Open your heart, erase all doubt


(This is my third attempt at this post. I'm not sure why I'm over thinking this so much)

The big THREE ZERO. That's where I am. I'm a recent arrival. Got here last week. Stumbling, half awake, it hit me with all the fury of a very soft, and quite lame, thump.

At first I tried going through my twenties in chronological order. Starting in Jerusalem, going through South Africa, Safed, and then to Long Beach. But that got tedious.

Then I tried from another angle. I'm not even sure what it was. Obviously wasn't very interesting.

Here's the deal. Looking back, my life had been awesome, and it completely sucked.

I've been extraordinarily blessed. I had good schooling, did well in school. When I was 15 my parents let me loose in Israel for three years with a $100 a month allowance and small list of phone numbers I got from my cousins. I learned how to be alone (in a good way), how to ask for stuff from strangers. I learned to love traveling, love walking (I walked crazy amounts to get out of having to pay for a bus or cab, I walked clear across Jerusalem many a time, a good 10 miles), and love, almost painfully, the holy land. I learned how to make a bread sandwich (two pieces of bread surrounding a third), how to put chummus on everything, how to find the cheapest and best Shwarma. I slept on a rooftop in the old city for a week, on a towel in the golan, and on the same towel in Eilat. I learned how to bargain in the shuk, got a hookah down from 400 shekels to 30, even had him throw in a bunch of coal and tobacco and then walked away because I didn't really want it. The dude almost killed me. I called random strangers who gave me other numbers of other random strangers whose houses I then crashed for weekends. I learned what it's like to stay up for days on end, studying for a contest that I decided too late to join. I learned how to sleep. I convinced a few friends to go to Switzerland for a week. We stayed at another stranger's house in Zurich for Shabbos, found an apartment in Grindelwald, ate pasta; tuna; swiss cheese; and chocolate, and skied. Hard. All for around $400. We even lost one of the crew as he went to look for francs while the train took off. In the days before cellphones were ubiquitous. He had no clue where we were staying or how to get there. He somehow ended up in a neighboring village, hung out in a local bar (speaking yiddish to the locals) for a couple of hours, moseyed on to Grindelwald, asked a local taxi company if he drove any bearded yiddish-speaking folks anywhere, which they did. It's funny how the lost dude never worries. I mean he knows where he is. It's the found who worry.

Ha. I thought I wasn't getting to get all historical on you. Well between 19 and 30 a lot has happened. I'm sure it will come up some other time. Most importantly I married Estee and joined the exclusive five-before-thirty club (known to the cool kids as 5B430 Club).

That's all the awesome part.

The part that sucked was how easy it's all been. I never really worked hard at school. Things always seemed to fall into place when they needed to without crazy effort on my part. I spent hours a day reading fiction, and hours at night talking, hanging, maybe drinking a bit. I made money, lost money, and didn't really care. I dated the first girl I really liked, and married the first girl I dated. Which was the best thing I've ever done, but that's not the point. I fell into a job here in Long Beach, fell into another, wandered into graphic design, and stumbled into photography. Yeah, of course I put in the hours, and occasionally actually worked. But for the most part I waste time.

There are so many things I wanted to do. My Switzerland trip was an anomaly, a blip. There was this Summer program in New Zealand that I wanted to go on. For the first month you learn how to be a ski instructor, for the second you teach, and it pays for your travel and lodging. I wanted to rent Harleys with a few guys a drive across America. Of course I wanted to do the whole hitchhiking thing as well. I went backpacking for one week of my life. One. Stinking. Week. I never landed in some random city in Europe with just a backpack and a map, I could have. Many times. But I didn't. Rarely hiked. I could count on one hand the sunrises I spent in solitude in some beautiful place. Never surfed. I still can't play guitar or tap dance. Never really tried poetry. Don't know algebra or geometry and I still can't string together a proper paragraph. I was too busy doing nothing. Wasting time.

I learned for years in Yeshiva, and hardly know a thing. I started book after book, topic after topic. Never finishing. To think of it makes the heart grow heavy, and the eyes start to tear. I don't listen to my heart beat anymore. For when I shut everything off and tune everyone out, all I have is me and I don't like what I see. I've been alive for 30 years, and have what to show?

Yeah, I blame it on many things, on my inherent laziness, on being smart enough to get by, genetics, having an addictive personality, but I don't think that's it. Not all of it. I think I'm scared. I see that I get by, and even do some pretty cool things along the way without giving it too much. And deep down I wonder how much I could accomplish if I actually tried. If I woke up one morning and lived intentionally. If I let go of all my distractions and focused on following my dreams. I have no clue where it will all lead. Somewhere great. And great is terrifying. I know that if I allow what's deep down inside of me to come out it will change my life. And while I look back with disgust on the nothingness that is the past 30 years, it's my comfort zone. 80% of the Jews didn't leave Egypt. It sucked. Pretty badly, but becoming G-d's people? Going on some crazy mission to change the world? Doing something great? Do I stay here as a slave to my shortcomings, or do I break free, grab life by the horns. Can I walk into the unknown, take that step? Truth is anyone can take that first step, it's the next one, and the next. It's waking up every morning and knowing that today will be something special.

