Friday, December 23, 2011


In today's NY Times David Brooks points to the following essay as one of the best of 2011. Marcia Angell's two part series in the NYRB is titled THE EPIDEMIC OF MENTAL ILLNESS. Angell's review-essay is a serious critique of contemporary psychiatric practice that relies excessively on drugs to treat "mental illness." She cites evidence to indicate how a) the drugs themselves, including such well known items as Prozac, are scarcely more effective than placebos b) how psychiatrists are influenced-- in many cases basically bribed-- by major drug companies to prescribes their dubious products and c) how the psychiatric profession through the publication of the ever-expanding DSM (diagnostic manual) is continually manufacturing diagnoses of dubious value, with no scientific citation, but with a powerful influence on prescription and treatment practices. With a new DSM coming in 2013 with even more "illnesses", there's a sense that no after who you are, no matter how normal you might think you are, there's a diagnosis heading your way, complete with a handy drug to pay for.

This is a context for understanding the power of dream work as a natural alternative. Dreams are a natural human experience-- most people dream three or four times a night whether they now it or not. Dreams have long been used to explore the unconscious and for self-understanding. Dreamwork offers a natural approach, and relies on the self-healing properties of the psyche, to produce images that point to new ways of feeling that help people reframe their attitudes and change their lives. Rather than a magical pill offered as a cure-all, dreams offer a longer term process of self-understanding, a curriculum of the soul.

Angell's article points out that the situation in current psychiatric practice is the opposite of natural. Diagnoses are arrived at based on which drugs are used to treat patients, instead of the other way around. The expansion of diagnoses in the successive DSM volumes, is creating numerous "false positives". Perhaps a slower, more natural, more human and more humane process of working with dreams offers an alternative model that is free of the influence of major pharmaceutical corporations and the psychiatrists who according to Angell, appear to have very corrupting relationships with them.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

about dreams with Josephine Sacabo at Words and Music 2011

10:45 a. m. — Hotel Monteleone, New Orleans, Queen Anne Ballroom
The Importance of Our Dreams to Our Lives and Our Creativity
This session will feature bestselling non-fiction writer and poet Rodger Kamenetz, who is author of The History of Last Night's Dream: Discovering the Hidden Path to the Soul; and internationally noted photographic artist and author Joséphine Sacabo, whose most recent book, Duino Elegie, contains luscious photographs strongly influenced by her own dream life and the dreams of others. They will discuss the importance of dreams to the creative process and the importance of our dreams in harsh reality of today's shrinking village. And they will address the issue of art as a universal language to promote mutual understanding.

In eras of extreme stress, such as the one in which we are living today, dreams become even more important to healthy lives and creative processes. Since becoming obsessed with dreams and researching the subject for more than five years before writing the book, Rodger has become a dream analyst. Oprah Winfrey read Rodger's book and interviewed him and had this to say about his work: "What’s so exciting about this book is that it talks about how there’s a whole other life that we are living when we sleep and that our dreams are there as offerings and gifts to us if we only recognize what the dreams are there to teach us, what they’re there to tell us about our waking lives."

Joséphine's dreamily beautiful new collection is entitled Óyeme con los Ojos (Hear Me With Your Eyes and was inspired by Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, a 17th century Mexican nun who was one of the greatest poets and intellectuals of the American continent. Sor Juana lived in Mexico City in the late 1600’s and was very active in defending women’s rights in Mexico through her writing and poetry which centered on freedom, specifically the intellectual and social freedom of women.

Friday, September 30, 2011


I’m at some Jewish youth event. (Maybe I’m a youth?) I took off my jeans and wallet and put it somewhere, we are in the city. Then when I come back for them, I can’t find them. I ask a couple of the organizers. I get mad and say they should have watched things more carefully. Someone tells me it’s the city and what did you expect? I hear myself whining and complaining and I don’t like the way that feels. Then a guy is hugging me and saying that I won’t be able to get
my pants back, they are lost and there’s nothing to do about it. He’s also hugging a teenage girl with his other arm. She is also distressed. I feel he is right and that I need to stop whining.

Decades ago when I was teaching there was some left-right controversy and a right wing student caught up in it did a cartoon where he characterized me as whining. And I couldn’t believe it, me, whining? Me? And I whined about it!

