All posts by info@zackhoffman.com

Zack Hoffman (Writer/Actor/Voice), Welcomes you to his website. Among his many credits Zack has performed with Jet City Improv, the LA Connection, Taproot Theatre Improv and Public Nuisance. For over 30 years Zack has been lending his acting skills and voice to stage, films, cartoons and commercials. He started out as a singing waiter at Miceli’s restaurants but soon began dubbing Spanish Soap Operas into English at Paramount Recording Studios in Hollywood and hasn’t looked back since. In 1984, Zack became the voice of Zartan on GI Joe: The Real American Hero, a role that is still remembered by his fans. Occasionally Zack will step out in front of the camera as he did in films like “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” and “Untraceable”, or television show like “Highway to Heaven” and “The Fugitive”. He also got the privilege of being part of the Encarta Learning Language program for Microsoft creating the character Jack Butterfield. The interactive program was a big success in China and Japan.

The Week of Tiferet

The Week of Tiferet

The third week of the Omer is in Tiferet, the heart space.  Each day the meditations, realizations and conversation weave their way through me as I walk further into the desert.  The passing of souls and the pain of others bring me to tears this week.  I watch energy move.  I am grateful.

I light a candle and focus on the unspeakable name of God.  Yod Hey Vav Hey.   I breath into the heart space.  Nothing is perfect in meditation.  The only thing that has to be done is showing up and breathing.  All you need is the willingness to sit.  Sit in silence.  Sit and contemplate.  Sit and watch the inner mind movie play out in your head.  Sit and wait for the name of God to come back.  Sit and focus again.  Sit and the heart space lights up.  Yod Hey Vav Hey.

Selfcare makes my heart space lights up.  Sleep, sex, energy, and food challenge me.  There is no quick fix. I give myself the gift of going to see my massage therapist.  She moves the energies stuck in my body.  We heal ourselves and we heal each other.  I discover the little things are the big things.  Perfection is at times nothing more than sharing pizza and the NFL draft.   I show up for friends, I am hugged and greeted by smile.  People’s honesty brings tears to my eyes.  There is laughter and sorrow and I am in the middle of the boat.

The silhouette of Adonai can be seen in everyone.  Tselem is the Hebrew word for silhouette. Yod Hey Vav Hey.  Stack the letters on top of one another.  Take the Yod place it over the Hey, then the Vav and then over the other Hey.  It becomes person-like in form.  Tselem, the silhouette. The Yod is where the head is, the Hey is where the arms and shoulders are, the Vav is where the spine is, and the second Hey is where the legs and pelvis are.  My challenge was that I did not see people as the representation of the Tselem of Adonai but what my judgmental mind labeled them.  I am reminded to label everyone Yod Hey Vav Hey.

 

The music again was a joyous journey.  A deeper search further away from Mitzrayim.

Playlist for the week

Day 15.  Chesed in Tiferet.  Love Alive by Heart

(a beautiful message for compassion keeping my heart open)

Day 16.  Guevara in Tiferet.  Heart With No Companion by Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem

(the polarities of Leonard Cohen’s lyrics “with a heart so vast and shattered, it will reach you anywhere”)

Day 17. Tiferet in Tiferet.  This Little Light of Mine by Sam Cooke

(this song lights up my heart space)

Day 18. Netzach in Tiferet.  Love Vibration by Josh Rouse

(new music find, manifesting the vibrations of love)

Day 19.  Hod in Tiferet.  Dance Me To the End of Love by Madeleine Peyroux

(balance and imbalance is the dance we do.  My favorite cover of Leonard Cohen’s song)

Day 20. Yesod in Tiferet.  Yes We Can Can by Allen Toussaint

(bringing Compassion to all parts of the world and me)

Day 21. Malchut in Tiferet.  A Place in the World by Mary Chapin Carpenter

(walking in the desert, using my feet, looking for a place in the world)

What did you find?

Zack Hoffman 2017

The Week of Guevara

 

“We become better able to appreciate that our negative judgements keeps forms rigid.  Blessing allows flexibility.”  from “A Journey of Awakening” by Rabbi Ted Falcon.

This week I was challenged by my emotions.  Through it all life demonstrated friendship, family and gratitude.  I was humbled and took a risk.   This week in Guevara.

The desert is a hard place to be.  Once I get there I want it to be my home.  I cannot put down a structure in the sand.  I have to be ready to put my bedroll on my back and move.  Move like the light of the sefirot move through my body.   It is never easy.  I stood with all my broken parts.  I ran for cover, for numbness, for a chance not to feel my emotions, but they stood strong, not in judgement but in unity.  The energy moves through me.

