Monday, January 5, 2015

Fear and Trembling in Ohr Somayach

My soul is thirsty for Elohim, for the living God, when will 1
come and see the face of Elohim ?

Tehillim / Psalms42,2

 (From my back pages...I think this was written around 1992)

God is everywhere and everything, and God was 400 people listening to a shiur on Monday night the 15th of February, the24th day of Shvat in the 5753 year of the creation of this world.

I was one of those 400, 'and I am writing  this exploration now,but I will never be able to tell you who I really am. Yes, its true what Akiva Tatz said at that shiur. He said there is an
outer glance and an inner glance. And the inner glance, the inner da-at, is terribly untellable. The one who mistakenly hunts it to tell the other is wasting eveyone's time. But with correct human relations, said Akiva Tatz, you don't need to tell it. You know you know, the other knows he knows, you know he has his
perception of.the knowledge and vice a versa.

Why do I write then ? As a sollopsistic exercise, to tell myselfwho I am, to clarify?


Or maybe just because I believe you don't know.For I certainly do not.

When I walk in I feel there are huge forces at work here. One cannot but be overawed-by them, the strength of conformity, uniformity, the delights of self abnegation, of shirking ultimate
responsibility. And those forces are at work in me too, making mylegs tremble, making me need to dissent in order to feel myself.

Four hundred people stand up like clockwork automatons to welcome the Rav.
I don't stand up. I'm the only one of the males not wearing a
kipa. I don't stand up because I'm trying to learn to be
autonomous, to stand on my own two feet so to speak. Everyone sits.

Rabbi Akiva Tatz waits a moment, closes his eyes, waits for God to put the right words, the
truthful words into his mouth. Ad-nai sefatai tiftach, upee yagid tehilatecha

I jot down some observations, to remind myself I did not come here naked. My° hands are shaking a
little, from the strength of the confrontation with unresolved issues.

Every article about religion should begin with death. Every profound article will seek to tell the untellable. But, when Icame up the steps of the Ohr Somayach Beit hamidrash, I do notsee death -although I am aware of the question death poses - but Ohr Somayach's fund raiser Larry Shain. I first met Larry Shein
when I was 17 and he was 22, or so. At 17 1 went to Israel,intending to study at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Instead, whether becauseof my fears or my ambitions, I ended up studying at yeshivat Ohr Somayachin Jerusalem.

Larry had come to Ohr Somayach at around the same age as I, but a few years prior.. Coming
back from a year as an AFS scholar in the States, he had stopped off in
Jerusalem and `completely unexpectedly' gotten involved with Jewish fundamentalism (as outsiders would perhaps label it) or

frumkeit or yiddishkeit (as insiders might refer to it.) In or out? You decide, and that decision decides for you, with never ending consequences.

He had joined the world which refers to itself as the world of `Torah Judaism' (The name is a misnomer. Talmudic Judaism would be better .) One of my fist Shabatot in Jerusalem were spent in his home. All of those first days at Ohr Somayach were a little confused, young and impressionable as I
was, soft and unformed and eager to please as I ws, confused as I was, hungry for direction as I was. On my
second day there the wind blew my blue velvet and gold brocade kipa purchased for my bar mitzva away:
"I'll get -you another one:", said a generous older bocher and brought me a big black number. I thanked him and put. it on.
[ Fundamentalism, like most other things ...]

Larry got. married to his highschool sweetheart Jenny, who followed him back into the ghetto which her grandparents or great grandparents had so determinedly left. He spent six years studying in Israel, then
came back to South Africa, to save Jews from ignorance and assimilation. He now raises most of the
R90 000 a month Ohr Somayach needs to keep on going. [this is 1992 we're talking about]

What would this capable young man have become if he wasn't a fund raising rabbi ? A trader on the stock exchange, perhaps honest, perhaps not ? Or maybe a civil rights lawyer ? A secular Jewish leader like
Mervyn Smith or Mendel Kaplan ?" Interesting to speculate, and to wonder who has
gained, and who has lost. And who is to judge which path would have been better. I remember Larry - in the context of an argument - banging the table and teeling me he would rather die than having his son Gavriel (who way then only one on two years old, and is now a father with children in high school) be exposed to the pritzus (sexual immorality, permissivenes) in the Israeli army. He got very passionate
about it.

(I saw this from both a liberal secular point of view - how silly to get so hit up about a bit of sperm, a vagina,
to get so stuck on that. But then again sex as a subversive and uncontainable force has never really been defused by secular "sex as recreation' approaches to it: after all, it is potentially the starting point for new life, with all the joy and suffering  which that entails, and therefore is it wrong to treat sex with this reverential, sacrosanctal awe? After all, it, is a gateway, a door.

When I was very small, the family visits to shul were infrequent, arid l was intimidated by the large hall , the unfamiliar language and goings on, and the strange men in their black gowns up on the
bima. Then a year before my bar-mitzvah I began to attend shul every friday night and Saturday morning, talking and telling jokes with the other boys in the back row, singing Lecha dodi, 
Yigdal and Adon Olam with great gusto. I knew the words by heart when to stand and sit, knew when to cover my eyes. Shul became a comfortable and unthreatening womb. Singing together was very enjoyable, but it was also a declaration of proficiency and belonging. Because it occurred every week, and, as far as we
youngsters imagined, had been ocurring for practically ever, it was a pleasure of a different sort, different: from thursday night dinners at a steakhouse or a dip in the pool. It was community,confirmation of roles, and sometimes a vague hint of otherness in a daily round which was pretty unmysterious. But its
difference was only one of the many differences that made up ouryoung lives in South Africa of the 1970's. It came along on Friday nights, just as rugby practice came along on Tuesdays, and the torture session at. the orthodontist on Thursdays. Like school or sport shul had its rules, and in many ways they were less

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