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.

Expect Miracles {quick session fundraiser}

None of my sisters hit 5 feet.

All three got close, and I think they have themselves convinced that they still have a chance. It's quite a point of contention between them over who is actually the tallest. My middle sis, Dina, definitely held the height crown in the late 80's and early 90's when she had this awesome curl mosh of permed goodness adorning the top of her pretty head.

Somewhere in the middle of the decade (I think the crazy huge hair styles were fading by then), I was sitting in my parents' insanely large master bedroom (the owners remodeled the front and added a master bedroom to the master bedroom), minding my own business, and I had this strange sensation that everyone was talking about Dina.

"Is something wrong with Dina?" asked my cute 11 year old pre-beard voice.

Everyone stopped talking and looked at me in shock, as if I was from Pluto, which was already showing signs of its coming identity crisis.

"She's getting engaged tomorrow. We've been talking about nothing else for the past two weeks. Where have you been?!"

Thing 1: In my world, "getting engaged" means you already decided that you're getting married ("will you marry me?" "Yes!!! Ask me again!"), and now you are going to get the blessing of the Rebbe (previously done through a letter or phone call, now usually at the Ohel (his grave site), or through an email which someone could read on your behalf at the Ohel). Once you do that you are "officially" engaged.

Thing 2: I was (and still am in some ways) the most oblivious child the world has ever seen. So while it may have been odd to my family that I had no clue of all these going-ons, it seemed normal enough to me.

Dina was the first in my family to get married, so it was a whole new experience for me. I got to go to New York, had my first taste of Scotch (I think it was Chivas Regal, I thought it would be bad, it was way worse), got to freeze my outer appendages in the -7 degrees outdoor ceremony, got to dance like a complete lunatic (I still do that), and many other things I'm sure, all forgotten (or otherwised unnoticed) in my non-drunken obliviousness.

The dude she married was a young Rabbi from Brooklyn. He was a handsome fellow, with clean pressed shirts, a tidy beard, and ice skates. And everybody seemed to know him. I mean everybody. He was the most easy-going, engaging, pleasant, honest, and open person to talk to. He knew his way with a guitar, had a wonderful voice, and was a splendid dancer. A bit of a New Yorker, but he got that part Temeculad out of him fairly quickly.

Seven children (one who was just had recently Bar Mitzvah) and seventeen (or so) years later they now lead a wonderfully eclectic Jewish community in Temecula, Califonia.

I recently came back from an event where Dina was talking about her husband's ability to talk to anyone. Anyone. They were sitting on his parents' front porch in Crown Heights (as either newlyweds or almost-weds, I forget) and on the porch above them there was a set of 3 year old twins staring down at them as kids sometimes do. My sister was attempting to engage them in some sort of conversation. Wasn't happening. Yitzi looks up and says "I can go to the bathroom all by myself", and boom! they had a whole conversation about the intricacies of a three-year-old's potty challenges.

Last year after experiencing an increasing loss of speech control, Yitzi was diagnosed with ALS more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. It's a disease affecting voluntary muscle movements, where the nervous system which is supposed to be telling the limbs to move isn't really doing its job well. It's also symptomatic in that there is no way to test for it other than looking at the symptoms. There's no virus or bacteria or marker anywhere in the body where you can test, point to some sort of oddity and say with certainty "This is ALS".

Since the diagnosis, Yitzi has been losing his ability to talk and recently has lost his fine motor skills in his left hand and a bit in his legs. He can't talk as well, sing, play guitar, or dance. These are the things he loves, and how he shares himself with the world. Yet even so, over the past year and half, Yitzi has been amazing. He's happy, involved, still acts as Rabbi, is always hopeful, and is somehow, still a remarkable communicator. My sister, understandably, is overwhelmed. But she too is showing remarkable strength and wisdom in her not-so-old age.

One of the symptoms is the inability to control emotion. When he is happy he laughs, and when he is sad he cries. No hiding. No layers. And Yitzi has been laughing. A lot. The only time he lost it was when he was on the phone with the Rabbi in Los Angeles, asking about his inability to say all the prayers. Saying all the words would take over three hours and he'd have no energy for the rest of the day. After getting his reply, he broke down crying. That's the type of man he is.

