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 Belonging: Life is a Spiritual Journey (We didn’t say: ‘Religious Journey’)

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daniel eliezer

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PostSubject: Belonging: Life is a Spiritual Journey (We didn’t say: ‘Religious Journey’)   Sun Jun 30, 2013 7:24 am

For those who have difficulty with the transliterated Hebrew and who don’t have access
to Jewish libraries, most transliterated Hebrew can probably be found through Google.
If the word is critical to what I’m saying, then it is explained.

*         *         *

Belonging: Life is a Spiritual Journey
(We didn’t say: ‘Religious Journey’)

My contributing regularly on Jewish By Choice commenced in “Conversion Discussion & Issues” with: ‘Feeling Jewish’ and ‘being a Jew’ are not the same thing: “Is this me – this Jew I am looking at and for?” What can’t be known is that lines in the opening paragraph actually originated in a writing titled “Fitting In”, written a number of years ago when I was contributing on another forum for Gerim. Blessedly, many of the thoughts that I wrote then have been more deeply developed here in JBC. Still, despite the greater development here, I want to return to that writing of then, “Fitting In”, in order to open this new topic, “Belonging: Life is a Spiritual Journey”.

Fitting In
There are people who convert and become part of the Jewish People and the Jewish community for reasons other than religious, and by religious I mean that religion is not a large part of their lives. These people have my deepest blessings, but I myself came for a different reason. I was intent on changing my life, what I then called ‘repentance’, but what in the course of time I honestly came to understand as ‘teshuvah’ - usually translated as ‘repentance’ but actually meaning ‘return’. ‘Return’, of course, is returning to God, and in this sense my converting wasn’t a search for religion but a search for me.

In reaching this understanding I recognize that my life’s journey has been a spiritual journey, and because it is I realize that for me both Judaism and conversion are a spiritual journey, too. Because this is true, what I will share in the continuation reflects and is directed towards those who are also on a spiritual journey. Nothing that I say will exclude anyone, God forbid, it’s just that there are those whose hearts and souls will hear and identify more readily with what and how I am sharing.

What I want to share are thoughts and understandings about ‘fitting in’, and my hopes are that it will open up this matter. Because this is a subject that we all have knowledge and experience about, to a large degree we are all authorities, yet I believe that I can share things that maybe others don’t know and won’t so easily discover. To do so, I want to look at us - we who have converted - from a different point of view, the view of a convert looking from inside himself outwards towards the Jewish world. I want to say things about ‘them’ and ‘us’ - most especially ‘us’ - things that no one ever really tells us. These are things that belong to us, things that we need to hear, want to hear, and many times outright ache to hear.

The words and thoughts that I am sharing here are what I’ve accrued from my experiences and knowledge, experiences and knowledge accumulated through and driven by a burning desire to know and understand what no one seemed to be able to tell me. In their being the fruits of my labor they are personal to me. Even so, I will try to present my thoughts as objectively as possible, although obviously I see things through my own eyes. It is my prayer that nothing I say should confuse anyone nor offend anyone, and neither will I be upset or discouraged in any way if others disagree with or find the need to correct me. And if, please God, my thoughts do help clarify or give us new insight or a new way of seeing ourselves then this can only be a blessing for all of us.

I would like to begin with a short, fictitious analogy so that we can have a common, basic, and neutral understanding of what’s often perceived as a complex problem. It goes like this.

Let’s say that my parents were born and raised in mainland China but decided to emigrate, moving to, say, Toronto, Canada. Despite their decisions and actions, they remained attached to their roots and we spoke Chinese at home, nevertheless they also consciously raised me in the western culture of Toronto and Canada. I, for my part, always felt somewhat distant from life around me, and in college I took advantage of an opportunity and through the Exchange Program went to study in Peking. Although I returned home to Canada, China spoke to me and a few years later I moved to China, eventually settling there. I’ve now lived in China for over thirty years, already more than half of my life.

The singular point that I want to make from this analogy is that regardless of however long I would be living in China and regardless of however much I will ‘belong’, there will always be a part of me that isn’t ‘purely native-born Chinese’. It may be noticed; it may be subtle. I may feel totally absorbed in China and Chinese life, but inevitably there will be those moments and memories, times and situations when the ‘Canadian in me’ will all come back.

I’ve written this analogy so that we can have an objective understanding of how when we change ourselves in any undertaking in life we can take ‘me’ out of ‘____’ but that it is probably impossible to take ‘____’ out of me. Where and how we are raised and what we have experienced become an inseparable part of us, yet however much this is so it still isn’t the essence of who we are.

And this is what is important: understanding the essence of who we are.

Before we begin to address this understanding, we want to continue looking at people who have changed their lives and encounter the dilemma of ‘fitting in’. We’ll do so like this.

Let’s say that we’re children 7-13 years of age, and, God forbid, both our parents leave this world. There is little alternative other than we’re going to finish being raised by others, for which everyone’s most natural preference is family. Our good fortune is that each of our parents is an identical twin whose respective twins have also married each other. Our going to live with them is a given blessing. How much more compatibility could anyone ask for.

Except there’s not…is there. Mark and Cheryl are not Martin and Charlene, not by any stretch of the imagination, and they certainly aren’t ‘our father and mother’. Despite the tremendous similarities and seemingly identicalness, it’s two different worlds. Even given there being absolutely no question of their loving us and caring for us, it’s just not the same thing, and if we would go to anyone else…how much more so would this be true, right.

So here we have two scenarios describing the dilemma of ‘fitting in’, from which said descriptions this question presents itself, “From what and from where does the dilemma of ‘fitting in’ derive, regardless of which scenario we look at?”

The honest answer is, “The dilemma of ‘fitting in’ derives from ourselves – from we who came into this world in one environment and have inherited that environment, yet now we are having to acclimate and to adjust to another environment. No matter how good our new life will be and no matter how long we’ll be a part of it and how much we’ll absorb of it, there will always be a part of us that was not always there.”

In contemplating these two scenarios, setting aside that the first is one of personal choice and the second one a calamity of life, do we perceive any genuine differences between these two scenarios? Overtly there are considerable differences, yet this notwithstanding at heart the dilemma is identical: the need to adjust and acclimate to an environment that is not of our own making, one in which we bring our own developed identities and perceptions and understandings - however well formed and established they may or may not be.

For the purpose of giving ourselves time to contemplate, we’ll pause for the moment, closing with these thoughts.

Each scenario is a reflection of the unpredictableness of life, nonetheless for which scenario, if any, would we apply the word ‘fortune’ and for which the word ‘fate’…and if we do why?

Shalom,
Daniel Eliezer

P.S. This short video segment [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCFaEMn1ZoQ] (15 min.) was sent to me by a friend who he himself received it from a friend of his who is a Ger. It’s timing in coming to me coincides with what I’m writing, so I thought to share it with all of us.

Although the title of the segment is “The Lonely Convert, the Lonely Jew”, the content of what’s said is directed at the world of so-called Torah Jews, and its message is far more greater than Gerim and the way Jews relate to Gerim. It is definitely a very worthwhile video to listen to, and even though I myself am in many ways beyond what the rabbi is saying, I, too, respect the value of what he is saying.

Also, while this link appears to belong more in the Torah topic, the essence and substance of its message for Jews is understanding the essence of who we [Jews] arefrom a Jew?!

*         *         *
What I write doesn’t invite comments within the topic, but I do want you to know
that all are welcome to write me should you have any questions or comments.
I can be reached at: d.e.ben.eitan@gmail.com.
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daniel eliezer

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Posts : 82
Join date : 2011-12-01
Location : Beit El, Israel

PostSubject: Re: Belonging: Life is a Spiritual Journey (We didn’t say: ‘Religious Journey’)   Thu Jul 04, 2013 9:54 pm

For those who have difficulty with the transliterated Hebrew and who don't have access
to Jewish libraries, most transliterated Hebrew can probably be found through Google.
If the word is critical to what I'm saying, then it is explained.

*         *         *
…what we are meant to do…

‘Fate’ and ‘fortune’ are fickle words, fickle in the sense that often they are dependent upon one’s perspective and fickle in the sense that they are time constrained. In the course of time their meaning can change. Furthermore, both ‘fate’ and ‘fortune’ seem to imply something external to us, not something internal and personal. There’s another word, though, that combines both: ‘destiny’, something that is a combination of life external to me and life internal to me. Eight years ago when I had to eulogize my father, I had to do so in a church (permissible), and began my words with these thoughts.

Because of who I am and what I am, where I am and where I came from, I feel that I have the need to talk about that a little bit, before I eulogize my father. It is always a question of how I…coming from this church and my background…got to where I am today.  Know that had I been born to the Pope, I would have gotten to where I am; it is what I was meant to do.  It’s the path that I was meant to follow in life…”

Destiny, for a Jew, is what we are meant to do. That we may not do it means that we’ve failed to fulfill our destiny. It happens, right. We ostensibly have free choice, our lives are our own, and we have the freedom and privilege…at least in Western society…to do what we want with them.

Of course, this is not really true, because the overt options that exist for any of us are limited by society, often extremely so, and, really, even more so by ourselves. By this we mean, first, the ability to be different than what society wants or allows us to do, and, second and most importantly, the ability to discover and be ‘who I am’. But let’s leave this aside, though, and share a story or two or three that furthers our question.

When I was a sophmore in high school (‘65-’66), a twelve year-old student joined us in our trigonometry class. The student was Chinese American, brilliant, and already on his way to university. I don’t think he and I ever exchanged a single word, because we really were worlds apart, scholastically and socially, but then again we never really had any reason to. I lay no claim to Roger Tsien, who would go on to become Dr. Roger Tsien, whom I did nothing more than share a classroom with. I honestly cannot even say, “I knew him when,” because I didn’t. Why I mention him at all is that it was only by chance that I discovered he was awarded a Nobel Prize for his work in medicine (if I remember correctly).

So we who live a world of fame and achievement are quick to claim, “I knew him when.” I, too, would probably do so, except I really didn’t. Dr. Roger Tsien isn’t even a footnote in my life nor I in his, and yet Dr. Roger Tsien taught me something fascinating and important.

