990s, when my synagogue’s crowds swelled for the High Holidays, we had a rabbi-approved sound system installed by members of the congregation. Generally, sound systems are not kosher in Orthodox synagogues but one of our illustrious and industrious congregants, an engineer, designed and installed it under the supervision of the rabbi, and placed the microphone close enough to the lectern to capture the voice of whoever was leading, but far away enough that it would not physically interfere with anyone and would not need to be adjusted. Needless to say, it caused controversy in the community, with some members (and non-members) branding us as “not Jewish enough” or “not as Jewish.” Some people left, but most of those who disapproved wouldn’t have come anyway, due to our mechiza, or the fact that some women came with uncovered heads or in long pants, or anything that they could find to criticize us.

The point I’m trying to make here is that prayer and competition go hand-in-hand in the Orthodox Jewish world; there is always someone or some group that is “not as Jewish” or “too frum” for someone. Everyone is a judge.

And of course, there’s “who’s praying the hardest?” a competition of masculinity usually seen amongst hoys in Jewish high schools, who have to pray every morning and afternoon. The mornings are usually when the most competitive sides of guys come out, mostly because they’ve just had breakfast and are amped for the day. It usually starts with who has the shinier tefillin, and who can tie them quicker and faster? Who can say the Amidah the fastest? Who can shuckle the deepest? Who can read the Torah the fastest? And who has the strength to  lift the Torah for Hagboh (answer: I never even tried), and how many columns can you open it to? Seven? Six? Only three? Psshhh…

The worst were the student prayer leaders, who would organize who’s doing what with the meticulousness of the United Nations and the drive of a swarm of gnats. They thought that they were running the show, but actually were super annoying and probably turned a lot of people off from coming to prayer or staying the whole time. Most of the time, I would avoid them, and after awhile they would stop trying to recruit me to do stuff in the service. One guy, though, found one of them to be so aggravating that he posted a fake Craigslist ad with a picture of a hot girl and what he thought was the prayer leader’s cell phone number, but was actually his home number, which caused his parents’ phone to ring all night with horny guys wanting to speak to Candy or whatever name he’d chosen, and that’s how you get kicked out of a Jewish high school. This is not to say that the annoying prayer leader didn’t have it coming, but it’s not saying that he didn’t.

Oh, Frank McCourt, how your angsty Irish prose got me through many a morning prayer service.

I chose not to partake in these games. In fact, most mornings of my junior year found me sitting in the second row, praying quietly along with the group, and waiting for our rabbi to give his morning sermon so I could break out the copy of Angela’s Ashes I’d been hiding under my tallis for a few pages of reading and attempting to not cry.

Speaking of judgment, try reading the Torah in an room full of Orthodox men. So far, I’ve only done it once in my life – at my own bar mitzvah – and there are probably people reading this who are judging me right now, but I don’t really care. But yes, I did read a whole Torah portion from an actual torah scroll, in Hebrew, and a Haftarah which was thankfully relatively short. Though I studied for an entire year, I was still terrified the day of, because whenever the reader makes a mistake, there are always at least three voices from the crowd pronouncing the word correctly and loudly. Could you imagine, giving a speech in front of 100 people, and saying something like, “pajamas,” rhyming the word with “llamas,” only to have five, eight, ten voices from the crowd spitting back at you “paJAAAAMas,” rhyming it with “Alabamas,” until you backtracked and said “paJAAAAMas?” Talk about pressure, especially for a 13-year-old.

I’m with you, sister.

As far as I’m concerned, I feel most comfortable praying in Hebrew and since I’ve been doing it my whole life, in a men’s space. Whether or not there is a physical mechiza doesn’t really matter; even men sitting on the left and women on the right would be fine, as long as it’s separate. The first time I sat with my mom in shul, it felt incredibly awkward. I’m also not a fan of choirs or musical instruments. Gospel music is lovely, but when there’s a choir standing there in robes, it makes me feel more like I’m in Sister Act than in a synagogue. And one time, I went to a service where they handed out tambourines and played guitar, and that made me feel a little bit silly, as if we were in a Montessori school, or around a campfire, or something.

In Sztokman’s book, she talks about egalitarian minyanim, where the quorum consists of ten men and ten women, instead of the traditional Orthodox tradition of ten men. This is one potential solution, but for every Jew that would buy into it, there would be two who would be against it. I think I’d need to try it to see if I liked it. Sztokman does say that there is a mechiza, which is good, and that both women and men do the leading and reading, which is something I’d really like to experience; there are some very talented female cantors out there with voices that fill you up with spirit and love for God. The whole theory why women shouldn’t touch a torah scroll is pretty ridiculous, and I won’t go into it here, but believe me when I say that as a society, we’re past that.

