perpetual light

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Before I knew of the existence of the sexual urge, I had a passion for life… for the continuation of life. I came to this world at a time of existential threat to my people and culture. My childhood was associated with the systematic destruction and murder of my people, including members of my own family. Don’t talk to me about it. I am still traumatized after a lifetime.

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Yael in the kitchen

But I am mentioning this subject, so as to share with you some of the thoughts I had last night, when celebrating Chanukah with some of my younger grandchildren. I have older grandchildren too, adults, who are making their own choices, and living their own lives… a granddaughter who is soaking up culture and adventure in far away India. But the younger grandchildren were assembled last night in the home of Jonah and Yael, enjoying the festival of lights with music and games, good food and stories.

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Chagit with the kids

The holiday of lights, Chanukah, as we call it, goes back to the revolt of the Maccabees against the Greek occupation in the second century BCE. The holy temple had been desecrated. Jerusalem had been overrun and defeated. And yet, when the future of the Jewish people looked most bleak, a small group of idealists, led by a priest, succeeded in revolt against a powerful nation that had defeated us. The holy temple, which was a symbol of enlightenment to us, was once again consecrated, and the temple lamp which had gone out, was relit.

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Hillel on guitar

It was a miracle. That was the common consensus. But for those who wanted a more specific description of the miracle, there were differing opinions. Some felt that the miracle was that one flask of oil which should normally have lasted just a day, lasted eight days until more oil could be prepared for the temple lamp. Others saw the miracle in the fact that a little amateur army could overcome the prowess of a great nation. One of my favorite rabbis, said the miracle was that Jews were willing to fight at all. For me, the miracle is that even after total devastation, we are able to reorganize, fight evil, clean up the mess, and find what is sacred and holy.

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David on keyboard

If you’re wondering why it took eight days to prepare the oil for the temple lamp, this is how they would do it. They would take a sack of olives, and squeeze each one. The first drop that came out of the olives was collected. And that was the oil they used for the temple lamp. The lamp symbolized the temple. In our days it is the symbol of the State of Israel. Some of our sages saw the tending of the lamp as even more important than the activities surrounding sacrifices. At our family celebration, all of the children lit their own candles.

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Arieh

As a young man, I was greatly attracted to the arts. In part because the arts connect to values which are more lasting than our own individual lives. Knowing without doubt that I personally would eventually die, I wanted to be part of something that would last longer than I did. Afterwards, when I had children of my own, I started thinking of my children as a continuation of myself. Even after I’d die, my children would continue to live, and my blood would continue in them.

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Ruth

Last night, as I sat in a comfortable chair and watched my grandchildren playing, reading, making music… I asked myself, was I pleased? So many grandchildren… living and learning… healthier and happier than I was at their age. I looked at them all. And each one was different. Each was a world in himself or herself. Each with a distinct and separate personality. Not one of them was me. But there was comfort in the fact that these children are a part of this culture I love. And that they are continuing in their own way along the path I have walked. They’re starting where I got as an old man. And they’ll get further than I ever dreamed.

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Carmel

There have been ups and downs along the way, And I’m sure that they too will have their ups and downs. Honestly, most of them are more interested in sharing with me what they are learning these days, than listening to what I’ve learned through life. But it doesn’t matter that much to me. I see a continuation of the same values I love. And that’s enough for me. We ate potato pancakes and pizza. You know, potato pancakes are part of our tradition for this holiday. And pizza… well, pizza is always a good thing…

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context

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a new life for the yams. soon they’ll be potted plants

There were a couple of pictures of Charlie in my last post. And that brought comments and mails with questions about Charlie. And with them, an awareness, that though I do use photos to illustrate my blog posts… often from my own life, and environment, each of the photos is a glimpse, taken out of context. It occurred to me that much of life is like that. We tell a story, paint a picture, or snap a photograph… and choose among them those incidents or images that have struck us in a certain way, that have amused us or moved us… and very often, because these moments or images are taken out of context, our friends get a different impression of our life from that which we know and relate to on a day to day basis.

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last week we saw Charlie, but not the roses behind him

I take a walk most mornings, and see the same scenes, over and over again, each time in a different light, or a slightly different time of the day… in different weather, and with different company. And with each meeting, the people, the cats, the birds, the dogs, the bushes and the trees… the buildings and streets become more a part of me… and I more a part of them, without effort or much thought.

