the romantic trail

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caution, frog crossing

Yesterday, the third day of the first heat wave of spring, Chana and I drove north to the ‘source of the Yarkon’, a national park neighboring the city of Rosh Ha’ayin, called Afek in distant history. It wasn’t all that hot in Jerusalem. But we knew that most places outside of the city might be too hot for a day trip, and this seemed to us a fine place for adventure. We packed a picnic, took cameras and maps, a folding chair for me, and we were on our way.

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Usually I like to take the back roads and the slow roads to all destinations. But since we knew we would have a lot to see once we got there, we made an exception this time, and took Highway 6, arriving there in just a little more than an hour. Though there were a few groups of children around… and in one area we did encounter the grating sound of an enthusiastic nature counselor urging some of those children on to a demonstration of physical prowess, with the help of some electronic amplifying equipment, most of the park was peaceful and calm. We chose to follow the example of the ducks on the pond, and avoid the youthful noise, taking comfort in the natural beauty of old trees and calm waters. It was a beautiful day.

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The sun wasn’t always out. At times, cloud banks covered the sky. But the weather was in movement, and there were ample opportunities to capture the full color spectrum when the sun did show itself. The natural scene was rich and inviting. Trees supplied ample shade. And there were a number of adults enjoying the advantages of the park.

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There is a small Baptist village just outside the park, and there was a couple, two middle aged Baptists dressed in comfortable walking attire, that we kept running into, though we traversed the park from one end to the other. Along the way we discovered the ‘romantic trail’, adorned as it was with a magnificent array of beautiful flowers.

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the two Baptists

From prehistoric times, the land of Israel served as a pathway between Africa and Europe. And from earliest history the city of Rosh Ha’Ayin, which translates into English as ‘the fountainhead’, was a focal point of that passageway.

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The city is mentioned in the old testament and in Egyptian documents from eighteen centuries before the common era. Seemingly, it became an important city in historic times because of the springs found there, which provide plentiful water. The Yarkon river which flows to Tel Aviv and through it, originates there. And the national park we visited is located right next to the city.

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I have to admit that the ducks were very cautious and we never did get close enough to get a good picture. Nor did we find a single frog willing to pose for the camera. But we did hear them when we approached the larger bodies of water. I have a very beautiful frog portrait from a previous visit to the same park, but decided to share with you only those shots captured yesterday. And it was only after returning to Jerusalem, that I realized that I hadn’t gotten a single duck photo, and felt a certain measure of sorrow. Because ducks are rather rare in our country. I should have tried harder.

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Still, there was a bit of comfort knowing that I had captured my dear friend Chana, actually hugging a tree, evidence that even here, in the backward middle east, one can find enlightened people who know how to express their love for nature in the most up to date manner.

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There was no need for my folding chair. We found plenty of picnic tables and benches to sit upon, and our picnic was all the more delicious, in the shade of an old eucalyptus tree, having the local birds serenade us as we ate both humus and soft cheese with pita bread and tasty spices, and quenched our thirst with local beer.

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We will be celebrating Pentecost this coming Sunday, and I imagine that the park will be filled to overflowing with visitors on the holiday. How lucky we were to visit just before the big rush, enjoying the serenity of this natural treasure at its best. And how good it was to conclude such a pleasurable adventure, knowing that we were about to return to our beloved home town, Jerusalem.

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not a duck, but it was a pleasure meeting this bird…

wisdom of our parents

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Our sages told us, he who chases after honor… honor will escape him. And he who tries to avoid honor, honor will chase after him.

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And likewise we heard, don’t work to win a prize.

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Watched television last night. It was one of those reality shows. You know, the type that gets you praying, ‘please don’t let this be reality’. Sometimes it comes as ‘news’. Sometimes, it’s an event.

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If you’re not careful, you can start identifying with the characters in the show… thinking I would do it this way, or I would try something else.

