Gothard’s ATI and the Duggar Family’s Secrets

This is a very good explanation of the environment that encouraged the Duggar child abuse, and likely has an untold number of victims. “Bill Gothard’s cult creates a world in which abuse thrives in secret, and those that need help the most are silenced and shamed.”

Homeschoolers Anonymous

Jim Bob Duggar and Bill Gothard at an ATI conference. Source: Jim Bob Duggar and Bill Gothard at an ATI conference. Source:

By Wende Benner, HA Editorial Team

Content Warning: Spiritual Victim Blaming

The recent revelation that Josh Duggar admittedly molested five young girls as a teenager has taken over social media for the last two days. There has been a wide array of reactions and speculations. But, for many who were raised in the same quiverfull and patriarchal homeschool world, this has been a time of reliving their own traumas brought about by that dysfunctional culture. Those who lived it know all too well how the teachings and attitudes that are part of the Duggar family’s life affect families, victims, and even offenders.

The Duggar family’s involvement in Bill Gothard’s Advanced Training Institute (ATI) homeschool program adds complexities to this story which are unknown to the average person. The underlying principles and beliefs the Duggars have built their…

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Ode to Jerusalem, City of Peace

Jerusalem, city wall (west)

Jerusalem, city wall (west) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(Dug up this old piece just in time for Jerusalem Day.)

As our Creator decides upon a name for a man, for a woman or for a city, he imparts, with the breath of his mouth, a spark of his own essence, a piece of eternity. He spoke the name “Jerusalem,” unto his chosen city, and exhaled his divinely crafted destiny upon her. The lips of heaven touched earth; and this place on earth would bear their imprint eternally.

Jerusalem, city of peace; is this some sort of divine joke? Our forefather, Avraham, (his name means “the father of many,”) was an elderly, impotent man with no progeny to honor his name, inherit his wealth, or carry on the story of his faith. Just imagine the gossip around the local water hole. “There goes old Avi.” They shake their heads.

Another comments, shielding his eyes from the searing summer wind, “Sure, with his body as good as dead, his seed dry, you think he’ll be a daddy anytime soon?”

“No, he’ll be a father of many; many tribes, many nations even.” The men explode into such laughter they spill their water and one laughs so hard he falls off his donkey onto the scorching desert sand below.

Within the supernaturally gifted name of Jerusalem, lies buried the hidden key to her destiny, and perhaps, also the destiny of those who love her. Ancient Hebrew letters were pictographs, much like Egyptian hieroglyphs. Each letter tells a story, and together the word pictures are like frames of a documentary film.

“Yerushalyim,” is the Hebrew word for Jerusalem. Its Hebrew letters are, “yod,” “resh,” “vav,” “shin,” “lamed,” “yod,” and “mem sofit.” The first letter, “yod” is a divine hand, reaching from the heavens above to the earth below. “Resh,” represents the head of a man, or the leader of a kingdom, raised above others. The “resh” can also represent a wicked man, a “rasha,” that strays from his spiritual home and divine destiny. “Vav,” is a nail or a tent peg that had to be strong enough to secure a tent dwelling against the harsh desert winds and sandstorms. The “shin” portrays tongues of fire of supernatural origin. A “lamed” is a teacher, or a shepherd’s rod or staff. We see another “yod,” the presence of the divine hand reaching down yet again. A “mem” is a picture of flowing water, and a mem sofit, a final mem, expands the image to one of eternally flowing water.

These disparate images can be fitted together like a puzzle, and a clearer picture emerges. The divine hand reaches down from heaven to the earth below, and opens up a channel of interaction between eternity and mortality. Then, we see a kingdom leader. Will the divine hand lead the kingdom? Will a man who submits to heaven rule it? Or, will a wicked man or a tyrant lead? A ruler may shepherd his people to the bush that burned, yet was not consumed, or will he draw his people into evil and the resulting destructive flames of judgment?

The raging fires have burned themselves out, and the city appears a barren, wasteland. There is no life, no place for life to take hold, and no sustenance to nurture life. There is only death, to the East, to the North, to the South and to the West. But wait, all is not lost! At the end of days, the divine hand reaches down again, and causes water to flow upon the dry, burnt land. Flowing water floods the land and it is washed, cleansed by a pure stream. Springs burst forth from the depths. The earth yields choicest fruit and the mountains drip with sweet wine. The peoples hear and come from afar, to drink of the springs, to be fed by the fruit, and their hearts will rejoice in the wine. And all the peoples of the earth will come up to the City, to be touched by the divine hand. They will no longer hunger, nor thirst, for food and drink shall be plenty. And they will wander no more, for their shepherd shall guide them.

Another interesting fact about the word, “Yerushalayim,” in Hebrew, is that the name uses an irregular plural that is only used for certain plurals, most of which are dual pairs, such as eyes, hands, feet, ears.  Inner body parts that are dual, such as lungs, kidneys, do not use this irregular plural, while words that are not body parts such as heavens, waters, do employ it.  For example, to say, “hand,” in Hebrew, you would say, “yad;” but to say hands, you do not say, “yadim,” but, “yadayim.”

My theory is that the irregular plurals hint at non-physical, beyond this world counterparts.  Yerushalayim is a city at a specific geographical location, longitude and latitude upon this earth, but the city also exists in a place outside this world, and perhaps that city is the real, eternal city, while this one is only a temporal reflection.  In the same way, there are metaphysical waters and heavens, spiritual eyes, ears, hands and feet, that are intangible, yet real.  May those things that are temporal conform, and solidify from the reflections that they are now into the fullness they were designed to proclaim from the beginning.

With thanks to Bill Bullock of TheRabbi’s Son for his insights, and research from:

An Unromantic Romance

This was a story I wrote for a class called, “Stunt Writing.”

lou mitchell's

lou mitchell’s (Photo credit: wolfsavard)

I had recently moved to Chicago for a job following college graduation.  I went down to the laundry room of my apartment building in my bathrobe looking like a mess, and I was greeted by the cutest guy sitting shirtless on the dryer reading a magazine.  In February, he was only wearing shorts, ostensibly because his clothes were all in the dryer. He came from out-of-state to visit his brother, a doctor in a local hospital residency program who lived one floor below me.  We started talking, and he shyly asked if perhaps I wanted to go out, or was I too tired? (giving me a graceful out.)  It was around 10 pm, and he was locked out of the apartment because his brother had a girl there, as he usually did, and it was rarely the same girl.  So, by the time I went back to my apartment to change my clothes, his were ready and he changed right there in the laundry room.

We didn’t have plans, so we took a taxi a couple miles to an area where there were lots of jazz clubs.  They were really crowded, but we stopped at a few.  Neither of us had ever been to Second City, and we both had always wanted to do that.  We discovered that Second City had an after the show program where up and coming improv comedians train and can perform, and unlike the regular shows which are quite expensive and hard to get tickets to, these were inexpensive and easy to access.  We had so much fun.  I never talked with someone so much or laughed so often.  We seemed to get each other.  After the show we were hungry, and it was perhaps 3 am.  So, we walked to an all-night diner for breakfast.  I don’t recall anything about our conversation or what we ordered, but I can’t forget that a guy at the booth facing in front of me (my date was facing the other way) must have had too much to drink like many late night breakfast customers, and vomited all over his table and the nearby floor.  Our waiter came by, very apologetic, and offered to move us to a more acceptable spot in the restaurant, but we declined and my date requested the check.  We decided we would walk back to our Lincoln Park home from downtown, which is about three miles, and if we got tired along the way, we would hail a taxi.  As we walked, the sun rose.  It was beautiful and so romantic.  Well, not the drunk guy vomiting, but you can’t have everything.

