In Safed

It was just a week, but it was better than nothing. Esther had slipped into Jerusalem quietly and headed north to Safed, not telling anyone except Yitzach, her Mossad superior, and Sara Winthrop, the National Intelligence Officer to whom she had just inexplicably been seconded. She planned to take a day or two to decompress, playing the tourist and indulging her senses, and then visit her old rabbi to consult with him about her next steps. This last mission, a joint CIA-Mossad operation, in which she had successfully captured the leader of a Daesh cell in Paris, which had been planning to destroy Notre Dame as part of the new campaign against “infidel” religious sites, had left her raw and exhausted. She had lost more than half her team, most of them gruesomely beheaded. The videos were all over the internet and even the Mossad couldn’t seem to get them off. One of those murdered had been a close friend. More than a friend, actually, though she had been waiting until he was no longer a formal subordinate. Was this really the right path for her?

In the past, every time she had raised this question with her rabbi he had handed her, along with a legal opinion regarding her obligation to defend Eretz Yisrael, a copy of the Bhagadvad Gita. It was her calling, he said. No one else can do what you do. No one else has both the encyclopedic knowledge of political theological sects and tendencies and the paramilitary operational and tactical leadership capacities. But was it forever? Did it mean no children? No husband? Not even, really, any lovers? And what of her long interest in actually mastering the Kaballah, which her teacher had promised he would eventually teach her? Hadn’t she fought long enough? Couldn’t she take an academic or training post for a while and teach others to do what she did?

She wandered down the narrow streets, in and out of shops selling spices and trinkets and kabalistic texts. Hungry, she found a little café and decided to stop for some lunch. She ordered some pita, some eggplant fried with onions, garlic, tomatoes, cumin, and chile, and some mint tea. Then she wandered back to the small restroom, adjusted her clothing, and all but collapsed onto the toilet. It was clean, thankfully –quite attractive really with blue and white tile in the Turkish style and dark blue walls. There was even a bit of incense burning.

She had just begun to relieve herself when her secure iPhone notified her of a top priority message. Sighing, she reached down into her purse to retrieve it.

The message was from Tenabe, a protégé from her days at the National Security Agency.

–Does the phrase Tien Shan Manuscript mean anything to you?

Esther typed back, truthfully:

–Never heard of it. Too busy chasing bad guys across Europe.

–What about Minerva?

This was more difficult. Esther had heard about Minerva. Intelligence operations officers, after all, didn’t merely gossip. They ran operations on each other. Minerva was attempt to bring together US sociocultural intelligence assets across the IC, from the Army’s Human Terrain System through CIA’s more culturally oriented HUMINT operatives and analysts and the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research. She guessed that it had something to do with her being seconded to that National Intelligence Officer in DC. But that move, it had been made clear to her, was “need to know.” Beyond that, she was sure that there were some complex bureaucratic politics involved, but they were well above her pay grade. She texted back:

–The Roman Goddess?

Tenabe, thankfully, got the message and gave up. Or so it seemed.   Esther tried to finish up in the bathroom as quickly as she could, hoping to enjoy her meal and then an evening wandering the streets of the old city. But the i-phone buzzed again. This time there was no text message, much less a phone call. Just a rather attractive yantra. She assumed it was a wall paper someone had sent her and put the phone back. Figuring she was not going to get the peace and quiet to accomplish what she had come in here to do, she cleansed herself, adjusted her clothing, flushed, and washed her hands.

By the time she got back to the table her meal was waiting for her, along with a large glass of strong red wine from Mount Carmel. She hadn’t ordered wine, but it was welcome at this point. Then the i-phone again. This time it was Yitzak, her Mossad handler.

Minerva is a go. Be in DC by the end of the week.

That gave her, at best, another day in Safed, and then a day her relatives in Lublin, so that they could berate her for not being married, not having children –for not doing all the things she yearned to do, but couldn’t, given this path she had chosen. In truth, she didn’t know if she really could love someone. Killing, even when justified, damages the soul. That was true whatever her rabbi said.

Sipping her glass of wine and nibbling at her baba ganoush, she wondered if there was a connection between the Tien Shan manuscript and the sudden standing-up of Minerva, which she had not expected for at least several more months. And then there was the strange mandala …

Figuring that she would learn the answers to these questions soon enough, she returned to her wine and grabbed the copy of Ha’Aretz which had been left by the last patron at her table. It turned out that it was just the Science and Technology section.

Scientists finally isolate Higgs Boson.

New evidence consolidates support for closed cosmology.

Strange, thought Esther. Hadn’t the mass of the Higgs been settled a few years ago? And what support was the new evidence consolidating? Esther had an enduring interest in physical cosmology (product partly of a brief affair with and a much more enduring crush on an undergraduate astronomy professor who turned out to be gay) and she kept close tabs on developments in the field. As far as she knew the consensus was still for an open, inflationary universe, expanding ever more rapidly into entropic oblivion (a consensus which had driven her professor crazy when she insisted it was was bunk). And the mass of the Higgs had played a role in Frank Tipler’s Omega Point Theory, which in turn depended on a closed cosmology. And she knew that at least some of the work at X- Division involved creating …

A sudden explosion rocked the restaurant. The windows were shattered and nearly everyone was thrown off their chairs. There was blood everywhere and there would probably be at least one or two casualties. But something had obviously gone wrong. The damage was almost certainly much less than the perpetrators had intended.

Strange, Esther thought. Safed is usually fairly safe. That meant that she was probably the target.

