31 December 2005

The Burden of a Blessing

An odd sort of problem.

Having negotiated with my office to work half time,
(originally thinking to follow a certain path that now doesn't feel right)
I find myself with quite a bit of flexible time,
even after the daily seder that I have been keeping,
there are hours, hours, left open.

What should I do?

I have too often touched and tasted the passion that I am capable of to settle for something that is merely good. I have the rare opportunity to do something that I want to do, and I have to admit, I don't know what I want.

Should I fill it up with Torah learning, beyond the seder I already keep? Learn to play an instrument? Focus on writing? Focus on reading? Hike? Bike? Walk? Dance? Drive around the country looking for experience? Volunteer at a hospital? Gemach? Kibbutz? Vineyard? Build up my programming skills? Build a business? Take photographs? Draw in pencil? Settle in to a corner and watch the world go by? Meditate? Ruminate? Learn to lein Torah?

I'd love to do any and all of the above - amazing.
I'm a bit overawed with the potential of this time, of time in general, and don't want to waste it...

25 December 2005

A Grab Bag of Light

A good Hanukkah to all!

For the first time in five years, I'm planning to be in the holy city for the whole of Hanukkah. Since I've come here, I have never left Israel for a full-fledged holiday (save for last Rosh Hashannah in Uman), but Channukah was always a touch easier to compromise on. I've found myself in strange places the past four years, always on assignment from work. NYC, Greenville, Phoenix (I think). One year dropped in unannounced at a friend's Philadelphia wedding on Hanukkah. I caught a ride with a friend out of Manhattan and we flew down to Philadelphia while I prayed musaf in the passenger seat. When I saw the groom he hit me and hugged me and laughed and cried all at the same time. I don't think I've ever come closer to bringing a groom joy.

It's a simple joy to be is Israel for Channukah - yes because there are lights in all the windows and the air is on fire and there are donuts in the shops and everybody cuts out early from whatever they were doing to go and light candles - but also, and I hate to say it, because there's no Christmas flurgh. No jingly naugahyde music, no tinsely chintz, no 7 shopping days 'till nothin', no plastic inflatable fat man, no elves and canes and stockings and whatever other random accretions have marketed themselves into this most American of holidays. The difference is so striking. So striking. Just candles. So simple.

I wasn't completely saved this year. Thank God (and my long suffering sister) I became an uncle, and I went to welcome the little guy into the world. Being just a week before, the Christmas machine was in high gear. Fox News had decided that "Happy Holidays" was an attack on Christmas. I hear the argument. I've already ranted on this in other places. I would just as soon the Christmas machine ignore Chanukkah completely. Who needs it? I just hope the 2 hours I spent forced to choose between below freezing temperatures and listening to "The greatest variety of...Christmas music" goes on my record as cleaning up some grievous wrongdoing.

For MCAryeh, who's troubled by the lack of good Hanukkah music, here's one with a whole lot of soul. It came to me just as the sun was finishing to set into the first night here in Jerusalem.

There's a story that stay's with me. It's not entirely a Chanukkah story, but it always comes to mind this time of year...

The Rebbe Rashab - the fifth Rebbe of Lubavitch - was at a spa with a few of his Chassidim.

On Shabbos, the Chassidim finished davening long before he did. This wasn't unusual. They went and made kiddush, and made a few l'chaims before the Rebbe got there.

When the Rebbe arrived, one of the Chassidim, Yosef Yitchak Horowitz, was already a little tipsy. He leaned in and asked the Rebbe a question. "Rebbe", he asked, "What's a Chassid?"

The Rebbe thought for a moment, then responded, "A Chassid is a lamp lighter. He goes around this world, carrying a light at the end of his pole, and he knows the light isn't his, and he goes around lighting the lamps of the world."

"And what if the lamp is in the desert?", the Chassid asked.

"Then you have to go to the desert, and light the lamp. The barrenness of the desert will flee from before the light."

"And what if the lamp is under the ocean?"

"Then you have to take off you clothes, jump in the water, and light the lamp."

"And this is a Chassid?"

The Rebbe thought for a time, then responded, "Yes, this is a Chassid."

(Open your heart)

The Chassid cried, "Rebbe, what if I don't see the lamps?"

The Rebbe responded, "If you don't see the lamps, you have to start with yourself. If you are coarse, all you will see is coarseness in others. If you refine yourself, you will see the refinement in others."

Energized, the Chassid asked, "Do I grab the other by the throat?"
('The other' here, I think, is the internal force that opposes us when we try to do the work we have to do in this world.)

The Rebbe responded, "By the throat, no. By the lapels, yes."

A Good Channukah!

12 December 2005

What's that celery doing in my dream!?

MCAryeh and I were discussing the latest Haveil Havalim (which is a marvel), and the conversation quickly took a turn for the bizarre.

Anyone who can interpret the dream therein to my benefit and amusement...

