Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Mets Fans Validated

As Kansas City supporters partied late into the night celebrating their franchise’s first World Series win in many years, New Yorkers walked away content in knowing that their cynicism was placed correctly, and that their team did, as predicted, lose. The team drew over 45,000 screaming fans to their feet as they chanted, "We told you so!" and waved towels in celebration of the loss.

Fans in Flushing, who knew the Mets were going to let this series slip away because, hey, they’re the Mets, rested assured that the universe was as it should be and that their refusal to believe in their team’s chances was the right move. One longtime season ticket holder said, “I don’t know why anyone got any hope up any way – I mean, we all knew that they didn’t stand a chance.” He held up a foam finger and chanted, “I hate this team!”

Experts attributed New York’s failure to four basic causes – a lack of hitting depth off the bench, the inconsistency of the bullpen, the media’s calling the team one “of destiny” and ultimately, their existence as the Mets. Manager Terry Collins, in his post-game interview explained, “We left all of this on the shoulders of two hitters and you can’t win a series if you don’t have contributions by everyone. And of course, we are the Mets, so there’s that.” Vegas bookmakers had changed the odds from “I dunno…maybe this is the year” to “Are you even staying up for the game? You know they always lose - I can't watch that team anymore” as soon as Rolling Stone Magazine ran a short article two weeks ago entitled, “This could be the Mets team that Takes it All.”

Fans’ hopes additionally took a hit when it was shown statistically that the Mets fielded a superior team both offensively and defensively. “That was pretty much it – once you show why the Mets could win, they didn’t stand a chance. The Royals are lucky they didn’t have to play the Dodgers or Cubs, teams that weren’t doomed by their own identity” wrote Bob Klapisch in a piece in the Bergen Record. “As the losses mounted, each player contributed to validating fans’ sense of dread. With each blown save or strikeout in the clutch, the Mets stepped up and showed the world why they, year in and year out, lead the league in disappointments per inning (DPI).”

Other factors, such as fans not following the precise pregame rituals and alter viewing habits which had allowed the Mets to avoid bad juju and reach the series in the first place also came into play. According to news coverage, fans changed seats, wore different socks and, according to one unconfirmed report, actually held out hope that the Mets might secure a World Series victory. Mets management released a press statement saying, "This is unacceptable. Our fan base must be aware that if they start to buy into the fiction that we can do whatever we set our minds to, they are no longer welcome at Citi Field. Those who did anything as egregious as talk up our team as 'having a chance' have shown themselves to be Yankees fans." When asked about the frequent "You gotta believe!" signs, starter Jacob DeGrom responded, "That has always been ironic. Did you people NOT get the memo?"

Faithful Mets supporters greeted the team after the game with placards that read “You Suck, but we Knew that!” and “You might be losers, but you are OUR losers” which players acknowledged by tipping their caps and waving. Infielder and team captain David Wright smiled at the crowd, “We have the best fans in the world,” remarked Wright, “I mean, we all know we were going to lose, but they come out to watch it happen so they can show everyone else that they were right in predicting we would lose. That’s dedication!”

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Dear Emmy,

Dear baby Emmy,

By the time you read this, odds are, you won't be a baby, unless you are one of those really special babies that can read. That's cool, though, if you become one of those. If so, put this down and come back in a few years when you aren't a baby. Good, thanks.

Dear Emmy,

You aren't a baby anymore. I can't promise how old you are, but if you followed directions, you aren't a baby anymore. So let's talk, why not? I just got to see you for the final time before you move to Israel. Tomorrow, you, your mom and your dad (whom you probably have some cuter name for) will be boarding a flight to Israel. You are making aliyah. I hope to see you in January when I come to visit, and I asked you this evening to know me when I see you again. After January, things are up in the air. I am not making aliyah right now. So you are going to go through a long spell without your bestest great uncle. Tough, I know. I'm going to become a name you hear bandied about when all the awesome stories are told. Maybe I'll be a face on a computer screen which you have no interest in seeing for more than a minute, just peeking in to attach a name to a face in some dutiful attempt to respect your elders.

