2006—The Phone Call
IT WAS A WARM OCTOBER afternoon in Boynton Beach. The heavens were a perfect linen blue with geometric insertions of amorphously shaped puffy, pure-white clouds. The sight of it all captured our love, from the very first moment we gazed at the Florida sky. After experiencing the extended summer months of seemingly never-ending, monotonous, moist heat, transplanted New Yorkers, like Yinnon and I, actually relish Florida weather even when the world around us is collapsing.
Yinnon claimed that it must have been his ancient Jewish ancestral genes, because he always liked heat and had an acrimonious distaste for the cold. I reminded him of course that his body temperature charted almost two degrees below normal and that the raison d’être could be the blame for his feeling cold. After all, I was the biochemist, and I confidently explained that enzymes lose four percent of their biological activity for every degree loss of body temperature. With as much bravado as I could muster, I proclaimed victoriously, “You see Yinnon, your enzymes are just not at peak, and consequently you can’t possibly generate enough of your own body heat.” Yinnon then smiled lovingly and said, “Yoseph, do you remember the winters growing up in Toronto, with near-frostbitten toes and fingers?” How could I forget? We walked to school and carried our books without gloves, and back in those days, we wore unlined black rubber boots that kept the snow out, but the cold in.
Our feet would freeze, yet he never complained. In fact, Yinnon never expressed any of his feelings in those early days. As the years past, his repressed anger, the hidden cause of his severe migraines, kept building to volcanic proportions.
We did learn one winter trick, which was really not a trick at all. When the wind whistled its eerie tune and hammered our entire beings, we would partially shield ourselves by walking sideways, or in blinding desperation, backwards. The only thing that mattered to him on those blustery days, was to focus solely on reaching his destination—school or home. However, he wasn’t particularly enamored by the choice of either supposed sanctuary. This was because, although he didn’t know it at the time, he was afraid of feeling the hopelessness of failure; and home … well home just wasn’t a safe place for him. Most of his early life, and even his entire life, can be summarized in three phrases: physical pain, emotional mental suffering, and the struggle-survival syndrome. I felt his Primal Pain, for he was my best friend and the lost brother that haunted my dreams. It was as if we emerged out of the same womb, and whatever pierced his soul caused my soul to bleed.
On that October 26th afternoon in 2006, we were sixty-five years old. As Yinnon recounted his tale, here he was staring nervously at both his watch and the phone. Each time he had a Primal Therapy session with Tracee, it was always the same anticipatory anxiety. The time on his watch was approaching 4 p.m. He took a gulping breath, picked up the phone, and dialed. He had been doing the therapy, off and on, since the early 1980s. Some might say that this was a long time, and I would have to concur. However, given his handicaps, which were imprinted so early in his mother’s womb and then showcased in an indelible ugly neurosis in the afterbirth, he probably never should have had any semblance of inner peace in his primordial existence. Without his G-d-given intelligence, therapy, and the Creator coming into his life and bringing him gifts of Divine Providence, there would have been no hope.
“Hello! Hello Tracee! Hi Yinnon!”
The Holy Land
WHILE YINNON WAS CONVERSING with Tracee, I drifted back to memories of our time in Israel. The sounds of the guns that night reminded me of the firecrackers Yinnon and I would toss at each other when we were kids. In our secretive contests, Yinnon always held onto his firecrackers longer. Though he was neurotic and damaged goods, I was the scaredy cat, while he seemed to enjoy tempting fate and taunting me.
In 1967, Israel was in a grim Middle East war with its neighbors, Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, and we were huddled together alongside our Israeli neighbors in the basement of our duplex apartment building at 10 Ben Yehuda Street in Rehovot. There was no chatter that night, nor was there the option of sleep. My eardrums vibrated with the decibels of distant gunfire, which seemed just a little too close for a war novice like myself. In our makeshift cramped basement shelter, it seemed as if life had flipped us irreversibly, and then had come to an immobilized standstill. All was motionless and dark. Only breath was moving, while time and space were hanging in a vacuum. Not a peep could be heard.
