Part 1 PRELUDE TO MY FUTURE BOOK:
REMNANTS – ENCOUNTERS WITH MY CULTURE
(Copyrights Ira Seidenstein 2022)
(FINAL DRAFT 11/11 2022)
This prelude and the future book Remnants are about my encounters with my own Culture. Those encounters were rarely in a cloistered environment. Rather those encounters occurred within the broader ‘secular’ or normal Western world.
Remnants, is about the questions that encouraged me to write about the long and ongoing journey.
- Remnants means that something of the Jewish Culture remains.
- Remnants were scraps of cut cloth which could be collected to become the basis of a business. That was opportunity amongst the poorest immigrants.
- If one can survive from scraps and junk, then anything in life is possible.
- After I decided on Remnants as the title, I then began to study my Culture in a new way.
- I read that ‘the remnants’ of the Jewish People is mentioned in the morning process at the synagogue
- For example after the Torah is brought from the Ark. One mention is “…graciously make us an eternal remnant”, and a moment later “… be gracious to our remnant and the remnant of His people…”.
- A central reference about the Jewish ‘remnant’ is from the Book of Isaiah 10:20-22.
As the bishop said to the actress… believe it or not! The Remnant journey began because suddenly scattered participants in some of my workshops asked me “Why are there so many Jewish Clowns”? I always replied “I don’t know”. Mixed in with a journey into my Jewish Culture are my other cultures like; Clown and the performing arts, or, life in my adopted home Australia.
END OF INTRODUCTION.
BEGINNING OF THOUGHTS ABOUT THE JOURNEY.
Many people including myself do not understand the depth of the Jewish Culture. To answer a simple question “Why are there so many Jewish Clowns”, I chose to find out why and that was an invitation to learn more about my own Culture. My findings so far after only a few years are remarkable. Notably most of the world, including what I would estimate is ‘most’ or at least many of the Jewish People, do not really know, or understand how important Jewish Culture is as part of our Human Drama unfolding. I would not underestimate the value of each Culture.
That large proportion of ‘many’ Jewish persons in which I would include myself are what I coined comically speaking as “Lox & Bagel Jews”. ‘Lox & Bagel’ is a reference to the lively Jewish delicatessens of my youth in the USA. Such classic American Jewish delis served as secular synagogues. They were abuzz with conversations many of which would have been about sports especially in Pittsburgh where Sport IS a religion (sic). People would talk about politics, and local news, and gossip like in every village throughout the world. Only in Jewish Culture, in the ‘religion’ gossip (rechilut) is generally referred to in Hebrew as lashon hara (negative speech). It is actually a central idea, complex, and implies much more than the obvious idea of slanderous talk. Even talking positively ‘about’ a person including oneself is frowned upon. Not in all cases. Lashon hara, like every single aspect of traditional Jewish Culture requires reading, study, and positive learning.
When I began actually living in Australia I met a lot of people in our theatre world. After 10 days I was hired by Sir Robert Helpmann and got to work with him directly as we shaped my acrobatic choreography into an act suitable for his production of Romeo et Juliette. Days after I was contracted I received calls directly from other great people of Australia’s theatre, namely John Bell, and, Kai Tai Chan. They had already heard about my work and sought and acquired my host’s phone number to hire me. By the time I was resident for only six months I said “In Australia if I fart in Sydney they know it Perth”. I loved and love living in Australia! The society and social ways have changed in 40 years. I loved the open brashness of the early days. Multiple times within my first six months I was told openly about the various rumours about myself. Those rumours were self-contradictory. They were based on people’s perceptions of me. Each time I was told something it always led to laughter and jokes and enhanced my new friendships. There is an Australian rural saying that implies a similiarity with Pittsburgh’s Jewish delis. The saying is “The Bush Telegraph” i.e. news including gossip told like ‘Chinese whispers’ with the actual information being modified as each person tells their neighbour the ‘news’.
In Pittsburgh the Jewish delis, in our neighbourhood of Squirrel Hill, were places where people could run into friends and acquaintances from long ago. Squirrel Hill was actually Mr. Rogers’ famous neighbourhood! In our delis Jewish people would ‘tummel’. Tummel is joking. Tummel is like tumbling. Except tumbling is circus acrobatics but tummeling is verbal acrobatics about the circus of life. Jerry Seinfeld’s series Comedians in Cars encapsulates the nature of such Jewish Delis. And the television show Seinfeld encapsulates the secularised lives of many Jewish people (perhaps millions) who know surprisingly little about our own Culture. In fact, many Jewish people even in Israel grew up completely secular. In fact… in fact this phenomenon has been active in most countries more often since the early 1900s.
For example, many of us maybe including you but definitely me, may not realise that amongst the qualities of Torah, our sacred book of our Culture and its wisdom, it is also a single drama about the ‘circus of life’.
Amongst the misunderstandings within and from outside we could start off with the idea of ‘the chosen people’. We are all chosen, by Life itself, for some unique purpose that is part of the Human Drama. The Jewish myth and teaching about ‘god’s chosen people’ is also ‘chosen nation’ because in Hebrew the word ‘aum’ for ‘people’ is the same word for ‘nation’. That is a nation IS the people.
As my remedial Grammar teacher, “Bald Bennie”, told us in one of his periodic bursts of inspiration “Your job in life is to find out what you are best at and to do that”. I was a total space cadet, daydreamer in school. One particular year (8th Grade?) I had to go to Summer School to pass Grammar. The nearest school of excellence was only minutes from home. That was Central Catholic High School. “Bald Bennie” as he was known outside of school, was one of my lifetime’s Angels who helped me and still do. Part of the Torah (and Talmudic) idea of ‘angels’ is that some angels are in bodies i.e. people, human beings. Maybe you are one and maybe you know of others who have blessed your life and continue to do so? Brother Benedict was his proper title and he was a full kit monk of some order that dressed in an actual brown monk/brother’s robe. He was a beautiful soul. He was deeply dedicated to help us. He was a small fellow, and quite a clown, and our similarities we noted on that first day when we met. I enjoyed his way of teaching and talking with us philosophically as the spirit hit him frequently to do so. He never mentioned god nor you-know-who. To Bald Bennie each of us was chosen for some greater purpose and his mission was to remind us.
If you ask me, and you did not, I would say that all Peoples are chosen for tasks which they, in some way, designed themselves in part via their Cultural Creation Myth. If you ask me, and you did not, I would say that Humanity is a construct something like a football (gridiron) team. There are numerous positions which come together to make a team. Only some of those positions are on the playing field. Even the Head Coach and the team of Coaches are on the sideline and not on the playing field. Even the water boy or water girl is vital to the team’s success. Even the opposing team is part of the whole. In the amateur realm the Parents are crucial to the team’s well-being.
In my adopted homeland of Australia where it is imperative to support the vital needs of the Indigenous People; far too many people appear to be addicted to ‘virtue signalling’. It seems possible that many of those supporters who wish to improve the situations of the Australian Indigenous groups, absolutely totally vividly hate religion (maybe for their own valid personal reasons). One can assume too perhaps, that it may be that of those ‘many’, some might actually hate people who follow any religion? Well ha-ha-ha….. Do they not understand that the Indigenous Culture is a ‘religion’? Central to the Indigenous Culture, the root of the Culture involves their Creation Myths and what they refer to as The Rainbow Serpent. What percentage of people, who rightfully support the process of creating better ways to support the Indigenous People, is able to tell and to explain any of the Indigenous Creation stories? Further, what percentage knows anything about those Cultures Law systems? A large percentage of Indigenous People are like myself city bound modern society members. I would guess that like myself, many Indigenous People may be in an ongoing process to rediscover their own Culture, while living in the city and enjoying the goodness which a modern city offers?