I figure I'll become the great uncle who shows up to some simcha in 12 years (or 20 years) and you see me smiling and have to whisper "Who IS that guy?" to some relative (probably in Hebrew). You will have to be reminded when you review the pictures or video or holograms or whatever you young people use in the future. Then I will disappear into the recesses of a guest register to reappear at the next family event. You won't know me, and that's OK. Your family is doing something wonderful and taking you to a home -- a house and a homeland. But I'll miss seeing you.

So let me fill in some gaps so that you know who I am. I am your grandfather's younger (and awesomer) brother. I am 2.5 years younger and infinitely cooler (assuming that by the time you read this, Google Translate knows what to do with the word "cool"). As of now I live in New Jersey, USA and have my own kids, one of which is your first cousin once removed, Maddie. You know her, but the extent of your knowing her is based on her own decision as to whether she will move to Israel or not. My other kid is a bit more of a mystery to you. She's my Tali, distinct from your aunt of the same name. She is funny and brilliant and I sense that by the time you read this, I will owe her a lot of money. My Mrs. (your great aunt Julie) is a doula and about 17 other things, and tops in each and every field. She is the one in the pictures with the wild hair. Yeah, her. I am (as of this writing) a teacher. I also have rabbinical ordination, but I expect that in your neck of the woods, most people do (and by the time you read this, I include women, puppies and lamp posts in that estimation). I hope, by the time you read this, to be a 4 time lottery winner and super astronaut-rock-and-roll-baseball-player. Chances are slim, but the world is a magical place. In my spare time I pine. It's a thing.

The Mets are on television right now. It is October and this probably won't happen again before you read this so let's take a moment to relish this. Aaaaah. Better.

I first met your mom when she was born. We were introduced before that, but the handshake was super awkward. I met your dad a bunch of years later. Strangely, the handshake was similarly awkward. You have a great family on both sides -- loads of aunts and uncles who think the world of you and want you to be safe and successful. Personally, I want you to be famous because everyone in the generation before you has let me down, and not been anyone I can sponge off of, so step up and present the coat tails for my riding.

I like the Beatles and other classical music; my tastes in art are unpredictable so don't feel the need to buy me any. I collect coins -- I currently have 500 separate pennies which are collectively worth 400 cents. But someday...someday! I like living in the United States because we have certain luxuries like tuna fish and screen doors. I am a righty but I often change the channel with my left hand so I have mad skillz. I watch movies and television shows where fake people do things that make me laugh, or who explode, or both. I wrote poetry in my youth, took pictures when I went traveling and learned to cook because I really, really like to eat. Now, in my middle age, I read the closed captioning on TV because I don't know how to turn it off, look at pictures because I don't like to travel, and still like to eat.

I can sense the sincerity in the eyes of a child and completely appreciate when children cry as I approach. I take it as a compliment because I'm too dim to take it any other way. You didn't cry this evening. Then I bit your head and left, so you might want to email me and fill in the gaps.

Bottom line is, I am sad that I will miss out on much of your growth but I know you will become great. I am sad that I will be little more than a picture in an album (and a faceless blog post every now and then which you will pretend to read), but you will be surrounded by a holiness, a joy and a community which make me jealous. So breathe in Israel, enjoy growing up, and teleport over occasionally so we can play space catch or whatever.

Yours en croute,

Great Uncle Daniel

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Thoughts on reading the Torah. Again.

And with a flourish, the yearly cycle of Torah readings begins again. We come out of the holiday season refreshed – forgiven of our sins, overflowing with the joy of celebrating the Torah and ready to make this the best year ever with all the mitzvot and smachot and all the opportunities for joy in our religion which lie at our feet.

