Sunday, December 31, 2006

My Second Judaism Lesson

After losing my Chabadnik last week,who, by the way, still hasn't called, i did not know what to do. I asked you, my readers, for help, and waited to see what fate will bring.

As it happens, the next day i received a flier in the mail, advertising lectures on Judaism in a nearby synagogue. The topics were extremely philosophical and abstract and as such did not interest me at all, but I thought that if there is a group doing outreach to secular Jews in my neighborhood than maybe they can help me. I contacted them and they said they only give lectures but they did give me the phone of a Rabbi who is head of a BT Yeshiva here in Jerusalem. I called him and we made an appointment to meet on Thursday.I wrote down all the particulars and noted that the neighborhood and the street name were completely unfamiliar to me.I did not know how to get there by bus, so I took a cab which drove through an area of Jerusalem that I had never been in before in my life. I got out on the right street, and whipped out my note to see where exactly i should go - and then i saw that i forgot to write down the number of the house!

That really made me laugh. This obviously was another attempt by my unconscious to sabotage this endeavor. I did write down that it was on the ground floor and I had his name so I thought it would not be too much trouble to find his apartment.But it wasn't so easy - I went up and down the street without finding this Rabbi's name on any of the doors, and, probably because this was in the middle if the day, there were no passers-by to ask. Finally two guys came out of a building and fortunately they knew exactly what i was looking for, and they directed me to his Yeshiva,(which I had already passed twice without noticing it). Of course I was late for our meeting which,it turns out, was supposed to be at the Yeshiva and not his home, so the Rabbi called for someone to give me a start - and this was my second Judaism lesson.

The guy teaching me was a large bear of a man and seemed very nice. Recalling that last time I entered a synagogue without even noticing it, I first asked him if we were in one, and if
I should put a kippah on. He said that this a Beit-Midrash, and that it is customary to put on a kippah but that if I am in any way uncomfortable doing so, then i should not. That approach calmed me down and made me feel that here at last is someone who understands how difficult this is.He offered to make tea and that gave me a chance to sit down and look around.

The first thing I noticed was the enormous din rising from the students. There were about fifty people all talking at once and I marveled that anyone could hear something in such a racket, much less actually learn. I'm also wondering if this is the norm for yeshivot. If so, i guess you would really need enormous powers of concentration to study in such an environment, and if this has been the norm in the Jewish Cheder for generations than that may also explain why Jews have traditionally been so adept at learning.

My teacher came back with a delicious hot cup of tea. We sat opposite each other, and like everybody else we began studying in a Havruta.The first thing that I learned was that the word "Jew" comes from the hebrew root HDY, which means "to give thanks". He said that this is the essence of the Jew "He gives thanks all the time for what God has given him."

This is a beautiful concept and one which I can easily identify with - I believe in God and give thanks all the time for the many gifts that He gives. For instance, I can say " Thanks God for this beautiful snow that You have given us - I knew You could do it if You just put Your mind to it!"Of course, i also complain when I'm feeling neglected or mistreated by Him.
In any case, i give thanks sporadically, but Judaism has a very elaborate and complicated system of giving thanks for almost everything.The various blessing and rituals are written down in a thick book called "Shulchan Aruch".

We began to review the book from the beginning - blessings start from the moment you wake up, continue throughout the whole day until the very moment you go to sleep, and there is also much more than blessings and giving thanks - all the different aspects of life must be connected to God and are therefore ruled by Jewish law. At this point I must have given my teacher a pretty dirty look because he commented that it's not as bad as it looks, and then tried to get into all kinds of complicated explanations about why it is correct and necessary to do these things, including the story about how God himself gave the Jewish people these laws, together with the ten commandments at Mount Sinai. Personally, I do not believe this, but it doesn't matter at all - I told him that as far as I am concerned this is just the tradition that was handed down from my grandfather to my own father, and it just happened that my father decided not to pass it on. I just want to reforge that link - i do not care at the moment how exactly the chain itself was formed.

We studied for an hour and a half and I learned a lot of new and very interesting things, which are probably boring and commonplace for any orthodox person so I will not bother you with them. At the end I felt real dizzy, and I do not know if it was because of the situation, the constant din surrounding us, my excitement or a combination of these things.

I stayed on for the Mincha prayer and still could not make heads or tails of it - I do not understand when it starts and stops and what the pace is. There obviously is a well known code for this prayer because everyone else seems quite at ease, even to the point of doing a million other things while reciting the prayer, which brings me to one big problem that I'm guessing many Jews have: how to avoid turning this way of life into a boring,well-worn routine that is done out of habit, and not truly from the heart, with earnest faith and belief.

The idea itself, of thanking God for everything all of the time is, psychologically, not only correct but also necessary for our mental health - speaking of course from the Jungian standpoint. The problem is how to do so without becoming emotionally numbed by repetition? I wonder if Judaism has dealt with this problem, and if so how ?
As a Zen practitioner I know that answers to this problem exist, and it is "simply" a matter of being here and now, soul and body, in the same place at the same time. unfortunately, this "simple" matter takes an awfully long time to master.

During the Mincha prayer the rabbi came back and tugged me out, which seemed to me very impolite, but what do I know - perhaps this is accepted practice? He just wanted to get my details and make another appointment because he had to rush out again. We went into his office which was undoubtedly the worst mess of an office I have ever seen - and believe, after years in Academia I have seen my share if chaos - but this was really extraordinary. There was not one visible square inch of a desk or a chair in that room and part of the floor was littered with papers too. Everything was piled up in stacks leaning haphazardly against each other with no seeming rhyme or reason. I am a more or less orderly man myself so this bothered me a little.I also did not like giving away details like my address and telephone number, and also the guy himself bothered me no end - his manner and his looks and his touch, when he grabbed my hand and dragged me out of the prayer - it felt bad, and I came to dislike him intensely before I even got to know him.
Of course, by now I realize that this signifies absolutely nothing.It just seems like every time I am confronted with a male authority figure I freak out - I do not know whether to punch the guy out, or submit to this authority and maybe, finally, get taken care of properly.As I have already related, this is a problem ever since my father decided that, on second thought, he didn't really want to be a part of his own family.Tomorrow I am meeting again with this Rabbi, and I hope that I will be able to see him as a human being and finally get rid of these ghosts.


All in all I enjoyed myself very much.
The atmosphere in this Beit-Midrash was friendly, and it is clear to me from this experience that I need a place that knows how to deal with BT even if I myself do not intend to follow that path till it's conclusion.
Despite the incessant noise I actually did manage to understand nearly everything that my teacher said, and all the while I felt like a kid in a candy store - everything he said was new and interesting, and he answered all my numerous questions without hesitation, rising more than once in order to refer to several different works. It was an intense, mostly unstructured lesson which I hope to repeat many times.
One big problem is that the place is really far away from me, buried in the middle of a chain of orthodox neighborhoods.I don't want to waste so much time getting to and from this yeshiva, and I have to wonder how I will learn all the prayers, and especially the Sabbath rituals if I cannot be there when they happen?
I also do not know who will be teaching me - the Rabbi said that it depends on when I am able to come, and I still have to talk to this Rabbi although I do not know how important our relationship is, since he himself will, I think, not be teaching me at all.

Finally, this was a very intense experience for me.The next day I woke up with a sore throat, which turned into a fever by night. This is not an uncommon occurrence when attempting to heal wounds that have been buried for so long. In any case, today I am back on my feet, and tomorrow morning I am going back to this Yeshiva for another round of shadow boxing with the demons of my past.

A Word of Thanks

I want to thank my commenters for their support and help.I still have not decided if this is the place for me, and I will be following up on every suggestion that you gave me.



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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Chabadnik That Got Away

You may recall that just last week I happily announced my My First Official Judaism Lesson.After that first successful meeting, my Chabdnik mentor said that he is very busy on Channukah, but that he will call me after the holiday and then we will continue.
Well, it is already Wednesday and i still haven't heard anything from the guy.This also happened the first time we talked on the phone - he said that he cannot make a date at the moment and that he would call me back. Four days later I called him just to make sure that he hadn't lost my number and to see if he is still interested - turned out he was just busy.So this is already the second time that I am left hanging.
I do not like this at all.I am not comfortable chasing people under any circumstances (the introverts curse), and I am certain that I should not be doing so in this situation.The guy must be at least as interested as I am, or at the very least polite enough to say that he is too busy, or just not into it.

