for the birds

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My dear readers,
I was going to write an article today. In fact, I even started writing it. But in a moment of madness, I decided to try out the smart phone that I’ve had for a couple of years now. I thought I would just take a couple of minutes to try it out… and then get back to the writing. Well, it took me a couple of hours to figure out how it worked. And by the time I had done that, I was a nervous wreck. So what I had planned to write is half finished… and at best, will be written some other day.

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sparrows on a country lane

What I discovered, is what I expected in the first place. While I feel quite comfortable with a computer, the smart phone is too small for me, and the keyboard too unwieldy. I barely ever use the phone, and originally bought this one just because I didn’t like the keys on my ancient cell phone. Now that I know how to send and receive mail on the smart phone, I may use it in case of an emergency. But I’m still hoping I won’t have any more of those.

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this roundabout in Jerusalem seems symbolic of today’s misadventure…
with it’s sidewalk leading nowhere

The experience of trying to keep up with the day to day technology that all the young folks use these days, was frustrating. I’m almost sorry I tried. But I still have curiosity… and the phone was in my pocket… So that’s what I did. As I put the damn thing back into my pocket, I remembered an English expression I had learned years ago, “it’s for the birds”. It was meant to dismiss something… I don’t know what. Certainly, I couldn’t say that about the smart phone. No bird would try to operate it. But remembering that expression, I thought I’d show you a few birds I’ve seen lately.

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from one of my trips during the recent holidays; a bird about to be uplifted

My cat friends and I enjoy watching the birds… even if they’re not meant for supper. Sometimes they offer inspiration. And often they symbolize freedom. Though Bob Dylan couldn’t help but offer us a taste of irony when he asked, “Are birds free from the chains of the skyway?” Wishing you all a very restful and enjoyable weekend.

the post that went missing

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Shadow on the Wall
(when Nechama looked at me)

Back in the day when I was looking for contemporary literature that would move and inspire me as much as some of the literature I read in my younger days, I asked for recommendations from my readers. I haven’t yet finished reading all those books that were recommended, but I did read ‘Shadow of the Wind’ that was suggested by a number of readers. That volume offers both a story and a story within the story. It tells the tale of a man who discovers a writer he really loves, but it turns out that there has been someone who’s been chasing down all of his books and destroying them. We find a hint that the fellow who burns this writer’s books is the devil himself. The suspense around the hounding of the wonderful writer, and the rarity of his works provides an important ingredient in the telling of the story. I couldn’t help but think about the possibility of such a thing happening in our day. But of course, once some writing or picture has been uploaded to the internet, it is hard to imagine that anyone would succeed in making it disappear.

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Black & Blue asks ‘what is a blog?’

And then, this very weekend, a short while after I published my most recent post on this blog, I started getting mail from readers that they had been informed by different ‘feeds’ that I had written a new post, but were unable to find the article after following the link. And to make the matter all the more interesting, the post that they couldn’t find was called, “It’s a cruel world”. My imagination came to life as I contemplated the possibilities. Could this be the result of hacking by the ‘league of positive thinkers’ in an attempt to put an end to negative comments about the world, or the spread of sorrow by way of the pens of pessimistic scribblers? The more I thought about it, the more outraged I became. I discussed it with my cat, and though she doesn’t have time to read blogs on the internet, she too was offended. Something’s gotta be done, she said.

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Jinji can’t believe that Nechama is a blogger now

But it was then that I remembered how that post had come to be written. The truth of the matter was that I hadn’t written it at all, Nechama, my cat, had. She’d tried to convince me to go back to blogging, claiming that a lot of people weren’t enjoying their Fridays as much as they had been before, bereft of the enjoyment of reading my blog. As I’ve mentioned previously, I found it hard to write after the war we endured this last summer. Sometimes, I couldn’t even talk. ‘You know, Friday is fish day’, said Nechama with a glint in her eye. Okay, I said, giving her some fish. And then I started thinking about her comment. Was she trying to hint that there was something fishy about my avoiding the blog? ‘I just might write a post myself’, she continued, ‘if you don’t come up with something for your readers’. We tossed the ball back and forth, and I asked her what she’d write about, if she were to take my place at the laptop.

