hoping for better days

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the rock badger, native to Israel, is highly intelligent, and very peaceful

These are difficult days in my country. I had plans to write about dreams today… about the way that we represent abstract thoughts to ourselves and others. But it is hard to discuss abstractions while dealing with existential problems.

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experts discussing the situation on TV

I would just like to take advantage of this opportunity to explain a few things to those of you who read my blog in other countries around the world. We are not at war with the Palestinian people. We are doing our best to frustrate the efforts of a band of vicious terrorists without injuring any of the civilian population. We are trying to protect our own people. The Hamas hides behind civilians and innocent children, while shooting at our citizens. They have received aid from many countries and peoples, and have used most of it to build a military capacity. They celebrate each and every attack against innocent people on our side. We are now trying to take care of this problem. It is my hope, and the hope of my countrymen, that we will soon be able to live in peaceful coexistence with our neighbors.

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and when I get a good idea these days, I tell it to the birds

Devil’s Island

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Fido was here

My dear readers and friends, I would like to start out this time with an apology. Just as I wouldn’t normally write you about a bad case of diarrhea, or a vigorous attempt to remove a booger from my nose, I believe that there are some things better left unsaid. I know; the internet and blogging sometimes indicate that this might just be old fashioned thinking. But I can’t help it. My sense of decorum goes back longer than most people in this world have been alive, and it seems too late for me to change.

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seminary student in the city

When the three seminary boys were kidnapped, and later found murdered, some weeks back, I was overcome by sorrow, heartbroken by the cruelty of it. I actually went into mourning, and found it hard to think about the subject rationally. But as events unfolded, I realized that what had happened was the first move in a contest… one of the worst in which human beings participate. It’s known as war. Surprise and confusion are considered legitimate openings in war. Witness the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, or the Trojan Horse in ancient Greece. It has happened over and over in the history of man. And yet, more often than one might expect, we are still surprised. We may study sociology, psychology, anthropology or culture. But after a long career as a perennial student, I’ve reached the conclusion that the key to understanding mankind, is the study of history.

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a charity box

We told the Hamas in Gaza, ‘if you give us quiet, we’ll give you quiet’. Can you imagine saying that to someone who wants to knock your block off?! That was all they needed to hear in order to realize that we didn’t want to fight, and it just gave them more confidence. So they started shooting missiles at us. Now we’re fighting. By Tuesday, we already had missiles falling on Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. I’ve heard an interview by a BBC reporter of a government official here. He asked, ‘how many Israelis have been killed by these missiles?’ Well, we don’t want to wait until we’re counting the dead. It is provocation enough for us to have missiles falling on our people!

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peppers in the market place

When fighting a war, each side is trying, by way of force, to have its own way. The contest is one of life and death. Surprises and obtuse behavior are an integral part of the game. It is always easier to understand what was happening after the fact, rather than during the action. We are presently engaged in a war that is called Steadfast Cliff in Hebrew, and Operation Protective Edge in English. Jews lived in Gaza before the modern state of Israel was created. But we gave the Gaza strip to the Arab population that lived there nine years ago, after forcibly removing the Jewish population. And this was because the Arabs claimed that they couldn’t possibly live alongside Jews in peace, even though a large minority of Arabs live in Israel and enjoy more freedoms and a higher living standard here, than in any of the Arab countries.

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dried fruit

Since then, the Arab population of Gaza have made fighting the Jews their national pastime. Though they were given the vineyards and farms left behind by the Israelis who lived there, they let these farms die of neglect while digging smuggling tunnels under the Egyptian border, and doing their best to develop a burgeoning arms industry. Their greatest accomplishments have been in the field of weapons production. They teach their little children that the highest purpose in life is fighting the Zionist devil. They are very proud of some missiles they have made themselves. But they have also managed to smuggle into their country a large quantity of professionally made missiles from Iran. Meantime, we invented an anti missile system that has had 90% success. It is the first of its kind in the world. But that still leaves a 10% chance of killing or wounding innocent citizens. Not to speak of the dismal sight of watching women and children stumbling as they rush to the shelters. In some of the towns near the Gaza strip, they have only 15 seconds to get into a bomb shelter! Over 400 missiles have fallen on our cities this week as I write this. And we have not forgotten that over 1000 innocent people were murdered by these terrorists a decade ago.