We come to shul on the first Shabbat after Sukkot and hear the words “Breishit bara” and we’re off. As we listen to the bal koreh retell of the 7 days of creation, we look through the commentaries and remind ourselves of the classic questions and answers which enrich our understanding. We see that Rashi asks why the Torah has to start with creation, instead of starting with the communal mitzvah of sanctifying the new month given later on. His answer, which ties the creation to the later claims that the Jewish people are not interlopers on land is very nice, but I think it misses the point (no offense there big guy) unless we understand the whole thought process differently.

The Torah, straight through, and the first book especially is not a history book, or a law book, but a compendium of some of the most ridiculous and stupendous failures ever made by human beings. Think about it – man is created…and screws up. He has kids…one of them screws up. The people develop societies…and screw up. Noah is saved…and screws up. This book is a schedule of one bonehead move after another and the stories we celebrate are those which, at some point in them, show our ancestors to be grade A doofuses (I am not sure if that is the proper plural; maybe doofi).

We have just been singing and dancing with the Torah, holding it high up for all to see, but this is what we are showing off to the world? A text which details all the times those we look up to got it wrong? We will read about a father who is tricked, brothers who sell a brother, a leader who makes a life changing mistake and a people who never stop whining! The stories are not about how we succeeded or even all about how God made everything work out, but about how we continued to take a good situation and make it worse through our own stupidity. This is what I am supposed to look forward to every year?

Maybe Rashi’s question was more along the lines of “Why can’t we at least start with the part in which we have codified ways of getting things right – commandments which we still follow in order to highlight how we aren’t complete morons all the time?” In Hebrew it would sound so much classier. Maybe Rashi was asking “Why do we have to start be showing generations of people who, for the life of them, can’t step away from making the worst choice at any given opportunity?”

I think that there is an answer, and it is a comforting one. We celebrate this litany of mistakes because of something that is shown in chapter 3, verse 21. After eating of the fruit and getting caught (brilliant move, Adam and Eve) God then makes them clothing to wear instead of letting them walk around arrayed in fig leaves. My handy dandy Schottenstein chumash cites the comment of Rabbeinu Bachya, that God clothed A and E to show that, despite their error, he still loved and cared for them. Sure, like any parent would have to, he punished wrongdoing, but he still continued to care for his children's well-being. What we are celebrating is the Torah, because after generations of getting it wrong, God still gave us the mitzvot and the Torah! That is the clothing we are provided with and that act of forgiveness, arraying us in commandments, is worth dancing about and is the essence of Simchat Torah. Otherwise, are we really just doing the hora because we are starting to read a book? Shouldn't we be celebrating HAVING the Torah every day? Why do we do so right after our repentance and right before we are going to be reminded that the greatest of our people didn't know how to follow orders given by God because we are recalling the miracle that we have the Torah despite our incessant idiocy.

We can’t start our story with the giving of the first mitzvah because we need the context – so God gives us a law. Big deal. But the fact is, and this is proven time and time again, we don’t deserve it! Humanity doesn’t really deserve God at all. But he sticks around and gives us gifts when we might not really have earned them. Rashi might have understood that we need those earlier stories, the setup of failure, to appreciate how incredible it is that we are eventually given the monumental opportunity to become closer to God through the Torah.

As we start the year, we know that no matter our best intentions, we are going to screw up again, and as we read the exploits of our forefathers, they are going to mess up again. Moses will still not circumcise his son. Yehudah will still sleep with Tamar. No matter how much we delve into these stories and pray for the alternate ending, they will end with the same failures. Watching the recorded Mets game from Tuesday, June 11, 1985 for the 100th time and wishing and hoping won’t change the fact that they are going to lose, and lose big. And after all of our dumb moves, God will still accept us back; we will go into next year being reminded that if we repent, and try to right the ship, the Torah will be there for us, God will be there waiting to give us a special gift, even though we need to try again to live up to it.

And maybe that’s why many Jews like the Mets – maybe we are in tune with stories of lovable failures who don’t deserve die-hard fans. Maybe every season seems like a rerun: we start off the year with hopes and we are generally let down, but we still believe (ya gotta), and at those few moments when we get the incredible gift, we appreciate it all the more.

