Monday, March 19, 2012

For the love of a black man

All of you who know me, know that I have a love hate relationship with the frum community, mostly hate about the time of disappointment and then somehow a deep love because I have spent so much of the most vibrant, energized years of my youth striving to make the walls of the beis medrash my eternal abode. For those of you who have had that experience you would know. The thoughts, and feelings and joys of learning a blat of gemara, never leave they just twist and turn as they continue to wind their way through my mind and soul, influencing in new ways the the thoughts and challenges of today. Perhaps Abaye and Rava make their way into a research paper influencing my way of understanding both sides of an argument, perhaps a story about R Akiva can help me understand Homer. Either way, gemara, I shall never forget the thousands of hours we have spent together.

Recently I had an experience which brought me right back to all those good times without any memory of the bad. In my youth I use to collect old seforim and occasionally kisvei yad of some kind. I had taught in an old shul, and the rabbi, one day hearing of my hobby, handed me a stack of kisvei yad, being young, I was excited, I had never owned something like this before. I had old seforim that I had found. I had a gemara with teeny letters from 1680. I once owned a sefer by R efraim ha kohen from 1701 ( I think he was the one blamed for some kind of fire that broke out in Frankfurt) it had a special looking stamp one of the pages, perhaps it belonged to some important library. I also had an old kav ha yashar. amongst, or tucked in to these various seforim there were some short kisvei yad, but no one who was famous. This stack of kisvei yad that the Rabbi gave me was the first that had some promise. I had no idea who wrote it, but I knew that they must have known something and it was clear that a lot of work went into it. Hundreds of thousands of little small twirls and swirls-letters, written, lines measures with a ruler, perfectly to make sure that it was readable. One large folded paper looked like an actual teshuva because it had a signature. some of the others were short books, one a commentary on the Ramban on chumash, which looked like it was being prepared for print, name of author and date of writing.

In this pile there were a few different authors. were they famous? Had anyone heard of them? I had no idea. Over the years. I had done some research. There were a few names that were clearly associated with the books. R Eliezer Levi Helperin of Karlin. who was he? what he related to the karliner Rebbe? Did every author who lived in Karlin call themselves "from Karlin"?
Another author called themselves Noah ben yakov Pines.

I had had these writings sitting in my parents home for 15 years or so. I finally decided, I wasn't doing anything with them, lets figure out if they are worth anything to anyone. Karlin in the 1850's was a happening place. It was about 60 years after some of the most intense conflict that happened between chassidim and misnagdim, mostly in vilna, and it seems that, contrary to what I had thought, it was mostly litvishe rabbonim with a sprinkling of chassidim. To my regret, my writing was not written by any of the Karliner Rabbeim. Their name was Aron, that would have been far more lucrative. It seems that wealthy chassidim are the ones that are paying the most for kisvei yad these days, and they are particularly looking for kesavim of chassidishe rabbeim.

So who was this Eliezer Halevi? After much research it is clear that he was a successful business man who devoted much of his time to learning torah, and so he wrote a lot of his thought down, and here I am 150 years later, holding the sweat of his brow and the work of his hands. How lucky was I ? Who was Noach Pines? Well I heard that Pines was the real name of R Aron Kotler and so perhaps he was a relative of theirs. I did make one call to a friend of mine to see if he could find out if R Noach Pines was related to the Kotlers. He said " I'll call R Malkiel right now, and I'll call you back in a minute" That was 2 months ago. I decided I'm not going to wait. I'd rather get it into the hands of someone who appreciates it, and move it along.

My friend Tzvi told me of someone in Boro Park, a talmid chochom who knows about kesavim. He was the son of a well known rosh yeshiva. I must admit, I was quite hesitant going to meet him. I was so distant in my heart and soul from this man. He was the ordinary hard core boro park person with whom, I wouldn't even care to talk to under normal circumstances. Our views were as from each other as the heavens are from the earth. He was in his stubborn closed world and I was in my open, free, all encompassing way of thinking.

