Friday, April 11, 2014

49 Gates of Light: A Course in Kabbalah

49 Gates cover4 worlds diagram  

 

Count the Omer with 49 Gates of Light!

It's back!  The latest "incarnation" of Rabbi Yonassan Gershom's seven-week course of daily kabbalah lessons, coordinated to "counting the omer" on the Jewish calendar.  You can now get the new 2010 revision  in epub format -- readable on the iPad, Nook, and most ebook readers or computers.  

Newly updated and now in full color, this is not just another book “about” kabbalah.  It’s an experiential set of daily lessons, designed to help you learn the Tree of Life diagram and apply the principles of kabbalah in your own life.   Includes all the stories and lessons of the 1987 and 1993 editions, the "Wizard of Oz" as a kabbalah teaching parable, plus many new diagrams and illustrations.  128 pages in all.
 
The print version of this book retails for $36 (color printing is very expensive) but you can have the same book in epub format for only $10 on Lulu.com -- order here and download instantly!
 
Here’s how it works:  Each day, you will explore one of the 49 “flavors” of consciousness with a specific Hebrew mantra to open the Heart (spelled out in English letters), a story or teaching to study to develop the Mind, and something active for you to do on the path of Action.  The 49 lessons are co-coordinated to the “Omer” period on the Jewish calendar, which is the seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot (Feast of Weeks.)  However, you can also do this program anytime as a set of personal lessons any time of the year.   

rainbow tree and tallis designThe Tree diagrams and lesson pages are color-coded to match the rainbow pattern on the B'nai Or tallis (prayer shawl) designed by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, as well as the Seven Days of Creation and other kabbalistic themes.  Each week focuses on one of the Seven Lower sefirot (levels) on the Tree diagram.  
 
The process works on many levels, and you are free to make it as simple or complex as you wish.  If you are not the type of person who likes to analyze, simply read the daily page, do the mantra and experiential meditation, then journal your thoughts and reactions.  If you do this faithfully for the entire seven weeks, you will be amazed at your spiritual progress.  

However, if you are not content to “just do it” and want to know how the process works and why, the introductory and sections will give you the theory, along with diagrams of the Tree and more in-depth ways to use the book.  Also included is a glossary of Hebrew terms and some interesting background history.
 

Buy and download your copy now! 

 
(Or, if you want to spend 36 bucks for the print version, you can get it here. )
 

Monday, March 31, 2014

A sad farewell to MamaHen

I am sad to report that MamaHen, the mother chicken who appeared in several videos and protest posters, has crossed the Rainbow Bridge to the next world.  She was 11 years old, which is very old for a chicken, and she lived a full life.  She will be deeply missed.

MamaHen got her name because she was always sneaking off to make secret nests and hatch chicks.  She was a mixed-breed bird, with ancestry closer to the old-fashioned breeds, and the urge to go broody was very strong in her.  She was also an excellent mother, guiding her babies and teaching them how to be happy, healthy chickens.  I did not encourage her to breed, but when you let chickens run free and you have roosters, life happens.  So, when she did manage to hide out for 21 days, I welcomed her newly-hatched family into my flock.

MamaHen and her babies were often ambassadors for their species through photos and video footage, as well as animal rights protest posters.  Her first "media appearance" was a brief shot in the documentary film, A Sacred Duty: Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal our Imperiled Planet, produced by Jewish Vegetarians of North America in 2007.   (Article continues below the photo.)


MamaHen and family featured on a protest poster by
The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos in 2013.

A lot more footage of her and her brood of chicks was shot on my farm than was used in the documentary.  So, when the Shamayim v'Aretz (Heaven and Earth) Institute, a kosher vegan org based in California, asked me for a short video to link to their site, I incorporated some of the unused footage of MamaHen from 2007.   The result was The Soul of Every Living Thing, a five-minute video about Rebbe Nachman of Breslov's teaching that everything in nature is praising God, and a plea for vegetarianism.  MamaHen and her brood play a prominent role in the story.

I have also used this close-up of one of her chicks in some of the articles on this blog, including my 2013 essay, Baby Chicks are NOT Easter Toys! (Or Passover toys, for that matter.)  MamaHen is the "hen on a nest" shown on the same page.

In 2013 I was asked by the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos to narrate a one-minute video called Kaporos: A Heartfelt Plea for Mercy.  The soundtrack of this short film was also used on a sound truck at protests in New York that same year.  In the process of choosing the stills to be included, I sent some photos of myself and also my chickens, including  the one of MamaHen and family on this page, which was featured both on the truck and the poster shown above.

