Addendum on Suicide and Other Difficult Subjects

Sufi in boat

Addendum on Suicide and Other Difficult Subjects:

I wrote a longer piece just after the death of Robin Williams. I think it was a good piece, it led to a lot of conversation. It appeared in the newspaper. In it I made no great claim to understand what happened to him, only I knew this for certain: he died alone. From that came a strategy: basically, talk talk more talk.

Not long after I wrote that piece, we did a community teaching on suicide. In that teaching, I offered up this pledge:

What to do, that’s always the question. Start with talk and more talk, real talk about real problems. We did that with drug addiction starting over thirty years ago, we need to do that with depression and suicide and the other challenges to life that dwell within, the inner world when it goes dark. Take up a candle, light it, give that light to someone else. Don’t let nobody go dark on our watch.

I wrote this pledge, and I took it:

The Pledge

1) I pledge to bring someone in. If I light a candle, I will share the light.
2) I will be a reminder in every way I can to my family, friends, and community: we have these problems, they are difficult, but there is no shame attached to them and we live in a Big Tent.
3) We can live with our problems.
4) I pledge to break the *shanda* barrier, which means:
5) Talk, talk, and more talk.
6) I pledge to remind my community that we are working our problems, that being secret may be part of the problem, therefore:
7) I will not practice aloneness. I will talk with somebody. I will pick up the telephone.

jsg.usa
*shanda* means shame
there is none

Then there was this piece, from a sad talk I gave some years ago. All these pieces increase in relevance.

From Eulogy for a Young Man

And then sometimes he went only within. He didn’t go outside, he went inside and you have to have been there, you have to have gone into a darkness within, you have to have spent some time there to know that when you visit there, even briefly, something can happen.

It is not a well-understood place and it is not well lit. It can happen in twenty minutes of a swing down¬ward, the overwhelming sense of futility and pain and helplessness that you have to have been there to understand this least understood part of the most private world of especially creative people, you have to have been there to understand that you can visit there and not come back so easily.

You may not come back at all.

Sometimes even with the best help, the best family, the most supportive friends, the most understanding community, you may not touch that darkness, sometimes it is something that cannot be penetrated and not easily dissipated and you have to have been there to really understand that but that’s the way it is. It happens.

For those of us who do understand, we have to start telling people what it’s like, help other people understand, let everyone know so we can treat each other with kindness, above all, kindness and gentleness and understanding and respect and without judgment, without judgment for the problem, and be easy on ourselves for not knowing, for not having known, for having done this or done that, we have to treat ourselves with kindness and with mercy because it’s right and we need to heal. And we will only heal with mercy.

james stone goodman

Share this post.

Sometimes You Need A Story

Remembering Prime Minister Rabin
Yitzchak Rabin was assassinated on November 4, 1995

Rabin

I was a student in Jerusalem during his last year as Prime Minister of Israel. He was succeeded by Menachem Begin in 1977. I am going to write this without looking these dates up, because — I was there.

It was my first year as a student. I had never been to Israel before. I was green, as they say. I arrived in Israel with a guitar and a bag. I have since given the guitar to my old pal in Detroit; it is in no doubt in his basement.

During that year, I made a good living with that guitar. I wasn’t supposed to be working but I worked, almost every night as a matter of fact. I was discovered by a Rumanian guitar player in love with American guitar music. Almost from the moment of my arrival, I played out my plaintive loneliness on the steps of 13 King David Street, my school address. I was singing blues, rhythm and blues, at the time.

My soon to be handler heard about me and came looking: who’s the guitar player here? Thus began my so-called expatriate career. Through a convergence of forces we took over an old house from the Mandate period converted into an avant garde theater space and a nice performance stage where I held court five nights a week. My handler was an excellent manager, and there was a load of international talent in the country then to join me.

Years after it became a very chi-chi Italiano restaurant in the heart of Jerusalem. There is enough information here to figure out what the venue was, famous enough to have an entry in Wikipedia. Many of the details of this story I must disguise for a variety of reasons, some personal, some meta-personal.

I studied in the green room (they called it a green room it was the former kitchen of the house) until it was time for my set. When done, I returned to my studies. Many of the performers were Israelis so I had plenty of help with my homework. To my co-students, I was absent from social scenes as soon as school was over. I had to keep my secret life under the table so to speak, for a variety of (benign) reasons.

I rented a corner un-insulated room with inadequate heat down the hill in Rechavia toward the Valley of the Cross. In winter, it was almost uninhabitable. The stone house was built on stilts, the Jerusalem stone, I was as cold as I have ever been in my life for almost the entire mild (by American standards) Jerusalem winter. I felt I was living in a stone box. Of course the year I was there it snowed vociferously.

There were several mornings I prowled the city looking for a warm lobby of a hotel that would not kick me out if I sat there wrapped in sweaters and coat until the chill came off my bones. I was like an animal on the prowl for carrion. Heat. All this figures in the story in a much more romantic way that is silly to enter because of personal sensibilities and even after so many years the softness of the heart when speaking of old romances.

On my trek from my corner room of icy solitude to the school I had discovered a shortcut walk – a one block connecting street named Balfour — undistinguished by the style of limestone apartments buildings that lined the street, every one with a mirpeset, a balcony, opening onto or over the street. Except for one.

The neighborhood is built in the European style, having been purchased from the Greek Orthodox Church during the Mandate period by the Palestine Land Development Company. The streets were purposely built narrow, preserving a quieter garden neighborhood feel. Jerusalem is a bustling driving city. If you know your way around on foot, the best way to get around Jerusalem, there are many fine short cuts through this neighborhood.

I knew the street because it was the same street where one of my teachers lived who held a Monday night salon, a story I have told in another place.

