19 2003 No mans land
To night I settled in my chair to watch the video I had to returm
tomorrow, the movie "No Mans Land" by Danis Tanovic,
very well made and concisely capturing the madness of all parties
involved in the Bosnian conflict, the Serbs, the Bosnians and
last but not least the many-headed UN forces and also the eager
Yesterday I wrote a reflection about the messianic era. This
movie brings me from an utopian eschatolgical macroscopic birds
view to the microscopic entanglements of the here and now, in
the dirty trenches of today's fronts
there must be a link. In the movie it may be found in the character
of sergeant Marchand who in the turmoil of the situation makes
the humane best of it. See this movie if you can!
7 2004 Love
that such fundamental words in the spiritual scope as "Love"
and "God" at the same time are the most vague notions
They denote the most supreme and the most trivial.
They help us express everyday preferences and irritations and
also the most profound experiences.
Take my personal experience, for example.
I still can't fathom this concept to the full,
to its essence, apart from the so easily used trite connotations.
In my youth I was confused deeply about what it meant. My parents
reproached me for not loving them as a child should.
And later I doubted myself about my capacity to love my neighbours,
in particular my friends and my partners.
Though I suffered deeply, when a relationship came to an end.
When a good foundation in early childhood is not laid, love
becomes later easily associated with danger, pain, loss and
being abandoned; it becomes a risky affair.
And it takes a lot of time to sort out what 's the matter and
to distill all the confusing emotions to what really love is
and to understand it on a level above personal preferences,dislike
To accept I have a heart and to accept the pain and the joy
of it without shying back in my safe isolation. To discover
eventually that fundamentally I cannot be hurt, when I trust
myself to that other so often misused concept: God.
19 2004 Hold out a little longer
"Hold out a little longer", suddenly I knew, this
sentence has been said to me as a toddler by my mother many
times, hold out a little longer, Robbie.
counsel session the image of my mother passed by and all of
a sudden this little sentence clung to her image and compassion
and grief filled my chest, while surprise still dominated in
Before that moment in the session I had felt myself in a kind
of despondent grey area of resignation, an endless resigning
in being handled and "schlepped" from this to that,
after which I sunk in a still emptiness of having no influence
whatsoever on my surroundings, but with a vaguely incisive notion
to have abandoned something immensely precious.
Then a strong giant hand that pressed slowly and unavoidably
on my neck, bending thus my head, resistance unthinkable.
And then came the sentence:
Hold out a
little longer, those words must have been spoken almost sixty
years ago by my mother many times, to me and - loudly or in
thought - to herself during her slave labor in the vegetable
garden, toiling pails of (literal) Japanese shit or heavy bags,
enduring molestations during nightwatch in the endless corridors
in the convent that the Japanese had destined as a concentration
camp, during the hours long roll calls in the tropical sun,
during the cruel reprisals the Japanese made.
out a little longer, Robbie" during the endless journey's
by train in full and hot carriages, in jolting trucks, in periods
of hunger and deseases like malaria and dysentery. We had so
much to hold out a little longer; a profound feeling of together-with-mummy
passes through me, a feeling I apparently didn't want to feel
any longer in those bygone post war days after the reunion with
my father and the birth of my brother and sister,a feeling I
decided to cut off.
To hold out
a little longer became something like my second nature, life
as holding out a little longer and then ... I don't want to
hold out a little longer anymore.
this column to all contemporary people dragged about from camp
to camp, living in miserable circumstances with hunger and deseases
as a result of the power politics of political and religious
25 2004 The sky over Auschwitz
column a sober report of my attending the remembrance ceremony
held every year in January in Amsterdam near the Auschwitz monument,
designed by the known Dutch sculptor-author Jan Wolkers. It
consist mainly of a large glass slab with cracks, reflecting
a cracked sky.
A fine clear
and sunny sky spreads over Amsterdam and over the procession
of a few hundred people walking from the town hall, the so called
"Stopera", to the Wertheim Park nearby.
The Park actually is not more than a rather big public garden,
some lawns, trees and a gravel path around the Auschwitz monument,
created by known Dutch sculptor-author Jan Wolkers.
A gate with two sfinxes left and right, flanking the incoming
Here and there some police officers. Near the gate a municipal
one of the many aged persons, I thought, for one of the very
old, for whom this happening would be too much.
But it was of course in case of ... yes in case of what .....in
case of some fool intending some terrorist thing? In case of
a bunch of antisemites planning some riot?
of the mayor of Amsterdam, Job Cohen, short, strong; racial
discrimination unavoidably leads to suppression, persecution,
murder, nevermore Auschwitz.
A gypsy trio
at the side, on a little stage under a party tent, plays a sad
Because in Auschwitz were also Sinti and Roma.
And homosexuals and political criminals.
A Jewish prayer for the peace of the souls of the murdered is
spoken first in Dutch, then sung in Hebrew by Rabbi Sonny Herman.