MamaHen is gone, but her son, the yellow chick on the poster, grew up to be a rooster named Big Bird.  He is also the chick in the close-up.  And he carries on the family tradition as a chicken ambassador.  Big Bird was featured on a poster with me in 2013, as part of the same campaign as the poster of  MamaHen.   And so, his mother's legacy lives on. 

Big Bird and Rabbi Gershom urging
Jews to use money, not chickens, for
Kapporos ceremonies.


Friday, January 24, 2014

Minnesota Zen: Melt Snow, Carry Water!


If you have been watching the weather on the news lately (and who hasn't?) you know that the upper Midwest has been going in and out of the arctic deep freeze for weeks.  Here in Minnesota we normally have cold winters, but even for us, it has been record-breaking.  Yesterday it was 20 below zero (F) at dawn, and it never got above zero all day.

The dogs went out, did their business, and came right back in within minutes, looking at me as if to say, "Do you really expect me to stay out in that?"  No, I don't.  All ten of our cats are in the house now, too, and showing no sign of wanting to go outside.  Who can blame them?  We are all beginning to feel that "snow" and "cold" really are four-letter words.

The chickens, geese and guineas are snug inside their coop, which I designed with a passive solar collector on the south side that helps keep their water liquid during the day.  Out of the wind with the sun shining in, the air inside is actually above freezing at noon.  Still, I have to go down there and empty all the waterers at sundown, or they will be frozen solid by morning.

Snow on top of my sukkah frame --
I hope it doesn't collapse it  like
it did a few years ago.
Speaking of water, we have a shortage right now -- when it gets this cold, the plumbing freezes up.  Not enough to split the pipes, just enough to block water from getting from the well pump to the house upstairs.  It's an old house with an unheated basement and this is a recurring problem in the wintertime.

The pipes to the shower are in a outside wall, so we are just about guaranteed to have days with no water there -- meaning you try the faucets in the morning and take showers when the water flows.    This morning the shower was frozen but the sink was still running, so I washed up and did the dishes.  Three hours later, there was no water, period.  Hence the title of this post:  Melt Snow, Carry Water.

The bird feeders have been busy --
this downy Woodpecker
is a regular visitor.
The snow we have is light and fluffy, which makes it easy to shovel but a lot of work to melt down, because it has less water content.  Since we live out in the country away from traffic and pollution, the snow is also clean, if I get it off the beaten track.  (The trails I've cleared to and from the buildings are being used by cats, dogs, rabbits, squirrels and an occasional deer, all of whom leave their calling cards behind. So you don't want that "yellow snow" from on the trail!)

I am finding that it takes about 5 times the snow to make one unit of water.  Luckily I have a lot of big pots and kettles from canning and pickling, so I fill these with snow, then haul them in on a sled.  To save propane, I let the pots just sit at room temperature until I need some water.  The snow packs down as it melts,  making slush that I can put in a smaller pot to warm as needed.  It's a lot of work, but we are surviving.  Snow might shut down Washington D.C., but here in Minnesota we know how to deal with the white stuff.  As the saying goes, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

The arctic blast a couple weeks ago lasted over 60 hours below zero.  It was during that cold spell that the engine of my car died when I tried to start it at 30 below.  The timing belt broke which, if you know cars, is major engine damage that I can't afford to fix right now.  so I'm stuck in the country without a car, relying on help from others to get things we need.  Still, I'm a lot better off than all those people who have no power or heat.

Missy Cat has the right idea:
Stay inside and find a sunny window!
My ebay business,  The Happy Rooster, is suffering, though, because getting to the post office during business hours has been sporadic.  I posted a notice on the homepage and people have been very understanding about the delays.  Most of the orders have been for wildflower seeds, which nobody is planting now anyway.  But a lot of customers are "thinking spring" and planing their butterfly gardens.

In spite of all the hassles, the snow can be beautiful, and offers some interesting photographic opportunities.  Every other day we have been getting another inch or two, refreshing the landscape and adding to some interesting natural sculptures, like the "loaf of bread" below.  I take my cell phone along when I go out there, though, and I tell my wife where I'm going and when I expect to be back.  A fall or other mishap in this cold can be very dangerous.

That's all for now -- I've got to log off and go melt enough water to last me through the Sabbath (when we don't cook things) -- so stay warm, stay safe, and have faith:  Spring WILL come!  Shabbat Shalom!

That's not a giant loaf of bread --
just snow piled on top of my potting bench!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Oy vey! I'm being cyber-bullied by IDIOTS!


