Drew T. Noll © 2023, all rights reserved

Sunday, November 2, 2008

My Dad and the Beit Din

Me and Dad
On October 26, what seems now like a lifetime ago, my father passed away. Two days before he left us I was sitting on the edge of his bed engaging in a monologue with the nearly empty shell, which his year long fight with brain cancer had left. The cancer was about to win and I knew it. In a sudden inspiration I asked him something from beneath the layers of muck and iron that I had coated myself with. I asked my father something from my heart; he had been unable to speak or communicate in any way for days, and I didn’t expect an answer from him … I just wanted to ask.

I asked my father, simply, if he would be there for me when I passed on to the next world. In hindsight, it seems, this may have been a final attempt to connect with him. Over the years we had been very distant with each other, but I knew that he loved me and that I was very important to him. We didn’t know how to communicate, and it appeared that I had waited and waited until I could be almost sure that he couldn’t answer this one particular question.

After I asked my father 'the question,' I paused as if I were really expecting an answer. In that moment a realization came to me that if I were to get an answer to such a question, I had unwittingly asked at exactly the right time. My father was between worlds and he must have really wanted to connect with me, because in that moment he stopped what he was doing in that other ... kind of between place, and listened to my question. As I looked at a semi-comatose face with eyes glazed over and rolled back, my father opened his jaw to quiver and form a word. Stirring slowly, he sat up in bed and his eyes gently began to brighten ... then his pupils descended from the invisible world he had been gazing into. He stared directly at me, piercingly, and said to me on a beautiful fall day, with eucalyptus trees shimmering outside his window, only a word. He said ... “Absolutely.”

October 26 was never a day that I paid much attention to, even after my father passed on. Occasionally I would think about that date in relation to my father's passing and remember little things like something he said to me when he was healthy, or the smell of his T-shirt during the rarity of a hug, but it wasn’t until this last October 26th that I really stopped to think about it. As you all know, I have been working very hard towards my conversion to Orthodox Judaism over the past year and I had received a call a couple of weeks earlier by the administrator at the Beit Din (Conversion Court) and been given a date to come to the oral exam: it was to be October 26.

So, on Sunday, October 26, I was ready to go. I woke up and didn’t think about my dad. I was totally preoccupied with the task at hand and ran off to morning minyan at my shul. As usual, just barely a minyan had arrived and I still wasn’t able to be counted. Everyone was excited for me though and I left shul to many "Ba’atzlacha’s." I sped home, gathered two of my hevrusote (study partners), my rabbi, and of course my beautiful wife, and we zoomed off to the Beit Din with angst and laughter filling the car. Our car is tiny and these three big guys sat in the back seat all the way to the Haifa Rabbinate and 'this time' we didn’t even get lost, despite the concerns from my rabbi crammed into the back seat. Eventually we pulled up to the same parking lot that I described about a year ago in another blogpost.

We all walked up to the offices and sat on benches that lined the corridor ... and we waited. It wasn’t really all that bad for a system built on Russian bureaucracy, and we had lots of entertainment as well. We watched loads of people and their briefcase toting lawyers going in next door to the divorce court and cringed a bit at the screaming coming from the other side of the locked door. We watched people that were in front of us in line go in to see the Beit Din judges and eventually come out again, not always so happy. I was getting more and more nervous as the time clicked on … until it was finally our turn. We entered the room and faced three smiling rabbi judges sitting on the far side of the tiny room. We all squeezed in and had to shuffle a bit to make sure we were all sitting in the proper positions, Adele and I facing the Judges, and my hevrusote and rabbi to one side on another little bench.

Years before, on October 26; the day that my father died, I experienced a major transition. My entire family life changed. My father had been the glue that held my family together and even though we all tried to stay tight, as if my father was still with us, we drifted ... not really apart, but in different directions. My boys were young then and my life changed, almost over night; I became a new person. My life was about to change again and, as I sat in front of those judges they began asking me questions. My mind immediately blanked the answers. I barely remember the questions that were asked, but I do remember that they were the nicest, funniest, wisest, and most compassionate men I had met … ever, at least in that kind of setting. I remember being asked to stand up and accept the mitzvote, and then reciting the Shema. Wow, I remember thinking, now I am a Jew!

Somehow I think that my dad had something to do with this. When I was a teen my dad gave me my first Khumash (Five Books of Moses). He said that he had read it when he was in college and that I might want to give it a try. I read it cover to cover ... and that was my first introduction to Judaism. 

It appears to me that there is really a bigger world out there, one that we can feel or maybe even smell a piece of. If we try it is possible to connect the dots in life and beyond, and I also believe that it is a lot easier than we think. I am really looking forward to my life as (Drew the New Jew) living in The Promised Land, and I am also looking forward to that time when I meet my father again. I think the next time we meet we will have figured a lot out about how to have a relationship, and I can’t wait to smell his soft white T-shirt when we give each other a cosmic hug in Olam Haba.

Love to everyone and keep up the search!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Adventures with Arabs in Jerusalem and a day trip to Beit Sha’an

Recently, while in the Old City of Jerusalem for Rosh Hashanah, I entered the twilight zone of the Arab Quarter. I hadn’t been that deep into the bowels of the shopping streets since I was there 3 years ago and tried to navigate to some crazy destination into a current of Arabs that were heading in the opposite direction. We hung to the side of the streets to avoid the onslaught of people galloping to the Temple Mount for some kind of demonstration and at one point, a middle aged woman came up to me and grabbed my arm. She put her face inches from mine as she yelled at me in Arabic for what seemed like a long time, until some other Arab guy grabbed her and they both melded back into the river of kafia and bourkah covered heads.

This latest excursion started with a mad dash down the twisting stairs from the clean and festive alleyways of the Jewish Quarter and into the melee of vendors, tourists, and Arab revelers. You see it was a celebration for the end of Ramadan, their High Holy Days, and the Arabs were out in mass. We headed down the familiar street of King David and stopped to ask a soldier if we could head into the Arab Quarter to get to Shar Shchem (Damascus Gate). We needed to get to the other side of the Shuk to pick up my Nephew for the meal that was about to start and didn’t really have time to wander all the way around and through the Jaffa Gate as we usually did. The soldier was kind enough to tell us the way and we left the hubbub of the shopping district and into a very quiet and spookily empty road in the desired direction.

I guess to be consistent with regards to chronology; I should back up to the first day of Rosh Hashanah when we walked down through the village of Silwan in the Kidron valley to get to the Gihon Spring to do Tashlich. This is where Hezekiah dug a tunnel to secure a safe water source in the 7th Century B.C. We didn’t go through the tunnel, though it felt a lot like a gauntlet the way we were all directed down this really steep street. Both sides of the street had Arab houses and little businesses with lots of onlookers poking out through the windows. It felt like Egypt or Jordan accept that we were a parade of Jews trudging down the street. I guess it could have been from the Purim Megillah if we imagined hard enough.

We made it to the Siloan Pool at the bottom and witnessed a truly amazing site. There were Jews of every type praying at the tiniest of openings to living water coming from the spring under Mount Mariah (where the Temple was built). There was a Mikveh (ritual bath) under the mountain as well. There is a tour that can be taken through the tunnel dug by Hezekiah and one of these days I need to get over my claustrophobia so I can do it. Actually this year it turned out that this is to be one of my New Years resolutions (to both get over claustrophobia and tour Hezekiah’s tunnel). Check this site for a really cool virtual tour of the whole area: http://www.cityofdavid.org.il/hp_eng.asp

So the way back was not as interesting; however we did almost get creamed by a few really scary looking Arabs. They looked like they were in a convoy for some Hamas terrorist leader and came speeding down this really steep hill so fast that I wouldn’t have had time to get out of the way if I had been in the street like a few moments before. They whizzed by me and I was able to see into the windows of two of the cars. I was glad that I didn’t have to interact any more then watching them go by at about 30 miles an hour an inch or two from my face.

So, back to my current jaunt down through the Arab Quarter in Jerusalem. As we progressed, the crowd became thicker and more threatening. We walked as fast as we could and had to thrust our way through a few crowded spots. As we got closer to the unseen gate, the energy became more frenetic and the air became steadily darker. A few times I wondered about getting stabbed in the side or something and was glad to see the light stream in from the gate as we rounded the last turn. We muscled our way through the throngs of revelers and as we exited into the light and air, I saw a young Arab man on a chair yelling to his friends. He was waving his hands and I just caught his eye as I passed and then I looked down at the cobbled street and made for the stairs leading up and out of the mass of Arabs outside the gate. Then I noticed something strange as it bounced and rolled ahead of me a couple of feet. I had no time to think of what it was or could be when the Arab on the chair jumped down and chased it through the crowd right ahead of me. He grabbed it and looked at me with a faltering smile as he held what he had collected up for his friends to see, held it out close enough for me to see that it was a tooth, and then shoved it back into the opening that it fell out of inside his mouth.

