Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Bar Mitzvah - Masada, Israel June 14, 2017

We had all gathered the previous afternoon on June 13th. Some at a rest stop along the way. Others at the check-in desk. The rest at the pool. A modest hotel, the only one afoot and steps from the historical and National Monument of Mount Masada, which solely stands, protected and protecting the Dead Sea below and its surrounding desert valley that shares its title of lowest point on Earth. Masada, once a winter home and fortress for King Herod (between 37-31 BCE), later became a symbol of resolve of the Jewish Revolt against the Romans and later so, one more reminder for us as a people to say "never again!" No letting go of this mountain and more importantly ourselves. 

The story is complicated as it is simple. A group of religious zealots and their families take over the naturally well protected fortress and one of many of Herod's palaces and stockades of foods and more... they hold back the large gathering Roman battalions that surround the mountain and make daily attempts to climb and breach for years. Until finally a ramp is built and the Romans roll up. They breach with arms, ready for the slaughter of Jews, only to find not a soul standing. Not a soul alive.  All the men, women and children already dead by their own hands. A mass suicide of 960 people. The Jewish leaders decided that it's better that they take their own lives and those of their families, than be taken as slaves. And that's the story. One big Fuck you to the Empire and all the money and time they're bloodthirsty Generals spent on that little escapade in the Judean Desert. 

Anyway, the mountain and ruins on top are amazing and there are three ways up. The Eastern side which faces the direction of the Dead Sea and Jordanian Mountains has the Snake Path, which is exactly what it sounds like and when you look at the mountain as you drive up to it, you see it zig zagging its way up the wide Eastern face. Starting out with wide long switchbacks, turning quickly into smaller, tighter and steeper ones. Carved and set with stone steps laid by my fathers generation of youth and foresight for the historical archeological discovery and significance of the place and what it means to the the young history of the  emerging modern State of Israel. The walk up is not too difficult nor is it easy. Certainly not to be trifled with during the brutal hours of the desert heat and exposure to the sun. Especially during morning and lunch hours when this side is fully exposed. It's a famous climb. One that every kid in every youth movement in Israel does as the story digs its heals into the psyche of every Jew and Israeli that hosts it. Typically the climb is first done in the early and still dark hours of the morning just in time for sunrise at the top. It's a spiritual and significant moment for any person that experiences it no matter how many times. I've done it many times and at all hours. It's equivalent to the most difficult routes along Runyon Canyon if it was constantly only going up rather up and down is the best I can describe it as to the likes of my Los Angeles Area friends, but with the added benefit of its history, story and location as well. It takes about an hour. Starts out easy and gets harder half way and up and up and up. I'm winded but invigorated. Doable at anytime if you are in shape and careful and prepared. Theo and I had done it twice together, once at high noon but the hottest of days and another on an afternoon after the sun was shaded by the mountain on the climb. First time he was at the age of 9. That's when he first heard the story as we took each step up. That's when he made the decision to have his Bar Mitzvah there, on the mountain. Whatever that means at that moment cause we're far from religious and he's 9. Regardless, the seed was planted and the kid is focused so the watering ensued. As the years and months got close, it just became a matter of logistics. 

