Fall in New England

“All I’m saying is that if the Temple comes down as easily as all that on my head or on yours, it can’t be the true one, it’s too flimsy, it falls too easily.”

Science fiction writer Samuel Delany wrote this in Baruch Spinoza’s voice in his short novella, The Atheist in the Attic, about the visit of German mathematician/philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz to the older, sick lens grinder in the Hague. I read anything I can get my hands on about Spinoza, the great philosopher harshly excommunicated by his fellow Jews.

In Delany’s book, Leibnitz doesn’t tell anyone about this visit, but he’s fascinated by the Jew, as he refers to him. Together, they reflect on current events. The Dutch people, who have just gone through a Golden Age of art and democracy, turn completely on their extraordinary leader and literally tear him to pieces.

If the Temple comes down that easily, it can’t be the true one.

Yesterday afternoon, almost 50 of us gathered on Zoom to share feelings and views on the war in Israel and Gaza. I’m grateful to everyone who participated.

I’m no different from anyone else, there are views I like and there are views I don’t like, words that resonate and those that don’t. I find myself stretched not by views different from mine; au contraire, I actually like dissension. Life is dissension, disagreement, conflicting loyalties and perceptions. It’s hard, but visible. There they are, our differences in full display.

Bernie loved hecklers, they made him sit in the fire. He didn’t trust it when things were too smooth and easy, life’s not like that.

I have difficulty when things are put at a distance. Encountering violence and anger, some of us withdraw into spiritual platitudes and cliches. I’m not crazy about a dozen repetitions about having a broken heart. As human beings, we can use anything to distance ourselves from others and get self-involved. Talking endlessly about a broken heart can be another means of defending that heart from things needs to feel and experience.

As I get older in this practice, I am increasingly challenged by the ingenuous, almost infinite ways we have of separating ourselves from others; in that, spiritual practitioners (myself included) are no different from anyone else.

Right now, I wish to sit back, continue to follow the news, continue to talk to my family in Israel and also reach out to others who have different loyalties, with families in Gaza and the West Bank. Yes, I know, here it’s autumn in New England, here is beauty and silence, safety, earth coated by colorful leaves. I am separated by geography—and by what else?

“Strong back, soft front,” Roshi Joan Halifax likes to say.

Life up close continues. I saw Jimena Pareja yesterday (her husband took me back and forth for my eye surgery) and gave her $950 for rent for an undocumented family that came here from Florida. I don’t have many feelings regarding political leaders, but Ron DeSantis’s ruthless meanness takes the cake. As a result, a number of illegal families are leaving Florida to find work here.

In one such family, a 9-year-old boy on his bicycle was hit by a truck and was helicoptered to a Springfield hospital with broken bones throughout his body, not to mention a concussion affecting his mind, at the very time the family needs to find housing. The cash I gave them is towards their new rental (high because we have almost no affordable housing here) even as they don’t know about their son.

“We do whatever we can wherever we are,” my niece in Israel told me. Please continue to nurture life and donate to immigrant families using the Donate to Immigrant Families button below.

My animosity towards DeSantis grew tenfold when I read today that he’s warning the US not to accept any refugees from Gaza because they’re all antisemitic. Beware the broad strokes painted by any side to the conflict, regardless of religion or country. Jews are all bad; Arabs are all bad; we hate colonizers; we hate leftists, radicals, Communists; I hate anyone carrying a gun.

My nephew, in his early 30s, had to do his reserve military duty a few months ago. Since he speaks Arabic and has worked with local Bedouins, he was asked to bring in for questioning a group of Palestinians from a West Bank town which had recently seen violence. Handcuffed, the Palestinians sat outside and waited while one by one was called in for questioning.

They grumbled and muttered angrily, and finally my nephew, a funny guy, said in Arabic: “Look, there’s nothing we can do right now, what do you say we sing a song?” He started singing. After a while, they joined him, singing songs in Arabic. One thing led to another, and pretty soon they were talking with him, exchanging cigarettes and water, laughing together.

Finally, one of the Palestinians said that he hates Jews.

“What?” said my nephew. “You hate me?”

“No,” the man said, “I don’t hate you, you’re okay. I just hate Jews.”

My nephew wears a yarmulke.

Beware of broad strokes and wishful thinking. If only they weren’t here. If only those others drowned in the sea. It’s our Promised Land, not yours. God is great and is always with us. Beware great ideals coupled with messianic fervor. Beware temples that come down on our heads because they weren’t the real thing to begin with.

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