It was also the place of the prime minister’s residence. This I didn’t know at first. I did notice there was a kind of blockhouse above the street a floor or so up with dark thin windows gazing onto the street connected to a gate which led to the house. I couldn’t see into the block house but I blissfully walked past it every morning on my way to school. I was curious, always paused to look in but I saw nothing, could not see into the darkened skinny windows staring at me like a sinister watchman as I passed.

One day I was carrying my guitar with me to school, in its nice case built for international traveling, and as I passed the sinister blockhouse before I got to the gate there were several soldiers in uniform blocking my way and asking me who I was and what I had in the case. Guitar, I said in Hebrew: guitara. They realized I was American and switched to English. Open it please. I did. They asked me to take it out. I did and they peeked around and asked a few questions. Why I walked past there every day, etc., I explained I was a student at the school, what I was studying, I could see they were entertained by the baby Hebrew I was speaking and never once exited speaking English which they spoke of course much better than I spoke Hebrew. They had enough of me, ok, ok, they said. What’s this about? I asked. They didn’t answer and returned to their position inside the blockhouse.

This was the prime minister’s official residence. It wasn’t marked and it wasn’t fancy, and except for that little guardhouse, one might pay no attention to it. This is Israel, everything informal.

I began to pay attention to the little guardhouse on my daily stroll, would always pause and wave to whomever might be inside those eye-windows, and made my way.

I acquired a first in the morning class and began to make the walk earlier. One day soon thereafter the gate opened as I passed and out came a car and then a man walking into the car waiting for him at the curb. The man was Yitzchak Rabin. He looked at me, I looked at him, I waved. He was not a waver. Even walking into a car Rabin had a dour kind of I’m not really paying attention to you look about him. He didn’t wave back but he looked at me.

This happened I would guess three or four times a week. We were on the same schedule. As often as not, I passed him on the street as we were both on our way to work, he to work me to school. I always waved and smiled, he always looked at me and got into the car.

About half way through our relationship, he began to wave back. The first wave was either a wave or a dismissal. That kind of hand motion. So for weeks I waved, smiled, he dismissed me.

Then one morning he waved back. I remember it because it was a wave from a person who was not accustomed to waving. Maybe it’s an American thing – waving – but one morning his wave was much like my wave, an acknowledgement of relation, light and reciprocal. It was not a completely American wave, there was still a little hook at the end that recalled the hand to the body with a suspicion of dismissal. Enough. I see you. Hello. Still it was plenty for me to anticipate every day on my way to school, wondering if I was going to see my new friend, the Prime Minister, with whom I had earned this unwritten relation, mutual acknowledgement, I see you I know you hello I greet you goodbye.

Years later, after I had returned to the States, he came to my town to give a big lecture, between roles as Prime Minister. I sat two seats away from him on a dais I wrangled an invitation to. I eavesdropped on him speaking in Hebrew with others, he didn’t say much, he spoke economically and without much emotion, very deep basso profundo voice, and I considered asking him if he remembered me but how would I describe the curiosity of a relationship that had no words attached, of less than one year duration, consisting of a hand gesture on a street in the morning?

I asked him anyway, willing to be foolish. He paused and looked at me. You — of course I remember you, he said in Hebrew — how are you?

jsg.usa

Share this post.

Memorat

rose bilbool

Memorat: a tale with supernatural or mystical qualities

Dov Noy died on September 29, 2013 at the age of 92
Rose Bilbool, the rose of Jericho, died in 2012 at the age of 102

I was sitting next to her on the divan at Dov Noy’s salon, Monday nights, a few buildings down from the Prime Minister’s house on Balfour Street (Eric Mendelsohn had a house there). She was almost ninety then and elegant, spoke with a delicious central European accent, dripping every syllable like soup.

Dov Noy’s salon was a Monday evening event in Jerusalem; if you received an invitation, you were one of the most privileged people in the country at the time. I was introduced to Professor Noy by my friend Howard. “He loves music,” Howard said, “go there and sing, you’ll be a regular.” That’s just the way it happened.

An invitation to Dov Noy’s Monday evening salon was the most interesting evening in an interesting country. It was a simple sharing of interests, obsessions, talents; we went around the room, Dov Noy often commenting, elucidating, and filing in the background of each person’s work or interest.

Dov Noy, winner of the Jerusalem Prize and founder of the Israel Folklore Archives, long time resident of Jerusalem, held court every Monday night when he was in the country.

He invited people working on various projects to sit in his large living room and discuss their work. I often went; I taped a few of the sessions. I met many wonderful people there and heard remarkable stories. I always sang a song or two.

People referred to it as a Salon. It came from a custom of one of Dov Noy’s teachers, the world renowned folklorist Stith Thompson (1885-1976), who held a similar event where he lived and taught at the University of Indiana in Bloomington. Stith Thompson raised several generations of students, as did Dov Noy.

Professor Dov Noy was chair of Folklore and Hebrew literature at the Hebrew University, founder of Israel Folklore Archives, and student of Stith Thompson at Indiana University, a world class scholar in the field of folklore in a country perfect for the discipline, a small country with a hundred different cultures in proximity.

At the first salon I attended, Rose Bilbool was sitting next to me. I think I drove her home that night. She was the most interesting, to me, of a roomful of interesting people. Dov Noy had introduced her as the Rose of Jericho (Vered Yericho); she was one of the few Jews still visiting Jericho on a regular basis. She had papaya groves there, and a laboratory, and a small manufacturing business creating cosmetics and stomach medicines out of the active ingredient of papaya fruit papain.