So, while I continue to gradually read and learn about the Cultures of this Land, I thought, hmmm….. I need to take my Culture much more serious than I had previously. I considered that maybe if I can know more about my Culture I may better be able to comprehend what I was reading and learning about Indigenous Cultures. In the process I came to understand that definitely on every level, Jewish Culture is an Indigenous Culture. Its indigeneity is unique in several ways yet it is similar to all Indigenous Cultures.
In another framework using the term Civilisation, the Jewish Civilisation is vividly and practically connected to its ancient heritage. The Jewish Culture is a practice of remembering our Civilisation’s living history.
Today (Today is 16 Heshvan 5783) during the end of the morning service at the synagogue/shul we read a few sentences in the Torah about the story when Sarah was told at an old age she is going to have a child. She laughed. In Vayeira sections 12, 13, 15 there are four mentions of ‘laughter’. We discussed this very briefly and the Rabbi reminded us that soon in this Torah story will appear Sarah’s son Isaac. Next the Rabbi said: “And Ira’s Hebrew name is Isaac which means to laugh. And we know with his work in Clown he brings laughter to people so he is a ‘funny guy’”. Well, although there were only about 7 people nearby besides the Rabbi and myself, those 7 EXPLODED in laughter. Then came their ripples of laughter verging on howling. It was an incredible minute or so. It was loud and spontaneous. They laughed like Sarah. Through laughter the 7 were kinetically immersed in Torah. As the laughter continued the Rabbi and I had sombre faces as we shared witnessing this ‘revelation’. I nodded and smiled.
It is very difficult with words or in a few words to explain that the Jewish Culture is Torah. That Torah lives throughout our Culture.
Torah provides a ‘chink in the wall’ as Shakespeare puts it in the mouths of the ‘mechanicals’, the Clowns, in the play A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Maybe we are all dreaming. Or maybe we are part of some Cosmic dream of some sort. There is no question mark there. Shakespeare said via Prospero, the magician of books, the ‘kabbalist’(?), the final play /statement by Shakespeare, his swan song, his message to the world – “…We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep… “(Act 4, scene 1, lines 156-158 The Tempest). A moment later in the play reappears Prospero’s ‘servant’ Ariel. Ari – el is Hebrew for ‘lion of god’. An ariel is also a mountain gazelle in Israel. The next scene is with Ariel becomes one of the greatest Clown scenes in a drama. The structure is a trio plus 1. One of the greatest secrets discussed in Clown Secret is quartets. Such a quartet of 3+1 as the one in The Wizard of Oz.
In part I am juxtaposing the Australian Indigenous Culture(s) with a cross-referencing with the Jewish Culture and in particular my own experiences including my theatre culture. That is a way of deepening the process of understanding and communication which I choose.
Bald Bennie might be excited to know what became of me? I ran into him once. Once. It was when I had already started to do theatre and I had a job as a taxi driver of one of those classic American Yellow Cabs. But as the Spring warmed up, I would spend more of my day at Pittsburgh’s beautiful Flagstaff Hill in Schenley Park. While my taxi sat parked and idle. There I would juggle and do handstands and day dream. Anything but drive that taxi. Lo and behold walking up the Hill was Bald Bennie. I stood up and went to him interrupting his walk and greeted him with “Hello Brother Benedict!! My name is Ira and you taught me Grammar.” He was as always both delightful and shy. He was on his way to go swimming. He had also been the high school’s Swimming Coach. I don’t know if I disclosed that I was going to become a Clown. We spoke for a few minutes. It could have been that very day or no doubt at least soon after, that I got fired from the Taxi company. At the end of one day, a beautiful warm day, I presented my rides card for the day to the Boss. He looked at it. He shouted at me “What the hell is THIS!! You didn’t take any rides!!!”. I said, It was a quiet day. He said, shouted, What the hell!! You’re FIRED!! I was released from reality into what I called “everyday non-reality” i.e. being an under-employed artist, clown, teacher….
Here in sharing a few of my experiences there is the possibility that one or a few or some readers may actually be triggered to deepen their compassion for those who choose to tread such a knife edge banished throughout most of modern society’s outward expressions. As Joan River’s catchcry pleaded as she entered the stage “Can we talk”? No, Joan, sadly we often can no longer talk. We have collectively lost our sense of awe, it seems. Or have we. Study of Torah is awesome. It is a daunting experience. It is completely challenging to ones ‘modern sensibilities’ which live in the fake news mindset of being ‘secular’, ‘rational’, ‘scientific’. We are in a malaise of our own making. We fooled ourselves. We have no one to blame, not even a god, because we don’t believe is such nonsense. Recently I coined this phrase: “We live in a time when the rational is irrational, and, the irrational is rational”. Humanity including a huge portion of Jewish people, have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. The Taoists, The Hindi’s, The Jews, The other Indigenous Peoples…. Shakespeare has a lot to teach us. About ourselves and our universe. But it is impossible if we refuse to open our minds, hearts, ears and imagination.
“Our Sun is a second- or third-generation star. All of the rocky and metallic material we stand on, the iron in our blood, the calcium in our teeth, the carbon in our genes were produced billions of years ago in the interior of a red giant star. We are made of star-stuff.” Carl Sagan, The Cosmic Connection: An Extraterrestrial Perspective (1973)
AUSTRALIA HOME SWEET HOME
As mentioned in my first book, Clown Secret, there were four Australians specifically who openly encouraged me to move to Australia to bring my work and my approach to teaching. Of those four two were Indigenous Australians each of those two was an Elder. The other two Australians were non-Indigenous Anglo-Australians in the performing arts. Additionally, prior to meeting all of those four people, I had been contracted for my first work gig of two weeks. The person who hired me happened to be an Ethnic, an Italian-Australian.
Here is a short anecdote about getting that gig. I had written a letter by hand to 100 theatre/performance festivals around the world. Inside each envelope that I posted, was the new brochure I had made specific for seeking work. Only 1 out of the 100 festivals replied. That 1 hired me. Somehow, in a convoluted way around my getting a visa and air ticket and bypassing a set of strange obstacles all by fluke, I managed to arrive in Australia on schedule the day before the festival began. Strangely no one from the festival was at the airport as planned. When I arrived at the festival office the Receptionist treated me like I was a liar and imposter posing as ‘Ira Seidenstein’. She knew something I didn’t. Reluctantly she phoned the Manager/Director who had hired me. On the phone she said “There is someone here who says that he is ‘Ira Seidenstein’. She knew that even Customs had been told not to let me in if I came even on a Tourist Visa. I was told to ‘wait over there’. When the Mangaer/Director arrived from his office to the foyer he stood two meters from me and said “Can I help you? Who are you”? I said I was “Ira Seidenstein”. He said nothing and looked at me in disbelief. I said then “I’m Ira. Vincenzo the Clown.”? He asked How did you get here. I said by taxi. He said no, how did you get into the country. I explained that I just went as normal. From that moment he just lit up. He explained that the union had used me as a test case to prevent foreigners from taking performance jobs. (They had and have to keep an eye on local producers hiring foreigners instead of local artists). From that moment he and the Receptionist totally looked after my well-being enthusiastically for the rest of the trip. The receptionist was Greek-Australian. The Manager/Director invited me to the Staff pre-opening party that night. At that party the Receptionist asked if she could talk with me. We went to the side of the party and she explained “You don’t know what it is like to live here…”. She told me in no uncertain terms that being an Ethnic person, at least in those days (February 1981) was filled with encounters with prejudice.