My wife says that, strictly speaking, "after channukah" can mean the whole week and that i should give up on the guy only after that , but I feel very impatient about recovering this part of myself, and very disappointed in this Chabadnik who knows how eager I am, and should know better than to behave this way - it's just a matter of derech eretz, isn't it? I mean, did he go on a Christmas vacation? Is that appropriate for a Chabadnik? (OK, I'm slightly bitter).
In short - this sucks, and I am now looking for an alternative. As I related before, there are not many options on the internet. I know for sure there are many yeshivot in Jerusalem but it seems they do not bother to put up websites, and since I am, obviously, not very well connected with orthodox society, i am at quite a loss at the moment.Should I just randomly wander into a random Yeshiva? Seems impolite to me, but perhaps forcing the issue is what is needed at the moment. I just don't know, so for now -
I am open to all and any suggestions.

Thank you

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Monday, December 25, 2006

ITB at the Movies: Understanding Bridget Jones With Imago Theory

A few days ago I had the chance to see again the delightful romantic comedy “Bridget Jones Diary”. This is the story of a single British woman in her early thirties, struggling with life, and especially with the daunting task of finding a partner. More details can be found here, and if you have not yet seen it you can buy it here or rent it. I think it is unquestionably worthwhile if you are into this genre. In any case, this post is definitely a spoiler so do not read it before you have seen the movie.

The Experiment
In this post I would like to get just a little bit into the underlying psychology of this movie. I will attempt to do so by using two small parts from the Imago Theory, which I have explained in a previous post, and will review again here. My only reservation is that I am not at all sure that analyzing the movie without the benefit of the theory in its entirety will be interesting or worthwhile. Still, I do want to put in my two cents about this lovely movie.
I am guessing that this post will interesting to devoted fans of the movie, Imago theory and anyone else who is interested in understanding relationships between the sexes.

What is Imago Theory
I have not yet had a chance to give a thorough explanation of this remarkable theory, and I am not going to do so now. I will rely on the explanation I gave in a previous post titled “Finding The Love You Need And Keeping It – Starters Guide For Singles”, which I will repeat, in short, here.

Imago theory states that we are born with a natural, free-flowing connection to the world, with a natural path of growth that, if followed, will enable us to be complete, fulfilled human beings. According to the theory there are several known stages of growth, which, if overcome correctly, enable us to proceed to the next stage of development with the necessary knowledge and skills (both emotional and physical).If our primary caregivers do not enable us to follow this natural path – then we become wounded.
A wound occurs every time our caregivers were consistently inattentive to our needs or incorrectly so. (Actually – this is an excellent definition of a toxic parent. I talked a little about this kind of parent in this post about the Billy Elliot movie. In short - this is a parent who uses his or her children in order to satisfy his or her own emotional and/or physical needs – a common occurrence in this movie.)
There are two basically different responses to the wounds we incur during growing up, and they form two distinct personalities – the Maximizer and the Minimizer.

The Minimizer is characterized by the following traits and behaviors:Denies his own needs, denies his dependence, stifles and limits his feelings, has clearly defined, rigid personal boundaries, keeps people away from his territory, self-centered and self-directing, thinks and acts in an obsessive manner, reveals precious little of his inner world, tries to control others.

The Maximizer” is characterized by the following traits and behaviors:Expresses her (or his) feelings to the world, exaggerates her feelings, tends to be dependent on others, obsessively open and subjective, lets other people into her private space, clings to others, too generous, personal boundaries are undefined, focused on the outer world, asks others to direct her, unsure of herself, focuses on others, acts on impulse, usually surrenders to others, and manipulates them.(These lists were taken from the Imago guide for singles.)

According to the theory, we desperately seek to heal our wounds, and to do so we must find the person who has the same wounds, but the opposite defense. That is why a maximizer will invariably be attracted to a minimizer, and that is why , in general, we will be attracted to our opposites, all this depending on the amount and severity of our wounds. The worse they are, the closer our personality will be to the prototype personality (either Maximizer or Minimizer), and therefore the partner we need to heal us will be that much more on the opposite extreme of this scale of personalities.. Such a couple has a long road ahead of them since they have many wounds to overcome.

Areas of Life
Imago theory divides life into four areas – sensing, feeling, doing and thinking.
Sensing includes everything connected to our senses – touching, hearing, seeing, tasting, and smelling. Our ability to engage in each of these sensing activities – eating, making love, feeling the breeze on our skin and the sunshine on our faces- may have been diminished because of childhood wounds.
includes our ability to feel the whole range of emotions, to accurately discern our own emotions when they occur, and express them appropriately, and also the ability to empathize with other people, and make them feel that we identify with them.
includes all the activities that involve, well, doing things in the world – from housework to building houses, from driving a car to applying make-up. Most of our lives are dedicated to doing things, and usually if we are not doing we are thinking.
includes the ability to calculate, to plan, to imagine, to understand and articulate abstractions, and also the ability (or disability) to engage in conversations with ourselves, inside our heads.

Question That Can be Answered With Imago Theory
Armed with these theoretical tools and concepts we can now view the movie in a different light. We can ask ourselves – are the characters wounded? In what areas of life? Which characters will be attracted to whom and why? What personality types are they? I think the answers to these question and others, can be interesting, since, as we know, art mirrors life, and such a method of analysis can be applied to ourselves and to our relationships in real life.

Analyzing Bridget Jones Diary with Imago Theory
The story revolves around three main characters: Bridget Jones herself, her boss Daniel Cleaver, and a childhood acquaintance Mark D’arcy. Bridget’s parents also are important and merit discussion.

Bridget Jones:
Can there any doubt that this woman is a maximizer? She expresses herself freely, and on all occasions, she has marvelous mood swings, meaning that she “exggerates her feelings”, she has no sense of her own boundaries, and lets other people step in and out of her own private space at will, a trait used and abused by her boss, and by her “uncle”, who keeps grabbing her bottom every chance he gets. She is extremely open with others, impulsive and spontaneous to a fault, and like all maximizers she will cling to anyone who shows the slightest sign of interest in her, like her rascal of a boss, asking him after two days of dating if other people will notice that something is going on between them, a premise that he immediately denies – being himself an avoider.(these terms mean exactly what they say, but for further clarification I suggest, again, reading the original post on Imago theory for singles).
If Bridget Jones is readily identifiable as a Maximizer this means that she has been severely wounded in her childhood, so that we may wonder in what areas of life has she been wounded?
Sensing: well, we do not have much to go on here. Still, she obviously enjoys “shagging” and if we are to believe her boss, she is also very good at it. She has a lot of problems with eating though, alternating eating binges with strict, puritan diets. If the purpose of eating is to satisfy our bodies needs, and gain some sensual pleasure while doing so – Bridget Jones gets neither. Like many other lovers before her, when the affair begins her senses open to the world and she takes it all in with the wonderment of a child – but before and after she seems oblivious to her surroundings – meaning that like most of the people in her culture her senses are almost shut down most of the time, basically operating at a very low level.
Feeling: Well, Bridget Jones has feelings - she acknowledges them and expresses them freely. However she can get caught up in them, especially when those feelings concern her relationships with the opposite sex. Then they simply take over her life – she can waste hours in useless speculation about her feelings, and his and whether he loves her or not and what their future together may be like and so on.
Doing: we have numerous examples during the movie that show us how awful Bridget is at doing things – starting from the awkward scene in the press conference for the new book in which Bridget, forgetting that a micropohone has a switch proceed to shout: (screen play as always from the inexhaustible Drew's Script-O-Rama)

“Welcome to the launch of "Kafka's Motorbike"... "The Greatest Book of Our Time." [Mild applause] Obviously except for your books, Mr. Rushdie... which are also very good. And Lord Archer... yours aren't bad, either. [Clears throat]Anyway... uh, what I mean is, uh... welcome, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for coming to the launch of... one of the top thirty books of our time.”

Her first interview at the fire department, the missed interview with a Kurdish freedom fighter, and, of course, Bridget (mis)cooking a birthday dinner party for herself and her guests consisting of blue string soup, an omelet made by her new barrister boyfriend (that’s “lawyer for you americanos), something green and mean looking and a sticky, over-cooked marmalade. Hardly the ideal housewife!

Bridget is also not very good at thinking. She displays her ignorance of worldly affairs and lack of general knowledge on several occasions – at the aforementioned press conference when she is asked her opinion about a theory of the novella she has to bail out by asking where the “loo” is (that’s British for toilet), when she goes job searching as a news reporter:
Interviewer: “What do you think of the EI Nino phenomenon?
BRIDGET:'s a blip. I think, basically, Latin music is on its way out.

When she is sent to interview the Kurdish freedom fighter:
Boss: “OK, Bridget, see if you can get it right this time. The verdict in the Aghani-Heaney case is expected today. Get yourself down to the high court. I want a hardheaded interview. You do know the Aghani-Heaney case?”
Bridget: “Yes, of course. Big case... featuring someone called Aghanihini.”
Boss: “Or two people called Kafir Aghani and Eleanor Heaney.”
Bridget: “ That's the one.”
Boss: “ She's a British aid worker. He's a Kurdish freedom fighter. The government wants to extradite him home... where he'll certainly be executed. She's married to him... and they fought for five years to keep him here. Today is the decision.
Bridget: “Oh, that's exciting!”
Boss: “ Yes, it is... so what are you waiting for?”

