Friday, November 23, 2007

Scarsdale Cousins: Thanksgiving Edition

So I spent Thanksgiving with my amazing Scarsdale cousins (they're beyond fantastic.) There are many reasons that I love them but probably the strongest is that their family structure reminds me of my own. My cousins are really open with their parents; there's always a sense of dialogue between the two parties in the family. And despite being able to act out or be ridiculous or have fun in restaurants (as we often do, whether it take the form of blowing straw covers at one another, trying to salt the other person's food or otherwise taking advantage of their parents' goodwill) when it comes down to it, they know what they need to do and manage responsibly.

It's this environment that provokes a discussion in which my cousin mentions the party he attended the night before (everyone was trashed plus a guy had brought his personal stash of marijuana along) and inquired as to whether vaporizing marijuana is better for you (my Uncle's a doctor and the answer is that it's the same difference.) It's both amusing and great that my cousin can have this discussion. Of course I tease him, "And were you trashed, Yechiel?" to which he honestly responds "I don't drink" and no, he didn't get high either, so it's all good. He also explained that the older guy kicked them out before getting high (I guess that's how he protects the younger high school crowd.)

Also hilarious was when the guy's younger brother came over and Yechiel nonchalantly mentions that they'd just been discussing the party of the night before, and "my cousin Olivia's over but she's cool, don't worry about it." Nice to be cool in your cousin's eyes.

The most wonderful part was that he taught me something completely new! Yechiel's head of something in USY (it was really funny when he found out that I do NCSY. The conversation went like so- he had just been telling me how he'd gotten involved in USY. "You do USY? No way! I do NCSY!" So he goes, "Well, that sucks." And I say "Why?" And he says, "Because obviously you should do USY with me!" Which made me smile.) Anyway, he had a Shabbaton a couple weeks ago and he had to give a devar Torah on Parshat Chayei Sarah. So I didn't know this before, but there's this Conservative chumash; it's called Etz Hayim. It's so interesting! Chaim Potok wrote a commentary on Tanakh- I hadn't known that before, either. Anyway, so he explains that he based his devar Torah on the Etz Hayim peirush.

It's completely brilliant. He explained that Chayei Sara opens with Sarah's death, ends with Abraham's death but the middle portion deals with planning for the next generation (sending Eliezer to find a wife for Isaac.) And then he related this to high school, saying that to some extent ending middle school is a kind of death, as is leaving high school, but the middle portion is spent planning for the things that one wants to do (college, Tzahal, etc.) He also related it to his own experience with death, specifically how he had felt when his grandfather died. But the part that I was concentrating on was the absolute symmetry. My God, he's right is what I was thinking. It does open with Sarah's death and ends with Abraham and it is planning for the next generation in the middle. There are so many fascinating ideas there! Now why did I never think of that before?

So I definitely need to check out this Etz Hayim chumash. What I'd really like to do is compare it to the Artscroll and Gutnick editions and see what the differences are (my Aunt and Uncle already told me it's more rational and based on historical evidence, for example, they say the Exodus didn't really happen.) But it seems to me that Chaim Potok's commentary would be superbly awesome for understanding very basic peshat. We'll see whether YU has a copy; otherwise it'll be a party at JTS for me!

Let's see. We had a long discussion comparing USY to NCSY (discussing the programming and the way our Shabbatons were run, for one thing.) I found it impressive that you have to be shomer shabbat on USY Shabbatons, which means that everyone had to walk to and from shul (no driving) although once they were at their hosts' houses, they could do whatever they liked. My cousin and his friends stayed up playing dodgeball in their friends' basement (apparently they pushed the pool table and air hockey table to the sides. And then they broke a window, though nobody seems to have minded.) Interesting also that their ruach takes the form of singing (he mentioned blue books that have zemirot) while ours is dancing. They also have lots of fascinating summer programs, one of which he particularly explained to me called Nativ. Sounded completely awesome.

Then we went to see Beowulf, which is completely unlike the text and entailed the wearing of 3D glasses. Future of video games right there; every time they stab someone onscreen it seems like the sword is pointing at you. Interestingly twisted version of Beowulf; in this one Grendel's mother mates with kings, promises them amazingly exalted reigns but gives birth to misshapen horrible creatures. Grendel is the son of Grendel's Mom (Angelina Jolie) and Hrothgar while the Dragon is the son of Beowulf and Grendel's Mom. This is a huge departure from the actual text, but it does make for a better movie. We think it'll win an Oscar for Special Effects or Animation (whatever the category is) but nothing else.

My cousin was discussing icebreakers at USY and a bunch of questions the adults in charge had asked (of course a mixture of lighthearted and serious) and one of the most interesting was this one: "When was the last time you cried?" So then we were trading questions: "What's your favorite color toothbrush?" as opposed to his "If you had no laws for a day, what would you do?" Had fun with that. Stayed up half the night laughing out loud reading over my Movies in 15 Minutes book, which I lent him, finally went to sleep and am now quite happily back and preparing for Shabbat.


Anonymous said...

Potok a"h didn't write the commentary, though he did edit the peshat commentary section.

Irina Tsukerman said...

How do you interpret the ending?

Jack's Shack said...

USY- Back in the day I was so into it.

Anonymous said...

R' Leibtag notes the symetery, and future gen prep in his shiur on Chaya Sara, found at I think you'd like his source sheets for Chaya Sara and the rest of chumash.