A small and intimate and highly symbolic, simple ceremony, in line with who we are, was thrown together just in time and in just an organized enough manner to make it all happen without a hitch. My Mother and Orit get full credit for that and oh so much if not everything more. Orit's parents, who for 20 years have heard the stories and seen the photos of our yearly Spring or Summer Israel visits to my family (and hers), but have never experienced it with us, came along for the first (and as they like to say "last") time. That was a BIG deal and it was wonderful to have them and have experienced a nation changed with them and through their eyes. Family and close friends in close proximity and spaces intensely and intensively making a norm of an unusually not normal space and period while trying to make every second both last and count. That is our visits in a nutshell and are the reason they require a "vacation" from the "trip." This year being special and boy was it ever! Back to the Bar Mitzvah - Masada and Family and Friends and a Photogtapher, a Rabbi, several vehicles and one morning of June 14 2017 is all it took. A few of us brave ones (6 started, quickly dwindling down to 4) climbed up for the sunrise experience. 4:30am start, 5:30am summit and the sunrise doesn't wait for anyone. It happens and it's quick and the whole side of the mountain's Eastern perimeter wall is lined with people on it and groups behind it, all photographing and/or entranced by it. And for that quick moment which everyone decides for themselves what it is and how long it lasts, it is everything. A moment that will never be forgotten. And then it gets hot! And the Bar Mitzvah is still several hours away so we climb down. Quickly. 25 minutes. More like jog cause we're pumped with adrenaline and we want to get down to shower, change, breakfast and regroup for this Bar Mitzvah thing we got going on. And by the time we get down at 6:30, the Snake Path is officially closed for the day due to excessive heat in the forecast. Ok. No one else in our group intended to go up this way. 

At 8:15, after we all have breakfast together in the dining room it's off to the cable car option for going up the mountain in minutes. Swiss engineering right up and over the "closed" snake path that somehow still has small figures attempting its scorching terrain below. The third ascending option is the easier Ramp side climb which the Romans built over several years for a lazy 20 minute stroll up the Western face (other side) of the mountain. So at the cable car we meet the Rabbi, Photographer and off we go ascending our own joke. We end up in a pergola covered room (soldiers quarters from back in Herod's day and every stone has historical significance in the history laced tiny land) on the south eastern side of the mesa topped mountain. And we have our quaint ceremony as the sun arced higher towards it peak and the shadow and sun leaks clocked our faces an hour and a half. The Rabbi talks a little too much as any one of them does. Theo is amazing and the whole thing is as simple as it is beautiful. I'll get all the video and all the images from the professionals present soon. The event was very well documented. But none of us who where there need that. It is that memorable. He reads and sings his Parasha/Haftorah and prayers. We take turns reading our roles and everyone is included with one. He begins to take on responsibility for his actions starting right there and then as his voice adolescently cracks with symbolism. He owns this setting and himself and us and we all break down in small personal moments and pick ourselves together again. It is special for all involved and all there are involved. And then it is done. And we give the Rabbi his cash and the transaction of manhood is completed. 

Off the mountain we go and we make a day of it. Make our way North on a caravan family field trip. Lunch. Dip in the Dead Sea and call it a day. Not to mention the part that I dipped in the Dead Sea and covered myself with Dead Sea Mud with my rental car electronic key in my pocket. And it worked just enough to get us back home and started manually, barely. And then I took it apart when it was deader than dead and scraped off the crystals and washed it in fresh water and left it in a bag of rice and revived it for the remaining weeks rental... there are always vector adventures to every story... And so, we have a Man in the house. Another one. Yay. Not really a Man but a "Jewish" Man who can't drive, nor work, nor vote nor drink... a useless man indeed. But still a tremendous boy. Before I get too depressed about the meaning of all that, I'd like to end with sharing what I shared with the few who were present during the actual ceremony. My speech to him at the end. My words to Theo as I sputtered them about in-between blowing my drizzling nose and wiping my tearing eyes. Somehow I got through it. But in my mind it flowed more smoothly as as it will when you read it in your heads;


