I Was a PhD Reject; Part 1

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I’m currently sitting in a white room sitting with my arms spread across the squared table. Facing me was my dissertation committee, flanking me with these grins and self-assured smiles of prepared destruction. All these years of hard work, mind numbing exams full of tedious details, research, and field work have all led me to this table. Not only that, but it was also a long two years where I re-wrote my proposal at least six to seven times, thanks to my confusing pain of an ass, and so-called, advisor. It all comes to this defense of my work, my soul, and my life. Sitting here amidst the words of devastation being hurled at me my mind constantly retreats to the Woody Allen film Stardust Memories. The scene that keeps reverberating through my mind is when he is being asked questions about his work. He then utters a great joke saying, “Intellectuals are like the Mafia, we only kill our own kind.” Every time I’d see the scene I would laugh hysterically. However, now it’s becoming apparently crystal clear that I was the next one in their sights. But why? Why was I being torn down constantly? Why was I left in the wind many times, not only by them but by scholars in my so-called field? And why was this meeting, which at first seemed like a constructive conversation, the site of my execution? In order to answer these questions your narrator has to divulge some information on his process before we get to the grand inquisition.

Cue the music, “Paid in Full (7 Minutes of Funk Coldcut remix)” by Eric B. & Rakim.

I was born to some far our parents in a far out land. My parents were the unconventional thinkers and doers of their generation. My mother protested the Vietnam War before it became a fad, and my father is an Italian stallion of a drummer. They eventually moved to Israel, or made Aliyah as they say in Hebrew ascending to the land, in the late 1970’s. Being born in Israel to New York City, or Brooklyn bred, parents was quite an experience. However, one thing that remained constant was the music. My love for music started at an early age as my father would play classical and world music, while my mother played nothing but black music. The only white band, besides the old school masters, we heard was the Beatles. They were also very liberal when it came to our explorations into music. That’s why when my older brother started listening to Rap music they encouraged it. This encouragement from my parents has remained to this very day. Growing up in Israel was also very different from the US because the notion of being a hard Jew was more in style. Once my brother’s and I moved to the US we could not connect with most of the American Jews because they were timid pussies. Because of that we tended to gravitate towards the non-white crowds, as well as their  music and culture. This is where Hip-Hop comes into the picture. Although I listened to rap music in Israel, I didn’t immerse myself in the culture until I moved to the US, and after my grunge and classic Rock phase. This is why to this very day I don’t understand the American Jewish ethos, and I cringe at the timidity and waspish tendencies. Hip-Hop was the guiding force in my High School years, even after my mother re-married and we moved to the suburbs of Connecticut. In the town of Guilford, where I learned how to drink cans of Bud and shots of Jack Daniels while bumping Yes, Blue Oyster Cult, Steely Dan, the Allman Brothers or the town favorites Lynyrd Skynyrd, I still bumped all the classic Hip-Hop joints.

Cue the music, “Doper Skiller” by Viktor Vaughn (AKA Doom) featuring Kool Keith.

This would continue into college and even more so when I relocated to Brooklyn for school in the fall of 2002. This is when I fully immersed myself into the culture. I did all that shit that we see in the nostalgia shows and the bullshit PSA’a from the “ambassadors” of New York who come from the corn fields of the Mid-West, fuck that. I DJ’d at Brooklyn College, and other hole in the wall dives. I went to shows constantly throughout the city, hitting up all the independent and underground rap groups. Me and my boys lived that life, smoking blunts, drinking beers, and causing much damage while enjoying ourselves. However, by the time I hit 25 years of age I started asking, “is this it?” What the fuck am I going to do with my life? I earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s from Brooklyn College, pseudo-respectively. I was working a shitty job at a Jewish non-profit in Manhattan. No direction. But I started getting more into my Jewish faith, and this is where I began to find my own spiritual depth. Still, I needed a turning point in my life in order to push me in that direction. Unfortunately, the event was the death of my beloved Aunt Lenore, who was a huge force in our family. Her loss pushed each one of us to discover, meaning me and the entire family, ourselves and the true essence of our lives. I did two things; first I applied to PhD programs, and second I decided to go sturdy at a Yeshiva, Jewish school, in Jerusalem for the remainder of the time before I go back to school.

Before applying I decided to look outside of New York for other viable options for graduate school. This is when I visited Washington, DC. My younger brother attended George Mason University, so I decided to explore the schools and their history programs. Mason was nice, but too far from civilization. George Washington University was too big, and it seemed as if you could get lost in the shuffle rather quickly. I then visited American University, where I was warmly received and got plenty of face time with the chair of the department. I was also introduced to faculty, and one of them took an interest in my story and my field of research, which I chose to be Hip-Hop. This faculty member, let’s call him Mr. K, told me that if and once I get accepted to the program that I would work under him. I was both delighted and excited to begin this chapter in my life. However, after my acceptance, I traveled to the Holy Land, Israel and lived in the Old City of Jerusalem while attending the Aish HaTorah Yeshiva.

Cue the Music, “PUNKLEZMERAP” by Eprhyme.

