Drew T. Noll © 2023, all rights reserved

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Radiator for the Mind

In the heavens above, not in the fabled heavens but in the heavens that are described by our sages as the worlds above, there was once a place where the water gathered into petty and jealous pools of rivalries. The Master of the Universe had to separate these pools by putting a five hundred mile thick barrier or a firmament between them. Wait… I think I need to back up, you see, the water isn’t really just ordinary water; it is a viscous and vaporous condensation of spiritually incandescent and pearlescent… water. This is not only the water of life but the water of everything else as well. Talk about the fountain of youth! Water…I am getting thirsty… for something wet and watery… water…

Ok, back to reality. You see, this story is really about how our minds work. It started with water because this is the substance that leaves our body when we activate its spiritual thermometer by engaging in acrobatic mind maneuvering. This water isn’t the normal water but it is also the same viscous and vaporous condensation of spiritually incandescent and pearlescent… water from the heavens above. Well, maybe I need to back up some more…

You see, our nephesh (our soul and energy source) heats up when it supplies the motor (our minds) with power to run. As our minds turn at ever increasing speeds to follow leads from life and the big plan in an attempt to close the gap between the heavens above and ourselves we get hot. Not hot in the physical sense, although that is also effected, but hot in a spiritual sense. This water needs a release valve as it heats to temperatures beyond our ability to measure. We need a radiator to kick in. we need something to drain the excess fluids from our minds or our motors.

History has shown us that this is accomplished with following God’s commandments. The Torah gives us a release valve and it describes to us how to manifest this release valve in our lives, but this is not all. It also tells us to grow the hair on the four corners of our head. What? Maybe we are all just block heads after all! One thing I do know is that two of these corners are on the chin and that means a beard. Oohhh, now I get it! A beard is a radiator! When we start to rev up that engine (our minds) we need a radiator (our beards) to let the excess water drain and vaporize back into the heavens above! Phew!!! Now I am feeling hot… and my beard you ask? If you didn’t know it was gone… Its back!

So, the next time you see the morning dew, a hail storm, or the most amazing sunset ever, think about the water… not the regular stuff that is inside and on the surface of all of creation, but the viscous and vaporous condensation of spiritually incandescent and pearlescent… water… that was paternally separated by The Master of the Universe way back in the beginning of time.

Shavua tov kulam!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

If a tree falls in the forest…

Long ago, in a time before there was time, there was a garden. This was no ordinary garden mind you; it was a very, very special garden indeed. This was the first garden that was ever created and it was done so in an otherwise barren wilderness. There was nothing anywhere else in the whole universe, accept one thing. And that thing was (and is) so big, so large, and so timeless, that I could never use words and language to describe it. It is a thing that we have come to call by many names and all are Holy with a capital ‘H’. So, not to labor the point too much however, this story starts in a place that can only be described as everything and nothing at the same time. The ‘everything’ comes from what we see today… everything that is always all around us to see, hear, smell, feel, and whatever. And the ‘nothing’ you ask? The ‘nothing’ is also everything around us. The ‘nothing’ is something that we can not see or hear or feel. Sometimes if we are lucky we get a whiff of it though. It smells like something familiar, something wonderful. It smells like we know what it is, if for just a moment, before it disappears into our justifications and explanations of the world around us… you know, the one we can see and hear and feel and yes, sometimes even think we can smell.

There was a time, well that isn’t exactly the word for it… maybe a better way to describe it is an infinite instant, that in this very special garden, before it was or could be tended by any… person, every single plant had never existed, ceased to grow, grown to its mature height, and spread across the universe as if Moshiach had already come. Every tree was just a want-to-be seed as well as resplendent with fruit. It was an instant where everything in the universe was only possible but at the same time, was complete and in this instant, in this garden of gardens, a tree fell. Some have said that this occurred as a result of a forest creature that, because of its treachery, was destined to slither for all eternity. Others say that it was because of the concept of free will or because of something lurking in the world today, the evil inclination, that this occurred, and still others say that it was because of something all together different. These ‘others’ say that is was because ‘we’ needed to see the tree fall. ‘We’ needed to know that there was once a place that was so perfect that it needed to be hidden at the end of a curvy and unseen path and guarded by something that might have looked like General Grievous from the Star Wars movies.

We didn’t witness this tree of trees’ fall with any of our senses and yet, we know that it fell. We can see the results of its calamitous plunge throughout our lives and still we ask ourselves the simple question, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to witness it, did it really fall?” of course it did! Look around already… or at least take a whiff. You might catch a scent of that ancient and, at the same time, imminent tree; that tree of everything and at exactly the same time, that tree of absolute nothingness in a garden where nothing is as it seems, and the ‘nothing’ is really ‘everything’.

Shabbat Shalom Kulam!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Mouse and the Scorpion

Deep in the burrow, the brothers and sisters were snuggling together for warmth against the damp musty air. A smell of wet fur and newborns was still evident upon entering the well hidden home under the ancient tree. The ancestors had raised all of the generations under this same old oak tree and it had born witness to all of the wonders beneath its roots. It had also witnessed the tragedies. This tragedy however, is foremost in its memory. This story is about one particular creature that had always seen the world from eyes of wonder. Burnsting was a very normal looking field mouse. He had brownish matted fur and an extra small and twitchy nose. His brothers and sisters usually laughed at him when he would have one of his moments of vision. He had a very peculiar way of noticing the small things, while never really grasping the larger ideas like the time he day-dreamt for days why the little line marching bugs would break their formation when interrupted, instead of asking himself how they eventually overcame the obstacle in their path and continued to their unknown destination. Burnsting was a wonderfully simple creature and most of his syblings loved to be in his company, even with his overly simplified view of the world around him. He was just very trusting and quite a happy little mouse, which is why it is so much harder to understand, what in the end, occurred.

The burrow was also home to many varied and interesting other creatures. There were long legged occupants with many eyes. There were many legged squiggling creatures and there were also the hard-shell rollers that would curl into themselves when disturbed. These were mostly harmless when confronted however there were some creatures living in the burrow that were not so harmless. These were creatures that when confronted would not just curl up and hide or quickly squirm away into a dark corner. These creatures would raise the evil death striker that protruded from behind them and if an innocent was close enough, would strike with it, causing a slow, twitching, and painful death. This had happened, or so it had been said by some. It had never, however, been witnessed by any of the relatives that were still in the presence of the old oak tree. And to Burnsting, it was just make-believe, which is why on that day when the legs of the old oak were washed free of the warm and familiar walls of soil that created such a loving and womb like home for all the fathers, mothers, brothers, and the sisters, Burnsting wandered into the burrows depths and into the tunnels of the dark side of the ancient oak tree.

The dark side was an area that never saw the light from the warm globe above the tree. Some of the dark creatures that made their home there came to the light side for warmth, but were never bothered when they did so. Venturing into the dark side was always forbidden for the brethren but on that day, the burrow was a mess. Many of the tunnels were gone and the remaining tunnels were full of water. There was not a dry place to be found on the light side. Burnsting was only trying to help his family when he wandered into the darkness and found a peculiar and short lived sort of friendship. His new found friend’s name was Akbar and he was a small, yellow scorpion.

When Burnsting leaped through the mangled remains of the old oaks’ root system and entered into the dark cavern that was once the dark side of the tree, he had intended on turning around immediately. He realized at once that the entire tree had been deprived of its precious soil on both the light and the dark sides. He began to turn but he noticed a glimmer across the pool of rising water in the bottom of the dark cavern. There was a creature trapped against the far wall and would surely perish if something wasn’t done to save it. Without thinking, Burnsting jumped to its rescue, not thinking for a moment of his own peril. The water was still rising and the current was powerful and erratic as the water spilled into the black pool from beneath the exposed tree roots. He was barely halfway across when he realized that the creature was one of those that he had been warned of. He almost turned in panic back to the tunnel that lead to his family, but decided to at least talk with the creature before he abandoned it to its own fate. He was sure that, once he was close enough, this would be possible to do from a safe distance.

He swam as hard as he could and stopped just in front of the frightened scorpion. Its death striker was raised in a frenetic and menacing threat and its arms were slashing out at the mud walls and bared roots behind it. It twirled to meet its new adversary and its death striker slashed out at the air between the wet and tired Burnsting and itself. Burnsting had an urge to flee but instead, spoke to the frightened scorpion. Burnsting had always had the desire to make peace and to question things that were, in his experience, only baseless fears. The stories that had been told were most likely only exaggerated fabrications of fears that had been passed down from the ancestors. These fears had created a deep rift between the creatures of the tree. He needed to find out if this was true and what better way than to do it while saving one of these dark creatures and uniting it with its family on the other side of the swirling dark pool of flood water. He asked the scorpion its name. “I am Akbar, son of Achmen,” replied the scorpion.

At the sound of Akbars’ voice, Burnsting relaxed his tremulous breathing. The dark creatures’ voice was soothing and calming. It was fluid and was not threatening. It could not belong to a creature with evil intentions but just to make sure, Burnsting asked a second question, “Are you able to swim?”

“No and I will surely parish and never see my family again,” Replied Akbar in a smooth and non threatening way.

