Two people get married in a place


(Warning! Lots of words coming up. Feel free to skip right to the photos, it’s probably what I would do.)

I was chatting with some strangers on google hangout at 3 AM the other night (yup, I’m a total baller), and you know how things are when those wee hours appear. All the farfetched quasi-intellectual theories claw their way out from the more lonely corners of the mind. And bad jokes.

We got to chatting how odd it is that people need so badly to be right. Online seems to be worse than IRL ("in real life" for those who actually live out there and don't need an acronym for it) but it's pretty prevalent everywhere. For myself (this is something I really worked on) it’s gotten to a point (I was as bad as any for a while there) where I kind of enjoy being wrong. There’s something exciting about seeing an idea in different light. I’m wrong about so much so often it’s laughable. Laughable now, but sad if I would have refused to listen to what other people say. Actually listen, not just wait until they stop talking to you so you could say your bit because you already have them pegged and boxed and you know what they’re going to say… 

Stranger Google dude brought up a valid point about how if we are so open to all ideas, then who are we? Are we just a blank canvas for others to impress ideas on?

Then it got late(r) so we all hung up and waited patiently for the next day’s hangover.

The conversation was lingering around as I slept (very well mind you), and when my daily post coffee epiphanies hit, it had expanded quite a bit.

Chassidic literature is filled with the idea of “bittul”, and how important it is. It’s more of a concept than a simple translation of a wordword, I guess it means self-nullification, abnegation of ego, or something of the sort. We are constantly warned of the danger of ego, and how G-dliness only rests in a place of bittul. Yet we are also supposed to serve G-d as full individuals, replete with a logic, emotion, a sense of humor, and all that jazz (is jazz Jewish?). So what's the dealio?

I’m just thinking out loud here, but maybe it’s the egotistical expression of self that’s the issue? When we hold on to our ideas, thoughts, expression, even emotions, as if they are who we are, and without them we are nothing. But they aren’t, they’re just expressions of the soul or “self”. The unique way our individual minds work, how we react to the world, and our unique experiences is what we bring to the table. Being open to new thoughts, views, and experiences, does in no way lessen our self. I think it’s just the opposite, when we allow our egotistical grasp on these garments of the soul to slip, we find out who we really are. So while hunkering down behind the walls of past experience may feel  safe, all we are really doing is holding our self prisoner.

So I raise this glass of lemon water wish you all (and myself) a massive dose of organic letting go juice. L’Chaim!

(I may be wrong about all I just wrote. Bring it.)


A few months ago I packed my bags (again) for the holy city of Brooklyn to this lovely couple’s lovely (and rainy!) wedding. And truly, they were (and probably still are) the sweetest of the sweet. Quite international as well; she from China, him from Hawaii. They met in a small town in Sudan, okay now I’m just making stuff up. But the rest is legit.

Fun fact. The house the bride got ready in was in the family for like 4 generations. I think her great-grandmother was born there. Something like that.

Anyways, as always, this is best viewed with a brew (coffee, beer, or maybe kombucha, that’s up to you) and a good chunk of time. And if you made it this far, congrats! You have a special place in my heart.

Makeup by the talented Sary Farkash
Flowers by the wonderful Mimulo Floral and Event Design
econd shooting by Paul Simon (not that one)

You Gotta Have Faith Faith Faith

Each week on my blog, of course, we choose a Torah portion, bring you different kinds of stories on that… (I'm a wee bit obsessed with This American Life.)

Okay that’s not all true. It’s not every week (though maybe it should be)... and I don’t really choose a Torah portion. Those are a given. One per week. For a year. Since a long long time ago.

This week is all about the Jews finally getting out of Egypt, the splitting of the sea, and some subsequent desert happenings (mostly involving complaining, woohoo!).

The parshah (as the portions are called) starts off with the words “It came to pass when Pharaoh allowed the people to go…” wha? huh? Every Bible buff worth his Hebrew knows that Pharaoh didn’t “let the people go”. No matter how many times Moses pleaded, threatened, and sang, Pharaoh was like “heeeee-double-hockey-sticks no!”. Until finally, as the scene was rendered immortal in the famous ballad “Pharaoh in pajamas in the middle of the night”, Pharaoh came looking for Moses and begged him to go. “Just take your peeps, and go!”.

Why does the Torah prescribe power to Pharaoh, as if it was him who, from the graciousness of his heart, allowed his slaves to leave?