Most of all, prayer is supposed to be, at least for me, a time of spiritual introspection and personal communication with God, with a few rousing community-building songs thrown in. A good mix of solitude and togetherness is key, as a Jewish person and a member of a Jewish community that is larger than myself and those that are in the room with me. My dad always told me that he raised me and my sister so that we’d always have a sense of community, a family wherever we go in our lives because we can walk into any synagogue anywhere in the world, Orthodox or not, and know exactly what’s going on. Though people pray in different ways and for different reasons, I think that competition should be the last thing that comes to mind.

Well that was fun.

Now, please enjoy these dancing rabbis.

teach me how to rabbi, teach me teach me how to rabbi


Tick, Tick…Oy.

I’d like to return to my current read, Elana Maryles Sztokman’s The Men’s Section: Orthodox Jewish Men in an Egalitarian World. I’m still about halfway through, and while Sztokman is dealing with a limited perspective of mostly Israelis, some of the larger concepts about Orthodox Jewish men that she tackles in the first half of the book (Chapters 1-5) are, for the most part, true. Some of those reasons are why I feel the way I do about things, why I’m annoyed at Orthodox Judaism today, and why I continue to identify as Orthodox in spite of all those feelings.

On page 36, Sztokman cites Paul Kivel’s “Act Like A Man” box, and through the remainder of Chapter 2 (and bleeding over into the next few chapters), creates what she calls the “BOMB” or “Be an Orthodox Man” Box. Kivel’s box consists of three concentric rectangles. The innermost contains the things that men try to hide, such as anger, love, and sadness; the middle box contains actions that men do to protect themselves such as yell, fight, and be stubborn; and outside the box are the abuses which men (usually boys) are subject to when they fail to meet these criteria such as name-calling, hitting, and sexual abuse.

So, yeah. Rough stuff.

I can definitely see where Sztokman finds her parallels. Instead of quoting her, however, I can use hers and Kivel’s information to synthesize some thoughts of my own.

Let me start off with a story.

It was senior year of high school, and the junior and senior classes were all going to a pro-Israel rally on the grounds of the Capitol in Washington, DC. It was mandatory, and with the world being the way it was in 2005, everyone was pretty much on the edge about coming back alive. So we loaded ourselves into buses with posters and set off for DC. We got to the rally and it was a lot bigger than most of us expected. High school students had come in by the busload from as far away as Boston, New York, and Atlanta, not to mention all the families that attended. It was also longer, hotter, and sunnier than most of us expected, and a lot of people, including myself, came home that day with horrible sunburns. As anyone who’s been to a rally knows, when the rally ends, people disperse en masse, and this dispersion was of Pamplona-proportions, only with Jews running down the street and not bulls. We were put into groups to make it back to the bus, and hopefully find some cold beverages along the way since those of us who brought water had finished it long ago. I was in one of the smaller groups, about six guys and one of our teachers, who was also a rabbi. Of course, where there are Jews, there are Chabadniks, always trying to engage Jews in conversation at inopportune times and places. As we walk/jog down the street trying to find a 7-11 or something, a Chabadnik pulls aside our teacher – who is a rabbi – and asks if he put on tefillin that morning. My teacher didn’t respond and just kept moving, probably because he was as hot and tired as us students and was wearing a suit, looking very much like a rabbi, which he was.

A few blocks later, when the crowd thinned out and the stragglers caught up, my teacher turned to me and said, “Can you believe that guy? Asking me if I wore tefillin this morning. Just look at me; who does he think I am? Who does he think he is? Bastard.”

Okay, so I added the “bastard” in there for effect (although I’m not entirely convinced he didn’t say it under his breath as we were walking or in his mind) but he was insulted. He didn’t know the guy, but it sat on his mind for several blocks and he felt so challenged that he had to blurt something out to his students. His sour reaction to the event is a good lead-in to the concept of competition in Orthodox Jewish manhood – a topic which Sztokman heavily focuses on in her book.

It’s the truth. Orthodox Jewish men are competitive, from childhood to adult. It’s about how high your education is, how young you were when you got married, how many children you have, how much halacha you observe, how much you pray, how much you study, what you do for a living, what you look like, what you eat, and what you wear. People say that these things don’t matter, but to Orthodox Jewish men, they do. Looking at myself through this “be an Orthodox man” box, my score is pretty low. I am 26 years old with no wife and children (practically “old bachelor” age in the Orthodox world), I don’t wear a kippa every day, I don’t observe all the laws of Shabbos every week, I don’t wear the Orthodox Jewish uniform (white Oxford, black jacket, black pants) 24/7, I never went to yeshiva or did much in the way of Jewish learning/limmudei kodesh past-high school, I don’t go to minyan three times a day, and I got my education in non-Jewish colleges (pretty much anywhere besides YU, Brandeis, Touro, or an Ivy) and I studied theatre. At least I have an advanced degree and am working on my second, I still observe kashrut, and I have a mezuzah on my door; those things should count for something, I guess. Still, if I were to register myself with a shidduch, I’d probably strike out before getting up to bat.


