wisdom of the past

Since starting to use the internet, I’ve encountered a regular stream of quotations from well known thinkers and writers, on a variety of subjects meant to enlighten and encourage us. I’ve often felt that the quotations were false. They didn’t always fit the personality of the individual being quoted. Sometimes they quoted a person whom I’d previously read, and the quote seemed highly unlikely. Occasionally they were irrelevant, such as: “Always zip up your fly before going out” by Albert Einstein. When seeing something like that, I wonder how many people go to the source and try to understand the thoughts and intentions of the person quoted.

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I got a comment from our friend Cheri a few weeks ago that included a recommendation of River Of Doubt by Candace Millard. I read a couple of reviews, and bought the book. I had long heard of Theodore Roosevelt, but had never read him. I had read about him in history books. many years ago. I knew he had written quite a bit himself. But none of his books are translated into Hebrew. Thinking about him, and this tale of an adventure of his in South America, I thought that I would rather meet him in his own words before I read the book about him. I got his autobiography. It’s very different to read a man’s account of his own life as compared to how others see him. Even as I read the forward, I felt a great respect for him. I’ve been reading about American presidents and following their speeches and decisions since the days of Eisenhower and I had never encountered anyone like him. He reminded me of Thomas Jefferson who had led that nation a hundred years before Roosevelt.

As I continued to read the autobiography, I learned to love the man. He was a true leader and teacher. A modest man, he was very aware of his faults and his limitation. He saw himself as a regular fellow. He writes of an occasion when he was toasted by the crew of a Navy vessel on which he had sailed with his wife. It was a a time when he was working with a Government Commission to revive the inland waterways of the country. At the conclusion of the trip, one of the petty officers proposed the toast as follows “Now then, men, three cheers for Theodore Roosevelt, the typical American citizen!” That was the way in which they thought of the American President, and it pleased him greatly.

As a child he had health problems, was a bit weak. As he describes it, he was neither a genius nor exceptionally gifted in talent. But he kept on working on himself, trying to learn what this life was all about and what was truly valuable. He read and studied as a youth. Often beaten by bullies, he learned how to box in order to defend himself. And as a young man, he left his comfortable environment in a well-to-do neighborhood of New York City, and went out west (in those days the Dakotas were considered part of the west), and chose to live the life of a cowboy. As he progressed in life, he sought out challenges; tried to actually live the experiences that attracted him in books. Moreover, he tried to live his life according to the values he believed in, and though he had the greatest respect and affection for the common man, he was not satisfied to go along with the crowd.

Perhaps he was overshadowed by the second President Roosevelt, but in these days, when so many Americans are disappointed by the present American President, I think it would be very helpful to read this exemplary man. For he saw that there was something wrong with the direction his country was taking, and tried to change things. And he tells us what works and what doesn’t when you’re trying to make a change, trying to reform established practices. I don’t agree with all of his opinions, but I do think that what he writes about is important for all who love and care for democracy. And I believe that he presents his values well. He translated the ideas of ‘conservation’ (now called ecology), to a working plan for government, and was the first leader in the world who actually provided tools of government with which to control the abuse of the environment.

He writes:

The men who first applied the extreme Democratic theory in American life were, like Jefferson, ultra individualists, for at that time what was demanded by our people was the largest liberty for the individual. During the century that had elapsed since Jefferson became President the need had been exactly reversed. There had been in our country a riot of individualistic materialism, under which complete freedom for the individual— that ancient license which President Wilson a century after the term was excusable has called the “New” Freedom— turned out in practice to mean perfect freedom for the strong to wrong the weak.

He writes that he often listen and consulted with those with whom he did not agree. He even deliberates on whether one should listen to the arguments of truly evil people, and says that he was able to learn even from them.

I consulted all who wished to see me; and if I wished to see any one, I sent for him … and I always finally acted as my conscience and common sense bade me act.

I would find an occasional humorous anecdote here and there, and laughed along with him as I read.

