Thursday, January 28, 2016

Far Away from Home (surrealism continued)

Far From Home
by I.M. Acher
        Hillel and Shammai were the greatest Zen Masters of their day.  Students used to come from all over the world to learn from them.  Shammai had the higher IQ of the two, and his academy was more prestigious; Hillel, however, was more open-minded and willing to educate all who entered his doors.

          A student walked into Shammai’s academy.  He asked “Rabbi, how can I find inner peace?”  The master asked the student to pass him a candlestick holder.  The student passed the master his candlestick holder.  The master asked the student to turn around.  The student turned around.  The master then forcefully smacked the student upside his head.  “There,” said the master, “do you feel it now?”  The student walked out of Shammai’s academy and never returned.

          The same student stepped into Hillel's academy.  He asked him “Rabbi, how can I find inner peace?”  The master asked him to pass him a candlestick holder—one with a lit candle.  The student hesitated, scared that the master would smack him.  The master then said “watch me very closely.”  He then blew out the candle.  “And that,” the master said “is how you find inner peace. Everything else is overpriced snake oil.  Now go in peace.

          Jonah woke up the next morning.  Just like every other morning.  It was 10:00AM.  He had no job.  He had nowhere to go.  The leftover pizza in his fridge was beginning to go stale.  He was almost out of money to buy some more food.

          And yet, the fish-man he dreamed of bade him to go to Ninvus.

          I mean where is Ninvus anyway?  Perhaps had he paid attention during social studies class, he would have remembered. 

          But as he turned over, he saw a clean looking slip of paper on his nightstand.  It was the one slip of paper that didn’t have food or beer stains all over it. 

          The slip of paper was a boat ticket to Ninvus.  He doesn’t know how that ticket got there, or how he even paid for it.  But he figured he had nothing to lose staying in Nod.  Might as well take a vacation in Ninvus.
          The fish-man got the ticket for Jonah.  How the ticket made its way to Jonah’s nightstand is a mystery.  After all, the fish-man doesn’t have prehensility.  Also, since when do fish-men have money?  I guess we are just going to have to suspend our disbeliefs for this one and assume that the fish-man was capable of some form of magic that we can’t possibly explain.
          The wharf of East Eden.  Some say that Eden was once Shangri-La (before there even was Shangri-La).  If Eden ever was anything close to paradisiacal, those days were long gone. 

          Never would you find a more wretched hive of buggery.  See, Eden was a place where everyone did “the right thing”—or at least what The Master said the right thing was.  But they never questioned The Master.  They devoutly followed His words.  And the Master did not reciprocate.

          He promised them a good life
          He promised them pleasure
          He promised he’d kill the Leviathan and they’d feast on his flesh
          He promised that one day they’d never have to do work again
          He promised the world, he delivered a goose egg.

          This is why I would never live in Eden.  I would never fit in.  I have never met The Master.  I’m not even sure if The Master is real.  But given their blind faith in The Master, He is very real to them.  And I could never suffer a neighborhood where people don’t think for themselves.
          Jonah arrived at the wharf.  He had one ticket to Ninvus.  But he didn’t even want to go to Ninvus.  He didn’t want to be in Eden to begin with. 

          He went to a local bar.  But this was Eden, so the bars did not serve alcohol.  Not that The Master ever literally said not to drink alcohol.  But his followers still managed to find ways to make it verboten. 

          So he sat at that bar, sober, pensive, and wanting to get a fix.  But nowhere to get a fix in East Eden. 

          Jonah just wanted to go home.
          The fish-man should have known that Jonah was not going to go to Ninvus.  For a fish-man with a lot of foresight, the fish-man sure seemed to miss plenty of important details.
          Hillel was walking by a river with some students.  He saw a skull floating by.

          “See that skull?”  the master asked.  “That man drowned because he drowned someone else.  And the person he drowned also drowned someone else  And the person who drowned him will also be drowned.”

          Most of the students stroked their beards and nodded in acquiescence. 
          One student was not satisfied. 

          Little Doubting Tommy asked the Master “and who started the vicious cycle?”
          The Patient Master responded “No one.  The cycle is about as old as the great deluge itself, where many myriads of myriads drowned.”

          “But Master,” said Tommy, “a watch does not wind itself.”
          The Master stroked his beard.  “Son, that is because you have not seen the most perfect watch ever made, so perfect it does not need human hands to wind it, it never needs repair, and it never runs out.”

          Doubting Tommy still wasn’t sold.  “Master, where can you find such a watch?”
          The Master shouted “fool, do not question the wonders of the world.  When you have seen the things I have seen, you may begin to formulate your questions correctly.”

          Doubting Tommy coolly responded “but sir, have you ever seen such a watch?”
          Nonplussed, The Master said “no I have not.  But if you have enough faith, it just might be real.”

          But Doubting Thomas was not finished.  “And when will the cycle end?”

          To this, The Master said “it never will.  One day, there will be no one left to drown. And then, it will be too late.”

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

I Never Did Post About Nechemya Weberman

         This post is in honor of Faigy Mayer.  Three years ago, I attended the sentencing for Nechemya Weberman.  Faigy asked me how it went.  I promised her a full report.  I never wrote it.  Here it is, I know Faigy will never read it.  But here it is.