That was some of my Rosh Hashanah experience this year in Jerusalem and I am working on another blog now about my Yom Kippur experience in Zichron Yaacov so I will just move right on to Sukkot. Because of the spirit of this blog I am going to skip all the details of the services and move right into my trip today. We went to Beit Sha’an which is built on the ruin of the ancient Hellenistic city of the same name.

This is the place where the Mishnah was written. The Mishnah was written down because 2,000 years ago, Yehudah Ha’Nasi saw that the Oral Torah was being lost and would cease to exist if the Romans had their way. This would cause Judaism to eventually become so marginalized that it would also eventually cease to exist. The Oral Torah was never meant to be written down and he took a big chance in doing so and this being the case, he kept everything in cryptic text that was only meant to stimulate the memory of future Jews as far as the 613 Mitzvote (Commandments). What, you thought there were only 10? That is because many of our great or great, great grandparents forgot to teach their children… or so goes the theory.

Now we have the Gomorrah and a lot more as well to indulge our Torah thirst. So, I had a lot of fun today with Adele wondering around the ruins and it was just a lot of fun to do something different. I included a picture above of Beit Sha’an. Hope all your holidays have been great and don’t forget to spend as much time as you can in your Sukka’s this year!

Shana Tova le kulam!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Swimming through Infinity

What is reality anyways? When we think of ‘the thing’ that is real, it is usually just something that is occupying our minds for the time being. Like recently, I have been preoccupied by a series of classes that I am listening to by Rabbi Yitzchak Berkovits. I found myself floating through realms of the mind that have really altered the way I not only feel about myself, but (in reality) exist. What is existence anyways? I know we all stop to ask such questions occasionally, however… did anyone ever receive any truly satisfactory answer?

My preoccupation all started when I was asked to identify ‘finite’. This is an idea that has been pondered by everyone from Abraham to Aristotle to Albert Einstein (and if you feel small being compared to these names, don’t worry because this is a question that we can all answer with the right level of prodding). Of course, in the podcast, the answer followed swiftly after the question. ‘Finite’ is defined ultimately as having edges or limitations. The world that we live in can be broken down into pieces and those pieces can be broken down to smaller pieces and so on and so forth, until you get to something that is really just energy. But I am getting ahead of myself. This finite relationship of something with edges or limitations, next to something else with the same properties goes on forever, however forever is the antithesis of finite and this would be impossible. Finite means that there is an end, with limitations, remember? So where did finite reality come from since not only is it inconceivable that there is an end but also that there was ever a beginning to a universe made purely of finite stuff.

Then I was asked to imagine infinity (with many warnings that this was only to find an analogy and not, heaven forbid, to imagine the infinite) and when I did so, I couldn’t get that stupid little symbol of the Mobius strip out of my head. That is a finite representation of infinity. This led me to the realization that there is really no way for us with our finite minds to understand infinity. We are ultimately finite in everything we do. We are limited. So, what do we do to solve the problem of how is it possible for existence to occur? Well, the Greeks said that there was something like simple matter (in Hebrew it is called Hayouli) that was finite and infinite at the same time. That was a good answer for them, but not for the Jews that had been contemplating this inconsistency since the time of Abraham. Really, the Greeks solution only introduced the same dilemma of the existence of finite reality and infinite reality into one element which just stated the problem over again.

The Jews, on the other hand, decided to take a different approach. If it was impossible for finite reality to exist without infinite reality, and since it is impossible for infinite reality to exist with finite reality since that would negate the whole idea of infinite, the Jews asked the question, “If you had to choose one of these two, albeit irrational, options as being more rational, which one would you choose; finite reality alongside infinite reality, or finite reality within infinite reality?”

Oooh! You see where I am going with this? (think about The Shma) So now let’s go back to the energy idea. What is the best analogy of subatomic energy in the world around us? I would have to say light. Rabbi Berkovits said that this might even be cheating because it is such a great example for us to see. What is light, a particle, a ray, a wave, or something else? Light exists in finite reality but doesn’t follow the rules of finite reality. When you want it to be a wave, it is. When you want just a particle, it is. How do we explain this you ask? Well, all I can say is that it has to be a clue to the infinite. Let’s go back to the idea of an analogy to the infinite. When you really think and dream about what would be the closest thing in our world, most people end up with a vision of something very thin, space, or vast emptiness… going forever. These ideas are the farthest thing from infinity. Infinity is everything, everyplace, every time, and forever. All this is going on exactly on top of itself and never ends. Infinity is thicker then we have the capacity to comprehend. We would completely loose ourselves within it if we were to even glimpse it for a moment. That is the closest analogy to the infinite that we can even conceive of (without major brain damage) and that is the only thing that can offer a rational solution to the problem of finite existence.

This is the ultimate question with regard to the meaning of life. Once we have progressed this far, we need to ask a very important question. WHY? Why are we here? If there is such a thing as infinite reality, which we know there has to be to explain the undeniable existence of finite reality then we really need to ask the next thing of ourselves. Tchuva… (Technically means return however is also translated as repentance)

Rosh Hashanah is in a couple of days. This is the time when we look inward and back at the past year. We try to become better people and open up to our faults and make goals to the coming year. So what have I found out about the meaning of life this year? Let’s just keep it simple… I found out that a path is only well worn when traveled, when traveling always be prepared for the next turn, and there is always a light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how bright or dim. With that I will wish you all health, happiness, and good life for the year to come and I humbly ask forgiveness from anyone that I may have offended this past year.

Toda roba lechem ve gam,


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Cowboy Up, Butthead!

Showing up for work a few weeks ago on Yom Rishon (day one or Sunday) was going to be a bad idea… so I didn’t. I called in sick and really, I was sick (mostly sick and tired though). You see, it was hot and muggy, I had had a particularly hard re-entry back to my life here in Israel, and we were slated to start to transfer tons of rat, cat, and scorpion infested exotic lumber that had been stored in the basement workshop, up the hill, around the building, and into a storage loft that was too short to stand up in. My stomach hurt so I called in sick.

On Yom Sheni (day two or Monday) I had hoped that they would be almost, if not totally, finished and upon arriving in the morning I found that… they waited for me. So, by the end of that week I was dirty, bruised, bleeding, sore, tired, frustrated, and really quite upset about the whole deal. It was time to get those doggies rolling and move on. I was ready to call it quits that day; however I spoke to a few friends and found that I just needed to get the ball rolling as far as the future. So that being, not necessarily said but, thought I got back to cleaning 50 years of crap up so that we could start to paint.

Somebody brought out some paint clothes and I noticed a little logo on one of the hats. When I looked closer, it was a picture of a little funny looking guy with really big cheeks and a cowboy hat on. The caption under the picture said… you guessed it; cowboy up, butthead. The German Christians had no idea what it was or what it said and were quite embarrassed about it after I told them. No one wore it after that and the last I saw, it was still sitting on the floor in a pile of other stuff.

All said and done, I think that the hat must have really been meant for me. It seamed that it was about time for me to cowboy up and stop farting around. I need to get my life going here in the Promised Land. So now that I am back to work as normal as it could possibly be here at the German, Zionist Christian, Gas Mask Making, Israeli Kibbutz, I am now moving in the general direction of something all together different…

So, cowboy up… butthead…
And Shavua tov too!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Time, Systems, and the Origins of… Whatever, man

I have no idea what systems theory is but if I was to guess, I would have to say that it has something to do with statistics with regards to the laws of cause and effect. Well, technically I believe that it is no longer a law but an outdated theory. You see, I read something recently relating to just this idea, but I can’t find it now. It had something to do with putting a drop of water on the exact center of a knife edge in order to predict which side it would fall off of, cause and effect would say it would be 50/50. Surprisingly, that was not the case and since I can’t seem to find the article you will just have to take my word for it, or not…

Lets just start with this; If you take time and loop it around so that the beginning laps up over the top like a spring and then tie threads from the first coil and loop them up the spring, all the way to the top, you get a model of not only the Jewish Calendar but the entire cosmos. Underneath it all there is a skeletal vibration that connects the whole of the Universe, both physical and ethereal, together into one system. This system also is a prime function of time as the Universe was created both with regards to time and the physicality of matter. Every Jewish Holiday lines up with the one that is exactly one Lunar year later, give or take a week or four, and just above it on the Cosmological springy calendar chupe-chicky.

Time is really radically relative when you think of it this way. In the Western world, we wait for the Earth to slowly make its way around the Sun so that on December 31 we can celebrate New Years Eve, (in secular Israel they call it St. Sylvester… go figure). It is just like looking at a time line on a graph. Well, it is really just a line. It has a beginning and we are somewhere on it, I guess. It starts at the life (birth or death I think) of the rather major character in the Christian Bible called Jesus. Each point along this line are a separate place in time and in space. The Jewish Holidays, on the other hand, are all spread out on the calendar described above and each and every holiday is connected in space and in time. This enables us to grow from year to year and to build ourselves as we climb the spiral heights of the Cosmological springy calendar chupe-chicky.