Life in Australia is blessed in a thousand remarkable ways. As far as I know, every country in the world is ‘blessed’, and ‘prejudiced’. Australia has three primary layers to its social composition: Indigenous People; All Australian Citizens and Residents and Visitors; All Ethnic People who were born Citizens or became Citizens of Australia. In Australia the Citizens are from nearly every other country in the world. Within the three broad areas of Residents, there can be found a variety of people who also identify with the other outward groupings. Each of those groupings, and those subgroups operates like a culture itself.
Thus, when I am writing, please understand that I am also writing within my culture of residency.
To conclude this introduction, I have already mentioned the 4 people who specifically encouraged me to move to Australia to bring my method etc. Also mentioned were the 2 Ethnic Australian’s connected to my first contract. Later after a few more small contracts, a few years later, in 1985 I began to live in Australia. Then I met 2 more Australian’s who were Irish-Anglo Australians who became very close and supportive friends and still are more than 35 years later. Additionally, when I did my first theatre show (Absurd Moods) in Sydney in 1985; 2 individuals, each on a separate night, waited for me after my show. They introduced themselves and thanked me for the performance and each offered openly their friendship and said if I needed any help any time I could call upon them. Both of those 2 were Jewish-Australians. And we remained friends all along (the eldest one passed away recently in her 90s). An immigrant relies not only on their own wits and talents and persistence and resilience, but importantly also on friends. Notably: The entire Jewish history is intertwined with other Peoples.
PRELUDE TO MY FUTURE BOOK REMNANTS – ENCOUNTERS WITH MY CULTURE includes some snippets about the Jewish People, a tiny population of Humanity. Those snippets appear along with a few of my numerous odd encounters with my own Culture.The entire Jewish history is intertwined with other Peoples.
The myth of “The Ten Lost Tribes of Israel” is true. The myth of Troy was only proven to be historically true in the late 1800s. Recently and currently numerous myths of Ancient Israelites steadily are being proven to have a factual evidence based ‘truth’. That ‘truth’ is primarily via a large array of archaeological troves being meticulously uncovered, and scientifically recorded as hard evidence including an abundance of dateable artefacts.
In recent decades, recent years, and currently, there is more evidence of the survival of several of those Ten Tribes being documented via living sources. Some living examples include: the Igbo of Nigeria; the Pashtuns of Afghanistan; and others. Notably, the Ten Tribes of Israel were not actually ‘lost’ but were intertwined often through intermarriage. Importantly, not all Pashtuns are descendants of the Jewish People.
“Names of greater Pashtun tribes include the Rubeni, Gadi, Ashuri, Efridi, Shinwari, Lewani and Yousefzai, which clearly resemble the tribes of Reuven, Gad, Asher, Ephraim, Shimon and Yosef. The royal family of Afghanistan traces its origins to the line of King Saul of the tribe of Benjamin. These facts are not new. The Bible mentions the Assyrians settling the Lost Tribes in Gozan, which is one of the names of the Amu Darya, a major Afghan river, identified as such by Rav Sa’adia Gaon. Medieval writings by Jewish travelers to Afghanistan mentions the Israelite origins of the Pashtuns.” Baruch Kogan and Rabbi Harry Rozenberg of iTribe – February 21, 2018.
The Jewish People is an extremely varied slice of Humanity. The Jewish People are comprised from a great variety of Peoples. This is the case from their earliest recorded stories and myths; as well from factual evidence based world history.
Yet, as is well known and repeated endlessly, Jewish people and the tiny Jewish nation become an ever present notion of something more than the numbers of population and math. Instead of the maths speaking truth outsider myths, too often align possibly according to one’s own level of misinformation based on an array of misleading facts. Yes, facts can be misleading. Evidence is not proof.
The Jewish population is about 15 million people out of about 7 billion people. That is less than 1% of the World Population.
It is true that Jewish People can be categorised as a social group; as a religion; as an ethnic group; as a Culture; and/or as each, all, some, or none of those categories. Generally speaking, to account for our extreme variations I prefer and suggest three options. Each of the three options can include all of those categories just mentioned as well as the spectrum of sub-divisions. The three options for category titles are:
1) The Jewish People; and/or its Hebrew equivalent,
2) Am Yisroel that means ‘the Jewish People’; and/or
3) The Jewish Culture.
In the most recent years I have used most often, Jewish Culture, when I write.
Being Jewish within the Jewish Culture traditionally implies for some people the spiritual-cultural practices. Those practices are comprised of daily questioning of our definition of selfhood in a suggested ritualised interrogation through a verbal and written intellectual system. That system is lived out in simple physical and verbal ritualistic ways. That system is somewhat erroneously labelled as ‘prayer’ or ‘worship’. The system of interrogation may and should include prayer and worship, but the daily process is more complicated like a great tapestry. In fact, there is not one thing in Jewish Culture that is simple.
A Book-in-Progress – Remnants (copyrights Ira Seidenstein 2022)
The initiating reasons for the book were two-fold:
- Suddenly several times and places in recent years a few participants in my workshops asked me: “Why are there so many Jewish clowns”? I always replied “I don’t know”. However, for over 100 years it was a well-known truism that a disproportionate number of comedians in the USA were Jewish. The comedy expert Steve Allen estimated in the 1970s that perhaps 80% of America’s comedians were Jewish. He may have been guessing. It may have only been 70%.:) It had long been asked: Why are there so many Jewish comedians? The answers I heard or read never struck me as the complete reason(s). Almost always people said the reason there were so many Jewish comedians is because the Jewish people suffered so much throughout the centuries and that humour was a survival mechanism. Yes, to some degree, maybe even to a large degree that has some truth to it.
However I was thinking that quite a few Jewish comedians (including clowns) seemed to have absolutely no interest nor connection nor presumably much knowledge about their own Culture particularly including what I call Cultural Memory Practices.
That was my assumption with no specific proof except anecdotally.
Torah is the primary set of five books of the Jewish Culture. The word torah means instructions. It implies instructions for life. My suspicion was and is: that somehow, in some very strange way, the Torah no matter how remote – from those Jewish comedians, clowns, such as myself, as well as people excelling in many other walks of life – was actually a key source to those persons’ secret of success or at least of their creativity.
I assumed the obvious; the source of Jewish success and creativity in so many fields of human endeavour may likely be the source of the Jewish Culture. When put on the record via print, radio, or video most people seemed to completely ignore an obvious possibility.
Here is the obvious question to me: Is it possible that the success and creativity was mysteriously directly stemming from the Jewish Culture’s main source i.e. the Torah? In a cultural sense, the Torah is carried on through the small day-to-day sayings. Sayings which are ‘Just something my Mother used to say’. Some of those ‘Mothers sayings’ are generic in most cultures. Though, some are quite specifically remnants from the Torah. Long ago I had a book of Yiddish Sayings. Some of those I knew from my Mother and Father. More so, in 1999, when I did a brief 6-months residency to study at a Yeshiva, several times as we studied Talmud (a collection of discussions about the meaning of Torah). I recognised things written which previously I thought ‘oh that’s just something that my Mother used to say’.
In a similar way, there are numerous sayings and individual words which were coined by Shakespeare which we say occasionally, in day to day life, yet, most of us don’t recall or know that the source was Shakespeare’s writings. The Book of Proverbs is a collection of aphorisms, sayings related directly to the Jewish Culture’s central themes which includes life as a human on Planet Earth.
2. The second reason that I commenced towards book #3 Remnants is because of the following story in a nutshell.
Initially via a friend, I fell into working several times in Northern Ireland and a little in the Republic of Ireland. Therefore I thought it was time for me to start to delve into some study about one of Ireland’s many great writers, James Joyce.