Happy 1st Blogiversary!

That’s right…a year ago today, That’s So Jacob was launched. Happy birthday/anniversary/founder’s day/blogiversary to me!

So, what was my life like a year ago?

I began this blog right here in Madison; not in this apartment, but in a room at the Doubletree several blocks away. I was living in Houston, in an apartment twice the size of the one I’m currently living in, with a temperature I could set, a bathtub, and a swimming pool. I hadn’t started the program, or experienced the worst winter ever. I still had my olive green Subaru, and I hadn’t seen Oklahoma or Iowa yet. I hadn’t done anything APO related for a year.

But hey, I’m still here, and so is this blog.

Speaking of which, I haven’t posted a story for awhile. Wait…I posted one yesterday. Scratch that – I haven’t posted a good story lately.

So here’s a tale from years long past.

How That’s So Jacob Got Its Name

This is not my first blog, or journal for that matter. When I was 10, I found a ginormous notebook and decided that I would keep it as a journal until the pages ran out, whenever that would be. I was pretty faithful to it. It lasted me through sometime in freshman or sophomore year, when the pages actually did run out. I think it’s under my bed at home. I tried other paper journals, but none were the same, so I switched to the Internet. I had a LiveJournal when I was a moody teenager, like everyone else in the early 2000s, moody or not, teenager or not. And no, I am not going to link you to it. Most of my entries were terrible. I stopped for awhile, but always intended to start back up again. After a failed attempt on blogspot, I needed to start a new journal, with a new tactic, and a good name.

I always have my best ideas in the shower or at night before I drift off to sleep, but this one came to me courtesy of this one girl I knew awhile back. It was in my second semester of APO, and my third and final semester at AU. It was getting down to the wire with things, and I remember I was fed up with something or someone at the time, and it was one of those nights where everything was happening at the same time, so I was rushing around, trying to be in a million places at once. Normally I like being super busy like that, but I wasn’t feeling it that night. I don’t even know what was in my head, but I was telling some of the people in my pledge class about how my day was.

So there I was, walking across the lawn of the National Cathedral, babbling, when she said it.

“Hey Andrea, did you hear what Jacob just said? It was a classic Jacob line.”

And then she repeated what I had said less than a minute ago and had forgotten.

“He said ‘…and then I went to a JSA meeting and we just sat around and bitched at each other because we’re Jews and that’s what we do.'”

Okay, so it was kind of funny, without meaning to be, but it meant more than that. It meant that someone was actually listening to me. I wanted to channel that same feeling upon starting on the Internet anew. A place where I can just say what’s on my mind, how I feel, and stories that I want to remember and that other people might find amusing, or inspirational, or…worth reading.

Oh, and course, in honor of my spirit animal, Raven-Symone. So here are some gifs to honor her. Behold:

I have 280 followers as of today, and visitors from over 100 countries. Here’s to another year of fun, weirdness, and random memories. Thanks y’all…much love.


The Spelling Bee Sting

Tonight was the finals of the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee. I usually watch, but this year I forgot when it was supposed to be, and I happened to catch parts of it on TV over dinner at a cafe in Milwaukee. At least, until they changed the channel to basketball. After some geocaching, I filled my tank in West Allis and got back to Madison about an hour ago to discover that this year was a Spelling Bee first: co-winners.

The rules of the Spelling Bee state that if, after five rounds, the final two spellers do not misspell a word, co-winners are declared. This has only happened a few times in Spelling Bee history; the last time was in 1962. This year’s co-winners were Sriram Hathwar of Painted Post, New York, and Ansun Sujoe of Fort Worth, Texas. Even though the final-round words usually mystify me, I had actually heard of both the final words. Stichomythia (Sriram’s word, which I spelled correctly without looking up) is a word I use all the time that describes the back-and-forth dialogue that originated in Greek theatre, and Ansun’s word was feuilleton, a type of editorial.

My school never had spelling bees. We had the geography bee (more about that in a future entry) and the Bracha Bee (yeah…) but I only remember one spelling bee. It was among all the first grade classes. I entered first grade on a third grade reading level. I also had a knack for spelling, which was pretty much the only thing I had going for me, thanks to having a mother who was a schoolteacher and babysitters who taught me words with flash cards, and also just being kind of a weird kid, having taught myself to read at age 4. I wasn’t reading and spelling the same words as the rest of the class, so when the spelling bee was announced for the next week, I didn’t really think about it; actually, I don’t really remember how the news was broken to me, I think my teacher just said it in front of the whole class. It was something like,

“All the first graders will participate…”

::everyone looks at me::

“…except for Jacob. Because we all know that he’d win and nobody else would have a chance.”

For some reason, thinking about it makes me wonder why I wasn’t more upset about this. I guess I took it as a compliment, because I don’t remember my parents or my teacher telling me anything about being excluded.

