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God is a family affair

My mom is in Israel for a visit and we decided to meet in Jerusalem. The first stop, of course, was the kotel. On the way in, I pointed out where I asked my wife to marry me. We separated, she to the women's section, me to mine. As I passed the tefillin stand, the normal thought went through my mind; I am religious so I don't need that. Another voice in my head laughed scornfully, telling me that I am a fake and not as religious as I want people to think I am. Ouch! So I stopped and put on tefillin, so tired that I put on the head tefillin first, in my rush to get it over with. Then I remembered when I first brought my parents to the kotel. It was their first time in Israel and they were excited. At one point, I left my father, of blessed memory, alone adn went off to pray by myself. A little while later, he walked up to me, strangely excited. "Guess what I did!" He sounded like a teen who had just done....I dunno, whatever teens get excited about. That was the kind of breathless look he had when he said, "I just put on tefillin for the first time since my bar mitzva." 
So, now, here I am, with my mom, wondering while I wind up the tefillin if I am the same age as my dad was when I first brought him here. And I remember him excited and full of life , while I stand here feeling half-dead, weighed down with bills and broken expectations. It's not all that bad. Maybe I'm only one coffee away from redemption. I know that I still have that spark glowing, waiting for just a little traction, a reality with a tiny bit less disappointment. It is there, hidden in the memory of my father's smiling face.

And immediately I think of my children.


Rambling writer

My job as a writer of fiction is to look at reality and say, "Maybe it isn't exactly that way. Maybe it's different. In order to be a good writer, I can't lie. I have to be telling the truth when I write fiction. For me, that comes particularly easy since I have an awful memory. I can't remember facts, and like Gimpel the Fool in the story by Yitzchak Bashevis Singer, I believe everything I am told because, if you hang around long enough, it will probably happen somewhere sometime. And I have recently found scientific proof to support that.
I have become fascinated by the studies of memory. What is memory? There is surprisingly little proof that it is a biological process that writes onto your brain cells. Science has yet to directly confront the question of what is consciousness. Elizabeth Loftus has studied memory in the context of the legal system and has discovered that memory is an incredibly malleable phenomenon. People will swear to things, be absolutely sure something occurred, list details, and the statistics show that the majority of instances, people are mistaken.  It would seem that memory is fallible in the extreme.
I have a gift. I collect facts and theories from vastly separated sources and like Magister Ludi in Herman Hesse's Glass bead Game, I bring them all together. But Herman Hesses was not a Deadhead from New Jersey with a history of chemical abuse. The facts stayed straight. With me, it becomes this massive mixed up Sunday morning stew made up of crazy left-overs that should never have been put in the pot together. When I discovered how fallible our memories are, I thought immediately of the Dancing Wu-li masters and what it taught me about the multiple-universe theory. I think that our memories are one-hundred percent accurate. Let me explain.
If time is a line, then what is the study of history? When many lines come together, the result is not a line. The result is a net. But my line is separate from yours. It could be that I remember something differently than you, not because one of us is wrong, but because both of us are right, but we exist on separate lines. I am standing on a different time line than you. My facts are right for my line, and your facts are right for yours. Both histories, both lines of the past, actually existed. And at one point we came together.
That all being said, and maybe it would have been better that it hadn't, but it was, so here we are. I am going to make a premise, and my facts could all be wrong, but I believe my theory is correct nonetheless.
I am wondering what it means to be an American Jew. I don't care to discuss our psychology or values. I even feel that the history of the Jews in America would not answer my questions. If history was a story, and our nation was a single character, what would he be? Even stranger, given the character's wandering in foreign lands, his short but productive stay in America, now that our character lives in Israel, what part does he play in the story of mankind?
It has been said that when Tolkein wrote the Hobbit, the dwarves were his interpretation of the Jews, longing for the kingdom under the mountain, overly fond of gold, greedy yet honorable in their mission, hunted by the evil dragon.

If we were to write the story of American Jews coming back to Israel, what would it be? If we were writing a fiction based on history, not on facts, but on the essence of what we learned from history, what would our story be?  

