Monday, October 31, 2011

Searching for Suttree

I am in the home stretch of reading Cormac McCarthy's Suttree.  More about this later.  I did discover a wonderful web page by Professor Wes Morgan, Searching for Suttree, which shows many of the locations in the novel. Knowing the places in the novel exist, or did in the 1950s, adds veracity to this work, which is such a product of its time and place. Location is one of the anchors to this novel.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Strange Hunger for Non-Dual Judaism

I get hungry to read about non-dual Judaism.  Fact is, there are few modern full length treatments of it, and the classical sources only hint at the non-duality of all that we see and experience within the context of religious Judaism.  Mostly, non-dualism is a minority view in the Jewish world.

So, I gobble the works that are out there, and hope for more. [For example, I just read an essay by Rabbi James Jacobson-Maisels about non-dual Judaism, and it is brilliant in how it handles the difficult task of explaining the unexplainable.  But I can’t find a full length book by Rabbi Jacobson-Maisels.]

Which brings me to Rabbi Arthur Green’s These Holy Words: A Vocabulary of Jewish Spiritual Life.  Rabbi Green was an early advocate of non-dual Judaism within the context of what is called neo-Hasidism.  This movement advocates for the integration of many Hasidic ideas and practices into modern Jewish life, without fully boarding the mitzvot-Hasidic bandwagon.

Rabbi Green “dictionary” of Jewish thought and practice covers a great deal of ground.  From Adonai to Zehhut and much in between.  There are suggestions of non-dualism here, especially in his treatment of the four letter name of God.  But mostly, this is a primer for liberal Jews without much background in the tradition looking for basic information from a very broadminded thinker. 

Such books as Radical Judaism, Ehyeh: A Kabbalah for Tomorrow and Seek My Face: A Jewish Mystical Theology are a more full frontal views of mystical, non-dualistic Judaism than this work

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Jericho, by Jack Canfora

A friend from college, Jack Canfora, a talented playwright and actor, has been receiving excellent reviews for his newest play "Jericho," which is being performed by the New Jersey Repertory Company.

Check out this superb review from the New York Times.

It is just plain satisfying to see one of my own people, from back when, getting the accolades they deserve.  Also, I have read the play and it is simply superb.  It is hard to believe that in the relatively confined space of a play, Jack could pack so much of a punch.  But he did; he is that good.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Meat and Bones of the Torah

It is difficult, although not impossible, to have a real appreciation for some of the deeper studies of  religious Judaism without a knowledge of Hebrew and, to an extent, Aramaic.  Unlike Christianity, where the Greek texts of the New Testament are not subject to scrutiny, the Hebrew texts of the bible, on the level of language and even of alphabet, have been seen as a mine to excavate some of the deeper meanings and secrets of the Torah.

The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet, by Rabbi Michael L. Munk, gives English reading audiences a chance to get the flavor of the language based mystical theology of the Torah through an examination of each letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  Munk delves into gematria, the mystical names of God, the hidden and revealed Torah, the meat and bones of Judaism’s esoteric and arcane lore.  He explains this concepts in a way that most can understand, taking apart the Hebrew and rendering it into clear English.

Unless you read Hebrew, and have knowledge of the games the rabbis would play with the language, this is the book that will get you closest to the text centered orientation of mystical Judaism.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Open for Suggestion

Of course, Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential is funny, even hysterically  at times.  It is filled with hyperbole of the highest order, capturing both the raw energy and stress of life as a line cook and working chef, and the monotony and boredom.  This is a life of doing the same tasks over and over again, both high-stress and numbing.  All through the book he tells us this is what is to be done in a kitchen and this is not to be done, as if it is holy writ.

Near the end, he visits the kitchen of a more accomplished colleague, and tells us, in no uncertain terms, that everything he has told us about food, running a kitchen, being the general of an army of cooks, runners, waiters, is wrong.  The rival does all the things he claims are forbidden.  His kitchen actually has waiters who help, in a pinch, plating food!  

At the end, Bourdain  realizes that his kitchen is an extension of his overtaxed and overburdened psyche.  This kind of heavy self-effacement is what keeps Kitchen Confidential from becoming a machismo  manifesto.  Bourdain is always open to criticism, from others, but especially from himself.  He is smart enough to know that in the creative world of cooking, there are plenty of people above him, often far above him.  