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Arabs and Jews at a bus stop… living in peace in Jerusalem

As a people, we’re not enthusiastic about war. We try to avoid it. We have other interests. We are able to compete in the global market, invent new contraptions… and do academic research. We’re pleasure seekers. Most Israelis like toys and enjoying the good life.. We’ve tried to buy our neighbors off, to flatter them, and to outwit them. Using our intelligence, we’ve managed to build much better instruments of war than they could put together. But no matter what we’ve tried, or how hard we’ve endeavored… and despite the fact that we’ve won every war in recent history, they know our weak points, and they keep on coming back for still another round. It is exasperating.

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folks in Tel Aviv have a look at a missile that fell in their neighborhood

Usually, when the fighting is over, the United Nations get together to make a few resolutions. Since there are a lot more Moslem countries than there are Jewish, the numbers are at their service. And we’re not especially impressed by the objectivity of many ‘neutral’ nations either. If you were to check out UN resolutions, you’d get the impression that we are really the devil’s workers.

Not This Time

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Most every week, I sit down to my computer on Friday morning and share with you a bit of my world… what’s important to me… what occupies my mind… something I’ve learned or experienced. I find a few pictures to illustrate my post. If I can, I try to keep it light hearted and amusing, and hope that it’ll be a comfortable experience for my readers. I might ask some questions. I might raise some issue. But I’ll try to provide answers too. And wrap it all up with conclusions. Not this time, though. I’m suffering, and my heart is aching. I don’t have any answers. I have no conclusions. What I’m telling you is with a heavy heart. And there’s nothing about it, that I find amusing.

A week ago yesterday, three teenage boys were on their way home from school. They are Ayal Yifrach, Naftali Frankel, and Gillad Shear. They were seminary students on their way to enjoy the Sabbath with parents and family when they were kidnapped by a terrorist organization. Minutes after they were captured, one of the young men sent a message to the police, saying that he had been kidnapped. Since then, we haven’t heard from them. The parents of the three boys have shown great courage and restraint under pressure.

But this story isn’t just the story of the boys and their families. As a society, we have faced extortion before. Using just such methods in the past, our enemies succeeded in getting the release of convicted murderers. In the last year alone, they managed to get 75 convicted terrorists released as payment for their willingness to talk peace with us. Once they got these murderers released, they lost interest in peace. Many of the released terrorists have gone back to their previous inclinations, and have continued their criminal behavior.

Most of my countrymen, including myself, are horrified by this latest kidnapping. I feel as if I were holding my breath, waiting for the return of the boys, hoping that the army or the police will find them soon and return them to normal life among us. It is hard for me to think of anything else. These boys could be my own grandchildren. I love them and worry about them as if they were. And a lot of people around me feel the same.

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Ayal, Gilad and Naftali

imperfection

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The strident cry of an ambulance siren on the freeway, coming in from the north… on it’s way to the hospital on mount scopus, not so far away… begs to remind the speeding drivers that at times, there are incidents even more important than their own intentions. The drivers slow for a moment, moving a little, left or right, to make way for the ambulance. It passes, and the traffic resumes its previous pattern.

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The sun is shining. The skies are blue. A few white cotton clouds floating up there. Blue and white above, and fierce geometric patterns of shadows falling from the corners of stone buildings opposite, across the street. In my pleasant room, there is a light breeze through the open window, and the sounds of overwhelming beauty from the guitar strings of Lanzboim coming through the speakers. The name of the album is ‘Beyond This World’. Life seems as beautiful as it can get. What happens now?

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In the garden of Eden, it seems that our first sin was rampant curiosity… or was it the temptation to experience the forbidden. And then came hatred, jealousy, and murder. I heard on the radio this week, of a young man who died from shooting some designer drug right into his veins. It had been intended for smoking. But he wanted a more intense experience. I hear of bungee-jumping. There are people out there looking for thrills. Sometimes it seems to me that the greatest sin is taking this world and the life we were given for granted.

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And on the other side of the street there are people struggling to overcome a handicap. Some were born blind, and others blinded by illness or accident, and are working hard to appreciate the world with their other senses. Despite their handicaps, they are trying to enjoy the world around them as much as you and I do. And it seems sometimes, as if a handicap can be a present from heaven, reminding us of how precious life is… how precious, that which we do have… and that which we can enjoy.