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Nechama tells a neighbor what she has to go through…

She mentioned that I come across like such a friendly old gent, that it might be a service to the community were she to present a portrait of me from another perspective. ‘they deserve to know the truth’, she muttered under her mustache. What truth? I asked innocently, thinking that as a cat, she couldn’t possibly understand my real sins. ‘Well, what kind of man serves pumpkin pie with whipped cream to a cat?!’ she asked in a growl that betrayed deep seated resentment. I burst into laughter. Is that what you’re going to tell my reading public? And with that, she started making her case. You know, when you live with a pet, they do adapt your ways. She was shoving ancient history at me, including the menus that were enjoyed by cats in the Greek temples when their occupation was protecting the local gods there. The more she told me, the more I laughed. Till finally, she got really irritated and asked why I wasn’t writing it all down.

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Nechama eating pumpkin pie – photo by Chana

I told her I’d write it down, exactly as it came from her lips… very thin lips… but I wouldn’t sign my name to anything like that. I’d put hers on the by-line. This rather pleased her, and her story became still more colorful as she progressed. I was writing and she was telling it. I was drinking whisky and she was eating fish in a sour cream sauce, right there on the table next to me. Towards the end, she started including little parenthetical remarks mentioning a number of her friends by name, just for the fun of seeing their names in print. I kept saying, now that is off topic, and she would say, ‘when you write, you can decide what the topic is. This is my post’. And when we finished she just had to look over my shoulder, and asked where it said that she had written the blog post.

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she seemed to enjoy it – photo by Chana

She decided on the name of the post. I myself would never have written anything like that. It was all hers. And I had a riotous two hours writing down what she said. I thought it was one of the funniest pieces I’d ever heard. After we finished, I published the post, and we both went to bed for a bit of a cat nap. But when I got up, the thoughts in my head sounded like the sound of bowling pins falling in the alley. I went to the computer, and checked out the post that I’d published. It sounded hollow. I didn’t laugh once. I pressed the edit button, and ran through it again. It wasn’t funny at all. So I threw it into the trash. All through the Sabbath, Nechama kept coming by and rubbing herself against my legs. ‘Any comments yet?’ she would ask. You know I don’t check the computer on the Sabbath, I told her.

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napping now, while I’m writing

But when the Sabbath was over, I turned on the computer. That’s when I found all these letters from people wondering how my post had disappeared. I really didn’t know how to answer them. What could I possibly say?

a day of awe

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We don’t know what is waiting for us. We don’t know what is beyond us. If the world came into being from a bit of cosmic dust that exploded with a big bang, we don’t know how that cosmic dust came into being. A few days back, our favorite theoretical cosmologist, Stephen Hawking, patiently explained to us that god doesn’t exist. He explained that back in the days before science existed, we needed something to relate to, to explain the world around us… to explain the origin of life… and other wonders beyond our understanding. And since we were more primitive then, we invented gods, and told ourselves that they… or he, or she… created the world, and us in it. There is nothing, he said, that is beyond what science can reveal and explain.

I am very fond of science. But I believe that there is more beyond our ability to know… beyond the ability of science to discover, than there is in all the collective knowledge of science, including all that we may discover as long as mankind continues to exist. I wouldn’t argue with Hawking, though. Because I have the greatest love for all those who focus their attention on the front line of our curiosity, and try to understand the unknown.

This evening is the start of the holiest day of the Jews, known as the day of the atonement. It is a day of fasting and soul searching. It is a day on which we consider life and death. It is a day on which we acknowledge our mistakes, and regret them. But it isn’t a sad day. No, it’s a happy day, a holiday in every sense of the word. The fasting is not sorrowful, but meant to allow us to concentrate on the spiritual nature of the day and avoid all the distractions that are connected with our everyday existence. It is the only day in the year that takes precedence over the Sabbath. This year, it falls on the Sabbath. Every other fast day, if it falls on the Sabbath, is moved over a day, so as not to fast on the Sabbath. But the day of atonement is even more important. At the conclusion of the day, we return to our normal lives refreshed and renewed. It is a wonderful feeling.

