Friday, June 17, 2005

Unexpected pleasures.

So you know I have been preparing to write an article about the local Hasidic organization here in Pinsk. There was a combination of things tht got m started on this, but no matter what the catalyst of it has been, I am interested. In fact, the more I get into to it, the more I like the idea because it seems to me that there is great dramatic tension all over it. And as a writer who spent lots of his time thinking about and trying to produce plays for the theatre, I simply love the drama of it all.

However, I like to be professional about things, at least as much as is possible and so I have been putting in my time doing my background research. I have been aided in this by my friend Shmuli. Actually, I am not sure of why he wrote to me when he did. In fact, I am a little iffy about the possibilities that that he was asked to send me a letter and to include some texts and an address on the web to look at. This is not far fetched because I did include the guy’s name in the book and he is part of the same organization into which I am investing my time here. So it is not entirely clear to me if he just happened to write me because he does from time to time or if someone prompted him to do so. This isn’t paranoia by the way because either way it has worked for me. So in any case, Shmuli did send me some stuff and it has been really helpful in showing me a lot of things about Hasidic life and philosophy that I simply did not know about before.

But, I don’t think I was prepared for what I have gotten myself into. I guess this can happen sometimes. You think you are doing one thing but then you find that you are actually going somewhere else entirely. I remember a teacher gave me a good philosophy about deal with mistakes like this. This was Charles Gustaphson, a great jazz pianist and one of my all-time favorite teachers. He told us that if you a mistake do it again and people will think you know what you are doing. And besides, this year’s mistake is next year’s fad. That second one was mine, by the way. Cool phrase, yea?

So you know I was searching the web for some information on Chabad, the parent organization that I will be speaking about and then I started to peripheral searches into Hasidim and orthodox Jewish studies in general. This is not unreasonable because you know you do need to know who you are speaking to. And in the case of a Hasidic group that has as its main mission the perpetuation of the Jewish faith and the creation and maintenance of Jewish schools throughout the world, that philosophy would pretty much have to be right there at the starting line. Now, I am Jewish. I don’t think that I felt the sort of rush writing THAT phrase as I did when I wrote “I’m Batman” a few days ago, but it does mean something. But I am not a ‘practicing Jew’, nor have I ever been anything even close to observant. No apologies or guilt about this folks. I am not a lazy man and I am secure in my personal ethos, but I simply never got into it. No finger pointing, no um’s or ah’s, I just didn’t.

But then right in the middle of my little web surf it occurred to me exactly how little I know about these things. And THIS, I did feel. I mean, I thought I knew something about the subject. I have read Pentateuch (The five books of Moses, the first five chapters in the bible) and the rest of the ‘old testament’. In fact I have read the New Testament, the book of Mormon, a little Confucius, Camu, Sartre, Carl Sagan, Fit For Life, Hemingway, Robert Persig, George Lukas and listened as G-d only knows how many wanna-be Rastafarians emoted fully about how good it all is supposed to be… man. But I never really ever crawled inside my own. Probably there is a reason for this. Of course there is. But whatever that simple cocktail party/acid trip psychological answer might be I didn’t. But these last few days I have. And I know you know where this is going: I liked it.

But at the same time, though I must admit some of it was a little… out there, but I liked it. Frankly it was the Kabala that really got me going. I mean, as an introduction to a number system all s well and good. But the SEPHER YETZIRAH could have just said “Hey, the alphabet has 22 letters and here are the sounds and my thinking is that we could pretty much start a post office with it.” rather than bringing the whole galactic empire into it. Or maybe it is better this way.

But as I said I liked it. Why is that? Was it just the intellectual stimulation? It is that. Dealt with the Talmud lately? I never did but I have lately. Try following that discourse for a while and tell me this is not where all of those Jewish lawyers come from. I regret that last remark but I am going to leave it in because it is the truth even if the statement itself was rank.
Or, did I like this because it was familiar to me? And this must be true as well. I know what I am. I have always known what I am. But rolling up my pant legs and wading out into these waters was in fact a revelation. We are these texts. All of what I am does in fact come from them. And this I know in my soul. My DNA, my heart- pick and organ, in the same way that I knew that I was home when I came here to Belarus for the first time eight years ago. Sorry folks, when it is real, you know.

Years ago I had a great yellow lab named Sam years ago, but as I am not a hunter I never had him out bringing back birds I had shot out of the sky. But one day by chance I was hanging out with a fellow who did hunt and as a means of testing Sam’s value as a hunter, he dropped a ducks wing into a kiddy pool and I watched with amazement and Sam dunked his head all the way under on his first try and stayed there until he came out, shaking with excitement, with the wing lightly held between his teeth. In is in the genes man, it is in the genes.

At any rate, I kind of got carried away and started to download stuff. It is all there on the internet. Check it out for yourself. Want to have a look at the Kabala? Click HERE.
The Bible, in Hebrew or in English? Try HERE.

I got ‘em all on my computer now. And then, late into the night last night I simply read. And it was great. Why was it different this time? Why did I like it so much? I mean, I liked the feel of the language. And the sound of the words.

I don’t know where this is going to go. Probably nowhere. I mean, I can’t see that my personal philosophies are going to be so uprooted. And I can’t see that I am going to become evangelical about things. But at the moment, I simply don’t feel the normal antagonism towards this that I have felt my whole life. Or probably better said, I think as I have said maybe 10 times within the course of these words: I like it. Why not? Maybe it is simply a matter of the shoe fitting.

Anyway, in about an hour or so I am off to the dacha. We have the very last of the planting to do this weekend and with luck, I will even have Tatyana, Anya and Egor out there with me helping out as they can. Bought two bottles of mosquito repellent just for the occasion. And you know what the star of the planting is going to be? Popping corn. Don’t know why, but I have of late had an incredible jones for the stuff and the thought occurred to me that if I like it so much, why not try and do it myself. I mean, I have the land for it? And like I said, if the shoe fits…

More probably on Sunday or Monday.

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Oh, and uh, next time, and I am talking directly to YOU now, my dear: Next time just write to me like a normal person. You are driving me crazy with your left handed criticisms. Just write me directly and we can talk, ok? I mean, it is nice to know you are thinking of me, but I think I would rather speak like an adult rather than I high schooler.