'laizer: I like the Tel Aviv bar names.
'laizer: :sigh:
MCAryeh: I like the "that guy in the picture from Uman" one...
'laizer: Naw, that was just a picture of someone nobody knew and some links to some regurgitated prose.
'laizer: I didn't realize there was a Dry Bones blog!
MCAryeh: some beautiful regurgitated prose. Can I nominate you for the Jewish Blog Awards?
'laizer: I don't even know what they are, but I just had a strange afternoon dream.
MCAryeh: I love strange afternoon dreams!!! so much better than mid-morning ones!
'laizer: I was sitting in my place, but it wasn't my place, and lots of people where there, doing things that lots of people do. They were all friends, but none of them close friends. It was a pretty chill atmosphere.
MCAryeh: why was that a dream? are you sure that wasn't you just being hospitable as you are wont to?
'laizer: Someone mentioned (as we were exploring the fridge. I remember some celery, I think) that everything that exists in this world exists in three states (they were talking about solid, liquid, and gas.)
MCAryeh: I would have guessed Wyoming, Idaho and Utah...
'laizer: I was about to tell them about an experiment that a friend did, where he showed that the oil in a candle goes through a gaseous state right before it gets burned up. ;)
MCAryeh: all sounds very plausible...
'laizer: When someone comes out of the bathroom and starts talking right in the middle of my sentence. I yell at him that I was in the middle of my sentence, and he yells at me that I just cut him off in the middle of his sentence.
'laizer: I start telling him to let it out, yell at me, don't keep it contained...
MCAryeh: did you smack his face with a white glove and challenge him to a duel? that's what I would have done...
'laizer: I start listing the reasons he might be pissed at me...
'laizer: Tell him to just lay it out.
MCAryeh: was it the celery or the whole gaseous candle thing?
'laizer: He sits down and finally starts laying it out - "you made me wait 45 minutes, and ..., and ... (I don't remember exactly what.) At some point he starts playing guitar. Then amidst all the goings on...
MCAryeh: what song is he playing?
'laizer: He says - "And I just read in Wired magazine that this place is supposed to be like the Hippies or something!" And I get all tied up in a ball, thinking "great, we're on Wired's radar. Some of these folks must have made up all kinds of stories."
'laizer: I don't know what song he was playing, but I liked the guy, it was good tunes.
'laizer: I have a great embarrassment to be revealed publicly and inaccurately, but counter that with a resurging urge to be real. As I'm breaking through this (and picking ignorantly at the wires on a guitar) the guy mutters under his breath "Mushrooms and stuff..." and I wake up.
MCAryeh: were you literally tied up in a ball? how did that happen? were you able to escape?
'laizer: I meant emotionally man, emotionally.
MCAryeh: mushrooms AND stuff? together?
'laizer: Not sure what was intended by 'stuff'. Best left unexplored, methinks.
'laizer: Anyway, that's what I think about the Jewish Blog Awards.
MCAryeh: I think you should blog that dream and encourage interpretations....
'laizer: I think I should blog this conversation.

10 December 2005

Did you see me?

It's Erev Shabbos, and I'm standing in the local deli/grocery store/currency exchange/meeting place (Halak in Sha'arei Hesed, a fine establishment), and a fellow leans over to me asks if I was in Uman. I figure the truth is the best path, and let him know that I was. "I have a picture of you davening at the Ba'al Shem Tov's grave", he tells me...

Thank God for these holy meetings.

07 December 2005

Today's Top 15

MCAryeh laid an infectious meme on me. The idea's like this: Fire up your MP3 player or media player, hit shuffle, and blog the first 15 songs that get played, without leaving out any of the embarassing boy bands.

I somehow found it hard to resist...

1 - "Baby it's cold outside" Louis Armstrong & Velma Middleton
2 - "Musical Transplant (Adapted)" Lee Perry @ The Upsetters
3 - "Mr. Charlie" Grateful Dead
4 - "Omar Shirah" ? (Hebrew U's collection of Hassidic Niggunim disc 1 track 19)
5 - "Satisfaction (Bass Trilogy: Part 2)" Rob Wasserman
6 - "Blue in Green" Miles Davis
7 - "Dance niggun of Lubavitch Hasidim" ? (Hebrew U - disc 2, track 13)
8 - "White Wheeled Limousine" Rob Wasserman w/ Bruce Hornsby & Branford Marsalis
9 - "That's My Desire" Louis Armstrong
10 - "One" U2
11 - "A Moment So Close" Bela Fleck and the Flecktones
12 - "Jack-A-Roe" Grateful Dead
13 - "Ana HaShem" Eliyon Shemesh
14 - "Outbound" Bela Fleck and the Flecktones
15 - "Brown-Eyed Woman" Grateful Dead

(Just to add spice, number 16 was Vivaldi's 'La Primavera - Largo' performed by Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante.)