and his name in Israel shall be called... Shlomo

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Nine days ago, after delaying as much as possible, whipping together some mayonnaise (aioli if you want to sound fancy), setting the sourdough for pancakes the next day, taking a walk around the block, and other such activities, we finally jumped (I jumped, Estee rolled) into our silver Honda Odyssey, moseyed onto the 710, merged onto the 105 (which, in some ridiculous abuse of power, changes from 6 lanes to 3 in less than 300 feet), exited at Bellflower, made a left on Imperial Highway, turned right on the imaginatively named "Care Way", found some parking, and checked into the triage wing of Kaiser Permanente Hospital.

That was around 10:00 PM. Fifty five minutes later Estee gave birth to a little 8lb. 2 oz. ball of deliciousness. I tried to remember how long he was, but it never works (dudes like me just don't seem to care about these details).

Guys like being in charge of situations; to help, give a hand, doing something. I doubt there are many times where a husband feels as utterly useless as when his wife is in labor. You know she's in pain, you hear the screams, clutch your imaginary womb in empathy. And there is nothing you can do. Nothing.

Now came the planning of the Shalom Zachar and the Bris. The Shalom Zachar is a little shindig you make the Friday night after the baby is born. Beer and chickpeas are customary, along with the normal spread of cookies, chips, etc. The community here in Long Beach (and our family) was amazing in sending over food, drinks, paperware, etc. All I had to buy was beer. Which I gladly overdid :). I also had to finish all the opened beers after everyone left. You know, waste not, want not.

Next came the bris (circumcision). Last time I posted about a bris on facebook I got attacked by the anti-bris brigade. Quite an interesting bunch of people. Anyways, the bris is when you actually name the baby. Naming is challenging. Chassidus explains that the Hebrew name by which someone is called reflects his inner soul; his character traits, emotional tendencies, intellectual capabilities, and spiritual acuity. So you want to name him with a special name, either after a special person, or a name which means something special. There is also the custom to name after a deceased relative. And we have a lot of those. In fact the large majority of our relatives over the past 5773 years are deceased (and most have eaten bread... do you see the correlation?).

In my family I have many illustrious, holy and smart relatives. Relatives who gave their entire lives to teaching and spreading the wellsprings of Torah.

Relatives who sacrificed their lives for the sanctification of G-d's name.

After much deliberation, a little consternation, (and after almost going with the name “Batman Berkowitz”) we decided on the name “Shlomo” (Solomon).

Shlomo was my mother’s father’s twin brother’s name. Shlomo Carlebach was a Jew who lived and breathed Ahavas Yisroel, love of his fellow Jews. And not in a “I’m a hippy and I love everyone so much” type of way, but in a deep and personal way. He went to places where Judaism was almost non-existent, to people who yearned for truth, but had no idea what it was, and he taught, and sang, and loved so much, that the truth just shone forth. He didn’t argue theology, or bring in modern scientific theories to prove anything. He spoke to souls. He would walk by a poor stranger and just give him everything in his wallet. Everything.

He was an amazing Torah scholar as well as a gifted composer and singer. There is much to be said about him and his life, but I’ll leave that to the history books and wikipedia. Okay, maybe not wikipedia.

Shlomo was the name of the third king of Israel. It was he who built the first Beis Hamikdash (Holy Temple) in Jerusalem. He is known as the wisest man who ever lived, who knew the languages of the trees, the birds, and all the mystical creatures. Under his rule the Jews knew a peace and serenity that has been unparalleled before and after, and when we speak about the coming of Moshiach (messiah), we compare it to the times of King Shlomo.

The name comes from the word Sholom which means peace, and Shalem which means complete, for it is only when there is true peace, between the spiritual and physical, between the holy and mundane, between the body and soul, that the purpose of creation is complete.

And while his father, David, is the more famous poet, King Shlomo penned (quilled?) some of the most passionate love songs to Hashem. The Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs) and Eishet Chayil (Woman of Valor), along with the deeply powerful Mishlei (Proverbs), and Koheles (Ecclesiastes).