When I discovered that he’d been awarded a Nobel Prize, very naturally I did a little research to find out about him, because I knew as little as anyone who’s reading these lines knows. In speaking about himself, his background, and his life, Dr. Roger Tsien talked about how he’s something like a 33rd or 34th generation Samurai warrior. “Why that’s important,” explained Dr. Tsien, “is that his ancestory is one of serving as a warrior. Today, however, there is no longer the need for Samurai warriors, but since my ancestory is ‘to serve’, I turned my inherited lineage in the direction of ‘serving society’.”

A different story comes from the rabbi who converted me, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, then of Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan but who left perhaps the most prominent and successful rabbinical position in America in the mid-1980s, when he came to Israel to be the Chief Rabbi of the city of Efrat, a city that his synagogue community was instrumental in getting off the ground and building and coming to live in it.

Rabbi Riskin came through the Yeshiva University College and the rabbinical program, and when he became a pulpit rabbi, he was already teaching in the JSS progam at Y. U., a program that was for those with little or no Jewish background or education. It happened one year that a student came to the program…and it was like he’d discover paradise. He not only took to all the learning, but he so much blossomed that the rabbis were already envisioning just what he woud do. The next year he didn’t return.

Just as a Ger doesn’t become a knowledgeable and practicing Jew overnight, neither do Jews who return to becoming knowledgeable and practicing Jews do so overnight. I was becoming a Ger in the early mid-70s, the time when vast numbers of young Jews were returing to their roots, and once I converted I was in the Y. U. JSS program. I know how rare a person like this student was in terms of so openly embracing what he’d discovered, and I know enough about the rabbis of JSS to know that if they were so genuinely impressed with him this student must have really, really been someone special.

Because of this, the program refused to accept what the student had decided as simply a routine changing of schools and venues. His promise was too valuable and important a gift to the Jewish People to dismiss so casually, and they went to visit and speak with him. Rabbi Riskin, a very charismatic figure, was chosen to go, and he sums up what happened like this. Said the student, “Before I came to Yeshiva University, when I got up in the morning I did what I wanted to do. At Yeshiva University I discovered that when I wake up in the morning I do what God wants me to do. I decided that when I wake up in the morning I want to do what I want to do.”

About his decision, I want to comment from Moby Dick, where Herman Melville recounts a story about a shipboy, Pip, who, because of injuries to the sailors who chase the whales, was pressed into manning an oar in a chase boat. On one of these pursuits, Pip ended up in the water, and Melville writes…

“…Now, in calm weather, to swim in the open ocean is as easy to the practised swimmer as to ride in a spring-carriage ashore. But the awful lonesomeness is intolerable. The intense concentration of self in the middle of such a heartless immensity, my God! Who can tell it?…

…But it so happened that those boats, without seeing Pip, suddenly spying whales close to them on one side, turned and gave chase; and Stubb’s boat was now so far away, and he and all his crew so intent upon his fish, that Pip’s ringed horizon began to expand miserably. By the merest chance the ship itself at last rescued him; but from that hour little Pip went about the deck an idiot; such, at least, they said he was. The sea had jeeringly kept his finite body up, but drowned the infiniteness of his soul…”

And we’ll close with a story about ‘saving someone’s life’.

Opening Doors

I’m on the subway platform, standing in the back row of those waiting for the train, when, just as it finally hurls into the station screeching to a halt and throwing its doors open, a woman begins shouting from the top of the stairs, “HOLD THAT TRAIN! HOLD THAT TRAIN!”…and continues to shout as she shoves her way down the stairs.

There isn’t any real need – not the shouting nor the shoving and not even the holding. She has plenty of time to make the train and I know this, just as I know that even if not I can easily block the doors from closing and hold the train for her. So I make no effort to ‘hold the train’, merely moving with the crowd and being the last one through the doors.

Well…almost. It turns out the conductor, for whatever reason, closes the doors pre-maturely, catching me unawares as I’m stepping onto the train. The doors slam into my shoulders (doesn’t hurt), rebound to full-open, as they’re trained to do, and with this the still-shouting woman bursts past me into the car, the doors close, and we leave the station. Oblivious to this one-more-harried-and-late-traveler, I’m standing there feeling stupid and embarrassed at having been caught in the doors like that.

Huffing and puffing from her exertion, it takes this woman a few minutes to catch her breath and steady herself, but when she does she turns to me saying, “thank you.” I shrug my shoulders, “I didn’t do anything.”

“Yes you did. You held the doors so I could catch this train.”

Embarrassed, I answer, “No I didn’t. I wish it were true, but the conductor closed the doors early and I was stupidly standing there when he did.”

“I don’t care. I needed to catch this train and it’s because of you I did. I’m very grateful to you and I thank you very much.”

Her words don't begin to give over just how grateful she was. I had a feeling that it was as if I had saved her life!?
*      *      *
This story happened more than thirty years ago, when I was still in America. I used to love telling it over, especially about how the conductor closed the doors on me like some first-class idiot, which really is the craziest thing about this whole story. It was Broadway & 72 St. and I was going downtown on the express train. The setup of the station there is that when you go through the turnstile you’re already at the top of the stairs and when you get to the bottom of them a right turn puts you right on the express train, which is what it was. I knew the stop well. She could have made the train on crutches, and should have made this train with time to spare…but she didn’t!?

From that day on, whenever I’ve shared this story, I’ve always used it as an example of how we never know what results from what we do for others, especially what we intentionally attempt to do. Does what we did have meaning?…help?…do something? There is good we do and we know it, yet mostly it’s all a big unknown.

With this woman, however, there’s no doubt whatsoever: I literally did nothing! A newspaper could have fallen out from under someone’s arm and blocked the doors, and it would have had the same effect as my body did. And yet…as is often true for all of us… of those - myself included - who have given genuine thanks for good done them, few have been able to express their gratitude in the way that this anonymous woman thanked me for something I didn’t do!?

I continue to hear and share this story as I’ve explained it, but other dimensions of it have opened for me also…dimensions that I doubt I would have ever discovered had it not been for Shlomo. Without Shlomo I would never have looked at it with different eyes and would never have known otherwise. Thank God, because of Shlomo I’ve come to a deeper understanding of this story…an understanding that is only pure Shlomo. It goes like this.

There are times in life when we are blessed to open…or have someone open for us…a door. Additionally, there are other times when we’re blessed to hold open the door…or have it held open for us. Maybe most importantly, there are times when we’re blessed to keep the doors from closing…or from being closed for us. In a way that only Shlomo could, Shlomo was perpetually preventing doors from being closed. His continual teaching, “Don’t ever give up!” can only come from ‘a Master of keeping the doors from closing’.

For this woman…for reasons totally unbeknownst to me…I was blessed to keep the doors from closing. It was absolutely irrelevant ‘who I was’…yet it was tremendously crucial ‘that I was’ – and that is why she mamash thanked me with her entire being: I literally kept the doors from closing for her.

It wasn’t me…but it was! But why?!

It’s true I prevented doors from closing for her, but in return she opened doors for me. This, as we all know, is what we pray every morning…

המכין מצעדי גבר. … ברוך אתה - Blessed are You…who prepares where we go.

Shabbat Shalom,
Daniel Eliezer


*         *         *
What I write doesn't invite comments within the topic, but I do want you to know
that all are welcome to write me should you have any questions or comments.
I can be reached at: d.e.ben.eitan@gmail.com.
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daniel eliezer

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Posts : 82
Join date : 2011-12-01
Location : Beit El, Israel

PostSubject: Re: Belonging: Life is a Spiritual Journey (We didn’t say: ‘Religious Journey’)   Thu Jul 11, 2013 5:31 pm

For those who have difficulty with the transliterated Hebrew and who don't have access
to Jewish libraries, most transliterated Hebrew can probably be found through Google.
If the word is critical to what I'm saying, then it is explained.

*         *         *
Recounting together, like we did last week, the stories of Dr. Roger Tsien, the Nobel Prize recepient, of the anonymous student, and of myself seemingly doesn’t work. In the first two stories we of course see the connection, but in the third, my story, it vaguely seems to fit…but not really. Let’s add now another story and see if we can enlargen our perception.

Coming Home

Since Chanukah [Spring 2010] I’ve been in Jerusalem daily, which allows me to go to the Kotel [Western Wall of the Temple Mount] on Thursday afternoons to end my week. One Thursday, as I came into the Old City through the Jaffe Gate, just as I passed a woman speaking to a policeman she turned to her friend saying, “He doesn’t know.”

Catching her American English, I asked, “What do you need to know?” “Do you know how to get to the tunnels of the Western Wall? We have reservations for a tour.” (The tunnels are archeological excavations.)” “Sure. Follow me.”…and we headed into the Arab shuk that leads to the Temple Mount.

Of these two women, former New Yorkers now living in Atlanta, Ga., one was talkative and the other quiet. The talkative one asked me, “How long’ve you been in Israel?”… “30 years”…“I was here thirty years ago as a student and I wanted to live here, but my parents didn’t want me to. They were so opposed they made me sign an agreement that if I would come to Israel to live they would cut off all my financial support. I signed the agreement, and I’ve been in America ever since. My parents always said that it was because of my signing the agreement that I didn’t come to Israel to live.” She related all this in the most positive way, like it’s one of those [good] business deals one makes with life, and in her rendition of her parents’s synopsis of what resulted her voice actually had glee in it. There was nothing to say, so I just nodded.

“Why’d you come to Israel?” she asked me, and I answered…

“When I was beginning to learn Torah (mid-’70s), I was in NYC with Rabbi Riskin at Lincoln Square Synagogue, where Israel was an integral part of life at LSS. The shul was heavily involved in building the new city of Efrat in Gush Etzion, and this project absorbed the community. I knew, however, that I wasn’t ready for Israel yet, so I simply put Israel aside until some future time when I would be capable of dealing with it.

In those days, on my visits to my parents, inevitably my father and I’d get into discussions cum arguments about everything - but most usually about religion. During one visit and one more endless, unavoidable, unresolvable argument, suddenly out of the blue and totally unrelated to what we’d been arguing about my father asked, ‘What about Israel?’