My mind had to do something—anything to get my body through the uncertainty and fear brewing in these tiny dark quarters of unlikely bedfellows. I purposely returned to biblical times, visually imagining what must have been an enormously, speechless crowd reaction. The Israelites were hard at war with the idol-worshipping Canaanites when the prophet Joshua emboldened with the power of G-d made the sun stand still, for all to see. Joshua, through the Omnipotence of the L-rd G-d, had openly defied and altered the laws of nature, the natural order of things—what is referred to in faith circles as Divine Providence. Needless to say. this was quite a miraculous event.
Many years later after returning from Israel, there was a time in my own life when I was to indirectly witness a paranormal incident that would shake free any doubts I had about G-d.
I was looking for something to watch on television one evening. I flipped the TV channels and stopped at Larry King Live. His guest that night was an attractive middle-aged British woman, who claimed to be a necromantic, a person who has the power to contact the dead. She was taking phone calls, and reaching trancelike states to connect with callers’ dead relatives. One of the phone calls was from a mother who was grieving over the loss of her infant son. After a few moments in a sublime meditative state, the British woman made contact with the mother’s son, and began to open and close her hand in the direction of the TV screen, repeating the word … love … love … love. At one point in the show, I chuckled, as Larry King frantically waved his hands in the air above, and asked, “Where are they?” He was trying to touch the spirits of the dead—of course, to no avail. I reflected on what I had observed, and spoke aloud, “That’s neat.” I went to bed, and thought no more of this mystical TV episode; that is, until the surprise of the next day.
At the appointment at my Long Island holistic doctor’s office, I found myself talking with a woman, whom I previously shared conversations with, while we were each hooked up on our intravenous lines. I was into this nutritional stuff beginning in the early 1990s, and I had all of my silver mercury amalgam fillings in my teeth replaced with porcelain. As a scientist, I knew that there would be a lot of ingestion of the mercury during the dental procedures, and thus I elected to have intravenous treatment to remove any mercury, no matter the source, out of my body cells. It took twenty-six weekly treatments, followed by oral chelation, to eliminate all the mercury in my cells, as carefully measured by blood and urine analyses. The woman next to me, to whom I was speaking, was having EDTA treatments for her heart. She paused, and then asked, “Did you happen to see Larry King Live last night?” “As a matter of fact, I did,” I replied. The woman then asked, “Do you remember the clasping and unclasping of the hands, and the repetition of the word love?” “Yes,” I responded enthusiastically. Then she said, “That little boy was my grandson. That’s how he motioned all the time, and the caller was my daughter. We have been sad for the longest time, because we lost such a special child, filled with love.”
I was speechless. This woman was a very nice person, and she had no reason to lie. I realized that this was no coincidence. I was meant to be a part of this unusual happening. I was being shown something quite remarkable. G-d had created an interesting, dynamic world in which people were given gifts of contact with the dead, extrasensory perception, the odd ability to connect with ghosts and spirits, past lives, UFO experiences, etc. As the years have passed, I have come to believe in all of these mystical concepts, with the proviso that each person’s gift can only be theirs, if they are worthy, and if G-d so chooses to endow them. Those who are not worthy in G-d’s Eyes may believe they possess the gift, but in fact, they do not. In biblical days, the Hebrew prophets spoke the truthful word of G-d, and their prophecies were always precisely accurate, unlike that of the famous Nostradamus, who would be an example of someone we think of as an icon, but who actually was not. Some of the true prophets, like Joshua, could achieve supernatural status and make the sun stand still. The prophet Elijah was able to revive Jonah from the dead, because G-d needed Jonah for a higher purpose still to come. In the case of UFOs, my own personal belief is that, where legitimate, the spaceships are being flown by angels. Wild! Crazy! But can anyone disprove me? The Will of G-d is mightier than any force on earth, including the most potent nuclear power that man will be able to muster today and in future generations.
