Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A Visit To The Local Synagogue

On my Visit To Machon Meir , the Rabbi I met with gave me an excellent piece of advice - he said that I can contact the Rabbi of the local synagogue, and that in most cases he would only be too glad to help me find my way through the the prayers and services.
I took the advice and tried to phone the synagogue offices but nobody ever answered. I was wondering what to do, when The Chabadnik That Got Away - got away again! He called me an hour before we were supposed to meet in order to cancel, due to an emergency. I was very disappointed, especially because I was counting on him to give me my weekly dose of Judaism. So there I found myself on Thursday with no where to go. I finally decided that nothing terrible will happen to me if I go the local synagogue unannounced. I had already been to a minha prayer twice so I had a pretty good idea what to expect, and in any case, I felt that for my own good I should go and stop making such a fuss of it. So I went. I arrived way to early - I remembered four o' clock but the time changes dramatically from day to day which is just another thing I have to learn.

Anyway,that gave me some time to check out the place - and I found that it looked very well cared for. It is a synagogue which can seat about a hundred people, and a few adjacent rooms for lectures and a small library and kitchenette - all done in wood paneling, well-lit and very clean. It was obvious that the community takes very good care of the place. Finally I entered the synagogue itself. I said hello, directed to the one old man who was the only one there but he didn't answer me. Perhaps he didn't hear me? I looked around, and found myself attracted to the book shelves lining the nearby wall. I was searching for a siddur, and finally found a whole shelf full of them. They were marked "Rinat Israel A" and others were "Rinat Israel S". I thought that was weird - if there were two parts, shouldn't they be marked "A" and then "B"? On the other hand something was familiar here...yep, I got it eventually - one for Sephardim and one for Ashkenazim!
I took one out and found that it was very clear, and enabled me to follow the prayer almost perfectly. I still don't understand everything I read, especially not the Aramaic parts, and I hope that I will find somebody to teach me these things.
I decided to use the time left till the prayers begin in order to at least study something on my own. If I recall correctly it is considered proper to read or study torah before the prayer, so I took out Exodus and started reading the current parasha. Meanwhile people were slowly coming in. Most of them were indeed older men, and they seemed to know each other, at least they said hello to one another, but there were also some younger people, and altogether there were maybe twenty people there which I guess is a lot for a prayer in the middle of the day. Eventually the service began, although two of the older guys decided to ignore the proceedings and continued reading some pamphlet. The service was short, and it was followed by a sermon about the parasha, to be followed by the Arvit, and delivered apparently by the Rabbi. Along with a few other people I stayed to hear it. I tried to follow the guy, but he was jumping from one reference to another without any clear connection between them that I could make. He was mumbling and stumbling his way through what seemed to me to be a very badly prepared explanation of...something from the parasha. I don't know, and I did not stay to find out.

All in all I'm happy that I went. I got a good look at the place and the people there, and a good feel of the atmosphere that I can expect. To be honest, I did not like what I felt - it seemed pretty cold and alienated, and it bothered me a little that no one said anything to me, not even a hello. Is that weird or is it standard behavior? I have no idea. I have an image of the synagogue as a spiritual home, so if a stranger comes in wouldn't you want to know who it is? I have no idea where this image comes from, and if it is true or not, so I'll ask my knowledgeable readers - what is the accepted practice in your standard synagogue?


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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Judaism Zen and Basketball

Judaism, Zen, and Basketball
Three topics that at first sight probably do not seem to belong together, but it is possible to connect them, and perhaps even interesting - just watch me.

