Sunday, February 26, 2006

I'm Back

When I tell you that I love you
Don't test my love
Accept my love
Don't test my love
Cause maybe I don't love you all that much

Don't ask what kind of music I'm gonna play tonight
Just stay a while
Hear for yourself a while
And if you must put me in a box
Make sure it's a big box
With lots of windows
And a door to walk through
And a nice high chimney
So we can burn burn burn
Everything that we don't like
And watch the ashes
Fly up to Heaven
Maybe all the way to  I n d i a
I'd like that

All the Ancient Kings came to my door
They said, "Do you want to be an ancient king too?"
I said, "Oh yes, very much
But I think my timing's wrong"
They said, "Time is relative
Or did you misread Einstein?"
I said, "Do you really mean it?"
They said, "What do you think we come here for
Our goddamn health or something?"

Everybody's waiting for the messiah
The Jews are waiting
Christians are waiting
Also the Muslims
It's like everybody's waiting
They've been waiting a long time
I know how I hate to wait
Like even for a bus or something
An important phone call
So I can just imagine
How darned
Everybody must be getting

So I think it's time now
Time to
reveal myself
I am the Messiah
I am the Messiah

Yes, I think you heard me right
I am the Messiah
I was gonna wait 'til next year
Build up the suspense a little
Make it a really big surprise
But I could not resist
It's like when you got a really big secret
You're just bursting to tell someone
It was sorta like that with this
And now that I've told you
I feel this
great weight lifted
Dr. Nussbaum was right
He's my therapist
He said get it out in the open

I spent ¹º whole dåys in Jerusalem
Mmmm Jerusalem
Sweet Jerusalem
And all I ate was olives
Nothing but olives
Mountains of Olives
It wàs a
good  t e n   d a y s
I LIKE olives
I like you too

So when I tell you that I love you
Don't test my love
Accept my love
Don't test my love
'Cause maybe I don't love you all that much

Jerusalem by Dan Bern

Friday, February 24, 2006

העם עם תל אביב \ העם עם גוש עציון

Last night I went out to Tel Aviv to meet up with some internet non-blog friends. We had all participated on a geeky listserv a few years ago, and during my two years in Isreal I had managed to meet up with both of them, but each one individually. One lives up in Yerushalayim, and the other down on the coast. So this was my second time meeting up with each of them, but their first time meeting each other. So we hung out in the food court of the Tel Aviv Tahhana Merkazit (Central Bus Station) and ate shawarma and talked about our geeky pasttime.

This morning I met up with Cara at Tzomet Habanqim ("Intersection of the Banks"; there used to be three of them at that one intersection; now there's only one, and one a block away), where David a.k.a. 'Trep' picked us up in his tricked out minivan and drove us down the Tunnel Road to Gush ‘Etziyon.

We passed Beit Lehhem ('house of bread'), whose Arabic name Beit Laħm — while the exact cognate of the Hebrew — means 'house of meat'; Beit Jālā (from where there were shooting attacks at the southern Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo a few years back), and crossed the longest tunnel and longest-highest bridge in Israel to get to the Etzion Bloc.

Efrat, a.k.a. Efrafa Efrata, is shaped like a sausage or caterpillar, strung out along 7 hills named after the Seven Plants For Which The Land Is Praised In The Torah — except for some reason they combined Wheat and Barley into Dagan 'Grain' and doubled [Date-Palm] Honey into Deqel 'Palm' and Tamar 'Date'.

So David, Zehava, some of their kids (and dog), and me and Cara had a nice Friday (for those of you who've never been to Israel, that's sort of like Sunday, but more hectic) brunch of [real] coffee, burekases and pashtida, and talked all about our crazy Jewish Geography connections through Washington University (on Cara's side) and Upstate New York (by me). We also discussed blog culture, and contemporary Jewish labels (for example: why i don't like the words 'frum' or 'heimish'). Then David was nice enough to drive us all the way back to Jerusalem, dropping Cara off at the Tahhana Merkazit and then swinging all the way around to drop me back off in the Valley of the Aboriginal Ghosts — which, btw, on our way back in to Yerushalayim I saw from an angle that I had never seen the scenery from before; I've looked across the valley from the eastern side (Talpiyot), and the northwestern side (Qatamon), but never from the southern (Gilo) side. So that was pretty cool, although disturbing when I realized I couldn't make out any landmarks from that direction. And I missed getting a picture of it, since I had to put a new roll of film into my camera. But there's always the summer (iy"H)!

