About Those Nine

From: Good News for Modern Man
The Readings for the 28th Sunday, Tempus Per Annum (c2)

In all circumstances, give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.

I Thessalonians 5:18 (Alleluia Verse)

ARE THE OTHER NINE Bad or ungrateful? There’s a clue in Jesus’ command, “Go show yourselves to the priests…” Lepers were completely ostracised. They had to enforce their own banishment by announcing that they were unclean in order to scare others away. Yes, Jesus’ healing of the ten lepers is important, but there’s more going on here than just a cure.

Reading in Leviticus 14 you’ll find a long process of returning the banished Leper to full communion in Jewish society. There’s an eight-day waiting period, some sacrifices, a full body examination, the whole body must be shaved, there’s a red cord… it’s quite a deal. The 9 are doing exactly what Jesus told them to do to the letter of the law. There’s a hitch though: the Samaritan rejects the temple priesthood. They are unable to document his status as “clean” or “unclean”. In fact, to their eyes, he’s just unclean, full stop, because he is a Samaritan. And he probably doesn’t feel much different about the priests, himself.

All ten of them found out their status had changed: they were no longer leprosy positive. Nine of them had a long legal process to go through before they could see their families or get back to life in any way. Might as well get that process started: according to their religion, they had to do that eight-day thing even before Jesus could talk to them again.

But not the Samaritan. He is free to come back, indeed he has nowhere else to go. Time for some Geography. To “go to the priest” the lepers would have to go to Jerusalem. Indeed, Jesus is already on his way to Jerusalem so he’s (basically) sending the Lepers in front of Him. And, since Jesus has already traveled through Samaria (verse 11) on his way to Jerusalem since the Samaritan had turned back from Jerusalem, he would have to cross paths with Jesus again: that’s how he needs to go to get home. What’s happening in the Gospel Story here is only the logical result of a social divide between Samaritans and Jews and Luke’s knowledge of geography: Jerusalem is one way, Samaria the other.

Again, I want to be clear: the nine religious Jews would need to be certified as clean by the priests before they could interact with anyone. They are following the rules correctly. Additionally, they are doing exactly what Jesus told them to do – go show yourselves to the priest – that is, Jesus told them to obey the Torah.

Jesus’ response is telling: “Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” First off, the foreigner is thanking Jesus (v. 16) so the “to God” is made to point at Jesus. (The Greek parallels it as “give Glory to God” and “giving thanks to Jesus“.)

Thus, there is some way in this story in which God and Jesus are the same and where “Giving thanks/glory” to God is more important to Jesus/God than following the Jewish Law.

Giving thanks is a hallmark of Christian piety. Pauls command that we give thanks in all things is just the direct form of the teaching. We give thanks for everything so much so that Prof John Koenig questions if we’re not cited in the Mishna (Berakhot 5:3) “one who recites: We give thanks, we give thanks twice, they silence him” because “we give thanks/we give thanks” is the form of the Eucharistic prayer over bread and wine. This makes it a Christian thing rather than Jewish, which latter tradition forms prayers as blessings rather than thanksgiving. “Blessed are you, Lord our God… for having done this thing.”

The Nine Lepers went off to Jerusalem to recite the prescribed Blessings while the Samaritan came to Jesus giving thanks.

There is something else going on here. Two somethings else, actually.

Thing 1: Thanksgiving implies (I think) a more personal relationship. We send thank you notes to persons – generally not to institutions or agencies. We say thank you to people doing good deeds (even officials doing them) but rarely – or only ironically – do we thank ATMs, Siri, Google, etc. We say “thank you” to someone who has given us something freely, as part of a very intimate (even if momentary) relationship. It’s a sign of communion. While uncommon in the Hebrew liturgy, it’s not entirely absent, of course. “Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving” (Psalm 95). But on the personal level, Blessing God is far more common. Even in modern Israeli Hebrew, where many Americans might say “Thank God!” (with no particular deity in mind…) an Israeli speaker will say “Baruch HaShem!” It is often translated as “Thank God” but means “Bless the name!”

