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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Oh, The Nonprofits You'll Go To

My wife and kid are out of town. Which means that I end up staying out past 6:30 p.m., my daughter's bedtime, and wreaking havoc on the town. To me, blotting out how much I miss them by consuming maddening quantities of alcohol is an expression of love.

So that was how I ended up telling the erstwhile Frum Satire to meet me at a bar in midtown for the most random of convocations, which I'd been invited to by a well-meaning friend: a happy hour for Jewish professionals for the explicit purpose of social networking.

I arrived before Frum, and slipped in unobtrusively, figuring there'd be someone I knew, or at least someone who thought I looked interesting enough to talk to. I was stopped at the door and asked what I was doing there, and whether I was invited -- it was a networking event, but strictly for Jewish professionals -- "that is," I was told, "people in JCC's, nonprofit organizations, that sort of thing." "Oh, dude, I'm totally that," I said, thinking I could brush past, get my nametag, and score some free falafel-based snacks.

But I wasn't so fast.

"Oh, that's interesting!" she deflected me again. "Who are you affiliated with?"

At this point, I name-dropped MJL -- which caused everyone to smile a bit ("I use that site all the time!") and gush over us. (Forgive my immodesty, but: Score!) At this point, I had a bit of an existential moment, realizing for the first time that day -- because I sometimes forget -- that I look like such a hardcore Jew with my beard and payos, and they might have thought I was just stopping by to eat their nosh. Which, after all, I was. What they didn't realize was, i was

I was pretty freely admitted. But then my pocket began vibrating. It was Frum calling. He was right around the corner.

So we had a twenty-second debate. Stay or go? We were by far the least well-dressed people there (-1). We were both artists (-1), and therefore had no grounding or no interest to these people (-2). Except, possibly, that they might want to book us to do a show (+2). And maybe invite us to more events (+1). With more free food (+5)...

This obviously took longer than twenty seconds. What really broke up the argument was when an Israeli in a t-shirt and painter's cap came up to me, started calling me tzadik, which basically means "saint," and asking whether he could get me a "kos plasteek." Frum and the person we were talking to, who was involved in several Zionist organizations but apparently didn't speak Hebrew, looked at us, baffled, for a translation.

"He asked if I want a beer in a plastic cup," I told them.

Because, in my experience -- and in all seriousness -- no one treats Orthodox Jews better than totally 100% secular Israelis. Calling me a saint was totally ironic, of course -- secular Israelis do this often, and it always is -- but it was an even higher compliment than if he'd meant it literally. It means that he considers us close enough to make a joke, and he considers me good-natured enough to take it well. Which, of course, I did.

I explained back at him in my bad Hebrew, and then translating for everyone else in bad English, that you don't need to worry about drinking cold beverages in a plastic cup; that they'll still be kosher. And then I asked him what he was drinking -- and what was he drinking from? It was a mojito. The ultimate Israeli drink: alcohol, soda, and fresh chopped-up mint. And he was drinking it from a Mason jar.

That settled it: we were staying.

It was a good time, even if the food wasn't kosher. Inside, we really did meet some pretty cool folks. Someone who was in charge of the Meira chapter of Hadassah, whose slogan on their cards was "We're not JUST your grandma's hadassah!" The person who runs Limmud NY, who I'd been email-harassing for a year to have me come speak, but who was actually very nice and not offended at all in person. And the guy who runs a travel blog called And then the awesome Sarah Chandler showed up, webmaster of the equally awesome JewSchool. She told me, "I wasn't going to show up, but I figured there was some reason I needed to go."

Yeah, I said to her. I know exactly what you mean.

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