My thoughts on writing

Question: Could you describe the writing process?
Response: Writing is a very passive; things come through me, not from me.
Question: But you do come through in your writing. It is uniquely yours. How is that?
Response: Well, for example, in The Hope Merchant I wrote a section that is anti-GMO. I am not militantly anti-GMO but I am certainly not a pro-GMO kind of person. I am not republican. So one of the reasons I am against the whole university process and learning to be a writer is that a major part of the writing process is turning yourself into a proper vessel for the story to fill. If you live in a closet in the suburbs and never go out, then I think, I mean I could be wrong, but the only thing you can truly write about is closets in suburbs. If you only prepare yourself to be a vessel for stories about closets in suburbs then those are the stories that are going to come to you. You have to live it. You have to be willing to put your life on the line in order to open your soul for new realities to come into existence. That is why the stories that come to you will be uniquely yours.
Question: So, Eliyahu, how do you prepare your vessel?
Response: A lot of it is a life process, definitely. I still remember speaking to Donna Insilaco twenty-five years ago when I was a cook in Manhattan. I said that I wanted to be a writer so I could go and living an interesting life. She said, “No, it works the other way around. First you live an interesting life and then you write about it.” I’ve definitely been lost in the forest a lot of years, failing at a lot of things. But through those failures, I’ve lived it, experiencing. Failure is still contact. It’s real and valid. It’s not a closed door. It’s an open door to a different reality, a different reality from people who are successful, in some ways more valid. Not all stories are about heroes that conquer. How boring would that be if those were the only stories we had? I’ve lived it and that is already a preparation. On a daily basis, I have my writing rituals. I think artists are very religious, or superstitious might be a different way to put it. First I play one game of solitaire. Losing is a sign from the gods that I need to get writing right away because winning takes more time. Then I check my email. Then I yell at myself for wasting time. Then I stare at the page, feeling awful because nothing is coming, and I’m not really a writer so who am I trying to kid. Next thing I do is realize that three hours have gone and I cry because what came out onto the page is so wonderful.
Question:  So when you come up with a story idea, is it something from your past or does it suddenly hit you? How does that process work?
Response: Well, it’s an actual process. Usually I get an image, a picture, a quick burst of a scene. And for that picture to exist, there has to be a certain reality; a past that is a believable and logical sequence of events that bring that picture into existence, then the picture itself, the fulcrum point in time, and then the future that is derived out from that picture point in time. So, for example, in Riding the Backroads Home, for some reason I suddenly saw this image of a girl sitting at a booth in a diner, talking to an old Charedi man, who I knew was her father, and it was clear that they weren’t in the same reality anymore. I mean, Charedi men don’t do the bacon and eggs scene very well.  And, in the picture, I was sitting in the next booth over, back to back with the girl, listening in on her conversation. I don’t know where that image came from but it was the same time I was writing Sihara. I guess I’m fascinated by religion. God is everywhere but with religion you have an inside and an outside, and even when you are inside there is a dynamic, circles within circles. In theory, there is no inside and outside; we are all god’s little children. Free choice makes all this possible and it is essential to religion. I choose to do good. But it is problematic to the concept of God. How can we have free choice and coexist with an infinite, all-encompassing, all-knowing god? Philosophers think they are so clever by asking can god create a stone that he can’t lift. Well, can god lift a stone of any size if he is part of the stone as well as the one lifting? Can I lift a stone that contains an infinite god? My p;roblem is that once I start believing in God, I stop believing in me. And once I stop believing in god, I feel like crap.
Question: I’m getting the sense there are a lot of contradictions you are trying to deal with. In the writing process, how do you pull it all together? You have your own life experiences, you’ve got your philosophies, you’ve got the message that you want to set forth, and you’ve got that inspiration that comes through you. How do you pull them all together?
Response: First and foremost I think it is being true to the reality of the image, the story. That comes first. The story is not an extension of me. It has its own life. I have to be true to that. A biker has a bike. A biker talks a certain way. As soon as the story is twisted to fit some outside purpose, it rings false and dies a little bit. Sometimes I blow it, I’m not one hundred percent, but that is what I’m shooting for. Sometimes the miss comes from something inside of me. I’m not the perfect vessel. I’m too different than my characters. I’m an outsider to the reality of the story. I don’t use foul language anymore but the character does. I end up wioth fake sounding dialog because of that. The story has a life of its own, an integrity and solidity that I have to be true to. How much of me is in the process? There certainly is a certain level but this is exactly where I have to do an awful lot of screening. I have to take away any expectations about where I want the story to go or think the story should go. Like when you raise kids. Do your best but mostly you do your best to let it be free. Sometimes it’s easier. With Hope Merchant, I was a dairy farmer. I know about dairy farming. So I had a certain reality that coincides with the story’s reality, especially when it came to the relationship with the cows.
Question: There was something in The Hope Merchant where you probably had to do some research, about the indigenous character, the Inuit character. How did you prepare yourself to relate to that?
Response: I kind of fudged that. I did a little research for that but not really enough. And I think it’s okay to fudge it. I had a little message to bring, not a big message. If it offends anyone, I apologize. It wasn’t about them, per se, it was more about the story. I didn’t prepare myself for writing an informative piece. There are things I’ll do a little bit of research for but I’m not really into that. For so many people today, the word research is synonymous with Google. If I really wanted to do a research piece, I don’t feel it would be complete if I never actually speak with the subject or personally experience it in some way. But up until now, research hasn’t really been an essential part of my writing process. I feel it, though. My content editors will usually catch me and make me do a little Google work. I like that because it stops me from relying too much on clichés and it can even pull the plot in new directions. It always helps. Like when my editor said that it wasn’t enough to say that Jack, the lawyer in The Hope Merchant, was a dirty lawyer. It kind of stymied me. But then I thought about him ending up on a dairy farm and I got the whole idea for Bo-plus and Creves corporation. By the way, Creves is the town where Monsanto’s headquarters are located. I think it added a new dimension to the story and even added a few sections of plot. But I feel my lack of research. Sometimes I’ll look at my own writing and say, “That’s a little shallow.” I can feel that there isn’t enough research. It lacks the 3d feel that having that reality inside of you gives it. I am in awe of writers who can do that, do research for fiction.
Question: That could be your next step, a new way of being true to the story.
Response: Maybe. I haven’t felt the need to do that yet. Maybe it’s an inherent laziness or fear of unfamiliar waters. Maybe it’s just that this is the kind of writing I do. At the risk of sounding snotty or obnoxious, maybe I haven’t felt the need to do that yet because I’ve led a very varied life. It gives me a pretty rich palette to work with without having to leave my chair. I own that. It’s different than a writer who sits in his apartment in the upper west side and does a lot of research to write about a different culture or location, in a way I have a problem with that. He hasn’t really put himself on the line. He’s done the mental homework but he hasn’t really put his butt in the saddle.
Question: You make fiction sound like journalism. Is the personal element really that important to the process?
Response: One hundred percent. It’s interesting you put it that way. I usually don’t like writers who come from the established community of writing professionals. Journalists are the exception.  I don’t really care for writers who learned in university. It’s this instant karma shortcut that universities are trying to make a buck off of. They say, “Come here, pay us, sit in a nice air-conditioned room, and in four years you will be a writer.” I don’t like that. The writers I love are not from the established writing community. Steinbeck and Hemingway, for example, were not at all like that. Just because you wrote a thesis paper on Hemingway doesn’t mean you are equipped to write about war or running with the bulls in Pamplona. I have a theory that I’d love to research. I think that almost anyone who gets an advanced degree in creative writing will get published, and since the publishing company has invested in them, they will get sold because the publisher will invest in marketing. But the books that are still being read years later are almost exclusively from writers who came from the outside. When I first came to Israel, I wrote a novel based on what I experienced in the after-hours surreality of Manhattan. I was there during the crack wars of the 1980’s. I have the manuscript but when I think about working on it, editing it and polishing it up, I get scared. It would be like going back and reliving it. It was a slice of hell and I am very reluctant to put myself through it again.
Question: That’s a very strong critique of the publishing industry.
Response: Yes, and I think they deserve it. The big publishers are responsible for their own demise. When I first started submitting my novels, I thought the publishers were interested in finding good material and selling it to the public. I now believe that what they have been doing is finding out what they can sell, finding material that fits their comfort zone, and making sure that their system is so overwhelming that something better that the public may want, can’t compete. The internet has destroyed that business model for them. Marketing used to be pushing something in people’s faces until they bought it. Advertising used to tell me what to want. Marketing is now a process of attracting. The public knows what they want and they have the tools to filter out the pushy marketing and find exactly what they are looking for. The same thing already happened years ago in the music industry. It is shocking that big publishers didn’t see it coming. I think it’s because the mechanisms got so enormous that they just couldn’t change. Now, anyone with a PC can home-record their music or publish their own book. The smaller publishers can change and adapt and since they don’t have to support an obese infrastructure, they can make a nice living as long as they can connect with their specific slice of the public. Also, the industry is populated by employees. Even CEO’s have become employees since their bonuses are given with no regard to their achievements. Employees don’t care as much about succeeding as they do about not being caught failing. It is much safer to have a big pile of rejections than to put your chips down on a manuscript and maybe have it fail. They are playing it safe; signing celebrities and grad students the profs have said could write. The problem is that few celebrities can write and few grad students have anything worthwhile to say that anyone except their professor wants to hear. I am disappointed that bookstores are closing down. I would like to see them return and I think they will. I think they became slaves to the publishers and too wrapped up in that system. That system stopped serving the public and at the first real threat, collapsed. People who read love bookstores. I hope that one day a new business  model for bookstores will emerge that is independent of the major publishers. Maybe Indie publishers can each open a bookstore. That would be cool.
Question: Who are some of your heroes writers?

Response: Oh gosh! Barbara Kingsolver is definitely one. If I could use prose like she uses prose, I would be so pleased. 


Are you a new Jew?

