Bob Schwartz

The Heart of Shabbat

The Heart of Shabbat

On Shabbat
The mountains walk away
Gone beyond
Not to distract
With grandeur in space
Reminders of time
In their absence

Further reading:

The Sabbath, Abraham Joshua Heschel

Mountain and Waters Sutra, Dogen (“The green mountains are always walking”)

The Heart Sutra, translated by Red Pine (“Gate gate, paragate, parasangate, bodhi svaha”)

 

Shonda fur di goyim (A shame in front of the non-Jews)

“I want a leader like Trump but more racist, who won’t give his daughter to a Jew…I don’t think you can feel about race the way I do and watch that Kushner bastard walk around with that beautiful girl, okay?”
Charlottesville white supremacist leader Chris Cantwell

Expectations have never been lower for moral courage. Not just for Trump, who has no morality or courage, but for politicos and operatives who seem to believe that keeping silent in the face of horror is the only way to keep power and their jobs.

This is a narrow message about the Jews in Trump’s inner circle, such as chief economic advisor Gary Cohn, Treasury Secretary Steve Minuchin, son-in-law Jared Kushner, daughter Ivanka Trump, and others (including, I suppose, Trump’s Jewish grandchildren).

I repeat that expectations are low. But if there is a case where you might expect more or better, it is for Jews at the center of this moment to speak up about a (neo) Nazi attack, such as Cantwell’s targeted screed, or about the crowd in Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us!”

There is a Yiddish expression, “shonda fur di goyim,” roughly meaning a shame that is embarrassing in front of the non-Jews. I don’t suppose it is any more embarrassing to hear the silence of Cohn, Minuchin, Kushner and Ivanka than it is to observe the diffidence of most elected Republicans. Other Jews can imagine the self-serving rationalizations rolling around in the heads of these high-profile Jews who seem convinced that it is best not to say or do anything, such as denouncing Trump or quitting their posts.

Jews—along with every other besieged and reviled minority—have had to learn the very hard way that when things get this explicit, you not only have to pay attention. You have to take a stand. Why these particular Jews have not done that yet is unfortunate. And a little embarrassing.

Don’t Play the Madman’s Game (Heart of Darkness)

In the face of current events in America, it is easy to say something heartfelt, progressive, outraged, rational and clever. I am tempted, but decline and leave that to other more articulate voices.

Instead, what I want to say right now is this: don’t play the madman’s game. Social and political situations are real and affect the lives of many, and we want to make things better, for ourselves and others. But loud and powerful lunatics can quickly draw us into their craziness, even as we think we are doing the right thing by criticizing, resisting and opposing. Before you venture into the heart of darkness, try to be sure of your own light.

Note: Some literary and film folks may recognize the reference to “heart of darkness.” It is the title of a Joseph Conrad novella, which was the inspiration for Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam War movie Apocalypse Now. In unsettled times, in strange lands, charismatic and crazy leaders may emerge, not so much products of the environment as reflections of it, or at least part of it. Read or reread Heart of Darkness, watch or rewatch Apocalypse Now. “Mistah Kurtz—he dead.”

Tucson: Psalm of Mountains and Shade

I lift up my eyes to the mountains:
from where will my help come?
Psalm 121:1

For the faithful, the occasionally faithful, and the unfaithful and unbelieving in extreme circumstances, Psalm 121 has served as a song for those seeking relief. It includes a dialogue rare among the psalms. Some say it is an internal dialogue, the psalmist asking a question and answering it himself. Others suggest that the famous biblical question is asked of and answered by a priest.

Robert Alter translates:

A song of ascents.
I lift up my eyes to the mountains:
from where will my help come?
My help is from the LORD,
maker of heaven and earth.
He does not let your foot stumble.
Your guard does not slumber.
.
Look, He does not slumber nor does He sleep,
Israel’s guard.
The LORD is your guard,
the LORD is your shade at your right hand.
By day the sun does not strike you,
nor the moon by night.
The LORD guards you from all harm,
He guards your life.
The LORD guards your going and your coming,
now and forevermore.

Everything about the psalm says Tucson. The mountains are all around; you can’t help but lift your eyes. The question—the plea—is almost as old as the mountains: help, but from where?

