Category Archives: Life

Manifest Character Review: Jared Vasquez

*For the foreseeable future, some Character Review posts may not be published every Thursday as they have in the past.

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the characters from the television series ManifestRead at your own risk if you have not watched the show.

There is something to be said about a well written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front of us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.

In a perfect world, romantic love would be a simple thing. But love, like life, is never simple. On Manifest, Jared Vasquez (J.R. Ramirez) thought he had it all. His career as an NYC detective was thriving and he was in love with Michaela Stone (Melissa Roxburgh). Though he had proposed, she had yet to give him an answer. Promising a response when she returned from a family vacation, he waited for her. Then the plane she was on disappeared and Michaela, like other passengers, were presumed to be dead.

For the first two years, his romantic life was static. Then Jared dated and married Lourdes (Victoria Cartagena), Michaela’s best friend. When the plane landed and he discovered that Michaela was still alive, he reveals that his feelings are unchanged.

But there are complications. The first is that Jared is still a married man. The second is Zeke Landon (Matt Long), a mysterious man with connections to the passengers and a checkered past. Letting his jealousy take over, their fight results in a gun going off. Michaela is hit.

Over the next few months, Jared simultaneously acts via his jealousy while protecting Michaela from those who questionable motives towards her and the other passengers. But in the end, he backs off, realizing that he needs to let her go.

To sum it up: Sometimes love means letting go. Watching Michaela walk into the sunset with another man is the hardest thing that Jared has done. But he knows that it is the only thing he can do.

Which is why she is a memorable character.

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Cut Me Loose: Sin and Salvation After My Ultra-Orthodox Girlhood Book Review

In a perfect world, we would be able to make our own choices and still be loved by our families. But that is not always the case.

Cut Me Loose: Sin and Salvation After My Ultra-Orthodox Girlhood, a memoir by Leah Vincent was published in 2015. Born and raised in the Yeshivish Jewish community in Pittsburgh, her world as a child was bound by a long list of rules of do’s and don’ts. Everything changed at sixteen when her letters to a young man were discovered.

Retribution was swift and cold. Forced to become an outcast to her family, she moved to New York City, where she faced a secular world that was far from the ultra-religious world she knew. As a result, she embarked on a series of sexual and semi-romantic relationships that all ended in disaster. Complicating these “relationships” was her still fierce adherence to the Judaism she was raised in.

This is one of the best memoirs I have ever read. Her journey at times is both difficult and universal. Most, if not all of us, go through changes when we are in our teens and early 20’s. But, we do so within the loving bosom of our families. Ms. Vincent had to go through those changes on her own.

I was stuck by several things while reading this book. The first is that the double standard is one hundred times more powerful in the Yeshivish community than it is in the secular world. The second is that she is a survivor who found her backbone. It would have been easy to crawl back to her parents on hands and knees, begging for forgiveness. But she didn’t. The third and most powerful thing is that the reader does not have to be Jewish to understand or relate to her story. If I was a betting woman, I would wager that there are many from all faiths who for any number of reasons, have walked away from the ultra-religious communities they were raised in.

I absolutely recommend it.

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Thoughts on Tashlich in 2020

To say that this year has not been easy has been an understatement.

Tomorrow night starts Yom Kippur, the most important day in the Jewish year. On this day, we confess our sins and ask our heavenly creator to allow us another year of life.

But before we can make such a request, we must be honest with ourselves about our flaws and mistakes. That is where Tashlich comes in.

As I threw my bread in the water earlier today, I felt a sense of peace. Though the past can never be undone, we can learn from our mistakes. We can become better than who we were before. That I believe is the message of the High Holidays and Tashlich in particular.

May those who are fasting have an easy and peaceful fast and may we all be written in the book of life for another year.

L’Shana Tova.

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Unetanneh Tokef, Yom Kippur and the Year That is 2020

No one has a crystal ball when it comes to the future. We can only live in the moment.

This coming weekend is Yom Kippur, the most important day on the Jewish calendar. One of the prayers we chant is called Unetanneh Tokef. The purpose of the prayer is to ask our heavenly parent for one more year of life on Earth. The text is as follows:

“All mankind will pass before You like a flock of sheep.[38] Like a shepherd pasturing his flock, making sheep pass under his staff, so shall You cause to pass, count, calculate, and consider the soul of all the living; and You shall apportion the destinies of all Your creatures and inscribe their verdict.

On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed – how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die; who will die after a long life[39] and who before his time; who by water and who by fire, who by sword and who by beast, who by famine and who by thirst, who by upheaval [40] and who by plague, who by strangling and who by stoning. Who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will be harried, who will enjoy tranquility and who will suffer, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched, who will be degraded and who will be exalted. But Repentance, Prayer, and Charity annul the severity of the Decree.”

Looking back at the year that is 2020 so far, this prayer feels like a message we need to hear. Before Covid-19 hit, life seemed so sure. But between the virus, the racial inequities, and everything that has happened this year, I’m not so sure anymore.

No one knows exactly when their time will be up or how they will go. We can only ask for as much time on Earth as possible.

For those who are fasting, have an easy fast and may we all be written in the book of life for another year.

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Dietmar & Nellia-Age is Nothing but a Number

When we get to a certain age, the expectation is that we will slow down because our bodies are slowing down. We are not as young, agile, or physically able as we once were.

