הספד לפלאפון

בי”ט באייר, אור לליל קיץ קריר, נפח מכשיר הטלפון הנייד שלי את חייו הקצרים והחזירם לבורא. לולא הייתי בן למסורת שידעה חורבן, גלות, גפילטע פיש וכו’ אולי לא הייתי מוצא את המלים הנכונות לספוד כך על אשר אבד ואינו עוד. נשמתו, תהא עליה הברכה, תשב מעתה במרומים יחד עם אחיו אשר עברו אסונות לרוב (נפילה לסיר מרק, נפילה מעגלה, נפילה ללא נסיבות). אודה ואתוודה, לא היה בידי העוז להביאו לפני רופא אשר לכל הפחות יתן לו מעט כבוד אחרון לפני שיגבה סכום כפול משווי השוק של ידידי המת. קלה היתה ידי על מקש ה”רכש”, קלה היתה ידי לסיים את התרגול הבודהיסטי המפגר הזה של “או, הוא שוב נכבה באמצע שיחה חשובה, בוא נחייה ברגע”. ברגעים אלו, מלאי הפומפוזיות, ארצה להודות למכשירי עליו השלום, אשר חרף עלותו (מ”ז דולרים אם זיכרוני אינו מטעני) ליווני במשעולי הכתיבה ברגעי דחק, תוך אחיזה בעולל בידי השנייה, תוך כדי שינה ותוך כדי דברים אחרים. מאז הצטרף לכיסי הטלפון החכם, למדתי (כשלא הייתי בפייסבוק) להשתמש בו ככלי יעיל לכתיבה. על כן כשאני נפרד מידידי, דומה הדבר לפרידה מקסת דיו אהובה, או לכל הפחות מאיזה עט נובע זול. בקיצור, שלום חבר, גודביי פרינד.

On time, heart, good deeds and the big bang

I’m not a scientist, I do believe in the Evolution theory but nevertheless, out of all the theories on how the world keeps going, this Hassidic tale makes the most sense to me. In short, there’s a heavy tounged begger who goes around the world, collects all the good deeds, makes them into a melody and sing it to a Godly man who makes a day out of them and brings them to the heart of the world, and because of that the heart of the world can manage to live one more day with her deep longing to the spring of the world, which she can never meet. Like the story of the 36 true Tzaddikim (righteous persons) who appears in every generation, without these good deeds, the world will cease to exist. But in this story Rabbi Nachman add what Malevich added to his black and red squares – the tension of a meeting that would never happen is the secret of life, the secret of time. Makes more sense than the big bang, isn’t it? It is one part of ‘Tale of seven beggars’ by Rabbi Nachman of Breslev, who died before he finished to tell it (he told of each beggar every day until he died after the sixth beggar) I quoted some of it here with a few gender corrections (translation of Meyer Levin):

(…a few men argue who is wiser) And I explained my wisdom to them, saying. “You must know that time does not exist of itself and that days are made only of good deeds. It is through men and women who perform good deeds that days are born, and so time is born; and I am he who goes all about the world to find those who secretly do good deeds: I bring their deeds to the great man who is known as the Truly Godly Man, and he turns them into time; then time is born, and there are days and years.”
So the heart remains longing at the other end of the earth, longing for the spring that cannot come toward it, for the spring has no share in Time, but lives on a mountain peak far above the time that is on earth. And the mountain spring could not be of the earth at all, since it has no share in the earth’s time but for the earth’s heart, which gives the spring its day.

And as the day draws to its close, and time is ended, the heart becomes dark with grief, for when the day is done the mountain spring will be gone from the earth, and then the earth’s heart will die of longing, and when the heart is dead all the earth and all the creatures upon the earth will die.
“And so, as the day draws to a close, the heart begins to sing farewell to the fountain; it sings its grief in wildly beautiful melody, and the mountain spring sings farewell to the heart, and their songs are filled with love and eternal longing.
But the Truly Godly Man keeps watch over them, and in that last moment before the day is done, and the spring is gone, and the heart is dead, and the world is ended, the good man comes and gives a new day to the heart; then the heart gives the day to the spring, and so they live again.

As the day comes, it is brought with melody, and with strangely beautiful words that contain all wisdom; for there are differences between the days, there are Sabbaths and Mondays, and there are holidays, and days of the first of the month; and each day comes with its own song.
“All these days that the Godly man gives to the heart of the world he has through me, (the hard tounged beggar) for it is I who go about the world to find the men and women who do good deeds, and it is from their deeds that time is born, for each deed becomes a melody in my mouth, and from the melody the Godly man makes a day, and the day is given to the heart, and she sings it to the fountain. (…)

Diet God

A friend from out of town came to visit our synagogue and said she wish there was a synagogue that is God-free. I told her that our synagogue is sort of God light, or diet God, but it was still too much God for her diet.