But then…

“Jacob will be serving as a judge.”


Finally, I had the power over my classmates! No one could stop me. Bwahahahaha INVINCIBLE.

…except it was just a spelling bee. I got to define the words and make sentences when asked. Then someone won, and the prize was a piece of paper with an ice-cream scratch-n-sniff sticker on it. I got one too for being a judge.

That was the highlight of my elementary school career.

I had a sad childhood.

This was not a very interesting story.


Dress to Obsess

My initial title for this post was “What (Not) To Wear Today,” but then I realized that made me sound like I was contemplating being a nudist. Excuse me…naturist. And based on a guy I saw in a park the other day with his junk hanging out…I’m never going down that route.

So, I have a certain way of dressing myself. I don’t just roll out of bed in the morning and throw on whatever doesn’t smell bad, like one of my classmates did once because she overslept (actually, she came to class in her pajama top and jeans…and she was giving a presentation). I usually walk out of the house looking like a million bucks. Actually, not really, I probably look really terrible most of the time. No one usually ever comments on what I wear, so it must not be too spectacular, or too tragic, for that matter.

As I was picking out clothes to wear this morning, I had a flashback from Pop Culture class, junior year of high school, when we talked about what clothes we felt comfortable in and why we wore them. Everyone else kinda gave a lame, noncommittal answer, but when it was my turn, I started talking about “dressing for my emotions,” which is probably one of the reasons I never had any friends in high school.

But anyway. I have certain unwritten rules about what I dress myself in each day. Well, actually after today they’ll be written rules, but here goes:

That’s So Jacob’s Rules of Fashion, Part I: General Rules

1. No wearing of the same color two days in a row. I have no idea why I do this. Maybe it’s so I’ll confuse potential attackers who are looking for the same guy in the same color shirt. Exceptions to this are on same-outfit days, which usually occur on weekends where I’ll spend so little time in real clothes on Saturday that I will deem them wearable on Sunday.

2. TSJ Tznius: cover those arms and legs. I have never owned nor worn a tank top or wife beater in my life, so why start now? Also, who really wants to see that? T-shirts have worked fine for me so far. With shorts, the secondary reason I don’t wear them is because I don’t feel the world needs to see my legs, even if it is a hot day, unless I am going swimming or doing some sort of water activity. The primary reason is because I don’t like the way my legs look, and shorts lengths change yearly, meaning my shorts are always too long or too short.

3. Casual at all times, except when doing something academic-y. I am not the guy who dresses up for class every day in a suit and tie. I don’t even wear nice sweaters or anything. I’m always in a t-shirt, usually a fun one because I only wear awesome fun clothes, and sometimes a polo, and that’s usually when I’m meeting with a professor or have a presentation to do. Otherwise, I’m in the classroom in my stained UMass hoodie and jeans, looking completely out of place. And I like it that way. Well, not always, but fortunately I now live in a place where dressing for comfort rather than style is perfectly acceptable. My dislike of collared shirts comes from high school, when we were forced to wear them for reasons unknown – so what, you can see a tiny bit less of my neck? So my itching will keep me awake in class? So I can look preppy even when I’m not feeling it?

4. Matchy-matchy? That’s me. Okay, this is where it gets weird. I blame my mother, but I’ll get to that in a minute. I love to match my clothing with my day. For example, I wore a blue shirt today, and I had a mini-crisis when I couldn’t find either of my blue jackets to leave the house in. Red hoodie + blue shirt = bad news bears. I must match all my layers with similar or opposite colors. And though all-black is OK, blue shirts never go with blue jeans. Also, my accessories must match: in the winter, if I wear my green jacket or anything red, I must wear my red scarf. If I wear my blue fleece, my blue jacket, or my alpaca jacket, I must wear my blue scarf. Same goes for hats: green hat goes with green coat, black hat goes with the others. And no conflicting patterns, ever. When my mom picked out my clothes as a child, she had no concept of color: if you gave her a bright red shirt with a tiny blue dot in the middle and a pair of blue shorts, she’d hold them up and say “see, they match.” I also accessorize: I have canvas bags in just about every color, so I always match my bag with my attire. I need a hobby.

That’s So Jacob’s Rules of Fashion, Part II: Types of Clothing

1. Shirts. I am a t-shirt person. I think I will always be a t-shirt person simply because I have so many, and they’re all awesome. The one I’m wearing right now, my blue Film Fest t-shirt, is not the best example of this, but at least it’ll go in the hamper. Polo shirts, as stated above, on special occasions. I will, from time to time, do the Jared Leto in My So-Called Life and wear a patterned short-sleeve Oxford over a t-shirt. But NO HATS with that combo, or else I’ll look like either a crazy rainforest explorer or someone’s dad at the beach. Also, as stated above, some sort of sleeve. I have a few v-neck shirts, but I don’t usually wear them, because who wants to see that? Being a hipster is inner, not outer.