At this response, Burnsting noticed the death striker relax and fall behind the dark creature. The scorpion was ready to speak, not to fight. Burnsting approached a little closer, for he was also getting tired of swimming in the turbulent water. “If I give you a ride on my back to the far side of the pool, what is to prevent you from stabbing me with your death striker?” asked Burnsting.

“If I were to do that, we would both drown,” replied Akbar in his most soothing voice.

Now this made sense to Burnsting. The stories of old must only be exaggerations and the time was now to put the old oak trees’ community tradition of baseless fear to rest for good. He would unite the tree and all its inhabitants could live in harmony together. Burnsting swam close to the edge and asked the scorpion to gently climb on his back. He steadied himself for the extra load and once Akbar was on his back he swam as hard as he could for the opposite shore, to the safety of his family, and to the glory that surely awaited him for putting an end to this ridiculous ritual of fear.

Burnsting swam like never before and only once did he worry that his new friend the scorpion would be washed off when he had to traverse a particularly nasty section of currents. He doubled his efforts and once through, could see the light from the opposite side of the cavern. He swam, the whole while, with Akbar caressing him with words of encouragement. He was almost there, just a few more good hard strokes and this dangerous journey would be at an end, and so would the delusions of a community of fear mongers. Five more strokes, Three more strokes, and…

Burnsting felt a peculiar sensation of the weight lifting from his back and at the same time, a sharp pinch, just behind his shoulder blade. At first, Burnsting didn’t know what had happened, and then he understood. He had been stung. But how could this be so? He was sure that they were both safe. Akbar, the scorpion, had stung him and must have tried to make it to the shore by jumping. As they both swirled in the dark pool and down into its depths, Burnsting was able, between spasms of toxin driven nerve damage, to ask, “But…why?”

The answer was simple, Burnsting heard the scorpion, with its last breath as it disappeared beneath the dark water say, “It is my nature.”

And then it was quiet as both Burnsting and Akbar sunk to the bottom with the only witness to this terrible tragedy being the ancient oak tree that had once been both their friend and their home.

Adapted from the original and written by D. Noll

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Just Some Minor Coincidences...

October 30, 1991: President Bush (the 1st one) opened the Madrid Conference with the intended purpose of which was to strip Israel of land in exchange for peace with the Palestinian Arabs. ON THAT VERY DAY, an extremely rare storm formed on the coast of Nova Scotia, a storm later named "The Perfect Storm" (which the book and movie were about), and record-setting waves pounded the New England coast causing heavy damage to the President's home in Kennebunkport, Maine.

August 23, 1992: The Madrid Conference moved to Washington, D.C. with the same agenda of attempting to wrest land from the sovereign country of Israel, leaving thousands of Jews in a state of homelessness. ON THAT VERY DAY, Hurricane Andrews produced an estimated $30 billion in damage, leaving 180,000 Floridians homeless. It was the worst natural disaster to ever hit America, at least up to that time.

January 16, 1994: President Clinton meets with the Syrian President in order to develop a strategy that would force Israel to give up the Golan Heights. LESS THAN 24 HOURS LATER a powerful 6.9 earthquake rocks Southern California, leaving countless Americans homeless.

March 1, 1997: the terrorist leader of the Palestinians, Arafat, begins a one-month tour of America and President Clinton publicly rebukes Israel for not surrendering land for peace. ON THE VERY DAY that Arafat lands in America, powerful tornadoes devastate huge sections of the country while ripping across Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Days later, as Arafat is still touring, storms hit the Dakotas, causing the worst flooding of the century. Weeks of storms rage throughout the Midwest until Arafat completes his tour. The day he finally leaves the U.S., the storms suddenly settle down and end within a few days.

January 21, 1998: Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu meets with Clinton and is coldly received as President Clinton and Secretary of State Madeline Albright refuse to lunch with him. ON THAT VERY DAY, just hours later, the Monica Lewinski scandal erupts and will consume the major portion of Clinton's time for the remainder of his tenure.

Others include:

The World Trade Center bombing of 1993, ON THE DAY that Secretary Albright leaves on a trip to visit 8 Arab/Muslim countries to develop a strategy against Israel.

The Northridge Earthquake in 1994, ON THE DAY that President Clinton and Syrian President Assad demand that Israel turn the Golan Heights over to Syria.

Ravaging tornadoes hit the Mid-West ON THE DAY in 2002 that Bush negotiates the terrorist, Arafat's release from Israeli capture.

Hurricane Lili hit the U.S. at the same time in 2002 that Bush refused to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem and refuses to recognize Jerusalem as the Capital.

And last (so far) but by no means the least…August of 2005 was the month when Sharon expelled the Jews of Gaza from their homes. Just about 10,000 Jews were made homeless, in accordance with the demands of the American President and his Secretary of State. The operation was being concluded on August 29. THAT VERY DAY, America was hit by THE WORST natural disaster to have ever occurred in America. Hurricane Katrina hit the New Orleans area and just about 500,000 people were made homeless. 10,000 Jews out of a population of 6 million in Israel at the time is a percentage of .00167. 500,000 Americans out of a population of 300 million in America is also a percentage of .00167.

coincidence or not? we might all need to duck soon... the way things seems to be going.

Thanks' Betty from America for the info and thanks to you too Mom!
Baruch Hashem, Kulam

Friday, December 7, 2007

Ma Hadash

Ma hadash… Well, what is new anyways? In the big picture… we are all still working on our little lives, busy all the time, living day to day. The news is just more of the same (check this link out for the official… ‘Global Incident Map’ to see what I mean). http://www.globalincidentmap.com/home.php Is there anything that is really new to us in the world? Are we all just on a cosmic zip-line that takes us down the same track as the last time? Or, are we really doing something that counts, something with meaning to us and the people around us? Maybe if we are lucky, there could also be some meaning beyond our little lives and into the unknown. Well, the word unknown is kind of leading because we actually do know if we want to take the time to not only look, but to believe. I have recently taken steps to continue to walk up that path. A path that started for me as a Surfer on the beaches of Southern California and in the want-to-be ashram of the Hare Krishna’s in Laguna Beach, California. It continued at U.C. Santa Barbara Hillel with Rav Steve Cohen who was not only my first Rabbi, but my first Hebrew teacher as well. This path moved with me to Boulder, Colorado with first Jewish Renewal and then, as Hashem would have it, an amazing shift in consciousness and spiritual awareness to Aish Kodesh in Boulder and Rav. Gavriel Goldfeder’s North Boulder Shul (Yehudis Fishman too!) From there you know the rest from the blogs I have been spilling all over the internet super highway. So, ma hadash you ask? My spiritual journey, after having a brief hiatus to reflect and to develop a new and improved Israeli base of operations, is now under way once again. As some of you may or may not know, I was not born a Jew. I found Judaism in my quest for answers to questions that had none. Judaism gave me answers, but not like you may think. You see, it is customary in Judaism to answer a question with more questions so after 25 years of asking questions you can imagine how many questions I have rolling around in my head! However, not to worry, these questions all lead to one cosmic and ultimate answer which is really just the biggest question that has been continually asked throughout human history by every single human being and in every culture known… “G-D???!” So here I am, in the cradle of civilization, in the heart of the Holy Land for Jews and for Christians (also a minor holy land for Muslims… well, technically they were here more so when the Turks took over just a few hundred years ago…but that’s another story), and still asking the big question. I know that there are some answers around here someplace… There just has to be, and that is why I have decided to continue on this journey and to go to the next level. My loving wife and children have given me the green light to proceed on a cosmic quest, a journey that G-D willing will last until I am 120 years old. My old friend, my Kippa, is now permanently upon my head and I am moving up that path toward enlightenment and toward, yep… you probably guessed it… more questions. And speaking of Kipote (Yarmulke plural), today at the factory I had an interesting encounter with the hostile Nazareth Arabs from a couple of blogs ago. I was driving a fork lift, filled high with thousands of shekels worth of materials down a steep ramp. You need to drive backwards (one thing I learned in the 30 hours of forklift driving theory that I wrote about a while back) and saw in the rear view mirror these Arabs walking up behind the forklift. Now this is a forklift with sticky brakes, a teetering load of expensive and slippery materials, and driving down a steep and bumpy hill. Anybody walking up behind it is worrisome. There were two of them and one of them, the older one, walked around with some room to spare, but the younger guy walked right up behind the forklift, walked as close as he could to it, glared at me when he went past, and then when in front of it, turned his head and gave me a confrontational kind of grin, like you might see on a little gangster kid. Then it hit me; this guy has seen me before but he hasn’t seen me with a Kippa on my head. Aye… So, I have had a few dreams that I hoped to accomplish sometime in my life. One was to learn another language, one was to learn to play a musical instrument, and the last was to learn a martial art. The language is getting there slowly but surely and the instrument will probably be a Shofar. As for the martial art? Maybe Crav Maga (an Israeli martial art)… I think when I am wandering around in Israel with a Kippa on my head it might come in handy, at least in my own mind…Hashem is watching too! Now… that is a really nice feeling to have. Chanuka Sameach, Shabbat Shalom, and Baruch Hashem! Lahetraote Kulam

