Posts Tagged ‘Judaism’

So today marks the 13th anniversary of my bnei mitzvah, when my sister Adi and I were called to the Torah in official recognition of reaching adulthood in Judaism.* According to the Gregorian calendar, anyway: August 19th, 2006. The anniversary date on the Hebrew calendar falls on August 26th this year, and the Torah portion my sister and I read from, Re’eh (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17), will be read in synagogues on August 31st. It’s a whole lot of complicated, I know.

The point is, the date I pay attention to, August 19th, 2006, has its anniversary today. Thirteen years ago. A full half of my lifetime ago, and close to half my own sister’s life ago.

I’m not doing anything to mark the occasion. The thirteen-year anniversary isn’t really that significant in Judaism, and I’m not in the mood to do anything special beyond maybe some ice cream and wine (the celebratory foods of the exhausted working grown ups). I barely remember that weekend’s festivities, truth be told, beyond going off-script and laughing like a lunatic during my speech (but it was poorly written, so it was probably an improvement). Still, I thought I’d at least talk about it.

Because honestly, I feel more like an adult now than I ever did at thirteen.

I don’t know when it happened. Becoming an adult became a gradual process, not just something that happened overnight. It started in college, while I was paying rent and bills while also balancing homework and trying not to stress out about my grades. And then I started looking for a job, had an internship abroad (which gave new lessons to the art of budgeting), came back and had the existential dread of living on my dad’s couch for eight months looking for a job. I found a job, started paying rent again, paid more bills, worked forty hours a week. I got a license and a car, I learned to balance fun and asserting my independence with work and learning to submit when necessary.

And I began to understand how the world works. How insane and nasty it can be, and how much we have to do to make it seem pleasant for more than a millisecond or two.

What did I know at thirteen? I was still wrapping my head around the idea that other people will never like horror or anime no matter how much I talked about it. I was sure I would be a famous author by age twenty and living in Beverly Hills by twenty-five. And I was sure the world was a mostly-good place where good eventually triumphs over evil, and the nastiness I saw everyday would eventually balance itself out.

Look how well that turned out.

Not to say I was completely clueless or naive back then. I did know one thing back then, and that I wasn’t an adult, no matter how well I read from the Torah or what my rabbis (aka my parents) said. I knew I couldn’t survive on my own. I had only so much understanding of my own finances, of how to take care of myself. I knew I would be dependent on my parents and others for at least the next five years. No matter what, I wasn’t ready for adulthood (though, like every teen, I couldn’t wait for the freedoms of adulthood).

I guess I can sum this up by saying I’m glad it took as long as it did for me to reach adulthood. I was able to enjoy being young while it lasted, and I wouldn’t be anywhere near as competent as I am now without all those years to learn and mature. At the same time, that slow change from kid to adult helps me be a better writer, and understand those younger than me (even if I have no idea what the kids are listening to these days or what video games are popular).

So I guess it took another thirteen years, but I can finally say, I’m a grown up now. And I think I’m doing alright.

*Just a note for those not familiar with Judaism and/or the Hebrew language: a bar mitzvah is for a single 13-year-old boy. A bat mtzvah is for a single 12-year-old girl. A bnei mitzvah is for multiple boys or a mixed-gender group. And a b’not mitzvah is for multiple girls. Also, many adults have bnei mitzvahs, especially if they converted in adulthood or otherwise were unable to have a ceremony in their teens. Just thought I’d mention it.

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The other day I watched the movie As Above, So Below (which I highly recommend, by the way. Underrated horror movie). For those of you who haven’t seen it, As Above, So Below is a found footage film that follows an archaeologist and her crew into the bowels of the Paris catacombs to find a mythical treasure. As they make their way down, however, they end up finding a passage that leads straight into Hell. And Hell in this movie isn’t a fiery pit. It’s so much, much more.

As well as terrifying me again and making me remember why I liked this film to begin with, As Above, So Below also made me consider that our portrayal of Hell has changed immensely over the years. If you look throughout the media we create, you’re going to find more than just the traditional fire-and-brimstone images of Hell, but as many as there are writers out there looking for unique twists on old concepts and stories. And that in and of itself is pretty interesting. I mean, how many different versions are there? And why are they showing up so much, especially today?

