Monday, August 29, 2005


As Busapest has, at least for me, now entered those antiquity-stained yellow pages of History, this will be the last piece to be posted under the page titled "Budapest". The Blog will continue; if anyone has an idea for a new page name, please be so kind as to share.

Transition is a word in motion. Or, in this eerie era of E prefix dominance (e-mail, e-commerce, e-bay), Transition is a word in e-motion. E, the e-xperts say, is the most commonly used letter in the E-nglish language. Now, there may be some of you who have an irritating itch to stop reading the words and start counting the letters; but don’t even bother: that “Eerie” word in the first line has definitely proved the theory right.

Transition must be a very unpopular word – it possesses a total of zero E’s. That unsavory race, Humankind, seems to neglect Transition: they cannot stand moving from a friendly environment to one that is foreign. Really, who can blame them? Friendly is held together by an E, as is Foreign; it is that Transitory state, between Friendly and Foreign, that lacks the common E-nominator, and is therefore shunned by the common folk – after all, which commoner would want to associate his common self with an uncommon word. Ironically, the word “Common” itself lacks that most common of letters: I guess it too is uncommon. More ironic: in this e-say, even the word “Uncommon” is common.

If Emotion were Electronic Motion – as Email is Electronic Mail – then pure Motion would be the movement of the static, while pure Emotion would be the movement of the dynamic. And one gives birth to the other: your eyes swivel – a Motion – what they see causes a feeling – an Emotion. Or vise versa: You feel an intense inner stir – an Emotion – which, in consequence, prompts tears to fill your eyes and roll down your cheeks – a Motion. Even if the E of Emotion was not meant to represent Electricity, which I’m sure it wasn’t, nevertheless, there is a connection – albeit more of a dynamic one – between Emotion as the Webster defines it, and E-motion as the Web (minus “ster”) (r)E-fines it.

Electricity – though blind to the naked, or, for that matter, dressed, eye – is an energy that can power entire cities. Emotion is just as powerful, and, therefore, just as incognito. Sure Motion is a force to be reckoned with – picture the Unrolling Stones – but Motion is tangible, is visible, and is therefore limited to our vision. Emotion however, is intangible, is invisible, and can therefore play beyond the rules. (True it too has rules, but they are not dependent on our vision.)

Thus, Transition is a word of Motion and E-motion: Motion, because that’s what one does to transit from one environment to another; and Emotion, because that’s what happens when one transits from one environment to another.

Why we fear Transition? We don’t. Yes, our Inner Robot – the E, as in Electric, side of us – cannot stand the unexpected, but that is to be expected of him – after all, he is a robot. Our other side, the side of us that knows no limits, the Inner Human if you will, cannot sit motionless, and cannot stand motionlessness; it must move, must reach beyond the norm, and does therefore not fear Transition.

This Blog is in Transition, transition from the friendly to the foreign – but before long the foreign too will be friendly and then it will be time to move on again, not stopping until all foreigners become friendly.

So, Budapest – that place once so foreign and now so friendly – with this Transition I close your chapter, but I only do it to open another one.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Going With The Flow

He hates loss – but hates gain even more. He sits on his talent… while watching the potential slip from under him.

Maybe he is afraid of losing that which he has gained, consequently, instead of going through the pain of loss, he just doesn’t gain – thus leaving himself with nothing to lose.

When you have nothing, you have nothing to lose.

All he wants is to simply get out of life alive, nothing more, and therefore, nothing less.

The cliché “No pain, no gain”, he conveniently changes to “No gain, no pain”, and he lives a painless – yet infertile – life.

He thinks ignorance is bliss, but why hasn’t he thought of the fact that ignorance can also be lost – and along with it his bliss?

Maybe because he’s ignorant.

Or maybe he has thought, and therefore holds on to that ignorance with white knuckles, so afraid of losing his lifeline, his sustenance, his ignorance:

You see, the only way to lose ignorance is by gaining knowledge; and once you gain you can always lose – hence his white-knuckle grip.

(But, then he isn’t exactly “ignorant”: at the least he has “thought”.

Well, I guess it all depends on whether “thinking” negates “ignorance”; or whether one can be a “thinker” and an “ignoramus” at the same time.

The word “ignorant” itself, probably finds its roots in the word “ignore”, which would lend some sense to our invented predicament:

One can only “ignore” that which actually exists – in this case – his “thought”. If he weren’t to “think”, then what would he “ignore”?

Thus, we conclude: one can only be “ignorant” if he has something to “ignore”; otherwise he is just naïve – the former, obviously being a lot worse then the latter: the latter is not his fault.)

He’s not alive because he was born; he’s alive because he hasn’t died. He’s not alive because his heart beats; he’s alive because he hasn’t had a heart attack.

