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Saturday, March 9, 2013

Jerusalem Syndrome

(An old blog I'd written - April 8, 2008)

I am very much in love with this land, and in particular, this city of Jerusalem. Yes indeed - crazy, mad, passionate in love am I with this city. However, I have become well-aware of the seemingly high number of crazies who populate this magical city of mine. Oh, don't get me wrong - I'm not complaining in the least bit. Living in a virtual insane asylum city isn't the worst thing that can happen to a person. And besides, having a disproportionate number of mentally disturbed individuals living in the city (and, free to walk around in the sunshine without having to wear a straightjacket or any discernible mark of their insanity, mind you) just adds to the spice of Jerusalem and makes it even more alluring and more exciting, because one never knows what adventures can be waiting right around the corner. Indeed, the unexpected is always expected in this oddly-placed, mountain city. And I must admit, I do enjoy my daily encounters with crazy Jerusalem-ites thoroughly, thank you very much. But I just had to type up a note about some of my experiences here, just because some of my experiences here are just way too funny to not be told.

Wikipedia defines the Jerusalem syndrome as: "the name given to a group of mental phenomena involving the presence of either religiously themed obsessive ideas, delusions or other psychosis-like experiences, that are triggered by, or lead to, a visit to the city of Jerusalem. It is not endemic to one single religion or denomination, but has affected Jews and Christians of many different backgrounds. The best known, although not the most prevalent manifestation of the Jerusalem syndrome, is the phenomenon whereby a person who seems previously balanced and devoid of any signs of psychopathology, becomes psychotic after arriving in Jerusalem. The psychosis is characterised by an intense religious theme and typically resolves to full recovery after a few weeks, or after being removed from the area."

Funny, huh? To think that well-balanced, entirely sane individuals make the trek to Jerusalem and subsequently go mad is the most hilarious phenomenon which has ever happened to mankind (and it's only hilarious because when they depart, they revert to being bastions of sanity). I have encountered many such individuals: from the Charedi man who comes to Nadin's Bar every night without fail and sits by himself in a corner smoking nargila and eating popcorn, to the Palestinian shop-owner who yelled at me for thinking he was Jewish and calling him an Israeli; from the many Americans I've met who come across to do a year of study at Hebrew U, but ended up just never leaving and settling permanently here, to the sudden appearance of the Chassidim on Ben Yehuda dancing madly amongst themselves; from the black-hat Chabad man at the Kotel who talks to me for three straight about why I should wear tefillin and pray there every day in order to get everything I want, to the swarms of 10-year old Israeli children running around Yafo at midnight without any parental supervision; from the old lady on the bus who yells at us for talking too loudly, saying "Why are you talking? What do you have to talk about? Did you just visit Rachel's tomb? Did you just daven at the Kotel? WHY ARE YOU TALKING?!", to the Israelis who pass by a table of no Americans and yell out "Fucking Americans!", just because we're speaking English and they can't tell the difference between the varied accents that exist in the Anglo world; from random Korean Christian-Zionist tourists who organize a singing session to sing Jewish songs in a Korean-tinged accent of Hebrew in public, to the taxi-drivers who spend ten minutes driving you to your destination, but put you out after they can't convince you to not put on the monet... this place is funnnnnn-ky mad.

I love it!

Case in point: last night I went out with my friend, Sara, her sister, Aliesheva, her friend, Shira, and her aunt, Aunty Yael. As it was Aunty Yael's last true night out and about in Jerusalem, we decided to make a big night out of it (which isn't saying much, since everywhere on the planet is mostly dead on a Monday night). We went to dinner, then for coffee and were about to go to a bar, but we had to wait on Aliesheva to get on the bus to head back to Ramat Beit Shemesh. Afterall, Aliesheva is only sixteen, and it wouldn't be the most responsible thing to traipse her into a bar with us.