Bilbool is a funny name in Hebrew (it means confused). “Where did you acquire that name?” I asked her. “I married a Bagdadi nobleman,” she said. “His family were great Talmudists – skilled in pilpul. But you know there is no p sound in Arabic. They became Bilbool,” which she found very funny.

Her husband was working in business for the brother of the nuclear scientist Oppenheimer. Rose told me they were posted to Beirut. “Then came the War in ’67,” said Rose, “we had many friends in Beirut, and my husband many accounts. So we thought. But after ’67, no one was paying their debts to Jews any more so we had to leave.” Rose resumed her life with papayas in Jericho.

I had to get the whole story, so I asked Rose if I could go with her to Jericho some time.

“Of course,” she said, “whenever you like. I always like a driver.” I became her driver.

I picked Rose up at her apartment and drove down the winding road toward Jericho and the Dead Sea. In Jericho, she worked in what looked like a clinic surrounding by fields of papaya trees. These were not her only trees. She had several workers that kept the lab/clinic open and in order when she was not there. There was great devotion to Rose among the people of Jericho.

Beginning from early in the day until she left for home, local residents of Jericho lined up to see her. They called her Doctor Rose and they came with a host of health ailments and requests. Rose spent much of the time on the phone, and she often carried medicines and such from her friends at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem back to the residents of Jericho. When necessary, she made appointments at Hadassah for them. She was an one person all purpose clinic.

Rose herself was not an MD, she was a Ph.D. bio-chemist as she later explained to me. So in her clinic, she made many a shiduch/connection between the patient in Jericho and the far more sophisticated health system in Jerusalem. She seemed to know everyone in Jerusalem.

She was born Rozsika Perl on December 9, 1909, in Sziget, Hungary (same town Elie Wiesel’s family is from). She is a descendant of the Kalever Rebbe (R. Isaac Taub), which is important to her. On her wall in her apartment is a depiction of the famous Rebbe, and the words of a song brought down in his name, in Hungarian, called Szol A Kakas Mar.

Her sister was the well known gynecologist Dr. Gisella Perl, who published her story as I Was A Doctor In Auschwitz (a film came out in 2003 based on her story called “Out of the Ashes”) and Dr. Gisella served as the gynecologist in the horror of the camp. She died in Israel in 1988. Their parents and four brothers did not survive.

Rose earned an advanced degree in pharmacology from the Bucharest College of Pharmacology. In 1938, she fled Romania for Palestine, joined the Haganah, and began studying at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She studied biochemistry, I believe, and eventually earned her doctorate there.

In 1940, she and some friends were visiting Jericho where they bought some exotic fruit from one of the merchants. On the way back to Jerusalem, Rose noticed a British jeep had run off the road and there was an injured officer lying in the sand. He had a bleeding gash on his hip and Rose knew she had to bind it to get him to a hospital in Jerusalem. She had nothing sterile; what she had was a papaya, so she sliced one in half and bound it to his wound and drove the officer (he smelled like a distillery, she told me) to the Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem. It was an hour and a half ride, Rose was sure he would bleed to death.

When she arrived there and they unwrapped the wound, everyone was surprised to see that the wound had begun to heal. What is this? Thus began her interest in papaya.

She began isolating the enzyme in papaya and experimenting with its healing and cosmetic properties. It was particularly good for stomach ailments, and fine women’s cosmetics. She bought some papaya groves in Jericho where the papaya grew particularly well in the low altitude and high heat and her reputation spread throughout the area. Dr. Rose became the agent of person-to-person peace-making in an area where such stories are not common. She knew everyone in Jericho and served whomever she could for as long as she was active.

On the way home from Jericho, we stopped at a not well-marked well. Rose turned on the water and drew out large empty jerry cans from her old Volvo and filled them with water. “The well of Elisha,” said Rose, “people believe the water has healing powers and I have some friends in Jerusalem who request it.” The well is known in Arabic as ‘Ein es-Sultan, and is identified with the story of Elisha purifying the water of Jericho by adding salt.

The people of the city [Jericho] told Elisha, Behold living in this city is pleasant, as my master can see, but the water is bad, making the land deadly. Elisha said, get me a new jar and put salt in it, and they brought it to him. He went out to the source of the water and threw salt there, and he said, “Thus said Hashem: I have cured this water; there shall no longer be from it death and bereavement. So the water became cured, until this day, like the word of Elisha that he had spoken.
— 2 Kings 2:19-22

The Rose of Jericho was the Elisha of Jericho. She brought healing to that ancient, desolate place – modern healing and traditional healing. She probably did more for peace between Israel and the PA [Palestine Authority] than years of diplomacy.

On the way to and from Jericho, Rose would often sing the song for me that she had from her ancestor, the Kalever Rebbe. “It’s a famous song,” Rose said, “very holy to many people.” Every time I heard the song I said to myself, “don’t forget this song. . .don’t forget this song” — but it didn’t have an easy tunefulness. I am good with melodies but this one eluded me.

Until a couple of years ago, I found it on YouTube and a Hungarian friend of mine helped me translate it. I sang it on the High Holidays 5772, 2012. Rose was 102 years old when she died, in March of 2012, just about the time I recovered her song. Her ancestor was known as the sweet singer of Israel, and Szol a Kakas Mar his most celebrated melody.

jsg.usa

Dov Noy

Share this post.

Remembering Selma from those who were there

Pettus bw

Remembering Selma
Honoring Sister Antona Ebo and Rabbi Bernard Lipnick z”l
2006

Selma, 1965

Note: these events have become legend. I have chosen to write them in epic form, because they seem to me epic events, mythic. They happened, for many of us, in our life times.

