Kosher Sex, Uri Geller the psychic, and How I Met my Wife

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“Judaism is a SCAM”, my friend who is an analyst at [tier one investment bank]  instant messaged me.

“How come?” I wrote back

“Well, for one thing, Jacob’s wives weren’t jewish, right? And since all jews are descended from him and since the ability to say you are ‘jewish’ comes from if your mother is jewish then none of the jews can be jews. So it’s a scam, right?”

“What else?” I said.

“Well, you know Jesus wasn’t jewish,” he wrote.

“I thought Jesus was Jewish,” I wrote.

“Well, I can think of at least two women in his line that were not jewish,” he said

“Like who?” I wrote.

“Rahab,” he wrote.

“Who’s that?”

“Am I spelling it right?” he wrote. “She’s the hooker from Jericho. So she wasn’t Jewish. So Jesus isn’t jewish.”

I didn’t reply for awhile. Then another text came. It was a mathematical formula.

“Judaism = SCAM”.

Then more:

“S

C

A

M”

“I’m reading about the Weimar Republic now,” he wrote.

“What are you learning?”

But he never replied. Onto something else. We’re all busy people these days, on the twilight of 2010. We don’t know if its about to be a boom or a bust, stimulus or Weimar-style hyperinflation.

Lesson ONE: everyone has crazy viewpoints. Listen to them, but you don’t need to learn from them. They are a test to see if you can laugh.

I think back to the last time I had a conversation with a rabbi and the guy who introduced me to him. It was 11 years ago. The rabbi, Shmuley Boteach, the author of the book, ‘Kosher Sex’, had an idea for an Internet business (didn’t we all back in the glorious summer of 1999). He wanted to create a dating site just for jews.  I was excited at first but then I was thinking to myself its too niche. How could we really build it into a big business. The next morning I woke up early and was excited to listen to Shmuley go on the Howard Stern show to discuss Howard’s recently announced separation with his wife.  Shmuley kept saying, “Howard, eventually, you’re going to run into her again and it will be almost like you are having an exciting affair, but it will be with your own wife!”

(The Kosher Sutra, by Shmuley Boteach)

Howard kept saying, “That’s not going to happen, Shmuley. Lets talk about Michael Jackson.” But Shmuley kept going back to the topic of Howard’s wife. He really wanted to convince Howard that eventually Howard was going to have an exciting affair with his wife. And all Howard wanted to talk about was Michael Jackson, who Shmuley on occasion advised. Eventually they got Shmuley off the show that day. Howard was disgusted with him. I don’t think Shmuley ever went on the show again. I never heard from him again although now we’re Facebook friends. I love the world wide web. Triple-dub.

But the guy who introduced me to Shmuley, lets call him RS. RS now has a hedge fund that has one goal only. He’s in all cash until the moment Israel launches missiles against Iran. Then he will pull the trigger and make “the trade”.

“How do you know Israel is going to eventually do that?” I asked him over lunch at the Core Club in mid-2010.

“Trust me, I know,” he said.

“How will you know exactly when Israel is going to do that?”

“Trust me, I’m going to know.”

“Whats the trade you’re going to make?”

“Well, that’s the secret, isn’t it?” he said.

But lets reel it back 10 years. RS had one more person he wanted me to meet. Uri Geller, the psychic. Known for bending spoons with his mind and other fun things (including melting tanks, see below).

Uri and I were left to talk in a conference room. Just the two of us. He had a thick accent. “I want you to think of an item and draw it for me.” He gave me a three inch by two inch piece of paper and a magic marker. I drew a flower while he looked completely in the other direction. He then took out a piece of paper. “Concentrate on what you drew. I’m going to psychically figure it out.” He then drew something like a cross between a flower and a tree. When I think about it now, I guess drawing a flower with a magic marker has a very distinctive sound, the straight line for the stem, and then some squiggles for the outside of the flower. I guess you can train yourself to know what the different sounds of a magic marker drawing might mean.

He then got a letter opener that RS had gotten for us from a secretary’s desk. We stood by the heater while he rubbed it for a few minutes and he had a look of concentration. Eventually the letter-opener bent and we sat down to discuss business.

“I want to make a portal,” he said, “to help people develop their psychic powers. I’ll sell DVDs, books, etc. I can tell you are the person to help me make this site.”

“What else wiil be on the site?” I asked.