So there we were - minding our own business at the bus-stop when a guy, most obviously under the influence of this Jerusalem syndrome, comes up to us asking for money. Normally, being the mitzvah boy that I am, I would always give something to people asking for money - but this guy was the type who'd probably use the money for drugs or something, so I chose not to. I didn't know exactly what he was saying in the Ivrit-talk, so I just shook my head and said "lo" but he just stood in front of my shaking his cup over and over again. It was the most awkward thing you can possibly imagine. Finally, the guy gave up, looked at me with a look of loathing and moved on to Sara and did the same thing to her, then to her aunt, then to Shira. It's not that he was begging and possibly on drugs that was strange - it was that he was so persistent! He'd stand in front of each us for at least 3 minutes and keep insisting and mumbling something which sounded suspciously like "Hara!" when we wouldn't give in to his demands. Anyway, so Mr. Possibly-on-drugs Guy, after realizing none of us would entertain him fiscally, moved on to the other people at the bus-stop. Since all my attention had been diverted on focusing on Mr. Possibly-on-drugs Guy, I hadn't been paying attention to my neighbours at the bus-stop. And there was quite a Character there, I must tell you - a Character whom Mr. P-o-d guy made the unwise decision to move on to and harass for spare change.

Now spare me a moment to describe this Character to you in as vivid terms as I can, because he wasn't just a character. Oh no sir-ee. He was a Character... of the most colorful kind. He was dressed in suede electric-blue pants, a pink shirt, a purple bandana tied around his neck, a long blue necktie and to top it all off nicely... a pink cowboy hat perched comfortably on his 60 year old head. (It does sound terribly odd, but it suited this Character and the role he was about to play).

Now, the Character had no time for Mr. P-o-d's begging. In fact, he was tremendously annoyed by it. He quickly got up, and yelling at P-o-d in Ivrit-talk, he chased him down Yafo. 

Naturally, we all started laughing - and me, uncontrollably. It was the most hilarious thing I'd ever seen in all of my nearly a year in this city, and I can tell you, I've seen a whole lot of hilarious things here. 

But that's not the end of the story.

So after chasing Mr. P-o-d away, the Character comes back and seeing us laughing decides to entertain us. Standing with his feet apart, he does what can only be described as hip-replacement thrusting in the middle of Yafo, with Arab taxi drivers honking their horns at him and yelling at him in either Arabic or Hebrew - I'm not quite sure. Then... (brace yourself)... then, this Character had the audacity to start pointing at us and laughing his head off! 

Only in Jerusalem...

It was actually disturbing in a way, because I started to actually wonder if reality had gone topsy-turvy for a minute there and I wondered if we were somehow the crazy ones and the Character had become the sane one. But nonetheless, it was the funniest thing you can imagine, and when Aliesheva's bus came right then and she ran off to board it and we started walking away, the Character decided to follow us. As we were still in throes of uncontrollable laughter, the sight of him dancing and following us, while smiling and yelling in Hebrew, simply exacerbated the laughing situation and made it even funnier. We ran across the street and stopped to survey the Character. He kept right on dancing, and with a nod of his head, he ducked into Cafe Hillel and perhaps decided to entertain the patrons inside there.

And that isn't even the end of the night, mind you... but I don't think I'll get into that, because I'm realizing, as I type this, that perhaps the reason I'm fitting in so well and loving everything so much is probably because... hmm. Maybe I have a touch of Jerusalem syndrome myself? 

The pot really does love to call the kettle black, doesn't it?

My only hope is - if I ever disintegrate into becoming a Character in Jerusalem (as a direct result of having come totally under the influence of the Jerusalem Syndrome), may I never have to leave and re-gain my sanity.

Being a crazy Jerusalem-ite seems much too exciting to have to revert to a life of monotonous normalcy back in the west.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013


February 14th, 2013 - 2:28am. 

This date and time will forever be remembered by me.

After all these years of writing and re-writing and editing and re-editing, I've finally come to a close and finished the final two chapters and epilogue of "Avi Resurrected: Alive and lovin' it." True, I will probably go over it again tomorrow and do some editing and re-editing, but the fact is - those final two words have been typed: THE END. I've finished it. 

It is completed.

I feel a sense of relief right now. Maybe also some tiredness in there as well. I'm searching my feelings and there is only a slight sense of accomplishment and pride in what I've done. Maybe I'm just tired cause it's so late. Or maybe I've talked about it so much/sent it to other people/sent out queries too prematurely to feel super excited. I don't know.

But I'm done.

And this moment will never come again.

So I had to come on here and capture it as best I could on this blog.

Tomorrow: maybe some editing, yes, but never again will I be able to type THE END on this book. It's officially finished.

