Drew T. Noll © 2023, all rights reserved

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

THE Tong, THE Sound Machine, and THE Lost World

The word THE is THE most frequently used word in THE English language. I looked it up on THE internet. I thought that I might, just for fun, make note of THE wide use of THE word THE by capitalizing all THE letters in THE word THE that appear in this blog post. So, to get started, THE blog post is about an island in Sweden and, yes…, more. I saw a map of THE island THE other day that, when I peered into Google Maps to view it more carefully, caused my heart to stop for at least a beat and a half. It was an aerial view that some friends were showing me, friends that live in Sweden, but love Israel. They live in Malmo, which is THE same place that you hear about occasionally with regards to Muslim extremism, anti-Semitism, and Left-wing / Palestinian aggression 'towards' Israel. My heart skipped, because THE island reminded me of a lake that I used to visit when I was growing up, near Yosemite National Park, called Bass Lake. My father, you see, was really interested in building a family. He got a pretty good job, after serving in THE military and going to university, and in his long-term vision of THE untimely foreshortened future, bought an old cabin on THE lake there. We spent a few summers, much to my chagrin at THE time, wandering around THE wooded hills that extended behind it.

One summer, I decided to spend my time, of which I had plenty, building a path and a patio on THE leaf and pine needle strewn landscape out back. I actually woke up at THE crack of dawn one day, rolled available rocks up THE hill to use, and began to dig, only to stop short at THE abrupt discovery that someone had already been there, someone had already built it… what THE &%^$! It was like discovering dinosaur bones or something. THE more pine needles and ancient dirt that I cleared, THE more terraces and rock-hewn staircases I found! In THE end, instead of building walls and paths, I only discovered them while clearing them of 50 years of debris. Later, when my dad developed an interest in my discovery, I found out that THE Tong or Chinese Mafia informants had been harbored there by their lawyers, awaiting trial in San Francisco and that they, evidently like myself, had lots of time on their hands.

THE paths and staircases meandered everywhere, going nowhere. It reminds me, now, of a story by Roald Dahl called THE Sound Machine. I saw a Twilight Zone / Outer Limits genre movie about it once when I was young, but never really knew that it was a short story before. THE story starts with a guy named Klaussner, who is obsessed with sound. It unfolds with his theory that there are many, many sounds in THE world that humans are just unable to hear because of THE high frequencies involved. Klaussner, having built a machine to tune into those frequencies, attempts to explain to his doctor one day that THE machine will allow him to tune in and convert those high pitches into audible sound. THE doctor is not interested and thinks him a bit of a loon. Klaussner doesn't give up, though, and he tries THE machine out in his yard, where he cringes as he hears shrieking in his headphones while his neighbor cuts roses from her garden. Each time a flower is cut, he hears a shriek. Klaussner is intrigued and abhorred at THE same time, so, THE next day, he tries a bigger experiment. He turns on THE machine, puts on THE headphones, and swings an axe into a large beech tree. He is subsequently horrified to hear THE deep and pathetic moan that THE tree makes in response. Klaussner, wanting to share his discovery with someone, rushes back to THE house and calls his doctor again. "Please come. Come quickly. I want someone to hear it. It's driving me mad!" he says. THE doctor agrees to come over and listen to THE headphones, but just as Klaussner takes a second swing at THE tree, a large branch crashes down between them and destroys THE machine. Klaussner is deeply shaken and, in a moment of grief, asks THE doctor to paint THE tree's cuts with iodine. THE doctor claims not to have heard anything, but he agrees to Klaussner's strange request and dresses THE poor beech tree's wounds.