For him life is a commercial, not the program. He cannot wait for the commercial to end so that he can get on with the program.

What he so haphazardly fails to see is that the commercial will end… only if he turns it into a program: only if he refines it.

Were he not to do so, following the commercial there would be no program; instead he will find every hopeful viewer’ greatest nightmare: another commercial.

When one is a viewer, one follows behind; when one is a doer, one leads ahead.

When one is reactive, at best he participates; when one is active, at worst he initiates.

So… get off of your potential: instead of viewing, start doing; instead of being indifferent, do something different – beg to differ – thus making a difference.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Festival Pix

He is baring his soul
Yes, Jimmy, move over With the bassist and guitarist of Roots Manuva, a UK band who played the main stage
For every question an asnwer, and every answer a question Putting the rap on it.

Friday, August 19, 2005

The Sziget Festival

Ten minutes from the heart of Budapest, on the Danube River, floats the Sziget, the Obudai Island. Every year, in the beginning of August, the Island sees hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world coming together under the common sky for the largest open-air music festival in all of Europe.

On the Island: Dreadlocks are not dreaded; tie-dyes have not died; and to be a hippy is, once again, to be hip. Hygiene is looked upon as nuclear energy; mud is welcomed as a natural phenomenon; and normalcy is the natural enemy. Beer flows like the infinite watts of music; the drugs here do not come from any pharmacy; and sobriety is lying under a rock somewhere with a hangover.

Amidst all the chaos, and not thirty seconds from the main stage, there stands a little nucleus vibrating with energy. Young rabbis, their beards not so uncommon in this rowdy crowd of Beatnik wannabes but their reasons for being here very much so, have pitched tent.

They are here for only one reason: to cover their little corner of the universe with knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the sea. They encourage all Jewish men – not caring if tattooed or pierced – to come put on Teffilin. Their philosophy: no ink or needle can ever tattoo a Neshama and no stud or ring can ever pierce a soul.

The ways of covering the Island with knowledge of G-d are many, and the seven days with which to do it very few. The young kindred spirits exploit every means, and take advantage of every second, to spread that knowledge along the collective human body like an epidemic – an epidemic that cures. Indeed, people would pass along the contagious phenomena to their friends – “did you here about the Jewish Tent?” – and the next day the friends would pass it on to their friends – until the “Knowledge” was really getting into the know.

The question of “What exactly happened at this ‘Jewish Tent’?” must be tackled in two time periods – “When The Sun Was Up”, and, ”When The Sun Went Down” – because they are as different as, you guessed it, night and day.

When The Sun Was Up

At noon, when the “Islanders” peek out of their tents for the first time and squint at the glaring sun, they see four kippa-sporting young men weaving through the plethora of bodies, schlepping sound systems and tangled wires passed the main stage, along the many booths and tents that line the walkway, their Tzitzis flying in all directions, until they reach a tent with a sign reading Zsido Sator, or Jewish Tent.

After all is set up and Jewish music – from classical Chabad Niggunim to Hasidic reggae phenomenon Matisyahu – is blaring from the speakers, the people start showing up. The “Ask The Rabbi” stands, where one can do just that, start heating up. The Island is probably the most popular place to be a rabbi. Questions range from the intellectual to the emotional to the sexual, from the physical to the spiritual to the hypothetical, from the practical to the theoretical to the whimsical – and, yes, everything, and anything, in between. One man asks, “How do I curb my anti-Semitism”? One woman asks, “What’s the recipe for Charoseth (a Passover dish)?” “Is it expected of a rabbi to know the recipe for Charoseth?”

One person wonders, “How can you guys sit here at this festival all happy when your brothers and sisters are being pulled from their homes in Israel?” Wow. The reply: “We believe the only way to really achieve peace in Israel, and for that matter the world, is by spreading the knowledge of G-d, or whatever word you wish to use if you do not like the G word, throughout the world. And that is how we, here on the Island, are helping our brethren in Israel.”

“What exactly is this knowledge of G-d”? The questioner continues. “The knowledge that all things physical and, of course, spiritual, are G-dly, and that, at the root, we all come from the same place – G-d”, the young rabbinical student answers, and then continues, ”if we would all see the world that way, there would be true peace upon all humanity.”

And then there is the Teffilin, small leather boxes containing sacred passages from the Bible that Jewish men place against their hearts and on their minds every morning to bind them to G-d. Though Teffilin is not as popular as “Ask The Rabbi”, for the simple reason that only Jews can put on Teffilin and asking the rabbi is limited to no one, hundreds of Jewish men, many for the first time, connect their hearts and minds to G-d.

“Are you Jewish”? The answers vary: mostly “No’s”, very few “Yes’s”, and an occasional “Half” or “Quarter”. “Which quarter?” “My mother’s mother.” “So you are Jewish.” “Really?!” This exchange happened more than once.

