Sunday, November 26, 2006

Orthodox Jew/ Secular Shadow - A Peek Into The Unconscious Mind of A Secular Jew

We all know what secular people think about Jews – people like Yair Lapid have been telling us that for years. But what they don’t tell us, most likely because they do not even realize it, is why. Why the hatred, the fear, the alienation from the past, from their roots?
For that, you have me. I have already written on this subject in a previous post titled
Why Is It So Difficult to be A Secular Jew in Israel?, which gave a general, hopefully thoughtful, overview of this subject. In this post, I want to take an entirely different tack – I want to share with you a pretty terrifying dream I had tonight.

The Dream
I am going around the Kinneret at an incredible speed, from the direction of Zemach junction to the north, along the western shore. With me is renowned Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. Apparently we are traveling at some height above the ground in some kind of train. Suddenly we get off, at a point about the middle of the distance between the northern and southern tips of the kinneret. We enter the kinneret and start swimming. An old woman swims ahead of us, and she is our guide. We are swimming northwards all the time. Suddenly, she dives into the water and we follow her – down down and further down underwater we go, until we reach a structure. It is dark from outside and looks old and worn down (reminds me of the hull of the titanic). We enter and start looking around in the darkness. I am searching one side of the interior space when I discern an opening to the other side – I slip through the narrow opening and I am in a bright, neon-lit room.
This frightens me because I know we are in Syrian territory or near it (note: Syria used to occupy the Golan heights, including the whole eastern shore of the Kinneret), and they must not know we are here or they will come and kill us. I notice that on one wall opposite me there is a whiteboard filled with writing in Hebrew, and there are benches before it, like in a synagogue. Among the benches an Israeli soldier stands completely still, with his back to the board. I hurriedly make my way to the lights, which are near the blackboard, right next to a door. When I get there I see that beyond that door there is another door, an enormous thick steel door, like we have in a shelter, and a woman soldier is (wo)manning it. My brother suddenly appears. He wants to go out the door to the other side, which is presumably Syrian. She does not want to let him out but he escapes before she manages to close the door. She closes it and locks it with a heavy lock.
I want to go now and close the lights but she says that it doesn’t matter because the Syrians aren’t here anymore. It is then that I suddenly realize that actually she is dead, and so is the soldier standing in the middle of the room. They both have that pasty, zombie like face of the dead. My heart jumps into my mouth, and I am completely terrified. I run towards the far side of the room, looking to jump out and escape back into the sea. In my horror, I open my mouth to scream as loud as I can, to let the terror out, but no voice comes out of my mouth, I scream silently, helplessly – and then I woke up.

Interpreting the Dream
It is pretty difficult to do self-analysis of a dream, but I will try. Here are a few thoughts that struck me. Further suggestions are welcome.
First of all – I am going on a trip with Hercule Poirot – and any trip with him means that you are seeking the truth, and nothing less will be satisfactory.
The old hag is obviously Baba Yaga, who serves here as a guide, and I quote:

Although she is mostly portrayed as a terrifying old crone, Baba Yaga can also play the role of a helper and wise woman. The Earth Mother, like all forces of nature, though often wild and untamed, can also be kind.
In her guise as wise hag, she sometimes gives advice and magical gifts to heroes and the pure of heart. The hero or heroine of the story often enters the crone's domain searching for wisdom, knowledge and truth. She is all-knowing, all seeing and all-revealing to those who would dare to ask.”
The sea is a well-known symbol of the unconscious, and therefore diving below water is actually diving into the realm of the unconscious. I do not know why the setting is the Sea of Galilee, although I did live near it for several years, and the drive from Zemach northwards is very familiar to me.
The room with Hebrew writing and benches is, to me, obviously a synagogue. So the main symbol of Judaism is to be found in an old worn down structure, in the realm of the dead, populated by dead people, and while I am there I am helpless – I can scream but no one can hear me. In other words the truth is that to be Jewish is to be dead and helpless.
My brother manages to escape this fate, at the price, apparently, of going over to the enemy. This is true to life – he actually has managed to leave his heritage behind but the price for leaving has been steep – he is violently anti-Semitic, besides being almost insane (well, that was probably redundant).
I’m not sure what the soldiers are doing there and what they mean.

What the dream means to me
I woke up in the morning and remembered the dream immediately. It made a very great impression on me. However, when I thought about it – there was really no new content here. This is not the first time I have been confronted with the idea that being Jewish for me is the equivalent of being dead. The first dream I had about this occurred about a year and a half ago, and was even more terrifying, probably because it was the first time I encountered this idea, and I guess also, having Hitler star in that dream didn’t do anything to calm me down either.
But that still does not clear up the meaning of the dream. There is a possibility that I am revisiting this place in my psyche in order to get familiar with it, to feel the terror and let it soak in so that eventually I will be able to approach this place without fear.
This also maybe connected to something else – after I wrote the post about being a secular Jew, I had a vision: I realized that if I actually did manage to reconcile myself to my Jewish identity, this will also be a reconciliation between my secular wayward father, who was estranged from his Rabbi father. I felt that it would heal them, even though they have both passed away years ago. The holidays were beginning and I thought how nice it would be if I could gather myself to really get into it, into this Jewishness thing. I saw that an organization called, if I remember correctly, Tzohar (window), was conducting public prayers during the holidays for secular people who wanted to familiarize themselves with the tradition. This seemed perfect. I toyed with the idea of calling them, or some similar organization, but soon my enthusiasm fell, and I felt that I simply do not have the time and energy to deal with this – there was just too much resistance from within me.
If this dream is my unconscious response to that decision, than it seems that I will not be allowed to walk away from this issue so easily. Perhaps I am faced with the choice of facing my haunted synagogue by night, or else confronting a real one in broad daylight. Neither choice is appealing to me, both seem equally terrifying, and all I am sure of is that I am really scared.

Imagine that this is what lies in the unconscious of almost every secular Jew: A direct, extremely emotional, unacknowledged identification of Judaism with death. To be a Jew, is to die. This death is not only physical, it is also social, since being a Jew has historically been a sure way to be ridiculed, and excluded from proper (gentile) society. Can there be any surprise at all that secular Jews have so much trouble with their identity?
Of course, every secular Jew is, well, a Jew. So what is the difference between a secular Jew, and the Jew that symbolizes death? It is the difference between the old Jew and the new Jew. The old Jew is the orthodox Jew, the kippah-wearing Jew with the beard, the Jew that prays, that has tzitziot peeking out of his clothes, or maybe a talith thrown over his shoulders, the Jew that wears heavy, inappropriate black clothes in the scorching Israeli summer. The new Jew is the Israeli Jew – the secular Jew, prototypically an Ashkenazi Jew, who moves freely in the world culture, seemingly unhindered by his past.
So when Yair Lapid, to use a well-known icon and symbol of secular Judaism, sees an orthodox Jew, he is actually looking at his own death. His unconscious is thinking – “this man wants to kill me, I must defend myself.”
Small wonder that he and his kind hates them so. What is incredible is that this fear and hatred has not yet boiled over into a complete and radical campaign to exterminate the orthodox Jews. Of course this may yet happen, but there is a peculiar dynamics to this relationship between the old Jew and the new Jew, which, I hope, will preclude such a tragic event (the Oslo Accords not withstanding…). This dynamic is best understood using the concept of the Shadow.

