Wednesday, July 28, 2004

I expected the Kotel to be even more threatening on Tisha Be'av. I expected anger, withdrawal, isolating dispair, many lonely men with their tears for the wall and the city, silent and oblivious to each other.  I expected to feel entirely alone.
I found something else altogether.  Many groups, small and large, sat on the ground, in spiraling concentric circles dotted about the tiled Jerusalem stone in front of the wall.  I crawled into one of these circles, and joined a loud chorus of Sephardis of all ages in singing the evening service, with soloists taking turns leading call in response.  A teenage boy with a taperecorder sat in the middle, trying to catch each soloist in turn. 
After praying with them, I crawled out of each layer of circle and wandered about.
The usual sea of black coats and hats that typically flood the Kotel was spiced this evening by a myriad of other colors--many Israeli kids who looked like they had just stepped out of a night of clubbing and strapped on a Kippah were there in tight, brightly colored tee shirts.  There were fathers and sons in whites and blues and even a figure tucked in a corner, between two arks, covered and veiled entirely with striped and torn cloths. Several crosslegged figures meditated silently. In front of the many circles of wailing singers and readers, the wall itself was lined with men and boys, hands and faces pressed up against it, hidden from the world. It was hard to tell, but it seemed like many were crying, or whispering inward.  But only the wall could see.
In the caverns that continue east of the main portion of the Kotel, I found a small group reading Eicha, and sat down to hear the wailing lamentation of the reader. A small boy, maybe 8 years old, with bright red payus, shared his copy of the text with me, holding it closer to me and showing  me where we were in the reading.  As Eicha completed, I saw people begin to pull out pillows, blankets, and even mattresses they brought, and find corners where they would be able to sleep before the great wall and mourn Jerusalem's destruction.  Upon leaving, I was overwhelmed in the current of pilgrims flowing in and out of the Kotel courtyard. So many people were entering and leaving. It amazes me that inside there was room for everyone to sit in circles so intimately.  The narrow cappillaries of the old city, through the arab shuk and nearly all the way to shear yaffo, were so brimming that at points there were clogs and pedestrian traffic jams. 
The following day was spent meditating and learning amongst most excellent holy company on many great questions: what would a rebuilt temple be? Would it be a physical space? How can one envision the world to come? What kind of wakeup is destruction of such magnitude? How can we be agents of building Mikdash in this world, working toward olam habba, being agents of ahavat chinam, senseless love?
Today, back in the lab, my boss has returned and he took me with him to check on his mummy samples, to see if they had successfully revived anything exciting.  We made some slides, and will check them tomorrow.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

On Friday, Max and I began our journey in the heat of the day, walking past Ben Yahuda, into the tiny lair of Kippah Man.  Kippah Man presides over a tiny storefront space--to call it a room would be misrepresenting--in which every surface is covered with overflowing stacks of kippot of every size and design imaginable.  Quite a bit is visible from the surface, but so much is hidden deep in the stacks that it is often best to solicit the aid of Kippah Man himself. He asks you a bit about yourself and what you're looking for. Immediately, with almost undetectable speed and agility, he produces a kippah, sometimes several, and proceeds to crown you with it, his dexterous fingers finding the perfect spot for the kippah on your head.  "Teere, Yafeh alecha," he says as he invites you to admire in the mirrors he holds up. "Very beautiful, yes?" 

I bought one, and Max bought two, and we proceeded upward, in the general direction of where we thought Gush Shmonim and Shmuel Hanavi Street would be.  There, we hoped to find Beit Hamusar.  We were unsure  what exactly Gush Shmonim or Beit Hamusar were--we knew only that Max's Rav in Providence had sent him on a mission to find a very special book--Alei Shur--at this place. The Rabbi who wrote this book used to sell it only to those he had first interviewed.  He has since relaxed his policy, but the book remains available first-hand only from Beit Hamusar, in Gush Shmonim. We wandered around for a long time, asking many people directions.  We knew that this place was near Meah Shearim, the charedi religious community called "100 Gates" where men and women are only allowed in wearing "appropriate, modest" dress, that covers their bodies sufficiently.  We encountered a situation several times where we would ask one person for directions, only to be given the aid of someone we had not asked. We inquired at a hardware store, and the man behind the counter directed us to ask the taxi driver waiting outside. Just as we were asking the taxi driver, yet another man, who had heard us inside the hardware store, waved us over to come get into his car. 