Caught completely off guard by his question...and yet even before I could begin to think to answer...there suddenly welled up - literally welled up - from somewhere deep inside me the realization that I WAS GOING TO ISRAEL! Startled and absolutely astonished I struggled to keep what was surging up inside me from reaching my face. Playing for time I replied nonchalantly, ‘What about Israel?’ Without hesitation my father continued, ‘Are you going?’ I wanted to shout with all my being, “YES, I AM GOING!” but I clenched my teeth and replied weakly, ‘No.’ We both knew it was a lie.”

She and I continued to talk about my story a little more, when suddenly she turned to her friend, “Do you hear what he’s saying?!” she asked excitedly. Her friend, who’d been listening quietly and who was somewhat withdrawn, stepped towards me asking , “Are you an only child?” to which I replied, “No, I have siblings…,” adding, “…but I’m alone in Israel.”

“Well, I have an only son and he came to Israel to live, and I’m totally opposed to it [him]!”

What could I say to her…and I do have what to say. I felt for her, but I also felt for her son and she’s mistaken. So, respecting her feelings, we continued making small talk, reaching the expanse of the Kotel a few minutes later. I took them to their meeting point, but since they still had some ten minutes to wait, I said to the mother of the only child, “I have a story that I think you should hear.” This story was in my mind when she first confronted me, but I was tremendously hesitant and uncertain about sharing it.

Tremulously I began…“I have friends here in Israel, friends from when we met in NYC when we were all single. He’s from Tennessee and she from Virginia. They married and moved to Memphis, while I moved to Israel. They, too, wanted to move to Israel, especially once children were born, but because of their aging parents and she being a geriatric social worker and because she is an only child they didn’t know what to do. It happened that on one Shabbat, Rabbi Israel Miller, of saintly and blessed memory, the then Vice-President of Yeshiva University, was visiting in Memphis, and she took advantage of his presence and went to ask his advice. “You’ve got to go to Israel,” he said. “You’re going for the sake of your children. What will be with your parents will be…”

…adding from my own thoughts, “that Rabbi Miller had the courage to give this advice is something, and that they had the courage of heart to listen to him is something special, too. Blessedly, a few years after they came, her mother also moved to Israel…”

“…I’m not going to do that!” she blurted out.

Groping for something to say in the few minutes left, I continued, “When we teach our children to walk, as our children get farther and farther from us we are more and more pleased and satisfied, because it reflects their self-confidence and independence. Paradoxically, as they physically distance themselves from us our love for them only grows.”

“What’s the greatest challenge in life?” I asked her, “to know why we’re here, to know what we have to do in this world. My father said to me, ‘what if your children won’t do like you?’ to which I answered, ‘we’ll see,’ but even then I knew that that’s not what it’s all about.”

“I want my children to know who they are. I want to be able to give to my children the freedom and independence they need in order to be ‘who they are’. Who they are is not a question that I am capable of answering for them and neither do I want to. I only want them to know unshakably that it’s their decision.” And with these final thoughts I stopped.

This woman was looking at me, totally focused and absorbed in what I was saying, no longer withdrawn into her own pain. (As the conversation turned in an undesirable direction her friend has long since abandoned us.) “Thank you, thank you. You’ve given me so much.”

She turned towards her tour, and I went forward some twenty meters to the Kotel. I sat there for a very long time, lost in thought and meditation over what had happened and I kept thinking, “What an honor, mamash, what an honor to be chosen for such a Holy mission.” It stunned…and still stuns…me that here was a woman who was visiting Israel for 13 days! and that God brought me to the Kotel to tell her this story …this story that she had to hear ‘the story of another woman - an only child - who was faced with the heart-wrenching dilemma of ‘going to the Land of Israel for my children’ or ‘staying where I am with my parents’. Even more overwhelming is that interwoven in this story is that for everything to have been possible it was necessary that I convert…in NYC…meet my friends…we come to Israel...

All that had happened was so incredibly beyond human comprehension!!!

And as my thoughts deepened, and I’m thinking about how much this woman wants her child to come home, the realization filled me of what this woman had given me in return: “That’s what God wants, that’s what He’s waiting for…for each and every one of us ‘to come home’…”

In the days that followed, as I continued to relive this experience and share it, something else came to me. If we go back and reread what I wrote, there is something that I wasn’t even aware of at the time. The entire episode closed with her words to me, “Thank you, thank you. You’ve given me so much.”

What wasn’t immediately visible to me? As much as her son ‘has come home’, she came home herself. She returned to ‘her being the mother - not owner - of a child’, to ‘her believing in her child’, and to ‘her believing in herself’. Did I consciously do this? Were these my specific intentions? As much I would have liked to, even I don’t think so. If anything, I wanted her to see that her son is living his [own] life, the life he’s chosen.

But you know…we were standing there at the Kotel, the Western Wall, scant meters - both horizontally and vertically - from the location of the Kodesh Kodashim, of the Holy of Holies, the innermost sanctity of the Beit HaMikdash, the Holy Temple. We all know that, even though the Beit HaMikdash itself has been physically destroyed, the Divine Presence has never left Jerusalem, has never left the Beit HaMikdash, the Holy Temple.

And there, in the singular place in the world from which is meant to radiate out to the world ‘שלום’ - Shalom, the true peace of unity and harmony, this woman could feel herself ‘coming home’ - home to her son, home to herself, and home to her people. She’s fought it her entire life, and yet when the moment came she opened to it in complete awareness and acceptance. A Jew inside is so Infinite…so Infinite…

Shabbat Shalom,
Daniel Eliezer

*         *         *
What I write doesn't invite comments within the topic, but I do want you to know
that all are welcome to write me should you have any questions or comments.
I can be reached at: d.e.ben.eitan@gmail.com.
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searchinmyroots

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PostSubject: Re: Belonging: Life is a Spiritual Journey (We didn’t say: ‘Religious Journey’)   Mon Jul 15, 2013 10:08 am

daniel eliezer wrote:
 
P.S. This short video segment [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCFaEMn1ZoQ] (15 min.) was sent to me by a friend who he himself received it from a friend of his who is a Ger. It’s timing in coming to me coincides with what I’m writing, so I thought to share it with all of us.

Although the title of the segment is “The Lonely Convert, the Lonely Jew”, the content of what’s said is directed at the world of so-called Torah Jews, and its message is far more greater than Gerim and the way Jews relate to Gerim. It is definitely a very worthwhile video to listen to, and even though I myself am in many ways beyond what the rabbi is saying, I, too, respect the value of what he is saying.

Daniel,

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and the link to the video. I watched it and couldn't agree more. If only we, the Jewish people, would understand tolerance and the need to understand and accept who we are as Jews, no matter where we are from or how we practice, then we would understand true Judaism.
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PostSubject: ‘The Land of Israel’: The Song of Going Up!   Fri Jul 26, 2013 9:53 am

For those who have difficulty with the transliterated Hebrew and who don't have access
to Jewish libraries, most transliterated Hebrew can probably be found through Google.
If the word is critical to what I'm saying, then it is explained.

*         *         *
Today, the 26th of  July, 2013 on the Gregorian calendar, is the 19th day of the month of [Menachem] Av, 5773 according to our – the Hebrew – calendar. I mention this because I’ve just returned from the Yahrzeit [anniversary of date of death and always according to the Hebrew date] in Har HaMenuchot in Yerushalayim for our dear friend Noa Shor z”l, who lost her struggle to illness eleven years ago. Not only do we have the personal struggles for our friends, but those years were tremendous years of struggle for all of us here in the Land of Israel. To give us some understanding, three days after Noa left the world there was a massive bomb set off at Hebrew University on Mt. Scopus and many were killed. Of those killed, many were buried in the area where Noa is buried, and the entire time was compounded tragedy to an exponent.

Nonetheless, it was during those times of the most wanton barbarism that I would write: “These are days of great sacrifice and great pain, days of tremendous desire and tremendous frustration, and days of incredible dreams and incremental fulfillment. Everything we do is so beyond us – so beyond us because everything that we are doing is for the sake of God’s dream – His dream that He and His Holy people can finally be together again – this time forever.

We can succumb or we can grow. The choice is ours…always and only ours.

Accordingly, I want to share something I wrote about Noa during the seven days when her family was sitting shiva [1st seven days of intense mourning]. It speaks for itself, and as it does I will simply make two comments. The first is that this was written to and for Jews, although, as we’ll see, it’s also written to Gerim. The second is that without my knowledge or permission, this piece was appropriated by a pro-Aliyah group and used as the homepage for their website for a number of months. A curious conundrum and one that it’s impossible to complain against. Those who are helping to build Jews and the Land of Israel and Yerushalayim are doing it with the entirety of their hearts and souls. It’s the only way possible. Let’s see.

‘The Land of Israel’: The Song of Going Up!

Aliyah - literally: ascending - is used as the verb to express one’s going to Israel. Is it ALIYAH or aliyah?…or both?…or neither? Or something else? What becomes of all the most exhalted dreams and deepest fears, heart-bursting hope and gut wrenching anxieties when one’s feet reach the Land of Israel? Will I merely be doing there what I am already doing here? Will, when all the dust settles and I have a niche, will I still be me five or ten or twenty-five years down the road. Or will I be…….

I want to share with you words that I wrote in honor of Noa Shor, z”l, eight years ago when her family was sitting shiva (the 1st seven days of mourning). They are words of pure Torat Eretz Yisrael [Torah of the Land of Israel], and as Rav Kook said, “I never learned Torah until I came to Eretz Yisrael. (And he was already one of his generation’s Torah giants before he arrived.) In doing so he gave voice to the realization the even Torah achieves new elevation, new light in the Land of Israel.

I am not sharing them to honor Noa, z”l, although she deserves it, but to share with you what making aliyah really is; what it is for every Jew and what it means for Am Yisrael. These words were written in Hebrew because that’s the language we shared in common, as Noa was from France. Even though it is I who wrote the original [in Hebrew], I ask God to help me in translating them so that I can also express in English that which Hebrew expresses so purely - her essence and sanctity.

I will introduce her with my notice of her passing.