                I believe it is time for a revolution in the Jewish arts. I do not mean specifically religious, though I feel that religious Jewish artists should be in the vanguard.  The Jews are intended as a "light unto the nations" and a light is meant to illuminate and guide the way. The world is at a cusp, staring down into abyss. Unspeakable evil is being encouraged to flourish. The Jewish nation, as the receivers of the torah, must take its place as the moral compass of the world. Dialectic is the way to influence the mind but artistic expression is the way to influence the heart and soul.
                Just before World War II, there was a revolution in Yiddish literature. I believe it came as a reaction to World War I, which was, in many ways, more shocking to humanity than World War II. It was the first time chemical warfare was used, airplanes flew into battle, and automatic weapons were seen. War was no longer a battle of brute force, man against man. A team of two men could kill dozens with the press of a single trigger. A plane could kill practically with immunity. A soldier could die just by walking into the field of battle without a gasmask. Trench warfare was horrific, killing a larger proportion of Europe's population than WWII. The world had gazed into the darkness of its own soul and seen horrors that had never even been dreamed of before.  It reacted strongly, creating the Geneva Conventions, a previously unheard of concept to limit mankind's ability to destroy itself. The League of Nations was created, and one of its first acts, The Mandate for Palestine in 1922, was moving towards returning the Jews to Israel. The Balfour declaration came, not as a reaction to the Holocaust, but as a reaction to the non-Jews nearly destroying civilization in WWI. Theodore Herzl wanted a Jewish homeland as a refuge for the Jews against non-Jewish aggression. The non-Jews wanted to return the Jews to Palestine as a prelude to the Messianic Age which, after the horrors of WWI, was a desperate, illogical attempt at self-preservation from the darkness in their own collective soul.
                The role of the Jews in the world had changed. The Jew had gone from being the nefarious stranger amongst them, the shylock, to being the biblical figure, the keeper of the holy flame that would bring redemption and save the world from its own evil and ability to self-destruct. Religious Jews had the traditional role f building walls and being insular as a means of protecting torah from foreign influences and the Jews from assimilation and destruction. A few enlightened Jews, with one foot inside the locked, hidden, world of torah Judaism, and the other foot in the secular world, understood the need for change in the Jews self-perception of their relationship with non-Jews. This changing role was epitomized when Napoleon offered Jews citizenship in France after the French revolution.  The French Revolution was, in essence, an attempt to create an idealized state. This drive towards social idealism brought into the French Christian mind the desire to emancipate the lowly and despised Jew and make him a brother. Religious Jews almost universally rejected the offer because it required lowering the walls that had protected Judaism form outside influence. After WWI, the world held out its hand again, and Judaism was again challenged to lower the walls and go out into the world as an equal and not as a stranger.
                This time, the challenge was met with a different response. Jews, at least some of them, seemed ready to leave the ghetto. I understand I. B. Singer's Gimpel the Fool and Peretz's Bontsha the Silent to be challenges to the Jewish role in European society as the perennial victim.  Non-Jews were seeing Jews in a different light, as a necessary guide to save them from self-destruction, and the Jews were intrigued by the offer. After WWII, the non-Jews saw themselves as having no choice. With fingers twitching on buttons that could make Hiroshima and Nagasaki look mild, with human bodies still smoking in ovens, the world was considering the possibility of instantaneous self-annihilation. It required a solution, a safeguard against its own desire for evil, so it naturally looked towards the children of Israel.
                I believe that situation has arisen once again. I prefer to state the evils that anyone can view at the touch of a button anywhere on the internet. A death cult is sweeping the planet. Righteous anger threatens to return the world to the dark ages and wipe away any advances that have been made in human rights and civil kindness. The world wants Israel to return to the borders of 1967. The date seems random, irrelevant to the plight of the Palestinian people it is intended to help. It would seem more fitting to demand a return to the UN instituted borders of 1948. I believe the world wants to return to 1967 when, for the first time in over two-thousand years, the Jews stood on the Temple Mount. In 1967, we had the opportunity to take our proper, God given role in the world as a priestly nation, creating a bridge between God and man. We would serve the nations, and not just perform a measly percentage of the commandments that pertained to dietary laws and the Sabbath. Prayer as practiced by Jews today is a pale compromise meant to remind us of the Temple service. It was never intended as a replacement. The Jews stood at a crux, a moment of great potential, and chose to walk away from their spiritual role and responsibility to the world. The non-Jews were disappointed and have not forgiven us. They want us to go back to the '67 borders and try again.
                I feel that the Jews must make a change in how they see their role in the world. Torah Judaism is designed to prevent change in order to preserve torah from being influenced by a world in which the majority is non-Jewish. That reality no longer exists. At least not in the state of Israel. Torah Judaism used to have a one-way door. Jews left but never came back. In most places in Europe, it was illegal and even suicidal to convert to Judaism. The present practice by the Rabbis of pushing the potential convert away does not have a halachic source.  Judaism used to actively proselytize. The present system for converting Jews is a mess because for two thousand years, the precedent has been set by a fear-based reaction to relating to non-Jews. It was an anomaly for a Jew to want to return to Torah and it was a threat to bring a non-Jew into the fold. Converting Ivan's daughter today meant a pogrom tomorrow. Rabbis are befuddled by the flood of baal tshuva and converts. They should be. They had nothing to do with it. The baal tshuva movement began right after Jews conquered the Temple mount. Being on The Temple Mount brings with it a spiritual power. We have partial ownership, so the baal tshuva/ger movement began. It certainly did nt begin due to a rabbinic structure based on Christianity and priests. For two thousand years the rabbis have turned torah learning and torah law into something it was explicitly never intended to be; a process of contraction and stringency based on "we don't know". The only basis for a surrogate in the Torah is the priestly class. The function of Rabbi has no precedent in Judaism until it went into the Diaspora. In the land of Israel, the Sanhedrin was a legal body that required dynamic innovation, based on meritocracy and scholarship (mostly).
                When I first went to yeshiva, I was fascinated by tchelet, the blue thread in tzitzit the fringes on our four cornered garment. I asked my teacher a question. It is a mitzvah that is mentioned in the shema, which we say twice a day and figures so prominently in our service to God. How could it be that for two thousand years, this twice daily reference was ignored by Jews who were passionate about their service to God? Men who worked at making the dye and garments suddenly and collectively stopped showing up to work? Are we, in our present day ignorance,  suddenly aware of something they were not aware of? My teacher answered me. He said, tchelet is the color of the ocean, which is the color of the sky, which is the color of God's throne of glory. The spiritual and the physical are so closely related that you cannot change one without changing the other. When the temple was destroyed, the color of the sky changed. Tchelet, that specific shade of blue, ceased to exist. Our desire to return tchelet to the world is a precursor to building the temple. It is the beginnings of desire that have no name or focus.  I began to wander around with my eyes gazing skyward. I was searching for a new shade of blue that I had never seen before.

                I would like to establish a publishing group that will focus on a new type of Jewish fiction that explores the changing role of Jews in the world and their relationship to non-Jews, through literature and fiction.


Politically Ambidextrous

There are always surefire ways to end an argument without a struggle. In yeshiva, you say, “There are conflicting opinions”. In marriage, the wife says, “Whatever you say, dear”, and the smart husband will shut up. In political discussions, the phrase, “There are several ways to look at it”, is shorthand for, “I don’t want to discuss it”. But in my case it is true. There are several ways to look at it, and I do want to discuss it.
                I arrived in Israel in 1991 at the age of thirty (Everyone is scribbling away to do the math. I am the oldest forty year old you will ever meet). In the United States, I was hard-core left-wing. Of course, like any twenty something year old, my political views were shaped by which side had the cuter women and hippie chicks were way hot. I was out in the streets protesting for my right to burn the American flag, I had a Mao tee-shirt bought second hand in the Village, and I never missed a meeting of the committee for I don’t-know what that was held in Barnard (the only semi-legitimate way to worm my way  into the women’s campus).
                Just to let you in on how crazy the trip has been. I was in Israel in 1978 for my senior year of high-school. I went to the Sinai and it was still Israeli territory. Menachem Begin was vilified by the left-wing for trading land for peace. How dare he? Apparently, returning land that used to belong to the Egyptians is evil, but giving land that never belonged to anyone and was included in the UN charter in ’48 to an entity that never existed was a moral necessity. But I am a simple country boy so it is reasonable that I don’t understand. The memory that makes me believe I grew up in an alternate universe was that I proudly marched with Peace Now. Like I said, I was eighteen years old and they had cute girls.
                When I arrived in Israel, the hot topic was “The Nation is With the Golan”. Back then, the Palestinians did not exist as a nationality (sorry, but that is a fact), and Syria seemed the most likely partner for peace. The only way to envision Yaaser Arafat receiving a Nobel Peace Prize or Rabin and Peres calling each other friends would have been injudicious use of controlled substances. But suddenly I found myself on the side of the line with the guys wearing white shirts and pocket protectors, and sandals with socks. All the rock-and-rollers and hippie chicks were way over there, on the other side of the political mason-dixon line. For the first time in my life, I actually had to inspect my political motivations under a microscope.
                One year I did reserve duty near Jericho. There were two young men who I ended up spending a lot of time talking with. There are no discussions like miluim discussions. You have one month in the middle of the desert with no distractions to do absolutely nothing and you do it with the same guys every year. This was before the advent of the cellular phone. Yes, we did patrol on dinosaurs. Someone whispered to me that I should be careful because if I spoke to them, I would argue with them. They were (GASP!) left-wing. I found out that we had a lot in common, and that bothered me. I was dangerously close to being left-wing. They were members of an inner-city kibbutz and I was a member of a religious kibbutz. They thought that the Torah was dogma that brought evil and suffering into the world. We left that point aside. The peace process was in full swing and we had bigger fish to fry. They started out strongly in favor of Oslo but very quickly began to hem and haw. They were left-wing but they didn’t like the agreement so much because it was implicitly, though in an unspoken way, meant to economically screw the Arabs. They wanted peace with the Arabs, but very clearly not THIS peace. They were old-school socialists and thought that capitalism was evil. They wanted the Arabs as brothers, not as distant neighbors on the other side of a fence. They wanted to care for the Arabs, help them build schools and hospitals and enter the twentieth century, not give them a magnetic card and tell them to wash their hallway for fifteen shekels and hour, and get out of the country at five p.m. when they finish. They wanted peace, but not this one, and since it was the only one being offered, they supported it. They were the silent left and I felt a strong kinship with them.
                I realized that all the hippies on the other side were wearing store-bought tie-dye and the rock-and-rollers were mostly old men with fat apartments in Tel-Aviv. They had the look and talked the talk, but they were the fat cats, the capitalistic elite. At the Communist Club, we used to joke that a Republican is a Democrat that finally has a solid stock portfolio. In America, Republicans are typically keep-your-hands-off-of my-stack capitalists. Democrats are willing to share the wealth.

