Bob Schwartz

Month: September, 2022

Rosh Hashanah 5783 — Meditation with Rabbi Nachman

Rabbi Nachman’s Chair

Rosh Hashanah and the Ten Days of Awe are a fitting time to begin, resume or continue a practice of meditation. While meditation is associated with a range of personal and social missions, it is, beneath it all, a way to see things as they are, the reality called in some traditions thusness or suchness. A note of these holidays is looking unflinchingly within and without. At what has been and what is.

Aryeh Kaplan was the contemporary expert on Jewish meditation (Jewish Meditation) . The last chapter of his book Meditation and Kabbalah is devoted to Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav (1772–1810). Rabbi Nachman, great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, is the most gifted of Hasidic masters, both as a mystic and as a creator of stories so mysterious and complex (A Palace of Pearls: The Stories of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav) that they served as inspiration for Kafka.

Kaplan describes many different meditation practices, such as mantra, contemplation and visualization. About Rabbi Nachman he writes:

“The classical word for meditation is Hitbodedut, which literally means mental self-seclusion. Although this term has been used in this context for a thousand years, the name with which it is most often associated is Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. Where other masters speak of Hitbodedut only occasionally, Rabbi Nachman has provided us with an entire literature.”

A small selection from Rabbi Nachman’s directions on meditation:

You must therefore be alone, at night, on an isolated path, where people are not usually found. Go there and meditate, cleansing your heart and mind of all worldly affairs. You will then be worthy of a true aspect of self-nullification.

Meditating at night in an isolated place, you should make use of many prayers and thoughts, until you nullify one trait or desire. Then make use of much meditation to nullify another trait or desire. Continue in such a time and place, proceeding in this manner, until you have nullified all. If some ego remains, work to nullify that. Continue until nothing remains.

Rabbi Nachman, Likutey Moharan

Hitbodedut meditation is the best and the highest level of worship.

Set aside an hour or more each day to meditate, in the fields or in a room, pouring out your thoughts to God. Make use of arguments and persuasion, with words of grace, longing and petition, supplicating God and asking that He bring you to serve Him in truth.

Such meditation should be in the language that you normally speak. It is difficult to express your thoughts in Hebrew, and the heart is therefore not drawn after the words. We do not normally speak Hebrew, and are not accustomed to expressing ourself in this language. It is therefore much easier to express yourself in your native language….

In your everyday native language, express all your thoughts to God, speaking of everything that is in your heart. This can involve regret and repentance for the past, or requests and supplications asking that you should truly come close to God in the future. Every person can express his own thoughts, each according to his level….

Even if you cannot speak at all, you should simply repeat a single word, and this, too, is very good. If you can say nothing else, remain firm, and repeat this word over and over again, countless times. You can spend many days with this one word alone, and this will be very beneficial. Remain firm, repeating your word or phrase countless times. God will eventually have mercy on you and open your heart so that you will be able to express all your thoughts.

Speech has great power. It is even possible to prevent a gun from firing. Understand this.

Rabbi Nachman, Likutey Moharan Tinyana

Rosh Hashanah 5783 – Turn Turn Turn

Miracles of Each Moment by Kazuaki Tanahashi

Oceans of valley
Seas of mountain
Prayers and lessons
From birds and insects
Voices in the temple:
Turn turn turn

Rosh Hashanah 5783, the Jewish New Year, begins the evening of Sunday, September 25, 2022. It is the first day of the Ten Days of Awe, ending with Yom Kippur.

Teshuvah is the spirit of these days. It is variously translated and interpreted as repentance, returning, turning. Repentance for what? Returning to what? Turning toward what? You know.

Simple Gifts
A Shaker song

Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.

Wishing you days of turning and transformation. Have a sweet new year. Shana tova.

© 2022 Bob Schwartz

Banned Books Week

Washington Post:

Students lose access to books amid ‘state-sponsored purging of ideas’
Measures across the country aim to restrict what children can read.

By Hannah Natanson and Lori Rozsa

In one Virginia school district this fall, parents will receive an email notification every time their child checks out a book. In a Florida school system, teachers are purging their classrooms of texts that mention racism, sexism, gender identity or oppression. And a Pennsylvania school district is convening a panel of adults to sign off on every title that school librarians propose buying.

The start of the 2022-2023 school year will usher in a new era of education in some parts of America — one in which school librarians have less freedom to choose books and schoolchildren less ability to read books they find intriguing, experts say.

In the past two years, six states have passed laws that mandate parental involvement in reviewing books, making it easier for parents to remove books or restrict the texts available at school, according to a tally kept by nonprofit EveryLibrary. Five states are considering similar legislation. Typical of these is an Arizona bill, signed by Gov. Doug Ducey (R) in April, that requires districts to send parents who ask lists of the books their children check out, as well as to publish the titles of all library materials bought after Jan. 1. Policies are proliferating at the district level, too: One Nebraska system will require that parents sign permission slips for library books. A Texas system will divide its library into “juvenile,” “young adult” and “adult” sections, with parents choosing the “level” their child can access.