And so on and so on throughout the movie.

Summary of Bridget Jones Character: Personality Type and Potential Mate
Bridget is an obvious maximizer, and is very close to the ideal type of maximizer, meaning that she has been severely wounded by her caretakers – which we will meet shortly. These wounds are apparent in every area of life. She is characterized by her ability to express herself spontaneously with little inhibition, however even this trait is marred by her inability to choose when to express herself and in what way.
She seems sensuous although we are lacking information in that respect. Her abilities in the areas of doing and thinking are severely limited. To her credit she makes a conscious effort to improve in these areas throughout the movie – and that is what makes this story so interesting.
Although Bridget is clearly wounded in all areas, we can point out that she seems, relative to herself, and to the culture she lives in, much more adept at feeling than at doing and thinking. Since the script does not go out of it’s way to show us deficiencies in sensing, I will assume that, like most woman in Western culture she is less wounded in that area than in the areas of doing and thinking.
What this means is that she will be attracted to a minimizer who will be, like her, wounded in all areas but still clearly adept in the areas of thinking and doing, and just as bad at feeling as Bridget is in doing and thinking.
The first man she is attracted to is her boss Daniel Cleaver, and we shall now see if he indeed fits the bill or not, and in what ways.

Daniel Cleaver
Daniel is the boss of Bridget’s section and seems to be pretty high up in the hierarchy of the publishing house for which they both labor. He works in a raised, closed glass cubicle, overlooking his charges. This in itself implies that he is a proficient Doer and Thinker. Indeed, one of the first scenes in the movies has him embarrassing Bridget, using his knowledge in literature, and her lack of it:
(Bridget is in the office talking on the phone with her sobbing friend Jude)
Jude: Am I codependent?
Bridget: “No, you're not. It's not you. You're lovely. It's Vile Richard. Ugh. He's just a big knob head with no knob (Daniel approaches her desk)... Is some people's opinion of Kafka... but they couldn't be more wrong. This book is a searing vision... of the wounds our century has inflicted on-- on traditional masculinity. It's positively Vonnegut-esque. Thank you for calling, Professor Leavis.(puts down phone and says to Daniel): “ Guest list for launch party.”
Daniel: “Ah. Was that...F.R. Leavis?
Bridget: “Mm-hmm.”
DANIEL: Wow. Huh. The F.R. Leavis... who wrote "Mass Civilization and Minority Culture"?
Bridget: Mm-hmm.
Daniel: “ The F.R. Leavis who died in 1978? Amazing.”

Daniel seems very independent and extremely self-centered, concerned with his fellow man or woman only to the extent that they serve his needs at the moment. He is not one to reveal his emotions or the workings of his inner life, and in all probability, has no idea himself what is actually going on inside him. In any case, he certainly does not reveal anything of the sort throughout the movie. For instance while Bridget gushes about their new relationship, asking him what will they do when they get back to the office and what will people think – Daniel plays it down reminding her that’s only been two days and when she asks him if he loves her he tries to evade the question. All in all he answers nearly all the criteria of a Maximalist at least as far as the script allows us to know.

Feeling – Daniel rarely discusses his feelings, and if he does so it is usually because he is prompted to do so by Bridget, in which case he states them in a very concise, emotionless manner, which to me at least, seems very insincere. On the other hand he is funny, spontaneous, and playful, especially, it seems, with women. Daniel is capable of expressing himself very well as long as the relationship is superficial. This enables him to create and have very good inter-personal relationships with other people (well, except for the women he’s dumped, and the men who’s wife he’s “shagged”…).
Sensing – Daniel is very sensuous. He enjoys gratifying the senses, especially sexually, as witnessed by his endless exploits, but also aesthetically - he is always dressed sharply, his car is beautiful, he himself is beautiful, and so are the woman he picks up. Daniel always does things in style.
Doing and Thinking – as we mentioned previously, Daniel is a Doer and Thinker a fact attested to by his high position in the publishing company. He is worldly and knowledgeable and shows this on various occasions. In fact it seems that the only thing that Daniel cannot do successfully is to be honest with himself, and with the women in his life, and, chiefly – commit to one woman.

Summary of Daniel Cleaver’s Character: Personality Type and Potential Mate
Daniel Cleaver is a Minimizer, and as far we can tell he is proficient in the areas of doing, thinking and sensing, but lacking in the area of feeling.
As a minimizer he will need a maximalist as a life partner who is strong in the area of feeling while being weak in all the other areas of doing, thinking and sensing. The most important capability that Daniel lacks – sincerity and honesty will have to be supplied abundantly by his future partner. In this respect Bridget Jones does fit the bill, since she is honest to a fault. However her ability to be just as sensual as Daniel, and Daniels ability to be spontaneous and playful indicate that this is far from a perfect fit.
On the other side of this match, Daniel does have some ability in the area of feeling, so perhaps he is not as wounded in this area as Bridget is in the areas of doing and thinking and therefore not a perfect fit for her. In other words – the two do not need each other enough. That leaves us with one other possibility: Marc D’arcy.
Finally, Daniels biggest problem is his inability to stand any kind of intimacy with his fellow man, or with himself. He is charming, witty, and sexy – a regular Don Juan, and like most men of this type, incapable of spiritual growth. This behavior pattern is attractive when a man is young, but Daniel is fast approaching an age where his easygoing, superficial romantic escapades produce not admiration but pity. His inability to grow ultimately denies him the companionship of Bridget Jones.

Mark D’arcy
Mark is a successful lawyer. He is handsome, and pompous, and dignified. He always does what is expected of a man in his position, never a hair or word out of place. In short – he is dead from the head down. He definitely “stifles and limits his feelings”, and his stiff, rigid demeanor is a clear indicator that he is a fierce defender of his territory. He seems to be a typical minimizer.
Feeling – If Mark has feelings he does his best to hide them. He is so used to not expressing his feelings that when he finally desires to do so, he falters, and the experienced lawyer becomes strangely tongue-tied:
Bridget: “That'll be my taxi. “
Mark: “Good night. Look, um... I'm sorry if I've been...
Bridget, impatiently: “What?”
Mark: “I don't think you're an idiot at all. I mean, there are elements of the ridiculous about you. Your mother's pretty interesting. And you really are... an appallingly bad public speaker. And you tend to let whatever's in your head... come out of your mouth... without much consideration of the consequences. I realize that when I met you at the turkey curry buffet... that I was unforgivably rude and wearing a reindeer jumper... that my mother had given me the day before. But the thing is, um... what I'm trying to say very inarticulately is... that, um... in fact... perhaps, despite appearances... I like you very much. Ah…
Bridget: “Apart from the smoking and the drinking... and the vulgar mother and the verbal diarrhea.”
Mark: “No. I like you very much-- just as you are.”

Sensing – The text does not supply us with much evidence concerning Mark’s use of the senses. He dresses like a lawyer is supposed to, so that does not tell us much. He does have sex eventually with Bridget but we are not exactly informed of the proceedings so it is difficult to draw conclusions from this.other than that he seems concerned mainly with his job, and does not seem to notice much else ,except, obviously Bridget. Until then his senses seem to me to be asleep.
Doing – Mark seems to be physically capable of doing anything he wants and he displays this ability on two occasions – first when he helps Bridget to prepare her birthday dinner, and second when he successfully fights Daniel.
Thinking - Every lawyer must obviously have the ability to think, to analyze and put forth a coherent argument, and Mark is certainly no exception. He is a man of the world and extremely knowledgeable.

Summary of Mark D’arcy’s Character: Personality Type and Potential Mate
Mark is a minimizer, who excels at thinking and doing, but is severely wounded in the area of feeling, and probably also in the area of sensing. A perfect match for him would be a maximizer who is badly wounded in the areas of thinking and doing but is very capable in the areas of feeling and sensing. The two would compliment each other and, ideally, would learn from their partner what they are lacking and thus heal their wounds.
I think ultimately this is why Bridget chooses Mark over Daniel - Mark needs Bridget far more than Daniel does, and Bridget needs the tight-lipped and strait-laced Mark to compensate for her thoughtlessness, something that the frivolous Daniel could not do for her. Also, Because Mark is so serious in everything he does, he is also serious in love, and therefore willing to commit himself to Bridget, while Daniel, the eternal playboy, simply cannot do so.

Bridget’s Parents
According to Imago theory the wounds that we have seen in Bridget’s personality have been inflicted upon her when she was a child, by her caregivers. Interestingly enough both of her parents appear in the movie and the text gives us some information, which may help us understand how the family situation contributed to her wounds.


