April 28, 2005

Dan ‘Mobius’ Sieradski Interview Comments Off

Who is Dan? Who is Mobius? You have any other personas we should know about?

Dan and Mobius are interchangable and indistinguishable. Mobius is more or less my stagename. I perform as a DJ and MC and post on the Internet under that alias. I also go by MC Lion Lung and Stinky Wizzleteats on rare occassions.

Dan 'Mobius' Sieradski Interview

Where do you live? How did you end up there?

I currently live in Jerusalem. How I wound up here is a kind of long a complicated story.

I was raised in a modern Orthodox Jewish home until around the age of nine when various determining factors brought my parents to the conclusion that Orthodoxy was no longer their bag. At that point I was placed into public school and had little if any relationship with Judaism up until my bar miztvah, which more or less sealed the coffin shut. In high school I started getting heavy into Buddhism and other schools of eastern mysticism. In my explorations I discovered a guru named Bhagavan Das and came to the conclusion that he’d be my guru and I his initiate and thus sought after this character, in the end coming up short in my quest. Two weeks into my first semester in college, though, guess who came strolling into town?

I went and spent two days in a yoga workshop with Bhagavan Das, but at the end of the workshop approached him: “I grew up in a Jewish home and am very uncomfortable with visualizing and intoning the names of different gods. I really dig this stuff, but I just can’t get past the idolatry.” And he replied, “So go be Jewish. It’s the same exact thing, just a different symbol set.” That was Yom Kippur 1998.

A couple of months later, while working with Students For A Free Tibet I was offered an opportunity to meet the Dalai Lama. After meeting him, I ran into my high school teacher who was my philosophy club advisor, and he said, “Dan, you met the Buddha! You can die now!” And that pretty much ended my exploration into Buddhism.

A couple months later, at the prodding of my older sister who’d become “ba’al teshuva” (she returned to Orthodoxy), I was on a plane to Israel. There, the first time around, I went to a yeshiva (an institution of Jewish learning) known as a “black hat factory.” They’re more or less known for cranking out a specific breed of ultraorthodox Jews. The place totally freaked me out and after two months, I came running home with my tail between my legs, but not without picking up a couple of Orthodox superstitious ideologies in the process.

I went back to college, trying to be relatively observant, and took a class in Jewish civilization with a Conservative rabbi who’d ridicule me in front of the class every day for my ill-informed Orthodox beliefs. He basically broke me down, and I more or less entered a severely depressed phase and dropped out of school.

At that point I started exploring occultism and got pretty interested in Crowleyan magick. What I quickly came to realize though is that all Crowleyan magick is based on Kabbalah, and knowing that Kabbalah was the Jewish mystical tradition and that Crowley knew nothing about Judaism, I realized that if I ever really wanted to understand what this stuff was all about, I’d have to learn more about Judaism first.

Soonthereafter I took a job at the JCC in Manhattan, working as their webmaster and auxiliary graphic designer, and took advantage of free classes in Jewish theology and Hebrew. I also started dating a girl who was working towards becoming a Reform rabbi who exposed me to progressive Judaism, opened me up to women rabbis and egalitarian services and the like, and at her suggestion started taking continuing education classes at Hebrew Union College, also in Jewish theology, Jewish texts, and Hebrew.

It was around that time, as I began getting more involved in the local Jewish community in NYC, that I met Jay Michaelson, the editor of Zeek magazine, who suggested to me that I apply for a Dorot fellowship. Jay believed that I was on the right track and that Dorot would help me along in my journey to becoming an educated, actively engaged Jewish person. Dorot is more or less a progressive Jewish organization that takes individuals it perceives of as futural Jewish communal leaders and sends them to Israel for a year to learn Jewish texts, study Hebrew, do social action work in the Israeli community, and attend seminars on subjects like Zionism, modern Jewry, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I applied for the fellowship and somehow managed to get it, quite unexpectedly. And thus I’ve been living in Israel as a Dorot fellow since last July.

I’m a big fan of the your radio show. I’ve been following you since episode 4. What’s up with the Mobius MixDown and Radio AllForPeace?