Ok, what the heck am I talking about… like I am some kind of a theologian or scientist or something. I make art out of the things that I find. Technically I am really a manipulator of things that have already been created as we all are… Ain Hadash Tachat Ha’Shemesh (There is nothing new under the Sun), quote by King Solomon. So, the next time you think of something to manipulate, ask yourself one thing; what is the meaning of it all anyways? If that is too big a question then maybe try; how can I be a better person by manipulating this thing in my life? Just think, the whole world is ready for us to really radically see in a way that is relative to everything in the whole chup-chicky time spring thingy. Wow, that’s deep,

Whatever, man…

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Home Again and the One Armed German

The inspiration for this story came to me today when, as I was working at my bench in the German gas filtration system factory, two older men walked up to me. I hadn’t seen them before and wasn’t sure that they knew Hebrew (as many of the older folks there do not) but after they hovered for just enough time for me to know that they needed something I took off my headset and asked if I could help them. It isn’t important what they wanted and I just sent them up to see my boss on the second floor of the factory but what was important to me were two things. First was that I had been listening to a lesson on Tisha’beAv (see last years blog with the same title at http://bravenewland.blogspot.com/2007/07/tisha-b-av.html ) and it was right in the middle of the second of two stories on the Holocaust when I paused my Ipod to look up, ask if I could help, and then notice the second thing which was that one of the old German men was missing an arm. He stood back a little and acted as though he didn’t understand while the other German did all the talking.

I guess to really tell this story right I need to back up to my trip to America (see picture above of an amazing mountain hike I took). Yup, I traveled during the nine days when we shouldn’t even be swimming, much less flying at 30,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean. I arranged my ticket with all the important things in mind, accept the yearly cycle of the Jewish calendar which if you read my last blog, you may connect some very important lessons about life… at least I was back home in Israel for Shabbat and then Tisha’beAv itself…

Israel has been described to me as being a place where Hashem is the most present in the entire World. After all, He did live here for a period of time while there was a Mishkan in the desert and then on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, twice for both the first and second Temples… you know, the place that the Arabs plopped their shrine down on top of called The Dome of the Rock. The rock, now buried and desecrated under the Muslim shrine is said to be the foundation stone of the universe by our sages and is the place where Jacob had his dream in which he battled with an Angel, the place where Isaac was almost sacrificed by Abraham, and the place directly under the Holy of Holies in the Temple where only once a year, on Yom Kippur, the High Priest would enter. This was the place where G-D has been most present in this World.

So coming back home to this place, of all places in the World, was pretty charged for me. I don’t live in Jerusalem but I have actually been in the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount (It was about 25 years ago when Jews could still do such things without the possibility of Holy War on the World by the Muslims who now control the entire Temple Mount, but that is another story). I live in Zichron Yaacov with my wonderful and beautiful wife and family and when I got home, I felt this (G-D) energy like it was going to knock me all the way back to America. I had one day to prepare for Shabbat and then right on its heels, Tisha be’Av. Adele had a house guest visiting from the States and both she and Adele were ripe for orienting me back into the Holy Land. Actually, I am getting ahead of myself, first on the morning of Tisha’beAv, I woke up, sat on the throne of contemplation, got a stomach ache, blacked out and fell over, hitting my head on the tile floor (if you read my last Tisha’beAv blog you would know that this made two for two) and I can still feel the bump now, a week later…Oy.

So where am I going with all this you might ask? I really don’t know. All I do know is that now that I have made Aliyah to Israel, my home is here. The energy and happenings around me are all extreme in nature, both positive and negative which brings me back to the one armed German. Sometimes I wonder what these people are doing here. These weren't the exact same guys that tortured and murdered 6,000,000 Jews in Germany but why do these decendants choose to live here, in the land of the Jews? Don’t get me wrong. They are the nicest people that I have ever known in my entire life but when an ‘older’ German walks in with a missing arm… I gotta start to wonder…

So, here I am home again and trying to get my sea legs back. I am not exited about going back to work tomorrow, I am not especially happy with my family life at the moment, I haven’t been able to study or even to pray as much as I would like, it is hotter and muggier then Hell, and I am also in a place where I feel the energy of G-D… all the time. The sages tell us that to really know G-D, we need to feel his presence not only at the times we feel happy or joyous, but to feel Him even when we are being squeezed through a toothpaste tube. I’m trying… I know, Ye’heyay beseder…

Love to you all.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Soul Waiting Room

I recently have been traveling and as is normal during these times, however uncomfortable, I have also been waiting for flight connections, trains, planes, and waiting for automobiles to finish their journeys so that I may continue with mine. Because of all the incessant idle time spent just waiting around, a story comes to mind about the ultimate waiting room. This is the room that we all will pass through at some time, (may it be when we are 120). It is called the soul waiting room but technically since in this room there really isn’t any time, maybe a better name for this place should really be The Soul Womb.

The Sages bring down to us that when a baby is in the womb, it is taught all of Torah knowledge by a small quiet voice in its ear by a very special Angel. At the moment of its birth into this world, just as its head crowns, the Angel gently touches the child just under the nose, creating a dimple and causing the knowledge of Torah to be forgotten. This is a strange idea since I have to wonder, why bother in the first place? The only answer that I can think of to this is that it must have something to do with free will. Did you ever wonder what intuition was? Or what about dejavue? These things always feel real but from some other life or maybe a dream, like we were meant to remember but not to know why.

The soul waiting room is a very similar idea. While we are in the waiting room, we are not capable of free will. We know all that came before and we know all that came after because, like I said, in the waiting room there is no time to constrict our experiences. We are unable to act, however know exactly what to do. Sounds frustrating doesn’t it? Well, that’s nothing compared to this. What if we could see that all of the decisions that we made in life were only static or even worse just wrong, propelling us into a state of spiritual chaos. We would be stuck, just watching, as the choices we made in our physical life kept us from having the pleasure of the real journey in life and beyond… to be in relationship with G-D.

Maybe this is too big of an idea to really get our heads around without first exploring the thing that we all seem to be preoccupied with (instead of our ultimate destination). So let’s just say that in order to get from the physical world to the soul waiting room, considering that many of our choices are not necessarily the best in nature, we would need a decontamination tank to cleanse us from the stains that were acquired. Picture being on a battlefield in a war. You are running for your life and making split second decisions. There are chemical and biological hazards; there is also nuclear fallout and the usual flesh ripping armaments. How would you be able to get back to central command?

Well, once you found the map that you somehow lost or just plain lost faith in, followed it back to where you hoped you would find the home front and central command and after your initial elation, you would be received with what would probably feel a lot like torture by first having to go through a field medical diagnosis. This would probably feel like a whole lifetime after what you had just been through. Then you would maybe have some kind of field surgery and before you were allowed to enter the safe zone of the central command, you would need to first be put through a series of detox chambers where you were denuded with high pressure washing and coarse brushes of any hazards that you may have picked up along the way. Then you would be immediately sent to debriefing in order to tell your superiors of what your actions were and what decisions you had made on the battle field. This is a good analogy of what it would be like to pass from the physical world to the spiritual world and most people would call it Hell.

It is a place designed by G-D in order to purify our souls of the muck that will inevitably be clinging. We need to go through decontamination, the Sages tell us anywhere up to 11 months, and then we need to go through debriefing when a movie of our lives will be shown to us. This movie will be paused at all the juicy spots that we would rather fast forward. We will be forced to pay attention to these moments in detail and when the movie is done, we will then wait in timelessness for our next chance to make a difference in the physical world and in our souls. Well, that is if we get a chance to. Really, who knows… all I know is that now, after having a wonderful and terrible journey, I am back home and yup… making choices like crazy. It gives a whole new perspective on ‘being in the moment’.

Shalom kulam.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

So, it has been a while and I find that I need to report on many things and as it happens, there seems to be a good, a bad, and an ugly element to each story that I need to expel on to the internet. So let’s get started…

The Good…
The good is amazing and all around me everywhere I look. The first place I need to check in with is Adele’s lecture that she gave. She was awesome!!! I didn’t actually see the lecture; however I heard volumes of goodness. She set out to change the whole Country and that, it seems, is exactly what she is doing. I can’t go into details on what she is up to however, oyvavoy…. Talk about science fiction (without the fiction)!

Ok, our friend and loved one, Josh has just launched into Man-hood with such a bang that could be heard from here to the shores of the Old Country (U.S.A.). He had been working so hard on his Torah portion for his Bar-Mitzvah and when the time came to deliver… did he ever. I could hear the jaws dropping onto the floor from my side of the machitzah (curtain between men and women). My jaw even hit once or twice (which didn’t affect my hearing of his perfect recitation in the least) and actually, I knew he had it in him the whole time anyways. It was just great to see Josh shine so brightly! He is now considered part of a minyan (something that I have yet to accomplish) and is really soaking it up too.

The next good thing is that we now have a house in Zichron Yaacov, Israel! That is truly amazing and we are so exited we can barely contain ourselves. What an absolutely amazing life that Hashem (blessed be his name) has given us and continues to bless us with! Wow… that about says it all as far as the good… on to the inevitable, the bad.