2. Pants. For awhile, I only wore khakis. Mostly because jeans were against school dress code, but also because I was never wearing the right pair at the right time. I got teased in elementary school for wearing skinny jeans; this was the 90s, when the “sagging look” was in. My mom refused to buy me too-big jeans, and I didn’t have any interest in showing the world my underwear, anyway. Jeans and I made up during college, when I realized that I was beyond that high school crap. Black dress pants are nice for fancy occasions like Shabbat or the theatre. For the gym, black track pants are my only option. I also own one pair of black non-dress pants which hang at the back of the closet and I always say I’ll wear them the next time I wear a black shirt but I don’t because they are stupid and itchy.

3. Shorts. No thanks. Especially not patterned shorts or anything in pastel.

4. Socks. Shamefully, I wear white ankle socks almost every day. Granted, I wear them with real shoes, not anything open-toed like that horrible picture of Adam Sandler walking through LA, and also, it’s too cold in Wisconsin for dress socks every day. Some of those are practically pantyhose; let’s hope I never have to wait outside for something in them.

5. Shoes. Tennis shoes, same pair, everywhere, until they’re falling apart. Some people have gym tennis shoes and regular tennis shoes; I should probably be one of them. Dress shoes are for dinner and dancing. I own sandals, but unless I am going to the beach, they don’t leave the closet. Feeling like I needed a pair of “grown up” shoes, I bought a pair of black loafers, which haven’t left the box, because “I’m not ready to grow up yet,” says me. I used to hate boots because they are messy and hard to get on/off, but now that I live in Snow-Land, I see their usefulness. My boots are brown and pretty and I got them at Marshalls. I salute you, boots; you kept my feet from freezing through many a storm. I still hate getting my feet in and out of you though. Rain boots? No, because I have never tried macarons, used Burt’s Bees, or done anything in Claire’s other than fetch my sister so that Mom could take us home from the mall.

6. Hats. I think hats are cool. Not baseball caps though; I already look like a twelve-year-old. In fact, when I played a dad character in a play (that I wrote) during my senior year of undergrad, I put the cap on backwards, to which my castmates said that I looked like I was going down to the video arcade. I’m no John Goodman. Even when I wear it forward, I still look like I’m on my way to day camp. I like winter hats, they are fluffy and wonderful. Ever since I’ve had my green winter hat with the puff-ball on top, my dad has called it silly, but accedes to the fact that it keeps the head warm during frigid times. I was heartbroken when the puff-ball fell off; I think he was secretly pleased.

7. Scarves. I really, really like scarves, though I only have two at the moment. Maybe that’s what I’ll do tomorrow, buy some scarves. No. Bad idea, Jacob. I wish that the “warm weather scarf” was more socially acceptable because I’d totally do that. Unfortunately, it’s in the same pretentious family as sweaters tied around the neck (what’s wrong with that?!) so in conclusion, I do not wear them in warm weather. At least not without a jacket.

'We're indoors, lose the scarf!'

8. Sweaters/sweatshirts. Hoodies are like a gift to the freezing. They are so functional and wonderful, and warm the hands and head too. I own five, though I keep only about four in my rotation (the black one is a little too depressing; sorry, black hoodie). And before you ask, the white stains on my UMass hoodie are from paint, specifically when I painted the walls of the community arts center I worked on with DAT in Quilotoa, Ecuador, so those are badges of honor. It’s nice that sweaters came back into fashion recently, and have been looking nice on the shelves at Kohl’s, especially patterned ones. I actually own two sweaters, and neither have Christmas trees or cats playing with balls of yarn.

That’s So Jacob’s Rules of Fashion, Part III: Colors

1. White. I’m way too messy to wear white. Sad but true fact. Every time I get a nice white shirt, I try so hard to keep it clean. When the moment something stains it occurs, I’m like…aww, man. Seriously. It’s like God does not want me to wear white. When I wear white, I can usually even remember the type of stain: pizza grease, peanut butter, lying on a dirty floor. Also, I wouldn’t be caught dead in a white Oxford, aka the Chabad penguin suit. I would totally be Chabad if I didn’t have to wear white every day of my life. I’d be like, that one Chabad guy who wears funky colors and patterns. Somehow, I don’t think that would go over that well.

2. Grey. The only good time to wear a grey t-shirt is at the gym, because in public, it gives the impression of either a) I really messed up my white shirt, or b) I’m so bad at laundry I faded my black shirt. Exception: gray Oxford shirt. Surprisingly elegant addition to a suit.