Many thanks to the Bogner family for their hospitality, and it was great meeting everyone — and I hope to meet up again in the future (a.k.a. the summer) — keep on treppin'!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

One Hundred And One

I spent two years in Israel (last year and the year before).

And not once did I go to Mei’a She‘arim.

Some of my friends were incredulous.

They said, at the end of my second year, "What?? You've never been to Meah Shearim?? How is that possible?? You've got to go there at least once!"

What they didn't understand is, I'm from BOROUGH PARK.

If I want to see Hhasidim, I can just go back to B.P.

If I at all considered Hhasidim strange, exotic and intriguing.

Which I don't.

Today, however, I am heading to (and through) Mei’a She‘arim for the first time ever, in order to pick up some scribal supplies for Mar Gavriel. And am now sitting in Kikar Safra making use of their "Unwire Jerusalem" — I guess no one bothered to tell them the word is 'wireless'. Or maybe even 'unwired', if you want to be avant garde about it. I just came from davening kevasikin (a.k.a. wathiqin, etc.) at the Kotel. Yes, I am somewhat Leibovitzian, but that doesn't mean that I can't appreciate the place for its religiohistorical significance. So there. Anyway, my battery is running out, seeyall!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

الحمد لله

A: "How was lunch with Mike Miller and Jameel?"
B: "Alħamduliláh!"

So I go to meet up with the famous جميل رشيد from المقاطعة for lunch today (remember, this is Palest— Israel time) and what do I find but not only an American ‘oleh blogger with the sketchy Arabic name of Jameel Rashid, but also the famous commentor and Avodah contributor Mike Miller! And we had lunch. And it was good.

There were no (barukh Hashem) political debates, but we did discuss blogs. And bloggers. So yes, we were talking about you. And we traded much confidential information. But don't worry, ג'מיל, they can't make me talk!

Or am I just not talking because Jameel has a gun too?

Monday, February 20, 2006

Heidi! Grandfather! Heidi! Grandfather!

I spent Shabbos in The Five Towns, thanks to a friend of mine from college. My flight was leaving on Saturday Night and I knew that I probably would not be able to make it to JFK Airport on time if I had to come from Upper Manhattan, or even from Brooklyn. So I spent a crazy Shabbos in the Five Towns, with, uhm, let's call him "Why" and his family who are all exactly like him it's scary. And we went to Mo's shul, where we substantially upped the Weirdness Quotient (or at least i like to think we did).

Then right after Shabbos it was off to the airport, where they (todah la’Eil) shunted me into the fast check in line (since Shabbos made me late), and I happily headed off to my flight to Switzerland.

The flight sucked.

Maybe I'm just used to El Al, with the video screens in the backs of the seats, and the multiple choices of movies and even a channel that shows you exactly where the plane is located in its journey, but I was not a happy traveler. There was no legroom, there was no overhead compartment room — so my bag was a number of rows away from me — and there was no way to know how much longer the flight was going to take. Luckily though, the kosher food was okay (i'm easily satisfied, easily amused and easily distracted) and I was sitting next to a Jewish guy who has had many trips to Switzerland and gave me some tips about trains and kosher food sources. And to top all the kvetching off, I had to run out right after Shabbos so fast (did I mention that MOChassid was nice enough to give me and 'Why' a ride back to Why's house after Shabbos?) that I had no time to change and/or shower. So I was sitting there on the plane, not getting much sleep and being claustrophobic in my Shabbos clothes when I otherwise would have worn something more sleepable like a sweatshirt. And for some reason the way they circulate the air on these big airplanes always makes me sneeze. Bleah.

So, anyway, we get to Switzerland.

I walk off the plane, and passing down the corridor towards the baggage/customs/passport control I pass a number of signs. The first one says, more or less, "Welcome to Switzerland! Try some of our world-famous Swiss chocolate, right here in the airport!" The next one said, "Welcome to Switzerland! Buy one of our world-famous Swiss watches, right here in the airport!" It was so stereotypical I almost dropped my carry-on luggage right there ROTFL. I half expected the next sign to be a picture of Heidi running to her Grandfather on a Flowery Alpine Mountainside. "Heidi!" "Grandfather!" "Heidi!" "Grandfather!" ahem. Where was I?