This kind soul, a high school biology teacher who had made aliya with his family from morrocco at age 2, talked to us about how there was nowhere in the world to live besides Jerusalem, even with all its intense and crazy problems.  I have heard this impression with remarkable consistency from native and non-native Jerusalemites. When he finally dropped us in the general vicinity of where we needed to go--Shmuel Hanavi street--we were still completely in the dark as to what Gush Shomim and Beit Hamusar were. 

We inquired with one of the many black-coated men passing us on the street, who mumbled something indiscernible and kept walking.  A second black coated man, however, with an enormous beard and equally large smiling eyes, overheard our question and approached us.  He informed us that Gush Shmonim was a neighborhood to the left of us.  He then told us that we were "Zoharim, kmo hashemesh" (shining, like the sun"). He asked if we were married, and then blessed us that we may each find our beshert--our "the one"--soon.

It took us quite a while of wandering in Gush Shomin before we found someone who knew where Beit Hamusar was.  Finally, we found a building with a tiny sign, set back from the street, that said "Beit Hamusar". Hiding behind this sign we found an enormous Yeshiva, filled with suited and hatted teenage boys, studying and talking in the hallways and getting ready for shabbat.  We asked about buying the book we sought, and were told to find a specific man who was in charge of the book.  He said that it was normally sold only on Thursday night, but when we explained how long we had journeyed and that Max would be leaving Jerusalem at the end of shabbat, he made an exeption. He brought us downstairs, unlocked a small cupboard, and asked us if we would like both volumes or just the first. 

Shabbat was wonderful.  Avi's simcha flew in from Monterey before shabbat and took me in its wings into shabbat. Saturday Max and I and a group of folk, most of whom we did not know but quickly connected with, for Shabbat lunch in the park. We spent most of the afternoon in the park, eating and singing and talking.  Max and I briefly visited an old friend of my parents, who gave us a bit of a tour of the old Katamon neighborhood--we learned that the Greek Orthodox church actually owns MOST of the land in Jerusalem!!!

When we returned to my apartment, we found that my roomate Shir Yaakov had assembled a host of colorful characters to close his last shabbat in Jerusalem with the Third Feast.  Some of the people who arrived had actually been at our picnic earlier in the day! Many hours of eating, singing, words of torah, sharing on themes of birthing, destruction and ratzon ensued in a circle on our topmost balcony.

I pray that I can continue to build on the beautiful energy that SY and I have begun to create here even after he leaves on Tuesday. I hope that I can continue to celebrate shabbat learning and rejoicing amongst such shining company.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Conversation from last night, translated roughly from Hebrew, illuminating one of the many unique perspectives I meet here.
--The most challenging thing is staying the same.  To change, to decide to do things differently, is easy.  For example, imagine you are driving, and come to a street you wish to turn onto,  and see a DO NOT ENTER sign. What is the easiest thing to do?
I wait for him to continue and respond to his own question
--Of course the easiest thing to do is to turn onto the street and drive the wrong way anyway, because it is more convenient.
ME: But that's dangerous.
--Exactly! Just so, it is dangerous to change the oral Torah, to go against it when it is not convenient to you

Monday, July 12, 2004

It may be July 13th in Jerusalem, but it is still July 12 in Chile, and that's worth celebrating...

Con una sola vida
no aprendere bastante

Con la luz de otras vidas
viviran otras vidas en mi canto
(from Oda A La Critica (II)


Yo no creo en la edad.

Todo los viejos
en los ojos
un nino,
y los ninos
a veces
nos observan
como ancianos profundos

Mediremos la vida
por metros o kilometros
o meses?
Tanto desde que naces?
debes andar
hasta que
como todos
en vez de caminarla por encima
descansemos, debajo de la tierra?

Al hombre, a la mujer
que consumaron
acciones, bondad, fuerza,
colera, amor, ternura,
a los que verdaderamente
y en su naturaleza maduraron
no acerquemos nosotros
la medida
del tiempo
que tal vez
es otra cosa, un manto
mineral, un ave
planetaria, una flor,
otra cosa tal vez,
pero no una medida.