This year I prepare to be unprepared.  More things are place in the desert.  I empty my life into the sand.  People, work, possessions, relationships, memories.   Initially I wanted to be anyone else but me.   The journey to wholeness is bringing parts of myself to connect human to human.

Stacks of headshots, tapes and cassettes and videos and mp3s.  Looking at all those things, pieces, places, parts of me I toss it all into the desert and I’m afraid to walk away.  It was a long journey and now I am ready to leave it in the desert.   Lovers would come and go from my life.  We all left unfulfilled.  I look at the judgment and negativity, it brings me pain.  I look at the grace I was given many years ago and it gives me hope.

I continue to find music to accompany me on this journey.  Pieces I have heard many time, some surprising me and new music I heard only this week.  I will be ready to dance.

 

Playlist for the Week of Guevara

 

Day 8.  Chesed in Guevara.  I Got a Feeling by the Beatles

(I struggle with my feelings as the Beatles struggled when they wrote this song)

Day 9.  Guevara in Guevara.  Sweet Emotion by Aerosmith

(allowing the energies of my emotions to arrive)

Day 10. Tiferet in Guevara.  Unchain my Heart by Ray Charles

(moving through my feelings in the heart space)

Day 11. Netzach in Guevara.  Good Vibrations by The Beach Boys

(the vibrations of emotions are the focus)

Day 12.  Hod in Guevara.  Learning How to Bend by Gary Allan

(negativity keeps me rigid and blessings make me flexible)

Day 13. Yesod in Guevara.  Letting Go by Wings

(accepting the self by letting go)

Day 14. Malchut in Guevara.  I Feel the Earth Move by Carol King

(the energy of bringing heaven and earth together)

 

What sings to you?

Zack Hoffman 2017

The Week of Chesed

Counting the Omer, the week of Chesed

(I am using Rabbi Ted Falcon’s book  “A Journey of Awakening” to count the Omer.  These are my reflections.)

I am challenged.  Stirred and shaken, I am asked to look at the energy of Lovingkindness for the week.  It travels through my body.  I am resistant.  I am asked to leave behind in the desert that which keeps me in slavery.  I am leaving behind my childhood abusers.  I am taking them from my consciousness, my life, my DNA and casting them out into the desert.  I imprison them naked and beaten in cages to perish in the desert.  There is no Lovingkindness.   My heart pounds as I dragged them out into the sand.  I am on the edge of the desert, I have not really left Mitzrayim.  I look back to see Egypt, still stuck, still no peace, still a slave.

I stay with the Omer.  Keep counting.  At times, I feel like a fraud but I keep breathing, keep meditating.  The energy swirling through me, challenging me.  Right shoulder into left shoulder. Then into my heart space.  The pictures of my tormentors shake me at midday.  I’m angry and confused.  I still have not moved deeply into the desert. I am on the skirt again. I am a slave again.  I have not let go of anything.  I am punishing, selfish and retaliatory.  I meditate.  Lovingkindness washes over me.  I awaken.  They are not my tormentors but Children of God.  I slowly walked to the cages and unlock them, give them clothes, water and food.  Show them to a beautiful rich Oasis.  The Oasis of Lovingkindness.  If they are not free I am not free.  The sefirah opens.  A parade of people are set free into the desert.  The Oasis of Lovingkindness waits for them.  Palm trees, shade, camels and goats, dates and fruit.  True abundance.  I watch my mother and father walk across the sand, smiling and waving.  I walk further into the desert.   I breath.  Shalom.

Music finds me.   The flow of energy for me has always had music to it.  I start to compile a playlist, one song for each day.  The wonderful thing about collecting music digitally is that I now have the library of a radio station on my computer.  The music of my youth.  Mostly from 1965 to 1985, but I have managed to keep up with times.  Jazz, rock, country, folk whatever music sings to me.  Now I begin a playlist for my journey.   At the end of the journey I will have a forty-nine-song playlist.

Here is the Playlist for Chesed.

