Where White Puts Supremacy Last
On a bright day in Jerusalem in 1995, a young woman approached our little hunger strike camp like a Buddhist goddess, with her flowing orange robes, crew cut, and a face made out of sunshine, or so it seemed, and I was immediately enchanted. Walking straight up to Lars and I, my partner in the hunger strike, she deferred to us like we were kings, calling us hunger strikers like it was a title that meant we were God’s gift to the world, and we just ate it up, since we both secretly considered ourselves such a gift, and we gave her our complete attention, fell over ourselves to seat her there in the center of the world with us, fooled like everyone is by where our senses place us in the scheme of things, dead center. Hen-ya was a master at this disguise and was not aware she was wearing any, had lost herself completely in the part she played, a young Jewish woman defying the powers that be, embracing another religion, and daring to love everyone, but I could not see her self-ruse at the time so lost was I in mine.
I’d have followed her anywhere, and when she urged us to go to Safed after the strike, it was there I would go, Lars going back to Denmark for some soul searching, having his individual world somewhat altered by the intense clash with the world itself. He had, alone unto himself, considered himself the Mahdi of Islam, having converted in Iran and been treated special because he was a Caucasian convert, the only one around. Not understanding why he was the honored guest at every household he went to, all that special treatment went to his head, but the Golden Gate did not open to him when he touched it, when we were taping poems of mine on it one midnight standing on our tippy toes on Muslim gravestones, and it was supposed to open for the Mahdi according to some prophecies, and that had sort of rocked his secret ‘I am the one’ world, not to mention someone else in his face constantly reminding him others saw themselves at the center of the world too. That person was me.
Returning to the present of this story, it happened that after the strike, which wasn’t a real hunger strike because we drank milk and vegetable puree, although we technically didn’t eat anything, everyone went their separate ways except Zeke and I, who went with Hen-ya to Safed. Although Lars and I were the only ones not eating, by the time we finished, Easter and Passover of that year, 1995, a small band of people had joined us at our camp. Most were backpackers who wanted to be part of something interesting, but two were perpetual pilgrims who had made careers vagabonding the Holy Land: Zeke, a Russian Jew, Torah scholar, and Kabbalist in his 5o’s, and Andre, a self-proclaimed Catholic monk from French speaking Belgium just turning 30, who figures in the story from Tongues “Without a Miracle a Few Fools Salvaged Hope”. It was Zeke who had persuaded us to stay in our camp early on when a group of young Palestinian men had threatened to kill us if we didn’t leave, our test of fire during our action. It’s not an absolute rule of world action, but it happens often enough to be a guideline: when you draw a definite line in this world, stand up for anything with enough force, your resolve will be tested. Watch what happens with anyone that proclaims they love the world: someone will come along that shows them to be a hypocrite. Sorry Ari.
Safed, in the north of Israel in the Galilee district, is the highest city in Israel and is considered a center of Kabbalistic learning, or became so after 1492 when Jews were expelled from Spain, but my search there for mystical practice yielded no results, only what seemed to me a confusion between that and being ultra-orthodox, although my search was admittedly limited by language and culture. I slept in the old cemetery and in the bushes of a small park in the artist’s quarter, spending only three or four nights inside in my month or so there. I was used to that since I’d been sleeping outside during the three weeks of the strike, but of course I wanted to be indoors. Zeke, being Jewish, easily found houses to sleep at. My dream life was quite enhanced in Safed, and not only was there a lot of lucidity but also very deep dreaming, and it was apparent to me that the location was quite conducive to inner exploration, either because it had been used for such over a long period of time or because it was just naturally situated to be such, like an unusual mountaintop in a region or a strange and special place in a natural area, but it’s probable it’s for both reasons.
It was in Safed that I came to terms with my inexplicable Jewish identity that had been coming up in dream for years. I reasoned that maybe it was because I was circumcised, but that wasn’t sufficient to explain it to myself. It felt more substantial than just having a conditioned penis. While there I explored the possibility of converting, after having a powerful lucid dream about what Jewish identity meant. It was set in some European city sometime before WWII, judging from the 1930’s style clothes. I walked into a city square, a plain one surrounded by brick buildings without any grass. There was a large pile of kippahs about a meter high in the center where the fountain usually is in a square. After a moment of deliberation, I took one off the pile and put it on. As I did, a young, married Jewish couple walked by arm in arm, and the man saw I’d put on the kippah, and he said, ”You know what that means don’t you, putting on a kippah? It means you’re a Jew, and that means being part of a people.” The sense was not any kippah would fulfill that for me, only one from that pile. That I was lucid added a lot more weight to my decision, as though my waking self had made it, not only my dreambody.
