Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

From my father

I was going through some old emails recently, and came across this quote that my father sent me a while back, saying it was “just something someone’s very wise grandmother used to say to him,” not specifying whose grandmother:

“If it is in your way, it is part of your way. And that way is derech Hashem.”

Hold Your Applause

Back. No fanfare, no big reason for my absence. Ok, two big reasons and a bunch of little ones – I switched jobs and everything went somewhat kerflooey (that’s the technical term – I do have a degree in Engineering, after all), and I had a major role in a play that was about an hour from home. Other trials, tribulations, and time-takers I will omit and leave as an exercise for the reader, but suffice to it say that the longer you don’t write, the harder it is to take up the pen, er, keyboard.
So, the play is over (it went really well, by the by), things are calming down, and the new job is pretty good.
There is much to say, and there will be more to say in the near future, I’m sure. Such is the way of things.

Just wanted to say hello again, cyberspace. It’s nice to be back.

Going Mad

This must be what going mad feels like.

So it’s almost Purim, the one Jewish holiday totally saturated in silliness. And yesterday, I was dressed up in a makeshift diaper and eyepatch, standing in front of 50 people, sucking my thumb.

And the show hits…a new low.

You see, our office has fun activities from time to time. And Purim, I imagine, is one of the bigger ones. Fine, no problem. But I wasn’t in the mood for silliness and fun today. I wanted to just sit and do my work, or at least get distracted accidentally, not intetionally. But one of the managers came in to my cubicle and told me to go. I asked if I have to. She said yes. (I soon expected the German-accented “you veell be go-ink and you veell be enjoyink eet.”) So I went.

They introduced the game: each group would use the available materials (pipe cleaners, large pieces of construction paper, etc. to make costumes, and the best costume would get a prize. So our group decided to dress up one of us, and I let them bicker about it, having no desire to participate at all in this silliness. And I got increasingly annoyed and just wanted this silly thing to be over. I was in a bad mood, I guess. So finally, after like seven minutes of this I threw my hands up and said I’d dress up. Anything to get the agony over with. Unfortunately, I hadn’t been paying close enough attention to what they were planning on doing, which is how I ended up prancing about the stage, supposedly dressed as Moshe Dayan’s great-grandson. This, mind you, in front of many people I had not even met, but who will now likely remember me as “the guy who dressed up as a baby.” Great.

Oh, and to top it all off, though I tried washing off the red makeup they used to make me “rosy-cheeked,” it just kind of faded, so I looked like I was blushing for a while afterwards. Which maybe I should’ve been.

That’s it. I’ve entered the Twilight Zone. There’s something on the wing, and only I can see it, and no one’s gonna believe me.

P.S. I’m back in Israel, for those of you who didn’t know. I intend to give you some stories about Arizona and returning to Israel sometime soon. LOTS of writing to do, and a lot of other things. Like finding a place to live.

Moving Into the 20th Century

So I’m trying something new: audioblogging.
Listen, and all will be explained.
Let me know what you think, whether you prefer text, etc.


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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.

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.

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.

Dreamtime

Days until departure: 8
Why is it that we use the same word “dreams” to refer both to our aspirations and the crazy-go-nuts ramblings of our brains during sleep? From the little I know (and correct me if I’m wrong, all you polyglots out there), this oddity holds across different languages, and it doesn’t make too much sense at first blush.
I mean, do we truly conflate a person’s dream to, say, be head of a major corporation with his dream that he was swimming in a vat of pudding with his grandmother’s poodle and his first grade teacher?

Maybe it’s because we treat our aspirations as something as unreal as untouchable as our subconscious freestyling. Or maybe we aspire to do things like swim in pudding. Your call.

Geography, Jewish or Otherwise

Days until departure: 9
I’m not sure if it’s a solely Jewish phenomenon, but many people, upon meeting each other for the first time, try to make a connection between themselves and the other person, in an n-degrees-of-separation game. I’ve been guilty of playing this little game on many an occasion. I was thinking, and trying to figure out why people do this. I think partly it’s to break the ice, and partly to make conversation. But we all know it’s not particularly effective at either task.
Maybe I’m seeing meaning where there is none (a crime I’ve been known to commit), but I think it’s because we, as human beings, are very social creatures. We want to be connected to other people, to be able to point out where we stand in this huge, terrifically tangled web of relationships. “Where do I fit into your life? Well, my family friends the Finkelsteins have a cousin who went to school with your brother. See, we’re connected.”