Day 1. Chesed in Chesed…Beginnings by Chicago

(the lyrics “only the beginning of what I want to feel forever” jumped out)

Day 2. Gevurah in Chesed… More Love by Dixie Chicks

(beautiful song with strength, love and polarities)

Day 3. Tiferet in Chesed…Keep me in your Heart by Warren Zevon

(song of surrender and love)

Day 4. Netzach in Chesed… Express Yourself by Charles White and the Watts 103rd St. Band

(creative expression of lovingkindness)

Day 5. Hod in Chesed …Splendor by Tim Moyer

(New music for me.  Found this piece by searching the energy of the sefirah)

Day 6. Yesod in Chesed… Get Together by The Youngbloods

(My awakening was in the sixties)

Day 7. Malchut in Chesed… Higher Ground by Stevie Wonder

(Song of the sefirah that grounds me)

 

What music sings to you? What is your playlist?

Zack Hoffman    2017

 

 

Counting the Omer

Counting the Omer

“The tight or stuck places for which Mitzrayim (Egypt) is a metaphor exist within the self, to be discovered and released as we grow.  Spiritual awakening requires releasing ourselves from our inner enslavement to old patterns, old self-definitions, old beliefs.”

Rabbi Ted Falcon from “A Journey of Awakening”

I begin seven weeks of counting the Omer.  Meditating on the energies on the Kabbalistic tree of Life.  A tradition.  A ritual.  A companion to Passover.  Spiritually we have escaped Egypt, or Mitzrayim.  A place of stuckness.  Now we are in the desert.  For seven weeks, I will cross the desert to the promised land of freedom.  What do I bring with me?  What will I leave behind in the desert?  Will I leave behind stubbornness and procrastination?  Will I take with me an open heart?  I prepare, I write and still I am confused.  Slavery can be deceiving, like an old pair of slippers that are worn and eaten away, the fit is still comfortable, still familiar.  Freedom is the unknown, places that open the hole in the middle of my chest.  Do I brave the fear or cling to what is familiar but useless?

I want to leave behind loneliness, pack it up and bury it in the sand.  Pack up the addict that lurks in the shadows and whispers in my ear as sadness whispers in the other.  I will be surprised.  I will pack something I think I need and it will have to go.  I will rush back and uncover something I buried and take it with me again.  I will meditate on being human.  I will meditate on being free.  I will trudge the desert like my ancestors before me.

I will count the sheaves one at a time.  One sefriot at a time.  One meditation at a time. Watch the energy move through the tree of life.   Watch the energy move in and out of my body and breath.   I am familiar with that.  I am ready.  I have been here before.

Zack Hoffman 2017

 

Latkes as Love

My grandmother’s kitchen always felt safe.   If I was Quasimodo, I would not need to ring the bell in church steeple and yell “Sanctuary!”.  Sanctuary for me was sitting in a red vinyl chair in my grandmother’s kitchen on Glengary Avenue in Toronto.  My grandmother’s meals were always nurturing.  When I need comfort I immediately think of my grandmother’s meals.  The meal I still remember as being pure comfort was a small bowl of Lipton’s chicken noodle soup, followed by some green beans, followed by potato latkes.  There is no emptiness that that meal will not fill.  Not a permanent fix but for that moment in time; I am full, I am safe, I am loved.

I lived in Los Angeles but at the end of the summer I would usually fly to Toronto and spend six weeks with my grandmother.  Usually the six weeks before school started.    On arriving at my grandmother’s house there would be latkes and baked rice pudding.  All the unhappiness of the past ten months would melt away in the safety of my Grandmother’s kitchen and an outpouring of food.

Sometimes after coming in from playing in the park, I would be met by a large stack of potatoes and a peeler.  My Grandmother preparing rice pudding or veranchicas, she needed help with the potatoes.  Then I was given the rectangular metal grater and was instructed to “shraboon” (the Yiddish word for grate).   I would grate the potatoes and try not to add too much of my knuckle skin or blood.

At the ripe old age of 19, standing in my grandmother’s kitchen, I had a moment of clarity.  If I wanted to have latkes more than the once a year I came to Toronto I was going to have to make them for myself.   I turned to my grandmother was drinking a cup of Red Rose tea and said, “Granny can you give me the recipe for latkes?”  My grandmother looked at me and she said, “There’s no recipe?  I will make them and you can watch me.”  We prepared some potatoes and then she turned to me, smiled and said “Sharboon!”.  There were no measuring tools, no cups or teaspoons.  Breadcrumbs were measured by the handfuls, and the same hand was used to measure out a small mounds of pepper and salt in the middle of my grandmother’s hand.   She separated the egg yokes and beat the whites so when the eggs were added to the potato mixture it would make it all fluffier.  I admit in my recipe I have dropped the ball with beating the egg whites and I have improved on the grating of the potatoes by using my Cuisinart mini food processor.  I push a button that says “chop” and say “Shraboon!”.

