My Words

Understanding the World through words

Month: March, 2016

Out And About-poem

Been out and about
dodging the to do list.

I just don’t have time for it—
not when I’m writing poems
or reading my Bukowski novel.

It finally catches up with me
ain’t nothing free in this world.
I have to sign my insurance papers,
try to figure out my school loan.

It’s a nightmare all of it.
Life can be brutal, but then
I think to myself at least I’m not
humping a pack in Iraq,
at least I don’t have some jihadi
trying to zero in his scope on my
heart, center mass.

Ha, ha,
That helps.

Until my wife asks me to take the kids
out to get some tacos and play at the
indoor playground, I wince, I sigh,
I grab my keys and start my car.
Get in, lets go

Here I sit by myself,
take my credit card—get what you want,
I tell my boys.

I write it all down, they hand me the receipt
scarf their food down, and run towards the
playground. They live a charmed life I muse,
as I watch them play tag.

Family Secrets

Many years ago my ancestors left Spain, in search of opportunities for a new direction. And so in this quest for a new start, in this transition they settled in various lands far from their ancestral home. With them and in them they carried family secrets, family anxieties that through the generations were only spoken to select offspring. When they left Spain, it’s society had transitioned from a pluralistic society to a stringent, religiously persecuting society. Persecution begets fear and the need to guard secrets; to repress the past in order not to fall prey to the persecuting agents’s evil devises.

Many families whose past was guarded, ended up in the same situation. They needed to repress the past, maybe even forget it, never to speak about it again. Their sin was that they had belonged to a different religion. Whether it was worshipping Allah or Adonai, they no longer were, under punishment of death, allowed to do so freely, either in Spain or its outlining colonies. They had to, by force of law, accept the inevitable and become new Christians; with all the pomp and circumstance that Spanish society dictated, and they were closely watching every miscalculated step, with anticipation.

Many books have been written about this historical phenomena, about the horrors and triumphs. Few have touched upon the psychological imprint a trauma of this magnitude is carried and passed on to the offspring; what is currently being researched by scientist as transgenerational epigenetic inheritance. On the Jewish side of it, there are many rabbinical laws, retorts, and theories dealing with this oppressive religious phenomena. Perhaps the best rulings and or understanding of the subject matter was written by Maimonides. Maimonides lived in Spain prior to the Spanish Inquisition of which I am referring to here. During his time, oppression of this kind already existed. Many Jews were living as Muslims by force. Even though, some might have converted by force, convenience or desire, the existential problem existed. What to do with Jews who are not living as Jews?  One needs to remember that Jews were mostly living under Islamic rule and that problems arising like these were inevitable. Under the laws of Judaism the children of these converts were still Jews, regardless of their parents decisions—forced or not. In his mastery of Jewish jurisprudence, his decisions were in essence loving towards these lost and misplaced souls—those who are referred to as, anúsim. Regardless of the circumstances leading to their captivity, of living a duplicitous life—being internally Jews, but outwardly Muslim or Christian; the ancient laws relating to anúsim were cordial. Love not fear has always been the basis of Gods laws, Maimonides simply followed that precedent.

Many years later in Amsterdam, once hidden Jews, started to stream into the lowlands in search of their ancestral religion. The imprint of Judaism is remarkable in the mind and soul of Jewish returnees, I suspect yesterday, today, and forevermore that will be the case.  Again, following the precedent set by Maimonides, Jewish thinkers of the time made the transition of returning  to the fold, benign and simple. The emphasis was a loving welcome back, there had been enough suffering. The inquisition was over once the escape to the lowlands had been made. Now it was time to rebuild, to happily live as Jews with freedom to worship the God of Israel.

We can leave this story here and call it a triumph! However, nothing in life is that simple and this story was not written in a Hollywood fashion with bright happy endings. The fact is that transitions from being forced (a form of slavery) to freedom are seldom that seamless—internally or externally speaking.