But now I understand that whining, kvetching, complaining is a reaction, and it is how we spritz our bad feeling around. Here in this dream, I do hear it. That’s new. I am caught in the act – by me. And I believe this opening of awareness in me, -- hearing the whining in my voice-- allows the man can come and comfort me .. if you want to call it comfort. Because what he says is, THAT’S THE WAY IT IS. You
lost your “wallet”—your i.d., you lost your pants—you must now walk in the world naked… and you aren’t getting them back. You are with me now.

Everyone says they want to be with him, or He Himself as one of my clients calls him, and I don’t know what to call him. Or would we rather just complain? I think the Jewish wisdom was that God doesn’t have a name we can pronounce, and so the word “God” itself is also very unsatisfactory. As soon as it’s a word, it’s a concept, it’s a thing, and then next thing you know we are carrying it around in our pocket, or wearing it around our neck as jewelry, and God knows what
else. The actual Hebrew word is a combination of letters of y’ and h’ and w’ and h’ y’h’w’h’ that can’t really be pronounced together, except maybe like a breath, not a name you can put your finger on. It not only shouldn’t’ be pronounced, it actually can’t be anyway. But we
keep trying.

But then again, the whole reality of dream work is we have these experiences of relationship , and they are so powerful and refreshing.
The arm around the shoulder. The voice of comfort. It is so vivid, so complete and actual. It is not about words or lofty spiritual concepts. It is the lowly and absurd, a man with no pants who gets an arm around his shoulder, that simple connection—that absurdity-=- is also part of the holy connection. I can’t put a name on it, it’s felt.

I grew up in a Jewish family that wasn’t very observant, but on my father’s side we had a very strong grandfather and grandmother who believed in family and bringing us all together and that was the piece of Jewish life that has guided me.. the warmth and the love of people that grew out of immigrant experience. The sense of a big family to belong to. But the downside of it was that it was a very
centripetal world. It was our family I trusted.. and venturing out from that to a larger world is not always easy. So Jewish for me number one is not about religion— and maybe non-tribal people don't get that. It's like being a Sioux except you have this big book to lug around that goes with it. It’s about being in a group, a family, a

Then for me “Judaism” – which is simply the religion of the Jewish people—was mainly the experience as an adolescent, like the “Jewish youth” in the dream. Being in a group with other young people, learning very good things like learning about writing poetry, about helping others as a tutor, joing the civil rights movement—I actually marched with SNCC when I was fifteen from Baltimore to Washington--
all of that was part of the awakening I had at that time of Jewish youth, age 15. And now I see I was awakening to my soul but poor thing I didn’t know it in that way. Dreams also even then began to beimportant to me.
And there was a little talk about God in the synagogue but never at home. There were no rituals at home either. And God was nothing to take too seriously. Yet somehow the questions about God still hooked into me, but in a very transcendental way that God is presented as
“goodness, mercy”.. as “light” & in a way, nothing personal. And wondering what my relationship to that is. So the dreamwork has brought the personal dimension in.

Then waking up and realizing I have no pants. I have no actual guaranteed understanding of my life, of the world. I have no status. I have to walk out now without pants. In many dreams I’ve been without pants and always the issue was shame or embarrassment. But here it is not that. It is just the stinging pain of loss, and the desire to regain. And here I feel my protest, my whining.. is not adequate. It
is just not to the point. And hearing that is the opening. He comes to me, and comforts me like a friend who puts his arm around me and tellsme the truth. I can hear it finally. I’ve lost them & I’m not getting them back. To hear that from him is to learn an acceptance of what it
means to be on this path.

I know what precipitated this dream is what I would call staring into emptiness. I am at that phase of my life. I’ve been dropped off. I am retired. I don’t need a wallet. I have all I need. Now what? The emptiness is, first of all, all I’ve done in the past is behind me.
There are more years behind me than ahead of me.

And the question that burns is: what is it I can do that is truly of my soul, that is mine and not someone else’s? Because it feels like everything I’ve ever done was just borrowed from someone else and I came along for the ride. So when I am in this feeling it is very dark and when I react to it, I try to make a claim that if I add something
of my own to somebody else’s stuff I can make something new.

Like there ‘s an impulse I have sometimes to write a poem, but then I start thinking, I’ll read this source and that source, and learn this and that, and the next thing you know I’m not writing a poem, I’m doing research in a book.

A lot of this has to do with my pain in knowing I am just a student of this work. And trying to compensate for that. What me a student? Yes I am literally Marc’s student as he tutors me to be a therapist, and I’m a student of my client’s work, and a student of my dreams which sometimes tell me about the work I am doing with my clients. So I have no pants.