Sheesh, I wrote that all last week. For all I know that whole last part is bogus. All that trap about fear and the such. I may just be incorrigibly lazy.

The point is, I'm 30 and I don't start now, it just ain't gonna happen. I've narrowed it down to two resolutions.

Resolution numero uno (for my Spanish speaking readers, that means "number one"): Every time I look back on my day/week/month/year/decade/life/previous life/ with agonizing despair at my seemingly relentless and self destructive time wasting, I shall slap my mind with my other mind, and say: "Stop!! Yeah, you sucked. Big deal. Get over it. Every day is a war, and you win some battles, lose some battles, as long as you're still fighting you're good. Now get off your lazy posterior, and attack. Sneak around the enemy and shoot him in the back, stab him in the leg, pop him in the head (wow, that sounds harsh, I've been listening to my six year old too much)"

Resolution numero dos: That my next 10 years are waaaaaay more coherent than this post. Too often I get lost in the means and the ways instead of the destination. Just this morning I was doing my morning prayers on the banks of a lovely lake in lovely weather with lovely birds and ducks making all sorts of lovely sounds. And I found my mind drifting off to photography, to places, ideas, gear, thrift store hopes… I caught myself, and laughed at the absurdity (better than crying at the ridiculousness). All these ideas bouncing around in my head are mostly ways to further my business. You know, I'd love to provide for my family, not to have to worry about rent, or if we could afford cleaning help this month. I'd love to limit the amount of work so I could go somewhere beautiful, without a worry on my mind, meditate a bit, and do my morning prayer there. Yet here I am, doing the exact same thing right now, and instead of thinking about G-d and myself I think of ways to get more money so I could go somewhere beautiful… To live life coherently. To have the choices in my day to day life be in accordance with my goals.

My wife and I have some blog plans for the coming years. They are risky plans. Scary plans. But a life without courage is a life without integrity. And I'm even more scared of looking back at 40 and writing the exact same post. That is scary.

So this is the year I take the step. And the next. And the next. I'm not sure which surface I'll be landing on next, but I trust in G-d that if I do my part he'll do his.


There is no way I am reading over everything I wrote to see if it actually makes sense, so I apologize for pointless ramblings and unfinished thoughts.


The title is from the song Breathe Easy by my talented friend Levi Robin.

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.

Unpacking my brain


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.

Bat Polaroid Mitzvah

20130219-125045.jpg Mendel: Are my hands dirty? Me: No, you just washed them. Mendel: NO!! They’re filthy! I need to wash them.

And so went the evening. Between the washing of the hands and the drinking from the fountain, his shirt was completely soaked by the end of the night. Which was fine. Because we’re cool like that.

Zusha spent the evening wooing the ladies and begging for food (which he always got), Zevi was running around like a hooligan, playing some sort of six year old game I’ll never understand (he tried explaining it to me, and then tried getting me to play. I tried, I really did, but after 2 minutes and 43 seconds (I’m surprised I lasted that long, the kid has patience) I was fired and promptly replaced by another - more seasoned and competent - six year old). Chanaleh just wanted cucumbers. A lot of cucumbers. Which was fine. Because we’re cool like that.

Estee, I felt bad for Estee. She had (still has, though it’s finally going away) a double ear infection. So she spent the hours alternating between trying to hear what people were saying, and trying to block out the sound of people talking. It’s a tough fence to straddle.

I walked around with my RZ67 and a polaroid back. It’s like a non-pooping version of a dog. A great conversation starter, and unlike dogs it can make photos. Instantly. Well, almost. It’s the peel apart kind, where there is a positive print that you peel away from the negative after allowing it to develop for some time. Officially it’s 15 seconds in 75 degrees, but if you don’t want solarized negatives (where the blackest part is white), then it’s best to wait a bit longer. I tried, but I was letting the kids do it and their version of time seems to be a bit different from mine. But that’s okay. Because I’m cool like that.

These are all polaroid (Polaroid as a company went bankrupt some time back, these are actually “Fuji FP3000b Instant Peel-Apart Film”. “Polaroids” sounds better.) prints or negatives (giving away the actual print is half the fun) from my nieces Bat Mitzvah. At the Bat Mitzvah, not really of the Bat Mitzvah. There was a hired pro for that.

Make life better!