Noa Shor, z”l, formerly of the Moshav, returned her sweet neshama to the Holy One this morning. Those who know her know that Heaven has gathered a precious flower indeed. Those who weren’t blessed to know her truly missed a special blessing.

Her husband’s eulogy closed with everyone singing Eishes Chayil to Rabbainu’s niggun, and Eishes Chayil, Woman of Valor, are the words that most accurately describe her. Despite several years of consistently deteriorating health, she never lost her chen, her special grace. Even in some of her most agonizing moments she possessed a serenity that indicated she was connected to other and better things. Netanel (her husband) relates that regardless of how difficult a week might have been, on Shabbos she was always relaxed and calm and deeply into the realm of Shabbos.


To the Shor family,

I remember about a year ago when I had returned home Eruv Shabbos [the eve of Shabbat] after saying the whole of Sefer Tehilim [Book of Psalms] for Noa at the Kotel [the Western Wall] . As I slid into my seat in shul, suddenly the whole weight of the battle for her neshama struck me, and I realized how relentless the struggle was going to be. Somehow, against seemingly overwhelming odds, we managed to keep her with us for a long time, but in the end Heaven emerged victorious.

Shir HaMa’a lot
[Song that Elevates - Psalms 120-134]
In Sefer Tehilim [11:5] David HaMelech [King David], a”h, says, “[A] Tzaddik [a Righteous person] is tested, but a rasha [evil person] and a lover of perversion his soul is hated.” The Midrash says that specifically it is the Tzaddik who is tested not the rasha. Why?! Answers the Midrash: “Because it is only the Tzaddikim who can absorb the blows and not break; because it is only the Tzaddikim who can endure all the suffering and still come out shining afterwards; because it is only the Tzaddikim who have the strength to carry the burden of the whole world.

Thank God, Am Yisrael [the Jewish People] has beautiful and pure Tzaddikim whom the Holy One has blessed to be repositories for his Divine presence and whom He has chosen to be the Pillars of the world. These precious Tzaddikim are truly rare, but Am Yisrael has other kinds of Tzaddikim, too. In his sefer [book] Chesed L’Avraham, the holy and saintly Rav Avraham Azouly, zt”l, says that every Jew who lives in the Land of Israel is a Tzaddik. He explains that on the first night that a Jew comes to the Land of Israel, his soul ascends to Heaven and in the morning he receives a new soul, a soul that is fit for the Holiness of the Land of Israel. Tzaddik Gadol [Giant] and Tzaddik Katan [Little], precious stones hewn from the same source.

Noa, z”l was a Tzaddik of the kind described by Rav Azouly, zt”l. The grace that radiated from her gave witness to just how sweet her soul was, how pure her heart, and how much of an Eishet Chayil [Woman of Valor]: an Eishet Chayil who in the midst of tremendous suffering still continued to absorb and disseminate so much of life’s blessings; a Jewish mother who provided completeness to all her surroundings. It is so obvious that the sweetness of her fragrance reached Heaven because Heaven clearly declared war in order to prove her sweetness and in order to obtain this precious flower.

Noa stood in the midst of this battle literally. Her suffering and its increasing intensity testify just how much each side wanted her and how much neither was willing to succumb to the other. Countless are those who prayed for her, even though we know that suffering comes to cleanse the souls of the truly righteous, but such was her stature that it was not just she but, also, those who prayed for her who were cleansed and purified. This, itself, is testimony of how much she brought purity into the world.

Noa made aliyah in order to fulfill the Jewish dream that was hidden within her. She was a young woman when she came to live her dream, yet who in her youth can really assess what she is capable of? Who can foresee what she will achieve? How she’ll achieve it? Who even begins to comprehend the strength of spirit that will be demanded in pursuing the goal?

The answer is that one who makes aliyah - one who ‘goes up’ to the Land of Israel - understands that deep, deep inside one does not ask these questions. One who ‘goes up’ to the Land of Israel understands that she is ‘ascending’, and when one is ‘ascending’ then reality is different. As the saintly Rav Azouly, zt”l, teaches us, from the very first footsteps in the Land of Israel one begins ascending, and I, personally, add that if this is so it is not a harbinger of what will come?

There is a tremendous secret to aliyah and it is that in order to truly ascend one must do the opposite - descend. Every single person who wants and desires and succeeds in ascending is obligated to descend. Everyone who wants to keep ascending and ascending must continue to descend and descend deeper and deeper. Noa reached the greatest of heights and deepest of depths, those depths where there exist the purest waters of life - those still and calming and restoring waters. From these waters she drew to build her surroundings.

She didn’t build just a house with a garden; she built a palace - a palace of sanctity and purity, a palace of tranquility and harmony, a palace of glory and honor. Chazal tell us that when a man’s first wife dies that her death is equivalent to the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash [the Holy Temple]. It this really possible? Is it really true? But she is his glory! She is his honor! She is his palace! She is his world! When she dies his world is destroyed. Who will comfort him? Only He whose world, too, has been destroyed, the Holy One, Blessed be He, can comfort him.

It was our great merit that we were blessed to see the light, the light of the soul that is called Noa. Part of that light we continue to see in her husband, Netanel, and in their children, Elisha, Milcah, N’gilah, Ya’akov, and Ohrah, and many traces of it are found in whoever met or knew her. The rest of that light that one brings into this world, says the Holy Rebbe Aaron from Karlin, zt”l, is absorbed in the hiddenness of the body, much in the same fashion in which God hid the original light of creation within this world.

In order for this light to be released, the body must decay in the ground (like a seed) in order to make from it new light. This light, says the Holy Rebbe Aaron, zt”l, God, in His great compassion, gives to the Holy Tzaddikim for them to use in this world so that we can continue to live lives of sanctity and purity. As such, we are promised and blessed that her light will be returned to us, and that she will continue to provide for us.

As her name reveals so she was - pleasantness and sweetness to her creator and pleasantness and sweetness to His creations. “All the glory of the King’s daughter is [deep] within her.” May her memory be a blessing. B’Shalom.

As Shlomo loved to say, “she was the sweetest of the sweet”.

Shabbat Shalom,
Daniel Eliezer


*         *         *
What I write doesn't invite comments within the topic, but I do want you to know
that all are welcome to write me should you have any questions or comments.
I can be reached at: d.e.ben.eitan@gmail.com.
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PostSubject: Re: Belonging: Life is a Spiritual Journey (We didn’t say: ‘Religious Journey’)   Mon Aug 12, 2013 2:38 am

For those who have difficulty with the transliterated Hebrew and who don’t have access
to Jewish libraries, most transliterated Hebrew can probably be found through Google.
If the word is critical to what I’m saying, then it is explained.

*         *         *
“…at the beginning of it all…”

As I’ve related in my introduction to this forum, because I’ve been a Ger for over thirty-six years, my becoming a part of the Jewish by Choice forum occurred when I am at a much different place in life than we who are inquiring about or attempting to or have converted and are already Jews yet only for a short amount of time. As my contributions have revealed, there is a recognizable distance between what I think and write and between what others do. It’s pretty to think that the difference is me, but doing so neglects that I, too, have made a journey; I wasn’t always who I am today - certainly in terms of life experience.

I recently reopened an old and very, very sporadically used notebook that is aptly titled, “Abstractedly”, and which covers the years 1974-76. The Fall of 1974 was when I began openly inquiring into Judaism, which would lead to my converting in January 1977. There are literally only a handful of brief thoughts recorded in the notebook, and from these I’m excerpting several that relate to and reveal some of my thinking from when I was at the beginning of it all.

Why I’m sharing them is because in my continually discussing our search for “Who am I?”and which really is what our absorption with Judaism is, I am cognizant of and constantly emphasize that there is much that we Gerim share. The details inevitably vary, but the challenges and the struggles and the turmoil of our journeys have much that is common to all of us. Even though I’ve done it backwards in terms of how I’ve contributed (i.e. starting from where I am today and am looking back), the strength and importance of what I write is that we see just how much we are capable of changing and growing once we become Jews.

Whether you have or haven’t seen some or most of what I’ve been contributing, before continuing I want to mention and remind us that in my turning toward becoming a Jew it was a path and a process of what I called then ‘repentance’, but which in time I would come to understand is ‘teshuvah’, meaning ‘return’. Return, of course, is returning to God, and in doing so returning to myself.

*         *        *

3 December 1974

Evil, evil does pursue the evil doer. It is a very, very, very agonizing, painful struggle to remake one’s own life. It is the ultimate war because the two opponents occupy the same body and peace too often is the accident, not the intention. It is understandable that few people attempt, it is awesome that anyone achieves it.

28 December 1974

I exercise no illusions that we can live without faith. It is the sole reason for justifying our existence. Without faith we dare not admit of any dreams for the future. I – we – dwell in a time of much despair. I don’t think that man has ever looked so much for faith and never has he needed faith so desperately. But desperation is a poor time and place to find faith. Faith like hope and love must grow daily with the body to ever be ready to fortify the soul in troubled times. It must be the well spring into which we reach to right ourselves of desperate straits. I myself don’t know the answers and what do is only a little bit. And that I think is faith – knowing that every little bit counts and doing every bit I can.

19 January 1975

I don not know what will become of this world. There is little hope; there is much isolation; there is much fear. The church in its hour of need is dead. But maybe too much was expected of a religion which continued to exist solely on the cross that one man had to bear.

At heart in the deepest recesses of my soul and mind I am Jewish. Conversion is a legality and I pursue it for my sake and for my children should that day come.

I am the Lord thy God which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. [Quoted from which source…Doniger To Be a Jew, Herzt Pentateuch, other?]

14 February 1975

Having committed myself to Judaism, and knowing the strength of my convictions yet not forgetting the circumstances under which I arrive at my decision, I am awed by the changes that have surfaced in myself. I feel a release not of abandon and frivolity, but, instead, a shedding, a subtle determined, irreversible, transfer to a faith and belief as solid, and steadfast and interwoven as all the roots of all the trees in all the forests. I have much to learn but I solemnly pray that I will be able to contribute as much as I receive.