In the last few months I seem to have picked up some "followers" who think it is fun to track me around the net, posting libelous insults.  At first I just ignored them, but with all the talk about bullying lately, I finally decided to confront these people and bring their stupidity out into the open.

The childish vandal(s) on Wikipedia

A lot of the bullying has been rather juvenile, such as the anonymous vandal who changed "Jewish Vegetarians of North America" to "Jewish Cannibals of North Africa" on the Wikipedia page about me.  (Whether that was intended to be anti-vegetarian or simply racist is anybody's guess.)  The bogus edit was quickly caught by a page-watcher and reverted.  The same bully made a few more equally inane edits before disappearing into the void.  Somebody else added a claim that I "wrote manuals" for NAMBLA (a pedophile/pederasty group that I have never, ever had any contact with, and I certainly would not write anything for them, not even on contract as an editor.)  This was libelous but easily removed, since anybody can edit on Wikipedia.

My reaction to such childish graffiti is to say, "Get off your mother's computer before she comes home and grounds you for life."  I mean, who in their right mind would really believe that Adolf Hitler is my "hero and inspiration"?  (Yes, some dumbkopf really did put that on the Wikipedia page.)  Luckily, Wikipedians are very vigilant about such vandalism and have reverted the page back to the original -- numerous times.

The YouTube stalker

A lot more nasty was the jerk called "mosesmaimon1" on YouTube, who certainly was no Moses Maimonides.  He started out by posting this bully-flame on all my YouTube videos:

"Yonassan Gershom is a complete and total fraud. he is no rabbi at all. rather, he is a self-hating Jew, a left wing liberal lunatic marxist islamofascist loving gay homosexual. and those are his good points."

Apparently this ridiculous contradictory diatribe was supposed to deter people from watching my videos on Judaism and vegetarianism, since that's where he put it. "Self-hating Jew" has become a catch-all in the Jewish community for belittling anybody you don't agree with.  Similarly, "Islamofascist" is now a buzzword for anybody who dialogues with Muslims or writes anything positive about Islam -- which I have done, both in a chapter about Islamophobia in Professor Richard Schwartz's book, Who Stole My Religion?  and in several book reviews on Amazon.  Dialogue, tolerance, and understanding are not words in this bully's vocabulary. 

When I deleted the comments and blocked him, he proceeded to follow me everywhere on the YouTube site, posting this same junk after every comment I had made -- even the one on the video tour of the handicapped-accessible shuttle bus at Como Park.  Go figure.  Clearly he was not watching anything I "liked" or wrote, just searching my name to spam it with insults.

Given the references to liberalism, I expected to find a lot of militant ultra-religious right-wing videos linked to his YouTube channel.  But when I went there, all I found was secular stuff, most of it meaningless drivel.  So does this guy even know enough about Judaism to understand what my books and videos are about?  Be that as it may, getting rid of this guy was easy:  I reported him to YouTube and he disappeared from my life -- and apparently off the site itself, since a search for his name today brought up nothing.

"Four legs good, two legs bad"? 

It appears these attacks are reactions to my stances on politics, vegetarianism, and, most recently, my opposition to using live chickens for kapporos ceremonies.  It saddens me to see that Judaism, once a bastion of debate and diverse opinion, has, for some people, now become an Orwellian "four legs good, two legs bad" haven for bullies with atrophied brains.  This is especially true of any criticism concerning policies in Israel.  It has gotten to the point that a Jew can say "I don't believe in God" and nobody bats an eye, but criticize Israel and they will burn you at the cyber-stake.   When I was growing up, I was taught that worshipping the state -- any state -- is idolatry.  And isn't democracy all about the right to criticize the government?  Apparently not for these guys.

The identity thief:  "rabbigershom.com" is NOT ME!

All of this could be written off as life on the Web, which is what I did for a long time.  I've been deleting hate mail for years.  But the most recent attack is an actual case of identity theft, using an old website address (that I no longer own) to create a bogus site advertising some escort service in London, which probably doesn't even exist, given that the owner of the URL lives in Russia.  The purpose of the site is to hijack searches for my name and misdirect them, apparently to discredit me.

For the record:  There once was a website called "rabbigershom.com" but it no longer exists.  I took it down when the Minnesota state legislature passed a law requiring all online "nexus" corporations to collect state sales tax if they had representatives in the state -- and that includes Associates accounts.  Amazon responded by shutting down all their Minnesota Associates accounts, including mine.  Since I had literally hundreds of Amazon book links embedded on over a hundred website pages, and since I was no longer getting paid for these referrals, I retaliated by taking the whole site down.  (It was outdated anyway, but that's another issue.)

