Sunday, July 31, 2011

I am Engaged to a Wonderful Jewish Asperger Girl (Part II)

(Part I)

So how did I propose to my one and only dream Jewish Asperger girl? Well, like in most relationships I suspect, she really proposed to me while allowing me the pretense of going through the motions of asking her to maintain the facade of my manly control in this relationship. So a few weeks ago Miriam announced to me that she intended to have an engagement party in August. Naturally, I was curious as to who would play the role of the groom at this engagement party and decided to volunteer my services before some other guy tried out for the part. This past Sunday, I took Miriam to the Aquarium of the Pacific. In the last post, I mentioned that Miriam's special interest is the South Pacific. It is actually much more specific than that; it is in Palau. In case you have never heard of Palau they are a group of islands several hundred miles to the east of the Philippines. (Lionel Spiegel had heard of them because of some of the tropical life off its coasts.)

(Here I passed her test to find Palau on a map, thus making myself a suitable partner for marriage. Naturally, any person with designs on world conquest has to know something about geography.)

The aquarium possesses an entire section on coral reefs based on the ones off Palau. Thus making it the perfect set piece to stand in for Miriam's favorite place in the universe.

How to make it a surprise? The disadvantage of being an Asperger is that it makes you a really bad liar. The advantage of dating an Asperger is that they are very easy to lie to. So I simply told Miriam that I was taking her out on a simple date to the aquarium with a picnic dinner. She believed me. To confirm her belief she checked on a bottle of wine we had just bought to see if it was still in its place. It was. I simply grabbed it afterward when she was not looking and stuck it in my knapsack.

So we headed to the aquarium. As a good boyfriend, I obviously let Miriam take the lead and she took me straight to the Palau exhibit. That finished we went through the rest of the museum. (For some strange reason the people who run the aquarium think that people want to do things that have no connection to Palau like pet sharks.) Heading out of the aquarium, I suggested that we go back one more time through Palau. I then told her to find the most magical place in the exhibit. She parked herself right in front of the red snapper fish. (Miriam, like me, tends to associate love with eating even as she fails to apply this philosophy to its logical conclusion of kitty and human.) While having her stare into the fish tank, I stood behind her and said: "I know nothing of the customs of Palau, how they ask certain questions, but as a western imperialist, I feel entitled to simply make up whatever Palauan customs I wish. So I going to do it this way. Miriam, would you turn around?" She turned around and I asked her the question that was burning on my mind at the moment. "Would you have dinner with me by the shore?"

So we walked to the shore and had a sunset picnic dinner with leechee fruit, which grows in Palau, for dessert. Afterward, we walked along the shore toward the setting sun. I then had Miriam look out to over the water to the sun and once again spoke to her: "This is the closest we can get to Palau without a boat or plane, but I promise we will go there eventually."

She then turned around, and I had pulled out the bottle of wine. She then went into gasps of "oh my god" a bunch of times, before eventually kindly allowing me to ask her an embarrassing question that did not involve food.

I already know where we are going for our honeymoon. I hear some of the islands near the Philippines are quite magnificent. The natives do not particularly care for nuclear weapons so I guess I will have to give up on conquest.


Friday, July 29, 2011

I am Engaged to a Wonderful Jewish Asperger Girl (Part I)

For starters, I would like to apologize for the lack of posts this past month. Things have been happening in my life that I could not talk about with my readers. Now that things are official I am very pleased to share everything you.

This past February I received a call from my aunt. She had been telling people about me and someone had contacted her about a girl in South Pasadena named Miriam Albin.

My aunt informed me that Miriam was really smart, into anthropology, had Asperger syndrome and was quite pretty. At which point I stopped my aunt to tell her that I was already looking at a picture of this girl. As soon as I heard the name I Googled her and found her Facebook page. (Life in the twenty-first century.) Soon afterward, I received an email from Miriam. Apparently, she had Googled me in turn, found this blog and failed to be offended by its contents. So we started talking, largely through Skype. (Long distance dating in the twenty-first century.)

There was something absolutely refreshing about dating an Asperger. While we do have our differences (she likes the South Pacific and is all bubbly and friendly, while I like European history am usually found lurking in a corner contemplating taking over the world), it is amazing how similar our learned defense mechanisms are. We both fear accidentally giving offense to people over things beyond our understanding so constantly ask people whether we are bothering them or what they would like. Applying this method to another Asperger leads to some good comic exchanges:

"Is it socially appropriate for me to say this?"    
"I have no idea."
"Do you care if it is socially appropriate?"
"Oh good."

And then there are the back and forth monologues to be mediated the following way:

"Sorry for going on a random side tangent. I can stop now if you are not interested."
"Is this one of your special interests and does monologuing about this topic make you happy?"
"Ok as long as you do the dishes while you monologue."

Being informed that there are aspects to building a relationship that cannot be conducted over Skype, I flew out to Los Angeles in April for a weekend. I met her parents and they found me to be an Asperger, who is also responsible. Following quid pro quo logic naturally, she flew out in June to meet my family and they found Miriam to be an Asperger, who is also lovable.

The next step was for me to make this a short distance relationship so I moved out to South Pasadena. Miriam's parents liked me so much that they agreed to put me up. Miriam lives nearby in a different house. Admittedly this was an unconventional living arrangement, but I think we both gained a lot from it. We have been doing all the day to day things that a married couple does besides actually sharing a house and sleeping together. Things like preparing dinner, cleaning the dishes and figuring out whose turn it is to monologue.   

(To be continued ...)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Orthodox Feminism or Back to the 1950s

I was just shown a brochure for a women's baalat tshuvah (newly religious) yeshiva called Shirat Devorah. I have never been to the place, I am not affiliated with it nor do I even know anyone who is. Perhaps it is a wonderful program, but some things in the brochure struck me as troubling.