We first climbed this very mountain together when you were 9. With every step and breath of hot air, filled with the weight of history, you took the story of this place and your people deeper into your self. We watched you lean your head against Herod's column, both in rest and reflection. We stood there creating images on Polaroid, film and pixels as you remained still, longer than the typically allotted time that meets the burden of having two image maker parents. Having justified the schlep and satisfied our selfish creative addictions, the various cameras and devices came down and still you stood. Your head touching stone saturated with time, sweat and blood. Deep thoughts of comprehension trickled down from your mind, sparking a fire in your heart, setting roots down through your legs and into this hard hallowed ground. I recognized the moment as a defining one, knowing we'd be back on this very occasion. I closed my eyes for a second and suddenly, here we are. Time and circumstances are jumping in exponential increments larger than I can control for me now. As I begin my struggle to try to slow things down, you begin your journey of independence with the urgency of looking forward to shaping your own defining moments. Your Mother and I, along with the core few people here today and few notable others, have given and shown you the tools it takes to build atop your most stable foundation. You are wise beyond your years. You understand that the journeys you set forth on towards discovery will be long and sometimes more meaningful than the discoveries themselves. I've seen your foresight work better than others hindsight and trust that your self assurance will lead to your self reliance. As you begin to take on more responsibilities, those of manhood, lean on me still, even at times
with all your weight.
I can still hold you.
I can still pick you up.
I plan on staying strong and around.
I am the roots for you to stand taller and add another dated notch on our wall.
The Parents Prayer I was meant to say has all the wishes a parent can have for a child, all the wishes a people can have for one of their own and all the wishes God can have for his people. They are all grand and they all apply and go without saying, so I don't. I'm a simple man with simple tastes and in moments as grand as these I have just one wish. 
Rely on me forever.
Because as is my role, as your father, 
I rely on you to need me as much as I need you. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

China - by Theo Harpaz

In my last post on our loss of our beloved China, I mentioned Theo writing a "memoir" on the subject. I hoped then that I would have the opportunity to help him further past the initial draft I had just read at that point. It just didn't happen and holy cow am I glad he tackled this on his own and went further than our expectations (and having him, they're already high). I'm bursting with pride and honor for being given the go ahead to pass this along to my public and beyond, as Theo shares his "old soul" 10 year old words of wisdom in profound and poetic form...

Death and Life
By Theo Harpaz
You’re lucky if you have never seen it. Death...looked Death right in the eyes, seen Death’s face. Looking at you with a secret, evil grin. You’re lucky if you have never heard of Death, thought about what Death is and what Death looks like. But the people that have seen Death, thought about Death, then you know what it is like. You know the strange feeling of Death looking at you. When your chin starts to tremble, you bite your lip. Then Death starts to laugh. I have seen Death. I have just told you a little bit of what Death feels like. It happened a couple of days ago.
She was in the hospital with a blank look in her eyes. Not able to move. She was melting away, into the darkness of Death. She was our family. A sister to me, like no other. When I was born, when I first opened my eyes, I saw her long snout and her wide, curious eyes. She tried to lick me. China was fourteen, an old lady when Death took her. She was still a beautiful dog.
“China! I love you. You were the first thing I saw and I will be the last thing you see.” That was the final thing I said to her. I laid my head on her belly and listened. Listened to her slow, steady heartbeats. Listened to her long, deep breaths. The next moment two women came in the room, one with a needle. The needle was long and sharp, with a pink fluid inside. The first women took the needle and pushed it into China’s leg. That was the first time I heard Death. It was snarling. After that, all I heard was China’s yelling. Her low, old voice.
I looked into her eyes and I didn’t see her anymore. I saw Death. I saw Death’s secret, evil grin. Then Death started to laugh. It laughed while I cried. I cried until I got home. The experience made me mad. Mad at China because she let Death take her. No, I wasn’t mad at China. I was mad at Death. All the anger and confusion made me tired.
I was a baby, looking at China. She licked my face and I felt the curiosity in her. It was all happy. The scene shifted, I was in the hospital holding China. She was a baby again but I was the same age. She was so cute. Then she started to melt away. Away from my grasp and into Death’s. The scene shifted again and I was holding Roody, China’s brother. He looked at me with his deep brown eyes. I saw something... something moving in his eyes. It was China. But not China and Death. China and Life.
Death may be evil, but you learn something from it. Death makes you wiser. Death shows you the path to find Life. Life makes you wiser. If you end up seeing Death, you will find Life. That is what I learned after China died. I found Roody. That cute dog that I haven’t really noticed like I see him now. He has changed. I have changed. We have just begun our journey of Life.

