Last night, upon reading the part of the my most recent post which discussed tzitzit, my roommate Eric, who wears them everyday, immediately jumped at the oppurtunity to assist me in attaining painting part of the target I mentioned yesterday. He offered me the use of one of his talit katanim today and I went for it.

The irony here is that during Hebrew today, which is my first class in the morning we watched the Israeli movie Ushpizin (which I highly recommend to anybody, Jewish or not), which is about Orthodox Jews. Anyway, I had a great morning, which (as nonsensical as this may or may not be) I will attribute to the tzitzit. The feeling I get having them on is best described as a mix of the feeling one gets wearing new shoes for the first time and the feeling one gets during a really great prayer service.

I have gotten a number of comments on them, all from fellow students. They range from “Whatever! We all know you’re too Clasical Reform to believe in that!” to “They really suit you, David!” In between there have been several comments along the lines of “You just don’t look right in those” (to which I said, “You don’t look right in that face”).

To respond to the first comment: The distinction of Classical Reform can kiss my ass. I am a Liberal Jew, Reform Jew, Progressive Jew, or whatever kind of Jew you want to call me. All I know is that Jewish practices which I find meaningful and helpful in my quest to be a non-asshole are those practices which I choose to do. I thought that wearing tzitzit might fall into that category. As it turns out, it does.

To the other extreme: Thank you.

To the middle: I don’t care what I look like in them! I care what I feel like in them. On that note, I think they look really cool. That’s right: COOL.

On another note related to my target (see prev. post for more on the target), I have decided that I need to compile my own sidur.


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Live from Israel: THE NEWS FROM TZUBA

I have not written in quite some time and I hope to God that you have not all deserted me. Since I last wrote, I spent Sukot with a family of Israelis in Jerusalem, antagonized the Dean of HUC Jerusalem, hiked for five days from the Kineret to the Mediterranean, died twice, my Mom visited, my Dad and his girlfriend Lauren visited (during which we had no less than two taxi-related escapades), I went to an Hadag Nachash (Israeli rap/pop concert), went to Tel Aviv for a weekend, and ran into an Israeli friend of mine from Kutz two years ago (Ariel) in Yafo.

However, none of that is as important as what I shall now attempt to describe to you.


I think that we can all agree that the goal of a serious Reform Jew should be to constantly make conscious decisions about the way they want to practice Judaism. I have decided that to facilitate this I need some sort of system. And by system, I mean elaborate metaphor. That’s right. Elaborate metaphor.

They say that when an Orthodox Rabbi makes a ruling on an issue of halachah, he shoots an arrow and then paints the target on around the arrow. That is to say that the Rabbi knows the answer he wants to give and causes/picks and chooses the halachah to support the answer.

I want to do the opposite. I want to be constantly painting targets and then trying over and over again to shoot an arrow right into the middle of the latest target. That is to say that I need to be constantly deciding what my ideal practice of Judaism looks like and then trying to do that.

Live from Israel: THE TARGET

So where does the target stand now?

Everything I think of tends to fall into 4 categories: Torah, Ritual, Social Justice, and Israel.

Torah—I generally feel that I am more in touch with the details of the stories of the Jewish People than most, but I want to be more familiar. I want to be able to translate Tanach and I want for biblical references to jump out at me the way they do at my JHist teachers here.

Ritual—I want to wear tzitzit. There. I said it. It looks meaningful to me and I want to buy tzitzit and try it. As I once told David Singer, they seem like anti-asshole fringes. Constantly there, reminding the wearer how to behave. I need that. Also, prayer has become more important in my life in the last year or so and I would like to aim for the full three times a day.

Social Justice—Why don’t I volunteer more of my time for charitable causes in my community at home? Why don’t I just give that poor fellow a buck when he asks for one? Will tzitzit help on this front?

Israel—I know that this must be an important part of the target, but for now it must remain a question. Do I want to make Aliyah? Probably not. In that case, how do I recognize the growing importance of the Jewish State in my life? The Israel component of my target must, for now, remain an unanswered question.

It may be another two weeks until the next real post. Next week we will be in Poland and the week after that we will be in the Gadna, an Israeli army preparatory program that all Israeli teens go through.