Yay me :)

Monday, February 4, 2013

My first review

Ok - it's not exactly a professional book critique, but I received my first full-length review of my manuscript from one of my dear friends, Resa Gooding-Eshed, who's taken the time out to read it. I've had three previous critiques which were very positive (one from my writer-friend, Rachel Eddy, author of the hilarious novel "Running of the bride" released in 2012; another from a friend, Kirk John-Williams; and finally from my esteemed rabbi, Rabbi Marc D Angel), but this was the most in-depth response I've received so far, which has just tickled me pink and humbled me all at once. I've started sending out requests to literary agents (again) but am not finding the responses I wish I could get, and, so this was quite uplifting to read such a positive review.

The review came in the form of an e-mail which I received yesterday and runs thus: 

Nick my darling
What can I say? This is the best relaxed reading I've done in a while. I'm totally enjoying this book and reading it slowly so I can catch every word written. But as I go along I just wanted to share my thoughts about it so far.
You did a HUGE aamount of research in writing this book or you must be very knowledgeable about all this Jewish stuff. I'm amazed at how many Jewish "terms/references" are in here. I feel like I'm in my conversion class...just the Orthodox version :) Really good work!
Things I LOVED
1. Your style of writing is unlike ANY I have read thus far and I think I have read quite a bit in my lifetime. Your descriptions and explanations of events are so vivid it doesn't take any effort at all to bring to life the story in the reader's imaginations.Really effortless to read which makes it an added joy!
2. In Chapter 2 I loved how you broke up the analysis for each character, Tzippy, Max and Natan, as they both got ready to encounter Avi for the first time. This is why I love reading because in a movie you would totally miss this!
3. Loved the dialogue between Avraham and G-d. I think it will be a good reminder for readers to reflect on how often we abuse G-d and doubt what he says or promises us.
4. I liked how you chose to use Avraham in the story. Once again you reminded us that he was the only one who actively sought G-d at a time when he was difificult to find....something I did not know but it's interesting to read it here in this context as it brings another side of the story of the Bible to life.
5. Loved the way you littered your paragraphs with Hebrew using the English transliteration.
6. I loved the way you started each chapter with a unique Bible verse. I think it really opens the chapter nicely and sets the tone of what to expect....really great work!

That's my two pence for now....just absolutely brilliant work! You are a perfect mix of VS Naipaul meet Amos Oz with a twist of Rabbi Shmuley. I would say you're even better than any of them as your use of modern sattire and language revives their work (makes me feel like pullin out Oz's "Tale of Love and Darkness" and re reading after). Remember I was the first one to tell you that you are the BOMB when you win your Nobel Prize for Literature! :)

Do you even know how this made me felt? I've been smiling for the past two days and I can't stop! I know she's my friend, but those words really have bolstered me and made me more determined to fight and get my book out there. 

To my wonderful friend, Resa (and also to all the other who've taken the time out of their days and lives to read my manuscript), thank you for this!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Multi-verse; multi-me

I am no scientist or philosopher - but I am an amateur enthusiast of both these fields, and when the notion of a multi-verse theory came to me, I was captivated, to say the least.

To quickly explain it to you (in my humble, layman's understanding!), the multi-verse theory posits that our universe is just one of many, many, many trillion-gajillions; ours is just one in a sea of universes so large that it makes the mind-boggling number of stars in our own universe seem like the number five. What are these other universes - what do they contain? Some scientists theorise that they are different realities and different possibilities of "what could be/what could've been". Some of these universes are supposed to be very akin to ours; others, absolutely different, with an entirely different set of physical laws holding them together (I'm supposing in universes where their basic laws of physics are very different from ours, there may be square planets, or incorporeal life, or no matter exists, or only anti-matter exists, or something so bizarre and odd, not even the most imaginative of us can possibly visualise the type of reality that exists there). Different universes, with different realities - utterly mind-shattering!

Within the multi-verse theory lies the assumption of parallel universes, where different realities - similar to our own, yet, different - are happening all at once. That is to say: the possibilities which we didn't choose in this universe are happening in another. For instance, in this universe/reality, I have chosen to sit here and type this blog; but in another universe/reality, I am reading a book, or driving, or even typing this blog, but chose a slightly different title to head this article. In another universe/reality, I'm a Nobel Laureate recipient. In another universe/reality, Hitler succeeded at his final solution for the Jews. In another universe/reality, Kim Jong Il rules the world. In another universe/reality, everything is upside down, and what we think is negative in this universe/reality, is positive in that universe/reality. The multi-verse theory puts forward a theory which assumes that there are so many possible options of realities. For every action we choose to not do, or for every thought we don't express, there is a reality where it is happening. All combinations of possibilities are probable and expressed in these alternate universes/realities.