One night I was hanging out with my friend Sasha (a Bosnian emigre to Israel) and a few of his friends and we were sitting on a staircase somewhere shooting the shit when the subject of music came up. I started going off about Dan The Automator, one of my favorite hip hop producers, and Sasha’s friend Yoav asked me, “How do you know so much about music?” And I said, “Well, I’ve got an enormous music collection and I DJ from time to time.” And he said, “Would you be interested in DJing on a radio station here?” And I said, “Fuck yeah!” Yoav was the chief engineer at a jointly operated Israeli-Palestinian radio station called All For Peace (which broadcasts from Ramallah) at the time and he arranged for me to come in for an interview. A week later I wound up with a one-hour weekly show. I’ve recorded 18 sets of exceptionally ecclectic music thus far, though I’m on hiatus for the next month-and-a-half.

What’s JewSchool?

Jewschool is a Jewishly-themed weblog I initally started for shits and giggles but which has astoundingly grown into the most highly-trafficked Jewish blog on the net. We have 40,000 visitors monthly and an array of notable contributors including Douglas Rushkoff (Coercion, Media Virus), Danya Ruttenberg (Yentl’s Revenge), the Heeb magazine editorial staff, the Atlanta Jewish Life editorial staff, Sarah Lefton (Jewish Fashion Conspiracy), and many, many more. I’m currently in talks to bring a couple of Jewish Suicide Girls on board as well. We’re the Jewish blog everyone loves to hate. We present often radical ideas that deviate from the accepted mainstream position in the Jewish community and incur the wrath of many an anonymous commenter. Hardly anyone actually links to us, but they all read us and talk shit. Despite this fact, we won several Jewish & Israeli Blog Awards, including best group blog and 2nd best overall blog, among others, and we offer more
entertaining content than most.

Tell me about your work with Corner Prophets.

I’ve been working with JDub Records, a non-profit Jewish record label based in New York for a couple of years now. JDub is the outfit which brought the world Matisyahu, the now-famed Hasidic Reggae Supertar.

Right before I came to Israel, JDub produced a concert in Brooklyn called the Unity Sessions which brought Israeli, Palestinian, Jewish and Muslim MCs together on stage for an incredible night of hip hop music. Inspired by this event, I got connected through JDub to a number of the artists who came to the US from Israel for the event, and put together a hiphop collective here in Jerusalem with them.

Mobius Throwin' Down in J-Town

Every month we do a spoken word reading and a freestyle cipher which brings Israelis, Palestinians, and the various immigrant communities as well as visiting American students to perform on stage together, in their native languages. We have a special guest MC and a top Israeli DJ performing at each event, and we invite kids from the local area to step up on the mic and practice their chops. The events have drawn crowds upwards of 300 and it seems to be making a serious dent on the local scene here. Some of the participants recently asked me to join them in launching a record label. Later this year we also intend to send an exhibit of art produced by Israeli street artists to tour the States.

What is the Przysucha hasidic movement?

Przysucha was a school of Hasidic Judaism founded by my great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, The Yid HaKodesh, in Poland in the 1800s. Hasidism is basically what Sufism is to Islam, what Gnosticism is to Christianity, or what Shamanism is to native traditions. It’s a mystical shchool of Judaism which has an extroadinary focus on understanding one’s relationship to divinity and the means by which one perfects themself in order to perfect that relationship. Traditionally, Hasidism is somewhat akin to Eastern mysticism in the sense that one has a guru — their Rebbe — and they devote themselves in service of their Rebbe. Przysucha was a radical departure from this view, in that it focused on the idea of enabling its followers to become gurus unto themselves. Rather than believing that your Rebbe was this high and mighty figure you could never become, the Rebbe (or tzaddik) served as an example of what it was possible for you to be, and worked towards helping you realize your potential. Przysucha had no reservations in criticizing other Hasidic movements which it felt were led by charlatans and called them out on their hypocrisies. Within a matter of years it became the most dominant strain of Hasidic Judaism in Poland. However, because it was so antiauthoritarian and ultimately anarchistic in its views, it posed a serious threat to the more mainstream schools of Hasidic thought, and the movement was eventually toppled and coopted by its opponents.