I met with him once. We looked through some books, that might help us understand who was this R Eliezer Levi Helperin. Did he have anything to do with any of the Rabbi's of his time? Was he well known at all. I must say, sitting there in his typical boro park dining room, I was un at ease. Although, I can talk the talk, but I had to make sure to remember where I was and not so say anything offensive. Of course I knew to make sure not to mention anything that would hint in the slightest way to my real views.

I needed his help here, so I was being nice and respectful, but also make sure to keep a comfortable distance. If he got to close, maybe he would see something.

That was the first time I met him. The second time was different.Something changed.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The road, and the day I started singing (2)

I finally arrived at a campsite, small fire, warmth. I was so so cold, and tired, all I wanted was to put my body down and go to sleep. I didn't know these people but they allowed me to go to sleep near their fire. I was so cold that it took a very long time to fall asleep. When I awoke, the magic of gods light shot across the sky as I saw so much sunshine and brightness that I could barely contain myself at it's beauty. i was in the middle of eden. birds chirping, the air was crisp, the field and valleys spread out long and wide as far as my eye could see. Fresh trees, barely touched by human hands and new shrubs and grasses that I had never seen. Different smells, and people that loved the land. I was home. I had never seen this before, but my mind did not stop wondering, rejoicing at this new found gift.

Something in me changed. I started singing,just like that as if my heart had been waiting for this moment all along. For most of my youth, English had been a language of communication, but now it became one of feeling. I was shocked at how my mouth found words to express depth and emotion. I had known myself to be mind, to be analytical separate from the hearts real wanting and wordings. Now my heart started speaking. It was singing. I was composing melodies. I did not know where they came from but I did not want it to stop. Something told me that I was now getting in touch with something deep, something that had belonged to me all along.

How could this be me? I wondered. How could there be a part of me that is in me, that has always been there, that I never knew about?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Needing the open road

So I had heard that there were a bunch of Jews and hippies that gathered togethere in national Forests. I heard there were girls and for me that was a major attraction. I figured, If I was going to find a girl that I would like, whe would be stoned and lost walking barefoot through a national forest, with no intention in mind other than to know the color of the wind. I had move to LA a couple years before. the dream of the clear blue ocean and sun tan locion on hot spicey bodies had lured me but now I had grown weary and tired of the planes flying over head and the congestion of cars running to the beach down Lincoln Ave. I needed some quiet. I didn't realized that the beauty of the water was not filling my need for quite while so many people (including me) strove for vanity and to escape the thoughts of the present moment by meandering towards the promises of the next.

It was wednesday afternoon. I had to decide fast. I heard that the most important part of the gathering was on shabbos. I had 36 hours to make it into North Eastern UTAH. I had a great desire to be with people of my kind, blind to the fact that they may be next door. I had to head the forest. I was lost in the imagination of the beauty that will be.

I made a fast and good decision to dump my guitar in a shul I knew so I wouldn't have to haul it with me.I got on a couple of buses, all of which were complicated and eventually dumped me late at night in a nasty, drug ridden, prostitute infested, neigboorhood in down town LA near the Gray Hound bus station. Knowing that I had a decent amount of cash on me, I made my usual nasty neigborhood sounds, houls and roars, to warn the druggies and would be muggers that I was weird enough that it may not be worth their while to interact with me. If I had seen my antics, in the mirror, I too would have looked for someone to talk to. I had to do this for at least a 15 minutes until I could ask someone safe, and figure out, where I was and which but to take to get me the rest of the way to the station.

I only had a limited amount of money that would perfectly purchase a month on the road, a month away from humanity and all the faces and ideas that I had come to loath, the competition to be that perfect and successful man. I needed to see some trees. The cashier at Grayhound swiped my ATM card for the fifth time. she put tape on it. It wasn't working. I was so angry "stupid fuckers, do they realize how badly I need to leave this town?". I knew that, no matter what, I would be out of LA tonight. The ATM machine only allowed for 200 dollars to be withdrawn at a time which mean that I'd have enough money to get me to Utah, but no more money to buy my free month. That was terrible. I needed to see this damn country every mountain and valley, the cows and the villages, the fields of corn. I yearned for freedom and new smells and for people for whom clothing and their image was not as important to them as the water that enlivens the dying man.

