Wednesday, July 24, 2013

How I Met Serach, Part XVI: It's Shidduch Time!

This is Part XVI of a series about how I proposed to Serach. To see the series, you could simply use the guide link under the header of the blog or this link right here titled "How I Met Serach".
Ezzie's note:  In Part XIII, I explained the difficulty in writing this series. Some details may be a bit off; it's been a decade... 

Where we last left off, Serach and I were really getting pretty serious. One night when I was discussing it all with my "sister" B, she noted that of course, she had to meet Serach. And lo and behold, she was coming into New York soon to check out a college, and would probably be in town around Chanukah. We made up to go together to a concert (I believe it was Blue Fringe, Lanzbom & Solomon, and maybe the Solomon Brothers?) over Chanukah that Serach and I were going to, another friend ("Y") would be meeting us there, and B'd bring along her friend - let's call her B2.

For this story, we have to rewind even further back, to April 2002. I had recently switched dorm rooms at OJ, moving from the room of one good friend to another. The friend whose room I moved into was standing in the room one night, late at night, and I was on the phone with B. Suddenly, it clicked in my head: "B, I know who you're going to marry." 'Huh? Who?' "Don't worry, I know who. One day, I'll introduce you." After I got off the phone I told my roommate: "JB, I know who you're going to marry." He looked at me like I was crazy, shrugged, and that was that.

On this cold night in December 2003, I planned on sleeping at JB's dorm in YU, since it was a lot closer to where Serach would be staying in the Lander women's dorm on the Upper West Side. As it was getting close to time to go, I said to JB "Hey, why don't you come along? We can drive there (JB had a car), and you can hang out with us." 'Who will I talk to? You'll be talking to Serach the whole time.' "Yeah, but we'll still talk to you, and Y (who he knew) is coming, and there will be other people there. You'll have a great time." After a few minutes of back and forth, JB relented, and we drove to the concert.

At the concert (which as I recall was a bit of a snoozer), Y ended up running into another friend, and to my not surprise, JB hit it off with B and B2. At one point during the night, B comes over to me as Serach is schmoozing with JB and B2, smiled, and said "Ezzie, she's a keeper." For some reason, while before then I had already made up my mind, this put my mind completely at ease. I subconsciously needed B's approval, and now I had it. By the end of the night, they were fast friends; I, meanwhile, was just... calm. Happy.

At about midnight, we walked outside B.B. King's and were talking for a bit in the freezing cold when B said they'd be taking a subway back to Brooklyn to B2's relatives. I insisted that this was not safe, and that instead, JB should drive them. After a couple of minutes trying to convince them it wasn't safe for two beautiful young ladies who are not from NYC to be on the subway to Brooklyn alone at 1 o'clock in the morning, they relented, and JB drove them home. Meanwhile, I dropped Serach back at the LCW dorms and headed up to YU.

Right after I got back to YU, B called me. "Hello?" 'OMG Ezzie should I have given him my number!?!!?!' "...{sigh}...did you like him? [Note: Neither one knew this was who I thought they'd marry.]" 'Yes! He's so nice! I can't believe he drove us all the way home. Should I have given him my number so he can call me??' "...yeeesss..." 'AAAHHH!!! He's SO nice. I hope I didn't just blow my chance. I have to go.' Click. A few minutes later, JB walks back in, exhausted. He apparently had called Serach on the way home and told her "I really liked her, she's really cute." 'Which one, B2?' "No, B!" As soon as he came into his dorm room he says to me, "Should I have given her my number?" 'ARRGH! You BOTH stink!' I then explained that she'd just asked me the same question. I gave him her number, he called her right that minute to ask her out the next night, and they dated I think almost every night she was in town for the next week. A few months later, I reminded B about how I'd told her two or so years prior that I knew who she'd marry; "Oh yeah! Who was that?!" 'JB.' "WHAT?! Really!? That's crazy!" (The next year she wrote a piece in her college paper about it.)