Momentarily, I was returned to the darkness and the stillness of the black night by the distant gunfire of the Six-Day War at hand. After the sounds quieted, my mind wandered off once again. I recalled our days at the Canadian Pharmacy School. Yinnon and I were both in the first year of our masters degree research studies and were residing on St. George Street in a shabby basement apartment, within ten minutes’ walking distance of the university. We had a tough biochemistry exam the next day, and I was studying, but Yinnon was not. He told me that he had the most excruciating of headaches and was not able to prepare for tomorrow. He said that he would probably fail, which only exacerbated his pain. We were both “A” students, and for the very first time, academic failure was knocking at our door. It was too late to call in sick. In a little while, Yinnon fell asleep. He was out for perhaps no more than a half hour, when he awoke. “Yoseph, I’m completely free of pain,” he uttered. “This has never happened to me. It’s impossible.” He returned to his studies, and he ended up receiving the highest grade on the exam. Back then, I would have said that this was a coincidence, but not today. There are no coincidences for people who possess qualities of faith and righteousness. Nor can there be random chance happenings for those whom G-d has chosen for special treatment and, perhaps, a special purpose. Yinnon was to fall into the latter category. He seemed to be selected on High.
You might think that Yinnon and I were simply secular, spiritually bankrupt Jews; however, there were only partial truths to this statement. We had grown up hanging stockings on Christmas Eve, and we attended Jewish school where we learned to read and write Hebrew without understanding what we read. Our Bar Mitzvah preparation was mainly an exercise in rote. There was neither discussion of Jewish history nor culture by either our rabbi teacher or by our parents. The only Jewish holiday we were aware of was Passover, but even this was minimized. Yet, within the mix of a semi-secular upbringing, our experiences in Israel ignited something inside of us. This something is often referred to in Jewish Orthodox circles as the pintele yid (Jew), which keeps the sparks of our Judaism alive in a dormant state, so much so that deep down we inexplicably and unknowingly have faith and believe in G-d. Incredible miracles were to occur in later years; in fact, even before Yinnon’s birth, such miracles spared and ultimately salvaged his life. Yinnon had been a neurotic sinner, a tortured prisoner of his own mind, and I was fearful that ultimately he would have been institutionalized, had it not been for Divine benevolence.
Yinnon used to paint this wonderful picture of his upbringing, telling me how great his parents were, but I knew better. I knew the saddest of hidden truths. When we were kids, we used to nervously laugh about Toronto’s 999 Queen Street, the lunatic asylum. In those days, it really was the actress Olivia De Haviland’s Snakepit movie, for those of you who are old enough to remember. You went into the nut house, and never came out. The inmates were crazy, or were they? Little did I know that Yinnon’s entire being was to unravel and shatter into a thousand pieces. He was to discover the bitter reality of his childhood neurosis in Primal Therapy at age forty, and then later, and much more ominous, he would sink into the black hole of bipolar disorder at age fifty.
The next morning, dawn’s light had displaced the darkness, as the radio announcer jubilantly asserted that Israeli mirage jets had flown below the radar and taken out the entire Egyptian air force. As Ph.D. students and foreigners at the Weizmann Institute of Science, we were advised to leave the country before the war began, but we had courageously elected to stay. We had rolled hard fours, and enjoyed the psychedelic high of victory. We weren’t just bystanders anymore. We felt we earned the right to finally belong. It was perhaps the most gratifying and defining moment of our stay in Israel, although our heroics went unnoticed. After all, we were Jews, and that’s what we are supposed to do. We line up behind the State of Israel in times of peril, but we have long forgotten how to line up behind G-d.
Yinnon and I had won Special Canadian Student Scholarships to study anywhere in the world, and because we were blood brothers and did everything together, we chose Israel when Harvard turned us down. Atypically, I charted the way. I had a yearning to discover something of my Jewish heritage. I was an academic at heart, and have always had this passionate penchant and fervor to learn and absorb everything that I can about any topic that I study. I was totally ignorant of my ancestry. My alter ego, my lost twin, was for a change, the tail that wagged the dog.
Diamond in the Rough
THERE ARE TWO KINDS OF rubble. One that you visualize with your eyes, which cannot be mistakenly taken for anything except what your brain signals you to actually see. And the other, which your brain sees and records as magical, like a diamond in a pile of manure.
On the very day after the Six-Day War, we were to discover both kinds, although in 1967, neither of us were equipped with a discerning eye, because we didn’t know “shoots from shinola,” as far as our Jewish heritage was concerned. It was fifteen, then thirty years later, when we would realize and appreciate the awesomeness of that incredible day. Thirty years later, Yinnon and I would initiate a self-study of our Jewish roots, history, culture, and religion, which would permit us to fly on the wings of angels, heavenward, to the unknowable domain of the Creator.