Sometimes I sit and think about this multi-verse theory and wonder about the other "me's" who probably exist. There may be billions of them - some very similar to me, others quite dissimilar (not only in terms of life-paths, but also in terms of personalities and character traits). Are they me? Are they just different expressions of myself, and still, integrally connected to me somehow? Or are they not me, and if they fell into my universe/reality would there be some sort of conundrum where our very existence is so diametrically opposed that we have to try to kill the other (only one can live! - cue the Hollywood soundtrack)? Very ominous, indeed, to think about these other "me's" who aren't quite Me. I'm sure that in another universe/reality there's one of me who's uber-successful at writing and has fulfilled all his dreams. Yet, in another universe/reality, there's also a very probable me who died at the age of nineteen, or is a bum on the street with no one to love me. There must even be a universe/reality where I was never born. 

In an odd way, the conception of other me's gives Me a sense of warmth and gratefulness. I'm happy to imagine that in another universe/reality I'm the successful person I'm desperately striving to be in this life; but, more importantly, at the same time, the idea of another me makes Me grateful to know that I am living this life with all the wonderful people who constitute my life and who contribute to my life. I wouldn't trade my parents for any other; or my relatives for any other (ok - maybe some of them I'll trade, but they're mostly tolerable); or my friends for any other; or even my life experiences for any other. The weird thing about the multi-verse theory is that it makes me so happy to be Me, and not a version of myself who's unhappy to be me, or even a version of myself who's happy but not blessed with the experiences and people I've had/have. 

Of course, at the end of the day, the multi-verse theory (at least at present and as far as I know) is just that: a theory. We are only sure of this life we're living and so, while it's nice to fantasise about super-happy/uber-successful versions of ourselves, that's not the universe/reality we have to live in, so let's all "It's a wonderful life" things and get back to reality and realise: we've got it pretty good.

Thursday, January 31, 2013


All my management texts - those about leadership and sociology and human behavior and influence and negotiation - come to one solid and final conclusion about the issue of people: there is no one defining characteristic which makes a person more successful than the other. In my own small world, I've come to realize that what determines success is specific and unique to each person. Strengths and weaknesses vary by individual: the surmountable and insurmountable challenges of one man/woman will never coincide exactly with those of another. We have to find our own weaknesses and try to find ways to surmount them (or even use them to our advantage) - and we have to find our own strengths and find ways to harness them for the fulfilment of ourselves. 

In my specific world, I have to face the challenges of being able to manage my time properly and wisely, being overly-sensitive, being unmotivated, being quick to throw the towel in on projects if I don't manage to get it off the ground in one go and being afraid to speak of dreams for fear of being ridiculed. I have to learn that while my project is part of me, it isn't all of me - and a rejection of my project is not a rejection of my self-worth (despite how hard it is to make that distinction at times). My challenges are all interlinked and they impact each other. It's a domino effect. 

But this year - 2013 - while I haven't been particularly sorted in any of these areas, I've managed to push myself a bit more into attempting to sort them. True, I could do more, but I'm making these crucial and (oftentimes, most) difficult first step in trying to surmount them - or finding ways around them. 

Focus, discipline, diligence, determination, gratefulnessorganisation and time-management are my watchwords for this year. More than the dreamy goals I've set, I realise that these specific watchwords are what are needed to guide my very blasé and easily scattered and shattered self into staying on track in achieving my goals. I've chosen these words because are specific to my situation and my personality. 
Focus: because I'm easily distracted and always find ways to make excuses to procrastinate. 
Discipline: because in losing focus and in becoming distracted, I lose structure, and structure is key to success. But it takes discipline to remain focused, structured and successful. 
Diligence: because success will never happen overnight. It takes a constant approach - a constant and diligent nurturing of your dreams to make them come true.
Determination: because you can't expect anyone else to open the doors for you, or keep you on track. You have to do it yourself.
Gratefulness: because in being grateful for what I have, I'll remember to not be discontented by what I don't have - and I'd remember all the wonderful doors I've already come through and dreams I've already accomplished and things I didn't succeed at which compositely came together to make me who I am today.
Organisation: because I am naturally a scattered and unorganised person, and while this is not often a criteria for most creative people, for me, I need this to make me keep within those watchwords above.
Time management: because I always think, if things are going perfect right now, I can put it off tomorrow and spend the rest of the day moping that I'm not being productive. Time management involves splicing the day into segments and accomplishing something within each segment. While I may not succeed at a particular segment, at least I won't put a mess of things off for tomorrow, because I can just start on something new in the next segment.

