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The Abbey – James Martin

TAThis book is relevant to spiritual direction. While there is no clear-cut hero, the story centres on the relationship dynamics between a spiritual director and his directee.

I enjoyed it as was sorry to finish it because I world have liked to have stayed with the characters a little longer.  However, in spiritual direction you have to lrarn to let go of people.

Drinking coffee is a useful distraction when waiting for the other person to say more rather than jumping off on a tangent.

The director is an abbot steeped in the Roman Catholic liturgical rhythms of monastic community life, a priest who engages almost coincidentally with two ordinary people who are themselves not explicitly setting their struggles in a spiritual context.

The mutual relationship between director and director is key to how the novel unfolds.

Not only do we find ourselves privy to some profound changes in the interior lives of ordinary people as they open themselves up to experiencing spiritual direction, but we also learn a great deal about the self-examining perspectives of the director as he reflects on his exchanges with his directee. This double interest in both sides of the fence suggests a double readership too—although those practising or considering practising as spiritual directors might be keener readers than those at the receiving end.

One thing that comes across with great clarity in both novels is the important role that the director’s personal prayer plays in the relationship dynamics between the two. This is not intercessory prayer on behalf of the directee, but examen-like prayer on behalf of the director himself. The director is not presented as a ‘professional expert’ in spiritual matters, an expert simply following a tried and true methodology of spiritual direction

Sensitivity to those interior stirrings of the spirit in director and directee alike is key to how their relationship eventually bears fruit.

Anyone, even with no familiarity with spiritual direction, could enjoy Martin’s wonderfully readable descriptions of ordinary people’s everyday struggles and how these struggles relate to a spiritual life.

Novels in which spiritual directors figure as main characters are thin on the ground, and should be welcomed, especially by anyone engaged more than peripherally in spiritual direction.

The author is himself a practising spiritual director and offers intriguing deeper glimpses into the interior mechanics of the practice of spiritual direction. And that is always satisfying for the spiritually curious to read about.

Quotations:

I understood how all the flowers God has created are beautiful, how the splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not take away the perfume of the little violet or the delightful simplicity of the daisy. I understood that if all flowers wanted to be roses, nature would lose her springtime beauty, and the fields would no longer be decked out with little wildflowers. And so it is in the world of souls, Jesus’ garden. . . . He has created smaller ones and these must be content to be daisies or violets destined to give joy to God’s glances when He looks down at His feet. Perfection consists in doing His will, in being what He wills us to be.

that’s what we try to do here—strip things away so that we can be who we’re called to be. It’s like scraping off an old coat of paint from a table, so you can see the original wood. And usually what’s underneath is more beautiful than we ever imagined.”

why not trust your desire?

“Spirituality is like spaghetti.”

Paul suppressed a smile. He had heard this analogy many times in the novitiate, but he let his old novice director offer it again.

“When my mother, may she rest in peace, cooked spa­ghetti, she used to throw a few strands against the kitchen wall. When it stuck, she said it was done. It’s the same in the spiritual life. Not every homily you preach or insight you offer will stick. A lot depends on where the person is, whether they’re open to hearing what you have to say, and whether it’s the right time for them to hear it. One day you say something that you think is profound, and they just shrug. A few months later, you say the same thing, and they start crying. Who knows? In other words, a lot of it depends on grace. Maybe all of it.”

Paul agreed. He had given enough homilies and counseled enough monks to know that the most offhand comment sometimes seemed to the hearer the wisest thing ever said, and insights that Paul deemed helpful could leave a monk more confused than when he had come into the abbot’s office.

The abbot listened intently. Then he stared into the swirls of milk in his cup and paused for a long time.’

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Myers-Briggs® Myths and Misuse – Edythe Richards

Unfortunately, the MBTI® is often used in environments where it should not be (placement agencies, as part of a job interview, for example), and by individuals who lack the credentials and/or knowledge to administer it appropriately. As with any assessment or topic, how the information is delivered will impact its effectiveness and reception.

Katharine Briggs, a voracious reader of psychology, shared her fascination with Jung’s work with her daughter, Isabel Myers. Jung developed a concept of 2 basic attitudes called Introversion and Extraversion, and Briggs and Myers used this as a basis for their own theory, which would later become the Myers Briggs Type Indicator

Katharine and Isabel were not social scientists, but this does not speak to the quality of their work. It commonly goes unrecognized, for example, that they achieved what social scientists and statisticians of their time had failed to do: convert Jung’s ideas into a workable scoring system. Furthermore, an organization as well-regarded as ETS would not have published their material if it lacked integrity.

The validity and reliability of the Myers-Briggs assessment has been well-documented by the publishers, CPP, in thousands of peer-reviewed journals and case studies.

there are a number of “fake” versions of the Myers-Briggs on the internet. Before assuming lack of credibility, make sure the inconsistent results are not due to these “fake” tests.

The MBTI® was never intended to be a comprehensive evaluation of one’s entire personality. It also doesn’t claim for 2 people of the same type to be exactly alike. Everyone, regardless of type, has preferences for thinking, behaving, communicating, working, learning, and other things that make us tick. With this said, the MBTI® is not a scientifically valid personality assessment, but then neither is any other test or assessment. Personality assessments can, however, be validated for specific purposes.

If selection of a career or college major were not influenced by Type, we would expect to see all 16 Types represented in every occupation and vocational track in the same numbers we find them in the general population. Such an even distribution, however, is not the case. In fact, a great deal of self-selection is repeatedly evident.

One complaint I’ve often heard is how the MBTI® is a pseudo-science, similar to a horoscope, describing each Type in only positive, very general terms, telling the recipients what they want to hear without realizing the same description can also apply to others. This is known as the Forer Effect, after psychologist Bertram Forer. In 1948, Forer gave a personality test to his students and then gave each one a supposedly “personalized” analysis. The students gave the analyses an average accuracy rating of 85%. Only then did Forer disclose that each student had received the same generic report.

Because of the MBTI®’s dichotomous structure, deciding that any particular MBTI® preference is a good fit involves, by definition, a corresponding decision that the opposite pole is not a good fit. This itself negates the Forer Effect.

There is also a troubling side to MBTI® descriptions: they can lead to discrimination, poor career counselling, and undue and unfair stereotyping. These practices go against the very ethics of administration of the Myers-Briggs®. Therefore, practitioners need to be sure to convey these limitations to users.

Type theory suggests that type does not change. However, how type manifests can and does change. This could be as a result of Amy interacting with her environment, her own unique experiences, her culture, or family of origin. It is therefore possible to develop behaviors, habits, and strategies that are not consistent with her Myers Briggs® Type description.

In my 15+ years of using the MBTI®, I’ve found that the tool used isn’t nearly as important as the administrator is in helping users increase their own self-awareness, leading to better motivation, self-management, and communication. If the MBTI® assists in this process and is interpreted correctly and appropriately, it has, in my experience, been enlightening and useful instrument.

As Type Practitioner Roger Pearman stated, “When you read the critics carefully, it is apparent that they are talking about how an assessment was used that caused trouble rather than the assessment itself or how the theory was used rather than the value of the theory.”

Unfortunately, the MBTI® is often used in environments where it should not be (placement agencies, as part of a job interview, for example), and by individuals who lack the credentials and/or knowledge to administer it appropriately. As with any assessment or topic, how the information is delivered will impact its effectiveness and reception.