Thursday, September 25, 2014


Fourteen years ago a tiny little 6 week old puppy named Venus appeared in our just barely settled into married lives. Against all odds of us having a puppy at the time, we took a leap of faith and made her our own - a Harpaz. We renamed her China, influenced by Orit studying Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture at the time. And we fell in love. I more than Orit, causing a little jealousy friction in our youthful discovery of mutual shared living and life. I was head over heels and could afford to be (maybe the wrong word as we had just moved to LA and I was out of work, but had time for her). We quickly grew past the jealousy issues and took her on mutually as our first kid. A test of responsibility before the real deal. Haven't looked back since - until now. On September 20th she passed and the tears are just drying up enough to let this quiet time of the Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement - a period of introspection and reflection, and go with the call of the fingers, heart and mind to tell her story.

My son, Theo, just began to write a "memoir" in his school notebook as part of an on-going class exercise. I call it an essay, and we fight about that. But for the sake of here, since he'll read this, we'll call it a memoir. His topic is naturally about China. The dog and sister he's known since day zero. And being that her passing was a very dramatic, intense, close-knit, and quick ordeal that affected me like a child at 42, he in turn made his age of 10 look as mature and wise as I still aspire to at 42. And the angle he chose to write about, of "looking death in the eye" sounds years ahead of his time, as he is, and I'll explain later when touching on the actual moment. He's reached out for help in polishing it and making it a better and more "meaningful and powerful" piece. It's powerful as is and raw and needs a little help to sound like it came out of a well seasoned writer, but not much. I take great pride in that. And maybe one day, he'll chose to share his piece publicly with his audience, and maybe mine. But that'll be his deal. I've got mine. 

China has had 6 Acts to her life. Act I - born somewhere unknown in LA and given up on the streets at 5 weeks by a young guy that was gonna get kicked out of his apartment. Taken in temporarily by a Yoga studio owner in Larchmont Village. Act II - Orit goes in to drop off promo's and leaves with a puppy for me to meet and of course adopted by us the following day. Begin what turned out to be a long life as a Harpaz. We live in West Hollywood. Act III - We move up to the West Hollywood hills to a small guesthouse. China is 8 months old. This Act deserves a paragraph of it's own.

Within days of living there, standing outside I hear from over the fence, "po---tty, potty, potty, potty" and then again, "po---tty, potty, potty, potty." and I couldn't see but had to ask... and I think I scared her when I said hi... And that was the day I met Chelsea, who was trying to command her puppy Newton to poop unknowing she was within a new neighbors earshot. And so the love affair of China and Newton (who was a girl) began. And our unique little corner of Hollywood and Queens up in the hills made for a most enchanting life for two dogs who fully took advantage of complete ownership of both homes and their inhabiting families. Mark had a doggy door made in the adjoining fence between the two properties. It was always open and wide enough for us to squeeze through if need be too, so that pretty much tells the story of what was to come. Mark and Chelsea had the pool and the terraced land for the pups to run, do their chasing and ferocious battles as all pups should. When the cover was on the pool it was a stomping ground and trampoline for the two. Cover off and China turned into a can't get enough leaping/flying/diving fetcher of whatever you would throw in there for however you were willing to do so. To the verge of drowning from fatigue, she just couldn't get enough. She was like that in the ocean too. They alternated their quiet moments either with us or with them, but always together. Getting comfortable on either one of the two homes furnishings, dog beds, beds, or people. Actively engaging one another or comfortable in their quiet moments. We went to dog parks and hikes and beaches taking Newton with us and they vice versa. Trips were never a concern as we could always rely on one another. The two dogs needn't ever concern themselves over anything. Not a worry in their doggy world. 4 years we lived there. I enjoyed my life then as a human on this earth. But, this was certainly a dogs life and I wish I was living theirs of that moment in time forever (if Orit could have been Newton and I China, naturally). Theo was born right there in that home, into that setting. China was was right there trying to get at his crowning head first. She witnessed the miracle of birth and life and him taking his first breath. She watched over him thereafter. He's grown up hearing the stories and slightly remembering little vignettes of that time. Newton, who later was named NuNu by Theo as he discovered speech, was not present at the birth but was an active participant of our family life within hours of it, which in turn prepared her for her own future role on the other side of the fence.  