I was already a fan of Samuel Beckett’s theatre writings and had read bits about him. Via an actor in Paris I was introduced to a theatre Director who had been a friend of Samuel Beckett. The Director was Jack Garfein. So as Jack and I met a few times I was able to ask him a few specific questions about Beckett. Did he have a sense of humour. Yes, he joked all the time. Did he ever mention Laurel & Hardy. Yes of course, they were a big inspiration for him. I had read the pair of books by Beckett’s long-time friend and publisher John Calder (The Philosophy of Samuel Beckett 2001; and, The Theology of Samuel Beckett 2012). Calder was a major expert on Beckett’s writings and on Beckett the man and artist as he had unlimited personal and professional time with Beckett over decades. Unfortunately when I met Calder at his hole in the wall bookstore I had no idea who he was in relation to Beckett!!! I simply was in London and went to Calder’s bookstore basement theatre to see Beckett’s play “Krapp’s Last Tape”. Calder was the only person working in the tiny shop and he sold me the theatre ticket and we chatted casually as a ticket buyer with the proprietor. Talk about an “Oh!! If only I had known moment!!!”. It was perhaps a year or two later that I purchased Calder’s pair of Beckett books, somewhere.
At a Beckett conference at York University in 2011 Calder reflects in his 2012 chapter “Beckett and God”:
“I commented that three potent influences on Beckett’s work had not been mentioned once, namely Shakespeare, Milton, and God.” (The Theology of Beckett p. 10).
On his subsequent lecture tour through Ireland, Calder continues
“I pointed out that there is not a single character in Beckett’s novels or plays who is not a religious believer, that theological ideas, discussions and speculations abound everywhere in his work…The commonly held notion that loss of faith is followed by loss of interest is just not true… deeper thinkers have had a very different idea of the possibility of the existence of a supreme being, still undefined, that might be called God or Nature or some presence beyond infinity itself indefinable.” (p.11)
Calder was discussing what I call and write about as – “Denialism” – as the new religion (sic) throughout much of the Western world in particular. Denialism is the fervent denial of the validity and existence of anything that doesn’t fit in one’s political belief. Such beliefs i.e. political beliefs are held to as if they were gospel.
I had read the main shorter works of Joyce (Dubliners; and, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man). I had read about the huge duet of his: Ulysses; and, Finnegan’s Wake. I had read some of each of those. Yes, so far I am in the majority of people who started those books and never finished. Of those who finished, the goal was to finish was possibly to be able to tell people you finished. It’s not that I didn’t like the works. I especially loved reading them aloud with my worst Irish accents that I could muster. Aloud those two novels come alive. For decades I have claimed that many great writers ‘heard’ the text that they were audial writers.
“Beckett often spoke of “writing the voices he heard in his head” (Overbeck 2013: 431), Roger Blin also mentioned that Beckett heard the voices of his characters (Benson 1987: 26)”. Oliver Hirsch – Brno English Studies, Vol. 46, no. 1, 2020
As much as the Irish are one of the most glorious aural communicators on a normal daily basis, so Joyce and Beckett had the natural ear. At least in Joyce’s case, he had two decades of some of his closest friends were those who knew intimately the Torah which is a listening device. The central most essential ‘prayer’ is the “Shema” i.e. ‘to hear’. To hear what the atheist and communist John Calder came to realise was to hear within as he wrote: “God or Nature or some presence beyond infinity itself indefinable”. For Beckett and Joyce, I would propose that they heard the God of the Torah that is an abstract god as a phenomenon framed in a concept that becomes a word. In Hebrew that word is a literary devise and concept of: He/She that was/is/will be. Other Cultures conceptualise the Great Whatever in various ways by various names. In a creative and humorous light the Great Whatever could be Mr. Bigbang whose alias is the Whole Shebang.
“Aboriginal people passed on stories orally as they knew no writing. Listening to the story teller was vital to reproduce the story accurately to the next generation of story-tellers. Deep listening describes the processes of deep and respectful listening to build community—a way of encouraging people to explore and learn from the ancient heritage of Aboriginal culture, knowledge and understanding.
A beautiful expression from Central Australia is “Can they bend the knees?” It inquires if you can sit down and truly listen, a prerequisite for effectively absorbing information, but also an allusion to how information is passed on in that area: by sitting on the red earth.
Deep listening is also called dadirri, a word from the Ngan’gikurunggurr and Ngen’giwumirri languages of the Aboriginal people of the Daly River region, 220 kilometres south of Darwin, NT.
Source: Deep listening (dadirri) – Creative Spirits, retrieved from https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/education/deep-listening-dadirri
The Irish story telling occurs everywhere and anywhere. Yet their adroit telling also developed from oral/audial to written/audial via Synge, Yeats, Shaw, Wilde, Beckett etc. to mention only a few of the most reknown. Now back to our central person, Joyce.
Naturally, when encountering Joyce we soon arrive at his Ulysses. For all who delve in we are struck by one of English literature’s most amazing characters Leopold Bloom not to mention his shebang over whom he obsesses and swoons, Molly Bloom. The annual festival in honour of Leopold Bloom and Ulysses and Joyce is called Bloomsday. Bloomsday is annually June 16th. Joyce’s Ulysses takes place on a single day, June 16, 1904. The first date Joyce was with his future wife was on June 16, 1904.
The two Blooms, Leopold and Molly, are two totally outrageous Jewish characters in Ulysses’ Dublin. Really they are pseudo-Jewish. They are the most earthy Adam and Eve ever imagined. They are like the root meaning of Adam; i.e. adamah that is: ‘earth’, red earth, mud, and they Molly and Leopold live and emerge from the mud so to speak, the bowels of Dublin and life itself.
Leopold Bloom appears throughout the novel and many Jewish theatre actors have considered making a solo show only of Leopold’s bits. Leopold certainly is a Clown character. Zero Mostel played Bloom first in 1958. From the revived production of 1974 here is part of Clive Barnes’s review in the New York Times March 11, 1974.
“…in Mr. Mostel’s vaudevillean performance of Bloom as man as the eternal butt of nature, most clownlike and most piglike when ensnared by Circe, and yet redeemed perhaps by some hint of immortality suggested by the psychic fact of fatherhood. It is part of Mr. Mostel’s power that he can play a deflated sack of flour with human dignity, and he can make grotesque faces that suggest pain more than humor. His shambling aggressiveness is vulnerable from the start, and that mustache, that effort to make an aging cherub into an aging satyr never fools anyone. And the voice, mellifluous, and yet always with a slice of irony under its tongue, is as expressive as the upturned eyes, the overemphasized gestures. Some actors use outrageous tricks to disguise themselves; Mr. Mostel uses to define himself.”
If one reads even an iota about Joyce we find that he began to write Ulysses in Trieste, Italy. It is well established that in Trieste, Joyce had befriended the Jewish writer Aron Hector Schmitz, better known by the pseudonym Italo Svevo. According to Nadel, Richard Ellmann, and Silvia Benco, Joyce had numerous Jewish friends in Trieste including Rabbi Moses Dlugacz.
I decided, since research towards my 3rd book began by considering why did Joyce create the pseudo-Jewish Blooms, then, I would to go to Trieste and see what the city was like. There was a small Svevo/Joyce Museum. I chose a bed & breakfast place very near to the museum. Residenza Le 6 A. Via Santa Caterina, 7. April 10-13. I was to arrive on a Friday night April 10th in 2015.
In the morning after breakfast I was going to head to the Svevo/Joyce Museum. I left the hotel building turned left towards the museum. At the first corner the light was red. Across the street was a man in a black suit. With each of his hands he was holding the hand of small child, a boy and a girl each around 5 or 6 years old. But wait, the man looks like he must be an orthodox Jewish person. Wait, he looks like he must be a Rabbi. Wait he looks like he must be a Lubavitcher Rabbi. The light changed we crossed. I thought, wait a minute Ira….. Why go to a museum to search for the Jewish Trieste sources of Joyce’s pseudo-Jewish Blooms when here is a Jewish man in Trieste. What are you doing? You are walking in the wrong direction.