A blessing can imply a subordinate relationship (a parent blessing a child, for example) but that’s not what is going on when we bless God. This article is rather interesting since it calls blessings a way to “draw God” into the world.

The Zohar explains that “blessing” G-d is not simply praising G-d as the source of blessings; rather, it is related to the word hamavrich (הַמַּבְרִיךְ) found in the Mishnah,5 which means to “draw down.” In this sense, the word baruch means to draw blessings from their source.

Thus, when we bless G-d, we are asking that He draw down His G-dly revelation into the world. For example, when we say, “Blessed are you, G-d, who heals the sick,” we are requesting that G-d express His revelation by breaking the nature of this physical world and healing the sick. When we say, “Blessed are you, G-d, who blesses the years” in the blessing for livelihood and produce, we request that G-dliness become revealed, causing rain to fall and vegetation to grow.

To draw an unwanted parallel, a blessing of God is a sort of sacrament. So it is like making Eucharist in a real, theological way.

Luke is generally seen as writing to a Gentile Audience – those evangelized by St Paul. Paul had many struggles with folks who really tried to make these Gentiles into Jews first (following the Torah rules). Luke seems to be asking his non-Jewish readers to bypass any Jewish tradition and just do the Gentile Believer thing of thanking Jesus. And he saying that’s ok: you don’t need to go through all those things if you’re making Eucharist (giving thanks) with Jesus. Further, though, the Samaritan giving thanks to Jesus is a way for the author to ask his few Jewish readers to realize that God’s Blessings Have Come into the World in this one Man. The power of God is active and present in a new – and permanent – way.

But Thing 2 is even more interesting: he’s sent the Nine Cleansed Lepers ahead of him to Jerusalem. They are apostles sent to the priests: here’s one last chance to get this right. Here’s the Good News if you’ll hear it. They won’t and don’t care. In fact, they get even more jealous at this point. But, there it is: Jesus has obeyed the law and sent them the cleansed Lepers. Rather than say, “Don’t tell anyone” he literally said, “Go tell the priest”.

They don’t listen.

Weekend Update

JMJ

Just a few photos, really.

Chillin with a deacon
This tastes like a Blue Icee
After class tonight I took a walk. There was fog.
First Christmas Tree sighting, 2022.
Gotta work hard to get all your steps after 6 hours of class. 7.5 miles.

Jesus does go on, doesn’t he?

Other Brands Are Available

JMJ

This is an assignment for my Homiletics class. Randomly picks out of a hat, as it were, it’s a coincidence that these are the readings for last Sunday. Yes, these homily assignments are extremely on-brand for me.

The Readings for the 27th Sunday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? So should it be with you.

Luke 17:9-10a

THERE WERE SIX months when I tried my vocation as a Benedictine Monk, 8000 feet above sea level in the Colorado Rockies. 11 inches of snow on May 1st, 2016 and our traditionalist monastic practice seemed to go on forever, like the snow. 

4:30 wake-up, Matins at 5. 45 mins for meditation. The offices of Lauds, and Prime, then a house meeting where we planned out the day. The 3rd hour was sung, then Mass. Then coffee. 

Father Abbot seemed happy for any pious excuse or extra devotion to maximize our liturgy. It kept growing longer.

One day as I was struggling, trying to pray through this telescoping dreamscape of liturgy, a thought came to me:

Remember: you’re a monk. What else do you have to do today?

That was the right idea! I relaxed into the deep end of liturgical traditionalism and began – anew – my monastic struggle in earnest.

“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

The psalmist is not calling us to a beginning but rather into the middle of an ongoing story. The people of Israel are already on their journey. They have heard God’s voice several times.

If today you again hear his voice, harden not your hearts again. Nor tomorrow for that matter.

Jesus speaks of beginnings in our Gospel: Mustard seeds are tiny. Yet, elsewhere, Jesus says the mustard seed grows into the largest of trees and the birds of the air live in the branches.

But here? Jesus does go on, doesn’t he?