When I got to Utah, they understood my story and used the 200 dolars I spent in LA towards my 30 day pass. I wandered around Utah, I found a thrift shop and bought the most perfect dainty, red orange guitar for 30 dollar. I needed a friend, and the guitar had become my best friend. No argument, it let my fingures find the perfect sounds that would sooth or inspire that moment. Fast friends,well until the strings began to break, but then again, if you play guitar you know, that, in an emergency situation, that one last e string can do much to entertain.

The bus dropped me of on the side of the highway. A couple minutes before I saw two faces that looked familiar only because they were Jewish, the close to frum kind. The kind from NY. I hadn't seen that kind in a while and it was only now that I realize what a distinct look it was, and that Jews have. They actually had a look. I just hadn't given it much though. Yes, I wanted space from Jews, but this moment of familiarity was refreshing in a way.

We all decided to hitch together. At 2:00 AM we were finally walking up a rocky dirt trail towards camp. The cold was biting at my arms. I had never been camping. I loved nature, but i was tired and cold now. I had made the unwise decision to bring an airport luggage with wheels to carry my clothing. I brought no tent. I had no camping gear. I had a sleeping bag, and I still had miles of walking to go in the pitch black forest without any flash light, before I would reach the camp. Miles. Yes, at that moment I thought of the new name I had been looking for. "Miles" I liked that name. It had the M sound. It meant miles. I thought about the many miles that took me from the land and thoughts of my birth, far away to the strange land that I had been shown. I though about all the new experiences and fresh thoughts and new teachers that had arrived. I thought about the adopted uncles and the passing lovers who taught me all of what my heart has been so yearning to know, and now to be blind, and lost, free and happy in the middle of a dark sea of trees. Here I am. I had come so many miles. Miles meant distance and accomplishment and freedom. Yes, "Miles" will be my new name. For now.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Nazis and Jews

I never hated Nazis but I surely feared them. The problem was I didn't know it. I grew up in a place where my mind was allowed to hate, and love anyone without it having any real implications. I hat the luxury of being able to hate non Jews and consider them different because I never met any so my sureness of how different we were was able to blossom nicely without interference. The consequence of that could be an insensitivity to cultural differences and the things that should or should not be said at any given time.

During my third year in LA, I moved into my first non Jewish immersion experience. I lived in a house with 25 non Jews. Michael slept on the floor, six inches away from me. Ishmael was an actor. Steve was an ex Navy Seal who conned a lot of money out of Fernando who never forgave me for capturing the love of Sulina, one of my first lovers from England and Indian heritage. Chan was from Taiwan, and he was the wise old sage of the house, always trying to keep the peace. Paul was living with his girl friend Patty in the attic but humping the older Jewish woman that he worked for in Hollywood. Scott played a wicked guitar and used to be friends with the members of the Lincoln Park band. Bob was also pretty old, and eventually found his way back to prison. After I left the house, I heard that Patty had OD'd on heroine. Of course there was Bill who had only two teeth in the front, nice flowing blond hair despite his being close to sixty. He still had visits with his childrens mother, but otherwise he was a pretty free spirit, and just went around town helping people fix things. Then there was Frank. He was a hardened dude, always polishing his black Mercedes. He hates his father who's a professor and did his stint in the army. He has plenty of tatoos and is constantly talking about his girl friend who he still sees on and off. He slept in my room in castle made out of sheets that he built for himself. During those weeks when he was not seeing his girl friend, he would stay in there for endless hours watching TV and playing computer games.

I had come to the house, and to California with the general attitude that I would meet anyone and everyone that that if I was kind and pleasant and if I would give people a chance, they would reciprocate my gestures and love me as well. For the most part I was right, but I must say that there have been some experiences that have made me believe that there is still some hard core hate of Jews in the world and no matter how nice, pleasant, understanding or accepting I am, I cannot expect that to be reciprocated. I am hated, disliked simply because I am a Jew.

