24 July 2005

On the Joy of Going to the Movies

I have just returned from seeing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I liked it. A lot. But finally, it really doesn’t matter what I thought of this particular film. Last week I saw Batman Begins. I liked that, too. Well, actually, I wasn’t crazy about the latter film, but I really liked going to the movies. Let me qualify that: I love going to the movies. I have over the years seen a great many films: when I lived in New York City I went to the cinema at least three times a week. Sometimes, I would come home from school on a Friday afternoon (I was a high school English teacher. Maybe I still am?), and I would go for my daily run in Central Park (oh, how I loved running in Central Park); then I would come home, shower, pack a small dinner, and go off to the Thalia Theater at 95th and Broadway for a double feature. Sometimes you had to hold the sandwich high to keep the little rats away, but I soon learned that even rats aren’t crazy about tempeh and tofu. I ate a lot of tempeh and tofu sandwiches. To my mind, the film experience was a perfect ending to imperfect weeks.

I love sitting in the dark. Smack in the middle of the theater, preferably. Though, I really don’t care where I am seated so long as I can see the screen unobstructed and have easy access to the bathrooms. I don’t need popcorn, but there are, at times, a type of film that calls for popcorn—usually, this type of film is a comedy. I had popcorn today at Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I love getting to the show a bit early, and bringing some reading material—The Nation, In These Times, The Forward—once, I even brought Michel Foucault into the theater and read the same paragraph until the previews began. I love sitting in the dark on a hot summer early afternoon with the air conditioning on high power. I love sitting in the dark on a cold winter’s late afternoon snuggled in my sweater and lined jeans. I like being alone even when I am with another. As Thoreau says, “There are some things which a man never speaks of, which are much finer kept silent about . . . In human intercourse the tragedy begins, not when there is misunderstanding about words, but when silence is not understood.” Silence is what I seek in the theater.

And when the film is over, I crave a social meal or a friendly and fine beer. To talk about the film, of course, but more to talk about life with the film as stimulus.

I know that there is a strain of theory that suggests that sitting in the darkened theater is like dreaming. Maybe it is so. Ah, what isn’t like dreaming, except maybe dreaming. Thoreau again: “For in dreams we but act a part which must have been learned and rehearsed in our waking hours, and no doubt could discover some waking consent thereto . . . Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.” I go to the movies to get away from the world and to confront it. I go to the movies to sit in the dark so that my life is just a bit brighter.

14 July 2005


Psalm 90, a prayer of Moses, man of God, must have been referring to my mother when it speaks of the length of the human life: “Three score and ten our years may number, four score years if granted the vigor.” My mother turns four score years on the 17th of July, 2005. She has certainly sufficient vigor.

The psalm goes on to describe our lives as “laden with trouble and travail, passing quickly and flying away.” The sense here, of course, is that our lives are too short, too difficult, and too ephemeral, but I think this is not a very Jewish interpretation of the story. The directive from God to Adam was that he must earn his life by the sweat of his brow; God told Eve that she will bear her children in pain. As my mother might say now, “So, what else is new?” Because it is those efforts that provide much of the joy—and pain--in our lives—a life in which our labors may bear wonderful fruits. I have over the years come to understand the expulsion from the Garden not as a curse but as a blessing. Life happens outside of the Garden; outside the Garden is where human activity and choice occur. Outside of the garden is struggle and achievement. Outside of the garden is success and failure. Outside of the Garden is family.

Roberta Hirsh Block has spent her entire life outside of the garden. As she might say now, “Where else should I live?” What wisdom in that question! Granted the vigor, Bobby has lived out here thus far four score years. Her work tilling the earth has borne her fruit, which have this weekend returned to the tree.


07 July 2005

On the necessity of blogging!

