It was the day before Chanukah

peshawar-india
It was the day before Chanukah
And all through the school
Children wrestled and tussled
But not to be cruel
This was home for them all
A place of content
A refuge
A dream
Hours well spent

 

In the main auditorium
Gathered to learn first-aid
A teacher leapt up
To prevent those on stage
Burned her to death
In front of their eyes
Final cut, final image
For those who survive

 

The day before Chanukah
A blood soaked mourn
Hearts bleeding out blood
Parents forlorn
Gather bodies and books
Cellphones
Shattered glasses
Wounded souls
Scarred for life
Won’t return to classes

 

No more physics
Just revenge
Only one thing in mind
No more engineering
Just revenge
Hatred can blind
It was the day before Chanukah

 

I write this poem as parents and relatives sift through the carnage and rubble to find remnants of their beloved ones in Peshwar. Other parents and relatives nurse those who are recovering from their wounds; others hug those who are left scathed with the sights and sounds of senseless murder.

 

Two boys who survived are in hospital recovering from wounds.

 

Mehran Khan, 14, was shot with three bullets – in the hand, leg and back. Khan said from his hospital bed that cricket used to be his main passion before the attack. His life has changed forever; he will not rest until the meaningless deaths of his classmates have been avenged. “I am angry. I’m a physics student but now I don’t want to be an engineer. I want to get out and take revenge for all the deaths. The ones who killed, my friends. I will not rest until I finish them.”

 

Aamir Ameen, 18, was at a chemistry exam when the attack started. He fainted after taking a bullet in his hip. The assailants left him for dead. “When I woke up, everyone around me was bleeding and dead. I stayed silent and lay there quietly for hours. When I saw army officers run past I started screaming and they rescued me.” Ameen’s life has changed forever; he does not know how he will get over the loss of his friends and teachers. “I want to get better and get out and help people. All the people who helped save my life, I want to do something for them.”

 

On the day before Chanukah Rabbi Jamie Arnold melodically sang to our faculty a Chanukah song:

 

Bring some light into the darkness,
bring some darkness to the light
As we dance among the shadows
flickering in black and white

 

All things dark are not just evil,
all things light are not just fine
Can we learn to bless our difference,
God in your face, God in mine.
May this be our blessing over the Chanukah lights.

 

David’s blog will return the week of January 5th.

Refuse to Accept

kailash-satyarthi-nobel-peace-prize-refuse-to-accept/

Is there enough money to afford education for every child on earth, to feed the hungry and starving, and to provide public toilets?

 

Kailash Satyarthi, the co-winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize thinks so. In his acceptance speech in Olso yesterday, his refrain was “I refuse to accept.” What Mr. Satyarthi has refused to accept is that the “world is so poor, when just one week of global spending on armies is enough to bring all of our children into classrooms.”

 

Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, made his fortune producing armaments for war. In 1888, eight years before his death, Mr. Nobel read his obituary entitled, “The Merchant of Death is Dead.” It was a case of mistaken identity. Alfred’s brother Ludvig had died. The obituary was premature but its impact on Alfred was timely. He decided to will his fortune to the betterment of mankind. The initial assets left by Mr. Nobel, some $180 million, under good management, now stands at over $600 million—a sizeable reserve for doing good in this world.

 

Nobel Prize recipients (there are now 6 categories) are awarded a gold medal and a sum of money. The exact amount of the cash award varies from year to year but has been for the past decade well over a million dollars (it is split if there are co-recipients). No living recipient of a Nobel Prize has ever sold their gold medal, until this week. The recipient of the Nobel Prize in 1962 for Medicine was James Watson, credited with Francis Crick and others to have discovered DNA’s double helix structure. Watson knew that his medal was worth more than its weight in gold (even at today’s prices). Crick’s medal sold at auction ($2.3 million) after his death a few years ago.

 

Watson has fallen on hard times. He made what many would consider racist and sexist remarks and has subsequently been shunned by the scientific community. Watson, now 86, wanted money so he could continue his scientific work, donate to institutions that supported him and buy some art. He netted $ 4.1 million and guess what? He has the medal back in his possession!

 

Alisher Usmanov, the purchaser of Watson’s Nobel gold medal, considered it unacceptable that such an outstanding scientist had to sell his medal, so he not only bought it, he returned it to Watson. While Mr. Usmanov, the wealthiest billionaire in Russia, may have had a private conversation with Dr. Watson, it is unlikely that he can mandate how Watson will allocate his millions. Watson is eager to buy a David Hockney painting—they are not cheap.

 

To address global poverty we must first address the poverty of the mind and heart. Mr. Usmanov, and other billionaires like him, whose assets are multiples of the assets of the Nobel Foundation may want to get behind Mr. Satyarthi and “refuse to accept” that we do not have enough money to end poverty. A David Hockney painting can feed and educate more than a village.

 

Skeptics and Synchronicity

Skeptics have a magazine, a website, a dictionary, an international conference, a camp, and a million dollar award for anyone able to prove the supernatural (http://web.randi.org/the-million-dollar-challenge.html).

 

The Amazing  Meeting, held this past year in Las Vegas, is an “annual gathering of like-minded critical thinkers devoted to the philosophy of Skepticism who enjoy some of the brightest minds on issues important to skeptics, and leave with tools for spreading a helpful and educational message to those who might be hurt by charlatans and unfounded belief.”

 

Skeptics are not impressed with synchronicities. These simultaneous occurrences of events are seen by them as chance happenings that have no significance. The importance we attribute to them is defined by them as apophenia: “the ability of the human mind to find meaning and significance where there is none.”

 

Over the past 12 years I have told and listened to countless stories of synchronicity as a way to highlight the Kabbalah’s view on interconnectedness and the confluence and parallels of seen and unseen reality.

 

It occurred to me this week that I should approach these stories and my finding meaning in them with some skepticism. The word “occur” has two etymologies:

 

  1. Happen unexpectedly
  2. To come into one’s mind

 

To be appropriately skeptical I will ignore that my neighbor recently gave me a copy of the magazine Skeptic (which I had never heard of before) and I intended to write this blog on a different topic, the life of Harry Houdini—who I learned is as an honored member of the Skepticism Society and was a judge on Scientific American’s panel debunking mediums (Houdini, aka, Eric Weisz, was the son of Rabbi Mayer and Cecilia Weisz. He is buried in Machpela Cemetery in Queens, New York very near to where I grew up).

 

The day before Thanksgiving I went to have my blood drawn and remarkably there was no line at the lab.  I wound up talking with the person checking me in about how unpredictable the waiting time can be. I had not realized that the receptionist was doubling as the phlebotomist, so I was surprised that she followed me back to the area where my blood was to be drawn. Her name is Peggy (I think) and after asking me my birthdate mentioned: “We have the same birthday.”

 

In probability theory, the birthday paradox concerns the probability that, in a set of randomly chosen people, some pair of them will have the same birthday. The probability is 100% when the number of people reaches 367, however, 99.9% probability is reached with just 70 people, and 50% probability with 23 people.

 

There was only the two of us in the lab, but a skeptic would say—she and I were just the 2 of 23 that happened to be in the room (for a 50% chance that the two of us shared the same birthday). What was more impressive though was that we shared the same birthdate-January 18, 1958. When Peggy smiled at me and said: “But I am older than you, I was born at 6:03 in the morning,” I asked her where she was born. Well, it was in California, PST. I was born in Atlantic City, EST.  I remembered I was born in the morning, so I suggested that, indeed, I might be older, as it was already 9:00 a.m. in New Jersey when she was born. Checking my birth certificate, the time of my birth is recorded as 9:00 a.m.

 

The scientific skeptical minds at The Amazing Meeting (held in Las Vegas) would simply consider this synchronicity a highly improbable roll of the “birthday” dice—a chance occurrence of two people born within minutes of each other “discovering” a coincidence.

 

When it comes to synchronicities I have shared or heard in Kabbalah class over the last 12 years—this one—a shared birth time—is a 2 on a scale of 10. The intriguing element to me is when Peggy said: “I am older than you” as she was convinced my poker hand would not beat her 6:03 a.m. birth time. That moved this synchronicity up from a 1 to a 2 on a scale of 10.

 

What provides meaning about synchronicities—so that they are not random occurrences needing the “assignment of meaning where there is none” is when they are ripe with meaning already. This occurs at times when you meet someone (or something such as hearing a song) who you wanted or needed to meet (you had them in mind) or when you have a premonition that you will meet someone although you may have never met them before; and that there is a significance—a lesson learned or relationship forged that is important for your life.
So who is in need of escaping from the chains and locks of their perceptions? Is it the skeptic or the kabbalist? I think the odds are 50-50.

 

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