Sunday, March 29, 2015

Hawaii is the promised land

Ever since I was a boy I understood that there was a connection between life in Hawaii and the ancient Israelites. I think we all knew that. How many of us have made the joke about the "Big Kahuna" and the Kohen Gadol, the high priest. I started rteading about the "kahuna" as a Hawaiian word/concept. This website does a nice job tracing the etymology to 1865 (other sites say 1875...I sense a conspiracy) but it totally ignores the Jewish angle. Other sites not only see the connection between the words Kahuna and Kehuna (the Hawaiian big man and the Hebrew word for priesthood) but drag in the notion of the High Priest's clothes, the Bigdey Kehuna (thus making "Big Kahuna" even more connected).

While it is true that the Kahuna and the Kohen dress a little differently

there certainly are similarities.

Then I noticed this yesterday in synagogue: the standard well-wishing sign in Hawaii is the "hang loose" sign. The sign is made by pulling in the middle 3 fingers and extending the pinkie and thumb.

The priest, when offering a meal sacrifice, placed his hand in the container of flour-oil and filled up his hand, shaking off the excess. This was called kemitzah. In case you didn't click that link and just want to see a picture of how a priest holds his hand when he performs this ritual, here you go:

So the names are similar, the roles are similar, the clothes are similar and the hand shape is similar. What more do I have to do to get you to move to Hawaii? Do I have to point out that the name of the state shares letters and vague pronunciation with the 4 letter name of God?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

You are not special

My anger runs deep this morning. Over your head deep. I guess I am just sick of a particular trait I see all around me -- one that I try to fight against in myself and yet others seems to wallow in.

I am sick of selfishness. Here's a screed aimed at those stupid people around me who seem to think the world revolves around them.

Cut it out. Just grow up. You aren't alone on this planet, you are part of a community. We have rules but more than that, we have common decency and common sense. You lack those and it is really irritating. Please stop doing the following:
1. pushing your shopping cart, walking in a narrow aisle or otherwise moving in a constricted space and stopping whenever you want
2. driving as if there are no other cars or the other drivers will be extra careful so you don't have to be
3. speaking as if no one else matters and what you have to say is most important (demanding instead of asking, interrupting, assuming others know what you are talking about without explaining)
4. asking for special accommodations because you think your circumstances are somehow different
5. assuming you are special so rules shouldn't apply to you (especially when you forget that there are other equally selfish people who will be coming to the same conclusion)
6. leaving your stuff all around and expecting it will get cleaned up and/or making a scene when you clean up something of someone else's
7. ignoring any consequences of your actions that might impact anyone else
8. demanding that your logic overwhelms anyone else's understanding or logic by default
9. lashing out because you feel a certain way and forgetting that the rest of the world has feelings
10. acting like you are the first and only person ever to think/act/feel a certain way

So please, realize that others work hard to try and erase these practices but not so that you can indulge in them and everyone else will enable your inanity. Grow up and realize that your place in a society is as an equal, not as a better.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

My Secret Identity

I'm 45. That's not really much of a secret; it is a fact that can be discovered through some basic research into readily accessible documents, or by asking me. I'm 45 and I have decided that maybe I'm just getting too old for secrets.

There is a major recurring theme in much art, that of the hidden truth. Billy Joel sang of the "face that we hide away for ever", our superheroes have secret identities and our breakfast cereals hide "a smooth chocolate center." Shakespeare wrote of the tension between what we show the world and what we are and Woody Allen asked many of the same questions about appearance and reality in plays like "Death." I just feel like I, squarely in very early middle age, am sick and tired of having to carry around the secrets and skeletons which make me who I am. I want to come to terms with my real identity, and stop harboring all the little confidences I keep with myself. I want to do away with the lies I have to tell to maintain the version of myself that any person sees and I want to be accepted for who I really am. I want to send out emails telling people what I really think and challenging them to accept me for who I am. I want to look at myself in the mirror and be OK with all the things I hide from even myself.