Act IV began when the sad day came that the Harpaz family had to move on to a larger dwelling. On the one hand we moved not far away (naively thinking that made a difference) with a large yard and much more space. On the other we lost our community. Our village. Our special place and situation. And China lost her pal. And that was sad. And like the circle of life, we had to press on and figure it out. So...

Act V - enter Roody. We got her another pal. Not a replacement for NuNu, as that just couldn't be. But yes a replacement. Someone different and new to hang through the next stages of life (as btw, NuNu gets a new pal too once we leave). And for the following almost 9 years, so it went. China was a human stuck in a dogs body. She understood full sentences, recognized voices over the phone, watched Animal Planet and spoke back. You could actually talk to her and she would get you. She was strong and athletic and beautiful. Her eyes were gentle and features lady-like and soft. Always independent of affection, yet affectionately present to touch on her terms. She was a special dog as every individual is. She was just ours and a part of us. And true to the nature of a dog, she got to understand us and adapt to our world. This Human world they all live in. We were totally exposed to her as she to us. She knew everything there is to know about us. And we of her. So much, yet so little. They are still and after all, bewildering beasts. What you get is a combination of what you put in and natures luck. And nature is powerful. You roll with that and call it your own. That's what family is. This was the longest and main Act of this play. The one that included the majority of life through exciting times and the mundane. The nitty gritty every day by day.

Which brings us to the final Act VI - the unfortunate end. As in humans there's a long middle age period where one doesn't really change much and then suddenly they're old and look old and act old. China went through that. Last year we started to notice that she got old. Her hearing was going. Her interest and listening to us seemed less attentive. The old lady that did things more slowly and on her own terms. We sort of settled into that and got used to it too. Albeit, while beginning the discussions of an end to come sooner than later. And you can talk and talk and think you'll be prepared and ready for that day. And then it comes and knocks you down cold. I'll spare the details of her very quick demise from stroke to death within 24hrs. Chelsea (NuNu's mom) came over along with our friend Sky who had her own relationship with China, and spent time with her and us in those last moments before the end. That was meaningful to all of us. I try not to re-live it in my mind unsuccessfully but the images don't leave. I don't think I want to try to put into words. It was tough. It happened. The process was quick and whatever it did to her brain, her body quickly followed from back to front. China was not the kind of dog you could pick up easily. Besides her 63lbs Pit/Rhodesian/Boxer build, she'd struggle to free her self with every attempt to be picked up. This time I scooped her up and lifted her without fight. She had nothing left in her. The walk to the car with her limp body in my arms was the most gut wrenching type of pain I've ever experienced. Only to immediately repeat it one last time walking into the veterinary hospital. The drive was quiet and surreal with constant checks to see if she was still breathing. Within minutes of our arrival we were told the brutally honest diagnosis that she was not gonna come out of this. And so it was time to say goodbye. Right there and then as a family and as individuals. We held her. Theo pressed his face to hers. Eyes to eyes, right there two inches apart. And as the injection was taking place, he was telling her that she was the first to see him take his first breath and he was there to see her last. And that was intense. She gave one last cry, her heart stopped and it was over in the physical sense. And the emotional senses completely took over. We took our time alone with her as a family and then on my own. And then we drove back home, quietly and again, surreal. Her pillow empty in the rear view mirror.

