16 August 2010


6 Elul 5770

Would that I had not believed to look upon
The goodness of the Eternal in the land of the living!
Wait for the Eternal; 
Be strong and let your heart take courage;
Wait for the Eternal.  -- Psalm 27.13-14

Who has patience anymore?  Or time?  I mean, seriously.  What the hell is going on?

It's gotten so bad that in order to test the obvious, brain scientists have to get on rafts and float off between cliffs, free of the grid, in Utah (without guns, I think, but with a reporter from the New York Times) proving that our brains relax and do better when we are not constantly connected to the immediacy of our screens and phones.  As a really smart friend likes to say:  Ya think?

Once upon a time I met an orthodox priest from a country which had most of its Jews deported during the Second World War.  Most died in Auschwitz; some survived.  When I asked him about his life as a child in his country, he recounted friendships with many Jews in his town.  "Then one day we suddenly noticed they were gone and we said to ourselves, 'Where did they go?'"  As if someone mindlessly misplaced their reading glasses.  I think back to that conversation on occasion, which is not unlike staring into an abyss.

In Montreal there were a lot of people begging for money--no more, or no less, it seemed, than I see on a typical day in New York City.  People are hurting all around.  Putting change in hats and hands was particularly easy, since the exchange rate between the U.S. and Canada is fairly even.  A quarter here, a dollar there, depending upon my expert assessment of the situation.  But in Montreal there wasn't nearly as much garbage all over the place like there is in New York, which made the experience of interacting with beggars less like that of dealing with human refuse than dealing with human beings really, truly down on their luck.  Driving into the city on Sunday after ten days away, I was overwhelmed by how much trash flies around and what ordinarily passes as New York's charming grittiness struck me as pure neglect and carelessness.  As set design for poverty, it is that much more dehumanizing to sit on the filthy ground, and be filthy yourself.  "Give me your tired, your poor...the wretched refuse of your teeming shore."  The words really make sense in that context.

This deeply insensitive young Israeli soldier, who brazenly posted pictures of herself mugging in front of blindfolded and handbound Palestinian prisoners--what a stupid and depraved act.  Whether one has captured an actual enemy or an innocent bystander in the investigation of one of a countless number of complicated acts of scrutiny and security in the most entrenched and deeply personal battles in the world today, don't act like an inhuman moron.  I think that's a fairly important principle.  For any human being.  And without having to explain myself I'll just say I hate it when Jews fail at acting less than human.

I have that collective sense of shame and responsibility which, in fact, I never want to lose.  It's important to feel bad.  And to realize we fuck up.  And to not desensitize ourselves from that most obvious of human foibles.  It's when the muscle of our own fallibility gets so over-exercised that we humans countenance not only the small tragedies but the great ones, which grow into the thick weeds of disaster.

Would that I had not believed to look upon
The goodness of the Eternal in the land of the living!

The goal here, in the brief time we have on Earth, is to notice.

And to do something about it.

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