It was several years ago that my mother told me that we were in fact, Jews. At the time, I really didn’t know what to do with that information. I was happy just being a high school student, wrestling, dating and hanging out with my friends. I wasn’t seeking spiritual insight or a religion. My religion was enjoying my youth and in retrospect there is no harm in that. My family life was pluralistic, we enjoyed every major American holiday without any religious trappings or undercurrents. I grew up thinking I was Catholic, even though we never practiced. There were biblical stories we nominally knew about Adam and Eve, Moses and the ten Commandments, and the Noah’s arc, of Jesus being crucified by Romans. Most of our religious education was based on movies; like the Ten Commandments, The Robe, Ben-Hur. I grew up loving Cecil B DeMille’s Ten Commandments, and looking forward to seeing it every year on TV. I remember always having a strong emotional reaction to Charlton Heston being called towards the burning bush, that scene was powerful. Then again, I loved watching the Wizard Of Oz and the Peanuts Specials too, so I never put any thought into it, into being Jewish or not.

Several years afterwards, I did experience a spiritual awaking and long story short, I ended up meeting people who like me, were returning to Judaism. Naive and yearning to know more, I studied, practiced Judaism, and tried to understand what was happening. My mentors were smart men who knew these things intimately and directed me to study correctly. The road back was not the “yellow brick road” or in anyway easy. In fact, the road back has been exceptionally disappointing and any lesser or smarter man would have quit long ago. The laws, what Maimonides referenced, are no longer understood in the fullness of what he wrote and much to my dismay dismissed outright. Jews today are much more doubtful, inquisitional, myopic. In short, I find that Judaism has mentally regressed. There is a darkness over Judaism today that cannot be merely swiped away with words. The love for the foreigner, so explicit in God’s commandments is nearly if not gone all together; and if there are converts, they are second class citizens. Nothing as idyllic as what the Torah commands to love the foreigner exists in reality. There are more issues that I have observed, a what’s wrong with Judaism list, can be easily had on many websites, mostly all written by Jews. The purpose of my writing today is not to add to that growing list. I wish that I could say my awakening lead to complete fruitfulness, but that would be disingenuous.

The returning Jews of Amsterdam pioneered a resurgence of Judaism and rabbinic intellect hardly matched. They spoke in Portuguese and wrote in Castilian Spanish. They were cosmopolitan and embraced into Amsterdam’s cutting edge society. They were merchants, shopkeepers, bankers and printers. In all respects, the Jews of Amsterdam flourished, they became an economic force to be reckoned with. Parents circumcised their sons as was the customs of the Jews and they built beautiful synagogues and places of learning. Outsiders, non-Jews, attended the sermons because the wisdom of the rabbis was famous throughout the land. Rembrandt painted the descendants of the children of the inquisition in some of his most memorable portraits and biblical themed paintings, transcending pictorially the depictions of Jews in European art. Prior, Jews in pictorial form, had a more dubious and un-sanctimonious artist rendering—rembrandt’s close knit ties with his Amsterdam Jews changed that perception. All together, if we left it at this segment in time, the resurgence of Jews who survived the inquisition, who lived in Amsterdam, would be perceived as successful, but it wasn’t totally that way. There were hiccups, not everyone accepted prima facie the complete authority of the rabbis and their wisdom. Two infamous typologies emerged.

Moses led the children of Israel after some hard negotiating and necessary biblical miracles towards the promised land. The premise was to worship God on the mountain, but the goal was to inherit the land flowing with milk and honey. The exodus from Egypt was left momentarily on a high note, Miriam danced and played her tambourine, and the children of Israel rejoiced. Soon following this great deliverance, the Jewish miracle of all miracles, my ancestors experienced difficult but unescapable existential dilemmas. The imprint of Egypt, was much too deep in their wandering souls.

