Drew T. Noll © 2023, all rights reserved

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.