Some 250 years ago, the great rabbi and teacher, Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev entered his synagogue on the day of atonement, and told his congregants that as he arrived he noticed a Jew standing outside the synagogue, praying to god. He was curious why the man was praying outside instead of coming in and praying together with the whole congregation. So he came close to the man and listened to his prayer. Dear God, said the man, you know I’m not religious, and that I don’t go to the synagogue, and am not used to prayer, and wouldn’t know where to look in the book to find the prayers everyone is praying… don’t know anything about religion… so I will just recite the ‘abc’s now. And I ask you to put the letters together in the very best way for me, and let that be my prayer to you. Levi Yitzchak continued… So I would like the congregation to wait in silence now, till that man finishes his ‘abc’s, and then we can begin our prayers here inside.

I would like to tell you of another fine Jew, a scholar, a rabbi, and a teller of tales, who was known as Reb Nachman of Breslov. He is best known for the tales he told, which are considered parables on mystical understanding. But he is also especially loved for something he said, that is often quoted. When translated into English, it sounds like this:
“The whole world is a narrow bridge, and the essential thing is not to fear at all.”
This quote has become a popular song among our people, and I would like to share a version of it that I found posted on the internet. You can find it here, sung by Justin Shenk in both Hebrew and English: http://youtu.be/Vfc2CPgMLVc

I’ve heard of people who are moved to hug a tree. It might seem a bit ridiculous to someone who’s never done that. But the person hugging, knows something that the outside onlooker couldn’t even guess. And tomorrow, there are a few of us, who will try to hug the whole world.

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a good and sweet year

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Tonight we begin the Jewish new year. It will be the year 5775 according to our calendar. The rabbi of Lubowitzch was once asked by a student, why he blesses each and every one of his followers before the Jewish new year, with the wish for a good and a sweet new year. His reply was that every year is good. That we just have to learn how to appreciate all that we receive. That it is good even if we don’t know how to recognize the good. But that sweetness is a sensory pleasure. And so, his wish is that his friends and students will feel the good and recognize it, as we do when tasting something sweet.

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Nechama accompanies me to the park

It is not our custom to shoot fireworks into the sky at the start of a new year. We reflect on what has happened in the past year, and examine our actions and behavior. We repent our mistakes, and celebrate our accomplishments. We do our spiritual book keeping in honor of the year that has come to a conclusion, and remind ourselves that a new year is beginning… a new start in life.

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a love letter to god

This has been one of the most difficult years for me. It has been a year of tests and challenges. A year of pain and confusion and losses. But it has also been a year of learning and miracles… and yes, of joy too. Personally, I reached a point where I could only whisper… and then a place where I had nothing more to say… But as we approach the new year, I want to wish myself and every one of my friends and readers a good and sweet year. A year of health and happiness, a good livelihood, the pleasures of learning, and the support of dear friends.

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crows waiting on the railing… I hope to tell you the story soon.

I still have a few stories to tell… and some conclusions I came to, at the end of this last painful war. I hope that I will find the strength to continue sharing with you some of my personal experiences and lessons in this world that is filled with surprises.
with love, Shimon

defamation

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to be silent is one
response
to defamation.

- Buddha

cigarettes

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A limited edition of Noblesse cigarettes, the brand I smoke, in battle dress. On the right you can see the way the pack usually looks.

the shape of things

drbob: FAR too long since I’ve heard from you, and I care enough to worry. Just tell me (us…myra too) that you’re ok.

shimonz:
I’m alive…
uninjured so far.
but the war has had a bad effect on me.
I’ve lost the zest for life…
lost my sense of humor
grown bitter.
’cause it’s brought back
memories of childhood
that I thought I’d forgotten…
and a loss of faith
in man…
not god… man.