3 May 1975

I need to straighten out some thoughts. Being out of work I have retreated into my room unto my books. In particular books of Judaism and the Bible. Am I getting religious or am I escaping. Can any good come from my systematic withdrawal from society. Can any society be affected by those who can’t participate. Do I truly misunderstand Judaism or do I too well understand it. The responsibility is awesome. Yet unerringly do I move towards it. I sacrifice everything and it is if I have sacrificed nothing. Outwardly all appears dark and yet inwardly I feel strength which I’ve never felt before. I have abilities and capabilities which I can’t seem to understand or control, but Ed (A Jew and a psychologist I was working with, and who unintendedly opened the gates to my becoming a Jew.) will help me reason out my confusion. His God is a strong God and if I make him my God I will be a strong man.

Marc Jordan ben Ed (his then newborn son, also, I didn’t know Ed’s Hebrew name and did what any of us would do – use the name I knew)

walk in the way of your father
and your life will become an act of love
for he who has great light behind him
casts a shadow longer than himself

*         *         *
From those infrequent comments of then, I almost wouldn’t write in this vein until many years later. The following letter is perhaps the letter when all the gates opened for me, and from which I would begin to develop the outward conversation of the ‘Ger within me’ or, as I often think, the ‘Soul of the Ger’.

*         *         *

The instigation for this letter of mine was notification by a friend regarding a recently published book, Girl Meets God. The author, Lauren F. Winner, is described in the following book review. I have not read the book, but from reading a number of reviews plus other articles that she has written I was able to understand what’s going on here. It will be clear from my letter why I have written her.

“A senior writer for Christianity Today and an essayist whose works have appeared in the New York Times Book Review, Winner is a recently converted Episcopalian and former Orthodox Jew. The daughter of a lapsed Southern Baptist mother and secular Jewish father, this young writer offers a fresh perspective on the ways religion relates to the lives of Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1976). She has structured her spiritual autobiography by essays based on the names of Christian celebrations. The book is a humorous, sexually frank portrait of a deeply engaged faith shopper, “stumbling her way towards God.” The memoir focuses on her undergraduate years (when she converted to Judaism [Orthodox d. n.] and then to Christianity) and her life as a doctoral student in religious history at Columbia University. One has a sense that Winner’s head is still spinning and that she is still catching up with her change of heart. The turbulent narrative is at first hard to follow, but its disorder becomes a delight as the author’s gentle, self-effacing humor emerges. Winner offers a rare perspective, connecting Christian and Jewish traditions in unexpected ways.”

Dear Lauren F. Winner,

I came across some of your writings on the Internet, and your story intrigues me. You see, I came from Russian Orthodox parents and background, but I was raised in the Episcopal Church. Today I am an Orthodox Jew living in Eretz Yisrael. How I got to Judaism has a lengthy and complicated answer. Why I did is less so. I didn’t analyze and compare religions. I am not a scholar nor do I have the acumen and skills that are required for scholarship, but I am intelligent and insightful. My conversion to Judaism and subsequent development as a Jew has been one of internal searching being applied to intellectual understanding, and not the other way around. I am not a convert in the way that many people think of conversion, because my conversion was motivated by teshuvah - teshuvah of the kind when a person wants to turn his life around. It is teshuvah that demands tremendously honest answers to tremendously compelling questions; teshuvah that plumbs the depths of my being while attempting to grasp that which is beyond. With the perspective that time has given me, I know that the depth and breadth of the teshuvah that I pursue is that which has been taught by Rav Kook.

Despite my convictions of the rightness (and righteousness) of what I have done, conversion has been no smooth sailing (not that I was looking for any), but twenty-six years ago I could never have envisioned what converting would entail. Nevertheless regardless of whatever moments of doubt and uncertainty that have occurred, I have never considered Christianity at all, and I would certainly not consider it as any kind of realistic alternative to Judaism.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t understand loneliness and the sense of not fitting in. I understand thoroughly, and I live the reality that in many ways a convert doesn’t belong - not here and not there; that in many ways he or she is any entity unto him or herself. (In fact, Chazal are extremely sensitive to this reality and give it expression.) Nevertheless, even if I had caved in to the pressures of loneliness and isolation and returned to live among people with whom I share a common background, I still would never be able to deny that ultimately I don’t belong there but in another place with another people.

It wouldn’t be inaccurate to state that the twenty-six years that I have been a Jew have been twenty-six years of confrontation with myself, confrontation with my background, confrontation with Jews, God, and Israel, confrontation with Judaism as it is practiced, and confrontation with being a convert. I use the word confrontation because there are times when that is mostly what it seems to have been. There have been moments of soul-wrenching anguish, moments of bleak despair, moments of emptiness and loneliness, and moments of defeat and complete brokenness. And yet beyond it all, at the very core of my being, I have never doubted other than for fleeting moments that I have done what I was born to do, and that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing.

At heart I believe that even if, God forbid, I would have stood in a position where I would seriously consider leaving where and what I am, in the end I would have adamantly refused. How could I ever leave a world that not only asks but also has the courage to confront every single question and dilemma known to mankind? How could I abandon people who individually have the courage to confront every single question and dilemma known to mankind? How could I ever live where the opposite is true?! How could I live in a reality that doesn’t demand the same of each and every person? How could I live in a reality where even the people who are ‘supposed to know’ are more ignorant than I am? How could I take something that is life itself and exchange it for anything else?!

While I have never considered ‘returning’ to Christianity, I have many times thought about how easy it would to be to ‘return’ to the church; how simple life would be. After what I’ve learned and lived and experienced, life in the church would be effortless. What challenges would there be? I would never have to be intimidated by pushing religious thought to the point where the most viable option is Judaism. I was there and came back. I would never have to be concerned with the Jew, for after all I conquered and vanquished him.

Enticing as it might sound, I could never do it. You know why? Because it would be a lie. I could absolutely never live with myself. I could never live the life of pretend. I couldn’t do it. With all my flaws and shortcomings and deficiencies as a human being, I am totally incapable of lying to myself at the soul level. I am totally incapable of compromising everything that I know to be the essential truth for myself as an individual and for life as a whole.

I can understand deep-thinking Christians who intellectually and spiritually reach the end of everything that Christianity has to offer, but who nevertheless refrain from making the journey to Judaism. It is a tremendous, tremendous emotional and psychological undertaking to embrace Judaism, and unless one knows on a being level that he or she must do it, then the decision will never be made. I can understand Jews who are so alienated and detached from anything spiritually and emotionally warm and alive seeking comfort in the church, because many congregations are warm and welcoming. I can even understand Jews who fall prey to proselytizing Christian and non-Christian theologies/sects, because many Jews live in isolation and ignorance of Judaism.

Above everything, I can even understand how a convert who experiences all of the magnificent wonder and astonishment and rapture of true religious ecstasy of conversion - religious emotion that is not shared or ever experienced by the overwhelming majority of Jews - of retreating from that decision. After all, the overwhelming majority of Jews don’t really ‘connect’ to their religion. It is much more a social, personal/familial relationship than it is a soul relationship with the Source of All Being. What could be more disparate? What could be more incompatible? Who could be more lonely? Just at the moment when a convert feels like he or she has discovered it all, suddenly he or she feels like he or she has lost it all.

Where did it go? Am I crazy? Am I seeing things? Did I really do all of this? This is not what I wanted, not what I was looking for. This is not for me. There is some confusion; I think I made a mistake. I really don’t belong here. There’re other things that interest me, other things that I want to do. Hesitation, confusion, doubt, uncertainty, and even fear now become the motivating forces that propel the convert back to whence he or she came. With little difficulty the convert is accepted back into his or her previous environment. The questions aren’t that many or that difficult, and if anything there is relief for others since they no longer have to ‘explain’ why he or she ‘did that’. It was ‘a phase’ or ‘some kind of insanity’ or ‘they were influenced’ become sufficient answers. No one is really going to push to know. After all, how many people on God’s little green earth really and truly want to explore what they are and why they are? How many question their identity as human beings - of entity and kind and why and what for? How many are really capable of asking these kinds of questions; how many of answering them? Even among the clergy of any religion? Forget the laity.

I don’t know you so I don’t know why you’ve chosen to find solace in Christianity. Perhaps it is for one of the reasons that I’ve elaborated, perhaps not. Whether you’ve even found it or not, I don’t know. I more suspect that you’ve come to terms with your decision, and have found the means to stifle the internal debate and to verbally reconcile the external contradictions. You’ve done even more. By imposing Judaism and your Jewish experiences upon Christianity, you’ve found a voice that few can match or challenge, and given the religious pluralism that exists today there is even a sense of desire in such things.

But it is not religion; definitely not true religion, even though to express thoughts like these must be comforting, maybe even fulfilling. It is, perhaps, even dishonest. Christianity by definition is not Judaism, and its whole essence is a denial of Judaism - not an extension or continuation of it. (As you yourself know, there are prodigious Jewish personalities and intellects who have proven this, and who have refuted the church’s claim that it has replaced Judaism.) To attempt to apply the teachings of one within the practices of the other is a falsity. It may appear that on a simple intellectual and emotional understanding there is room for this, but it is only true as emotion - not as truth.

These kinds of truths take root exceptionally easily in the Diaspora where everything is relative. In Israel where God’s truth has dominion, they have no real existence. It’s not that you can’t find such a thing if you look for it, it’s just that if your sensitivities are correct you feel how incongruent it is.

Have you ever been in Eretz Yisrael? Have you ever seen a Jew at home in his home? If you’ve never felt what it’s like to be a Jew in Eretz Yisrael, there is absolutely no way to describe it or explain it; it simply has to be experienced. There are many Jews who despite living their lives outside the land of Israel long and even ache for their next visit here. There are other Jews who came to Israel out of curiosity or because of “well I guess it’s time to go to Israel” or to visit a child who was studying here. These are Jews who don’t have any special connection to the land of Israel, so they come for short visits - two weeks, half of that, or even only a few days. Some of them visit places that they’d heard about, religious shrines and tourist’s sites, and some visit the ‘new Israel’, and some don’t even do much of anything at all. What they see or do or don’t, however, isn’t as important as what they feel. Most are astonished to discover upon this first visit just how much they feel at home, to discover how natural it feels for them to be here. Israel touches them in a way that they’ve never been touched before, in a way that nothing - absolutely nothing - else can touch them. Very few know how to describe it, but those who do know that it’s the very sanctity of Eretz Yisrael that makes it so special.

