In the Neighborhood of My Mind

Rabbi Joshua Bolton
June 13, 2014
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Near dawn I am roused by voices speaking outside my window. It is Edmond Jabes and Max Jacob – they’ve been carousing in the streets, singing patriotic French ballads, and whistling at passersby. Their chatter inspires me.

I wash my face and brush my teeth. I listen to the local radio, trying to orient myself with the day’s news. Moshe Cordevero is being interviewed – he suggests being attentive to the needs of others is our primary mission. I close the radio and go downstairs.

At breakfast I am joined by my renter, a woman named Else Lasker-Schuler. She is writing a book of poems, but she spends most of her time on the internet and planning her outfits. I eat toast and avocado. Else eats cereal. We share a large pot of coffee and a cigarette.

I walk to the train station, nodding to Kalonymus Kalman Shapira who is shuffling in the opposite direction.

On the train I sit with my old friend, Levi Yitzchok of Berdichev. This morning we barely speak. Jerry Seinfeld is the conductor and he asks for tickets. The decrepit city flashes by through the window. As I depart I happen to see Herzl tucked in a corner, reading the morning paper – he picks his nose.

My first meeting this morning is virtual – I convene a Google Hangout with Abraham Isaac Kook – he is in Petach Tikvah. We are co-developing a new curriculum. When the video link opens up he is kissing rocks, and there is a donkey in the immediate background.

My colleague, Mordecai Kaplan, lingers at my door for a stop-n-chat – he smokes incessantly, and is always agitated. This morning is no exception. I tell him to relax and to eat a peach – maybe spend some “private time” in the restroom if necessary.

Business lunch with Rahel – the poetess. She opens her mouth and it’s the rush of the waters, the crash of the heavens.

The entire staff gathers for a leadership session – our trainer is Elimelech of Lizhensk. He has distinguished himself over many years, though his theories have been critiqued for being too top-down. He has a pleasant beard.

Every day I enjoy afternoon coffee with Menachem Mendel Schneerson. He tells wonderful stories about Paris – and afterwards we don teffilin, still sitting beneath the awning of the café. Walt Whitman is there too – he kisses us both on the lips.

The train home is always full of rabble-rousers. Yosef Chayim Brenner argues with Shmuel Yosef Agnon – these are the years they’re not living in The Land. Their eyes are still fiery and their fingers are besmirched with ink. Moshe de Lyon is also in the cabin. He’s surrounded by young men, all tan – their teeth are red with wine.

Dinner at home is a simple affair: Fruit, bread and cheese. Else has brought over her new friend Walter Benjamin. He places his small revolver on the side table. They whisper.

I walk through the streets after my meal – it’s good for digestion, and it’s an excuse to stop for a drink. Rashi’s daughters are at the bar – we flirt for an hour and they buy my whiskey sodas.

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