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I don’t like Yom Kipur. I have always failed to be moved by the fast and I have never met a YK service I liked. I won’t go into too much detail about YK services, but I will say that we went to HUC for them and that they were dreadful. I am left with serious doubts about the effectiveness of HUC’s Jerusalem campus. On YK morning I attended a rather hilarious service at a small Sephardic shul, which, should there be any demand on this post’s comments page, I could write a post about.


I am forced to conclude that Austin makes better Jews.

First, on some general Texas-related notes, there was a kid at the Sephardic service wearing a shirt with a cowboy on it and English writing that read “Texas Ranger.” At the HUC services I ran into D.T. Panter, a long-time GFC staffer, as well as a woman named Rebecca (whose last name escapes me) who also a GFC staffer at some point and at another point a member of my temple’s choir.

On an unrelated note, simply as a sign that if you think the Jewish world in the U.S. is small, then you’d think the Israeli Reform and Progressive world is minute, I met a guy who, at Kutz, went by the name Scooter. At Kutz, he knew my teacher from this past summer, David Singer, and he was once the boss of Erica Santiago, who was Leslie and Bear’s (two of my best friends) boss at Kutz this summer. His orange shorts were also once hung from the ceiling of the Beit Am. He did not elaborate on this fact.

As for why Austinites Jews are better, we can point to the disproportionate quanitity of Austinites in Rabbinical school. Monique Mayer is at Leo Baeck, while Anna Grey (sp?), Erin Ellis, and now, this woman Rebecca, are at various HUC campuses. David Berkman, a predeccessor of mine as President of Austin Temple Teens, is Asst. Director of Camping for the URJ. Also, I want to go to HUC eventually too. So there ha! Empirical, indisputable evidence that Austin makes better Jews.


If you know me, you know I don’t cry often. This is problematic for me because I like to think of myself as very in touch with my emotions and I find crying to be very therapeutic. I am constantly looking for a good cry. That’s why I love Gilmore Girls. No snyde remarks at this juncture, please.

I actually cried during Yizkor today. I’ll preface this with the fact that I’m pretty sure I’ve nenver been to Yizkor. Mom or Dad, can you verify that on the comment page, please? Before Yizkor the fellow leading services read a story which you can read here (scroll down to the third heading, which is “Information Please” t0 read it). The story was so moving that it made me cry. Then, floodgates already open, we moved into the liturgy for Yizkor.

I thought of the closest relative of mine to have ever died, my Grandpa. Sol Wilensky. I cried more. I didn’t really mourn for him when he died. I was in third grade then and I’m not sure I knew how. Over the last year or so, I’ve though of him often. In the last year, I started wearing my talit to services more often, which I keep in the same velvet bag he was using for his talit at the time of his death. It is brown, though my Dad claims it was purple at some point. This has contributes in some way to my increasingly frequent thoughts about Grandpa, but the real cause was, inadvertently, my current plans on becoming a Rabbi. I was not conscious of the fact while he was alive, but my Grandpa was pretty religious fellow. Frozen in my brain is my final third grade perception of him as something special, even a Tzadik. His hypothetical approval is important to me now. When I first talked to my Dad about my plans for the Rabbinate, he told me Grandpa would have been very proud.

And so, today I mourned for my Grandfather, Sol Wilensky, who has been dead for eight years.

Coming soon: who knows? Is there anything y’all are interested in knowing about my time so far in Israel? Email me or post on the comments page.

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Shana Tovah! Cleansing in the Desert

You’ve been waiting for it, I know. I’ve been working on this for many days now and finally, the longest post ever in the history of bloggin is here. If you don’t want to read all of it and you just want a dose of funny, I suggest skipping down to the final section. The one on meditation. Oh yeah.

Before we get to it, you’ll notice that my blog has a slightly new look. I rather like it, but let me know what you think. I’ve started using the new Blogger Beta and I just wanted to play with my new options a bit.

We spent Rosh Hashana in the south of Israel, in the Negev Desert. This is the long-winded account of our stay there.


In 1972, the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve was founded by the Israeli government. It is the largest national park in Israel and considered the most naturally important. There are many neato hikes to be had. We went on a rather long one which followed to path of a mostly dry creek bed to a nice little suprise at the end.