This is Banned Books Week.

Books being banned and challenged in American schools and libraries is nothing new. But with the unmistakable rise of regressive politics and culture, it has had renewed momentum.

With the availability of other media, books may not seem to have the power they once had to inform and inspire, to entertain and expand consciousness. They still have that power, which is exactly why those who are worried—panicked—about too much information, too much of the wrong kind of inspiration, or too much consciousness expansion, want tighter control of what people read.

If you wonder what sort of books are being banned or challenged, the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) has compiled a list of the most banned and challenged books from 2010-2019.

Top 100 Most Banned and Challenged Books 2010-2019
American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF)

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Captain Underpants (series) by Dav Pilkey
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Looking for Alaska by John Green
George by Alex Gino
And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
Drama by Raina Telgemeier
Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James
Internet Girls (series) by Lauren Myracle
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
I Am Jazz by Jazz Jennings and Jessica Herthel
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Bone (series) by Jeff Smith
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss
Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg
Alice McKinley (series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie H. Harris
Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult
Scary Stories (series) by Alvin Schwartz
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
It’s a Book by Lane Smith
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones
A Child Called “It” by Dave Pelzer
Bad Kitty (series) by Nick Bruel
Crank by Ellen Hopkins
Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby by Dav Pilkey
This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman
This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki
A Bad Boy Can Be Good For A Girl by Tanya Lee Stone
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Goosebumps (series) by R.L. Stine
In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polacco
Lush by Natasha Friend
The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
The Holy Bible
This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
Gossip Girl (series) by Cecily von Ziegesar
House of Night (series) by P.C. Cast
My Mom’s Having A Baby by Dori Hillestad Butler
Neonomicon by Alan Moore
The Dirty Cowboy by Amy Timberlake
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
Draw Me a Star by Eric Carle
Dreaming In Cuban by Cristina Garcia
Fade by Lisa McMann
The Family Book by Todd Parr
Feed by M.T. Anderson
Go the Fuck to Sleep by Adam Mansbach
Habibi by Craig Thompson
House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
Jacob’s New Dress by Sarah Hoffman
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Monster by Walter Dean Myers
Nasreen’s Secret School by Jeanette Winter
Saga by Brian K. Vaughan
Stuck in the Middle by Ariel Schrag
The Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal
1984 by George Orwell
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher
Awakening by Kate Chopin
Burned by Ellen Hopkins
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
Glass by Ellen Hopkins
Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesle´a Newman
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Madeline and the Gypsies by Ludwig Bemelmans
My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis
Prince and Knight by Daniel Haack
Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology by Amy Sonnie
Skippyjon Jones (series) by Judith Schachner
So Far from the Bamboo Grove by Yoko Kawashima Watkins
The Color of Earth (series) by Tong-hwa Kim
The Librarian of Basra by Jeanette Winter
The Walking Dead (series) by Robert Kirkman
Tricks by Ellen Hopkins
Uncle Bobby’s Wedding by Sarah S Brannen
Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

Just from some of the titles, you can sense why some of the books would cause concerns for parents who deem them controversial or dangerous. Of course, a book picturing the complicated social life of twenty-first century teenage girls is going to be read by twenty-first century teenage girls, whether it’s in school or library or not.

There are, however, books truly amazing to still be on this list. Some have been demonized and banned for decades, almost as a tradition of cultural opposition. 1984, for example, suggests the possibility of a totalitarian state in a Western democracy. Why would you want to expose young Americans—any Americans—to such a vile fantasy (possibility)?

Astonishing is the banning of a book by the iconic and hugely popular children’s author Eric Carle (Brown Bear, Brown Bear, The Very Hungry Caterpillar). Draw Me a Star contains an illustration of a naked man and woman, suggestive of Adam and Eve (pre-apple). Apparently, even the Bible is not endorsement enough to allow children, or even adults, to see genitals.

Speaking of the Bible, you will see that it too is on the list of frequently banned and challenged books. As for the dangers it poses, other than naked people, you can look it up.

There are going to be books that, in the case of children, some legitimately believe feature things that may be inappropriate for the young. But mostly, the banning and challenging involve an attempt to illegitimately control the creative conversation and impose values—illegitimate because, by constitution and in theory, the American experiment involves open conversation about a variety of values.

And now, a personal incident that is roughly related.

It is junior year in high school. It is English class. It is time for an oral book report. the book I chose is J.D.TSalinger’s Catcher in the Rye, which is on the list above, and has been regularly banned for over seventy years since its publication in 1951.

The plan for my report was to read aloud a few quotes from the book. I wasn’t sure about a particular quote, but the girl sitting next to me, very pretty and very voluptuous (by high school or any standards) urged me to do it.

I stood up, and this is the quote from the book that caused the commotion:

“I went down by a different staircase, and I saw another “Fuck you” on the wall. I tried to rub it off with my hand again, but this one was scratched on, with a knife or something. It wouldn’t come off. It’s hopeless, anyway. If you had a million years to do it in, you couldn’t rub out even half the “Fuck you” signs in the world. It’s impossible.”