He has a dark bass, very attuned to the incisive Hebrew words,
among which could be heard suddenly: Auschwitz, Bergen Belsen,
Dachau, Majdanek, Mauthausen, Sobibor, Theresienstadt, Treblinka.
joined in by some mumbling it, "we imru amen".
The sun shines.
A bird lands in the tangle of bare branches of a tree nearby.
Amsterdam holds its breath and the one klaxon here and jingle
there seem not to observe the agreement.
After a few minutes people begin to talk in a low voice, like
a breeze rising the murmur slowly swells.
We begin to move and walk past the glass slab of the monument.
I read the
words of Jan Wolkers on a plate near the monument. On it he
explains his motive for choosing the reflecting cracked glass:
his being bewildered about the sky spreading over Auschwitz,
unmoved by the suffering and the slaughter; the cracks in his
glass reflect the sky over Auschwitz as it should have looked
And now as
well, when I look up, the sky is unmoved and our group do seem
an anachronism on this brisk, clear, sunny winter day.
I meet rabbi Yehuda Aschkenasy and we talk with each other for
A Jewish life in the twentieth century. Born in the pre-war
Jewish Eastern Europe in a traditional rabbinic family. Been
in Auschwitz. Moved to the Netherlands where he founded an institute
for Jewish "lernen". Respected for his wisdom by Jew
and Christian. Now old and retired. But "lernen" never
What memories in that head!
On the Amstel
Station I learned that trains to Nijmegen are cancelled for
the time being. Hooligans of Football Club Ajax Amsterdam are
rioting on one of the stations on the route to Utrecht.
I have to move to Amsterdam Central Station. Then we 'll see.
On the Central
Station everywhere posters with text: "I you are liberated
by Jesus, Son of God, you are really free".
The sky gives
a glowing final chord this afternoon: When after an hour delay
I cross the Rhine at Arnhem the afternoon sun blazes up for
a moment with a fierce orange glow from behind a cloud. Thousand
colours seem to float through the atmosphere. The river reflects
the sky in opal tints.
30 in the gym
From the corners
of my eyes I had already spotted Paul, his light blue sport
shorts and white T-shirt. He greets me with a jerky arm gesture,
as usual there 's much tension in his body.
He comes to my stool, where I had tried my biceps with two halters.
How he's doing.
Good. Shortly the wellfare pay will stop, but he will manage,
he is getting more and more clients.
Paul is in the course of starting up a practice as a tax consultant.
I am one of his clients.
He used to have an appartment in the same building where I live
and that is the context of our next subject: which old acquaintances
still live there?
Anita. Anita he has met lately in the hospital, where she is
a assistant nurse in the childrens department.
Because his little daughter was there.
Suddenly the real life descends in our conversation.
Paul has below his full greying hair - he is already fifty -
a lined face and emotion passes over it.
The little girl, hardly a year old, had fallen from the stairs,
got unconscious. To the intensive care. She was in coma. Scans.
But she recovered consciousness and visibly she returned to
normal. Now all is well again.
Great is the relief in Pauls words, but the anxiety experienced
has not yet gone from his face. His moments of crisis he has
laid down with me and I fix it these lines, I freeze it in this
Paul goes back to his legliftmachine.
See you Paul.
Which means: soon, because it 's the time for filling up the
When I 'm
into my concluding stretch exercises I see Ronald busy with
his introduction exercise.
We know each other from a kind of New Age center.
When I 'm done I go to him and I 'm standing in front of him.
He is involved in a kind of bend over Muslim prayer posture
and I joke: fun to be worshipped for a change.
He looks up, but doesn't laugh. His face looks sorrowful and
And like that unfolds our conversation.
He 's already more than a year out of work. Applications galore,
result zero. Next month he will be fifty. Too old, age discrimination.
He intends to conceal his being an academic pedagogue in his
appliance letters, no doubt he is thought to be too expensive
for an employer.
Now he visits the gym more frequent than ever, getting more
and more vital, and more eager for work than ever.
More energy, but to what purpose?
In his big blue eyers glimmers desperation.
To experience a meaning in life a man must have a job, is the
unspoken moral between us.
In the dressing
room a thought I had during a past workout pops up again.
I laboured on my steps device, amidst a regiment of co-labourers
on steps devices, fitness bikes, running belts. And suddenly
my ear was directed solely to the buzzing roar of all those
devices around me. How much labour was performed here! How much
energy wasted! If you could harness all this energy to a useful
end. For example apply to a dynamo. So the stored energy could
serve a nice social purpose, for example the lighting of the
gym or the burning of a street lamp in front of the building.
Outside the snow had melted almost. A brisk breeze swept my
cheeks. I feel fit again. In search of meaning.
1 Intelligent design
I had two dreams.
In the first it was somehow my task to introduce "my cow"
into a room before an small audience of acquaintances. Literally
a cow! A real Dutch cow was waiting in the passage and I was
nervous over my ability to control the beast. Should it do what
was demanded? I ushered the cow inside the room and the huge
animal slowly stepped before the audience; the animal neighed
its head in the way of a salute and then let itself be guided
by me outside again.