Ilse, the heavily German-accented, always properly sophisticated lady, who was the Weizmann Institute’s coordinator for foreign visitors had miraculously secured a bus for us to visit the gains of the spoils of war. With the rising sun, we traveled to our first stop, EL Arish on the Red Sea. Out of fear, I tried not to stare at the Arab inhabitants or their decrepit homes. Instead, I gazed at the purity of the gorgeous aquamarine color of the water. It was ironic that the water was so calm in a region so filled with man’s hatred for man. The Holy Land is prophesied to be the Big Bang of all apocalypses, where destiny, judgment and justice will one day meet, and crown the winners and punish the losers for the past six thousand years. When we left the Gaza Strip for Jerusalem, I glanced out the window of the bus, and reflected on my favorite Shakespearian play, Macbeth. The opening poetic lines, which I still repeat to myself to this day, belong to three cackling witches with prophecies of their own.
When shall we three meet again?
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?
When the hurly-burly’s done
When the battle’s lost and won.
There will be ere the set of sun.
Where the place?
Upon the heath.
There to meet with Macbeth.
I come Graymalkin!
Fair is foul and foul is fair
Hover through the fog and filthy air.”
Destiny, judgment, and justice, the metaphorical three witches who will meet not with the protagonist, Macbeth, but will rendezvous with G-d. When? “At the End of Days, a precursor to a different age for human beings.” Where? “On the battlefields of Israel and Jerusalem.” Who? “G-d will confront those, the seventy nations, according to the Hebrew Bible, who are not fair but are foul and who for centuries have been trying to destroy Israel.” What? “Fairness and justice and judgment will prevail.” Why? “Because destiny has always marched from the imperfection towards perfection, the Messianic Age, when G-d’s presence will be as universal as the waters of the sea. Destiny, judgment, and justice are all part of G-d’s master plan for humankind.”
When the age of G-d arrives, signaling the age of the Messiah, it will come with the flaming passion of an unstoppable stampede.
Thirty years later, we would internalize the significance of what we saw in Jerusalem, the City of Peace, where heaven once met earth, when the First Temple, conceived by King David and built by his son, Solomon, stood on Mount Moriah. Israel, the Land given in a Covenant to the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, had been regained militarily by secular Jews in 1948. Not Jerusalem, however, that is, until yesterday. Because secular Jews reclaimed the Land, there are many among ultra-orthodox Jews, who to this day do not recognize the State of Israel.
When the First Temple fell to the Babylonians, the Divine Presence, the Shechinah or Shekinah, had departed on the wings of the conjugal Cherubim angels who guarded the Ark of the Covenant, the Holy Tablets of Civilization, the Ten Commandments. The downslide had continued until the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E. by the Roman general Titus. The remaining Jews of the Twelve Tribes, mainly the Tribes of Judah and Benjamin as well as the Levites and kohanim, were scattered to the four corners of the earth to ensure Jewish survival, at least somewhere in the world if elsewhere, they were being persecuted and slaughtered. At the End of Days, it is prophesied that these Twelve Tribes will recreate the spiritual foundations of Judaism, which will ascend to heights more glorious than ever before. “Incredible to Me,” as G-d, the L-rd of Hosts, promises.
The sole protection of G-d’s Covenant with the Patriarchs had been lost. The Jewish people had not been able to maintain the exalted spiritual doctrine of the Ten Commandments, even with centuries of warnings from the Hebrew prophets. Despite this loss, Yinnon and I were here at the gates of the Old City of Jerusalem, on the threshold of history, almost 2,000 years after the Jewish expulsion from the Holy Land.
We were met by a guide who led us through narrow alleyways, in what was once the hustle and bustle of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City. In the rubble of an Arab backyard, we came upon our ancient diamond in the rough—a very small stone wall no bigger than the familiar lane wall we used to play the game ledger on as children growing up in downtown Toronto. I remember the oddness and beauty of this naturally sculpted stone wall in this setting of row on row of Arab houses. It was the Wailing or the Western Wall, the only vestige remaining of the Second Temple, built by the return of a tiny percentage of dedicated Jews to Israel after the Babylonian exile.
Yinnon and I agree, in retrospect, that this auspicious visit to Jerusalem was the second high point of our belonging to Judaism and the Holy Land. However, we did not yet belong to G-d.