Where has your research into Jews and drugs led you?

Most recently? The Multidisciplinary Association For Psychedelics Studies came to Israel to pitch a protocol to the Israeli government for using MDMA to treat trauma victims. I spent a week driving around the country with them and facilitated conversations between them and various Rabbis and mystics on the subject of Judaism’s relationship to psychedelics. It’s been a pet project of mine for years. I’m basically trying to establish hard evidence of a shamanic tradition in ancient Judaism and find ways of resurrecting it for the modern era. My belief is that psychedelics can inform our understanding of Jewish theology and ritual, and my hope is to eliminate the stigmas towards drug use in the religious community so that we can address the subject of drug abuse from an informed and rational place. Ultimately I would like to see it regarded as “okay” to use psychedelics ritually, while drawing a clear line between productive spiritual exploration and overt, damaging drug abuse.

The amount of material I’ve found on the subject is staggering, really.

Everything from the use of marijuana in the temple incense and annointing oils, to the mention of opium in Hasidic tales from the middle ages. The book which will be the eventual outcome of this research will cover everything from the shamanic rites of the ancient Israelites through the Israeli rave scene, including conversations with Jewish scholars, chemists, and drug policy reform activists. I expect it to be quite the fetching read.

Have you always been an activist? What have been some of your past ’causes’. How has this directed who you’ve become?

Growing up, for some odd reason, my heroes were Gandhi, JFK and Martin Luther King, Jr. — three men who lost their lives standing up for civil rights. I can’t explain why, but their message seemed to have spoken to me even before I was at an age that I could fully understand the implications of their actions.

Of course this resonance was amplified around the age of 12 when I met some kids from a local anarchist collective who unleashed a barrage of literature upon me that I suppose I would deem responsible for the origins of my political consciousness. Though, again, it wouldn’t be until later in life that I would come to really grok anarchism (and ultimately come to resonate with it), I perceived of it as a social justice movement and was compelled by it from the very beginning, and thus identified as an anarchist without being too precisely sure what
that meant.

Apart from pro-pot legalization marches, however, it wasn’t until my sister joined Students For A Free Tibet in college (while I was beginning my exploration of Buddhism as a sophomore in high school) that I became an activist. Then it was all petitions and protests. By the time I’d entered college myself I’d become very involved in SFT and various other causes I’d been introduced to by the Wetlands Preserve (a night club/social action organization I’d frequent in NYC). At that point I was attending rallies frequently, and had been publishing an underground radical newspaper off my parents’ photocopier.

In college I became torn between the campus Greens and Libertarians (which was, of course, before I understood the happy medium which is anarchism: libertarian socialism), and got involved to some extent with Amnesty International. But what really concretized it for me, and sent me into supersteller all-out active mode, was the 2000 election.

I followed that campaign trail from the day the candidates were announced, and I learned all there was to know about George W. Bush. I saw his record as governor of Texas and as a private businessman and simply could not fathom, for even a moment, how this man was in the running for the presidency. The more popular he became, the more frustrated I got, and the deeper I dug and the more active I became, until I became an all out crusader against Bush. And that fateful night… The night he stole the presidency. That was the breaking point
for me.

I went down to DC to protest his inaugration and had my first experience there with Black Bloc. Back in NYC, my girlfriend at the time and I (along with Sam Apple, the author of “Schlepping Through The Alps”) started a weekly anti-Bush demonstration called The Thursday Night Bush Bash. I gradually became more and more involved in local activism, particularly in the anti-war and anti-globalization movements, and during the build-up to the war in Iraq, I joined an affinity group and started doing direct action civil disobedience. After one too many run-ins with the law, however, many of us, myself included, decided to play it cool for a while. I continued to provide logistical support for local actions, such as the RNC Not Welcome coalition, though I’d already made my way over to Israel by the time the RNC had rolled around.