As some of you know, my head used to spend most of its time in the clouds. Still now, but especially the, it would take difficult and extreme circumstances to call an issue to my attention. Only after totaling two cars and one accident did I start thinking about being more careful, or better yet, attentive when driving. Otherwise my mind was on another planet.

One day, I came home from work at 8:00 PM and Frank was standing near the door. I have no idea if he was waiting for me or what, but something looked different about his face. I said hello, but immediately sensed that something was wrong. He just didn't look the way he usually did. "So you think you Jews are better than us?" he yelled "You wanna fight?". I didn't even have to think. There was no fight or flight debate. I ran straight out the door as fast as I could. He had been working out every day as far as I could remember and I didn't want to find out what that kind of strength can do. Of course, I regret not being better suited to feed him a handsome portion Jewish fist and send him to a nice Jewish dentist, but at that moment, it was the wisest thing to do. I did feel bad that I didn't stay only because it was my home. I heard the screen door slam behind me and ran until I could see the great distance between myself and the place I had come to call home.

It was October and the Santa Anna winds were blowing their calming, warm soothing air down from the North and across Lost Angeles. I sat outside wondering what I would do. Should I go back? Even if he calms down, how can I sleep in the same room with him. What if he got another attack in the middle of the night. He had been in AA for a while, and he just got drunk. He said that he heard me say that I thought Jews were better than Non Jews. I don't think I would have ever said that , but looking back at my naivety, and lack of cultural sensitivity, it was not beyond me to say something insensitive and stupid.

As I walked back into the house, Frank was still drunk as a ravaging elephant on speed. Two or three of my fellow house mates had him in their grip so that he wouldn't beat me up. They forced him to sleep somewhere else that night. He and I didn't talk much after that. I had tried to be nice, but sometimes the nicest thing is to keep to oneself. soon after, I moved out. I had that feeling that I need to be back around Jews. I appreciated the brotherhood and community that we give each other and I hated the fact that, at least for now, I needed my brothers. I needed support.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The loss of love.

I don't know if I will ever achieve total peace about this one decision that I once made although I know now, and knew then that there was no other way to do it. When I moved to California, I was lost and confused and in need of so much help, and so many answers. Most of all was the great desire to succeed, to understand what had happened and to turn my life around. I was yearning and I was starving and I was motivated.

One day I met Manny. He was, one of the most refined and peaceful people, I had ever met. He was a published writer, and a lawyer and he was successful in my eyes. He was also a recovering alcoholic, so he knew about the steps and about healing. He was one of the most charming and successful people I had ever met personally.I knew that one of the keys to success is to get around successful people.He was definitely someone I wanted to be like and so I did all that I could to get to know him

He eventually married a Chines woman and started a little family. I would go to him for shabbos, and remember, at that time, I knew no one who had my back ground. I was alone. I had never really heard of the phenomenon of someone having been frum and then going off. Even if I did know of it, I was still to unsure about what had happened to me to know if this was a short (7 year) vacation, or if I was heading back when the symptoms would go down. I still didn't know what I truly believed and still hadn't pondered what a new future would look like.

Michael was everything. He was my family, my mentor, my uncle, my older brother, my role model, my guide. Most of all, he was the one that was helping me understand some things about Judaism that I had never known, some new ways of looking at Judaism. He had been a baal teshuva for a while and was well versed enough for me to listen to what he had to say as far has new ways to understand Judaism. These new ways were informing my decision of rethinking Judaism and what it could mean to me. He was actually the only one whom, I could speak to openly about my doubts and questions.

Then something happened that brought all that to a sudden end. I had had these feelings all along, but I thought, hoped that they would go away. I hated how they stayed and would not let me be. You see, part of my being around Michael, was about seeing what it's like to be a Jew, who knew Judaism, knew the Torah, and still chose not to practice it. I needed to know how that worked. As far as I was concerned at that point, although I didn't practice, I still thought i was wrong and that i would be punished. I had no experience knowing someone who celebrated jewish holidays but didn't care about turning lights on and off. I needed to understand the intricacies of how that worked. My mind would not accept these new behaviors as valid, safe ways to express Judism unless it understood the mental processes that went into making that decision. I needed to understand everything because so long as I didn't, I could not be sure about what path to take.

