Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Kabbalah Scholar and His Skateboard: In the Beginning II

This is not to say that I originally planned to resume skateboarding with the above in mind. The Hand of G-d  played a serious role in the process - that is, in partnership with Raph Brous and Asher.

Raph is a 28 year old avid Jewish skateboarder. But not only a skateboarder. He has a degree in neuroscience, is completing a law degree, has an upcoming fictional novel with Penguin, and is the founder of three bands which have all seen significant success; guitar and vocals being his forte. Most remarkable is Raph's oscillation between the synagogue and Melbourne's underground culture. He'll explain his unsavoury song lyrics in between prayers at synagogue, and will casually make a blessing on his alcoholic drink amidst scantily clad women and heavy music pounding in the background of a city bar or club. In a sense, he lives in 'twilight', where night and day co-mingle. I deeply admire this quality because to me it signals freedom from cultural expectations and the puppet strings of social conventions. It is an openness to be oneself. And is it not G-dlike to exclaim, "I am what I am"?

I first met Raph on a train a few years ago, on my way back home from delivering a Kabbalah class in the city. Our conversation was brief. I introduced myself; he told me that a Rabbi in Sydney recently suggested he meet with me and I am! My next main interaction with him came several months later. I'd completed a manuscript titled 'The Point of Truth' and gave it to a friend to read. This friend happened to pray in the synagogue of a nearby old age home where Raph's grandmother lives, and which Raph frequently visits. During one prayer service, Raph noticed my friend reading a manuscript. Raph gleaned the first few pages and, somewhat impressed, asked to be put in contact with me. He wanted to help me find a mainstream publisher.

A few days later, on Simchat Torah, I saw Raph in the synagogue. We spoke for close to an hour about the publishing process and how he'd like to help me find a literary agent. Then a few weeks later, while I was giving him - and his skateboard - a lift in my car,  I mentioned that I too used to skateboard. Shocked by the incongruity between my appearance and my history Raph asked me more about my skating and we entered a vibrant discussion about famous skateboarders from my skating days: Hawk, Hosoi, Alva, Caballero, and other names famous in the skate world twenty something years ago. The discussion ended with Raph offering me a skateboard and encouraging me to skate. At the time I saw it as an absurd idea - a bearded Rabbi on a skateboard?! - but he planted a seed in my mind, one which gradually took root in my heart.                                         

Only days away from that conversation my childhood friend, Jonathan Briskin, lost his father to an illness and I came to his mother's home to offer my condolences during the Shiva [first week of mourning] period. There I met Jonathan and his younger cousin, Asher, with whom I used to skateboard. We reminisced for quite a while about our skateboarding escapades, ramp designs, and tricks; the memories jerked invisible tears. Indeed, those were happy and fun times. I was surprised when Osher told me that he still skates, as its been over twenty years since we skated together, but I was more surprised when he invited me to come to the skatepark. For in the proximity of a few days two individuals independently tried to motivate me to pick up a skateboard. Before then no one had invited me to skate for at least 18 years! Is this a sign from Above that I should skateboard? I came to the conclusion that it probably is...       

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