My son had turned thirteen and his bar missavah was at hand, at the time, I had been looking forward to this milestone. In fact, I had been planning this event for years in my mind. I struggled to find the right synagogue, the right rabbi, the right atmosphere. We moved to Atlanta, I met the rabbi, I loved the congregation, they were Sephardic—Jews of Spain. I understood them, we had a common Spanish denominator, we were related. I asked my mother to come celebrate this important event. She refused to attend.

“Where are the leeks, where are the melons?”, the children of Israel cried, in the wilderness far from the lush gardens of the Nile—the descendants of Jacob mourned. They mourned the loss of food, they mourned the comfort of stability. Even if it was slavery, there was comfort in its stability. Wandering through the desert, burying loved ones from place to place, not knowing where the next fountain of water was, is at best disconcerting. Everything about the wilderness experience was rough. Sure they’d witnessed the miracles in Egypt, but in Egypt, they were in their homes. Now, they were out of their comfort zone walking without a definitive plan, other than what was expressed at first, vaguely. Yet the years passed and the thirst was real.

We’ve come to a place in technological advancement, information is at such a place, that we can learn about, listen, watch events happening thousands of miles a way as if we were there. Humanity has reached a cusp in history unprecedented. At our fingertip, we have power that we’ve never had before—for good or evil. For example, we are learning about what lies at the furthermost regions in the universe; or what is hidden in the depth of the sea, all without leaving the comfort of our homes. The images are real and never seen before and we don’t even have to leave our bed to see them. With the new scientific insights—discoveries in human genetic makeup, has reached unparalleled heights. Until recently, the understanding of what constitutes a human, psychologically, anatomically, medically has changed. Granted not everything is understood; but at least, we have discovered new insights that help us better understand ourselves. Some of the discoveries that I’ve been fascinated with recently has been, the study of human genetics, DNA and psychology. Not too long ago, a breakthrough in genetic understanding of the mind has come to light—that we inherit the memories, the strengths and weaknesses of our ancestors in our gnome makeup. That those genetic imprints help mold who we are, whether we like it or not, the strengths and weaknesses of our ancestors live within us.

Why did my mother refuse to attend a family religious milestone? What made her adamantly not attend her loving grandson’s bar missavah? Or the berit mila of our eight day old son, right following? At first, I was understandably upset by these slights. After all, she was the one that started this ball rolling, she was the catalyst that encouraged me to seek my Jewish roots. Now that I was in the midst of Judaism, as a returnee; her apparent disdain was unbelievable. My wife and I got over it, we excused her, even though we did not understand her sentiments. She was happy that we we pursuing Judaism, she was happy when my wife converted, but she remained aloof and distant from it. I asked her, “mom, why do you stay away from our roots?”

1st Typology

Uriel da Costa, couldn’t fully embrace the leadership of the Amsterdam rabbis. His view of the Torah and of biblical hermeneutics greatly conflicted with what was being taught at the time. He questioned the rabbinic authority in place and felt that they overrode what God’s true intention was for his people. That there was a biblical Judaism (popular with Jews returning from Spain and Portugal) and rabbinic Judaism, what the rabbis were teaching at the time. As a matter of fact, many Jewish returnees held these same views, Uriel just happened to be the most vocal and therefore the most visible. Many felt that the bible said one thing and that the rabbis taught another. There were many that felt disdain towards rabbinical leadership, that they misconstrued Gods words purposefully. In their defense they came from a religiously intolerant climate (Spain and Portugal) that misconstrued, spoke out of context, made up religious laws to subjugate the masses all in the name of God. So it wasn’t totally out of the ordinary to project their prejudices onto the new religious leadership even if they were their long lost brethren—Jews. Unbeknown to them, they brought these psychologically imprinted prejudices to Amsterdam, the disdain for religious authority ran deep in their veins. Their existence had been predicated on religious persecution and survival. They experienced first hand the shepherds becoming the wolves. Religion was forced on them in Spain and Portugal. Religious obedience was expected of them, and in order to survive they needed to play the part. To act as if they truly cared. They learned their parts. They survived and they were believed, but God help them if they slipped up. Secrecy was paramount because their religious, material, and physical survival was dependent on it back in Iberia. In Amsterdam, they needed to be re-educated, taught to understand rabbinic Judaism, and what the expectations are living in such a religious climate. Nothing about it was easy. Some took it in stride, some tolerated it, some made a point to fight it, Uriel was one of them.

