Shira and Joshua. And Leonard Cohen.

long posts are always better when acompanied by music so here is some audio from the Chuppah (Neshama Carlebach (whom I haven’t seen since I was like 15 (she’s my mom’s first cousin) singing “Im Eshkacheich).

And if you are still reading/looking at the images feel free to play the next song which was the beginning of the chuppah :)

 
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Disclaimer number one: There are going to be a LOT of words under these words. Feel free to skip down to the photos if that’s your thing (but if you like Leonard Cohen, Judaism, G-d, spirituality, controversial thoughts, random stuff, and more random stuff, by all means, keep reading, I promise it’s an interesting one!).

A few weeks back I was photographing a lovely wedding somewhere in New Jersey (not this one) and I was scrambling a bit for a ride back to the city (which of course means Crown Heights, Brooklyn). I had this wedding confused with another (shut up) and where the other would have many people heading back to Crown Heights, this one, well, not so much.

I finally found ONE fellow heading back (now this shouldn’t come as a shocker, but spending so much time in Crown Heights growing up and in school I kind of figured it’s the, you know, center of all Jewish life in Brooklyn. Ha!), and convinced him to stick around long enough for me to wrap up.

(Dearest Google, sheine punim, omnipresent and ever knowing: this wedding of which I’m sharing (possibly too many) photos of, took place in Manhattan, just because I keep on writing “Crown Heights” doesn’t mean I want the SEO for that. Got it? Great, happy we had this talk.)

We got to talking (because that’s what you do when you get a ride with someone, unless it’s a ride share and you’re tired), and our talk meandered into music preferences. I mentioned that I love Leonard Cohen (a bit reluctantly as I’m (stupidly, I know) a bit embarrassed when I like popular things), and that totally set him off.

I think I met the only Crown Heightser who is a bigger Leonard Cohen fan than I am.

We spoke about him for a bit and the sad state of music in the frum (Yiddish term for the Jewish orthodox world), meandering from there to the general lack of spirituality and G-d prevalent in so many religious communities. How one can spend an entire day (week, month) with people without any mention or discussion of G-d or holiness or spirituality or anything real. I mean we’ll throw out mindless “thank G-d!”s and hundreds of blessings, and the occasional “dvar Torah”, but any real conversation is about politics or sports or business or fashion or whatever.

You know, solving the world’s problems, one complaining conversation at a time.

(I’d love to be able to exclude myself from such aspersions, but yeah, maybe one day.)

At some point I mentioned I was actually a bit disillusioned with Leonard. I had two recent heroes: Leonard Cohen, and Oliver Sacks. Both had recently passed away and I was a bit miffed at myself for not going out of my way to meet them.

Oliver wasn’t religious at all but his life was inspiring, while Leonard was deeply spiritual but it seemed to me (at the time) that he was a bit selfish. Maybe he had to be. I don’t know.

My gracious driver graciously disagreed and put on a speech that Leonard gave at a Symposium for English Language Jewish Writers symposium in Montreal in 1964.

It was soooo good. Brash, beautiful, strong, harsh, and deeply spiritual.

So good in fact I took the time to type most of it out (besides for some parts about Canada I didn’t really care to understand).

Disclaimer number two: I don’t agree with everything he says (and I think it silly that I even need this disclaimer) but it’s definitely a valid and much needed outlook. Things have changed since 1964, but much hasn’t. I also don’t pretend to understand much of what he said. But I did learn a few new words :)

Disclaimer number three: I did not listen to the previous speakers as I didn’t think to google it until after I wrote this and frankly I doubt it would be as interesting as Leonard’s responses and comments.

Edit: Okay, I just listened to the others, not nearly as interesting, back to regular programming.

You could listen here if you’re interested (it’s worth it).

///

Ladies and Gentlemen.

I stand at the summit of a very bad Jewish education, and a very bad secular education.

I do not have the luxury to indulge myself in a choice of language, since I only have one. I have learned French for political reasons and Greek so I could order groceries, but the language of my spirit, is English.

Mr. Ravitch (who spoke before yiddish and how any real Jewish writer must at least have a working knowledge of it, etc.) manifests an interesting nostalgia for Yiddish and Hebrew, but if he believes that the future of Jewish emotion and spirituality resides in those two languages, he must relegate the entire North American Jewish experience tot he outer limits. The fact is the Jewish experience, contemporary Jewish experience for the larger number of Jews today is English.

But it doesn’t matter anyhow because because Mr. Ravich is guilty, that’s too strong a word, he labors in the error that there is no spiritual content without language, and it is my primary contention that language only obscures spiritual content and is in the second realm of the encounter with divinity or the spirit

Mr. Ravitch is frightened that the entire jewish experience will degenerate to some obscure sect performing a ghostly ritual. I think that if that sect were composed of 36 men it might be worth the entire religious experience of the diaspora

I also, Mr. Ravitch, though I do not have anything approaching your background in European background, I would caution you to speak less casually about the Jewish eternity, because the jewish eternity is not in the had of the practitioners of one language or another but in higher hands who may choose an entire different method of communication to reveal his plan, so let us not jump too quickly to involve our destiny in any particular alphabet, I think our destiny transcends an alphabet.

The idea of a real jewish writer to me is on the par with those people that discuss which meat stores are really kosher, the important thing is nourishment, the label is secondary.

Where are the men of the spirit, if they exist among us and speak with their hands, we owe them our gratitude.

The world is hostile not only to the jewish writer, the world is hostile to the writer, to the poet, who world is hostile to any man who will hold up a mirror to the particular kind of mindless chaos to which we endure. That is the glory of the poet, that is the glory of the writer, that is the glory of the Jew. That he is despised, that he moves in this mirrored exile, covered with mirrors, and as he passes through the communities where he sojourns, he reflects their condition and his condition.

To me his destiny is exile and his vocation is to be despised.

