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Exchange of Values

Exchange of Values
acrylic on board 48'X96'

"Structure of Color Perception"

"Structure of Color Perception"
48'X96' acrylic on board

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Rabbi Schneerson

Daniel Imburgia

Sinead O'Connor

(*Warning*  Tags for this post would be (since I don’t think many will be interested in reading it, let me give you a heads up), “The Sicilian Dragon Defense,” the Baal Shem Tov, ‘self-hating jew’ Bobby Fischer, “The Blood-lands of Europe,” Sinead O’Connor, the Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church and their yearly celebration in Brooklyn of the Slutsk uprising, and playing blitz chess in the desert town of Beersheba with disciples of the Genius of Vilna.  There’a an old hillbilly word for this kind of collection of mish-mashed subjects/objects, it’s called “Klediments.”  With obligations to June Carter Cash for schooling me the word).
It might be best if you opened up another window right now and listened to one of my favorite songs, “Out Of The Depths” by Sinead O’connor.   obliged.
So this is a story, maybe a parable, about religion (and the current, very fashionable, manifestations of anti-religious fervor), it’s about fear, power and authority, spiritual ecstasy, revenge, tradition, heresy, and the first or second or future coming (or latest arrival in 1994, or the not coming at all ) of the Jewish Messiah.  
Now they claim that there are more chess masters in Beersheba Israel than anywhere else in the world.  The reason for that is that large populations of Jews from Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus etc.,have immigrated to Israel and brought their thriving chess cultures with them.  These areas in Europe are what are now being called “The Blood-lands,” referring to all those areas caught between Hitler’s and Stalin’s killing machines in WWII (of course there was plenty of old fashioned, low-tech, anti-semitic fueled murder of Jews by local populations of Orthodox, Catholics, and later Communist atheists, with clubs, hatchets, and pistols going on as well).  
Beersheba is not an attractive city.  The Negev desert can be beautiful of course and there are those beautiful women of the annual “Miss Jumbo” beauty contest each year, for “voluptuous women” with a 250 pound minimum to enter.  But it’s really a working class industrial city, kinda like Pittsburgh or Cleveland, without any of the handsome, even elegant surviving architecture from the 19th and early 20th centuries, and without much water either.  It seems like things are either ancient, or else they are poor copies of russian copies of the worst of American design in 1962.  No tourists, not many shrines, I kind of liked it there.
And like most big cities (at least in Europe, and the rest of the world) one can find people playing blitz chess on the street for fun and money.  I went to Beersheba to play blitz (time controlled games of chess usually one to five minute in length) and to visit the communal restaurant and store of Ben Ami Ben Israel and the “Black Hebrews of Israel” in nearby Dimona.  You can google all the info you need on this group, but what interested me was how a group of folks from Detroit and Chicago come to believe that they are actually Jews and subsequently pack up and move lock stock and barrel to Israel and start up a vegan, polygamous, natural fiber weaving, no birth control allowed, community of self proclaimed, hyper-orthodox yippie Jews!  As you can imagine, many Israelis did not embrace this “delusional sect of African cultists” and the Israeli govt. has been trying to deport them since they arrived in the late 60’s, though recently some have been given citizenship and things may be loosening up (like I keep saying, a cat can have kittens in the oven, but that don’t make em biscuits).
Sometimes it’s hard in Israel for someone who rightly passes as a Roman Catholic to have a deep and meaningful conversation with what are called the “Ultra Orthodox,” or the Neturei Karta, It’s a bit easier though with the Chabadniks who are always trying to bring me into their fold.  However, I find that while playing chess one can get folks to open up a bit more.  I am not a good chess player as these things are reckoned, so really playing blitz with these street masters is really a kind of mitzvah or charitable donation.  However there are a few subjects that can get this Klediment of religious Jews talking.  One topic is discussing the controversy of whether Lubavitcher Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson who died in Brooklyn in 1994 was in fact *THE* Messiah.  Now Rabbi Schneerson is revered among most of the Hasidim, indeed, I find him to be a extraordinary wise and spiritual teacher for the most part, but I’m not convinced that he was/is the Messiah, and neither are most Hasidim.  Here’s a little taste of his wisdom from one of his journals:
“They asked the Baal Shem Tov, “The Talmud tells us that for everything G‑d forbade, He provided us something permissible of the same sort. If so, what did He permit that corresponds to the sin of heresy?”
The Baal Shem Tov replied, “Acts of kindness.”  Because when you see a person suffering, you don’t say, “G‑d runs the universe. G‑d will take care. G‑d knows what is best.” You do everything in your power to relieve that suffering as though there is no G‑d. You become a heretic in G‑d’s name.”