The hike ends at a waterfall with a nice pool, which we all hung out in for a while and swam around in. As soon as we got there, I recognized this waterfall. In every brochure for a NFTY in Israel program that I have ever seen, including both summer programs and EIE brochures, there is a picture of this same waterfall, which like most pictures in these brochures, dates to the eighties! You can see it on page two of this brochure. I don’t know who that goofy kid is smiling there, but I have seen him more times than I care to.

In any case, the waterfall was quite refreshing, not to mention the ice cream bar I bought at one of the park stores when we got back. One thing I noticed was that this waterfall and its accompanying pool could have been, had we all been naked and saying whatever proper blessings, a mikvah! There were at least 40 seah of water present and the water was defnitely naturally flowing. Thus we had all the requirements for a mikvah. Although nobody present went through the ritual properly, the experience did contribute to my overall sense of cleansing during our stay in the desert.

They say that if you only go to the mikvah once a year, you should go before Yom Kippur. Last year, upon reading that, I had a rather misguided run-in with my bathtub and a garden hose stuck inside through a window. Don’t ask. This waterfall was much better.


Rather than list for you all the places that Yam Hamelach caused me pain, I’ll let the title of this section of the post speak for itself.

Yam Hamelach, known perhaps better to my readers by its Enlish name, the Dead Sea, is the lowest point on Earth. It is located at five bazillion meters below sea level and it has more salt than God. To use proper scientific terminology, it is neato.

The high levels of salt cause pain and, paradoxically, healing. The pain comes from any open wound on your body so much as a paper cut because all the sudden you have all the salt in the world converging upon said paper cut. For reasons I don’t really understand, there is a quality to this water which causes wounds to heal as well. My acne, for instance, disappeared for 24 hours or so after we swam in Yam Hamelach. The German national health plan sends Germans with psoriasis to Yam Hamelach for two weeks for free.

Also of note is the fact that this water is so crazy dense that you float like mad. If you untense all of your muscles, you just sort of lay there on top of the water. This is very unsettling and makes it very hard to maneuver about in any way, shape, or form.

Then there is this crazy mud. They say this mud is so good for you that they package it and sell it as a sort of spa-like product. I was coerced in putting this crazy mud all over me with the promise that it would feel good. It did not. It felt like mud. I don’t know what the big deal is with this stuff.

All in all, the sea was fun and only served to add to my sense of cleansing in the desert.

Live from Mitzadah: DAVID ALMOST DIES

That’s right. I almost died. Let me explain.

Mitzadah is the name of a plateau near Yam Hamelach. This thing is 305 meters or so straight up. Over the years, a number of nuts built fortresses up there. Crazy. Among them was Herod, who was a rather paranoid puppet Roman king of Israel back in the day (which, by the way, was a tuesday). Then some nutty Jewish rebels took it over, got beseiged by Romans, and committed mass suicide. If you wanna know what I think about these guys… Whatever. I’m gonna tell you what I think of these nuts regardless of whether you want here what I think about them or not.

These guys, believing that they were the last hope for Judaism, holed up on this mountain like some damn doomsday cult (think Waco) . They intended to live up on this mountain indefinitely and they had some sustainable lifestyle worked out with agricutlure up there and livestock and everything. They even had a mikvah. Then, when confornted with certain sale into slavery by Romans who were about capture them, they all committed suicide. If these nuts really believed that Avodah Zarah (foreign worship, idolatry) would be forced upon them by the Romans along with being sold into slavery, why not go along with it? You can maintian Judaism in secret while following foreign rituals without putting your heart into them. It had been done before and it would be done again later in history. These guys however, took a more glorious, bloody, and selfish road. They believed they were the last worthwhile Jews in the world. For all they know, Judaism ended right there with their suicides. That is selfish and wrong. And crazy.

We woke at up 4-o-damn-clock in the morning to hike up Mitzadah so we could see the sunrise from the top. I didn’t see it from the top. I was still only like halfway up when the sun came up. They made us hike up this frickin Snake Path, which causally winds its way all over one side of this mountain. There are over 700 steps on this path, not to mention all the parts where it’s just plain slope. I finally staggered up, collapsed, and took a nap a good 20 minutes after everybody else. I almost died on a number of occasions on my way up, on account of the fact that my legs were falling off. God that sucked!