So, as with any Jewish related topic, i was curious to understand the details of Manny's decision to marry Anna Lee. What was he thinking? Did she convert properly Did he care? Most of all, I wanted to understand how did he resolve the fact that he himself was not a believer in the Torah from Sinai, but his wife was? How did that work? I knew for sure that his wife had converted for him. there was no doubt in my mind that she had zero interest in Judaism before she met him, and now, because of his wanting to have a "Jewish family" he had her go through Reform, Conservative, and then an Orthodox conversion. I wondered about that. Is that authentic? Is that the right thing to do?

Of course, the real reason why I was curious, was because if this path was for me, then I may as well, be faced with the opportunity to marry a non Jewish woman. I knew in my heart that, it would be a very difficult decision to make were the time to ever come and the only way I could get more comfortable with the idea and the possibility was by understanding what went into Manny's thought process when he made that decision to marry Suzanne.

Another thing I must add which added to the difficulty of the situation was the fact that, all my life we were taught (through silence) to keep silent. These attitudes had caused me much mental pain emotional suffering, because as I began the journey through the teen age years, the questions and the doubts and the fears had gotten to be too much to bear. When I had gotten to be twenty two years old, I went to a seminar which taught about being honest and straight forward. These teachers gave me the strength to begin sharing the piles, year, and multiple strata of lies, and hurts and pains that had been hidden deep down inside for so many years. I was deeply relieved when I realized that the sharing of these lies, and beliefs had brought great relief and it was that joy that made me resolve to do the best I could to share any hurt, fear or anger, immediately before it got to great to handle.

Meanwhile, this one question about Manny and his marriage, simmered inside like a boiling volcano. I felt like it was threatening to devour our whole friendship. On the one hand, I felt like being his friend, and his mentee, and part of his family was a great step toward success, and i felt myself wanting to hold on to that for dear life, and on the other hand, I felt that I could not respect him as a mentor for my purposes unless he was comfortable speaking about his decision to marry a non Jewish woman. First of all, that was the reason I was spending time with him, to understand the way he made peace with the Judaism of his past and the practice of his present, and Secondly, I needed a mentor who was comfortable speaking about every emotion, decision and experience, and if there was something that was too hurtful to speak of, how could he be my mentor?

I must be honest at this point and say, that, at that time, although I wasn't religious, I still felt, like a righteous prophet who stood for ultimate truth. I didn't care who a person was. If there was something they were doing, something about the way they were living that, I felt wasn't truthful or authentic, I felt like it was my mitzva to tell them. I hated lies or hypocrisy.

Finally there came a point one shabbos afternoon when the inner pressure got too great. I felt like I was hiding myself from him. I felt like I was hiding an important issue for the sake of his friendship. This feeling was sickening to me because that was precisely the way I had grown up. I had a feeling that the issue was a sensitive one for Manny but I knew there was no way around it at this point. I either had to bring it up, or leave. I couldn't stand the inner lie. I couldn't understand how a woman brought into Judaism by him, could be more committed to it than he was. I has also heard her make some comments that indicated that it really didn't mean much to her. He seemed to be living this life, where he could do, believe and think whatever he wanted, but at the same time, he needed to know that his family was Jewish, a regular traditional Jewish family.

To me this was hypocrisy. If you don't care about Judaism, and it means nothing to you, then who cares if you children are identified by the frum as Jewish?

I did bring my issue up to him. He was sad angry and hurt. "How do you eat her food?" he told me, as he escorted me out of his house. He didn't want me back there until this issue was resolved in me. I wrote him a long letter. He seemed to understand my point, but I have never had it in me to get to know him again. I felt like he was not being fair by expecting me to understand how he made peace with these issues. I still feel strongly that, although, he is an amazing person, he would need to be more honest with me about how he felt whole and peaceful with these contradictions in order for me to respect him as a role model for honesty.