Judaism and Basketball

The connection between Judaism and basketball may be more understandable, seeing as the commissioner of the NBA, David Stern is Jewish, and Jews had no small part in NBA history. You can read about the history of Jews in American basketball in this excellent article from JewishMag, and if you are interested in The State of Jews in the NBA then NBA blog Give Me The Rock will bring you up to date.(For a great general site about Jews in sports visit JewishSports)

Zen and Judaism

A quick google search of "Zen and Judaism" brings up two main references - first a popular humor book "Zen Judaism: For You, a Little Enlightenment by David M. Bader",and another book "Letters To A Buddhist Jew" documenting an exchange of letters between a Rabbi and a Jewish Zen practitioner.The first chapter of the book is available to read at the link.I haven't read either of them so I have no opinion , although the first chapter seems very promising.I also found an interesting article about two Jewish friends who are both Jewish Buddhists. One of them found his way back to Judaism through meditation:

At one point he had to sew an ornamental item for a priestly garment."I absolutely couldn't do it," Lew recalled. "And after awhile I realized there was some resistance. I began to explore that in my meditation and I realized it had something to do with my being Jewish.It is true for me that there was some sense of conflict between my being ordained as a Buddhist with my being Jewish."As he explored the tension in meditation, he found "a level of Jewish background noise," Lew said. But probing deeper, he realized "this kind of buzz was going on at all times."Realizing this Jewish identity "was the beginning of my turning in that direction."

This is very similar to the way I reached Judaism - through Zen Buddhism - although this man went on to become a Rabbi and I don't think that is in my future. In any case, the connection between Judaism and Zen is very intriguing and I intend to explore it in this blog - starting with this post (I'm getting there)


Zen and Basketball
Zen is the art of living, and therefore can be applied to any endeavor, in any field. Still, basketball is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Zen , unless of course, you have followed the NBA in the past decade and a half. If you did, then you could not help hearing about legendary coach Phil Jackson, who consciously applied his knowledge of Zen on his way to coaching two different teams to an astounding nine NBA titles,( a feat accomplished, by the way, by only one other coach in NBA history,the late, great, Red Auerbach, who, apropos Jews in sports, happened to be Jewish.)
For years I have been fascinated by group dynamics and team sports is a great place to study this subject - enormous pressure coupled with great talent and forceful personalities makes for some very interesting situations. Not all team sports are so dependent on the quality of the group dynamics in order to succeed but apparently in basketball a close knit team is imperative.This is one reason why I started watching basketball, (the other one being Michael Jordan), and Phil's amazing success with the Chicago Bulls, (led by the unearthly talent of said Jordan), where others failed before him, really caught my attention. I also read Jackson's book Sacred Hoops about his time with the Bulls where he explains how he used his knowledge of Zen (and his very good instincts) to shape the group dynamics, and help the players realize their full potential, and it is with this book that I am going to finally complete the connection between Judaism, Zen, and basketball.

Connecting Judaism, Zen, and basketball
The very first thing I learned in my first Judaism lesson was that the essence of the Jew is that he gives thanks all the time to the Creator for everything. Jews are supposed to give thanks to God when they wake up - for waking up, when they go to the bathroom - for the ability to go to the bathroom, for food and water and basically - all of Gods creation, from morning till night.What I understand from this is that for Jews, nothing in this world should be taken for granted - everything is temporary, and exists only at the whim of our Master and Creator.This attitude reminded me of a story I read in Phil Jackson's book Sacred Hoops:
"You see this Goblet?" asked Chaa, holding up a glass "For me, this glass is already broken. I enjoy it; I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns. If I should tap it, it has a lovely ring to it. But when I put this glass on a shelf and the wind knocks it over, or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say "Of course.""When I understand that this glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious."

(for the record, Jackson is quoting from the book Thoughts Without a Thinker, about psychology and Buddhism, which I haven't read, but seems worth it)

Isn't this remarkably similar to the Jewish philosophy underlying the incessant prayers of thanks?Don't both religions clearly recognize the impermanence of this world and how necessary it is for our health - our spiritual health to live in such a state of mind? Doesn't Judaism as well as Zen Buddhism exhort us to adhere not to worldly things, to lean on nothing - not money, or people or ideas even - but the one and only God (or Tao) who cannot be seen, or touched or even named? To me it seems to be so. But if this is true, then what is the difference between the two? Well, there are a lot of differences, but I think there are a few important, basic differences between Zen and Judaism, which can be demonstrated using this example.

