Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Bar Kamtza’s Audience, Part II – Tisha B’Av 5774

An introduction:

Six years ago, I wrote a poem entitled "Bar Kamtza's Audience - Tisha B'Av 5768." It was published here. Every year on Tisha B'Av, I wrestle with my thoughts and try to get them down on paper or Word document, and every year, I am drawn back to that original poem, and I realize it already expresses just about everything I have to say about this day and Jewish mourning.

This year, I felt there was more to say. There was a different kind of helplessness. I don't know if I managed to express it adequately in this poem, but I made an attempt. Here it is.

Bar Kamtza’s Audience, Part II – Tisha B’Av 5774

And so I say nothing.

Pharaoh gained notoriety for worse.
But hearts were not meant to crust
Over with apathy. If I could reverse
The atrophy buildup and adjust

The output valves, would I? Perhaps
Not in the past; I had reason enough
To batten down the flaps
And cocoon away my love.

And still, the push from the masses,
Seething even with empathy, unity, outrage, outreach, patriotism, and prayer,
Sets arterial morasses;
I won’t go there.

And so I say nothing.

I’m stubborn that way. I don’t dare be wrong,
and hearts are secondary to what is just.
Each morning, dammed if I’ll play along,
Aware there’s no one I can trust.

And so I say nothing.

I wish my yearning were to build
a temple for all of Israel, and sound
a shofar to echo off the golden-frilled
walls until the nation gathered round,

but these days, I am filled to aching
with the nothing bound
in stone atria, and nothing moves me any more than breaking
these hardened walls down.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Fire at Will

Perusing my older pieces of writing just now, I found an essay I wrote back in 2003, which was just on my mind just a couple of hours ago as I watched my jujitsu classmates throw each other (and did the same myself):

I love guns. Always have. We had a nice assortment of play weaponry when I was a kid—plastic laser tag pistols, cowboy and police cap gun revolvers, even a cap shotgun which we still have hanging on the wall. We had a disk launcher that looked like it came from Darkseid's asteroid and a Ghostbusters gadget that shot foam pellets at pesky poltergeists or unfortunate relatives. I even dressed up as Trinity from The Matrix last year for Purim so I could carry around a plastic semi.
And two days ago, for the first time in my life, I went to the range and shot a real one.
My parents, you see, while perfectly happy to indulge our thirst for violence with Nerf and Mattel, were never proponents of their real-life counterparts. We didn't have guns in the house that could do anything more than snap, beep, or blink. We didn't even have a BB gun. It wasn't safe.
And so, despite my lifelong love for firearms, I experienced a certain apprehension as I plugged my ears with rubber and slipped .38 slugs into my best friend's Smith & Wesson six-shooter. What if, I pondered, I fire this thing and scare myself half to death with the sound alone? What if I see what it's capable of and never want to touch a gun again? Up till then, my sole experience with guns had been from the safety of the cinema viewing audience. I could go on and on about how I needed a gun for protection as a vulnerable woman alone in the big bad world, but deep down I just wanted to strike a pose and look as cool as Sigourney Weaver and Carrie-Ann Moss. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
So I raised the gun, aimed, and fired. I did it again. And again. And I discovered something. My shot was always more accurate when I held the gun more tightly. Whenever I wanted to hit dead center, I just grasped the handle harder, aimed, and shot. It even braced my arm against the kick. I shot half a dozen rounds into that silhouette, and not one strayed off the target.
A friend of mine once pointed out that we refer to G-d as hagadol v'hagibor—great and strong. But what is the proof of G-d's strength? G-d's power is infinite. It spans the entire universe and then some. It overflows into eternity. And it takes some major strength to keep that in, to hold it condensed into the finite parameters we know as nature. It's not about the big guns, setting off supernovas—it's the grip, the control, keeping the supernova packed down into a star.
We all have forces inside us that want to explode, to expand, to become raw muscle and wipe out everything that dares to be bigger than we are. That may even do the job sometimes. But that's not strength. Strength is our manipulation of those forces, our hold on them, our self-control. If it's not there, the gun spins out of our hands.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Where the Wild Things May Be

So I just spent Shabbos camping. This was an unusual experience for me, since I've never actually been camping, and to have one's first camping trip occur at a time when you can't carry things more than six feet, pour liquid on the ground, or keep the food you have to cook in advance fresh for very long is, to say the least, a challenge.