In a few days it will Passover.  I love this holiday.  The message of freedom from bondage. That we were slaves and live in Egypt (Mitzryim) which literally means “a place of stuckness”.  Where do I now still live in slavery?  Am I ready to pack up and walk toward freedom?  What do I leave behind?  What do I take with me?   I will always pack a few potatoes, some eggs, onion, breadcrumbs and my Grandmother’s love.

There is a Universal Spirituality  Seder with Rabbi Ted Falcon on Wednesday April 12th.  One of my favorite things to do.  There is a link in case you want to join me and we can break matzo together.

Happy Passover.

March 28th 2017

I am sitting at the kitchen table of my cousin’s home in Nanoose Bay, British Columbia watching Spring and Winter battle for dominance through the wind and clouds.

Tomorrow is my 67th Birthday.  It is quiet and reflective. No wild party.  No DJ is being hired so I can rock out to Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels singing “Devil with the Blue Dress”.  It will come and go and hopefully there will be no blazing cake that might need a fire extinguisher.   Perhaps a corned beef on rye!  Strange now that the gift I think of giving myself is a professional hair trimmer for the hair growing uncontrollably around my ears.  These are the things I think about, that and how long will me knees last me playing “old man” tennis.

Yesterday I found an old book of poems.  One I had loved.  One I had lost.  I found “Selected Poems from 1956 to 1968” by Leonard Cohen.   Out of print, it had disappeared from my life over a decade ago.  It was given to me by a woman who I loved deeply when I was 19 years old.  My own fears, insecurity and the fact she lived 3000 miles away broke us apart.  I was not very good at carrying on a friendship with those I had loved, but I did carry that book with me for over thirty years.  From apartment to apartment, across borders and state lines, on planes and in cars.  Where ever I landed and had a bookshelf it would sit.

Then it was lost, by time or carelessness or by some absent minded borrower.  Yesterday I found it again.  On a dusty shelf of a large Thrift Store in downtown Parksville.  It flew into my hand and I was out the door after paying on three dollars for my birthday treasure.  The cover was worn and faded, just as I remembered it.

My cousin said to me, “It is bashert!”.  In Yiddish it means my destiny or fate.

I don’t know about that but it was good to visit with my old friend Leonard Cohen, who I only met on the pages of this book.  He inspired me to write poetry, to risk, to talk honestly.  I mourned his death last year.  Thank you Leonard for your music and your words.  And thank you to the Love who put the book in my hands so many years ago.

Zack Hoffman 2017

Having It Out With God

(note: I read this piece at our Writer’s Readout in March.  We only have 5 minutes to read so I wanted to put the completed writing up.)

 

Having it out with God.

I am crawling out of my skin.  I have been sober for 4 months and now there is no block…no buffer…no end to my pain.  I understand the reason but reason doesn’t remove the pain.  I have been numb for 20 years and now I am raw.   I turn to my therapist, we talk but I am still in pain.  It is then I go to see my spiritual advisor.  Everyone should have a spiritual advisor.  Mine has tattoos, wears a leather jacket, used to deal heroin, rides a motorcycle.  Usually these things would scare me but he has a light in his eyes.  A kind of light I want.  He talks about serenity and breathing.  He listens to me when I speak.  Except I don’t speak, I unload.

He smiles, takes a deep breath and says, “You need help, and unfortunately it’s more help than I can give you.   You need to ask someone else for help.”

Who do I ask?

“You are going to have to ask God for help.”

And I felt like the guy on a rope hanging off a cliff.  The guy is screaming “help me! help me!” and he hears a voice, “Yes my child, I am God I will help you”

“Help me God”

“Yes my child .,.just let go of the rope”

( a long pause)

Is there anybody else up there?

Not God. Not that bullshit.  They tried to sell me God, when I was a child but after a while, after disappointment, after fear, after betrayal, after feeling like a thunderbolt was being thrown in my general direction on a daily basis, after all of it, I look up, I was on my knees looking up for God, kneeling by my bed needy, hopeful, discouraged, and I looked up and I saw only ceiling. There was no God. And now you tell me I have to seek God for help.  He’s not up there! And if he is he doesn’t give a shit about me. No not God. Not the God that sent the Laughing man and Mr. Cinnamon. No Way!