Surprisingly, we kept walking and neither of us felt the need to take a taxi.  My date was still locked out when we arrived home, so he came in and slept on the couch.  We got married six months later.  You see, we  had to get married.  Now, this is not what you think.  My husband-to-be had been accepted into a graduate program in California, a place where we both hoped to end up some day.  Local housing there was very expensive, twice what we were paying in already expensive Chicago.  In order to live in married student housing, you had to be – well – married.  We had planned to have our wedding once we moved to California, but we decided to go to a justice of the peace in Chicago just to have the paperwork to apply for the coveted subsidized apartment.

They say crazy people have an inborn homing mechanism that makes them go West, and once they reach the Pacific, they can’t go any farther.  It is hard to believe that we have lived in SoCal for more than 25 years; we would probably qualify as genuine Californicators despite our East Coast upbringing and sojourns in various places.  When our kids were infants, people would say, “Time flies; they grow up fast.”  I didn’t think so at the time, but now I see how that meme was true.  Time has gone by quickly.  What will the future bring?

A Page of the Aspergers Chronicles

This essay was written for my Behavioral Economics Class.  It was supposed to be 500-800 words.  That is really difficult and a challenge to write a bunch of stuff and then have to delete it down to the bare bones.  They give you a break and allow 880 words; but if you go over, you cannot save and submit your essay.  Makes sense, as the graders don’t want to receive tomes.  But (don’t tell anyone) I sort of cheated.  A couple times I used dashes and other ways to link words together without a space and so stay under the minimum.  Where there’s a will and a bit of chutzpah; there’s always a way.

Intro:  I understand this assignment is supposed to be a structured essay with citations.  There was a time when I did this well, but it has been thirty years since college. So, if my style of conversational tone and humorous outlook bleed too much and deviate from the parameters – oh well.  Now that I am old, I can wear purple, and do just about anything else I want.

I am the mother of an 18-year-old with Aspergers.  Joshua * is a high school senior headed to University in the fall.  That teens are stubborn is common knowledge and one hardly needs a research study for documentation. Teens with Asperger’s are all the more stubborn due to their difficulty adjusting to social environments, awareness of thoughts and feelings of others and sensory difficulties. This is counterproductive, because acquiring social thinking skills and accepting feedback of capable mentors may be the difference between (1) a young adult who completes their education, becomes gainfully employed, lives independently and enjoys relationships (2) a 35-year-old who plays video games all day, still lives at home and whines on social media about how unfair the world is.

So, while an overall goal for my son prior to  leaving the safety and support of home is to help him grow into a (1) and avoid the fate of a (2); one current goal is to work on his appearance self-monitoring.  Joshua is meticulous about hygiene in the area of his bodily cleanliness and clothing.  However, he is recalcitrant in regard to shaving regularly and completely, dressing appropriately and keeping his enviable curly, golden brown locks styled or trimmed. Could a new decision=changed default preferences?

There is a history of behavioral techniques that either did not work or would not be feasible long-term.  Hence the meme, “If you know one kid with Asperger’s, you know one kid with Asperger’s.”  Predictably, a lot of trial and error; hit or miss is involved.

Once the family was preparing to go out to dinner for my husband’s birthday.  Dad asked Joshua to shave and change his appropriate-for-lounging-around-the-house-but-not-for dinner-at-a-nice-restaurant clothing (even in casual Southern California.)  “Why does it matter?  I’m not hurting anyone,” Joshua insisted.  Dad explained that if Joshua failed to comply, he could stay home.  That seemed rather harsh, but Roland* has never been the disciplinarian, and when I got in the car, Joshua was triumphantly there too; ratty shirt, loose sweatpants, unshaven.  Josh knows his dad makes threats and rarely follows through.

Details about the facial hair:  A nice, well-maintained beard or even the two-day growth look which the millennials consider sexy wouldn’t be problematic.  However, Joshua sported a patchy mess plus thick sideburns that haven’t been in style since I was in high school.

Research demonstrates that a teen is more likely to listen to a friend if they tune out family suggestions. So, I enlisted his best pal Will* to apply peer pressure.  “Dude, those sideburns went out in the 70’s.  This isn’t the Partridge Family.”  This was to no avail.

The next day I was shocked to see Joshua in the bathroom, electric razor in hand.  I waited until he was finished as I didn’t want to interrupt the flow of this magical moment.  “You look great!  I love to see your handsome face. I guess you got tired of the face fuzz?  I tried to sound casual.  “No,” Joshua replied.  He pulled some bills out of his pocket.  “Dad gave me $50.”  Perhaps this is stretching the parameters of Dan’s research a bit, but we know that when you pay someone for something that they would (or should) do for free, you have to pay them adequately.  But Joshua’s dad wasn’t thinking about the long-term implications of his incentive (read bribe.)  Once a financial reward or penalty is employed, withdrawing it can lead to a worse situation (daycare example).  Totaling the pain of paying, Josh needed to shave twice a week, which would add up to $100 per week, with a yearly expenditure of almost $5,000.00  At that rate, we could either afford to pay our son’s University tuition, or keep him clean shaven.

Ready to tear my own hair out in frustration, a flash of insight appeared.  A few days ago I picked up Joshua wearing a hastily donned knit top from one of my thinner incarnations.  Currently, I am over fifty, carrying at least twenty-five extra pounds; and that is being generous.  Although hidden from sight, except for my son once he entered the car, Joshua expressed his displeasure, repeatedly with disgust,  at how unattractive my extraneous matter appeared over tight-not-so-skinny jeans, and evidenced discomfort with proximity, insisting a change when we arrived home, and that I agree to not subject him to such offensive exposure again.

I propose an experiment; a contractual arrangement.  Mom will cover the muffin top as long as Joshua achieves/maintains a presentable appearance according to negotiated standards.  However, if Joshua fails to comply with the grooming code, mom won’t either.  Instead of picking Josh up at the train, mom will meet him outside his last class.  No need to purchase materials for this research project; I have a closet full of size eights to stretch over my fourteen frame.

Ariely, D. & Norton, M. I. (2008). How actions create—not just reveal—preferences. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 12(1). (Working paper version.)

Recognition of faux pas by normally developing children and children with Aspergersyndrome or high-functioning autism

S Baron-Cohen, (Essayist’s note: the first author is comedian Sasha Baron-Cohen’s first cousin, and an adult with Aspergers.) M O’Riordan, V Stone, R Jones… – Journal of autism and …, 1999 – Springer

“Growing up on the Spectrum,”  By Lynn Kern Koegel, Claire Scovell LaZebnik (Feb 23, 2010), p. 162

Parenting a Teen or Young Adult with Asperger Syndrome (Autism Spectrum Disorder): 325 Ideas, Insights, Tips and… by Brenda Boyd (Oct 21, 2013)

The Parent’s Guide to College for Students on the Autism Spectrum by Jane Thierfeld Brown, EdD, Lorraine Wolf and PhD (Jan 10, 2012)

Thinking About You, Thinking About Me by Michelle Garcia Winner (Sep 2007)

Socially Curious and Curiously Social: A Social Thinking Guidebook for Bright Teens and Young Adults by Michelle Garcia Winner and Pamela Crooke (Mar 1, 2011)

Social Fortune or Social Fate by Michelle Garcia Winner and Pam Crooke (2011) Garcia Winner.