Ego does not drive this book, but the urge to see real creativity and professional execution at work.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Outer Dark: the Young Cormac McCarthy

When you read early novels of a great writer, it is easy to say that you can see what that writer would later become. How he or she would hone away the difficult parts that don't seem to fit, and get at that rock hard layer that would make him or her a great writer.

This is the case with bad writers too. You can often see, in their first work or two, the element or element(s) that will derail them. Maybe it is a slavish devotion to a theme that is not totally mastered. Perhaps an ideological stance or a dedication to a particular narrative form. After a novel or two, the lack of range becomes the wall. The writer can't climb it, and that is it.

Cormac McCarthy's early novel, Outer Dark, shows all the elements of a writer on his way up; reading it, and seeing how he pared away the dead weight and got at the issues that matter illustrate later on illustrate how a novelist can go from Outer Dark, a decent novel about incest, murder, poverty and cruelty, and transform those issues into something distinctly American and even universal in works like Sutree and Blood Meridian.

So Outer Dark should be read even though it is unsatisfying in many ways, especially the ending. There is the feeling the McCarthy is trying to get himself out of a box that he has constructed throughout the novel, and the quickest way is just to punch a hole at the bottom. I suggest reading some of his great, more mature works, and then reading this novel. Then you can see the process of great art getting honed over time. You can see a writer listening to his own inner voice, getting at the heart of the matter that matters most to him as an artist.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Death of Dreams

Coetzee can come across as cool, detached, and even cruel in the second installment of his autobiographical series, Youth: Scenes from a Provincial Life II.  Part of it the third person narration.  Coetzee puts distance between himself and the narrative by referring to himself as James Coetzee.  Part of this may be a post-modernist trick.  We are not to believe too strongly that Coetzee is actually portraying himself in this work, but a facsimile of that self.  

But it is hard to let Coetzee off with this.  The book, if it is nothing else, is bone rattling honest about the shortcomings of this character named Coetzee, almost render the reader a voyeur.  We get to watch all the stumbling of the young Coetzee as he tries to free himself of the stifling provincial life of South Africa, for the cosmopolitan existence of London.  And how can we not see it as a failure?  Coetzee all but tells us that it is? 

This book is really a monument to the failure of youth.  There comes a time when young men and women realize that they will fail in life; that dreams, those wonderful time consumers of thought and energy, will probably never come to fruition.  Coetzee is just more honest about this basic fact than most of us can bear.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Infiltrator - V - The End