Friday, November 23, 2007


When I woke up the morning of my wife Adele’s return from her first journey chutz la’Arets (out of Israel) since we moved here, the house had just been cleaned by May, the Pilipino woman that Adele had arranged three weeks before, Shabbat dinner was planned, and I had time before driving to the namal ta’ufa (airport) to shop for the week and then get dinner started, or so I thought. The morning started just as any other Friday morning had. I quickly grabbed the load of laundry that was still left, headed downstairs and shoved it all into the mechona hakvisa (washing machine). Then, I started looking for my cellphone…

After I waited while the ridiculous washing machine (see Adele’s letter for further information on that one at - http://adventureoodle.blogspot.com/2007/08/european-clothes-washers-and-tears.html ) to drain so that I could open the locked door and rip the clothes out, I found it… in the bottom of the washer. Its light was still on in a desperate attempt, it seemed, to live. It didn’t. I quickly took it apart, dried it off, put it in a plastic bag, and drove to Hadera to get it fixed. Now, as luck would have it, I have a new cellphone and I also have a new case that goes on my belt so that it will never go into my pocket again. But that left me with one hour to go shopping and get dinner done… priorities, priorities…

I got the shopping done on the way home from Hadera, I prepared some of the dinner and had Zach help with the rest while Josh and I drove to pick up Adele. Yehe’ea beseder… or, maybe it wont be OK… you see, when Josh and I were walking out of the house to get to the car we needed to pass through my little basement studio. As we passed, I noticed that something wasn’t right. I looked closer and there was a big mess on the floor. There were clamps scattered around. I scanned the direction of the origin of the strewn clamps and noticed my $1,000 aluminum frame full suspension mountain bike, buried and yes, bent. Because I was late and now swirling in a pool of adrenalin driven angst, I just left the mess for later. We got to the airport in record time with just enough time to buy a little lady bug balloon for Adele. Well, I was probably not thinking about the drive much and thank G-D for the little airplane on all the road signs to direct me considering my limited ability for concise thought at the time. Josh later said that he was afraid to go with me at first because of the intensity of my emotions (get it under control Aba…) but we both used the opportunity to practice our stress management skills… breath deep… blow it all out… breath deep… blow it all out.

Don’t worry; the story isn’t over yet… Adele had been stressing out since before she left about the new mountain bike she was bringing in to the country. We had heard horror stories of appliances, technological gadgets and gizmos, and yes, bicycles becoming the focus of the tax collectors at the border to the Holy Land. Long story short, we paid, through the nose in money and in time. We waited for about two hours and Adele had to go back the next day with her sister Kate for five more hours to get the bike released… Oy.

On the good side, dinner was great, we got the beautiful new pink mountain bike for Adele, I got a new blue cover for my phone (that will never see the inside of my kies (pocket), and after a few days of worrying about how to fix or sell the bike and what to ride in the meantime, I duct-taped the damage in classic Israeli fashion, and while taking a picture of it for this blog saw the most amazing sunset (see above) from the street in front of our house! Ye’heey beseder! Now I just hope I don’t break the bike completely while bouncing down the boulders around here… Neereh,

Shavua tov kulam,
I know I need one!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Building Walls of Peace

At work at the factory of Beth El in Zichron Yaakov, they are building a wall. It is a wall, like any wall is, to keep out thieves and undesirables, a wall for privacy, and a wall for protection. Walls have been built throughout time for the same reasons. We feel secure behind walls but if we are on the wrong side we feel threatened by them. A wall is a symbol of many things. It can symbolize the primordial awareness of ‘fortress’ or it can just be something to perk our curiosity… what is behind that wall anyways? I have heard tales of giant walls surrounding giant homes in Johannesburg, South Africa to protect from rampant violence and thievery. I have been to the only wall I know of that was built to keep people inside of a country instead of out, the Berlin wall in what was then, East Germany. I went to the Pink Floyd concert at the L.A. Forum entitled “The Wall” and watched a mach plane land on it and crash it down. In my youth, while spending my Summers near Yosemite National Park in California, I spent countless hours toiling on hand stacked stone ‘walls to nowhere’ to continue the project started by the Tung Chinese Mafia informants from San Francisco that had been hid away 50 years earlier. Walls are an indefinable aspect to our physiology and our thought process that can be as physical as the Great Wall of China or as ethereal as the wall of silence that instantly flew up when we asked our parents about the birds and the bees.

So at work we have been instructed to keep the doors locked during breaks. The men building the wall are Arabs from Nazareth, a notoriously anti-Israel city. One of them has a sticker on the back of his car supporting Nasrhalah, Israel’s Osama Bin Laden. Early on in the project, one of the Arabs was continually caught walking around the factory asking for water or the bathroom. I have heard of at least one thing that has gone missing. This isn’t what bothers me though. What is most disturbing is that one of them, an old guy with a long grey beard, was heard at the front gate saying that they should just kill all the Jews working at the factory. This was said in Arabic and he evidently thought that the guy searching their car didn’t understand it. Maybe the old Arab guy was just annoyed at having to have his car searched for bombs every morning. Maybe it was just a joke amongst brother Arabs. Whatever it was, it illustrates a valuable point with regards to the Israeli-Arab conflict. It is not going to go away anytime soon, regardless of whatever the peace deal of the day is.

Former Prime Minister of Israel, Golda Meir once said, “Peace will come when the Arabs love their children more than they hate us.”

The last I heard, Palestinians were still dressing their children up as little homicide bombers with toy plastic bomb-belts and everything. I think we have a while to wait…

So the Arab workers are almost finished. I am really glad about that. It is a strange feeling to feel threatened in this way. It is something that simmers around in your head and creates boogie men around every corner. On the positive side, the ti’ach (plaster) crews of Arabs are a little friendlier then the concrete block layers. I got a smile and a nod from one of them while on break behind the building. Maybe it was just from my American accent or maybe it was something else. I did catch one of the younger Ti’ achim (plasterers) scanning the building through the window. I asked him if I could help him with something and he replied, “Ani rok mistakel.” (I am only looking) yes… but looking for what, I wanted to ask. He must just have been curious about what was behind the wall that they were building, right? And speaking of walls, here is a good joke I heard recently about another famous wall.

A journalist heard about a very old Jewish man who had been going to the Wailing Wall to pray, twice a day, every day, for a long, long time. So she went to check it out. She went to the Wailing Wall and there he was walking slowly up to the holy site. She watched him pray and after about 45 minutes, when he turned to leave, using a cane in a very slow fashion, she approached him for an interview.

"Pardon me Sir, I'm a journalist and my name is Rebecca, What's your name?"

"Maury Fishbein," he replied.

"Sir, how long have you been coming to the Wailing Wall and praying?"

"For about 60 years."

"60 years! That's amazing! What do you pray for?"

"I pray for peace between the Christians, Jews and the Muslims. I pray for all the wars and hatred to stop, I pray for all our children to grow up safely as responsible adults, and to love their fellow man."

"How do you feel after doing this for 60 years?"

"Like I'm talking to a @$%&*$% wall."

Happy Thanksgiving to all you Americans out there and while you are eating turkey and remembering the Indians and the Pilgrims, take a moment to remember what happened to the Indians when they traded land for peace. On the other hand, they did get to legally operate big casinos on their reservations. Maybe it was just a wash after all…

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Sixth Day

At work the other day, I was having a great day. It was morning and I had many, many cabinets to make. It had just rained and the day before it was so clear that I could see Har Hermon from my mirpeset (porch). Har Hermon is a mountain on the borders of Syria, Lebanon, and Israel. It is the place that (Bisrat Hashem ye’heyea sheleg) we will go snowboarding this year. There is no out-of-bounds skiing there. The area is surrounded by a military presence and Syrian mine fields that were left from the last war. You still can hear stories of cows wondering off and becoming instant hamburger from an ill fated step. That little story is a side step to this one so to get back on point; at work that day, I was feeling really great. The rain felt good, and my nephesh (soul) was content and happy.

Often times at work I start writing a story or blog in my head and later write it down. Recently, I had studied a text or two with my friend Moshe about the sixth day of creation, deepest, darkest Africa, and other shadowy places both in the spirit and in the real world. This started the ball rolling on one of these stories in my head. I become really inspired but the weird part was that the more I thought about it, the worse I began to feel. The day went by really fast and before I new it, it was almost time to go home. Just a little while before this I had stopped thinking about the story in my head and this seemed to help the way I felt. At the time, I thought, maybe it just isn’t time to get into a story like that. It is a very charged idea and has many, many ramifications for me. The thought crossed my mind that I could also just simply be getting sick.

Having had this episode at work reminded me of another similar occurrence in my life when I had an emotional and physical connection to something such as this. I was in Collage at U.C. Santa Barbara and was involved in an art history class. My professor was a local expert on the customs of the North American Indians and as it happens African art and customs from the Ivory and Gold Coasts. He had collected ancient masks and artifacts from these regions and was sponsoring an exhibit with some of his and other barrowed artifacts. The students in one or two of his classes were invited to be involved in a marketing scheme for the exhibit. We were asked to wear the masks of these ancient cultures from deepest, darkest Africa. We were to create a procession around the campus doing a traditional dance and act out the original African tribal custom to spark the interest of the other students and faculty.