Warning – by Jenny Joseph. When I am an old woman I shall wear purple

BLESS ME DAN ARIELY, FOR I HAVE SINNED….thoughts on the dishonesty debate and more


Your Dishonesty Project is very interesting.  I thought the Cross-Coursera Dishonesty Debate with yourself, Paul Bloom and Peter Singer evidenced a bit of dishonesty; however you appeared the bravest and most open in response to the question, “Tell us about something you did that you believe is morally wrong and do you still feel guilty about it?  That is probably not quoted exactly, but this is about as well as my post-menopausal mind works.  Bloom and Singer hemmed and hawed and spoke in vague terms.  But you piped up and discussed a recent, real situation, which most would consider annoying rather than morally wrong.  Question:  Is something morally wrong given leniency (what the Orthodox call a heter) because its revelation is humorous and entertaining?  Have you considered a follow-up, “Dishonesty in the Dishonesty Project?”

In trying to be charitable, I don’t see academics as far gone on the dishonesty scale as politicians or used car salesmen, but you know the joke, “What is the difference between a politician and a prostitute?  Answer:  There are some things a prostitute won’t do.”  So, while I don’t place academics, even celebrity and semi-celebrity academics in the same doo doo category of politicians; I might dump them in them in the box labeled, “prostitutes.”  How’s that for anchoring?  I know, not exactly complementary.

Dan Ariely speaking at TED

Dan Ariely speaking at TED (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

דן, אתה קורא את זה

For those who have never heard of a heter, allow me to explain.  For example, strict Orthodox Jewish practice forbids contraception, just like Catholics do.  However, if the wife calls the rabbi and says, “I can’t deal with all these kids and if I have another I think I will end up in the mental hospital,” the rabbi has the authority to give her a heter, where she is given permission to use birth control, thereby preserving the integrity of the law, but allowing flexibility.

Once I received this popular meme via Facebook:  THINK:

Is it True?

Is it Helpful?

Is it Inspiring?

Is it Necessary?

Is it Kind?

I replied, “No, but sometimes it sure is funny.”

The Rule of Funny reads:  As long as it leads to laughter and mirth, and no small children, puppies or grandma’s crystal is endangered – go for it.

Bless me Dan Ariely, for I have sinned.  Back in the summer of 1985, I stole a roll of upscale toilet paper from the Tel Aviv Hilton.  Now, since you were raised in Israel, you know what run of the mill toilet paper was like in Israel in 1985.  Hopefully, technology has improved since. Everyone knew you could easily substitute the stuff if you ran out of sandpaper, and that is really  not an exaggeration.  What do you suggest for my penance?  I could say 100, “Hail Charmins,” and send a 12-roll pack to Hilton Headquarters (even though top quality Israeli 1985 toilet paper would barely reach Scott one-ply standards.)  Maybe I could further absolve myself by picking up a couple hundred dollars worth of Kirkman brand at Costco and sending it to underprivileged children who have nothing to wipe their tuches with, instead of buying expensive Huggies wipes for my over-privileged high-school and college student kids who still aren’t capable of performing this function adequately without extensive direction, feedback, encouragement and supervision.  I know because I do the laundry.  Well, I used to anyway.

One of the speakers questioned whether it was moral to buy his kid a new X-Box, while children in third world countries didn’t have clean water or adequate food.  How do you know that the X-Box  bought for your ( and my) spoiled, over-indulged, ungrateful brats doesn’t provide at least slave wages along with horrible working conditions for said third world children, with the other option of zero wages and working conditions?

Sharing the family secrets is so much fun, so let me tell you more about that marvelous and eye-opening summer I spent in Israel in 1985.

It began with a lie.  The plan was to go with a neighbor/friend and stay with friends of hers, who I had also met previously.  At the last minute, the friend backed out.  I never informed my parents of that fact, and replied with, “uh huh,” whenever they mentioned her role in the trip.  Since this friend of my friend wasn’t really a close friend of mine, she no longer invited me to stay with her, but agreed to pick me up at the airport, which was way out in the middle of nowhere back then.  I also spent a week alone in Greece.  But this friend of my friend did arrange for me to stay with some people she knew in Jerusalem for payment when I first arrived and I could leave my luggage there after I finished touring Jerusalem, while I trekked around touring and visiting friends and relatives.

Israelis take dishonesty to a whole new level.  Perhaps one reason is because relationships are closer, and helping a friend or relative beats loyalty to the company, and the government is the devil, so no one feels any guilt about sticking it to the devil. Also, there is a genetic memory of being the underdog, outsider and not allowed a place at the table or fair treatment in navigating the pecking order.  So, rather than accepting contentment with the under table crumbs or agreeing to remain in your place under the feet of your intellectual, moral and achievement inferiors, the only thing one can do is take matters into your own hands and learn how to level the playing field (or more than level the playing field for spite or good measure) by scamming the system and the powers that be. And the more clever and outrageous (chutzpahdik) manner you can employ to reach your objective, the better.  All the more for stories to regale the family with at the obligatory get-togethers.

Number two son and I discussed the crumb situation over sushi today.  If faced with the requirement of kneeling under the table for crumb-licking, I would have no qualms about stealing food from the kitchen or slipping a bribe to the help.  My son asked about the risk of getting caught in such a nefarious deed.  I believe the risk is acceptable.  Go for it.

People there also don’t just have their nose in your business; they have their whole body.  And if they are your relatives, even if they are distant relatives and you have never met them before in your life, they believe they are divinely endowed to interfere, tell you what to do and manipulate things if they believe it is in your best interest.  It is a nation of Jewish Bubbies and Zaydies on steroids, who are determined that you get married, handle your finances properly, stay out of trouble and avoid too much fun for your own good.

The first family relations I visited for dinner lived in the tony French Hill suburb of Jerusalem.  Larry, who is some sort of second cousin I think, went to Israel for a vacation,  almost 40-but-still-single, shy and quiet, sometime in the late 1970’s.  Shunned by the Miami JAPs his mother tried to fix him up with, he was likely far more desirable and viewed as a “catch,” by Israeli women late-twenties-but-still-not-married – considered a great curse at the time, and met his wife and decided to leave his thriving but boring law practice in Miami and work as a free-lance writer for several newspapers and magazines, including the Washington Post.  His beautiful wife was a teacher, and they had two lovely, elementary-aged children.  She made a delicious meal, and nothing about their normality prepared me for the other relatives I was yet to meet.

My Nazareth born Arab Christian friend from Denver made arrangements for me to stay with some of her relatives. She was the one who warned me, “People will ask you personal questions that Americans consider impolite like, ‘Why aren’t you married,’ or, ‘How much money do you make?’”  Her very cute but only 16-year-old cousin Adel* appeared to have a crush on me even though I was almost ten years older than him.  He was eager to give me a ride and drop me off in Haifa, and made suggestions of immoral and probably illegal acts I might want to engage in with him for most of the ride.  I politely declined, and told my friend all the dirty details when I got home, which she found hysterical and I believe repeated to her family in the US, and word probably made it back to Israel via the family grapevine.