                   Tensions were high.  I got to the courthouse bright and early.  I looked around me and I saw a very mixed crowd.  Behind me was a man with a yarmulke reading Likutei Mohoran (the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov); he was reading them and reciting the words silently, like a mantra.  In front of me was a long-haired man reading a physics book.  I thought I recognized him from Facebook, but I didn't say a word.  I was not here to socialize.  Across from me, I saw members of the media gearing up, preparing for the sentencing.  I saw a group of people who all seemed to know each other hanging around the media presence.  They were having a friendly chat with each other.  I sat there quietly, waiting for us to be called in.

                   The wait was long.  Finally, the doors were opened.  We were slowly herded into the room.  It was so crowded, that they eventually closed the doors and stopped letting people in.  My seat was toward the back.  It was so crowded, there was barely any room for everyone.  A very irate marshal began to speak.  He warned us that if we left, we would not be allowed back in.  We were to shut off all electronics; any violators would be immediately removed from the courtroom and be prosecuted.  The media was especially instructed to not photograph the plaintiff.

                   The judge was running late.  In the meantime, I got into a conversation with the woman sitting next to me.  She was a third-year law school student.  I could tell by the crucifix on her necklace that she was not Jewish.  She confirmed for me that she was Armenian Orthodox.  Her interest in the subject was because she had interned a few summer's ago in family court's child abuse division.  During her internship, the case of Yudi Kolko violating his parole.  I was familiar with the case, so I discussed it with her.  This case made her very interested in the subject of rabbis who are accused of molesting children, so she had been following this trial.

                 It was a cold winter day, but the courtroom was so crowded, that we were all sweating bullets.  Tensions were building higher and higher.  Nechemya Weberman had been found guilty of all charges.  This was the sentencing.  We were all excited to see how the court would handle it.  The judge was running almost an hour late when the irate marshal came out again.  He demanded total silence and decorum during the proceedings.  He must have been warmed about what a circus this could potentially be.

                  "All rise!"  Finally, the judge came.  There was barely any room to rise without bumping into anyone.  But we all rose.

                  Weberman was led in by a marshal.  He was wearing an orange jumpsuit and was in handcuffs.  I might have caught a few hisses as he entered; but most of us took the warning for decorum seriously.

                   It began.  The plaintiff was given a chance to speak.  She stood up.  This was my first time laying eyes on the plaintiff.  She was tall, blonde, willowy, young, sweet looking, but clearly robbed of her innocence long ago.  I am still moved to tears when I picture her face that day.

                   She faced the gallery.  She read a letter that she wrote.  In that letter, she delineated how Weberman had ruined her life.  Her life was in shambles.  She and her (recently married) husband had to move out of two different communities because of the shame--that she was suing Weberman--and for their safety.  She still gets nightmares when she thinks about what he did.  She can't even look at herself in the mirror anymore.  She pictures the hot wax he would pour on her (apparently making her reenact scenes in porn films).  She still hates her body.  She still hates herself.

                   Her prose was absolutely heart rending.  The more she read, the more her voice began to crack.  She still stood her ground.  She still read.  But then, she began to burst into tears.  She continued to talk about how no amount of therapy will be able to completely cure her.  As her speech crescendoed, she turned to Weberman and implored him "how do you live with yourself?"

                    Nechemya Weberman had his back to me, so I could not see his face.  But from what I could see, he appeared rather stoic.  The rest of the room was clearly moved.  Even the judge appeared to be holding back some tears.

                   After the plaintiff finished, the judge asked Weberman if he would like to respond.  He tersely answered "no," possibly on his lawyer's advice.  After all that, not even an apology?  I was incredulous.  But from the looks of most of the people surrounding me, I wasn't alone.  Many people looked like they wanted to smack him.

                   The lawyer spoke in the most professional manner possible.  He expressed his qualms with the way the trial was handled--all on the testimony of one girl.  I don't remember most of what he said.  I only remember that he closed off his statement by saying that his client maintains his innocence, and his client plans on appealing.  A shockwave went through the gallery.  Even the judge looked moved by his temerity.  If decorum didn't prohibit it, I would have asked the lady sitting next to me "have you ever wondered what the word 'chutzpah' means?  You just witnessed the epitome of it."

                    The judge then handed down the sentence.  I don't remember the breakdown.  I remember that it all added up to 103 years.  Quite hefty.  What Weberman did was so egrigious, that the judge was clearly trying to use him as an example (as was the beleaguered DA Charles Hynes, whom many of us thought was too soft on Hassidic abusers).  The judge capped off his sentence with a very harsh reprimand for Weberman, and he gave his blessing to the plaintiff, wishing her well in her recovery and her life.

                     I left the courtroom fraught with emotion.  On the one hand, justice had been served.  On the other hand, Weberman had clearly not learned his lesson.  He would be spending the rest of his life in jail.  But he was clearly not sorry.  And the community that gave him asylum wasn't either.  I saw this whole thing as a good start.  We have a long way to go, but at least we got a good start.