I was walking in the wrong direction.
I turned around on the corner. The Rabbi and his children were walking rapidly. They had already walked past my hotel. They had already arrived at their next corner. They turned the corner and then out of my sight. I scooted along and turned the same corner and saw them turn yet another corner further along. I dashed. I turned that corner. I saw them up ahead and made a little sprint to be sure to close in. They were now at the corner of a large street and waiting for the light to change to green. I arrived next to them and said. “Shalom”. I made a very quick introduction including saying that I was from Brisbane and gave the name of my Rabbi. I had also quickly asked if they were going to Shul. I asked as we crossed the street, do you think I could go to shul with you?
For those who do not know, for a few decades there have been security issues for most Jewish community centres including shul’s. So discussing with someone who doesn’t know the ‘new’ person who suddenly on a Shabbos (Saturday) morning shows up on a street corner and asks to accompany you, and your two small children, well the ‘new’ person needs to be confronted with reality. So the Rabbi explained succinctly that because he had never met me he could only present me to the Security Guards, and they will ask to see my Passport.
Then if you have that and they clear it, then you will be asked to store your bag in the storage room. Is that all okay?
All’s well that ends well.
Well, we entered what seemed a very large building. We went to a small side room that was a small shul at the entrance of this building. The shul had its own Rabbi and he was assisting a congregation member to lead the service. That was beautiful to witness. Extraordinarily these Italians sure know how to SING. Wow! Collectively they were tremendous singers. I had never seen anything like that in any other shul. This day was also going to be a casual community brunch in honour of a local author and community member who had just published a new book about the Jewish Community of Trieste. The Rabbi who escorted me into the shul invited me to attend the brunch and casual celebration.
To transit from the little shul to the community hall room, we had to all walk across the auditorium of the main sanctuary of this truly unique and HUGE synagogue. Maybe the huge stones were granite? This main shul was designed to give one a sense of being at the great ancient Temple of Solomon that once stood in Jerusalem. This grand shul of Trieste is il Magnifico!!!!!
As I made my way home to my hotel, I knew that this coincidental meeting was what I considered immediately a turning point in my own endless meandering process over decades to come home to roost in Yiddishkeit, in Jewish Culture. That process of returning is named in Hebrew as Teshuvah. Teshuvah the word means ‘to turn’ and implies ‘to turn around and return to one’s true self’.
For me, this turn meant that my quest to learn more about Ireland’s great writer who happened to write one of English literature’s greatest living imagined characters that happened to be Jewish of sorts was a cul-de-sac.
A cul-de-sac being the end of a road where one simply drives in a small circle and exits to where one entered.
I thought why should I spend my time with Joyce, and Leopold Bloom and Molly Bloom and Aron Hector Schmitz, aka Italo Svevo who was anything but a ‘practicing’ Jewish member? Or was that the case?
“Wait for it, wait for it” as the olde English Variety comedians used to say. Or, as my Mother often advised “Don’t judge a book by its cover”. Olde Aron Hector Schmitz was more than he is usually rumoured to be.
Lo and behold. A few years later in researching and thinking about Remnants I picked up a thread about Joyce. Son of a gun….. Joyce not only was a close friend with Aron Schmitz (usually referred to by academics as Italo Svevo), but, as Schmitz’s Daughter has told …. Schmitz and Joyce went out for a long walk every day. She also explained that on those walks and when they were daily together indoors, Joyce had a never ending thirst to learn about the Jewish Culture and the Jewish People. He endlessly asked the so-called ‘secular’ Schmitz endless questions about Jewish Culture and Jewish People. Which, Schmitz knew in depth even though he ‘turned’ and stayed in his own cul-de-sac for most of his adult life.
It was in the year 2021 that I read about the Daughter’s testimony. That led me to a book Joyce and the Jews (1989) by Ira B. Nadel who is (or was) a Professor of English at the University of British Columbia.
Prof. Nadel did several years of research into Joyce’s key friendships of whom many as it happens were Jewish. Most of them, like Schmitz/’Svevo’ were ‘turners’ up their own cul-de-sac’s. Nadel found that those friends were located in each of Joyce’s five primary cities of his life: Dublin; Trieste; Rome; Zurich; Paris. Those friends were completely integrated with Joyce’s art, career, and writing research. Although Joyce had numerous other friends who assisted his career’s journey, notably and importantly in Paris was Sylvia Beach of Shakespeare & Company publisher and bookstore. In Paris one extreme case of a Jewish friend was Paul Leon. Leon was a mentor of Joyce’s great final masterpiece – Finnegan’s Wake. Leon’s wife wrote of her husband Paul Leon:
“He was a scholar with a knowledge of Greek and Latin, and a professor of philosophy and sociology. His special studies were Rousseau and Benjamin Constant. He was secretary of the journal International Archives of Sociology and was active in the Society of Sociologists and Philosophers.” Lucie Noel, James Joyce and Paul Leon, The Story of a Friendship (1950, p.7)
Prof. Nadel in Joyce and the Jews tells that “Leon was part of every significant literary event involving Joyce between 1929 and 1940”. Joyce met with Leon nearly every weekday, sometimes twice a day, at Leon’s apartment. Leon was advising Joyce not only on business, career matters, but was directly involved with manuscript corrections and a continual discourse about various cultural matters. Leon’s son Alex Leon was interviewed by The Irish Times in October 1998 regarding his donation of items to the Joyce Museum in Dublin.
“Mr Joyce would come over almost every day, except at weekends. My father didn’t accept payment. He wanted to be independent. I remember him explaining, with a laugh, `so if I can’t take anymore I can stop’.” Joyce was notoriously difficult with his friends, taking umbrage and breaking off relations at the drop of a hat, but it is a mark of the close and trusting relationship he had with Leon that their only falling-out was one brief blip in an otherwise harmonious friendship: “Artists, especially one of Joyce’s calibre, are inevitably centred on their art, sometimes at the expense of the niceties of social intercourse,” Leon explains.”
Also important to the content of Finnegan’s Wake, Leon was fluent in seven languages and was advising on such content in Finnegan’s Wake as well as being the primary ‘outside eye’ as the lengthy and time consuming work progressed during those 12 years. It was in that context that Samuel Beckett became a closer to Joyce and Leon. Beckett during some periods would attend the Joyce-Leon meetings daily. Joyce and Beckett also frequented various bars.
Prof. Nadel in his final chapter Conclusion: ‘The Greatest Jew of All’ finally holds nothing back and reveals that Joyce had an in-depth interest in the Jewish Culture, with a highlight that one of the central interests of Joyce was the intellectual and literary depth of the Talmud. In fact, Prof. Nadel proves in this final chapter that Finnegan’s Wake uses a Talmudic structure.
“Joyce’s fascination with Jewish topology found expression through the image of Moses, the representation of women, and the topos of the Talmud as a supreme text of narrative complexity, commentary, and reformation being at once a history of the world and a single book. Absorption with the creation and reading of text, shared with Rabbinical hermeneutics, plus an interest in the intricacies of expression and interpretation of Hebrew, extended Joyce’s interest in Jews to create the core of his Judaism which is textual”.