Arriving in the Haifa suburb where my relatives lived, my cousin Shoshana* was 25, the same age as I was at the time. Shoshana became my interpreter with the rest of the family, as my Hebrew was atrocious, and my older relatives spoke only broken English. Unlike myself, still looking for my Jewish doctor/lawyer/Indian chief prince, Shoshana had been divorced after a 2-week marriage.  She told me the story.  When she was about to turn 23, considered nearly hopeless old maid status at the time,  her family pressured her into marrying the son of a family friend.  “Just give it a chance,” they begged.  So she did.  I asked her what went wrong so quickly.  “If I may tell you something personal, do you know how (yeeech) terrible it is to go to the bed with a man you don’t love?  Never having this experience of being intimate with someone I didn’t love or wasn’t deluded I was in love with, I questioned, “It must be like making love with a stranger?”  “A stranger would be better.  At least with a stranger there would be some feeling.  I didn’t feel anything for him,” she replied.  “Even though I am now a divorced woman, I am happy to be rid of him.  In Israel, a divorced woman doesn’t go to the bed; a divorced woman runs to the bed,” she explained, trilling her r’s and emphasizing the word, “runs.”  “It’s the same in the US,” I confirmed.

Following the wedding night consummation of their marriage, a few days into the honeymoon Shoshana decided she couldn’t continue with this.  Her new husband attributed her romantic reluctance to her inexperience and shyness with these things. But it was their honeymoon, and I suppose he expected to get some. Shoshana called her older sister and explained the problem, who drove to the honeymoon destination and picked her up immediately, and then gradually broke the news to her parents, leaving out the details.

I remember Shoshana’s older sister, even though I forgot her name.  When visiting her home, her watchdog, I believe a pit bull mix, jumped on me.  “Down Nuries,” I commanded.  “Nuries doesn’t understand English.  You have to speak to her in Hebrew,” my cousin replied calmly, as if to say, “Didn’t you know that?”  I was still getting, up and down confused in Hebrew.  See, I didn’t remember this cousin’s name, but I remember the dog’s name, and I suppose I can use the dog’s real name here.  “This is an expensive area and we have a lot of break-ins.”  I learned that, “a lot of break-ins,” meant one in the past year, along with this crime:  Two criminals had parked their van outside a home while no one was there during the day, and thought they were leaving undetected with valuable Persian carpets when a neighbor arrived home and asked, “Where are you going with those carpets?”  “Oh, we are taking them to be cleaned,” replied the thieves.  “Can you come get mine too?”  The neighbor asked. I heard the same story about a tv being taken for repair, so perhaps this was a precursor of the ubiquitous urban legend.

Shoshana was required to go before a Beit Din, a religious divorce court, in order to end her marriage and make her a free woman.  She told the judges, “He is cruel, brutal; he looks at me with disrespect and speaks to me unkindly.”  The judges, and the entire town who heard about this unusual occurrence, (in Israel, gossip travels faster than the speed of light) had made the assumption that Shoshana was ending the marriage so quickly because she had discovered her new husband was incapable of performing sexually, or perhaps was gay.  The divorce was quickly granted without question, and my cousin was ordered to return all the gifts from her groom’s side of the family.  “I returned them,” she told me slyly, “all broken first.”

While Shoshana was happy to be single again, things didn’t look so good for her erstwhile husband of two weeks.  Arik* became the laughingstock of the community, and no parents of eligible daughters would touch him with a ten-foot shofar.  His upper-class by Israeli standards family solved the problem by skillfully love-bombing a beautiful, penniless, young Russian immigrant 18-year-old who left her family behind in the former Soviet Union, when they made her acquaintance as she visited one of their shops as a customer.  Alina* was happy to accept the semi-arranged marriage and they were married less than 6 months after the first marriage debacle, and the family insisted she seek to become pregnant immediately, to put the gossip to rest, and Alina was happy to be compliant.

Despite my aunt’s lack of success in matchmaking with her own daughter, it didn’t stop her from trying with me.  While I was taking a bath she walked in on me without knocking, sat down on a nearby stool and began to speak with me.  I found this very strange, and no one I asked felt this was some Israeli practice that one wouldn’t find in the US, like pushing people aside on buses while you say, “slicha,” excuse me, or asking personal questions about money or your romantic life.  In this vulnerable position, she kept pressuring me to at least be willing to meet (how could it hurt?) a 38-year-old single son of an ambassador.  At 25, a guy 38 and single sounded like he was probably living at home, a momma’s boy and too nebbishy for my yuppie sensibilities, unless he was filthy rich.

My Aunt Daria* was not exactly my aunt.  My grandmother left Bucharest to live with her relatives in New York at the tender age of 13.  Her brother escaped Romania and arrived in British Palestine ahead of Hitler in the 1930’s.  Daria’s husband was the son of my grandmother’s brother. My grandmother had bought her brother and his family a house in Nahariya for $1500, which was a lot of money back then. My Aunt and Uncle used it for storage for their business at the time.  My paternal grandparents visited Israel only once in their lifetime in the 1950’s.  My grandmother purchased a pair of 18K gold filigree earrings that some think look like doves and others think look like angels with uplifted wings, that I asked my dad to give me following her death while I was in college.  I wear them all the time.

Another confession of survival dishonesty: You know how when you meet new people, you ask them questions like, “Where are you from? Where do you live? What do you do?”  Well, people saw the discrepancy between the fact that I was born and grew up in the Washington, D.C. area and currently lived in Denver. They asked, “Why did you move to Denver; for a job or school? Isn’t it difficult being so far from your family?”

I like to be honest and open, as that is the sort of person I am. But I had to realize that different cultures interpret things differently than they may be meant. I replied that while I was working and attending school in Denver, there were actually more educational and career opportunities in our nation’s capitol. I desired change, adventure, “the geographic cure,” – which sometimes works, and had determined not to spend the rest of my life within 50 miles of where I was born, as the vast majority of people did back then, back there.  No, it was not difficult being more than 2,000 miles away from my family; it was wonderful and freeing.

However, this sort of talk caused listeners to suspect that the reason I wanted to move so far away from my family was to live a promiscuous and wild lifestyle, which was the farthest thing from my mind, although I did rent an apartment in trendy Glendale, then sporting the title of having the most bars/clubs per square mile.  Happy hours were great for starving students, and I learned which club had the best spread each night.  I also suspect that many Israelis also repressed their own displeasure with the extraordinary influence of family and lack of privacy, so secretly resented my throwing off the chains that held them fast.  So, the next time someone asked those questions, I replied that I moved to Denver for school/work. I just nodded, and sometimes rolled my eyes if I felt brave, at the sympathetic looks about how difficult it must be to live so far from the love and support of family.