THE strange thing about this story is that everyone involved (and 'my' inner voice confirms this as well) is perfectly happy to have such a phenomenon go unnoticed in THE world. It just seemed to open up too many unanswerable questions… I mean, how are 'we' supposed to eat then? How will 'we' survive, knowing that we are causing such pain and distress to THE world, just to live? So, in our infinite ability to justify and ignore, we just move on… It is a question that we are unable to answer, a question that is out of our range, out of our vision, and we just turn the channel, pretending that such a machine never existed in THE first place. It is just like those staircases to nowhere, buried under years of dirt and refuse, somewhere outside of San Francisco in THE hills behind Yosemite National Park. I was so excited to find them, but at THE same time I was overwhelmed that I had lived and dreamed on top of them for multiple summers, without knowing a thing, without knowing how far they really went. I stopped uncovering THE staircases when I became overwhelmed by THE history of it all (actually, I think I probably just ran out of time) – I still visualize to this day… Chinese rail workers toiling in fear, as their lawyers debated inside THE screened lake house with THE ruthless Tong relentlessly searched for THE traitors that had run and hid among THE mountains.

I guess that we just have to move on and forget about THE pain sometimes, which is what I am going to have to do. When I saw THE island in Sweden, there was a split second that I remembered how I once believed that my parents would always be there for me.  You see, THE man that owned that island was given it by his parents. He was in a family business with them and they had a relationship, a real relationship... THE island was nothing special, covered in patchy snow and scattered, ramshackle out-buildings; accept, maybe, that it represented what I have somehow lost. My father died many years ago. He left THE cabin at THE lake to my mother. My mother decided to sell it at a tidy profit and, after she died, give what was left to her new, younger husband, as if those stairways to nowhere 'actually' went nowhere, after all. I know different now. Those hidden stairs and paths were created out of THE desire to be, THE desire to live. They represented THE world of action, our world. Those ruins were put there for me to stumble upon, if only to give a voice, however small, to their builders. Now I just need to remember them, remember that they existed. THE cabin by THE lake is gone now, just like Klaussner's machine. Now… THE nature of THE thing exists 'only' in my mind and I have to remember.  I cannot forget that THE entire Universe is made up of waves and particles, including me. But, even more important, I cannot forget that I am more than just that, I am alive for a reason, I exist, if only, to ask why.

THE end.

Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Cultural Mathematics and the Truth of Humanity

I went to a Yemenite wedding this week. It was cool… I hadn't been to one in the 5+ years that I have lived here in the Middle East. Thinking back on it, all I can 'really' remember is the way they danced. It was very special (and they knew it too!) Each individual had their own personal style, but following the same basic steps. There was a little shuffle, building up the tension to bounce, then a step and another, followed by a kind of 'drunken' looking sway-step out to the left side and a return with the same flare, accept in a kind of recoil… I couldn't see the women dancing, as they were all behind the machitzah (a sort of barrier to keep wandering male eyes from ogling the moves going on in the other half of Eden). I hear, though, that the women folk were tearing it up thoroughly — evidently 'way' more than the male folk and ‘we’ even had a big stuffed elephant guy in costume on the shoulders of some poor schlep! The room was buzzing, as each side do-si-do'ed up to the other, as the dancing rings of colorfully clad men swirled and cavorted for the entertainment of the groom and yes, the rest of us rag-tag band of peoples, joined by our proximity and our faith. It seemed that the dancing could go on forever. There was no thought of food, or of 'after,' or even next; there were young and old simply pounding their feet down to the floor, together, with their combined steps. We were all joined with friends and companions from around the world, solidifying the moment with our stomps, emblazoning the time deep into the memory of the earth beneath us, stamping truth into the world. We were alive.