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between the two of them, they see it all… while in conversation

I remember, when I used to take walks with my old mother, and I would stop to photograph a certain familiar scene in the neighborhood. She would often say, ‘Shimon, you’ve already photographed that scene in the past’. And I would say, yes, but not with those long shadows. Or something like that. For photography, which has been my profession for most of my life, is also my way of relating to my own personal environment.

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a conversation with my son Jonah

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my daughter Rivka tells an amusing story

But even though I’ve shared many scenes from my daily life, they often revealed only a part of the story… taken out of context, to a certain extent. And so the world as I know it, never really comes through. Sometimes I feel that it would be best to present a series of images… to demonstrate the changes in time, or a wide sweep of the environment.

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Occasionally I come across a scene that stands by itself… one of those pictures that tell a complete story. But sometimes, they too are just hints. I don’t know the story from the point of view of the participants. But I invent or guess at the story, just looking at the scene. That happened the other day, as I was coming back from a walk, and saw a motorcycle, well hidden by a protective cover. Facing the hidden motor bike, were two shoes. I couldn’t help but wonder what happened. Did a hubby, or a lover, arrive in the middle of the night, and take off his shoes before coming into the house, so as not to wake the sleeping?

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the medical clinic in our neighborhood

Since Chana moved back to Jerusalem, her apartment has become ‘a home away from home’; another station for me here in the city. Chana lives with Charlie, her cat, and Bonnie, her dog. They have both adopted me as well. We take walks together, and stare out the windows in each other’s company on rainy days. My little world keeps growing, and I discover new stars that were always there… but unknown to me, until I discovered them.

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Chana and Charlie

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soaking up some sun, Bonnie

It’s Friday today, and that means preparations for the Sabbath. According to our tradition, we either buy two loaves of bread or bake them before the Sabbath. They represent that free day on which we refrain from work. A loaf for every day, and an extra one for the Sabbath. Here’s a picture of the two loaves that Chana baked. One is covered with poppy seeds, and the other with sesame.

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There are so many pictures, that I have to choose from… all of which are part of the whole story. But only a very few get included in these posts. And how often I’ve deliberated over a pile of images, wondering which would best represent what I’m trying to show. It’s always hard to choose the few photos that will be part of my message… and after I’ve made my decision, there are usually some very special ones that stay behind.

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Jinji enjoying the winter sun in the back yard. His cousin waits for him on the other side of the gate…

approaching winter and politics

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The Yemenite Jews have a saying. ‘There are no fish without bones; no life without troubles’. It rhymes in Hebrew, which gives it a little pizzazz. And knowing that non Jews eat certain sea food that are devoid of bones, I suppose that this pearl of wisdom should be looked upon as a cultural tidbit rather than a universal truth. But as I took my morning walk each day this week, looking at the beautiful autumn colors on the vegetation in the neighborhood and in the park, this saying has been going through my mind again and again.

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Here we are in this gorgeous country in the middle east. We have temperate weather. The summer isn’t too hot. The winter isn’t cruel. Nowadays, as we reach the end of fall, and approach winter… after a week of rain, green shoots are seen everywhere, spurred on to optimism by two days of sunshine. We have the sea shore, a short drive from anywhere you might live in the country. A few beautiful deserts, and some mountains too. The lowest land spot on dry land in all the planet, next to the Dead Sea, where you can actually sit on the water’s surface and read a newspaper on a lake that has a depth of three hundred meters, because of the buoyancy of the water. There hasn’t been a serious earthquake in a hundred years, and there are no tsunamis or hurricanes in our area. What more could we request?

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my friend, Charlie

Of course, we have a few vocal minorities… but that’s the sort of thing you have to expect in a modern democracy. After all, the discomfort here is less extreme than what a number of other countries face… see for instance, the US. We have had to endure a few wars, now and then. But the cynics among us point out that more people die from motor accidents than from wars.

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and indoors, soaking up the sun

Yet even though I could argue that we’re enjoying the good life, and are enjoying good fortune, life does have its problems. In fact it seems like it’s a series of ups and downs. And we wouldn’t appreciate the good times without their being interspersed by bad. As we know, when the young have it too good, they often endanger life and limb (or good sense), just to avoid the threat of boredom. In our case, or so it seemed to me this week, our sorrows seem to come from a distended sense of drama.