My Aunt Daria was also rather disgusted with my lack of language flexibility, and it is true Americans don’t value bi- and multi-lingual skills.  “Parlez vous Francais?”  In my aunt’s generation, every cultured and educated woman spoke French.  “Sorry, I took Spanish in high school because it was easier.”  “Grandma no teach you Romanian?”  My grandmother never even taught my dad or his brothers Romanian, and since her husband was US born, the only time she used her childhood language was when she wrote to her brother in Israel.  “Yiddish?” She inquired.  “Just bad words, davarim lo tovim,” I replied.  “Davar lo yafeh,” (a not nice word) she corrected.  So we continued with broken English on her part and broken Hebrew on mine, unless Shoshana was around to translate.

So, while I turned down the ambassador’s son proffered to me by my aunt, I met someone of my own choosing, to their dismay, at a family function.  Eitan* was a cousin of a cousin, distantly related and hopefully no blood connection was involved.  He was rakishly handsome and could have been an actor or model if he were taller, although I understand Tom Cruise is not even 5’7″ and wears lifts.  Eitan was perhaps 2 inches taller than me, and his short stature didn’t bother me as I am about 5’3 1/2 drawn up to my full height.  Eitan was a more respectable 27, and we were attracted to each other right away.  We slipped away from the family gathering and went out for a romantic walk on the beach, resolving to see each other again soon.

But the family didn’t think so highly of Eitan.  He had been divorced after a short marriage, but so had their daughter.  They couldn’t really explain to me what they didn’t like about him.  He went back to his home in Nahariya and phoned my Aunt’s home to speak with me, and she told him I had left the country and gone home.  Eitan said he contacted the airport to see if I had left, and they couldn’t give out that information, but he found out from a contact that I hadn’t left.  I asked for his phone number so I could call him, and my relatives told me he was called away to do his army service.  I didn’t even know his last name.  Something didn’t seem right.  But since I had moved 2,000 miles to get away from my controlling, overbearing family, I wasn’t about to spend my vacation with more of the same.  Shoshana offered a trip to Eilat to get my mind off the matter, but it wouldn’t be too much fun with her, as although she was nice and accommodating, her preferences in recreation were too conservative for my tastes and she lacked my sense of adventure.  So, I took off for a hostel and joined up with a group of British girls on holiday, which is what the British call vacation.

We decided to visit the ancient city of Safed (S’fat.)  Over welcoming cocktails and snacks, the Moroccan owner listened to my story and sympathized while he tried in turn to seduce each of us.  He saw my situation as a sort of Romeo and Juliet.  He encouraged me to go find my true love, and gave me the address and phone number of a city authority in Nahariya, where Eitan lived.  Nahariya was a small town, and although I didn’t know my chaver’s last name, I knew all sorts of things about him.  I knew he owned a business with his father that built roads.  I could describe what he looked like.  I had my other relatives’ names and the names of their businesses.  My Aunt Daria and her husband’s business had its headquarters in Nahariya where they produced candy to sell to retail.  I spoke with several people at the Nahariya office who were eager to help me.  One person figured out who I was talking about, and put in a call to Eitan, who was not doing his military reserve duty.  He arrived at the office in 15 minutes.  What a wonderful reunion.  Only in Israel.

After a couple weeks Eitan really was called up for his reserve military duty, and I departed for some more touring.  Tired of hostels and imposing on friends, and certainly wary of relatives, I splurged for a week in a small, but nice hotel in the beach resort of Netanya.  It was $18 a night including the humongous Israeli breakfast, which fit my student travel budget.  The night manager was a blonde Arab Christian, and I hadn’t seen many European looking Arabs before, but have heard they are descended from Arab women raped by Crusaders during the middle ages – not that you would talk about something like this.  Yousef* or Joe as he asked to be called, said he didn’t like to eat dinner alone, and asked if I would like to join him.  He was very polite and spoke perfect English, so I agreed.  He asked what I would like for dinner and told me he would get anything I wished.  I had eaten earlier, but said I wouldn’t mind dessert.  He asked what I wanted for dessert.  I wondered if they had cheesecake.  I love the Israeli-style cheesecake; it is more cheese and less cake, less sweet than the American version.

Joe excused himself and went back into the kitchen.  He brought out an expensive brand champagne and delicious appetizers of all sorts like stuffed mushrooms and cheese canapes.  He told me that he had been briefly married to a Swedish woman, and had dual Swedish citizenship.  I asked what he thought of Sweden and its people.  Were they nice?  “They’re nice,” he answered.  “Nice and cold.”  Sure, I can imagine that a passionate, expressive person of Mideastern background might feel out of place among the taciturn, non-emotive Nordic types.  You know the joke.  “Olga, when I married you 30 years ago, I told you I loved you.  If anything changes, I’ll let you know.”  Joe retreated back to the kitchen and came back with a waiters’ tray filled with platters of filet mignon, grilled chicken and an assortment of salads and side dishes.  Joe ate heartily, but I only had a few bites.  He called another worker, spoke to him in Arabic, and the worker expertly cleared the table and returned with two different kinds of cheesecake and some high end French brandy with snifters.

I invited Joe up to my room.  Now, I know what you are thinking, but that was not the case.  I had brought several American tee-shirts to give as gifts and had three different ones in my suitcase.  I wanted Joe to pick the one he wanted and keep it as a gift.  Really, that was all.  He wasn’t my type and Joe had to go back to work.

The desk clerk at this hotel was also a really nice guy, a tall, dark and handsome Moroccan, and we would sometimes chat as I asked him about places to visit and transportation.  It didn’t take him long to proposition me and get down to business.  He asked if I would marry him for $1,000 so he could get a green card.  I declined, and reported that an Iranian student who lived in my apartment complex in Denver offered me $5,000 to marry him so he could get in-state tuition for medical school, at a considerable savings.  “No, that is too much.  How about $2,000?”  I wasn’t aware that we were negotiating price.  “And it doesn’t have to be a real marriage…but if you like, it can be.”  My relatives in New York asked me later what sort of privileges came with the $1,000 marriage.

I had left my contact info with Eitan’s mother in Nahariya as I moved about, so he called me to let  me know he was getting the weekend off to attend a wedding in Tel Aviv.  He picked me up at my hotel.  Arriving at the celebration, I was amazed at how elaborate and ornate the festivities were.  I would have to say that this event wasn’t so far off from what one would expect for a wedding of a celebrity or very wealthy person.  This was beyond what you would find at your typical daughter of well-heeled orthodontist’s reception. There were several hundred guests and the event was held outdoors in a lovely garden with waterfalls.  In Israel, couples are expected to invite everyone and their third cousin twice removed to their nuptials, and I was informed that most of the time the refreshments are nothing like this. There were dozens of tables laden with every kind of food, and costumed waiters kept bringing out more.  I stood by a many tiered arrangement taller than myself of delectable French pastries, struedel, and other items too numerous to name, including various fancy truffles.  There was a free-flowing open bar that would produce any libation desired and a live band and master of ceremonies to keep the festivities going.  Knowing that the Hilton professed a kosher kitchen, I asked Eitan if I was seeing what I thought I was seeing among the platters.  “Yes,” he said.  “That is steak lavan (white steak.)  “Steak lavan,” is a euphemism for pig meat.

I questioned Eitan about how this young couple, both entry level, recent university graduates employed at the Hilton, could afford such an obviously costly reception.  He informed me that the bride and groom’s co-workers had arranged the details of the wedding, with the Hilton, unbeknownst to them, paying the astronomical bill.