The Shadow
The shadow is a concept from Jungian psychology. The shadow is a part of our psyche in which is stored every undesirable personality trait, behavior, habit, event or thought, usually together with the accompanying reason for the repression. This means that not only are we not aware of these parts of our personality that have been banished, we also do not know why this had been done. In short – we cannot talk reasonably and logically about these things, if at all.
The sum total of all these repressed elements make up a personality with a life of its own usually lived unconsciously by each and every one of us. The nature of the undesirable will vary from time to time and from one social group to another. What is important to understand is that everything that has been repressed is of importance to our spiritual health, and it will not simply go away. What we have repressed and will not acknowledge consciously will be projected in the real world, and there take on a life of it’s own. This is the basic psychological mechanism behind the phenomenon of the scapegoat – we project upon the scapegoat our own shadows, and this relieves our inner tension, if only for a short while. In biblical times this was an important custom and probably very effective, as long as the participant in this ceremony could actually believe and feel that the procedures were effective. But in today’s modern, cynical world, such a ceremony would be useless – today we must delve into our unconscious mind, and shine the light of day on its contents.
The shadow may be projected onto anybody and anything that is perceived, unconsciously of course, to possess those same characteristics that we are not allowed to have. The shadow can also be experienced internally in dreams and visions, and then it may appear as the devil, a witch, or any other dark, evil and threatening being, and it may even appear as just that – a shadow, a towering, terrifying shadow threatening to engulf you. In short – the shadow is real, and it is very frightening.

Every group we are born into makes certain demands upon its members. Certain behaviors are encouraged, others repressed. Some may be considered so abhorrent that they are not even mentioned by name, and they are severely repressed, perhaps to the degree that they have become synonymous with dying. It may happen that, as children, we understood that we if we did a certain something, or had certain thoughts, we would be severely punished, or even exiled from the group. Since, as children, exile means death, than it may happen that a number of traits have become connected, unconsciously, with death.
This is why the shadow is such a threat – if the world would know that we are not really what we seem to be, that we have desires, and longings that are reprehensible to the group we are part of, then our very existence may be threatened. On the other hand, the repressed traits and behaviors are part of us, and we will never be whole, completely healthy human beings, without them. So, generally speaking, the shadow holds within it the threat of death along with the promise of life renewed. Small wonder that most of us prefer to deny it’s existence altogether!

Now we can answer the question, what contents are to be found, characteristically, in the Shadow of a secular Jew? What behaviors, traits, and thoughts were forbidden, and what does this have to do with orthodox Jewry?

Orthodox Jew – Secular Shadow: The Contents of the Secular Shadow
As a member of this group, and from my own personal experience I think the following thoughts, traits and behaviors can be found in the Shadow of most members of this group. They will be invariably considered reprehensible, unhealthy, dangerous and even life-threatening. They will evoke very strong emotional responses, which are completely uncontrollable. This is our shadow:

1 – The Idea of God
The Repressed content:
God exists and we are His children. He takes care of us. We are part of something larger than ourselves. We are not alone in this world because it is His world. God imposes upon us a natural, objective moral order, which we are obliged to obey, for our own good. We may not always understand him but we know that He is here, that all is for the best. We can trust Him. We are not alone.

Why it was repressed
On a personal level, parents who have reason to believe that God does not exist, who may have felt betrayed by Him, and by life, will find it difficult to accept a native belief in God in their children.
From the point of view of Jewish secular society, this natural belief must be repressed otherwise the secular identity would not be possible, or at least it would be extremely threatened. After all, if there is no god then all orthodox people are simply delusional idiots and there can be no give and take with them. By thus creating such a great divide between the secular and the rival orthodox groups, secular society makes it very difficult for it’s members to switch sides or even think about switching sides.

More importantly, I think the secular Zionists would not have been able to break away from their orthodox parents to form the Zionist movement and establish the State of Israel, without repudiating completely the age old trust in God, and the ensuing, age-old fatalism common to many parts of Jewish society at the time.
This rejection came at a heavy spiritual cost. Some secular Zionists managed to retain a modicum of believe, but even for them, the ideas and practices of Judaism, belief and God were forever changed and warped.
For many the Holocaust was seen as vindication for this secular activism and from then on it was seen not only as a revolt, but also as a successful one, the kind of attitude necessary for our very survival not only as individuals, but as a nation. For this reason, for many parts of Israeli society, including traditional ones, secular Jewry is conceived to be the only sure path to our survival. This will not change until orthodox Jewry can prove itself as a better, more viable alternative.
In short, our secular Zionist forefathers paid a terrible spiritual price in return for building this country. We are still paying the price for that achievement, a price, which, hopefully, will not destroy the achievement.

2 – Belief
The Repressed Behavior:
Believing in God, having faith in anything unknown, and unknowable. Listening to ourselves, to what our intuition tells us, believing that life has meaning, that there is a purpose, that we live not in vain. Having faith in the future, in people, in humanity, in life itself. Belief in any and all forms.

Why it was repressed
Belief , especially in a God, has been accepted as a contradiction of a cornerstone of modern secular society : rationality. Philosopher Alvin Plantinga in this interesting article about reason and belief, tells this story about Bertrand Russell which exemplifies the prevalent secular attitude:
“The objection in question has also been endorsed by Bertrand Russell, who was once asked what he would say if, after dying, he were brought into the presence of God and asked why he had not been a believer. Russell's reply: "I'd say, 'Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!'" I'm not sure just how that reply would be received; but my point is only that Russell, like many others, has endorsed this evidentialist objection to theistic belief."
In the secular world belief and rationality cannot co-exist, and the latter is relegated to the realm of the unthinkable.

Believing is a much more general behavior than the idea of god, but the two are still closely connected. So much so that people who have been disappointed by God, will also not have faith in Him and usually will not be able to put their faith in anything else. Parents that have undergone such an experience will try to suppress such behavior in their offspring, usually doing so unconsciously.
Also, from the viewpoint of secular society, one belief can lead to another, which can eventually lead to a belief in god, which is, as we discussed, anathema to secular society. So the best thing is to abolish belief altogether. Everything must be questioned, nothing accepted on faith, except, of course, whatever secular society, parents and teachers included, tell you. This is why there is no rational discussion of faith in any part of secular society. Much easier to deny it and close the issue completely. But, because it is in human nature to believe, an outlet must be provided. Thus secular Jews blindly believe in any number of ideologies without ever acknowledging the fact that their beliefs are based on as much fact as the orthodox belief in the coming of the Messiah. In fact, I have here a book, as yet unread, dedicated to describing the Left’s belief in peace in these exact terms called “The Messianic Temptation” by Golan Lahat (book and link are in Hebrew).
In any case belief is a very touchy subject in secular society, and will usually evoke strong emotional reactions of denial.

3 -The Group
The Repressed Content
The group has given you life, raised you, given you a language, and thoughts and ideas, the group has given you yourself, and therefore you owe the group. You are forever indebted to it.You can rely on the group and it will forever sustain you, in good times and bad. You are part of a group, a group that has existed before you, and will exist after you die. You are important to the group, but the group is more important than you are.