Today, November 7, 2022, in the Hebrew calendar the date is 14 Heshvan 5783. The date is mentioned because one can then look up the Parashah we read is Vayeira – 2nd Aliyah. I will mention that our Shacharit (morning service) concludes, in the traditional way, with formal study of Torah no matter how briefly. And ours is exceedingly brief for several practical logistical reasons. None the less, our Rabbi gives three short shiurs (lessons) on Halacha (Jewish Law); Tanya (Jewish mysticism applied to daily life); and Torah’s parashah of the week. Each shiur in our situation is about 3-5 minutes. One of the people attending each morning makes a pot of coffee upon arrival about 5:55am. When the shiur starts about 7am, after the main service, the study coincides with the moment when those who want a coffee get a coffee. Then people attending either have a chat amongst themselves or some join for the shiur.
Today, in Torah’s parashah lesson we briefly covered Rashi’s (the 12th century Rabbi of Troyes France) comments about the importance of understanding how the Hebrew word ‘ki’ in the Torah has four distinct meanings. That Hebrew word ‘ki’ can mean; because, if, when, rather. In his elaboration Rashi explains those are Categories, and, there are three other meanings; question, that, perhaps.
It was Rashi’s lesson via our Rabbi that in the study of Torah – context precedes meaning. Essentially it is imperative in Jewish study that a word’s meaning is dependent importantly on context. The interpretations require an astute knowledge similar to that of a Judge interpreting a law. By the way, I wanted today to explain that the word mentioned at the beginning of this essay, ‘prayer’, does not truly explain the Jewish context. Our Hebrew word is ‘tefillah’ and it implies ‘to judge’. Tefillah more than a pleading to some outside force as ‘prayer’ implies; by connotation, tefillah implies ‘judgement and reckoning with oneself’.
Rashi teaches that one must wrestle with each word of Torah and its specific context each time the word appears. The famous myth/story of Jacob’s dream/nightmare of ‘wrestling’ with the Angels that were going up and down a ladder is the root of tefillah or Jewish ‘prayer’. In the story, after Jacob successfully wrestled with the Angels he was granted another name. That name is “Israel” and means or implies ‘one who wrestles with god’. Rashi’s reasoning implies that the wrestling is both with oneself and with the text. That is what Aron Schmitz and Paul Leon and others who although they left the fold so to speak and no longer practiced Jewish Culture in the traditional way, the text never left them and forever inspired their close friend James Joyce. It is no surprise that Paul Leon literally lost his life because he returned to Paris during Occupation to save Joyce’s books and writings. It was only because he returned – teshuvah down a cul-du-sac that he was arrested and sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau where he soon was murdered. “Leon jested with Joyce over the fact that he had never read Ulysses and understood nothing of the Wake, although he believed both were examples of great literature” (Nadel, p. 229, 1989).
Nothing in or about Jewish Culture is simple.
Yet the Culture exists in a social World that is constantly inclined to reduce knowledge to simple bits and bytes of information which imply a conclusion made in a split second. Such conclusions are often based on biased, pre-digested, and often misleading assumptions. Assumptions can include misleading facts. To make rash and irrational conclusions about Jewish Culture is to miss the other 99% of the complete and complicated truth or truths. That 99% is intertwined with World History and is a continuum of unfolding.
However, to be kind and polite I would say generally or specifically our system of selfhood interrogation that is traditional (and varied) Jewish Cultural Practices is a system of Cultural Memory.
That memory is in the plural and complicated. The daily Cultural Memory is comprised of hundreds of memories. For example we daily call out the memory of three founding people: Abraham; and one of his sons Isaac; and one of Isaac’s sons Jacob. Importantly in other times we recall Abraham’s partner Sarah; and her daughter-in-law Rebecca spouse of Isaac; and Rebecca’s daughters-in-law and spouses of Jacob i.e. Rachael, and Leah.
For argument’s sake, we can ask as you may have and many have: Of any of the Matriarchs and Patriarchs just where is the; factual, evidence based proof that any, some, or all of the Matriarchs or Patriarchs ever existed? For the rational questioning mind we can say that there is evidence in Hebron at the famous Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. But, as no one has yet been allowed to scientifically exhume those said graves; we only know that we don’t know in a scientific sense. Knowing in a scientific sense is not the only way of knowing things. All Indigenous Cultures have what is considered pre-scientific knowledge. That knowledge enabled all Indigenous Cultures to have specific repeatable ways of living in a sustainable way for thousands of years. Their knowledge is part of the source for modern medicine’s lifesaving knowledge including being the original source of pharmaceuticals.
However what we do know as you are currently reading my writing is that I exist as a person who claims to be part of the Jewish People. Then we can work our way backwards, not yet scientifically so to speak, but at least rationally, and find natural historical proof that my ancestors (ethnically and/or at least culturally speaking) existed in some sort of meandering chain that goes back at least to the recently excavated sites which are approximately 3000 years old. Those sites include for example the prolific and ongoing major excavations at: a) the Altar at Shiloh in the region of Samaria that includes Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim; and, b) the City of King David in the region of Judea, and c) the water cisterns which were part of the Temple of Jerusalem. Such sites and hundreds of other contemporary i.e. ongoing archaeological sites in the ancient Land of Israel have produced a massive abundance of evidence, multiple thousands of items. That is evidence that the Jewish People lived in those lands at least 3000 years ago. Notably, our book(s) states that there were also other Peoples living in the same land. By comparison the Maoris have ‘only’ lived in Aotearoa (New Zealand) for about 800 years, and, are not inclined to mention that there were other people living there.
Regarding what is now one of the World’s largest archaeological digs, Shiloh in Samaria, journalist Tzvi Ben-Gedalyahu wrote on November 20, 2013:
“The revelation on Tuesday of the discovery at Shiloh is the first evidence of post-Tabernacle sacrificial worship at the same site where the Bible states the first Tabernacle was erected after the Jews entered Israel following the Exodus from Egypt and the 40 years of living in the Sinai. Joshua 18:1 states, “The whole congregation of the children of Israel assembled together at Shiloh and erected there the Tent of Assembly, and the land was conquered before them.” The Tabernacle remained at Shiloh for 369 years, according to the Talmud.”
Yes, today the Jewish People clearly continue to exist as your own reading proves via this writing. There is ever growing hard evidence in abundance and in the specific locations of what is written in the Jewish Culture’s central written saga called the Torah, confirming at least some is factually accurate. In other Cultures written sagas include for example; a) The Book of Kells exists in Trinity College Library in Dublin. It is believed to have been written approximately in the year 800 A.D.; and, b) The oldest record of the Icelandic Sagas, translated in English, as The Book of Iceland. That book was written in 1200-20 A.D. by Ari Thorgilsson. He is commonly referred to as Ari the Wise (in English translation).
Where is all this writing leading? Understandably you may have asked already numerous times. I would suggest if you’ve got this far in reading just keep enjoying the process.
As you may know I am currently immersed up to my ankles only into my research towards the 3rd book Remnants. What I have already noticed, I prefer to write non-fiction by using my own lived experiences as the thread for talking about many more interesting subjects. The current research is related to the endless threads of encounters with my own Culture. However I wanted to know more about that Culture so I wanted to start at the beginning. The beginning is the Torah and its application to daily life which culturally speaking revolves around the traditional Cultural Practices combined with their practical aspects of life on Planet Earth. I decided to at least try to make some headway into the unbelievably complex and even convoluted morning practice. That practice is called Shacharit which means ‘morning’. The daily practice, Shacharit, is as I view it, a process of Cultural Memory expressed through verbalised reading, chanting, and some few simple physical actions including numerous times of alternating standing or sitting at designated and reasoned points. Reasoned within that Culture.
JEWISH CULTURAL PRACTICE
As mentioned the Jewish Cultural Practice I have assessed and labelled as being a practice of cultural memory. Here is some information regarding a few of the Culture’s foundation elements.
WHY ARE THE JEWS CONSIDERED ‘THE PEOPLE OF THE BOOK’?
