27 August 2013

What I Learned This Summer at Camp

The Kotel Stones' smoothed exterior gave away nothing beneath their dense and impossibly hard reality.  The mid-August sun was incandescent.  Herod's stones, like Lerski's mirrors, reflected a blinding silence, capturing faces, framing them into iconographic images of a nation beseeching its God.

I had seen this reel over and over again.  Like a silent movie, captured in the choppy cinematic form, saturated not in black and white but in the washed out, oxidized, pale yellows and ochres of the Judean Hills, with a macabre soundtrack of schlock-rock, yeshivish hymns for the newly penitent and the spiritually arrogant blaring into the militarized echo-chamber of the Western Wall Plaza, its form felt old.  Tired.  Like an idea that had run its course and was imprisoned by words that now do more harm than good:  Messiah.  Temple.

My hands held fast to the stones.  I spoke to God.  I said, "I love you but not like this."

So we broke up.

Like a couple going through their belongings after a life together, I gave him back the Messiah.  And the Third Temple.  And Politicized Rabbis on the government dole telling Jewish men and women how to pray, where to pray and when to pray.  I kindly requested that I wouldn't be needing the Torah scroll, given to the Entire Community of Israel at Mount Sinai, that was locked away for the Rabbis to share among whom they pleased.  "We wrote one in Brooklyn," I said.  "A woman did it.  What do you think of that?" I neatly stacked those belongings in a box marked, "This doesn't work.  I'm trying something else" and turned them in to Customer Service.

I didn't request a receipt.  "That won't be necessary," I said.  And I turned to go home.

I felt afraid right after it happened, briefly, like maybe I'd be struck down.  But with my head held high I turned to walk back the neighborhood.  Past Jews and tourists; Christians and Muslims; birds, cats, dogs and a steady breeze, slowly bringing on evening, where the sun would lay down and rest.

I ate at my favorite restaurant.  I drank a cold beer.  And as I drifted off to sleep that night I said one prayer:  "Hear O Israel.  The Eternal is God.  The Eternal is One."

It was enough to think about.

And when I woke up the next morning, I realized I was still alive.  And that was enough to think about, too.

Why am I alive?  What keeps a man alive?

These days I wrap my Tefilin extra tight.  I bind those words on my body.  And I don't pray for anything except the privilege to think about what it all means.   Identity.  History.  Land.  Language.  People.  Nation. Legend.  Law.  Morality.  Even Self--but I'll admit it is way down the list.

God is in there, I suppose.  But not his supposed Messiah.  And certainly not his Temple with that horrific smell of the burned up blood and guts of those unfortunate beasts whose very lives are the pathetic sublimations of man's avaricious rage for violence.

But Torah.  Learning.  Bound to flesh. This is the Light that doesn't blind but illuminates.  This is the glow of generations.   This light bears witness to the idea that we are a part of something greater than the sum of its parts, greater than us and those who came before us.

Whose words demand, in the silence of their apprehension, that it is we who bear the burden of bringing peace, justice and love to the world.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wonderful words..some of the best you've written! Thank you for sharing!