A cute girl who was dressed very revealingly went after Eitan rather aggressively.  Back then it seemed that once a woman was in her mid to late twenties, she was desperate to marry.  Perhaps part of the problem was that Eitan had introduced me as his cousin, and I was his cousin’s cousin of some sort.  Eitan seemed to be responding to her attention, which upset me a great deal.  Slutty man-stealer, zonah asked me point blank if Eitan was my ben dod (son of uncle = cousin) or was he my chaver? (boyfriend)  In retrospect, I was leaving in a few weeks and she would be staying.  But it still bothered me, as I didn’t know anyone else at the wedding, and I wouldn’t speak to Eitan all the way back.  Okay, so perhaps the family was right, but they could have explained things to me and allow me to make my own  decision.  I know, fat chance of that.

But I did manage to stuff that lovely, almost American quality tp into my large purse, that saw me through the remainder of my trip.

No Prayers for Elliot Rodger? The Serpent Speaks Again: Thoughts on the Tragic Isla Vista Murders

Number one son and I are planning to go out to breakfast with one of his old high school buddies. As he camps out on my bed, furiously texting away, I am so thankful for the mercy and kindness of heaven in protecting him and bringing him home safely to us. May peace and comfort be upon the families and friends of the deceased and injured during this painful time.

English: Halloween revelers on the 6600 block ...

English: Halloween revelers on the 6600 block of Del Playa Drive (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some of you may not be aware of the tragic murders in Isla Vista, home to 23,000 UCSB and other local students, that left 7 dead, including the perpetrator.

Let me tell you my story. On Friday morning I was getting my purple peek-a-boo highlights touched up when my son called. He was thinking of coming home for the long holiday weekend because he felt stressed with all the pressure at school and missed his family, his aged and ailing three-legged cocker spaniel, probably having his mom fuss over him and make sure he enjoyed his favorite foods, and perhaps even battles with his younger brother, but had decided against it because a paper was due Tuesday.  I suspect the call was to incite his mother to attempt to convince him otherwise, and mom happily obliged.  “Can’t you work on your paper at home?  I know you’ll have more distractions, but….we can all go out for sushi sometime.”

Around 6:30, with the last train to San Diego leaving in a hour, he called and said he was thinking of coming home anyway, but was concerned about the cost of the round-trip ticket, $100, as it is $20 more if you don’t get it in advance. I urged him to use my credit card to purchase his ticket, and I heard him print it out while we were still talking.   “So, are you going to be hungry, or are you going to eat that revolting, overpriced train fare for dinner?  “Not hungry,” he replied.  “I can’t eat when I’m stressed.”   “Is there anything special you want me to have for you; I can pick up Thai if you like, or whatever you want?”  “Naw,” he breathed.  “We can go out for sushi tomorrow maybe.”  His dad said, “no problem,” to picking son up at the train station 25 minutes away at midnight, and it turned out later because of a delay.

So, at 10:30 on Friday night, I received an anxious call from my son, still on the train, that his roommate had texted him that he had heard there had been multiple deaths and injuries from a drive-by shooter in Isla Vista, where he lives, and all the residents had been ordered to not leave their homes. News and campus officials provided little information, but the campus smart-phone grapevine was flooded with photos and eye-witness accounts as well as speculation and rumor. The roommate heard the many shots fired into the nearby Deli-Mart, one of the many crime scenes. I discovered later that the roommate also knew the three students stabbed to death at the perpetrator’s Capri apartment.  One of the murder victims had visited the apartment of my son and his roommate not too long ago. His roommate’s girlfriend was close friends with one of the women shot outside the sorority house.  A college campus can be a small world. After hanging up, I immediately set upon a search of what news and social media chatter revealed about the emerging situation.

My son informed me that Thursday night he had been sitting eating a sandwich in the outdoor seating area of the Isla Vista Deli-mart, right where a young man was killed, and he was planning on going to the deli for dinner that evening, had he stayed. He knew the deli owner, and showed me a photo someone sent him of the gunshot hole in the glass at the deli, with the owner in the background. My son told me he had never met the shooter, who was a student at SBCC, not UCSB, but he had seen his car around, as a new, black BMW with blacked out windows would not be the most common vehicle, even with an affluent student body.  My son called it, “an a$$-hole car.”

I was waiting up for my son when he arrived home close to 1 am.  We were both tired, but talked a bit.  I asked if he thought about the fact that IF he had not felt stressed, lonely and anxious and so decided to come home for the weekend, he would have been at the location of one of the shootings at the same time a fellow UCSB student was killed?  It could have been him eating dinner at the deli instead of  riding home on the train?  He recognized that.  I think this event shook him out of his funk.  Well, I can imagine that having a mass murder take place at your seaside university beats shock treatment or hours at the psychologist for therapeutic effect. It puts things into perspective.  How can you worry about finals, getting a job or getting into grad school following graduation and other worries about your future when your colleagues that were sitting next to you in class yesterday have no future on this earth?  Not that I recommend this as a treatment methodology.

I’ve been taking some courses via MOOCs Coursera and edX in the areas of Behavioral Economics and Cognitive Science.  Yes, I understand there are various errors of interpretation, where we can ascribe meaning to events that may not be there.  So, I realize I am attributing my son’s safety to divine protection, and validation that he has a destiny to fulfill on this earth.  Is it just a matter of randomness?  Can matters of life and death be reduced to random chance, as if life is a lottery that one is entered into involuntarily, and time and manner of leaving this life is some sick version of Powerball?  What about the students who aren’t here today?  Were they less valued by a loving Creator?  Or were they victims of randomness?  Do we need to know and understand what is not understandable?  Can we still press forward in our own blurry state, offering light and help where we can with open hands?  “…perhaps since the beginning of Creation, a piece of the world has been waiting for your soul to purify and repair it.  And your soul, from the time it was emanated and conceived, waited above to descend to this world and carry out that mission.  And your footsteps were guided to reach that place.  And you are there now.”  (Tzvi Freeman, “Bringing Heaven Down to Earth)

I choose to believe that some things are outside the realm of evidentiary testing.  As Abraham Joshua Heschel famously concluded, “God is not logical or illogical; he is supralogical.”  In disagreement with arguments from both sides of the aisle, I don’t believe the things beyond this earth can be tested by the ways of earth.  They cannot be either proven nor disproved.  While atheists make the false assumption that what cannot be tested is assumed false and the burden to provide a preponderance of evidence is upon their opponents, believers also make the false assumption that what cannot be examined should be deemed true by virtue of emotional experience or pseudo-science.  Faith and the miraculous are by definition outside the laws of nature.  I do have a problem with those who make testable truth claims, but fail to provide any data or documentation for those claims.  My faith in God does not extend to those who claim to speak for him.  In God I trust; all others pay cash and provide evidence.  I prefer the recognition and wonder of enigma and choose to make peace with ambiguity rather than surrender to the unquestioning embrace of dogma.  “Making sense of everything is not an obligation or even a possibility. Acceptance of mystery is an act not of resignation but humility.” -David Wolpe

So bizarre. Parents worry their kids in university will get too involved in the party scene, not do well in their classes or have difficulty adjusting to life away from home. But I doubt if many stay awake at night in fear they will be murdered. Perhaps we don’t appreciate how thin the line is between this world and the next, and the influence of heaven that protects us, even while we are unaware and unappreciative.