This was Professor Ahmad’s blazing passion.  He had his reasons, personally and professionally, for such field trips.  For him, the map of my nation was superimposed upon a remembrance of his country.  Such trips were informative to his work, and elegiac to his people.  But he was a pragmatist.  As he searched for the lost past as exemplified in a mosque converted to a cafĂ© there, a graveyard turned refuse yard here --- he knew memory and reality could only serve certain convergences.  After that, all this was useless.  It was rattling a dry drum.
            We drove to what he believed, in his expect opinion, was the spot where the 1948 armistice line skirted the orange grove and Tel Far.  Professor Ahmad knew the terrain well.  He had visited it ten years ago, but since then it had changed.  The kibbutz which had occupied the site of Tel Far was gone, usurped in turn by a stand of concrete apartment houses along the road to K_____.  We stood in front of their bland, vacant facades.  There was not much to see.  Perhaps that sandy patch there had been the wadi, he said, filled in when the water was useful no longer useful.  That would explain why the ground was so springy, he diagnosed as he hopped gently on one foot, when it is so dry.
            The apartment houses were filled with newly arrived Russians.  I asked an old man on a bench if he know if there were any orange trees about?  He told me in halting Hebrew that he did not speak Hebrew.  We took a short walk.  In an open field a dozen boys were playing battle.  Some had toy guns; some had fashioned guns from sticks.  There was much charging and counter charging.  I asked one if there were orange trees here.  He looked at me quizzically; his hair was blond and his narrow tartar eyes expressed pure cynicism.   I think around that bend, he said quickly, and then he ran off for yet another offensive in an unending series of offenses.
            We left the boys and rounded the bend to a gently sloping field.  Perhaps this was all that was left of the Tel (hill) of Tel Far.  Near the base of the slope where three or four untended orange trees.  Beyond them, I found the remains of fence posts, and some bits of wire still strew about.  The trees looked too young to be from the era of our infiltrator.   The remains of the wire did not run long enough to tell if it was really the old 1948 armistice line.  If it was, then those oranges must have been as tempting to the Arabs of Tel Far as the fruit to the first couple in Eden.  You could almost reach out and pluck them from the border.  The day was hot.  Professor Ahmad and I sat beneath the most shady of the scraggly orange trees.  He fanned himself with his straw hat, and as was his wont on such trips, he began to speak and I did not dare to interrupt:
            “Let’s say this man in your papers is who we think he was, and who his interrogators supposed: his mother is a Jew and his father an Arab.  By Jewish religious law, he is a Jew.  By Israeli law, he is Israeli.  By Koranic law and Arab custom, he’s a Muslim.  It must have been a terrible position for him to be in.  All the factions back then.  All the infighting.  And here is a man not only caught up in the Arab turmoil, but a half-Jewish as well.  He’s fluent in Hebrew.  He can hardly conceal it in that interview.  A man brought up in two languages and fastidious in both to the point where a botched word in a translation by an overworked FO man chaffs him, and this interview could mean his life! 
             But where is the Jewish mother?  Maybe she fled for her safety during the war.   Why stay in danger in Jordanian Tel Far when you can be in relative safety just three kilometers down that road.  A small war in a small land – but devastating.  And this son is a grown man.  A Muslim with a wife and child.  Where can he go?  He stays in Tel Far.  He’s used by his people in a cruelly cynical way.  He is threatened.  You must cross the line and do this, or we’ll do this to your child.  Plant this bomb here, or this is what will happen to your wife.  These things happened, you know.  No one is more cruel than a defeated people.  Defeat doesn’t make you compassionate for the weak.  It makes you hate them: you see your defeat in their weakness.   
            This was a bad time for everyone.  They probably drove this man mad with fear…. That’s the impression I get from that transcript.  He was relieved to be captured by his mother’s people, and not because they would protect him.  That final document they produced, there is no way to know, but it is probably an affidavit from her, the mother, claiming him as her son.  She writes with that beautiful Rashi script, like a Jew from the Levant.  They probably told her it would help her son’s case.   
            As I said, there was much cruelty then, on all sides.  This man was relieved to be captured.     Playing the Arab for the Arabs and the Jew for the Jews; it is a miracle, really, those five pages.  The story of two people and one land, in the convergence of a single man.  And of course he is in great pain.  And of course there is no way out for him.  Whatever he does, he loses something.  Is that our story?”
            Professor Ahmad was done.  He looked around.  A swatch of sweat glistened on his high forehead.  The sun overhead was lowering.  Its beams pierced the leaves of the tree.  There was not even an implication of a breeze.
            “Maybe this is the spot where they caught him,” he said, standing up, dusting his pants with the back of his hand.  “But like so much else, we will never know.  Unless someone brings you another treasure from an old box.  All we have are conjectures and theories.  Just another Arab crossing a boundary which is no boundary into a nation that is no nation… at least as recognized by him.”
            As we left, there was the peel of ordinance.  But it was not an echo of one of the two wars which had ripped through this field:  the little Russian boys with their ersatz guns had ambushed us, and the air was hot with the rat-tat-tat of simulated bullets.  For we had blundered, Professor Ahmad and I, and strolled unwittingly into a  classic pincer movement.  Boys rushed at his from the left and from the right.  There was no way out.
            “You’re both dead!” said one of the boys, our original guide to the trees which may or may not have been the trees we were looking for, in the place which may be Tel Far but just may as well be some place else. The boy’s cool blue eyes were drunk with the glee of capture, with the power of his decisiveness and our defenselessness. 
But he was wrong.  We were both very much alive.  We drove back to Jerusalem as night crowded all around us and the wind whispered in through the cracked windows.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Infiltrator - IV