Earlier in the week, the day before in fact, in France, a tragedy was unfolding. In Toulouse, a place that I visited once or twice, a Muslim on a motor-scooter opened fire on a Jewish school, killing Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, his three year old and six year old sons Gabriel and Arieh, and eight year old Miriam Monsonego, the daughter of the school headmaster Rabbi Yaacov Monsonego. As shocking as that act of pure evil was, later, when the EU's foreign policy chief attempted to condemn the massacre, Catherine Ashton took the opportunity to make note of children dying in Gaza at the hands of Israelis. What is the connection, you ask? I guess Israelis = Jews, meaning that as tragic as the 'incident' was, Jonathan, Gabriel, Arieh, and Miriam had it coming for the absolute gall of being Jewish. As one quote I read said, "Such disgraceful equation reflects an incredibly twisted value system, coupled with total blindness in the face of global reality." It seems that the EU's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, is championing a kind of culture too, but one of hate and ignorance, maybe not in that 'exact' order, but definitely ignorant and… yeah, you get it
Here in Israel, right before the betrothal under the Chupa (wedding canopy), a ceremony took place called a Bedekken or Veiling, in which the Chatan (Groom) lowers a veil over the face of the Kallah (Bride). This is a cultural custom that is attributed to the Biblical account of Rebecca and Isaac's first meeting, when Rebecca, in an innocent gesture of modesty, concealed her face under a veil. The Bedekken is also a cultural incarnation of the story of Rachel and Jacob, when Rachel's father Laban (Mr. White) sneakily substituted his eldest daughter Leah for Rachel at the Chuppa. So today, the Chatan lowers the veil over the Kallah to be absolutely sure that the woman he is marrying is who he 'thinks' she is. At the Bedekken, the entire place was full to the brim with the vastness of hope and of innocence. The Chatan came in and there wasn't any doubt, only purity and strength of vision. The Challah's prayers were so deep and full of intensity — she carried her grace down to the root of the world. They were happy. They were glowing.  They were royalty.

Meanwhile, the European Union’s embarrassing, so-called, clarification of Catherine Ashton's hateful and ignorant remarks didn't even try to deny their cultural and political agenda. The EU claimed that Ashton’s remarks did not 'mean' to compare the massacre in Toulouse to Gaza. Ultimately their 'clarification' only served to clarify the validity of the remark… It made no difference in what was originally said, whatsoever. In my mind, the state of cultural affairs in Europe is pretty well summed up in this quote: "it further demonstrated Europe’s spinelessness and the tendency to shift positions and appease different groups, without adhering to a credible, enduring moral compass.” Modern Europe appears to have become kind of a multi-flavored fancy-shmancy popsicle that has unknowingly melted onto the crumbling sidewalk, waiting patiently for innocence (as opposed to ignorance) to wander by, slip, fall, and become the scapegoat of ego and non-reason in the world. What am I talking about? Anti-Semitism, plain and simple
You know… the word 'Semitism' is derived from the Semitic tribes that were historically from the Middle East in the cradle of civilization, where (you guessed it), culture was born. Everything we know today, as far as national identities, social pastimes, language, and cultural mannerisms come from this very same cradle and it (as in the world that we know) all began about the same time that the words of God were written down in the Bible. Yeah, that was a segue… In this week's parsha, Vayikra (Leviticus 1-5) meaning, "And He Called," it begins with a small letter Aleph (א). We don't really understand from the text who is calling to Moses, but because the Aleph is small, it is clearly singled out as something special and deliberate. This is what I learned about it: Aleph is equal to 1, just like the letter Bet (ב) is equal to 2. The first letter of the Torah is a Bet ('B'ereshit), signifying 'choice' between 1 or 2 and specifically signifying the nature of Man as we relate to God and our world. The first letter in the Aleph-Bet, the Aleph, signifies the Creator or something beyond Man, something that enlightens Mankind and can burn us as well, like Aish (איש) Fire. The word 'Aleph' is spelled the same way as Aluf, which means 'Chief.' The letter Aleph (א) is comprised of one long line and two short lines, just like a Vav (ו) and two Yuds (י), one above the other and on either side. If you add Vav (6) + Yud (10) + Yud (10) together, you get 26.God's four letter personal name (that we forgot how to pronounce, so we don't try), the Tetragrammaton, is equal to 26. The numeric equivalent of the word for 'Love' (Ahava) is 13. So, what do we get? We get the marriage between Mankind and his bride, the Torah, which equals 1 'Love'. When Mankind loves his bride, the Torah, God loves Mankind, which equals 1 more 'Love'. The numerical equivalent of the word for 1 (Achad) is also equal to 13. So, no matter how you look at it, Love + One = 26 (The One), Love + Love = 26 (The One), One Love is One, Loved Ones is The One and ultimately, that is how we know that we are 'all' One… oy.