                In Israel, it’s not so simple. There is a left-wing politically and a left wing-economically. The left-wing political wants a Peace agreement with the Arabs. The left wing economic wants a more socialist agenda. There are also corresponding delineations on the right. After much introspection, I realized that I am right-wing politically but left-wing economically. Oh, and my wife was right wing, and she's cute.

The left-wing phobia

                I would like to clear up a very important misunderstanding about a fairy tale. In the tale of the emperor’s new clothes, a little boy calls out that the emperor is naked and has no clothes on. In the classic fairy tale, the townspeople are abashed, ashamed at their fear of the obvious truth that led them to their error. They kicked the  lying tailors out of town and everyone was happy.
                Let me tell you the Israeli version of that story. The little boy says, “Hey, the emperor has no clothes on”. Everyone sees that it is true, but fears the repercussions. The boy is thrown in jail without a trial, and the media goes to work, declaring that there is an extremist element bent on tearing the clothes off the emperor.
I recently posted on Facebook several posts. One was about soldiers in the IDF going to jail for saying they wanted to kill terrorists. I was confused as to why they would be punished for that. I thought it was their sworn duty to kill terrorists. I also posted something saying that I wanted the killers of the three Israeli youths to be brought to justice. I was chastised harshly, albeit by only a few people. I was accused of promoting vigilantes and senseless violence. I was accused of calling for a Jewish Jihad when all I wanted was a normal legal process, an army that dealt with national existential threat and a police that reacted strongly to crime. I was accused of promoting genocide. I tried to explain myself several times but was astounded at how unheard I was. 
                The facts are that there may have been a murder of an Arab youth by Jews. There were definitely three Jews murdered and their murderers have not been turned over by the PA> The vast majority of the rioting has been by Arabs. For some reason, the left-wing reacts far more strongly to the almost non-existent right-wing Jewish violence than it does to the prevalent, even accepted, Arab violence. The Jewish left is terrified of any reaction by the Jewish right.
                                I am fascinated by this. Not reacting to the murder of three young boys is s clear sign of mental sickness. Being more afraid of a potential danger than you are of an actual threat that has struck countless times and has recently shed blood is, by definition, delusional. As delusional and imbalanced as it is, it is consistent with left wing mindset. Despite several wars against the Arab nations, the left-wing preferred a peace pact with Yaaser Arafat as a solution to battle an imaginary demographic threat that was imminent at some moment in the future. Shimon Peres, the mastermind of Israel’s nuclear program, felt that the atomic bomb changed the strategic reality to where we no longer need land to ensure a military solution. For this approach, Shimon Peres was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
                But back to my original; dilemma. The left and the media are screaming about the right wing “fanatics” the “extremists” who are irrationally and irresponsibly incensed of three murders.
                So let me try to explain the two positions, as I understand them, in one sentence each.

                Left-wing: Potential threat is much greater than any threat we have already lived through.
                Right-wing: The left-wing has traded the rule of law for a packet of worthless promises.
Lawlessnes is the methodology of the peace process. It means the government does not react in the manner of normal governments. It allows the citizens to be killed and the murderers to be set free. It means that a teen can call the police emergency number, announce that he has been kidnapped, and gunshots are heard in the background, and the police do not react. The prime minister declares a search for kidnapping victims, knowing full well that the teens are already dead. It means that 13,000 people can be made homeless for a political agenda that, a peace agreement that was never intended to be signed by the absent partner. The rights of the homeowners are pushed aside for a political agenda. Rockets fall on cities and there is not even any lip service paid to finding a solution.
There is a reason for this. The peace process began with Shimon Peres going to Cypress to meet with Yaaser Arafat and getting him to sign a peace agreement. Interestingly enough, it was entirely illegal for Shimon Peres to do that. For any person to meet with a declared enemy of the state and to make agreements and work with them was illegal, an offense for which many men have been executed or been sent to jail. It is the dictionary definition of treason. When he returned to Israel with said agreement, Yitzchak Rabin, Peres’ longstanding political enemy, was required by law to put Shimon Peres in jail. Instead, he had the law changed and made Shim Peres foreign minister. The peace process began with a perversion of justice and has been characterized by such.
I am going to the trouble of explaining this so that my left-wing friends can understand what the right wing Jews are screaming for. We want a return to law. We want criminals with blood on their hands to stay in jail. We want murderers to be hunted down and punished. We want to buy a piece of land from the proper authorities and have that sale honored. Throwing stones at a moving car, or at a person, should be illegal, and not treated as inevitable. Israel has the highest rate of car thefts in the world with over45,000  car thefts each year and less than 5,000 of those cars being recovered.  Rockets are fired into cities. That should be treated as a crime. Tolerance is not a positive trait when displayed by the authorities towards evil. The peace process has brought many bad things to Israel. One of the worst is the perversion of law. I realize that this is only my opinion. If you disagree then you are clearly wrong and in need of serious psychiatric care. But like I said, that is only my opinion..