When a servant finishes one chore, does the master say, “Good job! Come chill out with me!” No. When you’re done with that, the master says to you, here’s another thing to do. And another. There will be rest when I’m done with you.

If you’re married, is there any time you get to say, “For a few moments I shall pretend I’m not married…”

No. There is not.

When we first give our lives to the Lord, we can imagine a one-and-done deal. But the Christian life is not like that at all. There is no minimum for success.

Jesus wants to be the Lord of our entire lives: our sexuality, our piety, our emotions, our politics, our friendships, our social media, our reading, our media consumption, our clothing choices.

Not a day passes when at least once, or more often more than once, Jesus says, “Huw? You forgot to give me that bit over there.”  Yet, when I hear his voice, often my first response is O, now hold up a minute God…

Jesus reminds us today that – like marriage – there is no time in the Christian life when you can pretend you’re not called to holiness,  no time to pretend you’re not in a deeply personal relationship with your Lord; no time to pretend you’re not a Christian. 

We all can recognize when such pretending happens: it’s called sin. We harden our hearts like that all the time. Rejecting his call. Refusing his love. Refusing to share his love with others.

Don’t.  If you hear his voice do not harden your heart!

Jesus reminds us of beginnings, but if a mere seed of faith can move blueberries, imagine how much more power there is when the tree is fully grown and providing shade and home for birds! Even then, Jesus reminds us to say, “We are unprofitable servants; we have done only what we were obliged to do.”

If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

In today’s 2nd Reading, Paul calls Timothy – and us – to “stir into flame the gift of God.” We must – by faith – stir our cooling embers back to full flame. Ask God what is needed and he will show you where to gently puff on the coals, where to stir, where to rake back the ashes.

And when you ask, don’t turn away from what God has for you next! It’s always your salvation. It’s always for your healing. He’s always calling us forward to holiness and sainthood. But, it is work!

Give yourself – entirely – to Jesus again. Invite him at Communion Time to be the Lord of your whole Life again.

Plant your mustard seed then let it grow.

Remember. You’re a Christian. What else do you have to do today?

Crocheted

JMJ

FINALLY CATCHING THE Binge Bug this late in Covidtide. I’ve been Rapidly Consuming the Israeli TV Drama Srugim – סרוגים (the word means knitted or crocheted as a plural adjective) from 2008-2011. If you’ve been watching Shtisel on Netflix, this was Israeli TV’s Shtisel-before-Shtisel. Many of the ways Netflix show is said to break ground were already broken on Srugim. Yes, I realize it’s over ten years old so it’s hardly “binge-worthy” but previously I’d been found binging MASH and Mary Tyler Moore, not to mention the original seasons of Roseanne. Don’t bother me: I’m old.

NEway, Srugim is billed as a drama but it’s somewhere between Friends and 30 Something. I recognize the characters both from my past and from my present: not only did I run with folks like this in the 1980s and 90s, but I know these people intimately now from Church, on the one hand, and from Tech on the other. They all suffer from indecision and a strong fear of missing out. I used to think that was a millennial issue, but it’s an Xer one as well. And I’m only halfway through season two (of three) so my evaluation of the morals that follow may be way off. But so far I’m impressed.

There are five or so main characters in their mid-to-late twenties. They are all single, Orthodox Jews living in Jerusalem’s Katamon neighborhood. I’m not sure if it’s this way now, a decade later, but at the time of the show it had the reputation of being a “Swamp of singles“. In that way, it reminds me of life in Hoboken in the early 90s, Asheville at the turn of the Century, and Buffalo in 2008. And my life in Tech for 25 years where I was nearly always the oldest person around – often old enough to be even the founders’ father. All of the characters in Srugim are looking for love and stressed out: it’s Orthodox practice to be married much younger than nearly thirty. They walk around second-guessing their choices, worried about Mr or Miss right instead of Mr or Miss right in front of me, and wondering if religion was the right thing for them to stick with.