Of course that I was surrounded by young Jewish Americans exploring their Jewish identity aided my feeling to convert, not to mention where I was, but I ultimately decided against it because I didn’t want to become an orthodox Jew, which was at that moment in Israel the only way to become Jewish, and there were two kibbutzes that specialized in that, where I’d go if I converted. Besides, it wasn’t the religion I identified with, not in the least; it was the people part of it that I identified with, but that’s what makes one’s Jewish identity so difficult to explore: can you be a Jew and not practice Judaism? Or put differently: can you separate Judaism from being Jewish? That’s a question that probably has as many answers as there are Jews, but all I knew was that if you want to convert you have to go through the religious side, and I didn’t want to do that nor had that calling. The real reason I didn’t convert, unbeknownst to me at the time, however, was I was being called to another path. To this day, my Jewish identity still comes up in dream, but I know now where it’s coming from, but you won’t easily believe it unless you hear how it fits into my life story.
I was born in 1961 into a White Protestant lower class family that became middle class during my early adolescence, after a divorce and split. The identifiers, i.e., what group identities were most stressed while my ego was being formed, were being a Duke, White, American, Texan, southern, and male. I should mention that the southern identification was with the South of the Civil War, as the Confederate flag, heroes, and symbols of the South peppered my childhood world. My father regularly schooled me on the inferiority of both non-Whites and women, and it was his attitude in regards to the latter that made my mom ultimately divorce him when I was six. Although a racist and bigot, he was not anti-Semitic, and I never heard him belittle Jews. He greatly admired Israel, and it was a country regularly put before me as deserving of respect, mainly because it was able to defend itself so well against what seemed overwhelming odds.
I remember once he was driving the family down the road, right before the divorce and right after the Six-Day War, and he was turning his head back and talking to me in the backseat, as he did often while driving, as though my mom and sister weren’t even there, and he was telling me about Israel, how it had been surrounded on every side since its birth, by nations that wanted to wipe it out, and it had just beat them all again. That, he told me, was a nation to admire.
He didn’t, however respect Black people. He taught me often that African Americans were an inferior race, were little more than monkeys. He called them niggers. So did, inceidentally, every other White person I knew except my teachers at school and the clergy of our church. One day, when I was four or five, and we were getting out of the car to go to the house, I saw the only Black family on our street standing in front of their house, a couple of houses down from ours, just the mom and dad, and I went up to them and told them “my daddy said you were monkeys,” said it loudly and proudly. They looked a bit stricken but didn’t say anything. I’ll never forget them standing there silently looking at me the way they did. They weren’t mad and didn’t even seem offended. They looked very sad and looked at me like you’d look at a small child that didn’t know what he was saying. It did not match with the behavior of monkeys, and even then I could sense a discrepancy, and I teetered a moment looking at what I now know was their humanity, what it was they were showing to me, but then I marched back to my family, thinking my dad would be proud of me. He was embarrassed, as was my mom. I didn’t understand why he was. After all, he’d taught me that so confidently and righteously. He didn’t scold me, but he did tell me that I wasn’t to do that to Black people. Our neighborhood of Southpark was in the preceding years to experience what was called back then White flight, and in time the racial demographics changed completely from a predominantly White neighborhood to a predominantly Black one.
It would bear mentioning that among the kids that I played with on my street, Southmund, and I lived at 5918, we all identified with the Rebels and not the Yankees, as the Civil War was a common theme of our kid talk, like it’d just happened a few years back. I do not know, nor can remember, why, except to say that the Confederacy was such a part of our culture. Once I told my older sister Gwen that I liked the Yankees, and I always secretly identified with them, since I liked the blue uniforms better and the fact they were Americans, and I really identified with being an American. Gwen said she’d tell Pepal, my father’s father, who owned and worked a small farm in East Texas, one I’d live on as an older child. I remember how serious she was—you know how kids are—and how afraid I was that she’d tell Pepal, as if it would’ve gotten me in big trouble. I immediately took it back and said I liked the Rebels.