We had a choice of masks to wear. There were many white (good spirit) masks that were mostly chosen by the women to wear and there were only a few black (evil spirit) masks. Strangely enough, these were chosen by only men. The few men that were chosen to continue with the masquerade were warned of the dangers before hand. These were not physical dangers but spiritual. You see, these masks were worn by only the greatest of shaman from the villages where they were made and the tradition was that the masks contained the energy of the spirits that had worn them before. As it happened, my mask was one of the oldest. It could easily have been 100, 200, even 300 years old and when I first put it on, I could sense something sinister, something dark, within its husky texture and the smell of its peculiar history.

We were to parade around the campus, the evil spirit incarnations attached with chains that were held tightly by 6 good spirit incarnations. We all had a role to play as well. The good spirits were to flutter and chirp, in a characteristically good manner and the evil spirits were to growl, retch, and scream, in a characteristically evil manner. At first, because I was a bit shy, I was a little timid to really become the evil spirit incarnation. I remember thinking, “why didn’t I choose the good spirit mask?” oh yeah; I was also a man… so I got into it. I retched and I roared for about a half of an hour. As I did so, my stomach began to hurt. Then my head started in. was I getting sick? Maybe the smell of the mask or maybe just a lack of oxygen was getting to me. Or maybe… it was the smell of the history of the mask. My mind began to race as I screamed and growled while being led about by these good spirits with there chains clanking. At one point, I remember that I began to sense real fear in the women under the good spirit masks (maybe just the good spirit in me). This is when I decided that I had had enough. I was either going to feint or loose myself for good into the dark depths of the evil incarnation in that mask. We stopped and I took off the mask. The world around me swirled a bit. I was wet with sweat and I remember that I felt so good to be in the air, the clean fresh sea air. The women, I sensed, were still afraid of me as I sat there on the curb. They left me and the professor came out to check on me. He had an understanding look on his face… as if he had been there… done that.

So, I did get a little sick after that day at work and I also decided to continue with the story that I hatched in my head. I found that I just needed to balance it with some good, uplifting spiritual energy and ultimately give it the respect that it deserved. I believe that there are more things to this world then what we see. There is a place that we all sense something more, just around the corner. Sometimes it is good and sometimes, we know that it is not.

My Son Zach told me a story the other day about how one night while he was on his way to a friends house that he avoided going through a field that was the most direct route. He walked all the way around it, just from a feeling that something was not right. Maybe it was just wild pigs snorting in the underbrush, ready to battle for their territory, or maybe it was more… (“And G-D said, “Let us make Man in Our image, after Our likeness. They shall rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and over the animal, the whole earth, and every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”… And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.) Tradition states that something else was created before dusk of the sixth day commenced to illustrate the point to us that it is OK to let something stay unfinished when the Shabbat comes in. G-D chose to create something that was never to be complete and to this day, it haunts us in our dreams and in dark places all over the earth. Maybe it is just human intuition, common psychology, or biological impulses in our brains that warn us of danger and impending doom… I think it is more and as such, deserves respect.

Sun Tzu on the Art of War wrote, “All war is based upon deception.”

The truth is here, inside us… waiting just to be unmasked.

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Army, Love, and Faith

My Son Zach is now 15 years old. He will be 16 in April and at that time; he will need to register for the draft. I remember when I was young and also turning 16 and needed to do the same in the U.S. I remember that my father told me that I had to do it, but that it was a big decision. I now wonder what that meant… a big decision, but that I had to register anyways.

At the time, there were still a lot of vibes going around about the Vietnam War and how it resulted in mostly lost Sons, Fathers, and relatives, with nothing but a lost battle in the War against Communism to show for it. It was a very unpopular war in not only the U.S., but in the World. All the wars before that were accompanied by fanfare and support for the men and women that fought for the ideals and freedoms of the United States of America and the larger free world. Vietnam was different. It changed the public eye about how to think about government. To this day, we see with the current crises in Iraq and Afghanistan, with the War on Terror, and how to conduct such an illusive battle against an indefinable and mostly unseen enemy that the U.S. is still suffering from the realization of this schism within government and society. The need to do the right thing, make the right decisions, and still be willing to fight ‘the good fight,’ against whatever foe threatens the ideals that we try to cling to is becoming ever more difficult to see thanks to, mainly, the media conglomerates that filter information into what they believe is the ‘one’ truth.

Sometimes, fighting ‘the good fight’ is really just fighting within our own selves and sometimes it is the evil enemy that is knocking on the gates to our locked and climate controlled castles and communities. How do we know who to believe? When the ‘entertainment’ news tells us one thing and it spreads like an overgrown gossip tree, by the time we realize that there are other versions of the same story out there, the damage is already done. Click here for a particularly disturbing albeit accurate version of this phenomenon as it relates to the current events in the Middle East.

In the U.S., when the troops came home from Vietnam, there was not only no fanfare, there was public outcry against atrocities like ‘baby killing’ that had occurred in a foreign land, in the name of The United States of America. How do we really know what the truth is; and ultimately we need to ask ourselves is there just one truth? I believe that in the end, everyone puts the information that they glean from the many modern sources into there brains in a way that can be processed and accessed when needed. We actually become something that just takes over and has a life of its own and one that can sometimes take us down roads that we could never have imagined. I have already lost a few, not really friends but, acquaintances directly as a result from my move to Israel and what that meant to their compartmentalization of information and the definitions that they created of themselves by refusing to look at the bigger picture and ask... what if?

Back in Zichron Yaacov, my Son Zach had been taking a chug (after school class) in mountain biking. He did this for about a year. Recently however, he decided to stop doing that and to replace it with something called Kosher Cravie (strength ‘extreme’ fighting). It is a pre-military training school that is basically like (after school) boot camp. It is really amazing what they do. He runs, swims, exercises, carries loaded backpacks and mach stretchers, and does it all in the dark woods with other teammates from the local High Schools. It is exactly like what we might all imagine boot camp to be. His goal, I have recently learned, is to be in an elite fighting unit in the Israeli Army, and not the desk job in engineering or intelligence like we had hoped. He even went so far as to say that if we needed to move back to the States, he would return to serve anyways. Well, so much ‘for reason number one’ for not making Aliyah in the first place. We brought him here, to the front line on the War on Terror and really didn’t expect anything different. He has cousins, aunts, and uncles that have served, cousins that are currently serving, and cousins and close personal friends that will be serving, along side him, to protect his family, his Country, and in the big picture… the free world.

So when my father said to me, so long ago, that I needed to make a choice and that I had to sign up for the draft as well, I believe that what he really meant was that I always have a choice. There are some things that we just need to do but that does not mean that we need to stop thinking about all of it and potentially get stuck with only one truth. My father was telling me that I should be aware of the world and that there are many choices to make in life. We always need to be on the lookout for ‘the good fight,’ whether it is the bad guys at our front and back doors, or the schism of truths within us all. In the end, we need to love our families and friends, regardless of the choices that have been made. Faith is a big thing… and growing all the time.

Shabbat Shalom

Friday, November 2, 2007

Alone, in Gan Eden

(Garden of Eden)

My wife Adele has been out of Israel for only one week of a planned three week visit to the States. Even though we already miss her, early on all four boys in her household were ecstatic about the new found freedoms. Well, maybe the dog wasn’t so thrilled. Dude the dog had an unfortunate experience with nerves and missing his Mommy when about two days into this so-called freedom of the household he decided to change his poop schedule. He usually had a daily bowel movement on my late-night walk with him, but no… he wanted to go right in the middle of a really good movie and a cold beer! I, conveniently, didn’t heed his rather obvious warnings of impending doom and continued to watch the movie with the boys. Just being able to do this without the nagging insistence on playing with the toy of the day should have been warning enough for me of what was to come. To make a long and unpleasant story short; when it was bed time and I took him for his walk, he didn’t go poop like he normally did. Then, from down the street I heard Josh crying and running up the hill barefoot. “Dude crapped in my room! I can’t go to sleep in there, it smells!”

So, I was bummed and so was Josh. Dude isn’t allowed upstairs in our house, like many Israeli households, and he must have just been trying to find a place outside of his normal terrain. OK, my fault, I know!!! We finished up with the unneeded walk and went to clean the mess. We walked up the stairs and yup, it did smell bad. Luckily it was on the carpet and all we had to do was carry the rug outside and to then squirt it in the morning. We ran some fans and cleared up the stink in no time, or so we thought. With Josh tucked into bed, and Zach off to one of his ‘all night-er’ shvita (school strike if you remember from a few blogs ago) parties, I decided to hit the sack as well, you know work in the morning and everything. So, I walked into my room and low and behold, the stench had returned. Dude was in real trouble now. He had also gone in my bathroom on the throw rug and just to drive his point home he left me a nice neatly stacked pile on top of my bed, right in the middle…. oy. (Good thing I am the bed-maker in the house) The next day Zach informed me that Dude had initiated his room as well. in the morning, when Zach had returned he also noticed the smell and, oy va voy, in the middle of the floor on the tippi top of the giant pile of mixed up folded and dirty clothes, Dude the dog had made his statement, just like a cherry on the top of a very long night.

The rest of the week went great for everyone, until the food that I had bought earlier in the week (you know the usual cheese, beer, cucumbers, pita and humus) ran out. That is a good way to clean the fridge because on Yom Reviyi (Wednesday) it was completely empty. I had planned on taking the day off of work on Yom Hamishi (Thursday) to celebrate my birthday and maybe do something like go to the desert for a mountain bike ride. Instead, I shopped, cooked, and cleaned. (Hence the picture above of all the amazing varieties of tea that I found stuffed in the cabinet cracks while cleaning) so now we have Cholent, Spaghetti, Lasagna, vegetables in the fridge, and plenty of tea! Yay! And just in time for the shvita to end too. Yup, that is what I heard, maybe on Yom Rishon (Sunday). That would really be a wonderful thing, even now that we have a fridge full of ready made food to eat for the kids during the day. You never can tell. Things really happen here when they want to. We really learn to let go of the reigns that we think we have and let Hashem take over.

For instance, instead of going riding by myself on Yom Hamishi, I went on a fun bike ride today with my friends Bruce and Andreas. We went to a Christian Monastery called Mukraka where Eliyahu HaNavi (Elysiah the Prophet) had created a sacrificial fire alongside of one from the Philistines that were praying to a Baal (Idol) of some sort. The two Prophets had a sacrifice- off and in the end, Eliyahu won (of course) and killed the Baal Prophet by a river that we could see down in the valley far below. We then rode on to Daliat HaCarmel (a Druze village) and back. It was fun!

Tonight, we are having Cabalat Shabbat (receiving the Shabbat) at friends and tomorrow we are going to more friends for Suda Shniya (second meal) we are being well taken care of… what did you all expect, we live in a country full to the brim with Jewish Mothers! But it will be great, though, to have our very own Jewish Mother back in Gan Eden with us; be safe Adele.

Shabbat Shalom Kulam.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Yom Haledet Sheli!

(My Birthay!)

I was born in a hospital in Tustin (I think), California, The United States of America, on October 30, 1962. (Thanks Mom!) (And see picture of me in high school… couldn’t find any real baby pictures, oh well) that makes me exactly 45 years old… tomorrow. Happy birthday to me!!! Well, wait a second. My Jewish birthday is Cheshvan 2, 5723. What exactly does that mean? Do I have two birthdays, or just two calendars? If the former, then because of the combined effect of having two birthdays every year I would have been 89 on October 14 this year and tomorrow I would be 90 years old. So, that sounds like a bad idea. Nothing against being 90 mind you, I just want to remember a little more for the time I put in.

So that just leaves the possibility of two, totally separate and distinct, calendars! But how is that possible you ask? Can we really live with dates like October 30 and Cheshvan 2 at the same time? And just to make it more complicated the dates are never the same every year. Next year my birthday on the Jewish calendar is on October 31 on the Gregorian calendar. This is because, I think, that the Gregorian calendar (or the Luach Notsrim, Christian Calendar) follows the cycle of the Earth as it revolves around the Sun (accept for Easter which follows the Moon for some reason) and the Jewish Calendar follows the cycle of the Moon. Neither calendar is completely accurate so they both need to add some time every once in a while to keep pace with the ever revolving and evolving Earth. The Christian Calendar has a leap year in which the month of February has an extra day sometimes (don’t quote me…) and the Jewish Calendar has an extra month of Adar every few years (again… don’t quote me).

So why is all of this important you ask? For me, it all comes down to seeking our place in the Universe. If we ask why, then we either have to search for the answer, or just be OK not knowing and maybe never knowing. Naaah, that sounds really boring to me. Let’s explore the question of… why???

I think that it all comes down to a Universe that is multi faceted and ultimately complex. I don’t think that we can ever really know the meaning of it all. How could we possibly know where we came from and why we are here? It has to be different for everyone and everything. For the Atheist Scientist it must be about proving, once and for all, that we descended from apes and that when you die, you really cease to exist. For the Buddhist monk it must be about having complete harmony with the Universe. For the devout Christian it must be about becoming so pious and G-D fearing that you know the afterlife will be in Seventh Heaven. For the Jew; I am still exploring that one, as you can probably tell… and who knows where it will lead.

But, since it is my birthday tomorrow (or it was a week and a half ago depending on your calendar) I want to tell a little story that I heard from Moshe, my friend from the Yeshivah, about the concept of creation and evolution. It goes like this…

“There was this guy that was on an airplane with his son. This guy happened to be a Rabbi and sitting next to them on this plane was a renowned scientist that specialized in biology. During the flight, the biologist noticed that the son of the Rabbi took tremendous care of his father. The son of the Rabbi asked his father many times if he would like something from the flight attendant and if he could get him something to make his father more comfortable. You could tell by the fathers face that he really loved his son, and likewise you could see by the sons face and actions that he really loved his father. As the flight was coming to an end the biologist decided to break the sterile front he had maintained thus far into the flight. He asked the rabbi how it was that he had a son that was so caring and respectful of his father. The biologist said that his son was invited to come on this flight as well and to attend a lecture at a very prestigious university as a guest to the guest of honor, his father, and his son had declined. The biologist’s son said that he had his own ‘stuff’ to do and couldn’t be bothered with it.”

“After a moment of thought, the Rabbi answered with a question. He asked the world renowned biologist if he believed in G-D. The biologist answered that he believed in evolution. The Rabbi said that must be the problem”.

Then he said, “You see, in our belief, when we were created by G-D in heaven, the first man was Adam. He was the proto human being and was closer to G-D then any of us. As generation after generation descended from Adam, they became more and more distant from the greatness of G-D, the almighty creator. My son only wants to reach back, to the moment of creation, to be as close as he can with his creator, Hashem, our G-D. Your son on the other hand, has been taught that his most ancient ancestor is a kind of… monkey. He is just trying to run as fast as he can from his ancestry, or in other words, from his father.”

With that, I will let you all think about life, love, philosophy, art, genetics, psychology, religion, spirituality, and last but not least; the life to come… or not, depending on your point of view.

Shalom Kulam

Friday, October 26, 2007

The edge of reality

Recently we had a tee’oule (trip) with my Mother in Law Ruth to the northern borders of Israel between Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria. We took Josh with us and played it by ear as we went, with no real plan. This, of course, led to an exorbitant amount of time at the fun zone when we arrived in Kiryat Shmone. It WAS fun though. We took a cable car up the side of the cliff there and witnessed where the trees that were once covering the hillsides were burnt away by the rockets from last years war. We watched crazy downhill bike riders in all their gear ride up and then fly down the mountainside. Josh did a really amazing, and a bit scary zip line down the cliff as well. If you want to watch… now you can at the following link! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yjMbCpoEl64 yeah! I love when technology works. He had fun and so did Baba Ruthie, but maybe it wasn’t until a little later on when we stopped at Tel Dan at a really great restaurant called Dag al HaDan (Fish on The Dan River). We sat on an island in the middle of a raging little stream with birds and animals zooming around looking for a handout while we watched the sun go down a bit and glisten off the trees. I haven’t had salmon like that since I left the States (and Costco) behind. It was great.

So after stuffing ourselves, we continued on to the Golan Heights which is an area that Israel won in the 1967 war. Check out this site for further information on that one. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Peace/golantoc.html it has maps and everything! We drove as the faltering light inadvertently increased our speed and unavoidably, our ability to really see the land there. Ain baya, (no problem) we’ll be back. Well… maybe we need to do it sooner then later. All this talk of land for peace in the news is really sickening for me. To really get a clear picture of the history of this particular region and what very well could be in the near future, the website above tells it all in terms of history and does it from the unique perspective of truth no less. We shall see what Hashem has in store… (Sub note - look at Gaza and the lawless, terroristic, and all consuming hatred that has arisen from the Israeli withdrawal from that ancient and holy land…) this is one time where the spelling of a word can become interchangeable… PEACE = PIECE… get it? The entire concept of peace is just perceived as weakness by the fanatics across the borders and by the look of Gaza nowadays, I got’ta worry a bit. Rockets have been slamming into Israel for months from there, and with no help from the world media or the U.N. Ah! Now I am out of breath…

The title of this piece is derived from a sense that I have that we all live in our own realities. Sometimes they collide to produce amazing things and sometimes they have the opposite result. When I toured the edges of Israel I had an overwhelming image of sailing at the edge of the world like in the fables of old. I had a morbid desire to look over the edge, but was afraid to get to close. I wanted to really see across the border with Syria. I wanted it, but knew that is was just a lot like Lebanon was. It looks the same as Israel (minus the trees) and that in the end; it is just a place on the planet - that happens to support terrorism.