When I feel the sting of , “there’s nothing of me in it”, that’s my wallet is lost. And when I hear myself “whining” about it... it’s great because I know , no more whining. No whining allowed. I just have to go to him without my pants and wallet, to get his arm around my shoulder and hear him say, Yes, it’s lost, and there’s nothing you can do about it, that’s the way it is.

That’s the way it is.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Sue Scavo's new blog

Sue Scavo is one of the leading teachers at North of Eden and she's starting a new blog which details her life with in and around dreams.

Currently she's on tour in Italy...

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Rodger Kamenetz
with Eden "Eprhyme" Pearlstein and Alicia Jo Rabins

September 7 – 11, 2011
This retreat is an introduction to dreamwork and the spiritual power of storytelling. Starting with Genesis and those primordial dreamers Jacob and Joseph, tradition intertwines dream and story. That is because imagination has the power to awaken us to the deeper story of the soul. We will begin with an evening of fantastic storytelling performances of the tales of two modern day Jewish dreamers, Rabbi Nachman and Franz Kafka, followed by a discussion of the interaction of dream and story in their work. We will follow in class with an introduction to the language of dreams and how to open them up so they can be used to understand the story of the hidden life of the soul. Our classes will include opportunities to share dreams and act them out. At the end of the retreat, participants will share their own stories, parables or dreams with the group, and we will learn how to go further and deeper with dreams.


Reb Zalman recommends "Dreaming Stories Into Life"

Saturday, March 26, 2011

CURATIVE SONGS /Tikkun review by Brian Bouldrey

Curative Songs
by Brian Bouldrey
March 4, 2011
by Rodger Kamenetz
Schocken/Nextbook, 2010

Are stories rituals? Can they become sacred? How does that happen? One of Kafka’s most memorable parables begins, “Leopards break into the temple and drink to the dregs what is in the sacrificial pitchers.” And it famously ends just as quickly as it began: “This is repeated over and over again; finally it can be calculated in advance, and it becomes a part of the ceremony.”

Like Kafka’s parables and the enigmatic, humane tales of Rabbi Nachman, Rodger Kamenetz’s Burnt Books has an economical generosity that is thoroughly secular, deeply religious, and seriously joking. It is an account of two men with so many shared traits that fate surely meant for them to know each other, guide each other, and influence each other; yet fate separated them by a century. Kamenetz is more than reliable in providing a primer on these two modern masters, and it is clear that he has placed in this new book a lifetime of love and teaching of their work. In fact, the book is structured on a faithful pilgrimage — or, rather, aliyah — that Kamenetz makes to Nachman’s Ukraine and Kafka’s Prague.

Burnt Books positions Nachman and Kafka as speakers of and to the modern world. What modern world? The one that is full of empty disbelief. Rabbi Nachman was careful to distinguish between two kinds of atheism, with the first type being “influenced by science or philosophy.” This type of atheism, he argued, is a modern creation that can be remedied by showing the atheist glimpses of divine truth that both the believer and the rationalist could agree upon. But the other type is more entrenched. Kamenetz explains that for Nachman:

The second type of atheism cannot be answered by an argument…. It is rooted in a profound feeling of emptiness. Kafka defined this feeling for the whole world … ‘I am divided from all things by a hollow space.’ … Rabbi Nachman said that this second kind of atheism cannot be answered with an argument. It can only be answered with a song.

The tales and parables of both Kafka and Rabbi Nachman are, arguably, those curative songs. Wrote Rabbi Nachman: “I did it the way God does it in the Torah: First he tells stories, then he gives laws.” If we use stories to teach children lessons, then it may also be true that through adult stories we come to learn laws. “A myth is a tale that bespeaks an inner truth portrayed as an ancient truth,” writes Arthur Green, whose keen insights add light to Kamenetz’s brilliant investigations.

One of the many things that Burnt Books makes vivid is the way in which we contemporary readers are part Rabbi Nachman, part Kafka. Kafka was a secular Jew who saw his Judaism as one of many “broken radii” in his life (along with piano, languages, gardening, marriage attempts, carpentry, and more). Because of this never-quite-fully-embraced Judaism, Kafka may not come off as assured as Rabbi Nachman. “I’ve rarely worried about my Jewish body, but do wonder about my Jewish soul,” Kafka wrote.