I woke up and mused about the dream. A vague notion, a dim insight,
the cow was my body, the dream hinted to a better relation to
physical existence. The Zen parable of the Oxes passed through
my mind. Must look up I mumbled to myself and fell asleep again.
Next dream. With two colleagues I am rehearsing a play, a kind
of musical revue. We 're under pressure, apparently the premiere
My two companions are already well versed in the play, but I
am new. I don't know the piece well.
I ask for playing what we call in Dutch a "doorloop",
playing the play as a whole without audience in order to get
the feel of the whole and to trace the weak spots in performance.
I want to grasp the whole of the play, what's it all about,
what 's my role, now I have big gaps to fill in.
But my two colleagues won't listen, they are planning otherwise
and I am panic stricken, in a few hours we have to perform the
premiere and I 'm completely at a loss about what to do.
I plead what I can, but they ignore me. I wake up with a feeling
of confusion with twinges of fear and a shadow of rage about
being thus ignored.
I taste these feeling and search for a meaning. Still trying
to fathom what 's life about, what is the meaning of my life,
the feeling to participate in a script I don't know, to being
pushed to adapt to scenario, which is almost intentionally not
disclosed, let alone explained to me.
A few hours
later the winner of the science Spinoza award, a Dutch microbiologist,
is interviewed and asked - on television - if he believes chance
determines evolution or not.
He says to believe the universe and evolution reflects the effect
of Intelligent Design.
I agree, it fits together so precisely finetuned, from the big
bang to the upward moved apes or down fallen angels we are.
There must be some huge moving to a goal, immensurably far beyond
our human horizon.
But what is my goal, my minute almost imperceptible contribution
under the sun; it is easier to feel a tinge of the mysterious
ultimate goal then to get the feel of my concrete destiny (apart
from becoming ashes or being eaten by the worms and thus contributing
to the fertility of the fields). The gigantic revue and the
little player searching for his part.
typing this column, I looked up the famous parable of the Oxes,
in 'Zen flesh, zen bones' by Paul Reps. Ten poems and pictures
about the path to enlightenment. Searching, catching, taming,
transcending the ox. I do myself a favour, I diagnose myself
as having reached the possibility of taming the ox, picture
on the inside of the cover of this booklet, not touched in years,
there is a Polaroid picture pasted of me!
An unshaven pate gazes at me, almost half my age. On the backside
is written, on the pasting strip, a word: WANTED.
can't remember how this picture got there.
Maybe it was put there by my partner of that period, may she
rest in peace.
Is it chance or design, that I stumble upon it just now.
11 My new bike
Today I collected
the new bike I bought last week.
It 's a hybrid, an interbreed between a mountain bike and a
She is a real cute one, mat silver coloured (I suppose a bike
is a she, because bike comes from bicycletta, two-wheel, feminine
gender) and she 's got sturdy black tyres.
How long ago I sat on a bike, I pondered, from the shop in the
city centre biking back home.
Largest part of my life I biked all the shorter distances, trips
to the city etc., but then, eight years ago, the car entered
my life and gained more and more ground in my transportation
Past years the car established a genuine monopoly.
Biking back through the fine Dutch drizzle
I noticed some remarkable things in my behaviour.
At crossings I waited decently and respectably till the red
light turned green. Although some crossing are free of traffic
Of course! In Holland as in most western countries it is almost
a capital crime to ignore the red light and pass through it.
Yes, for cars.
But for bikes there are in Holland other unwritten rules or
rather tacit dispensations. You may slip through the red light
if you take care and are not bothering others. You take it easy
and cars are accustomed to let the bikers have their way.
So I still was caught in the motor-car behaviour system!
When I wanted to check the traffic behind me I glanced in the
rear view mirror I expected beside me.
But there wasn't one of course.
How ingrained are habits in our body and in our nervous system.
They are configurations of automatic switches, patterns of reflexes,
deeply engraved in the soft grey matter of our brains.
I thought of the small paths goats or deer wear out going to
their drinking pools, paths sometimes age old, though the pools
may have vanished long ago.
No easy thing to change a habit.
To leave your familiar path and venture in the unknown
But on my biking trip there was no such difficulty. I had only
to reawaken my old bicycle behaviour system I was used to follow
for so long and switch to it again.
And after a few hundred meters this was done.
Though more than once I still felt a pull to my head to look
in my rear view mirror.
11 The choir (another
column about the choir - in Dutch - may be read on my other
website robcassuto.com; go to other
In all respects
it is an exceptional choir I joined recently.
The location for rehearsal to begin with is the so called Roman
Tavern in the open air Bible Museum in Nymegen, Holland.
The Museum - originated from a Roman Catholic mission project
- is a kind of replica of places in the Holy Land in the era
of Jesus. And the Roman Tavern is a kind of replica of a Roman
tavern, of course.
The Roman tavern is also a real pub/restaurant, run bij an Israeli
called Simon. And Simon and his wife both sing in the choir,
The participants are birds of many feathers.