I, with my wife and family, live in the very heart of the struggle for Eretz Yisrael amidst people who are the vanguard of the struggle. These are days of great sacrifice and great pain, days of tremendous desire and tremendous frustration, and days of incredible dreams and incremental fulfillment. Everything we do is so beyond us - so beyond us because everything that we are doing is for the sake of God’s dream – His dream that He and His Holy people can finally be together again - this time forever.

Perhaps some day you’ll visit Eretz Yisrael, and perhaps someday we’ll meet. Every Jew should live in Eretz Yisrael, but if that’s not possible every Jew should at least visit. Our door is always open.

B’Shalom,
3 Sh’vat 5763 [Jan. 2003]

*         *         *
This is a letter that says a lot, although for those who have been following what I post we can see the elements of many things that I speak and write about. I don’t know how others hear what I’ve said, but for me the letter was a turning point in that I was able to delineate and define ‘who Jews are’ [as I see them] and ‘who is this Ger inside me’. What may not be visible, or so visible, is just how much the entirety of what I’ve written is so directly related to this past week’s Torah portion of ‘Shoftim’.

Although I haven’t yet posted about Shoftim, we’ll see that Shoftim is entirely about ‘אמת’ – emett, truth. ‘אמת’ – emett, truth is not simply truth of the kind that we know and recognize, but the deepest truths of life, which is what Torah is. While Shoftim is concerned with halacha, with religious jurisprudence, correspondingly there is that side of life, our spiritual journey, which also is ‘אמת’ – emett, truth.

When I wrote “…With all my flaws and shortcomings and deficiencies as a human being, I am totally incapable of lying to myself at the soul level. I am totally incapable of compromising everything that I know to be the essential truth for myself as an individual and for life as a whole.…,” I wasn’t solely expressing something that I had discovered. As I am continually relating, when I turned toward becoming a Jew my motivation was repentance, but which in time I would come to understand is ‘teshuvah’, meaning ‘return’. Return, of course, is returning to God, and in doing so returning to myself.

As totally true as this is, what relentlessly propelled me toward becoming a Jew was an insatiable search for ‘אמת’ – for truth – truth of the kind and on the level of what I wrote Lauren F. Winner. Significantly and inevitably, when your life is defined by such a search, the challenges and struggling and turmoil take on greater and higher and broader and deeper dimensions and ramifications.

I want close with a teaching of Shlomo’s, a teaching in which we’ll hear echoes of what I’ve written here. I don’t know how much you’ll absorb from Shlomo, although what he says is clear. He himself is definitely exhausted...physically exhausted because he could not ‘not teach when asked to’ and exhausted from a lifetime’s work of giving to others, and yet despite this he continues to give over so that others who are on the same journey will continue to progress and not give up in the face of so much unknown and seemingly unachieved. Also, while he’s also speaking to many who aren’t present (like us), because of his exhaustion you feel his efforts to give over the complexity of life to those who ‘aren’t there [yet]’. It’s life’s lessons; enjoy.

[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ATc-P3aDkec&feature=youtu.be]

About this video, let me make three necessary clarifications. In the beginning, in speaking of Rebbe Nachman, Shlomo says, “Rebbe Nachman says the only weapon we have is prayer,” (he’s speaking into the sefer and his voice is not clear). Later, when Shlomo is speaking about infinite, he’s speaking about ‘Infinite’ with an uppercase ‘I’, not infinite with a lowercase ‘i’, which an immeasurable quantity of finite. Finally, somewhere in the middle Shlomo says in the name of Rebbe Nachman, “a person has to know that the most anti-joy is fear.”

Shabbat Shalom,
Daniel Eliezer

*         *         *
What I write doesn’t invite comments within the topic, but I do want you to know
that all are welcome to write me should you have any questions or comments.
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PostSubject: Re: Belonging: Life is a Spiritual Journey (We didn’t say: ‘Religious Journey’)   Tue Oct 29, 2013 5:40 pm

For those who have difficulty with the transliterated Hebrew and who don't have access
to Jewish libraries, most transliterated Hebrew can probably be found through Google.
If the word is critical to what I'm saying, then it is explained.

*         *         *
First a few brief words of introduction. Because I converted through Orthodox Jews (modern), acquiring the ability of at least being able to learn and to pray in Hebrew was a given if you wanted to be seriously religious [Orthodox]. Also, because a Jew prays three times a day, there is no way of escaping at least using that much Hebrew daily. Moreover, from the beginning I just believed that prayer is an essential part of being religious, so for me mastering praying in Hebrew was exceptionally important. It is with keeping these thoughts in mind is how what I’m sharing must be read.

What I’ve written is not from any part of Jewish law or book on prayer that I’ve seen, nonetheless it’s clear that what I write about is ‘prayer as prayer’ - as I’ve experienced it. Of great importance to us is that while I’m speaking about praying in Hebrew, I myself had the drive and determination to gain competency of praying in Hebrew, and I’ve been openly blessed that my life has permitted my achieving it. It is important that we struggle with Hebrew, but we have to understand that prayer itself has to come from me, from my ‘who I am’. This can only happen if I use the language that I communicate to myself with. Praying in Hebrew always has value ‘as prayer’, because Hebrew is Lashon HaKodesh, the Holy language, but there are also times when we need to speak with God ‘without any barriers between us’. This is for our sake, the times when we are outpouring from our innermost self. Read and learn.

Hebrew: Language of the Soul

The following letter, which is self-explanatory, was written to a friend of mine who is a congregational rabbi in America, a friend who is such a contrast to me that only God’s existence can explain the relationship. He is exceptionally learned and a tremendously deep thinker, and when he speaks I listen carefully. The last time I saw him [then] was some two years ago [Summer 2002] when I visited America and in the course of our conversation, because I’d been living in Israel some twenty-three years, he asked me, “Do you pray in Hebrew?” I nonchalantly replied, “Of course I do.” and when I returned to Israel I wrote him a short letter reaffirming my answer. The continuation picks up from here.

……..I am writing to you [a year later] because I want to complete a conversation that we’d started that concerned praying in Hebrew. Even though I wrote to you in answer to your question, I never stopped reflecting upon your question nor my answer. In contemplating, I realized that I had not correctly or honestly answered it, but it wasn’t because of a desire to deceive. Some of the fault lay in my assuming, “because I speak Hebrew daily therefore I do pray in Hebrew,” and some lay in my own misunderstanding and lack of awareness.

Since your comments to me have always been insightful and provocative and because the question continued to resound inside me, it meant that I was still missing something. Because of this, I have given the matter much and serious thought, and I think that now I can provide an answer which may be of assistance to you also. I apologize that my words lack what I am not, the substance of the scholar and the acumen of the halachist, but the subjectivity of the matter, perhaps, does not demand them.

As I said, I have continued to think about what you asked me. For whatever reason, even as my command of spoken Hebrew has improved, I’ve long been aware that when I pray (the Shemoneh Esrei) that often I visualize the words [praying with my eyes closed, I don’t use a prayer book] as moving from left-to-right [not right-to-left of Hebrew], even though I was clearly praying in Hebrew. I’ve pondered this deeply, especially because I was aware that there were times when I was clearly praying in English, i.e. seeing the Hebrew words in English letters (and of course from left-to-right), e.g. ישראל - Yisrael. [A related aside: Some thirty years ago when I first started learning Hebrew in college [a pre-conversion request was ‘to learn Hebrew’], one day before the teacher came in, I wrote on the blackboard in Hebrew from left-to-right, i.e. ‘םכילע םולש’ instead of ‘שלום עליכם’ (Shalom Aleichem). All my classmates laughed and we had no trouble reading it, but the teacher couldn’t at a glance figure out what I had written (just as we would have in hislgnE).]

Some of the English occurred when I was adding within the bracharefoainu’ – blessing ‘heal us’ [8th blessing] the names of people whom I was praying for. If the person was someone I spoke English with then I would see the name in English, but I discovered that if the person was an Israeli and I spoke Hebrew with him or her then I would see the name in Hebrew and from right-to-left.

Now, like all good Jews, there are times when I just can’t pray because my mind is everywhere else except on what I’m doing. There is a Torah of Rebbe Nachman [from Breslov] (I forget where) that says sometimes when you’re praying you should only focus on the letters. He is talking about envisioning each and every single letter and its significance and depth, etc. That’s fine for him but I’m not Rebbe Nachman, nevertheless as a practical way of creating kavanah – ‘focused intention’, from time to time I do what he says. As I pray, I focus on each letter of each word as I am saying it (and I mean ‘saying’; not just ‘thinking’) and with no more intention than just actually visualizing the letters.

To my surprise, when I do this I find that I am visualizing the words from right-to-left [i.e. correctly]. If I maintain my concentration, then I discover that all of the praying just starts flowing from right-to-left, and I don’t need to exert myself as much. Still, I realize that more often than not I must consciously make the effort to pray from right-to-left.

Up until this point I’ve been able to identify or, at least, isolate the English/Hebrew problem when praying, i.e. with my eyes closed when there are no visual aids. This past year, however, something significant happened, that opened up a whole new dimension for me and to me.

You have the material that I wrote (Torah of mine that I shared with him), and the three letters clearly capture the transition that I made. Not only that, but the third letter is pure Torah. Without intending to, I actually discovered where I am in the Torah, and to do so is something extremely meaningful and moving. After I wrote it in English, I decided to translate it into Hebrew. As strong as it is in English, in Hebrew it’s IT! I, myself, was stunned by the power of it, and I realized that I’d learned a very important lesson about lashon HaKodesh - the Holy language [i.e. Hebrew], which I’ll get to.

Despite having done this, my praying continued and continues to fluctuate; sometimes this way and sometimes that. Because I have been unemployed for the past three years, I have been able to concentrate on praying in a way that most people don’t. It isn’t uncommon that I will pray shachris – morning prayers 1½ to 2 hours and more, and I have even prayed some three plus hours. As a rule, the longer the praying the more that it opens up for me, but a lot depends upon where I am mentally and emotionally.