When Moses returned from the mountain height he saw the people had returned to idolatry. This moment was a pinnacle moment in that the people had to make a decision to terminate their association with Egypt once and for all. The leeks, the melons and the familiar gods had to be done away with. Their destiny did not include the past. God told Moses to tell the people that they would never return to Egypt again. We say,” it was easy for God to take the people out of Egypt but impossible to take Egypt out of the people.” The psychological imprint on the Hebrews souls of Egypt was much too powerful. In the end, that whole generation that left in triumph, who rejoiced with Miriam, save Joshua and Caleb, were buried in the wilderness, they simply could not forget the wonders of Egypt—for them, the leeks and melons tasted better than milk and honey.

One day my mother finally opened up to me and revealed that she hates organized religion. That the religious authorities Christian or Jewish didn’t know as much as she knew about the bible. That she can never be subject to a misinterpretation of Gods word from either camp. Her view as narcissists as it sounds, is a common Converso typology of not believing in or accepting of religious authority over their perception of biblical beliefs. She was born in 1940, hundreds of years after the inquisition, yet her soul is imprinted with this anti-religious disdain for organized religious authority. The prejudices of her ancestors mixed with the undying love for the God of Israel is without a doubt imprinted onto her soul.

Could it be that all these affinities for and hatred of religion be passed on to us? Why is it that I have dreams so vivid of Spain, that when I research them they actually exist, yet I’ve never been there? The rabbis of Amsterdam as smart as they were, were ill equipped to deal with these issues, of imprinted genetic prejudices and memories passed on from generation to generation. They dismissed them, simply as rebelliousness, without fully understanding the undercurrents that led to them manifesting in the first place.

2nd Typology

Baruch Espinoza was born in Amsterdam and reared in its religious institutions from a small boy. He was bright and adept at thinking. However, his greatest assets, thinking and questioning turned him into a religious pariah in the end within his community. In Spain and Portugal some of the most brilliant thinkers were by default Conversos, converted Jews. They helped lead the way intellectually, in literature, poetics and learning. However, they were not content in just simply seeing the injustice of religious darkness take root, they critiqued it, whenever possible, intellectually. Some of the strongest and most virulent critiques of religion came from Conversos. Deep in the Converso psyche a complete and thorough opposition to religious structures exists. They understand that religion in general helps to mitigate subservience to a religious priestly class—and their need to access political power at all cost. They saw through the veneer, more or less, that religion is self-serving and hypocritical. This was no doubt the case in Spain and Portugal, that riches were amassed by the priests. That even though they made vows of sexual abstinence, children were birthed from unholy unions. That their epistemological beliefs and dogmas were easy to dismantle in light of reasons was not only applicable to Christianity, but could be used against Judaism as well.

They believed that both religions were steeped in Medieval superstition and had no place in what was to be known as the Enlightenment. These thinkers, not only saw most religious leaders, barring Maimonides, as intellectually obtuse, who perpetuate stupidity whenever they open their mouths. In light of the scientific method, developed by a Converso Francisco Sanchez, religion is and will always be fairytales, superstitious nonsense. Of course, these were gross generalizations. However, they did instigate in some religious dissidents like Espinoza, a unwavering need to critique biblical and theological superlatives so as to lay once in for all the the supremacy of reason over religion. This upset the rabbis and caused the Jewish community in Amsterdam to become nervous. They were guest in the Netherlands, tolerated more-or-less because of their merchant based economy and deep connection in the New World. What Espinoza was leaning towards however, was a complete dismantling of religious ideas never before questioned in such a way. Espinoza was laying the groundwork for a new class of people, the secular man—a non-religious, non-affiliated person with no ties to any form of ecclesiastical system. Yet in the eyes of the rabbis, its one thing to be a guest and to keep to yourself, enjoying the charity of the host nation by remaining quite and subservient. It’s another thing altogether to rip the foundations off the ideas that keep communities united. In the Netherlands, as like most European countries—that was the belief in God and his son Jesus Christ. Speaking against those two subjects in public was very likely to bring on a lynch mob complete with pitchforks and sickles.

