About Conversation Kindling

The purpose of this blog is to share stories, metaphors, quotes, songs, humor, etc. in hopes they'll be used to spark authentic and rewarding conversations about working and living fruitfully. There are at least three things you can gain by getting involved in these conversations. First, you'll discover new and important things about yourself through the process of thinking out loud. Second, you'll deepen your relationships with others who participate by swapping thoughts, feelings, and stories with them. Finally, you'll learn that robust dialogue centered on stories and experiences is the best way to build new knowledge and generate innovative answers to the questions that both life and work ask.

I write another blog called My Spare Brain. This is where I am "storing" ideas for use in future books, articles, blog posts, speeches, and workshops. There is little rhyme or reason for what I post there. I do this to encourage visitors to come as treasure hunters looking for new ways of seeing and thinking vs. researchers looking for new or better answers to questions they already know how to ask.

05 February 2010

The Magician of Lublin

Isaac Bashevis Singer (1904-1991) was a Polish-born American writer of short stories, novels, and essays. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1978.

Singer was born the son of a Hasidic rabbi. When he was four, his family moved to an apartment on Krochmalna Street in Warsaw, a neighborhood full of thieves, prostitutes, street vendors, rag pickers, and observant Jews. Singer later called the street his "literary gold mine." He emigrated to the United States in 1935, and - for a time - eked out a living in New York City as a journalist on the Yiddish-language Jewish Daily Forward. Singer's career as an author effectively began in 1953 when his story "Gimpel the Fool" was discovered by Irving Howe, translated by Saul Bellow, and published in the Partisan Review.

Singer's work draws heavily on Jewish folklore, religion, and mysticism, and frequently deals with shtetl life in pre-Holocaust Eastern Europe. Many of his later works treat the loneliness of old age and the sense of alienation produced in Jews by the dissolution of values through assimilation with the Gentile world.

The Magician of Lublin - a book published in 1960, and subsequently made into a movie - is the story of Yasha Mazur, an escape artist on par with Houdini, who gets so caught up in the dream of conquering the big capitols of Western Europe that he is willing to accept baptism as his ticket to get in. By a series of misadventures, however, which includes an abortive attempt at crime and the suicide of the girl he has been working with in his act, he is brought back to the faith of his fathers.

Somewhere near the middle of the story, Yasha is tugged back toward his roots:
"Yasha paused at one of the prayer-houses and glanced in. . . For a moment, Yasha lingered at the open door inhaling the mixture of wax, tallow, and something musty; something which he remembered from childhood. Jews - an entire community of them - spoke to a God no one saw. Although plagues, famines, poverty, and pogroms were His gifts to them, they deemed Him merciful and compassionate, and proclaimed themselves His chosen people. Yasha often envied their unswerving faith."
  • What is the one thing you believe is true even though you can't prove it?
  • What are things you believe to be true that others you know don't believe to be true?
  • What is something you believed for a long time, but don't believe anymore?
"Crooked is the path of eternity." - Nietzsche
"While the poet entertains, he continues to search for eternal truths, for the essence of being. In his own fashion, he tries to solve the riddle of time and change, to find an answer to suffering, to reveal love in the very abyss of cruelty and injustice. Strange as these words may sound, I often play with the idea that when all the social theories collapse and wars and revolutions leave humanity in utter gloom, the poet - whom Plato banned from his Republic - may rise up to save us all." - Isaac Bashevis Singer
"If we think about it, we find that our life consists in achieving a pure relationship between ourselves and the living universe about us. This is how I save my soul - by accomplishing a pure relationship between me and another person, me and a nation, me and a race of people, me and animals, me and the trees or flowers, me and the earth, me and the skies and sun and stars, me and the moon; an infinity of pure relationships, big and little." - D. H. Lawrence
"What we call the beginning is often the end, and to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from…we shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." - T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding

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