May we have a year of singing, dancing and celebrating our failures and our successes, the gifts we are given and the opportunities available to us to fulfill the mitzvot, and the knowledge that even though things will probably go south, we still have a committed fan in God.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Just one more question mark.

I am not political. While I might have opinions about politics I feel woefully underinformed and naïve so I try to keep them to myself, lest my ignorance reveal itself and the world finds a new reason to mock me. Such is the lot of the middle child.

But I do think I understand a few things about human nature. So, sans any political static, I’d like to ask a few questions – these are not references to anything you might have read; these are simply questions about the way a normal human should react. Please, whoever you are, answer these honestly and without trying to picture them as part of something else -- think about them without regard to geography, history and politics. Consider them as a human, thinking about humans.

If you heard that a boy was shot from outside while standing in his house, would you be upset?

If you heard that an ambulance was attacked, would you consider that a normal course of behavior?

If you heard that a teen aged girl was shot while sleeping on her porch, would you be happy or sad?

If you heard that a fifteen year old boy was stabbed while walking through his home town, would you think that such behavior was reasonable?

If you heard that a clergy member, walking with his wife and baby, was stabbed to death on the street, the wife and baby stabbed and injured, and a good Samaritan who tried to help was stabbed to death as well, would you think anything other than how horrible this is?

If you heard that a family, while driving on the road, was shot at, the mother killed and the father, set upon and murdered when the car stopped, all in front of the faces of the 4 children, would you see that as defensible?

And most importantly, if you heard that anyone, anywhere, worked to champion any of these actions, explain, rationalize, support or celebrate any of these events, what would you think if that person? What if entire groups danced and sang, praised the perpetrators and lit fireworks to commemorate the attacks, what kind of response would you have for that group? Would you see them as the people you want to plan your future with? And what if a government, any government, took an official position encouraging the behavior? Would you vote for that government?

What if you heard that all these events took place within a 4 day span, in one country – would you agree that the country has a problem?

Would you blame the boy who got shot? Would you blame the parents driving their car, or the good Samaritan who tried to save a family? Maybe the ambulance driver?

What would you think of a person who openly took responsibility for these actions or who proudly praised the perpetrators? Does that person share a respect for life that you might claim to have? Can you stay silent when he stands up and condemns the police for killing the attacker in any of these cases?

Let’s take religion and politics out of this and just look at it as a matter of humanity. Put this anywhere in the world, make the victims any color or creed you want them to be. Is there any way to contextualize these events that they seem rewardable and not loathsome? Are they not newsworthy and reprehensible? Don’t you expect news anchors to let some of their milk of human kindness seep through and express bitter resentment that such violence should ever be condoned? Shouldn’t people of all stripes be climbing over each other to take the civilized position and condemn these events? Shouldn’t there be an outcry over the wanton destruction and senseless loss of life, regardless of the rationalizations offered?

Considered in a vacuum – in terms of absolute value, shouldn’t there be moral outrage? And do you think that there is a way to cast all of this, not in a vacuum, which makes ANY of these events justifiable? Do we really demand so little of humans that we can explain these behaviors in some way as to make them seem like an expected, accepted and predictable mode of behavior?

And if you had to live a life in which you didn’t feel safe driving your car, walking in your neighborhood, sleeping on your porch or standing in your house, would you feel sympathy for those who victimize you? How would you feel when someone came along and explained that these actions make sense because of what you did and who you are, even if you, yourself, didn’t do anything? Does that make any sense to you?

What if that was your father, out for a stroll, or your son, standing in his house? What if your cousin was the ambulance driver, or your niece, the girl asleep? What if it was your work colleague and his wife, driving home, who were killed. Does it have to be for you to see that this is wrong?

I have more questions to ask, and I have more fears about how people might answer the ones I asked already. But hey, I’m not a political person, so I’ll just move on.