the one that made me cry

So. In the middle of Zohar meditation I burst into tears. How embarrassing is that? And I cried for the next three days. And whimpered another few days. Until at last the floodgates emptied, the waters receded, and I was somewhat healed.

‘Healed’ is probably the wrong word. Can you be healed from holy words?

And what am I doing in shul each shabbat morning at what seems like the crack of dawn? I feel like I’m trespassing into a shul that isn’t mine, and sneaking back out again before services begin. Yes, I was invited—but still.

I haven’t belonged to this or any other shul for the past two decades, although I’ve thought about it. I’m not Orthodox. Not Conservative. Not anything. Basically, I don’t have a spiritual bone in my body. Anthropologist. That would be the only label I can conjure. That’s about it.

But Zohar appears to move me anyway. It shouldn’t. It should save all those emotions for somebody else.

But I like thinking about rabbis long ago on the road together. It reminds me of my Father on his adventures with Rabbi K— from Egypt to India, and back again. And my own travels with both of them on absolutely crazy journeys. And as a kid with my dad searching for Jewish cemeteries in  the Sierra foothills. Or my dad’s visiting me in North Africa, and balancing our parallel quests while on the road.

Zohar would make a terrific buddy movie, don’t you think? With spectacular special effects— Aramaic echoing through the chambers of a deep and complex cave, with Hebrew letters clambering up the walls. I’d love to make that movie after this one. I can see it so clearly.

But instead— I got sideswiped. Didn’t see the tears coming. And what was I doing there in Zohar meditation in the first place?

We are blessed around here to have Daniel Matt in our midst celebrating the completion of his translation of Zohar. After finishing nine volumes of the Pritzker Edition, Matt has coordinated a series of teachings through Lehrhaus Judaica (yes, another of the institutions inspired and promoted by my father, Seymour Fromer). The teachings are choreographed throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, with teachers covering the same passages at the same time in different communities, month after month and now year after year.

In San Francisco, the teachings have been led by Aubrey Glazer, author of Mystical Vertigo, a volume on Contemporary Hebrew Mystical Poetry. Rabbi Glazer, on the off-season of Lehrhaus’ Zohar sessions, decided to continue throughout the spring and summer with Zoharic meditations each shabbat at his own shul. And although I’m not a member, he assured me it was okay to attend. And still I feel like a gate-crasher. And I don’t think gate-crashers should be made to cry. They should be stoic, respectful. Invisible. But no—

The passage that Glazer read that shabbat needed some unpacking. So it took a moment to sink in.

“That shade came and sat down and kissed him…”

I was still okay. It hadn’t hit yet.

The passage went on:

“Any place in which a righteous person innovates words of Torah,
he [the departed spirit of one’s great Teacher] comes [back] to visit …
especially when other righteous ones are present there,
innovating words of Torah in that place…”

Now would that make you cry?

Danny’s footnote helped:

The ‘shade’ is a shadow, ghost, or specter. What we in the anthro biz would call a ‘spirit.’ And so—

“After a virtuous teacher has died,
his soul revisits each place in which he offered a new interpretation of Torah.
This applies especially when other righteous people are present,
innovating words of Torah…”

And that’s what made me lose it.  For what I heard was reassurance—

It’s okay to innovate words of Torah. Not just okay—it’s a righteous act.

It’s especially good to join with other righteous people in the act of innovation.

And right here, right now in the making of our movie, The Day before Creation, we are doing just that. Innovating words of Torah. And honoring my Father and his teachings—

And …

He might come back?

He might sit down? Kiss me on the forehead?

Yah, I lost it.

I tried to tell my daughter about the passage, but started blubbering again.  Instead, I had to shove the volume at her and point.  She read the passage. Looked at me. And rolled her eyes.

“Of course,” she said.

“I knew that.”


so. just how babylonian are we?

Malkah doesn’t walk around saying it,  but she thinks we might be the closest thing to Babylonian there is these days. It’s not just pride in the accomplishments of our sojourn over there by the twin rivers. And sure, we still call it ‘exile.’ Captivity.  And yes, ‘Babylon’ represents for us the sacking of Jerusalem (though not all of them), and a major brain drain headed east. It was pretty much the peasants who remained, as peasants generally do—glued to the land—’am ha-aretz—holding the fort, so to speak. But without the fort.

Mesopotamia influences Malkah in ways that Egypt never did. She can feel the twin rivers in her bones. While the Nile just makes her want to run.

Malkah feels at home with the Babylonian calendar, for example. While Egypt has five different calendars all moving at different rates, and sometimes it seems in different directions.