First there are the Jews, to be distinguished in: non religiously
practicing participants, members of the Nijmegen orthodox Jewish
congregation (of late unexpectedly prospering), members of the
Reform Jewish movement (so far I am the only one); the Jewish
division of the choir counts two or three men of Israeli stock.
are "the others", the non-Jewish Nijmegen choir members,
some of them Roman Catholic.
arose from the cradle of the Nijmegen Jewish Congregation.
( Was my first impression. But now I am better informed: it
is half the truth. The choir is the result of a kind of fusion
between the plan of Karin, the partner of Simon the Tavern holder,
and het sister Dorothee for a choir with a Jewish repertoir
and members of the Nymegen synagogue who also had similar plans.
A story worth telling at another occasion.)
The repertoir consists of Jewish songs, Hebrew liturgic songs,
Jiddish and Ladino songs.
Proficient singers mix with relative newcomers in the singing
A wonderful and exceptional mix.
This oecumenical rarity is an often clamorous bunch, in between
rehearsing the songs in no time involved in sociable "shmoozing".
It is proficiently bridled, though, by Joop, a veteran choir
director, often showing us his comical desperation about our
But tonight he emanates an unusual satisfaction,
because a few days ago we performed reasonably in our important
presentation in the Nymegen shul. Especially in our top pieces
Oseh Shalom and Dos Kelbl with their rather intricate arrangements
we made it without too much lapses and the men stayed in tune
The audience in the packed shul was moved and enthusiastic.
So tonight the rehearsal didn't take long and the remainder
of the time we celebrated the succes and the anniversary of
the choir: one year...
And we ate pie and shmoozed loudly and saw a bright future before
23 The Wall/the Fence
ever the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in the forefront of
the world news.
For this moment the Dutch city of The Hague is the place were
the clamour of both parties and their supporters is heard.
The question of the legitimacy of the Wall or the Fence is put
before an International Court.
Demonstrations of all kind take place.
The wreck of a bus, blown up by a suicide bomber in January,
has been transported to a place before the so called Peace Palace,
a picturesque beginning-of-the-nineteenth-century building.
It decries the relentless and desperate cruelty of the radical
Amidst the Palestinian demonstrators I saw some black frocked
and black hatted Jewish ultra-orthodox men; they side with the
Palestinians and are proponents of disbanding the state of Israel.
A kind of surprise tickles me.
One may conceive of any stance in this matter and you will find
proponents among the Jews.
From the ultra nationalist to the most ardent opponents to the
state of Israel, from the most belligerent adversaries of the
Palestinians to fervent peaceniks, you will find them among
the Jews, Israeli included.
On the Palestinian side you will not find such an extreme variance
in opinion and approach.
A feeling of - I don't quite know how to label it - a mix of
wonder and pride rises in me.
That Jewry is able to harbour so many different-feathered birds,
most of the time pecking fiercely to each other but in some
way tolerating each other as well, not killing each other anyway,
with the exception of that most deplorable murder of Yitzhak
Rabin, may it stay an exception.
is my stance in this matter, my stance in this so tranquil and
peaceful Nymegen, so far from the front.
I can't help
having a notion of the profound pain both parties cause to each
other, of the afflictions, which both parties administer.
It 's a pain, which leave deep, deep impressions in the souls,
a pain almost beyond the imagination power of outsiders to the
Such a pain the afflicted can only tolerate by feeling anger,
adding to the determination not to yield in any respect to the
other party, on the contrary: it adds to the determination to
afflict the other party with a similar pain.
So both parties
get imprisoned in a system of revenge and reprisals.
There is no room to transcend ones situation to an overview,
which could bring in sight the possibility of a solution. Pain,
anger, fear, desperation is to big. Each new deed of cruelty,
be it from Palestinian side or Israeli side, triggers an immediate
response to react in a similar way. Reason, a feeling for mutual
interest, let alone compassion, is beyond the horizon.
And the fence.
It embodies in itself a reasonable insight that coexistence
for the time being is only feasible when both parties are separated
But it is deplorable the fence is planned on Palestinian territories
and encompasses some bigger Israeli settlements on the West
Bank, settlements which in the long run can be thought of subject
to evacuation in the framework of a two separate states solution.
And Palestinians are induced to suspect the Israeli having a
hidden agenda of annexing parts of the West Bank.
an almost inhuman action of transcending the factual misery
of the situation to reach a break through.
It demands an overwhelming exertion of insight, one might say
a miracle, to break away from the system of mutual imprisonment.
It would ask from both parties an extreme control and constraint
not to react to the atavistic outbursts of violence perpetrated
by the extreme factions on both sides.
accuse me of sentimentality but each time I have a vision of
The Israeli looking in the eye of The Palestinian and the other
way around and each catching a glimpse of the pain and desperation
of the other behind the surface.
that glimpse would create a tear of mutual compassion and a
small opening of light,
a gap in the prison of revenge, obduracy and hardness.
So eventually business can be done.
Cautiously and prudently speaking through an opening in the
20: The brain
and the gangsters
about remembering and forgetting
trains are white" ; experience indicates this is nonsense,
most of them are yellow.
