20 February 2006

PURIM PATROL - Notes From Home


Copyright ©, February 2002, Reuven Kossover
Copyright ©, June 2011, Reuven Kossover

Author’s note: This was written four years ago about this time of year right before the holiday of Purim, which is celebrated this year on 14 - 15 March. Purim celebrates the rescue of the Jewish people in the Persian Empire from the evil designs of Haman the Agagite, a man descended from King Agag, the King of Amalek.

Purim, 5762,

It was the day before Purim around 1:30 in the afternoon, and I was relaxing, reading an issue of Time Magazine someone had popped into my mailbox. I was interrupted by the phone. It was Nurit, the commander of the local Mishmar Ezrahi, the volunteer Civil Patrol that helps the police and the IDF spot and stop terrorists. She said she needed me for a patrol at a community center in Gilo where there was a Purim carnival going on for the children in the neighborhood - right now. So I stuffed a cheese sandwich into my mouth and walked down to the local sub-station a few hundred meters away. I signed for a rifle, a couple of clips of bullets and a blue Velcro vest with "Mishtéret Yisraél (Israel Police) and Mishmár Ezrahí (Civil Guard) in big letters on it. I also received my official I.D. as a member of the Mishmar Ezrahi, complete with photo and Teudat Zehut (national ID card) number imprinted. A few minutes later we all left.

There were four of us in the hatchback driving toward Gilo. Nurit, and a young guy whose name I forget, Claude and me. Nurit is a pretty young lady, young enough to be my daughter, who is the cop, the professional with the salary. The young guy who drove the hatchback is a draftee to the army was also young enough to be my child. The way it has seemed to work in the past is that I was paired off with some retiree, at least twenty years older than me, who has been here longer than I. This time was no different.

Claude was born at least seventy five years ago in Algeria and fought in the British Army when the French were defeated in 1940. He speaks Hebrew with an unmistakable French accent and has several children here and grandchildren. He has lived in Israel for seven years. When we arrived at the Gilo Community Centre, we were not the only Civil Guard members there. And in addition to the other civil Guard members, there were also two military policemen armed with M16's and several civilian cops. One of those policemen started to explain the assignment to us, assuming that we could both understand Hebrew. Fortunately, I did understand, because when he was done, I repeated his instructions back to him in English, speaking to him as quickly in my native tongue as he had done to me in his native tongue.

Essentially, we were to check the building to see that all possible routes of entry were locked except one, check the street for suspicious packages and people and wander around, and through our presence (with the unloaded M1's that were as old as I am), reassure the locals that everything possible was being done to insure their safety and security. At all times Claude and I were to maintain eye contact, and in case of a problem, call some of the military policemen present on the radio. In the event that we were attacked with one of the Arabs' newest toys, the Kassem 2 missiles, we were to herd the children into the basement of the building as quickly as humanly possible.

This particular patrol was particularly easy, and therefore boring. But I got to practice my Hebrew and show off the little French I know, and learned a lot about Claude, who visited this country during WWII as a British soldier, was captured by the Germans twice, escaped twice and who subsequently lived in Tunisia, Algeria and when the French evacuated North Africa and gave their colonies their independence, moved not far from Geneva before coming to Israel. I bought myself a hot dog roll and an espresso coffee and was able to take a break (no doughnuts and coffee at a local greasy spoon, though). A few times I heard gunshots from the Arab village of Beit Jallah, across the wadi, but none of them were close by. I spent a lot of time looking at the sky checking for "incoming".

My biggest security problem on this patrol was a couple of young children who wanted to set off firecrackers nearby. Being the natural party-pooper that I am, I told the children not to set them off. When they moved some ten meters away and started to set them off anyway, I called over one of the cops and he took the firecrackers away from the children. In Israel, firecrackers are illegal but usually tolerated. In neighborhoods which are under regular Arab gunfire attacks police don't like them at all as they sound similar to bullets being fired and can scare the residents, who are nervous anyway.

As I stood at the entrance of the Gilo Community Centre, I reflected on how I never thought that at age fifty and a half, I'd be standing in a cold winter wind, patrolling a community center with a rifle slung over my shoulder. It was kind of like the afternoon in May, 1985 when I was mopping a floor in a Burger King in Bloomington, MN. I stopped for a moment then and reflected. I never thought then that I would be mopping a floor for a living after having earned a bachelor's degree in political science and public administration and having gone to law school for a year. When I was mopping the floor I was getting paid and I felt humiliated. This afternoon, I was getting nothing, but I felt elevated. Go figure. The patrol itself ended at six in the evening. The four of us got into the hatchback and left, driving south along the Bethlehem Road (toward Bethlehem) a typical suburban boulevard such as is found in the States.