My colleague, Professor Ahmad, an Israeli Arab, held the brittle papers in his hand.  He has read many such documents in his career, and he reads brusquely, without strident emotion.  He knows that they reflect an individual speck of human misery in a galaxy of his people’s woe, but he has become a clinician.  He examines the pathology of his people’s past with the detached air of a doctor in a hospice: there is nothing that could be done but act with dignity in the face of certain death.
            But as he read my document, I could see his lips move ever so slightly, as if he felt the urge to read the paper out loud.  So little was written that he was quickly done.  He placed the paper before me and smiled quizzically.
            “Is that all there is?” he asked.  We typically communicate in Arabic.
            “Yes,” I answered, carefully taking back the brittle leaves.  “I went to the FO archive and there was nothing in and around this date.  I did a microfilm search and nothing in the newspapers.”
            “No,” he said, shaking his head. “It would have been classified, that is if he was really a Jew.”
            “What is Tel Far now?” I asked.  Professor Ahmad had written a well regarded book about the remains of former Arab villages in Israel.  He opened it and searched the seventy page index.
            “There was a kibbutz adjacent to it until the 1967 war,” he said, his head still turned to the page.  “Expanding that grove of oranges in your papers.  The kibbutz disbanded in 1985.  And now… well, it looks like it is some sort of housing project outside of K_______.  It is a half hour drive.  Do you want to go see?”

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Infiltrator - III

Another page.  Apparently, another session:

I: Drop what pretense?  What the hell are they talking about?

I: I can’t read these.  I can’t speak Hebrew or read it.  I have a headache.  Can’t I be given something?  No, oh…

I:  It doesn’t matter how much you read and how much this nitwit translates…

I:  That is nonsense.  My mother isn’t Jewish.  She’s from East Jerusalem.  She lives there still… may she be kept from harm.

I: You have all your details wrong.  I need a good translator…

I:  How do I know that my words are being mistranslated if I don’t know Hebrew?  I can tell this man is not getting the sense of what I am saying from your reactions.  I mean, the word mother in those letters is used in a sense of respect, respect for an older Muslim woman…

I:  No, you are confusing the issues.  I am not saying that I wrote such letters in Hebrew, only that from what they say, it is apparent it is not the letter writer’s actual mother…

I:  What?  Another letter?  Are you the army or the postal service?  What does this one say, that my mother was a horse?  Oh, Arabic!  Yes, this man I know.  The former mayor of Tel Far.  Slanders again.  He says my mother was a Jew and my father an Arab.  My father had three wives, one a Christian, one Muslim, one a Jew, and I am an issue from the Jew.  This mayor was corrupt and was driven from office because of….

I:  No, not that.  He says my mother is a Jew to insult me.  Like in your language, that your mother is a whore.

I: Everyone knows you say that as the most potent insult… God in heaven.
Yet another page, and another session

I: You men again.  Back from Haifa?  I had a thousand cousins in that beautiful city by the sea, and now I don’t know a bed bug there.  Elijah battled the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, just by the…

I:  It is common lore.  Jew, Christian and Muslim know it…

I:  Well, I know you think you have proven my mother is a Jew.  Then, by Jewish law, I am a Jew, even thought I was brought up as a Muslim.  And if you prove that I blew up the road to S___, I can be tried for espionage and executed.  I know what you are getting at here with this Jewish mother thing.

I:  But you are wrong, don’t you see. You confuse your issues.  This is your common mistake.  You don’t have the essentials nailed down.  If my mother is a Jew, and this is not an admission mind you, it makes me a Jew by religious law… but if I live in Jordanian territory, so I am Jordanian.  So I would be a Jew by religion but a Jordanian by law.  Since no one died in the act of sabotage, I can only be jailed here in Israel or deported to Jordan, not executed.

I: No, it is not unusual that I have such a grasp of these matters.  A common laborer, as you say.  An orange picker. I can read… You confuse me with my mule.

I: What is this?

I: Well you have a document that is worth something here.  I will admit that.  Her hand was always beautiful, if she was a man she could have been a scribe;  all her letter in Rashi script no less…

I:  What do you want to know?