My spiritual advisor takes another deep breath, he looks at me and he said, “you need to go somewhere. You need to go somewhere deserted.  A mountain, a Valley, a desert.   Somewhere with space, somewhere where you can be alone, just you and God, and then you can have it out with God once and for all.  You can yell scream kick punch do whatever you want.   But when you’re finished you have to listen to what God has to say.”

Well that sounded good to me. Me against God. Mano-a-deity. Me against the capital italics Him.  Me against the myth that there actually is something out there.

So I found a mountain and I got a backpack. And I started to prepare myself. Started to get ready for a 10 round no holds barred winner take all battle with the supreme being.

Cue the Rocky music and the training montage.  Now it’s an out of shape Jewish Rocky, and I have Mick with me.  He’s training me to be an atheist. And I am doing sit-ups with the works of Voltaire and the Communist manifesto strapped to my chest.

I am memorizing quotes like:

“Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime; give a man religion and he will die praying for a fish.”

I grunt and snarl as the training heats up.  I start to jog up the mountain with quotes from Bernard Shaw and Mark Twain and Gene Roddenberry.  And I keep moving up the mountain slowly methodically waiting for a chance to knock God on his eternal ass.   Because I was pissed.  All the events in my life where I felt abandoned and betrayed flickered one after another like an illuminated scrapbook.  I was ready to confront this God of theirs.   I am ready, I am abstinent, I am clear, I am clean.  I have nothing but a backpack and I take that to the top of the mountain.

It is quiet and the clouds roll through the top of the mountain like fog.

In a clearing I see the ring.

I climb in.

Start to dance.

Show off a few moves with a couple of quotes about the nonexistence of the supreme Being.  I’m getting myself pumped up I am ready.

The microphone drops from the sky and the announcers voice begins, “Ladies and Gentlemen. Beings and creatures. All life on the planet. We are here tonight for 10 round battle for self-determination. For a final solution. For an answer to “is there or isn’t there”.  For the Enlightenment of the soul. Let’s introduce our fighters.   Let’s meet the challenger first. In this corner. Masticator, Hunter gatherer, prone to fits of depression, anger, low self-esteem, warlike behavior, selfishness, self-indulgence, masturbation fornication defecation a flesh bag of meat, once exiled from the Garden of Eden it’s the one the only man.

My hands fly in the air I dance. Moving back and forth in the ring there is silence. A wind howls through the mountains. Nothingness. Emptiness. Silence. I stopped dancing and move back to the corner and wait.

The announcer speaks again,

“And in this corner the being who is supreme. The spark of all life. Holy one of being. His name has echoed through the world in 100 different languages. Energy of prayer. Praise for the ruler of all rulers. Mother. Father. Brother. Sister. Friend. Beloved. The Clear Channel of all energy.  The great creator.  The universal presence. The one, the only God.”

Voices begin singing, chanting. Choruses of Ohmmm and Ahmmm and shalom fill my ears.  A thousand birds fly overhead singing praise, and the animals are shouting and roaring.   Crackling lightning and thunder, the clouds part and the sun shines.  Then there is an eerie silence.  The clouds again begin to move across the mountain top.

I looked across the ring and I could almost see a figure but no, there was nothing there. There was a light. And the light seemed to move. There were no referees. No ring girls in bikinis carrying signs. No one was in my corner or in the Deity’s corner either, just the light shifted back and forth and suddenly there was a bell.  A clear Bell, the bell I was waiting for.  I saw nothing from the other corner so moved in that direction, the direction of the fog and light.  I move from my corner and started to raise my fist, raise my fist to smack God right into oblivion.  In a millisecond I was hit,  hit with a wave.  A wave that picked me up like a tsunami.  A wave that exploded across my whole body and I was powerless, motionless, frozen and in slow motion I started to fall forward toward the mat.  I’m falling forward but I heard a sound, a sound that engulfs me as I continued to fall. I slam against the mat and hear a word. It was clear and distinct and overwhelming.  The word was “Love”.

It was an instant but I am down and I am out .  I lay on the ground surrounded by silence.   I don’t know how long I was out, the ring had disappeared there was only the mountain and my backpack.  My consciousness came back and all I could do was honor the promise that I made.  I closed my eyes and I listened.  All I could hear was the echoing in my head, one word rattling around that had brought me to my knees, took me down to the mat, all I could hear was “love”.

I have encountered God on my terms and now I must walk down the mountain.  Walk down the mountain and surrender one foot in front of the other.  The war is over and I have lost.  All I can do is surrender to an open heart, to risk, to reach, to work, to fail, to succeed one foot in front of the other.
The battle has not scarred me.