The Abarbanel (famous Portuguese bible commentator) asks this question. But he also asks 14 others until he gets to the answer…

Egypt, in Hebrew is מצרים, Mitzrayim. It can also be pronounced Meitzarim, which means boundaries, or borders. The concept of leaving Egypt is breaking out of whatever is holding us back. On all levels. Physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually.

Everyone can change the world. Everyone. But for the most part we end up crimping our style with all our blocks and mindsets.

The Jews were slaves for so long, they forgot what power they had. You get up when your master tells you to, you eat when you are told, you sleep, if you get to, when you are told to. Eventually we start doubting our worth, we start to rely on our masters for their prompts, and we feel lost without them. and I am all over the place with tenses here because this has happened, and is happening, and will happen. Unless we don’t let it anymore.

Even after all the plagues and signs. When the Hebrews left Egypt they “had Pharaoh to thank”. Just as they attributed their slavery to Pharaoh, so too their freedom.

They had left Egypt, but Egypt didn’t yet leave them.

Until the splitting of the sea.

G-d doesn’t need fancy footwork. If he wanted the Egyptians gone all he had to do was to stop creating them. The world was just dancing so hard at the news of Exodus that it split it’s sea(m). That was horrible, Zalmy. Never do that again.

But seriously, why the whole split-the-sea-and-have-the-Jews-go-across-and-the-Egyptians-drown show?

Here’s the deal. Everything in this world is a reflection of its spiritual source. The sea is hidden, or more accurately it hides. There is an entire world under its waves, but all we really see is the surface. This is a reflection of the attribute of Kingship, or מלכות, which contains everything, but hides it in order to present, or allow for, a different perception to exist (one where G-d is not apparent). The splitting of the sea, and the Jews walking on the dry land was a reflection of G-d cracking open the door and allowing the Jews to see reality at a much higher level. In fact it says that the most simplest Jew saw a higher revelation at the splitting of the sea, than the prophet Ezekiel ever did.

Until then we saw G-d’s power. His might. But not G-dliness itself.

When the Jews came to the water and saw Pharaoh and his army bearing down at them with their mighty four horsepower chariots, they kind of freaked out. And they started praying.

Praying? Why? Didn’t G-d say he would take them to the promised land? Did they not trust him yet?

No. I mean, kind of. They had faith, but not enough. In their mind G-d was even more powerful than Pharaoh, but Pharaoh was still powerful. The world was still a huge and dangerous place, with hateful and mean people and happenings.

But then they saw G-dliness, they saw the truth, and it changed their lives forever. Because the truth is, there is nothing outside of G-d. The world and all its trappings is a facade, a trick. A necessary perception to allow for free choice, and for us to rise above it.

“Why are you praying to me, keep going!” said G-d. So what if there is a sea in the way?!

This is what finally freed the Jews from Mitzrayim. From limits.  From doubts. From fear.

“Stop kvetching! keep rocking!”

We can all change the world. We just have to get over ourselves first.

(Much of this was from the first half of a lecture by Rabbi Mendel Kaplan that I tried to listen to while doing the dishes late last night.)


I was blessed to have photographed (together with the amazing Katie Merkle) the wedding of Matty and Zvi. Too often, especially with weddings, we do what is done, because it's what's done, without really thinking about what it means to us. This wedding was as far from that as possible. Anyways, here a few (ahem) photos from the wedding. Enjoy :)


Down with the Patriarchy!



I’ve started and deleted (well actually copied and pasted to the nether regions of my hard drive) too many posts to count (that is not true, I’m just not in the mood of counting, and who cares anyways?) in the past few days. Some silly, more sad, many angry.

And you know what? The last thing the internet needs is another introspective piece about what went right and what went wrong. That and another video of a cat cuddling with a deer. Actually we could always use more of those.

But our cat is too busy eating lizards, and the local deer wants nothing to do with her. Says she only cuddles with striped cats. Whatever, we all have our issues.

In my marvelous Facebook newsfeed, now mostly an hodgepodge of political and photographic posts, with an advertisement for boots every few scrolls (seriously Facebook?! I bought my boots already, I am not in the market anymore!), someone posted the following:

(This is how much I love you guys, I actually typed this out from a photo. You know, because somehow on facebook it’s so much cooler to post a picture of words than just the words themselves.)

Well actually I’ll just paraphrase:

(for the original (in Hebrew) see here (start from אות מג) )

In 1958, it was a hot and humid (probably) Monday at the end of June and 770 Eastern Parkway, in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, was jam-packed as all listened (okay, almost all) to the Lubavitcher Rebbe giving a communal address in honor of the Chassidic holiday of י’ב תמוז.

