Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Why I Threw a Piece of Cucumber at My Hebrew Teacher

Why I Threw a Piece of Cucumber at My Hebrew Teacher

But first the Farm News. August is like you're just waiting. We're working everyday, but our attitude is more like we're waiting for fall to come. Something will happen in September, and we sure hope it's a good thing, but right now we're just waiting.

The dahlias are popping. Stand back! By Labor Day it might be incredible, which is a good thing because we're having an open house and many people are coming to view all 150 varieties.

Onions and Annuals. We picked all the onions -- many pounds -- and left them to dry in a shaded area on the cement patio. Then I made a schematic of the garden, so I can remember not to plant more onions in the same place -- I will plant turnips instead. And some broccoli and maybe a little lettuce. We're going to plant more zinnias and celosia too. We should have 60 more days of summer weather, so if we can squeeze a few more flowers in, then we can sell them -- and get rich!

Critters. It might be bad luck to brag here, but I have been having good luck keeping the gophers under control. I set traps and they get caught. I offer them little gopher treats (poison) and they go off to gopher heaven. I mean the gophers no harm, but it's the way of nature.

Tragedy. We lost a kitten. Tom, the litter mate to Jerry, was out and about around the motor home last Thursday, but by evening, when we scoot them back inside, we found Jerry, but no sign of Tom. Determined searching began with quiet listening for meowing, but no sign of Tom. Sad to say he is gone. It's hard to believe the coyotes came in broad daylight -- we really don't have another explantion for the loss. Tom was a soft-hearted kind of spaced-out kitten -- a dreamer and very affectionate. We miss him. Jerry and I hang together more now. We're all at risk, so let's cherish the moment.

Why I Threw a Piece of Cucumber at My Hebrew Teacher

& How I came to Study Torah in the First Place

They asked me why. Why are you learning Hebrew? Why are you going to the Torah class at a synagogue? You’re not even Jewish.

Buy why is a dumb question. There is only one important question – Is it a good thing?

If it’s a good thing, then why doesn’t matter. If it’s a bad thing, then stop doing it.

It was the summer of 1992, I was living on Blakeslee Street in West Cambridge and working as a landscaper. And I was totally miserable.

I had just broken up with Helen. Her last words were, “Never call me again.” I was heartbroken, tormented, losing sleep, drinking too much, phoning friends late at night -- I didn’t know what to do.

But I had recently joined the Tikkun group, and we met on Sunday mornings for discussion. I had new Jewish friends -- Daniel Gewertz, a film critic, Harvey Blume, a writer, Lois Isenman, a biologist, Diana Lobel, a PhD student in Jewish Studies, Debbie Osnowitz, with porcelain skin and a brilliant mind, Helen Benjamin, who had an impressive collection of Teddy Bears in her Brookline apartment, Ted Pietras, in real estate in Boston’s South End, and Marty Federman, who was director of Hillel at Northeastern University.

It was an ethnic thing. Boston was full of ethnics – Irish gangs, Italian neighborhoods, Armenian restaurants. I should have gone Irish, but that would have been too easy. Instead I picked the hardest one – Jewish. I was going to learn it and figure it out.

So I went to the Tikkun meetings and listened. The talk was really cool. I liked the rhythm of it. I wore clean clothes, but my shirt was always wrinkled -- I didn’t have an iron. It’s not that people were dressed for the occasion, but I felt conspicuous with my wrinkled shirt.

The meetings kept me from suffering – remember, I was heartbroken, obsessively reviewing the very wrong things I said to Helen – and she wouldn’t talk to me, not now, not ever. So the Tikkun meeting kept me from suffering for three hours every other Sunday morning. That wasn’t enough, but it helped.

One day --I was not really looking for a solution, but more or less on a dare -- I found the Judaica section at the Cambridge Public Library. I picked out the books in Hebrew.

It was very bold of me to even look at these books. Loud booming voices were shouting from thunderous clouds, “Thou Shall Not” – you don’t look at these books, you shall not pass, it’s not for you – go back to being a landscaper, pick up your trowel, LEAVE THESE LETTERS ALONE.

I heard the voices, but I didn’t care. I was in too much pain. Kill me, so what!