As we walked through the deserted Arab market, I was thinking, “Wow! This is the mystique of Casablanca with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, and my all-time favorite movie character actor, Sydney Greenstreet.” Surprisingly, the shops were open for business, as if the violence of past days’ fighting were invisible in this section of Old Jerusalem. I wondered how this could be? I was at a loss for a logical explanation.
Judging by the suspicious glares of the shopkeepers, who hadn’t seen Jews in their midst in decades, a new era was dawning. Peace, however, would remain elusive. As we continued our walking, the guide stopped, and we gazed out onto a dusty mountain with splotches of grass and trees. This was not Mount Moriah, for it had long been buried underground with the First and Second Temples. Our knowledgeable guide said that this was the Mount of Olives, and the trees were olive trees. Yinnon, I know, felt very foolish and ignorant, when he was overheard calling it the Mound of Olives. He was a sensitive soul, and I could tell that this embarrassment would bother him for years to come.
The ride to Jericho was surprisingly boring; that is, until we came upon the foreign patch of greenery of this biblical city, set in the midst of sagebrush desert dust. It was strikingly majestic, as green as I remember the farms of northern Ontario or the rolling hills of Ireland and unlike anything I would have envisioned. It resembled the secluded oases depicted in those desperate desert scenes in the movies, where the brave hero is struggling to survive and is saved before succumbing to the desert sun. Yinnon whispered in my ear, “Enough with the movies, already.” The odd camel even came into view from the bus window. And then the electrifying shock.
Rubble that your brain relayed to your eyes as real rubble and not diamonds in the unusual greenery of Jericho. The Palestinian refugee camps. Cardboard-like shacks that reminded me of the horizontally attached houses that I would build with decks of playing cards as a child. The refugee houses seemed as fragile as my house of cards. One gust of wind or a slight push of the hands, I felt, would crumble the whole structure. I was mortified that people lived this way. The only word in the English language that seems appropriate is squalor. I was glad to drive on; still, the memory has never left me. I grew up poor, but this was my first introduction to poverty. The beggars, panhandlers, and homeless in Toronto or Tel Aviv were a fact of life that I accepted as being part of life. Somehow, this scene was different and was reinforced even more when I later traveled to India. Where were my eyes all these years? Were they simply morphological structures in the sockets of my head? I wanted to feel the plight of this sorry lot of the human race, and I did, until …
Our final stop was the mountainous Golan Heights, and once again, we weren’t at all prepared for what was about to unfold. Another embossed imprint in my overcrowded sad brain’s memory bank. Syrian bunkers overlooking the Jewish Kibbutzim in the Sea of Galilee. The kibbutzniks below were sitting ducks. I turned to see Yinnon crouching, ready to heave. He pointed while holding his other hand over his mouth. I blankly gazed at the posters beside the bunkers. My eyes were transfixed on the pictures, and I was gasping to catch my breath. There in full battle fatigue were Syrian army soldiers using rifle bayonets to push frail, defenseless Jews wearing rags into the sea. I understood the horror in my eyes and once again internalized the meaning of hatred and anti-Semitism. It was a modest reminder of the unforgettable, tormenting, haunting pictures that I have seen in Holocaust museums.
It had been too long a day. The ride home was quietly innocuous, as people nodded off. At one point, the bus stopped roadside so that we could relieve ourselves. Boys to the right and girls to the left, with the bus acting as a barrier. This one memorable day shook Yinnon and me to our core. I felt spent, and I have returned to these scenes over and over again to play them in my mind, like the piano player, Sam, in the movie Casablanca. “Play it again Sam.” Yinnon was likewise reliving the same script in his nightmares. I wondered if others on the bus were similarly affected. How could they not be? I wondered also if other Jews, who were not on this trip, would have been changed by the experience, as Yinnon and I were.
I once read that hearing or seeing something may not register in your mind. And even if it does, people usually come away with a completely different brain registration after listening to someone else’s story or observing highly moving scenes. Some people only manage an anecdotal comment or two, while to others the whole experience is immediately forgotten. Only in exceptional instances does anything penetrate. The life of one person rarely changes anyone else’s life, even when the circumstances being described are quite profound.