All three writers are deeply engaged in questions of the soul. “What does ‘soul’ mean in our time?” asks Kamenetz, “To me it is connected to the riddle of burning books. Many people feel a special reverence for books and a corresponding sense of desecration when they are burned. Maybe we understand, in some way, that books represent a part of us that can ‘shed’ the body and live on for a time in the new form of words.” Could this be what a soul is? In Kamenetz’s probing query, the possibility gains a force that extends past mere metaphor.

And there at the fulcrum of Kamenetz’s splendid comparison is that eponymous burning bush of books — the nearly mythic stories of both tale-tellers insisting upon the immolation of their unpublished writing. Never before has a scholar offered a more plausible, multi-faceted, and unified rationale behind the motivations of these two writers: and it all has to do with a better understanding of the modern soul — we burn to preserve. Cosmic irony. “Yet the end result of irony is a separation from soul,” Kamenetz argues. “Both Kafka and Nachman were divided between their sophistication and their yearning for simplicity.” The world of the parable is the place where they captured this desired braiding of sophistication and simplicity.

The first-person presence of the author is more than welcome in Burnt Books. “I love the Jews who lug books,” says Kamenetz, and who wouldn’t like to say that sentence out loud, and drink coffee with a man of such enthusiasms? Kamenetz gives color to the two life stories without over-explaining, and offers a properly jaundiced eye to would-be highjackers of both sacred and profane texts — to be honest, he’s perhaps too generous to the Madonnas of the world and their co-optation of the Kabbalah — and turns the other cheek by offering a concise, useful introduction to the Zohar’s four levels of depth.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

A Letter From Rabbi Nachman

NOTE: Jonathan Rosen, the novelist and editor of Nextbook, passes along the following letter, which he received the other day. “I had it typed and am sending it more as a curiosity,” he says. His private opinion is that the letter was written by Kafka pretending to be Nachman, and he could kick himself now for not saving the original handwritten copy. “I could have made a fortune at Sotheby’s,” he says.

Order Burnt Books

Dear Professor Myers,

I have sent this letter to Jonathan Rosen in the hope that he will forward it to you.

I am writing about your review of Rodger Kamenetz’s Burnt Books, a review which depressed me very much, and believe me I was depressed to begin with, even before I died 200 years ago—though since dying I am no longer so manic as I used to be. Also I’ve learned English.

Before you stop reading let me say quickly that this is not the letter of a crazy person. You will be happy to know that death has rendered me completely sane. I am no longer Chasidic—which is a form of madness all its own; I now go to a Conservadox shul, which is very easy in olam habah since nobody drives anyway. Also you cannot die of boredom because, thank God, you are already dead.

Briefly, I want to congratulate you on your review in Commentary. For Burnt Books is a dangerous book that deserves destruction! And you did an admirable job.

Quoting from Kamenetz’s seventeen-year-old book The Jew in the Lotus a passage voicing disappointment in American traditional Judaism was a masterstroke. I admire the way you make it seem as though Kamenetz’s disaffection is a sign of bad faith and evil intention. Nobody considering major Jewish institutions twenty years ago could ever have believed they did not address the spiritual concerns of young American Jews. One might as well say that about religious institutions today! They are on a solid spiritual footing, even if they are no longer getting twelve percent annually because they fell, out of a desire to nourish the wellsprings of Torah, for the seductions of that monster Madoff and who could ever have seen through that?

Ridiculous to allow Kamenetz his fanciful approach just because his orthodox grandparents came to America and stripped faster than Gypsy Rose Lee (who funny enough is here too) and is now groping his way back, having the Chutzpah even to create a Jewish studies department in Louisiana. A man who does not know his right hand from his left, not to mention the town of Kamenetz-Litevsk from Kamenetz-Podolsk? True his reference to his name and the town of Kamenetz is intentionally fanciful, like the talking Kafka mug in the first chapter, but I am glad that Professor Nadler (Shlita) set the record straight—he must be a wonderful teacher, one of those men who lead lives of piety, faith and learning, using what they know as a lever to lift up the world and never, as the evil urge prompts, as a crowbar to beat down the ignorant.