The Basic Difference Between Judaism and Zen

The founder of Judaism and his subsequent followers recognized the desired mental and moral state for humanity in general, and specifically the Jewish people. They described this state and the way to get there - by doing the mitzvahs.In this case, the desired mental state is one of continually recognizing the impermanence of the world, and our utter dependence on God's will for every thing that exists.The way to achieve this state is to perform the appropriate prayers and blessings and other mitzvot throughout the day. As I understand it, the various prayers and blessings which give thanks are intended to not let us forget the fact that we are so dependent on the will of our Lord, lest our heads grow too big for our kippot, and we decide that we are self-sufficient. So in this case the mitzvot actually serve as reminders. Human beings are forgetful creatures and therefore need to be reminded - incessantly, all day, every day, for all of their lives. A Jew is not expected to reach a spiritual state in which he no longer needs to be reminded of God all the time. Not so in Zen.

Zen also describes a desired mental state and it has a way to get there.The ideal mental state can be described as one that recognizes, once and for all, with heart, and body and soul, the impermanence of this world, its inherent and constant changing, its basic unreliability.The way to achieve this state is through meditation, mental or physical (as in the martial arts or yoga), and unlike Judaism this state can be attained permanently.
So the first difference is that in Zen you are expected to reach a state of mind that, if attained in Judaism, would render all the incessant reminders/prayers of thanks unnecessary, because you would be mindful of God (or the Tao) all the time.

Freedom of Choice or Use of Force?
The second difference is in the use of external force to achieve this goal.

A Jew born into a Jewish family does not have a choice - he or she must act according to the laws that were given to us by God at Mount Sinai. You must pray because God said so, and if you don't He will disapprove and so will your parents, and teachers and maybe also your friends.Even if you accept this, you may still find yourself forcing yourself to do the appropriate prayers and blessings - if you are lucky. If not, you will get so used to it that they will become a barely noticeable habit.
I have only been to a few prayers sessions in my fledgling journey into Judaism, but I have already noticed that many people are not paying attention to their prayers - some play with their keys, one guy was tossing an orange up and down, another was gesturing to other people who answered him with contortions of the face and hand signals, and in the third synagogue, two people were reading the papers during the prayers. I have a feeling that this is a big problem in Jewish practice - it is repetitive and it can quickly become a habit that hinders spiritual development, instead of advancing it.
Of course this also occurs in Zen practice. There are so many ways in which our minds can fool us that inevitably we will fall into some of them.The difference is that a good Zen teacher will be there to get you out of the rut - in fact the whole system is designed to constantly keep you on your toes mentally, until you reach that state of mind that doesn't need to fall asleep into a habit, a mental state of alertness without undue tension. Can the same be said of Judaism? I do not have enough knowledge to determine this, but it sure doesn't look like it.

But most importantly, the clear state of mind that can be reached through Zen is absolutely impossible to achieve without the voluntary wish of the disciple.The Way is too hard, too frightening and overburdened with difficulties to be achieved without the courage that stems from the exercise of a free will. On the other hand, if I understand correctly, Judaism never allowed it's members to choose, and if Modernism had not descended upon it in a devastating rush, we would still have no choice.What I do not understand is how is this possible? How is spiritual growth possible under such constraining circumstances? Why is it necessary to use force, when every orthodox I have ever met tells me, in words and in behavior, that doing the mitzvot is the best thing possible, the only true road to happiness everlasting?

Conclusion - What, Why and How
Jewish society has traditionally socialized its members into a way of life and faith in God.
Zen is a demanding but practical spiritual discipline that, if it is to be meaningful, must be followed voluntarily by its adherents.
Judaism has an excellent sense of morals, and a set of values and ideals that are worthy of a human culture, but the tools that Judaism has developed over the years - the mitzvot and their continual adaptation, seem to be lacking. The fact is that society, including Jewish society, never seems to be able to realize its lofty ideals.I am wondering if Judaism has the goals, but Zen, perhaps, possesses the Way to achieve them.