The plot line that’s currently holding my interest is about Roi and Reut. Roi experiences same-sex attraction although he’s never acted on it. Reut wants to date him but Roi is torn between being 100% honest (and scaring her away) or breaking it off entirely. He tries the latter but she pushes through and demands a fully explained reason. After a very rough spot, they agree to try the relationship and work towards marriage.

To me, this is the right way for most folks to deal with SSA. Full stop. Get you a spouse that will support you in your struggle and, being 100% honest with them, keep working out your salvation. That is literally the way most of human culture has dealt with SSA since forever. The full, self-sacrificing love a man offers his wife or a woman her husband is a sign of Christ and the Church. Marriage is a sign of Christ and the Church, of God’s Covenant with Israel, of how humanity and divinity are united in Jesus. It’s a real union of opposites for the purpose of fructification in human lives and in the world. Where we take it, where it takes us is a participation in grace. There is a purpose for love: it heals us. Real love really heals.

In Transformation in Christ we are invited to consider contemplation in one of two forms: I-Thou-Contemplation for relationships and It-Contemplation for things (ie, of Beauty, as in a sunset). The author, Dietrich von Hildebrand, says that I-Thou contemplation involves a reciprocal nature on the human level. When a man and woman love each other in a self-sacrificial way it can be compared to contemplation. Friendship also is a form of contemplation, but disordered disire is not – for it posits misuse and anthropological mistakes. Building on my earlier post on Celibacy, contemplation then opens up the fuller meaning of forgoing the natural good of marriage. We get bored or selfish and these vices disrupt our contemplative action. It-contemplation is one-direction and very stable. But there is no real return.

Contemplation of God, however, combines these two: yes, God is a person who loves us, but he is also infinite being, so far beyond our experience that we cannot at all comprehend him with our minds. When we contemplate God we are engaging in I-Thou and also It-Contemplation. Reciprocity, here, cannot be – but the weakness is on our part. God’s infinity loves each and every human infinitely. We can only ever love in finite terms. Celibacy pulls us away from the natural good of marriage to engage in the supranatural good of Divine Contemplation.

The folks in Srugim spend a good bit of mid-season plot-time asking two questions: Can someone who’s never had gay sex be properly called gay? And can someone be gay and religious? At least as it stands now the answers in the show appear to be No and therefore No. One character in the show even paraphrases a rather famous line from the late Rabbi Moshe Tendler זצ״ל, then Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva University. He said (in 1999) that being Gay and Orthodox was like saying, “I’m an Orthodox Rabbi and I eat ham sandwiches on Yom Kippur.” I agree. And if one is not actively engaged in (or promoting) same-sex sexual activity, it seems illogical to lump them into the “gay community”. It is a mistake (if not an outright lie) to label someone by a psychological accident. When we tag an entire person with a misken label we can no longer enter into self-sacrificing love (contemplation) with them. And – with that in mind – while there are many (o)rthodox Christians of various denominations who experience same-sex attraction, there are, properly speaking, no (o)orthodox Christians who can be called gay. I recognize the word “orthodox” is doing a lot of work there, but there are many liberals in many denominations who disagree with me. I think that disagreement makes them liberals rather than orthodox. Using gay as shorthand for everyone who experiences SSA only confuses the issue: it’s blending too much in with the world, I think. It’s making the one broken thing to be the totality of the person – to which the Church expressly says no. Additionally, labeling something as not-broken when it is actually broken only leads to more brokenness.

Whose Wedding?

JMJ

The assignment was a five-minute homily on the stated passage. We began with the exegetical work in an earlier post.

Scripture: John 2:1-11

Today, Jesus, the Bridegroom of the Church, is calling us to our wedding feast.

A CHALLENGE has come to me three times: in two podcasts and a book. The podcasts are Every Knee Shall Bow and The Bible Project; the book has the very dry title, Elements of Homiletic. The challenge is to read each story or passage in the Bible in such a way as to see the whole Gospel message. Keeping that in mind let’s look again at this wedding story.

Mary is at a wedding to which Jesus and his disciples are called. The bridal families are out of wine and Jesus asks the servants to fill up some jars with water. Jesus changes water into wine. 