Towards the end, the Rebbe spoke about “who is smart, he who learns from everyone”, and got into a little digression about how we as Jews have to learn from our country and her politics, especially on the left, where there are women in high positions of power (remember this was early in the modern feminism movement (ten years before the song "It's a Man's Man's Man's World"), where, especially in religious circles, men held most positions of power and leadership).

He then spoke about how in the Lurianic teachings of Kabbalah, it talks about the generation before Moshiach being a reincarnation of the generation that wandered the desert. Since then, the woman refused to take any part in the golden calf, therefore in this generation they merit to affect what they really want (what that is he doesn’t mention, (isn’t there is a movie about it or something) but maybe that’s a hint to us guys to stop assuming we know :) ).

That’s why, he continues, that specifically in this generation we see women in positions of high power, and that many communal matters are specifically led by women. And even those that are led by men, when the husband comes home and his wife hits him on the head (his words, not mine), the next day he leads as his wife directed.

Admittedly I don’t completely understand the next paragraph, but it says something to the effect of “if the accepting of the yoke of heaven of the men isn’t enough, they need to take council with their wives and do as they say”.

And just like the Jews merited to be redeemed from Egypt in the merit of the women, so to from this exile…


I really liked seeing this for a few reasons. 

1. The Rebbe was not afraid to look outside of the Jewish world for inspiration to what has to happen within the Jewish world.

2. Well, being that we almost elected a woman from the left, this was very apropos. 

3. It solidified a bit my thoughts on feminism and the woman’s place in Judaism.

“What are those thoughts? Please share!!”

Sheesh, okay, I’m getting there.

Massive backtrack.

In Kabbalah it often talks about the feminine and the masculine.

Chochmah (usually translated as "wisdom" but all of these these are concepts that are not really explained with single word translations) is masculine, binah ("understanding", but again, a concept that is beyond he scope of this post) feminine. Chessed ("kindness") masculine, gevurah ("strictness") feminine. Middos ("emotions") masculine, Malchus ("royalty") feminine. etc.

(Disclaimer: both men and women have all these attributes, just in general the masculine ones are stronger in men and vice versa for women)

In general the masculine is the “giving” and the feminine “receiving”. Hence the masculine urge to “go out and conquer”, and the feminine ability to listen, to actually listen.

And that also explains how, throughout most of history, men were the ones in leadership positions, and often looked down out their female counterparts (as if this was ancient history, I wish).

But Kabbalah also explains how there are two ways of viewing the world, from top down, and in that way we are the lowest world, slaves to our bodily desires, and lost in this world of false perceptions.

Then there is the bottom up view, which is what will be revealed when Moshiach comes, how specifically in this world can the Essence of G-d be revealed. How specifically through sifting through the garbage of this world, and finding the G-dliness hiding everywhere, we slowly make this world into a G-dly place, and home for G-d.

This is done not through accepting what is but taking it all in and making it our own. It’s the process of Binah, the feminine aspect of intellect, that allows us to truly assimilate our knowledge. And Malchus, that last Sefirah, is the most powerful of all. It takes everything in, incubates it, and incorporates and takes it to the next level.

The written Torah (24 books of the TaNaKh) is masculine. It is what it is, and cannot be changed. The Oral Torah (Talmud, Code of Jewish Law, Kabbalah etc.) is feminine, it is how we take the principles of Torah and apply our own intellect to it, creating novel ideas and rulings that never existed. It is us taking part in G-d’s wisdom. And that is the whole point. For us to be a part of this whole creation and world thing. Not to be cold fulfillers of divine commands, but passionate warriors of peace and truth.

A few weeks back in the weekly torah portion we learned about witnesses. Biblically speaking, only men could be witnesses. Which really bothered me. (It still does, questions are good.)

I researched and thought about it a bit, and what I found I loved.

The masculine way (again I use these terms instead of male and female, because we have both elements) is to be unbiased. To see things as they are. They can see something and it is what it is. the feminine is more biased. It assimilates knowledge. It gets involved. It gets angry and sad. It sees what may have prompted such a sight, and the history that has to be taken into account.  That’s not good for testimony. But it’s exactly what G-d wants for this world.

For the world is NOT what it seems.

From both a scientific and a medical perspective the world we see isn’t objective. Quantum mechanics shows that we have a symbiotic relationship with reality, and neurology tells us that the world we see is mostly reconstructions, memories, and mindsets.

Hashem wants us to make his perception ours. He wants us to look at the world the way He does. 