Those months in Jerusalem were amazing, as I learned day in and day out various text and scripture while breathing in the spiritual aroma all around me. Being an Israeli I also visited plenty of old friends, and my youngest brother who was living there with his mother at the time. Emotionally, spiritually, and in other ways these months changed my life, as I became more religious and started wearing the uniform. Although I was still the rebel sporting torn jeans, T-shirts, and long hair, I still wore a Kippah and Tzizit, which I still wear to this very day. The crazy thing is that after living there for that period of time I become more sensitized to the mundane cultural bullshit. I had a great time with all the guys there, but there were times where I felt that the brain washing was in full display, and how some of these Rabbis had such a patriarchal stranglehold over the young guys. Most of these guys were lost with no direction home, so these Rabbis created new directions, and at times new ideological outlooks which were the antithesis of the true core of these guys. I distinctly remember that before I left one of the biggest donors to Aish showed up in Jerusalem. He wanted to speak with me the week before I left. When we spoke he seemed kind and nice, but also a bit pushy with his assurance that I should remain in Jerusalem. I said “thanks, but no thanks.” My resolve was strong, but I knew that I did not want to become one of the black hatters who all dress the same.

Cue the music, “NY State of Mind” by Nas.

I landed in New York City in the summer of 2009, and within a two-week period I slowly moved myself down to the land of political slime, Washington, DC. The break-neck speed of change didn’t register until my first day on campus. That is when the bizarre ride of my body and soul began to swirl in many directions. While I was in Israel us Yeshiva boys were encouraged to visit other Jews around the city and literally invite ourselves over for a Shabbat/Sabbath meal. For many of my colleagues this posed quite a challenge. Why? Because most of these guys were your standard out-of-the-box American Jews, who were mostly timid when it came to these types of social interactions. However, for the loud mouth pains-in-the-ass, like myself, it was no challenge at all, but rather a welcome rotation of interesting meals and conversation. Another big part of the Yeshiva, as well as the greater Ba’al Tshuva movement, Jews who were born secular or unaffiliated and later became religious, is that we were conditioned with eternal optimism when it came to the Jewish people. We had bright smiles and optimistic views on the religion and the many swaths of Orthodox communities. However, these Orthodox communities were not always that hot for people like myself. Especially this guy who sported loose-fitting cloths, and very long hair. Walking through the uber religious neighborhoods like Meah Shearim or Bnei Brak was always a trip. All the eyes of the boys, girls, men and women were beaming run on me as if to dig a hole into my very soul. Still, in Israel the communities were far more friendly and open to us, as opposed to the wonderful Jews of the United States. Regardless of all the bad press and sensationalism, Israel is one of the friendliest places I have ever been to. Neighbors care for neighbors in such a way that the fear of private space is non-existent. This is such an American thing where it’s not about community, but more about this is my spot, and if you don;t like it, get the fuck out. In Israel I always felt as if it was an open land where I can rest in any spot without someone pushing me off their property, or “land.” Dominicans are just like this as I experienced from my in-laws and soon-to-be wife. But I digress…….So here I am back in the land of the US of A after being brainwashed, or just a little laundering, and trying to get my bearings. Before I left for Washington, DC I hung around the city mostly in Brooklyn and Manhattan. That’s when I got the harsh truth of how self-segregated Orthodox Jews are, and how pathetically clannish the rest of the observant Jews are in this country. It’s not only the segregation that’s upsetting, but my family and I are very aware of certain Orthodox Jews superiority complex. They are the so-called keepers of the Jewish gates, and they are the ones who say who is Jewish and who’s not. We usually tend to stir clear of them. However, what hurt me the most in the beginning is the simple greetings that these Jews refuse to return. In Israel if you greet someone on the Sabbath you say “Shabbat Shalom” or the more yiddish friendly “Shabbis.” Usually it would be returned by the person you are saying it to. In the US it’s exactly the opposite in these Orthodox communities. These people not only refuse to respond, quite the keepers, but ignore in such disgust like you just ran over their father, while your buddies rape his mother and pour sugar in his gas tank. Fucking crazy! And crazier by the fact that if they were true to Jewish law they would be far less apprehensive. However, years of repression, incest, and other old world issues has stunted those people.

I’m now standing in front of my school’s spiritual center in the fall of 2009, and what a feel as well as look. Those first few days on campus were quite a shock to the system. For the past year I’ve been cloistered in this spiritual center taking in all this knowledge, but at the same time I also eschewed most forms of entertainment and popular culture. It’s amazing how that time period dramatically raised my sensitivities to the western ways, as well as sex and the sexualization of popular culture. Don;t get me wrong I ain’t no prude. After living in Brooklyn for years, and even before, I always enjoyed some nice drugs and a good piece of ass, preferably the non-white bread kind! But coming back screwed up some of my perceptions, as well as reminded me that the Yeshiva stint was my maturation period. So, here I am standing and read to learn. The first year was a tough adjustment period for many reasons, such as the change of style and content of my education. I was also looking for a place to live so for the first month and a half I had an hour and a half commute from the plush campus of American University to my brother’s apartment in Arlington, VA. However, by mid-October I was settled and slowly getting a grip on my academic performance. My advisor, as us PhD’s have, worked well with me and he helped me get through the adjustment period.