I still regret deeply that my convictions have put me in a position to cause pain to such a dear man, and dear friend, but I could not and cannot see any other way.

That night, I had a deeply satisfying feeling that I had rarely felt before. I felt like I had done the right thing. I had lost my favorite friend and mentor but I had gain a renewed conviction inside, that being honest was possible, that it works and that all will be OK, if I continue sharing my truth.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The gift you gave

When I moved out to California, I was a broken man, a very sad boy who's only asset was confusion and lack of direction. I hadn't been taught anything that was necessary to be a man, and I had no idea what a man looked like. All I had were questions and fear.

The lucky thing was that I started meeting many people who were eager to help in all ways. They started filling in the missing pieces that had been shattered eighteen years prior. They didn't need to know what was needed because it said it all over my face. I needed everything. I needed to learn Chemistry, Biology, Mathematics, History, Linguistics. I needed to know what happened to me, how did it happen, and whether it would happen again. I needed to know what religion I belonged to, and will I ever be able to make a decision about what is right and what is wrong. I needed to know how to make a decision. I needed to know how I could know if a girl liked me, and if she did, what would I do next. I had always wanted to learn how to play basket ball, and about how to make money and balance a check book. I wanted to learn about investing. How does one know what path to follow if one has never heard of the path, or if one is allowed to follow one. I needed to learn how to listen to what was going on inside me and that it was OK. That there actually was a voice inside, that, were I to let it talk again, were I to tell it that I would listen, it would begin telling me, in earnest, what it wanted. I needed to know how to dress and which colors went with which. I needed to know that my thoughts were OK, and that I could think. I had been so distant from my mind, that I didn't know anymore which thoughts were real, part of me and which thoughts were just wandering through really fast, because they all seemed that way.

One day, after I had begun performing for little kids, I decided that I wanted to get really good, so I decided to start speaking to people who were really good to see how I could get more popular and polish up my act. I met a woman named Rachel. She had been teaching and singing for about 40 years, and she was overflowing with love and laughter. I performed for her class one day, and since that time, I had begun to get to know her more and more. I had also been working in the restaurant at that time, and one day, after I hadn't seen her for a while she came in, and from that point and on, we started getting to know each other on a closer level. I felt like she was my mother. She was nice, healthy, talented, proud of her self and not nosy. She was just a healthy and mature adult and I really gained so much from knowing her. It filled some of that void, that yearning to have one good, healthy woman in my life.

One day, when she came into the restaurant, it was a little slow so I was able to sit down with her and chat. We started talking about her life, and she said, "Meir, I get a mazal Tov" I said why? She said "because I just got remarried" I said, what do you mean? I never knew that you weren't married, but I'm happy that you are married. She says "No, I just remarried my husband". "You see, six months ago, I divorced him, and now I just remarried him". Now to tell the truth, I was shocked out of my mind because, I read people pretty well. Many times,or most of the time,I can tell if they are having, or have had some kind of issue, especially something as life consuming as a marital issue, and her saying this caught me totally off guard, because I had known her for a while now, I and I didn't have any idea that anything was wrong.

I was curious to understand this, and she explained to me what had happened. Her husband came from a very orthodox (chassidishe) background, and simply never rebuilt his life. He never got a chance to actually learn a skill and make a living. He had tried several businesses and they all barely or never succeeded. After 40 years of being married, he was so ashamed of himself that he just walked out, and they got divorced, but she did love him dearly, but it was more his shame that made it impossible to be around his wife. He simply didn't accept himself and couldn't feel accepted by her. During this time, they went to therapy and he was able to come to a greater and deeper understanding, that his wife, Rachel really did love him for who he was although he hadn't been successful in becoming the bread winner of the family. He had been a good father and a kind and helpful husband and that was enough to keep her love.