When I’d return to Houston after living on the farm, I’d be an avid reader, and I liked to read war stories mostly, and on the war shelf in my school, George A. Thompson Intermediate, there were biographies of all the Confederate heroes, and I read every one of them. There weren’t many biographies of Union heroes that I remember. There was, however, a book I kept passing over, because it was about a young Union soldier, and I actually felt guilty to even leaf through its pages, like someone would see me and tell someone, the historical novel Rifles For Watie. It turned out to be the best book I read about war while in that school. With such an obvious effort to keep the Confederacy’s memory alive in a school library, you would not wonder over the fact that the city of Pasadena, Texas, whose school district I attended, had a sign at each of its city limits well into the 60’s that read, “Nigger don’t get caught here when the sun goes down.” It also had a KKK bookstore that stayed open until the end of the 70’s. More than one kid in my high school went there to get material for book reports. I visited it when I was 17, and, although I was of the cowboy crowd, called KIKKers in my high school because of the country and western radio station KIKK that the cowboy crowd listened to, I felt as though I was in enemy territory and looked at the guy behind the counter as a goon. I went there with my two best friends at the time, both KIKKers, and they felt the same way. The book reports, too, were not pro KKK. There’s a hard thing to get across here, and that is, although people of my immediate culture were racist and still identified with the Confederacy, and even the popular country radio station’s call sign sounds a lot like KKK, most anyone I was ever around growing up didn’t like the KKK itself, did not take their ill will towards Blacks that far, not even my racist father.
Although racism against Blacks was a common feature growing up, and I went to school with many Black children, who, however, made up a small minority of the schools I went to in and around Houston, I didn’t encounter much anti-Semitism, other than I’d hear someone being called a Jew if they were stingy with money, which is of course still anti-Sematic, and there was only one Jewish person that I remember in elementary school, Kelso Elementary (a part of H.I.S.D.), a girl who sat beside in second grade, but I never saw her harassed by the other kids or singled out by the teacher for being Jewish, and I knew that she was Jewish because she talked about it often, as it was such a part of her identity. I didn’t look at her any differently than if she were Presbyterian or something, as my family were Baptists. I remember that she was quite headstrong for a girl, vocal and not hesitant to stand up for herself, and we clashed along gender lines, as per dad’s indoctrination. I actually had a crush on her that I never could quite admit to myself, and I was a romantic lad, had had girlfriends since kindergarten.
In high school I had a Jewish girlfriend with those attributes, Rachael, but she had converted to Christianity, something strongly opposed by her family, and I faced off with her older brother a couple of times over it (she and I were 15 and freshmen), but I just thought he and his family were ignorant of the truth, since at that time I was a ‘Jesus person’, (Jesus freak to my classmates), that is, fanatically devout and evangelical, and so in my mind Christianity was the only true religion. But I did begin to understand that being Jewish meant more than being simply a Presbyterian or such, and that there was something stronger about being Jewish than at that time I could put my finger on.
I don’t remember when I first heard about the Holocaust, or realized what I’d been seeing in the media and whatnot all my life in regards to it was an event called the Holocaust, but I do remember, once that realization came, that I was baffled as to why Jews would be singled out. Hitler and his henchmen were in my mind the face of evil itself, and it was the same for my society, as this was only the 60’s, and WWII was yet fresh in the Western collective mind. When my reason was sufficiently developed, I attributed it to Hitler’s madness and the insane evil of the Nazis, but of course my reason was informed by my society. As I got older I began to understand the need in human society for scapegoats, and the more authoritarian a society the more violent would be the singling out of scapegoats, and, as I saw it, Jews in Germany at the time were the most convenient target.
That is certainly true, but could the willingness to accept them as the scapegoat have anything to do with the behavior and/or attitude of Jews themselves? What we have lost in the Western time spirit’s adamant directive against blaming the victim is the whole picture behind any occurrence of people harming other people, and I must say the issue here isn’t just harm but attempted genocide, which is all the more reason to be open to seeing the whole of the matter: so it doesn’t happen again, to any people, and that it has and continues to this day may have something to do with the fact that we hold the victim aboslute in their innocence of becoming and being the victim, will not admit any ‘fault’ on their part that might’ve made them targets in the first place. Wearing kid gloves, with an attitude of respect, I aim to question Jewish bigotry in the light of the persecution Jews have faced. Don’t count me wrong. I’m of the opinion there is no justification for persecuting anybody. Just listen.