I believe we are living in times like the Days of Noah, when the earth was filled with chamas (violence.) It seems as if the barrier between thinking dark, antisocial thoughts has given way to acting out hatred, jealousy and bitterness in murder.   Usually I don’t prefer the KJV, for a lot of reasons, but here it seems to meet the target: He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.  Rev. 22:11   We’ve grown up in an environment where social constraints place limits on harmful behavior and encourage decency, at least to some extent.  Imagine a world without even a flawed moral foundation limiting the expression of  man’s most depraved passions; a world without boundaries.  Blogger John Parsons opined that a depraved mind was considered literally insane from a spiritual perspective, as persons devoid of conscience are so driven by their passions they are unable to reason ethically.    While we live in a world where a lot of people do some bad things as well as a lot of people do some good things, but only a minuscule few on this planet do truly horrific things.  Think of what it would be like to exist in a space where the numbers are reversed, and humans with any modicum of decency are the ones on the nanoscale.  Imagine a world where men’s hearts are filled to the brim, so full that not a drop can be added, with the most unspeakable evil, and there are neither inner nor outward limitations.

I recall that Alan Dershowitz, in his commentary, “The Genesis of Justice,” concluded that the creator’s decision to destroy most of his creation was a rash and unreasoned act by an immature God that was still learning how to play his God-role, kind of like a 16-year-old who just got his license?  Dershowtiz’s God-who-needs-training wheels would grow wiser from his mistakes, and not put pedal to the metal again.  I am thankful Mr. Dershowitz gave up following his first foray into biblical interpretation, and stuck to law wherein he is gifted.  In contradiction to Dershowitz’s conclusions, I believe Noah’s flood was not only an act of destruction; it was an act of salvation.  The only righteous men and women on earth were protected from both slaughter and corruption at the hands of the masses, and life on earth and the wisdom of heaven was preserved.  Unlike most commentators, I do not conclude that Noah erred in failing to convince one person outside his family to change their ways and redirect their hearts.  We don’t find anywhere in the text where Noah or his family was directed to preach to the masses; only that they were to follow the Creator’s instructions that would lead them to life and a future for themselves and their progeny.

Most of us at times entertain troubling dark thoughts and even times of deep darkness and despair that are endemic to the human condition.  What is it that allows a person to be swallowed up by this darkness, shutting out every hint of light, until one becomes, as this individual proclaimed, “no longer human?”  To be human is to be “b’tselem,” in the image of God.  When one has blotted out this image, one is no longer a man, but a beast, and worse than a beast because the passions of a beast are animated with the corrupted intellect of a human.

I read the killer’s entire 137 page manifesto, which the other members of my family shunned in disgust, because I wanted to understand his thought process, what made him tick. It seems as if he was being given many divine opportunities to choose life, that there were faint hints of light piercing through the darkness of his soul, but he rejected them. He chose death; for himself and others. He could have turned his angst into art, as many angst driven youth have.

Many are attempting to make sense of this tragedy:  Could it have been prevented?  Who can we point a finger at?  Let’s take a look at all the cards being played in this, “blame game.” Access to weapons: guns, knives, car?  Mental illness? A sex-saturated culture?  Inadequate psychiatric treatment?  Poor parenting/family dysfunction? Divorce?  Bullying?  Police, “missing it?” And of course, Hollywood?  A convoluted form of the children’s game, “telephone,” as his mother (1) discovered troubling YouTube videos, reported her concern to a (2) counselor (trainee?) who contacted a (3) mental health hotline that (4) called police that (5) assessed the situation with inadequate information?

This morning, as my doctor was giving me a shot in my back, he surmised that, “we have a lot of disaffected males.”  I agree.  Many young males have no clear path to manhood in our society.  Their God-given drives to conquer their world and creative powers of sexuality lack the needed strong hands and patient wisdom that provides essential direction.  Lacking a committed father, father figure or positive masculine kinship group, the rootless male turns to his clueless peers, and the soft clay of his heart that yearns for nobility and heroism is shaped by media and popular culture that misdirects his passions and derails his destiny.

Based upon the info I gathered and my gut feeling, I think that despite some of the bad genetic and environmental cards he was dealt, he also failed to appreciate many good things in his life, and I believe this ingratitude was a dark curtain he drew around himself, increasingly shutting out perception and appreciation of all that is light and good.  He had a mother who loved him unconditionally, a grandmother and other relatives who doted on him, a younger brother who looked up to him, friends who stuck by him until they couldn’t, intelligence, talent and a comfortable living despite his parent’s divorce and father’s financial downturn. I believe he made many choices in the direction of the dark side, and found himself imprisoned there.   However, the way of darkness continually entices all of us in thought and behavior, and some succumb completely. Can’t say I understand it.  Grace and hope were always there, and he refused them.  God’s mercy always provides an escape route; but we can refuse that turn-off from the highway to destruction.”Everything is in the hand of heaven except the fear of heaven.” (Berakhot 33b)

Many surmise that some mechanism of perverse voyeurism is the gravitational force that allures people (including myself) to seek to gather information, scrutinize detail and draw our own conclusions when these sorts of apparent anomalies invade our space and consciousness.  We know the adage, “If it bleeds, it leads,” but few have questioned why?  I have some non-standard thoughts on this.  With the first biblically recorded murder, we learned, “the voice of your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.”  Blood has a voice.  That voice cries out to heaven, and perhaps we hear it, and it troubles us.  That voice not only cries out for justice; the, “kol dam,” cries out, “why?”

Rabbi David Fohrman’s book, “The Beast the Crouches at the Door,” has a chapter entitled, “Blood on the Ground,” and I would urge everyone to read it, as well as the rest of the book.  Fohrman discusses how Cain is cursed from the land that opened its mouth to receive his brother’s blood, an anguish Cain despaired was too great to bear, “…here you have cast me away from the face of the earth…”  So, here’s my jumping off point from the text:  What if a person who fills their heart with hatred, bitterness, jealousy, along with murderous thoughts and fantasies toward their fellow man finds himself likewise cursed from human fellowship, due to his own behavior and threatening vibes he gives out that he may even be blind to?

As the primordial murder was fueled by jealousy, so these acts of calculated rage were likewise.  And as the inaugural crime was prefaced by a warning and a way out not taken, so, I believe this one was also.  We are fascinated by these things because we are also capable of the same, whether we repress this intuition or seek to comprehend it in all its ramifications.  Should recognition of our own beastly potential terrify us?  I don’t think so.  Elliot Rodger had to climb over many protective fences and destroy additional barriers tall and strong that allowed him entrance to that ever darkening, ever narrowing tunnel.

A local Facebook friend questioned, “I wonder if anyone ever prayed for him?”  I feel in those words the anguish of Cain, and perhaps the greater anguish of their parents, and the unimaginable pain of the one who breathed into him the breath of life.  One problem we have when we read scripture is that we may not hear the tone of voice.  What if the divine voice was not the pronouncement of an angry, retributive judge, but the pain of a loving father as he informs his beloved, wayward child of the consequences of his own choice to turn away from the divine word of admonishment rather than run and embrace life-preserving rebuke?   Was there someone to stand in the gap and intercede for Elliot Rodger by name?  Would the heart’s desire of a mother for the good of her child be heard by heaven as a prayer?  We don’t know.  There are many prayers of mothers and fathers poured out like blood upon the earth for errant sons and daughters.  I don’t believe those prayers are wasted, even if they fail to appear efficacious for the purpose in which they were sent.