Katharine Briggs, a voracious reader of psychology, shared her fascination with Jung’s work with her daughter, Isabel Myers. Jung developed a concept of 2 basic attitudes called Introversion and Extraversion, and Briggs and Myers used this as a basis for their own theory, which would later become the Myers Briggs Type Indicator

Katharine and Isabel were not social scientists, but this does not speak to the quality of their work. It commonly goes unrecognized, for example, that they achieved what social scientists and statisticians of their time had failed to do: convert Jung’s ideas into a workable scoring system. Furthermore, an organization as well-regarded as ETS would not have published their material if it lacked integrity.

The validity and reliability of the Myers-Briggs assessment has been well-documented by the publishers, CPP, in thousands of peer-reviewed journals and case studies.

there are a number of “fake” versions of the Myers-Briggs on the internet. Before assuming lack of credibility, make sure the inconsistent results are not due to these “fake” tests.

The MBTI® was never intended to be a comprehensive evaluation of one’s entire personality. It also doesn’t claim for 2 people of the same type to be exactly alike. Everyone, regardless of type, has preferences for thinking, behaving, communicating, working, learning, and other things that make us tick. With this said, the MBTI® is not a scientifically valid personality assessment, but then neither is any other test or assessment. Personality assessments can, however, be validated for specific purposes.

If selection of a career or college major were not influenced by Type, we would expect to see all 16 Types represented in every occupation and vocational track in the same numbers we find them in the general population. Such an even distribution, however, is not the case. In fact, a great deal of self-selection is repeatedly evident.

One complaint I’ve often heard is how the MBTI® is a pseudo-science, similar to a horoscope, describing each Type in only positive, very general terms, telling the recipients what they want to hear without realizing the same description can also apply to others. This is known as the Forer Effect, after psychologist Bertram Forer. In 1948, Forer gave a personality test to his students and then gave each one a supposedly “personalized” analysis. The students gave the analyses an average accuracy rating of 85%. Only then did Forer disclose that each student had received the same generic report.

Because of the MBTI®’s dichotomous structure, deciding that any particular MBTI® preference is a good fit involves, by definition, a corresponding decision that the opposite pole is not a good fit. This itself negates the Forer Effect.

There is also a troubling side to MBTI® descriptions: they can lead to discrimination, poor career counselling, and undue and unfair stereotyping. These practices go against the very ethics of administration of the Myers-Briggs®. Therefore, practitioners need to be sure to convey these limitations to users.

Type theory suggests that type does not change. However, how type manifests can and does change. This could be as a result of Amy interacting with her environment, her own unique experiences, her culture, or family of origin. It is therefore possible to develop behaviors, habits, and strategies that are not consistent with her Myers Briggs® Type description.

Type theory suggests that type does not change. However, how type manifests can and does change. This could be as a result of Amy interacting with her environment, her own unique experiences, her culture, or family of origin. It is therefore possible to develop behaviours, habits, and strategies that are not consistent with her Myers Briggs® Type description.

 

In my 15+ years of using the MBTI®, I’ve found that the tool used isn’t nearly as important as the administrator is in helping users increase their own self-awareness, leading to better motivation, self-management, and communication. If the MBTI® assists in this process and is interpreted correctly and appropriately, it has, in my experience, been enlightening and useful instrument.

As Type Practitioner Roger Pearman stated, “When you read the critics carefully, it is apparent that they are talking about how an assessment was used that caused trouble rather than the assessment itself or how the theory was used rather than the value of the theory.”

It’s online here

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What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

WHTBJA friend gave me a DVD of this film because my book group were doing a book about Crawford and Davis – not my so of thing at all, otherwise but, nevertheless, something different and therefore interesting.

The intensely bitter Hollywood rivalry between the film’s two stars, Davis and Crawford, was heavily important to the film’s initial success. This in part led to the revitalization of the then-waning careers of the two stars. In the years after release, critics continued to acclaim the film for its psychologically driven black comedy, camp, and creation of the psycho-biddy subgenre.

In 1917, nine-year-old “Baby” Jane Hudson is a vaudevillian child star. She performs to adoring crowds and inspires the creation of a rather expensive Baby Jane doll. Jane is shown to have become a spoiled brat whose doting stage-father Ray Hudson gives in to her whims and demands while her disapproving mother and jealous, overlooked 11-year-old sister Blanche Hudson watch from the sidelines.

By 1935, the now grown sisters’ roles have reversed. Both are movie stars, but Blanche is the successful and glamorous one, while Jane’s films have flopped. Unable to establish her talent as an adult actress, Jane has taken to drinking. One night after coming home from a party, their car pulls up the driveway to their mansion and one of the sisters steps out to open the gate. When she reaches the gate, the sister who is driving steps on the accelerator, smashing the car into the gate.

In 1962, a wheelchair bound Blanche (Joan Crawford) and a severely aged Jane (Bette Davis) are living together in a creepy mansion in Los Angeles. Blanche lives primarily in her bedroom watching her old movies on television and reliving her former career. Jane is an antagonist who fights with her sister constantly, drinks excessively, and wears caked-on makeup in an effort to appear young again. Blanche is heavily dependent on her bitter, abusive sister, except for her friendly relationship with their cleaning woman, Elvira Stitt. Elvira is concerned for Blanche’s well-being at the hands of “crazy” Jane, but Blanche defends her. Elvira tells Blanche that she has discovered her sister has been opening her mail and dumping it in the trash, but Blanche is slow to condemn her and shows concern for her sister’s welfare.

In her own world, Jane is reliving her childhood success in a dark, disturbing manner. She is lost in her memories when she sees her reflection in the mirror and is horrified. At that moment Blanche calls for her sister with an annoying, repeated use of a bedside buzzer from her room: She wants to know why she cannot call out on the telephone was it left off the hook downstairs? Jane is annoyed when Blanche informs her she may be selling the house. Jane fights with her sister, fearing what will become of her, and rips the telephone cord from the wall, further isolating Blanche in her room. When Jane brings Blanche’s lunch afterwards, Blanche finds under the silver serving dish lies her beloved parakeet, dead on a bed of tomato slices.

Jane makes herself up to go out and place an advertisement for a piano player so she can restart her performing career. While she is out, Blanche tries to get the attention of her neighbour, Mrs. Bates, who is tending her flowers below Blanche’s window. When Blanche cannot get her attention, she writes a note pleading for help and throws it from her window. Unfortunately, Jane returns at that moment and the distraction of the car coming up the driveway prevents Mrs. Bates from seeing the crumpled paper. Jane finds the note, however, and when she brings Blanche’s dinner up, she argues with her sister again, telling her the house is hers and it will never be sold. Jane mocks her sister’s kindly concern and drops the folded note in her lap. Jane leaves the room, and when Blanche goes to her serving tray for dinner, she cannot bring herself to touch it.

The next morning when Elvira arrives, Jane tells her she can have the day off. Jane’s abuse of Blanche continues and they fight again when she brings Blanche her lunch. Blanche has not touched her dinner from the night before and wants to know why her breakfast had not been brought. Jane responds because she had not eaten her dinner and Jane tauntingly eats from the previous night’s plate. As she takes the dinner tray away, she tells her sister they have rats in the basement, and when Blanche goes to eat her lunch, she finds a dead rat on the plate. Blanche screams and Jane laughs evilly at her sister’s despair.

Meanwhile, a talented, down-and-out, overweight young man named Edwin Flagg sees Jane’s newspaper advertisement and phones the Hudson house to make an appointment for that afternoon. Edwin lives with his mother and hopes to use this opportunity to land some cash for himself and his mother.

When Edwin shows up at the house, Jane grotesquely performs her signature song from her childhood, “I’ve Written a Letter to Daddy,” with Edwin playing the piano. Edwin tries to conceal his disgust. Jane brags about who she was as a child and shows him a scrapbook of herself. At this time, Blanche uses her buzzer repeatedly to call her sister, wanting to know who the visitor is. Enraged, Jane goes upstairs, confronts Blanche, and rips the buzzer out of the wall and slaps her sister.