When the time came to renew the domain name, I didn't bother, since the site no longer existed and I was now using JewishThoreau.com for my blog.  Never in a million years did I dream that some sleezeball would come along and buy "rabbigershom.com" and turn it into a page for an escort service.  But that's what happened.

In the beginning, they actually had my full name and title -- "Rabbi Yonassan Gershom" -- in the title of their homepage (which tells me that it really is an attack on me, not just some other guy named Gershom.)   I cried "Fraud!" and got that removed, but there is not much I can do about them using the domain name itself, since there are hundreds of people named Gershom and some of them are rabbis.  It would be like trying to copyright "Doctor Smith."  Hindsight is always 20/20, they say, and I probably should have kept the URL in my name even if I did not use it.  But such things cost money and they probably would have just gone to using dot-net or some such.  I can't afford to protect every variation of my name.

Raise your voice and stand by me!


Unfortunately, since I've been on the Web since the 1980s, there are still tons of links on various websites that supposedly go to the old homepage but now point to the bogus one instead.  I'm still getting notifications about this from intelligent readers who can see plainly what is happening.  If you find one of these phishing links, please notify the webmaster that I'm not that guy, and ask for it to point to my blog at JewishThoreau.com instead. (If you need proof of your claim, just point them to this blog post.)  And if you want to go further, go to the rabbigershom.com page and spam their contact email with protests.  Stand up to the bullies!

I will not be intimidated!

The motivation behind all of this cyber-bullying seems to be to try to shut me up by intimidating me and/or smearing my reputation.  It is significant that none of these people actually debate issues with me or have even met me.    I highly doubt they have actually read any of my books, or if they are even educated enough to understand them.   As far as I know, none of them have ever come to this blog to discuss the things I wrote here. Of course not -- to do so would mean being confronted by people who actually read the blog, and these cockroaches can't take that kind of daylight.  So they just scurry around the Web, posting canned insults and hiding behind their computer screens like the cowards they are.   Apparently, when God was handing out morals, these people thought He said "laurels" so now they think they are some kind of heroes.  Not!

It is also interesting how many of these libels center on sexuality -- from the accusation that I'm a homosexual (not true, I've been married to my female wife, Caryl, for 33 years, although I do support gay rights as human rights and have done so since the 1970s), to the escort site phishing off my name and a claim that I promote polygamy (also not true, probably another slur on my dialogues with Muslims, or maybe somebody was dumb enough to actually believe the escort site was real.)

If you can't debate, just post some hate?

 This seems to be the mindset lately:  If you can't intelligently refute somebody's stance on an issue, just make up some sleeze or circulate lies and hate mail to try and take them down in the public eye.  This has become so common that there is actually a service called  Reputation.com where you can hire people to watch out for (and refute) attacks on the Web.  I can't afford that service, but I'm thankful I've got a lot of loyal readers who are doing the same thing.

As an old man in my mid-60s, I can often laugh at all this, but bullying is really no laughing matter.  Even at my age, it hurts, but I've lived long enough to deal with it.  However, when it happens to vulnerable teenagers, it can lead to nervous breakdowns or even suicide -- which has actually happened.  Thus my decision to come out and confront this issue, to tell these stories and reveal these lies for what they are.  Bullies are bullies, no matter where, why, or whom they attack.

* * * UPDATES * * *

See also: What does Judaism say about bullying? -- a good collection of statements by rabbis from various backgrounds and denominations, on The Free Library site.

* * *

Ripoff Report has been filed in reference to the bogus use of rabbigershom.com described in this article.  Feel free to read and respond to it.

* * *

A number of insulting and libelous comments were also written as "reviews" of my books on  Amazon.com.  Amazon graciously removed them, as they violated their reviews policy.

* * *

Rabbigershom.org is not me, either -- but it flips over to a website called B'chol Loshon ("in every tongue") which is a legitimate site promoting diversity within the Jewish community.  Their "Rabbi Gershom" is Rabbi Gershom Sizomu, the leader of the Abayudaya Jews of Uganda, and the first black rabbi from sub-Saharan Africa to be ordained at an American rabbinic school.
 
* * *
 
February 26, 2014:  Now that I've written this protest, Google's stupid robot is flagging the insult I quoted above in searches for my name.  By defending myself, I'm spreading the libel.  Can't win for losing.  I suppose this is happening because this is a new post that is getting a lot of traffic -- and it's on a Google blog, so of course the Google search engine plays favorites with its own apps.  (A Bing search did not bring up that quote.)  But since the link brings people to this page where people can read the truth, maybe that's not so bad.  Make lemonade out of lemons...