Judaism is a secretion with which an eastern tribe surrounded a divine irritation, a direct confrontation with the absolute. That happened once in history and we still feel the warmth of that confrontation, divorced as we are from the terms of it. That happened a long time ago.

Today we covet the pearl but we are unwilling to support the irritation, the burning nucleus, and our spiritual life today has the exact consistency of an unclean oyster, and it stinks to heave.

We cannot face heaven, we have lost our genius for the vertical. Jewish novelists are sociologists, horizontalists, and the residue of energy left from that great vertical seizure we had 4000 years ago, that we turn towards ourselves.

We knock on our own doors and wonder when no one answers.

We create this insane Talmud of identity that must end in psychiatry or Zionism, but never in a prayer of praise. Perhaps our taste for the absolute was too intense, we could not bear the light. We could no support the annihilation of the world inherent the light.

Perhaps we lost the land because we no longer wished to posses it. The light made the cities and the temples irrelevant. Perhaps we can live every day, with the destruction of European Jewry in our hearts, because in some unassailable quarter of psyche we know the exile had become meaningless, just as our exile in Canada has become meaningless.

Now it is not easy for me to say this or to think it, and I accept the censure of those of you who have suffered, which you must direct to one such as myself who has not suffered anything but a small spiritual anxiety, and that among comfortable circumstances. But the emptiness of our exile in Canada has driven me into arrogance and scalpel thrusts.

There is an awful truth which no Jewish writer investigates today, which no Jewish poet articulates. It is a truth that the synagogues and the cultural establishment cannot efface, and it is this truth:

We no longer believe we are holy.

This is the declaration that I wait to hear going out from synagogues and from the lips of cultural Jews and ethical Jews. This is the confession without which we cannot begin to raise our eyes. The absence of G-d in our midst. And it’s interesting that in two symposia that I have been to within the Jewish community within the past few month, no one has mentioned the word G-d.

And I am laboring under the misapprehension that the Jewish people represents that testimony on Earth, and that without that testimony informing its actions, Jewish survival is nominal and no more important to me than Armenina survival or Greek survival.

The absence of G-d in our midst is a deep rotten cavity that has killed the nerve of the people. We are ready to accept psychiatric solutions for our suffering. We are ready to accept ethics instead of sanctity, and we will die very badly for our choice. And our monuments will be new parochial schools and the state of Israel and a militant anti defamation league and maybe a Jewish president of the United Staes. Well to hell with these mausoleums! The architecture, look at it! of our new city synagogues, speaks of their hideous obsession with safety.

Now before we begin, we much face that despair that none of us dares articulate: that we no longer feel we are holy. And our writers will continue to be sociologists and cataloguers, there will be no psalms, there will be no light, there will be no illumination, until we can confess the position in which we have decayed.

Each generation of man, must continue the ancient and holy dialogue between the material, secular, artificial, ethnocentric on the one hand; and other the spiritual, ascetic, natural experiential. Certainly we have built too much on the other side, the balance has hit the ground.

Let us refuse the title “Jew” to any man who is not obsessed by G-d. Let that become the sole qualification of Jewish identity. Let us encourage young men to go into the deserts of their heart and burn the praise of perfection. Let us do it with drudge, with whips, with sex, or blasphemy, or fasting. But let men begin to feel the perfection of the universe.

Let us declare a moratorium on all religious services until someone reports a vision or breaks his mind on the infinite.

Jews without G-d are Lillies that fester. Let us discard the mentality of the minyan, the danger which it was meant to shield us from, lonely self annihilation of the spirit, is unfortunately no longer a danger.

Let us make it a danger.

Let us see Jewish monasteries, our families are strong enough to support the dialects. We need our dirty saints and monstrous hermits. Let us create a tradition for them, for they like the world.

Question: “I thought that Mr. Cohen has criticized the prophetic tradition in the Jewish writing and to my amusement and dismay, he proved himself to be a prophet of something else at the end. And therefore I would like to ask him what his definition of G-d and holy and how can man relate to these identities.”

Leonard: Look, I would not blaspheme the name by giving him a definition at this particular symposium. If your apparatus of comprehending the numinous has collapsed to the degree that you ask me for a definition of the word G-d, then you are beyond my therapy.”

Q. “For my sake will you just define the efficacy and superior spiritual efficacy of whips and drugs and stuff, not G-d.”

L. I would say categorically at this moment that in any junky’s kitchen there is a greater contact with the spiritual world than any given synagogue on the North American continent.

Q: “I want to remind you that literature is an art, and no one mentioned that tonight, an artist touch is universal, and I think the problem of the identification of the English writer and his identification as a Jewish writer, that problem is a very limited one. Because a writer has to identify only with himself, be honest with himself, and through himself identify with man in general with mankind in general. And it’s not important whether he’s a Jew or non-Jew, and in art the contents is universal. Art speaks and has to speak to everyone and because of what we lived through, what we passed. Because of the great tragedy, we should realize that the writer has the duty to throw down everything which divides him with other people. That language shouldn’t be a barrier, that he should strive through his language to speak to everybody, and his ears should be open to the whole world.”

L. I think that’s a very pleasant piece of literary propaganda, but unfortunately the mere declaration of the dogma “art is universal” and “we should take down the barriers”, is of very little significance really. Because art to be universal has to be particular. There is no good play set in Ambrosia. A play to be great, an idea to be great, has to be located and chained to a particular human circumstance. And the fact is that Jews are different from other people. And implied in your remark is the fact that there is a great universal spirit of art , and all one has to do is climb up the ladder of art and one leaves one’s heritage, ones gene, ones blood behind, and joins the divine company of angelic interpreters.

Very wrong. Very wrong. The Jew has a particular kind of vocation, it was his blood that apprehended a particular kind of divinity. It is that kind of apprehension that keeps the people alive. Without the exercise of that apprehension he becomes nothing but a mere consumer of the world’s goods.