  I don’t know whether God exists or not, but I honestly don’t understand why human beings spend so much time thinking and arguing about that. I mean we’re going to find out when we die anyway so why bother about it now? ‘What is God’ is a more of an interesting question to me than whether it exists or not, since it has so many different answers than just yes or no.

  I do believe that acts of loving kindness count more than type of faith though.

  What I love about our synagogue, BHA, is that there are about as many different views of Judaism and of God as the number of members, if not more (two Jews, three opinions, so it says).

בדרך לפגוש את מיקי

בדרך לפגוש את מיקי

מנסה לצאת מתחנת הרכבת התחתית של כיכר ההסתדרות (יוניון סקוור) אל עבר מיקי שמחכה לי בכדי לצפות בהופעה. אני עולה במדרגות מהרכבת אל עבר היציאה ובדרך נמצאים –
א. קבוצה של כעשרים אנשים השרים בקול ובדבקות ניגוני הארי קרישנה 
ב. אחד עם כיפה, מורה לביולוגיה שתלה שלטים שיש משהו שמוצא את הפתרון למשהו, משהו עם התנ”ך המשהו שהוא מנסה לפתור לו את המשהו. או יותר נכון התנכ”ב, הוא התכוון לברית החדשה.
ג. זמרת אופרה ששרה זמירות מתקופה אחרת. 
  עם שניים מבין שלושת אלה אני נקלע לפגישה.

בדרך להופעה אני עוצר בפלאפל. אני חושש שהבעלים ישראלי אבל לכל העובדים יש מבטא הודי כבד וזה הפלאפל הראשון שאני אוכל בארה”ב שמגוון האפשרויות העומדות בפני הסועד מרגיש דומה לזה שבארץ (אכלתי כבר פלאפלים טעימים כאן אבל לרוב אין אפשרות לבחור סלטים). העובדים בעלי המבטא ההודי לא מבינים את המבטא שלי ואני לא מבין אותם. דומה לארץ אמרתי? אפשר לבחור בין חמישה סוגים של חומוס, הפלאפל אפוי ולא מטוגן (זה הרבה יותר טעים ממה שזה נשמע ומרגיש הרבה יותר נעים בבטן) ובין התוספות השגרתיות יש גם פסטו, אבוקדו, ביצה קשה, זיתים, אגוזים, זרעי חמניות, קינואה, גבינה בולגרית ועוד. בקיצור – בלגן בפיתה מחיטה מלאה. אבל זה מה שפלאפל אמור להיות, זה מה שניו יורק אמורה להיות, זה מה שאני, זה מה שכל אחד ואחת עמוק בפנים. וזה נורא טעים.

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On statuses and other thoughts

   Recently I tried to post some creative writing on Facebook, as sort of a writing exercise. Basically I’m trying to improve my writing skills using this addictive website. I don’t know if that happened but I think I learned a few things by this exercise.

    There’s a “like” epidemic. One can like every single post and comment he sees on his feed and it would have no consequences at all. You can like pro life and pro choice posts, pussy riots and homophobic posts at once and nothing would happen. It’s like going to the casino with unlimited amount of money or voting for both candidates, there is no real value or anything to lose with the “like” button.

   Yet, when I posted something, I checked how many likes I got, often obsessively. However good or bad my writing was, it never beat the amount of likes a photo of a cute illiterate baby received almost instantly. Therefore, the fact that a divisive and uneducated post about two food vendors in Beacon gained ten times more likes than a (I hope) thoughtful and interesting post about a tragic and symbolic massacre doesn’t mean that one is more important than the other. On the Facebook stage, however, that might be the impression you get. But how can one “like” a massacre?

   Facebook is one of the main ways people communicate today. I don’t know of anyone who is in love with it, many people are a little upset to admit that they are addicted to it. I find that being more “active” on it, using it as a tool to improve a skill rather than to pass time, was actually quite gratifying. I have less complains about it now since I feel that by using it I actually gained something. It’s far from being perfect, I have no idea how and why Facebook decides which posts it will show me or which posts of mine others will see. I still don’t trust Facebook and suspicious about its motives.

    Whether you see the world with a scientific, religious, artistic, Buddhist, optimistic or pessimistic point of view, Facebook doesn’t “represent” anything. It’s a mixture of thing’s people share and that you see some of them in order that was made by an algorithm that is like the secret ingredient of Coca Cola. It’s an obvious fact, but one that’s important to remember.