I do not limp away from God after the confrontation head hung and feet shuffling.

The encounter doesn’t take my pride, my esteem, my worth, my joy.

I am not possessed, wildly shouting and speaking in tongues.

The encounter doesn’t ruin me, shame me, humiliate me.

I do not walk away from God bloodied or bruised.

I do not walk away from God broken or disabled.

I do not walk away from God with clenched fists or a broken heart.

I do not walk away from God.

I walk away with God.

Zack Hoffman 2017

Smoking While Sober

Smoking While Sober

For me, the first addiction was cigarettes.  Nicotine.  I was sixteen years old when I started in earnest.  Inhaling the smoke, stuffing down the feelings even then at 16.  The brand I started with was True cigarettes.  They were trendy cigarettes in the late 60’s. True had a plastic tip.  My best friend smoked Tareyton which had the charcoal filter.  My mother smoked Marlboro Gold 100’s in the crush proof pack.  I know that because I used to steal them.  I have smoked pretty much everything in the tobacco world.  From Shermans and the French Gauloises to Drum, Dutch roll your own shag tobacco and the worst being Silons from Israel.  Silon means “jet” in Hebrew and you could get ten packs of Silon a week on the kibbutz.   Non-filtered tobacco that would get you coughing you lungs out in no time at all.   At the end of my smoking career I was smoking Camel Lights filtered in a crush proof pack.

“Switching seats on the Titanic” is a phrase you hear a lot in recovery programs. What it means is there are primary and secondary addictions.  If you’re abstaining from alcohol another addiction will usually raise its ugly head.   Like the game Whack-a-mole.  Whack!  After drugs and alcohol it was smoking.  Whack!  When I first got sober I was probably smoking between 10 and 15 cigarettes a day.  Almost a pack but not quite.  By the time I have had nine months of sobriety I was closing in on two packs a day.  This was insane because I use my voice to make my living.

When I got sober I thought a lot of things would immediately happen which didn’t.  I thought I would get a new girlfriend, large sums of money, my career in show business would return.  I got none of that.  What I got was clarity. “What a rook!” I thought to myself.  I get clarity.  I felt like I had somehow been cheated.  I got clarity, showing me that I make my living with my voice and either I want to use my voice for the rest of my life or I’m full of crap.  I can continue smoking and ruining my voice and lungs or I can see smoking for what it is, a secondary addiction.  At a year and a half into my sobriety I quit smoking.  The clarity is that I can apply the same tools I used to keep me off drugs and alcohol.

Anyone can quit smoking.  It’s not easy but it is simple.  Once you have gone 72 hours without nicotine the physical addiction is gone. The rest is all mental.   My ritual in the morning for the past year and a half was to get down on my knees and ask God to relieve me from the obsession of alcohol, marijuana and cocaine.  I didn’t think God would mind if I added one more thing, which I did.  “Dear God. Please help me live this day without drugs alcohol and tobacco. Your will not mine be done.”  That was the prayer but then I needed action. I was taught that, “Faith without works is dead”.   I went to work.  I did two things right away.  I bought organic cinnamon sticks.  I needed something to handle the oral and tactile part of smoking.  Cinnamon sticks filled the bill.   They were the size and shape of cigarettes and you can put them in your mouth, and because they are hollow and you can take a drag on them just like a cigarette.  You could hold them between your fingers exactly like you did with the cigarette.  This works for the physical and tactical manifestation of the cigarette.

The second thing I did was get a large glass jar.  I was spending five dollars a day on cigarettes so I put five dollars a day in the jar.  Here was the deal that I made with myself.   If I fell off the wagon and went back to smoking cigarettes then I would have to toss a match into the jar and burn up all that money because that’s what I was doing by smoking: burning up money.  Within two weeks the jar was cram jammed with a lot of cash.   Now in the 12 step program I was working you got rewarded.   You got chips for 30, 60 and 90 days of abstinence.  I was going to use that glass jar and all that cash to create a rewards system too.  I would buy something for myself at 30, 60 and 90 days and stick the receipt in the glass jar.  I would get something nicer for six months and 9 months.   When I had a year without smoking I would take myself on a vacation.   At 30 days I bought a very thick beautiful plush terrycloth bathrobe, and I put the receipt in the jar along with the remaining money.  At 60 days high end Cologne and at 90 days shirts and slacks.  At six months I put a new sound system in my car.   When I had a year off cigarettes I took a first-class vacation to Palm Springs California.