Q. “… also I’d like to protest the romanticization of people like junkies. If you ever had much to do with them, they haven’t had a quarters fingernail Wirth of experience int he spiritual realm. Believe me I’ve been there when they’ve been washed out.,I’ve been there when they’ve been in and out, and they are not the proper people to stand for the kind of prophecy which you, very rightly, would like to see.”

A. I don’t intend to debate the advantages of the psychedelic experiences with you. I can only say this, that I have had personal experience with almost all the drugs going and I know the narcotic situation very intimately in this country, the United States and the Middle East. And I can tell you that the addicts that you’ve seen are heroin addicts or the victims of a particular mafia police conspiracy and the drugs are not confined to that p[articual kind of experience. And I would say that any jew from a synagogue having an experience with mescaline or lcd, I’m not advising this, but in view of the morass, of the swamp, of the miasma, of the dampness, of the Jewish spiritual state today, a state that nothing could ignite, save through the scalpel, or through the whip, or through a drastic alteration of the senses through narcotics. And that’s the only point I’m making. I do not suggest that everyone shoot themselves with junk. You don’t have the veins for it, most of it. What I am suggesting, is that crucial life experience, which is romantic, which is Apollonian and Dionysian together. Crucial life experience is not the dull, dead, totalitarian center. It’s not the nice things. Crucial life experience is romantic, and the only point I’m making is that that does not flourish in the synagogues today.

Q. “Yeah, but if you cannot get close to G-d without taking a pill, I was not just talking about heroin addicts as a matter a fact, taking a pill, chewing a cut, or anything like that, man, you are spiritual pretty weak to start with.

L. No.

Q. “I have the impression that the whole question tonight, may be beside the point (Leonard mumbles, “probably”) one element that has not been brought about is the tremendous rate of change in which we live. We’ve gone through, most of us, a tremendous catastrophe. Jewish life is not the same as it was 50 years ago. It’s not the same as it was in Poland 100 years ago in the Shtetl and it’s not the same experience we had when we were young. I think most Jews refuse to be merely Jews. They consider themselves as human beings who are a part of a greater community, be it their city, their country, or the whole humanity…

And every writer has the right to portray any personality as he sees them, that is the part of art. And I have the impression that the idea that Jews are a prophetic people, as Mr. Cohen has said. I want to think of this impression that he likes it very much. But I just don’t think that Jews nowadays are any more prophetic than any other people (Leonard mumbling, “no no”).

Jews recognize more and more that they have the same problems as all other people. (L. They don’t, they don’t.) and to a certain extent they are different. But the fact that they are different does not mean necessarily that they have to enclose themselves in the ghettos as they do, and not go out to the broader world. And that’s why I agree with my wife that the universal values are those that are important to each one of us, Jews and non-Jews.”

L. Look, this is the dull, liberal, humanistic center. That everybody is the same, everybody is good, everyone is equal. The point is this, that peoples, races, bloods, have vocations. That people have geniuses. If you don’t believe it then you wipe out the variety and beauty of the world.

Because, “let me renew myself”, as the poet said. “Let me renew myself in the midst all the things of the world that cannot be connected”. Do not connect things too easily. Do not connect with human intelligence. Do not make a huge broad sweep and include everything under the same wing. People are different, minds are different. Minds and peoples soar into different directions. People have different destinies, constellations abut for different kinds of actives. And if you want to eliminate the variety of man, then you are a spokesmen, not for humanity, not for equality, but for dead totalitarianism.

Look, 4000 years ago, the world was idolatrous, and I small Eastern tribe repudiated the experience of the world to develop a difficult idea that has burnt the people for 4000 years.

That is what I mean by variety, of course the world is idolatrous, today, that’s why the Jews have a particular vocation. That’s why we’re here tonight examining a special unspoken kind of anguish about our identity because we are not fulfilling it.

There was a time when all of Judas neighbors were idolators, and some madman smashed the images and turned himself into light.

Now that is the challenge of Jews in every generation, whether it’s a ghetto or its a metropolis, is whether they are burnt or whether they are citizens.

Q. (Unclear) “Are you saying that the Jews have a special duty to save the world?”

L. The Jews have a special duty to save G-d. In the world.

Q. “Where is G-d?”

Look, as I said before. If the apparatus in each of you who snickered right now, if the apparatus in each of you has so withered that you cannot apprehend holiness, the numinous, then you are indeed right for the humanistic society.

Q. (Hard to hear, but audience grumbles and groans)

L. Look, my friend, there is such antagonism and hostility in your question, that I am reminded of Emerson’s remark, (pause) which I’ve forgotten (audience laughs). Here it is “what you are speaks so loudly, I cannot hear what you are saying.” In other words, the reality of your question can never distract me from the words you used. You’re not asking me about my relationship with the Jewish people, you are trying to censure my relationship with the Jewish people.

Now if you want to really know what I think about the Jewish people, I have 3 books and forthcoming one in which you can examine my relationship with the Jewish people. If you think my relationship is antagonistic I suggest you read closer.

Q. “And I think (someone) and Erich Fromm… that although they do not crop from synagogues and they do not come from churches, are greater prophets nowadays because they are concerned with the reality of living. And that this idea of something that has to be transcendental, somewhere beyond, does not have to necessarily be something we look for in holy. And to that extent we may agree, although the terminology is a question of semantics.”

L. No, I disagree. Basically, transcendentalism without G-d is sociology and politics.

Q… You have not given a definition of what this is.