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A few weeks ago, we were on the balcony with Gila… on another beautiful day like this. We were drinking beer and soaking up the sun. Our friend Ilanit told me that she had heard somewhere that life is like riding a bicycle. If it’s easy, it means you’re going downhill. If it’s hard, it means your climbing. I liked that one.

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Yesterday, I had an early dinner with a friend in the Fortuna restaurant here in Jerusalem. It’s a modest restaurant. You would have trouble finding it, if you weren’t a resident of Jerusalem. The owner prepared the food, and carried it himself to our table. There were quite a few little plates with all kinds of different salads on them. The salads were wonderful… just as good as the main course. The photos on this post are from the machaneh yehudah neighborhood, where the restaurant is found.

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Sitting there, eating my meal, and talking with a friend… after having had my eyes examined by an optical cat scan, and thinking that even blindness might be an experience that could enable an appreciation of life… it occurred to me that we don’t really need a handicap to appreciate life… nor a bungee-jump for the thrill. It is enough to remember that life is a temporary experience. We’re here today, and gone tomorrow. And if we remember that, we should be able to treasure each day, and every experience that comes our way.

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Here in Jerusalem, we have another recipe for keeping life precious. Six days a week, we go about our work and play. And on the seventh, we take a break. A break from all the work and all the regular things; a celebration of life, of simple sensual pleasures like a good meal and a walk… of song… and reading a good book. It works most of the time. But, of course, there is always the temptation to break the rules. This evening, my Sabbath begins with the setting sun. My best wishes to my readers and friends.

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magnificently built

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The Talpiot neighborhood of Jerusalem was built as a garden suburb of Jerusalem starting in 1922. Its name comes from the ‘song of songs’, written by King Solomon, in which the female object of his love is described… ‘your neck is like the tower of David, built with turrets’. The image in Hebrew is that of someone or something magnificently built. I’m often reminded of the name when driving from there to my home in North Jerusalem. I pass the tower of David and embrace it in my thoughts as I maneuver through traffic.

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I first moved from the Buchari quarter to that neighborhood at the start of the 60s. At the time, there were a few artists who had already found homes there, alongside some of the illustrious citizens of our town. Our greatest author of modern times, Shai Agnon, Nobel prize winner, lived down the street from me, and attended the same synagogue. Just about everyone knew everyone else, and we would all meet one another at the local grocery store. There was only one then. Our fellow residents were clerks and teachers, and a few professors, as well as engineers and some businessmen. Religious and non religious lived together in an atmosphere of tolerance.

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The neighborhood was beautiful. There was luxurious greenery to be seen between the houses that were built with great care. The walls of stone and the large trees kept us cool in the hot summer. But even with the calm and the beauty of the neighborhood, there were a number of disadvantages that helped keep the prices down. And it was thanks to those disadvantages that I was able to find an apartment that I could afford, surrounded by a lush garden, and shaded by a couple of large and grand trees. The neighborhood had been built at the southern end of the city. And the ceasefire line of 1948 cut through the neighborhood, with unfriendly Arabs living in close proximity. Shots would be fired occasionally across the border. And though they were relatively few and far between, they made some of our residents nervous. There were those who felt insecure.

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I was living with an Arab housemate at the time, and used to be amused by his indignation at such violent outbursts. He would shout over the orange trees that lined the border, in Arabic, ‘You are shooting at real human beings’. But the shots were sporadic, and the attacks were usually short lived… they would stop as suddenly as they had started whether he would yell or not. The other main disadvantage was that the neighborhood was quite a distance from the center of town, which meant that most of us had to take a bus to get downtown. Very few had private cars back in those days. I preferred to walk. I could usually get to the center of town in about 45 minutes, walking at a fast clip.

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I remember taking my bride to visit my home and its surroundings, for a visit. She had been living in a more upscale neighborhood on the west side of the city, largely populated by University professors, and situated close to the University. It too had been designed to be a garden neighborhood, the same year that my neighborhood had been established. But it was a bit more square in appearance, and one couldn’t help but sense the decorum that characterized her neighborhood. The streets and buildings were tidy, and fitted well together. In my neighborhood, almost every resident had made some change to his home. Trees and bushes seemed to grab any available space without heeding to plans or a grand design.