This past Tuesday was the Fast of Tisha B’av (9th of the Jewish month of Av), when we mourn the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, and the subsequent exiles. The reason that is given for the destruction and exile is Sinat Chinam, baseless hatred. For Jews not getting along, fighting, arguing, living their own lives for themselves. What the world needs is peace, not just in the world sense, but in the more intimate sense, in being real with your spirituality, having real emotions towards G-d, and living a purposeful life; true love (not in the first-kiss-disney-sense), really and truly loving your fellow, being empathetic, giving; and the building of the third and final Beis Hamikdash with Moshiach.

I feel the world needs another Shlomo.

Birds of Small Bag

"Eagles are smaller than me, but their wings are bigger. The Tawny Eagle is the biggest." "The Condor is a vulture. Like in Lion King. Their wings are soooo big. We saw one at he zoo."

"Seagulls are baby eagles. So they are smaller."

"LOOOOOOOOK!!! A pigeon!!"

"Why can't we fly?"

"Can birds swim?"

"Can we go swimming?"

"Can we buy a new pool?"

We homeschool. That is to say our kids stay home and don't go to school. In my very limited experience and slightly less limited thoughts, it seems that the most important aspect of homeschooling (especially in the younger ages), is to foster and encourage kids natural curiosity about anything and everything. One week it might be worms, the next gardening, the combustion engine, or maybe Egypt and the ten plagues (or Mongolia. They are convinced that "bad people" live there). One of the great advantages of homeschooling is that you can spend as much time on whatever subject your kid is interested in at any given moment. A kid may be obsessed with whales in 4th grade, but by the time they learn about them in 5th grade he's into tractors. Or by the time he actually gets excited about them, the class has moved on to the indigenous people previously known as "the Indians".

Lately the older half of the Berkowitz offspring have been mindjacked by anything with wings. Ostriches (the biggest. Doesn't fly. Crazy people with sun addled Aussie minds ride them), Peregrine Falcons (the fastest, not that strong or big), Condors (especially the California one, not that many left, bigger than Tatty (me), lays eggs on cliffs), Eagles (they LOVE eagles, they fly the highest), Seagulls, Pigeons, and lately, Terns, Herons, and Ospreys.

So one Tuesday morning, in the latter part of the early hours we packed up some apples, cheese, water and cameras and headed to the Bolsa Chica Wetlands (sounds much better in Spanish. The English version would be "Small Bag Wetlands". Don't ask.) The wetlands are (is?) a huge swab of land on the Huntington Beach coast set aside for all sorts of odd birds and their even odder watchers. The real estate value of this land chunk is seriously crazy.

We saw stingrays, ospreys, terns, herons, seagulls, bird watchers with monstrous camera lenses, bird watchers with ipads, bird watchers with binoculars, barnacles, pelicans, and red ants. The kids were most excited about the ants.

We ran, danced, climbed, photographed, whined, dined, cried, and spent 20 minutes looking through the cracks in the bridge at pigeon nests.

We did end up buying a pool and swimming in said pool, but that's another story.

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Let not today be yesterday's tomorrow

It's 1:47 AM here in balmy Hancock Park. I'm sitting on a sheetless mattress in the back of my minivan, cushioned with a down blanket and pillow, propped against the sidewall, waiting for sobriety to make its beleaguered appearance.

There's a sort of battle being waged between my stomach and a slightly copious amount of aged fermented barley (single malt of course) from some far flung corner of Scotland. My anti-alcohol muscles have recently been suffering from atrophy. Shrinking, drying up, and generally falling into various states of disuse.

Yesterday was the third day of the Jewish month of Tammuz. On this day nineteen years ago, our Rebbe and leader left this physical world. Unlike the previous leaders, there was no successor. No child, no in-law, no prodigal student willing and able to fill the void. I was just a child, much more oblivious than most, but even I remember the feeling of confusion, the fear of uncharted waters.

As the weeks, months, and years went by, it became clear that the Rebbe, while physically gone, was very much here, still guiding and leading. He somehow left his essence in a prodigious amount of talks, letters, correspondences, lectures, and stories. And through reading, studying, and learning we can not only connect with him, but gain answers and insights to our current challenges.