Bridget’s mother displays several traits common to the maximizer – she does not distinguish between herself and her daughter, exemplifying the lack of personal boundaries typical to a maximizer, and seems throughout the movie completely oblivious to the needs of her daughter. She is obviously focused on the outside world and dependent on others, so much so that even when she decides to strike out for herself (this too, on a whim) , she latches on to a successful TV host.

Bridget’s father plays a far smaller role in the movie. Usually he is seen in the part of a quiet, bashful old man, who is embarrassed by his wife’s shenanigans, and especially by the fact that she leaves him for another man. It is notable that, although he is devastated by this, he cannot bring himself to actually do anything about it, probably because he is so bad at expressing his feelings, and he does not wish to expose his dependence upon her, or admit his needs in front of her. We may safely assume that he is the minimizer in this relationship.

Mother and Daughter
Bridget’s mother seems completely oblivious to her daughter’s needs – from the beginning of the movie to the end. In the opening scene she forces Bridget to wear an unsuitable outfit, and then introduces her in a most embarrassing fashion, to a potential date. Twice she seeks her daughter’s help, and both times she does not even ask if Bridget can spare the time at the moment, nor does she seem to think that it is inappropriate to involve her daughter in her own marital crises. Also, throughout the movie she does not display any concern for Bridget – she does not display any interest in what she is doing, in what she wants or needs. In short, Bridget’s mother uses Bridget and acknowledges her daughter only to the extent that she can use this daughter for her own ends. Raising a child in this manner is a surefire way of wounding him or her.
Since Bridget is used to such abuse from her own parent, it is obvious that she will feel at ease only in such situations. This is why she always picks men who degrade her and use her, why her friends are exactly as messed up as she is – and therefore unable to help her. This is why she goes to a dinner of married couples where she is sure to be humiliated.
As bad as Bridget’s mother seems to be, the task of wounding an innocent and helpless child is never accomplished by one parent alone.

Father and Daughter
As would be expected, Bridget, a maximizer, seems to be much more comfortable with her minimizer father than with her mother. She is seen several times seeking his company, in which she finds some solace – he never seems to demean her or force her to do things she does not want to. On the other hand he also does not do anything to help her, and does not display any interest in her life beyond asking ‘what’s going on’ and settling for a non-committal answer. On the other hand sweet Bridget does her best to cheer her father up when he is tossed away by his wife.
Bridget and her father also have a small conspiracy going on, they confide with each other and seem to find comfort in a quasi-cabal against their childish and irresponsible mother/wife.

Summary of Relationship in the Jones Family
Bridget’s parents seem to be preoccupied with themselves, and with their own problematic relationship. Toxic parents will involve their children in their marital relationships, and force them to choose sides. Such parents will use their own children to satisfy their own needs. Such a child will grow up with very low self-esteem, he will be easily addicted to almost anything, he or she will abuse themselves in various ways, including drugs, alcohol, and smoking, not to mention becoming involved in abusive and humiliating relationships. Bridget indeed goes through all of this. But, she is fortunate – she manages to will herself out of this situation. Our heroine is indeed a hero – she overcomes the obstacles of fate and against the odds manages to rise above them. She learns to do things, she learns to focus and gain control over herself, and stop letting her attention wander all over the place. She does not make great strides in these areas, but it is enough to start a ball rolling that will eventually lead her to her life partner, and a chance to finally heal her wounds and return to her original perfection.
Will she manage to do so?
If you want to find out the answer to that question you will have to see the second part of this movie - Bridget Jones - The Edge of Reason.

Results of the Experiment
Well, this took much longer than I expected. I was hoping that using only a small part of the theory would make this post short and easy to read, but clearly I was wrong. I am a little disappointed that I did not make full use of the theory, because I would be able to explain and demonstrate the three stages of the committed relationship – romance, power struggle and the conscious marriage, and together with the concept of the lost self, the falsified self and the disowned self it would be clear, for instance, why the same traits that cause Mark to fall in love with Bridget, are the exact same ones which he is so quick to criticize and condemn. Of course if I had explained all that this post would have been two or three times longer, (and perhaps more interesting.) Maybe I will add these ideas when (and if) I review the second part of the movie.

Well, if you have made it all the way to here – my congratulations. I would love to know if this post has been interesting or enlightening in any way to you. I would appreciate any comments that would let me know if this experiment was indeed a success or failure.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

My First Official Judaism Lesson

Well, i finally did it. After years of agonizing about this, i finally got the nerve to ask for help, and i finally got it. i am very, very happy about this. Here's what happened:

Previously , I mentioned that i had set up a meeting with a Chabadnik in a nearby Chabad house. This house turned out to be a small well lit room, with a desk and two tables and a library of religious books. this is what i noticed when i first entered the room and greeted the only other occupant - an orthodox Jew who was not the one i talked to on the phone. After we greeted each other he immediately put a kippah on my head because he said this is a synagogue.; i looked around again and then i noticed for the first time a tall closet covered with velvet brocade - obviously a Holy Ark, and right next to it a stand for placing the Torah and reading it. i am not surprised that i missed this - it just goes to show me once again that it is very difficult to see things if you are not looking for them,or at least if they are not recognizable and familiar to you.

Soon enough my mentor arrived. he looks younger than me, with deep-set eyes that are dark as well as soft. He is also soft spoken and pleasant and i feel very comfortable with him. We sit down in the middle of the room opposite each other and he asks me what exactly do i want. I explain that i want to learn how to be Jewish - how to do things. i tell him that i am not interested in philosophy and abstractions just in doing things. He asks me if i feel the urge to be Jewish or is this just an anthropological field trip for me. i am happy that he is familiar with the term and i admit that i have indeed studied anthropology and that i am a sociologist by training and also by nature but that in this case i am seeking healing for my soul. I proceeded to tell him about the terrible dream i had (recounted here), and that really seemed to floor him - i bet he hadn't heard that before!

So we started. For some reason he insisted on teaching me something from a book, even though i told him on the phone, and once more just two minutes ago that i want to do things, that i am sick of abstractions and learning from books. A few years ago i would probably have stopped the session right there, or at least shut down, mentally. Thankfully i have changed. I told myself that if he is to be my mentor i have to at least give him the benefit of the doubt in the beginning. I reminded myself of the numerous, endless mistakes i made as a teacher, and then, finally i asked myself: "what would my wife do in this situation". I knew exactly what she would do - she would go along with the authority and listen as well as she could and when the time was right she would express her desires in the most polite and inoffensive way possible, which is what i did.

We started with a passage from a book called "The Tanya". he did not explain what it is or who wrote it he just started reading. The passage said that God desires that man should be His abode on this world of the bottom. I learned that God is endless light and that one cannot look at it directly without perishing, without becoming one with Him, that therefore the light is obscured so that we may see His glory, and that sometimes the light may be obscured to such a degree that a man may feel utterly alone "ani ve afsi od" as the saying goes in Hebrew.We went on for a while in this vein. Meantime people were coming in, walking around and talking and sometimes interrupting my mentor to ask him questions, mainly "when is Mincha".
In any case, these sort of ideas are very familiar to anyone who has studied and practiced Jungian psychology or Zen-Buddhism. To me this was completely understandable, utterly obvious and a fact of everyday life, and i told him so when the opportunity arose. I told him that i do not have a problem with my relationship with God,and that maybe i am already a Hassid. Something i said, or maybe the tone of my voice convinced him that we should change course. He asked me again what i would like to do, and again i told him that i would like to do - something, anything, "after all" i said, "anything you teach me will be completely new; for instance, what's this Mincha thing everybody is talking about? What do you do in it, and how is it done?"
He asked if i would like to learn to put on a tefillin, and i said sure. actually i was very glad to - ever since i discovered that i actually own a tallish and tefillin I've been dying to learn how to use them. So we did - he showed me how, and soon i was standing in the middle of this room/synagogue/library/study hall with a kippah on my head and a teffilin on my forehead and arm. I felt strangely satisfied. i wanted to see how i looked but there were no mirrors in this synagogue, so i had to gaze at my hazy reflection in the windows. it didn't look as weird as i thought it would. He said that it is customary to recite some holy passages while putting on the teffilin and that maybe i should stay with them for the Mincha prayer. That left me a few minutes to be with myself, holding a prayer book, wearing a teffilin in front of so many strangers. Once this would have terrified me, but this time i feel alright. I do not mind all the people seeing me like this, i understand that if i want to be a part of a community than some privacy will be sacrificed, and actually, it feels good. I'm pretty sure i was beaming with pleasure, just standing around and being Jewish. It felt so natural, so like coming home, finally arriving. Sometimes you just know that you are at the right place at the right time, doing exactly what you were meant to do. That's how I felt.
Then Mincha began. My mentor led the prayer and was not available to explain what's going on, but fortunately a nice guy standing right next to me helped me follow the short service, and answered all of my numerous questions, including the last one, when my mentor continued praying when everyone else had stopped - apparently Chabadniks have to add a few prayers for their "King Messiah".
After the prayer was over i had to take off the teffilin. I thanked my mentor profusely, and he asked if i want to continue studying next week, to which i answered of course, and then i left to go home - from one home to another!