What Baruch Espinoza was proposing was a revolution against most people’s cherished beliefs. An intellectual war against, God, the Bible, and theology as it was understood back then. The rabbis panicked and the leaders of the community issued a cherem—they disavowed all contact with him by all members of the community including his relatives. He was on his own, there was little choice in the matter, he was dangerous because his ideas were anathema to all known religions in Europe. The Jewish community was in a precarious situation of survival and they were not going to condone one of theirs taking them down haphazardly.

The bible mentions quite often the seed of Israel, or the seed of David. Man’s sperm carries all the necessary genetic markers to create a human with the help of a woman’s egg. Besides giving us all the required functions, limbs, cells for life, scientist have discovered that memories, traumatic moments, triumphant moments are also passed on. David replicated himself with the help of Bathsheba and formed a man named Salomon. In Salomon, the best of David’s traits are found; wisdom, a yearning for peace, political savviness. Yet, in Salomon we see the worst of David too, womanizer, materialistic, pridefulness, etc.

“And Moses struck the rock twice, and the water flowed, and the people were able to sate their thirst.” God commanded Moses to strike the rock. In his anger he struck it twice. The miracle was still performed, but Moses anger flared up against the people of God. Levi the son of Jacob we all know had anger issues, so much so that God commanded his descendants to be intermixed with the rest of the tribes. Moses was a Levite and was passed not only his devotion to God, obedience, and leadership skills, but his anger too. Because of his anger, Moses died in the wilderness, “with the rest of the disobedient generation.” Could it have been that Moses’ anger, biases, and weakness were genetically imprinted?

To this day I have secrets, I carry them with me. I don’t ever think about telling anyone. In fact, I strongly believe in guarding them unto death. Conversos, by the fate they were delt had to be good at carrying secrets. They knew who the Jews were, what they ate, that they didn’t work on the Sabbath. If these secrets were leaked that information had the ability to disrupt families, economically and physically. The holy inquisitors thrived on leaked information and secrets. The people who’s secrets were told paid dearly with their lives.

The rabbis teach that all the children of Israel were there at Sinai. We all witnessed that marvelous transaction between God and man. Those who were physically there, and those not yet converted or those not yet born are said to have been there. I was there.  I have vivid memories of the fire and the dark clouds—I cannot escape the imprint of my past.

 

 

Vulnerable-Poem

Vulnerable,
beautiful,
weak;

we are
the best, the
most resplendent
when we’re inadequate—

The most sublime
when we fail…

Like a puppy trying to
jump on the couch
numerous times
needing help.

Married-Poem

No matter what I do
I can’t get it right. I
can’t dance correctly, I’m
harassed because I
missed a payment on
my only bill.

Women are fierce creature’s:
giving life at a drop of a hat
then sucking the life out of you
when you get too fat.

They curse—
if you drink a little too much.
They scream—
when you take a small nap
in the middle-of-the-day.

I’m frowned upon
because my socks don’t match.
When I defend myself and
just can’t come up with the
right words,

at the end of it—
I’m a fuck up through-and-
through.

Evil creature’s
dot, dot, dot.

But, I like the way they smell.
The soft contours of their hips.
The way their hair lithely falls.
The beautiful fair skin
found at the nape of their neck.

I’m a sucker,
a chump;
as soon as I see my woman
walk nearby
I feel my heart skip and jump
then the blood rushes, and
I salivate at the dirty pictures
I draw in my head.
I tell her meekly,
“yes dear you were right.”
(I’m no fool.)