Many of my family members that live in the U.S. live in California and have been severely affected by the raging infernos infecting that region as of late. They have sent out reports of smoke and ash filled air, no sky, and a Sun the color of a rotten mango. Their kids can’t go out to play, the schools are closed, and many of their good friends have left or lost there homes, and their realities. Living on the edge of reality can take many forms. It can be seeking something different, like my family and I have done or it can be something that sneaks up and attempts to strangle the known and the familiar. In the end, it seems that we all have to live on the edge at times. The real question we need to ask ourselves is… why?

Baruch Hashem (literally – (Bless G-D) and also used in greetings)

Friday, October 19, 2007

Dad, urban planning, and the land of Israel

When I was a kid, I grew up in Orange County, California, in the U.S.A. I was born in a town called Tustin, and moved thereafter, to a tract home development in a place in the middle of a really big orange grove called El Toro. We lived there until I was in 1st grade and then we moved to Laguna Beach, California, although it wasn’t like the TV series that you may have seen. Back then, it was a very sleepy and isolated beachside community with a lot of tradition in the arts and to be truthful, drug trafficking. It was heaven to grow up there. We had the Pacific Ocean and the whole town was surrounded by what they called a green belt. This green belt was an untamed natural place that, when we were able to sneak into, became an amazing place to build forts, ride dirt bikes, and just have secrets, and we had a lot of them. My childhood was an enchanting place. It was a place of spontaneous happenings, like the performance art that we did for tourists when we were in high school, and the crazy huts (sukka’s?) we built at the beach to get out of the sun on a hot day. It was also a place of experimentation, in many ways (if you were around then you remember the 70’s right?). We were all trying to find ourselves. We were searching for something and probably never really found, exactly… it. We were a generation that just seemed to be stuck between the 60’s counter culture and the 80’s – what I think back on as the Capitalist driven Consumer Culture’s infancy. The world was about to change.

During this time, my Dad, my hero, was working really hard. He was an urban planner (glorified landscape architect), and loved his job. He worked for the Irvine Company, which was a very land rich entity (in So. Cal. no less.), even though it was all orange groves back then. Gradually, the entire region has become massively populated and gentrified into exactly what you see on TV today. It was a planned community that has grown to exceed its expectations in terms of living, you know, the right way. With all the amenities, just a short drive away, and with parking too! He planned a vast portion of this land into perfect communities. The act of living there was designed, and fit the average person with a tight glove like apparatus. It was perfect and looking back on the transformation, a bit too perfect for me. It was an experiment in culture. It was design, with a capital D.

The reason I am thinking about this, is that there… apparently, wasn’t any planning when they built my current dwelling place from the ashes of 2,000 years of Diaspora. Israel was built over night and on a shoe string. Everyday we are constantly reminded that each little improvement in the cultural entities, the governing bodies, the politics, the economics, and everything, right down to the streets, developments, and communities that we live in, are only there because someone had an inspiration, be it financial or otherwise. The streets sometimes end into nowhere. The developments are often choked with traffic trying to get into one tight little street that feeds a giant area of homes and businesses. And some of the roads can have giant potholes and ridiculous invisible speed bumps that can rip the bottom of your car off if you are caught unaware.

Zichron Yaacov is a small town that was built on the remains of Jewish Romanian emigrant farmer buildings from the 17th century, and if you go back further, Jewish Roman farmer ruins from 2,000 years ago. Barron Von Rothschild has a finger print here, and so does Napoleon. The entire country is built on the ruins and remains of its predecessors, British, Turkish, Crusader, Israelite, and Canaanite. So where does urban planning fit in you ask? In the big picture, urban planning is just another idea to fill our minds with, like interior design, architecture, and art. There is a balance to life and we seem to always need to rock back and forth, like on a teeter totter to find the center. The republicans and the democrats, the capitalists and the communists, the religious and the secular, labor and likud (left and right in Israel) and all of the extremes that we find out there, are there to help to keep us centered. Heaven forbid that we try to be centered like Kadima (the current political entity in Israel) or we might fail miserably to see either the left or the right (and maybe fail at everything else as well). We are all riding a wave, a cosmic wave, that will ultimately take us to who knows where. We just need to keep looking for the rip currents and the backwash, for the swells on the horizon and the El Ninyo storm systems. It will come from every angle conceivable and we all need to be checking, on a daily basis, to the trends of our surroundings and our inner beings.

I can only remember that when I was a kid, my Dad loved his job. He loved making cities. He loved it so much that he was mostly gone, at work. Maybe it was just the 70’s, when parents that grew up in the 50’s were focused on something else. Now, looking back, it is hard to know. My Dad loved me, I know that. I just wish we had had some more time together before he left to, who knows, maybe build cities for The Big Guy in the Sky. In the mean time, I chose to live where there isn’t much real planning, where things happen spontaneously, and I can surround myself with enchantments that inspire the emotions of the hills and ocean of my youth, with Israelite and Roman ruins, Crusader castles, Turkish baths, and all the amazing miracles of a modern, albeit unplanned by just plain men…, Israel.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Shvitote ve oad, ma la’a sote?

(shvitote and more, what to do?)

So, what does shvitote mean you ask? It is a simple answer that has a very long and frustrating explanation. A shvita (singular for shvitote) is usually for a good cause, but also produces much anguish for parents and at the same time, much excitement for kids (see picture for emotional value). Yes, you may have guessed it already; we are talking about the dreaded school strikes. The Israeli school teachers are very poorly paid and have been for long enough to insure that the lower education in Israel is not of the highest caliber. We knew this before we came to live here and left what was supposed to be one of the best school systems in the United States. But we still made the decision to make Aliyah to Israel. This was in part because we knew that education is more then just book learning. We knew that to get a proper education for our children we would really need to step up to the plate and do something extraordinary. We needed to make sure that our children didn’t get ground out from the North American puppy mill of education, with the real danger of having little personal knowledge of the greater world around us. Having come to that conclusion, the only real way of doing that was to make a drastic change.

So we did it. We came to Israel and have been here for a year plus. Our family has adjusted nicely. I am doing great, and have loved it here from the moment I arrived. Adele has had her ups and downs but now she feels very much at home. Zach has been growing steadily, both physically and emotionally and really seems to love it here too. And Josh… he is really just now starting to fall into his new being. We knew that there was this dreaded threat of the shvitote and had some small experiences with it last year however, I don’t think we were really prepared for what seems to be developing this year. At the end of the summer I was so happy to get back on schedule with the school thing. Just to have some structure is so important to a parent’s sanity. So, when the Chagim (Holidays) came around about 2 weeks later we were just relying on pure faith that we would make it through the onslaught of the kids free time. Ok, we made it, mostly unscathed by all this and then 2 weeks into the real school year we were informed of the eminent shvita by very exited children. “Mom, Dad, this one is going to be 2 months long!”

“Yah right, 2 months… sure. Neereh (we’ll see).”

They have had 3 days off now and we don’t know what is happening yet. The kids have made there own schedules about how they are going to use the time (you should see Joshes, you know… math from 11 to 12, right after breakfast and a break. Lunch from 12 to 1 and then another break from 1 to 3. Help with some house cleaning from 3 to 4 and after that another ‘well deserved break.’ Nintendo, cartoons, playing with his new friend Alon until 1:00 in the morning, and get up and do it again the next day!

We are gong to have to work on that one a bit. Welcome to one of the stranger parts of the Brave New Land.

And, speaking of strange, (ooh, what a segway) I had a strange few days at work a few weeks ago. I haven’t written anything about it because we have been having so many holidays that there was so much else to write about and very little time to do it. It is a minor story in this little life of mine, however it seems to be haunting me a bit. It all started when one of the German guys at work got sick and couldn’t work on a really fun project making a Bimah (Stage) for a Synagogue in a town near Jennin called Magan Shaul. The Bemah was a gift to them and had to be done before Yom Kippur so, at the time, we were in a real time crunch to get it done. The job fell to me and with a little help; the African Mahogany Bimah was delivered on time and looked beautiful.

But I am getting ahead of myself. About two days before we needed to be finished with the Bemah a hushed little meeting occurred first thing in the morning. An apprentice that was working with me stopped and looked at the little meeting going on at the next bench over and told me something big had happened. This is a very unusual thing in the miphal (factory) and he waited to see if he could find out what it was. We didn’t actually find out what had occurred until after the morning break. There had been a terrible tragedy the night before and a 5 year old girl had died. She was very sick and evidently asphyxiated on her own vomit. I was very shocked, as was everyone in the nagariah and a weird thing about it is that because it is a self sufficient kibbutz, another coworker needed to spend that day building a little coffin for her out of the same materials that we use to make kitchens out of. He spent all day, in a dark corner, building this little white melamine box to bury the little girl in and then, one of her uncles, another nagar (carpenter) that builds roofing systems, came and hoisted the coffin on his back and left with it.