When The Sun Went Down
Things may have seemed pretty orderly when the sun was up, but once the sun departed so did all pretense of order. In the shadows of the moon, chaos reigned. The young rabbis, who in daylight were “mind & soul doctors”, with dusk turned into “rock & roll doctors”. And that is exactly what they did – rock n’ rolled.

A rabbinical student plugs in his electric guitar and – “Jimmy move over, let Mendy take over”. Near him, another young Hassid has his fingers caressing the keyboard as if it were a geshmaker sugya in Gemara, a delicious portion of the Talmud. The rest of the “free wheelin’ yeedin” are dancing in front of the tent with more energy then should be legal. A semi circle of about 200 wide-eyed people forms; they have never seen anything like it. Before long, the spectators become participants and the dance floor, dirt and beer caps, is soon beaten by hundreds of feet. Of course the men and woman dance separately – its all part of the novelty.

Close to midnight, the beat turns into a Hip-Hop slash reggae progression and one of the rabbinical students starts improvising a reggae rap. After the crowd gets over the initial shock of seeing a Hasid with a beard, Tzitzit, and Kippa, doing a Jamaican accent and an inner city ghetto rhyme, they start bouncing – and it gets crazy from there. You had to see it to believe it: hundreds of deadlocked, tattooed, pierced, stoned, drunk, half-naked people screaming after the rapper words like “We are all created in the image of G-d” and “We want Moshiach now”. Just wild.

When the music, dancing and rapping comes to a rap, around one in the morning, the crowd wants more; but the rabbis, after a full day of spreading the knowledge, wish to spread out on a bed and recharge for tomorrow.

After seven days of this type of chaos, we can only hope that this epidemic of knowledge has spread passed the Island and into the Mainland. And as one of the Hungarian newspapers quipped: “If you haven’t seen the joy at the Jewish Tent you haven’t seen true joy” – a line which, knowingly or not, comes from the Talmud’s description of the joy that was in the Holy Temple.

Before the sun has once again come up, may we, with our physical eyes, see the true joy of the third and eternal temple, and may we dance, with our physical feet, to the beat of the Levites.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Israel: The Feeling, The Mood, The Reality - Part V

We sit in a dense traffic. My face pressed against the bus window, watching private cars and public busses from all around the country inching towards a common destination. At every junction, the merging traffic is like hundreds of branches drawing towards the root. Groups descend from the busses, turn to face the sun setting over Gaza, and begin praying Mincha(afternoon prayer service). The sky is red, the mood orange – and we are four kilometers from Sderot.

Cars line the side of the kvish (road), as people make their way to the entrance of Sderot. We join the masses making their way down to the center of the town. From the blaring speakers it seems that the program has already begun. We weave our way through a plethora of bodies – mothers pushing baby carriages, grandfathers leaning on canes, families with sleeping bags on their backs, teenagers strumming guitars, children running around, girls sitting on the grass, newsmen atop of vans, plain men selling watermelon – alas, we reach the podium.

MK (Member Knesset), Effi Eitam, has just been introduced to address the crowd. Everyone cheers when his name is announced. When the “disengagement” of the settlements in Gaza and Northern Samaria had been voted in, Eitam resigned his post as a minister in Arial Sharon’s government and is a major activist in the anti-expulsion of Jews from their own land. With a voice raised in passion and a fist raised in defiance, Eitam says, “A Jew does not expel a Jew”. The crowd roars.

Rabbi Drukman, the leader of the Bnei Akiva movement, ends his speech with a song, one of victory. The crowd sings along.

“On the way here, a reporter asked me, ‘when are you going home [from this anti-expulsion rally]?’ I’m going to answer him in front of all of you: we are not going home; we are home. This is our home: Sderot is our home, Gush Katif is our home, Northern Samaria is our home”. These are the words of Rabbi Alon, the head of Yeshivat Hakotel.

Speakers call on Prime Minister Arial Sharon to come here, to Sderot, and see true democracy. They say to Sharon, “Don’t to be a dictator”; they tell him, “You can go down in history as a great man, or you can go down as the opposite”. But the theme most stressed throughout the night was, “The army, the police, are not our enemy; they may use violence, but we will not. They are our brothers and we will not fight them – no matter what”.

The crowd of an estimated 35,000 men, women and children, after the speeches have come to silence, start on their way to Ofakim, where they will camp out until six o’clock the next evening; then they will continue on to Gush Katif. I myself have a flight to catch in twenty-four hours and start the daunting task of hitchhiking back to Jerusalem. After a half hour of fruitless thumbing the air, a man stops and offers to take me as far as Efrat. Once we reach Tzomet HaGush, he lays down an ultimatum: either you tremp (hitchhike) from here to Jerusalem, a twenty minute ride, or you sleep by me tonight and catch a bus in the morning. Only in Israel will a man you’ve met an hour ago for the first time invite you to his home for a night. Though we choose to tremp, it is people like these, who see another Jew as someone they’ve known their whole lives and not some foreign stranger they’ve just met, what Israel is lacking.

