My weekend in Baltimore rocked

My weekend started Thursday night with a beautiful 20 mile ride through the rolling hills of Harriman state park, and it just got better from there. My brother has been going to this thing called Cholent lately- basically a get together of random folks in some shull in Manhattan- they schmooze and jam and eat parve cholent. I know it doesn’t sound so interesting- “parve cholent give me a break eh” but it must be good because many fine folks from places as obscure as Boro-Park and Williamsburg show up for the brown gooey concoction known to produce stink bombs almost as bad driving past sewage plants. These people pack into this small plain room to socialize.

It took me about 10 minutes to realize that it was basically a bunch of Chassidic rebels, some who have gone completely off the derech (OTD) and others who were just looking for a safe place to try and schmooze with like minded individuals and smoke cigarettes and talk in loud Yiddish.

It was actually quite interesting- I finally got to see where all the Chasidic rebel bloggers hang out. There were quite a number of people who looked to be fully integrated into the secular lifestyle yet they spoke fluent Yiddish signaling their path away from the mean streets of Boro Park and a palate for foods other then the traditional Brown Jew Food served up at shabbos tables and heimishe restaurants worldwide.

I saw frum looking dudes touching women and guys talking torah, everything was fair game. Of course no event is complete without a traditional game of Jewish geography no matter how screwed up the crowd seems, and yes I felt like I was the only normal person there and that is rather scary. I felt it wasn’t right to reveal the location to protect the identity of those involved. I did meet an interesting girl there though and who knows where that will go.

Drove to Baltimore on Friday afternoon to visit some friends. I hate the NJ Turnpike- even with ez-pass it sucks and I was just pissed off at the madness of it all. Luckily I got to crack the windows wide open and blast some long overdue summer is coming music- which usually consists of punk, metal, jam band and anything loud and obnoxious- like Arabic Techno.

I have been to Baltimore a few times in the last few years and am consistently impressed with the amount of interest eccentric type folks I meet as well is the cooking quality of the women. Some cities overall for one reason or another have better cooks- Baltimore has great cooks- maybe it’s in the water or breast milk- who the heck knows?

I went down to visit one friend who wished not to be mentioned- I actually wrote about his wedding here– and stayed at this other guys house who I haven’t spoken to in a while. The people I stayed at were rocking- Chaim and Sarah Silverberg. Chaim is an old classmate of mine from Yeshiva in Rochester and we were also in Ohr Someyach together- we used to shnor meals of poor people at the Kotel- fond memories indeed. But as everyone does- people lose touch and join facebook to play Jewish geography with folks they will never really visit.

Facebook I feel was made to compete with only simchas for its roll in creating a huge Jewish geography network- its also good because it keep crazy college drivers off the streets because they are all addicted to it- checking their profiles 10 times a day. It used to be that the only way to find out what your Sternberg Pioneers councilor was up to. Now you need not go further then the home-feed on facebook- the loshon horah and Jewish geography capitol of the net. And with clubs like Tefilin Date, I heart Prospect Girls, and Don’t Forget to Count the Omer- you can see why its so attractive.

So anyway my buddy who wished not to mentioned I will call SL, so I ate at SL’s for the meals. I must say its good to have traditional shabbos foods that melt in your mouth and not in the tin foil. Most people butcher those brown delicacies- but SL and his pregnant wife rocked the house. The challah was store bought but was orgasmal as was the chicken. Which was pleasantly surprising because it looked dry and terrible- I know it was almost racist of me to judge the chicken by its crusty dried up skin or sauce- but it didn’t look good so I made up an excuse and only took half to start- of course my hosts probably noticed- but what the hey- I would rather not have to start cutting up the chicken to make it look like I ate most of it.

So we davened at the Goldberg shull which is quite hard to explain. The davening was very slow and rhythmic- no fast spurts or sprints to keep you from catching up- just steady davening- but slow as snails. To explain the clientele of this shull with words would be a disservice so you should visit to see the diversity. Let us just say that when everyone locked hands to dance around the bima after licha dodi – I felt like I was in one of those college catalogs that loves to show how diverse they are by throwing in the blacks, women, Asians and handicapped- as if they ever hung out or even attended the school itself. Self segregation is a way of life in colleges- where folks of the same race frequently sit together and chill with each other- forced integration never worked.

But here amidst the clapping and singing it did, diversity reigned, chassic folks in streimels and those cool pancake hats locked hands and embraced modern orthodox suede and kipa sruga wearers as did yeshiva guys with those little brisker peyos join in the dance. It was rather refreshing to see such diversity in this shull.

On shabbos morning the Rabbi decided he would talk about Sexual Molestation- yes rather abnormal shabbos morning drasha topic eh. I guess they have finally discovered that frum people are just as vulnerable as the rest of the population to sexual molestation. Wow what a chidush- I love how it take frum Jews a much longer time then secular folks to break down the barriers and finally admit that their communities have problems. It reminds me of when the Jewish Observer ran the article in the mid-90s on kids at risk. As if they discovered for the first time that frum teens enjoy sex and drugs.