...and that completes the story of How JB Met B, and finishes up Serach and Ezzie's dating, circa 2003. So we're still less than a decade removed...

Next time on How I Met Serach: Meet the Parents.

Learning Strength

הוא היה אומר: בן חמש שנים למקרא; בן עשר למשנה; בן שלוש עשרה למצות; בן חמש עשרה לתלמוד; בן שמונה עשרה לחופה; בן עשרים לרדוף; בן שלושים לכוח; בן ארבעים לבינה; בן חמישים לעצה; בן שישים לזקנה; בן שבעים לשיבה; בן שמונים לגבורה; בן תשעים לשוח; בן מאה כאלו מת ועבר ובטל מן העולם. 
My family and some friends know that when it's their birthdays, I often have fun by using whatever number it is to make them feel a little... well, older. For example, when a friend turned 27, I said "Happy 1/3 to 81!" Or when I turned 29 last year, my brother (who is exactly eight and a half years older) turned 37-1/2, so I wished him a happy halfway to 75. Who doesn't love a little mortality?

Later this week, I'll be turning 30. While the math for thirty is definitely easy to have fun with (downhill to sixty, in the middle third toward ninety, a quarter of the way to 120...), I recalled the above mishna in Pirkei Avos and wondered about it. What does koach mean? Koach is not the same as gevurah, but is it so different that it is not until eighty years old that a person achieves gevurah? Looking around a bit, there simply is not a lot written about thirty. Ten to mishna, fifteen to Talmud? Plenty on those. Eighteen to chuppah - sure, there's tons of discussion on that one. Forty to understanding? Yup, lots on that one. But thirty? This is the most to be found, and it's somewhat depressing even when trying to view it positively: 
Thirty is for strength. It the age at which a man's strength is at its peak -- both physically and emotionally. At that age, we see our lives ahead of us, and we feel up to its challenges. We can still solve the world's problems -- not to mention our own.
Well, that part resonates, but it's immediately followed by this:
By forty and the later years, our vigor -- as well as our outlook -- is older and wiser. We've experienced the difficulties of life (beginning of course with teenage children) and recognize the intractability of human nature and of life's problems. As the decades progress -- in ever faster procession -- our physical will and desires fade, and -- to end on a poignant note -- we truly understand life only when we no longer have the strength to live it nor the years to take advantage of it. (And the next generation is not about to listen to our sage advice either. They're still exhausting all the alternatives.)
"It's all downhill from here, boys!" Even when trying to say "No, no - I'll be different. I'm going to keep trying to make an impact", the other part of your brain says, "Pffft. That's the 30-year old in you. That'll pass soon."

But a part of me refuses to give in to this idea, and instead, chooses to understand this idea of koach in a positive way, one which also leads me to read the mishna in a different way. The mishna is somewhat vague and simply lists ages and what they are for, but most discussions change how each line is interpreted - the first lines are what one should learn, but later it is what traits a person acquires. What if instead each line is about what one should be learning at that stage of his life?
  • At five years - learn mikrah; understand where we come from and who we are.
  • At ten years - learn mishna; understand there is more to our tradition than what is written; there is also what we pass down from generation to generation.
  • At thirteen years - learn the mitzvos; understand your responsibilities both positively and negatively in this world.
  • At fifteen years - learn Talmud; understand that nothing is cut and dry; there needs to be thought, logic, discussion, and not everyone will always agree, though decisions must sometimes be made.*
  • At eighteen years - learn marriage. Learn how to interact and communicate properly, learn how to listen, learn how to treat someone, learn how to be responsible... geez, just learn everything
  • At twenty years - learn pursuit. Learn to work hard, whether at (especially at) one's career, one's marriage, raising children... pursuing children! It is the pursuit of one's goals - or goals together with a spouse - that are key to present survival and future success, especially as life throws its curve balls.
At thirty years, learn strength. I'm still learning this, and surely there is yet a lot to learn. To start, though - at least to me - perhaps as one starts to clear the hurdles of their twenties, and now has that ability to begin being strong, this is a reminder to use that strength properly. There are times to apply step forward and apply strength; and there are times when being strong means doing nothing. There are causes that need one's koach behind them; there are situations where people need you to have koach for them; and there are situations where perhaps you just need to find that koach for yourself. In all of these, understanding how to apply this koach appropriately is essential.


