In New York
When I was growing up deeply-rooted in the Jewish-American culture of New York, within a traditional and sometimes orthodox environment, I used to hear from time to time (especially among the more orthodox people in my family), something akin to the following, ” You can go out and study whatever you want but, in the end, it is all in the Talmud anyway”. For those of you who may not know, the word “Talmud” is a Hebrew word meaning “learning, instruction.” The Talmud is a central text of mainstream Judaism and consists primarily of discussions and commentary on Jewish history, law (especially its practical application to life), customs and culture. I never really bought into this perspective always feeling that it was xenophobic, limiting and frighteningly narrow.
Later on, after immigrating to Israel at age 21, doing my military service, I embarked on a trek to East Asia which I thought would be through some wonderful mountains and places for about 6-12 months. I could hardly foresee that this journey would go on for nearly 5 years, and that it would turn into a transformative journey of spiritual and cultural exploration, challenging and changing my identify as no other experience could.
I heard time and again the view that the “Truth” was really influenced from the ancient traditions of India, as “We were here way before all the Westerners got into the game.” I thought that was interesting to hear.
In China and Taiwan
My journey took me into China, later living in Taiwan, where I learned the written characters of the name for China in Chinese中国 (Zhongguo), means middle or central kingdom. You get the idea, yes? “We, Chinese, are the center of the world”. Then, back in 1983-84 I must say that the “center of the world” looked pretty tough to me as communism was strangling the hearts and spirits of over 1 billion people.
My path took me over to Japan, where I lived for two and half years, dedicating myself to learning the martial art of Aikido, the Japanese language and culture. Here in this Land of the Rising Sun( the Japanese people call their country “Nippon” or “Nihon,” which literally translated means “source of the sun”) , I was forever a “henna gaijin”, Japanese colloquial term for “strange foreigner”. Japan has changed greatly but old traditions change slowly, as well as the tradition that there is “our wisdom” and there is “everything else”…
Back in Israel
Years later, while back in Israel, I saw one of my favorite films of all times, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”- have you seen it? In it there is the Greek-American father who is always telling everybody ” Give me any word, and I show you how the root is Greek…”. Definitely funny but here we go again, the hills are alive with the same sound of music…
Wisdom is from Everywhere
Wisdom knows no borders. It is created in the moment as well as being a continuation of all those who have gone before us. Give us a word and I will show you that the roots are everywhere! Wisdom is life. In Hebrew and in Yiddish we always toast each other with a “Lechayim!” And what does that mean? “To Life!” Yes, Wisdom is life. Life is everywhere.