So I get off the plane in Zürich, Switzerland. And for the first time in my life, I'm in a country where I don't speak the language. They speak four languages in Switzerland — German, French, Italian, and Rhaeto-Romance — and I don't speak any of them. And I do not like feeling like a barbarian. Eating in one of the 5 kosher Indian restaurants on the same block in Manhattan where I don't know what sauce goes with what food is bad enough; in Switzerland I didn't even speak the language! Thanks to Lipman, though, I was able to not be a complete boorish American tourist, and say Entschuldigung, ich spreche leider kein Deutsch. Verstehen Sie Englisch, Hebräisch oder Spanisch? (Sorry, I don't speak German. Do you understand English, Hebrew or Spanish?) But all that was a bit too complicated, so I ended up going around and saying Entschuldigung, sprechen Sie Englisch? (Excuse me, do you speak English?), and almost everyone did.

So I went straight from the airport to the train, and passed by a number of amusing-sounding (such an immature American tourist) Swiss place-names, such as Frick (where's Frack?), Stein-Säckingen (they sacked Stein?), and Mumpf. And then we got to Basel, where Herzl flavored the Jewish State.

Lipman met me at the Basel train station, and then we took a trolley(!) to where him and his wife live. We talked about all kinds of stuff, including (of course) diqduq, but (of course) not just limited to that subject. They taught me about German and Swiss culture, and we talked about Jews in different parts of the world, and Jewish internet culture, and what all those funny words on signs mean, and stuff like that. And then we had a traditional Swiss meal of fondue — which is properly cheese, not chocolate — and then they were nice enough to let me take a shower and crash (i.e. nap) for an hour or two before it was time to head back to the train station. Train » Plane.

But before getting on the plane, I picked up some duty-free Swiss chocolate (the Lipman family told me which are kosher) and whiskey for friends in Israel. And I munched on the chocolate and fruits that they gave me for tzeida laderekh.

Second flight was better than the first. Shorter, more space, and no annoying intra-plane breezes.

Arrived in The Land.

I am now in Southern Jerusalem, a.k.a. the Valley of the Aboriginal Ghosts /עמק רפאים/ — if you are here too, drop me an email or a comment and we'll hang out!

Checklist Checklist:
Im Yirtzeh Hashem By You:
Jameel — lunch Tuesday
Trep — Friday morning

Friday, February 17, 2006

Leaving On A Jet Plane

Well, I'd like to visit the moon
On a rocket ship high in the air
Yes, I'd like to visit the moon
But I don't think I'd like to live there
Though I'd like to look down at the earth from above
I would miss all the places and people I love
So although I might like it for one afternoon
I don't want to live on the moon

I'd like to travel under the sea
I could meet all the fish everywhere
Yes, I'd travel under the sea
But I don't think I'd like to live there
I might stay for a day there if I had my wish
But there's not much to do when your friends are all fish
And an oyster and clam aren't real family
So I don't want to live in the sea

I'd like to visit the jungle, hear the lions roar
Go back in time and meet a dinosaur
There's so many strange places I'd like to be
But none of them permanently

So if I should visit the moon
Well, I'll dance on a moonbeam and then
I will make a wish on a star
And I'll wish I was home once again
Though I'd like to look down at the earth from above
I would miss all the places and people I love
So although I may go I'll be coming home soon
'Cause I don't want to live on the moon
No, I don't want to live on the moon

— Ernie, Sesame Street
(Jeff Moss & Jim Henson)

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Living Life With No Future Tense

There are people out there (perhaps you know some) who invoke God in every sentence. The answer to everything is Barukh Hashem. "How are you doing?" Barukh Hashem. "How's work?" Barukh Hashem. "Want to hang out later?" Barukh Hashem.

It reminds me of a video I saw in Arabic 101 in college. The video was attached to one of the first lessons, on greetings. Two men meet in an outdoor coffeeshop. "How are you?" Alḥamdulilláh. "How's your wife?" Alḥamdulilláh. "How's your job?" Alḥamdulilláh. الحمد لله means, more or less, ברוך ה.