The Bad…
I am going to do this in order so we shall start with Adeles lecture. All I can say about that is that for about 3 months prior to the lecture… life was not so rosy at the Noll’s house. She was stressing out in a major way, but not to worry, you already know the ending… or do you?

Josh on the other hand… nope, nothing bad to say about that one. He was just amazing! So let’s just move on to the house deal. The bad there is known to all. Moving!!!! Ich. Everyday I work for 10 hours and come home and pack some more. I am sneaking this little blog in because I haven’t posted for so long. I know, it will all be great in the end and we will hardly remember a stressful thing… can’t wait (actually, yes I can, time is a weird thing… reading some Dr. Gerald Schroeder stuff now… sorry for the break in transmission). So on to the Ugly…

The Ugly…
Guess what happened the morning of Adele’s amazing presentation? She had all of her stuff stolen from under her feet. She had turned to speak to someone for a second and when she turned to gather her things… they were gone! Her purse with her wallet (think all identification, credit cards, cash, i-pod with all her work music, palm pilot with her whole world on it, prescription sunglasses ($400 to replace here) and just to make the pain a little deeper… her laptop computer with her presentation on it, her notes, and an extra hard-drive with extra information on it (just in case). Oy. Well, as you know already, she went on to shock and amaze without all the stuff and bummed a ride home from Tel-Aviv, feeling violated and accomplished… at the same time. I don’t know if that is ugly or beautiful… go figure.

Josh… he is just plain beautiful!

The house… yes there is some ugly there as well. It seems that we may have landed somewhere in the Israeli version of the Twilight Zone. We have purchased a home from one of two cousins that have been feuding for years and guess where the other cousin lives? Yep… next door to us and we get to share the driveway with them. We didn’t really notice anything wrong until a wonderful flowering bush turned up dead one day. We thought that maybe it was the gardener that we hired from the cousin on one side to clean up the mess that had been left, but after the other cousin made it clear, albeit in monotonously slow steps, that he was very interested in maintaining a certain amount of room in the driveway for his vehicles to motor back and forth… you get the picture. Anyways, the story gets uglier, but I find it difficult to tell so… lets just end on a good note.

Josh is really flying high. He is doing Tefilin with me in the mornings sometimes, he wants to know about Judaism, he really wants to do well in School (he has always said he wanted to be a doctor and now we all see it is possible for him) and… oh yeah! Zach is getting top grades on his Baccalaureates! And it is all in Hebrew too! What great kids…that is all I have to say,

Shalom le kulam.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Impromptu spelunking, House shopping, and Falafel

I had been hearing about a cave for 2 years that was somewhere near Givat Eden in Zichron Yaacov. This cave was supposedly written about over 2,000 years ago in the Talmud and when I got an invite to check it out with a friend from work, I jumped at the opportunity. After work and before we left I had a few minutes to ask a Rabbi friend of mine what the actual pusach was and he quickly checked it out on his tachnun macshev (computer program) and told me it was in the Talmud (Ha Maiish I think). OK, so now I need to wait for my hevrusa (learning partner) to get back from the States to look it up at the Yeshiva (safe travels and be well Moshe) so that part of this tale will have to follow. What I do know is that when a very high ztadik (holy wise man) moved to the Olam Haba (world to come) his body was sometimes buried with a seed in his mouth which, as you can imagine, eventually sprouted into a tree from cracks in the ground and because of water erosion, opened a new cave that joined the cave below. This was evidently the case in this cave but since it was 2,000 years ago that the tree first grew there, the tree that I saw was in all probability a different one.

My Son Josh came too and we met up with my friend who brought two other friends as well. I couldn’t figure out what he was doing when we got there because he kept rummaging around in the van but eventually emerged with headlamps, hardhats, backpacks, and more. We loaded up and made our way past some concrete construction projects, down a path by some big fancy houses, and into the brush beyond. It was about a 5 minute walk to the hole in the ground with the tree growing out of it and beyond that a little ways down the hill we found the entrance to the cave. It was a smallish opening but once inside we walked about 40 meters back to a very large cavern. We traced the opening up to the tree and explored it a little before my friend the madrich (guide) slipped on a fake beard and broke into song! (Remember a blog a ways back that had the title ‘singing in the halls’ in it?) Well this was better. Thanks Phillip!

As far as house shopping, (bad segway, sorry) a few months ago Adele and I started looking for a house to buy in our quaint little town of Zichron Yaacov, Israel. We searched high and low with about 4 different real estate agents. It was a great way to learn, not only our way around town but, the way of the big deal and the hard sell as well. The first house that we loved so much that we brought the extended family to tromp through the same day, turned out that in the end the seller just wanted to see what he could get for it so he could start looking for something else himself. needless to say, we were crushed however we bounced back with a different real estate agent (they kind of grow on trees around here but not the kind from caves either) and found another house that was so great we, once again, brought the extended family to check it out. We all shuffled through about 3 separate times and in the end, due to a couple of minor things like the house wasn’t really legal because of some back alley deals that weren’t (as of yet) finalized and the minor issue of the backyard literally falling off and down the hill, we decided to pass.

We must have seen about 20 houses including one that would have been just fine if it was designed for one family instead of three, one that had maximized the lot so perfectly that it was literally impossible to actually live in, and one house that would have been great if only whoever built it wouldn’t have in the first place… ma la a sote, (what is there to do?) right? So we kept looking and eventually found a house that was, as our new real estate agent took every opportunity to tell us “meode yaffe!” (very beautiful)

At first Adele loved the house and I thought it was too expensive. Then Adele thought it was too expensive and we both agreed to look some more. We found houses that had amazing views of the mosquito ponds down the hill, houses that had whole apartments in the basement that were essentially illegal, and houses that were, you guessed it, better off not having been built at all. Eventually we came back to the overly expensive albeit meode yaffe house. And with some fancy foot work, Angels working around the clock, the tremendous help and advice from Adele’s family that we received, (thank you, thank you, thank you!!!) and many, many blessings from Hashem, (Baruch Hashem) we decided to move forward with the purchase.

So today we met with the lawyers and the sellers. In Israel there is no escrow. You just sign a contract (that was all in Hebrew that neither one of us could read) and give the lawyers and the owner very large checks. Sound simple? Ha ha ha… so we walk in to our appointment almost right on time (Adele almost ran out of gas on the way and stopped briefly to refill) and the owner’s lawyer was still haggling with our lawyer. We had time to get a bite to eat and checked out the new kosher pizza place down the street. (I love Israel!) when we got back they were just getting into the thick of it so we sat down to be joined shortly by the owner, his cablan (contractor), the real estate agent, and eventually the owners mother (I guess she really owned the house since in the end she did all the signing), but I am getting ahead of myself.

About halfway through our meeting, the energy began to rise. This is something we heard about and were fully prepared to just turn and walk away from the deal if need be. The cablan was yelling about how the house was perfect, the other lawyer was yelling about how he needed another installment of money before the end of the term of the month, and the owner was yelling about how he was giving us such a good deal and to just take it as is. Our lawyer was yelling too and Adele and I just mostly listened and tried to understand what was being said. They all left at one point and were yelling in the hall while smoking cigarettes and when they came back in, we were almost instantly all settled, made the necessary changes to the contract, and started passing around papers and forms to sign, at which point the other lawyer started getting really animated about some kind of amazing falafel in Ramat Gan or someplace. He was going on and on about how the line was an hour an a half long and went clear around the block. Everybody in the room seemed to have this little knowing smile on their faces like… yup, that is really the way you finish a deal in the Middle East… falafel… I guess someday I will get there. All I know is that both Adele and I left with a stomach ache from the combination of adrenaline and angst and were not in the mood for falafel. The last thing I heard was the real estate agent saying, “meode yaffe!” you know what? It is a meode yaffe house, we got a meode yaffe deal on it, and in time I think we will start to feel meode yaffe… really! Wish us baatstlacha! (Not luck, but success as referenced in a previous blog) We can save mazal tov until we actually move in, Baruch Hashem, sometime towards the end of next month.

Lahetraote kulam

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Floating above the Earth

Imagine yourself floating above the Earth, high above a city. You look down at the city and see how the streets form patterns around the buildings. You notice the traffic patterns and the movements that you see all feel familiar to you. These same patterns are occurring behind and inside the buildings. The people are moving with a purpose, like ants moving in mass, with intent.

Still floating above the city, you close your eyes. When you open them, you have moved away from the city into a space above the Earth. You see the planet as it recedes from you. You are safe and warm and as you fly further out from the Earth, the Moon comes around the planet and it too recedes until both the Earth and the Moon are only satellites revolving around the Sun. they are joined by the other planets of the Solar System and the pattern that emerges is recognizable and comfortably expected. Now you hover, deep in space, looking out at the Solar System. It is predictable, like a clock mechanism as it revolves and rotates into the light of the Sun and out again.