It seems to me these events have earned this form. James Stone Goodman

Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965
Selma, Alabama

A peak in the civil rights movement
The March in Selma
the right to vote
taken to the television set

For everyone to see
Six hundred civil rights marchers
Heading to state capitol in Montgomery
They came only six blocks to the Edmund Pettus Bridge

There 500 state and local lawmen
Attacked
Billy clubs tear gas
Driven back into Selma

Trampled by horses
Marchers seen bloodied and beaten
Around the world
The call went out to join the struggle

A second march Tuesday March 9th
King led White and Black supporters
To the Edmund Pettus Bridge
Prayed and suddenly — turned around

Civil rights leaders sought court protection
For a third full-scale march
From Selma to Montgomery
King called out for clergy support

President Johnson called
the Alabama National Guard
into federal service
regular Army attachments too

Wednesday, March 10, 1965
Departing for Selma, Alabama

A group of 54 ministers, rabbis, priests, nuns in habits, laypersons
Left for fabled Selma Alabama
On two chartered planes
From St. Louis

The Archbishop of St. Louis
Joseph Elmer Ritter
Heard the cry from King
After the events of Bloody Sunday

From St. Louis the largest group
Responds immediately
After Martin Luther King’s call
For clergy support

We support Negroes’ voter registration drive
We walk in sympathy
We plan to march from Selma to the capital
At Montgomery

Three rabbis
Rabbi Bernard Lipnick
Rabbi Lawrence Siegel
Rabbi Abraham Perlberg

Six nuns in habits
Two Sisters of St. Joseph
Two Sisters of Loretto
Two Sisters of St. Mary’s Infirmary [now Franciscan Sisters of Mary]

Including Sister Mary Antona Ebo
Raised Betty Ebo
In Bloomington
Illinois

A picture appeared in the newspapers
Wednesday, March 10, 1965
The rabbis and nuns boarding a plane
Ozark Airlines charter

Rabbis holding brown sacs
With their kosher
Lunches
Within

Rabbi Lipnick: No one told the nuns
That kosher food had been prepared for us
The Sisters in Selma also made me a meal
I was the best fed rabbi in Alabama that day


I saw the face of violence close up

Halted by troopers with Confederate flags
On their helmets
There was danger

Rabbi Lipnick: We went to Selma because
Blacks were pushing for voter registration
They put every obstacle
To Black voter registration

They flew onto a dirt landing field
Civil Rights workers picked them up in cars
Driven by renegade priests forbidden
By Archbishop Toolen of Mobile – Birmingham to participate

Taken first to a small Catholic Church
Refreshments
Sister Ebo: Then we walked to Brown AME Chapel
We cut through the yards of the projects

A little Black girl came running up to me
Gave me a hug
There was no greater affirmation for me that day
Than a hug from that child

At Brown Chapel
We were ushered into the Sanctuary
They sat me in the pastor’s chair
The other Sisters on both sides of me

The rest of the clergy
And several laymen
Behind us
In what would have been the choir loft

The Service itself
Was a grounding in non-violence
I knew the songs
And their significance

Throughout it all
Was an affirmation
A trusting in God
Then the question came up

Do we honor non-violence?
That was the question
Martin was not present that day
I never met him

Or do they resist?
There were two schools of thought
An older and a younger element
They decided to honor what they were told

Obey the law
Don’t push through the barricades
What if they beat them?
If attacked they agreed to shield the nuns

Rabbi Lipnick: Sister Ebo was my nun
But it never came to that

In Brown’s Chapel people everywhere
In the aisles on the windowsills

Sister Ebo: There were young people
Sitting in the front, bandaged, beaten from Sunday
Would we push through?
Or would we stand down?

People began to murmur

They brought the nuns
They brought the nuns

The Sisters given the place of honor

Singing the Baptist hymns
A minister asked her name
The chapel filled
With spontaneous applause

Reverend Anderson
Started the service
This is the first time in my life
I have ever seen a Negro nun

He told the crowd Sister Ebo had come to Selma
With a message for Sheriff Jim Clark
Mayor Smitherman Bull Connor
And Governor George Wallace:

You don’t have to be white
To be good and holy
We want to introduce
Sister Mary Antona

Sister Ebo had not prepared anything to say
Sister Ebo: Oh mister please be quiet
In St. Louis they told me not to say anything
This is the South

She began speaking the microphone went out
You can’t hear her turn it up!
A young Black minister of the Southern Christian
Leadership Conference Andy Young stood up and said

If you want to hear
What she has to say
Be quiet.

Silence

The room still.

My name is Sister Mary Antona I am a Negro
A Catholic nun and I am here to witness
Your rights to register to vote
Just yesterday in the city of St. Louis

I voted without having to go through what you
Are going through and on Monday morning
Just a couple of days ago I made a statement
That If I had not this habit on

I would be in your midst
Here I am
I believe this is God’s way
Of calling my bluff

Andy Young made the suggestion
Let the St. Louis nuns
Lead the way
In the street demonstration

Young: I had never been sure
Of the commitment
Of the Catholic Church
In the field of human rights

This was the first time
The nuns
Coming forward this publicly
On the matter of civil rights

From the Church
they walked downtown

Sister Ebo: I heard, put the Sisters in front
I understand the effect they were after

But it was not exactly where I wanted to be
Once we got out to the street
Mr. Collins government agent suggested
Put a man on each side of every Sister

He also suggested I take off my glasses
My first thought
We’re not down here
To play pick up sticks

The old habit had some deep pockets
I put my glasses in a notebook
In one of the pockets
Inside my habit

Rabbi Lipnick: When the march started
They asked me to speak
It was right before Pesach
I spoke about the Exodus

I tried to talk to Wilson Baker
Director of Public Safety in Selma
He’s the one who stopped
The march Baker turned his back