That's why I went, to be honest. I didn't have to go. But my Sensei asked me. And I felt needed.

Note: This was primarily a martial arts festival in a large national park (well, large for Israel, anyway). Up north somewhere. Along the Jordan, I think, but I'm not sure, since I didn't do the driving and, therefore, didn't have to find out where we were going.

But I went, you see, because I had the opportunity to do something I'd never done before and had been too chicken to do previously. I went because I've been raised a sheltered suburbanite who ventures all over the country, but makes sure there's a fridge and indoor plumbing and a bug-free, climate-controlled environment wherever she may roam.

I went really because my teacher needed someone to kick one of my jujitsu classmates really hard in the groin. Many times. While shouting. She couldn't do this herself due to a knee injury. But someone had to demonstrate, and I was the only one in the class who'd taken the IMPACT instructor training course. So I went as her assistant, and I made the choice, and I didn't chicken out even when I could have gone home with some other shomer shabbos people who came to the festival on Friday.

So be it. Camping for shabbos. Making food in advance on a gas burner and trying to leave everything within six feet of wherever it would most likely be used. Storing my toiletries in the public bathroom cupboards (yes, they had indoor plumbing. And hot water. So sue me), davening to the sound of a communal party far off on the hill, watching everyone else leave their clothes with me on the bank and go swimming without me.

And it was all about losing the towel I left in the shower room and not caring too much beyond a certain sense of violation because it was my personal property, and how can people take things that don't belong to them, not like I didn't expect it gone by some point because you know how people are, they'll just take things without regard for what the owner might be feeling--but a towel's a towel and I've got more towels and who needs stuff, anyway, when all you need is you and your people who understand that you really are a good person even though you kvetch to get sympathy over losing some stuff that maybe doesn't matter so much...

And it was all about thinking I was going to have my Shabbos meals alone in the dark (as flashlight batteries only last so long, especially when you don't change them), because who wants to sit around and do this nonsense when they could be off partying or kicking things really hard, but then looking up and seeing how there were suddenly twelve others who wanted to sit down and have a Shabbat meal with food they cooked on the spot and a lantern they lit with a match after sundown, but mainly with me, and who even made Kiddush and gave me light and warmth and company and even found room for divrei torah of their own kind...

And some of it was about martial arts. Not as much as I'd expected. Much of it was about sleep. More of it was about breaking out of expectations. And mostly, it was about setting the boundaries where there weren't such apparent ones.

And going down to the water at the end of the restful day and acknowledging the mess-ups I made in my observance, and letting G-d accept what I had to give. It might not even have been my best. But it wasn't half bad for a first time.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

To Cyberspace, with Love

This is a Not-a-Blog. I'm sure it's been done; everything has. But seeing as I've always said I would never start a blog because my inner contemplations and original creations and reflective rants and soppy wishful thinking are none of everybody's business -

And because the notion of a press that gives indiscriminate publication to whoever has a keyboard, a net connection, and a modicum of literacy depresses me in its dissolution of the bounds between quality and not-so-quality -

And because the priorities of modern communication have rendered obsolete not only purity of language and its basic mechanics of grammar, spelling, and vocabulary, but also the attitude that it's worth taking time to correct a typo -

In short, because I'm an introverted elitist with a degree in English and a dwindling work ethic -

There's got to be something I can give the public with a clear intellectual conscience.

So here it is. My Not-a-Blog. The first of my uncertain steps into a world I distrust for its transience and translucency. It won't be about my relationships or my angst or my rave reviews of random multimedia. It's just what I have to say. No more, maybe less.

Here you go. It's all yours.