L. You’re nourished by definitions, I’m nourished by the Almighty.

Q. (Inaudible)

L. The question was would I explore the differences that are innate in the Jews and I could not do that while standing on one foot. It’s a matter of the knowledge that each person int his room has. There’s a time you know when we must discarding definitions, start discarding the problem which we create for ourselves. We know what G-d means, we know what the word means, we don’t need a definition. We know what the word Jew means we don’t need a definition. There comes a time when the definition only obscured the human reality. Now let us return to the human reality. We know how we feel in the world. Jews know how they feel in the world. All I ask is for some allegiance to that feeling. If other people feel the same way, I praise the variety of the universe. That’s exactly what I wish for each person. For each race, for each blood, for each city, for each street, for each tree, to feel different. So that the individuality so the oneness of each thing can express itself, and not obscure itself in this dead center of acceptance and definition and clarification. Let us refuse to clarify, let us only follow the allegiance that we know we owe.

I would like to thank the gentleman who so eloquently courted me my charm. And I would like to say one thing:

It is just that kind of cynicism. The kind of cynicism that says. “Ah yes let them have their ideas, let them have their romance, let them have their dreams. We know the world is run by bankers and politicians and generals and statesmen.”

Because that cynicism eventually results in the idea of G-d becoming a charming idea. And that is precisely, I’m happy it was articulated at the end of this meeting, that is exactly where the Jewish people are today. We hold G-d like a little bauble, like a little charm. And that’s our special little identification mark, that 4000 years ago we had a special encounter. Well let me endure and flourish in my naivety. I believe the world goes on strange and mysterious plans and that the statesmen and bankers and warriors and generals and IBM manipulators are charming.

///

I feel like there needs to be a pause here.

The next day I went to a Leonard Cohen exhibit at the Jewish Museum in Manhattan with my grandmother. It was my first time spending some real one on one time with my grandmother in, well, in forever. And it was quite enjoyable from that end.

But walking through the exhibit, and the museum as a whole, was so weird. Leonard would have hated the exhibit and the whole idea of a Jewish museum.

His exhibit had very little to do with judaism or what drove him (and in general it’s hard to put up a three floor exhibit to a poet and singer), and the museum in general was full of Jewish artifacts and art by Jews. It kind of felt like a museum of the Aztecs. A bunch of people walking through gawking at a Judaism that got left behind in Europe (as the fetishization of the shtetl goes). No G-d. No spirituality. No holiness. Just bodies of art long emptied of their soul.

Okay, that was depressing.

(I’m also curious to know how his views may have shifted or evolved over the years as he was only 30 at this time.)

///

What does this have to do with the wedding I’m posting below?

Well not much, I just really wanted to share.

But.

Things, thank G-d, have changed much since 1964. I’m not enough of a historian to know rightly the causes. But spirituality and G-d are much more in vogue in the Jewish world than it has been (though of course far behind what it should be). The incorporation of Chassidus into mainstream Judaism and the Carlebachification of the synagogues has definitely made their imprint.

This wedding, these people, this family.

When I think of vibrant, real, G-d infused Judaism, all these come to mind.

The pure joy, not separate, but incorporated with and by their spirituality and G-d awareness, was not just a pleasure, but a relief.

Mr. Cohen, I’m not sure if you read wherever you are, and I doubt you’d ever come across this lowly blog, but I think you’d approve of the Jewish world that these lovelies personify.

Bodies of art, made such by their soul.

Anyways, if you made it this far, I applaud your efforts and am grateful for your time.

Now feast your eyes on this celebration of love!

Behold the joy of the living!

(also, Shira is part of the Wonder Media Nework, which is, in their words, “a pioneering audio-first media company that uses stories to inspire action, to promote equality and justice, and to introduce empathy into politics, business, and culture.” My favorite is “Women Belong in the House” about all the women running for congress)

Playing the game. Or not. And a San Francisco Wedding. Because.

Thoughts on Purim.

So many. I'll just jump right in.

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Today is Purim. It's a day we celebrate (and boy do we celebrate) the salvation of the Jewish people and the downfall of her enemies (woohoo!). For the full story (and a whole lot more) check out: https://www.chabad.org/holidays/purim/default_cdo/jewish/Purim.htm

There's a lot we can learn from this story, and I'll just share some thoughts I had this morning while listening to the Megillah reading.

The Purim story took place some 2400 years ago. The Holy Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed some 50 years earlier and most of the Jews were exiled from the land.

Empires came and went and King Ahasuerus (good luck pronouncing that) was sitting on the throne of the vast and mighty Persian Empire.

He was three years in, feeling pretty secure (back then term limits were enforced via poisonings, beheadings, etc.) in not only his position, but in the overall hierarchy of things.

Some time before the destruction, the prophet Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) prophecied (is that a word?) that after 70 years G-d would wreak vengeance on the nations and that the Jews would return to Israel and rebuild the Holy Temple.

Anyways, this was bugging the king until his third year when, according to his calculations, the 70 years were up.

So, feeling powerful and indestructible, he made a massive party. For 180 days the people ate and drank and ate and drank and did whatever people did back then at parties.

He also used the precious and sacred vessels that were plundered years earlier from the Holy Temple. Yikes. He obviously hasn't watched Indiana Jones, or any other of that sort of movie...

***

Now, lets' go to the Jews. They've been chucked from their land, their people decimated, now under the whims of whatever winds happen to flutter through the minds of the various rulers.

There's this massive party, celebrating the emperor and all he stands for, to which they are invited, and their absence will be obvious and possibly dangerous.

The Jews have been, for the most part, under their own rule and in their own land ever since they left Egypt almost 1000 years before.

This whole exile thing is new, and frankly, terrifying.

There's no blueprint, and Egypt was, well, different, and a really long time ago. They weren't even really Jews back then.

Some of the Jews are like "what?! the King is making a party? He's celebrating our defeat? Wait, what, he's using the holy vessels from the... awww hell no!!"

And others are more "Yikes, I don't know. We're already persecuted and hated, not going to this thing will REALLY tick "them" off, I think we just gotta suck it up and go.

(And I'm sure there were a few of, "Oh man, a party!! Gonna get my party sandals and rock it!")