So that was my very first Judaism lesson - at least since my Bar-Mitzvah, and it made me very very satisfied. I felt like a desert that had a bucketful of water thrown on it. Of course - now i want more, and i will get it, and maybe, like the desert after a good rain, i will put forth some flowers. Who knows what they will look like?
Anyway - i don't think i will have to suffer through any more bad dreams about being Jewish.
The big question for me now is what will my wife think about this? How far will she be willing to let me go?Does this frighten her? How does she feel?
Well i asked her when i came home and after i told her about the lesson. She said that she will follow me wherever i go - and that she has already made her peace with the possibility that i may become a practicing Jew. She said that she prefers that i work through this part of me, and that i integrate it into my life, rather than repressing it and dealing with the consequences of such a repression.
I told her that the most important thing for me is our relationship, and that i am not going anywhere without it, and without her, and that if i have to wait for her to overcome problems that she has with orthodox Judaism than i will wait as long as needed.
This of course does not mean that i actually plan becoming observant, but, for instance, i think i would like to lead such a life for at least a while. I also know that i would like to experience a sabbath in an orthodox home just to learn how it is done, and my wife has already agreed to come with me to such a weekend, so i think that aspect will be ok.
It seems that now only I can stop myself, which is exactly as it should be in a loving relationship.

Response to Comments From the Previous post:

WestBankMomma recommends the book "To Be A Jew" by Rabbi Hayim Donin.
Interesting that you should mention that book. A year or two ago i happened to be browsing through a used bookstore in downtown Jerusalem, which had mostly Hebrew books, but turning around i saw a shelf or two of English books, and among them a book titled "To Be A Jew". This was in the same period of time that i mentioned in my previous post, where i was really curious about Judaism and strove to learn whatever i can, however i can, so i picked it up and read a bit right there. The book immediately struck me as being straightforward and to the point, explaining everything concisely but clearly in everyday language - just what i was looking for! It was far and away the best book i had encountered, way better than anything i had seen in Hebrew.
I bought the book and started reading. If i recall correctly i made it up to chapter six - the dietary laws. Somewhere around there i remember sitting in the kitchen , reading, when suddenly i said to myself: " you know Joe, actually, this makes sense".
That very night i had this dream:

I was a German officer in a death camp, walking around the barracks, doing nothing in particular when suddenly i am summoned by my superior to the office of the chief commander- who happened to be Hitler himself (although in this dream he looked exactly like Colonel Klink from Hogan's Hero's). It turned out that he suspected me of being Jewish. Of course i denied the allegations, and i nervously started telling antisemitic jokes, to prove that i was as antisemitic as the next Nazi.Hitler just stared at me with his cold, pale blue eyes, laughed a little and finally dismissed me. I walked away knowing that he knew I was Jewish, and that he knew that I knew that he knew it. I understood that it was only a matter of time until i too was taken away to be killed.
Fortunately, i woke up in time to escape that fate. You will understand of course, that i stopped reading that book...
although i think that today, after everything that has happened to me since then, i can continue reading it without any horrible side effects, so thanks for reminding me about it!

Mother In Israel recommends a few books that i have not heard about, and i will be sure to check them out. She also warns me about Chabad's somewhat unorthodox ways, and their brand of Hassidut.
"As for Chabad, be careful because much of what they teach is Chabad chasidut and not, for lack of a better term, "normative practice." It's important to understand the difference. Not to mention their philosophy which is also "out there" sometimes."

At the moment i am not so concerned with the niceties of ritual - i know so little that right now i just need some kind of start. If Chabad are willing to give me this start then i am more than glad to take advantage of it. Actually, if i had not managed to get help from them, i do not know where i could go to - at least on the internet there are not all that many organizations who are willing to help a guy study Judaism.There are a few that seem to me too, i don't know - superficial - like amnon yitzhak's organization, while others seem too self-aggrandizing.
Chabad at least is very well-known, they are not in it for the money (i don't have much anyway), and they seem very tolerant. the mincha prayer was attended by a cross section of Israeli society, young and old, Ashkenazim and Sephardi, and in fact only one guy there was actually Chabad-looking. All in all the atmosphere was very calm and relaxed. Also, Chabad has a lot of experience in these situations- i am far from the first secular guy they have taught.

About the Hassidut - i have no objection to that. i am not particularly interested but i'll just have to wait and see how much of it i am expected to learn with this guy. in any case, we haven't yet laid out a course of study, or even agreed about what and when and so on.(that said - this "Messiah King" thing they have going on seems so odd - it's such a Christian concept, isn't it?)
i am very much aware that i am just beginning, and that Chabad is just one brand of Judaism.
I hope that as i go on i will be able to get a broader look at Judaism, and maybe i will even reach the point where i will be able to differentiate between "normative practice" and Chabad practice. At the moment that is just beyond me.
In short, thanks for the good advice, and the warning. At least i know that if something seems wrong or weird i have someone to ask about it, and that is very reassuring to me.

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Purging This Secular Jew - Take Two

This is take two because take one was an awful, incoherent rambling mess which did nothing to answer the question I am currently struggling with – what should I do now?
As I explained previously my Jewish heritage is haunting me, and as a result I realize that I had better do something about it pretty quick, but I really do not know what to do, or rather, maybe I do, but I’m just frightened of what may happen. Anyway, I wanted to take the time and try to figure out how I got here, and maybe that will help me understand where I should go from here. So this will be an autobiographical post in which I will try to recall and describe the encounters with Judaism that have stuck in my mind and apparently shaped my attitude towards it, starting from my childhood up till now. Finally, I will try to conclude what the future must bring – what I should do now.

Childhood Judaism
As you know I grew up in a secular family in the states. I remember that we would celebrate Passover and that it was a big deal, and I also recall that on occasion we would go to synagogue (in a car of course), but I don’t really remember why. I went to a public school and I know that I had catholic friends, but that didn’t matter to anyone – as far as I knew we were all Americans. That had to change when my parents decided to return to Israel. It took me a while to learn Hebrew and get acclimated to a society that was a lot rougher and brutal than the timid suburb I came from but after that I became a proud secular Israeli. I remember that for a while my father would say the Kiddush on Friday evening. I don’t why he did that – he never explained and I knew enough not to ask either. I know my mother didn’t like it – she was always fixing the table or bringing food in when he said it. Anyway, eventually, soon after we came to Israel he stopped.
All we had left, as I recall it, was Passover to remind us of our Jewishness, and I also remember developing a healthy secular-Israeli hatred for all things “Dati” – religious. We did have one religious boy in the neighborhood but we picked on him a lot and for some reason he stopped playing with us. I wonder why… also anyone who grew up here knows the familiar taunting chant that secular kids apply when necessary: “Dros kol dos – Hashmed kol hared” which means “run over every dati, destroy every haredi”. Not exactly what you would expect to hear in the so-called “Jewish” state, but that was so normative I never gave it a second thought until recently.
My parents did not have religious friends and the only religious people we knew were my father’s vast orthodox family – except that we didn’t get to know them. We never went to family events and we only saw his father – my grandfather- once in a year or two. We would get into our small car and make the tense, angry drive from Jerusalem to Tel-Aviv. We would walk up the stairs to his small apartment in a dreaded silence. We would kiss his rough cheeks and then we would sit at the simple table with him. His wife (our step-grandmother) would serve cheap soda in plastic cups and then we would sip in silence for a few minutes. Soon the grownups had stopped talking and everyone was looking down at their sweaty palms, staring at the bare walls or at the empty shelves – empty except for a few religious books. Nothing in that room was familiar to me, and from the way my parents behaved it was clear that something was very wrong with this man with the plain black kippah on his sweaty, naked head. I think that was the only religious person I ever knew as a child.

One summer while in high school, I had the opportunity to go on a six week Jewish Agency project that had American Jews and Israelis traveling and living together. For me it was great – six weeks away from home were the best thing that could happen to me at the time (and anytime). Anyway, I remember that we had one activity where the councilors that were guiding our group asked us whether we feel more Jewish or more Israeli. In my mind there was absolutely no question – I was an Israeli guy through and through. It was clear to me then, after living almost ten years in Israel, that I had nothing to do with Judaism. The thought was ridiculous, although perhaps not as ridiculous as having that thought while living with people whose only connection between them and me was our common Jewish identity… which by that time was utterly repressed in me.