Now while I do aspire to live a life of looking through God-colored glasses, all this constant invocation has always sounded corny to me. Yes, if I have a quantifiable reason to thank God I'm going to do so, and I do use phrases such as "thank God" and toda la’Eil when necessary, but there's some kind of smarmy "frumliness"* surrounding the over-use of ברוך ה that makes it just sound corny to me.
*Growing up I never heard the word "frum" — my parents always described our family as 'religious' or 'observant', adjectives that could be applied to non-Orthodox Jews and Non-Jews as well.
My first encounter with the word frum, which has left a bad taste in my mouth associated with the word ever since, was when I was staying over by a friend for Shabbos in 4th grade or so, and his grandmother turned to us and said, "That school you go to isn't frum enough."
Whisper me to friend: Pssssst, what's 'frum' mean?
And since then, I've encountered too many uses of the word in connotations of "oh he's too frum" or "she's not frum enough" — most of the time I've heard the word, it was used to make negative judgments. And so I try to stick to 'religious' and 'observant', and only use "frum" in quotation-marks...
Another "frum" phrase that just doesn't sit right with me is אם ירצה ה. Im yirtzeh Hashem — 'God-willing' — just sounds like a bit too much.

I'm not sure what it is about it. I use it in writing a lot more frequently than I'll use it in speech (especially in abbreviation). Maybe it's that my usual register of speaking is fairly colloquial/slang, whereas my writing style vacillates between colloquial/slang and melodramatic. There's just something needlessly formal about it. Something possibly showoffy. I'm not sure.

But the feeling behind it, the ideology that God can and may affect the world, the sense that all futures — even prophecies — are contingent on the actions and desires of both the Creator [=God] and Subcreators [=people] of Worlds — that's all there. And so there are other ways to express the contingent potentiality of that which has not yet been.

I have gotten used to living with no future tense. There is no "I will be in Israel next week" because maybe I won't. I have no control over a whole host of factors that affect what I plan to do. And so, I plan to be in Israel next week. I hope to be in Israel next week. If all goes as planned, I'll be in Israel next week. Because I just don't know.

Promises are serious things. If I'm not going to lie about the present state of reality, why should I set myself up to be lying about the future state of reality? I can try to do something. And if I'm pretty certain that I'll succeed I can try and do something. But I will? Not necessarily.

העבר אין \ והעתיד עדיין \ וההווה כהרף־עין \ דאגה מניין

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

New Profile Picture?

Yesterday I received a mysterious package. Upon opening it up, I discovered a set of pictures of myself (and one group shot) from the graduation of my teacher training program in Israel last year. And I thought, hey, these are professional pictures, maybe one of them'd go well as my profile picture.

So far my profile picture has been:

  — a very formal-looking headshot

  — me leaning over with Navit cropped out

  — and a subtle stegosaurus reference

For some other old possibilities, you can see the options at my very first post back when I thought I wasn't going to have a real blog. Ha ha ha. I could not expect the addiction that would follow...

Anyway, here are the new pics:

#1: Speaking

This one reminds me of RYG"B's picture.
That whole sideways mouth-open microphone thing.
And I'm definitely gesturing with at least one hand out of view.

#2: Close

Yeah, it's a portrait shot.
Very zoomed-in.
I hate smiling for cameras.
This one was particularly goofy, as I recall.
Pictures came out pretty good, though.

#3: Out

Another portrait shot.
A bit more zoomed-out.
Looks a little darker, too, at least on my screen.

So, any preferences from the audience?
(or should i just stop being narcissistic and get back to tay-ra?)

Monday, February 13, 2006

מי אלה כעב תעופינה וכיונים אל ארבתיהם

In about a week, on Monday, 22 Shevat, 5766 / February 20, 2006, assuming all goes as planned I should be in Israel. I plan on staying for about a week (leaving the following Sunday), and being based in Southern Jerusalem while I'm there. So if you are a fellow blogger/commentor living in Israel or visiting there at the same time, it'd be great to meet up with you for some Shnitzi on ‘Eimeq Refa’im or anything else fun and Israel-y!

I should have a working cellphone;
email me and I'll send you the number.


Sunday, February 12, 2006

Too Bishvat?

Now, technically, there's nothing really special, so to speak, about the 15th of Shevat. Technically speaking, all the New Year of the Trees is, is a system similar to the 'Financial Year' (or whatever you call it) that starts with Tax Day. It's a legal definition of time. It's not meant to be spiritual, mystical, or hippyriffic. Of course, that doesn't mean that we can't make it spiritual, mystical, or hippyriffic.