Well, Hell has always been a concept in human theology. While some early religions–Mesopotamian, Greek, and traditional Judaism–have a general afterlife for all the dead, usually a gloomy place with maybe some nicer perks for those who behaved themselves in life, others had very defined afterlives for sinners and saints. Hinduism and Buddhism have multiple afterlives where various treatments or punishments may be applied to your soul prior to reincarnation. The ancient Egyptians were the earliest to use a lake of fire. The Ainu of Japan, meanwhile, saw Hell as a wet place underground, and the Serer people of Senegal saw Hell as rejection by ancestor spirits, forcing you to become a wandering ghost.

And that’s just a small survey of the various kinds of Hell in religious beliefs.*

The most iconic version, of course, is the underground lake of fire ruled over by Satan from mainstream Christianity, which was adapted from the Egyptian concept and then spread as Christianity took root in the Roman Empire and then was spread by missionaries. But even that has had variations over the years. Some have involved just a cave full of flames, while others have involved individual sections where demons perform different punishments in cauldrons full of boiling water and fire. Some involved a dumb, animalistic Satan, and others portray him as a calculating, powerful evil.

In the Renaissance, we received some of our most famous variations of Hell. Dante Alighieri wrote Inferno, where he travels with the spirit of the poet Virgil through Hell’s nine circles, with each circle containing different punishments for different sins. John Milton featured a Hell featuring a great castle, Pandemonium, created by Satan and the fallen angels to be their seat of power in Hell.

Lucifer’s version of Hell, featuring customized punishments for every person there. It’s a great and adaptable concept.

Further variations have appeared since those landmark works. Jean-Paul Sartre’s famous play, No Exit, describes Hell as other people. Luis Brunel further took this theme along in his movie The Exterminating Angel, where guests at a dinner party hate each other but are unable to leave. Stephen King has defined Hell has endless repetition, and has added that to many of his stories. Some creators have shown Hell as a city or a distorted version of our own world. The Hellraiser movies have shown Hell as a place mixing BDSM with your own sins and life choices. As Above, So Below portrays Hell as a series of tunnels in the Paris catacombs that configures itself, adding elements and figures to fully terrify and punish any who are forced to enter it, going so far to become an alchemical/spiritual puzzle to test the main characters. And increasingly, we see Hell as setting itself up for each individual sinner. The TV show Lucifer utilizes this very effectively, especially in Season 3’s episode “Off the Record,” in which a man is forced to replay the last two years of his life over and over in Hell, because his obsession with the titular character caused him to commit murder.**

But what does all this really mean? Well, at the heart of all these portrayals is the idea of torment. Whether you realize or not you’re in it, Hell is meant to fill you with despair. That may be through pain, psychological torture, or terror. It can vary depending on the needs of the storyteller or the person being tormented, but the point is, it can change for any purpose. And that is why we’re seeing so many variations of Hell in our media.

And I’m sure with the passage of time, we’ll see even more portrayals, matching new ideas and situations we face in our lives, giving us all new reasons to be afraid. I find that kind of exciting. Hell, don’t you?

What are some versions of Hell you’ve come across or created? Why do you think it was so effective or terrible?

*There are also faiths that don’t have any belief or reject beliefs about a punishment-themed afterlife, but I think we’ll skip over those for this article.

**By the way, so excited for Lucifer season 4! Thank you Netflix, for saving one of the best shows on TV right now. I’m working my way through rewatching the show and can’t wait to see what’s been served up. #LuciferSaved

Happy Hanukkah and Happy Holidays, one and all.

(For those curious as to what Hanukkah is about, I gave an explanation in the comments)

I’m going to try to keep this post short, though there’s a great temptation to write a thousand words or more. And that’s because despite how crazy this past week has been, its also been kind of uplifting. Why? Because my organization really showed me how much it wanted to make sure all its associates felt included during the holidays. And that included the Jews.