Problem solved: Everyone’s happy. 

St John the Evangelist has left some strategically ambiguous openings which allow us to read this wedding as a meditation on our life in Christ.

Notice, first, that Jesus and the disciples are “invited to the wedding”. That’s us – we’re all invited. “Disciple” means “Student”, beginners or advanced, we are all disciples together. If you are here today – even if you’re not yet Catholic – you’re a disciple.

There is another symbol for us: the jars standing empty. We’re called to this feast and we come – beginner or advanced – because recognize that we are empty. There is a God-shaped hole in us craving to be filled.

Any disciple’s first step is turning to God. It’s a step we must take every day as we are all weak. To turn to God is to repent.  The scriptures and Church Fathers call us to weep tears of repentance. We can imagine these tears poured out as the water poured into the jars. 

John says those jars are for “ceremonial washing”. We can think, also, of Baptism when the Church responds to our repentance with the living water of Baptism. 

This is also true each time we are reminded of our Baptism in the confessional. The Byzantine rite refers to confession as the “grace of a second baptism”. Combined with these living waters, our tears become joy.

Did you ever notice that the bridal couple stays off-screen? We never meet them. No name is mentioned and they have no words to say. 

Who does St John want us to imagine is getting married here? 

Mary says, “They are out of wine”.

Jesus asks, “What has that to do with me?”

Mary commands, Do whatever he tells you…

Two wedding guests seem to act as if they are the family at the wedding: as if Jesus is the groom and somehow responsible for the wedding. If Jesus is getting married, then, who is the bride? 

One more thing to notice: the Bible is full of wedding imagery! The Church follows the tradition begun in Ancient Israel (carried in St Paul and the book of Revelation): the intimacy of Matrimony is a sign of how God relates to his people. John, as a storyteller, allows us to see Jesus fulfilling those images. 

Look at the reading again and see: 

Jesus is God coming to his wedding with his people. We are the disciples called to the feast, no longer as students or penitents but as the bride.

The steward says to the groom, “We’ve had good wine already, but you have saved the best wine for last”. 

It is as if the Steward – and through him, the Guests, all of God’s people – are saying that the covenant of the Torah, the first wine, was amazing, and yet suddenly we’ve been given more than we ever dreamed to ask for.

Jesus and his disciples are called to the wedding feast here in this text and, in a few minutes, He will call us to a deeper union with him here at this altar.

This is no mere reception hall – not a feast with Jesus – but a chance to enter into communion with him so deep that we can only compare it to the mystery of marriage. 

Our Savior draws us here into the deepest intimacy of the Holy Trinity. 

Jesus here gives himself like a groom to his bride in fulfillment of the Covenant. 

Hearing this call, this is why we’ve come. If you’re not Catholic yet, you’ve heard it too. Come, see me after Mass! 

All is prepared. Come to the wedding feast and change your life into wine.

Word count: 713

What is a Week End?

JMJ

THE DOWAGER COUNTESS of Downton Abbey rather famously asked, “What is a Week End?” Ascending high enough up the ladder of nobility, at a certain point the difference between work and life no longer matters: one is always The Dowager Countess of Downton even when other folks have “down time”. Vocation is like that: one is always the (fill in the blank) of the Parish Name even on (especially on) the Weekend. This comes to me now: the boundary between work and life are blurred, but in an entirely healthy way. I nearly never stop praying about work or worrying about guests, wondering if I should change something or thinking about the situation in the parish. This is not to say I should be on call 24 Hours (or that any parish appointee/employee should be) but if it’s a vocation rather than a job, then there is no time when one is not one’s job.

Boundaries are always something that has been important to me: I need to see where work quits and where life begins. But in the case of vocation that’s not the question. One is always whatever one’s vocation is: even when one is at work, one is at play, one is still whoever one is in God’s eyes at all time. It’s like marriage in that sense: there’s no moment when one is not married to your spouse. To wake up and pretend otherwise (even for a few moments) is literally preparing for sin.