"Dutch trains are sour"; this is linguistic nonsense.
Experiments at the Nymegen university reveal that - contrary
to prior hypothesis - these different kind of judgments are
made in the same cervical area, the prefrontal cortex.
Reading this brought me to an experience of my own: an experience
which enables me to guess something about the location of a
linguistic brain function.
During my whole life I kept an interest in language and languages,
how they are structured, how words have developed phonologically
and in semiotic respect. I have never become a specialist or
an expert in this matter but in a corner of my brain I am often
busy thinking about words and their history. So I was struck
by the following experience.
I know a tiny little bit of Russian and an bit of Hebrew, languages
I came upon later in life.
Often I am as it were rehearsing my word knowledge in these
And often when - in this linguistic brain corner, subdivision
dictionary - I am looking for a Russian word, there pops up
a Hebrew word and the other way around. For example looking
for "red" in Russian, there pops up "adom",
which is red in Hebrew. Or the reverse, looking for "red"
in Hebrew, there pops up "krasny", red in Russian.
Secondary reaction in the linguistic division: this is wrong,
and the wrong is repaired almost immediately.
But - now the linguistic theory subdivision in my linguistic
brain corner starts functioning and concludes: the brain location
of my knowledge of the Russian language is
right next to the location of the Hebrew language, maybe they
overlap a little.
There is interference between them, no doubt a cervical measurement
would demonstrate electric currents crossing over between the
Russian and the Hebrew area; the two languages use so to say
the same area, as if my brain has only so much room available.
which sometimes keeps me busy is the learning of forgetting.
My standard example is based on the phenomenon that some rare
event from long ago is sometimes easier remembered then a more
frequent and well known fact, that is stored somewhere in the
memory. And that seemingly so well known fact doesn't want to
take root in memory but eludes retrieving time and again.
This is what happens to me.
Another rehearsal which I sometimes practice is remembering
I was trying to rehearse a list of well known American movie
And I couldn't remember this actor so and so, I saw his face
clearly before me, and his name belongs to the class of ready
But I suddenly remembered one of his most well known movies,
a film I saw ages ago and which I never gave a thought again:
Of course you say immediately: Warren Beatty.
But now the curious thing.
Of course I looked up in my Movie Guide: Bugsy, Warren Beatty.
But at my the next rehearsal, maybe some days later, I had forgotten
again, not the name of the film, Bugsy, but this Warren Beatty.
And this repeated again and again, despite the utilizing of
It became a kind of sports, almost the learning of forgetting
this name (I also have some other names I have become used to
forget). Even during the writing of this column I have difficulty
I suppose this points to a human peculiarity: when we make a
fault, or when we are confronted with a lack in our skills or
knowledge, we have the tendency to remember the confrontation,
the event of not knowing, rather than remembering the not known,
yet learned word or skill.
This transcends a mere fear of failure; in my example I had
nothing to prove to anybody (or maybe to some ideal of omniscience?).
The forgetting became a more prominent event than the content
of the remembering.
But the question remains: why Warren Beatty and not let's say
James Stewart or Robert De Niro, Johnny Depp or Tom Hanks? Why
some names and not other names I sometimes forget but after
repair again remember?
Warren Beatty plays in Bugsy the Jewish gangster Benjamin
"Bugsy" Siegel, great friend of other Jewish
Lansky. Maybe it's the repressed criminal side of
my Jewish soul, isn't it, mr. Freud? Or is it a selective aging
process, mr. Alzheimer?
29: Jesus, an absurd twist of fate
Pesach are coming soon.
demonic warp has inculcated for ages upon the minds of that
part of mankind, that is denominated Christian. What fiendish
crack runs through twenty centuries of Christianity. When one
comes to think of it, what absurdity, what strange twist the
Christian power politics and religious zeal has given to Jesus
and his compatriots, the Jews
of the Jews on a religious and spiritual level to mankind are
Not the least is the notion of a divinity, that is not embodied
in a host of idols, but which is characterized by a universal
oneness, emanating the qualities of justice, love, compassion
and demanding of his people to pursue likewise and to deal with
each other in a decent manner.
All this recorded in the Torah, the Prophets, etc.
No doubt Jesus
was in this tradition a man with unequalled qualities as an
original master and a teacher with a renovating message.
He may be considered a second gift, a teacher whose Jewish message
had the quality of appealing beyond the scope of the Jewish
Yes, a cruel
fate befell to him in the midst of religious and political turbulences
of its time. Most probably he was the victim of the ayatollah's
of that time, the Sadducee priest caste, whose bastion was the
temple in Jerusalem. They were tolerated by the Romans at the
price of keeping the populace subdued. Of course they felt menaced
by the forceful message of Jesus and no doubt they had the Romans
on their side, the Romans who didn't want to run any risk at
Probably the Sadducee priest succeeded in mobilizing a mob roaming
along the Jerusalem alley's.
probably the greater part of the inhabitants of Judea and Galilee
formed an inquisitive, if not sympathetic audience to Jesus,
many of them consoled by his practical though not soft teaching
of honesty and compassion and many longing for freedom from
the Roman suppression and harbouring expectations of Jesus being
a liberator of the Roman yoke.