Why it was repressed
Individualism is one of the most important ideals of secular culture, and necessarily stands opposed to the idea of the group life. Obviously the group is necessary for survival, but no more than that, and even so, what is important is the individual, not the group. The group – any group – is perceived as threatening to the individual who must always be on his guard against the group, even as he uses the group resources to enhance his well-being. This is one reason why the secular individual’s attachment to the group is always temporary and non-commital. The individual must be committed to himself first, and last, and the group will only come into consideration after the needs of the individual have been satisfied.
What group am I talking about? The first and most important group in our lives is our family. I believe that for all of us this first group experience will shape our perceptions of the group throughout our adult lives. Obviously, if our parents have not had a good, healthy experience with their own family, they will have difficulty in forming a positive experience for their children, assuming they would even want to. This is true for orthodox families as well, but in their case they have in place a ready made framework of family life, which may be able to tide the group over even in the most difficult times. Secular families have no such relief. Such broken families will instill in their children a distrust of groups, and a cynical habit of exploiting the group one-sidedly.
In short the group – any group - is the enemy of the individual, and any enemy of the individual is also, by necessity, the enemy of secular Jewry.

4- Judaism
The Repressed Content
I am a member of a group of people who founded Western civilization. My forefathers brought to this part of the world the idea of one God, and of an objective morality. The concept of time as stretching lengthwise towards a conclusion, as opposed to a never ending, changeless circle also originated with my group. I am part of a most ancient group, the only one that has managed to survive in this part of the world. Throughout time we have been persecuted mercilessly, even while our ideas were being accepted and used in an ever-widening circle. My fellow Jews are responsible for many inventions, for countless and priceless contributions to world culture. My group has not only managed to survive throughout the ages while shaping civilization, it has also managed to rise out of the ashes and re-establish the Jewish state in Israel after an absence of two thousand years. This state is an incredibly vibrant, creative and successful entity, despite living under a death sentence since its inception. I am a son of the Chosen people who are living proof that God exists, son of a nation that lives the miracle of its existence and thriving each day a new. I am a Jew and I have much to be proud of.

Why it was repressed
Judaism combines all three of the former repressed contents into one horrifying, life-threatening entity. If the secular Jew cannot view god, belief, and the group as anything but an existential threat, one can only imagine – or dream, as the case may be – how Judaism will be viewed in the secular Jewish psyche.
Judaism is an especially troublesome content for secular Jewish society because of the schism created in Jewish society by modernity and especially the Zionist movement, a break which we have already discussed. The Judaism that our Zionist forefathers grew up on, and violently rejected, was vehemently opposed to the secular world and to all it’s ideas, especially the ideas of individualism, and atheism – the cornerstones of every modern secular society.
One of the most common ways used by the orthodox to combat these ideas and prevent their sons from adopting them and defecting to the secular side was, and still is, group pressure. The threat of violence, of a ban or excommunication from the group was used to bring the rebellious individual to heel. Many, many families were broken up because of these desperate tactics. Quite understandably secular Jews have strong feelings towards the Jewish group as a result of their own personal experiences, and that of their forefathers.
The fact is that this struggle, between Orthodox Judaism and Zionism and modernity continues, at least outwardly, to this day. Secular Jewish society feels justified in seeing Judaism in its orthodox form as a threat to its very existence, and as a result it instills in its children a “healthy” animosity towards that threat. In so doing it hopes to deny the possibility of defection from its ranks.
This tactic has two flaws: the first is that, as the song goes, there really is a thin line between love and hate, which means that instilling a demonic hatred of Judaism makes the possessor of such hatred in imminent danger of reverting to a no less fanatic love of Judaism. This has happened many times and is well documented.
The second flaw is that dehumanizing an entire sector of society can eventually lead to inhuman acts towards that sector, as we have had the misfortune to witness during the disengagement, and who knows what other atrocities are being prepared by the secular elites. This tactic also means that secular Jewish society cannot, under any circumstance, give a correct and accurate portrayal of the rival orthodox society, since this would grant them their humanity. I believe this is why it is impossible to see anything orthodox mentioned in a positive context in Israeli media (which is completely secular). Orthodox people are invariably described as greedy, selfish, fanatic, insane, primitive, and violent people who threaten the very fabric of society. Since in every group there exist such elements, it is no trouble for the media to focus consistently on the most extreme parts of orthodox society. It still amazes me to realize the immeasurable distance between the image of the orthodox person I had created in my mind by living in secular society, and the actual, real orthodox people I meet, including settlers, who are, much to my (ashamed) surprise, very nice people. I mean – they are just like anybody else.
All in all, in using such tactics, secular society denies itself an accurate picture of orthodox society, and thus does not at any time possess a correct knowledge of what is happening in Israeli society. I’m sure that’s not a good thing.
This kind of sweeping, dehumanizing tactic also plays right into the hands of extremists in the orthodox camp, who need a visible enemy to keep the ranks closed no less than secular Jews need one. Tommi Lapid would have gone nowhere without his partners in hatred from the orthodox side (on a side note – the Chief Secular Inciter was voted recently to be the head of Yad Vashem, so who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor?). Of course, in this battle the only ones who lose are the people in the middle, the majority who just want to live their lives in peace, and find it increasingly difficult to do so.

Additional Thoughts About the Secular Shadow and the Mechanism of Repression
  1. The contents I have listed here are by no means the entire contents of the secular shadow. These are only the first things that came to my mind that seemed most closely connected with the secular Jewish identity. Obviously the individual’s shadow is composed of many other things that have nothing to do with Judaism.

  2. A few important things to remember about repression:
First of all every repression is traumatic to some extent. Second – and perhaps because of this, repression is not an exact, precise operation, rather, it is quite messy – a lot of other stuff gets associated with the repressed content – things like the weather at the time, the smell of the roast cooking when it happened, perhaps the sound of music coming up from the neighbors, and any number of other behaviors, ideas and images. This is why every repression limits our freedom of action to a certain unknown degree. This also means that every secular Jew has a very personal experience of the same repressed contents.
Despite this, the most common and obvious effect of the repressions I listed above are those empty spaces, the irrational gaps evident whenever these topics come up. That is why a rational discussion about these matters is simply impossible – no one can be rational about the contents of their unconscious, no matter how “enlightened” he or she claims to be.

Secular Jew – Orthodox Shadow
The orthodox shadow is worthy of a separate post, and perhaps I am not exactly the right person to write it. Nonetheless, I would like to make two observations here:
1 – As a group, the orthodox play the part of scapegoat to perfection. In other words – they cooperate fully with the secular projection, turning it into an extremely viable, effective and legitimate one.
2 – Everything that I have said about the secular shadow is true for the orthodox shadow, but in different areas. What I mean is this – different traits and behaviors are repressed in orthodox society, with varying degrees of severity, depending on the specific sector. Off the tip of my head I can think of several such repressed areas such as freedom, creativity, individuality and sensuality. Ideas, behaviors and personality traits associated with these four areas are, in orthodox society, severely repressed, and therefore they form part of the Shadow of the typical orthodox person.
In these respects, the orthodox shadow is the exact reverse of the secular shadow, so that each group holds one half of the full personality, denying itself the other half, while blaming each other for the inevitable feeling of loss they each have suffered as a result of their respective repressions.
This is very similar to the relationship between men and women. There too we see that each side holds one half of the whole personality and only by joining forces can they hope to be whole. Also, just as men have persecuted women, sometimes fiercely and cruelly, still, the psychological dependence between men and woman is so great, that a campaign of extermination would not be feasible. I believe that the same holds true for the relationship between secular Jewry and the orthodox in Israel.
Finally, the orthodox and secular Jews are like two people with two halves of a lottery ticket – put them together and they will be rich and lack nothing, keep them apart, and they will be useless, they will just rot - alone, afraid and alienated from each other and from themselves.