Suddenly, the driver swung over to the left side of the road, stopped the car. He and Nurit jumped out of the car and confronted two young men who were walking north towards Jerusalem proper with backpacks on their shoulders. The two men took off their backpacks and put them on the sidewalk, while Nurit and the driver searched the backpacks thoroughly.

Even though there appeared to be no signs of resistance on the part of the two young men and no signs of violent intimidation by Nurit and the driver (for example, neither young men were told to 'assume the position' or were pushed against the hatchback for a search), both Claude and I were ready with our rifles, ready to load and fire. Nurit took their identity cards, examined them for a few moments, and put them in her jacket pocket. Then she and the driver re-entered the car and left the young men on the street. We drove south toward the border patrol posts between Arab controlled territory and Israeli controlled territory and the driver stopped the car at the guard post. Nurit opened the window and handed the ID's she had scarfed from the two young men, said something quickly as to where she had found them and what the men looked like, then closed the window and we drove off, making a u-turn and returning up the highway.

Only then did I ask what had just transpired. I wanted to know how the young men were going to retrieve their identity cards. The driver answered that they knew where to go, and that they would be along shortly at the border post. He then went on to explain that each morning, several thousand Arabs from Bethlehem walk up the highway toward Jerusalem looking for work, and pass through the checkpoint. So, in the morning, it is normal to see them coming up the Bethlehem Road walking toward Jerusalem, with backpacks or lunch pails. At six-fifteen in the evening, this is a not normal occurrence. The Arabs in Judea and Samaria, the land conquered from Jordan in 1967, have one of two kinds of identification cards. One is an orange card issued by the IDF for those Arabs living in area "C" of Judea and Samaria, the sections controlled by Israel. The vast majority of them, however, have green cards issued by the "Palestinian Authority" which controls areas "A" and "B". If they have additional documentation allowing them to work in Israel, they can enter Jerusalem. If not, they are turned back at the border. The two young men who had just been searched had the green cards, but no authorization papers. And as the driver had assured me, they were indeed walking toward the border post to retrieve their ID cards and return to Arab controlled territory.

So that was the end of the patrol the night before Purim. We got back to the sub-station, returned our weapons and vests. The fellow with the hatchback drove home, Claude walked to his apartment on the other side of the valley from the absorption center and I walked back to the absorption center to a Purim party. Nurit locked up the sub-station, got on her motorbike and disappeared into the night.

19 February 2006

Life After Death; Scientific Evidence for Death as the Beginning of a New Stage of Life
Dr. Gerald Schroeder at the Israel Center 1 July, 2004

Copyright © July 2004, R. Kossover for the Root & Branch Assn.

Author’s note, Feb. 2006. In July 2004, Dr. Gerald Schroeder came to speak on this topic. While the lecture itself was delivered 18 months or so ago, its relevance remains immediate. We are yet born, we yet die - and continue to wonder at the first event and fear the second. Dr. Schroeder’s lecture increased my wonder at the second event as well.

Most of the presentations at the Root & Branch Lecture Series deal with politics or religion. This presentation dealt with nuclear physics. It filled the house with people. The staff of the Israel Center had to bring fifteen extra chairs. The topic was “Life After Death; Scientific Evidence for Death as the Beginning of a New Stage of Life.”

Some of us are interested in politics. Some of us are interested in religion. But all of us die. And the vast vast majority of us want to continue to live. Maybe that’s why there was a full house Thursday night.

Dr. Gerald Schroeder is a physicist whose particular specialty is studying the convergence of science and religion. In his previous works, he explained how Creation as described in Torah and interpreted by Rabbi Moshe ben Nahman (Nahmanides) was very similar to the description of the Big Bang by nuclear physicists. In the book “The Science of G-d”, he expanded on this notion, pointing out the weaknesses in the theory of evolution as described by Darwin and what the geological record actually does show. He went on in this book to describe “six ages of Creation,” each one roughly half as long as the previous one, all of them adding up to about 15 billion years, which coincide with what the geological record shows. He pointed out how Jewish scholars trying to figure out the age of the universe, who knew nothing of quantum mechanics or nuclear physics, who worked hundreds of year ago without the aid of a computer or even a calculator, and who worked from hints found in the text of Torah came up with – fifteen billion years.