Baker: We are not here to negotiate
I have nothing further to say to you
Go ahead and talk to the press
I am not interested in listening to you

Rabbi Lipnick: There were white cars
Blue cars brown cars brown shirts
Blocking the street
Cops and soldiers three rows deep

The march halted less than a block
From its starting point
Marchers turned around
Orders from Selma mayor Joe Smitherman

Sister Ebo: We agreed that Sister Ernest Marie [now Sister Roberta, C.S.J.]
Would speak in the street
Reverend Anderson said the first person to speak
Will be one of our own he meant me

No, God, that’s not the way we agreed
I said about the same words
That I spoke
At Brown’s Chapel

I am here because
I am a Negro
A nun a Catholic
And because I want to bear witness

On the day they went from St. Louis to Selma
Sister Ebo led the march
Broadcasted all over the world on television
They walked a hundred yards and stopped

Three hundred state troopers and local police officers
Standing three deep
Ready to go to war
Blocked their path

Sister Ebo: I realized
If arrested
I would not be kept
With the other Sisters

Wilson Baker: there will be no march today

Mayor Smitherman cited a local ordinance
Against walking to the courthouse
Without a permit

Thirty four others spoke
Then they knelt and prayed
From there to the Good Samaritan Hospital
Met some of the wounded from Bloody Sunday

They had sandwiches and drinks
Then to the airport
By motorcade
They left Selma for St. Louis at 4:30 PM

Wednesday, March 10, 1965, 4:30 PM
Returning to St. Louis from Selma Alabama

A Unitarian minister
Attacked on Tuesday March 9
Working the march from Washington D. C.
Struggling for his life on a respirator

Died on Thursday one day after the visit
Of the St. Louis mission to Selma
Beaten on the streets of Selma
Graduate of Princeton

A Quaker working
In a Boston housing project
Reverend James J. Reeb
Thirty eight years old dead in Selma

On the evening of Monday March 15th
President Lyndon Johnson introduced the Voting Rights Act
A joint session of Congress
He called the events in Selma “an American tragedy”

President Johnson: It’s all of us
who must overcome the crippling legacy
of bigotry and injustice.
And we – shall – overcome.

When the Sisters returned to St. Louis
Commotion at the airport

Sister Ebo: We went to several
TV stations that night

Told our story
Something special
Important about the Sisters
Who went to Selma

Sister Ebo met Mayor Smitherman once again
Twenty years later he still mayor
Smitherman escorted her
Through City Hall in Selma

Sister Ebo: I looked into his eyes
And saw he had changed
The hate was gone

This from Mayor Smitherman —

I always wondered what happened
To that little Colored lady
They dressed up
Like a nun

Sister Ebo said to him
Honey you didn’t
Believe
I was for Real?

I guess
That’s why
God sent me
Back here.

Sister Ebo
To the poet:

I never thought
That 40 years later

People would
Be talking
About the nuns
Who went to Selma.

It just seemed
The right thing to do.
God blessed us
And I’m still alive.

jsg.usa

Share this post.

Un-Mask

Franz

Unmasking Purim

At the beginning of this exercise, everyone should put on a mask. Let us spend a time looking at each other with masks on. Let us spend a time behind our masks, in silence. This will be an exercise in reality with a mask, the unmasking of reality, the deep reality that lies at essences, beneath surfaces and underneath the mask.

Background:

Purim is the holiday of masks. Question: what does it mean to wear a mask, or what does it mean to be the master of the mask, or discuss the progression from one whose mask is the master to one who is the master of the mask?

It may also be instructive to think of the year as an inner journey, a spiral of inner development, so that each holiday is related to each other one in some significant way. If we are thinking about Pesach, coming soon, as the celebration of our freedom, both the freedom of a people and the inner freedom of the individual, then we might want to think about Purim as the last stop in the inner spiral of awareness before we celebrate release and freedom.

Now let us reconsider what it means to be master of our masks, as a penultimate stop along the way to freedom. Master of the mask, demonstrating what? Why is that necessary for the freedom story? What does it signify to be master of the mask and why is it necessary before Pesach?

To the story:

Let us note that the book of Esther, the story of the Megillah, has one glaring omission: there is no expressed mention of G*d, not once, in the entire story. What is the significance of that?

How is it to unmask the G*d story in Esther, where is the G*d-story in the Book of Esther? Think about the God-story in the book of Esther as unmasking, like unmasking the G*d-story in the world, in existence. So is the G*d-story in existence — somewhere deep beneath the mask –the deep story, the really real.

Let’s take some time speaking about that. Or – thinking it. Feeling it. The G*d-story, the deep story that is lurking within, the search for it, the attachment to it, this a part of the Purim unmasked story.

It’s all there, unmask it.

jsg.usa

Share this post.

Tunisian_Purple


Nowadays the Blue Is Hidden

The blue was taken from a snail found in the Sea. The snail comes up once every 70 years.
– Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 26a, Menachot 44a
I:
There is a street in Paris (11th arrondissement) called
The Street of Tailors. I visited my friend who
lives near the street of tailors. We went to eat at a café
around the corner. The first day we passed the street of tailors,
I asked him, What is this street?
Don’t know, he said.
The next time we passed it, I asked again,
Where does the name – street of tailors – come from?
It once was a street of tailors, he said.
We passed it again the next day,
What is the street of tailors? I asked.
He said this: I heard that there was a street of tailors working there,
then the Germans took Paris, June 14, 1940,
and they all disappeared.
II:
A street of tailor artists, seventy years of ghosts, they have not changed
the name of the street. A chasid on the sixth floor
ascends and descends silently
to make the evening prayers.
The street of tailors.
He knows fabrics but is a failure at freedom. Fingering the coat
he peers over his glasses. Nice merchandise, he says.
Expert in drapes and Torah, hands stained
with experimental dyes, he mixes a perfect blend
for a priestly tunic. Expatriates tell jokes
in a café, they order intestines all around.
It smells like an insult. Later they fuss
and pass the street of tailors.
III:
The tailors sewed in secrecy, to recover the lost blue thread,
mystery blue, a deceased mollusk carried it
into the deep where it gave birth,
in salt, to the sea.

jsg.usa

Share this post.