She weeps in the month of Tammuz when Ishtar wept for Tammuz, her lover. She doubles up the month of Adar in leap year just as the Babylonians did. She believes, as the ancients did, that there are  auspicious and inauspicious months, internal and external both.

The chaos of the Mesopotamian ecosystem just feels more like home than the orderly Egyptian one. Tohu va-vohu. The ‘tohu’ being Tiamat, Marduk’s mother, the inattentive chaos he destroyed to rule both Nature and the gods.

He was the ultimate Law and Order candidate.

I blame Abraham, of course. Malkah’s got him deep in her bones too. There it is, where lineage and ecology are all bound up together. Rootedness. Uprootedness. Inextricable.

Saddam Hussein used the ancients of the twin rivers to mold the Iraqi people into a single national People. Whatever else he did, this was, I think, brilliant. And the rebuilding of Babylon was to be the symbol of unity. Saddam wanted to establish the Neo-Neo-Babylonian Empire. And the only thing stopping him … oh… that would be us. The West. Again.

He reenvisioned ‘Babylon’ extending well past Jerusalem. Though maybe not quite to the Nile.

“After all,” he said, “Abraham was Iraqi—so all the land that God gave to Ibrahim belongs of course to us.” He was obsessed with redrawing the map. Both west, and south at the Gulf. And it was that direction that took priority.

We destroyed a very grand dream, didn’t we? But in the process, we didn’t put anything else there in its place. No god to head the Assembly of Gods. No ruler to keep the twin rivers flowing.

Saddam modeled himself on the ancient god, Marduk. Brutally efficient. Got the job done. The other gods then handed him rule over the entire Assembly of Gods. And washed their hands of messy democracy. Too much trouble.

He created human beings as servants to the gods to clean things up and worship them. Build them a city. Babylon, and the Hanging Gardens, and the Temple of Ishtar were the result.

There was also the matter of the Tower of Babylon. Which Saddam was set on rebuilding. He just wanted to be sure he ‘got it right’ in terms of what it really looked like and where exactly to put it in the reconstruction of Babylon. He was almost there when the (first) Gulf War blew into town. The gods were not amused.

We privilege, don’t we, the Bavli Talmud over the Yerushalmi. It seems more cosmopolitan—with tales of the travels of the rabbis back and forth between Mesopotamian and Jerusalem. Nothing like a good buddy road trip to make a precept sink in. Yerushalmi? Boring. Malkah’s a little unclear on this, being more archaeologist and not at all talmudic scholar. But that’s what her Father says.

Malkah’s favorite tale in the bible is that of Esther and Mordechai—a thoroughly Mesopotamian tale. ‘Hadassah, who was Esther to her People,’ I mean, there they are right there: Ishtar and Marduk, and a story of the evil gods trying to take down the system. We just updated the tale and made it our own.

The past is always present, Malkah’s Father used to say. Always, always now. Apparently that was what Saddam thought as well.

And so. Malkah made it to Babylon while Saddam was still rebuilding. She made it to the Temple of Ishtar. And to the spot where Saddam planned to put the Tower. The Tower that would usher in the Neo-Neo Empire.

But no. She didn’t make it quite to Ur despite appealing to the authorities. It seems Saddam had cleverly turned Ur into an off-limits military zone, and parked his fighter jets all around the Ziggurat. If we bombed Saddam’s Air Force, we would bomb the sacred homeland of Abraham himself.

And Malkah just can’t help it.

She longs for the twin rivers, she cries out for Tammuz, she lights a candle for Ishtar, she wonders whether Marduk’s brutality was better than the bloodshed and chaos without him. She wants to climb the Ziggurat of Ur, and walk the lanes between the ancient ruins. She wants to buy a souvenir Moon God Sīn from Terach’s little shop from the boy selling there for his Father… the boy who looks an awful lot like her. ‘She wants, as always, to put the broken pieces together.


mira z amiras

secrets that reside inside the letter Bet

So. The Hebrew letter  ב  –bet– that you know as the letter ‘b.’  So okay, let’s say you already knew that ‘bet‘ means ‘house.’ But did you know that the letter bet is quite literally built like a house?  Can’t see it?  If you’ve spent some time in the Middle East, or even in Spain (so heavily influenced by Moorish architecture, at least in Andalusia) you’ll know that the courtyard is the center of the house, and the center of the domestic and often the economic life of the household.  Almost all chores, especially women’s chores, traditionally have been conducted inside the courtyard, from cooking to couscous or mergez making (in North Africa, say), sacrifice of the sheep on ‘Aid el Kebir for Muslim families, to bathing, sewing, henna application, celebrations and the offering of hospitality to honored guests, and much much more.