Cue the music: “Banned in DC” by the Bad Brains.

Washington, DC is nice, clean, full of politics and bullshit, and it’s such a bizarre existence living in the capital of the world. DC is also interesting as it’s the breeding ground for festering politicians and political movements. That’s why it can be a headache when your hanging with people whose political views don’t align with your own. Dc is also bizarre because it has certain northeast tendencies, yet it’s the opening slit of the south. You feel the progressive politics while traipsing over old plantations, which can be a real mind fuck. I showed up, literally two weeks off the plane into the land of DC, as a wide-eyed optimist with regards to my future in academia as well as integrating into the Modern Orthodox Jewish community. Lo and behold, within a few years my hopes and optimistic feelings took a nose dive with regards to both. After starting school at American University I also began to look for an apartment around the area in both DC and Maryland that were close to Orthodox synagogues. Maryland had nice communities, such as Kemp Mill, White Oak and others, but I couldn’t live in the wilderness devoid of city life. I also couldn’t live in these cloistered Jewish neighborhoods, that reminded me of the same segregated Jewish ghettos of Brooklyn. I ended up settling in Foggy Bottom, close to the modern synagogue Kesher Israel. Yes, this is the same place that sent its disgraced Rabbi to the clink not that long ago. Funny story, first time I was invited over to his house, with his family, for Shabbat dinner he did a round of introductions. He said that we should say our names, place of birth, and famous claim to fame. He then followed that by saying that “no one can beat me because I was on the Ali G Show.” Ironically this would not be his only claim to fame. G-d works in mysterious ways, but he’s got quite a sense of humor.

I joined the congregation in the fall of 2009 and began to integrate into the Jewish community. Now, I was not at all your typical Orthodox Jew boy. At that point I had very long hair, around 15 inches or so in length, baggy Hip-Hop and grunge era cloths, while wearing a big crochet kippah, and with flowing Tzizit, the strings that certain Jewish men wear outside of their belt line. I was a walking contradiction, thank you Green Day!, and the first time I walked into services the eyes were pinned to my back, and searing through my soul. The young men and women, the elders and the rest reacted with mixed caution. Some members of the community were beautiful souls who didn’t care. Unfortunately most of the men and women my age were basically WASP Jews who were so hardcore conservative and rigid in their beliefs. Once I walked in, I blew them out, which is why it was very hard for a single guy like myself to find a lady, let alone a date. For the first year I was content, and enjoying the Shul and the academic process. However, with academia it was a struggle at first re-adjusting back to the life, and my advisor did help me acclimate by the end of the year. By my second year I was getting far deeper into the PhD process. Unfortunately, my social life wasn’t the same as I kept going on pointless dates with either bizarre hippy Jew chicks, or certain women from the DC community who are were so repressed it was just sad. You’d think that these women, who mostly became more religious, would embrace the passion of faith instead of the repressive parts adapted by the Ultra Orthodox Jews. Also, almost all of these Jews came from very different socio-economic backgrounds than I. They all came from the lily white suburbs, and attended all white schools and were probably bullied, but now with their new-found spark of faith have a new method of control. It’s so sad to go to a thirty-something year old’s place for a Shabbat meal, as you’re surrounded by childish hobbies and meticulous bachelor pad. Once I was at one of these meals along with other guests including the parents of one of the guests. As the father extended his hand to reach for the wine, the host put his hand on the wine and said, “No, I do that.” This guy was bullied so much that now he’s become the asshole who pine for nothing but control. It’s sad how some of these men and women need to get laid.

Cue the music, “What’s Next” by Leaders of the New School.

Two years later my school work is going good as I began to wrap up all my required courses, and began to study for the oncoming torture of exams we call comprehensive exams. At the same time the dating scene was getting nowhere as I came to the realization that a modern Orthodox Jewish woman was not for me. This was tough coming from a person who wanted to stick to the more observant way of living. However, I began to delve into the world of secular and even non-Jewish women. That’s when I made the terrible mistake of reconnecting with a woman I’d worked with in the past. After living with my younger brother and his girlfriend and seeing the track record at the synagogue of either couples on their way to marriage or the aging spinsters (both men ad women) hanging from the galleries. That shit became old and depressing very fast.what was even more depressing was the local Lubavitch Chabad in DC. I’m a big fan of the Chabad movement, which was centered in my neck of the woods, Brooklyn. The Chabadniks in Brooklyn were, and remain, amazingly wonderful in their inclusiveness and unbiased look at who you are, regardless of your background. The Chabad of DC was the antithesis of all this and what Chabad stands for. When I first attended services Shem Tov, the Rabbi, came up to me and asked what brought me to DC. I said school. He then turned around and ignored me ever since. To call him a political opportunist is just the tip of the ice burg. That’s what happens when you mix spirituality with politics. You get dicks like that. Anyway, Diana was her name and she’s another load of words that I’ve written about in the past, which I’ll add next time around.

Peace, for now……

 

 

 

 

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