Monday, November 29, 2004

Went to Brickseller with Dan last night, where they have a beer menu that looks more the size of one of those Beckett baseball card almanacs that I used to value my cards in when I was little. He had me taste a Polish and a Belgian beer, and convinced me that I do in fact like beer, I just do not like mediocre beer. We had fabulous roaring conversation through the night on the future of music, the future of Judaism, socialist organic farms, graduate schools and life plans. Dan and I have been friends since the third grade. Wow, that's 14some years I suppose, most of our lives. I am grateful that even though we have not kept in touch much over the phone, we connect beautifully in person.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Many people told me to see Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. A fantastic movie, they told me. Amazing, they told me. But nobody warned me. As far as I can remember, nobody warned me. Nobody said, Ari, listen, this might be a hard movie for you to watch. A very hard movie for you to watch. Important for you to watch, maybe, but it might be difficult, difficult to watch. You will ache. You will remember, Ari, and you will ache.

Friday, November 26, 2004

I just found something I wrote a year or two ago on the social lives of bacteria:

Monday, November 22, 2004

It is remarkably easy to write a Senator.
I sent this to Maryland's veteran Senator a few moments only took a few minutes.

Dear Senator Mikulski,
I am writing to urge you to question Alberto Gonzales's record on the Geneva conventions, the treatment of prisoners, and the use of torture. The policies he has affirmed and advocated have been linked to human rights abuses in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere that I, as a proud American, cannot help feeling personally responsible for and ashamed of. Mr. Gonzales's policies have caused enormous damage to the United State's honor, reputation, and ability to act as a trusted and respected partner and leader in the world. Today's lead editorial in the washingtonpost puts this case far better than I can:
I trust that you will represent those values which make our country great. I trust you will represent me and the American people and speak out on this issue, urging your colleagues to do so as well.
Thank you for all your work and service on my behalf.
Ari Johnson

Sunday, November 21, 2004

I have been for some time considering names for my cell phone. I do not want to humanize it with a personal name. I am wary of entering into that kind of relationship with a phone, I have seen what can result.
I will henceforth refer to my cell phone, whenever possible, as my umakhalekhukhwini. According to a note scrawled in one of my workbooks, this is the Zulu word for cell phone, whose literal translation is: "the one who cries from the pocket."

Friday, November 19, 2004

Galut and Geulah: An Open Response to Daniel Saras

I walk into Hillel this morning to find my friend Reb Mendel, the local Chabad Rabbi, reading The New York Jewish Week, looking physically hurt, as if someone had punched him in the stomach just a few minutes earlier.
--Boker tov, Reb Mendel, what's wrong? What happened?
--Read this.
He hands me a copy of the LETTERS section and I read the following:


Your editorial "Jewish Unity at Stake in Election (Oct. 29) is laughable. There is no Jewish unity and never has been.
I am a 52-year-old Orthodox Jew who was born and raised in Washington Heights and ahs since lived in Jewish communities in Manhattan, Queens, New Jersey, and Connecticut. I have been active in Jewish organization since my youth as a leader in Bnei Akiva. In all this time and all these places, I have yet to participate in any activity with Conservative or Reform Jews. I have never been to their synagouges and, best I can tell, they have never been to mine. I have never engaged socially with any of these people.
Nor do I want to. As an Orthodox Jew, I have conservativve values and an unshakeable love of Israel. These other groups are composed mainly of liberal Jews whose support for Israel is questionable. Indeed we Orthodox have far more in common with the Christian right than we do with Reform Jews, who seem to be Jews in name only.
Unity? More like a quiet civil war, but a war that we Orthodox are sure to win. The Reformists and many reform-minded Conservative Jews will intermarry right out of our religion in generations to come. I say good riddance.
Daniel Sara
Rego Park, NY

As I look up, Reb Mendel says to me,
--This, this is Galut.
We walk in silence together toward the Beit Midrash, I in my red hooded sweatshirt and he with his black hat and black coat and beautiful long beard. I think of the Conservative synagogue I grew up in, the Orthodox minyan I attended at my multi-denominational high school, my most recent shabbat when I prayed in one voice with Jews of nearly every major denomination and background.
--How was your week?
--I'm sorry, Reb Mendel, give me a moment. That was a hard letter to read. Let me take a deep breath.
--I apologize for making you read such a sad letter.
--No, Reb Mendel, thank you. I am glad I read it. Sometimes I forget the reasons for what I do.
We sit down together in the beit midrash, and open up two books of Talmud masechet Chagiga, and begin to learn together.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Ozi Vezimrat Ya
Ilana Streit, crosslegged and flanked by two full-branching mechitzas, begins chanting halleluyah, gathers a slowly rising chorus in gentle, wave-rising rhythm. I don't join the chorus myself, instead opening my artscroll and paddling into pesukei dezimra on waves of halleluyah. Around me are many other swimmers. The chorus of wave-making halleluyahs, the silent meditations, a voice praising in English verse, a countervailing and harmonizing niggun, the sound of thirty different psalms intoned in Hebrew to complementary rhythms and strokes. Swimming with this sea of praise upon waves of halleluyah, each word I stroke gets lifted by a wave and I feel them moving out of my mouth propelled by the prayer surrounding me, and I swimming, rising and falling and being pulled fully-embraced into the tide of halleluyah. Pesukei Dezimra rises and falls in my chest with riptide force, and the power of those words manifest, sobbing, I cannot remember ever crying so hard.