Pillow Talk—poem

I won’t be totally understood,
that’s quite all right,
when you’re quirky,
different, and smart,
dot, dot, dot.
There are enough u-turns
in life and directional arrows,
interspersed with
Ted-Talks and Pod-casts to make my
eyes nearly shut:
The whisper of the night breeze.
The soft murmur of a ceiling fan.
The distant bellow of a night train;
communicate subtlety, musically.
Like pillow talk—
quiet musings that stirs the subconscious
into imaginative meanderings or
delicate canopies that give much needed shade
from the tyranny of being in bed awake.

Philosophical Clarification—Poem

Philosophy clarification—
Nietzsche’s Gay Science
(Die fröhliche Wissenschaft) or
gai saber
is not about homosexuality.
(It contains Nietzsche’s poems)
It alludes to Provençal poetry
that is, poets of Provence—
Troubadours whose poetry
contributed to the birth of
modern European poetry.
Even though I disagree
with this narrative—anyone
with half-a-brain knows
that Andalusians birthed
European poetics and that
Troubadour’s derived their
skills from Iberian bards—
whose minarets daily announced
in loud voices—
God is great!

On Hapiness and Suffering—Poem

Nietzsche left his prestigious professorship at Basel
to dedicate himself to writing
his home became the Swiss Alps
His philosophy effused with mountain air,
he began to suffer.

Writing brings its form of tribulation,
There’s no money in it,
food and clothing becomes scarce.
there’s a mental battle—stress that comes
from the need to survive and
the desire for creativity.

Art is not easy to create:
not the kind that changes history,
not the kind that moves humanity;
many travel the road, but few come out
on the other side, because as the
hardships arise they lose
their motivation.

His philosophy was shaped
by the understanding that
life gives us moments of
euphoria and adversity.

They’re twin sisters—
two distinct notes
that should be used in order
to compose beautiful and
meaningful music.

An artist that perceives
the importance of
pleasure and distress
who doesn’t eschew one
for another, Nietzsche
believes—has a greater
chance to to make lasting
and memorable art.

Throne Of Uncertainties-Poem

I don’t sit on a throne of luxury and ease
I look around me—I know I’m blessed.
I’ve been granted a loving family and friends.
My throne is a throne of uncertainties—

It’s like walking a tightrope on a windy day.
I take it step-by-step
and day to day.
Praying that tomorrow
won’t blow up in my face.
Happy that I’m still in the race.

I’ve come to understand Job’s fears,
of trying to keep things intact and
protecting the ones that are near,
while the enemy schemes behind my back.

But, I won’t let it get me down,
I’ll get up every morning with cheer,
kiss my loved ones who give me the strength
to face my day like a lion in pursuit of a meal.

image

The Things I’ve Seen-Poem

I’d like to write about a memory of things I’ve seen:
the way I’ve perceived it in my mind;
the light of the sky, the way it reflects
off concrete sidewalks
or dances off small neighborhood trees—

while watching my daughter then around ten,
sit on the sidewalk
with her friends
talking, jesting, and laughing as children do
in their innocence and charm

are saying goodbye.

The weather is perfect outside,
we’re all in t-shirts and shorts

watching this moment elapse.
Breathing it all in.

We’re leaving,
moving to another place,
another city, another state.
Our van is full of belongings
and we’re excited
to start over, somewhere else—
on an adventure.

Anticipating what’s ahead,
kind of.

And there they sit—
these three girlfriends
not wanting to leave

each other’s company
each other’s childhood friendship.

It’s a mysterious moment in time,
when we depart—

we cling to each other,
to our smiles and our hearts.
We touch each other’s hands.
We try to maintain a lasting bond.

Then it seems that everything stops,
the earth stands still
tears fall;
we feel the heartbeat of sadness.
It can only be described as a

tearing

manifested in these cute little girls.
They’re torn

even though they’re hugging each other
one last time.