Now since you’ve been listening to Sinead as I directed, I hope that you recognize some resonance with Rabbi Schneerson’s reading of the Baal Shem Tov with these lyrics from Sinead's “Out of the Depths” :
And I've heard religion say You're to be feared
But I don't bite into everything I hear
And it seems to me You're hostage to those rules
That were made by religion and not by You
And I'm wondering will You'll ever get yourself free?
Is it bad to think You might like help from me?
Is there anything my little heart can do
To help religion share us with You?
Other than possibly Sinead herself, I don’t know anyone who thinks that she is the Messiah.  However, she was/is really pissed at the Pope (though I’m not sure if she has a problem with Popeishness per se, or just Pope John Paul II, whose picture she ripped up on “Saturday Night live” in 1994). 
I happened to be watching that night, and since I have my own host of issues with the RCC I wasn’t all that offended by what seemed to be a powerful, yet typical kind of rock-star-like, anti-establishment acting out.  I was surprised, however, by the gargantuan amount of condemnation that was subsequently heaped upon her.  Who knew that there were so many closeted, lapsed, recovering, backsliding, (and perhaps even a few ‘practicing?’) Catholics watching SNL that were willing to watch the Pope’s back, and that they would be so outraged?  I often found myself defending Sinead against unfair accusations and ridiculous slander (and downright unchristian epithets) and if you watch the video and read the comments you'll see that folks are still mightily exercised over this event almost 20 later!  But I am wondering that if in light of her prescience about the sex-abuse and cover up among catholic clergy if Sinead’s action and songs aren’t congruent with Rabbi Schneerson’s idea of becoming a ‘heretic in God’s name?‘ 
Now I gotta hunch that if Sinead spent any time among the ‘Ultra orthodox’ or Lubavitchers that she might start tearing up pictures of the Goan of Vilna or the Baal Shem Tov as well, yet compare another bit of wisdom from Rabbi Schneerson with more of Sinead’s lyrics:        
Rabbi Schneerson:
“They have banished G-d into exile.
They have decreed He is too holy, too transcendent to belong in our world.
They have determined He does not belong within the ordinary, in the daily run of things.
And so they have driven Him out of His garden, to the realm of prayer and meditation, to the sanctuaries and the secluded places of hermits. They have sentenced the Creator to exile and His creation they have locked in a dark, cold prison.
And He pleads, "Let me come back to my garden, to the place in which I found delight when it all began."
Now here are the last two stanzas of Sinead’s song your supposed to be listening to:
For all You're like a ghost in Your own home
Nobody hears You crying all alone, ooh
Oh, You are the one, true, really voiceless one
They have their backs turned to You from worship of gold and stone
And to say You're a prisoner, oh, makes me weep
Nobody hears You screaming in the streets
And it's like a truth how the old saying goes
If God lived on Earth, people'd break His windows
I doubt if any chess playing Chabdniks ever even heard of Sinead O’Connor but they all seem to know the “Sicilian Defense” (LOL) and it’s ‘Dragon” variation.  Since I know most folks aren’t familiar with this take a second now and wiki it here:  The crux of ‘the dragon’ is this, black sacrifices the center, breaks traditional symmetry, retards major development, draws white in and then challenges white from oblique angles, corners and edges.  Now the Sicilian is a very good defense against white 1.d4, *if* one has studied the theory and read deeply into all the lines and variations.  But, if like me, one hasn’t the time or intellectual heft for all that memory and book work then one should avoid the Sicilian and its complexities and pitfalls for more traditional defenses.  So why do I play the Sicilian?  Well it comes down to the fact that I liked the name and that my family comes from Sicily, that’s it.  If you want to actually see my Sicilian butt get a whooping by an Israeli master go to the chess world site:   
follow the links to players, my handle is Rosenzweig (yes, I borrowed the name of one of my favorite Jewish philosopher/theologians Franz Rosenzweig) and find my games with Master Avigdor Hanegby, I lost every single game!
And so it went on the streets of Beersheba.  At 5 to 15 shekels a game my dragon was defeated over and over by the lovers of the Besht and their rival Misnagdim, but it was worth the bucks to hear some really good stories.  But what of the greatest chess tzadik (saint) of them all, Bobby Fischer?  Must one go crazy to be a genius like Bobby?  I know that Fischer is a very sensitive subject among Jews and so I don’t push for responses after bringing his name up.  And with Bobby saying things like this after 9/11:  “This is all wonderful news…I applaud the act. The U.S. and Israel have been slaughtering the Palestinians, just slaughtering them for years. Robbing them and slaughtering them. Nobody gave a shit. Now it's coming back to the U.S. Fuck the U.S. I want to see the U.S. wiped out.”  Now granted there are some points to reckon with here, but in addition to accusing Russian IM Gary Kasparov of being a former KGB agent and a "crook," Fischer also went on long rants about his own people like this one:  “The Jews are a filthy, lying bastard people bent on world domination through such insidious schemes as the Holocaust, a money-making invention, the mass murder of christian children whose blood is used for black-magic ceremonies, and promoting the consumption of junk food" (William Rosenberg, the founder of Dunkin' Donuts is singled out as a culprit).  I think you can understand why even chess loving Jews find the subject of Bobby  painful and tend to avoid it, especially when just weeks before rockets from Gaza were falling in their neighborhoods.