In college I worked for three years as a doorman, valet, and concierge for a high-rise condo complex in Houston, Four Leaf Towers, and many of the residents were Jewish. I was an employee popular with the residents, and I was well taken care of, although I had to pay the price of my privacy, as I’ll explain later. Working graveyard, I was an ear for some who had no one else to talk to about things, and one of the residents who came regularly to talk was a concentration camp survivor. He never talked directly about his experiences in the camp, but he showed me his tattoo, as did others there. They were, in my mind, people to care for and listen to. As an undergrad minoring in History, I’d come across many firsthand accounts of the Holocaust in my studies, as part of my class work and what I pursued on my own, that event in history standing out to me as holding some key to our evil that, if we could find it, could possibly show us how to heal human evil itself.
It’s pertinent to the story to mention here that during those three years of employment there I was a post-baccalaureate studying Classical Greek at the University of Houston. I had no major but did have a focus, once, that is, I dropped my plans to do graduate work in the History of Science. I wanted to learn, which was a project of self-study, the process of both individual ego transcription and how we became human beings apart from other animals in the first place, where human identity came from and how it’s continued with each child we have. Greek was a doorway into the ancient world as well as a means whereby I learned to think, as learning that language broadened and deepened my ability to think, and think creatively, as much of ancient Greek writing of significance is poetry. It also helped keep me, along with my job, grounded in the outer world.
It was during that time I had a spiritual experience that rearranged the identifiers in my ego, or a series of experiences I should say (and include in that metaphysical experiences) that showed me we not only share a field of consciousness, are connected to one another in our inner lives, and communicate with each other therein, but that we also share identity, and my racial, familial, national, religious, regional and gender identities became flimsy things only skin deep, not who or what I was, although I am still influenced by them. Focused on the inmost feelings of another human being around the world is how I might put what it’s like to identify with humanity as whole, and it’s not a decision I made that I try and live up to; it’s who I feel I am, a human being first and foremost, here in the flesh among human groupings that is, however much I fail to treat everyone with the same importance I give myself, as my ego has not been surpassed, just rearranged, where humanity has become the group I identify with as opposed to some grouping within humanity.
It’s this identity I took to Israel, one human-wide despite my failings, and I was very surprised to be discriminated against by Jews because I wasn’t Jewish, just about every time I turned around, as I’d naively thought that Jews, because they had been discriminated against so harshly and for so long, would not be prejudiced against anyone. Chalk it up to not understanding human nature, how we tend to become victimizers if we’ve been victimized, turn around and find our own scapegoats if we’ve been scapegoated. It’s important to mention that I knew next to nothing of the treatment of the Palestinians at the hands of the Israelis (not all Israelis) until I heard and saw this firsthand in Israel.
It’s not easy to identify the problem, simpler to assign blame to this people or that, but once you see the problem it becomes rather obvious, like the snake you didn’t see in the grass in front of you: humanity is divided into groups, along many lines, racial, religious, national, regional, gender, etc., the group being part of the very identity of the individuals in it, stressed by ritual and whatnot to every child from birth onwards, and each group puts itself before the other groups, not always in theory but how it happens in practice, and no group identifies with humanity as a whole more than it identifies with itself, puts humanity before itself in importance, acts in the best interests of humanity at the expense of itself when faced with a choice of putting one before the other. If you stop and consider this for some time, recognizing that the overlay of the ideal to ‘treat everyone equally’ is only that, an overlay, not how either you or anyone else always or even often behave, the problem will become crystal clear. It will be the solution we’re looking at in that clarity.
“You’ve got to be kidding me Zeke. Human unity means nothing to you when it comes to your Jewishness? You’re a Jew before anything, feel you’re one more than a human being?” I was exasperated at him, having just been abandoned by him for the second time in a moment of need, when I was being discriminated against because I wasn’t a Jew, and one of the main topics of our conversation had been, up to that point, the ideal of human unity. We were in Safed, standing near the back wall of the artist’s quarter, having gone there so not to be heard, as he knew I had a bone to pick with him about not being Jewish. On the other side of the wall was the cemetery, which was quite large and occupied a downward slope of the mountain. The city was on the top of the mountain, which wasn’t like mountain mountain, with ragged slopes towering to the sky, but you wouldn’t call it a hill either.