Up top it was cool though.


After Mitzadah, we made our way further south to Kibutz Lotan where we remained for the two days of Rosh Hashanah. Lotan is a realtively young Kibtuz, founded in 1983 by mostly ex-NFTYites and Netzer Olami members from all over the world. They currently have about 50 adults and 60 children. Their industries are diverse and mostly agricultural, but they also have a wildlife reserve as well as an ecological focus unlike that of any community I have ever encountered. As a community they are amazing. They are committed to Reform Judaism and ecology in ways that I don’t know that I could ever commit to. Their newer structures are made from mud bricks and hay bales. They are incredibly sturdy stuctures and modernly furnished inside. They also have some amazing levels of composting going on as well as some very unique ways of disposing of trash and sewage. You should check out their website here. The grounds are astounding. The parts they live in as well as the agricultural parts of covered respectively in grass and arable land. This type of thing does not occur in the desert on its own. These people have litteraly coaxed this stuff out of the ground. They created topsoil that was not there.

Anway, we attended services there. I have to admit that I can’t stand Rosh Hashanah. I see the point in using the time between RH and Yom Kipur to prepare for YK, but RH itself as it is observed, I can’t jive with. In normal cultures, people celebrate the new year (feel free to chastise me for that sweeping and probably untrue generalization). They don’t sit in their place of worship for hours on end obsessiong over some ridiculous Book of Life metaphor.

That being said, I appreciated the general Israeli approach to it. They celebrate this holiday as well as lament the coming of Yom Kipur. In America we just obsess about getting dressed up and wearing nice shoes for the services which go on for eight million hours and are filled with much pomp and ridiculousness. Here, people have parties, wish people they see a happy new year, and nobody gets all damn dressed up! I wore shorts and Netzer t-shirt to services and everybody thought that was fine. They have a Rabbi on Lotan, but she is just like every other kibutznik there. Having no one who serves as Rabbi of the community, the services take on a very creative, open, and cooperative feel, which I enjoyed.

Tashlich was very nice. If you don’t know about Tashlich, you can read about it by following the link at the beginning of the previous sentence. The gist, however, is that by throwing pieces of bread into a flowing body of water, you symbolically cast off your sins in preparation for YK. Back home, Tashlich is always a highlight of RH for me, perhaps because it draws a small crowd and I always prefer small services. I have vivid and fond memories from my earlier childhood of going across the street from our temple to Shoal Creek where we would conduct Tashlich under a rather sketchy bridge.

On Lotan, we found ourselves in the middle of the desert with no running bodies of water. Thus, Tashlish seemed impossible. Josh, however, one of our JHist teacher who spent the weekend with us on Lotan, conducted a rather creative Tashlich-ish service. Yisrael, a kibutznik, led us, late at night, on a walk to a sand dune in the middle of nowhere. We laid down there and stared at the most amazing night sky I have ever seen in my entire life. In keeping with my usual practice of stargazing at camp (Leslie Bass, eat your heart out), I imagined that rather than laying on the ground and looking up, that I was leaning against a wall and looking out and that the void that took over my field of vision was right in front of me. It was truly awe-inspiring! While there several people (including, grudginly, me) confessed various harmful habits that we wished to curtail in the coming year, things we wished to cast off into the stars. I experienced a moment of clarity of vision under the stars, which I suppose should have been a first sign of trouble, but instead I reveled in it.

The trouble I speak of is dehydration. I was informed that the walk to this and dune would be brief. The walk itself ended up being at least 45 minutes each way. As such, I did not bring a water bottle, though I knew by the end that I should have. That night, blissfully unaware of the danger to come, I lay down to go to sleep, but found shortly that I needed to go the bathroom. I had rather a lot of distress in there, developed a headache, and took 2 gas-x and 2 tylenol. As the danger, several rounds thereof later, seemed to have subsided, I stood up, ready to go back to bed, but instead felt suddenly weak. My torso convulsed and I lost my dinner through my mouth. It happened twice more, in rapid succession. After the final upchuck I felt incredibly good, like a high. When that subsided, I made the connection. I was dehydrated. I went across the way to the room of Josh (a different Josh), my counselor. Josh gave me a liter and a half bottle of water and two rice cakes and told me to finish them before going back to bed. The water felt great, but the rice cakes came up four times, bringing us to a grand total of seven upchucks for the evening.