Anyway, it is important to make Kamenetz’s seventeen-year-old criticism of Jewish institutions, which doesn’t appear in Burnt Books, seem like a modern American phenomenon born of ill will and ignorance and not part of the self-examination that is as old as the Prophets and really even older. But even if people saw it as prophetic, what kind of idiot would want all the people to be prophets? Only the very very learned can be critical of the very very unlearned. Dr. Johnson—who I’ve become quite friendly with here in the afterlife (what a head for Talmud!)—was wrong when he said you don’t have to be a carpenter to criticize a table. You do have to be a carpenter to criticize a table.

Also, I’m of the opinion that the prophets could really be quite anti-Semitic.

It is important to fault Kamenetz—may his name be blotted out!—for situating Kafka inside of a Jewish context. Who would want to put a writer so assimilated, dark and Germanic inside a Jewish framework? His pathetic gropings after Chasidic tales, his stabs at learning Hebrew, his messianic doubts and yearnings? His confusion of the personal and psychological with the currents of Jewish history? That would make Judaism a game any Jew could play. And Judaism is not a game!

Kamenetz—but let me just call him Rodger K. so I don’t have to write his full name—Rodger K., by suggesting that a modern Jewish writer like Kafka felt incomplete without a figure of traditional Judaism emblematized by me, is giving Kafka far too much Jewish credit. Readers who love Kafka must not now suddenly find that they have a reason for studying Judaism too for that is the wrong way to come to Judaism. And there are wrong ways as well as right ways to come to Judaism! Martin Buber, that numbskull, mistranslated all my tales and my tales were themselves mistranslations of Torah Judaism. I’m lucky they let me into paradise.

In any event, the religious stumblings of modern Jewish writers are the wrong way!

How embarrassing that Rodger K. should laud me for my stories and not for my Torah commentary, which is the true essence of my being and will light real fires of return in Jewish souls instead of the bad techno music of a few drug addicts I mostly inspire. I have in fact stopped telling stories altogether.

I agree that it is dangerous and misleading to suggest that I, a Chassidic rebbe, was fascinated with the wayward children of the enlightenment, and that Kafka, assimilated ignoramous that he was, was meanwhile looking back past the Enlightenment for inspiration from a Chasidic writer. As if these two figures needed each other to feel whole and might suggest a larger pairing of tradition and new creation. Empty metaphors! You did well to ignore this.

I’m also glad you didn’t mention in your excellent review the part of the book where Rodger K. feels shame at his own inability to read aloud from the psalms in Hebrew. Shrewd not to reveal his own dissatisfaction with his Jewish education, his own desire to know more, just as Kafka desired to know more and to learn more in a literal straightforward way alongside all his deeper spiritual struggles. It would only have stirred up misplaced sympathy for the author, who is describing his book as if it were the beginning of the journey and not the end of the journey—and what kind of guide admits he doesn’t really know the way? Sure Dante got lost in a dark wood, but he was Catholic.

I’m also glad that you did not bother with the larger framework of the book, based on my belief that a burnt book still has meaning and value. Rodger K’s mushy implication that lost lives are still present, and by extension that the traditional Jewish world—that can seem to ignorant American Jews so fully removed by physical distance, by time, and by tragedy—is nevertheless worth recovering and maybe even in some form has left invisible traces—is really quite pernicious because it makes of the lost world a metaphor and fosters cheap identification. It is rigor that will speak to the young, not vague promises of recovery and spiritual connectedness!

In short what I most admire is your recognition of the utterly destructive nature of metaphors themselves when it comes to Judaism. Christianity made Judaism a metaphor and where did that get us? If metaphors raised out of Jewish context were allowed to dominate, then Theodore Hezl, that secular ignoramus, would be considered a hero, even though he became a dramaturge of Jewish history because he was such a lousy playwright and really didn’t know squat about the Torah.

It doesn’t surprise me that the book was edited by Jonathan Rosen, whom I don’t actually know – —I only sent my letter to him because his address was in God’s rolodex, I hope this won’t make him hesitate to forward my letter—but he is, let’s face it, a heretic whose book The Talmud and the Internet argued, I believe, that Mark Zuckerberg is just as good as Rabbi Akiva. Or so I imagine—I have not actually read it; I was going to read it but it was trashed by Commentary and since they were right about the Cold War and the Middle East I figured they must be right about literature too.

I have to stop now. Even the dead have high blood pressure (go figure) and besides, I have other work to do, and coffee with Eliezer Berkowitz [sic].

So let me just end by expressing once again my gratitude and admiration.


Nachman of Bratslav (peace be upon me).