I hope that this post has provided some useful insight into the mind of secular Jews.
Perhaps secular readers have gained a better understanding of themselves and the problems they face because of their upbringing. Orthodox readers may have gained a better understanding of their willful brethren.
In both cases I hope I have made clear just this one thing – the only enemies you really have are within you, and no amount of hatred or violence directed outside towards your own projections will help you to vanquish them. Ghosts cannot be hurt, maimed or killed. They can only be exorcised.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Israeli Society - Adjusting Our Expectations

In the previous post I revisited the Sderot vote in the 2006 elections. The results were quite dismaying, and this was remarked upon in the comments. I agree that it is very sad to see that Israeli’s have such a difficult time learning from their mistakes, and it is particularly disheartening when the residents of a town literally fighting for it’s life still cannot muster the clarity of mind necessary to make the correct democratic choice. This is sad, but this is also not entirely surprising. After all, as a nation, we have been in exile for over 2000 years; we have been raped, and battered and repeatedly beaten to within an inch of our collective lives. As a result, we have learned to pay our way in this world by being the scapegoat, and we have learned to play this part so well, for so long, that it has become an integral part of our collective identity, and we can no sooner give up this act, then we can cut off our own hands.

A battered wife will take years to leave her husband, if she is fortunate enough to do so before he kills her. It will take her many, many more years to heal from her wounds, and especially to change the frame of mind that equates love with violence. Some of these women never do heal. So, really, what can we expect from a nation of battered wives, who have gotten used to surviving hell on a daily basis? What are a few people killed in Sderot, for a nation that has been through the holocaust?

We are a nation of sick people, and we must adjust our expectations accordingly. It is simply foolish, and unjust to expect us to recover from thousands of years of abuse in fifty years of statehood, none of which have been devoid of conflict.
No, on the contrary, what is extraordinary is that there actually exists a town called Sderot, in a Jewish state called Israel. What is incredible is that I live in a Hebrew speaking nation, where I can go to the supermarket and buy food with Hebrew labels, from Hebrew speaking cashiers. Even our taxes are done in Hebrew, paid in our own shekel, to our very own Jewish, Hebrew-speaking tax collectors. That is incredible (although not altogether painless).
The very existence of this country is a miracle, to be celebrated each and every day.

That said, I do not mean that we should forever wallow in this sentimental, self-congratulatory mood. We do have much work to do.
Like every battered wife, our first step in rehabilitation is to admit that we are sick. The second step is to simply refuse to hear negative things about us. We must refuse to let our souls be poisoned by other people, including, especially, Israeli media. The best cure for endless abuse is, for starters, endless but honest and accurate praise, and as a nation, we hold much that is praise-worthy.
In short, we must give up the rewarding role of scapegoat, and take our chances on being simply, ordinarily, healthily human. I am sure we can do this and still remain faithful to our Jewish heritage: after all we were chosen to be a moral light, not a human bonfire.

Just as I finish writing this I see that WestBankMomma has put up her collection of “Only In Israel Stories”. I found most of them delightful, and they confirm what I know – we are praiseworthy.

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Saturday, November 18, 2006

Sderot Aftermath- Revisiting The 2006 Election Day Vote

I was extremely saddened this week to hear that the inevitable had finally happened – a resident of Sderot was killed by a mortar shell. Many people on the Right, like WestBankMomma expressed outrage that the government is doing nothing to protect the lives of it’s citizens.
I see no reason to be surprised at this behavior on the part of the government. After all, Olmert is a well known proponent of the disastrous disengagement plan, Amir Peretz is a radical left wing “dove” (do real doves allow their young to be killed without hindrance? I doubt it…), and the rest of the coalition is not much better.
The question in my mind is different – I am interested in seeing if, and when, the Israeli public will start to use it’s basic democratic rights to change the current state of affairs for the better. Since the quintessential act of democracy is voting on election day, I thought it would be interesting to revisit the way Sderot residents voted in the last elections.

As you may recall, the elections were held just half a year ago, after the Disengagement was committed. Sderot was already being shelled almost on a daily basis and the government, headed by Olmert, (after Sharon got a stroke), was bravely doing nothing (at least we have consistency) to protect the citizens of Sderot.
With the help of the excellent Knesset web site I easily found the results for Sderot on this page, so the data presented here is taken from there. One would expect that a town under constant fire, which was predicted to only get worse, would vote for the parties most likely to defend Sderot from this daily horror, but one would be wrong!

Result of Sderot Vote for the 2006 Elections.
8738 votes were cast in Sderot, of them 8512 were valid. I am giving the results in percentages.
Labour Party – 25.4 %
Israel Beytenu – 19.5%
Shas – 14.7%
Ihud-Leumi – 11.9%
Kadima – 11.8%
Likud –10%
Yehadut Hatorah – 1.3%
Pensioners Party – 1.1%
The rest of the vote – all 4.3 percent of it went to various parties none of which received more than one percent of the vote.

So, what does this mean? In trying to make sense of this I propose to divide the vote between right wing, left wing and centrist parties.
On the left I put labour, kadima, pensioners, and yehadut hatorah – together these parties garnered 39.6% of the vote.
On the right I put likud, ihud-leumi and Israel-beytenu, which together got 41.4 percent of the vote in Sderot.
The only centrist party in my opinion was Shas and they got 14.7% of the vote.
Even if you disagree with the way I divided the parties – and I myself disagree with it – still the results are pretty obvious in that they indicate that the residents of Sderot did not vote overwhelmingly for the parties most likely to rise to their defence.
In fact the residents of Sderot probably did the worst thing possible in giving their “HomeBoy” Peretz a quarter of the vote.
If the residents of Sderot were concerned solely with their physical survival I would expect them to vote for the party most likely to supply this rarest of commodities, which, in my view, would be the Ihud-Leumi party. But the national religious party got only 11.9 percent of the vote, which is about the average on the national level. No other right wing party got more than 20 percent of the vote (received by Israel-Beytenu), and I have doubts that a party including Sopha Landver, for years a member of the Labor party and Shimon Peres’ protege can honestly be called a right wing party. Judging by this party’s most recent behavior – joining the corrupt, hapless, and hopeless Olmert coalition, this assessment is correct.
So I conclude that a majority of the residents of Sderot were concerned at the time with other issues. I cannot pretend to understand exactly what they were and why they were judged to be more important than staying alive. I only know this – they were replicating a pattern that came out in almost every other part of the Jewish populace in these elections – denying the harsh reality of impending genocide in favor of the façade of normalcy.
It seems that as a nation we are particularly adept at this kind of mental gymnastics. This escapist habit has been our downfall before, and it will be interesting (to say the least) to see if we will be able to kick the habit in time, before it kicks us into our graves.


1 -Isn’t it ironic that the Israeli Defense Minister lives in a town that he refuses to defend? After the Lebanon debacle, and in view of Mr Peretz's performance as a politician - completely betraying his supporters - and as Defense minister - completely betraying his country - maybe it would be more appropiate to start calling Peretz "The Minister of Pretense".

