Greg Leake emails: Hi Luke,
A few days ago you posted a piece entitled “What do you notice“? in reference to the Alexander Technique.
I couldn’t help but be struck by the similarities I encountered describing the Zen Buddhist practice of zazen. Often, I believe, zazen is thought of as meditation. Actually, though I may be mistaken, I think a closer translation would be “sitting just to sit.” Or as a friend who is a Zen Buddhist once said to me, “Just being aware of whatever a human being can be aware of.”
The instructions were roughly:
1) Sit comfortably so that the body can be at ease.
2) Allow the mind to be at ease.
3) Be aware of anything that disturbs that ease.
So as you can see, one could just as easily have said, “So that one can notice anything that disturbs that ease.” And I have noticed much about the Alexander Technique involves the focus of awareness at ease. I plan to get around to trying out a few lessons.
At the end of Torah Talks, Rabbs told a [fictional] story that involved a goy family moving into his neighborhood. Isolated, they apparently reached out to be participants [in an Orthodox synagogue, getting synagogue honors restricted to Jews by Jewish law]. This created a lot of trouble for both them and the Jewish community. This story doesn’t mean a lot to me, as I see it as kind of a man-bites-dog scenario.
However, what it does bring up is the more normal case of a neighborhood composed of a mixture of Orthodox Jews and citizens who are not Jewish.
I know all about this, because I am a normal Texan who lives in a neighborhood composed of normal Texans like myself and Orthodox Jews. (Many of them from the east coast.) My neighborhood is rather upscale. Perhaps upper middle class could describe the socio-economic tenor. On any given block one might find, in general, half normal Texans and the other half Orthodox Jews. (Primarily modern Orthodox.)
A sort of uneasy truce looms over the neighborhood. Rabbs’s man-bites-dog story really can’t apply on a street where half of your immediate neighbors are ordinary Texans. It is troubling the way the Orthodox community does everything that it can to ignore the rest of the citizens. This is an unusual posture for Texas and other states in the South that are traditionally known for their friendliness and their hospitality.
The other day I ran into an elderly Jewish lady on her way Israel with her husband. We fell into an interesting conversation about the phenomenology of esoteric traditions and higher states of consciousness. At one point I asked her if she were Orthodox. And when she replied that she was, I explained that I was a bit surprised, as most of the Orthodox I have met would regard some of her passions as being dubious in respect to the Torah.
She looked at me an made a circular gesture with her arms and said, “They create a bubble around themselves, and they don’t let anything out and they don’t let anything in,” and then she looked me in the eye and endeared herself to me for all time when she said, “but I am not that way.”
Some of the Orthodox friends I have managed to make actually complain about the lack of friendliness themselves. Once I replied, “Well I guess they’re not always friendly to non-Jews.” My friend said, “Hey! They’re not even friendly to me.”
so I have run into a few people, including rabbis, who find this lack of friendship and neighborliness troublesome themselves, even while they try to observe the dynamics that exclude the outside world. I am sure in New York City and other places where multicultural neighborhoods exist block by block and people all know their place, everyone has long since become accustomed to this claustrophobic, alienated way of dealing with neighbors. However, this is all still fairly new to the deep South, and frankly, we are very courteous about people’s preferences, but too much exclusivity arouses a measure of distrust. My hope is that as the decades wear on, a more cordial spirit can come to pass between the community and normal Southerners.
On the other hand, this may be as much a product of northern migration as it is specifically of Orthodox Judaism. I explained all this to one Jewish guy from New York who came here to go to dental school. He said to me, “Hey, all these unfriendly people are from New York City. I came down here to get away from all that. I want to work on a ranch.” I thought to myself, you know, that kid just might work out.