Contrary to Moredechai's take, many Jews go. Some sadly, some happily.

Then the whole Vashti scandal goes down, Esther becomes the new queen, and things die down. For a spell.

Sometime later Haman (boo), a descendant of Amalek (remember not to forget!) is appointed Prime Minister (all decrees are delivered within two days) or whatever that position was called back then.

Haman is immensely rich and now powerful to boot. Low self-esteem though. So, as happens, he orders that "all must bow" as he passes by. Cool cool.

What are you gonna do? I mean yeah, we aren't supposed to bow to humans or idols, or human idols, or idle humans, but sheesh, it would be madness not to.

So everyone does.

Except on old Jew. Mordechai. His head is probably stuck in a massive book, and well, he just isn't going to bow. Not even bend.

Haman is NOT happy. Capital letters. He was a newbie to the royalty/wealthy scene, having gotten his money (and thus power) illegitimately. You know how it is, you tell a lie, a whopper, and know matter how many people believe it, if there's one who sees through it, and she gives you that look, oh man it gets to you.

He flies into this massive rage, and after consulting with his wife, decides to punish the entire Jewish people. He offers loads of cash to Ahasuerus, and he's like "yeah whatevs man, here's my ring, go to town, what's on Netflix?"

Whoa. Pause.

Remember all those people who said that maybe we should just bow down and not poke the bear. They kind of had a point it seems.

Unpause (also known as "play"). I'll get back to that.

Okay so now there are two major directions the Jew peeps can go. They were at a crossroad in their history. One that would have repercussions all the way down.

1. Damage control. Disown Mordechai, send a delegation to the king, raise some money to counter Haman's offer, kiss some Persian derriere, just do what you got to do. Work it. Worst comes to worst just pay lip service and fake convert (heaven forbid). Play the game.

2. Step back, re-analyze. Realize/remember it's all up to G-d, who plays by different rules. Maybe an entirely different game.

Well actually here's where my thoughts kind of started about this all.

There's always a game that's going on. And there are rules. Lots of them. Hustle. Work hard. Know the right people. Say the right things. Be born into the right family.

Way back when it was the Game of Thrones. Maybe without dragons. Money was king. Power was king. Rules were for the weak.

Now it's better. But there are still rules. The "rules of nature" we can even call them.

1+1=2. It's just the way it is.

But then there's the creator of the game. Master of the rules.

And connecting with that lifts one above the rules that we live by. Swear by. Sweat by.

And that's what ticked off Haman, and the Hamans of the world.

There's a story of this women who was about to be carted off to a death camp. She asked if she could go to the Mikvah first so she can die pure.

"Du bist nisht kein mensch!" the officer, apoplectic, exclaimed. And then he shot and killed her.

"You're not human!"

That's why Haman wanted to kill all the Jews, not just Mordechai.

He played the game and got to where he was and gosh darn it, everyone else must play it as well.

I hope you realize where this is going...

(Spoiler alert: They chose the second option)

///

I've played the game. Maybe not so well, but I definitely have. And do. Anytime I prioritize work over G-d. When I think I HAVE to be vocal on social media because I rely so much on it for work.

When I try too hard to come off a certain way.

When I know what my purpose is in life but I let my job get in the way of pursuing that.

Yeah of course we have to work, but only because G-d wants us to. He wants us involved in the world. But the job or who we know or what we know. Whatever machinations we come up with. It's really all up to G-d.

The thing is, the game works. It's a real game played by real rules.

But we don't need to play it.

We really really don't.

I mean you can't just ignore life and expect G-d to take care of you.

But you can find your purpose. Where your passion mixes with something that will change the world (for the better of course). And run with that. Run hard. Run fast. Run true.

Rules be damned.

Ignore the haters. They never really last anyways.

///

Okay, a few more, possibly related thoughts.

The above is not to say that "believe in G-d and do as he says, and all will turn out okay".

Absolutely not.

In the long run, as a family, tribe, culture, country, group, species and world in general, yes. But for you and me as individuals, no. Nowhere is that promised.

The Jews didn't make a calculated decision that option B was the best chance of survival.

In the face of the options they realized what their core values were. Who they were. Deep down.

Will a connected and moral life be better? More fulfilling and happy? Usually, yeah. Not always. And that's not why we should do it.

On Purim there is a custom to drink. Alcohol (for those who use the word "drink" to mean other things 🙄 ).

The Gemara says one is to drink until one doesn't know the difference between "blessed is Mordechai and cursed is Haman".

The point is not to get smashes until you can't tell between Corona Extra and Lagunitas Waldos' Special Ale (good luck getting there). Or whatever.

Sometimes we need alcohol (in the right settings) to uncover some things, to strip down a few layers and get real.

Yes, we know that Mordechai, the doer of good and propagator of morals, will be blessed. He'll be happy and fulfilled. If not in this world, definitely in the next. His name will be remembered for good. And Haman? Yikes, who would want to be a Haman?! Cursed as black cat looking in the mirror on midnight of the 3rd full moon of an odd year.

But that's not why we want to be like Mordechai and not like Haman.

No.

Cursed. Blessed. Blessed. Cursed. Bursed. Clessed.

We do what's right because it's true and right. Not even because we want to do what's right. But we do it because it's right.

Yeah there's a difference. Maybe have another L'chaim.

///

For some previous thoughts on Purim...

https://www.instagram.com/p/BfywkHCAZOy/

https://www.instagram.com/p/BgWY1obnPOv/

https://www.instagram.com/p/BgZxA0MnzoO/

https://www.instagram.com/p/BRjHCUeA3K4/

https://www.instagram.com/p/BDeElzuK4V2/

https://www.instagram.com/zalmy_b/p/BDV9Jl5K4YQ/

///

I haven't posted any weddings for a while so here’s one.

Aryeh and Ariela are some of the happiest people I know and, I don't know, they just remind me of Purim. So here's some photos of their (truly) lovely wedding.