The whole process found its logical culmination during Pesach,
the holiday of freedom, in which the Jews commemorate their
liberation from the Egyptian suppressors of the past.
Fear for riots and uprising played an decisive role in the minds
of the Romans and their Sadducee allies.
Maybe Jesus was sweeped up in a process beyond his reckoning,
maybe he consciously used the process to explain with his life
that spiritual power far surpasses the worldly power of the
rulers of the moment and that the kingdom of God is not to be
built on suppression and politics of violence.
an event like the crucifixion of Jesus, incisive, sorrowful
and distressing as it may have been, is an event to be found
in all times and in all nations.( Examples can be found all
throughout history, examples in which in many cases the Christian
Church is the perpetrator.) And the heroic, noble, dignified
way Jesus endured his fate is to be deeply respected, but it
is not unique.
But then -
after the crucifixion - the process took a momentum not foreseen
or intended by Jesus. Disciples like Paul and John made him
the Messiah, the Son of God and in the course of time in the
eyes and opinion of the brand new Church - given a fateful boost
by the emperor Constantine - all these unthankful Jews became
the murderers of the Son of God, though by murdering him they
were instrumental in making it possible for this newly forged
Christ to take upon his shoulders the sins of especially the
This is a
paradoxical, and unintentional third gift of the Jews to mankind:
the drama of a (super)human scapegoat, making it possible for
many humans to relief the depths of their heart of a profound
feeling of guilt.
For this poignant and sorrowful gift the Jews had to pay dearly.
of the crucifixion has been simplified, deformed, warped to
a kind of myth, apparently satisfying a profound need for redemption
of a guilt deeply seated in the (unconscious part of the) soul.
For dealing with this guilt a new myth was needed and - alas
for the Jews - found in the myth in which Jesus figured as the
redeeming holy victim.
The myth also required demonical perpetrators on whose back
the botttled up guilt could be projected: the Jews.
So far for the spiritual-psychological side of the matter; the
previous paragraph is a book in a nutshell.
I leave aside the political Church interests of detaching the
Christian belief from its Jewish roots which have played a paramount
All this is superbly unravelled in the book "The sword
of Constantine" by James Carroll
denominator of Easter and Pesach is the renewal of nature and
freeing of the soul of old burdens, the liberation from slavery,
be it from factual or existential guilt or social suppression.
So I wish you, reader, a refreshing renewal of the soul, may
you be freed of oppressive feelings and patterns without needing
fellow men as scapegoats.
In the meantime
in the magazine "Tikkun" appeared an instructive article
by Rabbi Michael Lerner "Jesus
with much the same import
1: The Robe
The Cinemascope movie about the Roman crucifier of Jesus
Suddenly it occurred to me: in 1953 I saw the movie "The
It was about the Roman officer who commanded at the crucifying
of Jesus and by gambling won the robe of the latter.
I remembered almost nothing of the movie but at the time it
must have been a tremendous happening for me.
For my family going to the movies was a very special happening
And this was the first Cinemascope movie!
An incredible broad screen was now the playing field of the
heroic feats of Richard Burton and Jean Simmons, those names
surged up immediately.
I dimly recollect to have been accompanied by my granddad, this
sweet old gentleman, who dutifully had gone along with the christianisation
of his children. The movie must have been in the famed The Hague
cinema "Asta" at the Spui (in the city center, or
was it in the cinema "Passage" nearby at the Hofweg?)
How did The Robe come into my mind?
While reading "Constantines Sword" by James Carroll.
In this voluminous book Carroll describes his inquiries into
the sources of 2000 years of Christian anti-Semitism. A short
chapter he dedicates to the seamless undergarment, for which
according to the gospel of John the soldiers executing the crucifixion
had thrown dice.
To my astonishment the garment is still purported to exist.
According to legend - so I read - in the fourth century A.D.
the mother of the emperor Constantine, Helena, had discovered
the garment in Jerusalem in her search for relics, a hype coming
up in that period. She had the robe transferred to Trier in
Germany, where it has been kept since in the cathedral and where
it is shown to the public at exceptional thanksgiving occasions,
one of the last being in 1933.....
Anyway, Lloyd C. Douglas has made his own story and Henry Koster
has made a movie of it.
And I have hired the movie from the videoshop and saw it again.
And yes, there it passed before my eyes again, the adventures
of the Roman officer Marcellus, who had won the robe with gambling
and increasingly vexed by this possession embarks on a search
for Jesus' followers.
His slave Demetrius had already joined them.
Of course also Marcellus is converted in due course.
The beautiful fiancee Diana (by the way, is this a common Roman
name for women, I don't think so) doesn't let him down at all
When sentenced to death by the mean Caligula, Marcellus/Richard
walks under the swelling tones of an angelic hallelujah with
Diana/Jean to their mortal fate.
me how outdated the film is.