You close your eyes and when you open them, you are gliding further out into space. You are still comfortable and warm as the Solar System recedes in front of you. You pass the asteroid belt and continue further out into space. The Solar System becomes a dot of light as other dots join and begin to make patterns. You can start to make out constellations as you float further into the cosmos. The patterns of constellations are reassuring and familiar. They speak to you of things to come and are comforting. They tell you that you are with many others and not alone. They tell you that there is purpose to it all, a meaning that is just beyond your reach, like the colorful toys hanging from the top of the crib when you were a baby.

You close your eyes again. When you open them, you are receding even faster. The constellations begin to tighten and condense. You are still very comfortable and feel invigorated by what you see. The stars of the Galaxy are beginning to thicken as you move away at even greater speeds. The arm of the Milky Way Galaxy that contains your home planet Earth becomes visible like a giant tentacle sweeping away from you. Your speed increases even more and the arm is joined by two others. The Galaxy is spinning and spiraling in a familiar pattern. It is relaxing to watch as it rotates and spirals out to its edges. You are warm and feel like you are looking at your home. It has a pattern that soothes you as it moves twinkling and swirling in the deep black of space.

As your body becomes relaxed, you close your eyes. When you open them again, you are hurtling away from the Milky Way Galaxy. It spirals in on itself, becoming a starfish, and then a dot of light as it is joined by other spiraling starfish and lights. The swirls and lights are all now filling the space in front of you. They are all moving away from you, like the twinkling lights of millions of candles. As they hurtle away, the space around you becomes primordial. You are flying back in time to the beginning of the Universe. You can see the stretching of space as time becomes elongated. The lights that you see from all the millions of Galaxies are moving forward into time and space. You are moving backwards, all the way back to the beginning.

You close your eyes and when you open them you are outside of time and space. There is nothing around you. There is no space and there is no time. There is nothing but you, floating in nothing, before the Universe had form. It feels like being in the womb, without awareness of any other. And then there is a light. It is the size of a grain of rice. It is in front of you and it is light like no other. All around the light there is only nothingness. The light is more brilliant then you could possibly imagine and when you squint and look close, inside the light, there is movement. It is moving in patterns, but so quickly it is not possible to fully see or comprehend. Then the light expands out instantly and time grabs on once again. Its outer edge passes you in a flash and its inertia pushes and then pulls you along with it. You are now flying with it, though time and space. The gelatinous gasses are forming substance as you fly along with it. Time is stretching and you can see into the past and into the future from where you cling. The galaxies are forming, along with all the stars and planets. You can see patterns however they are too complex to understand. The Universe is unfolding in front of you, both in time and in space.

You close your eyes. When you open them, you recognize the constellations once again. As you turn around, you see your home and the familiarity of the Solar System. It is coming closer and you now can see Earth. You soar down over your city and see the patterns of people moving throughout its streets and passages. You then float down and comfortably step onto the sidewalk. The people around you are engaged in normal patterns. They are eating a snack on their way to work, talking on the phone, talking amongst themselves, and engaging comfortably and normally. You see someone that you know, someone that intrigues you. You want to get closer so you walk slowly in that direction. Your feet are just millimeters above the ground and you glide until you are facing the person. As you look, you notice that this person is you.

You blink for a moment and are immediately compelled to be one with this person. When you open your eyes you are inside this person and you begin to shrink. You watch as your body begins to grow around you. You can see the brain as it goes from organic material filled with blood and electricity to cells that cling and dislodge in perfect timing with their surroundings. You shrink some more until you find yourself looking at the spiraling DNA molecules that make up the cells. You stop briefly to notice how the molecules look very much like the galaxies in space that you had just witnessed. They swirled and spun, adding and subtracting energies and masses. Now you begin to shrink some more. You see a group of celestial bodies that can only be atoms that are constantly separating and combining parts of each other. You focus on a particular group of atoms and zoom in some more to see protons, neutrons, and electrons revolving around the spherical body of a nucleus. This nucleus is glowing with an internal energy and when you look deeply, you can see something inside it. From your perspective, it is the size of a grain of rice and has the same patterns of energy that you saw way back, before there was time. You are looking at a quark. It is made of only energy and it is what holds together all the atomic particles, all the molecules, and all the matter that you have witnessed thus far in your entire journey.

You feel both amazed and reassured and when you close your eyes again you feel yourself growing. You can now see the energy materializing into solids once again, all the way back through the particles and organic matter, until you are now standing on the sidewalk in your city. There are people walking all around you and you are comfortable. You look down and see your feet. You can feel the wind blow your hair. You begin to walk and you see a window with the reflections of the city around you. You walk up to the window and look at your reflection. It looks just like you. It has the same hair and eyes, the same wrinkles and moles, and the same expression that you define yourself with. As you look at your reflection, your eyes close once again, only this time you fall asleep.

When you open your eyes, you see yourself in the glass of the store in front of you. Then you look past the glass and see what you can buy for yourself in the display. You walk into the stores’ double glass doors, turn to the sales clerk and ask if there is something in blue just like what you saw in the display on the other side of the glass. You are only left with a nagging insistence that there is more then just this. You know that later, when it is quite and you have time, you will wonder about crazy things like creation, evolution, science, physics, history, and of course, G-D.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Yom Ha Shoah

Last year on Holocaust Memorial Day, I was very fresh in this amazing Country. I didn’t really know what to expect when the siren went off to memorialize the 6,000,000 (notice all the zeros?) Jews that had fallen to torture, death, and ashes, in the Nazi Germany Holocaust. I remember wondering what it would be like a few days before, knowing that the whole Country would stop what they were doing and stand in place, looking out over the survivors and their descendants, which were also standing… and looking. Ironically enough, I spent that first minute or so looking out across the factory of Germans where I work.

Tomorrow I expect that it will be about the same, although with a few minor differences. Things like, the old man that used to work next to me, who one day decided to tell me about how he was drafted into the German army during WWII when he was seventeen. It was towards the end of the war and, evidently, the Germans were just throwing people at the front line. This old man, I think his name was Johannes, was beckoned by the French and American Army soldiers that were fighting the Germans to run across to the side of the Allies. This old man told me that he threw down his weapon and ran. He made it and then spent some time in an American prisoner of war camp. Johannes died this year. He was very old and when he came in to work was barely able to do it. I helped him when I could, but knew that his days must be numbered. He was excited to find out that I was American and that is why, I think, that he confided in me about his past. Even the Germans at the factory didn’t know about this. Maybe he felt guilty and waited his whole life to get this little secret off his chest. I don’t know and I guess, never really will.

I have also changed. I have matured into a different sort of person as well. I think that is the biggest change from last years Yom Ha Shoah for me. I remember being so amazed last year at a whole Country full of aging victims of the Holocaust. That was over 60 years ago now and many of these victims have been quietly moving to the next world. Last year I saw a few elderly people with a blurry little number that had been tattooed on there forearms. I haven’t seen any for a while though.

The World is changing. People are starting to forget, either by accident or on purpose because of the difficulty in facing these demons. Let’s not let this happen. Modern day Israel was built on the ashes of the 6 million. This tragedy of inhuman scale can happen again at any time. We need to remember…


be well everyone and blessings from The Holy Land.

Friday, April 18, 2008


In my mind, freedom is a matter of being able to choose. We are presented on daily basis choices to make and, Baruch Hashem, we are free to choose from them. When G-D created Adam, he gave him free will. Our sages tell us that this was in order for us to accomplish the Mitvote (G-D’s commandments) by loving Hashem. We were given the freedom to choose, or not to choose, to express our love for The Creator. When Adam chose to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he chose to identify with his body and ego, as opposed to what his identity truly was, his soul. He became ashamed and hid from G-D because his identity was now naked. He no longer wore the body as clothing for his identity and needed clothing to cover his nakedness. This choice that Adam made descended a fog over our perceptions of the world around us which has affected our decisions throughout human history.

When the Jews left Mitzraim (Egypt) 4/5th’s were left behind. These Israelites had the freedom to choose to stay or to leave. The majority of them chose to stay in Mitzraim for the needs of their bodies. With the plagues they were shown by G-D that only he controlled the Universe and they were still afraid to venture into the desert on faith alone. They chose to be slaves to the physical by not choosing to be with the Jewish People or with Hashem.

Recently I went to Sderote with an organization that a friend of mine is involved with (link to the website is http://www.bahavatyisrael.org.il/ ) to help deliver Passover food to needy families. I was truly amazed at the ability of these people to live under constant terrorist missile attacks. There were no sirens, thank G-D, while I was there but the following morning they went off while katushas pounded into the Western Negev. I kept remembering the faces of these people that must have been hunkered down, whether they were religious or not, praying to Hashem that their children and community were all safe. These people are the true Israelites. They are the children of those that left Mitzraim with the kind of faith in Hashem that we should all have.

To be a Jew is to be two things for me. The first is to love and to believe with all my might and soul in Hashem and that I am here for that purpose. The second is to identify and to empathize with Jews from all over the world. These are the people that have endured on faith alone for over 3,000 years. Maybe there was a mistranslation to English because for some reason the Jews are called the chosen people, when in reality, Jews are the people that continue to exert there freedom of choice by choosing G-D, day in and day out.