My watchwords for this year are all inextricably linked (as you can probably tell from my explanations for choosing them above). They are specifically Nick-centered. I'm going to write them down and put them on my desk and ever so often take a look at them - hopefully they'd keep me grounded: focused, diligent, determined, grateful and time-managed. And more than that - I know they will guide me into bettering myself and finding ways to accomplish what I'd like to accomplish. 

What are your watchwords for the year? What do you need to do to manage your time better and be most efficient every day?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Publishing process - May it be easier the second time around

    When I completed my first manuscript in my very early twenties, I was ecstatic. It was somewhat autobiographical, and I was so unbelievably happy. I still remember that day I typed in the words THE END, and then, as an after-thought, I jotted in the time and date of completion: 2:20AM - January 16th, 2006.

    I came across this manuscript, tucked comfortably away in the Documents file on my computer at the of 2012, and feeling nostalgic after not having seen my creation for maybe four years or more, I figuratively dusted off the old book and settled down for a nice read. Unfortunately, I couldn't exactly enjoy my read of first baby: instead, all the thoughts of the laborious and emotionally draining process of searching for a literary agent came flooding to my mind. My writing is never very genre-specific, so I understand the automatic aversion within the rigidly structured, label-loving literary world - but the struggle for authors, particularly first-time authors, to capture the support of a literary agent can be the absolute  most painful thing a writer ever has to go through. Ok, literary agents are all generally quite nice, and in their defense, they generally tend to stick to certain genres because they've carved out niches and made the appropriate in the publishing world geared towards those specific types of books. Sadly, the rejection they send can (and oftentimes does) make a writer feel consistently more and more despondent - eventually resulting in many an author tucking away their work into files and folders and packing them away into the recesses of their minds. 

    For writers, writing is a joy: a true expression of their innermost selves. The putting together of a manuscript - whether the result is excellent, mediocre, or awful as hell - brings a writer such an incredible feeling of accomplishment and fulfilment. You look at the manuscript like it's your child. You've nurtured it; you've made sacrifices to write it; you've given it your all - and no matter what the world may think, it's yours, it's wonderful, and it's perfection. 

    And then comes the publishing process - and you realise that the process of birthing your manuscript was actually the easiest part of the whole thing and would probably be the last time you'd feel happy until you get signed by a publisher, or start writing again.

    Because, now comes everything that has nothing to do with creativity. Now comes the agonising waiting, and painful rejections, and crazy bureaucracy that sometimes you think was formulated for no reason other than to frustrate and annoy writers. First you have to find a literary agent. Then you're going to be told that your manuscript needs to be edited. After that you're going to have to deal with being rejected by publishers. And interspersed throughout it all, you're going to have to find the ability to patient, and if you can't be patient? - well, you're just going to have to learn how to be, the hard way.

    You either come of it all with a book deal, or you come out of it without a book deal. Either way, the emotional strain and unnecessary anxiousness would have taken it's toll. No writer is exempt from this painful step when it comes to publishing (unless they go that taboo route of self-publishing and are thus treated as outcasts in the publishing world); even JK Rowling - the most commercially successful author of all time - writes openly of the constant rejections she received from every literary agency she contacted. This crucial first-step of finding a lit agent (which some hypothesise is an unnecessary layer in this complicated procedure) is the most harrowing of them all as it is the most difficult to check-off on your list of getting published. Like an upside down pyramid, there's a tiny, narrow opening into the publishing scene, through the rejection-happy conduit of the literary agent. After that, things get generally easier. The stamp of "represented by" (insert agent's name here) gives an author a sort of visa in their literary passport which allows them to travel freely - vertically and horizontally - throughout the publishing world.

    Some are lucky, however. A wonderful, plucky friend of mine, came across an editor and managed to inveigle a book contract for her excellent manuscript after nearly two years of trying to get signed by an agent. Yes, it is possible to by-pass the literary agent step, but one has to be well-researched, and, more importantly, well-connected in the publishing world. For the vast majority of writers, we are going to have to fight through the established channels and accept the status quo as it has been since books began to flow freely throughout the world and writing no longer became a purely creative process.