The story with its characters is an accumulation of cliché's.
The acting is stiff and superficial.
The camera style strikes me as static, many long total shots,
few medium shots and some scarce close ups, a passive camera.
What nowadays often is too much - quick succession of shots,
intimate detailed close ups - is here too little. Amazing is
the large number of painted sets.
All together one gets the impression of a filmed theatrical
But what interested
me most was: what ideas about Christianity and Judaism are implied
in the movie?
Something between recollection and expectation was confirmed,
the movie is a true reflection of the experiential world of
the middle class white Christian American in the fifties of
the past century (and maybe in the beginning of this century
Admittedly, an occasional antisemitically cast Jew figures in
the film, like the wine merchant who tries to sell to Marcellus
a quantity of inferior wine, a greedy, shrewd swindler. But
anti-Semitic tones don't dominate the movie.
The jewishness of Jesus and his world just lies outside the
awareness of the makers, so it isn't touched upon.
which dominates the film is the contrast between the sweet,
peaceful Christians vs. the brutal Romans.
Marcellus in his quest comes across a community of very first
Christians in Galilee. Those Christians, Jewish inhabitants
of the village of Kana, don't have any Jewish features. They
are Americans dressed in oriental garments, living in a tranquil
euphoria. They are Christians with a Christendom, such as middle
class Americans would very much like their children to understand
It is actually a youth for Christ movie.
When Marcellus donates one of his donkey's to the son of one
of the community members, this boy immediately gives the animal
to a handicapped peer. It's an idealistic bunch, beyond any
egoism, unconditionally caring for the other in a supreme cheerful
are the brutal Romans, embodied in the coarse cruelty of the
aide of Marcellus and in its perverse form in the villainous
of Jesus remains undefined. Actually he is a kind of magic wand,
which transforms the black soul into a white one, though Marcellus
experiences some curious fits in the process.
The vexation of Marcellus is especially that he has assisted
in the death of so good a man as Jesus.
is depicted with much restraint.
The accent is not put on the suffering of Jesus for the sins
of the world.
Jesus is the son of God and wills a world without slavery, without
cruelty, but of justice and charity, says in the final trial
Marcellus with Shakespearian diction to the deaf ears of the
Romans and the crooked, snakelike Caligula.
charity, how can we disagree.
The simplicity of the black and white numbs us though for the
impact of these words.
It is a naïve spectacle movie with a simple ethical flavour.
As the twelve
year old I will have enjoyed it tremendously, for I loved the
Romans with their shining helmets and cuirasses and Jean Simmons
I thought so sweet and beautiful.
april 1 2004
of the eternal city
It's the beginning
A smooth rain is falling on the streets and the majestic facades
Now and then a scarce sun ray peeps through but more then once
the drizzle gives away to a genuine shower. Our visit to the
Eternal City gradually transformed in a survival trip.
Donned with rain jacks we roam the always crowded streets, manoeuvring
between the endless flow of cars, busses and scooters to cross
More than once we had to press ourselves around peak hours into
overcrowded busses and subway cars, where we had to stand half
choking between silent Romans from work on their way home and
used to this kind of suffering.
there were the refuges of the churches and the museums.
Churches on almost every street corner cover Rome.
Spacious centres of silence, almost all sumptuously decorated
with sculptures, paintings, elaborate wainscots and gilded ornaments.
Innumerable Mary's have looked at us or to heaven or to the
pale naked body of Christ hung on the cross or stretched out
on her lap.
Churches, papal palaces, paintings, sculptures often of immense
beauty witness the still omnipresent power of the Roman Catholic
On the rich marble steps, though, there were some dark contrasts,
beggars sitting or lying down and all begging in the same tone
and with the same words to spare a few coins for something to
Everywhere the city is specked with remnants of a more ancient
and pagan past. Suddenly amidst a quarter or in a park a piece
of an aqueduct emerges, standing on itself or integrated in
The Roman past culminates in the remnants of the forums, an
area of largely a miserable collection of stones and pillars,
more appealing to the lover of romantic gardens than giving
an impression of former imperial greatness.
Only the colosseum still rises high as an eternal memorial of
unlimited human cruelty.
Also unlimited is the richness of the Church as displayed in
the Vatican museum.
In the large entrance hall the ever in pouring masses are managed
effectively and then a journey begins through the abundantly
decorated corridors and rooms of the museum. Kilometres of an
immense quantity of treasures of antiquity and later we pass.
Innumerable specimens of utmost artistic and artisan skill are
laid out for the endless stream of visitors of which we are
We knew the Church was rich but seeing these treasures in such
luxurious surroundings gives a probing materialization of this
Finally, the Sistine chapel!
In the narrow winding entrance passage way a loudspeaker voice
summoned us not to take pictures, not to film and to be silent,
in Italian, English, French, German, Spanish, Russian and one
or two other languages.
Then we stood in the chapel.
Every square meter was occupied. The crowd covered every inch
of the floor, of course a large part gazing at the colourful
paintings by Botticelli and Perugino of episodes in the history
of the Jews and in the life of Jesus and above all gazing up
to the masterful paintings by Michelangelo at the vault.