The person who has done this work is tall and skinny, a modest man, used to large crowds. He came directly to the front of the room carrying a bag with some markers and a whiteboard. He desired that the podium be upon the stage, rather than the table, so I began moving things about as any good master of ceremonies would. He had a distinct preference for doing things by himself so after helping him lift the podium onto the stage, I stepped back and allowed him his way. He set the whiteboard upon a chair, so that others could see it. He set his notes on the podium and began writing a formula on the whiteboard. I wished I’d had a notebook with me. My puerile attempts to describe what I heard last night from memory do not do justice to the dispensing of wisdom by a genius. Dr. Schroeder was kind enough to refresh and to clarify a couple of the points I missed in my original description.

The formula he wrote was E > M > Life > Brain > Emergent mind.

Most folks are familiar with Einstein’s formula for the transfer of energy to mass: E=MC².
The E in Dr. Schroeder’s formula was the familiar “energy,” the M was the familiar “mass.” The rest was evidently where Dr. Schroeder was taking us in this lecture.

He pointed to the E on the whiteboard, saying that when the universe began in the Big Bang, it was all light waves – energy. Some of the energy converted to mass M – planets, rocks, stars, plants - and what was remarkable was that a large portion of that energy developed intelligence – animals and people.

He emphasized that we are all energy – energy that had been created during the Big Bang.

He then observed that even though things seem solid – he knocked the podium with his fist to make the point – it really consisted of whirling electrons around a nucleus and a proton; that if you took the nucleus of an atom and made it the size of an orange, the electron cloud around it would be four miles away. There was that much empty space in supposedly solid matter. He pointed out that steam and ice are just variants of water. They don’t look like water, but they are water. He returned to his basic point – that we are all light waves.

Dr. Schroeder approached the subject of death by referring to the Torah in how it describes the death of the patriarchs. He pointed out a pattern in the descriptions. First the person expires and then he is gathered to his people and only later is he buried. He indicated that this order of events suggests that reality might be something distinctly other than what we normally perceive it to be. The following are quotes from the Torah, translated into English. The translations are from the Stone Edition Humash:

Dealing with Jacob:

Genesis 49:33. “When Jacob finished instructing his sons, he drew his feet onto the bed; he expired and was gathered to his people.”

Genesis 50:1-3, 5 “Then Joseph fell upon his father's face, he wept over him and kissed him. Joseph ordered his servants, the physicians, to embalm his father, so the physicians embalmed Israel. His forty day term was completed, for such is the term of the embalmed, and Egypt bewailed him for seventy days…… '”My father had adjured me, saying 'behold I am about to die, my grave, which I have hewn for myself in the land of Canaan - there you are to bury me.' Now I will go up if you please, and bury my father, then I will return." (Jacob was buried at least two months after he died.)

Dealing with Abraham:

Genesis 25:8-9 “And Abraham expired and died at a good old age, mature and content, and he was gathered to his people. His sons Isaac and Ishmaelburied him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite facing Mamre.”

Dealing with Isaac:

Genesis 35:29. “And Isaac expired and died and he was gathered to his people, old and fulfilled of days; his sons Esau and Jacob, buried him.”

Dr. Schroeder then turned to an article that had been published in the magazine Lancet, the British equivalent to the Journal of the American Medical Assn. This article had been published in 2001, and the reason he used it was that it was “peer reviewed.” This means that scientists had reviewed the article before publishing it and agreed that it was not nonsense, and therefore worthy of publication in a serious scientific journal. Peer review is the scientific and academic equivalent of “kosher.”

The article was a compilation of “life after death” experiences, where a person had expired on the operating table and had been brought back to life.

Of the 300 hundred odd events where this had occurred in the study, about 60 or so of the people remembered the event in one form or another, the familiar “white light,” the deep contentment and the experience of relatives sort of pushing them back, saying to them ‘it’s not your time yet.’

The immediate implication that came to my mind was that if it had ‘been their time’ the relatives who were pushing the individuals back would have welcomed the soul or mind or whatever it was of the dying person into their midst – that the dying person would have been ‘gathered to his people’.

There are strong arguments put forth to explain that the phenomenon of the ‘white light’ that people that are brought back from death experience is nothing more than the chemical reactions of a brain in crisis. The arguments point to the fact that while a person is dying, he brain is extremely busy attempting to deal with the business of closing down. Part of this involves shooting various chemicals that induce or that can induce hallucinations of contentment.

What evidently got noticed in the article in Lancet was that if these arguments were true, since all brains have similar chemistry, the ‘white light’ experience would have been far more common than it was in the study. There was a quote in that magazine, as far as a magazine of that nature could go, essentially suggesting that the relation of the mind to the body should be re-examined.