One of my favorite ‘much, much more’ courtyard activities is the production of olive oil at home, with the olive press in the middle of the courtyard, and enough room for your camel to walk the circle turning and tightening the press, thereby releasing the oil. Yes you do need a fairly large courtyard for this. But believe me, it’s worth it. It’s also a bit messy.

In villas, palaces, synagogues, and mosques and even apartment buildings the courtyard can hold a beautiful fountain in the middle. Sometimes, as can be seen at the Alhambra in Granada, with channels of water flowing from a central spring down through rooms constructed a bit downhill. Brilliant idea and utterly breathtaking.

And there’s our letter bet—with the fountain (or, perhaps olive press) in the center. Our nikudah, or dot, in the center of the letter tells us something about the quality of the letter in a word. Is it opulent, awake, flowing and alive, or is it devoid of that life-force, of only for the moment? The bet, you see, can change that way.  I’ll spare you the grammar of it. Look it up.

But here’s the thing. The courtyard is enclosed on three sides, with usually a gated opening on the fourth. It is analogous to the womb—a safe, warm, private female space in which to nurture the young. This essentially female space is highly restricted, with access limited to those who are trusted and belong. It is analogous to the city itself —the medina— that serves the same purpose, really. It is protected and defended, and at least in the past) was limited and had strict and exclusive access,

So, think of the letter bet as the womb —the place of procreation— with expanding circles of inclusion and exclusion. But think of it too as the locus of Creation.

For when you begin to read the Torah, the very first letter is the very first bet at the beginning of all existence. I think of it as the back-end of the universe, with all of Creation churning and rising out of that fountain at its center, and pouring the universe (and all of Torah) out from its gates. Making what was originally private and proprietary (like our children) now public open to all, at least outside our gates.

That’s probably enough for now, right? I could go on.

Oh, but wait— I do go on. For it is the fountain at the center of the bet that our girl Malkah discovers. And she finds there … well, you’ll have to wait and see what she finds there. It’s utterly remarkable. There are more secrets hidden in that private space. And we, we hope to share it.

Um. I haven’t said this before, but you know—you’re welcome to support us.

Be a sponsor of the Hebrew Letter Bet—and we will honor you with more secrets of Creation from the ancients…


—mira z amiras

the four rabbis tell their tale

Here’s another example where my Father’s telling may differ from your Father’s telling.

The Tale of the Four Rabbis who entered Paradise is another example of the manifestation of four elements in Jewish tradition. Pesach, of course, is filled with them: four glasses of wine, four ‘sons,’ four questions, etc. There are four letters of the Tetragrammaton—the ineffable name of the God of Abraham. Four elements. And here we have the four letters that make up the word Pardes.

That is P-R-D-S or rather:  פ-ר-ד-ס  — The Hebrew word ‘Pardes’ that means ‘Orchard’ —meaning that orchard, the one we call Paradise.

The rabbis ascend, the tale goes, each revealing his character and his deficits. Except for Rabbi Akiva, who successfully navigates the mysteries of Paradise, and returns to this world to face the world that is, and not just the world to come.

I was told this story slightly differently than you were told it, I’m sure. Again, because my Father’s tales always took a right (or left) turn somewhere along the way.

So just relax about it. Don’t get huffy. A tale is a teaching tool. And each lesson requires a different telling. This one is my legacy. Yours is yours.

And so. In the tale that I was told, yes—the four rabbis ascend into the Pardes. But each according to his capacity.

The First Rabbi enters through the letter  פ  ℗, the first letter of Pardes. And that letter stands for Pshat—the simple, fundamentalist, literal approach, lacking inquiry, and taking what is seen at face value.  And so. The first rabbis enters Paradise. He sees an orchard. He becomes a gardener. And yikes,  he steals some cuttings to make a garden of his own. What’s that about?

Now. While I learned to have contempt for the first rabbi, to not trust him, and to never ever emulate him, these days I feel quite differently about him. I’ve since learned to appreciate (mostly from lectures by Danny Matt on Zohar) that pshat is really an opportunity. An invitation to inquiry. The door is ajar. We are invited to walk through, to investigate, and most of all to experience at multiple levels of consciousness at the same time. Pshat is the gateway to the miraculous. But yah, not everyone (or hardly anyone) journeys that far.

I’m also less upset these days about the notion of ‘stealing’ cuttings. Plants want to propagate. I’m sure they at least were happy about the greater distribution. As long as we’re just talking about plants.