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Monday, January 08, 2007

A Visit To Machon Meir

Today I paid a visit to Machon Meir, A Zionist Yeshiva which caters mostly to members of the religious-Zionist community,although they accept and seem to encourage secular people too. I say this judging by the incredible amount of slogans in that spirit plastered on the wall in the hallways and in the office where I had my meeting with Rabbi Uri Sharki, who is responsible for the Israeli program in the yeshiva.
I had already met with this particular Rabbi in this particular yeshiva several years ago. I possessed then the idea and wish to study Judaism in some form, but I was simply not ready yet. Rabbi Sharki seemed threatening and overbearing at the time and I quickly ran away from him, from the yeshiva and from the whole idea of studying Judaism - until recently.
But I am getting ahead of myself.

I like to be punctual, and sometimes that means that I arrive too early, especially if I am not sure where exactly the meeting place is supposed to be, and it turns out to be closer and easier to find than I thought. This time my Yekke habits gave me ample time to roam the corridors of Machon Meir and get a first impression. The first thing that hit me was the smell of institutional cooking which permeated every corner of the yeshiva. Personally I am not fond of cooking for the masses - the food never seems to taste as good as it does at home - and to make matters worse they were cooking fish today, and fish, if you do not know, has a very distinct odor which some, including me, find unpleasant, especially when inhaled constantly.
Continuing my stroll, I got the distinct impression that I was back at school - the walls were painted with the same plastic, washable paint, in a standard institutional color, this time a shade of pale, sickly beige.The last time I was at my former school they had painted the walls a pale green, reminiscent of Gollum's skin color. I wonder why do institutions insist on such sickening color schemes - is it on purpose to annoy everybody else? is it a financial consideration?
Anyway, the place had an institutional smell, and an institutional look, and after my meeting with the Rabbi, it turns out - it really is an institution - for better and for worse.

Rabbi Sharki arrived almost on time, and proceeded to give me a very thorough and clear overview of the yeshiva and what it offers: many classes, from morning till night, which fall under two categories of "Emunah" (faith) which he considered imperative for someone with no knowledge of Judaism, and Gmara. The point being that after studying for a certain period of time at this yeshiva the student would have a firm grasp of the basic tenets of Judaism along with the ability to continue studying independently.
Actually, when I write this down it doesn't seem half bad, except that I cannot commit to a full program, and none of this seemed to answer one of my main concerns - the how of being Jewish, the " how to pray(and when) "how to use the tefillin and talith " and so on. The Rabbi suggested a few books concerning halakha and said that if I studied them even for 15 minutes each day, I will soon have a very good working knowledge. To me this seems absurd - obviously I can learn Jewish traditions from a book, but what would be the point in that? Isn't it supposed to be passed from father to son, or at least from one Jew to another? For me this is very important, although to be fair, he did say that if I commit to a larger extent they would also find someone to teach me those things.
But the best thing to come out of this meeting was one piece of advice he gave me - he said that if I went to a synagogue and asked the Rabbi for help in praying and so on then " in any normal synagogue the Rabbi will find somebody to help you". He also pointed out that there are a lot of pensioners in my neighborhood and no doubt some would take much delight in teaching me these things. I will follow this advice and on the way back I already wrote the phone number and prayer times of one of the nearby synagogues.

All in all it was a good meeting. I am happy to report that contrary to my initial impression, Rabbi Sharki does not have two horns sprouting from his forehead, or even a tail. He seems, actually, just a nice guy doing his job as best he can. The yeshiva itself seems like a nice place, especially the new wing which does not reek of fish and has a much more modern, pleasant look to it. The people there were mostly young, wholesome-looking religious men in their early twenties.The corridors were clean, the Rabbi's office was, thankfully,clean and organized, the kitchenette was clean, the lighting everywhere was excellent, and the whole place seemed to be in good hands. I am sure I would not hesitate to recommend this place to anyone interested in Jewish studies, although, to be honest, I myself would not go there, for two reasons - one, I did not feel any passion, and two, I did not feel anything personal.