I: Maybe I can tell you that.  What will you do for me?  There needs to be something here…

I: You got this because you are good.  That is why you won the war.  I’ll give you some free advice: you’d better stay this good, because if you lose the next war, you’ll be sitting in a chair like this, and things won’t be nearly as civil…

The transcript abruptly ended.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Infiltrator - III

I: Who are you two?  Where are ______ and _______ ?

[names blacked out in the transcript]

I: Well, send them my warm regards.  I do hope they find those oranges which so concerned them.  I didn’t know Jews so concerned themselves with citrus or I would have…

I: No, I don’t know those names.  Say the names again?

I:  No, I have never heard of them.  But they are common names. 

I: Documents?  Where?

I: I can’t read while you speak.  Really, is that what those men are telling you?  You are a worse translator than the other one.

I:  No, I don’t know Hebrew, but this man here doesn’t know the Arabic of a wet nurse…

I:  Everything in these papers, all the things these people say about me are lies.  They are feeding you lies like dung and telling you its a feast for a king.  These people are telling fairy tales about me.

I: Why?  To please you.  Because you coerced them, bribed them, beat them, because they are my enemies…

I: Of course I have enemies.  You, a Jew, should know that every man who is a man has enemies!  Jews make enemies in every land they dwell.  Arabs are a gracious and hospitable people, but if my brother insults a man, that man has the right to insult me.  If my brother then kills that man, that man’s brother has the right to kill me.  Half of these names are people who are the enemies of my family.  People who owe us money.  People we owe money.  The victims of slights, both ours and theirs…you cannot take their word on anything.  They are honor bound to try and destroy me.

I: Of course I am upset.  I am a man who must steal oranges that he has planted with his own hands.  How else should I act?

I: It doesn’t matter what those documents say.  They aren’t worth the paper they are written on.  I am not a saboteur.  I do not smuggle.  I do not ambush and kill Jews.  I do not blow up roads…

I: A lie is a lie, even if it is signed and witnessed.  The Koran says that to lie about a man’s deeds is as grave a sin as saying there is no God…

I: No, I said WITNESSED, from to witness, you half wit…

I: No, I do not know Hebrew.  But your translator is mumbling.  He speaks with a Baghdadi accent as thick as river mud, I don’t have a chance to make myself clear…

I: I went over this before.  I crossed the line to pick my oranges.  I take them to a man who pays me and then he takes them to Amman to sell.  There is nothing more to say.  I will no longer speak.
Another page.  Apparently, another session:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Infiltrator - II

I: Oranges.  Yes.  I told those other men.  Oranges.  How many times shall I repeat the word orange?

I:  Well, I‘ll repeat it again.   I crossed the wire to pick my oranges.

I:  Why?  Because I was hungry, and so if everyone in Tel Far.  Oranges can be sold for money and money can be used to buy bread.

I:  How can that be my concern?  A hungry belly doesn’t care about an admittance line.  Who planted that grove, anyway?  You?  Your brothers, cousins, mothers, aunts?

I:  No, no.  They didn’t.  Don’t confuse the issue here.  The people of Tel Far planted them.  You know the terrain there.  Your army patrols every hill, wadi, gully.  There is Tel Far, which has been there since the day after Creation.  There is the wadi.  It is a fortunate water course.  It holds water for nearly three fourths of the year, so we can irrigate the trees with it.  For the other fourth of the year, we leave the irrigation to God…

I: But you keep saying that, and it means nothing.  It is a pointless question, and not even a question.  But your mouth is stuffed with such pointless questions…

I: Won’t you allow me to continue?

I. If all you do is talk, without allowing me to answer, what is the point of all this?  You should just take me out and shoot me…

I: Can I have a glass of water?

I:  No.  Take that away.  I won’t drink that filth.  Can someone give me a cigarette?

I:  Oranges!  I was picking oranges.  Again I say it!  They belong to us.  Your wire means nothing.  I know every branch on each tree like I know ever hair on the blessed head of my son, may God protect him from our enemies…

I:  But how can you say that I am not a laborer.  You want to see my hands?  You think they are soft?  Your head is soft.  I am not an agitator, a provocateur, a fifth columnist… is that the term they used?  Damn it, are you translating the words correctly?