3. Black. Ahh, black. The go-to for the artsy or the ones who are too messy for colors. In middle/high school, I totally went through a black phase. It didn’t have anything to do with my depression; I just thought it looked nice. Of course, my sister called me a goth and made me change into a colored shirt for school, but I didn’t have painted nails, a dog collar, or a constant cloud of metal music around me, so you owe me an apology. Nowadays, I still like black but use it sparingly. Wearing black all the time is boring. Also – fun fact – remember Platinum, from like six months ago? One year he was quoted in the yearbook, about whether we should have school uniforms, he said “No, I like freedom of choice.” This coming from the kid who came to school in a black turtleneck and chinos every single day because that’s what rich people wear.

4. Pink. I currently don’t own anything pink. I used to have tons of pink in my closet as a kid, but then elementary school happened and it didn’t go over well on the playground. I find it amusing that it’s coming back into style for men now. One day I will try it, but today is not that day.

5. Brown. Brown and tan are two color that are way underused in fashion, in my opinion. They look great with jeans and khakis. I own a few brown t-shirts and a tan sweater, but nothing that’s the exact tone of my skin nor a UPS uniform.

6. Purple. Growing up with a sister who loved all things purple (never pink), I wanted to be like her. Eventually it evaporated from my wardrobe. Before it did though, I remember wearing this purple t-shirt all the time that said “New York Deli Potato Chips.” I guess I always thought that shirts with cool words or brand names made you sophisticated. I have a purple Oxford that I wear all the time, but no purple t-shirts…yet.

7. Blue. Usually a safe bet. Navy was super popular in the 1990s, so you couldn’t go wrong there. For some reason, I have no blue hoodies but 2 blue jackets (three if you count my alpaca jacket) and no red jackets but 2 red hoodies and 2 red sweaters. Blue presents a problem with some jeans, as you don’t want to have contrasting shades of blue or else you’ll risk looking like Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake at some teen awards show.

8. Green. Another relatively safe color. Neon green = No go for me…that color makes my skin crawl. Dark or light, please. I currently don’t have a lot of green items in my closet at the moment. Maybe that should be my next color choice when offered a free t-shirt from somewhere.

9. Yellow. Yellow was my favorite color, until one day when I wore a yellow shirt to school and someone told me I looked like Big Bird. Kids are mean. No offense to Mr. Bird, but you’re not exactly a fashion icon. Maybe for Lady Gaga, but not for me. I have been noticing yellow making a comeback on the streets though. Wear with caution, though, it has been known to cause stares in the chest area, especially when paired with dark pants.

10. Orange. Huh? I think I have only ever owned one orange shirt, and that was a polo I wore sometimes in middle school. Orange died a slow death in my wardrobe and in fashion in general, and I don’t see it coming back anytime soon, at least for men.

11. Finally, there’s Red. Red is my go-to color. I started liking red in high school after my green-yellow-black phrase, and must’ve reallly liked it, because all the colleges I’ve attended for more than one semester have some variation of red in their logos/school colors. Maybe that’s why I didn’t get into NYU (undergrad) or Northwestern (grad); I should probably write them a thank-you note for not accepting me and subsequently becoming a Purple People Eater. But back to red, you really can’t go wrong with red. Fire engine red, blood red, red apple red, light red, dark red, maroon, crimson, scarlet, primrose, poinsettia: they’re all great. When I redid my room upon becoming a Real Person (aka my bar mitzvah), I ditched the baby blue paint with the soccer ball print border and painstakingly selected a very pale yellow with a red-and-brown Chinese symbol border wallpaper, which I thought looked awesome at the time (and I actually kinda still do…for a teenager’s color choices, it’s not awful) and found a matching bed set with a dark red duvet printed with bamboo in brown and gold. It went rather nicely with my light brown furniture and dark-brown carpeting, formerly an ugly swamp under a bright blue sky, but now transformed into an unobtrusive carpet that was still kind of ugly, but was at least less noticeable in a room of red, yellow, and brown things. The whole room has kind of a 1970s vibe to it. I should totally market that concept to hotel chains.

In completely unrelated news, when I when crossing the street, I walked past a woman who was doing the same thing, only she was knitting and walking at the same time. Is that like, future-cat-lady material? Or did I manage to time-slip into medieval Denmark?



Groove Is in the Car

So, two summers ago, I went on a family trip to Germany. By family, I mean myself, my sister, my dad, and two cousins, because my mom’s ideal vacation is preferably within walking distance of our house (okay, my dad came up with that one), but you get the picture. The first part of the trip involved flying into Frankfurt, spending a day there, then renting a car and driving around Bayern (Bavaria) to see the house where my grandmother was born and the town she and my grandfather lived in as a married couple (which was also his hometown; people didn’t go too far to meet their spouses, kind of like Tinder, only with more actual tinder since they lived in the countryside). Also, to visit the gravestones of our great, great-great, and great-great-great-grandparents, which involved some breaking and entering (but that’s another entry). So it was basically our death tour of southern Germany. We joked that Christians go to Europe on church tours, and we Jews go to Europe on the death tours. We would then get rid of the car in Fuerth, which was incidentally where my aunt was born, and take the train across the border to Prague, Czech Republic for Phase II of the trip, which still managed to venture into death tourism. But more about that in another entry.