Speaking of sin, the question of celibacy has been weighing on me. To be ordained as a deacon, I have to take a vow of celibacy. This means forswearing the good of Marriage. That said, I’m surprised at the number of folks who say I can’t get married nor can I forswear Marriage because of same-sex attraction, as if experiencing a certain temptation means one cannot participate in the Mystery of Matrimony. I’m surprised at how widespread that idea is: as if I’m ontologically unable to make vows. For millennia men and women who experience SSA went out and got married. They also had children. These men and women are no different from the men and women who do not experience this temptation. They are the same human persons. Marriage is as much a salve for their souls as it is for anyone else. In fact, it may literally be the answer for most Catholics with SSA. God gave us all of the sacraments, all of the Holy Mysteries, to bring us to him, to make us like him.

The Sacrament of Matrimony is not a permission to have (or a blessing on) sexual activity, but rather an action of salvation in the world. We misuse some of God’s gifts outside of Matrimony, yes, but the end and purpose of Matrimony is not to sacramentalize those gifts. Rather those gifts feed into Matrimony to make it a mystery that speaks of Christ and the Church. Matrimony is a sign, a sacrament. It is the Ordinary form: a sign of Christ and the Church. But not all are called to it: there is an extraordinary form, also a sign of Christ and the Church, and it is a vow of celibacy. This last is an eschatological sign, a sign of the Church in heaven and eternity. It can be lived here and now by God’s grace. One forgoes the ordinary form of the sign to participate in the extraordinary form. One freely gives up the channel of grace provided to every man and woman – monogamous heterogamy – to engage in a vowed state of aloneness, what is called in Greek, μονᾰχός monakhos, which has come to mean “monasticism” but originally meant “singleness” or “aloneness”. St Ephrem the Syrian is one of the first “monakhos”, but he was not a vowed monastic as we understand that term. He simply wished to forgo the goods of marriage an explorer a closer relationship with God. It is (as it was) a mystical state of a man or woman living in the world alone with no one else except God. And therefore, available to share God’s love with everyone.

He was also a deacon.

But if one imagines one’s identity to be beyond the pale of marriage, then one cannot make a vow of celibacy. Since all humans are called (in nature) to Marriage, to place oneself beyond marriage is to make oneself unnatural or contra naturam (Latin.) or παρα φυσιν para physin (Greek) as St Paul says. One has crossed the boundary into something else. (Please note that the naturam or φυσιν here does not imply “things that happen in nature”. Literally anything that happens happens in nature. Rather what is implied is within the natural law: the use of things as intended by God and evidenced in nature. Fallen nature does a lot of things not intended by God.

Within nature, one can engage in one’s fallen nature, making up new identities and whatnot. Or one can seek to elevate nature beyond what is now normal, and even beyond what is now the intended (but generally rejected) divine order of things. One can seek to elevate oneself to a higher order: that of the eschaton even in this world.

That’s celibacy.

I got a couple of cool things: this translation of The Imitation of Christ from the 1930s (reprinted in the early 1960s). It has a thematic plan to read the whole thing in a year.

Also, I got this rather wonderful Cross from a Deacon friend:

I think it’s carved, but I guess it could be formed or sculpted of some kind of material. It’s a lovely representation of the Holy Face on the Cross. It’s now in my icon corner.

It’s still hard to be the one in charge. Today was no exception. Tomorrow I have a homily to present and a BBQ to attend. It’s the weekend. after all.

I’ve been watching an Israel Comic and trying to read/listen along. I hear some words – but I don’t get any jokes yet. I like when he does his mother’s voice, though.

Update OK… I totally get the part about the kholodetz.

