Category Archives: Uncategorized

Don’t Walk Beside Me

“What happened to your iPad?” I asked my Liberian friend, Gwendolyn, as we stood in line waiting to get our World Economic Forum badges. Her iPad looked like it had gone to hell and back. As it turns out, I wasn’t too far off.

Gwendolyn runs a health NGO, which goes door-to-door in the Liberian capital of Monrovia, educating the public on what the Ebola virus is and how it is spread. Unfortunately, there are many Liberians who do not want to acknowledge the severity of the outbreak, and one such disgruntled resident smashed Gwendolyn’s iPad in defiance.

As Gwendolyn explained the horrors of an epidemic that was claiming the lives of so many of her loved ones, I couldn’t help but think about both the literal and metaphorical oceans that divided us. Her struggle was one for survival, while mine was far more existential, more privileged.

Just days before leaving for my Geneva field trip, I had been working on wrapping up a film with several of my Coney Island film students. I was exhausted; the streets reeked of uncollected garbage; and my brownstone Brooklyn apartment seemed like a world away. It was summer in New York, and I needed to remind myself of why I had chosen to live in the most humid city north of the Mason-Dixon line.

Amid my heated confusion, Nashon, one of my favorite students, offered to walk me to the subway. There had been a surge in gang violence recently, and he advised me that it was in my best interest to walk beside him. Ten minutes into our walk, a police car pulled up along side us.

“Is there anything wrong, ma’am?” the officer inquired.

Stunned, I replied, “No, but if he had a gun to my back, do you really think my answer would be any different?”

The officer tried to calm my nerves, arguing he was only “checking in” and that there was no need to become “emotional.”

Before I could proceed to read him the riot act, though, he drove away. It was in that moment that I finally turned to Nashon. He was silent, removed, and cold. Then he asked, “Miss Yaffa, why’d you have to make a scene? Your words ain’t gonna change the system.”

For Nashon, this was a common occurrence. He was stopped and frisked multiple times a week– sometimes even a day. He’d learned to keep quiet, be respectful, and not give the officers an excuse to harass him further. But I, on the other hand, was not used to daily violations of my privacy and individual liberties. And I, who had not yet been scared or broken by a terribly inequitable system, still believed in the power of my voice.

I told Nashon how impressed I was with his ability to control his rage; how I’d wanted to jump on top of the police car and scream bloody murder. And he said, “Don’t be proud. It isn’t just me; it’s all of us African Americans. Every day we don’t riot in the streets, you should be happy, because Lord knows we have reason to.”

Nashon, much like Gwendolyn, had reason to rage, and yet both of them contained their anger and channeled it into more productive channels. For Nashon, it was visual storytelling– taking his camera into his project and documenting his daily struggle. For Gwendolyn, it was picking up the pieces of her broken electronic and going to knock on the next door of an uneducated local.

Their behavior wasn’t defeatist. It was driven by a desire to change the system, incrementally. I wanted to change it, but without delay. From my more privileged prism, I saw the world through a lens of immediacy. I needed answers, and I needed them now. Quite simply, I wasn’t used to waiting.

And this impatience has become a recurring theme in my 20something life. I want it all sorted out… now. I want the Magic 8 ball to tell me my fate, and not say, “check back in a year, or five.” I want a world without racism or disease– not tomorrow, but today.

But perhaps I could learn a thing or two from Nashon and Gwendolyn. Perhaps I can learn to channel some of that passion, that emotion into a long-term project with tangible impact. Only time will tell, but in the interim I’m launching the second Hub of New York Global Shapers. Our goal will be to design a project to tackle inequality in the city. Rather than expect immediate results, we’ll be developing and implementing over the next 1-2 years.

I’m excited for this adventure, but a bit frustrated that I have to wait until the second week of September to launch this new project. I suppose this is good practice in the patience department.


Wearing trousers on New Year’s Eve

American passenger: So how was your New Year’s? Did you kiss a special dude?

Me: No.

AP: Did you kiss a special dudette?

Me: No.

AP: So what did you do?

Me: I wore trousers for the first time.

There is a moment in every Orthodox Jewish girl’s life when she looks to the High Heavens, fully expecting lightning to strike. For me, there have been two such moments. The first was June 21, 2001– the day after my Bat Mitzvah; the day I assumed full responsibility for all my sins; and the day I dared to sport a short-sleeved shirt in public. It was 90 degrees and humid, a typically painfully New York summer day, and if public nudity had been legal and I had been more comfortable with my body, I would have debated sporting my birthday suit.

Still, despite my commitment to overcoming heat stroke, I was also paralyzed with fear. Men would see my elbows, and what could be more seductive than my funny bones on display? There would be retribution; there would be lightning. And so after a few short moments in the public eye, I receded to my bedroom and opted for more modest attire.