When I found out that suede is made of baby animals last year, and switched from wearing suede yarmulkas to srugi (knit) ones, I decided to wear a simple black one in general, but get a thematicly-colored one for different holidays. So for the last two weeks, since Rosh Hhodesh Shevat — Rosh Hashana La’ilanot according to Beit Shamai — I've been wearing my Tu Bishvat yarmulka, full of green plantiness.

כי האדם עץ השדה؟؟
Humanity is not a tree of the field.

"But the kelvar can flee or defend themselves,
whereas the olvar that grow cannot."

Silmarillion, JRR Tolkien

Anyone seen any hharuv lately?

Maybe one of the local kosher
supermarkets'll have some tomorrow.

Until then, here's a picture of me
harvesting some in The Land:

Oh, and it's snowing like a beast here in NYC.

Torah is a Tree of Life. Hug it!

(and save some non-metaphorical trees while you're at it)

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

תמים תהיה עם ה' אלקיך

Devarim/Deuteronomy 18:13 —
Be whole-hearted with Yhvh, your God!


(spooky drumroll, please)


This past Sunday night, I was driving back down to NYC with two friends of mine from a really geeky weekend up in Geneseo, NY. While both of these friends are halakhicly Jewish, one was raised semi-observant Conservative with a bad rabbi relationship and is now barely observant, and the other's Jewish upbringing consisted of some stereotypical Ashkenazic food and raucous Passover sedarim with relatives on the Jewish side of his family (the other side is Latin American Catholic; he has been known to call himself a "spike", get it?).

Anyway, the second friend, let's give him the silly blog pseudonym Azrael, is very into spiritualism and the occult. He believes in tarot cards, ghosts, EVP, mysterious malevolent 'forces', and prophetic visions, among other things.

So on the way down through the spooky dark middle-of-nowhere-Upstate-New-York scenery we discussed such subjects, and 'Azrael' told us all about the mad spooky things he's seen, heard and envisioned. Everything from ghostly sasquatches and stump-worshipping deer (not the Giant Albino Deer Monster, that's my spooky deer story) to encounters with exorcists and apocalyptic dreams.

Being the Rationalist that I am, I find it very hard to believe in many of these things. Demons? Too polytheistic. Ghostly possession? The dead are all up in Shamayim, so what's there to worry about? I trust in The One Who Spoke And The World Came Into Being, and that's it. And if sheidim exist, they're just sort of like monkey, chicken, cute little goblin things — nothing to get all worked up or worried about!

When I was in high school, I had a friend who was interested in occult things, and would play with tarot cards. Not believing in the things, I felt it was a harmless pasttime that could give you insight not into the future but into your own psyche. After all, the way you interpret the signs has more to do with you and your thought process than with the signs themselves. Let's call him... Couscous. 'Couscous' had an Aleister Crowley tarot deck, which was cool because each of the 'trump' cards was associated with a Hebrew letter printed right on it. So instead of following the directions for giving readings, we would frequently just spell out our names and analyze them that way (my name has THE DEVIL in it!).

Anyway, to get back to Azrael, one of the last things he was telling us about was this apocalyptic prophetic dream he's had. He wouldn't go into details, but he claimed that it involved three (stone?) altars, and asked me about Edomites. So I told him the story from the Torah about Ya‘aqov and ‘Eisav, and how their eponymous nations of Israel and Edom were mysterious sibling-rivalry enemies throughout the First and Second Temple periods. And then when I got up to Rabbinic/Midrashic views on ‘Eisav-As-Nemesis, and the appropriation of Edom as a symbol of Rome and Christianity, he became really interested, and asked if Edom has any connection to Petra. So I told him, sure, that's the area where they lived. He thinks one of his dream altars is there. And if one altar represents Edom (=Christianity), it's probably a safe bet that the other two are Israel (=Judaism) and Ishmael (=Islam). I'll try and get some more details about this crazy stuff out of him later. I'm not a believer, but it'd sure make any Birthright trip he goes on pretty interesting...

One last point:
That conversation about freaky visions and demonic possession and ghostly forces made me incredibly paranoid walking home from where I got dropped off at midnight when we arrived back in NYC. And I really hate being scared of stuff I don't even forkin' believe in.