2 – The media, here and abroad, plays a major role in the current war, which is, really, World War 3. For this reason, where we get our information each day is even more important than how we vote once every two to four years. That’s why you should ask yourself “Whom Did You Vote For In Today’s Elections?”

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Monday, November 13, 2006

How I Met My Wife, Accidentally on Purpose

A few weeks ago WestBankMomma wrote a beautiful post describing how she met her husband. That evening I told my wife about it and she asked me if I feel like writing down the amazing story of our meeting. I told her then that it seems a bit too personal to be published, but if someone asked me to or given the right context, I would do it. The following morning Karma , in the comments to this post, asked me how I met my wife. Well, I can take a hint from Him as well as the next guy, so here I am, unraveling once again that most providential sequence of events.
Our meeting was definitely part of a spiritual process we had both been undergoing separately, so in order to put things in their proper context I included some details about our lives before we met. I thought that I would be able to do this by myself, but when I wrote my wife’s part I felt that I did not really know enough to do it for her. Therefore I asked her to write the whole story down from her perspective. I translated and condensed it for this post, and the narrative alternates between our two separate viewpoints. It was fascinating for me to do it this way. I hope other people find it interesting too.
Finally, another reason for giving the whole context and the two separate viewpoints was to enable a better understanding of what happened to us as single people before and when we met, especially in the light of a previous post about ImagoTheory for Singles. If you are familiar with that post, or with the theory in general, what happened will be readily understandable.

Me Before I Met Her
Once I had discovered, as a young man, that I had two mostly disconnected personalities, one conscious and the other unconscious, I embarked on a determined journey of discovery - I wanted to know what exactly was in this unconscious part, and I wanted to unite the two parts. This voyage brought me to a kibbutz, which was attempting to solve the typical Kibbutz problems by incorporating Zen practices in daily life. Although I made great personal strides in this environment, the group effort was a complete failure.
At one point, after nearly a decade, I realized that I too was stuck Somehow I knew that if I wanted to continue this personal journey, I needed to get married. I realized intuitively that without a woman in my life all my efforts would be in vain. But I did not know how it would happen. I was living in a very small community in the middle of nowhere (well, by Israeli standards). Most of the time I was on the kibbutz itself, so how was I supposed to meet my bashertess? This is a problem for anyone who lives in a closed community and that’s why we still have a need for the institute of matchmaking. I really hated the idea of going on blind dates though, and I was loath to start. There was also another complication – I wanted to leave the kibbutz, where the situation was getting pretty bad with no end in sight. I knew that if I did find a woman and introduced her to life in this environment and she liked it – then she obviously was not suited for me…
So eventually I left the kibbutz in search of a new life and especially – a new wife.
I returned to Jerusalem where I spent much of my childhood. By this time the city was much changed, and socially it was completely unfamiliar, so it seems I did not improve my situation by much. I had no social network that could introduce me to other people, no known circle of friends and acquaintances that could help me out.
Of course I had a lot of options in the city that were unavailable on the kibbutz – a plethora of matchmaking agencies, and lots of ads put out by singles that I could meet without having to drive an hour each way and coordinating it with everybody else on the kibbutz. But I still felt very uncomfortable going to an agency. To me it felt like I was declaring myself to be a failure. Normal people, I said to myself, don’t need matchmakers they just meet people wherever…and anyway – what was I supposed to say that I want? What could I say about myself that would adequately describe me? I had been scouring the singles ads for weeks trying to make sense of them. Most gave a short physical description and the occupation, like this:
“ 25 year old academic, 1.70 metres tall, brunette seeks academic male for serious relationship” or “good looking 22 year old wishes to raise a family with like-minded”. Like-minded what, I would ask myself, and also, what do I care what kind of degree my spouse has, and why would she care about my education? What does that have to do with anything? What, for God’s sake, is a “serious relationship” – I wondered if that meant no laughing allowed.
It was a very depressing time. I tried to put into words the kind of woman I was looking for. I knew I was searching for an essentially spiritual quality, but for the life of me I could not define it. I imagined myself putting an ad – how would I describe myself? I had no occupation, except “former kibbutznik down on his luck” which, somehow, didn’t seem to me the kind of job description that most women would find attractive. I really did not know what to do, but I did know one thing – I just had to find me a woman. I was really getting desperate.
One very good thing about the city, compared to the countryside, is that you can take a walk or get a cup of coffee and see people and if you want, you can start talking and maybe something will happen. This mode of operation suited me much better than the typical blind date, where I would get nervous and develop that awful “deer in the headlights look”, or else I would be over-eager or manage to be unnatural in so many different, original ways.
I tried this spontaneous thing a few times, but it seems I had a knack for hooking up with some really, how to say this – unusual women. Nothing worked out, and a few months later, after a particularly bad episode, I terminated this experiment. I decided that I had enough. I decided that women are simply insane and that I would be much better off without one at least for the time being. I gave up on them. I stopped looking around; I stopped watching them, yearning for them, daydreaming about them. I stopped talking to them, and I quit picking women up. I wanted nothing whatsoever to do with women.
But God had different plans…

My Wife Before We Met
They say that when the pupil is ready – the teacher arrives. I think that the same thing can be said about miracles. If you want a miracle you must prepare for it. Sometimes the miracle will not be what you planned, but something that you needed very much but didn’t realize it. That’s what happened when I met Joe. Without knowing it, I had been preparing for our meeting, and that is why, when we did actually meet, it worked out.
Before we met I was living alone, in my own apartment, celebrating life and my newfound independence – the past two years were the first time in my life that I was not living at home with my family. This was a great period in my life, full of new experiences and joy of life. But, underneath, there was a lot of tension and sorrow, stemming mostly from one bad relationship with men after another, and also from my family, which was very difficult, sick and toxic. I was living life to it’s fullest, but a storm was brewing, and coming ever closer.
Finally, it broke. I felt like I was being attacked at once on all fronts – family, friends, health and my relationships with men. Everything fell apart in my life; everything seemed, suddenly, unreal, a house of cards, a dream - a pack of lies. I felt that if I was ever going to continue with my life I would have to start from scratch, and rebuild everything single aspect of it.
This crisis in my life resulted in many changes. First of all I slowed down. I started to eat regularly, and quietly. I severed most of my social ties, not because I did not like people, but simply because I felt I could not trust my feelings anymore. That is also why I dedicated a lot of time to finding out what I actually feel about things, especially people. I started to pay attention to my limits. I decided to start saying “No” and asking myself what I want. I decided to severe any connections and not to enter any relationship with men that does not have a chance of getting serious, including not having sex with any man until I am sure that there is a mutual commitment between us. In short – I started a process of cleansing and purification of all the destructive elements in my life.
What has all of this have to do with my meeting Joe? I think that as a result of all of this – I could imagine myself, for the first time, with one man, in a loyal, steadfast relationship. Since I had recognized the lie in my life, I could now seek out the truth.
Indeed I already felt better with myself, more self-assured, and more open to new, positive experiences. In any case it was clear to me that the next thing I needed in my life was a partner, and that without one, life was meaningless.
One incident defined my new life perhaps more than any other – I had met a nice man on the bus to Tel-aviv , we talked and had a nice ride, but in the end , to my surprise and disappointment, he said that he really liked me but that he was already in a relationship, even though he did not behave at all like someone that was committed to another woman. A little later I had a chance to talk about this with my mother. For some reason I always told my mother about the men in my life and she always criticized my behavior. This time was no different, and when I finished telling her she just said, “Really, you’re killing me”.
Nothing much, but the tone was harsh and venomous and said many things that I had heard before from my mother – that I was hopeless, too honest, and too open. That I don’t know how to “”play the game” with men. That I’m not normal. It was then that I understood – no more talking with my mother about men. I made a vow not to do so, and a vow cannot be broken.
Today I know that my success in fencing off one area of my life enabled me to do so again and again until I was able to separate and disengage myself completely from my mother. I also realize, in hindsight, that keeping my relationships with men to myself was something I needed to do in order to pave the way for an intimate relationship with one. Basically, everything I had done since the crisis was preparing myself for such a relationship by starting to choose for myself, by becoming independent in ever-growing areas of my life, and by keeping the faith, by following my inner voice.
And finally that faith paid off.
I have no doubt that the God that led me to all of these insights, is the same one that arranged our meeting, as if He was saying – either follow your mother and find emotional sterility and death, or else follow me and find a connection. And indeed, when I made that choice to follow my inner voice and not allow my mother to interfere or enter that sacred place – the miracle happened.