Now as many of you know, I am Jewish (this will be important in a bit). And as many of you also know, I work for a supply organization in a role called an Equal Employment Opportunity Specialist. It’s kind of like HR, but we’re focused on promoting diversity, accommodating associates with disabilities, and combating discrimination and harassment in the workforce. It’s an important job, because a properly diverse and accepting workforce is one with a wide talent pool and a healthy mental state.

Okay, enough background. Let me get to the important part. On Tuesday, I was sitting having breakfast in my office when our Director of Operations (hereafter referred to as the DoO), a member of our regional executive staff, came to visit me. Which is pretty unusual. I see him on occasion around the building and we’ll chat, but I don’t interact much with the executives in my organization. You can imagine my surprise when the DoO came to talk to me, and understand my first thought upon seeing him: I’ve had this nightmare before, but I was naked in it.

Turns out, the DoO wanted to consult me. You see, I did a stand-up routine at a company talent show last year (yes, that happened), and it was centered around kosher cooking. Since then, I’ve gained a reputation as the resident expert on Judaism. With that in mind, the DoO wanted to know if it would be a good idea to have a menorah to represent Hanukkah at the Executive Open House, one of our organization’s annual holiday events when you can go through the executive suite and schmooze with the top brass. That event usually has a lot of tinsel and Christmas trees, but no menorah. And the DoO wanted to know if including one would be a good idea.

I said yes, that would be a wonderful idea, and I gave some other suggestions of things to include (dreidels, chocolate gelt, etc). I then gave him some ideas where he could find all those. Less than an hour later, I was asked to go shopping with him at the nearest place to see if we could find a menorah. I said sure, hoping to God I wouldn’t embarrass myself, and we went shopping. We found plenty of gelt, but they were fresh out of menorahs. One thing you need to know about my organization, though, we don’t do anything partway. So I got into contact with one of the local synagogues, which I knew had a gift shop with plenty of menorahs. After work that day, I went straight there and bought a menorah, along with a ton of dreidels. Mission accomplished.

The DoO and I with the menorah. So grateful for this kind gesture.

Fast forward to today (Thursday, if you’re reading this later on), I brought the menorah and dreidels in. We set it up first in the DoO’s office after he invited me up to the Executive Suite, and then later it ended up in a more public space when another associate brought in their menorah from home. And I have to say, it looked really good there too.

But through all this, I couldn’t help but thinking how wonderful it was for the DoO and the rest of the top brass to be thinking of my people. As many of you are aware, there has been a rise in anti-Semitic incidents and attacks lately, the worst being the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in October. These attacks on my people have been tough on all of us. I’ve been feeling an upswing in anxiety since October myself. However, I’ve been trying to fight back by staying strong and filling the world with more good and kindness than they can fill it with evil. And this simple thoughtful gesture, while small, was huge in its impact, and I can’t help but thank the DoO for helping to put a bit of good back in this crazy world.

I hope it’s part of a greater trend to make the world a nicer place.

Happy Hanukkah, Followers of Fear. I hope this brought some light into your life during the Festival of Lights. I’m heading off to bed. Until next time (possibly this weekend), pleasant nightmares one and all.

I’m going to try to keep this post short, because it’s very late and I should be in bed right now recharging for tomorrow’s labors. But I got caught up in the writing and ended up finishing a short story this evening. And as is my habit, I have to write a blog post about it. Some things you just can’t stop me from doing. And at 13 pages and 3,352 words, this is one of the shortest short stories I’ve written in–damn, I don’t know how long. Maybe high school. Maybe ever.

Malkah, for those of you who aren’t aware, is the Hebrew word for “Queen,” and it plays a bit of a role in this story, about a pair of Jewish parents who lose their daughter to a horrific act of anti-Semitism. One of the parents goes the extra length to ease the pain, with horrific consequences.

If you read my last post, you know I’ve been a little on edge lately from the rise of anti-Semitic incidents I’ve seen in the news lately. Between that post and this one, I saw another one about a man trying to run over Orthodox Jews leaving services on Saturday with his car. Needless to say, with the subject matter in this short story, I channeled some of that uneasiness and fear into my writing. Whether or not that made the story any better is up to the reader. Still, I feel it taps into fears we all feel at times, especially when it comes to our loved ones.

