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December 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 international press.
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
of strife and misery.
Somewhere 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!


january 7 2004 Love

Isn't remarkable, that such fundamental words in the spiritual scope as "Love" and "God" at the same time are the most vague notions conceivable.
They denote the most supreme and the most trivial.
They help us express everyday preferences and irritations and also the most profound experiences.

Especially love.
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 and sympathy.

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.


Jan. 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.

During the 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 my head.
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.

"Hold 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.

I dedicate 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 fanatics.


January 25 2004 The sky over Auschwitz

In this 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 procession.
Here and there some police officers. Near the gate a municipal ambulance.

Perhaps for 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 case of some fool intending some terrorist thing? In case of a bunch of antisemites planning some riot?

The speech 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 tune.
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.

Kaddish Jatom, joined in by some mumbling it, "we imru amen".

Then silence.
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 like.

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 while.
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 stops.
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.


January 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 chronicle.
Paul goes back to his legliftmachine.
See you Paul.
Which means: soon, because it 's the time for filling up the tax forms.

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 sad.
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.


February 1 Intelligent design

Last night 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 is near.
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.

Tonight, before 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 5.

But, see, 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.

I 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.

‹‹ picture I found in 'Zen flesh, zen bones'




February 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 sports bike.
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 pattern.
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 for ages.
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!
Another proof.
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.


February 11 The choir (another column about the choir - in Dutch - may be read on my other website; go to other choir column)

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, see.

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.

Then there are "the others", the non-Jewish Nijmegen choir members, some of them Roman Catholic.

The choir 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 bizz.
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 achievements.

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 unexpectedly well.
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 us.

(go to other choir column)



February 23 The Wall/the Fence

More then 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 Palestinian factions.

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.

But: what 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 conflict.
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 physically.
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.

It require 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.

One might 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.

And that 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 wall.


March 20: The brain and the gangsters

some thought about remembering and forgetting

"Dutch 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 two languages.
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.

Another phenomenon, 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 actor names.
I was trying to rehearse a list of well known American movie actors.
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 knowledge.
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: Bugsy.

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 mnemonic aids.
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 in remembering.

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 gangster Meyer 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?

march 20


March 29: Jesus, an absurd twist of fate

Easter and Pesach are coming soon.

Jesus: what 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…

The gifts of the Jews on a religious and spiritual level to mankind are many.
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 audience.

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 political unrest.
Probably the Sadducee priest succeeded in mobilizing a mob roaming along the Jerusalem alley's.

But equally 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.

Nevertheless: 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 non Jews.

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.

The event 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 role.
All this is superbly unravelled in the book "The sword of Constantine" by James Carroll

The common 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.

March 29

In the meantime in the magazine "Tikkun" appeared an instructive article by Rabbi Michael Lerner "Jesus the Jew"
with much the same import



April 1: The Robe

The Cinemascope movie about the Roman crucifier of Jesus revisited

Suddenly it occurred to me: in 1953 I saw the movie "The Robe".
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 anyway.
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 this.
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.

It astonishes 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 performance.

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 too).
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.

The contrast 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.
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 mood.

Sharply contrasting are the brutal Romans, embodied in the coarse cruelty of the aide of Marcellus and in its perverse form in the villainous emperor Caligula.

The character 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.

The crucifixion 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.

Justice and 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



an impression of the eternal city

It's the beginning of april.
A smooth rain is falling on the streets and the majestic facades of Rome.
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 over.

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.

But luckily 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 church.
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 eat.

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 other structures.
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 a part.
We knew the Church was rich but seeing these treasures in such luxurious surroundings gives a probing materialization of this notion.

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 part
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.

april 23


The Genius sings the blues

remembering Ray Charles

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 pinched.
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 the aged.

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.

Ray sings 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 style.
Take for example a passage (from "I believe to my soul"):

You were dreaming and I heard you say (threatening, then a simple riff of copper and reed)
Oh Johnny…. (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.

This only Ray Charles can do. And who sings so heartrending and gives such a believable performance of (from "Nobody cares"):

Well, nobody loves me,
nobody seem to care,
Well, nobody loves me,
nobody seem to care,
Well, ever since my mother passed away
nothing but misery everywhere

Well, I 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,
oh lord,
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.

The sixties…. 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 the horizon.
Blues for Ray Charles, and blues because of the passing of people and things and youth.

June 11

hurry! Slow down!

Today Dutch 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 of time".
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 exist.
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.

July 3




December 19 2003
No mans land
January 7 2004
January 19
Hold out a little longer

January 25
The sky over Auschwitz

January 30
In the gym
February 1
Intelligent design
February 11
My new bike
February 11
The choir
February 23
The Wall/the Fence
March 20
The brain and the gangsters
March 29
April 1
The Robe
april 23
June 11
The Genius sings the blues
July 3
Hurry! Slow down!