The Second Rabbi was the one my Father seemed to identify with the most. And therefore I learned to love him best.  He entered through the letter  ר  ® , the second letter of Pardes. And this is the letter of intellect. The letter Reish stands for Rosh, or Head, and thereby what we use our minds for—and that would be inquiry and analysis. (At least that’s what I was taught).

But the story goes that the Second Rabbi overdid it. Obsessive compulsive disorder. Investigating to the point of driving himself nuts in the process of (over)interpretation.  Does this mean that too much analysis is bad for the health? Not according to my Father. For him, inquiry was to be pursued until—

The Third Rabbi knew how to take action. Knew what to do with the analyses and data he had amassed. He entered the Pardes through the letter  ד   (D), Dalet, which stands for Door. The door to action.  And the Third Rabbi, I was taught, was a man of action. An activist. Controversial, yes, but attuned to the currents of history.  I think Martin Luther King Jr. Malcolm X. Shabbatei Sevi…

Stop me here, and say (as you should) —what’s with all the men and male images? It’s enough already.

And I would say you’re right.

It’s exactly how I feel about our upcoming presidential election.

We have pshat — Trump — a seeming simpleton, in this case bully, who can ‘steal’ the cuttings of Pardes and maybe (we shall see) get away with it.

We have drush — that would be Bernie — calling for the great American revolution of sorts. Which is a funny way to run for president and stay within the confines of electoral procedure.

And I suppose (finally a female face), we have ‘Hillary’ who attempts to obliterate her husband’s surname and to make herself, thereby, somehow a bit softer at the edges. She is our Remez — giving us analysis and greater complexity that no one seems to want to listen to.

And what of our Fourth Rabbi?

Tradition says the Fourth Rabbi was Rabbi Akiva, who ‘entered in Peace and left in Peace.’ He entered the Pardes through the letter Samech — ס  (S), which stands for Sōd, or the hidden, secret dimension of the Pardes. And so, he could see what others could not. Feel it, and know it with his heart as well as his mind.

He, I must say, is not running for President of the United States this year. He was, you may recall, martyred by the Romans.


—mira z amiras


abraham and the idols…digging a little deeper

Well, I grew up with this story—of course the way my Father told it to me. And my teammates, Josh and Sam grew up with it the way their Father told it. And the stories, are close but with significant differences. How do we depict it in our movie where we need it? You probably heard it the Josh and Sam way. Here’s mine first:

Abram, of course, grew up in Ur—the Sumerian pilgrimage town devoted to the Moon God Nammu/Sin. His Father, Terach made idols (the name ‘Terach’ essentially meaning Moon worshipper). The story goes—one day Terach was heading out to market, and asked little Abram to watch the shop. Abram starting playing with the idols, and oops—he broke one. He knew he’d get into trouble for it, and as a result, kept playing and smashed them all. When Terach came home, he of course was horrified.

“What happened?” he asked?

“They started fighting,” the precocious boy said. The gods, after all, were known for their fierce tempers and competitive spirit.

“How could they start fighting if they’re merely made of clay?” Terach said, not having any of it.

And there’s the ‘Aha!” moment for Abraham. That idols could not be gods. And that a unified single principle of God superseded them all. A lovely Just-So story.

Josh and Sam (and probably you) grew up with Abraham smashing the idols on purpose, knowing already that they were false. Still a Just-So story. But I don’t like it. It’s a little too Taliban smashing the ancient Buddhas carved into the mountainside at Bamiyan, Afghanistan. I love Abraham, and I don’t want him being a sociopathic zealot as a child. I’d much rather he discover something transcendent and filled with wonder. It matters.

In other words, I prefer my Father’s telling to yours. And as you know, the movie we’re making honors my Father, so that’s that.

So okay. We’re making a movie, right? An animation. How do we depict this story with few words, and only a few seconds to spare. Can it even be done?

I picture Terach’s shop as a kind of souvenir shop for pilgrims. They can purchase statues and figurines for their altar niches at home, for prayer and meditation. Good. But which gods? Was it only Sin/Nammu or the others as well? And around 2500 BCE what did the gods look like in what we now call southern Iraq? I can picture just Nammu in the shop: very ‘Being John Malkovich’, with all the fighting Moon Gods exactly the same. Is that, perhaps de trop?

I consulted with one of my favorite archaeologists about such questions, and we talked possibilities. Including the business strategies of souvenir shops at pilgrimage sites. We decided that if Terach was a good businessman, he’d have had a number of popular gods for sale in his shop.