Back in the living room, Jane and Edwin agree to his salary and they plot their moves. Jane then drives him home. While she’s out, Blanche goes into Jane’s room looking for food (by now, she hasn’t eaten in a couple of days) and discovers that Jane has practiced forging her signature and is writing checks under Blanche’s name. She works her way down the stairs to the telephone. Blanche calls Jane’s doctor and tells him that she needs help and asks if he could come to the house right away.

Jane comes home to find Blanche on the phone, talking to the doctor. Blanche abruptly ends the conversation and tries to make excuses in front of her enraged sister. Jane beats her as she lies on the floor, kicking her in the head and stomach until she is unconscious. Jane then calls the doctor back and, disguising her voice as Blanche, tells him not to come because “Jane found another doctor”. Then Jane drags her sister to her room, ties her by her arms, gags her, and leaves her there.

The next day, Elvira arrives to see Blanche. Jane tells her that her services are no longer needed and dismisses her. Suspicious, Elvira sneaks into the house when Jane leaves for the bank to get money to pay Edwin. She finds Blanche’s room locked and is attempting to remove the door from the hinges when Jane comes home and catches her. Upon Elvira’s demands, Jane gives her the key, and as the maid enters the darkened room to find Blanche bound and gagged, Jane uses a hammer to kill Elvira. Jane sinks deeper into her delusions, saying, “If only they had loved me enough.” Edwin rings the doorbell, but Jane does not answer, “Not now Edwin, not now,” and when he leaves, she sobs in despair. She drags Elvira’s dead body from the house and disposes of it by dropping it some distance away in a garbage bin.

One week later, the police phone the Hudson house and tell Jane that a cousin of her maid reported her missing. Jane tells them that she hasn’t seen Elvira in a week. A panicked Jane then prepares to leave with her sister, fearing the police will discover what she’s done. Suddenly, a drunken Edwin shows up at the house, demanding to receive his first payment. While he is there, a weakened Blanche is able to knock over a bedside table in her room. Edwin hears the noise, goes upstairs to investigate, and finds Blanche tied to her bed. He is shocked at her “dying” condition as she begs for his help. Edwin runs from the house and gets away from Jane. Desperate, Jane puts her sister in the car and drives to the beach.

The next morning, the search is on for the missing Hudson sisters. Elvira’s body was found by the police, and there are bulletins on the radio. Blanche, starved and dehydrated, is lying on the sand with Jane sitting beside her, oblivious to her plight. Aware that she is dying, Blanche tells Jane the truth of what happened years before. It was she, Blanche, who tried to run over her drunken sister. Jane, however, moved out of the way in time and Blanche had slammed into the gate and snapped her spine, but managed to drag herself out of the car and up to the wrecked gate. Because Jane was too drunk to realize what happened, she has long believed that she was responsible for her sister’s condition. Jane sadly asks, “You mean all this time we could have been friends?”

However, this revelation comes too little too late for Jane, whose mental health has completely deteriorated by this point. Jane runs to a beach-side concession booth to get ice cream cones for the two of them. Two policemen arrive and intercept Jane as she is returning with the ice cream cones. As a crowd of beach-goers begin surrounding her, Jane realizes that she again has the attention she’s long craved, and she dances before the onlookers, joyfully happy at last, in her decayed imagination. The police spot a motionless Blanche lying on the sand and break through the crowd to help her as the deranged Jane continues to dance.

 

Blanche: You wouldn’t be able to do these awful things to me if I weren’t still in this chair.

Jane: But you *are*, Blanche! You *are* in that chair!

 

 

Dr. Shelby: I don’t quite understand. Is this some kind of emotional disturbance you’re talking about?

Blanche: Yes, she’s emotionally disturbed. She’s unbalanced!

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IN THE COURTYARD OF THE KABBALIST – RUCHAMA KING FEUERMAN

ITVOTKI was reading this during the fallout of President Trump’s assertion that Jerusalem should be the capital city of Israel.  This book captures well the oddness of the city and the way in which many people peacefully co-exist.

She describes well the nightmare of a crowded police cell.

Isaac, 43, a haberdasher, has led a life of “almosts” – almost getting married, almost becoming a rabbi, almost starting a school of his own. After his mother dies, he leaves the Lower East Side and moves to Jerusalem, where he ends up as an assistant to an elderly kabbalist and his wife who daily minister to the seekers who gravitate to their courtyard.

One day on an errand, Isaac happens upon Mustafa, an Arab janitor who works on the Temple Mount, holy to both Jews and Muslims. Mustafa suffers from an extreme case of torticollis – his head is turned painfully and permanently to one side. He has been cast out of his own village – a mutant – unloved even by his own mother.

A month after his mother died, Isaac Markowitz, forty, plagued with eczema and living on the Lower East Side, sold his haberdashery at a decent profit and took an El Al flight to Israel. At the Central Hotel, the most pious-run hotel in all of Jerusalem, he stumbled upon a pamphlet shuffled in with the tourist brochures, a veritable Yellow Pages of saints, zaddiks, rebbes, kabbalists, and other holy men. Rebbe Yehudah’s name stood out—a kabbalist  described as having a gift for analyzing difficulties of the soul. It didn’t hurt that Rebbe Yehudah’s address was within walking distance from the hotel.

Isaac went searching for him in the alleys and byways, Ezekiel Street, Hosea Court, Isaiah Avenue, lost amongst the prophets until he arrived at a shabby stone-floored courtyard on Ninveh Street that fronted a two-storied cottage.

Somehow, the luckless haberdasher from the Lower East Side has finally managed to heal someone’s wounded spirit, in this case, Mustafa, and the two men enter into an intense and fraught friendship.

Though rejected by his family, Mustafa longs to return and be respected by his village. Isaac yearns to find his place, in the courtyard (where he is forever the assistant), and in the romantic realm (he goes out on innumerable blind dates to seek a wife), and is thwarted on both counts by his own anxieties and memories of past betrayals. When a beautiful young woman in the courtyard, Tamar, becomes electrified with feeling for Isaac, he is too frightened and prudish to respond.

Mustafa, wishing to return Isaac’s kindness, finds an ancient shard on the Temple Mount whose value may exceed anyone’s imagination, and brings it to Isaac in gratitude. That gesture sets in a motion a series of unexpected events that land Isaac in the company of Israel’s worst criminal riff raff, put Mustafa in mortal danger, even as Tamar struggles to save them both.

Whose holiness matters? Whose claim on the land is longer, more lasting, more vital? Whose God is best? These most vexing of questions, which trap otherwise smart and even liberal-minded people in boxes they can’t seem to get themselves out of, emerge from this one spot in this one city.

But what if, Feuerman wonders, a Muslim would offer irrefutable evidence of the Jewish presence on the mount? And what if a religious Jew would open his heart to save the life (and soul, presumably) of the Muslim? Could the boxes be broken?

What if the answers lie right beneath our feet?

Feuerman asks these most delectable questions in the form of a fable (the form, it seems, dictated by the place and the subject), infected, like the novels of Meir Shalev, with a kind of Jewish mystical magical realism. She is a wonderfully empathetic and perceptive writer sensitive to the psychology of people particularly who choose to move to Israel. “I’d be riding on the bus or walking along Jaffa Road, and I’d feel the most amazing sensation,” says Isaac. “That I was fulfilling my destiny—not only my personal destiny, but God’s plan for the Jewish People. It’s an extraordinary feeling.”