How we met – Joe’s viewpoint
As I said, I had no circle of friends, no social hub that I was connected to, and that could somehow unite us. We also had no common interests whatsoever – my future wife was an artist, a musician, and I was just starting a new life, studying computers, and social sciences. I had no interest at the time, in art, and I certainly was not interested in contemporary music. I had never in my life been to a concert of classical music. On the other hand, music was her whole life, writing, teaching, listening, and breathing music was her raison d’etre. Objectively speaking there was no way we could meet, and even if we did I doubt that we would have anything to talk about.
In hindsight – this relationship was doomed from the beginning – it could not start, and even if it did, there was no chance it would succeed – we just had nothing in common.
Luckily, it was not up to us.

By this time I was working a bit, and I had begun my studies. I was also studying in Tel-Aviv once a week on Monday afternoons. I would drive or take the bus to Tel-Aviv. My lesson ended around eight o’ clock, so I would be on the bus back to Jerusalem, if I wasn’t driving, around eight thirty.
At this time my future wife had a job teaching in the north of the country. She would take a bus to Tel-Aviv, and from there switch to a bus going to the North. She would depart on Sundays and get back on Monday night, after ten.
There was a window of opportunity here, but obviously, we needed a little more help.
It so happened that one time I had to stay a little late, I forget why, and I ended up going to the bus stop nearly two hours later than my usual time, so that we actually ended up on the same bus. Of course that’s meaningless- after all there are more than fifty people taking the same bus to Jerusalem, so we needed some more assistance, and we got it – on that particular evening I happened to be the last one to get on the bus, and peering into the gloomy interior I saw that the bus was full, or seemed so. I walked the entire length of the bus – passing about fifty drowsy people, until I reached the rear seat. Usually the rear can seat five people, but in this case there were only two – a young guy in the right corner and a young woman on the left. I sat down tiredly in the middle, between them (thus unknowingly disturbing a conversation that they had just begun).
At this time I was three feet away from my bashertess, but like I said I was off women at the time, and I didn’t give her a second glance. I just opened my bag and took out a book I was enthusiastically reading at the time: Neil Postman’s “Teaching As A Subversive Activity”.
I got into the book quickly and within minutes I was chuckling and laughing softly to myself, but not so quietly that the girl on my right didn’t notice. Suddenly the driver doused the light and we began the trip back to Jerusalem. I looked around disappointingly, and this nice girl offered to direct her light towards me (the middle seat doesn’t have a reading light). I told her that wouldn’t work but maybe we can trade places. She said the open space in front intimidated her, to which I replied that the worst that could happen is that she would take a fall off about one foot, which most likely would not hurt her. She laughed, and we switched places. I started reading again but she asked me what I was reading. I told her and she said that she too was a teacher (so, it seemed we did have something in common after all) and we started talking, or rather – she did. I didn’t read any more that evening but I did get to hear an amazing, spontaneous lecture on education.
I liked the girl, but I wasn’t going to stick my head out any more, so, as the bus entered Jerusalem, I wrote my number on a piece of a paper and gave it to her, telling her that if she’s interested to meet again she’s welcome to give me a call.
At the time I didn’t have any notion that anything special was going on, nothing inside me told me that she was the one, no angels were singing, and my stomach wasn’t doing somersaults. We left the bus and stood beside each other. She took out a cigarette and I offered her a light (which surprised and intrigued her – I do not look like a guy who smokes). We smoked together, talked a bit more and then said good night. I did not have her telephone, and I still didn’t care if she called or not.
Would we meet again? Would she call?
If I remember correctly she did call the very next day, and we made a date – our first one, and a date to remember – but that’s another story altogether. God had already done His work, and we pretty much managed to take it from there.

How we met – Her viewpoint
As usual, I was returning home on Monday night on the ten o clock bus from Tel-Aviv. While waiting in the station I noticed a handsome, nice-looking guy. Our eyes talked to each other, and I pretty much intended to sit next to him when we boarded, hoping that maybe something will come out of it. I certainly was looking, yearning for someone, I was attentive and alert, waiting to meet someone because I really needed a partner, a friend, a mate.
He boarded the bus before me and went the full length of the bus before sitting down in the back seat, on the right. The rear seat has five seats, so I sat on the opposite end, on the left side, with three empty seats between us. I was impatient for the driver to start moving because I saw that the bus was full even though normally it is only a quarter full at this hour, and that if anybody else came, that person would have to sit in the back seat between us. To my great disappointment that is exactly what happened. We traded glances, as if saying “ what a pity, another chance got lost”.
Anyway this guy sat between us. He was skinny, boyish, vigorous, and alert and did not seem to me especially attractive. He looked like just another guy in an endless stream of people. Except that he proceeded to take out a book and read it. His reading was very private and vital, as if he was sitting there and actually talking with someone, and I immediately thought to myself – "here is someone who gets along just fine all by himself and doesn’t need anybody else. Oh, how I wished I had that for myself!"
Then the driver turned the lights off. This guy was left in the dark, and he moved his head, openly wondering, as if saying: “what will I do now? I need help.”
My heart opened up to him. I thought that I could point my reading light towards him, even though that may bother me during the ride. I offered this to him, but he said the light is too far away. He suggested that we switch places but I told him I was afraid of falling – the middle seat faces the aisle. He pointed out that I would only fall for about one foot and that’s not so bad. I laughed. I love gallows humor, even if I am the intended target. Anyway, he stayed in his place, and continued to read with my light aimed at him (Joe says – you may notice that our accounts differ here. We talked about this but so many years later we simply cannot remember if we did or did not switch places).
Suddenly I noticed that the cover of the book had the word “Education” on it, and here I was, returning from two very intensive, exciting days of teaching! I asked him what he was reading and he told me that it was a book about subversive education.
“Subversive” I said to myself  “happens to be my middle name!”
Now I was really intrigued. We started talking. I asked what he does, and the conversation developed from there, we talked about education, learning, teaching as a creative endeavor and so on, with me doing most of the talking. Eventually our journey back to Jerusalem ended. I was sure he would ask for my phone number but he didn’t! He gave me his own number and said that I can call him if I wanted to. That disappointed me a bit, but I was so used to being the hunter, not the hunted,  that I shrugged it off .
The next day, I called him, and we talked a bit  - about life, and philosophy, and Albert Camus, and living here and now. I felt that he found me interesting, and we made a date for the following night. Still, throughout all of this I had no distinct feeling that something big was happening. I felt liked a bored fisherman who hooked another fish. Another date. Another guy. Big deal. Still I went on the date, after which I realized that I had caught an especially large fish, one that would suffice me for all my life. I knew then, that I would never have to go fishing again.