A weird atmosphere
hung in the room.
The whispering and the covered babble of the spectators was
like the murmur of a nearby brook and when the murmur increased
to almost talking level a shrill metallic loudspeaker voice
again summoned us to be silent in Italian, English, French,
German, Spanish, Russian and one or two other languages. A uniformed
museum official walked among us and severely ordered persons
who were sitting down on a step to rise.
A kind of surreal dimmed light hung in the room and made us
of the huge Last Judgment happening on the wall.
Still the Eternal One was floating above us and in a supreme
act of will creating the heavenly bodies and reaching his life
giving finger to a yearning Adam, but mightier an emperor-like
Jesus looked judgingly down on us, who seemed more on the level
of the passengers of Charon then predestined for a jubilant
rising to heaven.
Nevermore we were permitted to leave this room. A little while
and the hour of truth would come. Patiently murmuring we awaited
our mortal fate.
Genius sings the blues
A record already
forty years in my possession is "The genius sings the blues"
of Ray Charles.
After ages I put it on again.
Ray Charles has passed away yesterday, at the age of 73.
An icon of my youth,
And this record, maybe the oldest in my collection, I have once
I may have been twenty two, twenty three, when I walked in the
record department of the Bijenkorf ("Bee hive") department
store in The Hague and suddenly the record was in my bag. That
's what I remember, the details have vanished in the mist.
And now the cover is beside me.
It's become dingy, the white has faded into smudgy yellow, the
rim at the orher side of the opening is slowly splitting open.
Here and the is a stain, a blur. Picture of Ray Charles in profile,
young dude, of course with sun glasses. Here and there the transparant
plastic over the cardboard cover has got wrinkles, as it befits
Unbelievable, already for forty years this record has travelled
with me, has survived innumerable movings, has in my twenties
not been pinched from me.
It was and still is mono, Atlantic records. And look! The price
tag is still glued on the cover! Seventeen guilders..., which
I have never payed, but now compensate with these lines.
now "The Midnight hour", my favorite.
This number and the others on this record, how much better they
are than his top hits like Georgia on my mind, I can't stop
loving you, Hit the road Jack, Unchain my heart, all not too
bad either, but this LP, "The Genius sings the blues",
dates from still before his giant commercial flight to world
fame. It 's still pure rhytm and blues, in his unique Ray Charles
Take for example a passage (from "I believe to my soul"):
dreaming and I heard you say (threatening, then a simple
riff of copper and reed)
. (sung by a singer from the backing choir,
probably already the "The Raylets").
(then Ray indignant and hurt:) when you know my name is Ray.
Ray Charles can do. And who sings so heartrending and gives
such a believable performance of (from "Nobody cares"):
nobody seem to care,
Well, nobody loves me,
nobody seem to care,
Well, ever since my mother passed away
nothing but misery everywhere
ain't got no money, baby,
my best friend put me down,
Well, I ain't got no money, baby,
my best friend put me down,
well, of all my good time buddies
ain't no one around.
Ray Charles has passed away from what in the media is called
a liver condition.
Of course Ray has been, like most musicians of his scene, into
dope. He has been condemned for possession of heroine; he has
kicked the habit and has been out of the running for a year
in those sixties. The liver condition no doubt he has got from
the needle, so it must have been hepatitis.
. Further and further away, like an island
becoming smaller and smaller, as viewed from the boat of the
now, which transporting us and holds us inevitably captive,
further and further away those sixties are disappearing to behind
Blues for Ray Charles, and blues because of the passing of people
and things and youth.
writer Remco Campert wrote in his column in the "Volkskrant"
about hurry. Now that he is a man in his seventies he feels
the pressure of time and the urge to hurry en he wondered about
his youth, when he was never in a hurry, feeling he had "seas
Indeed it seems like an insoluble problem.
Either you feel pressed, chased by the hourglass, time is running
out. Something is gnawing at your intestines. You want to leave
something behind. The Lord is frowning on your performance.
Or a real passion is chasing you.
Of course the big gaping trap is to give way to the omnipresent
urge to perform, to outdo your collegue, to satisfy the demands
of your boss and the deadlines or your own neurotic superego
standards. The moloch of this crazy late capitalism devouring
its children. Hurry, the clock is ticking.
Or you feel relaxed, doing everything at your own pace, not
getting disturbed by the crazy drive to perform and compete
around you, which in itself is quite a feat, demanding a stout
awareness. Here the big trap is laziness, sitting on a fence
and letting the days go by without seeking the joy of work that
is aligned with your own essence. Slow down, death does not
Isn't there a fusion possible, doing your thing with quiet energy,
with a calm passion,
attuned to the occasion and without hurry?
A friend of mine has met the Buddhist teacher Thich Nat Han
and he reports, how this man is ever travelling the world from
seminar to teaching to lecture and he seemed always calm and
present in the moment. I suppose the same goes for men like
the Dalai Lama and other great teachers.