Orange Class Playlist

JMJ

OUR HEBREW CLASS at Citizen Cafe uses a LOT of music. I’m sure this playlist will grow (we’re only halfway through the term) but it’s fun learning a language with Pop Music. These are not religious songs at all, but each is sung in the modern form of the language of the Prophets, Lashon Hakodesh לָשׁוֹן הַקֹּדֶשׁ as it’s called: “The Holy Tongue“. It’s impossible – even in the snarkiest breakup songs – not to hear something of the Bible. I’m certain 100% that the artists do not share this feeling. It’s their daily chatter from each “boker” (mornin’ just like in English before coffee) to each “yalla BYEEEE!” (Arabic+English=Hebrew slang). It’s ok. But literally, everything in Hebrew has a Biblical echo. (Did Aramaic serve as the “yiddish” of Jesus’ time, or was that Koine? I suspect the Lord’s Prayer was first given in Hebrew, since it was in response to students asking their teacher how to pray.)

1: Hadag Nahash – Lo Maspik (not enough)
– הדג נחש – לא מספיק

2: Anna Zak – Lakh Lishon (Go to sleep)
– אנה זק – לך לישון

3: Shlomo Artzi – Shaalti Mah Kara (I asked what happened)
שלמה ארצי – שאלתי מה קרה

4: Nomke – Kama Paamim (How many times)
– נומקה – כמה פעמים

5: Etti Ankri – Lecha Tetargel Itah (go get used to it)
– אתי אנקרי – לך תתרגל איתה

6: Hakeves Hashisha Asar Cast Gan Segur (Closed Garden)
– משתתפי הכבש השישה עשר – גן סגור

7: Hanan Ben Ari – HaChaim Shelanu Tutim (Our Lives are Strawberries)
– חנן בן ארי – החיים שלנו תותים

8: Ehud Benai – Al Tifkhad (Don’t be Afraid) – אהוד בנאי – אל תפחד

10: Alma Zohar -Uchal Lehamshich Lishon
– עלמה זהר – א​י​ך א​ו​כ​ל ל​ה​מ​ש​י​ך ל​י​ש​ו​ן

UPDATED WITH NEW SONGS AS THEY ARE ADDED

11:Ran Danker – HaSimlah HaKhadash Sheli (My New Dress)
– רן דנקר – השמלה החדשה שלי

A Child’s Autumn in Wurtsboro

JMJ

Two essays from September of 2000. They are nearly as old now as I was removed from my childhood when I wrote them. The “45” in the first graph has been changed to reflect today rather than the original Y2K date. I was already living in SF at that time, before 9/11 changed the world. I was not yet in school at CIIS, though, nor Orthodox. Nostalgia can be so old that it has neither referent nor referent-er.

AUTUMN HAS COME – not in a weather way, but in a calendar way. It always makes me rather maudlin about a place that no longer exists: Wurtsboro, NY, the town in the Catskills where I did some of my growing up (the rest was in the red clay of Georgia). Don’t get me wrong, the town is there, but not the same.

In Autumn, right about now (45) years ago, the leaves would start to change. My Great Grandma Kate would go out to the row of maple trees that lined her block and tap them, hanging little buckets off the sides of the trees to catch the sap as it dripped slowly down. Later, slow-boiling the sap in a huge pot on her stove she would make the most amazing syrup ever. As the trees changed, the stream that ran through town, called The Brook, would become visible again, along the road up the mountainside. From my school bus, every morning and evening, I could see the Brook in its bed, now carrying brown, red, and yellow leaves along its way.

The schools would open. And I’d get to see friends again who had been absent from my life all summer – perhaps only running in to them in the Mall or at some social event – like the Penny Socials which we had all summer long at the Fire House, or the Ambulance Squad House.

Autumn meant that it would get colder again, and dark. I would wake in the morning at 6 – as I have most of my life – fixing breakfast as I stumbled through the morning routine, listening to Dr. Robert A. Cooke, President of the Kings College, doing his morning radio show on WFME, the local Christian Station. He began each broadcast asking, “How in the World Are you?” And he would laugh in a deep, throaty way. He would finish each show with, “Walk with the King today, and be a blessing.”

On the weekends, now that Labor Day has come and gone, the flood of tourists and weekend campers that had filled our town all summer would dwindle to nil. Eventually,all the festal realities would stop, in preparation for Winter in the Catskills. The Ice Cream stand would close, but the pumpkin farm would open. The Canal Towne Emporium would start to put out seasonal stuff.