This is the last incidence of note in my desert cleansing. Although I would not have voluntarily undergo the same dehydration again, I am kind of glad it happened. I ate little the following day and this particular experience only added to my overall experience of cleansing and preparation for YK. I can honsetly say that I would like to spend every RH in the desert. It is very clear to me why many cultures use the desert as a source of mystical knowledge, a rite of passage, or a way of spiritual cleansing.


This final part is for fun only. It did not contribute to my overall experience. Actually, it detracted from it. If you like meditation, don’t read this. You will hate me when you are done.

Because of Lotan’s status as an environmental mecca, it has developed a group of the usual overly-spiritual neuvo-wave-o meditational types. As such, we got a free dose of the meditational exercises that normal tourists have to pay for. Yes, people pay for this. I was shocked too.

We sat down in a circle on the grass, our attention centered upon an Israeli woman whose name I have forgotten. I’ll call her Rainbow from here on out. Rainbow was young and not unattractive, with her sun-bleached hair hanging down to her hips, completely untamed. She probably doesn’t shave her legs either, now that I think of it, but I don’t recall noticing at the time.

She then explained to us where our chakras are. She told us all about them and about energy. I would like to comment for a moment on this so-called “energy.” Nuevo-wave-o types often refer to this energy, which not a single one of them has ever managed to explain to me. This energy, so far as I can tell, is invisible, undetectable, unexplainable, and has something to do with “life force” or some such thing.

She explained that there was a chakra on top of my head. In a failed attempt to connect this nonesense to Judaism, she mentioned that it was right were the kippah goes. I have found that most attempts at meditation within Judaism fall short of, well, anything and tend to grasp around in the dark for a way to validate mediation through Judaism.

We then meditated on each of our individual chakras by placing our hands over them and making various mono-syllabic intonations, such as “vaaaaaammmmmmm,” “raaaaammmmm,” and of course one can never forget “ooooohhhhhhhhmmmmmmmm.” At one point, between two meditations, Rainbow opened her eyes (they were closed most of the time, contemplating the universal life force, I’m certain) and glanced at me. I was reclining on my arms in the grass, barely containing my laughter, not meditating on anything universal whatsoever. She then glanced around and informed us all that whether we, personally, were getting anything our of this, we should engage in her various intonations because it helps the people who are trying to meditate with their vibes. There I finally saw the Jewish connection! Guilt! She was trying to guilt me into intoning various syllables!

I have determined that even if Rainbow has chakras and life energies and other such things, I do not. Anway, that sucked.

Coming soon: I don’t know. I’ll think of something good though.


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A Morality Tale About The Evils Of Frozen Carbonated Beverages That Explode

The following, as suggested by the title, is the most ridiculous thing you have ever heard.

I like Coke. I like frozen Coke even more. Here in Israel, they sell Coke in 1.5L plastic bottles, one of which I purchased the other day. I opened it up, drank it down to the label, and put it in the freezer. I drank it down knowing that things tend to expand when they freeze.

Today, after first period AP English, I took the bottle out of the freezer. It was a good thing that I had already has some of it because when I opened it, I discovered that it had expanded so much that is was full to the absolute top of the bottle. I was having a conversation of my roommate Eric (whom there are pictures of somewhere in the post about archaeology at Tel Maresha) and as we were talking, I set the bottle down on our kitchenette counter and began to lick, then suck on, the top of the bottle. After no more than 5 seconds of this, the bottle exploded into my face!

The bottle itself remained intact, though about half of the frozen coke inside exploded upward into my throat and out through my nose. Bewildered and in shock, I staggered backwards as the Coke continued to shoot upward of one foot into the air and all over our room. In complete shock and near-debilitating pain, I saw Eric’s jaw drop and he was just standing there with his eyes and mouth wide, shaking his head in shock. After maybe 3 seconds of shock, Eric began to laugh uncontrolably. As the Coke exploded into my face I literally thought my head was exploding or had been severed or something.