Tiempo, metal
o pajaro, flor
de largo peciolo
a lo largo
de los hombres
y lavalos
o con sol escondido.
Te proclamo
y no mortaja
de aire
traje sinceramente
por longitudinales

tiempo, te enrollo,
te deposito en mi
caja silvestre
y me voy a pescar
con tu hilo largo
los peces de la aurora!

Happy 100, Pablo Neruda, thank you.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

as the queen begins her approach, I should try to jot down a bit of what I learned from her during her last visit.
first, some short notes on Plato's Apology.
The element of this work that most caught me on the first read is Socrates's rhetorical stance. The dialogue has Socrates on trial for corrupting the youth with his life on the line, speaking in his own defense. Now Socartes makes clear that he is very aware of the conventions and circumstances of his rhetorical situation--he makes sure everyone knows that he is aware of his audience and what they want to hear, and even explicitly cites several persuasive techniques that he thinks he COULD use to gain his aquittal. And yet he presents these techniques only to inform the jury that he intends to use none of them. So Socrates knows who he is, and knows who is audience is, but what is his goal? He states that his goal is not to avoid the death seems like he intends to use the courtroom as a forum to continue his life's mission to the last, to challenge other people's pretensions to knowledge and truth.
Yet his approach strikes me because it is so different from what I have been taught about persuasion and argumentation, in writing and speech. Both as a student and as a tutor of argumentative writing, I have cultivated an archetype of the writer/speaker as warm and compassionate guide, taking the reader by the hand, affirming and supporting the reader, helping the reader back on their feet when they trip on a tangle of argumentative roots, leading the reader along the argumentative path in a quest of mutual exploration.
Socrates crafts himself in quite a different model--he does not say kind and compassionate and affirming things to his audience. He challenges them directly, he tells them they are wrong, he throws arguments at his audience in ways that would rile them, perhaps even make them angry and insult them. His archetype of a speaker more closely resembles a duelist, slapping his audience across the face with his glove, throwing it on the ground, and daring them to be compelled by his sword.
I can't bring myself to take such a combative stance--I feel wedded to writing with compassion...creating a positive and affirming relationship with the audience has always felt the best way of teaching and learning,
or maybe the only way that I feel comfortable with
I worked with an editor on the indy who wrote pieces whose rhetorical stance much more closely resembled that of Socrates in the apology--he knew very well what the reader would feel comfortable with, what the reader would want and expect, and he chose instead to address his readers in ways that would inflame them, insult them, disorient and confuse them, and generally make them uncomfortable.
At the time, I explicitly rejected his approach, in as many ways I could censor it as his managing editor. Now, looking back, I am more conscious of what he was trying to do, and perhaps why he was trying to do it.

In last week's parsha, chukat, moshe is told to speak to a stone, and by speaking to it, bring forth water for the people. instead, moses hits the stone to achieve the desired effect. for this, he is not allowed to lead the nation into the holy land. Rashi proposes here that Moses's action here carries so much weight because the entirety of the nation was witness to it. According to Rashi, Moses talking to the rock and having it bring forth water was to teach the children of Israel something about themselves. For if, by channeling a few words, the divine could spring from inside a simple rock, then kal vechomer (all the more so) each of the children of Israel must be capable of being a divine spring, bursting forth at the invitation of a few words. Who better to manifest this realization of the divine potential in all things but Moshe? The man who watched and contemplated a desert bush for who knows how long, realized its persistence amidst the flame, and removed his shoes at the realization that this was the introductory gesture in a divine relationship?
And yet here, Moses does engage in conversation with the rock, as he did with the bush...Rashi, in his explanation, puts forward a vision of a Jewish leader that could reveal even the most mundane object as engaged in conversation with the divine, and thus unleash the prophetic potential of the entire nation--the nation of prophets that Moshe envisions just a few portions earlier.

I have started reading GEB, Godel, Escher, Bach, and Eternal Golden braid. It is enormous--in ambition, in scope, and in physical weight. I have been cutting off morsels of this very rich fudge piece by piece, knowing that if I were to try eating any significant portion of it in one sitting I would make myself terribly sick.