In the last yeshiva I went to, the guy I talked to seemed to know exactly what I am going through, and also what I need. He was passionate about his life and his belief, and he seemed genuinely excited for me. Even the second guy I studied with, who foisted the story of his life on me, was passionate (to a fault) about the path he had chosen.

Faith, as I understand it, is first and foremost based on feelings, passionate or otherwise. In Machon Meir I did not get that passion or any other emotion, nor did I feel any thing personal going on between us - I was just another student in an endless line of students, to be treated as well as any other - no complaint from me - but no differently either. That is a standard bureaucratic approach which may be efficient, but it is not personal, nor emotional - as faith should be. The first yeshiva was anarchic, with people screaming and shouting over and into each other, in a dizzying confusion of biblical passages. I found it difficult to be there, but I did not doubt for one second the passion of these people. In Machon Meir a pleasant, scholarly silence reins. I'm sure i would have no trouble concentrating there, but I also see no compelling reason why I should - I'm just not attracted to the place.

So, what now?
I can and probably will talk to the Rabbi of the synagogue near me, as Rabbi Sharki suggested. I haven't yet called the guy from Maayanot Hayeshua, and I also thought about paying a visit to the Chut shel Hessed yeshiva, a breslev institution which seems highly geared towards BT. It is on the other side of town but I have come to realize that the right people and the right yeshiva are worth the time spent getting there.I like the breslev idea, and have even read one of his books. I like the mystic side of Judaism (and life in general),and I want to see for myself what a joyous Jew actually looks like...so I'll pay a visit soon.
Meanwhile, as I am writing this post, I get a call from The Chabadnik That Got Away!!
He said he was sure that I was supposed to call back. Really, who is he kidding? Like I said, I am, among other things, Yekke, and if you followed the link you already know this joke:

"What is the difference between a virgin and a yekke? an old joke asked. The answer was that a yekke remained a yekke."

Still, I am glad he called. I liked the guy, and I liked the atmosphere of the place and the extreme diversity of the people who came to pray there. It was very Israeli, and felt very good to me. So I'll be going back to there too.

I guess one way or the other things will work out.

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Sunday, January 07, 2007

One More Reason To Tune Out Israeli MSM

Personally, I don't need another reason to tune out the Israeli Mainstream Media, which includes Yediot Ahronot,Maariv,and Haaretz , along with Channels one, two and ten. I am not against entertainment - not at all- and I realize that television can be an endless source of leisure. I just object to turning the news into another area of entertainment (although you might enjoy this hilarious, if somewhat macabre proposal in that direction), and I especially object to presenting the news as objective fact when, in reality, we are being presented with a completely skewed, politically edited version of reality.This happens many times and is well documented by Israel's Media Watch.

In this case, Arutz 7 in Hebrew had an interview a few days ago with Dr. Arieh Bachrach, member of Almagor, an organization of terror victims (with no website as far as I can tell). He says that Israeli MSM is conducting a campaign for the release of Palestinian prisoners in return for the kidnapped Gilad Shalit, knowing full well that such a move is a precursor to peace negotiations. Dr. Bachrach bases this statement on the fact that the MSM has been consistently ignoring any information coming from the people and organizations that object to the prisoner swap, in effect creating a false public opinion climate which seems to be overwhelmingly supportive of the prisoner swap.
He also gave a few examples:

1 -Both channel ten and channel two contacted us for for information " but when they heard what we think, and how forceful and sensible our argument is, they just disappeared"

2 -Channel two covered a protest about the prisoner swap near the prime ministers home - but showed only the protesters who were advocating the wholesale release of Palestinian prisoners, while not showing at all the adjacent protesters who were against the prisoner swap.