I:  No, I don’t know any Hebrew!  I just have a sense your translator is inept.  That’s all.  I don’t know a word of your filthy tongue.

I: Oranges, oranges, oranges, oranges, oranges.  I’ve told you again and again and again and again. 

I: Of course I know that word in Hebrew.  Before the war I worked for a Jewish grower.  I told those other men that.

I: Let’s begin again.  Tel Far has three areas: the village, the wadi, the grove.  The armistice line runs right through the wadi.  We are separated from our water and our income.  We have no money and we have little food.  People would rather be shot than watch their families starve.  Even you can understand that?  Surely at least one of you has a child?  Without those trees, every blessed soul in our part of Tel Far will perish or…

I: I’d rather stop discussing oranges too, thanks be to God. 

I: No, I’ve never seen those in my life.

I: Of course I know what they are, an irrigation pipe.  That looks like copper wire, and I don’t know what that is…

I: A charge for an explosive?  I know nothing of such things…

I: If you found them at my house in Tel Far, then you obtained them illegally… my home, as you are so quick to remind me, is over the armistice line, in Jordanian territory.

I: No, that is not an admission that these materials are mine.  I am only saying that if you did get them from my house, you obtained them by crossing an international border illegally and stealing them, a charge I am being questioned about relating to fruit.

I:  Fine.  Let’s go along with this line of reasoning.  Say this was found in my house in Tel Far… this means nothing.  An Arab house is not a house of a man, woman and children, it is crowded with relations and visitors, we are a hospitable people, we do not turn away the wayfarer or destitute.  For all I know the Arab Legion could be using a room for whatever purpose they want.  It is a house with many rooms…

I: I refuse to answer that question. 

I: What do you mean, I cannot refuse?

That was the conclusion of the first page.  It was difficult to tell, but it appears that some span of time passed, and another interrogation session had begun, with different agents.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Infiltrator - a short story

The document was incomplete. This was not all that unusual, given the nature of these interrogations.  There were only the responses from the accused, and not the questions from the interrogators, so the document made for odd reading, like listening to one side of a telephone conversation.

This too was not wholly atypical; often, two stenographers recorded these sessions, one in the Hebrew of the interrogators and another in the Arabic of the infiltrator.   No doubt the documents were affixed together, but like a squabbling couple, eventually they decided that separate beds were in order.  Often, the Hebrew document survived and the Arabic was lost.  Rarely, the Arabic was the sole survivor – or even more common a Hebrew translation of the Arabic original, long gone, only echoes of it surviving in a few Arabic words, here and there, embedded in the Hebrew sentence: proper and place names, cultural or religious concepts that were then difficult to translate in Hebrew… one or two words or phrases like Arab foundlings in a Jewish orphanage.

This document was such an example: a Hebrew facsimile of an Arabic original.  I was told it was unearthed from a box in the Foreign Office’s archive, recently opened, and dated March 4, 1952.  This was probably not the date of the actual interrogation, but when the transcripts were deposited, en mass, with a host of their brethren, in some metal filing cabinet in the Foreign Office.  A chronological fiction, provided to give order to that which had no real order. 

So, I held the brittle, yellow papers in my hand, nearly forty years old.  The paper had not aged well, as if it had lived a life of gross physical abandon, and not a staid existence in a box in the FO archive.  There were five pages.  The typing was poor.  The Hebrew translation was not skillfully prepared.  When it was made, scores of such translations were being drafted, and niceties like grammar, spelling and punctuation were a luxury the overworked FO staff could not indulge.

Following 1948, the border of the new Jewish state was porous, without natural barriers of any kind, often merely an arbitrary line which zigzagged along a hill, splitting villages in half, separating fields from towns, families from kin; from the security perspective, an impossible position.  One war had concluded, but its conclusion was no more than a prelude to the next.

Arab “infiltrators,” former residents of villages, towns, cities, hamlets, now in the Jewish state, slipped through this untenable border by the thousands.  They did so for from many motivations: to steal fruit that they had planted the last season; to visit relatives on the other side of the border; to perform acts of sabotage, both petty and grave; and sometimes, for something as heart rendering banal as just to see their old houses, now occupied by their enemies.  Those who were caught sat in hard backed chairs in the FO office and were asked questions in a language they did not understand and answered them in their native tongue.  Two pens recorded the same verbal event, but from two mutually dissonant vantages: that of the victor and that of the defeated.