Remembering It From Here

selmamarchVision
Bill Kahn* in interview, 2008

*Bill Kahn z”l was director of the Jewish Community Center in St. Louis

About Dr. King –
I had him booked to come to St. Louis
Lindbergh and Schuetz roads was not built at the time
I struck out at all the liberal sites
Jerry Grollman stepped up and we booked UH [1960].

Always the night before Liberal forum
At a quarter to Six
One of the members hosted a dinner
This time Paul Berwald’s house.
I got there twenty minutes late
Off to the side
He’s leaning against a wall
He just got out of jail
He had been worked over pretty bad
I saw him standing there.

Folks, I said
St. Louis Post-Dispatch wants an interview
I had Shirlee with me
We walked outside
What’s this about an interview? Dr. King asked.
I’m going to drive you around St. Louis
And we’ll have a bite to eat
He feel asleep in three minutes.

There were twenty five hundred people at UH
Afterwards
People came up just to touch the cloth
Of his suit coat.

Then came the I Have A Dream Speech [D.C., August 28, 1963]
I chartered a plane
We had priests, ministers, rabbis
We flew to Washington
In those days
We walked town to the tarmac.
I slammed into Dr. King
Dr. King – you OK?
Mr. Kahn — you bailing anyone out of meetings nowadays?

I was in on a tutorial project in Tuscaloosa, Alabama
I brought Abe Boxerman from LA
A couple of J people
Outsiders to help create inside wisdom and community.

We were scared out of our minds
1965
Tuscaloosa, Alabama:

They took us to a church
All kind of cars pulled up
I had Abe Boxerman with me from LA.
Mrs. Brown agreed to put us up
Abe was about 20 years older than me
He had a teeny little room
I had the couch.

All night long cars going around
Screaming
Hey Bill – I am thinking — what are you doing here?
I got four kids and a wife back home.

I knew what I was doing there.

Next day –
They went to the YMCA exec in Tuscaloosa
He had them wait an hour and a half
They struck out there.

We went to where the African American kids
Played ball
Struck out there.

We went to Spellman College
There were nine guys playing basketball
Hey – you want to play?
I hadn’t played in 16 years
Where do I get a towel
You bring your own towel
You can use my towel after I use it
They’re watching me
What are you doing here?
I am looking for tutors
How many could you use?
How many in the day?
How many at night?
That launched the project
It’s called Vision
The name Dr. King gave it.

I Never Felt So Clean
Rabbi Jerome Grollman* in interview, 2007

*Jerome Grollman z”l was rabbi of United Hebrew Congregation, St. Louis

We had some difficulties in our town about race and religion
We decided we would stage a
Reconciliation march down Market Street
To the Old Cathedral
It was set for Sunday, November 24.
On Friday November 22, 1963
President Kennedy was assassinated.
On Sunday we took a busload from our Temple
More Necessary Than Ever Now
I was President of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association
(I have to admit I didn’t write that speech
They gave it to me).
All programs had been cancelled
TV people were looking for things to cover
We got national coverage.

We went to bat for the Jefferson Bank protests
And the March on Washington, August 28, 1963
And the March from Selma to Montgomery.

Highs: the march on Washington.
The rally it was really a love fest.
It had been a long day
Martin Luther King, Jr. was the last speaker
Thank God, I said
(I was sitting in a tree)
When he spoke it was as if nobody else
had said a word.

We had buses taking us back to the airport
We drove through the Black ghetto
People lined the streets
They were mouthing thank you
Thank you thank you
Imagine that – thanking us for something
We all should have been doing all along.
I’ll never forget that [tears]
It was one of the highest times.
I never felt so clean.

Now Selma to Montgomery that was different
We went down on a chartered plane
When we got to Selma
People lined the streets but
They weren’t thanking us
They were holding confederate flags.
National Guard cautioned us not to engage them
We had to find sympathetic cab drivers
To get us back to the airport.
Bill Kahn was on that one.
In Montgomery there was a Confederate flag
On top of the Capitol Bldg.

In Montgomery they spit on us.

When Martin Luther King Jr. came to town
The JCCA Jewish Community Centers Association
Went to other congregations.
They all turned him down
Bill Kahn came to me
I said, sure.
He said, don’t you have to go before your Board?

It was a Sunday night, November 27, 1960
Full house, even the balcony
Dr. King he looked so tired
I suggested he rest beforehand
Bill Kahn had made an excuse to get him out of a dinner party
Earlier that night, Bill Kahn drove him around St. Louis
When Dr. King got here, I suggested he rest beforehand
He took a little nap in my red lounge chair 1/2 hour before his talk
I still have that chair downstairs.

He had no protection I think he came alone
I was protecting him
He was really in danger that night
Though we were well protected by the police outside.

I remember how I introduced him:
I thanked him for being here
He was supposed to have spoken at a Temple of a friend of mine
Bob King in New Haven
He never showed up
‘Cuz he was in jail
I thanked him for not being in jail that night.

Afterwards we went downstairs to the reception
everybody was hugging everybody
It was a love fest.

jsg.usa

Share this post.