Jews in the Woods. Walking down the street or sitting in someone's house or working at my laptop, I find myself singing a niggun from this past shabbat, and my feet leave the ground entirely. All through this week the weekend will just wash over me and coat me in a fullbodied smile, a fullness of shabbat energy. I pray that I can keep that energy, cultivate it within me and manifest it in the work of my hands, as I approach the next stage of my journey. All I can ask, all I can be able to pray for, is to dwell in this house of hashem, all the days of my life. achat shaalti meim hashem, ota avakesh, shivti bebeit hashem kol yemei chayai.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004
A voice of sanity! Yes! But she only scratches the surface.
Get a grip--sure, understanding the absurdity and impossibility of a microbe-free home is a good first step. But we will need much broader transformations of consciousness to live healthily with these invisible legions, the most successful forms of life on earth. We can't simply dismiss microbes. This would be about as illconceived as the germophobe insanity that is now so prevalent and lucrative for the cleaners industry. We need microbes. We need to treat them with respect and awe, and devote ourselves to living well with them. Unless this fundamental transformation in perspective can happen, our health, personally and collectively, will remain in dire jeapoardy.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Justice, justice, you shall pursue! Justice will not wait for representatives, or sit upon the conditions of another election. We shall make it together. We shall not hesitate. November 3rd, like November 2nd, is the day that G!d created. Let us rise up and illuminate it, take bold footsepts in righteous paths.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

vote! now!

and don't stop there

the old and lumbering beast we call our democracy is beginning to wake up, lift its glutted belly off of the dirt, and start moving. Both campiagns boast something near a million volunteers over the course of the election. As we speak, tens and tens of thousands are knocking on doors, representing and supporting at the polls, making calls.
I, like many around me, feel the weight of this election, and the urgency of bringing John Kerry into office. I am afraid for the America and the world that George Bush could shape in four years, and eager to realize the immense potential that John Kerry brings with him into office. Given how much hangs in the balance today, it is hard to think of anything else. Especially because no one, no matter how powerful or intelligent, knows what the next day will bring for us all.

Tomorrow is even more important than this day. Tomorrow will be the real test of how we've grown in the past year. Tomorrow is the day to affirm that our democracy does not exist to function one day every two or four years. Tomorrow we will see what this election has built, who this election has empowered. Tomorrow will see who has a voice now. Tomorrow will see whether this election was the brief waking of our democracy before groggily returning to its hibernation, or whether this election was the shofar blast, the sounding call that has woken us up, place our governence deeply into the palms of our hands, and said, this is yours, take it! Take it now.

The tools at our disposal for widespread and intimate grassroots democratic action are unprecedented. They are powerful. This election has proved it. MoveOn can organize nationwide bakesales, raise millions of dollars on $20 donations over the internet, bring together major musicians for concert tours, and bring thousands of volunteers into swing states to knock on every door of every town like Nashua New Hapshire. The ways we can now connect to each other, become politically involved, bring our voices into the representative process, have an awesome power. We must create and use those new tools refashion the shape of our democracy.

Tomorrow will be the test. Was all this buggyjiving really about two men? Tomorrow will we say, oh, we've done our part, now it's your turn?
We did this. The tools are in our hands. Still more tools are waiting in aching potential to be fashioned. Tomorrow, we cannot cede and forget the powerful forces we have created together. Tomorrow, this country, and its political system, will belong not to John Kerry, nor to George Bush, nor to our Senators, Representatives, and local officials. Today, we must win this election. Tomorrow, this country can belong to us.
Ze hayom, asa hashem. This is the day that G!d created.

Monday, November 01, 2004

I expected it to be a circus. With hundreds of thousands of volunteers canvassing the streets of America, candidates visiting six states a day and legions upon legions mobilized into this election, I expected nothing less than a zoo.
In Nashua New Hampshire, I found quiet. Quiet. Hours of taking a huge sprawling suburban neighborhood between my feet (with Nathan as my partner in voterocking crime), knocking on doors of silent houses, moving slowly and quietly I felt akin to the flamelike turning trees that flanked the houses. Moving slightly and silently but nonetheless a living part of this blazing autumnal fire.
At Nathan's urging, we decided to depart from our list and start talking to people who weren't on our list of progressive voters. This was by far the most rewarding part of our experience. We found a woman who had just moved to the area, and got her directions to her polling station and instructions on how to register on the spot tomorrow.

We also spoke to a woman who displayed Kerry-Edwards banners and also several versions of a very particular flag, with red stripes on each side and a black or blue star in the middle. After we talked a little bit about where and how she could vote, I asked about the flag, and she explained that her husband is in Iraq, and the flag will remain until he returns. I told her, May he return safely. I wish I had said more. I wish I had said thank you.

Later in the afternoon, we startled a mother playing with her one-year-old child in their driveway. Our neighborhood is so quiet, and nobody usually comes through here, she told us. You two really scared me. As it turns out, her husband is Brazilian and just became a US citizen--she was very excited to learn that he would be able to register to vote for the first time tomorrow, and that she would be able to vote with her husband.

So after some 4 hours of driving and 5 hours of walking around a sleepy New Hampshire neighborhood, Nathan and I managed to help bring 4 voters to the polls tomorrow. How so completely, entirely, worth it. What a sanctification of the individual, to travel so far and long to find their door and tell them that their voice is sacred, and needs to be heard.