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If the town center was a bus ride away from her old neighborhood, she could visit the university or the national library by foot… just a short walk away. On the Sabbath, together in Talpiot, we would walk to a kibbutz situated just outside of the city, to the south. The city has grown a lot since then, and swallowed up that kibbutz as well. It is now part of the greater Jerusalem area. But it still has beautiful scenic views that a visitor may enjoy.

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Since then, the neighborhood has grown more than any of us could have guessed. It now has an industrial zone which contains many factories and workshops; motor garages, and bars, nightclubs, and banquet halls, as well as indoor shopping malls. There you’ll find restaurants, movie theaters, and a famous venue for musical performances called the ‘Yellow Submarine’. Over the years, new apartment buildings have been built around the old neighborhood, offering living quarters on a number of different economic levels.

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In the last week, I have accompanied Chana as she became reacquainted with the neighborhood. Yes she once lived here too. And now she has decided to move back to Jerusalem from her beautiful village outside of the city. The move back to the city means a smaller domicile. But she is practical and down to earth, and is handling her move in a manner much healthier than my own move just a few months ago. She has chosen a home on the eastern side of the neighborhood, where Rachel Ben-Zvi, wife of a former president of our country, established an agricultural training school for women, back in 1928. Now it is a very pleasant part of the neighborhood. The photos shown here were taken while walking around that area.

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on the way

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Yesterday, while at Chana’s home in her village, we decided to drive to Jerusalem; there were a few things we wanted to get from my house. But it was relatively early in the day… just about the time when there are traffic jams in the city. Chana volunteered to do the driving so that I wouldn’t suffer the tension of traffic. Once we were in the car she informed her smart phone of our intended trip… where we were coming from, and where we wanted to go.

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I have a smart phone too. But the only thing I do with it is to call someone, if it’s really important. I’ll turn it on sometimes, so that I can receive calls if I’m expecting someone to call. My phone isn’t always on. I don’t like to be distracted when I’m busy living my life. And when my phone rings, it doesn’t sound like ‘Yesterday’ by the Beatles. It sounds like a phone sounded 30 years ago. And even so, I find it a distraction.

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I don’t know how to take advantage of the many applications, and haven’t made any effort to learn. I don’t say that proudly. That’s just the way I am. I have a great admiration for invention and innovation. But I don’t believe that I have to use every tool that’s been designed to aid human beings in their work or play. I know there are more good things in this world than I’ll ever get to know. So I just search for a tool or utensil when I’m trying to do something, and have the feeling that I don’t have the proper means to do the job.

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I had heard about Waze because it was invented in Israel, but I had never had the opportunity to use it. And here we were, on the way to Jerusalem, and there was this very pleasant male voice giving us instructions. Chana explained to me that Waze would offer us alternative routes to my home address, and tell us how much time each route would take, thus helping us choose the most desirous route.

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It was amazing from the start. This fellow told us when a turn was coming up ahead. In another 100 meters… or in another 400 meters, we would have to turn right. Get in the left lane, he said, because soon we’ll have to turn left. And so he guided us to the city, and through it… till we arrived at my place. When we did arrive, he told us, without any smugness, ‘You have arrived at your destination’. I was flabbergasted.

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But, it wasn’t just directions. This virtual guide knew everything. He would warn us if there was a hazard by the side of the road. He even informed us that there were police up ahead, just so we wouldn’t breeze by at two times the speed limit (fat chance in Jerusalem on a busy morning). If there was high density of traffic at a certain point, he would warn us ahead of time, and also adjust the arrival time in consideration.

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For three quarters of an hour, I was in an alternative universe. No longer in the familiarity of my hometown in the 21st century, but back in the 50s reading a science fiction novel about what the future had in store for us. Actually witnessing the future… it was romantic… and so perfect.

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And when I thought about it, I knew that it was only a matter of time till the computers would take it the next step forward. I could imagine the two of us having coffee in the car, face to face, the air conditioning keeping us in optimal weather… pleasant music in the background, and the car itself being driven by the computer. There’d be less accidents that way. The computer would reroute traffic so as to maintain maximum speed on the road, and we would enjoy the calm and have the opportunity to watch the scenery as we traveled.