We arrived in Frankfurt sometime in the afternoon and checked into our hotel to catch up on sleep, so we could check out and get the rental car first thing in the morning. I’ll point out that I was not as tired as the others, since I decided to pack everything in one large backpack as opposed to a rolling suitcase. A rolling suitcase is better for the back, but – shocker! – Europe is the land of stairs and cobblestone streets, especially in Germany, and I’ll never forget bounding up the stairs out of the metro station in downtown Frankfurt with two weeks’ worth of belongings strapped to my back like nobody’s business, only to realize that I was standing alone on the street level, looking down at everyone else who were trying to lug their suitcases up, step by step; unfortunately, a recurring theme throughout the trip of me waiting at the tops of staircases. But I was probably tired anyway, so I slept.

The next morning, we eat breakfast, during which time my dad and one of my cousins goes to get the rental car. I’m kind of excited; this might be my first chance to drive in a foreign country, as all of us on the trip except one cousin had licenses. After a long, long, long time, they come back with good news and bad news.

First, the bad news: the car is a stick shift, and my dad is the only one of us who knows how to do that.

Then, the good news: since my dad hasn’t driven stick in a long time, my cousin got to laugh at him attempt to figure out how to do it.

This was clearly going to end well.

So, we grab our stuff and troop around the corner to the rental car lot, and load in. That was the easy part. Then came the task of turning the car on and driving it out of the parking lot. We had a couple of backfires and rocky starts, but before any nausea could set in we were off on the road.

And that’s when it got worse.

I don’t know much about driving stick, but apparently there is gear switching involved, and other things, so my cousin told my dad when to shift gears from the passenger seat, while my dad was driving down the open road and attempting to navigate us toward Wurzburg. If you’ve ever driven in Germany, constantly stopping and starting the car on the road is never a good thing. One minute we’d be sailing along, then it would get clunky for the gear shift, then it would settle out again. All the while, my dad is not watching the road as closely as he should, so we have a few close calls and swerves into wrong lanes, and plenty of honking German drivers. Plus, there’s the fact that we’re in a foreign country and we don’t know where we’re going.

Eventually, my dad gets accustomed to the car, but by this time we’re a little off course. We have the voice GPS on, but she’s speaking in German and we can’t figure out how to switch her over to English. Also, it’s getting stuffy in the back, and we need some A/C, so my cousin hits the button, and what comes out isn’t air, but…

“I couldn’t ask for another/I-I-I-I-I/I couldn’t ask for another/I-I-I-I-I/Groove is in the heart…”

And I broke out laughing.

Because when you’re driving down the roads of rural Bavaria at 9:00 in the morning while trying to figure out how to work a stick-shift, the perfect soundtrack is 1990s one-hit wonder “Groove Is In the Heart” by Deee-Lite. It was just such an irreverent moment, and the spontaneous remergence one of the most awkward songs ever really captured the zeitgeist (German word, yes!) of the moment. Not to mention that the song is probably still on the German pop charts.

Sometimes things are upsetting and funny all at the same time; and then that moment hits where the right song comes on.

And of course, I had to awkwardly do hip hop while belted in the middle seat, between my cousin (who was not born when this song was a hit) and my sister (who does not approve of dancing in the car).

Nice to see that song still has relevance.


Lemonade and Jelly Beans Day

Every once-in-a-while, I have a day that I call Lemonade and Jelly Beans Day.

And today was one of those days.

A Lemonade and Jelly Beans Day is not a good day, a bad day, or a neutral day. It’s one of those days that starts out with some rottenness, is usually dreary, and something good happens, but it’s not enough to turn the day around. Well, the good thing that happened to me today will have some long-lasting effects, but I’ll talk about those another time.

The provenance of Lemonade and Jelly Beans Day occurred in October 2009 in Jerusalem, Israel. I can’t exactly remember what set me off, but I was still living in the WUJS apartment so it couldn’t have been a good day, period. I remember that it was raining, which is normally a bummer, but makes everyone calm and happy in drought-stricken Israel, and softens the rougher edges of the world. It’s more of an act of purification than anything else. Plus, it makes everything beautiful. That day, I slept in, and when I woke up, my heart was sinking in my chest, heavy like a bag of sand. Which, ironically, was heavier knowing that it would have to face the rain. I wasn’t tired, hungry, or motivated to do anything. And then a feeling crept up on me.

I needed lemonade and jelly beans.

Right now.

Even though those are two foods I don’t enjoy on a regular basis, I strolled through the rain down to the makolet, which, fortunately for me, had some Minute Maid bottled lemonade and Jelly Belly Sours. Double yes, went my brain. Back at home, I settled back into my bed, my computer in front of me, and cracked open the drink. The lemony goodness washed down my throat, and when I bit into each jelly bean, the sour tang tickled my taste buds, validating all the sour thoughts and feelings that were going through me, and typed “it’s a lemonade and jelly beans type of day.”