So why don't I? Is it because I know that there isn't a single context in which the real and raw me would fit in? It is because I understand that we all play this little game, showing what we want people to see about us in our public personas and adapting our facade to each context, subtly and silently shape shifting as the situation demands? Is it because the social contract requires that we adopt a code of rules and etiquette in order not to descend into sheer anarchy? Maybe it is because I'm afraid. Maybe I'm afraid that deep down inside, there is no deep down inside. Maybe I am like a parfait or an onion (h/t Shrek) but when you peel back all the layers, there is nothing there. So I would go around, being blunt and brutally honest with each and everyone, and then find that even that exercise was simply another artifice in order to create another false front of "me." And maybe I can't handle that any more than anyone can handle the absolute truth from anyone else.

One of the freakiest bits of TV I recall seeing during my childhood was in an episode of The Muppet Show. In it, Kermit has a conversation with Peter Sellers. Here is the clip -- the scary part is between 38 seconds and 1:15. Its not what I'm afraid I'll find, but that I won't find anything.

So I go on smiling and nodding, with thoughts swirling around my head and being kept inside. I walk around doing what I should, not always what I want. I say the right things (most of the time...the other times, I try but mess up) because that's what I am supposed to say. I play at this game of being human, protecting the world from what is beneath the surface and protecting myself from what might not be beneath that.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Am I my brother's keeper?

This is one of those more serious posts -- not driven by any agenda in particular, just the result of my actual thinking abut stuff. I promise, it won't happen often.

I just finished watching The Quarrel (one of my favorite movies) for the umpteenth time and, as happens with good movies, I got something more out of it this time, an insight which I hadn't thought about before. The movie's central argument isn't about the choice to be driven by faith or reason, or about seeing the best in man or the worst, but about something else: the central argument is about man's responsibility to another man.

In the movie, two survivors of the Holocaust reconnect in Montreal. Before the war they were very close until one moved away from religion and the other stuck with it. Those pre-war attitudes were then nurtured by life in the camps and in Siberia with each man facing parallel life and death struggles and personal loss and coming away having confirmed what he developed as a personal ideology earlier in life. The men argue about God and man and the relationship between the two, and also about how each dealt with the rift over religion which developed all those years ago. At one point, the man who has embraced rationality and the secular world rails against his friend that the friend never accepted him for who he became. The friend (either at that moment or at some other time in the argument) says basically that he wanted to save the secular man from the non-religious life. That is the crux of it -- does the religious man know what's right for the other man better than the other man knows about himself? And conversely, should the secular man be trying to "fix" the irrational religious belief in his friend because he sees things with his own version of clarity and he 'knows' that adherence to religion is unnecessary.

If I saw you holding a gun to your head, would I have a responsibility to walk over and stop you from harming yourself? If I saw you about to eat something poisonous accidentally, must I stop you? What about if I saw you smoking cigarettes? What if I saw you walking in the street instead of on the sidewalk? At what point do I impose my sense of right/wrong or safe on to you? When do I stop?

We give shots to little kids because we feel we know better than a baby about how to prevent disease. We tell our growing children not to eat so many sweets, to watch less television and to cross at the green and not in between. We know better. What about your emotional growth? Can I tell you when you are acting like a jerk because I know better than you how to behave? And then, what about your spiritual existence -- if I see you making a decision that puts your immortal soul at risk, what rights do I have in terms of stepping in and even just telling you that you are wrong or deciding that you can't be trusted to make decisions for yourself so I should make them for you? When is someone no longer a possessor of a sound mind and/or body and who gets to decide?

And is any decision to step in, on any level for any reason, driven by responsibility in that we are all mutually tied to ensure the protection and success of every member of our species? Is it a choice or an imperative? If I don't do it am I actively doing something wrong or am I just missing an opportunity to do something right? Was the religious man required to say something to his secular friend? Was the secular man obligated to persuade the religious man of his "folly"? Is the friendship about acceptance or about saving each other?

Just some questions. I have no answers.