Do I know that we provided her a great life and lots of love? Yes. Do I know that there were moments of comfort and laziness in making the efforts to make her world always great? Yes. That's life and that's family and we're human. Sometimes we hurt those we love the most. Because we can. Do I know that she knew we were all there till the very last moment? No. I really hope so. I'd like to think somewhere past that thing that so brutally took over her mind and body and took her someplace else, that she recognized our touch, voices and tears. But i'm also realistic enough to not know. Because everything I knew about this being was gone in those last moments. So I'll never really know. As I never really knew what was going on in that head of hers, really. As much as I'd like to think I did, she was much more complicated than that. And that was the beauty of our relationship. And the beauty of family. And why it hurts so. You take these little creatures in and they become family and you get comfortable with each others quirks and needs and good traits and bad traits and you love as they love, regardless. And then, one day it's all gone. And for those of us that remain behind, all that's left are memories. Memories that need to be dealt with while reality tick tocks on. And Roody remains in this family and has his own Acts to follow. And that's where we're at. One day at a time. Missing China.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Theo Progress Report - Israel 2013

How fitting that one of the last Progress Reports be from our yearly family trip to the Homeland - Israel. This year we made a point of going a step beyond the family visit and showed Theo a little more of the country and it's history, thereby helping to establish his roots to those of his people for the rest of life. This trip he will never forget. For that, we are proud. And in case he does (or any other little vignette of his almost 10 years), he'll always have the visual memories here - for that I am proud.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Theo Progress Report 08/24/13 - Camping at Huntington Lake in the Sierras

It's been a long time. Theo is growing bigger and delving deeper into our world in larger, more invisible ways than my Polaroid fascination can capture. The updates are farther in between as the pickiness of choosing the right moment to invest in a Theo-roid constantly fights with the dwindling supply and instability of the expired medium. The original goal was five years. The wish is a lifetime. The reality is the fast approaching ten year anniversary to our beloved son. So this isn't the last one. There will be a couple more. But the day is coming...

Friday, October 26, 2012

Black Belt

Funny that Little Man has given me a writing assignment coinciding with a long dry spell of writing inspiration. Nothing like an almost 9 year old about to become a black belt, kicking my ass into writing shape (he'll get a kick out seeing the word "ass" here). Perhaps good enough for a blog post. He'll be the judge and you'll know if you are reading.

The back-story - Little Man, as most of you who know him or of him, has been doing Tae Kwon Do since he was 5. More than just going you can say, he's made the place our second home, going an average of 4 times a week diligently and of his own free will. He's always shown good focus and a need to perfect form and it shows as he's progressed seamlessly up the belt ladder in minimum time. Thirteen belts hang on his wall with one remaining as the ultimate goal within reach in just hours from now. One of the obstacles, besides the obvious upcoming physical test was having had to write an essay about what TKD means to him. Not a simple task for a 3rd grader (and maybe he'll let me post his own words here too). Anyway, maybe influenced by this or maybe as punishment for this, but our Little Man wishes no gift for his big achievement, but rather that each one of us (Orit and I) write an essay of our own. A letter, to him, about how proud we are of him and what it means to us. Payback by our altruistic little smart-ass (another "ass" to make him smile) kid, that is willing to give up gifts for a boost to the ego and a pad on the back. We all recognize that as long-term thinking. The stuff of a leader. And bless him for it, he shall be. For that I take my hat off, give myself a slight pad on the back and proclaim out loud my absolute pride in his whole essence and being. This one achievement of reaching a goal set out at the age of 5 when he discovered his focus to become a black belt is but a small part of him at the now seasoned age of 8.6. There is so much more to this Little Man. But that's the homework he's assigned me so that's the subject of my words...

And here I must stop as per his request. I read it to him just before bed tonight. It took him but a second to decide that the introduction to this point is for all your eyes. The letter I subsequently wrote him as my "homework" from that point, he chose to keep private for himself. Then he walked up and gave me the kind of hug the moment required. What else can I say, that kid is smarter than I'll ever be.

In the morning it's black belt time.