I was so moved by the story. It taught me so much. Until that time, I had had the impression that once a person reached middle age, they had no problems. I was embarrassed to let my inside story be known to people of the mother, father uncle category.Now, I realized that nowhere in life, no age, is too late or early to have a crisis, a life changing moment, or a time to learn some very significant lessons.

I assumed that a man with this kind of shame and guilt inside couldn't have been a good father, so I inquired a little into what kind of father he was and she told me a little anecdote which I found very poignant, surprising and very inspiring. She said, that when they were in the hospital, after she had just given birth to their first child, the doctor noticed that her husband was not holding the baby. He was letting her do all the holding. The father grabbed the baby out of her hands and handed the baby to her husband Abe, saying loudly and commandingly "HOLD YOUR BABY". The doctor knew that a baby must be touched and held by its father in order to be a healthy adult. She explained that he husband came from a family where touch was not something comfortable, and so he stayed away from it, but after the Doctor gave his such a strong reprimanding, he held and touched all of his children, thereby facilitating them having a great father, even though that was not the kind of fathering that he had.

I was really touched by this story. It helped me understand that even the perfect adults around me, had struggled. We are all moving at our own speed towards the place that we imagine will be perfect.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The story of me and my guitar

Ever since i was a kid the guitar looked magical. My uncle plays the guitar, that memory may have stuck in my mind. Then came the yeshiva, and a lot of sadness, and new ideas that drowned out childhood wishes, new worries that destroyed innosense and introduced me to an adulthood that demolished all that was once part of the true me. There was once a child in there, who loved to wonder and think and question, and then came a moment when that couldn't be.

My mother played the guitar too once in a while. When all my moments of sadness became too much to bear, and the mask that I had glued to my face was torn off with part of my skin and soul that bound it so tight, my new, old feelings of who I truly am began to surface, one at a time and then in a flurry, a drizzle, a torrential wave that swept through me demanding, all at the same time that every old dream bear fruit, and that I carry out with my hands what my heart was born to do. The same old voices, would try again, to suffocate the child, just out of habit, not so much out of need, but he had learned a painful lesson and had promised the dreams, that he would now listen, and that there would never be a dream left unfulfilled, that now the heart would be allowed to rule and that the mind would be laid to rest, if that is ever possible.

When I arrived at the beach, I found an urgent calling to play the guitar. something in me told me that it would sooth my confused spirit. That was not entirely correct for it would take many years, of crying, and forgiving and reconfiguring my mind and purpose to finally find some semblance of peace, but never the less, the heart was correct that I needed to play the guitar and that there were certain sounds and expressions, a form of aliveness and fullness that could only be expressed, experienced once I lifted up the guitar and made it my own.

I hated the thought, firstly because I hated touching things. All touch would give me such tortured sensation, such intense sensation that I refrained from anything that had to do with touch. I barely ever played ball, I didn't shower well. I had spent so long in the world of the mind for that reason. Little did I know that my body yearned for touch, for a tactile connection to matter of this world. My relentless demand of the spirit and mind to give me all answers was the key to my torture, and what I needed most was to touch and to hold, to twist, to break, to bend, and form the things of this world.

That first day when I arrived at the beach, I met a man,a hippy man, with a long straggly beard, making the most beautiful sound coming out of his guitar. I knew that if I could make those sounds, I'd be happy. I told him that I'll pay him 20.00 dollars for his guitar. He said sure. Turns out that the guitar was not worth anything to me, because I couldn't make any nice sounds come out of it. It was a sad, and cheap guitar that could only be tickled by a professional that knew it's funny points.

I must admit that those early days of practicing were quite sorrowful and joyful all at the same time. I hated, the time, that I knew it would take for me to make any decent sound out of the guitar. I was a slow learner. My hands were really lazy. They had no idea, or didn't want to know that I was having a relationship with a guitar. It took them a long time to know that I was actually, holding, fingering, the hairs of a beautiful guitar. It took even longer for theme to actually know where and when to put my fingers at the right place. Am Dm, over and over again, sometimes a thousand or two thousand chord switches in one sitting, until, slowly, very slowly, my hands got into the rhythm of what was happening.