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For instance, there has been some serious debate in our parliament over next year’s budget. A lot of money is going to be spent on ‘security’. That is, we have to have more police and army to deal with an increasing occurrence of terror attacks, plus we have just recently watched millions go down the drain as expenses in the last war. So it seems that we will either have to adopt an austerity plan or tax the middle and upper classes, who are already paying about 50% of their income supporting the general welfare. But at the same time, word has arrived from Berlin, where some Israeli yuppies are enjoying European culture, and sharing their impressions on Facebook. They report that cottage cheese is cheaper there than here. This news has the young middle class up in arms, and they are demanding free baby sitting, free dental care, and cheaper cottage cheese immediately. They feel that these minimal demands are the hallmarks of an enlightened society.

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At the same time, there have also been some harsh words exchanged in parliament about the definition of our state. Though it was stated in our Declaration of Independence that we have established the state as a Jewish, democratic nation, there are those among us who believe it is a matter of urgency to pass a law making Israel a Jewish state. At the other end of the spectrum, there are those who see our country as a ‘state of emergency’, while still others claim it is a ‘state of mind’. Members of the coalition government became insulted by their own interpretations of what their colleagues said… and all of a sudden, one year after this government was elected for a four year term, I hear that the government is to be disbanded and a new election about to take place. Of course, elections cost money. The coming election will probably cost many cups of cottage cheese.

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And since every one of the public opinion polls in the last few months reveal that the majority of the public see our present prime minister as the most appropriate choice for the job, it is hard for me to appreciate what could possibly be gained. But our dear prime minister assures us that he will be able to do a better job if he gets a bigger majority. The opposition on the other hand, is not impressed by the polls, and assures us that they will do the better job just as soon as they throw out the reigning prime minister and replace him with their own. Still, what about the baby sitting and the free dental care?

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The hard part, though, is listening to political propaganda for the next three months. Ear plugs alone can’t guarantee happiness. And even if they could assuage some of our distress, there is always the danger that we’ll find out that they can be bought cheaper in Berlin.

material goods

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I learned about Black Friday when a friend asked me what it was. My first thought was that it was some sort of religious holiday. But then I checked it out on the internet. Though western culture is enthusiastically accepted in our country, there are many aspects of western life that haven’t made it here, and some things that are virtually unknown. Thanksgiving, for instance, as beautiful as it is, is a holiday we don’t celebrate. The act of giving thanks for what we have received is an integral part of our heritage. Likewise, Black Friday is unknown here.

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But yesterday, when hearing of lines of people waiting to be admitted to certain department stores, in anticipation of the sales available on black Friday, I was led to thoughts concerning our relationship to physical possessions.

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For me, religion is a vehicle for dealing with the conflicts and difficulties inherent in our human existence. And it occurs to me, that one of the characteristics of religion, even before the advent of monotheism, was giving and sacrifice. For some reason, man felt a need to give of himself to god. Today, we tend to look at idolatry and primitive religions, as something of a caricature. For many, the idea of a rain god, or god of the seas, a fertility god, or some special god who watches over the harvest, is patently absurd. But even today, many people remember or pray to a special saint when they’re worried about some aspect of their day to day lives.

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In our time, the mall has become one of the most visited and beloved institutions of the western world. It is not just a place to visit when you need clothing or tools with which to work. Most people go there for pleasure. They enjoy examining the wares on display. Time there, is considered entertainment, and I’ve often heard people describe the experience as a pleasurable one; improving their mood, and inspiring them to feel good.

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The photos shown here are of the Haas promenade in Armon Hanatziv, opposite the walls of the old city of Jerusalem. One can see Kipat Haselah, and the El Aktza mosque from the promenade, as well as many other parts of our city. The promenade was built in 1987, and people come every day to look at the city of Jerusalem, and to contemplate the holy temple which once stood on the temple mount, also known as Mt Moriah.

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The holy temple was an institution that provided health care, and psychological treatment, as well as religious counseling and ceremony. It was also a source of entertainment and learning. There were great concerts there with an in-house orchestra. People went to give thanks to god, and to pray for relief and success. On the three pilgrimage holidays, the city was filled with pilgrims who came from all over the country to bring s sacrifices to the holy temple. Those sacrifices included beasts that they raised, as well as fowl, fruit and grain. It was customary to choose the finest of one’s agricultural yield, as a sacrifice for the temple.