Dr. Schroeder moved on to a branch of physics called quantum mechanics. According to him, if you haven’t seen how illogical quantum mechanics is, then you haven’t really studied the subject. He gave the example of an electron moving from one place to another by instantaneously transferring from one spot to another. It doesn’t seem to make sense, but he said that nonsensical as it seemed, the laws of quantum mechanics work because if they didn’t, it would be impossible to turn on a light switch or a car.

In quantum mechanics you deal with a world of sub-atomic particles that you can’t ever seem to find, but whose existence you can infer from the evidence they leave – tracks of sorts. It’s kind of like seeing the skin of your hand being pressed in, feeling it pressed in and being unable to find what is doing the pressing. You can calculate the amount of the pressure and even infer the size and possibly the shape of the object applying the pressure, but there it – isn’t.

You can take a sonoscope and hear the sound that a brain makes – essentially the gurgling of blood rushing from cell to cell – but you will not see the memories or hear the sounds heard by the person’s brain your are investigating. You can, with an electrode, stimulate the person to recount events from his childhood or smell smells or what have you – but you cannot yourself access the smell with a machine to measure it.

You may see a house, a garage with an open door and a car parked within the garage. Your eye picks up the vision of the light waves and transmits it using the optical nerve to go to the brain to interpret the house, garage and car. But where does the actual picture go? Nobody seems to know where. They know where they can go to put an electrode to get you to describe the house, garage and car in excruciating detail. But the actual image itself nobody – except the owner of the brain being tested - can reach.

This has an implication. The implication is that the brain is kind of a radio picking up the data of the mind. The implication is that the mind is separate from the brain. Scientists can go only so far in this description, but Dr. Schroeder quoted scientist after scientist, most of whom were Nobel Prize winning physicists and biologists, indicating in one way or another that the universe had the characteristic of thought rather than matter, that the materialistic view of the universe was in some way not explaining the data at hand. He pointed out that some scientists had a lot of trouble embracing the idea that the universe was thought – that’s metaphysics. But there was the data.

Dr. Schroeder then turned back to his whiteboard. He said that in the Kabbalah there were indications of pre-Creation activity by G-d. He then wrote the word “wisdom” in Hebrew and drew an arrow to the E on the whiteboard. According to the Kabbalah, it was with “wisdom” that G-d created the universe. He then turned to the opening verse of the Torah, “B’reishít bará Elo-ím et hashamáyim v’et ha’áretz”. First he debunked all the common translations of this line. He said that it doesn’t mean “In the beginning, G-d created the heavens and the earth.” He pointed out that grammatically, the word “b’reishít” just doesn’t work in Hebrew. The proper word to get to the usual translation of the fist line of Genesis is “b’rishoná” which means “in the beginning.”

So what does “b’reishít” mean? He used the 2,100 year old Jerusalem translation into Aramaic (a sister language to Hebrew) translation to get to the actual meaning. The “b” in “b’reishít” means “with”. Reishít is a first cause, something from the head (rosh) - wisdom. Therefore the actual translation is “With wisdom, G-d created the heavens and the earth.”

This was where Dr. Schroeder was leading us. We access wisdom – the mind – with our brain. This process, he called “emergent mind,” the last word in his formula. This “mind” is what scientists have been sensing as they try to make sense of the data the universe seems to offer. This mind is what we access with our brains, which are mere material to accomplish the access. Dr. Schroeder gave the example of the impossibility of fish discovering water.

Assuming that fish did have the mental sophistication of humans, they wouldn’t discover water – it’s all around them. For them to discover water, they would have to either emerge from the water, so as to see it outside of them, but not entirely dominating their universe, or comprehend something which was beyond the physical - metaphysical – to be able to postulate the existence of water and other things around it. Either they would emerge physically from their surroundings to see it for what it was, or mentally emerge from their surroundings to perceive that there was something beyond it. We perceive a reality, he said, but never think that that which is perceived is the full reality.

The following is what I understood Dr. Schroeder to be leading up to, though he did not say this himself at the lecture.

We are emerging from a false perception of the universe to finally begin to perceive its true nature – the Thought of G-d. This is the point of the word “b’reishít” at the beginning of the Torah. This is why we can’t seem to find so many sub-atomic particles whose presence are sensed and detected. They are products of Mind, of the Thought that brought us all into existence 15 billion years ago with a Big Bang. If this is so, our brains are physical tools to access this Thought, which we add to with our own experiences in the lives we lead. And then once we pass on, hopefully we are gathered to our people with an opportunity to understand more of that Thought and move on to the next stage.