There was a big governmental job in which this leader was much interested, and in reference to which he always wished me to consult a man whom he trusted, whom I will call Pitt Rodney. One day I answered him, “The trouble with Rodney is that he misestimates his relations to cosmos”; to which he responded, “Cosmos— Cosmos? Never heard of him. You stick to Rodney. He’s your man!”

He talks about reading and books, giving great advice to the student. He might not have told all about his presidency, but he did tell how he worked to live a meaningful life. Telling that, he manages to cover numerous activities that we all engage in. And there is much to learn from his words. I could bring you many quotes from the book, but I will conclude with a short one that I found most important:

But life is a great adventure, and the worst of all fears is the fear of living.

 

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so-called peaceful demonstration

This week all of Israel rejoiced at the opening of the American Embassy in Jerusalem. Though Jerusalem has been our capital for 3000 years, the nations of the world have found some pleasure in ignoring that. And the fact that since the establishment of the modern state of Israel, this city has been the nation’s capital. I heard that in a few countries, some folks were so outraged that they got out on the street to demonstrate against the US for moving its embassy to our city. I hope those were peaceful demonstrations.

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In 1948, after the UN approved a partition plan for the area that had been previously known as Palestine, four Arab nations invaded us, declaring that they were going to push us into the sea. It wasn’t the first time. There had been murderous attacks against us by Arab Moslems for 100 years. I can’t begin to tell you how surprised these Arabs were when they realized that we, bookish and spoiled Jews, were fighting back. And they were unable to complete their project. They celebrate a day of mourning when we celebrate Independence day. Nakba means catastrophe, and they consider the independence of Israel the catastrophe rather than remembering that they themselves caused the disaster by making war on us when we were ready and willing to share with them, accept the UN partition, and live together in peace. Since then, there have been wars with Israel’s neighbors every few years. This is very painful for us, because we are a peace loving people. We are also a compassionate people. We would rather be doing all kinds of other things than making war. But when people openly say that they are working to exterminate you, it makes you cautious.

After the war we provided the Arabs living in our country with citizenship and all the freedoms that we enjoy. The Israeli Arabs enjoy a standard of living far higher than the average for the middle east, and freedom of speech that it is incomparable with any other country in this area of the world. In fact, we have Arab members of parliament who regularly denounce us and lie about us to our faces.

The so-called occupied territories were not taken from any other nation. They were included in the Balfour Declaration published by the British Government in support of the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. The Pals embraced the four countries that invaded us, and were appropriated by Jordan after the ’48 war. In 1967 we once again were promised by our Arab neighbors that they were going to destroy us and push us into the sea, and after one of our ports was blockaded, we moved first, and hit them in the nose. That war is known as the 6 day war.

In 2005, our prime minister, Ariel Sharon, decided to try an experiment for peace. He ousted 10,000 Jewish families from the Gaza strip, so that the Arabs could live in peace without Jews to bother them. They received farms and hot houses, and all kinds of modern facilities which they could use to build their own little county. A few short years later, the radical Islamic terrorists of Chamas received more votes in an election than the PLO, and started replacing public officials and clerks by dropping them out of 8 story windows.

The PLO had not taken any pains to develop the land that they had received. They had destroyed almost everything. But they did build luxury homes for the rich. They had a few night clubs and a marina. Then when the Chamas took charge, the whole society went on war footing. The children went to terrorist summer camps, and I actually saw the videos of children with war paint on their faces, and toy rifles in their hands practicing jumping through rings of fire so that they would know how to invade Jewish cities, and kill Jews. Then we had a few wars. I don’t know their names in English. I might have even forgotten a few names in Hebrew. I wouldn’t say that we won. But I can assure you that they didn’t either. The Chamas spent all of it’s resources to make weapons. They are making tunnels to cross the border and attack Jewish villages. They used one of those tunnels to attack a group of soldiers, and kidnapped one of them which they took back to Gaza. After bombarding us with rockets for quite some time, we developed a system which intercepts missiles and rockets. After a series of failures in making war against us, but some success in murder and mayhem, they devised a new plan.