Torah is compared to bread. (Sourdough of course. with a really crunchy crust, and soft warm inside… oh man I’m hungry…) for just like the food we eat becomes our physical body, the Torah we learn becomes our mindset. And this is most evident with the Oral Torah, were ours and the Allmighty’s wisdoms combine. 

It says that Hashem looked into the Torah and created the world,  and through allowing us to be a part of the Torah, we are given the gift of viewing the world as it actually is, an expression of G-d.

I’m rambling but I have a point. I promise! 

This unity of our perceptions and Hashem’s will be complete in the time of redemption. And it’s our journey to that point that makes it happen.

When Moshiach comes it says that “the feminine will surround the masculine”, meaning the talents and aspects of the feminine will  be released to have been greater than that of the masculine, because it’s specifically those attributes that will bring about the redemption, that allow for us to truly assimilate G-dliness within us. 

The Rebbe often said that Moshiach is here, we just have to open our eyes. And that means two things. 

1. We have to realize and acknowledge the good changes that happened and are happening in the world. Instead of constantly kvetching and moaning and basing our view of the world on the media’s and the politicians apocalyptic, profit driven, worldview, we need to be thankful and aware of how the world is changing. And it really is. There are less wars, less poverty, more understanding of “others”. there’s more of an awareness of our impact on this world. Especially as Jews, we have it better than anytime since King Solomon. 


2. We have to act as if Moshiach is here. If when Moshiach will come we will all get along, then gosh-darn-it we have to do that now. If we will see G-dliness everywhere, then we have to actively try to do that as well. And if when Moshiach will come, we will finally realize how much women have to offer that men don’t, then gosh-darn-it we have to act like that!!

And this. THIS. Is my point. 

We as Jews (and the world at large) has to stop shoving women into the background. 

Galus (exile) is a man’s world.  Geulah (the redemption) is a women’s world. 

Yes it’s a bit scary as a guy. You know, losing all that (false) superiority, but it’s not a competition. 

I’m not talking about having woman rabbis and the like. Rabbis are overrated anyways. I’m talking about treating women like equals, actual equals. And just like you (a man) will have no problem with a male boss, you should have no problem with a woman one. 

The Rebbe pushed for female leadership, and stressed, so much, how whenever he sent out a couple to wherever, they were EQUALS.

And you know what? The Jewish world shouldn’t be behind the curve with the whole feminism thing. We should be leading the charge.

Down with the patriarchy!!



Last year we went to visit New York for Passover. We spent the holiday in Monsey (no photos, as my camera and film was lost/stolen), and then Crown Heights, the amazing oxymoron of idealogical perfection, and the cultural reluctance to allow such change.

I have so much more to say about this all, but I have to stop somewhere :)

Here are some photos of our trip. All with a lovely old Nikon F3, a 28mm, and some expired film. Woohoo!

Chapter One: In which we weigh ourselves at the airport (hooray for small airports!), watch the airplanes ("ours is the one with the wings" said Zusha), cause a huge collective groan when we board the plane, and play hide and seek at the baggage claim.

Chapter Two: In which we stopped by my father father's parent's k'varim, graves. Chanaleh is named after my grandmother Chana, and this happened to be Chanaleh's birthday so it was quite nice. 

Chapter Three: In which we visit Bubby Carlebach, eat yummy food, watch the cars below, and enjoy some wonderful conversation.

Chapter Four: In which we take a bus to the Ohel (the resting place of the Lubavitcher Rebbe), write the customary pan, a letter in which we ask for blessings (the kids drew theirs, notice a baby girl on Chanaleh's :) ), visit the Rebbetzin's kever (grave), then my great-grandmother's (Sarah Schneerson), and then visit the famous 770 Eastern Parkway, the worldwide headquarters for the Chabad-Lubavitch movement (of which we are proudly part of). 

Chapter Five: In which we travel to the Jewish Children's Museum, visit some biblical exhibits, lose our yarmulkahs in a Noah's Ark full of plastic balls, climb a wall, and have a tantrum on the roof.

Chapter Six: In which we walk around, buy Kosher Ice Cream, take the kids on their first Subway ride, and play at a ridiculously crowded playground (because we got off at the wrong stop).

Until next time... Peace and oh, did I mention my wife? She's amazing. (She said she'd edit this post so this is just a test to see if she really looked at the whole thing...)

Lag Ba'Omer Parade - Crown Heights Edition

Recently I’ve been reading “The Jew in the Lotus” (amongst other books). It’s about a Jewish envoy to Tibet to visit and discuss religion and the challenges of keeping it alive with the Dalai Lama. It’s a fascinating read into the reasons why so many Jews gravitate to Buddhism for spiritual enlightenment. That’s a blog post all of its own. One day. I just wanted to focus on one point I read there that resounded very much with me and with our visions for this school that we are starting.

