The Sea of Galilee

Last week, we got a glimpse of the Sea of Galilee after laughing about politics and politicians. It was a great release from the tension of the campaign here. But it was a rather hazy day, and I didn’t photograph much. Then, after getting some comments about the place, I thought it’d be nice to share some more pictures and subjective impressions of this beloved and essential site.

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In Hebrew, we call this sea, Kineret, which refers to the violin or the biblical harp. There are those who believe it got its name because of a similarity in shape to the body of a violin or a harp. But in fact, there is no recognizable similarity. On the other hand, the talmud tells us that the name was given because its fruits are as sweet as the sound of a violin. Around the beginning of the common era, it was called Tiberias Lake, after the city Tiberias, which sits on the western edge of the sea, and is one of our four holy cities. The city of Tiberias was a center of the Jewish population from the middle ages until the 19th century. Though the name of the town is usually attributed to the Roman Emperor Tiberius, another opinion is found in our literature, where it is referred to as the navel of the country. In Hebrew, ‘tabur’ means navel. It was also the site where the sanhedrin (our ancient parliament) was convened in its last stages.

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The sea and the town of Tiberias are a little more than 200 meters below sea level. So the weather is usually warm there, and the air is rich in oxygen. There are also a number of natural mineral-water pools in the area that were considered health resorts even in ancient times, and still attract tourists to this day. In another country, it probably wouldn’t be called a sea at all. I have seen bodies of water that were larger, which were called lakes in other lands. But we have a little country, and a tendency to call hills mountains, and to think of lakes as seas. In the past hundred years, as our people worked to rebuild our ancient homeland, this sweet water lake provided water for a large part of Israel. Today we have very efficient desalination plants which are contributing an ever growing supply of water.

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How well I remember my first visit to the Kineret many years ago, as a young man. I stayed in a hotel in Tiberias, on the west bank of the sea. I loved the people there. They were warm and open hearted, and seemed to have a simple approach to life. I was enchanted by the beauty of the locale, the many colored boats and the fish… the smells of those fish, and the sight of them linger in my mind to this day. Exotic music was heard from the open shops, some of them displaying their wares on the sidewalks in front. There were fishermen repairing their nets as they carried on conversations that could be overheard by the passers by. The city is home to the devoutly religious too, and attracts pilgrims of both the Jewish and Christian faiths, who come from afar to visit sacred places. And tourists as well, come to appreciate the sights and sounds, oblivious to the long history of the place.

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I remember once, hearing a strange singsong chanting, that was coming from behind the hotel where I was staying. Following the sound, I discovered a group of people who seemed from another world. They walked along slowly, as a group, singing as they went. For they had come on a group pilgrimage to visit the grave of Maimonides, the great Jewish philosopher of the middle ages, who is considered one of the greatest torah scholars of all time. His grave was not far from the hotel. And this group of people had a presence, enveloped in innocence and holiness. Curious as to what they were doing, I approached them. Their dress and their manner… even their accent in speaking Hebrew were completely different from my own. But they embraced me without a second of hesitation, and begged me to walk along with them as they told me of the wonders of the great teacher’s mind.

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The pictures posted here are part of a series of photos that I took on the east bank of the Kineret. Together with some favorite students, and a few artist friends, we were on a nature trip to the Galilee. I got up early one morning, and watched the sun rise. And then, walking along the shore, I studied the meeting of water and earth.

election results

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inspirational images including the father of modern Israel

Well, you remember, my friends, I wrote a while back, that in the middle of a parliamentary term, the government had been dissolved and a new election was called (see: http://tinyurl.com/luu3kkq). The moment it happened, I knew the hardest part would be listening to the propaganda. But I’m proud to announce that I survived. Still have a full head of hair, and didn’t suffer the expected bouts of suicidal despair. All the same, I have to admit, it was hard listening to all the lies and distortions that people managed to cram into just a very…. few months of electioneering.

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booths were set up on the sidewalks for the party faithfuls to convince passers by

Eventually, the day of judgment arrived. According to law, all political campaigning must stop for the last three days before election day. But our fine news men and women, and the radio announcers and TV personalities assumed that we’d become so used to the bombardment of mistruths, that we were addicted. They wanted to save us the ordeal of having to suffer ‘cold turkey’. So they kept right on sneaking political propaganda at us till the very day we went to the polls. What a pain!