Judaism as a Grownup
Judaism did not concern me during my army service. After the army I joined a kibbutz, and there too Judaism was not on the menu, although I do recall having interest in the kibbutz movement’s project of re-interpreting the Jewish tradition to fit into our way of life – that’s how I became interested in Dr. Eli Ben-Gal who I mentioned in a previous post “Why Is It So Difficult to be A Secular Jew in Israel?”.
I do remember that one Passover I made an effort and tried to give a Jungian interpretation of the holiday – it went very well and a lively discussion followed at the seder table, but other than that I was way too busy with other personal problems. Judaism was still on the shelf.

That changed dramatically when I met my wife. She was the first person I ever met who displayed an innocent, unshakeable belief in God. Up to then God was for me no more than a literary figure, but I was certainly ripe to hear the message – like many Zen practitioners before me I had reached a point where God not only made sense – He was a necessary stage in my spiritual development. This makes a lot of sense in Jungian terms, and I hope to eventually write that chapter in the neglected Repairing Israel Series.
On another occasion, soon after we met, we were talking about something, I don’t remember what exactly and my wife said “hagoyim” – the gentiles. I looked up in surprise, with a superior smile on my face: “what are you talking about” I said condescendingly. After all, I knew that there was only one kind of people in the world – human beings and that’s all. My wife had a different view of things: “there are Jews and there are Gentiles” she explained to me patiently. I didn’t buy it, but I also sensed that it would not be a very good idea to argue about it. We didn’t talk about it anymore but that episode got stuck somewhere inside my soul, and apparently, it began to grow.

Eventually my wife wanted to get married and I did not object, although I am quite sure that if she didn’t raise the issue we would be living “in sin” to this day. About that time I took the opportunity to do a very thorough and interesting paper for a sociology class on ”The Social Construction of The Jewish Marriage Ceremony” in which I learned a lot about Jewish marriage, and proved once and for all that the ceremony is sexist, chauvinistic, and utterly vile…so after arguing back and forth with my wife we went and did it anyway, and it was really beautiful – the most spiritual, graceful wedding I have ever attended, and many of the people present thought so too. It’s funny how life goes, isn’t it?

During my studies, and around this time, I landed a job that had me working in the Jewish Agency for over a year. That was a milestone for me, since it was, I believe, the first time in my life that I had daily contact with a group of people who thought themselves first and foremost as Jews, despite the fact that they were a lot of different things – some Israeli, some American, others French, Russian or Ethiopian. The people were invariably very nice and I think that experience went a long way towards making more comfortable with my Jewish identity. This was good but also bad – the more Jewish I felt, the less comfortable I felt with everybody around me, especially my family and the university – where I studied and worked for most of the time.
I think the one event that finally pushed me over to the other side and convinced me that I am actually a lot more Jewish than Israeli was reading Moshe Fieglin’s book “Where There Are No Men”.
Ordinarily I would be found nowhere near such a book or such a (religious) man. But the arrogant Ehud Barak had recently returned from Camp David, and brought with him a renewed terror campaign that was even more vicious than before. I don’t know why, but at that point I felt that my world was shattering – I had believed like every other Israeli leftist that I knew, that the only problem between us and the Palestinians was a territorial one and that the only thing we had to do was to offer them what is justly theirs and the war would be over and we could all go back to leading our normal lives. But this was not to be. For me the Camp David fiasco disproved that most basic assumption, and if that was not valid, then, I concluded, the whole theory is also not valid – the issue was not territory but something else – but what? I really had no idea. It was in this mood that I went to pick up my wife from a friend. We stood at the door talking a bit about “the matzav”, and she suggested that I read Feiglin’s book, which I did; quickly, in a one or two readings; I devoured that book. It spoke to my need like few books before had – here I had a theory that managed to explain everything that had happened in the past ten years or more in a perfectly reasonable fashion simply by stating reality in terms of our religious identity, and not the national one. Suddenly everything made sense. I was especially struck by the manner in which Fieglin explains the Oslo Accords as a result of the war between the Israelis and the Jews, a war which I had begun experiencing in my own soul. I went to one of Fieglin’s lectures, asked him a few questions – I was still very concerned about the status of secular people in the future state he envisioned – and after receiving convincing answers I joined Jewish Leadership – a group that is considered radically right to this day.
I went to a few meetings that were for me really weird – it was the first time I was in the same room with religious men, all with beards and wearing kippot, and looking serious and grave. It was pretty unsettling for a nice secular kid like me, but I managed to not only get through the meeting but to grow more or less accustomed to it.

All of this still did not make me a practicing Jew. Yes I believed in God, and I also understood, finally that I was actually a Jew. But I had no inclination to start behaving like a Jew and doing all the traditional stuff like going to prayers and so on. I defined myself, and still do as a hiloni haredi – a secular god-fearing man, if such a definition makes sense. To me it does anyway.
That said, I really did want to learn a little more about Judaism. In the next few years I tried all kinds of things – I decided that I should read the weekly portion at home so that at least I would know the bible. (That is another thing that killed me – when I returned to my parents house after leaving the kibbutz I spent a lot of time in front of the TV – it had been years since I watched, and now there was cable and color TV. I loved it and I watched for hours on end. One thing that struck me was the gospel shows on METV. It amazed me even then that there was a Christian show that I could watch and learn the bible from and also the New Testament, but such a program would be unavailable in Hebrew on Israeli TV. That bothered me.)

Anyway – I started by buying the well-known, pink Rabbi Cook Institution edition of the Humash with very good explanations, so good that even I could understand what I was reading (I always had trouble understanding biblical Hebrew). Unfortunately it was too much for me, I had too much to do and could not keep up the pace and soon enough I gave up.
Then one day I saw a chabad pamphlet lying around – I picked it up and read it and liked it. I went to their site and asked to receive it in my E-mail. It has a summary of the weekly Parasha in plain Hebrew, and then a midrash. Half of the midrash deals with the spiritual aspect of the portion - this half always uplifts me, and the other half deals with all kinds of hallachic technicalities – this part never fails to depress me. Soon enough I gave up on this too.
I made an unsuccessful attempt at studying in Machon Meir – I just couldn’t stand it there – I think it was too big of a stretch for me at the time.

I also tried to make friends with the religious people I met in Jewish Leadership but this proved very frustrating. The main attitude of the people there was that I was an obvious canditate for BT, or else why would I even be there? I got some books shoved into my hands and invitations to Sabbath from people that did not even know my name. Seemingly, I had a lot to learn from them, but they, the religious people have nothing to learn from me or from the secular world. That not only angered me a lot, it is also proving to be the movements undoing. Eventually I became so frustrated and uncomfortable with the people and the movement that I completely abandoned it.

Another episode was when I saw that someone had posted a flier about lessons for beginners in my neighborhood. I called the guy and we met in a nearby yeshiva (it’s hard to live in Jerusalem without finding yourself near a yeshiva, no matter how secular you are). I was not really even at a beginners level but he was nice enough to bring someone from, I believe, Yeshivat Or Sameach and we started to study Torah, but the guy, and I think the whole situation, freaked me out. I wanted to learn about Judaism, to be Jewish in some way, but every attempt was repulsed – from within.
I still could not see myself being Jewish.

In hindsight, I now understand that Judaism touches upon more wounds than I had previously thought. As I explained in the previous post, every encounter with Judaism forces me to deal with any difficulty or bad experiences I have had with the group, Judaism, and the ideas of God and belief, but now I understand that it also forces me to deal with the question of male authority. I now realize that any encounter with authority, especially male authority is very frightening for me. And that is one reason why sitting to study with another male authority figure can freak me out.
That is of course quite unfortunate since Judaism is a very masculine religion, the women being exempt from most mitzvoth, and it is passed from father to son. However my father never passed on the secret of Judaism that he did receive from his Rabbi father. In fact, although my father was physically present, he was as good as dead spiritually speaking, and psychically. Living with him in the house was, for me, like living with a ghost. It was very unsettling, and frightening and disorienting, especially so since it seemed like I was the only one who was seeing and sensing what was actually going on in this family. Everybody else was, and still is, in denial, a very common occurrence in toxic families. (I discussed toxic parents a little in this Billy Elliot post). Basically, I felt like Cole Sears in the movie “The Sixth Sense”. Not a nice experience. Bottom line is that for me, any authority, especially male authority, is on the most basic level, a threat, something to be avoided, circumvented and opposed ferociously, because it really is a question of life or death.
Do not ask me how I managed to survive army service. I think I will never forget the words “Soldier, where is your beret!” shouted by the staff sergeant, and once even “Soldier, where is your uniform?!”. I had a tough time but I was very fortunate to have some excellent officers and a few good friends that really saved me from myself on occasion.