And if the editing process goes well for this one, who knows? I’ve got my eye on a particular publication I’ve tried getting published in a few times in the past. Perhaps they’ll like this one and want to publish it. And if not, there are always other fish in the sea (or publications searching for stories). And I feel the work I’ve been producing lately has been of a higher grade than usual. Perhaps some of it stands a chance.

Well, that’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll take a day or two to relax from all the marathon writing, and then get into my next short story. This one, I’m sure, will leave quite a few people disturbed. Hell, it disturbs me just thinking about it. Given my tolerance for scary, I think that says something.

Well, I’m off to bed. Until next time, my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares!

Some days it’s harder to know where you stand than others.

Last month, a white supremacist went on a shooting rampage in Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. All of the victims were senior citizens and a few were Holocaust survivors. That they should live so long and survive so much, just for one hateful man to snuff out their lives, hurts and horrifies me and several other members of the Jewish community on so many levels. In my own response to the shooting, I mentioned I felt connected to the attack in a very personal way. I almost ended up living in Pittsburgh when I was a kid instead of Columbus. Imagine what mght’ve happened if I’d stayed there, and if my synagogue had been Tree of Life?

Since that horrific day, there have been more anti-Semitic incidents. None on the scale as the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, but still horrific. In Baltimore, a man interrupted a performance of Fiddler on the Roof, a play revolving around Jewish characters dealing with change and anti-Semitism, by shouting “Heil Hitler! Heil Trump!”; in Wisconsin, nearly an entire class of graduating high school boys threw up the Hitler salute for a prom photo; in Cleveland, flyers with links to a neo-Nazi website around Case Western University; and in Argentina, soccer fans rioted and shouted “Kill the Jews to make soap!” after a team composed of mainly Jewish players defeated the team whose stadium they were visiting.*

And that’s just the ones I know about. There are probably other incidents that have yet to reach my ears.

I know that what I and the Jewish people is nothing new or out of nowhere. Many minorities are facing discrimination and harassment right now, and it seems to only be growing. Regardless, all these incidents happening within such a short span of time, and after the Pittsburgh shooting to boot, have me on edge. It makes me wonder if this wont become a much bigger trend, where anti-Semitism becomes an everyday occurrence.

It makes me wonder whether or not it’ll be safe to stay in this country much longer. And if it should become too dangerous, where would I go? Canada? Europe? Israel? Would it only be a matter of time before more violence broke out? Before I had to flee from those who would see me dead just for being born a certain faith and heritage?

Still, I have reason to hope and to stave off the fear.

We’ve all heard the poem by Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoller, but it bears repeating.

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and i did not speak out–
Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

While there are still plenty of people who aren’t willing to speak out,** I’ve had the pleasure of knowing plenty of people in and outside the Jewish community and the United States who will speak out against injustice. Many of them I’ve met through blogging and online interaction as well as face-to-face communication. They’ve reached out to me when I needed it and have stood up for me too. I know that well before things get too harsh to live safely in this country, they will come to my side and stand by me.

So if you’re reading this, I urge you to speak out when you see hatred and injustice. Right now it may seem like a struggle not worth going through with insurmountable barriers to face, but it can be done. By showing up to events, by giving to causes, by voting in every election (especially voting in every election!), by sending your voice out through the world to be heard, you can make a difference. And I urge you to do so. If not for us, for you. So you can say you fought to keep the world a little less hateful and a little more kind.

Thanks for letting me talk about this, my Followers of Fear. I know it’s shocking that some things scare me, but it’s true. I’m trying to channel that fear into the story I’m working on now, make it an even better story. Until then, keep safe and pleasant nightmares.

*This incident feels eerily like deja vu to me, because something similar happened to my school’s soccer team in high school. As some of you know, my high school was a Jewish day school, so all the students and half the staff were Jews. One day in my junior year, the soccer team won against another school, and the latter started shouting anti-Semitic names and rants at my school’s team. I don’t remember much beyond that it nearly came to blows, but it goes to show this isn’t a new thing or coming out of nowhere.