    In my first attempt at writing all those years ago, I struggled to find an agent, and, like the thousands of other writers who went before and came after me, I sent out queries willy-nilly and received the expected "Thank you, but this is not right for us. But keep in mind, this is a highly subjective industry and while we may not be right to represent your work, someone else will" standard rejection time after time after time. Of course, I also received the occasional "Yes! We accept!" from the conmen who abound in publishing like they do in any other field (be aware of them! Any literary agent who charges to read your manuscript, or accepts you unconditionally without having read your manuscript in it's entirety, or will conflictingly act a money-collecting editor is, undoubtedly, not a literary agent and is just in this to wheedle money out of you), and I was lucky to receive critiques from two literary agents - one of whom actually became a regular pen pal of mine (the late Harry Preston - may he rest in peace). 

    I'm the sort of person who isn't very thick-skinned, and so, after a month of non-stop querying, I threw in the towel, shed a tear or two, and put my manuscript away. Did I give up too easily? Perhaps. But remember, I was only twenty-two at the time - and very inexperienced about how things worked in the publishing world. I will be honest with you, my writing wasn't the best thing out there: my manuscript was a bit messy and not very focused - there were parts which were very literary and very avant garde, but reading it today at twenty-older-than-twenty-two, I can ascertain that it wasn't the best thing out there and it reflected my immaturity. The fact that I managed to capture the attention of two literary agents and become long-term friends with one of them really was quite lucky! 

    So although my first manuscript reminds me of that not-so-good month of fighting for a literary agent and being left down in the dumps and feeling rejected, I am proud of it - and I stand by it. It is a part of who I am, as a writer and as a person. As I said, it was a somewhat autobiographical piece of work, and having captured that special moment in my life in my manuscript makes it all the more cherished to me. Writing, like any skill, can only be honed with time and with an undue amount of practice. Read the writings of any writer at an early stage in their career and then read them again in five years, or ten years, and you are amazed at the transformation and ripening of skill and ability. I am of the school "Everything happens for a reason", and my reason in writing my first manuscript was multiple-fold: 

    1. I had to learn to not be so sensitive; a rejection of my query to an agent means that agent simply doesn't have the contacts to connect my work to (and their loss, at the end of the day, right?! Ha!),

    2. I deepened and honed my writing skills - in reading the beginning of my manuscript, and reading the end, it is an obvious evolution in the voice, tone and maturity of the writer. Furthermore, in comparing writing from today to my first manuscript, it's almost like reading the work of two entirely different people (although the humor is still most assuredly mine - no matter how immature I was then, and how mature my writing is now!). I can't wait to write something when I am ninety years old! - definite Nobel Laureate in Literature, definite!

    3. I made friends with Harry Preston - a brilliant writer who was published at the early age of fifteen, and went on to write way into his eighties. The advice, correspondence and overall friendship we developed will be something I will cherish forever. Had I not been despondent about rejected by him (and all those other literary agents), he wouldn't have continued correspondence with me, because he was an encouraging fellow all-around.

    So, it all happens for a reason - or in this case three.

    But I'm once again at a juncture - I've written my second manuscript and very nearly done and ready to move on from the creative portion of publishing (writing the story) and onto the daunting and tedious portion of publishing (trying to get published). I'm excited, and a bit apprehensive, but I'm not the thin-skinned person I was at twenty-three (God, I hope not. I hope I don't get my first rejection and say to myself "So  it's happening again? Better give up while you're ahead of yourself, Nick." I hope I don't have a hard fight to get recognised, to get accepted by an agent, to begin the process of publishing. As much as I've spent all of this blog touting my first manuscript and how much I love it - I also love my second manuscript, which reflects a deeper part of my soul, and a different aspect of who I am. It, too, is my baby - and I love them both.

    As I begin this process again, I hope to succeed - please keep your fingers crossed for me. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Atonement musings

Since Elul began last month, I've purposely been doing a lot of introspection and, in many ways, have found myself changing - ever so subtly and slightly, but changing nonetheless. It's not so much that I'm learning new things: the positive things I need to implement in my life and the negative things I need to omit from my life, are things which I have always known and things I knew I needed to do. Call it laziness/procrastination/downright complacency, I've just never done what I needed to do. But Elul came about, and, with it, came a forceful push to look at myself properly, and, more than that, get the ball rolling on changing. With the introspection came, for the first time in my life, a hand-in-hand approach to change. I married the two together in my head, and, so, couldn't do one without the other. It was a conscious decision to do this - and while the journey of introspection will never be over, my current push for introspection/self-evaluation/change was all geared towards the coming of this awe-inspiring Day of Atonement which begins in a mere few hours.