It wasn’t always easy but it was enlightening.  At 30 days off of cigarettes I was driving a friend to the airport.  On the way back I was listening to Stevie Wonder’s song “Heaven Is Ten Zillion Light Years Away”.  About a minute into the song I was sobbing.  It’s a good song but I think it had more to do with the fact that I had spent years stuffing my feeling and now they were surfacing.  At times all it needed was a little push by Stevie Wonder.

Another time I was upset because someone wasn’t doing what I wanted them to do.  Imagine that!  I was angry.  Later that evening I was with my friend Jan (who smoked) and I said to her, “How many cigarettes do you have on you?”  Not if I could have one but how many because I need to know if I need to stop and get a carton because I was still angry and wanted to smoke that anger away.  That was the kind of addict I was.  A carton!  Her answer was “three” and I had a moment of clarity.  There it is again “Clarity”.  It wasn’t about the cigarettes, it was about the fact I was spiritually unfit.  I was angry, resentful, I was powerless and I wanted to stuff my feelings.  Then I saw cigarettes, not as a nicotine delivery device but a spiritual thermometer.  I was able to stop and take my temperature.  To breath and turn it over.  To let go and let Jan have her cigarettes.

One foot in front of the other, one breath at a time, I have walked into a place of self-care.   The good news is that you get your feelings back, the bad news is that you get your feelings back.  These feelings of joy and anger, peace and jealousy, love and fear at times feel like a rollercoaster ride. The alternative is numbness.  I willingly purchase another ticket for the next ride.

 

Zack Hoffman 2017

There Are No Jewish Cowboys

There Are No Jewish Cowboys

 

I love westerns.  When I was a kid, that was all that was on television.  Westerns!

My Grandfather and I used to watch westerns together all the time.  I loved my Grandfather, my mother’s father.  He passed away when I was eleven.  That was a time when I really could have benefitted from him being around.  But such is life.  Grandpa took me to see my first western on the big screen.  I was seven or eight and we went to see “Rio Bravo” at the Vaughn Theatre in Toronto.  A John Wayne western with Ricky Nelson, Ward Bond, Walter Brennan, Angie Dickenson and Dean Martin as Dude, a drunken deputy that was trying to get sober.   And with all the time we spent sitting watching and cheering those western, horse operas, shootem ups when I was a kid I had the realization of this one important fact…there are no Jewish cowboys.  There was never a synagogue under siege that John Wayne had to rescue, round up a posse and “save the Torah”.   I never saw an episode of the Lone Ranger when the masked man looked down on some travelers and said “Tonto who are they?”

“Them Jews Kemosabe, you think we should help them?”

“I don’t think so Tonto, I might be a masked man that wears pastels and hangs out with an Indian, but add the Jews to that mix and I might really be in trouble.”

The Jews weren’t on the Ponderosa with Little Joe and Hoss, Jews didn’t carry around Paladin’s card of “Have Gun Will Travel”, Boot Hill’s graves never bore a Star of David and every bar that Maverick gambled in was restricted.  Yet my grandfather loved westerns and so did I.   And by a funny twist of fate my grandfather’s son, my uncle Albert Zlatkis (or Ab as I called him), spent over half his life in Houston Texas.  Home of real cowboys, Texas rangers that wore badges and Beef “it’s what’s for dinner”.

My uncle is Albert Zlatkis.  He was famous.  He was a scientist not a cowboy but he was famous.  He helped develop Gas Chromatography.  But bigger than that he worked to bring scientist from all over the world together to share their breakthroughs with Gas Chromatography.  They were called “The Zlatkis Meetings”.  He did that for over 20 years and was given awards for the work he did.  He started out as out of work chemist from Toronto whose friend informed him that they needed research scientists at Shell Oil in Houston Texas.  Later he was then approached by the University of Houston and given a fellowship in the Chemistry Department.

My uncle is important to me for numerous reasons.  I didn’t have a lot of men who showed up in my life in a positive way.   I have a lot of stories.  I am only telling one.   He was my gateway Jew. The original corned beef Jew.  He was the man who taught me about all things Jewish culturally.  Mostly food, humor and music.  He used to walk around singing, “di di di di,”.  I thought he had forgotten the words to some lame Yiddish song.  It wasn’t until years later when I came to Bet Alef Synagogue that I was informed that melody was a nigun, a melody with no words.  After that moment at any service I am at where they start singing a nigun, a big smile appears on my face and I remember Uncle Ab singing a song with no words.