    Usually only literature lovers will read literature magazines and only politics lovers will read about politics in depth. Facebook does offer an interesting stew where all of these melt into one feed, someone’s grandma and another one’s cat and the food industry and the war and the water and art and social issues and more. It’s interesting to think about it, I never saw such thing. It’s beautiful, humane, ugly and addictive at the same time, very different than the average news station.

   I thought of gathering what I wrote into a blog post but I find it useless. Facebook posts, however good or bad, are just Facebook posts. Maybe it’s a writing genre of itself since I don’t know how else to define it. Many times I experience something and think in advance about how to phrase it on Facebook. It may be silly, it probably is, but that’s how it goes. What I wrote was meaningful to me, as any writing, however dumb it is, important to its writer. I don’t think I mastered the status genre but I do consider it a form of writing, like non fiction, prose or others. Probably a less noble one but still a genre or at least a form. I didn’t use to think that way before I started this exercise.

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Facebook statuses, an experimental booklet made with repurpusrd record covers and personal anecdotes to the addressee.
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On humor

Recently I made a few attempts to write funny things. To my surprise, it seemed to work. I’m not a funny person, or at least when I tell a joke about 43% of the times it’s too long and I forget the end. Most kids do find me funny though, especially the illiterate ones.

I’m a religious person, in a sense that I find humor to be holy. I find humor as one of the most magical things about life. Like birth, death, love and music its meaning and secret can’t really be understood. It is one of the only things that can unite people from different cultures in a positive simple way. It gives hope to life that is too often full of suffering. I believe people like Chaplin, Stewart and Baron Cohen, or at least their characters are one interpretation of faith according to this religion.

So the fact that a rant about baby stuff we want to get rid of or a facebook comment made someone laugh makes me very happy. Much happier than if I’d make someone cry with my words. Ideally, If I may wish for a writing skill, I’d like to be able to get both reactions at the same time with one piece of writing. And that’s probably a little too serious thing about humor what I just wrote.

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The De-hollizing project

   One of the most reasonable ways to end the Israeli Palestine conflict is to declare the Holy Land as not holy, as just a regular place. It may sound unreasonable, but I think that for most of the Jewish people this had already happened. Many if not most Jews don’t see the “holy places” as holy in the traditional sense of the word. Many poets and writers had already said that there’s a lot of sacredness in the casual and regular events and places, in everything, so this idea is not even be a big change of mindset for most people. If religions would start to consider the whole wide world as holy, including all of its residents and natural treasures, I think it’ll be great for everyone. Maybe then humanity would be able to use the incredible power of organized religion for good causes. 

   Today, February 25th, is the 20th anniversary of the cave of Patriarchs massacre in which an American born Jewish doctor killed 29 Palestinians while they were praying where Abraham, Jacob and Isaac are supposedly buried. The city of Hebron knew an even more terrible massacre in 1929, in which 67 Jews lost their lives and the rest escaped from the city. Many of the holy places in Israel-Palestine had some bloodshed in them. What we now recognize as the wailing wall plaza in Jerusalem used to be a the 800 years old Mughrabi Arab neighborhood that was demolished a few days after the 1967 war, in order to flatten the area for Jews to pray and gather there. Such actions, I believe, take away whatever holiness was in a place. 

    I don’t have a specific way to make such idea (I call it de-hollizing but maybe there’s a better name for it) a reality, if such idea is even a good idea. Adam of Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center had already showed a lot of excitement for managing a holy site in case the Jewish world would decide to de-hollinize Jerusalem and transfer its holy spirit to the beautiful retreat center in Connecticut (he was actually freaked out by the idea, I understand him). I imagine that a petition of many Rabbis declaring that they see holiness in every place and in each creature on earth and not only in few places or some graves might have a huge impact, but I’m neither a Rabbi nor an organizer. “De-hollinaizing”, like disarming, like dislike something that does very little to benefit a more peaceful future.

Demolition work of the Moroccan quarter

 in order to create the wailing wall plaza,1967

  Rabban Yokhanan Ben Zakai, which we named our son Zakai after, is famously recognized for transferring Judaism into an era of prayer and study from an era of sacrifying animals in the sake of worshiping God. His teaching during the distraction of the second temple that loving-kindness equal to sacrificing animals in its importance is one of my favorite quotes from the Jewish literature. Just saying. 

Anyway, regardless of all that, this is the peace pole project, in which tens of thousands of poles were placed in more than 180 countries around the world with the sentence “may peace prevail earth” ישרה שלום עלי אדמות written on them in many different languages. I love this inspiring project. 