This project is called peaceful civilian demonstrations. Just like in Europe which refuses to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the Pals of Gaza refuse to accept Israel as a state at all. They want the return of Palestine. They explained to their poor starving people that Israelis don’t shoot at women and children, so they need a lot of women and children in the demonstrations. And cleverly they salted the demonstrations with a relatively small number of blood hungry murderers and vandals. These hoodlums flew kites over the border fence; with attached incendiary devices, which burned the fields of the farmers on the other side of the border. They stormed the Pal side of the border crossing, destroying everything in it, even though this is a life line for them by which Israel sends 100s of trucks bearing food and equipment for them every day. They even destroyed the pipes which bring them natural gas for cooking and heating. And you can learn from this that the blockade that they complain about all the time is not a complete blockade. We don’t want them to suffer. We just don’t want them to import any more weapons. Still the Chamas appropriates the money and goods sent by donor countries, and invests it all in their fight. They are militants. When they started tearing down the border fence (after burning tires to make a lot of smoke so that we wouldn’t see what they were doing), we started shooting.

I just read that we have a new weapon. It was put into use for the first time on Nakba day, the day after the 60 fatalities at the border fence. This is a stink bomb which is dropped by a UAV on a riotous crowd. Let’s hope it works.

home and garden

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the garden behind my home

In the past, I’ve taken you along with me on many a walk, here in Jerusalem. Sometimes in my own neighborhood, and now and then, in other neighborhoods I love. Once, a long time past, I published a series on a number of different communities here. Yet often, after photographing a neighborhood, I feel a sense of frustration. I have such a love for this city… for almost every quarter and every street. Each time I go to the town center, I feel an emotional uplift… and have the same feeling when I am out of town and return to my beloved city. Usually, I would return in my own car, and as I went up the mountain, especially after Ein Chemed, I’d feel this swelling in my chest… of happiness, to be back home, and excitement in anticipation of seeing the city again.

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the perimeter of the block – ‘the gardens of Katamon’

Taking a portrait of a person, one discovers many faces. In Hebrew, the word for face is usually used in its plural form. But it is possible to take a single portrait, and to capture that person that we or his or her acquaintances know. I have done that many times, but when coming to photograph this city, or a part of it… I always have the feeling that I have left out more than I have captured. There is so much here. Recently I got to know a blog which regularly publishes a photo with the title ‘1000 words’. I asked the blogger where the words were, and she told me that she’d heard a picture is worth a thousand words. I think that sometimes that is true. But I have often thought that words, or a painting, have a great advantage over photography. The artist is free to produce those delicate variations that don’t make it into the photo.

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As some of you may remember, I moved to a new home about four years ago. It’s a very nice home, in a pleasant residential neighborhood. I have a neighborhood park right behind my home, so it serves almost as a personal garden. I’ve published some photos of it and the immediate surroundings, in a number of posts since I moved. I couldn’t ask for more. But today I want to introduce you to a small building project in the middle of the city, that is sort of hidden away, not far from the German Colony, which is one of the up beat neighborhoods these days. It is called ‘the gardens of Katamon’.

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It is built on a square piece of land with three and four story houses sitting in line at the perimeter of the block. Their faces towards the center, which is a landscaped park with trees, flower bushes and grass. It’s a fine place to visit, which I do occasionally. And I’m sure it’s a great place to live. I’ve visited that project since it was built, about 20 years ago, and always thought it must be one of the best places to live in the whole city. I get a sense of completeness when walking there. I imagine that the people who live there must surely live happy lives, even though I don’t know anyone personally who lives in one of those homes.

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Even so, it wouldn’t be the right place for me. We all have our personal tastes and particular demands when looking for a home. Some people like the excitement of the center of town. Others want a grocery store just a few steps from home. Lots of people like to live close to work, or close to where their friends live. There are people in our city who would only consider living in a neighborhood where most of the people have the same religious or cultural inclination as they do. Only the luckiest among us are able to find a home in the neighborhood we want, available at an affordable price, and fulfilling all of our demands including the way it looks. But most of us here are very happy to be living in this city that we love.