Now I reckon Sinead O’Connor and Bobby Fischer disagree about the locus of all evil in the world.  Sinead blames that “den of lying serpents” ruled by a satanic Pope and operating out of the Vatican, and Bobby blames hypo-glycemic Jews operating out of Dunkin Donuts in Crown Heights.  But they both share a great measure of creative genius, and a passionate hatred of Institutions, orthodoxy, and tradition.  And yet they are both deeply haunted by and unable to break free from religious compunctions.  Sinead has gone so far as to be ordained a priest in the simulacral ‘Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church.’  And the stateless, self proclaimed ‘Nietzschean anarchist’ Fischer requested that upon his death in iceland, to be buried in a Catholic cemetery after receiving a Roman Catholic funeral.
Nevertheless, Bobby Fischer changed the chess world forever, but he wanted to do something more than that, he wanted to reinvent the game itself, and he did, sort of.  You may have never heard of it, but Fischer invented a new game called “Chess 960.”  In Fischer’s game the chess pieces are placed on the board randomly at the start of every game according to a roll of the dice.  I sometimes like to take a break from orthodox chess and experiment with 960 where my lack of talent, chess education and expertise are less of a disadvantage.  I asked the old Rabbi if anyone in their club ever played ‘960.’  He pointed to a building about 2 blocks away.  The upper back roof and part of one wall was damaged by a rocket from Gaza 10 days earlier, and the blackened wall and roof were still covered by tarps.  The Rabbi told me that one old women from Byelorussia was slightly injured.  However, although she had survived the blood-lands in WWII, and the recent rocket attacks (thanks be to G-d) unfortunately while in hospital she developed pneumonia and died the day before yesterday.  “Blind chance and blind faith are not the same thing” the Rabbi said, “but we don’t need any more of either one.”  And so we played a regulation game of chess, he played King’s pawn, and I played Sicilian.  
The day was Hoshanah Rabbah, a day squeezed in between Sukkot and Simchat Torah, so some work and game playing are permitted.  It is the celebration of "The Great Hoshana" or 'Hosanna,' that is, the ‘Great Please Save Us’ at the end of Rosh Hashanah, the day when our judgement is sealed and we take one last crack at the mercy of God.  That evening, usually one reads through the entire psalms and maybe even dances around the sanctuary or Torah desk reciting prayers like these:  
please save us for the sake of
the Aura of life
the Beams of Light
the Clearness of Light
the Dynamics of Light
the Effulgence of Light
the diFfraction of light
the Glory of light
the Haloes of light
the Illumination of light
the Joys of sight...
Please Save Us!
For the sake of our letting Earth rest, 
letting Earth heal, 
letting Earth recover,
leaving Earth in peace,
letting people find their center,
letting people enjoy rest and freedom,
letting children romp,
living the Shabbat in mindfulness,
loving others and ourselves,
letting being do all the doing.
(what do you think, could Sinead O’Connor make a beautiful song from these verses, as she has with the Psalms?)
Well, maybe because i mentioned Fischer and ‘chess 960’ the Rabbi thought I was some American liberal protestant or even worse, a “Reformed Jew,” who figured that one could just ‘make it all up as I went along.’  Anyway, as we played a longer 5 minute game he recited to me this story that is reputed to come from the Besht himself via the (possible Messiah?) Rabbi Schneerson:
“Whenever the Baal Shem Tov was faced with an important and grave task, he would make his way to a certain holy place in the forest, light a fire in a special manner, say a particular set of prayers, and miraculously the needed task would be accomplished.  When his disciple the Magrid of Mezeritch later faced a similar challenge, he would also go to the same holy place in the forest, but he would say:  'We may no longer know how to light the fire, but we can still recite the prayers.'  And so he would pray and the necessary task would be done.  In the next generation, Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov was also compelled to take on the responsibility of a great task.  He also went to the holy place in the forest and then he said:  'We can no longer light the fire, and we have forgotten the secret prayers, but we still know the holy place in the forest--and that is enough.' And his task was also still accomplished.  But a generation later, when Rabbi Yisrael of Ryshin responded to a similar situation and a task just as great, he just sat down on his chair and said:  'The prayers have been forgotten.  We cannot light the fire.  And we have lost the way to the holy place in the forest.  But we can still tell the story of how once it was done.'  And so he told the story, and, remarkably, this too was sufficient to accomplish the task.”
That story cost me 15 Shekels, blessings and obliged y’all. 

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