So, how does this work in 'real' life? Well, it goes kind of like this: Driving onto the grounds at the wedding hall, everything was brilliantly lit to define and emphasize the entrance. The under belly of the trees were illuminated as they shot straight up from the ground and into the twinkling darkness above, drawing energy from the constant flow of guests coalescing in the opening of the hallowed grotto. The entrance glowed in the dark, beckoning to us, calling people from all over the world into its bosom. There were white people from the Americas and Europe, black people from Africa and Arabia, brown people from Persia (Iran), Babylon (Iraq), and Jerusalem (Israel), North Africans, Irish, French, Spanish, Latin American, Russian, Canadian, and more. It was cacophonous and full, but we could breathe in deeply of the world under the surface of what we see, day-to-day. We were all together at this amazing joining of two very special souls, two Jews under the canopy of Heaven, joined with the Clouds of Glory fomenting above, in their love and in the love of God. We were 'all' sharing the miracle of our strange and beautiful world, a world that tries to share itself with us at every opportunity, a world that is not necessarily understood. We spoke languages from around the globe, danced with each other and marveled at our individual natures, our uniqueness. We shared each other's company and in that moment, under the canopy of love that was revealed to us as it unfurled overhead, we knew we were Israel… We knew that we were 'all' One.
To the families that have been traumatized in Toulouse:

May Hashem, Who is everywhere, comfort you amongst the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem

And to the Klempners in their wonderful time of simcha:


Shabbat Shalom le Kulam!

Friday, March 16, 2012

What is a Jew Anyways?

The Alter Rebbe
This week, while buying our first 'real' car here in Israel, the car salesman, a surprisingly nice guy (as used car salesmen in Israel go), said he was a big fan of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who, for those of you that are just joining, was the seventh leader in the Chabad-Lubavitch dynasty that spanned generations in Eastern Europe and is now headed from Crown Heights, Brooklyn. This car salesman wasn't religious, but gave me a little card with the 'prayer for traveling' on it. The front of the card had a picture of the Rebbe and under it was the word "Mashiach (Messiah)." The strange part is that the name of the salesman's company was "Elbar (Son of God)." I kept thinking, "Is this guy a Jew for Jesus?" I guess it is possible, but, um, isn't that an oxymoron? I mean, what is a 'Jew' anyways? If anything, a Jew was someone like, yes, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Chabad, for Heaven's sake, (Chabad [חב"ד] meaning an acronym for Chochmah, Binah, Da'at or Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge) was headed by the Lubavitcher Rebbe for many years and they 'all' thought he would usher in the 'age of Mashiach.' He got sick… then he died… zichron le bracha. The story goes that half of Chabad said, "Close, but no cigar" and the other half said that he was coming back, you know, just like the 2,000 year old story goes…

Hmm…. Back on subject – what 'is' a Jew, anyways? Jesus was a Jew, right? The Rebbe was a Jew. Einstein was a Jew. Marx was a Jew (yes, both Carl and Groucho). Freud was a Jew. The Three Stooges were Jews. And, um, the list goes on… But, what makes someone a Jew? Some would say that it is a person's mother that makes them a Jew, but my mom wasn't Jewish and I am, according to both the Reform Jewish establishment in the USA and the Orthodox religious authority in Israel… a Jew. My wonderful and beautiful 'Jewish' wife says, "A Jew is a special, spiritual, communication wire directly to the Creator… um, I think, well, um, I don't 'really' know... Oh! I know, a Jew is someone who likes lox and Gefilte-fish!" She's right! A Jew is the crux, the center, the epicenter of how a person relates to the Creator and at the same time, a Jew is living, now, on the face of reality, and living in the moment. That is why we have heavies like Carl Marx in the same ethnic category as Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, or even Pat Benatar, and my favorite… the musician, Beck.