I pray this tragic event is going to spawn more than blame-placing, platitudes or calls for political action, but becomes an impetus for those who seek to be a source of light and hope spreading as the world grows darker and darker. “Purify time.  Each day, find an act of kindness and beauty that belongs to that day alone.”  (  Yours may be the voice and the hands that roadblock the next tragedy.

May all the Sons and Daughters of the Holy One

gaze into the radiance of the Holy One’s glory this day,

and see themselves as they were created to be.  

(Bill Bullock, aka “the Rabbi’s Son)


I read a post that deeply disturbed me, and it has taken a couple of days to sort out the implications of why it was so troubling and what this portends.

English: Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil עב...

English: Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil עברית: חטא עץ הדעת – ד”ר לידיה קוזניצקי (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A professor of a recent course I had taken reported encountering an unruly group of hundreds of people protesting against Israel in Los Angeles.  They were chanting, “Bibi and Hitler are the same; the only difference is the name.”  As an educated and intelligent person familiar with employing reason, moderation and facts, he approached one of the protesters to question his narrative, “Whatever you think of Netanyahu and his policies, how can you compare him to Hitler?”

The sign carrier gathered a group of his buddies and asked the professor to meet them at Starbucks to dialogue about their respective viewpoints.  The Starbucks symposium went so well, the group began an initiative to counter baseless hatred and violence with rationality and respect.  Thousands joined hands and sang, “Kumbaya,” and they taught the world to sing in perfect harmony.

The last paragraph above, as you may have realized, is fiction.  More than fiction, it is a delusion.  What really happened was that the professor was verbally threatened, grabbed and narrowly escaped injury.  I’ve come to the conclusion that I have wasted a lot of time and effort attempting to reason with those who are not reasonable.

When I was in college, many years ago, it was believed that education was the answer to all the world’s ills, with the foregone conclusion that ignorance was the root that needed to be pulled out.  But the source of evil is far more ubiquitous and recalcitrant.  C* was a family friend enrolled in a Ph.D. program.  She was an idealistic individual who set high standards for herself and others, living at a time of idealism with all the passion, naivete and a touch of the arrogance of an intelligent,  talented, university educated, “liberated,” woman.  One time she confided to me, devastated at the corruption and deviousness occurring in her competitive Ph.D. program, including fellow, “liberated,” women sleeping with faculty in return for preferential treatment, “But, but, they’re highly educated!”  So what?  Education does not morph a selfish, self-centered person into an altruist, nor does it turn a hateful person kind or a wicked person good.  A plethora of well-intentioned failures should evidence this.

Knowledge and education are useful when gaps in these are the major source of problems.  A parent may be better able to manage a two-year-old if there is understanding of developmental stages.  Simple techniques such as washing hands and boiling water have saved lives.  Superstitions continue in our day, such a common occurrence in some parts of the world, where events such as miscarriages or sickness is attributed to witchcraft, and the targeted, “witch,” is a woman who has no male relatives to protect her, and she is forced to flee to a “witch” refuge sanctuary, where she lives in abject poverty, but is protected from murder at the hands of fellow tribe members.

Conversely, an educated person is afforded the opportunity to cover deviousness with sophistication, as twisted rhetoric cloaks villainous intent.  This is a sword that cuts both ways. A smart evil person is far more dangerous than a stupid evil person.  I would alter the meme, “Don’t underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups,” to, “Don’t underestimate the power of fearful people in large groups.”  A scared animal is known to attack and a fearful, beastly person will likewise attack whatever and whoever is located in its path.  Those who are of death seek to swallow up those who are of life.

The thin veneer of sheepskin is falling away as the sneering  insistence of, “anti-Zionism isn’t antisemitism,” is replaced by the more honest, “Kill the Jews; Jews to the ovens.”  Of course, the best lie is the one you want to believe.  (Dan Ariely)  Don’t we want to believe the best of our fellow man and blame all his wicked behavior on poor parenting, bad genetics, and Twinkies?

How do we tread the fine line between, “Answer a fool according to his folly and he will hate you,” with, “Answer a fool according to his folly or he will be wise in his own eyes?”  I believe one needs to recognize that the (moral) fool will respond with invective and sometimes violence (depending upon what he/she can get away with) when countered or opposed, and those with hopes of self-preservation should keep a safe distance while engaging in corrective activities.  Yet, it is necessary to stand for truth, accepting what may come.  Be careful to gauge the “beast potential,” of those you encounter; you may believe you stand next to a rational human being; he looks at you and salivates before dinner (you).

I believe the only response to those who have symbolically drunk deeply of the serpent’s venom and gorged themselves on the tree of knowledge of good and evil is the warning to Cain.  Driven by jealousy, he plotted a devious murder of his only brother; his younger brother who he was designated to protect and care for.  Are we our brothers’ keepers?  Yes, we are.  The warning to Cain by his loving Creator (my unscholarly and personal translation) tells us:  Shall you not, with amending and bettering yourself, find a place of dignity and being lifted above all this, and if you don’t do well, don’t do good and are not pleasing (to God) there is a doorway, an opening, an entrance for sin (missing the mark, the target of what is good and right) that lies in wait for you, stretches itself out toward you; it’s powerful, obsessive and ever-expanding desire is to overcome and conquer you.  However, toward you and within you an opposing, corresponding measure has been added, so that you have the ability to rule, master, have authority over and govern that desire (channel it appropriately.)  You must do this!

But Cain didn’t.  As well, few who we warn will overcome that beast whose seed they have welcomed and nurtured.  The next verse reveals that the beast-driven may speak to us.  Now, don’t take that as a sign of progress.  The only reason Cain spoke to his favored brother was to lure him to a place where he could kill him.  Think about that prior to planning your next negotiation.  If we go on to verse Gen. 4:9, we cannot escape that one who has no qualms about murdering his brother who did nothing to harm him, will feel no guilt or remorse about it afterward, and not be troubled with lying about it.

Skipping to verse 14, I can’t find one translation that appears to convey the correct meaning here.  All say, “whoever,” or, “anyone who finds me will kill me.”  However, the Hebrew word here is, “kol,” which means, “all.”  There is no connotation of whether the reference is to a human or a non-human.  Midrash teach that Cain had so lost that b’tselem elohim, the image and reflection of his Creator that made him human, that beasts would no longer maintain the distance they instinctively keep from humans, as they would recognize Cain as a beast like themselves, governed by his instincts and passions, lacking empathy, his reasoning darkened with preference of a lie to truth and a choice to be estranged from both God and his fellow man.

This is not pretty, but it is what we are dealing with.

I would like to somehow end this on a positive note, as the above is rather depressing.  We can be progenitors of light and truth in a dark and delusional world, even if our voice is only for a moment; that voice may catch the wind and spread far and wide.  The Baal Shem Tov taught that, “from every thing a person hears or sees in this world, he must find a teaching in how Man should serve God.  In truth, this is the whole meaning of service…”  Tzvi Freeman, “Bringing Heaven Down to Earth.”