Gathering her things she exited through the kitchen, past the screaming cooks, and out into the back alley. Looking both ways she noticed a car blocking her path in one direction, not more than twenty feet away. The back-up plan. Or perhaps the idea was to capture rather than to kill her? She withdrew her handgun from the holster which held it beneath her shawl and dispatched the single driver, then all but leaped across the alley and into a narrow passageway which led to small courtyard. She dashed up the stairs and vaulted herself onto the roof. Crouching behind a small turret, she surveyed the scene below. The police and ambulances had already arrived and were tending the wounded. In the distance she noticed another suspicious looking vehicle speeding away. She was probably safe, at least for now. But there would be another attempt.

Esther crossed the roof and climbed down the other side, into yet another passageway. This one, she knew, led to the old Sephardi Ari Synagogue. She would have to leave Safed –the sooner the better. But she also had to see the Rebbe. And he would be there soon, as the minyan gathered for prayer.

Pulling her shawl over her head, she followed the passageway, scurrying across several small courtyards sheltering microscopic spice or vegetable markets. The sun was already so low that shadows filled the old city, but up ahead, she could see the blue dome, still brilliant in the late afternoon light, shining like lapis against the gold of the sky. Then suddenly, before she knew it, she was there, at the edge of the Synagogue square, before the little textile shop belonging to the Rebbe’s daughter. Was that him, sitting outside, waiting for her? He looked terrible, slumped in the chair.

Then she saw the blood running down his face, emerging from the tiny wound to his forehead. But he was, amazingly, still alive. As she approached he lifted his hand, reaching towards her.

Beware, he said. Beware of the Golem.

Published by:

Anthony Mansueto

Humanity is the desire to be God (Sartre, Jean Paul. Being and Nothingness, 1943/1993: 556). Being finite, we are aware of the infinite and seek it without limit. Being contingent, dependent on other beings for our existence, we seek the power of Being as such and seek it absolutely. Human history is fundamentally the history of this seeking, and of the distinct ways of being human to which it has given rise. Precisely because we are finite and contingent, our seeking takes place under definite material (physical, ecological, demographic, built-environmental) conditions which shape the ways which emerge, as well as the social structures through which we pursue them. As something set apart we call this power of Being the sacred but it is, in fact, the warp and woof of the world in which we live, driving secular projects as much as those which understand themselves as religious. My work is centered around an effort to engage the sacred analytically, interpretively, normatively, creatively, and practically. My scholarship is centered around an effort to restore theoria to its original sense as an encounter with the sacred which is empirical, analytic, interpretive and normative, and specifically to understand the diverse ways (including secular ways) in which humanity seeks (to be) God in the context of the material realities out which they emerged and the structures through which they operate while engaging these ways normatively, contributing to the transhistorical deliberation around what it means to be human. As an artist I work first and foremost with narrative, telling stories which, blending elements from magic realism, science fiction, and fantasy, highlight humanity’s engagement with the sacred. But I also create paintings, photo collages, and illuminations and am experimenting with alterealities, games which actually change the world, and which engage all these elements in an interactive context. And I work in the medium of food, creating alchemical cuisine which at once encodes meaning and transforms those who consume it —especially in community. My scholarly and creative work aims at charting a new way of being human, at making the sacred present to people in their day to day lives, and at helping people situate their lives and their decisions, individual and collective, in he context of the ultimate aims of human life. My practical engagements with the sacred cross the boundaries between teaching and mentoring, leading and organizing. As a teacher, it is my aim to cultivate free, creative human beings and engaged citizens with a mature spirituality who have the ability to make rationally autonomous decisions regarding questions of meaning and value, to understand their particular calling and how to realize it, to build and exercise power in service to the common good, to learn the difficult spiritual lessons that come from both success and failure in our lives, and thus to pursue and progress along the way they have chosen. In addition to teaching in formal academic and community based settings, I mentor individuals using a process which integrates deep listening with both traditional spiritual disciplines and secular insights drawn from organizing and business strategy. I cultivate both scholars and practitioners, and challenge my students to cross the boundaries between these two domains. As an academic leader I have worked to promote liberal education for students from working class and ethnic minority communities, to make the institutions I serve into centers for deliberation around questions of meaning, value, and public policy, and to restore (nonconfessional, pluralistic, but still normative) engagement with the sacred to its rightful place in the academy. I see this academic leadership as an extension of my broader work as an institutional organizer helping organizations and institutions find their way, and working to build, conserve, and transform them in service to the Common Good. My work as an organizer has also included significant contributions to interfaith dialogue, deliberation, and organizing, from building financial and institutional support for interfaith organizing through catalyzing public deliberation around questions of meaning and value across diverse spiritual and civilizational traditions. I bring to this engagement a substantial record of publications, including nine books and numerous articles in both scholarly journals and journals of public opinion setting forth my vision and strategy, decades of experience teaching the liberal arts to students from working class and ethnic minority communities, a history active civic engagement, primarily in interfaith dialogue, deliberation, and organizing, and a range of institutional leadership roles in the academy including department chair, program director, dean, and campus leader with responsibility for all community college functions for a large rural area. As I continue my formal institutional engagements as an academic administrator over the next several years, I am also looking to build support for my creative work and a consulting practice mentoring individual leaders and organizations across the academic, religious, and civil society sectors. Supporting my work through Patreon is a way to contribute to making this possible while getting a glimpse of my creative process, free or discounted artifacts from my alterealities, and the opportunity to benefit from my mentoring and consulting practice at much reduced rates.

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