“There’s going to be a big button in the middle of the site,” he said. “If you push it, you’ll get psychic powers.”

Lesson TWO: everyone has something to sell, whether its kosher sex or a button with psychic powers. They just want to feed their families. You don’t have to buy it.

I didn’t invest in Geller’s site or Shmuley Boteach’s idea. Nor did I invest in several other companies  RS showed me.

(Uri Geller, Shmuley Boteach, Michael Jackson, and Ariel Sharon)

Why didn’t I invest in Shmuley’s idea? I don’t know if he ever started it or not. He’s certainly gone on to write several successful books. Did I think a dating site for just jews was too niche? Was I, deep down, one of those self-hating jews that just couldn’t stand to be associated with a company that was all about hooking jews up? Why is this memory even coming up the second someone from a tier one investment bank IMs me a pseudo-rational argument that Judaism is a scam? Why did he feel comfortable IMing that to me anyway.

In summary:

Lesson ONE: everyone has crazy viewpoints. Listen to them, but you don’t need to learn from them. Have fun and laugh.

Lesson TWO: everyone has something to sell, whether its kosher sex or a button with psychic powers. They just want to feed their families. You don’t have to buy it.

Lesson THREE: the only thing you need to take seriously is your ability to breathe. Everything else is just a story. Listen to them.

In any case nine years later, after much trial and error, I met my wife on JDate, a dating site just for jews (although my wife is not jewish).  There, JDate! Feel free to use this as a testimonial!

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  • http://steamcatapult.com/ Dave

    Ten seconds of fact checking shows that JDate was founded in 1997. Hard to believe that a rabbi who was writing books about relationships hadn’t heard about that site by 1999.

    As for your hedge fund manager who’s waiting for Israel to launch missiles at Iran, Israel seems to be taking a different tack (occasional assassinations of nuclear scientists plus a computer worm).

    • James Altucher

      I don’t know. I hadn’t heard of JDate then. Maybe he hadn’t either. In any case, that was his pitch.

      • http://steamcatapult.com/ Dave

        He must not have Alta Vista’d the idea before pitching it to you.

  • Steven Goff

    The do have a Jewish dating site…It’s called JDate…..very popular actually.
    =======

    When I first seen the title of your latest pop up….I said….”ahh oh…where is he going with this?”

  • barbacoa666

    You did end up with a site unlike any other that I am aware of. It’s always interesting.

  • Steven Goff

    James…just out of curiosity…was Uri’s idea of the “button with psychic powers”…before or after Staples Inc. marketing advertisement of the “Easy Button”?????

  • James Altucher

    @Steve, not sure. But I do know it comes well after “the really big button that doesnt’ do anything”:

    http://www.pixelscapes.com/spatulacity/button.htm

  • James Altucher

    @barbacoa666:thanks! Just out of curiousity, how did you come up with your pseudonym?

  • Nathania

    I feel like this post was written by the Coen Brothers.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      That could be the greatest compliment.

  • Sooz

    Howard was disgusted with ‘Shmuley’..
    That is funnier than funny..

    • Sooz

      I just re~read..and am now fully laughing as I appreciate every word written.
      It is so perfectly real..:)

      • Sooz

        which makes it so damned funny!!!
        Thanks,as always,for such great grins.

  • VIXdorf

    and to think Jackie Mason’s producers said his act was ” Too JEWISH, TOO Jewish!” like not ready for prime time whateva. I mean the audience cant spot Jews playing Italian gangsters anymore and vice versa.

    But lastly from my own experience why Jews I know like to marry Italian girls is so they can walk around their own homes.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6aJ63JhvpTA&feature=channel

  • VIXdorf

    and to think Jackie Mason’s producers said his act was ” Too JEWISH, TOO Jewish!” like not ready for prime time whateva. I mean the audience cant spot Jews playing Italian gangsters anymore and vice versa.

    But lastly from my own experience why Jews I know like to marry Italian girls is so they can walk around their own homes.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6aJ63JhvpTA&feature=channel

  • abe

    you see, James, sure it is a scam, as any kind of blind belief can be understood. in the end it doesn’t matter for human purposes, at least for me, because it is just MY scam. it is the belonging the real end of the rope as woody allen was able to wisely deduct.

    om other words, it doesn;t matter if it true or not, good or bad. it is your kind of link to the subject that matters. nothing personal as don corleone could suggest enhanced to the square by type of fiddler on the roof kind of tradition.

    and it ahs been tested by time as few other alternatives were able to survive so i might not know what is this about but it surely is one of mankind human artifacts that has proven itself to work for those that believe in belonging.