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Monday, November 06, 2006

What is a French Fry And What It Means For the survival of Our Culture

Ordinarily I would not bother even asking such a trivial question. In fact, I would not even be eating a French fry if it weren’t for my decision to start dining with the devil (more on that in another post). But we went out last week, and in the intermission of one of the shows we felt hungry. We ordered the quickest thing on the menu – French fries. It is also one of my favorites, so I was really disappointed when our order finally arrived and instead of the normal French fries, we got very long and thick strips of potatoes. They were fried in oil but if you take a huge potato and divide it into four pieces like they did and then deep fry them – they will not taste like French fries. I was very irritable that evening, and I did not hesitate in complaining about the dish. I said that this couldn’t be considered a French fry. They said that it is, “It’s just the way we make French fries here” they said. I told them that it would be nicer if they called it something else because it is very misleading. They continued to argue that they are serving fries, but they were also gracious enough to offer to take it back. We were too much in a hurry to do that so we munched on, and I got to thinking about what this meant:
What does it mean when you order a common place, well-established dish, and get something completely different, a bizarre personal interpretation which is not even acknowledged as such? What does it say about our culture that one cook can live in a universe of his own where the words of our common language take on a completely different meaning? How do we live in such a world? I must admit that I am finding this difficult.
I want to unravel this situation, and I guess I should start with answering the question I posed in the beginning – what is a French fry?
What Is A French Fry?
I am no stranger to different versions of French fries – I have eaten several.
In Israel and in most places I have eaten them short and thin, by short meaning up to ten centimeters long, and up to about one cm thick. This gives the delightful contrast between the crispy outside, and the softer inside. As far as I am concerned that is the whole point of the dish. Still, I have eaten thicker versions, or fries in different shapes and in Chicago I had a version that was fried and then dipped and lightly cooked in a very thick and greasy red sauce – a messy dish but a very tasty one. You can read all you need to know about French Fries in this fascinating Wiki, but as far as I can tell, what I was served cannot qualify – the potato strips were at least 20 cm long, and at least 3 cm thick on average, and they weren’t even strips but wedges, since they were cutting each potato into four equal parts. I have never ever seen anything like it in Israel or any place else for that matter. So I feel vindicated in my refusal to accept the definition of that restaurant.
That now leaves us with the second part of the title – what does this mean?

…And What Does It Mean For the Survival of Our Culture
On the one hand we have a universal concept with a well-known definition that has been accepted and practiced for generations. On the other hand we have a new personal definition, invented and defined by one small eating establishment, in defiance of everybody else. The individual against society - does that seem familiar?
Ordinarily I am all for the individual, being one myself. But this was not one person fighting for the survival of an ideal. This was not a heroic stand taken in defiance of a corrupt society. This was just an individual who chooses to deal with society while remaining in the shell of his own personal world.this has become all too common in our culture.

The Blessings of Individualism
The postmodern philosophy, which dominates our culture, gives us the moral license to defy the group and do as we please (more on post-modernism in a previous post). This, I believe, is unprecedented in human history. Probably because never before have such favorable conditions existed from the economic and technological point of view, putting an enormous amount of power in the hands of the individual, together with the time and resources necessary to use it. One of the best results of these conditions is that all of us can be creative. If man was indeed made in His image then perhaps the essence of being human is creativity so that in my view this recent development is a very positive one. I read recently on the technorati blog that every day one hundred thousand new blogs are being created – that is one hundred thousand people expressing themselves and being creative to some degree. That’s really wonderful in my view.
We have so much technology at our hands, and so many choices that we can make, that we can really live in a very individual bubble, shared with just a few people who do not even necessarily have to live near us. This is not essentially a bad thing – we just have more freedom, and we are far less constrained by our circumstances – we can for instance rebel against our family or the society we live in without paying the steep prices that individuals had to pay in the past, when information was scarce and closely held, and job opportunities were controlled by very few people in small, isolated communities. Thankfully, at least in the West, we have gotten past that.

Individualism Carried to the Point of Autism
But with all it’s blessings, there is a limit to this individualism too. We still have to be able to share meaning when we venture out into the public sphere. Society will simply break down if we cannot understand each other when we speak.
If I order a salad, I do not expect to get a bowl of olives, sprinkled with parsley. If I ask for a Greek salad, do not give me a bowl of vegetables and cheese soaked in tahina sauce and English pepper. That is disgusting, and it is not a Greek salad. This is a Greek salad. All of these things have happened to me lately when I had to eat out, and I am really sick of it. It has gotten so bad that I decided that from now on if i have to eat out, I will only eat at fast food shops, and if there are none, then I would order the most simple, easily recognizable dish. That’s how I ordered the fries that got me into writing this post, by the way. When each word holds a different meaning for each individual or group, society is in trouble.

As long as these individual quirks happen on the personal level, and in such harmless areas like eating out, then no real damage is done – but what happens when the meaning of common words ceases to be shared? What will happen when we ask the cab driver to take us to central Jerusalem and he drives us to the kotel because for him that is the center of Jerusalem? What will you do when you want to buy a mobile phone and you simply cannot understand what the salesman is saying - when free means 20 NS a month, and reduced rate means more than you have ever paid in your life for a phone call, and no commitment means that you lose a shirt and a leg if you quit before the end of the subscription? (I know what I did – I just didn’t buy one).
Do we really understand what the person opposite us is talking about when he or she says that they love us, and swears that they are committed? Are we sure we know what those words mean for them, and for us?
When we hear the words war, peace, and freedom on the news – are we sharing the meanings of those words with the reporters and editors? I suspect that many of us do not. Even words like murder, traitor and enemy have been redefined to such an extent that much of the political conversation has become incomprehensible, meaningless, and hence pointless. I do not know how any kind of rational debate can exist when we cannot agree on the definitions of the most basic terms.
But of course, that is one of the main points of the postmodern philosophy – the eradication of meaning altogether, and the reduction of social life to it’s individual units, each one separated from the other, except for fleeting moments.

I must say I liked it better when we were supposed to say what we mean, and mean what we say and act accordingly. I fervently hope that our culture will be able to survive this growing tide of un-sense, and non-meaning. The alternatives to survival do not bear thinking about.

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Saturday, November 04, 2006

How Much Is 25% off?

You know how life goes by so fast, that we just don’t notice a lot of the detail involved? And how you go like that until one day, for some reason, you stop and really look at something that’s been there seemingly forever and you suddenly notice something you’ve never seen before? Something like this happened to me the other day.

