Monday, April 13, 2009

chol ha'moed (in between days)

i come to the river and i must go around.
no way i can swim across.
i walk against the current.
a river, a bridge, a tunnel, a sailor.
a flashlight, a telescope, a cell phone, a kite.
a book that contains the truth.
a people who emerge from a fire.
a people with guns in their hands.

Monday, April 6, 2009

part 9

RS: you made some mention of your siblings, do you care to go into that.
yr: i have an older brother and three younger sisters. my older brother rebelled against our m.o. parents by becoming chareidi. he's a bright guy and passionate and he found his calling in the world of talmud and prayer and chumras and isolation. he's got 11 kids and about 18 grandchildren. when i was a kid, he was the avant garde, the first line of rebellion against my parents, particularly my father. when he went to yeshiva in israel the year after high school his distinct about face from rebellion to obedience really threw me for a loop. i was depending on him to lead the way and he was leading in a direction that i did not care to follow, so i was left on my own, not quite able to lead my own rebellion, but being forced to do so.
RS: and your younger sisters?
yr: they're all M.O. living in israel. i have 12 nieces and nephews from those sisters and being close to them is important to me. I've never advocated leaving the derech to these kids, my marginal lifestyle (unmarried, unsteady employment) serves to underline my life as a cautionary tale, instead of as an inspiration to rebel.

part 8

Rs: you said you had something to add to the variety of your shabbos experiences.
yr: yes. after the world trade center went down in the heat of the intifadeh, pro palestinian leftists used to gather on saturdays in union square park and i used to heckle them.
RS: sounds like fun.
yr: not really, but i have an addictive personality and one of my addictions is anger and i certainly got my dose most saturdays heckling the leftists.
RS: what does this have to do with shabbos?
yr: well obviously as i said it took place on saturday, so the most obvious candidates for counter demonstrations, the orthodox, were eliminated from contention and thus i felt it was in my portion as one who is willing to break the sabbath to meet their demonstration head to head.
rs: so shabbos made it your turf?
yr: yes, but it was more than that. there's a zimra called kol m'kadesh sh'vi'i, which in my day had no tune and was thus sung only by my grandfather, but every saturday when i was heading out to head to the subway to head to heckle the leftists i sang the first verse of that song, with its lyric, "every man to his camp, every man according to his flag." and i felt that i was going to assert the jewish flag and the song spoke to me.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

part 7

RS: and how did jewishness and cabdriving mix?
yr: well, judaism and cabdriving do not mix so well, but jewishness? yes. they say that abraham set up his tent with four openings so that people would feel welcome and i felt like a new york abraham on my flying tent hosting people.

RS: hold on i thought you were the angriest cabby in nyc
yr: at moments. but anger is just an emotion that makes all facts line up straight. with us or against us, that kind of thing. sure anger is there every night that i drive, but i don't think i could have done it so long without the surfer attitude of riding new york's wave on my surfboard/cab. certainly the predominant attitude is different from the surfer dude, and new york is not quite as pleasant or as natural as an ocean.

RS: so you were a rebbe on wheels
yr: i wouldn't go that far. people didn't feel uplifted or enchanted by their few minutes in my cab. i speed read new york. it was a personal journey much more than a giving experience.

RS: you told me that at the age of 33 you tried to become orthodox again?
yr: it's true. i think the objective was social, let me become orthodox and get married. intellectually i was curious whether the sabbath could still be a powerful source.

RS: was it?
yr: of course. it was a creative period for me anyway, but the sabbath , five, six, seven, eight sabbaths in a row. i'm not sure how many there were, but they build up a momentum and my post sabbath creativity was impressive.

RS: you sound like you're ready to head back.
yr: yeah, i know. it's tough to do at this stage. at that stage i could trick myself into believing i would keep the sabbath for the rest of my life, there was a self deception that i needed to pull it off, like pulling off a drugless streak at certain points in my life required a belief that i had quit for good. i am too rebellious these days to pull something like that off.

RS: but you didn't get married.
yr: no, but i wrote a novel the summer afterward, and the knowledge or confidence or self delusion that went into the sabbath streak paid off in the novel that i wrote.

RS: but you can't marry a novel.
yr: true. i have always viewed the married life as something to do after i could assure myself of self support and the cab lifestyle and the writing thing have never fit in to my domesticated vision.

RS: do you think that makes you weird?
yr: does that make me queer? no. but weird? yeah, i guess so. i'm in favor of the propagation of the species and the back seat fumblings and marital bed ecstasies that are at the root of the propagation of the species. so my attitude is not weird, but i wouldn't advise this lifestyle to anybody.

part 6

RS: and when did you stop being frum?
yr: i was in los angeles in film school and my girlfriend moved out to L.A. from NY. she was my first girlfriend, and in the course of our relationship it was revealed that she had slept with a nonjew and therefore was forbidden for me to marry, 'cause i'm a cohen. Because this was private knowledge, in fact, halacha would not stand in the way of any such marriage, but i would know the truth. and i had a manic episode.

RS: a manic episode? sounds like a series from the early 70's
yr: you mean a mannix episode. no. just to give the raw facts. it was the third sabbath that i was busting and i drove to las vegas and i picked up some hitchhikers and on the way back to los angeles they threatened me, but somehow i got them to get out of the car and i drove off without them. and the experience of the day led me to messianic thoughts and to phone calls to president jimmy carter with my middle east peace plan.

RS: sounds exciting.
yr: it was. if they could bottle mania and sell it, the FDA would outlaw it. so we're stuck with other drugs and alcohol that never quite measure up.

RS: and this trip to Las Vegas changed your life
yr: i moved back to nyc and my parents had me see a shrink and take medications that dulled my mind and i dropped out of school. i spent one summer at aish hatorah in jerusalem, but then i returned to new york and drove a cab and by this time i no longer wore a yarmulka.

commercial message for beliefs

and your beliefs.
my beliefs were evolving. i didn't believe that the world was created in 144 hours and the creator rested for 24 hours after that. but i believed in a creator. i believed that some of the torah was probably from god and that thinking about god is beneficial for the human soul.

you don't believe in that anymore?
sometimes i think that for everyone there is some exercise of opposite that would be helpful. for one day all those god obsessed people have to think about something else other than god and all god denying people have to focus on the gestalt of oneness of creation, or whatever is closest in their worldview to the oneness of the creator. i don't think there is a specific recipe that is one size fit all.

part 5

RS: and you were still frum at this time?
yr: yes. i still wore a kipa, i still kept kosher, i still derived strength from the shabbat, i still got pleasure from hearing a good piece of torah.
but there were glimmers of "rebellion". firstly the choice of film over psychology was a rebellion. everyone is choosing a field with a clear income ladder in their future and i want to make movies.
and on the kosher front, i remember one time i was in st. louis with my uncle at the corner diner where the orthodox would have ice cream. there was a question regarding their whipped cream, but their ice cream was accepted even by the rabbi who along with his wife, my uncle and aunt and myself, made for a fivesome. so i ordered ice cream with whipped cream and the rabbi ice cream sans whipped cream and nobody made a big deal. but i saw a dollop of whipped cream that had fallen on my uncle's plate and that he was neglecting focused as he was upon the ice cream in the tall cup nearer his face. so i said, rabbi! and the rabbi looked over. and i took a finger and scooped up the whipped cream and popped it in my mouth and was quite pleased to not only eat the whipped cream, but to grab the extra dollop and eat it with relish in the rabbi's face.