In Judaism there is a concept of purity and impurity. Impurity is generally anything connected with death, as death is the antithesis of G-d who is the source and the epitome of life. So if one comes into contact with a dead person (or even enters a cemetery), he is “impure”. Which is fine, for the most part. Unless one wants to go into the Holy Temple or bring a sacrifice, etc. 

Except for the Kohein, the priest. They are not allowed to become impure, even when not serving. And they must go to pretty intense lengths to stay far away from that. 

Well, as Rodger Kamentz says (the author of this book), Zalman Schachter shared something he heard from Shlomo Carlebach. The holy master, Rabbi Mordechai Joseph, also known as the Ishbitzer Rebbe, explained it as follows:

“When one sees a corpse you can’t help but be angry at G-d. “Why did he have to make it this way? That that’s the door you have to go through? It’s terrible!” Now the Kohen is supposed to be the gentle teacher of people, so if he is angry with G-d, he’ll have a real hard time talking about G-d because what will show will be anger."

Now Shlomo's explanation: "Ever since the holocaust we are all like priests who have become contaminated by death. It’s hard for people who are looking for a loving, living G-d to find him among angry voices. They go to people who at this point don’t have any anger about G-d.”

If we want to teach about a loving G-d, then love the living G-d, and live the loving G-d. 


Recently I was in New York for my cousin’s Bar Mitzvah. It was on Lag Ba’omer, the Jewish holiday commemorating the passing of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a sage mostly known for hiding in a cave for 13 years and writing the most important book on Kabbalah (which is the basis for Chassidus).

Every year in Crown Heights, as per the Rebbe's initiative, they have a children’s parade (though when it falls on Sunday they have the “real one”) to strengthen the excitement about the Torah and Mitzvos (commandments).

I once went as a child. I tried out for the marching band and was utterly rejected. Still hurts. Maybe next time... 

Levi + Perel. In which I photograph my camper's wedding.

I was 16 and quite excited. Y2K had passed without a glitch, I had an extra 22 shekels on my calling card, my first year away from home was wonderful, I had returned alive from making a Pesach seder in some forsaken corner of Southern Ukraine, I was moving up the Montreal summer camp's farm system, and I had just received a phone call on the yeshiva's payphone (that wasn't from my parents. That's a big deal).

A few years back (from then) I experienced my first summer at an overnight camp. It was the camp to go to, Camp Gan Israel Montreal (which was actually located some 2 hours from the city). Being that I was going to be moving to New York with my mom, I was stuck in the "Oholei Torah" bunk (the New York bunk). Basically the wild-crazy kid bunk. And I was anything but. It was definitely an eye opener. 

Anyways, 2 years later I moved up into the "Masmidim" section, where we spent half the day learning, half the day playing. Good times.

Now, 1 year later, at 16 I was going to be one of the youngest on the staff, to be joining the waiter crew. We were to serve food, clean up food, have fun, learn some, and make obscene amounts of money from tips. 

And then I got the phone call. It was from the head counselor, Zalmy Heber. Now this sounds ridiculous, but at that stage of life, everyone waited to find out who the head counselors were going to be at Montreal. It was a golden ticket into the match-making world (that's not the reason we cared, it just shows us how they were considered the cream of the crop).

Conversation went something like this: "Hi is this Zalmy?"

"yup! who in the world is this? you don't sound like my father or brother?"

"It's Zalmy Heber, the head counselor at Montreal."

Heavy breathing, sweaty palms.


"Well, we've had someone back out from being a counselor and we were wondering if you wanted to take his place."

Heavy breathing. sweaty palms.

"Well, are you interested?"

"Yes!! yes yes yes. Ummmm what do I have to do?"

I forget the rest. I ended up having a wonderful summer counseling the youngest bunk. (It's odd how they do that, pair up the youngest staff with the youngest campers... not cool.) I did miss hanging out with my waiter friends, and I was no where near cool enough to hang out with all the older staff, but I did meet some great people with whom I'm still close with, and made way less than my waiter friends.

The point of all this is (what? you ask. there is a point?!) last year I had the pleasure of photographing one of my camper's wedding, and a month or two ago I shot my second one :) and that Zalmy Heber dude was there too.



Thank you SO much to my second shooter Kristin Marie for kicking some serious rear end. 

And this wedding did not end. Seriously, I think I left the ballroom at 2:30 am. People just wouldn't. Stop, Dancing. Which was more than fine with me :)