Yom Kippur: the final realization of these past six weeks.

I've been thinking alot about perfection in general and I posted a blog about this elusive state of perfection a few weeks ago. Perfection, to me, is a very relative and personal thing. What can be considered to be perfection by one, is perhaps  utter imperfection to another. We all have different standards, different goals, different outlooks, different purposes, different abilities, different talents, different experiences, different personalities, and, as such, we all have differing views on what perfection entails. A six year old child draws a picture of a horse and, to her, that is perfection. Leonardo da Vinci paints a painting of a mysterious woman, and to him (and many in the world) that is the (or, one) overarching standard of perfection. Much as personalities, values and goals change with time, so too does personal measures of perfection. The six year old child who drew that picture of a horse may look back when she is ten and be astounded that she ever thought that was the highest she could achieve. Perfection (or, let's use the word contentment, but to me, they are interchangable as they are both desired states where we wish do to be, but oftentimes, are not) is a clean, orderly, yet cluttered room and rainy weather - whereas to someone else, it would be sunny weather and a minimalist decor. Perfection depends on the person. Happiness depends on the individual. I'm not sure if there is an overriding Standard of Perfection somewhere out there in the universe, but somehow I don't think there is. I think life is simply too varied for there to be a particular, generic standard. Life isn't the ISO; it is not always ordered like a stately British manor. Life is chaotic and unpredictable; life abounds with differences and uniqueness. This is what makes Life beautiful: that in it's chaotic and many varied differences, life doesn't present us with only one type of perfection, because Life has seen to it that we are all different.

Perfection is in the eyes of the beholder.

In many ways, Judaism as a spiritual pathway agrees with me on this point. We are not given a model of someone to emulate and follow. There is no WWJD equivalent in Judaism; there is no hadith to tell us which side of the bed we should sleep on or how many women we can marry because our chief prophet did so. Instead, the Tanakh captures the stories of very many individuals, each of whom went through very different, very unqiue experiences; each of whom were faced with different goals to accomplish, different hurdles to cross; each of whom whose stories captured their imperfections and failures, but, in so doing, highlighted their greatness precisely because of their ever-steady quest to achieve their missions. There was never One Prophet in Judaism - there were Prophets and great people; each of whom had a unique story and a unique purpose to fulfill. Ask a roomful of Jews who the most important prophet in Judaic history was and you'd be greeted a compendium of answers: Moses, Abraham, Jacob, Deborah, Herzl. We were not given one man/woman to look up to - we were given many. Many men and many women, whose greatness was in their journeys, whose greatness was in their attempts to achieve their missions/unique perfections, whose greatness was in their constant determination to try, to try and to try again.  This is what makes Moses, Ruth, David, Abraham, Daniel, Esther and all the rest great. This is what made them worthy of being remembered. They didn't try to emulate anyone else; they were ever faithful to charting their own course/story and trying to achieve their personal best/perfection. This is what we must emulate: we must find our own unique destinies, our own unique missions and try to fulfill it using our unique abilities, skills and talents. God did not intend for me to emulate anyone else, because He made me who I uniquely am, just as much as he didn't intend for you to be Sarah or Joshua. If He had wanted us to emulate any of the great prophets or sages or great people who populate the wide scope of Jewish history, well, He would have made us exactly like them, in exactly their time, with exactly their life circumstances, and exactly their genetic make-up.

I am who I am. You are who you are.

Find your unique perfection and strive to embrace it, while being inspired by others, but not trying to be them.

Yom Kippur, to me, is more than just my atonement of my past transgressions. It's the culmination of an annual journey - a day to do more than beg forgiveness. It's about realizing that mistakes made in the past are just that, past. Judaism is a verb - it is a religion of doing more than it is a religion of faith. It is easy to have faith, easy to believe, easy to know what's wrong and right - but it is much more difficult to do, to act. Forgiveness is not just in saying sorry, it's about doing sorry - showing that one has realized the mistakes of the past and will actively not seek to repeat them in the future. Yom Kippur is the final day of a six-week journey that we are blessed with each year to look closely at ourselves and to evaluate where we are and where we want to be. It's the time when we pick up that puerile picture of the horse we drew this past year and realize that we can do even better, and, thus, set an even higher level of perfection for ourselves.