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Because making money seems to be more important to me lately than God, I have recently spent Rosh Hashanah far from Home, Hearth and Family in the Hotel Intercontinental in Belgrade, in the relatively newly formed Repbulic of Serbia and Montenegro. (This is the same hotel where Arkan the Tiger, scourge of the Bosnians, was assasinated by unknown assailants during the lobby, and which refuses to take American Express because AMEX still owes them money from the era of the US boycott on Serbian goods.

Last night, on New Years eve, provoked by a subtle and complicated mix of social and spiritual longings, I went to the city's only synagogue. It took about 45 minutes to get inside, mainly because the Serbian Army was blocking off the entire street to prevent a rumored attack by Muslim Extremists; there were metal detectors, road barriers, and army vehicles, all surrounding a relatively nondesrcript, grey stone building near the center of town. (Let me be clear - there was almost NO chance of any type of Muslim attack, not least because the Serbians had done their own job of massacring or deporting any Muslim woman, man or child foolish enough to Remain in Serbia after the opening of hostilies in the Bosninan wars. I think the local police just wanted a chance to show off) The building serves as the synagogue, kosher kitchen, community center and charitabile giving headquarters of the town's 2000 Jews.

The inside of the syngagogue was typical of the depressing detritous of many Jewish communities in Eastern Europe: hard looking old Serbian Jewish men and a gaggle of Israeli businessmen wearing too much silver jewelry and immaculately tailored clothes. The local looked less Jewish, more Serbian; they looked around them at all the newcomers in an unfriendly way, although perhaps that was just their normal expression. The spoke among themsleves in Serbian, often quite loud, at a number of points during the prayers. They wore cheap communist era suits, the type apparatchniks still wear everywhere in the Balkans. The Israelis were a completely different breed. Like me, they seemed to have ended up here by accident, on a short trip to build the next hotel or close the next deal. They greeted one another with forced good cheer, suspicions of their own playing around the eyes masked by a smile or even a smirk.

As for me, I was raised to be a pretty proud, conscious, Zionist Jew. We're supposed to think of all Jews as our brothers, or at least distant relatives whose visits we may despise but to whom some vague obligation is owed. I sat on the uncomfortable wooden bench (a symbol of syngaogues everywhere - it reminded me of my youth) and tried to wonder what on earth I had in common with any of these people.

Whether I had anything else in common with them or not, we're all Jews. There's no where easier to make friends than in a synagogue. Within minutes everyone even remotely friendly knows all of their neighbors and if no one speaks the two Jewish lingua franca, Hebrew and Yiddish, there are always smiles and friendly gestures. In this case, everyone spoke either one of the two. There was a Persian Jew next to me whose wife was Serbian, (and who had retired to Serbia using their Israeli pension), and a pure Jewish character behind me - an old, bulbuous man, full of smiles and hearty good cheer, wishing everyone a happy new year and kissing complete strangers, with whom he seemed to feel a spontaneous emotional connection, right on the cheek. Despite the fact that unfriendly glances still controlled the room, I began to feel more comfortable in my skin.

Within a few moments, though, the discussion turned to politics. Even with fellow Jews, its not worth time entering the minefield of former Yugoslavian politics. It quickly becomes an issue of who killed whom first, and who had the right to kill whom because, after all, one was first killed by whom and what is one supposed to do other than the kill the family of the person who killed your family because, etc. Some of my fellow Jews clearly identified themselves as Serbians; when they whispered, it was about the national lines. Others were clearly more internationlists. Horrified by the behavior of their fellow citizens, they spoke about politics with even more violence and pathos than the nationalists.

Since I was, after all, in a Synagogue, I decided to pray. Now I didn't really feel any affinity with anyone in the room - Serbian hardmen and Israeli casino magnates are not my style. Well, maybe with the old man who kissed on both cheeks and told me that it was great that I came all the way from Argentina to be there, when in fact, I have never been to Argentina. But he seemed insane. The good tihng about crazy people, though (here I mean the harmless insanity that the aged can safely indulge in, not the painful pathologies) is that one can relate to them on a simple level - no need to talk about business or politics, you can just let yourself be meaninglessly kissed on the cheek. With this fortification, I tried to lose myself in the Siddur as the prayer began.

Unfortuantely for me, though, I also don't really believe in the literal truth of the Bible. Jewish prayers on New Year's tend to stress the awsome power of God more than specific spiritual yearnings - those are more evident on other holidays, Yom Kippur for instance, or Passover. I went through the motions, reading through the numbingly similiar phrases about the might and glory of god. I began wondering what on earth I was doing there, mumblinging phrases with which I did not really believe, sitting in a room with people I didn't know, surrounded by armed guards to prevent us all from being killed by some unknown and probably illusory threat.