Nobody talked about what happened for the next week. It was just like it didn’t happen at all, on the surface. The nagar that had hurt his knee eventually came back and I asked him about his knee. His answer was enlightening, in more ways than one, to say the least. I asked him what the doctor had said and he told me that he doesn’t go to the doctor if he can help it. He only prays to heal himself. Somehow, I also found out that this same nagar is another uncle of the little girl that died. I asked around in my Hebrew speaking community here in Zichron and found out that there is also an ongoing investigation into the death of this little girl. In the mean time, the uncle with the knee trouble left work again and when I ask about him, I get a lot of I don’t knows. Crazy… what a world. What a wild ride… I never met the little girl, but maybe I saw her once or twice. Who knows? I don’t really know how to feel about it. I feel bad for her, her family, and her community, but it is conflicting for me. I guess, at the end of the day, I just…lo yodea… ma la’asote…

Shavua Tov Kulam.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Dude… Where’s my Sukka?

Sukkot in Israel is a very different thing than in the States. In the States, we make a Sukka, usually… but only if we are involved with Judaism on a marginally deeper level. There are many ideas about Sukkot and why we are supposed to build one and live in it for seven days, but the most convincing argument comes directly from The Big Guy. He doesn’t say anything about the Arbaim Menim (Four Species), Palm, Citroen, Myrtle, and Willow, but he does say that we need to dwell in the Sukka for seven days. I think we add another day for Simchat Torah because the holiday is actually 8 days long. Before the Holiday begins, right on the heels of Yom Kippur (the very religious actually start as soon as the fast is over) we start to build the Sukka and this leaves us very little time to get it done and livable. There are kids dragging the Skach (branches and leaves for the roof) around all over the place and funny little carts selling it in the Religious neighborhoods. The trees are trimmed all over the country and the branches are left for everyone to collect. Almost everyone builds a Sukka, Religious, Secular, Conservative and Reform and there are Sukku’s all over the place and in the strangest places. There are very specific rules about how it should be built but a lot of room for many variations like small little low ceiling ones for sleeping in and giant party ones built in front of restaurants and hotels.

I walked through the ultra religious neighborhood of Mea Sharim (100 Gates) in Jerusalem on the first day of Sukkot and it was absolutely incredible to see all the little nooks and crannies with these funny little huts built on them. They were on the roofs and built on little meter size merpesets (balconies). They were hanging off the sides of buildings with makeshift Robinson Crusoe stilts holding them up. We also have a few of this caliber in the neighborhood here in Zichron in which I study at the Yeshiva sometimes. Simply Amazing… G-D commanded us to build a little play fort, and to dwell in it. It is like when we were kids and our parents told us to “Go out and Play”! That is exactly what Sukkot is, a whole week of playing. And that is how our Sukkot holiday started. We invited friends two nights in a row and had wonderful dinner parties (thanks to my wonderful wife Adele for such hard work to do this). We moved right into the work week with more parties until Adele and Josh went back to Jerusalem to attend a party at her Brothers house and Zach and I stayed home. Well, what is this leading up too you ask? And what is the deal with the picture above you ask? Now you’re getting the idea… Dude, the dog, wanted to have some fun in the Sukka also. He got a little carried away with his impromptu decorating though. He must have felt that the cloth walls were just a little too claustrophobic and to the best of his ability (you know, dogs lack opposing thumbs so they have to use teeth) and in a very artistically expressionistic style he removed only the bottom half of two and a half walls. He was so proud of himself when I got home from work. He was strutting right through where there used to be walls with only a slight hop over the remaining metal frame… Oy.

So, we had planed to have a few more little parties with friends but I just couldn’t get behind it after the remodel. (If you didn’t get invited this year this is our official excuse, and… sorry, next year for sure.) Today is the last day of Sukkot and I have another half day off of work for Simchat Torah. This is the celebration of the Torah! Tomorrow I am off work too! The kids have been off of school for two weeks now. I think that they only went to school for two weeks between summer and Rosh Hashanah. Wow, it will be good for them to get back to work on there little futures… Hope everyone had a great holiday season this year,

Love to you all,
Noll’s of Zichron.
(By the way, I found out what Noll means in Hebrew… Weaving Loom, interesting haw?)

Monday, October 1, 2007

Strangers in a Stranger Land

Even though I am beginning to understand a bit of Hebrew, know what to do in some situations, and am starting to expect certain things from our new life here in HaAretz, I still think of myself as an utter stranger here. On the inside I feel more at home then any other place I have been in on the planet but I suspect that I will always feel like a stranger to some extent in this amazing and crazy land. I have also noticed however, that when I take a moment to really look at the people around me, that everyone else also seems to be a stranger in some indefinable way to there environments. Even the Sabras (born Israelis) seem a little like they are strangers. Now that is a strange word for born Israelis… Sabra. It comes from a cactus plant that is indigenous to Mexico in Northern America. The idea behind this unusual choice of names is that a Sabra is prickly on the outside and soft on the inside. The analogy sure fits, but what about the origination of the plant? I would think they would have picked a plant something like the amazing black iris (iris shakum) that I saw on one of our hikes in the Negev Desert that only blooms for about a month a year and is an endangered species because it really only lives in a tiny little section of the dessert. Or even better, the amazing little red flower (forgot its name) that grows in Israel that, when sectioned and looked at under a microscope, it has the exact shape of a Magan David (Star of David). There are sabra cactus plants here all over the place, even in the shukes (open air markets) where they are de-prickled and served with fresh fruit and watermelons. But that is really beside the point. What I am getting at is that this Country was created out of not only the ashes of a more ancient Country and culture, but that it was created out of the ashes of humanity as well. That is a heavy thing to think about, however it can be looked at from a literal perspective (the Holocaust), or from a more esoteric perspective.

The people that live here in Israel are from almost every culture on Earth. There is a kibbutz called Ofir (means fawn) of East Indian Jews not far from Zichron, where the people sometimes can be seen in Sari’s, like from Hodu (India). There are Chinese Jews, Korean Jews, Russians (some Jewish and some not by the standards of The Rabbinate in Israel), Jews from North America, and Jews from South America like the guy I met in Jerusalem that was from Peru that looked like a native Indian from the mountains (that was an interesting story) or our new friends, Olim (new imagrants) from Mexico City, Mexico. There are people from all over the world, Africa (both white and black), Asia, Australia, Europe, and don’t forget the Middle East. Israel is a tiny little speck on the map of the Middle East and most of the Arab countries threw their Jews out when Israel became a nation in 1948 and many of them ended up here too. There are major differences between Iraqi Jews and Moroccan Jews, between Yemenite Jews and Jerusalem born Jews, between Ethiopian Jews and other Jews from North Africa. I believe that Israel is the new melting pot. It is a place where cultural and religious differences are common. It is a place where Notzrim (Christians), Muzlimim (Muslims), Yehudim (Jews), Dattiim (religious), Chilonim (Secular), Druzim, and Bahaim, all live together, for better or worse. Israel is a place where all the amazing and varied peoples of the Earth coexist (maybe that isn’t the exact word…) but, if you look at the economics of the region as a whole, thrives as well.

The place I live, in my heart and in my soul, physically emotionally and spiritually, is a place that so many people share; people from all over the world and also from right next door. We all seem to be looking for balance and meaning in our lives. We are all opinionated and sometimes rude and obnoxious, however when it really counts, we are there for each other. It is like living on the cutting edge of the knife of humanity. The world is there, in all its amazing glory, and we all exist together as we ride through the universe in time and space like tiny molecules, seeking form and function, seeking meaning and understanding. Israel is the edge of that reality for me and for most of the millions of people that are here with me, sharing this voluptuously cosmic ride, to the ends of our beliefs, and then, (Baruch Hashem), beyond.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

What is a kikayon anyways?

Over the last few weeks I have been studying Sipur Yona (The Story of Jonah) in preparation for the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) which is this Shabbat (Satuday). My Brother in Law, Abba, told me about a Rabbi called the Vilna Ga’on (genius from Vilna) that did an amazing study of Sipur Yona. Some people just refer to this guy as the Ga’on so you get the idea about how smart he was. He broke the story down into word by word metaphors and it is a really amazing ride to go on. I asked my Yeshiva student friend Moshe to study it with me and he has been so wonderful to work with on this. I go to the Yeshiva up the street from me once or twice a week and we have been covering Sipur Yona as deeply as possible… for us non geniuses that is. I really wanted to complete it for Yom Kippur, but it looks far away still. We have a chapter and a half to go. We shall see. Anyways, in the story, there is mention of a plant called a Kikayon, which grew over Yona and gave him some shade. I am not actually studying that part of the story yet but the word has been rolling around in my head… Kikayon, what is a kikayon anyways?

I asked the guys at work, first the Israelis at lunch, and got a lot of “lo yodea’s.” (don’t know’s) my friend Benny said that he knew something about the word. He said that it meant a weed that grows fast and dies and that it is an unimportant type of plant. Now that is really interesting because if you have ever read the Story of Jonah, you would find that the plant did actually grow fast and then it died over night when a worm or something ate it. Jonah was really bummed out about this and this is where it gets a little interesting. You see, Jonah was avoiding going to tell the people in the city of Nineveh (currently a place located somewhere in Iraq, I think) to change their ways or be wiped out by Hashem. He was just trying to sit out of the sun and enjoy himself when he should have been doing, not only the morally right thing to do but not doing specifically what G-D had asked him to do. Yikes! The Kikayon was really just something unimportant and temporary, just like what Benny said, but it had taken over Jonah’s mind and will. Now that is something that has to be interesting to find out about… something unimportant that can take over the mind of a Prophet like Jonah.