Though I didn’t end up getting lemonade and jelly beans today, I certainly felt a bit deflated as I went about my daily routine, even passing up gym time to go home and hit the studying, hard, which was kind of good, I guess, since it got me to get some of my stuff done.

Each time I have one of these days, some other odd compulsion comes out, and for some reason, today, it was 90s one-hit-wonder group Wilson Phillips’ “Hold On” doubling as the soundtrack. There’s just something about Wendy, Chynna, and Carnie singing lyrics like “I know this pain/Why do lock yourself up in these chains?/No one can change your life except for you/Don’t ever let anyone step all over you/Just open your heart and your mind/Is it really fair to feel this way inside?” It’s like a damp dishcloth for your soul, complete with a wacky bass line and banal, inoffensive lyrics that essentially talk about nothing. Sometimes it’s a horrible song, sometimes it’s my jam, but today, it’s like my special friend, or guardian angel, if you believe in that sort of thing.

Everyone has a lemonade and jelly beans day once in a while, where you’re not at your best, and that’s okay. Again, it’s not happy, but it’s not necessarily sad – more like subtle, subdued, low-key, teetering between anxiety and calm.

I feel a little better now.


Excuse Me, For I Shall Be Exiting Via the Emergency Snow

I should totally not be blogging right now, but today I got my first visitors from a country I have not been to, Ukraine (Ласкаво просимо!) and a country that I have been to, Slovakia (vitajte!).

In January 2012, I got to spend two wonderful weeks in cold, wintry Slovakia (which was not nearly as cold as it is here at the moment, -6 degrees Fahrenheit with a windchill of don’t-even-tell-me degrees Fahrenheit) with Dramatic Adventure Theatre. Jesse and Mary, who have been running this program for a decade now, are fantastic people and I can’t wait until I have the chance to travel on one of their trips again. I went with them to Ecuador as a part of ACTion: Ecuador in 2009 (three weeks after I graduated from UMass!) and was thrilled when I was chosen to be a part of their team in Slovakia. Based on that trip, I made connections and received the inspiration for my thesis, but this post isn’t about that.

Of all the memories and stories from both DAT trips, the one that stands out to me happened on one of our final days on the trip, and didn’t have anything to do with theatre or travel. We were staying at a privat (hotel) in the town of Zdiar, a resort town in the High Tatra mountains, doing independent writing/artistic projects, and preparing for the trip home. My days in Zdiar were usually spent exploring the town with Richard, our group’s translator and my roommate for the trip. One day we were walking back from somewhere (I think it might’ve been the day we discovered the secret resort hotel, but that’s another story) and we had been walking for quite awhile. It was getting late, and my legs were so tired. Our hotel sat sort of in the middle of a hill; to get into the town, you walked up a steep path towards the houses/restaurants/businesses, and to get down the road leading out of town, you walked down a steep path directly parallel to the first. This created a pretty sheer and severe drop, getting up to several stories high, and as it was winter, it was covered in snow. As we passed some children playing with sleds and riding them together down the cliff of snow, I wondered what it would be like to do it. I wanted to slide down the hill too. It sure beat walking. I asked Richard if he wanted to do it with me; he said no, that I had a backpack full of souvenirs (true) and that we didn’t even have sleds (true) so how would we get down the hill? Then, I dared him to go down the cliff on his bottom, and then I realized that that method of nudging does not work in Slovakia. Maybe he would do it if I went first.

“I’m going to do it.”

I looked out over a drop of at least four stories, then took my backpack off my back and strapped it to my front. “I’m going to do it,” I said, once more, as he looked at me, incredulous. “Those little kids just did it on their sleds; I can do it without one.” He still didn’t believe me until I crouched on the ground, then sat and scooted to the edge of the cliff. “Last chance, Richard, come on, do it with me!”

I waited a few seconds, then wrapped my arms around my bag and pushed off the cliff.

Richard couldn’t believe it, and neither could I.

I started off with my eyes closed, but opened them when I started to pick up speed, whipping through the snow. It was incredible. I could hear the roar of the spirit of the avalanche (or maybe just my coat causing friction) and I watched as the scene skewed itself, as if the mountains were moving upward as I landed on my feet, standing in knee deep snow, and now at the bottom of the hill. I dusted myself up and shrieked with delight, I looked up at Richard, waving at him to come down.

He just shook his head and moved away from the edge, continuing down the hill on the same path, whereas I had chosen The Path Less Traveled. Or at least less traveled by crazy grownups. After I checked my bag to make sure I hadn’t broken anything, I proceeded up the less-steep lower path.

And that’s how I beat Richard back to the hotel.