Here is what Alan Rosenbaum wrote about that October 29, 2020:
“Since time immemorial, the Jewish people have been known as the people of the Book. While historically the term originates from Islam, which categorized the Jews as ‘people of the book’ – meaning those who possessed an earlier revelation from God that was written down – the term most often refers to the intimate connection between the Jews and the Torah – the Hebrew Bible (Tanach), and the many books associated with it, such as the Talmud, commentaries, and codes of Jewish law. Judaism reveres the written word from the Torah scroll that is painstakingly written on parchment to the printed Talmud that contains the rabbinic explanations of the Bible. Jews were among the first to take advantage of the printing press when it was invented in the mid-1500s, and the Bible, Talmud, and prayer book (siddur) quickly became standard Hebrew printed works. Jews have always had a special reverence and appreciation for books. Harry Wolfson, the early 20th century Harvard scholar and historian and the first chairman of a Judaic Studies Center in the United States, was once confronted by a colleague who said, “Why do you Jews think you are so special?” Wolfson is reputed to have responded: “As far as I know, we are the only people who, when we drop a book on the floor, we pick it up and kiss it.” …”
TORAH AND TANACH
- The Cultural Memory Practice, as I call it, begins and stems from the Torah.
- Torah is composed of the Five Books of Moses.
- Torah is also sometimes used to refer to the set of 24 books called Tanach. Of the Tanach’s 24 books, the first 5 are The Five Books of Moses. The word tanach comes from ‘ta’ for Torah; ‘na’ for navim or Prophets; ‘k’ for ketuvim or Writings.
- Torah also implies the study of those 24 books and their meanings from four levels.
- The word torah means instructions. That implies instructions for life and for the Culture, and by implication potentially for all of Humanity in different ways.
Really, consider this for just a moment, all spiritual groups think the same i.e. an individual, community, and Humanity would benefit from their ‘way’. However, all political parties and political and social dogmas also think the exact same way. So, nothing new is under the Sun as the Torah’s book of Kohelet (translated as Ecclesiastes) mentions many times.
The Cultural Memory Practice
Assuredly after two years of beginning research involving more than 200 sessions in Shul, so far, there has not been a single visit that was anything other than theatrical. The Cultural Memory Practice is completely a theatrical drama albeit one in a revered meaningful ritualised way. The practice requires a social humility to participant in communally. But, I have not seen a day that was humourless. The average little group of us regulars are from: Australia, Czech Republic, India, Ukraine, Russia, Israel, USA, England, South Africa. But the larger whole of the community includes people from Venezuela, Colombia, Nigeria, Malaysia, New Zealand, Tunisia, Papua New Guinea, Iraq, Italy, etc.
What are some of the cultural memories? Here are just a few quick key examples from Shacharit in chronological order. The book used for the process is the Siddur that means ‘order’.
- The Akedah (‘the binding’) – Early in Shacharit (the ‘morning’ session) one recalls and retells the story of The Akedah via oral reading. The Akedah is the story of the binding of Isaac, one of the sons of Abraham. All of the Torah is told as a surface story but there are three other levels deeper which reveal different meaningful lessons from each story. Our practice is to read Shacharit practice aloud whether at home alone, with others, or in the community centre commonly called a shul (Yiddish for school as in German) or a synagogue the Greek word for a temple, or a temple. In all cases, the shul/synagogue/temple in Jewish Culture was and is a place for study, learning, worship, and community communication even on the most mundane levels.
However in Jewish Culture, the most mundane level is also of great value. So much so that one of the most significant and most referred to scholars of Torah primarily focused his life on revealing what is hidden in the mundane level. He is known by his acronym Rashi stemming from his name Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki. He lived in Troyes, France 1040-1105.
- Offerings and Incense – After the Akedah section, there is a longer section, Offerings and Incense. Offerings and Incense recalls the practices that occurred at The Temple of Jerusalem. This section recalls the essential details of the Temple’s: Offerings; the Incense; and, many mundane and practical matters that were all part of the Temple’s rituals.
- Talmud (‘teachings’ i.e. teachings explaining the Torah) – The end of Offerings and Incense section introduces elements of the great device of Jewish intellectual, spiritual, and legal analysis. That device is primarily known as Talmud. The Talmud is the essential explanations about Torah and Tanach. The Talmud was composed over hundreds of years. It began as the writing down on parchment of the Oral explanations of the meaning of Torah. That writing down began around 200CE is the section of the Talmud called Mishna (‘repitition’). Approximately 300 years later the Talmud began written records of discussions; that were debates and opinions regarding the Mishna.
One of the most beautiful things about Torah/Mishnah/Talmud is that is a warts and all ‘history’. The incredible Greek Theatre and its remaining Plays are the foundation of Western Theatre; but in a parallel universe the Torah is an essential document and another branch of the foundation of Western Drama. The Hellenic and Jewish traditions are the sources and essence of Western Culture. Those evolved into the Roman Civilisation and eventually the Renaissance.
- Rabbi Yishmael’s 13 rules for analysis of the Torah – The conclusion of the Offerings and Incense section is Rabbi Yishmael’s 13 rules for analysis of the Torah. He lived at the time of The 2nd Temple and its destruction, from there as a youth he moved to the long established Jewish community of Rome.
- Pesukei D’Zimrah (‘praises in poetic forms’) – This section of Shacharit is a long series Pesukei D’Zimrah i.e. ‘praises in poetic forms’. It begins with Baruch She’amar (‘praise of He who spoke’). We can translate that, in a sense, in innocence and humour, into ‘Mr. Bigbang’. These ‘praises in poetic forms’ include several specific Psalms of David i.e. the last ones #145-150. Numbers 146-150 of Psalms of David refer numerous times to “Halleluah”. The word ‘hallel’ means praise and ‘yah’ implies the word for total oneness or the oneness of totality/everything.
- As a side note: this is not in Shacharit, but, for your information here are the words of Leonard Cohen’s song “Halleluah”:
Now, I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah
You say I took the name in vain
I don’t even know the name
But if I did, well really, what’s it to you?
There’s a blaze of light in every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah
I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah
- The Song of the Sea – Pesukei D’Zimrah (‘praises in poetic forms’) continues with The Song of the Sea from the 2nd Book of the Torah Shemos (Exodus). Then Pesukei D’Zimrah section concludes with Yishtabach.
“In Yishtabach, the string of synonyms for “praise” and “song” extend and overlap, creating new words with new meanings. The couplets, shir u’shvacha/ hallel v’zimrah, both of which translate to “song and praise,” are neoplasms, two words that when read together create a novel idea. In this case, they point to a symphony of joyous harmony.” Rabbi Danielle Upbin
- Shema – After introductory Blessings for the Shema (means ‘to hear’), comes the Shema itself. The Shema is one of the most essential statements about the Jewish Culture, especially the first line that declares – to hear that the totality of existence is oneness. Other Cultures express such a ‘totality of existence is oneness’ in the following ways – as examples of metaphors and symbols: Taoism’s yin/yang symbol; Hinduism’s om symbol; and, most Indigenous Cultures have a concept of Sky/Heavens – Humanity – Earth.
The Jewish Culture’s four-letter Hebrew word is our metaphor and symbol.
The word itself subdivides to also become/mean:
The word itself is composed of four letters: yod-hei-vav-hei.
- Amidah (‘standing’) – Here then is the second most essential complex statement about the Jewish Culture. This is called the Amidah. Amidah means to stand, while saying its 19 parts. There are whole books about the Shema, and others about the Amidah. Those books explain about the purpose, value, history, and meaning of each of those prayers.