Fast forward 12.5 years, and I make the bold decision to buy crazy, sexy, cool heathen pants. I am not entirely convinced I will wear them, but I use my discount code and go for the spiritual plunge: wearing them on New Year’s Eve in London.

Only once I am in London and surrounded by Jewish peers, I begin to rethink this somewhat bold move. Note: the last time I attempted to purchase pants, I broke down in tears in the GAP fitting room and ran a mile down Broadway shrieking, “Never again.” I wasn’t ready then, and I was beginning to reconsider if I was truly ready now.

But the joy of traveling with a quasi-small suitcase is that you don’t have lots of alternatives. Once you are 3000 miles from home, you must make do with what you have. And so reluctantly and fearful of an impending rain storm, I sported my newly purchased symbol of heresy and boarded a public bus to a fairly large party– where many people who knew my older skirt-wearing self would be amazed (and perhaps concerned) with my transformation.

Then the unthinkable happened. Nobody said a word. And not because they were silently judging my single lady ways, but because nobody actually cared. I was just another rowdy New Yorker in all black attire brooding silently over my beer.

In fact, the only comment anyone even made in reference to my clothing was, “You have a smart blazer.” And my beloved Zavi responded, “Well, obviously, she’s Yaffa.” Though her comment seemed benign, it meant the world to me. I was not defined solely by my exterior. There was a full package, and even complete strangers at the party could sort of see that.

So when I boarded my flight back to New York hours later, and the nosy American grandma quizzed me on the night before, I told her quite simply that I had worn trousers… and lightning did not strike.

Living life like I’m an R&B singer named Usher

For those of you who lived through 2004, you might remember a little R&B diddy called “Confessions,” in which Usher admits to being less than the ideal boyfriend. I remember being so disturbed by the success of both this song and the album of the same name, which sold over 1 million copies in the first week of release. Were Americans actually condoning cheating?

Well, judgmental 15 year old Yaffa has now given way to a twenty-something version of a mini-adult, committing the same egregious act for which I repeatedly condemned as a teenager.

I should clarify, though, that my discretion is a modified version of the boy-girl conflict Usher so smoothly delineates. In place of wronging a young man, I am wronging my favorite coffee establishment.

Yes, there have been several times when I’ve ventured into Stumptown territory, and even the occasion when I frequented more independent caffeine establishments in the East Village, but since moving to Nolita, I have taken infidelity to a whole new level of coffee-based immorality.

In place of walking approximately four minutes out of my way to frequent Starbucks, I have stopped at Gimme! Coffee, a coffee shop whose very name resonates with me. And despite the constant barrage of hipsters I am forced to contend with when I arrive, I keep coming back for more. In fact, after tomorrow I will have earned my first free Gimme! Coffee drink. (Note: this implies that I have already purchased nine drinks from said coffee bar.)

I could excuse my adultery by arguing that it is a matter of convenience, as I dash off to tackle the daily challenges of New York law enforcement, but, in actuality, it’s because I secretly love Gimme’s lattes.

I admit it, Starbucks no longer gives me the same immediate adrenaline rush that it once did. I have become so desensitized to the sensation of its caffeinated glory that it takes multiple cups to have the necessary energizing effect. Gimme, however, and at least in the interim, provides me a swift and wondrous burst of energy. I strongly suspect I will in the very near future pull a Joseph Gordon Levitt and share my immediate happiness with the Mott Street passerbys:

I detail my coffee shenanigans, though, to highlight a central fear I have about long-term relationships with the opposite sex. What if I wake up one day, and I decide to exchange Mr. Starbucks for Mr. Gimme– with little to no warning to the former? What if I simply outgrow him, and he no longer thrills me the way he once did?

Some might argue that would be my cue to enlist in couples therapy, but assuming I am still buried beneath a mountain of law school debt, I doubt that will be an affordable option.

A co-worker today, when presented with my coffee/romance dilemma, argued (as all lawyers inevitably do) that I should order a new drink from Starbucks. Instead of being the venti skinny vanilla latte girl for life, I should spice it up– try a skinny hazelnut cappuccino just for kicks. Or, as she phrased it,  be “creative and innovative; make it feel new and fresh and exciting all over again.”

So tomorrow I resolve to give Starbucks another chance, and if my caffeine experiment succeeds, perhaps recover from my fear of long-term relationship ennui.

Wendy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory

and other tales of cocoa-based goodness to follow in an upcoming post. I apologize for my lack of blogging these last few days. I have been absorbed in issues regarding the economic costs of polygamy in West Africa and the psychoanalytic realities created by Federico Fellini in his 1963 film 8 1/2. I will return to the land of the cyber-living shortly, at which point I will discuss the wonderful Wellesley tradition– LAKE DAY (involving the aforementioned chocolate) and another less well-known Wellesley past-time, celebrating the fall equinox via the magical, mystical tree tour.