As I'm writing this, so much of what has occurred in our own lives over the last few months has become much clearer. Certainly we have needed - and expended - an incredible amount of koach, both for happy times and sad, for good causes and for troubling times... koach that even as little as one or two years ago we simply did not have. 

May we all learn what we need to in life at the appropriate times; and perhaps it is worthwhile to use the wisdom of this mishna in Pirkei Avos as a guide in helping us to do so. 

* A very apropos and related discussion written years ago by Nephtuli T. on this both as it pertains to belief and to halacha is here; in particular, this portion is worth noting as it relates to the above line: "Halacha isn't about searching for truth and is determined by the majority. Once the majority decides a question, the "right answer" is that decision. There is no ontological gap between the decision of the majority and the correct answer."

Monday, July 22, 2013

Don't Be Detroit

As a native - and now current - Clevelander, an old joke is that however bad things might be in Cleveland, "Hey, at least we're not Detroit*." And certainly, that joke is even more apropos this week, after Detroit applied for bankruptcy. While it would be easy (and entertaining) to write about this from a political point of view (particularly to fisk Krugman's pathetic dismissal of it, done already here), it is more useful and instructive to learn something from it, instead, whether as individuals, families, or communities.

The key lesson: Don't be Detroit.

  • Don't overspend on education, especially if it's not that great. Detroit spent more than the national average on education, yet had a 47% illiteracy rate.
  • Don't spend money on stuff that doesn't work, no matter how 'necessary' it seems. Detroit's police force solves 10% of crimes committed.
  • Don't buy more house than you need. About 1/3 of Detroit's 140 square miles are empty.
  • If people like you can make do with less, so can you - and so should you. Detroit has twice as many municipal employees as same-size cities
  • Don't pay for stuff you don't use. Detroit's city water and sewer department employs a “horseshoer” although it keeps no horses.
  • Don't use credit cards. Detroit has $20 billion in unfunded liabilities
  • Don't assume you'll always have the same income, or two incomes, and especially two growing incomes. Detroit's population fell from 1.85M in 1950 and the highest per capita income in 1960 to 710K and rampant unemployment.
  • Always have a backup plan. Detroit had 296,000 manufacturing jobs in 1950. Today it has 27,000.
It is impossible to stress enough the difference between those who pay for the future now and those who pay for now with the future. While the first group may not have all the luxuries of the second group for the first few years, they will also not have the stress, poverty, and decay of the rest of the years. It's the difference between buying a mansion off the bat, but not being able to keep it up, vs. buying a modest house and continually upgrading. In the beginning, the person with the mansion may seem better off; but within a few years, they have a big, run-down house, while their friend keeps expanding and enhancing.

Be smart, be frugal, and plan. Don't be Detroit.

* For all those who don't get the reference, these are a hilarious must watch: 12.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

It's (Not) Always About Race

Earlier today, I went with an old friend to buy a couple big items from a large Costco in the area. As if often the case in Costco, there are employees (either of Costco or other companies) pitching various items to you as you walk through the store. As soon as we entered, someone immediately pitched my friend on DirecTV, pushing him to switch from AT&T U-Verse. After a few seconds of this "drive-by" pitch as we pushed our cart past the employee, the friend said he'd have to think about it and we moved on. Later, as we were getting to the area we wanted, another person pitched us on window glass, promising 10% off and a quote good for a year, all he needed was my friend's name. Again, he said he'd think about it and perhaps circle back later.