 

Most of these pictures are from an album of the place found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/shimonz/albums/72157696040847104
Those of you who would like to revisit the post in which I shared the environment of my new home are welcome to find it here: https://thehumanpicture.wordpress.com/2014/04/25/in-the-vicinity/

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celebrating lag b’omer

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remembering Henny Penny

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the lobby of the Agricultural Center for Community Gardening in Jerusalem

As I mentioned in my previous post, it’s tiring listening to the political messages we keep getting from the news media. Thinking about it, and in discussions with friends, I realize that it’s not just politics. Something has changed in the way that news is offered us. Maybe it’s been a long process, starting with the more subjective approach to journalism, called the ‘new journalism’ in the 60s, and reaching the level of an hysterical rant in recent years. The way issues are presented reminds me of ‘re-education’ in China during the cultural revolution there. The news media, having taught us politically correct discussion, are now trying to move us into action. I haven’t joined facebook but every now and then, the various movements or causes that reach prominence on that social platform are reported in the news as well, and it’s not clear whether these reports are meant to point fun at the social media or whether they’re considered important concerns for all of us these days.

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the old nature museum

Of course, there are also the real world social movements, like the ‘me too’ revolution, the anti-smoking movement, and the warnings of climate change on the planet. I feel obliged to mention that I oppose the abuse of women, addiction of any sort, and have believed all my life that pollution of the environment is an affront to nature and a terrible abuse of the general public. All the same, I don’t like to be preached to constantly. And I’m disturbed when I see a large portion of the public resorting to extralegal means to influence the processes of government or the courts.

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There has been quite a bit of controversy regarding the climate warming issue. The big question seems to be not whether the planet is warming, but whether man is responsible for this change. But it should be pointed out, that even if we human beings are not responsible (and we know there have been ice ages and scorching periods on the planet before man took over), we still have the same interest in trying to prevent a world disaster, whether it be a critical change in climate or an asteroid that comes crashing into our world. DrBob sent me a very interesting article recently which suggests that there may have been some very sudden climate changes in the past as a result of a reversal of the magnetic field of the planet.

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Yet what is to be gained by scaring ourselves and our friends with extremely pessimistic forecasts regarding the future? I too have my doubts about the future. I am convinced that we are watching the dawn of a new age that will be different from anything that has come before. We can expect changes just as radical as those that came after the development of sophisticated tools by cave men. I don’t believe that we can stand in the way of such change, even if we disapprove the path that society seems to be taking. Virtual reality might be a preview to an entirely different attitude towards sensual awareness. And we have yet to see what computers can do when they’re designed by computers.

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inside of the hot house

So, in an effort to find a balanced perspective regarding our relationship to nature and the environment, I visited the Agricultural Center for Community Gardening of Jerusalem this week. What impressed me the most was the ‘hotel for insects and bugs’. I had some expectations before I visited the place, but this was something I hadn’t even imagined. A home built by humans to offer insects and bugs a little comfort in this world. Usually we are just killing them or banishing them from whatever space we seize. And this was just the sort of thing I had been wondering about… is there a positive way to deal with the phenomena that disturb us, rather than just complaining or crying about it?

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Another thing that impressed me profoundly was hearing that there are 70 community gardens in Jerusalem, including allotments and wild flower reserves. I wrote about the allotment in my neighborhood a while back. You can find it here: http://tinyurl.com/y9c673o6

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the hotel for insects and bugs

The agricultural center is manned by some very talented and schooled volunteers. They are situated right next to the nature museum. They build a lot of their facilities and furniture themselves from recycled wood, sponsor a free library, lend tools to amateurs, hold seminars and cultural get-togethers. There is the Saturday ‘garden meet’ every week featuring lectures and cultural events. A photography exhibit was still on the walls when I was there. They have a very professional looking compost facility, conduct experiments in growing plant life on water without earth, and rely on an exceptionally well designed nursery to provide plants to all the different community gardens in our city. Quite a few of the many plant species native to our region have become extinct, and the botanists and green thumbs of the agricultural center are doing their best to prevent the extinction of such endangered species today. As I wandered around the grounds, there was no end of delightful surprises and a great variety of sights and smells.