Imagine: every person in Israel would invite an unfamiliar “hitchhiker” – be it a physical or a spiritual one – to their home for a night, or even for a Shabbat meal; what would Israel be like then? I doubt we would be having this “Orange vs. Blue” conflict.

But now I sit in Ben Gurion Airport, watching the multitude of human traffic bustling about, and cannot help but reminisce to a time when we all left Egypt together, stood “with one heart” at the foot of Sinai, “hitchhiked” as a nation through the desert, and reached, not individually, but as the Jewish People, the Promised Land.

As the Torah is not a history book – even one of historical proportions – but rather a guide – to the perplexed and, especially, to those in the “know” – to life, ‘those’ times occur and reoccur every second of our lives.

So, yes, today the Promised Land doesn’t look so promising. But if we were to read the “writing on the scroll”, a scroll that was given solely for peace, and apply it, that is, “Love your fellow as yourself”, I don’t think the Land would be in confusion.

How do I know? G-d promised it – after all, it is the Promised Land.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Israel: The Feeling, The Mood, The Reality - Part IV

The alarm goes off. The candles are lit. The sun goes down. The Queen has arrived. It is Shabbat in Jerusalem.

I walk down the stone stairs, through the metal detectors, and: There are groups of all different sizes and people of all different shapes; there are faces of all different colors and tourists of all different nationalities; there are thoughts of all different textures and emotions of all different sorts; and there is The Wall.

With three minutes left until the sun calls it a day, a lone man puts Teffilin on three familiar strangers. Sixty Chabad teenagers, a Safed summer camp spending Shabbat in Jerusalem, sit in full circle, singing classical and soulful Chabad Niggunim (songs). A beautiful L’cho Dodi melody can be heard from the left corner of The Wall, it is a group of Hassidim praying in the most surreal way, their bodies swaying to the rhythm of their souls. At the far right, near the Mechitza (partition between the male and female worshippers), with their hands interlocked, a mixed bunch of guys dance to a Carlebach tune – dreadlocks, side locks, and gunstocks, bounce in unison.

Friday night in the Old City of Jerusalem, there is nothing like it. Even the stones seem to be resting; and when everything is at rest, the pulse is felt. For those few hours at the Wall, there is peace – no pro this, no anti that, just peace.

However, at the Shabbat meal, it is anything but peaceful. The arguments and opinions of the situation in Gaza are as diverse as the dishes that adorn the table. A commander in the Nachal brigade of the IDF says, “We all have our part in ensuring Israel’s peace, and, if we do not meet our potential, we are just as guilty as Prime Minister Sharon”. “What would you do if ordered to expel Jews from their homes in Gaza?” asks a guest at the table. “I’ll worry about it when it happens”, replies the soldier, “meanwhile I’ll put Teffilin on my ‘brothers in arms’”. Another soldier, who has been in the army for eight months, says, “there is no way I’m going to Gaza to pull out my brothers, but I really don’t know what to do – I don’t want to get kicked out of the army”.

A man from New York, who has been in Gaza for the past three weeks, says, “Forget about the disengagement for a minute; until the residents of Gush Katif are forced from their homes, they are legitimate citizens of Israel, and, with an average of four rockets a day falling into their communities, they are entitled to protection from the government”. “The government wants the Jews to feel scared, and will thus leave their homes with less hesitation”, says the host.

But let the truth be told, this Shabbat table saw only one side of the story – that of those who come to Shabbat tables. To find an alternative view, I ask some youngsters hanging out in the Russian Compound, where the bars are bouncing as if it were just another night, what they make of the whole thing. “Chabibi, ze lo echpat lee, buddy, it doesn’t bother me. I’ve got a beautiful girlfriend, what else do I need”. An older, more sober, man tells me, “Listen, Sharon makes sense: the Arabs are human, they want peace just like we do; but, in order for us to live in peace, we must make some concessions – give them homes and their own government to control them – and all will be good”.

Throughout Shabbat, I cannot help but notice the contrasts of the Holy Land – on the one hand, it radiates a peace not felt anywhere else; on the other, only here can you know such chaos.

But, once again, the sun has set and the stars have come out – it is time for Havdala (separation of Shabbat and week). The cup is full with wine. The incense handed out. The candle burns bright. We are leaving the holy Shabbat for the mundane week.

Do you think we can make some of the Shabbat peace rub-off onto the weekly chaos?

I don’t see why not.