The only dreamy romanticism lies in Mustafa’s imagination. The idea of being kohen-like has taken hold of him, and he begins to try to act the way he imagines a priest would, and to hungrily watch the priestly blessing at the Western Wall, peering from his perch above. We feel profound pity for Mustafa, rejected by his mother, overlooked for promotion and mistreated by his boss, Sheikh Tawil, and lacking any real friends. It is within the breast of this unfortunate that we find, beyond his outbursts of knee-jerk nationalism and religious dogma, one of the true gems of the book: a living human heart that is drawn to the American Jew against common sense and beyond reason. With such a heart, he cannot live a mindless and numbed life, which in his circumstances might have been a blessing. And so we pity him all the more.

‘Was he ever free?’

Isaac, on the other hand, judgmental, insecure, dull-spirited and constantly itching, is rather less likable; though, truthfully, he too has not had an easy ride. While the Mustafa narrative flows smoothly and delightfully, the Isaac story gains and loses momentum. At times we are totally engaged, at others we do not much care what end he meets. (Perhaps because he does not care sufficiently for himself?) His most noble and compassionate voice appears primarily in his meetings with Mustafa; the rest of the time his character is plodding and non-committal. As much as Mustafa engages his heart and its desires, so Isaac avoids his. “Was he ever free? He always managed to find one prison or another, didn’t he? Never free to take, to claim what could be his. As if to take, was to take away from others.”

Isaac takes action only when forced to, rising reluctantly to the occasion when a bunch of tattooed prisoners decide to crown him their rabbi. He expects to be completely swept away when it comes to love, and absent that, finds himself at a loss – and so we, the poor readers, must wince our way through the scenes where he almost fouls up the best thing that has ever happened to him: the entry of the young, wild and beautiful Tamar into his life. She is clearly, and inexplicably, ready to love this damaged man far more than we. It is only toward the end that we finally warm up to him, as he transforms into an active agent within his life. Having chosen to bring such a character into the foreground, perhaps the author could have done a little more to elicit our sympathies rather than our irritation, especially as she does such a good job with Mustafa.

As for the old kabbalist and his wife, they are constantly surprising us by overturning any stereotypes we might hold about Jewish mystics and their spouses (if, indeed, such preconceptions exist). Take the Rebbe’s statement, delivered with a wink and grin: “You know who miracles happen to? Pragmatists, realists. Come up with a business plan. An idea. Lay the groundwork. Then come and I’ll be happy to give you a blessing for success.” The rebbetzin, for her part, has a little secret that Isaac only discovers later in the book.

Feuerman’s novel recognizes as well the complex, difficult nature of human spirituality. Isaac’s Judaism and Mustapha’s Islam are allowed to develop without a sense of chauvinism or superiority. Their friendship, the human need for love, and the relationship between men and women are developed in a non-dogmatic manner. The relationships in the story get developed in too nonsexual a way. The book moves slowly and the plot sometimes creeks. The story cannot be told without a political dimension. On the whole, Feuerman describes the politics of Jerusalem well but sometimes the story gets in the way of the characters.

The author realistically describes the politics in Israel, the religious Jews disallowed to pray at the Temple Mount, the Jewish government squeezed between Jewish factions, the religious and the secular, and the enmity of the Arabs demonstrated by riots with any mention of Jewish claim to the Temple Mount, as Arabs scavenge the precious antiquities and artifacts of the Temple.

The author: “I once met a great kabbalist and heard him laugh. We actually laughed together. For years afterward, whenever I needed a lift, I would remember the rebbe’s laughter – our co-mingled laughter – and it sustained me. Sometimes I think I wrote In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist in order to relive that laughter.”

Researching the novel led Ruchama to kabbalists, Israeli ex-convicts, Arab laborers, archeologists, Temple Mount police men, connoisseurs of Israeli prison slang, and soup kitchens, among other places. One of the most transformative experiences was her time spent at a Jewish funeral home in New Jersey where she observed a ritual purification for a scene she was writing. Afterward, she volunteered at the Hevra Kadisha burial society for three years.

Rachel Leal: Could you tell us a little about your background? You were born in Nashville and raised in Virginia and Maryland. These places seem very different, culturally, from Israel. Were you raised in an Orthodox household like the one in your novel?

Ruchama King Feuerman: It’s complicated. When I was growing up, my father was gravitating toward something that was solid, traditional, true, and more often than not it looked like Orthodox Judaism. He loved the life of the synagogue and developed something of a crush on rabbis. Slowly, the family drifted along with him toward religious observance. When I was 15, I made my own commitment to Orthodoxy. The center of my influence was no longer the home. I guess I developed my own crush on rabbis, and on rebbezins, too.

RL: Both Isaac and Tamar of In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist are transplants from America looking for spiritual or religious renewal. You bought a one-way ticket to Israel at 17 years old—a courageous act for a 17-year-old. What was your goal and what where you seeking?

RKF: Moving to Israel was just a natural expression of everything I had been learning my whole life. Israel, God, the Torah—it was all of a piece. It had always been my father’s deepest wish to live there, and his dream became mine.

I thrived in that spiritually-soaked atmosphere, and how easy it was to meet scholars, mystics, holy men, and wise women. You could just take a bus and knock on some kabbalist’s door. Back in the States, whenever I said a blessing over food in public, I’d cover my mouth and pretend to yawn, so no one would see and think I was weird. What was I seeking? To feel at home when I walked down the street, at home with my Jewishness and in the universe. To not have to apologize for making blessings. In Israel, even people who know little about Judaism will understand that when you exit the bathroom, you’re reciting the after-bathroom-blessing and not mumbling something psychotic under your breath.

RL: The characters in In the Courtyard are very relatable to an audience outside the Jewish and Arab world. Was it important to you that you reach a secular or non-Jewish audience?

RKF: I’m glad you found the characters relatable. Yes, I did want to reach a wider audience. For me, the kabbalist’s courtyard and the goings on at the Temple Mount—they’re a literary gold mine. I had to capture these worlds, the holy parts, the ridiculous, the diversity, and layeredness, for want of a better term. I did fear someone else might get there first and only see the ridiculous parts. (Sometimes it feels like some literary map is getting colonized.)

By the way, I always write with a non-Jewish audience in mind. It stimulates me, sharpens me, forces me to engage in an intimate way. I have to be brain to brain with this imaginary audience, eye to eye, human to human.

RL: The novel is set in 1999. What is the significance of that year?

RKF: The late nineties were basically a confluence of several storms. The Israeli government had changed from right-wing to left-wing, and there was serious talk about giving back the Temple Mount. The Oslo Accords were on their last gasp, and suicide bombings were happening every other week. The largest mosque in Israel, the Marwani Mosque on the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary, was getting built at the time, and major excavations were taking place, pretty much without regard for the site’s archeological relics. Also, the country was still nursing psychic wounds from the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin by a Sephardic religious Jew. There was a tremendous backlash against the Orthodox community. Both the left and right factions thought the other side was delusional, dangerous, each hoping the other faction would disappear. It seemed at the time that a lot was at stake, a pivotal moment. Still, I’ve yet to encounter a year in Israel which didn’t seem pivotal. All these factors influenced my choosing 1999. Also, I like the sound and look of it.

RL: Your character Isaac is riddled with self-doubt and weakness, yet he’s likeable and the reader is hopeful for him. How did you balance this?

RKF: I’ve been with Isaac for so long, it’s hard for me to imagine a time when I was pre-Isaac, plotting and devising his character. He’s the kind of man I might have seriously dated myself, say in my twenties, when I was drawn to compassionate men with a high quotient of angst. Isaac is someone who doesn’t know his own desire, his wants. It appears like a weak pulse, there and not there. Think of the emotionally constipated valet in Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day. The reader can’t help but ache for the valet to come in contact with his own desire. Isaac isn’t afflicted as strongly as that poor guy, but he is afflicted. It’s a kind of exquisite torture to watch someone come close to what he really craves, then bury this awareness, out of fear and ignorance, and rediscover it again, even if only by acquiring a sliver of self-knowledge. Because there’s a world in that sliver.