    • sooz

      So,Abe, what your trying to tell us is that your an ‘Italian Fiddler’ that happen to be ‘Jewish’..??
      Well now..”SH!T”..that’s pretty good!!

      • sooz

        ;)

  • Stocker

    So James, did you happen to save your original ad that you posted on jdate? It would be interesting to see what you said, what you were looking for, and how you described yourself.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Funny, i was just trying to find it the other day but forgot my password and even my username. I wonder if i can call jdate to find stuff like that.

  • http://www.stocksage.net Robert Sinn

    I don’t have anything insightful to say so instead I’ll just say happy birthday. Enjoy India and i’m looking forward to hearing your stories from India.

  • http://mendax.myopenid.com/ Mendax

    “When I think about it now, I guess drawing a flower with a magic marker has a very distinctive sound, the straight line for the stem, and then some squiggles for the outside of the flower. I guess you can train yourself to know what the different sounds of a magic marker drawing might mean.”

    This method is likely if you were given a choice among a limited set of shapes if however you were given “free reign” to “choose” whatever you’d like to draw, then Geller more than likely utilized other methods of mentalism/suggestion to guide the “choice” you would make prior to your “choosing” through some story or narrative disguised as part of the lead up to the trick.

    Also, aren’t all religions scams? Upon deep inspection, what isn’t a scam?

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Mendax, I ask that question of myself every day. So lets brainstorm for a second:
      – breathing isn’t a scam. You have to breathe to live. This is sort of a facetious answer but its also one of those things that couldn’t be more true. When your breathing is too quick (out of fear or stress) or stuffed up (from sinuses, cold, etc), its harder to be happy.
      – The statement: “we all want happiness” is a truism. The question is: can we get there by avoiding participating in scams?

      Are religions scams? I don’t know. Good teachers needed ways to tell people to be righteous, to be charitable, to be forgiving. Perhaps the institutions that came after the good teachers resorted to controlling methods that turned things into scams. But I think good teachers were good teachers. Buddha taught for 50 years before his death. Its a shame Jesus didn’t have an opportunity like that. But even Buddha and Jesus had to deal with politics so survive (in Buddha’s case) and flourish.

      I think if things start from the heart – where you really thing what you are doing is adding value to the world and you’ve examined it from every angle and determined that that was the case, then chances are you aren’t starting a scam. But once what you do begins to fray at the edges (you cut corners in ethics) then its all over. I think thats hard in this world but thats the challenge.

      • http://mendax.myopenid.com/ Mendax

        Please forgive my lackadaisical definition of terms.

        As a proficient Wikipedia scholar, let me turn there for a serviceable definition of “Scam”:

        “A confidence trick or confidence game (also known as a bunko, con, flim flam, gaffle, grift, hustle, scam, scheme, swindle or bamboozle) is an attempt to defraud a person or group by gaining their confidence. The victim is known as the mark, the trickster is called a confidence man, con man, confidence trickster, grifter, or con artist, and any accomplices are known as shills. Confidence men or women exploit characteristics of the human psyche such as greed, both dishonesty and honesty, vanity, compassion, credulity, irresponsibility, naïveté, and the thought of trying to get something of value for nothing or for something far less valuable. Confidence men or women have victimized individuals from all walks of life.”

        Breathing, then, perhaps could be considered one of the greatest scams of all time (if we are going to extend the term “trickster” or “confidence man” to nature-at-large. First nature gains our confidence by starting us breathing to begin with and we, “through our credulity and naïveté and the thought of trying to get something of value for nothing or for something far less valuable” (life vs. death) huff and puff our way to a point at which that ability (to breath) is withdrawn (failing some sort of kurzwielian singularity at which AI, the Methusela foundation and Dr. De Grey engineer homo sapien sapien immortality) . But of course as living beings we are biased heavily in which of the two (life/death) we value. (Of course, I must admit I am only trying to match your facetiousness)

        I’ll be honest (you can thank me if you’d like), I’m skeptical enough to not even be sure if “we all want happiness” is in fact a truism at all so much as, to play off of your Buddha reference, “none of us wants to suffer (or feel pain)”. More importantly whether we phrase it as wanting happiness or avoiding suffering let us contemplate the question you pose; “can we get there by avoiding participating in scams?” I would tend to think that falling prey to a scam, by definition, is detrimental to ones rational (or emotional) self interest. Since we are in agreement that scams should in fact be avoided then, the questions move to your points w/r/t whether or not religions are scams, good teachers are good, political motives, “starting from the heart”, as well as ethical corners and how (not) to cut them (perhaps into pretty snowflakes).