**The superintendent of the school district where those students gave the Nazi salute, for example, said she couldn’t punish them for their acts because of First Amendment rights and she “couldn’t be sure” of the intentions of the students. Seems pretty obvious to me, and people get fired or punished for things they say all the time!

I’ve been trying to think of the words to say for hours. I’ve been wondering if I should say anything. I’ve wanted to throw myself into anime or a book or into any form of entertainment, because sometimes the made-up worlds are better than the real one we inhabit. In the end though, I had to say something. I think I knew I was going to the moment I heard what happened today. And I had to let you know, I’m afraid in a way I don’t like to be.

Earlier today, a man named Robert Bowers opened fire at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Three different services for three different congregations were being held that morning, with nearly a hundred people in the synagogue. Eleven people were killed and several more were injured, including four of the police officers who showed up to subdue Bowers, who has made numerous statements on social media about the Jews and “invaders,” aka immigrants and refugees. Tree of Life has been active with organizations that help out immigrants and refugees, including most notably HIAS, which may have played a role in Bowers’s selection of Tree of Life as his target. He has been captured and is awaiting being charged, including federal hate crime charges.

I found out about the shooting this afternoon while out with my cousin, who is here in Columbus for an internship. A friend sent me a link to an article about it. I felt my blood go cold, but I didn’t tell my cousin. I didn’t want to ruin the day for him. I’m sure by now he knows. And he’s probably as scared as me.

This is the second mass shooting in the United States that has been associated with one of the facets of my identity. The last one was when Pulse was shot up in Orlando, Florida, two days after my twenty-third birthday. Pulse was a gay nightclub. Fort-nine people died. I’m bisexual. I wasn’t affected directly, but I was affected.

This was worse. I’ve been Jewish, knew I was Jewish well before I was aware I was bisexual. I feel connected to my religion in so many ways. In college, I studied the Holocaust and have pursued it further since. I’ve noticed the climb in anti-Semitism in the United States over the last two years.

And I knew people from Tree of Life. In high school, my synagogue’s youth group would meet up with other youth groups from throughout the region several times a year to hang out and be Jewish as a group. Tree of Life would sometimes join us.

And before my family moved to Columbus, we considered living in Pittsburgh. We even visited to look at houses and to see what the schools and synagogues were like. I don’t remember what synagogue we were considering joining, but for all I know, it could’ve been Tree of Life. And even if it wasn’t, who knows where I might’ve ended up worshiping later in life. Who knows what might’ve happened if my parents had decided Pittsburgh was a better choice than Columbus?

I’m afraid. I’ve known for a while how anti-Semitism in the US and around the world have been making a comeback. I knew it was real. But it’s no longer that far removed from me. It struck close today.

I’m terrified. But I don’t want to be terrified. And, as happens when I’m scared, I have to fight and conquer what scares me.

We need to do more to stop monsters like this poor excuse for a man. Or more like him will copy him. And many more may die.

The Anti-Defamation League said this was the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in this country, and that it’s “unthinkable that it would happen in the United States of America in this day and age.” I say that it was not only thinkable, but more than likely to happen at some point. And that’s the problem we need to fix.

People are going to offer thoughts and prayers and suggest armed guards to stop this from happening again. The thing is, the people at Tree of Life were thinking and praying. Among our liturgy are prayers to be kept safe from the enemies of our people. And many synagogues already have security in the form of retired or off-duty police officers. And as we saw at the Stoneman Douglas shooting earlier this year, the presence of an armed guard doesn’t always deter a violent man with a gun and a goal in mind.

I’m a big believer in the phrase, “Actions speak louder than words.” I also believe that if you take a step towards a goal, the universe takes a step with you. And I think it’s high-time we treat this chronic disease we’ve been dealing with in the United States for far too long. Very soon, Americans everywhere will have the chance to set the course of our country for the next couple years. I’m asking every American reading this, and all the ones who aren’t, to take advantage of this opportunity to set this course. And to please set a course that involves making the requirements to own a gun as stringent as the ones to drive a car, as well as increased care and research for mental illness, and for higher tolerance for all peoples, not just the Jewish people.

