Wednesday, August 10, 2011

ON THE ROAD TO SACRED VOWS

One of my favorite memories took place on our drive from our apartment to where the wedding venue was.  Iyov, Ari's best friend, who stood as his "best man" in all that that role entailed and more, took charge of getting us to the wedding in his van.  "Us" included Moshe's brother Yaakov and his friend Keren, Yochanan and me.  Iyov managed our seating arrangement as well as he could considering relatedness and the separation of genders, and the result was I got the best seat which was next to the driver's.   In another car, Ari was driving initially with Barukh, Moshe and Noya then it became necessary for Barukh to transfer to our van.  While all this was coming to pass, Iyov and Keren were already in the midst of a brisk and an exuberant debate on religion and politics which I suppose started from the time Iyov picked them up from the grand hotel where they were billeted.  My ears perked, my supratentorium spasm'ed to attention, my body became more still as I listened avidly.  At first I wondered why this contest because everyone in this van is Jewish except me and it was only after we were settled in the wedding hall that it made perfect sense when Keren declared that she is a Jewish Atheist.  Iyov is an erudite young man who is steeped in the study of the Torah, the 613 Mitzvot, the Tanakh, the Midrash, and the Zohar, and this list probably does not even cover the bodies of knowledge he is involved in.  He wears his religion on his physical self as expected of a religious like himself - he wears a black wide-brimmed hat with the brim slanted upward, a long black coat over a white shirt, black pants and tzitzit (which is not visible but I know they're there), black shoes, and he sports a long beard and payes, and he makes these look good on his tall and lean frame.  There was a religious basis to every element of his ensemble which he elaborated on when Keren asked - the upslanted brim of the hat is to reflect God's light, the hat itself is a conduit between God and man, the tzitzit a reminder of religious obligations, the long beard an antennae receiving signals from God, the payes a sign of wisdom, and the rest of the clothing is a distancing tool from unwanted distractions.  Keren was putting him through his paces and he in turn considered thoughtfully and without rushing how best to respond to her in attempts to edify her as well as to faithfully represent his belief in a Good God.  The issues she raised were unoriginal but valid and classic in the unfathomable pain they wrought in human history and are a difficult challenge to every God-loving person to tackle but despite that, his responses were carefully thought out, edifying and refreshing.


In the meantime we were tailing Ari's car through the thick of traffic.  Here again, he made his Theology attend him by praying and chanting the Psalms after asking us permission to overtake several cars on the far left lane so we do not loose Ari's car.  He advised to pray the Psalms when one is undertaking a risky maneuver.  A poignant vision of my father, a religious man himself,  reciting  Psalm 91 from memory through the mist of his metabolic acidosis rose in my mind unbidden.  I resolved then and there that I shall develop the habit of praying the Psalms as part of my daily devotions.  It's a beautiful gift.  *Thank you Iyov for this and for every care you took of all of us.*


Being deeply religious did not preclude his savviness with the wider world, specifically monitoring the unstable state of the economic markets as he also owns a hedge-fund business.  He does not excuse himself from working on the practicalities of life for his and his family's survival and so contemporaneously his feet are well grounded on the Earth.  What a guy!



SUCCESS AND FAST FAILURES

We woke up to a quickening of anticipation.  Barukh was arriving from the States today.  Even the limestone that one sees almost everywhere looked honeyed and cheered in the gleaming morning.  Ari was the most expressive of all of us but we were all just as excited as he was to see Barukh again.  This was the fulfillment of Ari's long-time dream, that all of his family would have set their feet on Chareidi soil and it was happening today!  Ari was the only one who knew for sure when he was arriving and in fact, if he was coming at all.  There seemed a vacuum of information but deep in my heart I had no doubt that he would not miss this occasion that is of utmost importance to his brother.  And he was here thus completing their family circle which was everyone's wish come true.

We drove to the airport in a flurry (not the unusual rhythm of our mornings), Ari driving as usual but tempering his speed to abide by his Mom's call for safety.  The roads to were brand new but because of the hilly terrain they certainly undulate with breath-taking turns which felt more so in the fast clip of traffic.  Yochanan had to defer his seat to me because this was my only opportunity to pick up my luggage at the airport which arrived much later after I did. Thanks for the kind consideration, Yochanan.