RL: There is a complex and diverse cultural mix of not only Arabs but also Jews in Jerusalem in In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist: Yeshiva students, orthodox Jews, secular Israeli Jews, ba’al teshuvas, black-hats, kabbalists. Isaac makes note of these throughout the novel. Is this a reflection of Isaac as an outsider who would be more sensitive to these differences? Or is this a reflection of his inability to assimilate himself fully into any group? How does this compare to the Jerusalem you
experienced?

RKF: I don’t see Isaac as an outsider, struggling to fit in. He simply notes the differences among the various groups that others notice. All of these differences, the cultural mix you mentioned, are of enormous significance to others, but not to Isaac. Part of Isaac’s appeal is his ability to be unruffled. (This quality also has a negative side in terms of women—there, he needs to be more rufflable.) But he has that magnificent quality that some Jewish men have: the ability to be unruffled and effective with many kinds of people.

I experienced Jerusalem as a united city, despite itself, and a divided city, despite itself. You know that Freudian concept, “the narcissism of the small difference”? You end up feeling aggrieved or threatened by the person who differs from you in some small way, rather than the person who is hugely dissimilar. You can see this sort of dynamic in Israel with everyone crowded together. All these groups of Jews who desperately need to maintain a separateness from each other. And so there’s a divisiveness that flares up to the point of becoming enflamed. Sometimes the only thing that can soothe and lower the tribal tension is a parent figure who loves everyone, because when you feel utterly loved you can accept the minor differences between us all. The kabbalist functions as a proxy father who can love everyone, still the savage beast within.

RL: In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist features a woman who has been studying the Torah. Has this caused you any criticism?

RKF: I’m a little confused by the question. Women studying Torah in the Orthodox community is pretty much the norm these days. It wouldn’t engender criticism but praise. Do you mean the fact that one female character studies Kabbalistic texts? It’s possible that could raise a few brows. The study of kabbalah isn’t exactly encouraged—for men or women. I’m not referring to Madonna-style kabbalah study where you pick up cool concepts at a lecture but serious and direct engagement with the text. Why is it discouraged? It’s a whole topic. I think because it needs to be approached as a whole and mature person. You wouldn’t give away nuclear knowledge just because a country wants it. It has to be a mature and responsible government. Kabbalah is one of the treasures of the Jewish people. It can’t be held too preciously but it can’t be given away just because it glitters.

RL: In an article you wrote, you described the lengths you went to research bathrooms on the Temple Mount. Is this dedication to research common in your writing process? Is there one character more than any others that required more research?

RKF: I came across this line somewhere: “I didn’t let my lack of research get in the way of writing my book.” For me, I feared too much preliminary research just might turn into a detour, yet another reason not to write. So I researched as I wrote. Even though this caused me a little trouble—when I discovered, say, that the ancient pomegranate relic I’d based my novel on turned out in real life to be a hoax—I was glad I took that route.

The characters I researched most were Mustafa and the kabbalist. They were the most elusive to me. For Mustafa I needed to get a quick education in Islam, Arab culture, and what it’s like to be a menial Arab worker in Israel, and with a deformity, no less. I read books, chapters within books, spoke with people, Googled like a mad woman, but I’d hardly call my research exhaustive. I cherry-picked the information I needed and ran with it.

Researching the kabbalist was a hoot. I spoke with many people about their encounters with kabbalists (although I easily could’ve relied on my own experiences). People kept telling me miracle tales, amazing things that this or that kabbalist had predicted and had come true, but the more I heard, the more, well, impatient I got. None of these miracle stories were what I wanted—and I had no idea what I wanted. All I knew was that they didn’t bring me closer to my fictional kabbalist. Finally I learned to narrow my questions: What did the kabbalist’s beard look like, how did he gesture with his hands, what kind of small talk did he make with his wife or assistant, what did he like to eat for lunch? What color were his socks? That sort of thing. Slowly, a kabbalist began to emerge. I’m in love with details.

Also, in order to authenticate a scene, I showed up at a Jewish funeral home to witness how a body is ritually cleansed and purified for burial. It seemed too ghoulish to nail my scene and then run off, so I stayed on as a volunteer at the funeral home for a couple of years afterward. They did need an extra pair of hands. You could say that my novel wrote me as much as I wrote it.

RL: You returned to the United States to pursue a degree in writing. How do you think writing in the U.S. has made you a different writer than you would have been in Israel?

RKF: There’s a New Yorker cartoon: A writer sitting before a computer says, “It must be winter because my characters are starting to wear mittens again.” All the time I was immersed in writing this novel, I thought I was in Jerusalem, because my characters were praying at the Western Wall, dodging bombs, and spitting sunflower seeds. So in a way, my feeling of being exiled from Jerusalem was a big factor in making me want to write about it. Maybe if I’d lived there, I wouldn’t have felt the same deep-in-the-marrow urgency. Maybe each writer needs his or her own exile—that place to write from.

RL: Could you tell us about any writers who influenced or mentored you?

RKF: In college, I was lucky to have as my teacher the author Allen Hoffman (Small Worlds), who writes brilliantly and from a place of great knowledge of Torah. I saw it could be done, not just by the Yiddish writers of 70 and 100 years ago, but today. He planted a seed.

As for writers who influenced me, I do think Rohinton Mistry, Graham Greene, Chaim Grade, and Monica Ali’s

Quotations:

Isaac didn’t deny a segulah’s special power, but such quick remedies to people’s problems didn’t appeal to him. They led to exaggerated expectations with minimal labor. But there was no stop­ping them. That’s what people wanted. Microwave pizza, microwave marriage, microwave God.

“If you think God is a pinball machine”—he smacked his fist into his Iopen palm and his arm took off for the sky—”you pull the lever, God lights up, the bells ring, then I can’t help you. I can’t make such promises t on God’s behalf, neither can the rebbe.” He was fed up with magical I thinking. It was downright idolatrous.

“Each child has a special task in this world.”

“Look at your village and look at mine. We have so little.” In this country, the Arabs were the mules and horses, and the Jews held the reins. His brother Tariq had told him that. He rubbed the knobs in his neck, hard and stubborn as stone.

“It is both sides who don’t see,” the rabbi said, turning the spout in his i hands, “not just one. If the people in your village don’t pay taxes, and the great majority of Arab councils refuses to collect them, then they’re not

seeing the government of Israel, are they?” The rabbi’s pale eyes came closer to him. “Every year the state has to bailout a number of Arab towns and villages because they don’t pay taxes. They get the largest grants, I hear, more than any other group in the country. And they don’t serve in the army, either.”

“a gift for analyzing difficulties of the soul.”

He took a seat under a stoop overhung by a thick old olive tree and waited beside an odd assortment of Jews: a mustached man in a ragged T-shirt, an old lady in pink biker shorts, a burly Hassid pacing, a man weeping behind his briefcase. He noticed in the courtyard a fragrant smell of rosemary and honeysuckle and jasmine, and something else he later identified—chicken soup.