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After a while, I started thinking I would have enjoyed my time a lot more if I’d been watching cats.

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I like the company of cats because they don’t flatter, and they don’t try to please us…

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love and ego

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Many years ago, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, of blessed memory, was visiting with friends and students in Jerusalem. Word of his presence in our city soon spread among his followers, and one by one and then in small groups, people started showing up at the apartment where he was staying. Outside, the sun was setting. Inside, it was beginning to get dark. A friend went to the light switch, about to turn on the electric light. But then Shlomo said, I would prefer a candle. A candle was placed in a single candlestick and lit. The sun went down completely, and more people came. After evening prayers, Shlomo asked for more candles.

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Rabbi Shlomo singing with friends

Friends melted the base of a candle and stuck it to a little plate. More and more candles were lit and placed on shelves and on the tops of high book cases. The apartment filled with people and Shlomo encouraged them to light more candles. A few friends went out to get more candles, and soon there were more candles than could be counted. They provided a soft light that filled the room. Friends pulled guitars out, bells and drums, and other musical instruments. We told each other stories, and sang songs together. Though each particular candle offered just a modest amount of light, all of the many candles together filled the apartment with light.

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At one point, when there was a natural pause in the conversation and the music, Reb Shlomo waved his hand, signifying the many candles, he said, ‘You see, each candle is like a human soul radiating its own particular light. But when we are all together, the space is filled with light, and it is difficult to attribute this great light to any specific source’.

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This week began for me with a visit to the rose garden opposite the Knesset, our parliament here in Jerusalem. The newly elected members of parliament were trying to organize a new government. And the news media was filled with dire warnings about what might or might not happen. But now, in the height of spring, the rose garden was filled with flowers, and the sun was shining overhead, and the sky was blue.

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Yesterday was the holiday of Lag B’omer. A day dedicated to the memory of the great mystic, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who was born and married and died on this day, and taught us a mystical understanding of the light in this world. It is also a day in which we remember the struggle of our ancestors against the Romans. It is a holiday which is marked by bonfires and celebration in the middle of a very serious period of time, during which we progress from our exodus from slavery and aspire to the acceptance of enlightenment. And that is such serious work for the soul, that it is a great relief to have a day of fun and joy to offer release from our contemplation on the fact that true freedom is found only when one has a framework of values and intentional behavior.

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dancing around the bonfire

While watching the revelry around the campfires, I was reminded of Reb Shlomo’s words in praise of the candles. Let us remember the unique character of each and every human being, and value his individual contribution to our society. But remember too that the light that we generate is not held within, but is shared by all, lighting up the world around us and bringing us the warmth and happiness of love.

end of a long day

Oh, there were resolutions
to keep a low profile
to pace myself
to take it easy,
because nothing is so important
anyway
but yesterday
there was an inertia
that got out of hand
like a rolling thunder
and good people
whom I couldn’t say no to…
then, by the end of the day
I was simply worn out…
And found myself gazing
down the street
just like this cat here
at the edge of the day
in the light of the sun
going down

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cat gazing down the street

celebrating my country

There are private days, and birthdays, and holidays, and days when you get paid, and days when you pay your taxes or rent… the last day to get your car license renewed… all kinds of days. But today is a community day. One in which I join my countrymen in celebration of our state. Usually we go for a picnic, and take a few steps where we’ve never been in our little country. But today it’s raining, so it’s a modest celebration. I’ll have a few drinks, see a few friends, listen to music, and laugh a bit. Last night there were fireworks in the skies of Jerusalem, and there was quite a bit of wine on the table. Fruit salad, cake, candles and incense. On the radio, they told us to keep pets inside because they sometimes have a negative reaction to the fire crackers. But since I don’t usually limit my cat’s freedom, she was free to watch if she wanted to.

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a few gazelles in the Negev, near the Rimon Crater.