I quickly scanned the document.  It was apparent that the young Arab man had two interrogators, which usually meant they suspected him of some larger infraction than stealing fruit or going to a wedding.  Of course, I could not read their questions, but from the infiltrator’s answers I could discern a stubborn insistence.   

They followed the standard interrogation protocol, but they did so with a speed and persistence that was unusual, which was reserved for the “big fish.”  It was also apparent that he was being questioned by top men in the FO, and that the questions about oranges, irrigation pipes, telephone wire or copper sheeting stolen from Jewish settlements were merely preludes to more probing questions, for the confession of more damaging secrets and malfeasance.  I turned the pages to the strong light of the window, but the Jerusalem sun had just hidden beneath a cloud, and I was forced to turn back to the lamp before I could read the pages.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Where is God?

In reading Rabbi Arthur Waskow’s These Holy Sparks: The Rebirth of the Jewish People, the first thing that struck me, at least 50 pages in, is where is God?  Waskow is interested in community involvement, politics, the historical dimensions of the Jewish world, and to a degree, where the individual Jewish person fits into these overarching topics.  But not in God.

It almost seems that Waskow is going to write a holy book without even mentioning God, like the Song of Songs or the Book of Esther.  It turns out that this is very much in keeping with his position within Judaism. As a reconstructionist rabbi, he views the Jewish community as forming the parameters of the faith, acting as the stand in for God, or as God him/her/it-self acting in the world. 

Waskows religious philosophy is thus very empowering.  Jewish communities establish their traditions and customs.  We are in a new age, where people are mature and make their decisions,  not some transcendent God.   

The problem is, of course, is a religious community (any community, for that matter) can be a terrible disappointment: The politics, in-fighting, the petty squabbles.  To rely on a community and community only for one’s notion of God can be a tricky, disappointing thing.  

People want and need an entity that is somehow outside the human stream, to anchor and define what it means to be in a community, to be finite, and to be imperfect.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Tantamount NO

A few hours before Yom Kippur, and I have to post a most un-atoning post.  I now live in the Town of Ulysses, were the town board unanimously approved a ban on hydrofracking.  In my former town of Caroline, obstructionist council members just shot down a similar resolution.  

The short article in the Ithaca Journal failed to capture the nuance of the meeting, which was open to the public.  Don Barber and Dominic Frongilio both spoke and voted for the ban.  Not surprisingly, given their past utterances, Linda Adams and Toby McDonald voted nay.  Linda Adams is a representative of a land owner's coalition which attempts to get advantageous gas lease terms from gas companies. Toby McDonald has property that he has leased.  Their greed and avarice tie them to big oil and gas.  We know what color is their stripe of greed. Both Barber and Frongilio have not leased their land and are staunch conservationists.

But the real award of awkward non-committal  goes to Pete Hoyt.  He too has a gas lease on his property, and in the past has stated he does not see a conflict of interest in voting against fracking motions and his personal situation.  

And in this particular vote he has found a brilliant way out!  He abstained from the vote. He does not want to weigh in on an issue where their is the appearance of conflict. Problem is, with two yes, and two no votes, and abstention is tantamount to a no.  The resolution was shot down, and Hoyt got to maintain the illusion that he may win his re-election campaign when the year ends (he won in 2008 by two votes). Does he think he had fooled anyone with this sleight of hand?  Better to come out with his misguided views and then cast them into a vote than insult the citizens of Caroline with his trickery.

My only true regret in moving away from Caroline is that I can't vote against Pete Hoyt at the end of the year.  I voted against him once, and it felt particularly satisfying, but now, seeing how he struts about and makes utterances that are transparently insincere, a second vote against him would have been all the more pleasurable.  I hope the three people who stayed home election night and put him in office vote this year put on their galoshes and go the the polls. Alternately, I hope it doesn't rain that night.

Because Peter Hoyt needs to go home.