Studying under other people is also not easy when you mistrust authority and so, although I did study Zen, and for years in the university, I was mostly answerable to myself, becoming an autodidactic type, as well as uncomfortably rebellious and original. In short – this is a problem and the other day I realized how much this is affecting my relationship with my Jewish heritage, and that perhaps, the two are connected and becoming Jewish is also intended to solve, finally, this childhood problem. I already felt this before but now it is clear. This also fits the fact that I have been having a lot of dreams about my father in the past month or two. This is amazing since I hadn’t dreamt about him since I was a small child – and that was a long time ago…
This also leaves me wondering – is this the experience of other BT? Is becoming BT part of a re-socialization project for those who do it? The guy from Or Sameach sure acted like he was used to that and expected it – he freely criticized or praised my behavior in the short time we were together, which just caused me to freak out even more. I have had enough criticism from authority figures to last me a lifetime, and I have no urge to reenact past models of abuse. On the other hand – the childhood wound is still open, and clearly, in order to be whole, it must be healed and Repaired. Hendrix states in his Imago Theory (see this post for some more info) that we always can heal our childhood wounds, with the help of others, especially our spouse. In this case, I take this to mean that I can and should, repair my horrible and frightening non-relationship with my father with the help of a male authority figure, except that this time I get to choose the right “Parent” for me – one who will be supportive and understanding as opposed to alienated and critical and unavailable.
Of course, what I actually need, and what I am looking for, is a mentor for my Jewish studies. But I feel that a suitable one will still be able to help me a lot – we do not need to reenact our whole childhoods in order to heal our wounds, so that even a short episode, in one field, which is managed properly, can be very healing. I will still be, in a way, a helpless child seeking guidance from a grown-up male authority, except that this time I can arrange for a suitable mentor, I can speak my mind, and I can clearly state my needs and desires, and this time, I will not be ignored, or shut up or intimidated into a frightened silence. I will just be myself and hopefully that will work out fine, sooner, rather than later.

Future Experiences With Judaism
It took some while to write this, and in the meantime I have begun to do things. I decided to start contacting organizations that have some kind of program for people like me. I started by searching for “Jewish studies” but that got me mostly academic programs. Then I remembered that WestBankMomma recommended, in one of the comments, an organization called “Aish”. I called them but it seems they do not have programs for Hebrew-speakers, except the Yeshivat Hesder which is irrelevant for me. The English-speaking program is intended for full time students and deals with a lot of the basics, and really seems to me too philosophical. Searching and seeing what is available convinced me that I am not really interested in studying Judaism at least not in the philosophical and abstract sense. Actually, all I really want is to be like my brother in law.

I am thinking about an occasion a few years ago when they had a newborn son and they had a bris. For me this was the first I had ever been to a bris (other than my own of course, but my memories from that event are somewhat vague) so it was very interesting. What amazed me the most was how well my brother in law knew what to do – he knew the whole ritual, including the proper chants and the words and melodies to everything. In fact the only male who had no idea of anything was me. It was a little embarrassing. The thing is – he is as secular as I am, even more so – he has a TV, and reads the secular newspapers, he works in a secular job and leads a typical secular life, and basically – he is a typical Israeli secular guy, except for one thing – he knows how to be Jewish and he can switch to this other identity at will.
On the other hand I am only Israeli, and the Jewish identity is a riddle and a challenge for me, a spiritual journey yet to be determined. But that, I decided is exactly what I want.
I want to be able to choose, to be as Jewish as I am Israeli.

Years ago, I was coming back home from work late Friday afternoon. I was walking on a neglected side road near my home, when a religious guy wrapped in a tallit approached me and asked if I would be willing to complete a minyan. I told him that I had no idea what to do but he said that it doesn’t matter – I should just read along. I was in a great mood and I was in no hurry so I agreed. But it bothered me, and it still does, that I had no idea what was going on, and no way to participate. In fact I would probably feel more at home at a Muslim prayer session, which is something that I at least studied a little at school…than in a Jewish synagogue.
What I really want is to become Jew-literate. I want to be able to participate in Jewish life in a natural, everyday manner. I should be able to go to synagogue whenever I want and know what to do and when. I should be as familiar with the holiday procedures of my forefathers as I am familiar with using plastic money or driving a car. I can and should be able to do both, and there is no justification for not being able to, at least not anymore, not for me.

Does this mean that I am going BT?
I don’t think so. I doubt that I am capable of submitting myself to a set of rules that seem to me in many ways simply incorrect, psychologically speaking, or perhaps correct but for a certain age, or for certain people. I am far too freethinking for that, I think. On the other hand I am not one for doing things half way. If I am serious about becoming Jew-literate than that obviously means performing the various rituals many times over and once a man gets used to something – well, we are mostly creatures of habit, so who knows? I have already surprised myself so many times in this life that I dare not say “never”.

After striking out with Aish, I called a chabad center. For some reason I have fond associations of them. Perhaps I remember them handing out donuts on Hanukkah to us soldiers, and maybe a cup of tea. Sometimes small things like that can mean a lot. Anyway, chabad in Israel is ubiquitous, and simply unavoidable, and somewhat like coca-cola in beverages, it is the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of Judaism, and especially “ who can teach me something about Judaism”. For some reason I had no doubt in my mind that my plea for help would be welcome there.
Anyway, I am meeting tomorrow with someone from a nearby chabad house. The guy sounded very nice on the phone and he is himself a baal tshuva. That is very important – I doubt that someone who grew up orthodox can understand what this step means for an Israeli secular guy. I am very excited about tomorrow, and also peaceful and relieved – it seems like I have been waiting for this moment for years.

A few years ago my wife and I were walking from Palmach Street towards the German colony on a calm Saturday evening. Everything was still quiet; the Sabbath had not yet expired. Suddenly we heard a great burst of chanting from our right. Somewhere, not too far away, there was a synagogue and people were praying together, chanting in unison and perhaps even harmony, praying to their lord. I stood enchanted, listening attentively. My wife said, “ why don’t we go there?” and I answered that I simply could not – I’m scared stiff. I felt a yearning, a longing to belong to that group, but I also felt a palpable wall between them and me, a glass shield unseen and yet formidable that separated us. It was a very sad moment for me. It took me years to get out of that glass cage and gain the freedom to approach that place again. Today I feel that I am free and I have the key in my hands. All I am lacking now is the door – and perhaps tomorrow I shall find it.

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

Some New Computer Stuff I Ran Into, and One Oldie

This is by no means a tech and computer blog and I am not a geek by a longshot. But I do like to keep one eye open on that stuff in case something comes by that is fun and useful or, preferably both. Since I am running late on my next post, which again deals with my problems with Judaism, I thought I would fill in the time with something a lot more easygoing and superficial. So here is some stuff I ran into lately.Not everything is completely brand new, and one item is really old, though fascinating i think.

Netvibes Newsreader:
It used to be that you had to bookmark a site and then go visit it every once in a while to see what is going on there. But that was then. Today we have feeds – a tech thingie (I hope that’s not too technical) that lets you subscribe to a site, and you are alerted of new content, which is also sent straight to your computer. That means you don’t have to go check the sites you like all the time, and you can always be updated with the news that is important for you. In order to read the updates you need a newsreader, and the question now is – what newsreader should you be using.
When I first encountered this amazing possibility I looked for a firefox plugin. I settled on the Wizz RSS News Reader. That was nice but not completely comfortable to use. Not all of the feeds were getting updated properly, and I did not like reading the feeds in the side bar, in small print, so I was looking for something else that would be free, and not involve subscribing to a corporate site like yahoo or google.
Then, a couple of weeks ago Ghacks recommended Netvibes. I have tried it for a few weeks and I like it enough to pass on the recommendation.
Netvibes is free and aesthetically pleasing. Basically it allows you to make a startpage that contains your feeds. You can make as many pages as you like, each one in a tab of it’s own, just like firefox tabs. Adding feeds is pretty easy, especially if you use the firefox netvibes add-on, and you can customize how many items you see, and whether to read the content on netvibes or on the original site. Hovering over the title of a new post you get the first few lines and can decide whether you want to read further. Every feed, and every tab updates constantly and displays how many new items there are. This way I keep the netvibes tab open while browsing elsewhere and by glancing at the tab I see if something new has come in. I made a separate page for each of my different areas of interest, and I am very pleased with how quickly I can view everything, and filter out irrelevant content.
If you are interested, I recommend starting with Masey’s excellent Netvibes tutorial – in ten minutes tops you’ll understand all you need to know to make yourself a very useful web-based newsreader.
And finally – if you know of a better newsreader – I’d love to hear about it.
If you do not want to try this out, but you still want to enjoy the benefits of getting updated feeds right to your browser then, if you are interested in Israel and read Hebrew – then someone has thought about you.