My Grandmother (Grandma Kate’s daughter) would soon be preparing buckwheat batter. You sit the batter in a big crock in the cold on the back porch. In the morning, to make pancakes, you take what you need, and replace it with the same amount of water and stone-ground buckwheat, stirred in. Eventually it all becomes a sourdough. It goes rather well with Grandma Kate’s syrup.

I’m being maudlin because this is not only gone from my life: it’s gone. There is no small town there any more. There are hundreds (literally) of new people. My town even hosts a tattoo parlor.

I was born in Georgia. When I try to think of my first house – not with my maternal Grandparents – I’m left thinking of a house out in the middle of nowhere, with cows on one side and cotton on another, reached by a dirt road cut in Georgia clay. They have paved the dirt road, and built 20 more houses along the way to the home my Mother’s family of four shared with another family of five. The house is also gone, torn down to make room for more modern buildings with indoor water.

My hometown is rather another matter: It is Wurtsboro, NY. I walked to the elementary school there in 1975. I watched MASH, mourned my brother, and passed my childhood there. But my home town, too, is gone; torn down for modernity.

The post above was followed by a reverie on Autumn in New York

Autumn in NYC was always the beginning of the school year: I moved to NYC to go to NYU and so, even after my school years ended, September always implied “time to buy notebooks” for me. There is an odd smell that develops in Washington Square Park (or used to, as Herr Guilliani may have made it illegal). It took me nearly three years to figure out what the smell was: decaying leaves on the sidewalk mixed with pet leavings from the dog walkers plus additional fertilizer deposited by drunk students (including my own fraternity brothers) and various Personae Vagrantes. The smell was strongest at the two southern corners of the park.

Autumn also meant that the smells from the food carts on the street no longer seemed a threat. In the heat of too many NYC Summers I developed a distinct fear of the clouds of grill smoke that might waft from the Mystery Meat Carts. But in the Chill of October or November, there is something wonderfully homey about roasting chestnuts or pretzels.

The winds in the Village, at the corners of Broadway and 8th Street, 7th Ave and Christopher, or Christopher and Hudson Streets began to develop a chill that would not go away, and slowly, more layers are brought out of the closet and applied. My last winter there, after the slow build-up through Autumn, I was wearing t-shirt, flannel shirt, hooded sweatshirt, gloves, scarf, knit cap and insulated denim vest as my daily “regular” wear to keep out the cold. In the fall, all one needed was flannel and a coat – this is normal daily, nearly year-round wear in SF.

Autumn means that the bars and eateries of NYC will suffer from two things; increased crowding as people won’t hang out outdoors anymore so in they come (with their coats) and the heat. In NYC, the heat will turn on in about 5 days. Landlords are required to turn on the heat – and so they do. Autumn in NYC means that the radiators clang to life, but since it is still a little too warm, the windows are opened up. The chill does keep down the mosquitos (invading from the swamps in NJ). So while Autumn is ok for this automated heating, once winter sets in, everyone catches pneumonia because of jumping in and out of heated buildings all day.

As a Smoker (now an Ex Smoker), I used to like Autumn a lot because I could hang out outside without sweating. In the middle of the day, I could also still manage to leave my desk without wearing a jacket, without folks knowing I was leaving the building.

The leaves changing in NYC was not an issue: they would blow off the trees almost as soon as they had faded from green. There were no wood fires (or precious few) to scent the air, and there was no one tapping trees in order to make syrup. But once Autumn set in, soon that parade would be going past Macy’s, and soon enough there would be snow. In my memories, NYC suffers through oppressive heat and humidity in the summer, not really getting much done, nor looking for much to do, for that matter. But about now, from October or so, until May, NYC lives – this is the NYC that I miss.

Tonight’s Playlist

JMJ

#mood

There was this song I remember singing as a child (maybe 3 or 4). It’s still 100% true. Even when I forget.

Jesus loves you too.

What we all need…

Ending where our brother Aaron began above.