There's this wonderful concept we have called a Farbrengen. In short it's a gathering of friends, where we talk about real issues, personal challenges, sing Chassidic melodies, and strengthen each others' commitment to keep on rocking the good fight. And there is always the the presence of some good 'ole alcohol to help open up (but drinking too much is strongly frowned upon). One of the concepts that we farbrenged about was the idea (something the Rebbe spoke about very often) that every single day was its own unit of time. Suspended between yesterday and tomorrow, it takes on its own meaning. Not limited to the mistakes and accomplishments of yesterday, nor a pawn to the plans of tomorrow. Yes, yesterday may have been an epic disaster, and tomorrow may be shaping up to be the bees knees, but today is an island. And wallowing or waiting is not an option.

So to all those who find themselves floundering in the narrow chasm between yesterday and tomorrow, I raise this glass of todayness, rich with opportunity, truth, and nowness. Bottoms up!

***

In my travels I've met some people deserving of all sorts of wonderful adjectives. One of these colorful folks is the inimitable Rabbi Shmuel Marcus and his merry band of the Mrs. and co. Living between yesterday and tomorrow, constantly pursuing new ideas, many of which succeed, some not (one of the successful ones is his band Eighth Day. I had the pleasure of photographing them some time back). Shmuel has been an awesome friend for us since we moved to Long Beach. I've worked for him in various capacities (running Jewish clubs, teaching high school students, adult classes, and currently I design his soulwise magazine) and he is always looking out for us, throwing ideas our way, and acting as a sounding board for my crazy plans. He's also insanely supportive of my photography. This here below is his family.

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Bris & Stuff

This here photographed bris (circumcision) belonged to my second most favorite fat baby. At the time, he was just an eight day old with possible hints of chubbiness. A bit confused at the hubbub, just wanting to eat and sleep. Maybe poop a bit. I can totally commiserate. Deep down, I’m just an eight day old baby with a huge beard, and an advanced appreciation for hoppy beer. Speaking of which, I very much appreciate whatever forces have been behind recent social change. In the past year I have received more compliments in reference to my mass of facial hair than I have in the previous 28 combined (yes, I am aware that the first 15 don’t count, but statistics are all about embellishment). Maybe it’s the hipsters, or maybe something happened in the past year which tipped my beard from “impressive” to “oh my!! I’d kill for that thing”. It may have to do with the disappearing bees. Or not.

Mr. Father here (Arnon Shorr) is a film producer/director and a friend of mine. I don’t know much about them newfangled moving pictures, but in tribute to Arnon’s cinemaness I have these all cropped to a 16:9 ratio. I'm considerate like that.

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Unpacking my brain

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I was dreaming about knives. It was 2005, summer was winter, and I was 21 or so, living in Pretoria, South Africa, studying to become a Rabbi. There was this book I borrowed (indeterminately, none of the other students knew of its existence) from the school titled Minchas Yitzchak (or Minchas something-or-another). For almost a week, all day, in school and out, I was trying to understand (never really did) why exactly a knife had different kosher laws than any other utensil, and how each possible reason fit into how the differences manifest themselves in actual law. Before falling asleep I’d get comfy, open up the Minchas Yitzchak and try to wrap my mind around the knife issue.

Well, since that year, my mind hasn’t been doing too much wrapping. Yeah, I think here and there, maybe post a snarky status on Facebook about my purported thinking, but thinking ain’t no wrapping.

Recently, in addition to all the regular Dr. Seuss’s (and now a whole bunch of bird books), Estee took out a biography on Albert Einstein. The fact that most of the physics and math are beyond me doesn’t bother me as much as the realization that I haven’t really grappled with any concept in years. I learn here and there, but most of the time, when coming across some obtuse concept, I don’t really chase after it and actually figure it out. Or try my heart out.

Chassidus explains that every concept is like a river, with depth, breadth, and length. The breadth is understanding the concept with all it’s facets, particulars, details. Its length is being able to bring down that topic with examples, parables, and analogies, until you could explain it to a child. It’s also the ability to apply the concept in day to day life. The depth is the essence of the concept, from which all the details flow out. It’s understanding the principles behind the concept.