Enjoy and thanks for getting through this sea of words!

(now good luck getting through the sea of images 😅 )

Special thanks to the talented Russ Levi for shooting with me! Check out his work!

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Two people get married in a place

b"h

(Warning! Lots of words coming up. Feel free to skip right to the photos, it’s probably what I would do.)

I was chatting with some strangers on google hangout at 3 AM the other night (yup, I’m a total baller), and you know how things are when those wee hours appear. All the farfetched quasi-intellectual theories claw their way out from the more lonely corners of the mind. And bad jokes.

We got to chatting how odd it is that people need so badly to be right. Online seems to be worse than IRL ("in real life" for those who actually live out there and don't need an acronym for it) but it's pretty prevalent everywhere. For myself (this is something I really worked on) it’s gotten to a point (I was as bad as any for a while there) where I kind of enjoy being wrong. There’s something exciting about seeing an idea in different light. I’m wrong about so much so often it’s laughable. Laughable now, but sad if I would have refused to listen to what other people say. Actually listen, not just wait until they stop talking to you so you could say your bit because you already have them pegged and boxed and you know what they’re going to say… 

Stranger Google dude brought up a valid point about how if we are so open to all ideas, then who are we? Are we just a blank canvas for others to impress ideas on?

Then it got late(r) so we all hung up and waited patiently for the next day’s hangover.

The conversation was lingering around as I slept (very well mind you), and when my daily post coffee epiphanies hit, it had expanded quite a bit.

Chassidic literature is filled with the idea of “bittul”, and how important it is. It’s more of a concept than a simple translation of a wordword, I guess it means self-nullification, abnegation of ego, or something of the sort. We are constantly warned of the danger of ego, and how G-dliness only rests in a place of bittul. Yet we are also supposed to serve G-d as full individuals, replete with a logic, emotion, a sense of humor, and all that jazz (is jazz Jewish?). So what's the dealio?

I’m just thinking out loud here, but maybe it’s the egotistical expression of self that’s the issue? When we hold on to our ideas, thoughts, expression, even emotions, as if they are who we are, and without them we are nothing. But they aren’t, they’re just expressions of the soul or “self”. The unique way our individual minds work, how we react to the world, and our unique experiences is what we bring to the table. Being open to new thoughts, views, and experiences, does in no way lessen our self. I think it’s just the opposite, when we allow our egotistical grasp on these garments of the soul to slip, we find out who we really are. So while hunkering down behind the walls of past experience may feel  safe, all we are really doing is holding our self prisoner.

So I raise this glass of lemon water wish you all (and myself) a massive dose of organic letting go juice. L’Chaim!

(I may be wrong about all I just wrote. Bring it.)

///

A few months ago I packed my bags (again) for the holy city of Brooklyn to this lovely couple’s lovely (and rainy!) wedding. And truly, they were (and probably still are) the sweetest of the sweet. Quite international as well; she from China, him from Hawaii. They met in a small town in Sudan, okay now I’m just making stuff up. But the rest is legit.

Fun fact. The house the bride got ready in was in the family for like 4 generations. I think her great-grandmother was born there. Something like that.

Anyways, as always, this is best viewed with a brew (coffee, beer, or maybe kombucha, that’s up to you) and a good chunk of time. And if you made it this far, congrats! You have a special place in my heart.

Makeup by the talented Sary Farkash
Flowers by the wonderful Mimulo Floral and Event Design
S
econd shooting by Paul Simon (not that one)

You Gotta Have Faith Faith Faith

Each week on my blog, of course, we choose a Torah portion, bring you different kinds of stories on that… (I'm a wee bit obsessed with This American Life.)

Okay that’s not all true. It’s not every week (though maybe it should be)... and I don’t really choose a Torah portion. Those are a given. One per week. For a year. Since a long long time ago.

This week is all about the Jews finally getting out of Egypt, the splitting of the sea, and some subsequent desert happenings (mostly involving complaining, woohoo!).

The parshah (as the portions are called) starts off with the words “It came to pass when Pharaoh allowed the people to go…” wha? huh? Every Bible buff worth his Hebrew knows that Pharaoh didn’t “let the people go”. No matter how many times Moses pleaded, threatened, and sang, Pharaoh was like “heeeee-double-hockey-sticks no!”. Until finally, as the scene was rendered immortal in the famous ballad “Pharaoh in pajamas in the middle of the night”, Pharaoh came looking for Moses and begged him to go. “Just take your peeps, and go!”.

Why does the Torah prescribe power to Pharaoh, as if it was him who, from the graciousness of his heart, allowed his slaves to leave?

The Abarbanel (famous Portuguese bible commentator) asks this question. But he also asks 14 others until he gets to the answer…

Egypt, in Hebrew is מצרים, Mitzrayim. It can also be pronounced Meitzarim, which means boundaries, or borders. The concept of leaving Egypt is breaking out of whatever is holding us back. On all levels. Physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually.

Everyone can change the world. Everyone. But for the most part we end up crimping our style with all our blocks and mindsets.

The Jews were slaves for so long, they forgot what power they had. You get up when your master tells you to, you eat when you are told, you sleep, if you get to, when you are told to. Eventually we start doubting our worth, we start to rely on our masters for their prompts, and we feel lost without them. and I am all over the place with tenses here because this has happened, and is happening, and will happen. Unless we don’t let it anymore.

Even after all the plagues and signs. When the Hebrews left Egypt they “had Pharaoh to thank”. Just as they attributed their slavery to Pharaoh, so too their freedom.

They had left Egypt, but Egypt didn’t yet leave them.

Until the splitting of the sea.

G-d doesn’t need fancy footwork. If he wanted the Egyptians gone all he had to do was to stop creating them. The world was just dancing so hard at the news of Exodus that it split it’s sea(m). That was horrible, Zalmy. Never do that again.