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Why this need for sacrifice? In English, we’re familiar with the proverb, ‘you can’t take it with you’. Most people, as they grow in awareness, become aware of the limits to the pleasure taken from physical objects. True, there is pleasure in a nice car and a beautiful house, and in fine tools, and art objects, comfortable furniture and toys. But there is also pleasure in knowing that that isn’t us. That these things are just an envelope surrounding us. And that in our center, there is something, almost indescribably, that is beyond the physical nature surrounding us.

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Those of us who eat meat deal with yet another paradox. We prefer to buy the meat as small geometric objects wrapped in nylon, ready to be roasted or cooked. The meat iyself has been disassociated from the animals from which it is taken. In the days of the temple, people brought their finest well loved farm animals as sacrifices, and these sacrifices reminded them of the temporary nature of all life. It inspired them to contemplate on their own impermanent presence in this world.

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I am sure that many of the people lining up to buy commodities on Black Friday are hoping to bring joy to their loved ones. And that, of course, is a worth while endeavor. But I can’t help wonder of those who throng the malls, haven’t chosen to distract themselves from the universal questions that trouble a man’s soul. Are we still missing something we had in the temple?

looking back

saw the founding fathers resting in their graves…
on my way out from your burial… I was in a daze
in memory of David

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There are smells, and sounds… certain places… sometimes clouds, or a certain blue in the sky that brings back old moments, memories… or emotions. One minute you’re on your way to buy a pack of cigarettes, and the next, you’re a young man on your way to work… and memories come rolling in, one after another… till those subjective visions have more substance than what you were planning to do with your day.

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I’ve never been one to revel in the joys of nostalgia. I prefer to enjoy each day as it comes, and to make the most of it. Not to give too much attention to the future or the past, but to savor the present. The library was my first home away from home. But if I visit the library today… even though that institution has lost most of its importance now that I’ve learned to take advantage of search engines and online academic facilities… still the library remains a store house of wisdom from the many different ages of man, and I enjoy it for what it has to offer me these days.

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But there’s a village in the Galilee, where years ago I tried to realize my ideals and fantasies… and where I tasted the sublime. It’s a place much like any other place. With good and bad, and all kinds of people who’ve made their homes there. Except that it wasn’t like any other for me. I chose to live there, among friends who had similar ideals to my own. It was there for me, at a critical stage of my life. I had already enjoyed the life of an adult for a number of years. I had started a family. I had made compromises and adjustments along the way. I pretty much knew what life had to offer if my luck stayed with me. And before I got sedentary or set in my ways, I wanted to try living according to my highest ideals, just to know if it could work. And to know whether the theories we kicked around in those days were practical.

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It was a time when a lot of people thought the world was on the threshold of a great social change. The youngsters who were attracting attention then, were chanting ‘make love not war’; and instead of checking just how many people could fit into a public telephone booth, there were those who chose to live in communes, to grow their own vegetables, to make their own movies, religions, and social order. Expanding one’s consciousness was considered a legitimate occupation. And tolerance and love for one’s fellow man was the spirit of the time.

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I didn’t choose a radical path. My choice was a commune which was based on traditional values. The family remained the basic building block of society. But we believed that everyone should enjoy the same income, regardless of talent or education. And that the unpopular jobs should be performed by all according to a system of rotation in which everyone did public service once every couple of weeks in order to keep things running as they should. Each person offered his work to the society according to his ability, and received according to his needs. That meant that the surgeon and the gardener received the same salary, but the invalid or madman was given all kinds of added resources in order to make his life more comfortable. Basic education was offered to all. But no one was forced to learn… or to live up to a standard that he didn’t choose. And those with special talents could develop them at the expense of the society as a whole. A friend of mine, who was an accomplished and successful writer, worked as a kindergarten teacher. And I, a scholar and a business man, grew bananas.

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The children lived in children’s houses, where they studied and played and lived life with the direction and nurture from teachers and counselors, and house mothers and fathers. They spent time with their parents every day. But they met with their parents at tea time, and learned to appreciate them around the table in social intercourse. Mother and father were not identified with punishment or demands. The time spent together was marked by friendship and common interests.