I was doing some minor cleaning in the bathroom, and I had occasion to pick up the shampoo bottles – we have two, one that is almost finished and it’s replacement. Since I bought it just last week, I was surprised to see that it had a large sticker on it that said “25% off”. I really didn’t notice that when I bought it – I must have been in a real hurry, or distracted by something. Anyway, I was only too glad to be able to save some money. Then I got the idea of comparing the two bottles. The old one is maybe a month or two old, and the new one I bought last week, and it isn’t every day that I can compare directly two products that are exactly the same, except for the discount.
So, what did I find?

The sticker on the older shampoo had a price of 16 shekels on it. The newer shampoo, the one with the “25% percent off” sticker cost …17 shekels!

I think that’s incredible. I know Israeli education has it’s problems, but I had no idea it was this bad. I mean, how can you mark something up by precisely 6.25 percent, and put a sticker on proclaiming a reduction?

Some of my more cynical readers will say that this was no accident; it’s just standard procedure in our capitalist society. Well. I’m not such a cynic I’m just methodical. I noticed that the 17 shekel price tag was stuck over an older one. I thought that maybe the older tag would give me a better idea how such a thing can happen. I peeled it off, and the older price tag was exactly what it should be – 16 shekels!

So I guess that someone knowingly marked up the price, and then put on a shining new sticker proclaiming the new “discount”. Yuuukkk!

There is of course another possibility. This could be an innocent mistake, and it does not necessarily point to the greediness of the proprietors. Actually I think this is the case – they are nice people and I had already determined a long time ago that most of the stuff there is reasonably priced, which is why I usually don’t bother checking anymore. This really took me by surprise. I guess I have to be more careful, even if the place is familiar.

Anyway, now that I know how much “25% off” is costing me, I’m hoping that other stores don’t get the same idea – I’m not sure that I can afford it.

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Eating – Why Does It Have to be So Complicated?

Sometimes I wonder about the road I have traveled. I know I have come a very long way from where I started, and I have managed to heal a great number of childhood wounds. From what I can see around me it seems that I have done more than most people in that respect, but still, sometimes I get really depressed and frustrated with where I find myself.
This happens especially if I haven’t been writing regularly and if I’ve been spending a lot of time outside myself, as has been the case lately. But, be that as it may, the stuff that comes up when I’m tired like this is real enough and not to be ignored. I’m talking about the problems I’m having with food.

A Zen Story

There is a well-known Zen story (one version here) about a monk who reached enlightenment. He left the monastery and lived a completely normal life thereafter. A visitor asked him what’s the big deal if he lives just like everybody else, he wanted to know what’s the difference between him and other people? The former monk answered, “I eat when I am hungry, I sleep when I am tired”.
I have been pursuing that simplicity for years, and just now it seems that I have done so in vain. I even envy the alley cats outside my building – I see them lying completely content in small patches of sun, and they seem so at ease with themselves, an ease that is born out of a direct, irrefutable connection with the Creator. I look at them and I want that too. I want to be able to let go and surrender myself completely to His will, sleeping when I need too, eating when I am hungry, and most importantly, eating what is right for me and how much is right for me when it is right for me, because I am having a lot of trouble doing that.

My Food History
Elsewhere I already told how I came to be a vegetarian, and for years I was a pretty consistent one, with varying degrees of strictness. Eating that way always made me feel better than when I ate meat and dairy products. In fact, the best I ever felt, physically and spiritually in my life, was when I was on a seeds, nuts and fruit and vegetable juice diet, eating nothing else, and nothing that contained food additives, colorings or any other kind of chemicals. My circumstances changed and I had to stop, but I always remember that period fondly.
Until recently I completely believed in the strict vegetarian ideal, even if I did not comply with it, but then one winter I got sick. It was just a bad cold, but it was bad enough that I had to see my acupuncturist. She asked what I was eating, and I told her about my vegan diet which consisted mostly of cold foods. She said that according to Chinese medicine, cold foods, especially in winter, chill the body, and that it is better to eat warm food. This struck me as sensible and it was the first crack in the vegan wall I had enclosed myself in. I read a little more about the Chinese principles of diet, including a very interesting book in Hebrew, “The Chinese Diet” by Leora Houbara. It seems that Chinese medicine treats people as different types according to their innate tendencies in digesting foods. I quickly found that I was “ a weak digestive system type”. This fit in with my experience in being vegan, except that now I added some principles from Chinese medicine, which also allows meat. I became a lot more relaxed in what I allowed myself to eat, which was helpful, since my wife enjoys eating meat, and I really did not enjoy looking at her with envy, and neither did she. Actually – that’s the problem.

The Devil is in the Hamburger
On the one hand, my body knows what’s good for it – a vegan diet, lots of grains, vegetables and legumes, preferably cooked. My body is completely happy with that kind of diet. What is killing me, and frustrating me no end is that my soul, or something inside me isn’t satisfied at all. No way. My eyes want to eat the whole world. I want meat – barbequed meat, shishlik and steak and meat sandwiches, schnitzels, and frankfurters and hamburgers cooked on the grill, dripping fat, with mustard, and ketchup and relish, in a white flour bun (oh, the horror – and delight!).
I want chocolate cakes, and multi layered cakes with lots of fattening, delicious cream inside, and for desert I want multi-layered chocolate cakes filled with cream, and soft, fluffy éclairs, and chocolate fudge ice cream, and waffles and pancakes with maple syrup, and ice cream and whip cream on top and… well, you get the picture.
I’m hungry for everything that I know from long, firsthand experience, is not good for me, for things that make me feel awful the very same day I eat them, and sometimes for several days after that. The satisfaction is so momentary and fleeting, and yet, somehow – it has become almost completely irresistible to me. I can resist buying and eating these things, but if I pass them by on the street – I am tempted, and sometimes I can’t get them out of my mind. I just crave. I am also not so nice when other people (my wife) allow themselves to eat that stuff. In short – this is not a good place to be in.
So this weekend I indulged in one of these fantasies, and I prepared for us a Sabbath meal loaded with meat, in fact, there was nothing but meat (and some spaghetti, to be honest). It was great but it took me three days to get completely back to my normal self again.
I don’t know what to do, and I really feel at my wits end. I want to reach the point where I do not have to fight myself, where I naturally do not want to eat all that stuff that isn’t good for me, but somehow I just can’t get there.
Some would say that I am dealing with the devil here and that I should fight it with all my might. Well I tried. For years I have fought the good fight, but to no avail. I know I can force myself to stick with the diet that makes me pure and brings me closer to God, but I have already done that and it just never worked out, and anyway, I am tired of coercing myself to do what is good for me. If it is so damn good, why doesn’t God just let me be? Why doesn’t He make this easy and simple for me? Why doesn’t He tell me loud and clear what the hell He wants from me anyway? Why does everything have to be so complicated all the time? All I want is to eat when I am hungry. Is that so much to ask? Every animal knows how to do that effortlessly, so why can’t I?

Anyway, this craving is not going away. It demands attention and as my wife said, the best way to deal with it is to go along and see where it leads. A voice inside my head tells me that I’m just letting out the rope with which I will be hung later. I imagine myself trembling, alone and afraid, on the Day of Reckoning, when all the sinners will be judged and sent to Hell. But I have stopped caring.
For years I have been terrified of letting go, of letting my senses run free but I am sick of it. I am throwing caution to the wind. I am going to dine with the devil. We’re going out for a Big Mac and I don’t know when I’ll be back.

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