“Why yes of course,” he said with the same sweet smile he always wore. That’s just what I couldn’t get over, how equal he seemed to all things, was a person you couldn’t make mad or even offend, did not ride the usual emotional rollercoaster most of us ride, although he did get a little upset when, in the chaos of our camp being temporarily turned up-side down by the aforementioned Palestinians who’d come to threaten us with being murdered, all his Hebrew dictionaries and references were stolen. A short, little, skinny man with an almost perpetual happy face, offset somewhat by peering eyes intently regarding the world, he was the first person to give me an email address, as he used the net back then, and I remember thinking how nerdy he was, how I’d never use such a thing to communicate with him or anyone else, ignorant at that time like most were of how the net would soon become the preferred postal service of humanity, would become virtually the world for many if not most of the literate among us. Here, however, with his blatant racism, what I’d come to call religious racism upon leaving Safed, he was neither being equal nor pioneering. What he’d been was a coward.
“You don’t think that’s wrong?” I asked.
“Morality has nothing to do with it. It’s a matter of what it means to be Jewish.”
“Even when it means just standing there and letting your friend be treated like a dog? You were such a coward, and that’s the second time.” It had happened that we went to a Moshav on Shabbot, near the time of the second shabbis meal, the big dinner of the week. I’d been taunted from the moment the men there learned I wasn’t Jewish, young men, native Israelis, who held me in such contempt I could feel it assaulting me like blows. They had started out by asking me if I liked Wagner, and not wanting to show my ignorance of Classical music, not knowing Wagner was greatly liked by the Nazis, and that I was being asked the question to see if I identified with the Nazis, I didn’t answer right away. My hesitation they took for a yes. Finally I said I didn’t know the composer, but it didn’t matter what I said. They assumed all non-Jews were Nazi-like in their hatred of Jews, and here was a non-Jew, a Nazi-lover as they saw me, and so I got blasted with their hatred, the kind that uses the power of the sneer and cruel laugh as opposed to actual blows, but it hurt nonetheless.
I had looked to Zeke and my other friends who came with us for some support, which included the all-compassionate Hen-ya, but they ignored my eyes asking for help, just sort of looked down shuffling their feet and such. I was bewildered, as I hadn’t expected this, could not make any sense of it, not only the ridicule but my ‘friends’ not standing up for me. The men rudely told me I couldn’t eat there in the house with everyone else, had to eat in the barn, and still my friends didn’t say a word, and to the barn I went, feeling like a whipped dog. Lucky for me they had an omega member, as all human groups do, a non-native Israeli from New York, older than the others. He lived in the barn, and we shared dinner together. He told me not to let it bother me, as that’s the way things were, but I could see he wasn’t too happy about his low position in the group. It happened that he had all the volumes of The Zohar there in the barn, the basic authority on the Kabbalah, although people I asked about the Kabbalah were adamant about it not being in a book. After we ate, I asked him some questions about the books as I flipped through them, and then we talked some of mystical experience, which he didn’t have, or none really he could count on his fingers, he becoming intrigued at mine, as I knew he would. I guess I bragged to feel bigger than being put in the barn made me feel, but I was a braggart in the best of circumstances.
The first time Zeke abandoned me was while we were still in Jerusalem, just before we posted my poems all around the Temple Mount, as it’s known to the Jews at least. It was just past dark, again on Shabbot, and we were sitting on a tourist bench inside the ruins of a Christian church right above the Wailing Wall. It’s hard to get a picture of the surroundings on the black and white of this page, but it was a bit like being back in Biblical times, the way the darkness meshed with the ancient scene in the seat of my feelings. I was explaining the meaning of a couple of my poems, when out of nowhere there appeared four or five men dressed in black wearing the kind of hat men wore in the 40’s, looking to me like the Gestapo. I’m sorry, but that’s the way they looked to me in that moment, as they wore that attitude. They were angry and asking if I were trying to convert Zeke to Christianity. They spoke good English. Stumbling on my words, I managed to blurt out that I was just showing my friend my poems. One of them snatched the poem I was reading out of my hand and read over it a few seconds and proclaimed, “This is gibberish!” It was the poem “Speaking of the Devil”. I could say here: “and speak of the devil,” but the irony isn’t lost to you, or is it? That he considered it nonsense and hence not a threat to his religion got me off the hook, but his pronouncement on the poem rather stung. Then they turned and questioned Zeke, very kindly, as though talking to a child, as they recognized him as being Jewish, but they had to confirm that. They then asked him to come with them to dinner, to their house, to share in the Shabbis meal, and I was sure he’d say no, so as not to abandon me, but I was surprised to find his face light up with an immediate bright yes, and off they went, leaving me alone in the dark with my poems in hand and wondering over exactly what had just happened.