Yeah, there are a lot more (surprisingly) Jews… But, maybe a little later I can share the ridiculous list that I found with you. It appears that… everyone seems to be Jewish in some way or another, but that doesn't really answer our question, does it… 'What in the *^$% is a Jew anyways?!' We might have to go back a few thousand years to figure it out; I know, I know… Not this history stuff again!!! Don't worry, I'm trying to keep these blog entries short these days for the benefit of 'all' our mental health. So, to be brief, "In the beginning, all was tohu-u-vohu (usually mistranslated as 'void and formless"). I heard a lesson today on cosmology and how Steven Hawkins actually proved the existence of God while trying to explain that all reality has to have an "abstract" in order for it to work. Steven is an Atheist, which could also be a Jew (but, no, he isn't). Hey! That is an interesting idea. If a Jew has a direct line to the Creator, accept he/she doesn't believe in the Creator (like Carl Marx and many other Jews), he is still a Jew!

Now we are really getting tied up with this crazy-straw logic, aren't we…? OK, OK, it was explained to me once that a Jew is a person that has a special spark of a soul, a special soul, that was somehow present 3,500 years ago at Mount Sinai and heard the sights and saw the sounds of God – the almighty Creator of the entire Universe. There were 2,000,000 people there that day; God explained the nature of everything to all those present and they became the Jews, who had children, who had children. Some of these sparks were lost, wandering throughout time and in God's inexplicable justice, patience, and compassion, He put them back into HaAretz, the land of running, the world of action. Yeah, that is my story… I found my way back, which leads me to believe that there are a lot more of us out there (maybe 'all' of us!). Maybe if we all just keep looking, listening, and connecting to the Creator, even if we are Atheists, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, or even Jews, we will find our way back to our souls, our life-source. Maybe we can tap into that part of our brain that we aren’t utilizing to the fullest and hear the sights – see the sounds once again. Maybe soon, let it be in our time, we will have the honor of witnessing reality unfold for real, as the one true Messiah ushers in truth to our world and we are no longer capable of denying it. We are 'all' One, baby!

Just for fun, here is the list of Jews that I found:

Alan Greenspan, Lauren Bacall, Ellen Barkin, , Roseanne Barr, Jeff Beck, Jack Benny, Irving Berlin, Lisa Bonet, Ernst Borgnine, Albert Brooks, Mel Brooks, Lenny Bruce, Sandra Bullock?, Mama Cass, Charlie Chaplin, Noam Chomsky, Leonard Cohen, Joe Cocker, Billy Crystal, Curly Howard (Horowitz) - One of the Stooges, Sammy Davis, Jr., Robert DeNero, Kirk Douglas, Richard Dreyfus, David Duchovny of the The X-Files, Bob Dylan, M. C. Escher, Donald Fagen, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Sarah Michelle Geller, George Gershwin, Cathy Lee Gifford, Samuel Goldwyn, Elliot Gould, Beck, Rita Hayworth, Bob Hoskins (Ex-Kibbutznik!), Howard, Moe - One of the Three Stooges, Howard Shemp (Samuel "Shemp Howard" Horowitz), Iggy Pop, Julie Kavner, Danny Kaye, Harvey Keitel, Carole King, Stanley Kubrick, Billy Joel, Al Jolsen, Andy Kaufman, Calvin Klein, Lisa Kudrow, Dorothy Lamour, Barry Manilow, Bob Marley (father was Jewish), Groucho Marx Groucho, Harpo Marx, Walter Matthau, Liza Minelli, Marilyn Monroe (Official Certificate of Her Conversion to Judaism, Dated July 1, 1956), Rupert Murdoch, Paul Newman, Olivia Newton John, Leonard Nimoy, Gregory Peck, Itzhak Perlman, Natalie Portman, Joey Ramone, Lou Reed, Joan Rivers, Paul Reiser, Geraldo Rivera, David Lee Roth, Winona Ryder, Adam Sandler, Steven Seagal, Jerry Seinfeld, William Shatner, Dinah Shore, Pauly Shore, Slash (Saul Hudson - Guitarist in Guns and Roses), Sissy Spacek, Jon Stewart, Jessica Tandy, Eddie Vedder, Elie Weisel, Gene Wilder, Robin Williams, Henry Winkler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sara Silverman, Howie Mandel, Debra Winger, Kevin Kline, Lenny Kravitz, Harry Houdini, Neil Diamond, Dustin Hoffman, Jon Lovitz, Isaac Asimov, Gilda Radner, Jason Alexander, Bette Midler, Michael Landon, Al Jolson, Robert Redford (describes himself as half Jewish), Marc Chagall, Boris Karloff, Gene Simmons, Joan Collins, Jerry Lewis, Gilbert Gottfried, George Burns, Isaac Stern, Tori Spelling, Goldie Hawn, Isaac Mizrahi  (Fashion Designer), Leonard Bernstein, Jerry Springer, Kenny G, Alan King, Barry Levinson, Lorne Green, Fred Astaire? (his real name is Fredrik Austerlitz), Peter Sellers, Ron Silver, Stan Getz, Roman Polanski, Molly Ringwald, Paula Abdul, David Copperfield, Mel Blanc, Monty Hall (my relative by marriage!), Soupy Sales, Tony Curtis, Geena Davis, Matt Lauer, Brent Spiner (Data on Star Trek Next Generation), Zeppo Marx, Matthew Broderick, Tim Burton, Michael Bolton, Art Garfunkel, Bruce Springsteen (Dutch/Jewish) evidence anyone?, Hillel Slovak (late guitarist for Red Hot Chili Peppers), Mike Wallace, Cindy Margolis, Jennifer Grey, Dinah Shore, Ben Stiller, Judd Nelson, Keith Moon of the Who, James Spader?, Barbara Walters, Ricki Lake, Steven Spielberg, Cloris Leachman, Franz Kafka, Burt Ward (Batman)?, Bill (not Billy) Graham (late rock promoter extraordinaire), Audrey Hepburn, Pee Wee Herman (Paul Rubens), Paul Michael Glazer of Starsky and Hutch, Robert Downey Jr.?, Neil Simon, Peggy Lipton of the Mod Squad, Debra Winger, Buddy Hackett, Neil Sedaka, George Segal, Judd Hirsh, Alan Alda?, Chico Marx, Chaim Potok, Mr. Rogers, Adam Arkin, Pamela Anderson (born Joan Goldstein), Charles Bronson, James Caan, Walter Mathau, Ralph Lauren, Paul Mazursky, Sally Field, Don Adams (agent Maxwell Smart), Daniel Day Lewis, Felix Mendelssohn, David Cronenberg, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mark Walberg, Kirk Douglas, Helen Hunt (father's Jewish), Jeff Daniels?, Jerry Stiller, Harrison Ford, Ringo Starr, Elliot Gould, Barbara Hershey, Rob Reiner, Joel and Ethan Coen, Fred Savage, Liv Tyler, Courtney Love, Claude Rains, Andy Kaufmann, Adam Horowitz of the Beastie Boys, Roy Lichtenstein, Norman Lear, Goldie Hawn, Arthur Miller, Al Jolson, Carly Simons, Tom Bosley?, Peter Falk, Bill Maher, Matt Groening (creator of the Simpsons), Mark Rothko, Rod Serling, Ethel Merman, Barbra Streisand, Amos Oz, Jack Benny, the creator of Get Smart, Buck Henry,Jackie Mason, Carl Reiner, Esther Reiner, Oscar Hammerstein II, Oscar Levant, Jasha Heifitz, Yehudi Menuhin, Bernard Baruch, Robert Altman, Steve Lawrence, Edyie Gorme, Sid Caesar, Tyrone Power, Ernie Kovacs, and last but not least, the actor that played God himself, George Burns.
Gut Schabbes!