Chag Sumeach Kulam

Friday, April 11, 2008

Yes, another pele-phone be’mechona hakvisa story.

About a month ago, I got sick. It was not fun, starting with vomiting and ending with explosive diarrhea. I stayed home from work for a few days and towards the end of this stint answered my cell phone. Since I was home I wasn’t wearing my fancy new phone holder on my belt and when I finished the call, had no choice but to put the phone in my pocket… where I forgot about it. Then, about ten minutes later, was shocked to realize that I had had an accident… you know.

Well, I just stripped down to nothing, slammed the whole bundle in the washing machine, took a shower, changed clothes, and remembered my phone. Not again!!! I ran down the stairs, stopped the cycle, drained the washer, and eventually recovered my phone. It was a little wet but when I turned it on it worked. I dried it out and continued to use it. Whew… almost had to cash in on the stupid insurance thing I had to buy the last time to get a new phone, but the story isn’t over yet. You see, there is something called corrosion and when it gets into the electronics of a cell phone… see you later, alligator. And that is what did eventually happen. The phone made a flash of schizophrenic light across itself, before eventually freezing up for good.

I drove down to Hadera to get the phone fixed or replaced right after davening and cleaning the house for Shabbat. I knew exactly where to go and walked right in hoping that it wouldn’t be to long. I was able to conduct the whole conversation in Hebrew and felt like I understood everything that I needed to know, even the part about how the stupid insurance I had to buy didn’t actually cover if I lost the phone or if I had corroding problems. So, they charged me for a new phone. Now I was really getting pissed. I started to yell at the poor girl behind the counter (this is all in Hebrew by the way) and told her that if I threw my phone in the ground, stomped on it with my foot, and brought it to her in tiny pieces inside a plastic bag, that my insurance would cover it. I told her that all I wanted was to be happy with the phone and service and could she please see what she could do about getting the price down. She said she would see what she could do and left to speak with her manager.

When she returned she had a smile and said that she could knock the price down a-bit. It went from 152 shekels down to 144 shekels. Wow, at least it was something, I said. Ok, I gave her a nice smile, wished her Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sumeach and left to get my car. I pulled out of the lot and the guy at the gate took my parking pass that I had remembered to get validated, and promptly said that I went over the limit for Cellcom’s stamp and needed to pay 8 shekels. So…as far as I know, the time I spent haggling with the girl behind the counter was the time I went over for the parking.

On Yom Kippur we are told that the books are sealed as to how much money we will make in the coming year. I guess I was just not meant to have that 8 shekels, even though I tried hard to get it. Well, I did cause it to go from Celcom to the parking guy. Maybe that was what was really supposed to happen and if I really want to go mashugana about it, maybe that was why I got sick in the first place. Next time, maybe I will just drive by and give the guy 8 shekels and avoid all the hassle… well, then I would have missed all the fun wandering around the Hadera Shuk (open air market) practicing my Hebrew, almost getting ripped off for thirty shekels when I tried to buy a paper, and in the end, having this little blog to shoot out to all of you…

Shabbat Shalom Kulam.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Big Questions...

I was forwarded this list of questions to answer and thought I would slap them up on the blogsite. I learned some interesting things about how I think about things so, thanks... to whom it may concern.

1. Family background and why we choose to live in Israel.

Adele and I have been coming to Israel since our honeymoon over 20 years ago. We came for events such as a wedding, and most recently our son’s bar mitzvah. In addition to this, Adele lived in Israel for 4 years when she was in high school. We have always been Jews that have identified with coming HOME to Israel or Zionists if you prefer. We are spiritual people and being such, found that there was an undertone to normal life that seemed to drive us if we chose to let it. When we arrived for our son’s bar mitzvah, we felt that familiar feeling of, “we are HOME now” once again. That was really our last chance to listen… and we did. That’s why we live in Israel now.

2. Perceptions of violence before we moved.

We knew of just about every event that was reported before we moved to Israel. The Media Conglomerates seemed to just pump out major news events everyday of the week that somehow involved Israel. Now, you have to remember that the land of Israel is about the size of New Jersey, most likely has fewer natural resources, and before its United Nations declared statehood in 1948, was considered an arid desert in the south and a swamp in the north. This was a place that did not resemble the so called ‘milk and honey’ of the Bible. The modern day Israel has been built to be what it is today by the sweat and blood of Jews, all of which seemed to be listening to that inner voice. All this thought is relevant because this is the background noise with regards to the violence in the Middle East. I believe that what happens in Israel is relevant to the rest of the world and what happens outside of Israel. That is the only thing that makes any sense, considering the imbalance of the evening news’s story telling. The story isn’t the violence. There is violence everywhere in the world. The story is deeper then that.

3. Have our perceptions of violence changed since we got to Israel.

Well, our perceptions have changed. We don’t watch the Israeli news because it is still hard to understand, so we rely on the internet and what we see happening around us. The internet is the same as it was in the States so I just check in occasionally. As far as what is happening around us goes… it is beautiful here. The communities are very nice and the people are even nicer, once you get past the gruff exteriors. We have made friends that will last a life time, regardless of where we live. There isn’t any violence that we can see here. We read about Sederot and the missile’s that daily land on it and just hope and pray for some sanity in the region. Sederot is only about 2 hours away from us and we live in the North so it is really a small country if you know what I mean. All in all, we feel a lot safer here from the violence in the world. The violence here is just magnified to the outside world for what ever reason. The Israeli security is the best in the world and a model for any other nation seeking security. We did arrive right before the 2nd Lebanon war and this seemed to temper us a bit. We had to spend some time in the bomb shelters and in the end, just went on with our lives.

4. How do we feel that peace can be achieved in the region?

Well, I have often wondered about this same thing. Is there an answer to that one? First of all, I think we need to look at the concept of peace. There are lots of levels of peace. Peace can be when we wake up in the morning before everyone else and watch the world around us wake up. Peace can be satisfaction of a completed transaction or a job well done. Peace can even be a ‘temporary’ cease fire. The word peace can be translated into so many different ideas that it really isn’t just one word. For instance, in the Arabic language and culture, the word peace means something closer to justice then to the western idea of what peace means, which seems to be something like a hot cup of coffee in a quite corner of the local Starbucks. So, when the politicians or news reporters are using the word peace, which is it? I think that this should really be the question to ask. What is peace? Before we all agree on what peace is, how can we even dream of getting it?

There is a lot more here and I don’t know if I can really even touch the surface of this. Maybe each of us needs to ask ourselves, “what is peace for me?” and then ask, “what is peace for them?” and only then ask, “what is peace for us?” even then, I think we will get too many answers to really do anything with them. In the end, it all seems to be up to G*D, if you believe in that sort of thing. On the other hand, if we all asked the same questions, maybe that would be the incentive to really come together! And then again, maybe that is what G*D is really all about anyways; coming together.

So, how do we bring peace to the region? I think that right after we ask ourselves the questions stated above, we should ponder the idea… why am I here, is there a god, what is the purpose of it all, and last but not least… who am I?

Hope this helped,
Shalom from the Holy Land,
D. Noll

Monday, April 7, 2008

Tikun shveelim and someone else’s garbage

Recently, Adele and I went on a hike to a very nice part of the Country up in the north. It was a long hike and we pretty much covered every topic we could think of while on the way up and back to the same castle that I had visited with the Beit El teeule a few weeks back called Monte Fiord. This was a castle that was built in a canyon instead of on top of a mountain because it was meant to be a kind of Fort Knox for the Crusaders about a thousand years ago. They needed money to conquer the Holy land and this is where they kept it because it was very well protected from invading Arab (pre Muslim) armies. It was very interesting but the most interesting thing turned out to be a little trail maintenance that we did along the way.

We decided to pick up garbage on our trip up to the top and among all the variety of trash we found ample amounts of plastic bags to deposit it all in. as we picked up the trash, I noticed that people were taking notice so I decided to make a show of it and found myself hovering over some little stash of chip wrappers until the approaching hikers would notice what I was doing. As these hikers got closer, I noticed that they were Arabs. They looked at me with what I thought were curious expressions. My mind went through all kinds of variations on what they must be thinking. They seemed to be a family and when the last of them where just about to reach me, the man at the back with his little boy spoke to me. He was really happy to see us cleaning the trail and wanted to impress upon his kid how great it is to do what we were doing.

This really caught me off guard because all we had ever heard was that the Arabs litter like mad. I had even seen it happen once when I rode my bike past a group of picnicking Arabs and upon my return I saw that all of their trash was right where they left it. Then I really was caught off guard when the Arab said that he could tell that we weren’t Israelis because they just dump their trash everywhere and that they were the real perpetrators. We politely said that we have seen everyone littering and that we all need to clean it up. He said goodbye and I couldn’t help notice that he started to scan the ground as we parted ways.