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Our leaders didn’t run for office, promoting themselves, and making promises of what they would do for the common man. They were chosen by others, and elected by common vote. And in most cases, they didn’t want the job, because it meant giving of their precious free time for the sake of the community. But usually they were persuaded to give of their talents for the common good. There was no police. Public opinion, and group pressure maintained order in our little world. Medical and dental treatment were free to all. The public spaces of our village were beautiful beyond description, cared for by gardeners who loved their work. I never saw litter. We all used to eat in a public dining room, and the food was good.

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There were flaws and weaknesses in the system, for all men and women are flawed. Many folks thought they were giving more than they were getting. There were pet peeves, and personal conflicts. There were in-groups, and outsiders. But it worked. I felt as if I’d found the garden of eden.

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This week, I went there to bury a friend. He was a good man and had lived a good life. He’d worked as a cotton grower, a tractor driver, and for many years as a skilled metal worker. He’d never asked for special consideration or a bonus. He was a modest man and didn’t stand out. But many in the community recognized his unique character and personality. His children had gone on to other places and other life styles, as many of the younger generation have done. The community has changed greatly. It is no longer a communal village.

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As I walked through the town, I couldn’t help but notice the changes. There were new roads, and parking lots. There weren’t many private vehicles when I lived there. We used to borrow a car from the car pool back in my day. The houses and gardens were more individualistic than I remembered. And the public dining room no longer caters to all comers. Nowadays, people prepare their meals at home, and children live with their parents. But as I walked along the streets and lanes of the village, I felt as if transported to a world that might still await us… a world of values that aren’t especially popular these days.

rooms of our home

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Our city is our home on a larger scale… There are rooms for intimacy, and rooms for study. Bed rooms, and entertainment halls. There are dives in which to lose ourselves to dreams and fantasies, and subconscious urges… and holy places where the whole includes that which is beyond us.

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mother and daughter

There’s the toilet, and the laundry room, and the balcony that looks out at the world around us… and the kitchen, and the dining room, and the salon where friends meet. There’s the store room, where we pick up what physical objects we need, if we can find them… the rooms with somber quiet, and the rooms with screams of excitement…

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synagogue

There are the halls we go through on the way from one place to another, and the chamber where we shine our shoes, or brush our hair. The TV room or the cinema… the children’s playroom, and that for the adults… and the sickroom, the dying room, and the room for giving birth.

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Some spend their time in art galleries… while others pass through halls, barely noticing the art hung there as decoration, meant to inspire the imagination as we go along our way to something else. There are work rooms and libraries… And high tech labs, and virtual rooms.

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There are those who like to read on the toilet. Some have sex there. Others prefer to be left alone there. Many like to hang out in rooms where you can stay in your underwear. And then there are those who prefer the rooms that demand that you come in suit and tie.

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Some like the rooms where people talk only in a whisper. Others like a never ending stream of music. And there are folk that breathe best on the balcony… mostly outside, but still attached to the home. It can be a venue for solitude or for love making; a place to gather with friends for sipping wine or drinking tea.

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Each of us can best judge the city by those rooms he or she most prefers. Some people have a favorite room, a favorite corner, a favorite chair… and you can mostly find them there. Others like to move around, take in the sights, enjoy the variety. There are some rooms you have to visit now and then. And others you may never see.

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The scenes in these photos are from the sick rooms of our city. There is no discrimination here. The young and old mingle in the hallways, and find solace in the compassion of healthy people who care enough to spend their time nursing and healing people from all walks of life and cultural backgrounds. The ill too, have access to the sacred, to study halls, art and play. I sat in the coffee shop, and had a double espresso and some cheese cake.

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blind faith

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after we’d finally arrived

Call me old fashioned, but a telephone for me, is still a miracle, even when I’m only using it to talk to one of my friends who lives two blocks away. But the rest of the world has gone on to bigger and greater things. Not so long ago, my grand daughter was visiting. She had just come out of the shower, and lifted the receiver off my rotary dial phone in the kitchen, and asked me how to adjust it to a medium warm blow. She’d never seen a phone like that, and thought it was a hair dryer.