One day during a period when I was wrestling with a very, very, very deep problem, on this particular morning, as I was praying tears were flowing uncontrollably, and while focusing on the letters…suddenly I was there with my Hebrew version of the Torah!?…or better, I was where I was [spiritual-emotional state] when I wrote it. Incredibly, I suddenly could feel very, very deeply inside me a shift - literally a shift - as my whole being or essence was moving from left-oriented to right-oriented. And it wasn’t merely a shift from left to right, but a fundamental feeling as if suddenly I was coming into my being!? It was an extremely powerful praying, and I clearly came out of it a different person than when I went in.

Obviously, I can’t stay on that level of praying day in and day out, nevertheless the sense of change, or tikun – fixing [for or of me] if you like, was enormous. Even with this, however, I still find myself fluctuating and having the need to focus to keep my flow from right-to-left. For a long time this bothered me until finally I realized and accepted something.

I write a lot in English, and more importantly I write creatively. Part of this is because English is my mother tongue, part because I am writing for English speakers, and part because what I want to express is more difficult to express in Hebrew. Not that it can’t be said in Hebrew, but the nature of language is such that each has a facileness that makes certain things easier to express in it specifically.

What results from this is that on a very deep level I am living an English left-to-right orientation. The significance of the shift that I had felt is that however deep this English orientation lies it is still above where I am truly connected. I know from experience that when I am truly and deeply praying, that I am doing it with my real self, i.e. my Hebrew orientation, right-to-left. The proof is that when I am praying extremely intensely, such as three-hour praying or saying all of Sefer Tehilim – Book of Psalms or Yom HaKippur, I find myself focused predominantly on the Hebrew. The English intrudes, because it is part of me, but it completes - instead of restricting.

Having said all this, I doubt that for me any of this would have happened had I stayed in America. One, I know that there I would never have acquired the spoken and written proficiency that I have in Hebrew, and, two, I would never have acquired Hebrew as a reality in the way I have here. In truth, my Hebrew does lack, and my children are forever correcting me. I have no trouble understanding most Hebrew, whether written or spoken, but I am clearly more comfortable with the Hebrew of sifrei kodesh – Holy books than with modern Hebrew. The brevity of talmudic scholars and thinkers is gold to me, while the need to wrap my mind around modern Israeli thinking and thinkers just doesn’t speak to me. Give me the grammatically nightmarish writings of the Chassidic Masters (who were writing when Hebrew wasn’t a spoken language then) with all their incredible creativity and I’m gone.

I don’t know if anything that I’ve said is of value to you, but I am deeply grateful to you for posing the question. It has led me to some tremendous insights and discoveries, and blessedly I am a much better person because of it. I don’t speak or understand Yiddish, but as I write these words I think that in some small way I can understand its power. It gave a Jew the ability to connect his neshamah - his soul to his life using his language, which explains why Hebrew is gradually replacing Yiddish [among the ultra-Orthodox] in Eretz Yisrael – the Holy Land. It isn’t merely that it is the officially spoken language, but that it is the language that is spoken by the soul.

If I could capture all this in a sentence or two, I would say this. When I’m truly praying, I’m totally oblivious to what language I’m using. The Torah teaches us, “And God breathed into him [man] a living soul”. God kissed man, a kiss that contained everything from the most incredible gentleness to the most incredible passion: a kiss that is the ultimate of all God’s desire and passion for us. If, when you’re praying you can taste God’s kiss, even a little, then you’re really and truly praying. I bless you to always be wanting to taste God’s kiss.

And beyond this, I bless you to laugh. I have been blessed to have experienced some indescribably deep and some indescribably high places when praying - praying that is incredibly powerful, meaningful, and fulfilling. I’ve prayed Yom Kippur for all that I am worth - in total emptiness and defeat, and I’ve prayed Yom Kippur where I’ve stood at the edge of the universe. I’ve prayed from the depths of tremendous emotion and I’ve prayed from the heights of greatest exultation. I’ve prayed when I’ve been totally flat and dead and I’ve prayed when I know at this moment I’m really bringing something into the world for Am Yisrael. I have even been in that elevated state where Rav Kook says, “you’re above [the need] to pray”. But I promise you…….

I promise you that the absolutely greatest praying of all has been when I’m laughing; laughing laughter of the kind of laughter that is the sheer joy of all creation. The kind of laughter that God had to have had when he created the world and which he has to have when he recreates the world every day (as we say in praying). That kind of laughter which is the incredibly soul penetrating and fulfilling to overflowing joy of just being and being a part of it all. That joy that comes from and when knowing that God is God and from knowing what more could you ever need or want than for God to be God! Joy that is the laughter that is God’s song!

B’Shalom,

Daniel Eliezer


*         *         *
What I write doesn't invite comments within the topic, but I do want you to know
that all are welcome to write me should you have any questions or comments.
I can be reached at: d.e.ben.eitan@gmail.com.
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PostSubject: Re: Belonging: Life is a Spiritual Journey (We didn’t say: ‘Religious Journey’)   Thu Jan 02, 2014 6:54 pm

For those who have difficulty with the transliterated Hebrew and who don't have access
to Jewish libraries, most transliterated Hebrew can probably be found through Google.
If the word is critical to what I'm saying, then it is explained.

*         *         *
Purity versus Holiness

Last week I celebrated the 37th anniversary of my converting, of which 34 ½ years I’ve been living in the Land of Israel. It’s with no small sense of wonder and gratitude, astonishment and awe, and certainly with no small amount of humbleness the awareness of my continuing to learn what it means - Ger that I am - to live as and to be a Jew. I am overwhelmed at how in my being and doing so I have grown and changed.

On the one hand, there was a time, although it has long since passed, when I wondered, “If I hadn’t converted, what would my life have been like?” while on the other I can’t ever imagine never having made the decision I made [to convert]. I’ve written here in the topic ‘Conversion Discussion & Issues’ under ‘Feeling Jewish’ and ‘being a Jew’ are not the same thing... about how I struggled with the decision to convert until I was absolutely convinced that it was right for me (even though I did know that it was), but from the moment when I did make the decision I also knew that it could be no other way. Across time I would come to confess, “Less than I have the feeling that I pursued the Divine do I have the feeling that the Divine has pursued me.”

Stated plainly, I would describe this as [Spiritual] Purity versus Holiness, and if we were to rewrite what I’ve just said above it would read like this: “Less than I have the feeling that I pursued [Spiritual] Purity do I have the feeling that Holiness has pursued me.”

This may sound like the same thing and it may not, just as it may make sense and it may not. For me it offers greater clarity while making exceptional sense, as it should for me. As I’ve recounted on JBC, a good part of my turning to becoming a Jew was motivated by an abhorrence with my life and an overwhelming desire to change myself and it, and this has happened. What I could never have understood then, and even less scarcely understand now, is what I’ve discovered, something which only occurred during the recent period of Chanukah, meaning from Rosh HaShana of which Chanukah closes the three-month period (Tishrei, Cheshvan, Kislev) and reaching until just last week. It has been an exceptional period, during which a lot of understanding has come together for me.

The reality is such that including my pre-conversion years it’s over 40 years of life which have been committed before reaching this point. Were I to do so I could write about it forever, yet I know that neither in how much nor in how I would say it could I ever come close to explaining it. Conversely, though, in great brevity using only two short stories and a some explanation, I can give us a genuine taste of what we’re speaking about. Such is the power of stories. Let’s begin with this story that gives us a sense of our [Jews] sensitivity to spiritual purity and to fulfilling commandments…”


General Klein and the Mikveh
[As related to me (*)]
General Klein, a Jew, had the merit during WWII to be General Douglas MacArthur’s right-hand man, and when war the was over the General related this story:

After the war all the generals got together for a cocktail party, during which one general approached me stating, “I hear you are Jewish.”

“You heard correctly,” I responded.

You know I have nothing against the Jews. In fact, my task was to move up the coast and free them from the concentration camps. On a Friday we arrived and liberated a labor camp. From an initial 60,000 prisoners only 300 were left, and we divided them according to ethnic groups, asking each group to send us one representative with a list of their needs.

The Jewish representative came up and said; “Some of us are here 4 maybe 5 years. In all that time we have not been to a ‘mikveh’ [a body of water halachically suitable for ritual immersion] and our souls need to wash off all the death and devastation, all the evil – we have seen. Please allow us to build a mikveh and go down to the coast for sea water so we can have a good Shabbat .”

“Can you imagine how these people looked ?” exclaimed the General, “They were starving, filthy and lice infected…and yet all they wanted was to wash their souls clean!?”

“I want you to know, General Levin, that at that moment I was embarrassed that I was not a Jew; that I did not have the privilege to be part of them.”

*      *      *
I don’t believe we Gerim and Giyorot have any difficulty understanding how these Jews felt, just as we have no difficulty understanding why they felt this way. Even if we wouldn’t know so personally, there is no doubt that historically Jews have always been viewed as ‘clean’ (regardless of how anti-Semitism depicts them). There is just a scrupulousness of person and habit associated with Jews that was noticeably lacking among non-Jews, one which was evident to non-Jews in the give-and-take of daily life.

What we - both Jews and Gerim - are aware of is that Jews like the Jews in General Klein’s story are super consciously Jews, Jews who are extremely aware of their being Jews and what being a Jew means…and for them it is something that can’t be destroyed in them. Unnoticed to us is that there is another kind of Jew, Jews who were also there in the camps, Jews like these in this story…

Taken verbatim from the introduction to Holy Brother, by Yitta Halberstam Mandelbaum, p. xxxiii.