Mitch and I had dinner again at the Hammond Hotel. It’s a quaint dining location situated right under the Hammond Water Tower in the scenic town of Hammond, Wisconsin, and across the parking lot from a boarded up window which might once have hidden Jews hiding from Nazis. We were discussing blogs, and Mitchell asked, wisely, “Who the hell reads them?” I told him that that was exactly the point—we all have to read them because blogs represent the best (and last?) potential for subversion the left might yet have. We have lost whatever hope we might have once had in the media—they are effete and ineffectual, and the government has effectively silenced whatever brave reporters yet exist. We have no member of Congress brave enough to tell the truth, or even brave enough to practice it. Certainly, who ever we thought were our representatives have turned with their tails between their legs at the reprimand of the Republican White Christians, to quote one of the last of the angry men, Howard Dean! (This is the very same Howard Dean who taught us how powerful the Internet can be as a political instrument—this knowledge required that the powers-that-be destroy him, and advocate for a John Kerry who might look good but who wouldn’t threaten the power structures.) The right wing beat us to the radio talk shows, and the Rush Limbaughs laugh at us as we try to play extreme catch-up on TalkRadio. No, in all of the traditional places in which power resides in our society, we, on the left, are absolutely locked out. Without Resources. Useless. Meaningless. Our conversation kept drifting to the Vichy government, to Petáin, and to Casablanca. I have often speculated on why you don’t return to America. Did you abscond with the church funds? Did you run off with a senator’s wife? I like to think you killed a man. It’s the romantic in me . . . And what in heaven’s name brought you to Casablanca? “My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters.” “Waters! What waters? We’re in the desert!” “I was misinformed.”

I told Mitchell that unless we all blog and read each others blogs, then we’ll have no way to stay organized and send our ideas out. We must read our blogs, and we must tell others to read the blogs of our friends and comrades, and the more blogs that there out there written by us, the greater the chance that others whom we do not know will read our blogs and be stimulated and nourished and energized by our ideas. And then those that we don’t yet know will tell others whom we also don’t know about our blogs, and the ideas contained within them—and before you know it, we’ve got the beginning of the movement, Alice and her Restaurant notwithstanding.

Blog Away, My Dears! It is for our lives.

01 July 2005

Shabbat Evening to Warsaw!

My daughter is in Poland this week as part of the United Synagogue Youth Poland/Israel Pilgrimage. It is an interesting choice of title for the trip: in Poland, though they visit cities such as Cracow and Warsaw, it is the camps that is the focus of this part of the pilgrimage. The cities themslelves are known as the sites of ghettoes into which Jews were placed before being shipped to the death camps which dotted Poland.

Pilgrimages are journeys to holy places, but Sobibor, and Madjanek, and Auschwitz are not holy. Forever, these pieces of earth are damned by what occurred there more than sixty years ago. These sites of pollution can never be redeemed; no blade of grass grows there which is not fed by the blood of the innocent men, women and children who on that ground were put to death. I cannot imagine my daughter in Poland, not merely because she is my daughter far from home for the first time in our lives, but because she is in Poland, where Jews were slaughtered viciously, callously, premeditatedly, and hatefully. It is where Mr. Mastbaum escaped from the train which was taking him to Sobibor, and lived subsequently in the woods for two years scrounging for food, for shelter, for some remnant of human concern. It is where Mrs. Mastbaum, also, survived two years in the forests of Poland while Nazis and Nazi-sympathizers hunted for her and other Jews. Poland is where both of them--and many thousand others--lost their entire family to the Nazi massacre. And now my daughter is in Poland, celebrating Shabbat in a country that hoped it could annihilate all the Jews.

My Shabbat blessing for my daughter, Emma: May she grow to be like Sarah, and Rebecca and Rachel and Leah. May God bless and keep her; May God watch over and protect her; may God’s countenance shine on her and give her peace.

I have myself been reading a great deal about Poland, and specifically about the Partisans who managed to escape from those cities, and ghettoes, and smaller villages to live in the forests and fight against the Nazis in small bands of organized and armed resistance. There are times when I read their memoirs and I think to myself that they must be making up what it is they are narrate. I cannot imagine humans being that cruel. It is abominable. It is reprehensible. I can not forget, and, I am afraid, I can never forgive.

I am re-reading the diary of Anne Frank. She did not live to be as old as Emma is now; and for twenty five months she did not breathe the air in the world. She lived in the insufferably claustrophobic space of the Secret Annex, and, remarkably, did not go mad. I have never been that strong.