About a dentist

Him, a fascist. Me, a lefty. A hot summer day, a small town in America. He knew I’m an Israeli right away, I wore sandals, he assumed I was from a kibbutz. It was about two years since my last dental care. My last dentist was a Palestinian guy, who I used through the public health care service in Israel. A nice guy, really. My guilt feelings about the Israeli occupation of Palestinians, that brought me to learn basic Arabic, didn’t impress him much.

No pain no gain, the fascist one told me as he prepared his tools. He was a member of the Kahana party, who believed it’s a good idea to deport the natives to other countries. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective.

Probably the most popular graffiti in Israel is “Kahana was right”, often accompanied with a Jewish star. I once printed a bumper sticker, “Kahana was wrong”. I floss regularly.

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Einstein, Morocco, upstate New York

During my army service I had a certain lip balm that had a very specific taste. Even many years later, when I come across a similar semi-strawberry flavor I right away feel like I’m a soldier again, with everything that this feeling arouses in me. I have a similar, or rather an opposite reaction, to the voice of Arik Einstein. When I hear his voice I feel comforted, I feel at home.

Einstein is credited as the first one to create Rock music in Hebrew but he wasn’t a great philosopher, poet or activist. I love him not like an idol but more like a friend, a mentor. His voice often accompanies me with me with an advice, a feeling or a story that are usually very meaningful, simple and often wise.

“sitting in San Francisco on the water (…)
It’s so beautiful in San Francisco on the water
It’s too bad you’re not here with me to see,
you’d say you’ll never come back..
Suddenly I want home (…)
Give me a piece of the Tabor mountain,
A piece of the sea of Galilee
I love to fall in love with the small land of Israel
Hot and wonderful”

Lyrics : Einstein, Music : Shalom Chanoch

Homesickness. Israel, the sea of Galilee where Jesus walked on the water and mount Tabor, I still remember how in love I was when we hiked there together (she wasn’t that much into me). We had tea on the way down, met some Bedouins who hiked there as well. It was many years ago.

Like Einstein, I also love to fall in love with places. I even managed to fall in love with a small town in upstate New York. I love the mountain here and I love the river and I really love the people here. If I live elsewhere I’ll miss all of those, I might even write some songs about them.

The exiled Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish said that homeland is like a suitcase. I guess for some it is a suitcase, for some it’s the melodies and for some, like me, there is no clear definition of what homeland is. For Einstein, who was born in 1939, homeland was what he called good old Israel, pre-skyscrapers Tel-Aviv, idealism, and some innocent sense that he had as a child and maybe Israel had too. Besides being an incredible performer, that might be what made him so popular among so many Israelis who yearned to similar things.

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Israelis don’t talk a lot about where they came from. Zionism, the Jewish national movement that was born at the end of the 19th century and eventually established Israel in 1948, intended to bring Jews from different cultures from all over the world and unite them in Israel under the new national umbrella that was inspired by the ancient Jewish state at Biblical times. The Zionist greatest myth, the “Sabra”, is the Israeli Ashkenazi native Hebrew speaking male who was born in Israel and is actively building the country from vacuum while structuring the perfect society that will occupy it. The new Jew that would finally have a homeland of his own and would be the mirror image of the Jew from the diaspora.

During the attempt to bring this dream to life languages disappeared, people didn’t find their place and some communities are still looking for their common identity. The Sabra wasn’t supposed to look back much, like a famous saying of Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister – “From Tanakh to Palmakh” – From the Bible to the Jewish combat units. As if nothing happened in between. As much as I know how destructive this myth was for so many people, when I hear Einstein’s voice I believe it, like a child listening to a story. A good story, where we are the good guys and we go through lots of trouble until the happy end.

   

 
“Jewish autumn
In the land of my ancestors
Send me hints of Elul (…)
Shofars will blow open
Heaven gates
And Jewish faces from the diaspora
In sad grayness
Will fly in front of the chair of
The master of the world
Requests, begging, sparks
Deep in their eyes”
        Lyrics : Abraham Chalfi,  Music : Yoni Rekhter

Einstein was a sabra, musically he might have been the first one, or probably the last one. More of a lover than a fighter but still a sabra, maybe even an ultimate one. This song, in which he sing a poem by Avraham Chalphi, is the only one I know of from Einstein’s hundreds of songs in which he sings about Jews who don’t live in Israel. The poem describes them almost as ghosts, flying with mysteriously sparks in their eyes, not really sure what they have to say to the average Israeli.

With Einstein, it seems like the Sabra project worked. His figure and beautiful voice seem to be born out of the sand of Tel Aviv, like the city itself that claim to rise up from the sand. Einstein doesn’t seem to be interested too much in Jewish history prior the establishment of Tel Aviv and if he sings of Historical events it’s either of Zionist history or of Biblical characters.

After his death, I learned many new things about Einstein. Many Israelis shared stories about his beautiful friendships, his professionalism, his shyness and extreme humbleness. Living on the other side of the Atlantic ocean, I consumed many of these stories through the internet and felt a kind of mourning I couldn’t explain. I didn’t learn anything, however, about Einstein’s grandparents or parents. They must have immigrated to the land of Israel from somewhere, but Einstein, besides singing this song, never says a word about almost two thousands years of Jewish Diaspora.

Like the United States, Israel too is inspired by lots of idealistic dreams. The reality, however, is often a bitter awakening from those dreams.

One of the few memories I have of my grandfather is his old radio that used to constantly play music in Arabic. This was more than forty years after he immigrated to Israel from Baghdad, leaving his dreams, his career and few other things there as well. He wasn’t a Sabra.

I know very little of him, mostly from stories my mom told me. I don’t remember him speaking much, I do remember new year cards from him, written in what I still think is the most beautiful hand-writing I’ve ever seen. Later on I realized that the horizontal shape of his Hebrew letters is actually very similar to Arabic letters.

I sometimes wonder what would have happened if as a child I would have sat on his lap and he would have told me stories in Iraqi dialect Arabic. Would he have felt more capable of telling me stories in his mother tongue? would he have laughed with me had I understand Arabic? Maybe he’d tell me about the market in Baghdad, maybe we’d even live or visit there and he’d take me on walks, to his synagogue, to his grandfather’s grave.

I lost his cultural inheritance. I don’t speak his language and I know very little of the culture he came from. I just have a vague image of an old sick man that seemed bitter and out of place, always accompanied by a distorted melody out of an old Radio. Like Einstein who sings so beautifully Chalfi’s words, Jewish faces of the diaspora often appear in my visions too.

If there was any battle between Einstein and my grandfather, Einstein won by a knock-out.

West Jerusalem artist Neta Elkayam decided to sing in Moroccan dialect Arabic, the language of her beloved grandmother. Like other Israeli artists before who chose to sing in Yiddish and in other languages, Elkayam is searching for roots and doesn’t find them in the myth of the Sabra. I know Neta and her artwork for more than twelve years but listening to her singing in Arabic is like meeting a new Neta for me, an even more beautiful Neta, with something extra, or rather something raw, more open to pain and to love. I think I understand her better now, even though I have no idea what she’s singing about. I find myself just enjoying the language, the intonation and the performance and the story behind the music is very exciting to me. There is a certain magic in listening to music in a language you don’t understand – the lyrics can mean anything but they function like an extra musical instrument and has no intellectual background to them.   I wonder how would it be for me if I haven’t understood Einstein words but have only his voice and the music to enjoy.

Baba Gurion, Neta Elkayam

  “Baba Gurion”, Neta Elkayam. Ben Gurion is holding

a Hebrew-Arabic dictionary and having a glass of Arak

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Together with her partner Amit Hai Cohen they created a show in which they sing songs of Moroccan Jewish musicians who were culture heroes in their homeland but Zionism never really noticed them. Some of these musicians, whose songs are still listened to and being taught as essentials of modern Arab music, died in poverty after having a hard life in Israel with very little recognition of their talent.

For Jews, singing in any Arabic dialect in Israel is also a dramatic political statement. For many Israelis the sound of Arabic is threatening, even though Hebrew and Arabic are very similar and about half of them had some level of Arabic in their home, like I had with my grandparents. Neta is gifted with a voice that like Billie Holiday and Oum Kalthoum can take the listeners into another world, regardless if they understand what she’s singing about.

Recently, Neta and Amit performed at a famous music festival in Morocco where they had an incredible success. They also perform regularly in Israel and their work brings out a lot of interest. Culturally it is one of the most interesting things that are happening in Israel right now and inevitably it raises many questions about Jewish and Israeli identity. Their journey might have started with hearing Grandma as children but led them through Tom Waits, the Lower east side, Tel Aviv, Existentialism and many more stations, but eventually they got back and sang songs that grandma would have loved.

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   While writing these words I’m waiting for my daughter Maayan to be done with her ballet class and to take her to a show of Gina Samardge, her favorite musician who will probably sing her favorite song – “This land is my land, this land is your land”. While I’m waiting, a few other parents discuss whether it’s better to get a real tree or a fake tree for Christmas.
Thanks to Ana, Michal and MikiIn memory or Arik Einstein, may his memory and artwork be for blessing