I did not see him emerge into the arrivals hall at the Chareidi International Airport because I was retrieving my luggage but it made for a family moment for them.  As usual, when we see each other, we hug barely and exchange a few words of greeting which seemed to content us as in all of our encounters during all those big parties that mark family milestones.  Of the three brothers, he is the one I have the most cursory acquaintance with and I of course wondered about that.  Can there be a sweeter endeavor than learning about another and what interests him or her?  Because of my minimal exposure to him, he is like a gift wrapped elegantly but the gift is a mystery at this point waiting to be discovered.  But there are boundaries of discretion one must not breach even one is overwhelmed with fascination, especially so!  What to do? Well, simply nothing.  My wait and see and listen attitude worked its magic as always and learning unfolded on its own natural pace.

Barukh is much younger than me therefore he is a young man. He is a successful corporate executive of a publicly traded company and he has the full complement of PDAs he was rightfully proprietary about to prove it.  He is married to a pretty woman with whom he is in love and with whom he has two children he cherishes with such pride and joy in that way only parents do.  Here he is, a man just a nudge away from the helm of his company, and his fondest narratives are of his children.  He showed a video on his iPhone of his children canoeing in a lake behind the new for-vacation-and-investment house he and his wife just finished decorating.  One of his kids was paddling the canoe with an adult-sized snow shovel - was that ingenuity or what and it was hilarious and yes, the shovel worked well and they were having a blast!  The house was beautifully appointed with furniture they personally shopped for in Lake Superior.

We did have snippets of time on separate encounters where we had short, quiet and companionable chats.  Those enabled me to paint a picture of him in my mind's eye at first with light, subtle strokes for he is a soft-spoken person and moves in a way all his own without stirring the space around him if at all.  When I asked him about the key to his success, he was not coquettish about it but answered me directly, thoughtfully and unelaborately.  There are three  - hard work, general street smarts, and common sense.  He prefaced this by owning his strengths and limitations, acknowledging my profession as a side bar saying that he can't do what I do but this he does and where his peerless intelligence belongs.  He gave me a short history of his work experience which actually spanned 25 years.  Everything he shared he said in short and deceptively simple sentences but the substance of each could not be misconstrued.  He struck me as someone who does not leave anything open to misunderstanding.  He does not make decisions based on emotions.  He does not dwell on unsuccessful decisions he made, instead he accepts responsibility for them, and moves on quickly for the suitable solution.  This he coined "fast failures".  He is not given to drama, in fact he would do anything to avoid it and if unavoidable fix it fast.  He is observant and can synthesize quickly what he knows of in the past and what he sees at present.  He is not timid in assessing reality as he perceives it. He also has a handle on the personalities of those whom he cares about and again, articulates his opinions startlingly because of the way he voices them dispassionately. He is a man of practical sensibilities and has an uncanny intuition in sizing things up.  It was his first time in Israel yet he never demanded anything of anyone for himself, he allowed himself to be led.  He would catch up on his zs when nothing is required of him.  Moshe and I brought him to the Qottel where he took pictures of  breathtaking Charedi scapes on the way there.  But when plans failed the following morning for a day tour, he did not make a big deal of it.  It was funny, we who were purportedly world travelers several times over, did not have shekels to spend nor good phone connections until he arrived and of course, he bailed us out many, many times during the short time he was with us.  And he was quite generous with me too (imagine that, me who was practically a stranger to him), refusing me to repay him for a cab fare and a pizza saying that it was not like I was asking for a mortgage payment.  He never said "no" to anyone especially his brothers. The painting I started of him in my mind soon acquired emphatic and bolder textures as I learned more of him from himself, a man who knows who and what he is, who knows where he wants to go, who knows what it will cost him, and who knows for whom he is doing it and why. It is a secular translation of the biblical admonition - let your yes be yes and your no be no.

It was a delight visiting with him.  When he left, I wished him more power in all his aspirations.


THE BACHELOR'S NIGHT

"Where's the bachelor's party,"Barukh exclaimed.  He flew in today, the last to arrive and the first to depart, and the nuclear family is complete.  Ari was more than vastly pleased that his long-time dream of both his brothers coming to Chareidi country came to pass this week.  He has two brothers in front of him, Yochanan and Barukh, who like him are easy on the eye.  All three differ significantly in how they philosophically view the world.


It was a cozy night-on-the-town in a well-chosen kosher restaurant where Moshe and Noya hosted a bachelor's dinner.  There were only 7 of us - Moshe, Noya, Ari, Yochanan, Barukh, Ari's best friend Iyov, and me. The food was delicious, the Berkan riesling exceptional, the company stimulating, our idiosyncracies notable, and the toasting rich and revealing.


It was a gem of warmth and togetherness, well-wishing Ari and Menuha the best in life, at the same time each of us expressing who we are and what we are about in short sincere bytes.  This night was a highlight.