Words can kill so let's recognize it for what it is

                The bodies of our three boys were just discovered. Words could not begin to describe my sorrow. My mind naturally drifts to, “What if I was sitting at home and I got a call….” And my brain freezes up. I am not built for that. I don’t think anyone is, but I am really not. And then I saw the headlines declaring that the bodies of the three terror victims were discovered, and something didn’t sit well in my mind.
                The criminal disgrace called the Peace Process has been a crime from which several Israeli and US public servants have made huge sums of money. Shimon Peres took in thirty eight million dollars last year for his selfless pursuit of peace. He received the Nobel Peace prize, a prize named after the inventor of dynamite. I remember that night; Shimon standing there embarrassed while Arafat, in military uniform refused to shake his hand.
But as a writer, the most painful aspect of witnessing this historic debacle was the disrespect paid to the English language and language in general. It could be argued that peace is not a process. It is a state of being. When the killing continued despite the signed documents, Peres, the master of the oxymoron, called the victims “sacrifices for peace”. Strange indeed since I thought that one of the byproducts of peace was an absence of human sacrifice. We’ve also been provided with such language challenging beauties like unilateral ceasefire, which seems like volunteering to help the enemy practice their marksmanship. Also, what are negotiations with pre-conditions? If I got what I wanted, I would have no reason to negotiate.
Directly after the Oslo accords, the Arab nations got together and tried to define terrorism. I thought that was strange. Defining an act as terror is like defining kindness; it is possible to define it but it is a thing that should be immediately recognized by any person with a reasonably well-adjusted psyche. Before Oslo, there was never any need to define ‘terror’. The Arabs had to do it in order to present themselves as being innocent of acts of terror and make the Israelis guilty of terror. I read articles today that refer to IDF actions as acts of terror, which is absurd since violence perpetrated by soldiers cannot be terror. It is an act of war. You can dispute the war, but not its definition.
                But undoubtedly the most inhuman, disgusting, criminal misuse of language is the term suicide bomber. It turns it into a tragedy that the poor Moslem has been forced to kill himself in order to shed Jewish blood. It is a horrific term.
                This is all old hat and we have learned to live with it. I reiterate it to strengthen my own resolve not to get sucked into the word game. To my surprise, calling the three boys terror victims did not sit well. After some introspection, I realized it was because an act of terror is meant to create terror, to influence the masses, and to create a political reality. Arabs killing Jews is no longer terror. It is plainly clear to them and the entire world that we aren’t going to leave. After 2000 years of exile, we have returned for good. They are not going to create any reaction other than grief and anger. The ability to feel enough terror that would make us leave our land ended with the Nazis.
                The only reason to kill those three boys was thirst for Jewish blood, something that still remains strong in the world, hidden behind polite political discussions, termed in love of the Palestinians and their plight.

                Bullshit. The only time anyone cares if Palestinians suffer is when Israel is involved. These people thirst for Jewish blood and the Palestinians are the most convenient tool, willing to die to kill our children. This is not terrorism. This is Jew killing in its twenty first century incarnation. See it for what it is.
                     If I can offer a few words of comfort, then I must bring the words of the Piasetzner Rebbe, Rav Kalonymous Kalman Shapira. While he was hiding from the Nazis during the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, he wrote Aish Halkodesh, Holy Fire. He did not survive but the manuscript did. He wrote about his own son’s murder which he witnessed with his own eyes. He said that the water libation begins in the Temple on the second day, the day of Yitzchak, which is confusing since Yitzchak is gvura, judgement, and water is chesed, loving kindness. He said that this is because the actions of the father are a sing for the children and in the future, judgement will become loving kindness. This was done because the binding of Isaac was intention whose action did not come to fruition. In the future, Jews who die for no reason or no other reason than they were Jews, are the completion of the act Avraham intended to do , an act without intention. Any Jew who is killed because he is a Jew is the completion of the sacrificing of Isaac. Avraham Avinu raised the knife and those dogs that walk on two legs brought the knife down. Our three dear children were on the level of Isaac, lying there next to him on the altar of stone

Why I Hate Secular Zionism, or Could I Have the Broccoli Quiche Instead?

            I’ll call this the broccoli blog. Blogging used to be about people writing about things they were passionate about. Some people were passionate about cars, some people were passionate about politics, and some people were passionate about broccoli. Some people are ambivalent about broccoli and some people even hate broccoli. I have seen a feedback conversation in which one person extols broccoli quiche while the other describes how much he hates broccoli quiche. I suspect that most people didn’t care.
            I like broccoli. I like chocolate more, but broccoli is okay. I hate artichokes. But way more than artichokes, I hate Shimon Peres. On a scale of one to ten, broccoli being 2, artichokes being 7, I still hate Shimon Peres. Irrational hatred is a fact of life and I only appreciate it when it brings good into the world. The reason I am permitting my irrational hatred to express itself now is because I just read an article, proudly proclaiming that Shimon Peres was just awarded the United States Congressional Medal of Honor. I feel this is horrendous and I need to express why. My one disclaimer is that I am not a historian, though in this age when objective opinions are accepted as facts more than facts themselves, my inexperience and lack of accreditation might be a form of validation.
            I have many reasons to dislike Shimon Peres, not the least of which is his disturbing likeness to the evil Jedi master, Emperor Palpatine, from Star Wars. Shimon Peres is a holdover, perhaps the last surviving one, from a previous era of secular Zionism. To understand what I don’t like about Shimon Peres, we need to understand what I don’t like about secular Zionism and Peres’ mentor, Ben Gurion.
 Early secular Zionism, in the shadow of the Holocaust, received carte blanche, no questions asked, adulation and (monetary) support from the American secular Jewish community. Their sins were overlooked because they were the beacon of hope. The image of the muscled Kibbutznik jumping from his tractor into a tank appealed strongly to the Jews in America suffering from survivors’ guilt. It was so different than the hunchbacked hooknose money lending shtetl Jew of Poland who meekly walked into the ovens without fighting back. The Americans united with the European secular Zionists, though the feeling was far from mutual. The European secular Zionists were forgiven their sins, of which there were more than a few, because they were on a mission of epic proportions.  And their agenda was never questioned.
The Ben Gurion agenda was to create a refuge for the Jews and to remove the rule of the Torah from the Jewish people since the non-Jews hated us because of it. This, despite all evidence to the contrary. The Nazis killed all Jews, secular and religious. I might argue that Ben Gurion disliked Torah Judaism because it accepted an authority that little David could never usurp. I believe this also explains his absolute hatred of Menachem Begin. Menachem Begin also believed in a secular Jewish state, but he believed that the essence of the Jewish people was the torah and the essence of anti-Semitism was not a reaction to Torah. This was a challenge David Ben Gurion could not tolerate.
Ben Gurion and the secular Zionists that came later, were so attached to this agenda that making alliances with Jew-haters and Jew-killers became a part of their foreign policy.  Ben Gurion joined the British to fight against the Ottomans despite the Ottoman Empire being friendly towards Jews. The British, in return, did not vote for the Jews in the League of Nations and they were decidedly pro-Arab during their mandate. He also developed a warm relationship with West Germany, something that should be, at best, questionable, in the light of this being less than ten years after the holocaust.  Moshe Dayan was popular with the Zionists because he was an Arabist, glorifying Arab culture and having a policy of negotiating with Arab leaders during war. That legacy of befriending Jew-killers and haters is still vibrant to this day and an essential part of left wing Israeli foreign policy. It is a trait that I cannot respect. The Arabs themselves say “The friend of your enemy is your enemy”.
Another example of this policy was Rudolf Kastner. He worked during World War II for the Jewish Aid and Rescue Committee, helping Jews of Budapest and Hungary. After the war, he became part of Ben Gurion’s political machine. He achieved his goals by negotiating with high Nazi officials, including Adolf Eichmann. He was later accused of making a deal with the Nazis in which secular Zionists were released in exchange for his persuading other Jews to board the trains to the death camps. He sued his accuser for libel but the story was found to be accurate. He also helped a high ranking Nazi officer to escape prosecution after the war. Kastner was posthumously exonerated. Unfortunately, the book that I found to be most informative on the subject, Perfidy, is blacklisted, illegal in Israel.
Sweet Papa Ben Gurion with his grandfather image, a silly old man performing handstands on the beach, could do no wrong. He was not evil. Let’s look at history. Ben Gurion made a deal with Menachem Begin to allow the Irgun to bring a ship load of weapons, The Altalena, into the soon-to-be State of Israel. Ben Gurion then sent Yitzchak Rabin to sink the ship, forfeiting dearly needed weapons at a critical time, and to murder Begin and any of his supporters while they struggled ashore. This came after a history of turning over Irgun Jews to the British who would execute them. Ben Gurion was, and still is, forgiven because he was on a greater mission and, after all, with so much at stake, who could possibly judge him. He was busy saving all of world Jewry from the Evil Nazis.  I am often shocked at how many young Israelis know nothing of the Altalena or of any of the other historical events I will describe.
If you were to ask the average secular Israeli ‘How many assassinations have there been in modern Israeli history?’ they would say that there have been two and that both were perpetrated by right-wing elements. They might even say that the first is proof that the right-wing was guilty of the second, or vice versa. The first assassination was Haim Arsolov who was a leader in the Mapai (left-wing). He was believed to be murdered by revisionists (right-wing) elements. This helped cement Ben Gurion’s position of power. It was much later discovered to be an act of subterfuge and , at best, the right-wing was not guilty. There is even reasonable room to suspect the left-wing. Again, the secular Zionists are above suspicion.
Most people will say Ben Gurion had to solidify his power base in order to bring about the Jewish State. He could not be a power monger since he created the democratic state we are so proud of. I think this argument gets a bit sticky when you realize that Ben Gurion served as the first prime minister of Israel despite not being elected. Nor was the first kenesset elected. They were chosen by Ben Gurion. This was only possible because Ben Gurion had, quite ruthlessly, eliminated anyone else who was working towards bringing about a Jewish state. It should come as no surprise that his efforts at eliminating any opposition were so effective that a left-wing, i.e. Ben Gurion, government ruled in Israel for the next forty years. I think it is fitting that Ben Gurion became prime minister without being elected and so did his protégé, Shimon Peres.
I should explain at this point that there are two types of left-wing in Israel and they do not correlate to left-wing as it is referred to in any other country in the world. Left-wing usually refers to social minded, spiritual and idealistic, anti-laissez faire people. That is true in Israel, but that branch of the left-wing, oddly enough, supports and serves the other left-wing, which is elitist, power based, and no-holds-barred capitalistic.  Ben Gurion was left-wing but socialism meant something very different for him. He was elitist and pro-capitalism. He hoped to build an Israel in the vision of Herzl’s second book, Alneulant (Old-New Land), a mulit-cultural, technocracy. I have noticed that this is becoming true in the United States today, which also has two corresponding types of right-wing and left-wing.
Next week, I talk about Peres and his Congressional Medal of Honor.