Partly because of these reasons and also because it was the happening place in Safed for young people at that time, I began to hang out less with Zeke and Hen-ya and more at Avraham’s art studio, which was in the artist’s quarter of the old city. It had been a large Arab house, which consisted of a main house, courtyard, and a couple of out buildings surrounded by a wall. In 1948 all the Arab inhabitants of Safed had fled, after a plan to kill all the Jewish inhabitants on the part of the Arab Liberation Army had failed, leaving the former inhabitants’ homes open for Israelis. The now art studio and home of Avraham was one of these. Of course it certainly helped my inclination to hang out there that most of the young people, including Avraham, were fellow Americans.
A common language and culture are powerful magnets, and they are not wrong magnets, as neither are the magnets of a common race or religion, or gender or sexuality for that matter. It’s when a magnet sees itself and its members as the only real human beings, or the most important, that it becomes a magnet that’s a force that acts, however slightly, to destroy humanity and not ensure our survival. Up to this point in our history we’ve had a world that could contain this ignorance of which I speak, putting a grouping within humanity first and not humanity itself, at, however, a huge cost, which is as plain as the nose on our face. We’re rapidly approaching the point where the world cannot sustain us separated in this ignorance of the superiority of our group, which also should be as plain as the nose on our face. Let us not let it become the writing on the wall, but, knowing us, it will. That won’t be the end of the world though; it’s our usual call to action: we have no choice.
Avraham was a young man from America who had made Aliyha, which means he came to Israel declaring himself Jewish and thereby was more or less automatically accepted as a citizen, once his Jewish identity was verified, to say it concisely. I don’t remember where in the States he was from, but I don’t believe it was New York or New Jersey, like most of the young Jews I met there. He was a struggling artist supported by his parents, who lived in America and came to visit him while I was there. They were quite rich, how Avraham could swing having a studio. His canvases consisted of collages of cut out Hebrew letters and Jewish symbols with a dab of painting here and there, nothing even remotely resembling art, but, as he was the man, the one you saw for a shower, a meal, a hangout spot or whatnot, you didn’t make negative comments on his work, and most just didn’t say anything. He was quite tall and rather slender, youthful looking, with dark hair and eyes but a friendly and open face that smiled easily but could get wrapped up in a frown just as easily, not so much a frown on others, the kind of frown that tried to deal with adverse circumstance, and that’s what I’ll say about him, he tried.
Whatever talent you had, the way the place was scheduled, you could sit in the courtyard at a certain time of day and show it to a small audience, the regulars hanging out there, which consisted mainly of young American Jews who’d made Aliyha and lived nearby and ones that had been just passing through on their tour of Israel but had decided to stay awhile because of the happening scene. Non-Jews were welcome to show their stuff too, and at that moment it seemed no distinction was made between Jew and non, but that would change in the days ahead, partly because of my poetry and for reasons that became apparent later. I had read a couple of poems of mine in that venue and was so enthusiastic about my poetry and performing it (whether it has any poetic merit or not, and I’m now inclined to say no or not much), I managed to convince Avraham and the ‘core members’ to allow me to do organize a poetry reading in the courtyard, where I’d be the MC and a poet reading his own poems.
I called the reading Noise From the Innerwho, and I’d started it as a monthly gathering in the veteran’s center of the small American town I’d been exiled from, Garberville, California, what I speak of in the Tongues series. I was a cross between the town prophet and town fool, more emphasis on the latter I see now in my later years, where I’m still the fool, jumping up and down and waving on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Medium, and Internet Archive saying, “I’m still here!” You aren’t liable to give me a medal.
The poetry reading was a monthly show I put together mainly with the homeless population of Garberville, but poets also came to read from the general population. It was there I first began taping up poems of mine around town, on bulletin boards and in front of places significant to the community, doing that twice before I had to leave town in the dead of night, a public fall that gave rise to the journey of redemption the Tongues story wags on, a story the town never heard, a redemption that never happened. While all of human society would at this moment disagree with me, it takes the support of a community to bring a person out of their bad in the same spirit it takes a village to raise a child.