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Rivka and Chana in the kitchen

And so, last week, when Rivka and I were over at Chana’s house, preparing dinner, I proudly told them of my success at sending a letter by way of telephone. They immediately began to encourage me. I was told of the wonders of using Waze. One could just jot down the destination in the program, and Waze would know the best and fastest way to get there. Rivka told me of a recent incident that happened on her way home from her Yoga class. She had her Waze on, and was taking the route she knew well. The fellow on the phone told her to take a right down some side street, but she ignored him, thinking she knew which way was fastest. But then a couple of blocks later, she got stuck in a terrible traffic jam. There’d been an accident. Cars were packed in for about a kilometer, as one by one, individual vehicles managed to pass the standing police cars and ambulance at the site. If only she had listened to the Waze, she said.

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Noga and Michael

Well, it was on Monday of this week, that Noga and I had arranged to visit my friend Michael, who lives in the little village of Vineyard, at the edge of Jerusalem. He lives on Yemenite Immigrants Street; I forget the number. It was raining, when we set out in the afternoon, and the entire city was one big parking lot, as it often is at the beginning of the rainy season. Cars were crawling along… moving a meter forward, and then having to wait a few minutes until the next opportunity to move again. Though I’ve driven to Vineyard so often, I could probably do it in my sleep, it did seem like these were just the circumstances in which to try out the wonderful new invention. I typed Yemenite Immigrants and Vineyard into the Waze program, and settled into the driver’s seat, happy in anticipation of finding the shortest route through the traffic, on our way to my friend’s house.

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telling our adventure to Michael – photo by Noga

Since I hadn’t yet hooked up my phone to the car, and didn’t know that blue tooth was anything but a tooth that had died and discolored, I asked Noga to hold the phone and just pass on the instructions to me. From the very beginning, I could appreciate the advantages of the program. Instead of the usual situation in which a friend suddenly yells ‘take a right now’ or ‘turn left’, forcing me to cross a lane in the last moment to execute the maneuver, this program gave me warning 800 meters before I had to make the turn. It even advised me ahead of time to switch from one lane to another. I was happy to have joined the world of the enlightened.

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Strangely enough, though, I was getting instructions that I would never have thought possible. With a surety that only a robot could muster, the GPS program had me go left when I thought right, and into a neighborhood I thought totally illogical. But I remembered what Rivka had told me. How clever, the program was helping me to avoid an accident scene. We were going to get there much faster than we would have, had we gone the old route.

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And then amazingly, we were out of the traffic jam, and down an old road I didn’t even recognize. It was a little narrow, and when a car came the other way, we had to pass one another carefully, with one car or the other going slightly off the road, it was so narrow. But I was ecstatic. Wasn’t it great that Waze had found the way to avoid all the traffic?! The phone told us to go left when we reached the fork in the road. It got dark. The rain kept coming down. Then there was a turn to the right which put us on a road that was even worse. There were no street lights here. We were driving through the Jerusalem forest, And when we left the forest, the pavement gave out. It had been supplanted by gravel. ‘Maybe we should go back’, said Noga, a bit aghast at our surroundings. But I insisted. What? You want to get back into the traffic jam in town?

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photo by Noga

After the next right, I could tell by the limited light of my headlamps, that we were now on a dirt road with large rocks here and there, and holes where you didn’t expect them. From the speed of a horse’s pace I slowed down to what might best be called a walk. Fortunately, we were no longer encountering any cars coming the opposite way. But finally, after hopping over the rocks and trying to avoid the holes, we encountered a large sign. It was so dark I couldn’t see what it said. But I got out my flashlight, and put its light on the sign. It said, ‘graveyard’. A couple of letters were weather worn, but it was still readable. The Waze was no longer speaking to us. Noga thought we might have gotten to an area where there was no cell phone reception. So we kept going straight. But soon we were facing another fork in the road. Except that this time, it looked as if both choices in front of us were foot paths. I turned the car around, and that’s when the right rear tire blew. Luckily, I had a spare.

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I was ready to go back by then. But the problem was that I didn’t know where in the hell I was. As we slowly made our way back, we checked any signs we could find. It was then that we discovered the intersection of Vineyard street and the Yemenite Immigration. And it turned out that we were in the backwoods town of Olive Tree. I would never have guessed that. But fortunately, the town of Vineyard was only an hour away. Hope you enjoy the pictures of Michael’s home. On our way back to Jerusalem, we decided to go without the help of artificial intelligence.