I like slavery (Sort of)

                        I believe that everything should be brought into the light of truth and the only way to do that is to question everything, even our most basic beliefs. For example, we are all taught that slavery is evil and should be eradicated from the world. I am going to question that belief and I can already hear the collective gasp of indignation.
            I actually believe in slavery as it is proposed by the bible. In today’s “enlightened” system of crime and punishment, this is the way things work. Let’s say, one day I wake up and my car is gone. I call the police, they show up and file a report. If I have been paying theft on my auto, I get at least some of the money back, but probably not the full worth. I am left without a car until I buy a replacement. If, by some miracle, the police catch the thief, my car is probably gone, chopped for parts or abandoned somewhere. It is actually worse if they catch the thief because now I will have to pay taxes to support his incarceration. His family will probably require some form of social service because of the stigma and the lack of income. After this episode, his children have a greater likelihood of following in their father’s footsteps. It is unclear to me what benefit is derived from prison. It has become a form of graduate school for prisoners.
            I prefer slavery. Allow me to explain. In a biblical framework, in the same episode, if the police capture the criminal, he has to pay for my car AND pay a fine. If he cannot, he is sold as a slave. Slavery in biblical terms is for a limited period of time and the slave retains many rights. The owner of the slave also is responsible for the welfare of the slave’s family. I get my car back. I even get paid for the inconvenience. When the period of slavery ends, the master sends the slave away with a party and presents. There is no stigma. He has, quite literally paid his debt. And not to society. He has paid his debt to the person to whom he has incurred the damages.
            The USA has the highest per capita prison population in the world. American troops are fighting to liberate Afghanistan, which has one tenth the per capita prison population. Prison does not serve the victims. It rarely rehabilitates the criminals. Norway has an interesting approach. According to Wikipedia, “the maximum determinate penalty (civilian penal code) is 21 years' imprisonment, but only a small percentage of prisoners serve more than 14 years. Prisoners will typically get unsupervised parole for weekends, etc. after serving a third of their sentence (a maximum of 7 years), and can receive early release after serving two thirds of their sentence (a maximum of 14 years). In 2008, to fulfill its requirements under the Rome Statute, Norway created a new maximal penalty of 30 years for crimes against humanity.Norway has a per capita prison population of 71 per 100,000, one tenth of that in the US. The Directorate of Norwegian Correctional Service has a “reintegration guarantee for those who have served their sentence. They shall – if relevant – have an offer of employment, education, suitable housing accommodation, some type of income, medical services, addiction treatment services and debt counseling. Relevant services will be identified and included in such a way as to optimize their effect by reintegration coordinators employed by the correctional services. The guarantee is political in character and not legal. It represents the intentions of the whole government and its underlying public institutions to cooperate around this issue.
            I prefer slavery to prison. It works. It is fair. I should stipulate that slavery does exist in the modern world, almost exclusively in Islamic countries. It would be more accurate to say that I believe in slavery but not in the ownership of humans. Slavery can even be an alternative to bankruptcy. A person can sel himself into slavery in order to pay off debts. Aaah, you say, a debt should not limit a person’ freedom. Actually, in any case it does. And what is the difference between slavery and the situation that so many college students find themselves in upon graduation? They have been compelled by the reality of the workplace to relinquish their freedom. Slavery takes many forms. I prefer the biblical variety.


Mafia World or Why I Used to Love America

I woke up in the middle of the night with a shocking realization. I realized that I am weird. This isn’t a new revelation. I have always been weird. But I suddenly realized that I was weird in ways that I didn’t feel comfortable with. Usually, being weird meant being socially unacceptable and either I moved, or my neighbors moved. But since my ego and I are not ready to part company, I realized that I needed to cope with this. I have some beliefs that are logical yet disturb me deeply.
I realized that I don’t like the police. As individuals, I like cops. Most of them are idealistic, service minded, professionals. They do a difficult job. But I realized that the mafia guy who came around demanding protection money actually offered a better service. If a gang of hoodlums came around, causing trouble, Antony and his buddies would show up and hurt them bad if they didn’t leave. I pay them so they would want to protect me, so that I could continue to pay. The cops would write a report or maybe sit at the corner store eating donuts. It’s not that the cops don’t want to protect me. Cops get paid by the government so they have no vested interest in helping me. They have a strong interest in listening to what the government tells them to do. When the government is a democracy, it means that the government is working for the people and the police are working for the people. Unfortunately, the United States is no longer a democracy. A recent study at Princeton and Northwestern University has declared the US an oligarchy. The government, the police, and the military, serve a new master; powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans
Another problem is that the police are required to protect everyone, including the criminals. They can’t beat them up, even when they catch them in the middle of a violent crime. I think it is a natural human instinct to punish criminals and having to play by such rules, and by going against their instincts, cops go a little crazy. That is unfortunate, but it is one of the things that makes America great.

So I am thinking that I would like someone, a face, a real person, that I can talk to, someone who has my interests at heart. I was hoping that America, in all of its greatness and glory, would provide that. I thought that if I voted for someone that it meant that he would represent me. I hope that if I paid taxes, the armed forces and the police would aim their weapons at the enemies of the common good, and fight to uphold our fine beliefs. Otherwise, I am paying taxes so that some rich person can afford an army and a police force, in which case I’d rather pay Guido and his boys. They’ll get the job done.