The conceptual river is one I haven’t sailed, swam, or drowned in recently. And Landsickness is quietly taking its toll.

It’s time to reach up, bring down the box, and unpack my brain.

***

I’ve been a bit obsessed recently with instant film. It seems to me the truest medium for capturing memories. It not only captures the moment but it even captures the fleetingness of it. All you’re left with is one print and one funky negative, an imprint, a memory of the print, and the memory is never the same as the actual moment.

There are some major ideas brewing in my prefrontal cortex involving polaroids, aerial lenses, and some ancient cameras. Prepare to be amazed. You’ve got time.

In the meantime, here are some recent Polaroids, some prints some negatives, (okay disclaimer, Polaroid is pretty much defunct, these are actually Fuji instant peel away prints (same tech as Polaroid) but if I called them by their real name (Fuji FP3000b) no one would have a clue as to what I was referring to) of my fambly.

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Thanks for visiting, and come back soon! Free digital cookies (and beer) for all.

the Bar {Mitzvah} // Temecula camera-wielding crazy man (take that google!!)

It’s not working. The “it” inside, which is somehow supposed to guide my typing until I somehow catch on, is either lazy, drunk, sleeping, or just out of town for a bit. I seems as though I may have to think in advance (I hear the word for this ridiculus concept is “plan”) about what to write here. Which may be a good thing. The way things normally work around here is first we have a lengthy unrelated preamble, possibly followed by a very short amble, and sometimes concluded with a postamble. This time there will be an actual amble.

Thirteen years and thirty five days ago (somewhere around there), a cute and chunky nephew was born to my sister in Temecula. Well, she didn’t have the nephew, and I’m not sure who did, she had a son. The first child born in their new place of living (numero uno was born in the city of New York, and numero dos was born in Boulder, Colorado). Much excitement, joy, bustle and hustle was had by all. Number three was followed for four, five, six, and seven. Well, number three grew up (actually for the first few years most of his growth was sideways) into a remarkable young man (made even more so by his love of Estee’s sourdough bread), whose good cheer, cute cheeks, crazy humor, and pure heart reminds me of myself at that age. And though I don't really remember much of myself at that age, I do assume I was awesome. Nothing has come up to disprove this theory (and the fact that I used to ask an adult to tuck my pants into my sneakers just made me cooler).

In the months before Eli Chaim’s Bar Mitzvah, his family has been hit by some pretty intense challenges. We don’t know why G-d does what he does or what His plans are, but we do know that He never gives anyone something they can’t handle. We also know that life itself is a miracle; to be cherished, guarded, loved, and lived. And somehow, we have absolute faith that all will be good. Not only in the macro but in the micro. In my life and in yours.

Challenges have the paradoxical tendency to bring out the beauty in life, the truth in friendship, and the pure awesomeness that is family. The Temecula community and the Chabad community both near and far have been immensely inspiring in their support and friendship. And we are incredibly thankful. You could check out my inspiring sister's inspiring blog for inspiring posts in inspiring topics. And now I can't use that word for a month.

I wasn’t the official photographer here, and if I wasn't family I would have loved to have been. Loved the sunniness (which is funny because I used to be terrified of it. I would beg and pray for clouds to make the photographing easier. But easy doesn't equal interesting), the outdoorness, the vineyardness. But it's good I wasn't; the food was too good and my kids were going bananas. Until they found the one thing that will forever be the joy of any and all children. Dirt. Loads and piles and mounds of it.

Here is a small glimpse of some of the festivities, captured on a bunch of random expired film stocks on some random cameras and all scanned by me.

Enjoy.

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A few weeks ago I left my lightmeter at my sister's house. When I went to pick it up she gave me a roll of film that she thought I left there.Turns out I didn't. It was some random roll of film from (I'm assuming) a cheap point and shoot or disposable camera from almost thirteen years ago. This is Eli Chaim (the Bar Mitzvah dude) when he was a wee li'l lad, and his two older siblings. I had no clue what it was until I scanned it in (a few minutes after I scanned the photos above). I love random lost film!!

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