Israel · Moments of Grace

Gefilte fish and lust

The edge of understanding is simply dizzying. That moment, at which you start to understand something, when the veil is being lifted from something that previously was either confusing or simply unknown, is the very moment that you step over that edge, that precipice and fall faster. Into understanding, but at the same time, into something a little scary.

That’s how it’s always felt for me, when I start to understand something, things move much more quietly but also at a dizzying speed, like particle acceleration. All of a sudden, things rush past me, or maybe it’s me rushing past them, and I realize what I had never understood at the same time as I grasp the implications of this new bit of knowledge, and how it fits into my life, and I can so clearly see now, in that perfection that is hindsight, how that crucial piece of information or understanding was missing from my life before.

It’s almost like watching a glass drop, when you know where it has to go. I can’t explain it. I have the best reflexes for falling objects. I always catch them and avert a breakage or a just jinx gravity–I fancy it as one of my three superpowers. That, perfectly estimating what will fit where (capacity, I suppose) and blowing things out of proportion–But sometimes, even when I could easily use my mundane super-prowess and catch an object, I just tilt my head and everything becomes quiet and things just pan out…and I let the object fall with the assurance I know where it will fall, and that it has to fall.

That’s what happened with my favorite blue glass vase a few months ago. I could have caught it, but I just let it drop, from the edge of my irregular marble countertop, in my beautiful vast kitchen with the sea-green tiles and the hard white ceramic floor. It was a sunny afternoon, late, and I just wanted the blue glass vase to fall, without being caught so that it could be even more beautiful, shattered on the perfectly white floor with the sun shining in the late afternoon, hitting the shards of glass. Admittedly that’s just…strange. Perhaps, but it was so beautiful, and so perfect.

I was sweeping up the shards of glass for weeks afterward. But still, it was worth it.

So sometimes it’s like that with people. That’s the nice thing about getting older, you sometimes just shut up and watch, resisting that old temptation to help, or jump in or interfere, or even just defend yourself…as if you could really always have an effect. Sometimes, it’s better to let things run their course.

Sometimes, it’s like that with books–for me, it’s only ever been like that with music once, with Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” and some of Maria Callas’ solos–where you see the story unfold to a point where everything is perfect, and irreversible, and the characters will take that plunge. And it’s too real, sometimes, but with books, you get to shut the book when you’ve had enough.

It’s interesting that this is happening to me with “Jephte’s Daughter”, a book by Naomi Ragen. Strange. It’s sort of a love story, I suppose, of sorts, between two unbearably beautiful Orthodox Hassidic Jews. An arranged marriage and the slow undoing of what I can only suppose is the both of them. It’s so interesting, so fascinating to read this in context. The rituals of Judaism, the millenia of rituals surrounding food and hygiene, the hundreds of details governing marriage, law, daily life, their understanding of sex, lust, appetite, marriage, family roles, the strict regimen of daily life-long arduous study…are all at the same time enraging and fascinating, like nothing I’ve ever experienced. And ensconced in such enjoyable prose, lovely language, and to boot, a romantic story…it just makes the pill go down so easy. How does Mary Poppins say it?…

It’s almost hypnotic to read this blueprint of an underworld forbidden to me, or the day-to-day reality of such a hated/adored religious minority in the country I’ve been linving in for what feels like so long. And tonight I finally understood what it is that I didn’t know, and how this has made all the difference in some way.

It’s so interesting that the personal intensity–or should I say, really the personal relevance–of the experience has nothing to do with its magnitude. This profound realization of what reality is to a small yet highly visible cross section of Israel will affect my life in a minute if not imperceptible way, but for me, the fact it was profound is just…life-changing.

I guess that’s the power of truth, encased in excellent writing…It simply hits you and you just blink, and understand everything so quickly, and things just shift in your head so you re-arrange what you knew before in order to make room for this new parcel that you don’t ever want to let go of, because not only does it shine so brightly, but it’s so well packaged…

I’m not going to give examples, because they would pale in comparison with a rave midnight review of a book that might be to many others but an exotic unrealistic love story. And I will leave them all to their assumptions, and keep my magical experience to my un-findable web site, in my own little self-published world. And I will keep wondering what this ubiquitous Gefilte fish tastes like.


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