Because in the end, we are all one humanity. Forty-six genes in every cell, five fingers and toes on each limb, same organs and blood that is red and carries oxygen to our cells. And if we can’t make members of our species realize that, what good are we as a whole?

I also encourage you to donate to HIAS and other organizations that try to foster understanding and help those less fortunate than others. Because in the face of hate, the most powerful weapon we have is love. So show love.

Make your voice heard.

Take action.

Because all evil needs to triumph is for good people to do nothing. And we can’t allow that to happen.

Be brave. Fight back against evil. And above all, be safe.

Thanks for listening.

The other day, I was talking with someone about what sort of tattoo I’d get if I were the type to get one.* This is a topic I’ve thought of a lot in my twenty-five years, and I think I’ve figured out what I would get. As I explained to my friend, it would be a representation of the horror genre, how the various causes of horror in fiction–like demonic entities, the prospect of death, and of course human beings, among others–have a detrimental effect on us. “It’s corruption of the innocent,” I explained. “The very essence of horror.”

And then I realized something: corruption of the innocence is an essential part, if not the essence, of horror. And it can be found in every horror story, if you think about it. I knew it was part of Gothic horror, as I mentioned it in my post about what makes Gothic horror. But beyond that subgenre? Hadn’t even considered it.

I could have hit myself for not realizing that sooner. It was staring me right in the face, goddammit!

As I said above, I mentioned how corruption of the innocent is an element of Gothic fiction, and we see this in Gothic stories like The Shining. Danny sees the world go from a mostly-nice place where bad luck sometimes causes disaster for good people to a dark place where entities like The Overlook exist and kill people or drive them mad. Said entity also tries to corrupt Danny’s shine, to make that beautiful psychic power part of its own dark self.

Innocence corrupted.

However, this concept is found in other horror stories. HP Lovecraft incorporated it into his work quite often. In The Call of Cthulhu, his most famous work, the narrator starts out as being very sure that the world is a concrete place of science and rationality. However, after going through his late uncle’s effects, he realizes that there’s something awful in this world, a worldwide cult devoted to the bloody worship of an awful god that will one day rise to retake the Earth. And not only did this cult kill the narrator’s uncle, its agents will likely kill the narrator, driven close to madness with fear, before long.

Innocence corrupted.

This story is a great example of corruption of the innocent at work without being part of the Gothic genre.

And sometimes the innocence being ruined here isn’t your traditional childlike innocence. Sometimes it’s as simple as just having your worldview changed. Two early Stephen King stories, “The Mangler” and “Battleground,” revolve around hardened men discovering the world can involve the supernatural or just plain weird (in this case, a possessed dry-cleaning machine and toy soldiers that come to life to kill you). As I said, nothing dramatic. Just a shift in viewpoint.

Innocence corrupted.

Even when it’s so ubiquitous though, I don’t think corruption of the innocent is the essence of horror, as I characterized above. Or at least, the only essence of horror. After all, we can’t forget about fear, which is what horror plays on and seeks to create. Without that fear, you just don’t have a good horror story. Perhaps then, like fear or a powerful antagonist, corruption of the innocent is something necessary to writing horror. Without it, the genre would be missing something that cannot be done without.

So while not exactly the full essence of horror, corruption of the innocent is important to the genre. You could even say it’s wrapped up in the essence of horror. And I’m glad I finally realized after such a long time that it was.

Hopefully it makes writing decent horror stories easier.

What do you think of corruption of the innocent as part of horror? Do you think I’m onto something?

Do you think I should get a tattoo? Would you like to see this design of mine realized? Do you know how any artists who could help me create it?

*For the record, I’m tempted, but my religious beliefs aren’t fond of me getting one. And I’m not sure I want something so permanent on my body, anyway. Especially if I have to pay a ton of money for what I’m looking for. Still fun to think about, though.

Also, I want it on my back. Best place to get it, in my personal opinion.