But seriously, why the whole split-the-sea-and-have-the-Jews-go-across-and-the-Egyptians-drown show?

Here’s the deal. Everything in this world is a reflection of its spiritual source. The sea is hidden, or more accurately it hides. There is an entire world under its waves, but all we really see is the surface. This is a reflection of the attribute of Kingship, or מלכות, which contains everything, but hides it in order to present, or allow for, a different perception to exist (one where G-d is not apparent). The splitting of the sea, and the Jews walking on the dry land was a reflection of G-d cracking open the door and allowing the Jews to see reality at a much higher level. In fact it says that the most simplest Jew saw a higher revelation at the splitting of the sea, than the prophet Ezekiel ever did.

Until then we saw G-d’s power. His might. But not G-dliness itself.

When the Jews came to the water and saw Pharaoh and his army bearing down at them with their mighty four horsepower chariots, they kind of freaked out. And they started praying.

Praying? Why? Didn’t G-d say he would take them to the promised land? Did they not trust him yet?

No. I mean, kind of. They had faith, but not enough. In their mind G-d was even more powerful than Pharaoh, but Pharaoh was still powerful. The world was still a huge and dangerous place, with hateful and mean people and happenings.

But then they saw G-dliness, they saw the truth, and it changed their lives forever. Because the truth is, there is nothing outside of G-d. The world and all its trappings is a facade, a trick. A necessary perception to allow for free choice, and for us to rise above it.

“Why are you praying to me, keep going!” said G-d. So what if there is a sea in the way?!

This is what finally freed the Jews from Mitzrayim. From limits.  From doubts. From fear.

“Stop kvetching! keep rocking!”

We can all change the world. We just have to get over ourselves first.

(Much of this was from the first half of a lecture by Rabbi Mendel Kaplan that I tried to listen to while doing the dishes late last night.)

///

I was blessed to have photographed (together with the amazing Katie Merkle) the wedding of Matty and Zvi. Too often, especially with weddings, we do what is done, because it's what's done, without really thinking about what it means to us. This wedding was as far from that as possible. Anyways, here a few (ahem) photos from the wedding. Enjoy :)

Peace!

Down with the Patriarchy!

B"h

Okay!!

I’ve started and deleted (well actually copied and pasted to the nether regions of my hard drive) too many posts to count (that is not true, I’m just not in the mood of counting, and who cares anyways?) in the past few days. Some silly, more sad, many angry.

And you know what? The last thing the internet needs is another introspective piece about what went right and what went wrong. That and another video of a cat cuddling with a deer. Actually we could always use more of those.

But our cat is too busy eating lizards, and the local deer wants nothing to do with her. Says she only cuddles with striped cats. Whatever, we all have our issues.

In my marvelous Facebook newsfeed, now mostly an hodgepodge of political and photographic posts, with an advertisement for boots every few scrolls (seriously Facebook?! I bought my boots already, I am not in the market anymore!), someone posted the following:

(This is how much I love you guys, I actually typed this out from a photo. You know, because somehow on facebook it’s so much cooler to post a picture of words than just the words themselves.)

Well actually I’ll just paraphrase:

(for the original (in Hebrew) see here (start from אות מג) )

In 1958, it was a hot and humid (probably) Monday at the end of June and 770 Eastern Parkway, in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, was jam-packed as all listened (okay, almost all) to the Lubavitcher Rebbe giving a communal address in honor of the Chassidic holiday of י’ב תמוז.

Towards the end, the Rebbe spoke about “who is smart, he who learns from everyone”, and got into a little digression about how we as Jews have to learn from our country and her politics, especially on the left, where there are women in high positions of power (remember this was early in the modern feminism movement (ten years before the song "It's a Man's Man's Man's World"), where, especially in religious circles, men held most positions of power and leadership).

He then spoke about how in the Lurianic teachings of Kabbalah, it talks about the generation before Moshiach being a reincarnation of the generation that wandered the desert. Since then, the woman refused to take any part in the golden calf, therefore in this generation they merit to affect what they really want (what that is he doesn’t mention, (isn’t there is a movie about it or something) but maybe that’s a hint to us guys to stop assuming we know :) ).

That’s why, he continues, that specifically in this generation we see women in positions of high power, and that many communal matters are specifically led by women. And even those that are led by men, when the husband comes home and his wife hits him on the head (his words, not mine), the next day he leads as his wife directed.

Admittedly I don’t completely understand the next paragraph, but it says something to the effect of “if the accepting of the yoke of heaven of the men isn’t enough, they need to take council with their wives and do as they say”.

And just like the Jews merited to be redeemed from Egypt in the merit of the women, so to from this exile…

///

I really liked seeing this for a few reasons. 

1. The Rebbe was not afraid to look outside of the Jewish world for inspiration to what has to happen within the Jewish world.

2. Well, being that we almost elected a woman from the left, this was very apropos. 

3. It solidified a bit my thoughts on feminism and the woman’s place in Judaism.

“What are those thoughts? Please share!!”

Sheesh, okay, I’m getting there.

Massive backtrack.

In Kabbalah it often talks about the feminine and the masculine.

Chochmah (usually translated as "wisdom" but all of these these are concepts that are not really explained with single word translations) is masculine, binah ("understanding", but again, a concept that is beyond he scope of this post) feminine. Chessed ("kindness") masculine, gevurah ("strictness") feminine. Middos ("emotions") masculine, Malchus ("royalty") feminine. etc.

(Disclaimer: both men and women have all these attributes, just in general the masculine ones are stronger in men and vice versa for women)

In general the masculine is the “giving” and the feminine “receiving”. Hence the masculine urge to “go out and conquer”, and the feminine ability to listen, to actually listen.

And that also explains how, throughout most of history, men were the ones in leadership positions, and often looked down out their female counterparts (as if this was ancient history, I wish).