A little further up the trail, we overtook a young Israeli couple having a rest. They also noticed us picking up trash and were very impressed. They each got a bag and walked with us up the trail to the top. We all felt so great to take care of the trail and even happier to see that people were noticing. At the last hair pin turn that wound up to the top the Israeli guy said to me that the Arabs are to blame for so much litter. I kind of snickered and told him what the Arab guy had just said. He got a shocked expression that then relaxed as he said, “it must be the Haradim then,” (those are the guys with the black hats and everything).

In the end, I learned something valuable about human nature. It seems that when it comes to litter, it is always someone else’s garbage…


Monday, March 24, 2008

Purim, Datti-a-Phobia, and another Beit El tee’oul

This is a story that starts about six months ago, when Adele and I decided that it was very important for us to become observant as Jews (Orthodox for those of you that need a translation). It wasn’t an easy decision and I spent some time looking out over Har Ha Ba’it (The Temple Mount) with tears of both pain and joy finding there way to the backs of my hands as I wiped them away. Some of the stories since have been chronicled in this pulp of both darkness and light, mazal and i.p. addresses, and adventures both in reality and in the mind, but today was a new day, or at least it started that way.

To begin this process of recounting footsteps and feelings, I need to back up to last week when Adele came home from Jerusalem after an evidently, particularly grueling descent (or assent as the case may be) into the land and headspace of datti-land (religious-land). She has a packed schedule in J-Town and all of her clients are the kind of Jews that you think of when you think ‘Orthodox Jew’ you know, Rabbi’s and Rebitzins, Teachers and only the deepest of thinkers and scholars. Well, Adele is a deep thinker too, but as you may already know, she has her own way of thinking deeply as well. Sometimes, I guess, it can become just overwhelming for her, as when she returned, she had become a very thoughtful, albeit a bit schizophrenic, version of Cru’ella De’vil. We fought, sort of made up, fought, sort of made up again, and then it was the fast of Ester (Ta’anit Ester) on Thursday that I mentioned in the last blog.

I was nervous about it as I had never fasted while at work before and didn’t really know what to expect. In the end, my fasting experience was really amazing. I had been learning the Purim Migillah (story of Purim) through an amazing little book by a Rabbi called The Malbim, which extrapolated the story of Purim into a novel like form with politics, character embellishment, and historical contextualization as well. As the fast day progressed, I really started to feel my soul lift into a realm of light and space. My physical self at first protested, but then fell into a mutual knowing that this was a time for the soul to play. By the time I got home from work and came up with a really funny costume to wear to the Purim party we were attending, I was really flying. And that is where the story goes astray, and I mean in a chaotic kind of Purim way.

OK sorry, I need to back up a little more. You see, I have a few friends and family that seem to feel like I am the type of guy that can just become fanatical and this being the case; I am going to don a black hat and move to Svat, leaving them behind for ever. A couple of these friends have actually had this experience with close friends and I guess it was fairly traumatic for them. Well, to be truthful, I guess there is probably some truth to the fanatical thing with me, but in all fairness, the only fanatical deal that really ever stuck was ‘trying’ to be an artist so… I understand their feelings and actually it is a real compliment for me to think that they all care about me so much that they want to keep me around… but this is all a side track, you see, this particular struggle has been the most difficult battle for me and I don’t think it is really over yet. So, back to the costume party; I decided to really show them all that I was really just being me and decided that for my costume, I would, you guessed it, don a black hat and then hang a sign around my neck that said, “Svat or Bust.” I thought it was really hilarious… in the end, Adele and I fought, some of my friends said that is what I would look like in a year or two, and to top it all off, Adele said that, “I should know that people dress up as alter egos and are really just trying to express their inner selves.” I guess I should have just gone as Batman.

In the end, I did hear the Megillah after Tfillah Ma’Eriv, broke the fast around 8 with not enough food, went to the party and started to drink… it took about two shots of something and a beer to plaster me to the floor, brain and all… I couldn’t tell the difference between Mordechi and Haman, or even tell the difference between G-D and Nature, but I could still tell the difference between where my head ended and my black hat began. I fell asleep and really didn’t wake up until two days later at the end of Shabbat, right before Havdalah.

Sound Chaotic? Well, the story doesn’t end there. Sunday morning I went on a tee’oul (trip) with my work to the North. We saw the Crusader castles at Acco and Monte’fior, and rode the cable cars down to the sea caves and grottoes at Rosh Ha’nikra on the border of Lebanon. This is where the Hagganah destroyed the train tunnel that the British were going to use to continue to supply weapons to the Arabs right before the War of Independence (sound familiar to you Americans out there?). We then had a picnic where the Germans supplied kosher food to the workers that were treated to this amazing tee’oul and then, full and tired, we headed for home.

Well, right before all this sightseeing and the amazing historical and political depth that is everywhere I look in Israel, I got a call from my wife about an irate neighbor yelling about his car or something. Evidently, Josh and his little cousin had an altercation with this guy the day before. You see, we live in a really upscale town, but on the wrong side of the tracks. We have cheap rent, just as long as we aren’t using the ever devaluing Dollar, but this has its down side as well. This guy drives too fast and thinks that kids shouldn’t play in the street. (Including his own kids which I reminded him of later) We are very clear that the kids need to be very careful and usually they are however this time, it was a near miss. Joshes cousin was sitting on the skateboard and hard to see from the driver’s seat of a car, especially for someone that doesn’t seem to feel like he needs to be looking for playing children. Josh, while not pulling over for the speeding driver as he went by in the first place, had told this guy to slow down because it was Shabbat and there are kids playing in the street (I.E. Joshes story after the fact), and I guess this guy heard only the part about how it was Shabbat and assumed that Josh was telling him that he shouldn’t be driving on Shabbat. He then called Josh a ben’zona (I am not translating this one) and then told his cousin that he should get a slap after backing up recklessly and just about running him over. Josh made an explicit hand gesture (as he, unfortunately, is sometimes known to do under situations of duress), and then the guy called him a ben’zona too and said that he would slap him as well. I didn’t hear any of this until after the tee’ule so all I knew that morning while sitting in the bus in the parking lot was that Josh had written, you guessed it, ben’zona on the windshield of the guys car with wood glue and that the guy was going to call the police or something. Just so you all know, when I got in the guys face about it all, he acted every bit the child that he seemed to be when interacting with the kids the day before and all the kids being safe (Thank G-D) it all seems to come back to a very sad phenomenon here in Israel that I have officially dubbed with this blog, Datti-a-Phobia (scared of the religious). Come on, what is the deal here? What are these guys afraid that the religious people are going to kung-fu them in there sleep with a Lulav and an Etrog?

In the end, Josh paid to Have this guy’s car cleaned, I watched my neighbor sink into his inner (arse) child as he tried to talk with me as an adult after behaving so poorly, the kids learned a valuable lesson, and I got to tell you all about it and process my so-called black hat fanaticism as well. I even got to put in a blurb about the Beit El tee’ule and just for the record, Adele and I actually made up for real this time! Well, she did just leave for J-Town again so we will just have to wait and see what the prevailing winds drag in this time.

Shavua tov kulam.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Inside the Mind of G*D

A couple of blogs ago I put a reference to the Hebrew phrase, mazaltov, right smack in the middle of it and then just left it as a question. The question had something to do with how it’s translation to ‘constellation’ or ‘luck’ wasn’t really very accurate or even a Jewish idea. Well, my friend Louis helped me understand this one a little bit. Here is a link that he sent me as well that actually starts with a similar question;
Mozal Tov???
So, now I think I got it a little more figured out. To make it a little simpler, think of the number 3. You see, with three legs a table will stand up. It doesn’t need 4 and it won’t work with only 2. A table is a great analogy because it can stand for so many things. A table is a place where just about everything takes place. A dinning table is where we nourish ourselves both from the physical and the spiritual standpoints. A desk is a table where we get our work done, or in my case, a workbench as well. So I think you get the idea…

Let’s call the table top the place where everything happens. Then the legs can be considered the supports of all that is happening on that table top. What kind of legs can we give the table? There are many ideas about the legs of the table in Judaism however, lets stick with tefillah (prayer), mitzvote (good deeds/commandments), and you guessed it… mazal (drip of soul from above?).

So how does that work you ask? Well, I think we need to explore a different idea first. Something else I learned is that everything in the physical world is really just an illusion. You would think it was the other way around wouldn’t you? You know, everything in the illusive world is an illusion. Really all the physical stuff that surrounds us is made of light or energy. Physicists now are confirming this with their experiments into the building blocks of life. If you break down an atom into its most basic element you are left with just energy and since all things are made of molecules and all molecules are made of atoms and all atoms are made of energy then it would be safe to say that all things are made of energy, you know, if A=B and B=C then A=C, or something like that.

Now that it is settled that all matter is really energy (sounds like The Matrix, doesn’t it?), this begs the question, what is all that energy for? In The Matrix it was to deceive the human race into living normal lives while there was really a sinister plot going on to use their bodies for, you guessed it, energy. In our world, maybe it isn’t such a sinister plot, however based on what we now know, energy is definitely involved.