The reason for the bannings of Catcher, even now, is the plethora of “fuck yous” in this great book. My case was no exception. Word got around the school about my report, and I was called to the office of the Vice Principal. I was told I had to be punished, and I was.

Salinger/Holden Caulfield was right. We know that those words and the hundreds of other instances of transgression can’t possibly be rubbed out, and shouldn’t be, especially among creators and their readers/viewers/listeners. The fact is that in this century “fuck you” is everywhere, in movies, on TV and in songs, not to mention where it has always been—in our real lives.

© 2022 Bob Schwartz

Jean Luc Godard – New York, February 1961

Director Jean-Luc Godard has died at the age of 91.

You can read millions of words about him, about the influence he and other French, European and American directors of that generation had on the way movies are made and viewed. Godard is neart the top of many lists, because a series of films he made during the 1960s helped change everything. Not to mention that the films, once seen, whatever your response (delight, thoughtfulness, confusion), will not allow you to watch any other movies the same way.

It began in 1960 with Breathless (French: A Bout de Souffle). You can read about it elsewhere and, more, view clips or the full movie online. You should (and follow that by viewing some others by Godard).

Here I take a different approach. Breathless opened in New York on February 8, 1961. At that point New York had a dozen or more what were called “art houses” where you could see the most recent foreign films. In fact, Breathless opened at a theater called the Fine Arts.

Above is the New York Times ad of that day for Breathless. For context, here is the biggest ad in the New York Times for a very different popular movie, The Wackiest Ship in the Army.

If you watch the two movies together, not just look at the ads, you will conclude that they were made not in different countries but on different planets. Which is the point. It was possible to put together a camera, a story, a scene and some actors to create a record of a visit to another planet which happened to be right here, or in the case of Breathless, Paris. All you needed was a director with the creativity and sense of total freedom.

Not everyone agreed this was a good thing. Bosley Crowther was the iconic film critic at the New York Times when Breathless arrived.  His review revealed not only his tastes but the general sense of America at that point. John F. Kennedy had been president for about two weeks. Most of America was still culturally conservative, and sensing that something was going on, particularly with some young people on the fringes (or worse, in their own homes). Crowther reflected that in his review, excerpted below:


By Bosley Crowther

As sordid as is the French film, “Breathless” (“A Bout de Souffle”), which came to the Fine Arts yesterday—and  sordid, is really a mild word for its pile-up of gross indecencies—it is withal a fascinating communication of the savage ways and moods of some of the rootless young people of Europe (and America) today….

But in the frenetic fashion in which M. Godard pictures these few days-the nerve tattering  contacts of  the lovers, their ragged relations with the rest of the world there is subtly conveyed a vastly complex comprehension of an element of youth that is vagrant, disjointed, animalistic and doesn’t give a damn for anybody or anything, not even itself….

All of this, and its sickening implications, M. Godard has got into this film, which progresses in a style of disconnected cutting that might be described as “pictorial cacophony.” A musical score of erratic tonal qualities emphasizes the eccentric moods. And in M. Belmondo we see an actor who is the most effective cigarette-mouther and thumb-to-lip rubber since time began.

Say this, in sum, for “Breathless”: it is certainly no cliche, in any area or sense of the word. It is more a chunk of raw drama, graphically and artfully torn with appropriately ragged edges out of the tough underbelly of modern metropolitan life.

Sordid, gross indecencies, savage, animalistic, sickening. If you have seen Breathless, or will, you wonder what Crowther was watching. But it tells us about the cultural vision of much of America in February 1961, a vision that is still alive in some of America. Films can entertain us by reinforcing sweet fairy tales we tell ourselves. No blame for such entertainment. But films can also remind us that the literature of fairy tales has dark streams and unhappy endings. Godard, maybe more than any of his cohort of new guard directors, told stories in new ways that shattered the fairy tales. Some movies, thanks to him and others, are shattering them still.

© 2022 Bob Schwartz

Beautiful Boy

Beautiful Boy

Desert to ocean to hills
hills to lake to ocean
roads straight
gently curving
Sun rises in the west
sun sets in the east
sun rises
moon follows.
Love is a lasting legacy we leave.

Words fail

Words fail

Everyone knows
even the pros
that words fail
pretend words don’t
fool some of the people
including ourselves
all of the time trying
to fail less

© 2022 Bob Schwartz

Music: Peace Piece (twice)

Peace Piece

For Bill Evans

Peace on the mountain
Peace in the valley
Peace at the waterfall
Cascading notes
High and low
Smooth and rough
In the end
Begin again

Three or four notes in, you are somewhere else. Not a perfect place, but perfectly there. Holy of holies, commonplace of commonplaces. Which is, when we ask, if we ask, all we ask for.

Pay attention—how could you not?—to the few discordants thrown in setting what came before and comes after. We are always setting what came before and what comes after.

As played by Bill Evans, it is all. A just-discovered new performance by guitarist Sean Shibe is now on the list. Now.

© 2022 Bob Schwartz