And what did they look like? Funny you should ask. In that period, the gods were depicted primarily sitting down, while petitioners and worshippers stood. The gods remained on their thrones. Their eyes and ears were oversized because gods see and hear it all. Their eyes were inset with lapis lazuli—sparkling, bright and the best kind of blue. Upon their heads were markers of their specialties. And Nammu/Sin had the crescent moon upon his head, with the sun disk in the center.

Think of it. Abram playing He-Man and Skeletor with his Father’s idols as they sit upon their thrones. Easy to see how he found the gods unlikely sources of power, rage, and authority if they never even stood up.

I’m not sure we need the scene, but I think we do. Either way, it’s taking us on a journey revisiting a beloved old tale that I’m taking both more seriously these days and less so as well.

—Mira Z Amiras

the day before creation Abba

josh captures the spirit of the commie-pinko Jewish atheist grandpa


The perks of revisiting the storyboard of The Day Before Creation is that surprising new folk have started to inhabit the landscape, if only in our dreams.  In this way, the spirit of my union-organizing rabble-rousing grandfather entered our script, if only for a moment, formless except for his cantankerous character. He had what my father-in-law called “lots of principles and no dough.” Yakov Kimchi —anglicized when he arrived in America to Jack Camhi— from Manastir (that’s what the local Sephardim called it even long after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire). After the fall in 1912, the town came under the jurisdiction of Yugoslavia, and now it’s part of Macedonia. Manastir, like my grandfather, got a name update. The town is now called Bitola.  Maybe you’ve been there. Why go on and on about the town?  Manastir was a diplomatic town, also called ‘the city of consuls.’ And I think it likely that this influenced my grandfather’s notions of diplomacy, equality, and fairness. He carried the woes and injustices of the world on his shoulders, even at the Sephardi kehila in Los Angeles, when he finally moved even further west.  He did refuse, it should be noted, to grow the glorious beard that Josh depicts above because it would have grown in red.  And if someone was going to call him a ‘red’ he wanted it to be for the right reasons.

—Mira Z Amiras



the day before creation Abba

my dad always said—

February 2016


Met with the Foundation of the Jewish Federation of the East Bay, and all I can say is— I admire my dad more than ever for his ability to inspire donors to support the causes that fired him up.

Next up: learn from pappa!

This is not my forte.  So if you’re good at fundraising, by all means—come and help out!

I’ve put together a great Proposal.  Now to send it around.  Ideas?

Um, and no.  That’s not a ‘live’ Donate button.  At least not yet. I asked Josh to tryout as an image.  Gives me that warm fuzzy feeling of seeing my dad do his thing.  What do you think? Shall we go for it?

Back to the storyboard! Now with our freshly minted script in hand, it’s time to revisit our storyline and give it a few tweaks here and there.

—mira z amiras

the day before creation


December 2015

The Preview for our movie is now posted and you can see it right here on this, our brand new website, or check it out directly on Vimeo. This is the first we’re letting folks see what we’ve been up to.  After a long time of conjuring…

 We’ll keep you posted about when that will happen. And granted—what we’re showing so far is only Part I — The Question of the את  (ET).  Take a peak.  See what you think. And there’s much much more to come.

With your help and support—something will emerge!

—mira z amiras

the day before creation Seymour Fromer

seek truth without fear

January 2016

Judah Magnes said that.

I was just looking through the website of the Jewish American Hall of Fame, and came upon this photo of my dad with Mel Wacks, Director of the JAHF—presenting this medal to Supreme Court Justice Arther Goldberg.

And it reminded me: be brave.

Here we were,  just thinking we were going to get back into the studio at EARPRINT and finish up recording the full narration of The Day Before Creation, and to work on the SFX for Part I.

But no—someone had a better idea. and you can bet it wasn’t me.

Why not be a little braver with the script?

And I thought about my dad founding the Magnes Museum —now known as the Magnes Collection of the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley… and, well—the point being:

Be brave.  Or at least a little braver. Bravery, it turns out, is sometimes very much  a team sport.  And Josh B brought in Josh A to hold my feet to the fire. And make me go places in the script I did not want to go.  I mean—before you know it, we could end up with a real movie…

And so, with the help of  A+B, we set out with another revision of our tale—and it just gets better and more surprising. I feel like I’ve revisited the script ten million times at this point.  My daughter Rayna Savrosa—also on our team, assures me that scripts change like this all the way through the production. And sometimes even in post.

But here’s the thing. Each time I visit and revisit the script, something new emerges.  Guess I shouldn’t be surprised at that.

Seek truth without fear. That’s where the script is going…

—mira z amiras