An old man, his white beard resting on his chin like a cloud, motioned to one person and then another. His silver-eyed gaze looked as bright and happy as an inventor with his machine. This must be the rebbe, Isaac thought, and he got comfortable on the stoop while he waited his turn. He watched a plump, dark-skinned woman in torn stockings eat a pizza slice with olives sprinkled on top. She seemed to relish each bite, her nostrils flaring and contracting with each swallow. Suddenly, the pizza fell splat, cheese facedown, onto the courtyard stones. Isaac stared at the woman, and the woman lifted her eyes and stared back at him. A heartbreak in her raw dark eyes. “Can I still eat it?” she rasped, reaching for the dirty slice. Isaac shrugged and took out his wallet. “Maybe you should buy yourself another pizza,” he said, and gave her a few shekels. She pocketed the money but scraped the cheese off the pizza and continued eating.

Finally the old man, the rebbe, motioned to him. Isaac followed him indoors and down a narrow hall to a small room with a table, the walls and shelves heavy with books.

Isaac spoke to the rebbe from a place of defeat—no wife, no children, not even a job he could say was a higher calling. And now, his mother dead. “I’ve lost my bearings,” he sobbed a little. “I don’t know what to do anymore. Does this sound crazy?”

The rebbe said in English softened by a European accent, “Life is not a clean or an easy business. You need to talk and I need to listen.”

And Rebbe Yehudah listened. Then, with both his hands the rebbe pushed a paper cup of seltzer across the table to Isaac. The sleeves of his white kaftan fell back and exposed the tattoo—thin survivor arms. He slid over a perfectly rectangular piece of honey cake on a napkin. “Makh a bracha un trink etvas.” Eat something and take a drink. A spider crawled on the napkin, and when Isaac lifted his hand to flatten it, the rebbe put a hand on his wrist.

“Though it’s not forbidden to kill,” he said, “maybe you want to consider letting the creature live.” Isaac stared at him and set his hand down. The rebbe said, “Stay here awhile, if it suits you.”

For the next three weeks Isaac came to the courtyard, helping out as the need arose.

His managerial experience at the haberdashery now came in handy. Sometimes he pitched in when the rebbe or his rebbetzin was cooking up a batch of herring for the food deliveries to the poor. One day the rebbe spoke to him. “My wife and I can no longer come and go as we once did. You are young. The needs are great. You can help.” Isaac’s heart began to jerk and pound. The rebbe said, “Here you can have a place to eat, a bed to sleep. It isn’t much by way of this world, but it will be a blessing for us both.”

Isaac answered the call.

(A year later. Isaac is going on a blind date, a shidduch, with a widow, Mrs. Edelman. Actually, they know of each other from the kabbalist’s courtyard. They are meeting for the first time in a hotel lobby. One more thing. Married women – including widows — cover their hair with wigs.)

A ficus tree partly shielded Isaac Markowitz as he waited outside the café in the Jerusalem Plaza hotel lobby for his blind date to appear.

Just then Mrs. Edelman waved her fingertips at him from across a sea of glass coffee tables and puffy puffy chairs, and he lifted his arm in return, bringing down a rainstorm of ficus leaves. She walked toward him serenely, looking angelic in the creamy lights of the hotel lobby. She had changed from the blunt pageboy wig she usually wore to something a little longer, fuller, and feathered at the side. Rather daring for the proper widow, even though her wig barely grazed her shoulders. The thought that Mrs. Edelman (he couldn’t even think of using her first name) might have chosen her deluxe Sabbath wig for this shidduch, this very blind date, made him blush.

He emerged from behind the ficus tree. “Shall we have something to eat?” He gestured toward the café, while not quite looking at her. Suddenly, he felt naked without the courtyard as a buffer.

“How about just sitting in the lobby,” she offered, smoothing back a feathery brown strand of wig. “I’m not particularly hungry.”

He coughed his assent, though he pondered her meaning. Maybe she, too, didn’t have high hopes for this evening and didn’t want to wait around for their order if things went poorly. Or perhaps, he thought more charitably, she was similar to many pious Jerusalem women who took compassion on a Jewish man’s wallet.

She sat in a beige-and-burgundy-striped easy chair next to a lamp, and he stood, undecided. Should he sit facing her three feet away on the sofa? Too formal, he thought, too much like an interview. But to sit in the easy chair kitty-corner to her seat struck him as unbearably intimate. He found himself backing his way toward the sofa—after all, weren’t these blind dates interviews in a sense, packed as they were with questions designed to ferret out who was marriage-worthy and who should be set aside?—and he sat down heavily, bumping his knee against the glass coffee table.

Mrs. Edelman, in her simple navy skirt and matching jacket, looked like a perfectly wrapped box, all neat corners and angles. Nice-looking and a fine lady, he thought. Most likely in her upper-thirties. In short, appropriate for him. “So how long have you been coming to the courtyard?” he began. Better if he took charge with the questions. In this way, he could avoid the unwanted ones.

“Oh, for ages,” she said. “Rebbe Yehudah has been just wonderful to my family, especially since . . . you know, my husband passed away,” she murmured. “So helpful.”

Helpful. He didn’t know why, but the word irked him, as if the rebbe were no more than a social worker. “Do you have any unusual story that you can tell me?” he asked her. “Something special about the rebbe?”

“Unusual?” She frowned. “A story? How exactly do you mean?”

“I don’t know, anything out of the ordinary he said or did.” Any tidbit about the rebbe was precious to him.

“Hmm.” She crossed her legs tightly at the ankles. “All I can think of is, once I had a terrible cold. I could barely breathe, but I didn’t want to break my appointment with Rebbe Yehudah. The strange thing is, after I spoke to the rebbe, my nose”—she touched it with a light hand—“well, I could breathe again. Not that I believe in that voodoo stuff,” she said with a deep roll of her eyes and dismissive shake of her fluffy wig.

“And neither do I,” he said, though he found her vehemence a little off-putting. “Some tea?” he inquired as a waiter walked by carrying mugs and a small porcelain teapot.

“Tea would be nice.” She nodded her thanks as the waiter poured her a cup. “I must tell you, I never thought I’d seek advice from a man who looks as though he’s wearing an old sheet, but he really is the most sensible person I’ve ever met.”

Isaac nodded. “True, true.” Though again he winced—at the word sensible. Too paltry for Rebbe Yehudah. Ach, he was far too zealous of the rebbe’s honor. .

“Actually, it’s a kaftan,” he now said mildly to Mrs. Edelman, “not an old sheet,” and then he countered with a few stories of his own about Rebbe Yehudah, one involving an overdue pregnant lady, the second a lottery, the third a lawsuit—well-told stories from his rebbe repertoire. A few times Mrs. Edelman gazed in amazement or laughed out loud, and her wig shook alarmingly. Isaac was on the verge of relaxing into the conversation, enjoying his tea, when Mrs. Edelman leaned forward and asked, “I hardly know anything about you. Tell me, where did you grow up again?”

“The Lower East Side.”

“Your parents still live there?”

“Actually”—he paused to remove his hat and set it carefully on the seat cushion beside him—“neither of them is alive.”

“I see.” The widow nodded composedly. She pulled her navy skirt a little lower over her knees. “So what did your father do for a living?”

His stomach muscles pinched slightly—the chill of questions to come. Or maybe the hotel’s central air-conditioning was cranked too high. “He was a scrap and salvage man,” he said. “Ran his own business.” About his father, a man with a nineteen-inch neck span and an endless supply of coarse jokes, the less said, the better. Though his father kept the basic traditions of the Torah, it had always struck Isaac that he and his father were made from different batches of dough.

“And your mother . . . ?”

“A wonderful lady,” was all he would allow. Simple, devoted, and practical, but unfortunately, she hadn’t been capable of standing up to her husband’s bullying. “And you?” he tried to divert her.

“My parents?” She touched her collarbone. “No, I’m not finished with you,” she said, now smiling, a little menacingly, it seemed to Isaac. “I heard you were a haberdasher. Somehow I can’t put that together with what you do now in the courtyard.”