For example:

Shirat Devorah engages each student's intellect, heart, body, and soul in her education. We honor the intelligence of all these aspects and use them as tools for integration. For example, the laws of Kashrut [kosher] and Shabbat can be learned from a book, but are best absorbed and understood through hands on application. In our Kitchen Laboratory, students apply these laws by cooking nutritious meals to experience what it means to live Jewishly

I am certainly not opposed to hands on education, but this suspiciously sounds like good old fashioned home economics. If you are making this the center of your school system as opposed to "mere book learning" then forgive me if I suspect you of simply training girls to pull in a man, one of few tasks in life in which being able to cook as opposed to being able to produce an independent thought and argue for it can be an advantage.

The school's non-interest in book learning show up again.

At Shirat Devorah, we use women's connection to intuition, creativity, community, and processing to create a holistic environment. During hikes, Lab, and workshops students practice the Jewish women's tradition of imparting meaning through focused intention. We thus create tangible memories that students can draw upon in the future.

How do you run a lab with a "women's intuition?" I guess the same way you gain an education through hiking. It is a mystical sort of learning beyond the understanding of non-intuitive people like me.

For a school claiming to be about using Judaism to empower women, there is surprisingly nothing about sitting down and critically interpreting texts. Instead what I hear is that women are special; since they have this intuition they do not need a solid background in in critical thinking honed through reading books and analyzing texts. I would accuse them of being sexist except that historically I know the real conclusion of this sort of thinking; women are little more than children, beautiful to behold (as well as do other things to) and can be trained to do useful tasks around the house like cooking and cleaning, but never to be taken seriously as a social and intellectual equal.  

Friday, July 1, 2011

Let Jewish Teenagers go into Monasetaries and Soon They will be Texting on Shabbos

A decade ago, when I spent my post high school year in Israel, I attended Yeshiva Ohr Hadarom, headed by Rabbi Shalom Hammer. He is a good speaker and a decent person, though we failed to get along due to a personality clash and intellectual differences. Rabbi Hammer, for all intents and purposes, is a Haredi rabbi, operating in Modern Orthodox circles due to his religious Zionist politics and, one suspects, simple economics; it would not have been practical to get a position as the head of a Haredi yeshiava, a Rosh Yeshiva, so he tried playing Rosh Yeshiva with a bunch of Modern Orthodox teenage boys in the hope that they would be in the market for that sort of thing. Much to his frustration I was not looking for a Rosh Yeshiva to give me a connection to Judaism and God. I treated him as the adult authority figure in charge; I did not and he complained about this to my face that I did not give him the respect "he deserved" as a "Rosh Yeshiva."  

In a recent blog post, Rabbi Hammer discusses an incident where a bunch of his daughters' friends went into a monastery.

Considering that all of the teenagers on the trip are from Orthodox home and that according to most Orthodox rabbis it is forbidden to enter a church or monastery, my daughters were particularly upset that this considerable group of their friends would casually breach Orthodox halacha. Even more disturbing to them was that when they told their friends that they would not enter the monastery as it was forbidden according to rabbinic halacha, the majority of the group reacted explaining that this was only a Rabbinic prohibition and not worthy of serious consideration.

Rabbi Hammer connects this willingness to be lenient in this matter to the recent scandal breaking out in the Orthodox community that many Orthodox kids text on the Sabbath. These kids believe that it is ok to make compromises in Jewish law so they pick and choose what to keep as it suits them.

I see a connection between entering a monastery and texting on the Sabbath, though it is not the connection that Rabbi Hammer makes. I certainly oppose texting on the Sabbath and would see any person who does as being outside the Orthodox community. (This, of course, does not mean that they are bad hell-bound people, with whom I will not be friends with.) That being said, I think the root of the problem, at least in part, lies in the attitude toward Jewish law taken by people like Rabbi Hammer and imbibed by the kids he tries to teach in which everything is either permitted or forbidden.

Take the example of the monastery. Now, before I continue, I should confess that I do enter churches despite the fact that I do recognize that there are real problems with doing so. (See "What Church Services have Taught Me about Prayer.") I do it because I study Christianity professionally; I also do not associate the Church with persecution nor do I see it as necessarily something idolatrous. (If I am willing to walk into a Chabad house and give Lubavitchers the benefit of the doubt of not worshipping idols despite the giant rebbe picture then I must give Christians the same benefit of the doubt with their crucifixes.)

Whether I am doing the right thing or not, any competent halachic authority would recognize that entering a church or a monastery is in a completely different league from texting on the Sabbath. For that matter, of all the places a teenager might think to go to, we should rather teenagers visit a monastery, where they just might learn something about history and other religions than go drinking at a club. This needs to be brought over to students in a tangible way beyond simply muttering something about rabbinic and biblical prohibitions. You wish to enter a monastery, fine; make the case to me, based on Jewish sources, that this is ok. If you can hold a straight face and make a plausible case then I will let you go. Regardless of whether I agree with your decision, I will accept the fact that you are part of the halachic process that is Orthodox Judaism.

What happens when rabbis and teachers take the shortcut with students and write off everything they oppose as wrong and against Judaism? The result is not that students will accept all these injunctions as serious prohibitions to be obeyed absolutely. On the contrary, they will, in turn, take shortcuts of their own and treat all prohibitions as simply an opinion to be accepted or rejected as they see fit. If going into a monastery is simply something that rabbis claim is a serious prohibition even when it is obvious that it is not, then when rabbis say you should not text on Shabbos they must also just doing what they usually do and forbidding even minor things. So one can text in good conscious and still be an Orthodox Jew.

Wishing all my readers a good non-texting Sabbath.