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a demonstration roof garden

There was a fascinating roof garden, with huge wooden plant pots in which you could grow your own food, even if you lived in an apartment house. I think it would be hard for anyone to visit this center without catching a bit of the excitement about what is going on and the enthusiasm of the volunteers of all ages. The attitude among the workers and visitors is one of encouragement and friendship.

for more pictures from this visit see:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/shimonz/albums/72157668282675148

yin & yang of independence day

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On the Jewish new year, we have a two day celebration, and there is a lot of feasting, and prayers and song… and then we have a fast day immediately after; it is called the fast of Gedalia in memory of a politician who got murdered about two thousand years ago. The fast day fits in right with the holiday, it is a built in anti-climax to the feast.

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This week we have Independence Day. It comes with a prologue. The day before is memorial day, and that gives us the opportunity to thank the soldiers who died in defense of our country immediately before celebrating our independence. Each year is somewhat different. There have been times when the excitement and happiness of the holiday filled me before I had adequately mourned for our fallen soldiers. And there were times when I managed to transcend from mourning into joy exactly as prescribed, on the eve of Independence Day.

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This year was different for me. I got into reveries of memorial day as never before. Could be because there has been a lot of politics in the air lately; a lot of political controversy here in Israel, and I couldn’t turn on the radio, even to hear the news without being exposed to an overdose of politics. And so, on memorial day, I chose not to listen to the radio as I usually do. Instead of listening to the stories of different soldiers who died in our many disparate wars, I thought back on some of my friends and relatives who had died in action. I got up in the morning and after a short prayer, started listening to a Jewish blues musician whom I thought could well accompany this day’s mood. I opened my mail, and there was a letter from my old friend Alan, who lives in the northern Negev. He wrote about memory and memories, which complemented some of my reflections.

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My thoughts were on the painful memories. How to deal with them. There was a time when I was much younger, that I wished to erase them from my mind. I thought I knew how to do that at the time. I left a message with my mind, ‘don’t ever remind me’. And a whole block of memories just disappeared from my thoughts. Till one day, I was struggling with new problems… and decided to do some soul searching. Well what do you know? A whole slew of unexpected memories awoke, all of them ready to party in my head. I tried to relate to them from the perspective of an older man. I wasn’t old then, but I’d had quite a bit of experience since I’d lived those earlier times, and I was able to think of them rationally. It occurred to me that I had been a different man when I had those earlier experiences. I had kept growing… I had kept changing. And the circumstances around me had changed. Thinking about it, those earlier memories were part of an incarnation that I had lived and left. There had been more than one reincarnations since then, and I was truly living another life today. It seemed I could look back and consider the events of that previous lifetime without suffering all the pain.

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Thinking back to fighting and war, losing a friend who was a true hero with a lion’s heart… another friend, who had been disadvantaged from childhood, and overcame a handicapped body, built a life for himself, and found a wife and started a family relatively late in life, only to be stabbed in the back by an Arab at a bus stop. He might not even have known what hit him. It’s a hot day in Jerusalem. A taste of summer in the spring. There’s something of a dust cloud over us, blocking out the blue skies. But they say it’ll cool down tomorrow and the skies will clear. It should be a good day for a celebration. I plan to go out on my balcony, and have a picnic there with friends. I used to go out to nature to have that picnic, according to the advice of Rabbi Cook. He said it would be proper to celebrate the holiday by walking at least four paces on our land where we’d never been before. And this was something I enjoyed doing. But then there were more and more people who did likewise, and now there are millions who go out on the holiday, and I don’t want to be caught in a traffic jam in my search for ‘nature’. So I find satisfaction on my back balcony, outside but still attached to home. When you’re fighting for your life… or your country, you like to think of the future, and your hopes for your survivors. You think of destiny. But on independence day this year, I’ll just enjoy the present. I’ll sit with my friends on the balcony, and open a bottle of wine. I’ll enjoy the freedom that those friends dreamed of when fighting our country’s battles.

Jonah In The Whale

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found in a Jerusalem garden…
and finally an answer to those of us who were wondering all these years, what was Jonah doing in that whale? studying torah, of course.