There are a few different treatments, most in the trial stages. All are very costly. They are currently on a flight to Israel for a cutting edge new treatment called Brain Storm. It uses stem cells and has shown some very positive results.

There also is the hope that it isn't actually ALS. Again, being symptomatic no one ever really knows the actual disease. Many symptoms are shared by certain types of Lyme disease. And then there is a whole world of alternative medicine and treatments. Homeopathy, Herbology, Acupuncture, etc. All time consuming, and all costly.

The community, both in Temecula and the larger Jewish community has been amazing in their support. Emotionally, financially, personally etc. But even so there are still many bills left uncovered and treatments underutilized due to finances.

I was mentally writing this blog post on the 101 freeway yesterday, and remembered that they got a blessing from the Rebbe for a recovery by Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year). That's less than 40 days away and I was thinking how that isn't much time. Right then (literally 3 seconds after this thought) a motorcycle roared by on the left, with a sign on the back saying "Expect Miracles".

And I am.

I really didn't want to write about this. It's so personal, and this being a place where, in addition to just writing whatever pops in my head, I attempt to publicize my photography, get new clients, and hopefully get more business, I almost feel like I'm using this story to get more traffic, more publicity. As I know it will. And I can't really stomach that.

But I want to help, and this is the way I could.

*** Very important thing 1: Quick Shoot Fundraiser

I wanted to do something to help and decided I would make a quick session fundraiser. I'm not sure what the response would be so as of yet I only have one day planned (though I'll do as many as there is interest).

So here are the Details:

I'll be shooting the entire day of Sunday, August 18th at Griffith Park in Los Angeles. 12 sessions.

Each family will get 30 minutes of my shooting time to do family portraits, and each will get a disc with all the high resolution images (around 20).

Cost will be $275, of which $75 will go to me to cover costs of film, developing, gas, burgers, beer, etc. and $200 to go to Dina and Yitzi.

To book a spot you must email me at or call 714-460-3967, and pay in full.

Again, I'll be doing this again on other days and in other places if the demand is there. I'm really hoping it will.

If you haven't yet seen samples of my work, feel free to browse through my blog or just check out the family sessions.


Almost as important thing 2: East Coast Dates

It seems that me and my flock of cameras will be heading to New York toward the end of October. Followed by a meander down the East Coast for some other bookings. If you are interested in a family session, email me, call me, text me, fax, telegram, moneygram, send a letter, walk over, or somehow get in touch and lets make it happen!

I am also setting aside a day or two for the same quick session fundraiser in the large apple. Very tentative date of Tuesday October 22nd, other days will be added as per demand.


Please share this post! And if you can add Yitzi to your prayers, or can help in any way please let me know.

Love, life, and health, Zalmy

2012 (and a bit). My familia.

I’ve pushed off posting this for a while, there’s been a tragedy in my community and some scary family issues, and it seemed a bit insensitive to be posting beautiful photos of my beautiful family’s beautiful life. It still does.

In a way though, the timing is perfect. The best reaction to tough news is to resolve to live more fully, more joyously, more intensely. To spend more time with people that matter, doing things that matter.

My family is who matters, spending time with them is what matters. But we sometimes get so caught up in surviving that we forget to live.

There are those ”quote photos” that people post and share on facebook (for some reason posting pictures of words ticks me off to no end. I’m weird like that). None of them are too monumental or mind blowing, but sometimes they do strike a chord. One I saw recently was something to the effect of... Okay there is no way I’m going share the text from a photo of text here. I just can’t. I’ll share something from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden instead.

“...that he live in all respects so compactly and preparedly that, if an enemy take the town, he can, like the old philosopher, walk out the gate empty-handed without anxiety.”


“All men want, not something to do with, but something to do, or rather something to be.”

So in order to be we choose something to do, and then something to do with, and we become so obsessed with the day-to-day doing and doing with that we forget about the being.

Eg. I’d love to be able to learn, pray, and connect to Hashem a good chunk of the day. I really would. I enjoy those things. But in order to do this I must provide some sort of service which a fellow man is willing to pay for. So we chop wood, cobble, milk cows, and herd sheep. We become businessmen, blacksmiths, candle-makers, internet hacks, healers, and coders.

So we could then live with a sense of comfort, with food, shelter, and clothing. But then we start to shift our focus, instead of spending our free time connecting, praying, learning, walking with our special other, playing with the kids; we think of more ways to make money, and when we talk with friends it isn’t about the things that matter, it’s about cobbling, coding. And even worse, while we are praying, hiking, learning, our minds wander to what? To the exact things we have taken on ourselves to allow ourselves the luxury of praying, hiking, learning. Being.

Therefore, I, Zalmy Berkowitz, he of the large beard, broken glasses, thrift store jackets. Drinker of good beer, watcher of cows; light trapper, memory collector; he of the beautiful wife and delightful children; Confuser of pronouns; resolve to actively concentrate on being, and relegate the doing and doing with to exactly that. Tools with which I can spend more time doing what I really want.

Will this resolution stick. I highly doubt it. But the more one thinks about something, the more the truth sinks in. Sinks past your consciousness, slides through your sub-conscious (not your “unconscious”! Please, you don’t “unconsciously think” or “unconsciously react”), wiggles down your esophagus, until it gets firmly entrenched in your heart. And then what you know becomes what you do, and who you are.

With that I present my family’s year. Not just the best photos, but my favorite ones.

Enjoy the ride. Keep your hands inside the moving vehicle at all times, and for the intellectually challenged, there is even a video (narrated by botox lady. And that whole "no electronics" thing? Complete balderdash.) instructing in the exact process of buckling a seatbelt. Yes, I’m looking at you, Airline companies. Seriously?

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Milk, knives, & 5 year olds

We drink raw milk. We can only get it every other week, it costs around $8.70 for half a gallon, doesn't really freeze well, and it has more of a chance of having bad bacteria than the pasteurized, homogenized versions. It's also much healthier. The cows and milk have to live up to much higher standards (regular milk doesn't need to come from healthy cows, they just kill (pasteurize) any bacteria. It has all the good bacteria still there, and tastes a bit richer. In fact most "lactose intolerance" (as in my daughter's case) is only in relation to pasteurized milk. They do fine with the raw stuff. Yes, there's always the fear of some sort of E. Coli situation (although very rare) but I'm okay with that.

If kids didn't play there'd be less broken bones. If we protected them from all sorts of danger they'd be less mature, have less self esteem, and less equipped to handle the unsurities of the world. And in regards to food and medicine they'd be much less healthy.

We don't vaccinate (for the most part) or get anti-biotics "just in case". Because in insuring yourself against possible future harm you are subjecting yourself to a definitely less healthy present (and future).

Here is Zevi wielding a ridiculously huge knife. It's actually his job to cut up the melon on Shabbos and before we go to the park (in the Summer. In the winter it's mostly apples and cheese). Is there a chance of himself cutting himself? Of course there is, and it scares me a bit too. It also scares me when he zooms down the sidewalk on his bike, and I'm sure I'll be freaked when he starts to drive. But we know our kids. And Zevi is a very responsible one, obsessed with rules, structure, and order. He is way more careful with that knife than most adults (look how far his left hand is from the knife). He knows never to use it when we're not around and not to use it on smaller items (such as apples) where there isn't much room for his other hand.

I doubt we'd let the other kids use knives when they get to his age. My Chanaleh is in a different universe most of the time, and Mendel just loves to make trouble, but they have other responsibilities and jobs. And they thrive on it.

Why am I sharing all this? Well firstly, because I'm want to post these photos and don't want y'all to freak out :). But mainly I want people to realize that when it comes to your own life and family you are the expert. No one knows more than you do what each kid needs, and how to discipline, reward, teach, and love each individual member of your family. There will always be the judgers (yes, I know that's not a word, but it works better than judges here, or "those who judge"), the naysayers, and the social normers. Ignore them. Do your own research, trust your gut, and live fully.

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