Thursday, November 17, 2005

221. Tinfoil hat

In homage to a wonderful fellow blogger, I almost called this post "On appearing to be crazy." It's now socially acceptable in New York to talk to yourself while walking down the street. In fact, you're actually speaking into a cell phone to one of your multitudes of friends via ear buds and a lapel mic or, better yet, a hidden Bluetooth receiver. But you still look like you're communicating with aliens, even though you've left the tinfoil hat back home.

This strange trend gave me the idea of downloading a Hebrew conversation audiobook, which should help me achieve kindergarten-level prowess in only four hours of boring repetition. (I can understand phrases like "bull of pleasant odor," but don't know how to ask what time it is, or anything else even vaguely practical.) Since my only free time is when I'm getting from place to place, I figure no one on the street or subway will care if I'm mumbling "Ani mevina Ivrit" ["I understand Hebrew"] over and over again into my iPod.

In truth, I can go to Israel for a week and never need a word of Hebrew, since I'll be with a big group of Americans. But this seems rude, like a dinner guest who shows up empty-handed. Israel will always welcome me unconditionally; the least I can do is try to speak her language. Beyond that, I have no expectations about my trip. Will I feel awed and overwhelmed when I get off the plane? Or will I feel little beyond the usual excitement of a tourist, but pretend to be overwhelmed for the sake of appearances? Is my heart bound to this land or is it, thanks to years of disinterest, denial, and ambivalence, inaccessible?

I'm not sure. We discussed our emotional biases about Israel at a class last night. Most American Jews think of Israel as a place of refuge--but this also implies that our image of home is linked to memories of fear. So we're wary, like an abused child, of offering criticism even when the situation warrants it, because criticism might disturb the status quo and so diminish our already tentative sense of security.

We spent thousands of years yearning for a land where the goodness of the Bible could be lived. Now that it exists, we still need to figure out how reach past our scars and to our dreams. As the rabbi put it, it was easier to be the conscience of humanity when we were powerless.

Maybe I will "mevina" once I get off that plane. Maybe not.


HCaldwell said...

How does one say, "bull of pleasant odor"?
More to the point, why does someone say it?
This morning, at the grocery store, I was standing between two people who were both having aloud, albeit one-sided, conversations via their cell phones. I had a moment of Zen, when I could almost imagine that they were talking to each other.

alto artist said...

You would say this (more or less...I paraphrased), if you were chanting Numbers 15:24 from Parashat Shelah Lekha: "If [such a sin] is committed inadvertently by the community [because of their] leadership, the entire community must prepare one young bull for a burnt offering as an appeasing fragrance to God, along with its prescribed grain offering and libation. [They must also present] one goat for a sin offering." "Vehayah im me'eyney ha'edah ne'estah lishgagah ve'asu chol-ha'edah par ben-bakar echad le'olah lere'ach nichoach l'Adonay uminchato venisko kamishpat use'ir-izim echad lechatat." Very exciting stuff. If you were reading this at my synagogue, you'd probably be a bar mitzvah kid who was kind of pissed off that he didn't get to do a sexier section like the part about Noah's Ark or the revelation at Sinai. Or an adult, like me, who was assigned, with very little advance notice, the long tongue-twister that the kid wasn't able to learn.

HCaldwell said...

Got it.
Does it specify an odor for the goat?

HCaldwell said...

Just one last comment. Then I promise to go away and stop pestering you.
Can you narrow down the part about the "bull of a pleasant odor" for me?
I didn't have much luck figuring it out myself in a Hebrew-English Dictionary.
It is such a great metaphor (for so many things and so many situations) that I wanted to post it on my office wall where I collect quotes, sayings, interesting words, etc.
By the way, thanks for the nice compliment in the post.

HCaldwell said...

Never mind. A friend of mine (who may have been pissed that he had to read it at his bar mitzvah) helped me get the words/letters in the right order. As an aside, I found that I had Hebraic script installed on my computer (who knew?). "On Chanting" now has a quote hanging on my wall of interesting words. Properly credited with citations, of course.

alto artist said...

wow!--I am very impressed by your Hebrew proficiency! And extremely honored to be cited on your wall! (And you were not pestering me!)

It's a great metaphor, agreed. And I wouldn't be surprised if somewhere, in an obscure but important commentary, there's a heated argument between some Medieval rabbi (in the name of another) and another equally revered rabbi (in the name of another) regarding the exact nature of that odor and the importantance of its olfactory characteristics to the future of the Jewish people, the coming of the Messiah, etc. Becauase no topic is ever too small to debate for a very, very long time.


HCaldwell said...

Don't be too impressed. When I say my friend helped, read: he laughed at my attempt, discarded it and typed it out himself. There is only one thing that I am worse at than English and that is any language other than English.

The funniest part was that when I first sought out a Hebrew-English dictionary (I did find several on-line), I somehow overlooked/had forgetten/never really considered the fact that they would be using a different, totally incomprehensible (to me) alphabet . It was one of those "slap yourself on the forehead, laugh out loud" moments that I do treasure.

My grandmother used to say, "a good laugh is Heaven's way of sharing".

Lori said...

I'm not sure what I enjoyed more, your post, or you and hcaldwell having this conversation on a bull of a pleasant odor.......