One day, while at the local college, I heard that there was a shabbaton, being held at University of Santa Barbara. Girls were going,so I was excited and I went. It was really great. I must admit, that those were quite painful days because I was still so uncomfortable with my peers, both guys and girls that I really didn't feel like their friend. I still had so much to learn about my skills, my wants, my body, and how to learn what I don't know. I remember the car ride there. I remember many moments of feeling not part of anything, but there was one moment that shines out as a turning point in my feelings towards my Judaism.

I hated everything about Judaism and cursed my confusion about it, which made me not fit into anything Jewish and non Jewish because i was so full of hate for what I was that there was no energy left for who I would like to be. Still, everyone was going to shul. there was Orthodox, Reform and conservative. I took a great leap of faith. I went to the conservative kabbalat shabbat. I had a moment there that changed many feelings I had about Judaism, supplied more questions than answered but also instilled in my heart a love for Jewish music.

Until that point, I was so full of hate and disgust and confusion that there was no way in hell that my mind could even conceive having any relationship with Judaism. All it was, for me was a pile of laws that I had to do, that there was no way to get away from, and that were impossible to keep. All it was was a pile of expectations which assure the doom, of any form of, joy originality, creativity or individualism. I surely didn't see my place in it, and frankly, I really thought that I would die, a hateful person, who never resolved these issue, and I would go to my death hating, having not fulfilled my true purpose which was the constant study of Torah. I knew there was no redemption for me, and there was no chance that I would ever have any kind of relationship with Judaism since I hated it so much.

Looking back, it wasn't Judaism I hated, it was me, the part of me that had chosen not to sing, not to express, touch reach out, and shout all the song and dream and want that I had in me. As Josh got up and played his niggun for Lcha Dodi, something changed. Of course, I had never seen lcha dodi played with a guitar, and the niggun was so beautiful and refreshing. It was different. It danced, it rang. It didn't sound like one of those niggunim that you would sing when you were watched your grandfather being dragged by his beard through the shtetle square. It had a whole new bounce to it. I was touched and told myself that, that was my new mission. I wanted to be a prayer leader. I wanted to sing Jewish songs in synagogues.

This vision, filled my heart with Joy. It was the beginning of molding a new relationship with Judaism. I had a new channel for all those ideas and identities that I had been taught. I had always seen myself as a teacher, and I had always been one, and ever since, I fell out of the sky , I had zero relationship with all those years of study, and no way to understand their purpose, and if they had any. Now, I would begin to see my Judaism as an opportunity to teach the spirit of my past through the music of my present.

I must admit that there were some very painful times with regard to my music. I had tens of niggunim that poured through my mind, that I loved because they were me but I hated because they came to words that I no longer felt close to and despised. I didn't know what to make of it. At times, I hated playing my own niggunim, and at times, i would try to compose a niggun that was more in line with the more modern tunes that I was now listening to. That never worked. A niggun seemed to have a mind of it's own and came, on it's schedule and how it wanted to come. Often, it was a loved and hated niggun, until one day in about seven years ago. A Thursday morning when I thought of a niggun to pitchu li, and I really have the most awesome wholesome feeling about it. Then, that shabbos morning, I thought of a niggun to mizmor lidavid. I must say, that niggun was a changing moment. It was a pure niggun, similar to the kinds I grew up with, yes, a little mournful, but I didn't hate it. I felt united with it. I felt like it was part of me and I was part of it. It was my niggun. I knew with that niggun that I had reached a new and fresh level of forgiveness of my past. I didn't need to hate it as much as I usually did. Somehow despite my lack of practice, I still felt Jewish enough, and happy enough, to compose this niggun and make it my own. I was delighted. I must admit this was one of the best moments of my life, because it connected me with a very dear and rich past that I loved so much. I never wanted to be free of Judaism. i wanted to be free of the constant hate, and fear, and guilt. Home. For this moment, i was home. A little taste of what was with a truck load of who I really was and the me that I was coming to love more and more each day.