As this was all in progress, a girl, Jeri, walked in and then ran out thinking I had just projectile vomitted all over the place. I managed to go the bathroom and take my shirt off, which was covered in forzen Coke chunks. I felt like there might be Coke in my lungs or that my uvula had been removed.

In Eric’s words: “He came out of the bathroom with no shirt on and a blank expression of “What the fuck just happened to me?!” on his face with tear streaks coming down his face. I couldn’t stop laughing!”

I honestly thought I was dead for a moment.

Anyway, it took for damn ever to clean and even now there are many sticky surfaces in our room.

And the sound! As it exploded, the bottle made the most unbelievably loud roar into my face!

Before dinner, afraid I wouldn’t be able to swallow solid food because my throat hurt so unbelievable badly, I took a flashlight and shined it into my thoat and looked into the mirror to see how it looked. It looked as though some little gnome had crawled into the back of my throat with a rake and scraped the tissue raw. My front teeth hurt too, though I don’t know why. Tomorrow, I’m going to the morning clinic they have on the kibbutz to see if it is serious.

Probably tomorrow, maybe the next day, I will be posting a massive recap of Rosh Hashanah weekend.


UPDATE: As of about 10:30 this evening my good friend Charlotte has given me some honey lemon throat lozenges which are actually helpinng my throat not die.

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Joke of the Day

I’m not sure if this joke will work in written form. I’ve only heard it verbally. You’ll have to say the punch line out loud to get it, I think. Even then, you’ll have to be quite a Jew to get the joke.

“What did the bank robber say when he robbed a bank in Mea Shearim? He said, “Gimme loot, Chasidim!”

That joke courtesy of Josh Weinberg, my JHist teacher.

You may groan now.

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Mornings, Mourning, Miscellany

I have become a morning person. I’m not sure when it happenened, but I’m going to guess somewhere withing the last week and a half. I wake up every morning, often at ungodly hours, jump out of bed, let out an epic yawn, and spring into shower action. I want breakfast (the good KB, for you Jewies out there [don't worry, if you're a Jewie, you know it])! I want to go to class! My first class is Ivrit, which I think I’m pretty good at. Then there’s Jewish History, which I’m better at. It lasts three hours and it is the reason my day peaks a tad early. After that, it’s downhill. Lunch, General Studies, homework, coma.

Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of the passing of a very close family member of one the members of our EIE community, whom I will refer to as M, for Mourner. This yartzeit is common knowledge amongst us here and we all knew it was coming. In observance of this and in support of M we davened mincha (held an afternoon service) yesterday.

When we arrived at the Mourner’s Kaddish, things got awkard. Normally, most people say the Kaddish. A few people (only two of us here that I know of) refrain from reciting Kaddish unless they are in mourning themselves. This is, however, a vast minority. Yet, this particular time, many people said Kaddish much more quietly than they ordinarily would have. Some whispered it, but many didn’t say it all. To make matters worse, M, seated in the front row, became the center of attention. M was openly stared at by most people present. M was also the only person who said the Kaddish at a normal volume.

I was greatly troubled by this. Comforting the mourner is one thing; indeed it is called, in our wonderful *ahem* outgoing North American Reform siddur, Gates of Prayer, an Obligation Without Measure. Putting undue focus on a person already in emotional turmoil, however is not. It is not comfort. It is, in point of fact, discomfort!

I was very troubled by this.

I have just learned that according to Talmud, Alexander is the only non-Jewish name that one can be called to the Torah by because of how well Jews were treated under Alexander the Great. I have decided that based on this, my Jewish name shall no longer be simply David ben Tzvi v’Gilanah, but it shall now be David Alexander ben Tzvi v’Gilanah. This incorporates my English middle name.

Coming soon there will posts here perhaps about Reuven (perhaps not), perhaps about American Jews who have made aliyah (perhaps not), and perhaps about our impending trip to Mesada and Kibutz Lotan.

For regular notice by email about new posts on this blog email me at


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It’s coming. I can feel it. You can shoot me if it doesn’t.

I promise with God Almighty as my witness that I will post tomorrow. It is currently very late here and I am going to bed now. If there is not a post of considerable length tomorrow, you may send me a mailbomb or something else horrid.

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He Didn’t Walk. He Didn’t Fly.

You like that title? Think maybe it sounds poetic? It’s not. It’s a Yiddish insult. I’ll get to its meaning in a little bit.

First, if you haven’t been here in afew days, look at the previous post as well.

Second, some background on Yiddish. The Yiddish language was basically a German dialect spoken throughout the Middle Ages on until the Holocaust, when its use was severly diminished. Few people still speak Yiddish in their daily lives.

Written with Hebrew letters, this language was the language of the Jews in Europe until the Holocaust and the creation of the modern state of Israel. It is the most colorful, shall we say, language ever in the history of languages. Reading the translated transcript of a conversation which was held in Yiddish between fluent Yiddish-speakers is like reading a string of idioms, insults, sayings, and metaphors. The unique thing here with the colorful articulations is that they are so often colored by the Jewish experience these people knew. If a man went home to his wife and found that she was furious with him for whatever reason, he might go out to a bar and say to everyone there, “I went home from work this evening and my wife had the destruction of the Temple in her eyes.” If you said this in any other language, the person you were speaking to (even another non-Yiddish-speaking Jew) would not have the slightest idea what you were saying. This was and is a language informed entirely by the Jewish life and stories and ethics known by its speakers in their own times.

I have taken to sitting a lunch with Reuven, one of the Jewish History teachers here. Reuven is an older fellow, more sharply intelligent and blunt than any other person I have ever know, and he lives here on the Kibbutz. He has been a Kibbutznik here for many many years. He used to work in the fields here even. He is an expert on Jewish history like no one else I know. We disagree, all in good fun, on almost eveything concerning the American Jewish experience.

Towards the beginning of lunch today, Reuven took issue with something another Jewish History teacher said. Reuven responded, (I am quite certain I am rendering this wrong so someboby correct me if they know better) “Nisht keshtoygen. Nisht kefloygen.” The conversation at the tabel paused as we all inquired as to what he had just said. “It,” he said, “is a Yiddish expression meaning, ‘That’s bullshit!’” We inquired as to its literal meaning. “It means,” he said, “He didn’t walk. He didn’t fly.” We inquired as to why this had come to mean “That’s bullshit!”

In Europe it became common for a time for the Christian leaders in a community to force all the Jews in the area to attend a lecture on the evils of Judaism and the correctness of Christianity. These lectures often ended with the story of Jesus’ life, which of course ends with his ascension to heaven. “And then,” the lecturer, probably a preist, would say, “he ascended to heaving, flying, carried by God!” And the Jewish parents in the audience would lean down to their children and say, “Nisht keshtoygen. Nisht kefloygen.” As if to say, “He didn’t walk up to heaven and he didn’t fly up either. That’s bullshit!”

This later came to be a general expression used when confronted with something one deemed to be bullshit.

That being said, regardless of your own feelings about such a statement, you can’t help but love a language that is so consistently inflamatorily blunt about everything!

More on Reuven some day. Perhaps tomorrow. Probably not tomorrow. Maybe next week. If you haven’t yet seen it, look at the previous post as well.

Email me at for regular notice of updates to this site.


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And Now A Word From Our Sponsors . . .

We’ve been very busy the last few days. Hence, the lack of posting. I will return to posting as often as I can as soon as my current pile of homework recedes a tad.

Until then, I’ve been wondering about who reads this blog. I know a few of you because you get the regular email updates about new posts. And I know a few of you because you regularly post comments, but because of emails from back home, I have reason to believe that there are more of you reading this semi-regularly than there are posting comments regularly.

I would request that everybody that reads this post before September 16th (that is to say, if you read this regularly or semi-regularly) leave a comment on the comments page. Id you don’t know where that is, look down at the bottom of the post, after all that bullshit I type in grey in every post, there is some yellowish type that reads “[X number of] comments.” Click on that to comment.

Good night and good luck.

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