But Kabbalah also explains how there are two ways of viewing the world, from top down, and in that way we are the lowest world, slaves to our bodily desires, and lost in this world of false perceptions.

Then there is the bottom up view, which is what will be revealed when Moshiach comes, how specifically in this world can the Essence of G-d be revealed. How specifically through sifting through the garbage of this world, and finding the G-dliness hiding everywhere, we slowly make this world into a G-dly place, and home for G-d.

This is done not through accepting what is but taking it all in and making it our own. It’s the process of Binah, the feminine aspect of intellect, that allows us to truly assimilate our knowledge. And Malchus, that last Sefirah, is the most powerful of all. It takes everything in, incubates it, and incorporates and takes it to the next level.

The written Torah (24 books of the TaNaKh) is masculine. It is what it is, and cannot be changed. The Oral Torah (Talmud, Code of Jewish Law, Kabbalah etc.) is feminine, it is how we take the principles of Torah and apply our own intellect to it, creating novel ideas and rulings that never existed. It is us taking part in G-d’s wisdom. And that is the whole point. For us to be a part of this whole creation and world thing. Not to be cold fulfillers of divine commands, but passionate warriors of peace and truth.

A few weeks back in the weekly torah portion we learned about witnesses. Biblically speaking, only men could be witnesses. Which really bothered me. (It still does, questions are good.)

I researched and thought about it a bit, and what I found I loved.

The masculine way (again I use these terms instead of male and female, because we have both elements) is to be unbiased. To see things as they are. They can see something and it is what it is. the feminine is more biased. It assimilates knowledge. It gets involved. It gets angry and sad. It sees what may have prompted such a sight, and the history that has to be taken into account.  That’s not good for testimony. But it’s exactly what G-d wants for this world.

For the world is NOT what it seems.

From both a scientific and a medical perspective the world we see isn’t objective. Quantum mechanics shows that we have a symbiotic relationship with reality, and neurology tells us that the world we see is mostly reconstructions, memories, and mindsets.

Hashem wants us to make his perception ours. He wants us to look at the world the way He does. 

Torah is compared to bread. (Sourdough of course. with a really crunchy crust, and soft warm inside… oh man I’m hungry…) for just like the food we eat becomes our physical body, the Torah we learn becomes our mindset. And this is most evident with the Oral Torah, were ours and the Allmighty’s wisdoms combine. 

It says that Hashem looked into the Torah and created the world,  and through allowing us to be a part of the Torah, we are given the gift of viewing the world as it actually is, an expression of G-d.

I’m rambling but I have a point. I promise! 

This unity of our perceptions and Hashem’s will be complete in the time of redemption. And it’s our journey to that point that makes it happen.

When Moshiach comes it says that “the feminine will surround the masculine”, meaning the talents and aspects of the feminine will  be released to have been greater than that of the masculine, because it’s specifically those attributes that will bring about the redemption, that allow for us to truly assimilate G-dliness within us. 

The Rebbe often said that Moshiach is here, we just have to open our eyes. And that means two things. 

1. We have to realize and acknowledge the good changes that happened and are happening in the world. Instead of constantly kvetching and moaning and basing our view of the world on the media’s and the politicians apocalyptic, profit driven, worldview, we need to be thankful and aware of how the world is changing. And it really is. There are less wars, less poverty, more understanding of “others”. there’s more of an awareness of our impact on this world. Especially as Jews, we have it better than anytime since King Solomon. 

and

2. We have to act as if Moshiach is here. If when Moshiach will come we will all get along, then gosh-darn-it we have to do that now. If we will see G-dliness everywhere, then we have to actively try to do that as well. And if when Moshiach will come, we will finally realize how much women have to offer that men don’t, then gosh-darn-it we have to act like that!!

And this. THIS. Is my point. 

We as Jews (and the world at large) has to stop shoving women into the background. 

Galus (exile) is a man’s world.  Geulah (the redemption) is a women’s world. 

Yes it’s a bit scary as a guy. You know, losing all that (false) superiority, but it’s not a competition. 

I’m not talking about having woman rabbis and the like. Rabbis are overrated anyways. I’m talking about treating women like equals, actual equals. And just like you (a man) will have no problem with a male boss, you should have no problem with a woman one. 

The Rebbe pushed for female leadership, and stressed, so much, how whenever he sent out a couple to wherever, they were EQUALS.

And you know what? The Jewish world shouldn’t be behind the curve with the whole feminism thing. We should be leading the charge.

Down with the patriarchy!!

Seriously.

///

Last year we went to visit New York for Passover. We spent the holiday in Monsey (no photos, as my camera and film was lost/stolen), and then Crown Heights, the amazing oxymoron of idealogical perfection, and the cultural reluctance to allow such change.

I have so much more to say about this all, but I have to stop somewhere :)

Here are some photos of our trip. All with a lovely old Nikon F3, a 28mm, and some expired film. Woohoo!

Chapter One: In which we weigh ourselves at the airport (hooray for small airports!), watch the airplanes ("ours is the one with the wings" said Zusha), cause a huge collective groan when we board the plane, and play hide and seek at the baggage claim.

Chapter Two: In which we stopped by my father father's parent's k'varim, graves. Chanaleh is named after my grandmother Chana, and this happened to be Chanaleh's birthday so it was quite nice. 

Chapter Three: In which we visit Bubby Carlebach, eat yummy food, watch the cars below, and enjoy some wonderful conversation.

Chapter Four: In which we take a bus to the Ohel (the resting place of the Lubavitcher Rebbe), write the customary pan, a letter in which we ask for blessings (the kids drew theirs, notice a baby girl on Chanaleh's :) ), visit the Rebbetzin's kever (grave), then my great-grandmother's (Sarah Schneerson), and then visit the famous 770 Eastern Parkway, the worldwide headquarters for the Chabad-Lubavitch movement (of which we are proudly part of).