It helps to be a little crazy

I really wanted to get accepted into the Israeli army. I was thirty years old and could have gotten an exemption if I pushed a little, but I saw it as my duty. I fudged a few questions about my medical history and told everyone including the janitor at the draft office that I wanted to serve in the army. One of the last stages in the draft process was the psychological test. It was a long questionnaire, which challenged my new abilities at reading Hebrew. The questions were very simple, and it was obvious which answers would indicate an unstable personality, not to be trusted with an automatic weapon. There were a few questions which challenged me as a person trying to be in touch with my spiritual nature. “Do you feel there is an entity inside of you, telling you to do things you don’t want to do?” I circled ‘No’, trying not to think of my daily battles with my evil inclination. “Do you sometimes leave your body?” Well…on a good day I do manage to connect with an expanded vision of creation. I was starting to think that society might see the struggle to be religious as a form of insanity. On one question I couldn’t hold myself back. “Do you feel the world changes drastically from one day to the next?” I circled ‘Yes’. I handed in the exam to a young sergeant who had been trained to grade these tests, thereby qualifying him to judge my sanity. He marked off my answers as I sat across from him. When he got to the question about the world changing, he looked up. “Would you care to explain your answer?” I smiled and handed him my passport. He looked puzzled but opened it up. The picture showed a young man in a black t-shirt with long curly hair, a moustache, and dangling earrings, a biker. In front of him sat a man with a beard and yarmulke, a religious Jew. I smiled. He gave me a passing grade and approved my induction


Hot Day

I lay on the albino memory of a lawn as a wind from a foreign desert I’ve never seen cracks my lips and flings sharp sand into my eyes. My smile is blown from my face, flying out over the valley, dancing to the rhythm of finger-snapping flags. My body moves to a different song. The inner me straining to fly, sings the high notes as my body thumps out the bass line of my feet dragging my body along in my daily routine. I am nervous, afraid of lagging behind the beat, losing the rhythm as it dances on, or of singing a false note in the harmony I am trying to make of my life.
I roll over and breathe deeply, drawing in the yellow straw smell, mixing it with the deep earth in the crucible of my lungs,. I have pushed and prodded, run around, run towards, run away, run down, lost and found, meant and missed, and finally in this eternal moment of ‘where am I now’, I ask myself, is that really what brought me here, rolling around in the dust like the half-mad neighbor to be politely ignored?
I hear a whisper from the withered grass. It tries not to laugh but I hear it nonetheless. I have always been here, since now is always and a dot is a world only partially explored. I am not waiting, I am being.  A half-buried boulder tells me of its journey, panting between breaths, running at breakneck speed, racing to keep up with the centuries in their race against time.

I roll onto my back, grasping at handfuls of dry grass to keep from falling off the world, dizzy from the effort as I stare down into the depths of the sky above. Can I feel the mountain swell beneath me as the waves of rock fold over the land? Where am I in this eternal moment of reality? Creation and destruction are two heartbeats  in the body of god. And yet here I stand, clapping the dust from my palms, feeling my hands brush twigs from my clothes. I tell myself that the jittery feeling in my knees is the extra cup of coffee I drank this morning. I close my eyes, to just one more moment of strangeness in an already peculiar day. I strain to listen. One note, one instrument in an orchestra as large as the world, playing a song as long as time.


Be me friend

I am not a nice person. I have more rough edges than simple geometry can explain. I wrote a sweet book, but I am not sweet. I do, however, in the depths of my grouchy heart, believe that the world is a rough place that demands average people to pull out from their inner depths the best they can offer. And sometimes even more than that. And I have witnessed people who do that. I sound like the old men in every generation who sit in their rocking chairs and complain that the world today is not as good as the world they grew up in. But it is true. The world is so much harder, so much faster, and thanks to technology, our ability to do damage has grown exponentially. The atom bomb is a water pistol compared to what we can do now, physically and spiritually, to destroy our world.  I have also seen a movement, a small movement but it could easily spread like wildfire, individuals who have pushed back the boundaries of good that a person can do in his lifetime. It is a good thing to adopt an orphan. There are people who have made their hearts so big with love that they can adopt dozens of children. The young people of this generation will be faced with challenges that my generation created. But even though we created these problems, my generation cannot educate you or prepare you to cope with them. Our education is a failure because it can only show you how to become part of the system that created these problems. I beg of you, put aside the expensive toys we built for you. They glitter so nicely but they distract you from your real mission. There are a thousand ways to chat, but I never took the time to sit with you and talk, to really connect. There are a million songs on your device, more if you are wireless, but which one is the song that you and I wrote one night when we were jamming by the campfire, drinking beer, and crying on each others’ shoulder. A thousand million words float around the internet, but which ones tell me what is in your heart. And I have time to read more than 140 letters, so please take your time and tell me all of what your heart needs to say. There are billions of emails each day, but when did you write a letter to someone you love so they can hold a piece of paper that you touched and made warm with your hand, perhaps spotted with tears? My generation has deforested continents. For this I could never apologize but, when was the last time you planted a tree? We should have taught that in school. It is a problem you are facing and we didn’t prepare you for it. We went out to the stars, but our oceans are dying and we know nothing about them. The maps you see with the ocean floor so proudly displayed are lies. That cartographers made them up so they wouldn’t look stupid. Honestly, that is true. But we know a lot about the moon and Venus. They are dead planets, yet we can map them, though no friends will stroll their barren faces. At least not in our lifetimes. And because we spend so much time looking so far away for far-away answers, people may not last long enough to ever get there. Yes, our planet will be dead soon also unless you learn more about the ocean, about forests, and about your neighbor. Or the person sitting next to you right now. We never invested money in learning about nature unless we were sure to get our investment back in profits, and now nature is disappearing. I need you to not make a profit. I need you to ask questions that don’t have answers in the back of the book. I need a hug, and not the kind I can get on Facebook. I need you to believe in goodness, and then I need you to go there. Tell me what I can do to help you do that.


So, What is Prayer?

                So what is prayer? I have a personal theory. My path to where I am now spiritually wandered through transcendental meditation. It was great, and I sometimes revisit that wonderful place. But as I got older, transcending the world didn’t work for me. My life was high impact and escape to serenity didn’t seem to be the answer. When I started doing Hitboddedut as described by Rebbe Nachman, I felt that approach was more suited to me but it left me constantly in conflict with God. I have learned to be okay with that. I believe that God created the world because he was lonely. First he created a space where he seemed not to be, and that created space for an other. He made us in his image, creating us with his hands, putting his breath of life in us. By giving us the torah he made us partners in creation. Raising our hands at the condition of something that seems bad, saying it is God’s will, is not an option. We are active and equal partners and are accountable for everything that happens in the world. So let’s say someone gets very sick. We pray for him to get better. What does that mean? We are asking God to change his mind. We are saying ‘God, I know it is your will that this person is sick. I know that from your perspective. It is a good thing. From where you sit, it is the best, kindest, most beautiful thing. But, God, you required me to connect with you. You made me a partner. From where I sit, from the perspective of flesh and blood, in the temporal plane, he is suffering. I am sad because he is suffering. I will accept whatever you decide is best. But you MUST take my feelings into account because you brought me into existence and made me as I am.” Prayer, for me, is frequently an argument. Like Tevye said (and us dairy farmers have to stick together), “Lord who made the lion and the lamb, you decreed, I should be what I am. But, would it spoil some vast eternal plan?” I think that by showing God the human perspective, he becomes a better God. And a closer friend.


Where is God?

