Thursday, September 28, 2006

Days of Awe

The room is vast, but every inch of standing room is packed with people. All are clad in white robes or in dark suites. None have eaten or drunk for the past twenty four hours. Nearly all are standing, ignoring their aching feet and exhausted legs. Each seems lost in their own meditation, and there is only a loose coordination in the rhythmic swaying of the crowd.

Still, the sense of collective focus – of intense concentration – is palatable. Each syllable of the ancient poetry is packed with liturgical references. The gentle, stunning melodies carry the haunting, urgent beauty which fills every word. These words are not being chanted by lips. They are, quite literally, pouring from each heart. The very room seems to tremble with emotion.

And, within each and every heart, in each consciousness, is the passionate yearning to achieve our better self, to connect with our higher purpose, to go beyond what we have become and to mend the faults which have limited us.

I can write much about my issues with the Yom Kippur liturgy and themes. But how can one not be awed by such an experience? And how can one not feel overwhelmed by humanities’ irrepressible quest for greatness?

May each of us, in our own way, strive this year for a more perfect community.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Harp Has But Six Strings

Some people create doodles on paper - letting their hand pass along the page freely, letting the shapes and colors easily emerge. I doodle on my guitar. My best doodles are done when I'm deep in thought about something else, and I let my fingers glide along without any planning or conscious thought.

My doodles help me relax. Sometimes, they express things which are beyond my abilities with words. I've never recorded a doodle before now, but here, for my patient and indulgent readers is a short sample.

(This doodle is played with my guitar tuned down a half-step, so it is played in C, but voiced in B.)

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Unbroken (Ball and) Chain

Above all else, Orthodox Jewish parents impute great value in transmitting their ideals to their children. That our children remain in the orthodox fold is the first indicator of successful parenting. (Followed close behind by the right shiduch, grandchildren, etc..) Everything in orthodoxy is based on the unbroken link to past belief, and, the mitzvah to teach Torah to succeeding generations is elevated over virtually any other practice.

And, even outside of religion, parents strive mightily to influence the choices which their children will make. There is virtually no parent on earth who doesn’t have some preconceived notion of what path is best for their child, and we try to control, overtly or subtly, their choices. We show our enthusiasm and approval for those things which we find of particular value, and we demonstrate disappointment and displeasure with that which we distain. Some parents are more accepting than others, but almost all have some bottom line criteria for what they wish for their children.

In orthodoxy, the extreme case is intermarriage. Even today, marrying a non-jew is an unforgivable crime – an act which allows for no level of acceptance whatsoever. These children are deemed to be dead to the family. In choosing their partner, they have rejected our faith, and they are due the ultimate rejection. I have heard parents speak of trying to continue some type of relationship as an effort to retrieve the lost child back into the fold, but I have never heard an orthodox parent speak of simply accepting the child’s choice.

Obviously this is the message in its most extreme form, but the philosophy of rejection as a demonstration of disapproval – and as a mechanism for control – pervades religious parenting.

This is, perhaps, the control of love. We aspire for our children those things which we feel will be vital to their happiness and success – physically, spiritually and emotionally. And our template for what those ingredients are is bound up in our own experience and belief.

I certainly believe that parents have much to impart, and should strive to teach their morals and ideals to their children. But, I am often dismayed at the exclusive nature of this teaching. We teach not only what we feel is right – we teach that we are the only ones who are right. We teach not only that our ideals are important, but that other ideals are unimportant.

The world progresses not from those who have unconditional adherence to the past, but from those who can strive for a better future. Three thousand years ago, there were parents who taught their children about the importance of human sacrifice. Two thousand years ago, there were parents who taught their children the value of killing Sabbath violators. Two hundred years ago, there were parents who taught the righteousness of slavery. Somewhere along the line, there were children (and parents) who rejected those beliefs.

There are plenty of things which my children may choose which would disappoint me. They may choose values which I feel negatively about – in fact, it is almost certain that I won’t share all of their values. And, they will almost certainly make some decisions which I will consider mistakes, and may lead them to pain and unhappiness. It is not that I want my children to make poor choices – certainly not – and, if asked, I would tell them my opinion. But, ultimately, their path belongs exclusively to them.

I know plenty of parents who view this perspective as being irresponsible – an abrogation of ones’ child raising responsibilities. They would view it as showing a lack of love for ones children. How does this help then - To set them adrift in the world to flounder to make their way without the benefit of your guidance?

But remember this. If your children do ever find themselves in difficulty, it is not your advice which will be of primary value to them, it is the love which you can offer to them. It is not your moral wisdom, but your empathy and appreciation of them. It is not your certain knowledge of what is right for them, but your acceptance of their choices and consequences.

Parents and children have an innate bond which has an almost frightening intensity. This bond – this love - needs to be respected. It needs to be cared for and cherished. And it should not be used as a ball and chain to keep our children locked in our own personal world.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Forging Blithely On

I could just chalk up my prolonged absence from blogging to my summer travels. And, as summer travel goes, this was a magnificent year.

But there is another reason for the lack of posts over the past few months.

My blog is no longer anonymous.

And, not without consequence. Recently, forty two pages of my posts appeared in court papers, along with some carefully edited excerpts, in a case which has momentous importance to me.

On the whole, I’m pleased to say that I am proud of what I have written (though not every word is golden, of course), even when read with the microscopic scrutiny which these circumstances impose.

And, certainly, my identity was never a matter of deep cover. My family and friends (or ex-friends, as the case may be) know my story well, and I've provided ample clues as I've scribbled away here. I suppose that I knew that it was just a matter of time before someone would connect the dots.

But now, you see, the stakes are a bit higher. Each word that I post can, and probably will, be used against me in court. And these stakes are high. They relate to what is most near and dear to me in life.

As those who have read my blog will know, my objective is certainly not to offend people. If I do have any specific agenda at all, it is to shed light on the process of believing and not believing, and to explore the gulf in understanding between those who live with faith and those who do not.

Obviously, for most people, this would be the appropriate point to close up shop and/or invent some other, more obscure, blog. But frankly, this plays into the worst (or maybe best) thing about my personality.

I am stubborn.

I don’t want to be censored. I don’t want to be muzzled. I don’t want to run scared in the face of distortion and lies. I want the only standard for what I write here to be my own sense of appropriateness and truth.

This is who I am, this is what I have to say: Let my words stand on their own merit.