        “Are religions scams? I don’t know.” “The tide goes in the tide goes out, the sun goes up the sun goes down…” I will readily grant that religion started out as a group/tribe of people with political/community leaders/teachers that “started from the heart” with “ethical” intentions of “adding value to the world” or at least their particular community. Perhaps “good” people with “good” intentions fall prey to perpetuating outmoded political/cultural/religious hierarchies because they are entranced by an environment/culture they have been exposed to since birth. As the old Yiddish saying goes “To the worm in horse radish the world is horse radish” and while it is always difficult to fashion new tools out of old it is certainly one thing we as humans are far better at than many other living creatures. Re-envisioning not only ourselves but the universe in which we live over and over again (from my nubile introduction to your blog something you seem to be somewhat of a genius at among other things), if there is one thing that Buddah does try to teach, that I’ve always agreed with, it isn’t so much the platonic/judeo-christian-western values you mention of being righteous, charitable, and forgiving, as accepting the constant-change inherent in our reality.

        So the scam as I see it is the ever present demand for orthodoxy to ensure a false sense of security in an ever changing world.

        My apologies for taking this entirely to seriously :-)
        Thank you for your stories!
        ~Mendax

  • Herbert

    Not nice. There are a lot of very nice good looking Jewish women. You had to marry a shixie! I’m sure that your wife is a nice lady, but you don’t get it. If she does not have an orhtodox conversion your children will not be considered Jewish. If you already have childfren you convert the same way. They are not Jewish. Conservative or reform conversions don’t work. A person has to show real commitment to observacneand Jewish law before an orthodox rabbi wil even consider it. We have a vey special religion and you should learn more. Go to anice modern Yeshiva and study for a year in Israel. Brovender’s is a start. Dont’ stay ignorant of the special fact hat you are Jewish. Really learn what it is and how special instead of making jokes.

    • http://isomorphismes.tumblr.com isomorphisms

      Das racist.

    • sdt33

      “There are a lot of very nice good looking Jewish women.”

      Sloane Crosley is living proof of that!!

  • http://twitter.com/Jwmaden John Maden

    In case anyone was wondering about the “trade” by RS it’s all detailed here: http://finance.fortune.cnn.com/2010/09/27/betting-on-the-bomb/

  • http://isomorphismes.tumblr.com isomorphisms

    Why was she on the site if she’s not Jewish?

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Freedom of religion.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_V4XGPDEZPVHQBGIRBJECTTC35M John

    JUDAISM

    THE MOST EXCLUSIVE GROUP OUT THERE

    REMEMBER – LET’S TRY AND KEEP OUT THE GOY!

    AND ONLY HIRE OUR OWN BRETHEN!

    IF YOU’RE NOT MARRIED INTO OUR FAMILY – YOU’RE NOT ALLOWED IN!
    – See Investment Banking, Hollywood et al.

  • Robert Bynum

    You know I’m not Jewish but Jesus could be Jewish. If after Rahab a son was born and he married a nice Jewish girl, the lineage becomes Jewish again, no?

  • Robert Bynum

    Same argument for Jacob, assuming they didn’t practice brother sister marriages like the Egyptians. Jacobs male decendents marry good Jewish girls at some point.

    Or maybe I should just laugh at all of this.

  • Anonymous

    Looks like RS will soon have the chance to pull the trigger and make the trade !!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002904490842 Chris Krugman

    I don’t know if I should laugh or cry reading the comments.   WTF, James!  You didn’t explain how a non jew was trolling on a Jewish Dating site…  

    BTW.  You were the only sane, albeit crackled voice on Tech Ticker when the economy turned over.  That shill, Schiff is an is as inept an investor as Sarah Palin at a spelling bee contest!  I think your commentary pisses him off and that makes me feel like a better human being!