In this bad mood, the spirituality began. The Cantor began to sing from the evening prayers, the relatively innocuous words, "The Lord God Loves His People". When he got to the word Loves, he rose in the typical baroque but oriental melody on the vowel, "e" (The Hebrew word for Love is "Ohev".) As he kept singing it became clear that he almost couldn't finish the letter - the melody kept rising and rising, becoming clearer and clearer. At this point, the congregation came in. For once (and this is rare) everybody knew the melody. The entire room began chanting the letter "e", the second vowel of the word "ohev", until even the old men who are veteran talkers stopped talking and joined it. It went on for minutes. Exactly when it's normally supposed to stop, the cantor began singing the letter again letting his voice naturally fall and then rise. Suddenly, the entire room was a unity of men, many of whom had never seen each other before and would never see each other again, singing a 1000 year old melody to the theme of love.

It's hard to remain feeling completely seperate from people with whom one has gone through such an experience, no matter how cheap their cologne or how many big silver chains they wear. On the other hand, it hardly became a tearful celebration of our people and life - it was just a song, and just a simple word. Everyone went back, when the prayer was over, to doing what they do - the Israelis talking about business, the locals argiung about politics in a Yiddish much harsher than any i had ever known - and I walked back to my hotel, passed the still bombed out wreck of the Ministry of Defence and over the bridge which crosses the Sava river, not permanently wiser or a better man, but temporarily, certainly recharged.

I think I need a break…

Like most things in life, at some point in time, one can usually be counted on for taking some of them for granted. I don’t care if it’s a lover, a friend, a job a website or what time the bus comes to haul your carcass to work in the morning. Eventually it’s bound to happen.

I’m sure it’s not intentional. It creeps up on you and I’m guessing that it’s something akin to the aging process. You wake up one morning; you look in the same mirror that you’ve been looking in for years but somehow the face staring back at you seems somehow different. It’s not like it’s unrecognizable, just….different. There might be a gray hair here and there or a wrinkle or two that went unnoticed but, for some reason, on this day, when your face stares back at you, the changes are as plain as the nose that's planted there. I'm guessing that for many of us, we don’t like what we see. The funny thing is though, it doesn’t matter whether you like them or not, they’re here to stay.

You might try and take some small steps to cover them up, you know, a little hair coloring here and there or some wrinkle cream to try and resurrect or recapture something that once was but in the back of your head, you know it’s a futile effort. It’s like trying to fight the tides or stem the march of evolution, you just can’t.

I’m also guessing that after awhile, barring such drastic actions like plastic surgery, you get used to the new face staring back at you. For each of us, the time that elapses between the face you took for granted and the one you’re going to have to become familiar with is different. Eventually though, you grow accustomed to it and things return to “normal” and, once again, all is right with the world.

I guess what I’m saying is that I need a break from the one I hold so near and dear, the one who has opened my eyes to so many things and to so many people from all walks of life that I’d never had met or been exposed to had it not been here. How long will the break be, I don’t know. A day, a week, a month, a couple of months, who can tell?

All I know is that the face will once again become familiar and the love will eventually return. It might be a little faded or it might be a little stronger but rest assured, it will return. Only time will tell when. In the meantime, keep a candle burning in the window so that when the time does comes, I can find my way home.

Peace to you each and every one of you.

(If anybody needs to get in touch with me my e-mail address is on my h/n.)
If you had been at my office this morning you would have heard this conversation between me and a co-worker regarding the next name on the list of hurricanes for the year: Karl.

Bart (co-worker): "What's with these Russian names for hurricanes?"
Me: "Huh?"
"First there's Ivan, now Karl."
"Karl's not a Russian name."
"Sure it is! It was Lenin's name."
"No it wasn't. Lenin's name was Vlad."
A Google search confirms this. Also listed in the search results was a page about Karl Marx.
Bart: "Marx! That's it! Karl Marx, the most famous Russian of all."
Me: "Marx wasn't Russian. He's the most famous Communist though."
"Yes, he was Russian. I'm sure of it."
Another Google search reveals that Marx was born in Prussia, not Russia.
Bart: "Prussia is Russian though."
Me: "No, it was German. It was controlled by Germans."
Yet another Google search confirms this.
Bart: "But if someone was a citizen of the Roman goverment, would that make them Romans?"
Me: "Yes it would. Which just proves my point."
"How did we get here again?"
"Hurricane Karl."
"Oh, right."
This whole discussion ranks up there with a similar one yesterday with another co-worker who, when looking at the projected storm path for Jeanne, became so excited and worried about it that he asked me in a flurry of fear, "Are we still in Florida??"

"Don't fear, come here,
Don't cry, standby
There's safety in numbers,
And numbers don't lie."