- Reading of the Torah – The last large section of Shacharit is around the reading of the Torah itself. This section is the most outwardly ritualistic and dramatic section of Shacharit. It generally involves nine people each carrying out a different role in the process. The Torah is written on parchment and then connected on to two wooden scrolls. In storage in the Ark, the Torah is clothed usually in an artistic cloth covering. Over the cloth covering and atop the wooden scrolls are a total of four metal symbolic implements on top of the cloth and wood. This means that before the reading of the Torah the four implements and the cloth will be removed and after the reading the Torah will be covered again with those items. There is one more item. That is a cloth band that binds the Torah. It is placed first around the Torah, then the cloth cover, then the four implements.
There is a vast amount of information regarding the proper writing of a Torah and its care and the procedures involved in the readings. A Rabbi who writes the Torah by hand and a special pen and ink is a revered member of the Jewish Culture. That person is simply called a Sofer that is a scribe.
- Closing of Shacharit – There are then several parting readings and/or blessings said as a closing the Shacharit – morning service. There are also morning blessings which occur upon rising in the morning and proceed to entry to the Shul etc. During Shacharit there are numerous linking blessings between the main elements mentioned even before section A above through section J. In particular I have not mentioned the revered blessing Kaddish that has a few versions and is usually referred to as The Mourner’s Kaddish, yet, it is a completely uplifting text. The word kaddish is related to holy and specifically sanctification.
- Reflections on Shacharit – What is sacred in the World of civilisation is relative. I reflect on Shacharit by an imaginative comparison to sport or theatre. For example in sport, let’s say tennis, each player has their own ritual or process in which they pack and unpack their tennis racket from its cover. Each player will have a specific order in how they prepare for training and for a match. They will also have a preferred process to cool down.
SPOILER ALERT: Cult is a four-letter word. I use it CREATIVELY. Definitions or definers of what a cult is or isn’t operate exactly like a cult. A cult does NOT need to have a belief in a deity. Nor does a religion need to believe in a deity. I am using definitions in a creative and fluid way and NOT according to any dictionary. I am USING those two terms; cult and religion in their psychological potential NOT in their normative literal definitions.
In that sense all of us including me and you, are director of our own one person cult. If a person is involved in a team sport, each team will have specific rituals or processes which must be adhered to. People must have rituals in life. Everyone has a ritual of how they start and how they end a day. Such rituals also vary under different types of days during the week and year. The way each person goes to the gym and from the gym is a cult; or to and from work is a cult. Such activities become a cult without deference or reference to a deity. That is, a cult consisting of one person. We can call such cults and rituals benevolent or non-harmful. Notably, many cults are harmful and they often bypass a deity and are cults driven by a single person and their staff.
In the theatre, the Stage Manager has a virtual sacred duty to ensure that each performance is prepared for in such a way as to ensure the correct execution of the stylised ritual of performance according to the director’s and company’s and ensemble’s desired wishes. The show becomes a temporary cult for the duration of the production’s season.
The Theatre historically stems DIRECTLY from religious cults and their wisdom of what is prioritised i.e. sacred or of scaffolded relative importance. To the outside eye, for example if non-Indigenous people witness Australian Indigenous ritual song and dances performed in public – no matter how seemingly casual – many aspects of the Elder’s supervising of the preparation is sacred, in the sense that if things are not done in a correct way then it can affect the ritual’s effectiveness according to that group’s beliefs.
Likewise, a person seemingly casually preparing to go out for a morning jog will always prepare in the way that works best for them according to their own one-person cult. In fact many aspects of one’s day is ritualised from how one arises in the morning to how one goes anywhere away from home, such as; gym, work, shopping, to how one prepares dinner, and retires at night – is all ritualised. Ritual and cultic behaviour are related and they are not necessary problematic. Humans need to have rituals in their lives. Regularity if you will. And that regularity becomes ritualised naturally and that becomes naturally cultic. And that is not automatically problematic.
- More Reflections – I repeat: Nothing in Jewish Culture is simple. Yet, even for me, after 2 years of part time practice I’m getting the hang of some of Shacharit. I treat it serious but I go at a snail pace and stay in the ‘enjoyment’ zone of study. I have only mentioned the key sections of Shacharit and have only done so as mentions without explanations. There is a vast array of books about Jewish Culture. The selection of books is more than in the 1000s, rather it is likely in the 100s of 1000s in variety, point of view, and focus.
One thing I learned in the last few years and something that I imagine a huge portion of Jewish people like myself did not fully realise, even though we were certainly told this. That in truth, being Jewish requires actual study on a daily basis even if utterly minimal. That is not arbitrary study. The study of the Torah is more than imperative in the true Culture. I did not really grasp that or did not grasp the profound and sensible value of daily purposeful study of Torah.
In the play Hamlet, the character Polonius advises his son Laertes “…Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel; but do not dull thy palm with entertainment of each new-hatch’d, unfledg’d comrade…” One has to make friends with the minimal daily study or at least reading of the weekly Torah parashah. Any one thing that a person can grasp on to should be held to as if one’s life depends on that one thing.
Or better yet, two things for starters. Such as: a) the one opening line of the Shema’s first 6 words, and, b) the one thing said first thing in the morning when one becomes aware of being awake. That is the Modei Ani – 12 words of being thankful of awaking with ones facilities intact relative to one’s own circumstances. Here I will even mention a third thing to study. That is the one thing most simply speaking that allows one to flow with the Torah. That is c) the daily study of the weekly parashah i.e. the appropriately timed weekly portion of the Torah.
Note: not one thing, not one seemingly simple story such as the simple telling of the Akedah story can make any sense of any value without at least a minimal of a few minutes of reading bona fide and established explanations by advanced authorities.
- The Siddur – Siddur means ‘order’. The Siddur ‘prayer’ book may also be considered a book of study or as I propose at the beginning of this essay a book of memory, of living memory occurring in the Present moment. Siddur/order means that there is a proscribed ritual order. My preferred Siddur, not implying it is above any other, but it is the one for various reasons I have chosen is “The Expanded Artscroll Siddur Wasserman Edition”.
The story of how Artscroll as a publisher came into existence is in itself an absolutely remarkable story. Simply told someone wanted to publish a new version of one small Jewish book. They proposed to get help from one person who when asked really did not want to do the translation and preparation. That book was instantly successful. Then soon the book needed a series of new printings. Subsequently over only a few decades Artscroll has now published over 2000 different books about Jewish Cultural matters. Additionally although the internet is a great resource, most Jewish subjects on the internet are inundated with proselytisers from another religion and its own warring factions. The proselytisers are tricksters.
Therefore, here are two of my preferred ‘go to’ sites: www.chabad.org; and, www.myjewishlearning.com Those two have quite different views yet both are valid. Here is another site that has a variety of excellent online courses it is related to the first site listed https://www.myjli.com/index.html?task=courses
Part of the Jewish Culture practically speaking is via creative storytelling.
The stories in the Torah are as we understand it only told for a purpose. The Torah itself, The Five Books of Moses is a single drama. That drama occurs over a one-year period, every year. Imagine going to a theatre to see a play in 5 acts as some plays in the past had been written. Before and after each act you are to consult the printed program. Then you are to come back the following week and repeat the process of reading the notes and seeing the 5 acts. However you are provided with a more detailed version of the notes. Also this new version provides several sources for you to look up during the week to attain a deeper understanding of the play’s text and meanings. Each week you get a little more information and a little more understanding about how complex and interesting each act of the play is.
Each year one comes back to the Parashot, the portions of weekly Torah sections, and each year one gains more and more illumination and depth and sees how this information is a mirror of one’s daily life. One develops ability at one’s own level for intellectual interrogation.
Ira Seidenstein, PhD, www.iraseid.com