I took the books home - a Hebrew grammar, a Hebrew-English dictionary and a text book – home to my furnished apartment on 42 Blakeslee Street in West Cambridge. I opened the books on the kitchen table and began to learn the letters – 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet.

In a way, it was easy, 22 letters in 22 shapes representing 22 sounds. How hard is that?

I learned the letters in a day. By late afternoon I was picking out words in the text. And I was drawing the letters on a big sheet of paper. I really liked their shape and the way they flowed.

It was love. It was infatuation. I was so absorbed. Hours passed in delightful study, and I never thought of Helen. I was almost happy. Relief! I could fill up my day.

Although it was a little weird because, like I said, I’m not Jewish, and what if the Jewish cops find out and come over to my apartment and pummel me with sticks.

Oh, the Jewish cops don’t do that. They don’t even care. Well, they do care. Of course, they want you to study the text in a respectful manner, but otherwise you’re welcome to it.

Except they don’t say that. They don’t say anything -- there are no Jewish cops.

But what about the booming voices from the thunderous clouds? Well, yes, those are completely real, the voices of divine spirits who can put you in a world of hurt or shower you with blessings and diamond lights.

The divine spirits are real. I found out that night, after the day when I learned the 22 letters. I had the most incredible dream. I dreamed of black letters in a sea of golden flames.

I never had such a dream in my life, but that night I saw the letters in my dream, living, breathing and on fire.

The letters are alive! Shining black in a sea of gold-red flames!

When I woke up the next morning, I was astonished and full of wonder. And there was no one to tell. I wasn’t going to waste this vision in casual talk. I wasn’t going to tell anyone. That dream was 19 years ago, and I kept it inside my all this time – black flaming letters burning inside me.

The letters kept me warm all this time. If some say it was nothing, fine. Or if they say it was a revelation, that doesn’t matter to me either. I just knew I had found something. I learned the letters and began to study the words. I developed a style of calligraphy and wrote the letters over and over again, like a prayer.

Now I will move ahead to the funny part of this story.

One Sunday at the Tikkun meeting, Diana Lobel was reading a Hebrew text, and I looked over her shoulder and began saying the words aloud. She said, “You know Hebrew?” I said, “I’ve been studying.” She asked “With who?” I said, “By myself.”

She said, “Come to my class. We meet on Sunday night at 7 pm at Beth Shalom.”

So I began learning with her group – not such a big group, three students, me, Bobby Vilinsky and a very strange, very thin young woman who seemed to have wandered in off the street.

I could write a book about Bobby Vilinsky. We became great friends, and we often discussed his disastrous experiences with women or his latest digestive issues. He was an artist of great intensity and poverty.

Diana Lobel was a PhD student in Jewish Studies at Harvard. She had the pale look of a scholar, but she had bright, black curly hair. Diana had a way of seeming so unworldly, as if she did nothing but study and pray -- but that was not true, she was very worldly at the same time -- if she was paying attention. She often surprised me in that way.

We spent several weeks on the first verse, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” She said the whole of the Torah was contained in the first verse – or she may have said that, I’m not sure. But it sounds like something a Jewish scholar would say – that the whole of the Torah, and all of the Law, and a vivid description of all time and all creation are contained in the first verse – so we studied it, from every angle, and believe me, there are many angles -- more than you can imagine. The depth was incredible.

But she was so spacey. Like the time we had a Sabbath dinner at Lois Isenman’s house. It was Friday night, when Jews eat chicken on their best table cloth. I don’t know if we had chicken that night, but Lois lived in a very nice red brick house in the suburbs.

I Have to Stop Now

I have to stop now, or this story will get too long for an Internet newsletter. But you must be excited by now. Did I really throw a piece of cucumber at my Hebrew teacher? Stay tuned for the next exciting segment – coming soon.

Unsubscribe by saying so in a reply.

Frog Hospital and Farm News Subscriptions. If you find this newsletter worthwhile, send a check for $25, made out to Fred Owens and mail it to Fred Owens, 7922 Santa Ana RD, Ventura CA, 93001.

Or Use PayPal. Go to the Frog Hospital blog and use the PayPal button.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My blog: Frog Hospital

send mail to:

Fred Owens
7922 Santa Ana Rd
Ventura CA 93001

No comments: