I believe in God. Specifically, I believe in the God who appeared to Moses in the form of the burning bush. Moses asks: “Who are you?” God says: “I am who I am.”
As a mystic, not much more can be said about God with this exception. God is not a He nor a She. God is genderless. Given my contrarian nature, I have taken to refer to God as She in no small part because doing so upsets some people. E.g.:
One of my heroes is Edward R. Murrow. The great North-Carolina-born journalist instituted a series of radio programs ( which on NPR continue to this day) on what prominent people believe.
I am not prominent, but I am old (71j and am so dyed-in-the-wool Jewish that what I believe is equivalent at least in my own mind to what Judaism is or ought to be.
I can readily trace the conceit of my own rectitude to my mother who was an impressive woman and educator. Despite a lifetime of self-doubt, Mother never doubted that to be a proper Jew one must do what she insisted upon.
For me, my belief in God is the least import aspect of being Jewish. I would argue it is irrelevant to what truly matters; namely, “If I am for myself alone, what good am I.”
One consequence of my going to Israel to fight in the Six Day War ( where I arrived at Lodd Airport on Day Four) was that despite the Israeli government’s understandable 1967 assertion (that the impending War was the 1948 War of Independence all over again) was my surprise upon being asked by the military official in charge of the airport,” Why are you here? “ My response (after kissing the tarmac and saying the requisite bracha):
“Whatever you want.”
Had it been 1948, I would have been handed a Stenn gun and sent to the Syrian front where the IDF troops scaling the Golan Heights suffered the worst deaths of the War.
Instead, being untrained naive and young, I was sent to a dairy farm in the South where I was badly needed to shovel the manure that had been built up while the farmer I had partially replaced was off in the Sinai reinventing tank warfare.
My Israeli experience as a migrant agricultural worker resulted in my becoming an agricultural policy expert ( of sorts):
Most recently, my “expertise” has resulted in my efforts to affirm Eli Weisel’s insistance that being a Jew ( surrounded as I had been in the 1950s by tattooed survivors of the Holocaust) requires us as Jews to end genocide of whatever form; specifically in Yemen, the Mayanmar region of what used to be Burma, Venezuela ( most especially on the Western border in Colombia) the Sudan, and ….
Here is the book I am most eager to complete and publish:
DEVELOPING A BLUEPRINT FOR FEEDING THE 20 MILLION PEOPLE IN THE WORLD WHO ARE STARVING TO DEATH
Here is a relatively recent expression of what I regard as my primary life’s work:
Fortunately or unfortunately my rotten health ( which is to blame for my not being in shul yesterday) has required me to pay attention to a pressing reality(intervening in what I regard as my primary work).
For the past two years, I have been suffering from one of the many consequences of radiation treatment that cured me of two of the three cancers I have survived and which resulted in my losing the ability to walk and stand 25 years ago.
The radiation has badly damaged my GI tract which has resulted in an inability to swallow, required that I relearn how to eat, and which most recently is manifesting itself in a severe cough. Last week, I was seen by the Digestive Diseases clinic at UPMC and with any luck I will receive surgery in June to put me on the road to recovery.
In February, by impulse or necessity, I moved to Williamsport after over 15 years in State College. Here I am receiving medical treatment unavailable in State College. And here, as a result of Larissa Simon’s efforts, that of Ohev Shalom and you, I have been rescued. Details available.
How I am able to write and write and write despite the failures of my body surprise me. The image that comes to mind is that my mind is in fifth gear; my body in second.
Clearly, it is time to stop this seemingly endless e-mail but I must first mention the following Yiddishkite issues of importance to me:
1. The revival of the Hebrew language. Eliezer ben Yehuda and Bialik, Bialik, Bialik.
2. The understanding that the killing of Jews in Pittsburgh and Southern California makes clear that, as Jabotinsky expressed it, in the Diaspora even the rocks are anti-Semitic.
3. The shameful way in which the elderly and disabled are treated in our society.
4. My reverence for the late Rabbi Heschel, Professor of Mysticism and Theology at the Jewish Theological Seminary who marched with Dr. King as did I.
July 2017. State College/University Park, PA. Years later, this reflection on the Sandusky scandal still rings true:
“As a former graduate student at Penn State with a disability and as one who is part of the elderly community, the focus by powerful officials on football-above-all has also been used to cover up exploitation of disabled and elderly students and students who are veterans (especially disabled-veterans) and to discourage recruitment of such individuals to become students. Also, this exploitation has extended to the community economically dependent on Penn State.”
Note: I am in the process of critiquing the report issued by former FBI Director Louis Freeh issued in July of 2012. The report, which was commissioned by the Board of Trustees at Penn State, concerned what is popularly referred to as the Sandusky sex scandal. Freeh, in issuing the report, pointed out the danger of the "football culture" at Penn State which gave license to officials in power to ignore predatory sexual practices on children.
As a former graduate student at Penn State with a disability and as one who is part of the elderly community,the focus by powerful officials on football-above-all has also been used to cover up exploitation of disabled and elderly students and students who are veterans (especially disabled-veterans) and to discourage recruitment of such individuals to become students. Also, this exploitation has extended to the community economically dependent on Penn State. As partial background regarding this contention, I am here republishing the monthly column I wrote for Voices of Central Pennsylvania, then edited by the gifted Suzan Erem. The column appeared from October of 2009 until February of 2011. What follows is the first column.
From Where I Sit
In high school I was a junior befriended by a sensual senior who shared her physical love with others, but talked philosophy to me. I would have preferred it the other way around, but I had no choice. If I wanted to benefit from the privilege of being in her presence (and I did), then I had to sublimate my lust by talking about existentialism—
Sallie’s philosophical passion.
Existentialism is not as chic today as it was when I was 15 or 16. Jean Paul Sartre had not yet refused the Nobel Prize in Literature, nor had he turned his back on literature—deciding finally to complete Being and Nothingness and other non-fiction. The central philosophical question that haunted us adolescents—Why am I here?—remains through our old age.
For me the question takes on an added dimension. At 28 I was diagnosed as having a relatively rare form of cancer that a generation earlier killed virtually everyone who had it. For much of my early adulthood, an astonishingly large number of physicians believed the disease was universally fatal. Oxford University Press published an impassioned plea to physicians to reconsider their notions of doom. Today, the disease is nearly universally curable. For a while, the people who began the cure with radiation machines underestimated its power and a large number of radiologists died while curing others. My radiologist at George Washington University Hospital in Washington D.C. died before I reached the five-year disease free mark. Seymour Kaplan, the Stanford University radiologist who published the Oxford medical text, suffered a similar fate.
I lost the ability to run, walk, or stand without assistance, but the disease and its consequences did not prevent me from fathering two beautiful daughters. Why am I here? has become a consistent theme in my life. Consistent themes make it possible for people to become columnists for newspapers and for publications such as Voices of Central Pennsylvania. So, what you are reading is the first in a series of monthly columns on the subject of having physical disabilities and being elderly here in Centre County.
I will not pretend that physical disabilities and old age are inherently fascinating subjects. However, one of the advantages of being a columnist is that I do not have to come to the point too quickly—as long as I get there. So for my readers, beginning
October, 2009 I plan to use my wiles to make me part of your life. I plan to start here at Addison Court, the 89-apartment complex in downtown State College, where at 3 a.m. nearly every day drunken students out of control (half a block from the police station) walk east in groups of 20 shrieking men and women who pause to urinate and vomit in our parking lot.
I plan to find out why the police do not interfere with drunken activity and how it makes Addison Court residents feel.
I can’t wait for you to meet my neighbors. A few weeks ago, Lillian (83), Audrey (80), Hilda (90), and I had a lively Corner Room breakfast talking about what it is like when most of one’s friends are dead or too-far-gone to remember the same old stories.
Addison Court residents, with the exception of those with physical and emotional disabilities, are 55 or older, live in rent-subsidized apartments, have little money, not enough to do, and most vote out of a sense of patriotic obligation.
From Addison Court, half a block north on Allen, is Webster’s Bookstore Café. Webster’s proprietor Elaine Meder-Wilgus surrounds herself with serious reformers who are not afraid to have fun. This column will discuss reform and fun from my distinct perspective. I am 62. I am a paraplegic. I have rotten teeth—17 cavities.
I have strong ideas about the importance of uniting with others such as myself because as Al Smith once said, “The only cure for the ills of democracy is more democracy.”
In the November column, I will tell you why I came to State College, how much money I earn, and how I plan to survive financial disaster. [October 2009]
—Joel Solkoff is the author of The Politics of Food.