Archive for August, 2006

Under My Skin

Excerpt from my journal:

I’m here on the plane to Israel, about to formally declare myself an Israeli, and it just hasn’t sunk in yet. Something makes me wonder whether it will in any reasonable amount of time, if ever. Perhaps I am going to wake up suddenly in the middle of the night, months from now, and say, “wow, I’m here in Israel. I’m an Israeli citizen living in Israel.” Or maybe I won’t come to the realization abruptly at all; maybe through a series of little pinpricks of experience it will slowly enter my mind or crawl under my skin, the way that cold air seeps through the cracks into old houses in the winter, or like a worn hammock will gradually sap your consciousness from you, until you find yourself dreaming with no clear idea how you got there, but perfectly content to live in the dream for as long as you are permitted.

Leaving On A Jet Plane

Days until departure: 1
No time for too much writing tonight. The time has come to stop counting the lasts (my last visit to NYC before aliyah, my last Shabbos before aliyah, my last time driving before aliyah…)

and time to work on firsts.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Days until departure: 2

I’ll have a better sense of it when I’ve been in Israel for a few weeks, but between my observations when I was there in January and otehr anecdotal evidence, I feel that there was a large number of dati leumi Israelis who have been disillusioned by the Gaza pullout last year. As well they should, because they felt very much betrayed by a government of a country to which they previously felt a deep-rooted loyalty. The widespread wearing of the orange bracelets with the after-the-fact message “לא נשכח ולא נסלח” (“we will not forget and we will not forgive”) points to a terrible feeling of despair and anger. And don’t get me wrong; to the degree I can understand their hurt, I see where they’re coming from, and to the degree that I cannot, I am definitely willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

The question that remains is where this leaves their philosophy, which by some accounts, is in a shambles. Some believed that such a thing simple could not happen, and when it inexplicably did, all Messianic possibilities for (or even religious significance of) the state disappeared. Granted, this may lead to total disillusionment for some, and thereby an abandonment of Religious Zionism altogether. However, I can’t help but wonder whether it will lead to a shift away from the philosophies of ‘Greater Israel’ preached by many of the popular religious leaders, and towards a more moderate (but still dedicated) philosophy, such as one of those preached by R’ Aharon Lichtenstein or R’ Yehuda Amital.

I recall visiting relatives who found out that I went to R’ Aharon’s yeshiva, and immediately dismissed him as a smolani, a leftist. R’ Aharon himself has admitted to being in the peculiar position of being perceived as too Zionist for the American community and not Zionist enough for the Israeli community. This is, of course, unfortunate, as he articulates a clear and firm religious Zionist doctrine, one that can even accept a disengagement when necessary. As for R’ Amital, his (former) association with the left-of-center Meimad party seems to taint him in the eyes of many, even though he also presents a compelling and unique point of view that can withstand an event such as the Gaza pullout. (For an interesting analysis of R’ Amital’s though – whose accuracy I neither vouch for nor deny – look here.)

I happen to know about these two rabbis because I was in their yeshiva. However, I am sure that there are other prominent rabbis who can lead the way in teaching a new model for popular Religious Zionism, some of whom I know of but cannot comment on enough to say much (R’ Yoel Bin-Nun comes to mind), but one thing seems clear: a new philospohy of Religious Zionism must develop if the State of Israel is to retain some of its most dedicated citizens, and if those citizens are to retain their faith – and their hope for a future where we can say “לא נשכח, ונלך הלאה בכל זאת” (“we will not forget, and we will go on nevertheless.”)

Too Much

Days until departure: 3

This is too much. Just too much. I mean, I’ve always wanted to be part of something momentous and grand, but it seems that I’ve gotten my wish in spades. Not only am I making aliyah, and making it during a war that’s turned about 14% of the citizens into refugees and a huge number of reservists into active soldiers. Through a recent article on Arutz Sheva, I also have discovered this about my flight:

On Wednesday, August 16th – the one year anniversary of the forced eviction of the Jews of Gaza – three simultaneous flights will arrive….the planes will depart from Canada, America and England – all arriving simultaneously in the Holy Land.