“A haberdasher, yes.” Isaac blew on both hands, cracked and scaly with eczema. He remembered his shoe box of a store on the Lower East Side. The storeroom was always dusty and full of mouse turd.

“Actually,” he said, suddenly feeling a need to round himself out, “when I was younger, I hoped to teach Torah.” This, over the objections of his father who had wanted him to be an accountant or dentist, something “useful” his father would say. “And I did teach for a bit.”

“Really?” Mrs. Edelman sat up, hands clasped in her lap, in a posture of complete receptivity. “You taught Torah?” Her brown eyes fixed on him so encouragingly that all his thoughts and ideas about Jewish education began to spill out, his desire to reach the boys who couldn’t sit still with the books, the ones the other teachers considered beyond hope. He discovered he had a special talent as a youth leader, and people in the community recognized it, too. A few summers, he ran camps. For reasons unknown to Isaac, the boys gravitated toward him. Then, in his early twenties, Isaac became ambitious—he wanted to start a special afternoon program, not quite a school, but almost.

He talked on and on to Mrs. Edelman, about the backer who had lent him a sum of money; and the backer’s fine daughter, the lovely, dark-haired Gitty, who was fired up with the same idealism as himself; the rundown building they’d refurbished together, making their dreams come true; his old yeshiva buddy Heshy, garrulous, sunny, and built like an ox, who he had recruited to help teach since he bore the official title of rabbi, and Isaac’s own rabbinic ordination was at least a year away. He remembered that moment when Gitty had turned to him and said, “You’re going to accomplish amazing things, Isaac.” Those had been the best months in his life, getting ready for the wedding and getting that place into shape, tearing down—

“You were engaged?” Mrs. Edelman broke in.

“Why—” Isaac broke off, stupefied. His ears and neck went cold, then hot. How could he be so stupid as to have relaxed? He was a fool. “Yes, engaged,” he said, and expelled a sour gust of air. “To Gitty.”

“And then . . .” Mrs. Edelman’s eyes coaxed him on.

“And then, nothing. It didn’t work out. She broke it off.” Simultaneously his elbow began to itch and he was overcome with an almost violent urge to yawn. The yawn he smothered with his hand. The itch couldn’t be contained, though, and he scratched through his suit jacket.

She sipped her cup of tea and patted a napkin against her lips. “So your heart was broken,” she concluded.

He was reaching for his hat. “One might say such a thing,” he replied with a small ironic smile, as if to surgically detach himself from his own history. Gitty had broken it off two days before the wedding. She was tearful but wouldn’t explain the breakup, though he begged her to. The day of his canceled wedding, a black tornado of a flu descended upon him that he couldn’t shake for weeks, and he’d had to let all his plans for the school program drop. Anyway, he’d run out of funds. Four months later, Gitty married Heshy, his recruit, and Isaac finally understood everything. She had chosen his yeshiva buddy, quick-witted, extroverted Rabbi Heshy with the big arms, broad thighs, and slap-happy can-do manner, so different from Isaac, so similar, in fact to his own father.

“I’m curious. Whatever happened to the school you were planning?”

At this, he signaled a waiter passing with a white teapot. “Care for more tea?” Another yawn overtook him that he tried to cover with his palm. What was wrong with him? Up since 6:00 a.m., he supposed.

Her eyes darted from Isaac to the waiter. “I think it’s getting late,” she said firmly. The waiter shrugged and moved on.

They walked out the hotel lobby, while Isaac viciously scratched his elbow, releasing flakes, he was sure. He waited like a gentleman for her bus to arrive while trying valiantly to stave off more yawns. The night air had a sting to it on this April evening. He wished he had brought a scarf. Cold, itchy, tired. The world—or maybe just his body—could be such an uncomfortable place sometimes. Mrs. Edelman said, “So you’ve been living in the rebbe’s home for a year now?”

“That’s right.” His neck craned for the bus.

“Don’t you want a place of your own? Or perhaps you can’t afford it.”

Why oh why was she asking him these questions when she had already disqualified him? “I can certainly afford my own place. But what a privilege to be able to assist the rebbe. When I marry, I’ll rent my own place. Or maybe buy.” Scratch, scratch.

Mrs. Edelman nodded and let out a big yawn of her own. “Excuse me for saying this,” she threw out as the bus rounded the corner, “but I can’t see you ever getting married, if you’ll forgive me.”

A lump of silence. Then, “Just because you and I are probably not a match,” he said stiffly, “doesn’t mean I’m unmatchable.”

“I know a serious man when I see one,” she stated, and a flush traveled from his itchy sock all the way to the black hat on his head. It was true. All his setups ended like this. Why he even bothered to date was a mystery to him.

“So why waste my time?” the widow went on, reading his mind. “Or anyone’s?”

He pondered this. “A single person can be compared to a captive held in jail, waiting to be redeemed,” he said at last. “He could be saved the next minute or in another twenty years. One never knows. Don’t the sages say that redemption can come in the blink of an eye?”

Mrs. Edelman let out a faint snort. “I fail to see how that answers my question,” she said, and boarded the bus.

Then he took his own bus back to the courtyard.

At the cottage on Ninveh Street, he hung up his jacket in the tiny hallway closet.

Rebbe Yehudah’s wife stuck her plump head out of the kitchen doorway, though it was late, already past ten in the evening. “How did it go?” she asked, her tightly woven snood covering every speck of hair. She glanced down at his arms, and her pale brown eyes went wide with alarm. “Oy vey, you’re bleeding!”

He glanced down and past his scabby bloodied elbow toward a memory, the school Gitty and Heshy had started, modeled so closely after his own (they even had recruited his former students). It was a great success, he’d heard. The school had saved many a teen and young man. As for himself, he never did get his rabbinic ordination.

“It’s nothing,” he said to the rebbetzin, pulling a tube of hydrocortisone from his pocket. He shmeared a fingernail amount onto his elbow, asked after the rebbe’s health, and shuffled off to sleep in his own room next to the study.

The Epigraph:
” If I tell you my story, you will listen for awhile and then you will fall asleep.
But, if, as I tell you my story, you begin to hear your own story, you will wake up.” – Chassidic saying. 

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The Patronising Disposition of Unaccountable Power – bishop James Jones

THE former Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd James Jones, has urged the Government to end “the patronising disposition of unaccountable power” in a follow-up report based on the experiences of the Hillsborough families.

Bishop Jones chaired the independent panel that ultimately led to fresh inquests and a final verdict of unlawful killing for the 96 victims of the football stadium disaster.

The title of the report, The Patronising Disposition of Unaccountable Power, is a phrase used by Bishop Jones to sum up how public bodies, from the police to the coroner’s court and the Government, treated the loved ones of those who died in the 1989 disaster.

It was commissioned by Theresa May, then Home Secretary, in April last year, and is the fruit of hundreds of meetings and submissions from the families of the Hillsborough victims and others involved in their quarter-century campaign for justice.

In his opening foreword, addressed to Mrs May, Bishop Jones writes: “In your manifesto you also set out your plans to confront and overcome a number of ‘burning injustices’. I suggest that the way in which families bereaved through public tragedy are treated by those in authority is in itself a burning injustice which must be addressed.”

The reforms he sketches out would benefit not only the Hillsborough families, but many others who have also experienced a dismissive, uncaring, and defensive attitude when trying to challenge public authorities, Bishop Jones argues.

“There are others who have found that when, in all innocence and with a good conscience, they have asked questions of those in authority on behalf of those they love, the institution has closed ranks, refused to disclose information, used public money to defend its interests, and acted in a way that was both intimidating and oppressive.”