Heschel King Selma

Listen, O earth, to these wounds,
We have been pounded on the peaks,
elevated and alone.
Who ascends these holy mountains
and why?
We have bled all over our back packs,
descended at the penultimate moment.
Snatched away from the precipice,
we descended into the valley
where we sat quietly with our eyes closed
waiting for a bus, nothing loftier,
and we would have remained there
if not sitting next to us was the prophet Amos
watching for the light to change.
His skepticism, as always,
was an inspiration,
justice rolling down like water
and righteousness like a mighty stream.

All that was holy entered through our wounds,
the last place we expected.
Listen to the wounds, O earth,
pay attention to the bleeding sky
brother elements, sister flesh
pay a little attention will you,
at least give ear to these words.
These wounds.

selmamarch

Part 1

There is a picture of Abraham Joshua Heschel,
rabbi, human being, interpreter of inner Judaism and the prophets,
walking with Martin Luther King, jr.,
preacher, prophet, activist, redeemer,
walking together in the front row of the marchers,
Selma, 1965.
King and Heschel and Ralph Bunche walking arm in arm,
Ralph Bunche who received Nobel Peace Prize in 1950
For mediating armistice between Israel and the Arab states,
the commentary by Heschel:
I felt as if I was praying with my feet.

Look at the picture of Heschel, King and all of them,
this emblem of deep connection
bound at the arms they are, bound by the legs they are
the pictorial story of history and a return to coalition,
good intention, hope, hope.

Our freedom stories have been told
in the same narrative,
King and Heschel claimed the Exodus
as the freedom story,
the prophets as the freedom agents,
we are characters in each other’s freedom story.

Part 2

“The day we marched together out of Selma
was a day of sanctification. That day
I hope will never be past to me—
that day will continue to be to this day”
— Heschel in a letter to King.
In that letter Heschel wrote he felt
“as though my legs were praying.”

Both men read their story into
the freedom narrative of Exodus.
The freedom arc of Exodus
and the prophets
two stories that transformed and guided their lives
for Heschel and King,
the Exile story was not theoretical.

We will not be satisfied, preached King,
quoting the prophet Amos, until justice rolls down like waters
and righteousness like a mighty stream.

This verse is engraved into the King Memorial
Atlanta, Georgia.
Exodus every day.

Rabbi James Stone Goodman
St. Louis

Share this post.

In the Jailhouse

The guys I see in the jailhouse know all about every side of the story code name Ferguson they are experts on it and they are the most forgotten sources and I often wonder what they are thinking as they gaze out the obscured windows up above the street where the demonstrations are taking place, what must they be thinking about as they watch from their perch in the sky.

So I asked them.

Each of them had of course an adversarial story having to do with the justice system, every form of it, from the police on the street to the court room experience, to the corrections arm once incarcerated. They knew who they could get a fair shake from and who they could not trust, weighed heavily in the latter category.

They were powerless once caught in the web of the system, they all knew that, nevertheless they seemed to make the best of it, and the worst of it meant they spent time in the hole, in seclusion, segregated from the rest of the prison population.

I have written elsewhere about the nature of the hole, it was an eye-opening experience when I visited there, and seclusion is rank enough to serve as a deterrent, unless a person cannot manage anger or frustration or hopelessness. Which is frequent.

The inmates I visit are all aware of the problems frustration, anger, poor impulse control has caused them in their lives. They do not avoid that responsibility. When down (in prison), it becomes worse. They are trying to manage a raging beast and every trip to the hole feeds it. With every passing year, they become more hardened. Institutionalized I believe it is called.

On the news now is the latest chapter in the continuing tale of grand juries and death and failure to indict. The news people are using the wrong language. In their questions are the words restore confidence, return to trust. Restore and return is the wrong language. Restore and return to what?

There has been little trust in the entire system for a long time among the people I am dealing with, return and restore seems remote and out of touch. Use words like earn and demonstrate and create.

jsg.usa

Share this post.

So I Made My Own

Ferguson Journal: New Normal
Clayton station
Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Do not be distracted by Discourse on Pumping Iron and Viagra I get Somewhere

I forget now there is a new normal and I started Wednesday the same way I start every Wednesday when I’m well. I did my Wednesday morning pump-up with a trainer and when I was about dead I walked over to my city of sanctuary on Wednesday mornings one of two Starbucky’s within walking distance from my training gym in my fashionable suburban neighborhood that houses the County government center where the grand jury is meeting [met – ed.] and now is known all over the world and has been one of the sites of demonstrations: code Clayton, Missouri.

My routine is I walk to one of the two cities of sanctuary and sit and write until it’s time for me to visit the jailhouse which is also in the vicinity of homeland Clayton Missouri and in the same complex where the grand jury is meeting.

I am a transplant here. You have to be born here to belong here, it’s a feature of this region I find both charming and chauvinistic.

Charming is that I am not much a joiner so I appreciate the permanent outsider status. It gives me a certain edge when the truth is elusive and that term of new normal: nuanced. Also the heart of the other, the outsider, etc., it is permanently mine whether I went to high school around here or not. I appreciate not being landed here. It helps me in the realm of independence of thought, attentiveness to details and telling something somewhat true. Who writes history? I have re-thought that entirely.

Chauvinistic here means cheer-leading. There’s a lot of that: my team, my team. Sides. We’re the best we’re the best kind of thing that goes around everywhere I suppose but I have felt it keenly here, maybe because when I arrived thirty plus years ago, the area was in serious decline and teetering to revive.

The recent events code name Ferguson cannot possibly help with that, we are still in that phase teetering as far as I can tell, though there are signs of stabilization and growth in recent years — the development of corridors, a more serious effort at downtown development/re-development that I don’t understand why it takes so long with excellent sporting atmosphere here, good teams, serious hostage taking to share expenses of support, the promise from gambling to pour the miserable gains of those who can’t afford it into the community — a potential for development in a city well placed on an historic riverfront. So much story floated up and down this river.