The August 16, 2006 influx will constitute the largest number of Jews in history making Aliyah to Israel from Western countries in a single day….
Arutz Sheva, Aug 09, 2006, by Ezra HaLevi (emphasis added)

I don’t know. Maybe it’s self-centered or something, and I never thought I’d say this, but it’s just too symbolic – being part of such a historic event (and anniversary) and not really knowing what I did to deserve it, not knowing how to deal with it, and not knowing whether I can live up to the demands implicit in it. I mean, Should I see myself as part of the salvation of the country, however small a part, or is that too grandiose? And if I don’t see myself that way, is it somehow an abandonment of responsibilities inherent in my place in all of this? These are definitely not questions I can answer now, but you can be sure that they are important ones for me to think about in the coming days. I suspect that, like most of the important questions in life, they have no sure answers, but thinking about the questions can have a more profound effect than answering them ever would.

Genesis

Days until departure: 4

Much has been said of the two different accounts of creation in the beginning of the Bible, but I have yet to see anything in print (and I may very well have simply missed it) that discusses the stiking absence of the concept of Sabbath in the second account. [Note: The kernel of this idea comes from Rabbi Uri Gordon.]

The first account goes through days 1-6, and the seventh, the Sabbath, while the second account focuses on the sixth. However, after that, we’d expect to see what becomes of Adam and Eve on the seventh day, something which we never see. In some sense, we may be considered to still be in the sixth day, waiting for some distant seventh day, some period of rest from this tumultuous daily upheaval that we call life. I think this brings a new light to the idea that man is to be partners with God in the process of creation. If we are still in an extended sixth day of creation, then life as we know it is creation.

This all ties in really nicely with my understanding of Judaism’s “helical” view of time, where everything cycles while moving forward, but that’s for another day.

For Your Listening Pleasure

One of my very first posts, one which to this day, inexplicably, has fans, was my musical debut – the hit song “Blender Man.” I’d provided a link which has since gone dead, but has now been revived (without being all zombified or anything). So enjoy, at your own risk. Maybe I’ll make some audio posts, if all y’all want me to.

Tangibility

Days until departure: 5

As some reading this may know, I’m a fan of the tragically short-lived television series, Firefly. The series was billed as a “sci-fi western,” which I haven’t find to be the easiest premise to sell, especially to a public used to TV catering to the lowest common denominator. As The New York Times put it, it was “a character-rich sci-fi western comedy-drama with existential underpinnings, a hard sell during a season dominated by ‘Joe Millionaire.'” (Also, as the article mentions, the network showed the shows out of order and didn’t sell it right…but I digress.) The general idea is that 500 years in the future, as new worlds are settled, a new frontier arises, one that bears some important similarity to the Old West.

In any case, I recently acquired the DVD box set of the series, and rewatched the pilot episode, with the commentary of the creator and the star of the series. Among the things that the creator, Joss Whedon, brought up was a central theme, the idea of regaining the tactile sense in life. You’ll see it throughout the series, if you care to watch it, and it’s striking just how…earthy the whole thing feels. The elements of the show are very interesting, and I might go into them more another time, but what I want to talk about is something that Whedon hints at in his commentary, but doesn’t discuss too much.

I think that these days we’re only beginning to grasp how far we’ve gotten from tangible things. Take money, for instance. Originally, we didn’t have money. Everything worked on the barter system. You would trade physical goods for other physical goods. Then, to make things easier, we adopted a crude form of currency, usually by assigning semi-arbitrary value to a sufficiently shiny and rare metal. Think gold or silver. Then, for convenience, we started issuing currency, which had value not in the physical composition of the money, but as a representative of stockpiles of precious metals payable upon request – a sort of IOU. It’s true – old U.S. paper currency used to be called “gold or silver certificates,” redeemable for their value in gold or silver bullion. That’s what Fort Knox was, a huge stockpile of gold to back our currency. Then, this ability to exchange banknotes for precious metals (called “convertibilty”) stopped, leading to a system of currency called “fiat.” (Read about it all here.) It’s gets a bit more complicated than this, but under a fiat system, we basically all just agree to treat government-issued bills as valuable because our government said so, and can enforce that declaration. And now, we have the final step, where everything goes digital. Yes, we still use paper currency, but I imagine the vast majority of money in use today is no more than ones and zeroes in some computer somewhere. Money has become less and less tangible, to the point where it’s now just floating out there in the ether of computer memory.