Whatever the Hillsborough families achieve will therefore be of “value to the whole nation”.

The families have not got over their grief, and never will, Bishop Jones writes. But he hopes that his report, and the changes that it recommends, will be another milestone on their “journey without a destination”.

The Government’s recent proposal of an independent public advocate for bereaved families after a disaster is welcomed, but, among its 25 “points of learning”, the report also recommends the creation of a Charter for Families Bereaved through Public Tragedy: commitments to transparency and public accountability for institutions to sign up to.

It is also imperative that the inquest procedure is reformed, to enable families to participate fully and be treated with respect and sensitivity, the report concludes. Public bodies should not be allowed to use taxpayers’ money to outspend the families, and so procure far superior legal representation.

Coroners should permit family members to read out “pen portraits”, and display images of their dead loved ones, and public bodies must undergo a cultural shift so that they approach inquests as a place to learn lessons and disclose information honestly, not simply attempt to minimise their culpability, the report says.

Finally, there should be consideration of how to enshrine a “duty of candour” upon police officers, to ensure that they co-operate fully with investigations.

The Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, said: “I am grateful to Bishop James Jones for undertaking this important piece of work. His thoughtful and considered report raises important points. The Government will now carefully study the 25 points of learning, and we will provide a full response in due course.”

Quotations:

Over the last two decades as I have listened to what the families have endured, a phrase has formed in my mind to describe what they have come up against whenever they have sought to challenge those in authority – ‘the patronising disposition of unaccountable power’. Those authorities have been in both the public and the private sectors.

I was taken to the mortuary. This was cruel. This was my brother, who I knew inside out; who I had slept with. It was just through a window… I asked if I could go in and see him. There was a kerfuffle. They said no, he was the property of the coroner. I said “he is not, he is my mother’s property”.’

‘Police officers visited my mum shortly after the disaster… They brought my dad’s belongings in a bin liner and just tipped them on the floor. They said, “What was an old man doing going to a game like that?”’

People talk too loosely about closure. They fail to realise that there can be no closure to love,  nor should there be for someone you have loved and lost. Furthermore, grief is a journey without a destination. The bereaved travel through a landscape of memories and thoughts of what might have been. It is a journey marked by milestones, some you seek, some you stumble on. For the families and survivors of Hillsborough these milestones have included the search for truth, accountability and justice. But even these are not the end of the road. They are still travelling. And this report is another step along the way‘…West Midlands Police phoned up to say that they had Brian’s personal effects and that they would be available to collect from a police station in Liverpool. However, this was the same day as Brian’s funeral, but we were told that if they did not come to collect them on this particular day then they would be disposed of. So we went to the police station and waited all day. Eventually Brian’s possessions were brought out, but the police officer just emptied the contents onto a table. This included the polaroid photograph of Brian which had been taken hours after his death, and which we had never seen before. The police officer was from Merseyside police.’

‘I had to run the gauntlet to go to school while I was doing my GCSEs. The press

besieged my house. It should never have been allowed – it should have been a child

protection issue. The press took photographs of children and something needs to be done to stop this.’

I note the recent Conservative Party manifesto commitment not to proceed with Part 2 of the inquiry. The manifesto states that this is because of ‘the comprehensive nature of the first stage of the Leveson Inquiry and… the lengthy investigations by the police and Crown Prosecution Service into alleged wrongdoing’. Nevertheless, I register here the fact that families who raised the Leveson Inquiry with me expressed strong support for Part 2 proceeding.

‘[At the first inquest] they actually read out the names of everybody and the amount of alcohol. They read our 14 year old son’s name out and then said “nil”. I was horrified. They had his height and weight wrong… They hadn’t taken much care. But surely you would take care to take measurements etcetera? It was very hurtful.’

‘We have always been led to believe that Paul was being helped in the pen by [a witness] which gave me and my family great comfort knowing there was somebody with my son and he wasn’t alone and scared.’ [At the recent inquests this was shown to be not the case.] ‘That destroyed me.’

‘Because the Inquests were being held in Warrington, I lived out of a hotel for 25 months which caused greater anxiety and stress to me as I was away from home five days per  week. I would like people to start considering us families who don’t live in Liverpool, when they choose locations and take into consideration the miles we have to travel to attend meetings and court. To put police witnesses in the same hotel as us bereaved families  who were staying at the Penta hotel during the inquests was absolutely disgraceful!’

‘Have you got more people coming or are they all here? It’s not like Liverpool fans to turn up at the last minute.’ Lord Justice Stuart-Smith: Speaking at his first meeting with bereaved families in  October 1997

‘I had a telephone call from the then South Yorkshire Chief Constable Med Hughes in

the stages before the HIP was set up in 2009. During the call he said “I am under no

obligation to disclose anything and the papers belong to me. If I wanted to I could take them into the yard and have a bonfire with them”. I replied if he did we would turn him into a guy and chuck him on the top of the fire.’

‘In 1997 I gave up my job, moved away from Bromsgrove in Worcestershire and away from my parents to live in Liverpool to be closer to the Hillsborough Campaign as we never knew what was going on. If it wasn’t on the national news or in the national papers, we never knew what was going on. It was like living on a different planet.’

‘You cannot have 96 unlawfully killed and no one held accountable for it.’

‘I went to Operation Resolve to view video material from the pens. [The member of staff  from Operation Resolve] said “Well, what do you see?” You are already on edge. I was looking for Pete. And I said, “I am looking”. He said “There he is, on the stretcher. Look – going, going, gone. They have dropped him”. He said, “I will show you again”, and they showed it again and he said exactly the same thing again. There were two or three other officers and they took us to one side and asked us if we wanted to make a complaint about his conduct. A complete lack of sympathy. I was devastated.’

…within my industry, as far as I am aware, no one trains journalists in specific techniques for interviewing trauma victims. This would appear to be an oversight. Both victims and journalists alike may be better served if journalists have training of this nature…’

You can download it from here.

 

 

 

Wallpaper City Guide Barcelona

WCGBNot a lot in this and why pay money to get a series of blank pages, lined or squared, for one’s own notes?

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Christianity and Science – John D. Weaver

CASSince I taught this topic at A’ level, I have read many of the books in the bibliography so was up to speed on most of it. But it’s a good introduction for those who need it.

He uses an odd dating system – BP = Before the Present.

The SCM Core Text, “Christianity & Science” provides an advanced introduction to the lively debate between the relative truth claims made by science and the absolute truth claims made by religions, and Christianity in particular.

John Weaver examines the interaction between science and the Christian faith and explores the place of faith in an age of science. Weaver, himself a scientist, explores the responses of the Christian faith to scientific advances, particularly as they impinge upon an understanding of God and human nature.

Contemporary issues such as cloning, stem cell research, GM crops, global climate change and ecological destruction, new research on the origins of life and the issue of suffering brought about by ‘natural evil’ such as the Boxing Day tsunami, are covered in this accessible and student-friendly textbook.

It is designed to communicate information clearly and accessibly, using chapter summaries, diagrams and questions for further reading as well as suggestions for further reading at the close of chapters.

He explores the responses of the Christian faith to scientific advances, particularly as they impinge upon an understanding of God and human nature. Contemporary issues such as cloning, stem cell research, GM crops, global climate change and ecological destruction, new research on the origins of life and the issue of suffering brought about by ‘natural evil’ such as the Boxing Day tsunami,

John Weaver is Principal of the South Wales Baptist College in Cardiff. Combining careers as a geologist, Baptist minister and theology tutor, he has continually sought to explore the dialogue between science and theology in ways that help people to make sense of their experience of the world, and the ways in which God can be understood to act.

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