Dietmar and Nellia prove otherwise.

Both in their 90’s, this couple out dances others many years their junior. If anyone every needed proof that age is only a number, they need to look at Dietmar and Nellia.

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I Would Rather Have a Zoom Seder Than no Seder at All

It is without a doubt that the corona-virus has changed everything about the way we live our lives.

That includes religious practice.

Wednesday and Thursday were the first and second nights of Passover, respectively. For many Jews, a normal Passover Seder consists of a large group of family and friends coming together to eat, drink and tell the story of Passover. But, with the influence of corona-virus, the traditional Seder had to be amended.

Enter Zoom.

My family, many others, used Zoom to digitally get together with our loved ones.

I think the best perspective on this new way of conducting Seders can be best summed up by a statement my father made Wednesday night. He said that his father, my late grandfather (who died 30 years ago), would not at all have approved.

My grandfather (Z”l) was in a certain sense, a man of tradition. He believed in and lived by the Judaism that he loved. That love of Judaism and our traditions were passed to his children and later, his grandchildren. It is one of the reasons that I am still a Jew in every sense of the word and proud of my faith.

While my grandfather would not have approved of Wednesday and Thursday nights, I know that it was the right thing. Not being in the same room with our family and friends was weird. But if I had a choice of holding a Zoom Seder or having none at all, I would choose a Zoom Seder.

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RIP Kobe Bryant (1978-2020)

One of the hard truths of life is that we never know when our number will be up. If we are lucky, we will live to see old age. But not all of us are so lucky.

NBA legend Kobe Bryant was killed this morning in a helicopter crash with his daughter Gianna and seven other people.

I’m not a huge sports fan. The extend of my sports watching is going a Brooklyn Cyclones game every summer. But I respect hard work, talent, drive and the knowledge that one has to work for what you want from life.

Kobe Bryant was only 41. His daughter was only 13. Their loss, simply on the human level, is palpable and heartbreaking. My heart goes out to his wife, his surviving children, those who knew him best and the millions of basketball fans around the world.

On Yom Kippur, we say the Unetanah Tokef prayer. Part of the prayer is as follows:

And on Yom Kippur it is sealed./How many shall pass away and how many shall be born,/Who shall live and who shall die,

We never know when the final chapter in the book of life will be written. We can only live to the fullest and give thanks for our blessings.

May the memories of Bryant, his daughter, and everyone who perished this morning forever be a blessing. Z”l.

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Thoughts on the End of a Decade and the End of the Year

New Year’s Eve is more than the end of the holidays or a reason to get together with loved ones. It is a time of reflection and contemplation.

As 2019 and the 2010’s come to a close, perspective comes into play.

When the decade started, I was in my late twenties. Ten years later, I am nearly forty. One of the things I now realize that my twenties were about molding my adult self. My thirties are about becoming that adult that was made in my twenties.

2019 has been a year of highs, lows, and growth in ways that are unexpected. Growth comes from change, learning and admitting to your mistakes. This year, a major change came from a change in employment. Looking for a job is never easy and learning a new job has its fair share of pitfalls. But, there is something to be said when you have weathered both experiences and have become a slightly better person/employee because of said experiences.

I also earned my second-degree black belt in Muy Thai Kickboxing. It took an incredible amount of work and effort, especially after a long day of work. Earning the belt and wearing it to class is merely a symbol of the effort it took. I look back at the effort I have put in over the years and I can see the results of the effort it took. If there is one thing in my life that I can say I am proud of accomplishing, it is having that belt to my name.

Happy New Year!

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Flashback Friday-The Banger Sisters (2002)

Old friends are like an old jacket. It immediately feels comfortable. But what happens when life steers you in a different direction?

In the 2002 film, The Banger Sisters, Suzette (Goldie Hawn) and Lavinia (Susan Sarandon) were once best friends and wild child rock and roll groupies. But life, like it, often does, changes things. Suzette still lives the rock and roll lifestyle. But Lavinia is no longer the groupie that she once was. She has morphed into a traditional suburban wife and mother.

When Suzette realizes that she is without a job, without money and without anyone to help her, she goes to visit Lavinia. Can these two old friends re-connect and or has life gotten in the way?

This film is cute. It’s not horrible, but it’s not Oscar-worthy either. However, it is lovely to see a film about two female characters that have nothing to do with men and are of a certain age.

Do I recommend it? I am leaning toward yes.

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Yom Kippur and the Appreciation of the Small Stuff

Earlier this week, like millions of Jews around the world, I fasted and prayed that on Yom Kippur, I would be written in the book of life for the coming year.

Yom Kippur is not easy physically, spiritually or mentally. It requires a strength and a will to push through the hunger and the wish that sundown would finally come.

As I fasted this year and finally chowed down, I began think about how much I appreciate the small things, especially food. Most days, I don’t think about where my next meal is coming from. But when I cannot eat during the 25 hours of Yom Kippur, it makes appreciate the easy access for food that I take for granted.

I live in New York City. It’s not hard to find a homeless person begging for spare change. Normally, as bad as it sounds, I pass by a homeless person without a second thought. But this year’s fast made me think. I have much to be grateful for. It’s time to be grateful for what I have.

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