I could point to this same trend in any number of other areas of modern life, and I wonder how much we realize what it does to our psyches when nothing is tangible, so nothing feels real. Personally, I find it terrifying, and I think this fact accounts for the large amount of anxiety felt by your average person plugged into our modern culture.

I want to talk more about this lack of tangibility and this feeling of life not being real, especially its roots in philosophy and the sciences, but I think that will wait until another night.

Push

Days until departure: 6

I’m finding that it’s harder than expected to keep to this one-post-a-day rule, and I probably should explain why I’m doing it, a bit better than I did earlier.

Five years ago, I spent a year in Yeshiva in Israel, learning Torah practically from morning till night. At the beginning of the year, one rabbi got up and explained that he realized that most of us would not be learning all day like this in our regular daily lives after Yeshiva. It simply wouldn’t be the case. That being so, he said, why should we take a year to study so intensively, rather than working on a more “reasonable” schedule? He told us a story:

When he was training in the army, they had gone on a very long hike (we’re talking tens of miles, with 60+ pounds of equipment), and upon completing it, he asked his commanding officer why they were doing such a long hike. After all, they weren’t likely going to need to hike like that in their actual duty. The officer replied that it wasn’t to train them to hike such long distances, as much as to show them that they could do so. So too with learning all day – it was not only to get practice at learning itself, but to prove to ourselves that we could learn all day, go to sleep, and then get up and do it again.

So I’d like to think that (on a smaller scale) my little experiment here is similar. I don’t plan on updating every day in the future; I’m trying to prove to myself that I can write this much this fast. I’m not pushing the limits of human endurance or anything, but it’s something, I suppose. After this, making sure to post once a week (maybe even once a week in each blog!) should be a piece of cake.

Making ADD work for you?

Days until departure: 7
For those of you who don’t know me well enough to know, I’ve been diagnosed with ADD for something like 10 years now. For the record, from personal experience, it seems to be a real thing, despite the overdiagnosing that may occur. That is, I really feel unusually distracted, more than most people, and these sysmptoms tend to lessen with medication.
In any case, medication or not, I always have some degree of difficulty concentrating, unless the activity is a particularly engrossing one. As such, I’ll often jump from channel to channel on the television, or read emails in spurts, or be in the process of reading five books at once. (At present, I’m only in the middle of three books, I think, but I have a few more that I’m adding to the pile.) I can’t help but wonder whether this isn’t a somewhat positive aspect of this so-called disorder I’ve been saddled with. You see, I have many varied interests, and I tend to be proud of this fact. I think my ability (or tendency) to jump from idea to idea is part of this whole phenomenon, one that helps me integrate concepts into a larger tapestry of knowledge. (Ok, so that sounded a little pretentious, I think, but I’m too tired right now to tone it down.)

On the other hand, I’ve found that by jumping from stone to stone, I often don’t go deep enough to satisfy to requirements of the material. For this reason, I tend not to have a great grasp on the more complex ideas in philosophy, nor do I have a real appreciation for many famous poets, because both of these disciplines require serious time, effort, and concentration. I guess it’s a trade-off of breadth for depth. My main concern here is that sometimes I feel like a phony discussing so many ideas, because I don’t always know if I’ve gone deep enough to grasp them well enough to comment. But my general feeling is that it’s better to say what you have to say, and let the world correct you if you’re wrong.

To Pud, or Not to Pud

While writing this post, I was reminded of a question asked by one of my campers years ago:

Is “pudding” a conjugation of a verb “to pud?” And if so, how does one pud?

Furthermore, I would add, is it safe for children under the age of 18 to engage in pudding without an adult supervisor? Is it legal to pud in Nevada? Can anyone pud, or is it an activity restricted to a select few, trained over the millenia to master the sacred art of pudding?

These, my friends, are the questions that our generation must answer. I can only hope, for our childrens’ sake, that we’re up to the challenge.