It’s a riverfront Mississippi River waterfront downtown location and I bet if you sat a few visionaries down at a table and asked them to draw a plan they could do so in a couple of hours. Ask them to design from downtown out as a showplace for the rich history of this node on the mighty Mississippi a couple of miles away from the convergence of the Missouri and Mississippi where Lewis and Clark pushed off to explore the West, and you would get something.

The local newspaper did just that a few years ago, sat a few visionaries down, and they drew a plan for downtown that I see the deciders are starting to implement after planning commissions and visits to other cities, etc. It’s a riverfront a nine year old child could figure out how to develop, run out and find a nine year old child, we can’t seem to make heads or tails of it here.

Of course one of great problems is race. Race and class, that’s one of the biggest problems that’s holding this region back and so it erupts in code: Ferguson.

I walked to the Starbucky’s nearest to the jailhouse and the place was packed. Who are all these people? I thought as I sat down on a hard table and unpacked my machine to write a story. I plugged in and started to tap tap when a man and a woman sat in front of me asking permission to sit down in an accent I couldn’t identify. Of course, I said. They unpacked a load of sophisticated equipment with their own modem, etc., and started sending pictures and stories and stuff somewhere I could see they were consulting cards and addresses and names from local sources, mostly in Ferguson, to their homeland newspapers I surmised.

The guy sitting in front of me had a tag on his machine that read photojournalist and a western European address. So you’re a photographer? I asked. Yes. I opened a conversation. He asked me about television. Where he could get news from the world. CNN is on your television I said. He then said something about Niagra. There was terrible weather up around Buffalo and I had just talked to my friend near Rochester and said to him oh no you don’t have to worry about that weather (I assumed he was talking weather, Niagra Falls) it’s far away from here and the storm came in over Lake Erie my friend lives off Lake Ontario and I was just talking to him and I began to explain a little geography of the Great Lakes since I’m from those parts.

His girlfriend and/or colleague sitting next to him was writing stories about the Ferguson animal clinic (she had the card on the table) and she looked up at me just then and said: he’s asking about Viagra.

Oh Viagra. Yes, she said, he wants to know why on television when he is watching the news they are selling so much Viagra.

Oh, well, that’s their market you know the generation that buys Viagra and the television is basically a retail notion here. Buyers. Ah, he said, satisfied though he was perfectly willing to listen to me discourse about the Great Lakes. His English was not so ay yai yai and I might not have been listening closely enough either.

But why on the news? He asked, as if the news were something sacrosanct.

The news is selling too, I said, selling story selling Viagra. Everybody is selling something.

At that moment we experienced an international incident of the highest significance: we each said the same thing at the same time, real slow: strange world, and a meta-personal cross cultural understanding passed between us.

I looked around and the whole room was full of foreign journalists this Wednesday at Starbucky’s and I imagine all of them were perplexed by this oddity and a hundred others about the United States of America but they were here to cover the story of Ferguson and from this station they were dispatching their missives to their hungry public.

Do you live near? The photographer asked.
Yes.
Do you know where the justice center is?
Yes. I’m going over there in a few minutes.
Why do you go there?

I go there every Wednesday and without filling in details I told them I visit the jailhouse. I then realized they perked up when I said I go over to the justice center, the woman companion lifted up her head and looked at me closer and I saw she was wondering if she had the good fortune of bumping into somebody who knew something.

I assured her I knew nothing, surely she knew that from my inability to understand the foreign correspondent sitting next to her and the discourse on Niagra and Viagra. She asked me a few questions anyway which I evaded because I had to go and how interested might she be about the side of the story I did know about, those who have fallen out of the tale entirely and end up in the jailhouse waiting for transfer to one of the institutions that will be their home for the next number of years.

But she wanted story. Every correspondent in that room wanted story. They were traffickers in story. Not the part of the story I know, the story I know has no voice. She wasn’t interested what happens once someone enters that part of the system I visit.

The guys I see in the jailhouse know all about every side of the story code name Ferguson they are experts on it and they are the most forgotten sources and I often wonder what they are thinking as they gaze out the obscured windows up above the street where the demonstrations are taking place, what must they be thinking about all this as they watch from their perch in the sky.

So I asked them.

Each of them had of course an adversarial story having to do with the justice system, every form of it, from the police on the street to the court room experience, to the corrections arm once incarcerated. They knew who they could get a fair shake from and who they could not trust, weighed heavily in the latter category.

They were powerless once caught in the web of the system, they all knew that, nevertheless they seemed to make the best of it, and the worst of it meant they spent time in the hole, in seclusion, segregated from the rest of the prison population.

I have written elsewhere about the nature of the hole, it was an eye-opening experience when I visited there, I will post that next, and seclusion is rank enough to serve as a deterrent, unless a person cannot manage anger or frustration or hopelessness. Which is frequent.

The inmates I teach are all aware of the problems frustration, anger, poor impulse control has caused them in their lives. They do not avoid that responsibility. When down (in prison), it becomes worse. They are trying to manage a raging beast and every trip to the hole feeds it. With every passing year, they become more hardened. Institutionalized.

On the news now is the latest chapter in the continuing tale of grand juries and death and failure to indict. The news people are using the wrong language. In their questions are the words restore confidence, return to trust. Restore and return is the wrong language. Restore and return to what?

There has been little trust in the entire system for a long time among the people I am dealing with, return and restore as vocabulary seems remote and out of touch. We have to start over. Use words like earn and demonstrate and create.

jsg.usa
#IreportwhatIsee

Share this post.