Bachrach concludes: " for years it has been impossible to protest against the way the media conducts itself, because they always find excuses why one side could not be represented, and anyway, if an editor wants to stress a certain angle, no kind of ethics will help."

If you do not believe how shamelessly biased the Israeli MSM is, you should listen to a few stories that former Gush Katif Spokesam ,Eran Sternberg has to tell.

Anyway, just though you would like to know which political party you are funding when you buy your paper, or watch the news on Israeli TV.

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How the West Could Lose

That is the title of an article available here written by the well-known Middle East expert Dr. Daniel Pipes for the New York Sun. I am not a regular reader of the newspaper, but I received the short essay as a subscriber to Pipes' mailing list. I signed up a year or two ago and have yet to find a better source of information on what is actually going on in the world concerning the war against radical Islam, or as former Israeli Chief of Staff Boogie Yaalon put it, World War Three.I like his fact-fulled, concise ,accurate and brief essays.
If you are interested you can visit his site and sign up there for his articles.

Anyway, I thought his most recent effort was worth bringing to your attention.Pipes argues that although the West is much stronger militarily, it has several "bugs" in it's software, namely:Pacificism,self-hatred, and complacency.
Pipes describes these bugs, together with the opposing Islamist's strengths and concludes that another victory for the West is not an historical necessity, and that the longer it will take for the West to wake up, especially it's elites, the more costly and uncertain victory will be.


Personally, I know quite well that some of these elites, at least in Israel, are so full of despair and self-hatred that they will not stop short of actually destroying the civilization (and country) that brought them up so badly.The question in my mind is: what part of the elite will step in to stop this suicidal elite? Or will a new elite rise?
Will Israeli's be able to voluntarily switch a century old allegiance, from the secular-left elite to a right-wing elite that will be, most likely, religious? Does such an alternative even exist?
As far as I can tell,the answer to both questions seems to be, as of now, no and no.

I'd be happy to hear that I am wrong though.

You can read the whole article here.


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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Second Time At The BT Yeshiva

Yesterday I returned to the BT yeshiva where I received my Second Judaism Lesson in order to meet the Rabbi who runs the place, the same one that annoyed me so much when we spoke briefly last week.

In hindsight I found it difficult to understand why he bothered me so much. He actually turned out to be an attentive, accommodating old man (albeit with an office space from hell). He listened carefully, asked a few questions (everybody asks how my wife feels about this - what's up with that?), and declared that seeing as I want to learn the practice of Judaism and the yeshiva is so far away that it would not be practical for me to study there. He said that he would try to find a place closer to my home. After that he paired me up with one of the students there and I got my third Judaism lesson.

This guy insisted that we study Jewish philosophy and faith, even though I told him I am not interested. He said that these subjects are very important, and constitute the foundation of Judaism. But for me, after years of practicing Zen and with an adequate knowledge of psychology, any philosophical system just seems so superficial, no more than an elaborate system of rationalization.

I tried to change the subject a few more times and get back to a more practical theme but that proved to be impossible. I realized that this guy needed to preach to me about his faith and that's that - the best I could do, short of getting up, which would be extremely impolite - is to listen as best as I can and try to learn something from this experience.

So, what did I learn?

The first thing I learned was that washing the hands - Netilat Yadaim - can completely change your life.I mean, at least it changed the life of my teacher. Unfortunately he did not get around to explaining how exactly it changed his life - he just recited the story of his tshuva, or at least part of it. Like any story where the characters have no motivation, no emotional life, and no self-awareness or sense of humor, this one was pretty tedious, especially since the story line itself was not particularly coherent.One good thing did come out of it - when he finished and stopped to take a breath I asked him to show me how to do it.
"Now?" He asked, surprised.
"Yes" I said "Now!"
So for the first time in my life I did Netilat Yadaim, and as far as I was concerned that made the whole trip worth it. He did not agree, though, to explain when this should be done, saying again that it is not important for me to know this at the moment.(on a side note - the kitchenette was as messy as the Rabbi's office,and perhaps dirtier. My skin was crawling!)