MiniBox Israel
This is a new idea which I encountered at 6initiative who gives a short description of the project, and I quote: “MiniBox was build and designed to help the Israeli audience navigate easily through the various sites around the net and to help everyone use the benefits that RSS feeds gives them, without even knowing they used it.”
If you know Hebrew then you might want to visit this amazing site – I doubt you will need to surf anywhere else. These people have aggregated feeds in various fields like news and sports and culture and so on so that you don’t have to, together with some international content like youtube most viewed videos. The layout is very convenient and you can easily jump from one item or page to another. This is really like having Israel at your fingertips and some of the world as well.
If you have done visiting the Minibox site then you maybe thinking to yourself that it sure seems like we have come a long way since the beginning of the internet. Well, we have come a long way indeed, and here’s proof:

Look How Far We Have Come

More popular pictures at

This is a picture of a 5Mb hard drive that weighed a ton - Fifty years ago. Today such a small amount of memory is simply irrelevant. We regularly use DVD discs that hold 4.7 GB of memory – nearly 940 times more memory than the 5MB harddisc, and immeasurably smaller and can't even buy such a small amount of memory because nobody makes it anymore. Who knows how different our future will look?
That picture really made me stop in my tracks and think.
you can check out the original picture with further details here

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

How Much Does Secular Crime Cost Israeli Society?

I bet you won’t be seeing that headline in the next issue of Haaretz.
That doesn’t mean that the editors of the rabidly secular and radically left propaganda sheet object to spreading negative stereotypes, to the demonization of a group of people, or to feeding the flames of prejudice and anti-Semitism – of course not. They do it all the time. I even recall seeing at my mother’s house (an avid reader and lifelong subscriber) a whole supplement dedicated to one important subject – how much the settler movement costs Israeli society. To believe them, every breath that a settler takes in literally sucks the life out of the poor, impoverished children living on this side of the green line. The whole supplement was full of the most indiscriminate anti-Semitic slanders possible, and if the point of the exercise was to prove that Jewish anti-Semites can be much better, more successful, and more vicious and hateful than their gentile mentors – than it was crowned with success.
It has always surprised me that the settler movement, and orthodox leaders in general, have never retaliated in kind – after all there are some very obvious areas of life where the secular lifestyle really does cost all of us a lot of money, and I am pretty sure that across the board a religious lifestyle would cost less, financially, than a secular one (the spiritual price though, can be steep). Anyway, two can play at that game, and, seeing that a chance fell right into my lap, I say - let’s play!

But First – Something Serious

The other day this article in the Hebrew Arutz 7 caught my eye – it’s just a short piece concerning a press release from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics about juvenile delinquency in Israel. (link to the full Hebrew doc. here). The Arutz 7 title read “More Criminal cases in Single-Parent Families”. That interested me – I think that ever since reading about the Disappearance of Childhood, I’ve been wondering what the effect must be on the children, including the effect of divorce and single-parenting. Coming on the heels of my previous post about the recent feminist effort to have their cake and eat it too, it seemed particularly fitting.
Anyway, I downloaded the whole press release. The data set is for the school year of 2003-4, and the population is 12 to 20 year old Israelis. It refers to criminal charges filed against this age group and that were serious enough to not be dismissed –it’s worthwhile to note that fifty percent of all criminal files opened against this age group end up being closed due to leniency, penitence on the part of the offender and so on.
After this general introduction, the press release delves deeper into the data, trying to ferret out the social characteristics of the juvenile delinquents. One of these is the family situation.

Family and Crime
In the general population, in this age group, 83.8 percent of the children have two parents who are married, but the percentage of juvenile delinquents is only 68.3
On the other hand, the group of kids that has only one parent constitutes 7.5 percent of the general population, but they make up 14.1 percent of the juvenile delinquents.
That means that the likelihood of a child having criminal files charged against him are almost double if he has only one parent, while it is a lot less if he has two parents. A little more than half of this group of single parent families is made up of divorced families, and the rest are mostly bereaved families.
This means first of all that the Arutz 7 article was correct, both in it’s headline and in the details – since accuracy in reporting is never a given these days, I think that’s worth mentioning. Second of all this data apparently shows the importance to society of a strong traditional family. (I say apparently because I am not forgetting the first lesson in statistics – correlation is not causation).
Now, with that put behind us, we can start to play.

Statistics are an excellent way to smear a political opponent. They are true – can’t argue with that, but their meaning can be framed in almost any way desired. As someone famously put it: “There are lies, damn lies and statistics!”
The left excels in this kind of misinformation and uses it to great effect. It really is a very simple thing to do – all you need to do is to take a press release from, let’s say, the Israeli CBS, like I just did and pore over the data. Soon enough you will find what you want, and when you do, you can make a provocative, misleading and yet – not completely untrue headline in your newspaper – or your blog – as the case may be…add an interview with a well known proponent of your point of view and voila – you have just done as good a job as any journalist out there is doing. Here’s how the end result looks like:

Secular Crime – How Much Does It Cost Israeli Society?
According to a new press release from the Israeli Bureau of Statistics, children studying in Israeli secular schools are responsible for the majority of crimes committed by youths attending the Israeli education system. According to recently completed research, in the school year 2003-4 , secular children were three times more likely to be charged with a crime, then children studying in Haredi schools , and almost twice as likely to be charged compared with children studying in the National Religious school system.
For some this may come as a shock, but well-known social worker and activist, Rabbi Danny Cohen Head of the Jerusalem Center for Spiritual Rehabilitation encounters it daily:

“ For years most of the young people who come to us have been secular kids, young people who should be studying for their Bar-Mitva or learning Torah in the afternoons, but instead they are doing drugs, or dealing drugs, or else they are stealing, mugging, and harassing other people, or engaging in random vandalism.”

Rabbi Cohen says that the growth of secular crime in recent years has put such a burden on the governmental social services that they are on the verge of collapse:
“ We are a private organization” explains Rabbi Cohen, “and we are funded by the goodwill of the religious community. Originally we thought to serve those few unfortunate children of ours who, for reasons out of their control, fell astray. But soon we realized that for every religious child who has been charged with a crime, there at least ten or even twenty secular children who are in a much worse position and have nowhere to go to. Seeing this, the community decided to open it’s arms, and help them.”

Of course, everyone is glad that secular children are being given a second chance, but at some point one has to ask – where is the secular community, and more importantly, how much is secular crime actually costing Israeli society – and who is footing the bill? We talked to Dr. Eli Barnabas, the renowned economist from Bar-Ilan University who stated in no uncertain terms – the secular bill is enormous:
“ It is not easy to calculate the cost of secular crime to Israeli society, since so much expense from so many sources is involved – for instance we must calculate the burden on the police force who must chase after 15 year old secular kids instead of fighting terrorism, the parole officers, and social workers who must be assigned to each case, not to mention the construction and maintenance of numerous facilities to hold and perhaps rehabilitate secular juvenile delinquents, and that is not to mention the lost work days of their parents and victims and their teachers, and the young criminals themselves who can be studying or working instead of committing crimes – in short” Dr. Barnabass concluded breathlessly, “secular crime costs tens of millions of shekels to the taxpayer”.

While some may wonder what may have been done with such a large amount of money – how many jobs created, how much poverty erased - others in the religious community are concerned not with the cost – but with the way it is shared. Orna from a settlement near Jerusalem is an angry mother of six who prefers to remain anonymous: “ I stay at home and raise my children in a righteous manner, god willing – so why do I have to pay for secular crime, for all the neglect, and irresponsibility that secular families indulge in? Is that fair? Until when must we suffer because of the secular Israelis?” asks one virtuous woman.

This plaintive cry for justice, for fair play in our high-strung society is beginning to be heard more often.Decent people are indeed becoming fed up with secular corruption and crime and spiritual decay. How long until the lone voices gather into a storm that will shake Israeli society? Perhaps not as long as you think.

See. Wasn’t that easy? Wasn’t that fun? And hateful? Can you imagine reading that kind of stuff everyday in the papers, hearing it on the radio, on TV? Can you imagine the cumulative effect of such a campaign on the Israeli public? How long until people start to really hate the secular sector? How long until they would want to do something about it?
Of course no need to imagine what would happen if such a campaign were waged against observing Jews. We already know what that looks like – we’ve been living in it for years.

Note: the CBS press release does not give the numbers comparing secular children to religious children. It only compares children in the three educational sectors one to the other in absolute numbers. This means that a direct comparison is impossible with the data supplied. This may be done on purpose, but maybe also because it is not so easy to define secular and religious in a sociological study.

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