The gazelle is an important symbol in regards to our country, which is traditionally called, ‘land of the gazelle’. They are considered brave and glorious, and they are very graceful. You can watch them as they run across the rock studded countryside, almost hovering over the land, their path never impeded by obstacles. They were harder to find forty or fifty years ago, but their population has greatly increased in recent years, and you can spot them easily now. They often approach the very edges of populated areas towards sunset, checking things out… and sometimes looking for food and water.

And since our days start with the evening, and are followed by the light and day on the principle of darkness before light, I am in the middle of this joyous occasion, and despite the rain, giving it all my heart. And to my virtual friends, my best wishes for a beautiful and luxurious carefree day.

skies and fields

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We were a little south of Jerusalem last week, looking at the flowers and the trees in a nature reserve. It occurred to me that in springtime the flowers are sometimes so plentiful that we don’t really examine them as individuals. Both flowers and trees can become pleasant backgrounds, taken for granted.

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In contrast to that scenery, let us take a look at the skies and fields a little to the north of Jerusalem, in the county of Benjamin. Often seen as a background to human activity, when focused upon for their own beauty, we can see the counterpoint of images, as if in conversation: the boulders at the edge of the field and the little clouds above, lighter, but still like individual rock clouds of heaven.

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I let my eyes wander across the sky, looking at the arrangement of the clouds. Usually I need the horizon to enjoy a picture… but just this once, I lose myself in the story of the clouds. The skies change dramatically, sometimes every few minutes. There are heavy cloud banks that hang on for a while, filtering the light differently… and then the scene changes again as time goes by.

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Down below, on solid ground, the rocks and boulders give way to a grove of olive trees. Between those rocks you’ll find soft greenery, tempting and luscious to the goats and sheep that graze there, and to the gazelle, a native life form on our land. The gazelles run over the rocks without hesitation… they know how to dance across the rough terrain.

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And the olive trees; they too are native to our land. The fruit of those trees have been part of our daily meal for generations and centuries. They’ve provided the oil for our lamps since the beginning of recorded history. They’re so common, so much part of the scenery, that they too often taken for granted.

seven days

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this concept is an accepted maxim in Jewish tradition. What starts out as a custom becomes law.

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The holiday of Passover, like the holiday of Tabernacles, lasts 7 days. The first and the last day of the holiday is similar to a Sabbath.

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During the intermediate days we are permitted to ride in a vehicle, use electric devices, and write as well as read. I can write my blog, for instance.

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Unlike the Sabbath, we are allowed to cook on the first and last days of the holiday. Unless one of them falls on the Sabbath. This year, the first day fell on the Sabbath. And so we had to prepare the food before the start of the holiday.

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So this is a holiday, when many of my countrymen and women go out to enjoy nature, and revel in the spring. I used to go out with the intention to photograph the beauty of nature… But I found that landscape photography was often difficult, because in this season it is often rainy or hazy.

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Still, there are some beautiful days…
And there are very special flowers that bloom at this time.

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Right now, as I write you, there is the wail of a strong wind blowing through the city. Yesterday was a better day, and together with two sweet friends we wandered off on dirt roads, southwest of Jerusalem.

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The intermediate days are more open to subjective celebration, personal taste, and individual pleasures.

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with Noga in the forest; photo by Chana

Many Israelis enjoy a barbeque, by which they celebrate the holiday. I attended one such barbeque this week, which was very enjoyable. My friends drank wine. I drank grapefruit juice with Vodka. Beer is forbidden on Passover and so is whisky, because fermented grain is not allowed.

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These amazing flowers are called the blood of the Maccabees in Hebrew, and the little beetle appreciating the flower, known as a ladybug in English, is called Moses’ red cow in Hebrew.

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This evening marks the beginning of the last day of the holiday. It is followed by the Sabbath, so in many ways we’re about to enjoy a two day Sabbath. That means an extra day without bread.

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We will continue eating matzot, unleavened bread until the conclusion of the Sabbath. And after that, back to normal.