We went back to our seats and there I learned that God loves me like a parent loves his son. If you have been reading this blog you know that perhaps, in my case a different argument should be preferred, and I told him so - after all there are parents that abuse their children - is he suggesting that God abuses us in the same way, I queried? No, of course not - he was just saying that this is true because that is what he himself has experienced, and if you guessed that I got to hear about his experiences, then you are beginning to understand the type of guy I had to endure.

Another subject that he raised was "Mesirut Nefesh" or devotion - to what extent am I devoted to learning Judaism, he asked, and added " because you will be tested like I was and everyone else who wants to make Tshuva."
I got to hear how he was tested (in case you are wondering - he passed the test), and also why he was tested: " because only things that you work hard for are appreciated by us, and that is why God makes it such a difficult journey. Only someone who has lifted himself from the gutter to serve God can really appreciate Him and His works" He said.
Now he was really stepping on a live nerve here, and I had to point out that as heroic as crawling out of such a hole may be, what is the point of God putting people in such a disadvantaged position in the first place? It seems so cruel and cold-hearted of Him, and anyway, I assured my teacher, I would have great appreciation of Him even if I did not have to pass through the seven chambers of Hell"
Of course there is no good answer to such a question, or at least if there is one in Jewish philosophy my teacher did not know it (although he would not admit it) and neither do I.
In this case Zen and psychology seem to me much better equipped than religious philosophy.

Anyway,this futile philosophical discussion went on and on. I got a taste of Mesilat Yesharim, the highlight of Jewish moral literature, and a few more subjects not worth mentioning, all of them peppered and accentuated by two means:
1- the phrase "it is written " (although when I asked where it is written, not once could he tell me, and we did not open one source the whole lesson), and

2 - abruptly slamming his hand down on the table every two sentences, just to show that he is not kidding around.I pitied both the flimsy table,and his well-worn hand.

On the bright side, I hardly noticed these violent attacks on our table occurring right beneath my nose, because I was already being overwhelmed by the chaotic racket that the many students in this small room were effortlessly raising . I had to strain constantly to hear my teacher, and when he uttered phrases in Aramaic he completely lost me. I asked if it doesn't bother him, and he said that it used to in the beginning, but that in time he learned how to eliminate all the noise and concentrate on whatever he needs to.I am sure that is possible but I really would prefer not to have to try.

Finally, his studying partner arrived and I was a free man again. I shook hands with him, went straight home, and re-united with my sick bed.

Moving On

Despite the friendly and somewhat anarchic atmosphere in this yeshiva, I have decided that it just doesn't fit - it's too far, too noisy, too messy, and too, well, secular, if that makes sense.

But I am very happy that I went today, despite being a little sick. I feel that every time I enter a yeshiva, or talk to a Rabbi, every time I sit in the company of so many unashamed Jews, or do something so overtly Jewish like putting on a kippah, I feel that I am gaining headway in my struggle to reclaim my Jewish identity.

I also know in my heart that I cannot stop now - I have wrestled this demon to the floor but he is far from dead yet. Only last night I heard him in the middle of the night, telling me that I am crazy, that all this Jewishness is not really me, it is not who I am or who I should be, that I should stop this nonsense. In my heart I know that I have a window of opportunity to finish him off, that this is the time and the place to do it and get it over with, and that everything else in my life will take care of itself while I finish this struggle.

I am determined to clean up this room in my soul called "Judaism" and make it habitable. Only when I see what's really there, and what was just a part of my fears will I be able to actually decide how I want to put this room to use.

So I am going to be relentless. I contacted both Maayanot Hayeshua, recommended by Mom in Israel and Machon Meir, recommended by WestBankMomma. The Rabbi from the yeshiva already said that he will look for some place near me - so at the moment I have three leads. I feel that I am doing as much as I can, and that for now I am allowed to let up and rest a little, before the next round begins.

All I can say now is this:
Here's to slaying dragons and conquering demons!

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