So the Rabbi gave a preamble and then delved into what the community should do if they discover a sexual predator amongst them. Cut off his balls I wanted to scream- but instead I fell half asleep at the drone of the Rabbis voice. I guess he felt like the Vaad Harabonim should pat them on the back for finally bringing it out in the open. I just don’t understand why anyone would want to protect a dude that gets it on with little kids- especially if he is a Rebbe or something. It’s actually scary to think that this whole issue has been covered up for so long- imagine if the orthodox community starts being compared to the Vatican on the news? Not good at all. I guess we can all rest assured that it is not that big yet- because I haven’t seen too many older Chassidic guys wandering the tefilin date club on facebook looking for some young juicy ladies.

So after this whole shull event in which I must say I was shocked to see a holy looking rabbi say the actual word of sex. I started to reflect on the fact that most rabbis never actually say the word- as if it were breaking down the boundaries or something. I remember back in my high school days- we were in shuir learning some gemara that had to do with a woman shaving her pubic hairs- because the mans organ may get cut. Yes crusty indeed- so the Rabbi kept saying “the hair down there” and we all knew what he meant and laughed our asses off- but of course there were a couple kids that loved to mess with this rabbi and they kept asking him “exactly what do you mean?” He was flustered to say the least. Or those times, and there were many of them in yeshiva, when the rabbis described masturbation as wasting seed. At that point some people actually had no idea what the rabbi was talking about- since we 15 year olds were accustomed to hearing terms like choking the chicken and jerking off.

This brings me back to this rabbi- he seemed comfortable enough to say the word- instead of bia, relations, lived, he knew, slept together, fondled, and countless other rabbi terminology for avoiding the actual word- this dear rabbi just blurted it out.

So after a lunch of some meat filled cholent that almost freaked me out because my host was taking all the meat out. He actually just kept taking cholent- completely oblivious to my drool forming at the corners of my mouth and my hands quivering at the thought of having to be content with just beans and potatoes- the pot came to me and I looked into its sewage like depths to discover that he had in fact packed this cholent with tons of meaty contents- as if he had done it all as a practical joke to see the look of despair on my face as he convinced me that I would be left with the scraps.

So after a long lunch- we realized it was 4pm I went to don some shorts and walk around with Chaim and his wife Sarah. They took me to one of the most interesting families I have ever met. The Shamburghs are extremely hard to describe, chassidish, hippie farmer types. They heat their house with wood that Aaron the man of the house has a greenhouse full of organically grown veggies in his backyard, he also has a mini farm thing going on outside of this- he talks with passion of his fruit tree pruning skills and has even had interest in bonsai trees. I must say this is incredibly interesting to me and I am glued to everything the guy says. He heats his house and his converted office to garage with wood. Wood that he takes off his landscaping jobs and whenever he sees the city cutting down a tree he hauls it off. Piles of firewood are scattered everywhere there is no garden.

His wife and kids were also incredibly interesting and judging on the fresh apple pie that sat alone on the table next to a bowl of some incredible strawberries I can tell the family could definitely cook some great food. We were looking at pictures of their hippie days and I noticed an article about The Farm- I had recently read about this hippie organic commune in Tennessee in this book called A Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins a great book for any adventurers, outdoors addicts and rural America fans. It was interesting to learn one of the woman’s kids was born on The Farm.

So we spent the afternoon talking of our travels, adventures, bio-diesel conversions, solar energy, environmental issues, chassidus and tons more. We exchanged whatever we knew about random frum families that lived in the middle of nowhere or were into farming and alternative energies- it rocked basically.

My buddy Chaim told me I was the catalyst for making them have their first shindig or event to bring people over to chill. So Saturday night we sat around ate some pizza and talked mostly of music and tons more. I met some more cool folks- including this rather good looking girl who told me she took a winter mountaineering class in Lake Placid this year. Mountaineering and frum do not go together by the way and I was thoroughly impressed. It was quite interesting to talk to her and who knows where that will go. I also found out that Baltimore is full of a bunch of cool single gals- who hate dating because all the single guys in Baltimore are crack heads. Maybe that’s why the Star-K is offering the bounty for marrying off the older singles in Baltimore?

The weekend refused to end- I drove to Bethlehem PA on Sunday on my way back to Albany to gaze upon the greatest abandoned industrial structure in the United States. Bethlehem steel is one of the coolest buildings I have ever seen and cannot wait to go back with all my gear to shoot it properly. My lack of tripod, two camera bodies, lenses and black and white film forced me to leave early and make my way back- with a promise to come back and do extensive wandering. As a lover of anything industrial including history, architecture, engineering, and photography the Bethlehem Steel plant puts most other industrial sites to shame with its sheer size and beautiful buildings.

I made my way back through western New Jersey and finally came to the Thruway- it was 5pm and I decided to get off and ride the roads of Harriman State Park. I rode 20 miles and some change and it was amazing. I was pumping and in noticed the shape that I was getting in. It was 80 degrees and I was happy and reflecting on the awesome weekend I had just had.