Even before the reading in Safed, I’d begun to clash with people over not being Jewish, since I was quite present in their circle, unlike the other non-Jews, who showed up one day and were gone the next, and it wasn’t like there were many of them either. With Zeke’s help I’d gotten a backbreaking part time job removing large stones from old abandoned houses that lined a street near there, not getting paid enough to stay in a guesthouse or hotel, just enough not to be a beggar. My afternoons and evenings were spent with the crowd at the studio, my fellow Americans, who were mainly there to explore the religious side of being Jewish, and so the Torah and Talmud were major topics of conversation as well was what it meant to practice daily being a religious Jew, an orthodox Jew but not an ultra-orthodox one, not a Hasidic Jew. They were learning to observe Jewish law, all 613 of them, although in my understanding some of the laws were for olden times and could not easily be applied to the modern day. In such a circle of course the non-Jew would be a bit of a problem. Most had had a secular university education, which was clashing with their adoption of such strict religious beliefs, internal clashes which added to the clash they had with me, although I did not try and dissuade them from becoming religious and observing their law, as I was torn at that time over the question to be or Jew or not to be. What I did wrong was just be my mystical, bragging self.
At that time, and for a long time in my adult life I am sorry to say, I wore my metaphysical and spiritual experiences like merit badges and readily proclaimed them to anyone who spoke with me of anything religious or spiritual. If that wasn’t enough, those experiences topped anyone else’s I had ever encountered in person (I am sorry but what can I say?), and I regularly had lucid dreams, and every so often out of body experiences, where I explored reality with a passion, always having a question to ask or task to complete when I got my conscious will online in sleep. Even most of my ‘unconscious’ dreams were quite vivid and interesting stories in themselves, and anyone around me when I woke up got an earful of what I’d experienced during sleep, although I was also keenly interested in what whomever had experienced, and being around me meant talking about your dreams and things first thing in the morning. If you didn’t remember your dreams or they weren’t all that lustrous, then you could not help but feel a little outshined, quite inadequate I’d imagine. I’m sorry.
I was oblivious to this so wrapped up I was in being me. I’ve since learned it’s really our most basic difficulty in relating to one another, one I yet grapple with, what it is about human relations, or our relations with other forms of life, that’s the stick in the mud. I’m talking about the weird and enigmatic way we are situated here on earth, so common we don’t even question it, where our senses put us in the center of the world with a vivid inner life environing everything our senses engage, but we don’t hear or see the inner life of others (not directly that is), neither feel their bodily pain nor pleasure, only our own, certainly don’t see others sharing the center of the world with us a center unto themselves, see in the sense of know it because that’s how we experience it, however much we can infer others do by how obvious it is that they do. When you add all that up you get a world where it’s not only not easy to love your neighbor as yourself but also damn hard to see any and everyone as you see yourself: centrally placed. You get a world where we can turn our backs to one another at the drop of a hat, kill each other over the turn of a phrase, or just sit and spout about ourselves at the expense of others.
Although I used some Christian symbols in my poetry, I’d left Christianity, had quite suddenly put my Bible down at 17, realizing religion was just a set of clothes I’d put on and not a good stand in for an actual relationship with God, God being something or someone I still believed in. It was just religion I rejected. But about three years later, at 21, going out the door of an aircraft as a Green Beret in the army, I realized I hadn’t done the usual prayer and rededication to Christ before I jumped as I always did, no matter how strongly I’d resolved not to do that before going out the door; I realized I’d fully become an atheist, what I was by that time (1982) except at those scary moments in an aircraft seconds before a jump. Only God knows if there are any atheists in foxholes, but I’d imagine so, although in the army I never heard a shot fired in anger and can only reason there are. In any event, being an atheist notwithstanding, I continued to question the makeup of my reality, in my inner life as well as in my outer, explore both with a passion that enabled me to surpass the normal limits. As my muse says, “Passionate people alter space.” And so I didn’t remain an atheist, as I don’t think anyone would if they went out of the bounds of everyday life, and it was God they went out there to find, but neither did I simply just decide by my reason or emotion that God is, did not use belief. What initiated those three years of metaphysical and spiritual experiences I’ve spoken about, that happened before my trip to Israel, to place us in the story, was going beyond the forms of our world and encountering, with my very own eyes, a very different answer to the question of God.
The rule moves on and you need love— [line heard sung] a holistic speaker. Let's not damage Jews. They're everywhere. They're so much of ourselves. We get bigger all the time. We need to understand somethin': you won't find a separate people. They don't exist. We are humanity. A group exists in that, and that's its very nature, no matter how much they conceive themselves a separate group. Our world depends on this. You hear humanity? We need each other, and a people survives on that, great the people are.