Stephen Horenstein
Music, Arts and Society

Near October

"Jerusalem Clouds" (courtesy, Getty Images)
'Jerusalem Clouds' (courtesy, Getty Images)

Jerusalem has an uncanny way of telegraphing winter.  As if by magic, huge supersonic white clouds appear and disappear, the air cools and winter arrives.  At 3 a.m. Jerusalem’s silence is a magical combination of elements.  Even the distant cars sound like bubbling brooks. Even at the cusp of our horrific corona “closure” other worlds open.  For a minute it’s possible to forget our plight and enter into awe and wonder of what Jerusalem’s fall/winter brings us:  the shift of seasons is a magical clockwork, where time simultaneously moves at an insane pace while plodding along at its customary gait, similar to what Kafka described as HIS two internal clocks, one ticking its normal pace and the other racing frantically.  All this is announcing that we are near October.  3 am brings us other gifts.  It is a time of wonder and repose, on the cusp of morning prayer.  The cool mountain air strokes our skin like a refreshing vitalizing drink signaling a seismic shift in our existence. “I caught this morning’s minyan, kingdom of daylight’s dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon”…” were Gerard Manley Hopkins’ epic words alluding to this kind of moment.  The new-born sky fires the imagination, cooling the still doldrums of deep summer, leaving nightly dew on our souls, transporting us to a mystic bazaar, a cornucopia of dream-filled early morning slumber.  Who can resist such beauty? Even the most vehement epikoros will stop and thankfully bless the expanse of sky, billowing clouds passing in droves, each one different from the other: tough, resilient, graceful.  Their soft murmers are an ocean of whispers that grace our city of wonder.  Those of us who are romantics at heart have a “field day” at this shift of perspective.  Cameras cannot do this time and place justice in capturing Jerusalem’s sheer beauty and mystery, like the distant passing of wind chimes awoken from night’s slumber they are illusive.  Even in these foreboding times, when the earth we stand on shakes beneath our feet, all seems insignificant along side of God’s eternal message of awe and wonder.  This is much more than a “message to Garcia”.

Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Heschel (courtesy)

Once in college I saw a lecture poster entitled Who is Man, including a photo of a bearded wise-looking man whose fiery eyes were intriguing.  I went to the lecture and sat mesmerized for over an hour. That man was the late Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.  My soul awoke from my “slumber” after having been detached from its center for some years; those moments carried me away to another time and place, much as this epic Jerusalem early fall morning also does.

A painter once described an apocalyptic scene: he was standing on a cliff near Seattle, looking hundreds of meters into a valley with a distant lone shepherd tending his flock.  The scene was graced by extensive fog.  The man was speechless and shocked at his feeling of sheer insignificance in the midst of the grandeur.  For his remaining days he painted that one scene in different colors and dispositions.  That man was Mark Rothko.

Mark Rothko, “Yellow Over Purple” , 1958 (courtesy)

Once scholar/writer Gershom Scholem spoke of the apocalyptic sting of Hebrew words, each one bringing us centuries back, as though they were links on a chain, both solid and flexible.  We live in a land of apocalyptic sting–especially in the blessed near-October early mornings.

The awe and wonder of early Jerusalem morning leaves us speechless.  In these moments, I curse the fridge, electric lights and annoying mechanical humming, for they are foreign to this timeless beauty.  To step into the early morning air is to stumble into our own apocalyptic scene, shaking us out of doldrums, out of deafness and blindness, allowing us to momentarily forget our woes and worries.  We are able to change perspective.  The scene is more enticing than any news broadcast, for its quiet beauty is louder than any passing fancy, any brash mirage that inundates our time and very being.

In “near October” we suddenly can deep breathe the onset of early Fall.  We can relieve ourselves from scorched earth and the foreboding creatures of our own making.  The clean distant star-points suddenly appear as if moving backwards into night.  Like tiny pendulums they swing back and forth, designating a concurrence of past, present and future, too much for words, a scene pregnant with timeless music.  We should feel blessed on such an early near-October morning.  Even though we are tongue-tied we should cry out! We should give thanks that we are witnesses to this cornucopia of timeless wonder.

Dawn is breaking.  Another day. New numbers. New cases.  We cannot forget. We cannot remember. We are both awake and in a blessed day-dream: our saving grace on this one particular near-October morning.

“Breaking the Walls”, composed by the author.  Beyond time and place.

About the Author
Stephen Horenstein is a composer, researcher and educator. His repertoire of musical works has been performed and recorded worldwide. He has been a recipient of the Israel Prime Minister's Prize for Composers and the National Endowment of the Arts (USA). His teaching has included Bennington College, Brandeis University, Tel Aviv University, Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance; residencies at Stanford University, York University, California Institute of the Arts, and others. He is Founder and Director of the Jerusalem Institute of Contemporary Music, established in 1988 to bring the music of our time to a wider audience.
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