During my time with the affinity group in NYC, a lot of my fellow activists challenged me on issues pertaining to the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and really pushed me to confront my positions on the subject. Prior to that, I was unknowingly a deluded right-winger on Israel, trumping a party line that wasn’t rooted in much fact, but much more in hysteria. My arguments with my friends forced me to hit the books and what I discovered ultimately left me very disconcerted. The more I learned, the more complex and dark the history became, and the more convinced I became that the state of Israel was not founded under the idealistic circumstances I’d been led to believe. As I became more open to the subject, I became more convinced that I needed to go see with my own eyes what was transpiring here. So when I got the Dorot fellowship, I welcomed it as an incredible opportunity to become more well-informed on the subject. Now that I’ve been here nearly a year, I’m more convinced than ever that Israel is perpetrating a grave injustice against the Palestinian people, and that it is incumbent upon every committed Jewish person to take an active stance in resisting the occupation and rectifying our relationship with the Palestinians. Thus I’ve been active with a number of social action organizations here, and I’ve been considering becoming involved in direct action once again, though I will have to become a citizen first so that, if I find myself under arrest for civil disobedience, I will not be deported.

How are your ideas recieved by the mainstream? Are you convincing anyway? Can you measure progress?

It’s hard to say. I definitely see a lot more hatemail than fanmail, but the fanmail I receive is always incredibly sincere and inspiring. The hatemail generally comes from radically right wing fundamentalists who tend to be incoherent and resort to ad hominem attacks rather than dealing with the issues I present. So I don’t tend to pay them much mind.

I’ve been getting a lot of press from the Jewish media. I’ve got several interviews coming out in the next couple of weeks, but they’re primarily in progressive Jewish news sources, as opposed to mainstream ones. There are also a number of bloggers who are linking to and quoting from my personal blog often these days, including a couple of Palestinian blogs.

It’s nice to be appreciated but I lament not being palatable enough to wider audiences. It comes with the territory of being honest and non-PC however. I don’t guard my speech as much as I should, perhaps, and I’m not hesitant to post things without giving them much thought. It tends to get me in trouble every so often. For the most part though, people who know me and meet me have an immense respect for me in person which I don’t receive from people who know me strictly online. My friend Harry often says, “Sometimes I think the Mobius I know in life is not the same Mobius I know online.”

Oh Snap! He didn't just... Oh Yeah, He Did!

You recently published some controversial photos of you that brought you some negative attention and even threats on your life. What was the purpose behind those images? What was peoples reaction?

This is another one of those things I didn’t give as much thought to as I felt compulsion towards doing. The greatest intent was to evoke a visceral reaction in order to force people to question their underlying assumptions about the nature of the Middle East conflict. So I fashioned a Jewish prayer shawl from an Arab headscarf and wore it along with my phylacteries (a Jewish ritual object worn during the morning prayers), posing next to the Israeli separation barrier in a pose most often seen in photographs of people visiting the Western Wall, the holiest shrine in Judaism.

On one level, it’s a reaction towards our idolization of that shrine, and of the Holy Temple of Jerusalem itself, and the lengths to which Jewish extremists will go to see the temple restored. In another sense, it’s a remark on the inherent holiness in all of creation, including Palestinians who are as much a creation of God’s as anyone else. On yet another level, it’s a statement about the amount of faith the Jewish people are investing in that wall to secure us from future attack and the fallaciousness of that idea.

The Talmud tells us that the reason the Holy Temple was destroyed and that we were sent into exile was for the sin of baseless hatred. Likewise, it is said that that only thing that will restore the temple and bring the Messiah is unconditional love. In next week’s Torah portion, it is written, “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Only when we rise above our hysterical fears of the other (which I will not say are all together unfounded, which is why this is truly an immense challenge) and come to love our Palestinian neighbors unconditionally, will the nation of Israel be at peace, and God willing, all be set right in the world. My hope is, at the very least, to bring people to consider this idea.

What’s the world look like when you’re done fixin’ it?

Anarchism deals with the ‘now’. Post-anarchism deals with the ‘then’. For now, I’ll leave that question to the post-anarchists.

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