 

He lived in Houston but travel quite intensively for his work.  I visited my Grandmother every summer in Toronto.  If Ab was in town he would pick me up at the airport.  We would head immediately to Mo Panzers deli for corned beef and dilled cucumbers, pickles, kishka with gravy and fresh rye bread.  He would have pastrami and I would have corned beef.    When I hit my bottom with drugs and alcohol it was my uncle who sent me a ticket to Houston so I could be supported by family.  That was January of 1989 and I am forever grateful to my uncle and his family for their support, then and now. My uncle passed away in 1998.  My last memory of my uncle is being in his beloved Houston driving to Flying Pizza and laughing.

 

This is one of my favorite stories of hanging out with my uncle.  When I was in my early twenties I was invited to Houston because my cousin Debbie was getting married.   Much had happened in Houston in the twelve years since I had last visited.   The wedding was during the summer when I was staying with my grandmother in Toronto.   Aside from my clothes, my suitcase was packed with Health Bread bagels and Pearl’s salamis, which was the usual way to pack for a flight from Toronto to Houston.

Houston had something new.   They had a deli.  My uncle took me there directly after I landed at Hobby Airport.  I had an actual corned beef on rye with some white goop on the side of my plate.  “What’s that?” I asked horrified.  “Grits” responded my uncle, “Hominy Grits, they put it on everything here, just think of it as parsley and don’t eat it.”

I remember the corned beef was decent but the barbeque was better.  Houston had a growing Jewish community.  Ab was a member of a reform synagogue.  I was into Hendrix and pot and not necessarily in that order.  My uncle was into “The Barry Sisters” and Manachevitz wine.  The wedding was on Saturday.  There was a family dinner on Thursday night for the out of town guests.  And on Friday night the family went to synagogue to get a blessing by the rabbi before the wedding.  It was a mitzvah to bring the bride and groom up during the service and allow the community to bless their nuptials.  There we were.  Debbie and Craig, my aunt Esther, Uncle Ab the Scientist, and myself.  I was in awe of the ceiling and wall of this magnificent synagogue.  Then out from stage left to the bimah came a man in white robes, with steel grey hair slicked back and coifed, his eyes were cobalt blue.  He had the smile and stature of a used car salesman from Beverly Hills.  He was going to make you an offer you couldn’t refuse.  At that time Judaism to me was “Holocaust bad…corned beef good”.   So I really can’t tell you much about the service in reality, but what I can tell you about was the blessing.   My heart pounded and my eyes widened as I heard the Rabbi give a blessing with a thick Texas drawl.  “Baruch Atoy adonay eluhanu melach ha o lom.  Shehekeyanu ve kemanu lahigeanu lazman ha za.  Amen.”  And when the 150 Texas Jews said “Ahmen” it sounded much more like a revival meeting than any kind of religious service this corned beef Jew had ever attended.   The service continued.  I sat there stunned for ten minutes and finally I leaned into my uncle and whispered “Debbie can’t get Married”

“What?”

I tried again.  “Debbie can’t get married”

I had gotten through this time.

“Why not?” he whispered back.

“Because this Rabbi is obviously not Jewish!”.

We laughed inappropriately in the front row of the synagogue.  We immediately quieted down with an icy glance from Auntie Esther.  It was a good moment.

Somewhere in my Uncle’s DNA was his father’s love for westerns.  In 1979 I got an excited call from my Uncle who told me in no uncertain terms that I had to rush out and see Gene Wilder’s new movie “The Frisco Kid”.  My uncle called it “a Jewish western”.  I think there was part of him that wishes he could have seen it with his father.  I know that after I saw it I wished that my uncle and my grandfather were sitting next to me.

Zack Hoffman 2017

Workshop Poem

In 2004 I attended a local Poetry workshop.   In one of our exercises we were given a piece of art to look at and then write a poem.  We were shown “Japanese Girl With Red Table” by Balthus.   Here is both the poem and the painting.   Who’s art moves you?

 

Meeting Balthus’ Japanese Girl with Red Table for the first time.

 

posed

with her sex exposed

an ancient royal gift

tied up in a silk sash and bow

to be opened or closed

fondled or forgotten

leaning against the pillow

breath held

focused on a tapestry

until the spoken words “thank you”

break her neutrality

like the great exhale

as she humbly

turns to the red table

to pour tea

and cry

 

Zack Hoffman         May 2004