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For me, it was delightful being a passenger. I could lift my camera as we went through the city, and take a few shots along the way, so as to give you a view of what Jerusalem looks like from the car. Usually, I’m driving. And often I see a sight worthy of recording, but have to stop the car and find a parking spot if I wish to photograph. But not yesterday. I took a few shots through the windscreen of the car. Today you’re on the road with me. The pictures on this post are all from yesterday’s visit to Jerusalem.

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connection and disconnect

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There was a time when you’d make a new friend, and you’d get to know his or her brothers and sisters, father and mother, or children… depending on the ages involved… you’d get to know the family. Today, the family is often a more complicated entity… with a somewhat fuzzy definition. My friend John has a daughter from his first wife, and a son from his second wife, but he’s closest to Annette, his second wife’s daughter from a previous marriage, and she was over having breakfast with him and his present wife Sally the other day when I came over with a recording of Oscar Peterson that John had wanted to hear. Annette had come with her best friend, Miriam, who as it turns out, loves Jazz too. Miriam is Annette’s ex sister in law, because she was married to Annette’s half brother Sam, before they divorced.

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Shortly after I arrived, Avigdor, John’s upstairs neighbor came by with Ruthy, his step mother who is five years younger than he is, and they joined us in the consumption of lox and bagels, while listening to the music and telling us exotic tales of intrigue in the world of jazz here in Israel.

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Miriam was telling me about the guy who introduced her to Jazz. That was Bill. He had one of the largest collections of CDs she ever encountered, and as it turned out, he was a second cousin of Ephraim… or maybe it was Oscar Peterson who was a second cousin of Ephraim. Ephraim is a disc jockey on radio 88, and his biological mother is Chava, who’s now married to Bill. They have these two boys who are part of the band called the ‘who dunits’, which is quite popular in France and barely known here… or was it Peterson who is well known in France but couldn’t make a living if he were living here…? Forgive me, it’s not that I don’t want to remember… it’s just that life has become a little confusing in recent years.

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Well, Miriam was telling me about how much she loved Oscar, and it was only about twenty minutes later that I realized she wasn’t talking about Oscar Peterson. It was when she mentioned that Oscar had died in a motorcycle accident when coming off the freeway in Tel Aviv. I told her that as far as I knew, Peterson had died in Canada in ’07, and I hadn’t heard that he was on a bike at the time… and it turned out that she was talking about Oscar Goldblum with whom she’d had a love affair before marrying her ex, Ilan, who is now married to Hagar, whose ex, Yekutiel has just recently joined the ‘who dunits’ in Paris, and they are thinking of doing a special ‘come back’ concert in Tel Aviv.

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While talking of her love for Oscar, she shared with us that his wife Ruby had arranged for a very private funeral service, and none of his old friends had been invited. So Miriam was aching for closure… she told us she felt like she was just hanging in air. John suggested that she might hold a wake for him, and invite all of his old friends. But Miriam said that he had a lot of old friends, and she didn’t know if you could legitimately advertise a wake with a ‘bring your own bottle’ policy. And then Sally suggested that she might organize a minion of ten people and visit the grave and say kaddish there.

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My role had been mostly that of a listener up till then. But having gotten completely lost in my attempts to follow the family ties in this story, I tried to approach the subject from a philosophical point of view, and raised the possibility that after the love affair had fallen apart, and both she and Oscar had each found a separate spouse, maybe it would have been best if she had forgotten all about him, and put the memories behind her. ‘Isn’t it better to disconnect when the relationship is over?’ I asked, ‘rather than to feel pangs in the heart each time you see him?’ Looking back, the question was probably superfluous, now that he was in his grave. But the answer I received was unanimous, right across the table. The general feeling seemed to be, the more love, the better. And once you realize that you and that special other weren’t really made for one another, there’s no reason not to be friends… and then there are no heart pangs either.

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‘But what about simplicity’, I groaned. How the hell do you remember all of your relatives? I looked across the table, in a vain attempt to find an ally. Sally met my eyes and winked at me as she said, ‘life isn’t that simple anymore’.

The photos here are of a hedonist gathering of friends on the balcony of my new home.