Shade at your right hand—at any hand—is a constant need. The sun is as relentless as the mountains. And what about the moon by night? Some think it is a reference to the legendary danger of being moonstruck into madness. Others say it is mere poetry.

The desert, the mountains, the sun, the moon, the madness of life. From where will help come?

The Buddha on 66

The Buddha on 66

The Buddha said to Todd and Buzz
The route is wide and useful
Now a bit neglected
All things die
Even highways
Lend me your Vette
Then walk down the road
To the Blue Swallow Motel
Sleep if you must
But be sure
To wake up

Note: The route is Route 66 in Tucumcari, New Mexico. Once the great American highway, it has been somewhat passed over by the Interstate, but not surpassed. Some motels and other businesses catering to travelers are gone. The Blue Swallow Motel remains, and is not mere nostalgia. It is a place that allows the past to be present, not because the past is better but because it is different. Todd and Buzz are also past, heroes of a 1960s TV show Route 66, in which they drove around the country in their Corvette, having dramatic adventures. The Buddha is the Buddha, never in Tucumcari, never drove a Corvette, though the route is the way.

​Mother of Chaos

Mother of chaos 

I was wrong about your gift

Your progeny

Chaos does not stop at the door

It will not be killed or die 

Why not bring it home

Raise it as your own

Learn what we can

That child is father to this man

​The UN Declares Nuclear Weapons Illegal 

Some think the United Nations is naive and childish at best, and at worst a way for small nations and idealistic dreamers to get in the way of superpowers doing the dirty and necessary grown up business of the world. 

That is the context of the vote (122 of 193 nations) to declare nuclear weapons illegal, a vote that was boycotted, derided and ignored by those superpowers. 

The UN is not naive and the vote is not ridiculous. From the start, the UN was meant to stand in the way of tragedy, or help fix it when it couldn’t be avoided. The UN is in part the collective conscience of the world, and like conscience, is set aside for the sake of pragmatism and convenience. 

The first and only time atomic bombs were used in war was 72 years ago. Since then, the power and quantity of those weapons has grown exponentially, as has the number of nations owning them. What is naive and childish is to think that the power and numbers won’t continue to grow. Thinking that keeping nations such as Iran and North Korea out of the club is a solution, while existing members continue to stockpile, is delusional. There will always be another nation, always more and more powerful weapons. 

Also delusional is the thought that having avoided the use of nuclear weapons for 72 years demonstrates a likelihood that it will never happen again. Looking back at millenia of brutal geopolitics, we would laugh if that thought isn’t so painfully ignorant. 

It’s true that the UN declaration, even with a majority of nations behind it, has no practical effect. But it should leave every citizen and every nation thinking about this all the time, from practical and philosophical perspectives. It seems that the concept of normal is eluding us more and more, but if every house in your town was filled with lots of highly dangerous explosives, how normal is that? How would you sleep? Do you trust your neighbors, all of them, any of them, that much? 

Borderland

​Borderland

The place where rational and irrational meet
Is tiny and vast
Too small for one foot to stand
Too big to imagine
Once visited unforgettable and undeniable
The way back only nearly impossible

Made Simple

Made Simple

Whatever you say or do
Or are made to do
Know who
And see through
The differences

Note: To get to the essence (it should accurately be called “______ Made Simple”, fill in the blank with anything) this is fewer words than some, more words than some, and either way less skillful than many. But beyond that, the point is the point. That point is the spot between this and that (again fill in the blank: hot and cold, light and dark, man and woman, love and hate, best and worst, Jew and Christian, AC and DC, Democrat and Republican, Taylor Swift and Katy Perry, etc., etc.). That point is you, and you are not between anything.

The Great Way is not difficult
for those who have no preferences.
When love and hate are both absent
everything becomes clear and undisguised.
Make the smallest distinction, however,
and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.
Verses on the Faith Mind, Chien-chih Seng-ts’an 

Wander

Wander

I try to stay home
But I wander
Not for somewhere better or new
Or because there is too much to do
I just forget to be here
Until I read a poem
That is the address
And I am home