Prayer is a meeting of place, time, and the individual. It is referred to in Hasidut as Ashan (smoke) which is an acronym for olam (world, place), sha’ah (hour, time), and nefesh (soul, person). In my last blog I discussed how I experience finding myself in time. But the concept of place is strange when talking about prayer. Just as prayer is non-time bound or timeless, it can also be done anywhere and has a nowhere aspect to it. After all, you can connect with God anywhere because he is everywhere. I said before that I thought prayer was timeless, so we should be praying all the time. Also, if we are praying all the time, anywhere we are go , we are there to discover the aspect of God hidden in that place, that can only be revealed through the once-in-an-eternity occurrence of us being there at that specific time. There is an unfortunate aspect of modern life and Google earth. We have forgotten and become disconnected with the experience of place. Virtual reality is grammatically incorrect; there is no virtue in it at all. My birthday is a special day and celebrating it a day later is not the same. A holiday is a special day and blowing the shofar on Sukkot does nothing. In the same manner, places have their own special identity and effect. And we connect to them in a unique way. It is an unfortunate inherent flaw in the very concept of the United States. America is not a homeland, except to the Native Americans and Eskimos. Even the Spanish Speakers in Central and South America do not have a family, genetic, connection to the land. World War One rearranged the world map, messing with the concept of nationality.  I feel that was one of the reasons for establishing the League of Nations after that war; to try to make sense out of something that had been eternally clear and self-evident, and was now an indecipherable mess. A person used to be defined by where he was. Now, the concept of place is not understood. Most people believe that every place is like the other. Not only is that incorrect, but I feel that to believe so is evil. It isn’t wrong, because there is some truth to that statement. It is correct, but evil. I am fascinated by Las Vegas. It is remarkable that they built Las Vegas to look like anywhere and everywhere. You might have thought the Eifel Tower was special to Paris, but no. It can be anywhere. Even in the middle of the Nevada desert. Same for the Sphinx, and the Statue of Liberty. You might have thought that you were in a desert except for the spectacular displays of water. It is all a massive deception. I could be wrong, but I think that prayer is a point of truth in our daily life. Truth is what you want to build your life around. In order to do that we have to have a clear and undisguised concept of who we are and where we stand in creation. The unique experience of reality of when we are, where we are, and who we are. Every place is unique. Who we are when we stand on that space is unique. The Gemara in Brachot says that if you are praying outside of Israel, you should direct your heart towards Israel, if you are in Israel you should direct your heart towards Jerusalem, in Jerusalem toward the Temple mount, on the Temple mount towards the Holy of Holies, in the Holy of holies towards the seat of mercy. The Gemara could have given one direction for all. It is clear that your essential self and your prayer are a product of where you are. A Jew outside of Israel is essentially different than a Jew in Israel, and his prayers are necessarily different. Coming physically closer to the Holy of Holies raises your spiritual consciousness. After Adam sinned, the first question God asks him is “Where are you?” It is a strange question, given the circumstances.

When you turn to talk to God, the first question you need to ask is ‘Where am I?’


When am I?

            When I was thirteen years old, my family moved. My new neighbor, Howie Friedman, introduced me to marijuana and teen boredom, possibly not in that order. His parents were trendier than mine so they had cable television, a novelty in those days, and a refrigerator stocked with cool condiments. We would get stupid and lounge in front of his TV, eating mustard sandwiches, too stoned to move. One day, his mother came home and I guess she was disgusted at our condition. She snapped at me, “Is this what you are going to do with your life?” I looked up, unable to do more than move my head, and said in total innocence, “Of course not. I am going to write a novel.” We could leave this as being a typical teen stoner story but for one major point. After listening carefully to other people and watching me carefully, it has become my belief that people know what their life is going to be. We all already know our own futures down to the tiniest details. I feel like I have double vision. I can almost see time as one big reality; past, present and future rolled up into one big ball of yarn. In order to operate on an ever-day basis, I have to block that out and see time as a line, one half stretched out behind me, solid and unchanging, the other half stretching forward invisibly into the future. I know that to be inaccurate for several reasons; however I need to generate that illusion in order to appear sane to those around me.
I think we hide prescience from ourselves for various reasons. Maybe we want to be surprised. Life is more fun that way. But I think there is more. I remember reading a Justice League comic book in which the superheroes had dreams showing them what the villains would do. They each cut straight to the end, trying to thwart the villains before they had a chance to implement their strategies. It ended up backfiring. The superheroes succeeded in the end but knowing what was going to happen really just messed them up. It got me thinking. If I could see my whole life laid out before me in absolute detail, what would that do for me? Would it help me succeed? Actually, no. What it might do is help me appreciate certain things more than others. As Ursula LeGuin wrote in The Left Hand of Darkness when telling about prescience, foretelling the future is useful only to show the utter futility of knowing the correct answer to the wrong question. When I read a biography of a genius or artist that suffered years of rejection and failure, the happy ending puts the failure into an entirely different perspective, making it seem like part of the success. But it doesn’t really lessen the actuality of years of waking up depressed. And the fact is that for every success story there are millions of people who struggle and fail.

I also think that the infinite reality model as put forth by quantum physics is a “Duh, what did you think it could be?” scenario. I don’t trust my own perception of the past. It is no more real than the future and I have less control over it. People are okay with that when they think about the future but I think it may be for the wrong reasons. They think ‘Well, of course. I have infinite decisions, infinite choice. So each moment is a possible change.’ That isn’t my understanding of infinite reality. I understand it as every moment being a link with an infinite number of realities, all of them real. And also for my past. Each moment was a link with an infinite number of possibilities that never ceased to exist just because I think I acted a certain way. Gee, maybe there really is a me that followed through with that dream I had when I bought my first guitar and I am actually a former rock star burnt out on wine and women. That would explain a lot. I recently watched a video lecture by Kathryn Schulz on being wrong. She described an experiment where a leading expert in memory, the day after the space shuttle disaster, asked a large number of people to write down major points of the story and their personal experience. Three years later, he asked them to recall the details. Fewer than seven percent of the second reports matched the initial ones. Half of them were wrong in two thirds of their claims. One quarter of the second reports was wrong in every major detail. She takes this to mean that our memories are faulty to a shocking degree. I understood it to be an effect of the multiple reality experience. The details I remember are accurate, just not for this line of reality. The fact that we all experience it, makes forgetfulness a valid excuse and makes it possible for us to live together, despite coming from entirely separate threads of reality.

So how does this relate to prayer? Prayer is necessarily a non-time bound mitzvah. Prayer is a process of stepping outside of time in order to find ourselves. We do this by connecting to the infinite. The gemmara seems to say that we should pray all the time, yet in another place it says we should pray at a point of danger. This is a double contradiction. If we are always praying, how can we all of a sudden start praying at the point of danger? And, how can we pray all the time? The answer is, we are always in a danger and prayer is not an act but, rather, a state of being. I think the action of prayer is many things, as well. I love watching Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof talking to God like an imaginary friend. It is, quite literally, awesome. I think it is also like Jacob wrestling with the angel.

Many years ago, I was working as a medic and armed guard for tour groups. My first day on the job was accompanying an American teen group in the Machtesh near Arad. The first day, we woke up at four in the morning to hike into the desert with Yisrael Chevroni, to greet the sun with meditation. We walked all morning, climbed to the top of a mountain, and stood, out of breath and tired, while he led us through a meditation. “Pick a spot in front of you, in the desert. Imagine how you feel, what you are wearing, what you see around you. How did you get there? Where are you going? Who is with you? How did they get there? Where are they going?” The meditation went on for an hour. By the end, I was audibly crying. I often feel lost in my own life. It is an almost daily experience. I wonder if people who have a life plan and follow go through this pain. For better or worse, at some forgotten point, I chose not to follow that path. So here I am, stuck with myself, lost and alone in eternity. Prayer helps me find myself, the infinitesimal point in time that is the ‘now’, flickering in and out of existence, the glittering grain of sand in the rolling desert of eternity.