“...In San Francisco Shlomo Carlebach was highly regarded as a spiritual master, and was often asked to participate in ecumenical “Holy Man Jamborees” and “Whole Earth Expos”.....His coterie of devoted followers included - Charismatic Catholics, Unitarians, Sufis. Rabbi Moshe Shur...often played gigs with Shlomo in San Francisco, and recalls being especially intrigued by the spectacle of a strict Buddhist sect trailing Shlomo everywhere, serving as his ad hoc bodyguards. He once asked the leader of the sect, an elderly Buddhist, why Shlomo appealed to him so much and was told: “I come [from] Eastern Europe and was sent to concentration camp because of my beliefs. In concentration camp, I met some of the greatest hasidic Rebbes in Europe - few of whom survived - and had many long and earnest dialogues with them. Despite the evidence all around us, they continuously insisted that there was no evil in the world, only holiness. When I met Shlomo Carlebach, there was something about him that reminded me vividly of these Rebbes, and I therefore feel an obligation to protect him...”
*      *      *
These, too, are Jews who are super consciously Jews but they are even more than this. These are Jews who are Jews super-consciously. Not are they only super consciously aware of ‘what they are’, but their super-conscious awareness is of ‘who they are’! It’s one thing to be aware of ‘being a Jew’, and it’s another to be aware of ‘who a Jew is’.

This is no trifling thing, because all these are Jews who endured the same destruction, devastation, and death, and yet however much side-by-side they shared the same reality each perceived differently!?

To help us understand, for the past number of years I’ve been going once a week to the Kotel [Western Wall] in the Old City of Jerusalem, usually on Thursday for either mincha or ma’ariv [afternoon or evening prayers], where I say the daily Tehilim [daily portion of Psalms] before I daven [pray], and after I daven I learn the sefer [book] Aish Kodesh from the Heilige Rebbe Klonymous Kalman Shapira, zt”l, of Piasczena (in Poland). Klonymous Kalman Shapira, zt”l was with the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto from beginning to end, and his life ended in Treblinka. (He was a grandson of the Kozhinitzer Rebbe from his mother’s side, and the brother of the Rav HaHalutz, who was a talmid/chaver of Rabbi A. I. Kook, zt”l.) His sefer Aish Kodesh is Torah he gave over in the Ghetto to the Yidden whom he carried with his heart and soul. He buried his writings in the Ghetto, and after the war they were discovered and returned to us.

It’s over ten years already (well before I was going to the Kotel weekly) that I’ve been learning the Aish Kodesh, sometimes with regularity, like now, and sometimes without. As much as I’ve improved in being able to understand his Torah, it’s always been the greatest of challenges, one, to grasp exactly what he was giving over to sustain Yidden, Yidden with whom he shared the identical reality of fear and despair, pain and death, and, two, especially to even catch a hint of how he was capable of doing so under those conditions.

Most extraordinary is while he was living through all the insanity and carrying all the Yidden while doing so, Klonymous Kalman was nonetheless incessantly searching to discover why we were being subjected to all this. In his coming to the conclusion that throughout our history we had never before suffered annihilation on such a cataclysmic scale, that it was occurring on a level of such colossal dimensions unimaginably beyond any conceivable rational or reason reveals that the purpose could not be punishment. It could only be something that can come from and for genuinely Divine reasons – from intelligence that supremely exceeds our ability to perceive and comprehend. Unfortunately, we don’t have the depth of understanding that allows me to give this over further, so we’ll leave this be. We can, however, closing with this precious teaching from the Heilige Piasczena Rebbe. “Emunah - belief in God - begins when we don’t know what and why God is doing!?”

In the story above of the Buddhist, we catch some glimpse of Jews like the Heilige Piasczena Rebbe who are Jews super-consciously, but it’s in the following teaching which Shlomo gives over which is what brings it all together. “You know why God is called Holy?...because He is completely there, completely there, always...completely, completely.

When learning the Aish Kodesh, this reality that Shlomo describes is always, always completely present, which is why the Kotel is the place where the Aish Kodesh most opens up and speaks to me. It’s the place where you’re always aware that God is completely there. Inside of whatever and any reality that may exist Holiness is always completely present.

In terms of my own life, I, like many others, have customarily understood - and even still equate - ‘Holiness’ with religion and religious practice and ritual or with religious experiences, wherever or however they occur. What my discovery has caused to change for me is how I perceive ‘Holiness’.

Purity can only be a state of being, one which is the opposite of the state of ‘impurity’ and one which is affected by the vicissitudes of life, e.g. if, God forbid, someone has a heart attack and dies, if I’m in the room I become [ritually] impure (from the enclosed proximity with the dead).

Holiness, the essence and substance of Creation, is what life and existence are, and our awareness of it is solely dependent upon our closeness to the Source of All Being, as evidenced by the Buddhist. The Jews he met never stopped being close to God, despite that all that surrounded them seemed to only deny God’s existence. For them it was the opposite: “What surrounded them only increased their awareness of God and their awareness of God’s proximity to them.”

Why is this so?

As we know, it’s not uncommon to find Jews who think that God created existence only so that he could have Jews or only for Jews. Rare are the Jews who understand that God created Jews only so that all of existence could have God!? If this were not true, then neither would there be nor could there be Holiness. Unlike ‘[spiritual] purity’, there is no non-Holiness, because the Source of All Being IS all of Creation…and even for that which seemingly opposes God its existence nevertheless equally and absolutely depends upon God.

As I’ve mentioned here and elsewhere, “… my turning to becoming a Jew was motivated by an abhorrence with my life and an overwhelming desire to change myself and it…” In this being true, I’ve always honestly thought that it was my conscious awareness and decisions of a search for ‘[Spiritual] Purity’ which drove me in the direction of becoming a Ger and living as a Jew. What I have now finally come to recognize, comprehend, and understand is that it is the Holiness within me which is what motivated me…Holiness of a kind that can only be perceived when one is absolutely and totally committed and absorbed in the pursuit of ‘אמת’ - emett. Although a dictionary will translate emett as ‘truth’, ‘אמת’ describes the reality of the Source of All Being in a way that only experience allows us to perceive and comprehend. ‘אמת’ can only be achieved through ‘closeness’. When we are close to the Source of All Being we know…and we also know that it’s all ‘אמת’…just as the Rebbes in the Death Camps knew.

“…גם כי אלך בגיא הצלמות לא אירא רע כי אתה עמדי…” – “…even when I’ll go through the Valley of the Shadow of Death I won’t fear evil because You are with me…” These lines are among the most well known of all of Sefer Tehilim [Book of Psalms 23:4], ones in which we recognize the great inner strength and comfort they possess. Little, however, do we understand that they describe our proximity – our outright palpable proximity - to Holiness. Within the reality of the most atrocious and heinous crimes that could be wrought by human beings, Jews were able to look it in the face and never lose sight of “You know why God is called Holy?...because He is completely there, completely there, always...completely, completely.”

The General in General Klein’s story cried out, “I want you to know, General Levin, that at that moment I was embarrassed that I was not a Jew; that I did not have the privilege to be part of them.” And, I, Daniel Eliezer, who have chosen to become a Ger in order to live as a Jew, can only cry…only cry that I am not a Jew on the level of those Rebbes…and even other Jews…for whom God “is completely there, completely there, always...completely, completely.”

In closing, because we always have to give blessings, let me say this.

We are all aware and surely have even experienced the feelings and questions of doubt and despair and hopelessness that express themselves in the questions of “Why?!” and “For what reason?!” and “Can there ever be any purpose…?!” that are screamed out from the depths of our souls when life overwhelms us, when we are shattered and our hearts broken from pain.

At the beginning of this week, for sundry reasons…and maybe even Sunday reasons because it was in the aftermath of Shabbat…these coming thoughts came to me shortly after I woke up. If we’ve been blessed in life that while we were growing up and even when are grown up to have had a parent or sibling or friend or whomever whom we could ask…ask in the kind of way that young children can ask, “Why am I here?” and “What’s life all about?”…questions of curiosity and wonder and thinking and tremendous desire to know…we’ve received a wonderful blessing and gift, regardless of which or whatever or even if any answers were forthcoming.

Even for those of us, like myself, who weren’t and haven’t been so blessed, this doesn’t mean the questions weren’t asked…and even if questions weren’t asked neither does it mean that answers weren’t given. The blessing of Holiness is that in however or whatever way we’re doing it, “we are always talking to God, and God is always answering us.” And not surprisingly, God always wants us to be asking Him…and even if someone like myself calls it ‘searching for אמת’…it doesn’t matter, because it’s the same difference. It’s all one because it’s all the overwhelming desire within the deepest part of our beings to ‘be close’…to be so intimately, intimately close to the Source of All Life and Being.

So maybe we’re not great Rebbes, Rebbes who with their unimaginable and indescribable compassion and love carry the burdens of all the Yidden, Rebbes whose sole desire is that every Jew should be close to God and know that he and she is. But we can still be little rebbes, rebbes who can give hope and courage, belief and joy to Jews and to creation, and who can help ourselves and help each other make it…make ourselves and make Creation a place where God feels at home.

So I bless you and you bless me in return and together we’ll bless all Israel that we’ll continue to grow and continue to search and continue struggle to help all of us make it, and we’ll do so with as much love and joy as we are capable of…and then with even just a little bit more…because it’s for you.

Shabbat Shalom,
Daniel Eliezer

(*) This is how General Klein’s story was related to me. That the story is true I do not doubt, because I know of other stories of General Klein, but what most convinces me of its verity is the other General stating, “…at that moment I was embarrassed that I was not a Jew.” This is the kind of truth you can’t and don’t make up.

In how the story is related, however, there are technical difficulties which need clarification. First, General MacArthur was Commander of the Allied forces in the Pacific Theater (not the Atlantic), so the term ‘concentration camps’ would read ‘POW camps’, especially since General Klein speaks about, “…moving up the coast (Poland has no coast that had concentration camps).” Second, it’s virtually impossible to create a mikveh in such a short amount of time, particularly since water must enter a mikveh naturally and not be ‘drawn water’, e.g. from a faucet or from a well, etc. In this light, it’s reasonable that the ex-prisoners wanted to go to the sea or a lake or a river or other naturally existing body of water (including a sufficiently large puddle of rain water, e.g. a shell hole). It’s also quite possible that General Klein’s story takes place not in the Pacific Theater but when he returns to the States, and the other General is one who fought in Europe and thus related what had happened to him there.

*         *         *
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