I left lunch early on a mission to do just that. I quickly went to my trusty milon (dictionary) and looked it up. Well, I didn’t know how to spell it. I looked under Koof and under Kaf, but to no avail. My friend and coworker Gideon showed up and we began to talk about it and lo and behold, he knew the word in German and was able to look it up on this program that my boss uses to find a word in English from German when we can’t find a way to communicate in Hebrew (oy, a mouth full). A Kikayon in English is a Castor Oil Plant. What? All I know about Castor Oil is that in the fifties in the States it was used by the ‘Old Wives’ (from the Old Wives Tales) to give to kids if they were sick and it supposedly tasted terrible. I always thought the idea really was to get the kids not to fake being sick or they would have to suffer through the terrible spoonful of the dreaded… Castor Oil! Aahhh! Well maybe there is something else there as well. If the plant is actually just unimportant, maybe it was the Old Wives way of addressing lethargy, you know, just like Jonah! Interesting… I did look up Castor Oil in the Milon and sure enough it said: שמן קיקיון (= shemen kikayon, or castor oil).

Well, I think that the moral of this little story is that we should be looking for our own Kikayon in our lives. What is it that keeps us from really being who we should be, who we want to be? Have we asked ourselves enough this year how can we be better at being who we are? When Jonah finally did move on to complete his journey through Niniveh to warn the people, the Vilna Ga’on taught us (the simple level of course) is that he was really doing Chuva (returning to G-D) and he was casting away his material and otherwise useless pursuits. He was choosing the moral high ground, the ground that we were all meant to ascend to and the reason that we are even here at all. We have a few more days to think about this before we meet our maker and the book of life closes with a thunderous and final clap. What is it going to be, Kikayon…. Or Chuva, Kikayon… Or Chuva…?

With that, Gamar Chatima Tova ve Tsom Tov! (May you be written in the book of life and have a good fast!)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Chag Sameach ve Shavua Tov!

We have had an amazing year here in Israel. We have visited many places where amazing things have occurred throughout history. We have begun to adjust to the many differences in culture and lifestyle (we still have miles… I mean kilometers to go!). And that is really what this time of the year is all about, anyways… to take stock of who we are, who we have been for the last year, and how do we want to be written in the book of life for the year to come. It is said that everything is decided for the year to come before we even begin to live it. Well if that is the case then I hope that everyone has the best year to come as is heavenly possible!

Ok, now that the official stuff is done… I went to the green line today. This is an artificially placed border which roughly defines the 1967 border of Israel and what is called the stachime (West Bank Territories) I went with my boss and some of the Germans from work to move some chairs for a Techus (ceremonial gathering) that they will be having at a new factory that they built next to Jenin. You know; the one in the news with all the terrorists... well if you listen to CNN you will hear about all the poor Palestinian children and Jimmy Carter. Anyways, that is another story. We got the job done and my boss showed me around a bit. We picked up a Russian guy in Pardes Hanna on the way so I got to sit in the middle of the front seat with this guy on my right and my boss on the left. On the way back we stopped to drop some extra wood in an Arab village. (Arabs are the primary workforce to build buildings in Israel and used to be employed in many areas, until the Intifada started again that is, now it is mostly Asian workers that send money home to there families abroad) we drove into this little village and the whole place was littered with garbage and rusty stuff. We passed grizzled old guys with kafias and cigarettes and Arab woman with full head coverings with there children in tow. It was a small village so we didn’t need to go far until we were instructed to back into a little barbwire wrapped dirt road and slowly inch up the hill to the top. We stopped and jumped out of the truck and began to unload.

There was only dirt, cracked stucco and rusty metal buildings, and the ever present garbage that was strewn about by the wind, which is why I was so surprised when I looked up and saw this beautiful structure standing about 30 meters away on the top of the central hill that the village was built on. Everything around it seemed to descend from this place. In its environment, it was actually shining, like it was the Taj Mahal or something. I quickly unloaded the wood with the help of some of the locals and then noticed someone yelling in Arabic in our direction. I looked up and on the prominently placed mirpesset (balcony) an Arab was standing casually leaning over the edge and shouting orders. This wasn’t any normal looking Arab guy though. He had some kind of headdress on, had a long black beard, and fiery light colored eyes. This guy was scary looking. He looked like a Taliban warlord and must have been the chief of the town or maybe he just had all the towns’ money, who knows.

We made it back ok and only got into a little argument in the truck. The Russian guy was a bit of a Leftist. My boss, the German, is a bit of a Rightist. And me, sitting in the middle of the cab of the truck and also somewhere in the middle politically (maybe just on the fence) started to talk about the Arab situation in Israel. I was mostly just trying to keep up with the Hebrew but it was sure interesting.

So, to finish off the year the right way…

May you all be written in the book of life for the year to come with health, wealth, and the wisdom to use them both for only dvarim tovim (good things), Baruch Hashem!

And Shana Tova too!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

The Golan, Safed, and the Arsim next door

We have been exploring some of the Golan Heights recently. Well, not really the hights but the rivers and pools. Zach explored Nachal Zavitan with a really cool new adventure group that my brother-in-law Abba sent him on with his cousins. Wow, Zach really changed over night on that one. More recently, the whole mishpacha (family) went with one of the same group leaders on a trip to Nachal Jahudiah and hiked through water and canyons that were truly amazing. We all jumped from a 10 or 12 meter cliff into the bricha (pool) at the bottom of a water fall and then hiked and swam down stream. At one spot everyone needed to climb down a ladder and into a long pool that we had to swim through. There were so many people that had to climb down that there was a line to do it. I kept looking at this group of ulra-orthodox people, you know like you see in the movies with black hats and everything, and wondering what the plan was. After all, we had our cool (Teva – means nature in Hebrew) river sandals and camel backs with dry bags for our stuff. They didn’t have anything accept big black hats and long black coats (and it was hot out too!) they didn’t even pause. They slipped right into the water, hats and all, and swam across. Yikes!

This week I took a day off of work to go to a place called Bricat HaMeshushim (hexagon pools) and spent some time with the kids before they go back to school. This is an amazing hike that starts, as all these hikes do, in a hot dessert environment and continues down into a wadi (canyon) to the bottom, where there are the most amazing pools of water and lush growth. This particular hike takes you to a pool that was cut through a volcanic plug that had dried slowly, causing the magma to crystallize into tall hexagonal conjoined pillars. Many of you may be familiar with something similar in the States called Devils Post Pile. Anyways, we spent some time swimming and hanging out and then we hiked back to the car and decided to drive to Sefad.

Safad (pronounced Svaat) is one of four cities (Safed, Hebron, Jerusalem, and Tiberius) in Israel that have been continually occupied by Jews since the time of the Israelites. Well, that isn’t completely true… I think. Jerusalem’s Jews were wiped out and kicked out for a few years by the invading Crusader armies, and in more contemporary times, the Arabs killed the Jews that lived in the Old City of Jerusalem. Also, in more recent times, the Jews were slaughtered in Hebron by the Arabs. But besides these small breaks, these cities are full of amazing history and Jewish culture. Safad is considered a mystical city because of the receiving of the Zohar, a book that… well, that is a long story (but well worthwhile!) If you are interested check this site out. http://www.kabbalah.info/engkab/book_1/book1eng_ch04.htm
I loved it in Safed. If it had an ocean, it would be perfect to live in for me. Well, it is pretty close, only about an hour and a half away. I’ll be back…

One thing left… ‘The Arsim next door’… that is pretty simple and no, I didn’t save the best for last. These people are really annoying. From the moment we moved in here the dog next door has been incessantly barking at exactly the times when it seems to test me the most. You know, times like when I need to get to sleep because I need to wake up in 6 hours to go to work. But that is not why the neighbors next door are Arsim. By the way, Arsim is a word that, I think is derived from English. Can you guess the word? If you need a clue, the answer is another word for donkey. Anyways, Zach informed me that the guy that stole his bike from behind him a few months back, rode it for a while and trashed it up a bit, and then had it removed from his house by the police, was seen at one of the many misibote (parties) that the Arsim kids next door keep having. The thief does live right up the street so I just hope he doesn’t put two and two together or we might have all kinds of problems like the broken light in the front of the house that I suspect was related to one of these misibote. Well, to be fair, they sometimes are quite nice like the time when they planted our front walk with bulbs… OK, just relax… what was that mantra again… ‘We have a dog, we have a rabbit, and we live in the Middle East…ok, ok, enough of that one…we might not have rabbit for long anyways. Josh wants to be done with it and of course Adele has been done with it since we got it. Adele and Josh went to one of the local pet stores to ask what to do with it and the guy there replied with, “just let him go in the forest. He will make a great meal for some wild animal out there.” Yup, this is the Middle East isn’t it… can you imagine that happening in Boulder? I think not. So we shall see about the rabbit. Adele still wants chickens and maybe we can use the cluv arnav (rabbit cage) for them! Aye yaey yaey…

Shavua tov kulam