Safety in Numbers
-Crack the Sky-

There is a flock of birds on the album cover. They're in flight against a purple sky. There's theory at work, because we see them from a distance as a single porous object. The flock moves as if it has a mind. From far enough away, we could deduce its intent. We could watch it modify its behavior according to external stimuli. The importance of the individuals vanishes in light of the motion of the group. It's as if they no longer have minds of their own. Perhaps they're one larger mind. Perhaps they surrender their individuality to the greater good.

There is a word for this being, composed of many smaller atomic beings. The word is: egregor.

There is no more terrifying concept to the western mind.

Yet we live it every day.

We exist in "bubbles" of reality of our own design. Shells of existence of our own creation. Our concept does not extend further than the perimeter. We watch the universe reflected on this shell like fiction on a translucent movie screen. Nothing penetrates. Not even people we love.

Our bubbles are presumption. They allow us to function. If we had to witness the death of each chicken or steer we ate every day, we'd starve. If we had to consider the origin of the electric power that lights our homes, we'd go blind at night. If we had to worry about sewage treatment, we'd be nomadic. If we had to learn to perform double bypass surgery, we'd never eat a slice of pizza.

We presume the sun will rise in the morning, because we are not concerned with the earth's rotation. We presume the roads will exist. That our cars will start. That uncontaminated water will flow from our plumbing. That we will not contract salmonella from our breakfast eggs, and that we will not be captured and killed by warring tribes on our way to work.

What we fear most in our world are concepts which attack the integrity of our presumption.

We choose political parties, candidates, philosophies, and action in order to maximize the security of our individual concepts.

So when you sit across from a friend, with a cup of coffee in your hand--and when you're not thinking of the beans on the tree, the children that had to brave rainstorms and guerilla action to harvest the beans, the paper cut from the adequately replenished forest in the Yukon, the heifer chained in a stall with a milking machine suckling on its distended udder--when everything you've filtered allows you to hear your friend's alternative political position--then know why he has it.

Maybe your friend has been in a war, and has modified his world concept with the belief that any war, however just, is more evil than the alternative. Maybe your friend has seen his relatives die at the hand of an unthinking person, and believes like action is the only way to end that behavior. Maybe your friend has been a victim of crime, or the recipient of a tremendous lottery windfall. Maybe your friend grew up in a different state, or a different country, or a different religion, where the things you were brought up to believe are inviolate--simply do not parse.

Maybe your friend believes in absolutes, or that there aren't any.

Each of you will protect yourself by adopting the posture that assures greatest safety for your current worldview. You may learn from each other and modify your worldview according to those things, which can be proven within the axiomatic structure of your system of thought--but those channels are not infinitely large. There are boundaries you are unwilling to cross because they will breech the shell around you, and you will have to create another. That takes energy you may not be willing to expend.

And because it takes an incredible amount of energy to change religion, philosophy, or political alliance--or to move from apathy to concern--the easier alternative is to follow the illogical presumption it will be simpler for your friend to change. And so you will argue.

If you are lucky, you will remain friends. But you will not change your mind, nor he his.

And you will aggregate in clusters of others who hold a similar worldview, because it requires less energy to keep yourself intact. The force of change, then, becomes the threat of attack. Changing, a matter of supplication to an attacker. Defeat.

When did we stop thinking we could learn from each other?

I first heard the album Safety in Numbers when I was seventeen, or so. Thanks to the magic of on-line music vendors, I now have that album on my computer and I can listen to the songs again. It reminds me of being seventeen, again.

It also reminds me now, in these political times, how in times of turmoil people will flock to like-minded individuals and conspire to find enemies where there may only a neighborhood of friends, or a country of citizens.

There is no correct answer to any question currently on the table of international or domestic concen. There are only people held in the balance. And if we, the constituents of the egregor of the human race were of one mind, we could simply stop killing each other. Then everyone would be safe.

In May of 1999 I saw Joe McMoneagle give some predictions at a seminar. He predicted a bunch of things which could be construed to mean 9/11, the stock market crash, and the war in Iraq. But he said that at any time, any of these predictions could be invalidated by the simple act of people exercising their free will. There didn't have to be a stock market crash. There didn't have to be the threat of the Y2K bug, if people simply agreed to act civil. So simple a concept, given the infinitescimal size of our planet in the big big universe.

That never happens. That idea is discarded by those who wish to be pragmatists, as it has been since the beginning of our species. It would require too much. Too much trust. Trust doesn't exist to that level.

Yet we flock like birds of a single mind. Until something happens, the force of change moves in, and then we divide against ourselves in civil war. Smaller flocks. Smaller flocks that further divide.

Until we stand alone in our shells of concept. Afraid. Protecting our worldview by aligning with others who for the moment, at least, seem to share our concept of what makes for well-being.

Just like now.

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