A day at university – U of T

The hustle and bustle of young minds are dwarfed by vampire-ish Edwardian architecture – in itself super-imposed before a modern city skyline.
The statue of some great 19th century thinker sits forever doomed to ponder life’s great ideas in some busy cafeteria courtyard.
The echo of history rustles through the vines that scale gothic arches and towers, playfully winking at the unsuspecting students below. Perhaps one of them too will forever be enshrined and immortalized as a statue at the entrance to the student-services building?

Tomorrow’s scientists and engineers delve into their laptops – a coffee in hand for added concentration. Only a curious observer will note that Zuckerburg’s theorem and not Einstein’s occupy their screens.
A labyrinth of halls, courtyards and classrooms seem to entrap all who venture into this realm of study..

The students pour into an elaborate lecture hall like a swarm of ants escaping the oncoming storm. The professor gazes toward rows and rows of faces several stories tall. Illuminated half-eaten apples stare back at him from hundreds of laptop covers. He clears his throat into the microphone, drowning out the chorus of whispers, typing, and shuffling paper.
Class has begun.

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Yom Kippur 5775

The smell of sweat, bad breath, dancing, grey beards, ironed shirts, dust and siddurim (prayer books). The “aye-aye-aye’s,” the cries, the pondering of the Oneness of God, the introspection, sunset over Har Meron (Mt. Meron), raucous children screaming in the stairwell. A bed too short, a Machzor (special prayer book for Yom Kippur) too heavy, the honey-cake used to break the fast too sweet, the thought of drinking water too tempting.

The Israelis, the Americans, the rabbis, the Ba’alei Teshuva (newly religious), the secular, the curious, Chabad, Hasidic, Haredi, the French, the ‘Tel-Avivim’, the kids-with-peyos (sidelocks), the kids without, the teenagers in tank-tops, the Mizrachim (Sephardic Jews), the lone-soldiers, the Shabbos-goy.

2 days in Tzfat, a 25 hour fast, 12 hours of sleep, 5-and-a-half hours of Shacharit (morning prayers), 5 hours of thinking about things other than Shacharit, 30 minutes of enjoying the scenery, 32 times getting up, 31 times sitting down. 12 introductions, 4 interesting conversations, 5 meals, 7 new people met, 2 breathtaking sunsets, 1 coffee spill, 11 handshakes, 4 impromptu line-dances breaking out in the synagogue, 3 phone numbers exchanged.

Yom Kippur 5775. The box ticked. The respects paid, the prayers offered, and presence noted. Every year, once a year, I find myself in this same position, resolving to take on the same new-years resolutions as last time. Perhaps, as another Yom Kippur passes me by, I can resolve to bring myself next year to a different place, spiritually and emotionally? Perhaps a place where the sweat, bad breath and dancing will be my own as well …?

Rain over the Negev

Inspired by a bus ride in the Negev desert.

The first thing I feel is the heat. Heat that reverberates off the windows as the sun beats down on all things unlucky enough to catch it’s glare. The cars before us kick up the dust that innocently lies along the windy road, leaving a thin pane of brown residue on the window along with a misty haze. I stare out to the water-starved fields, but all I gather is my own reflection. Hues of yellow and orange as far as the eye can see are occasionally punctured by the withering carcasses of trees, seemingly outstretched in pain and begging for mollification. Sleep-deprived soldiers nod along with every bump in the road, basking in the warm glow that surrounds them – their ‘plasticized’ ears blasting all manners of ungodly music – or perhaps not. The sky offers nothing but ocean-blue.

But dark, heavy clouds in the distance engorged with millions of tiny rain droplets loom over the tiny bus, overwhelming it with their sheer mass and size. We move ever closer to this inevitable storm, marking the end of the summer season. A big grey one blocks off the sun, so that it shall not bear witness to the fury and wrath that we invite upon ourselves by tempting this monster. The lone trees and desert weeds humbly bow to this higher force, helplessly obsequious with nobody to come to their aid. The bus awakens like a tingling sixth-sense visualizing an impending doom. And we move closer and closer…

The first one is faint, like a whimper, a Trojan-horse sent before the entire army. It splashes onto the window beside me, sending tiny-water droplets streaming down like comets drawn to a star. The next one comes in harder and quicker – a foreboding messenger of what awaits us. Startled passengers awaken from their slumber, look around in awe and shift their bodies for a better view. A light crack of thunder, perhaps a figment of my imagination, sounds in the distance. The low hum of the engine slowly fades out; just four wheels lightly gliding along the bitumen. And then nothing…

The conductor readies his orchestra of the sky; the clouds await their orders and move into position. The bus continues unhindered into this ‘ambush,’ its movements drowned out by a deafening quiet, a majestic silence – the calm before the storm. I take a breath. The ‘plasticized’ soldier setting beside me turns in his sleep.

And then it comes. The rain. Not just rain. But the rain. Rain that is the cry of an old, wrinkled Arab fellah, squinting at the sun and cursing the heavens. Rain that is the sweat and tears of Thai labourers tilling the harsh soil beneath the unforgiving sun, with their torn gloves and balaclavas, whilst dreaming of a better life for their children. These first drops are not just rain, but a sudden shriek of horror, the high pierced shrill of murder. Rain that dilutes and unsettles the farmland that has been drenched and soaked with Jewish and Arab blood. Farmland etched with the imprints of tank tracks and mortar holes, fragments of Qassam rockets and bullet casings. Unpicked grapefruits withering and rotting in the dust, a shovel discarded and waiting to be picked up by an owner that will never return. An echo of gunfire, a cry, a body falls to the dirt.

The rain keeps coming, and the sheer volume of it quickly overwhelms all the grief, injustice and despair – bringing with it another winter that cares not for different types of blood or hardship – because they are all the same to it. The mangled leper retrieves his deformed, arthritic hand in indignation. It is now soaked only with water and will not heal his wounds.

The initial rain quickly gives way to normal rain. Regular, voluptuous droplets that irrigate the fields and enrich the farmlands. Gaza in the distance and before it, Kibbutz Nahal Oz, politely tip their hats to the grey sky in appreciation for next summer’s food. It’s all business as usual, another well-timed performance. The bus driver turns on the windscreen wipers, somebody returns their attention to a novel they stopped reading mid-sentence, a phone rings and is promptly answered. I sit mesmerized, listening intently, hoping to receive another clue. But all I hear is simply the sound of rain, beautifully conjoining and falling like millions of tears unshed, lightly tapping on the window as I look out – my reflection now clearer than ever.