 When we reached the checkout counter, as the friend was about to pay for the rather large and expensive items, the cashier suggested he become an Executive Member, entitling him to 2% back on all purchases. My friend once again replied that he'd think about it. The cashier then said - "Look, you want to do this before this purchase. You're spending a significant amount, and the 6 months prior to this you'd already have earned back the difference in price between the regular membership and Executive. You should do it today, before I charge this." "I'll think about it." "And in the six months prior to that you also spent that much. Clearly you're spending well over the threshold needed for it to be worth it, it's a no-brainer!" "I hear what you're saying, I just have to think about it."

At this point the cashier - who had been somewhat annoyed throughout the discussion - was clearly frustrated, and said in a bit of a dripping tone, "Perhaps if someone else explains it to you you'd do it", and turned to the Executive Member Services employee nearby, at which point my friend interjected, "No no, you explained it just fine. I just need to think about it." The EM employee then repeated the same, along with the 'bagger', pushing the same point (that it's an obvious buy), and again my friend replied, clearly wanting to leave, "I need to talk it over with my wife and I need to think about it." The cashier turned to me as we started to walk away and said "You understood it, right? (I nodded) You explain it to him."

As we walked away, I turned to the friend and said "For what it's worth, he's right." "Yeah, I figured he probably was, but I'm not familiar enough with it and need to think about it and discuss it with my wife. I don't want to make a decision just like that." "Right, I hear that. They just were pushing it especially on a big sale because you'd be making back a nice chunk of the difference right then." "I understand that."

He then commented on the same objection I had to what had occurred. "What really bothered me, though, was that he immediately assumed that the reason I wasn't doing what he said was because he's black." I replied, "Yeah, I noticed that, and I thought it was sad." "It IS sad! Unfortunately, though, that's what he's been taught [that race is a motivator for the actions people do or don't do], so even though race had nothing to do with it, he thinks that the reason I didn't want to do it is because of race. It's very sad!"

Until the cashier made that comment, race was non-existent. There was an employee of a store, making a pitch, just as many other employees had made pitches for other items earlier. To each, my friend had the same polite reply: "I have to think about it." But this employee unfortunately made the assumption that the reason this white, Jewish male was choosing not to listen to his pitch could not be because it was a pitch; after all, it was a seeming no-brainer to upgrade to Executive level. Therefore, the employee concluded that my friend wasn't listening to him because he's black, and that perhaps bringing over a white male would work better.

Perhaps this automatic assumption of racial bias is due to education, as my friend suggested; perhaps it's based on personal experiences; perhaps it's some combination of the two. But this automatic assumption by people (of any race) that others' actions are always motivated by race* is not only itself the very definition of racism, but it exacerbates the issue of race it is usually trying to end. We will never end racism if we presume race always plays a role.

Racism can only end when we treat everyone equally - actually equally, not "let's adjust for race" equally. Until we stop assuming people's actions are always about race, we are effectively forcing people to act based on race; and that's a cycle we will never be able to end.

* As an example - in the recent Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case, there were two primary issues that were most troubling to me. First and foremost, the media portrayal of the event to the point that calls were altered to make the case about racism was despicable. Zimmerman should easily win his case against NBC for defamation, and he should. But also troubling is the assumption that Zimmerman - who undoubtedly was overzealous and irresponsible - followed Martin because he is white and Martin was black. Zimmerman - whose prom date was black; who mentored black teens; who complained about the Sanford police because of how they treated a homeless black man; who according to the call transcripts was not even sure Martin was black at first when asked by the dispatcher, and is clearly focused on Martin's suspicious activity throughout the call; and who was deemed by every investigator and every person questioned - even his ex-wife who had filed a restraining order on him - to not be a racist, is assumed to have acted because of race. This portrayal became so heavily accepted, to the point that should anyone dare suggest otherwise, they are often themselves painted as bigots or racists, because, well, "obviously" it was about race, even if there's nothing that demonstrates that to be true.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Coming Soon: The Revival of SerandEz?

Hi all, I'm strongly considering reviving this blog, but could use some help cleaning the place to make it look nice. Anyone care to help me out? Not looking for anything fancy - just clean and easy. The Management

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