Think about this one…

What if we are all really just living inside the mind of G-D? What if we are all just organisms such as anti-bodies and cancer-cells, floating around inside our known universe and acting, either according to, or against the grand plan. Visualize this; a cancer cell will latch onto existing healthy cells and create havoc. Anti-bodies will race to the rescue to try and right the situation, sometimes helping and sometimes adding to the problem. All these cells seem to have free will to either act according to the plan or against it. Have you heard the expression, “everything is G-D”? Or… what about the expression, “G-D is everywhere”? If we are really the anti-bodies and viruses inside a cosmic body then maybe we are really just inside the mind of G-D after all.

If this is the case, then it would be safe to assume that mazal would really just be the closest thing to the cosmic bodies nervous system, kind of like when the characters from the Matrix would just get sucked into the telephone lines and end up back in the real (illusive) world. We have already shown that we are talking about the real energy in the physical world and not the willy-nilly stuff in fairytales right? And that being so, this energy is acting according to some grand plan (Physics 101) and that we play a part in the plan with free will. And just for fun, Louis also gave me a great analogy about how our computers all have an I.P. address and that this address is unique to each computer and that enables, for instance, the computer that my Uncle Bob is working on in California to send a message to my computer half way around the planet and it doesn’t even take the same path every time. It will follow the path of least resistance. The cool thing about this analogy is that this whole system is operating from light and energy, just like, we now know, the illusive world (code for real world) uses.

Get it?... Let me know if you do, I am still working on it.

Shavua tov kulam…

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Art and theTorah (me too...)

Since I am an artist, both by training and by, Baruch Hashem, G-D given artistic genetic coding (we can just call this G.g.a.g.c. for short) I have lived my entire life with the goal of indulging the creative process. Since my third grade class with Mr. Gillespie, I have been producing above average artistic extrapolations from the world around me and from my own inspirations. Throughout the later stages of this process (about the last 20 years) I have wondered deeply about the dichotomy that seems to be present in the Torah regarding this. It wasn’t until recently when I read the first part of this apparent dichotomy again in Parsha Yitro, in which the fourth of the ten commandments which were given stated, “You shall not make yourself a carved image nor any likeness of that which is in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the water beneath,” that I began to really get a little nervous about this G.g.a.g.c. deal.

I asked around a little and looked up some different translations as well. One translation was given as, “It is forbidden to worship an idol by means that is unique to it.” Another translation was, “do not represent (such gods) by any carved statue or picture of anything in the heaven above, on the earth below, ext...” a literal translation is “Do not make.” A later commandment (20.20) also states that we are not to make anything representing something that is ‘with G-D’ such as Angels and replicas of articles from the Mishkan (Tabernacle) such as the Menorah. One of the more strict explanations that I was given was that if G-D tells us not to do it, we don’t, and if G-D tells us to do it, such as with the construction of the Mishkan, we do it. Well, that doesn’t really solve the problem of what ‘it’ is and what about all that raw G.g.a.g.c. that Hashem doled out? What is that for anyways? Well, I am getting a bit ahead of myself now.

You see, in the last two Parshiote, we read about Betzalel. We read about how his G-D given inspiration (or maybe G.g.a.g.c.) would enable the Israelites to design and build the Mishkan. We also read about how the Israelites made a golden calf and proceeded to worship it (avoda zora, idol worship), causing many to perish. It seems that these Parshiote along with a few around it are all about art and craft both of the most high and the lowest of lows. Hashem goes into incredible detail about how to construct the Mishkan and then gives divine inspiration to a few to lead the others in the crafting of the greatest masterpiece ever produced by man… a home for G-D. By the way, he also tells us again to rest on Shabbat right smack in the middle of all this, but that is another story…

So where do I go from here? At the moment I am as mystified as I was when I started writing this. We seem to have been given all the tools to sort this out and yet, I keep getting all kinds of different ideas and interpretations about how to deal with this apparent dichotomy and we know that there are no real dichotomies in the Torah, just inability to completely decipher G-Ds words. Maybe I should just stop trying so hard and start painting again; put some of that G.g.a.g.c. to use. Yaaa, that sounds like the right path and don’t worry, I’ll stay away from images of you-know-who and everything ‘with’ him. I have a really great Post Modern, Deconstructionist, Minimalist idea that I inadvertently got from the same guy that gave me the very literal advice about how to read Hashem's commandments. (Via the G.g.a.g.c. network delivery system I am sure) Now I'm feeling it... (Can you sense the smile on my face?)

Lahetraote kulam

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Rabbinate, singing in the halls, and the ‘being Jewish’ crash course

I thought I would try another free-flowing, multi-tasking, oratorical with a cool title type of blog. You see, life is starting to become normalized for us Nolls in the Middle East and I find that my mind is much less on the things that most people would think of as bizarre or unique. These things are starting to become just, normal. For instance, since I started working at the German, Christian, gas mask making factory and Kibbutz of Beit El, I have gotten used to the German people just breaking into song for no particular reason; like the other day when I heard this amazing voice echoing through the hall and stairwell. In the States, if someone was singing in public and was caught at it, they would probably stop immediately with a sheepish grin and a reddened face. Here, this type of thing is so normal that the drive-by-singers aren’t phased a bit by on-lookers. This woman was cleaning the bathrooms and was evidently enjoying the sound of her voice as it bounced around the tiled rooms. I don’t remember the song but I do remember that it was in English and had that kind of 70’s folk sound to it. The Mechanic sings sometimes when he works in the basement, and one of my coworkers started today with a song that seemed to be running around in his head and itching to get out. I guess I am still American because when they start, I always cringe a little. Maybe like they might not have known that I was there and could hear them singing. On the other hand, sometimes even when I know that I am not alone, I sing a song or two left inside my head from Shabbat. And speaking of Shabbat…

We went to the Rabbinate to open the Teek (means bag, don’t know why it is called that) for my official conversion to Orthodox Judaism. The building was in Haifa, about an hour from us away. We got great directions and had no problems finding it… until we parked. The parking lot was barricaded off so we needed to find a spot on the street. No problem, that was all in the directions. It got weird when we walked past a crumbling concrete apartment building that looked damaged from the last war, across the barren parking lot with the burnt skeletal remains of a few couches, and up to the door of a building that just couldn’t be the Haifa Rabbinate. It was a metal where house looking door with big rivets and graffiti that spread its way across the whole building. We stopped and stood for a second. Adele and I looked at each other and both uttered, “Is this it?” I heard Adele say, “No, I don’t think so…” and then I looked up and saw the little brass sign that said ‘HAIFA RABBINATE’. Ok, but where was the door knob? Anyways, it all worked out in the end. We got in, found where we needed to go, met with the Rabbi (who by the way had the largest beard I have ever seen), and am now on the way with an official ‘teek’. Wish me luck (mazal in Hebrew, like in mazal tov), actually luck is not a Jewish concept and I have always wondered about that. Mazal actually means constellation and that is definitely a no-no. Lots to learn…

The last segment of my fancy title is ‘being Jewish crash course’. This refers to a very unfortunate event that occurred at work the other day. You see, one of my co-workers is mentally un-healthy. He has been having episodes more frequently and had one the other day with me. You see, sometimes we get to talking and I enjoy it because it is great practice for my Hebrew. Usually our talks go well but that day it went real bad, real fast. we were talking about how so many people have been sick this year and he chimed in with there was a lot of pigs that got sick too. I thought, pigs? There really aren’t any pigs in Israel. What was he talking about? Then he said in Germany. Oh, I hadn’t heard of anything. And then he said that it happened during the Second World War and all the pigs died. Now my ‘being Jewish’ antennae went up like lighting. Then he said it. They had Juden-Swine written on their clothes and they were in a concentration camp. I told him that I didn’t want to hear anymore of what he was saying and that it was not ok to speak that way… ever. It was kind of like talking to a child. I told my boss and he spoke to him about it. Later the co-worker came to me and said that it was all a misunderstanding because of the language barrier (he speaks German, I speak English, we communicate in Hebrew) but I know it was something else. The poor guy is mentally ill, and German, and living in Israel with Jews. Ay yaay yaay… so, as far as the crash course, I figure, since I didn’t grow up Jewish, (even though I have lived a Jewish life for more then half of my life) I need to develop some Jewish survival skills… maybe just persecution complex, ya ya ya… I don’t know. All I do know is that I was ready to walk out of that place right then and the only reason I didn’t was that my boss told me some stories of his family during the Second World War. Many of his relatives were forced to fight on the front line because they were not supporters of the Nazis. They were all killed. So here I am, in Israel, converting to Orthodox Judaism, working at a German, Christian, gas mask making factory, that supply the Jews in Israel with protection against the new enemy, Hesbollah, Hamas, Iran and Akmadinajad, and all the radical Islamists in the West Bank under the direction of Abbas (former crony of Arafat). Am I Jewish yet you ask? Neereh…

Shabbat Shalom kulam!