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the room where I voted

As most of you are probably aware, Benjamin Netanyahu, whom we call Bibi, enjoyed three terms of office before this last election, and is well known to the public. His career as an officer in Israel’s top commando unit was somewhat overshadowed by his brother being one of the most famous of Israel’s heroes. But he did represent us in the foreign service, and was a best selling author before becoming prime minister. And while he has a lot of fans, not everyone agrees with his view of the world in general, or his political view of Israel. No sooner had the campaign started, than a ‘non political’ organization called ‘Just Not Bibi’ came to the fore. Financed by large contributors from the US and the EU, this organization began to insult him and defame him in every possible way. Since it was a little difficult to find any dirt on the man, they concentrated on pointing out the faults of his wife.

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an ad for the Likud and Bibi on the back of a city bus

Turns out she’s a real witch. Even worse than your wife or mine. She likes to have her soup warmed in the middle of the night. She yells at the cleaning lady. She rings her husband in the middle of top secret meetings, and the generals have to just sit around scratching their elbows while she whispers sweet nothings in the top executive’s ear. What’s worse, she sometimes sends empty bottles back to the grocery store, and pockets the change instead of giving the money to the state! Then it was reported that she’s a lush. She drinks wine almost every night. And her taste in clothing is atrocious.

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a key to heaven proffered to those who’ll vote for a certain religious party

He’s not much better. Before he was prime minister, he was known to let his billionaire businessman friend pay for his ticket at the movies. Some people can’t stand the way he combs the remaining strands of his hair over his bald spot. And he speaks good English. Now what sort of Israeli speaks a good English? He hardly has any really poor, down and out friends. Worst of all, he’s a primitive. The sort of guy who, when accosted by a terrorist, thinks that the best move is to hit him over the head with a baseball bat or shoot him in the heart… he never even considers the option of an intellectual discussion with the guy about the pros and cons of violence.

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poster at the top shows dead rabbi entreating voters to do the right thing

His opponent, the head of the labor party, son of a former president of Israel… grandson of a former Chief Rabbi, talks in a voice that is vaguely reminiscent of Donald Duck, and is just tall enough to peek into the cleavage of an average sized woman. So no one really expected the race to be something that would keep us up at nights ‘cause of the tension. But if there’s one thing that the media hates, it’s boredom. And if there’s one thing they love, it’s social liberalism. To make matters even more interesting, his campaign advisors decided on a political marriage with Tzippi, a female head of a dying political party which at one time was just a hair’s breadth away from capturing the government. She managed to reduce 28 mandates to six. And then, on the eve of this election, it was thought she wouldn’t pass the electoral threshold, the minimum number of votes to enter parliament.

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Tzippi on the election poster above the young man

Buzshy offered to serve together with her in a rotation leadership, so that the public would actually be getting two for the price of one. Both a male and a female with just one ballot! The left thought it an unbeatable deal. Meanwhile, as the media was feeding us everything bad about Bibi, they didn’t save words to extol the virtues of Buzshy and Tzippi. Slowly but surely, public opinion polls were published in which Buzshy was seen closing the gap between his popularity and that of Bibi. It was like a horse race. He was gaining, gaining, gaining… Finally, the two were standing equal. And then, amazingly, Buzshy started pulling ahead. By the week of the election, Buzshy was definitely the front runner. He was winning! Oh my. We were going to witness an historic changeover. All the papers were full of it. Headlines screamed: A surprise upset in the offing!!!

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a visit to the sea of Galilee

The night following election day, the vast majority of the country’s population seated themselves opposite the TV screen to watch the returns. Some ate peanuts, others sunflower seeds, and there were those who just grabbed a sandwich and a bottle of beer. For two hours we watched learned commentators explaining the hows and whys of what was about to happen, without disclosing the results. But there were knowing smiles and veiled hints that suggested they knew something we didn’t. Finally, a huge man-sized graph appeared behind the commentators. And then… the results of the voters’ exit polls. Unbelievable! The two contenders had gotten the exact same amount of votes! The next two hours were spent talking about a rotation premiership, or possible coalition governments that would allow one of the two to reign. We were all involved now, wondering who would come out on top. It was well known that Obama favored the underdog, excuse the expression. So some of the more sophisticated pundits thought we should let Buzshy take the reigns just to make the American Pres happy.

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Both sides were celebrating. We were in a happy state. Yet, we all went to bed wondering how it would end. Then, the very next day… when the actual votes were counted, it turned out that Bibi had received 30 mandates in parliament as opposed to the 24 that Buzshy had garnered. The left was mortified. How was it possible? What had happened? That was Wednesday. And today, Friday, 37% of the population is still scratching their heads. Some think that the vote was unfair. That the populace should have been more considerate of President Obama’s feelings. While others think that Bibi just might not be as good as the common people believe. If he was a real gentleman, after having served three times, he would default to Buzshy, just to give the other guy a chance.

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The first picture seen above was found in the school that served as a polling place. That’s where I voted. The photos towards the bottom of the post are from the Sea of Galilee, where I went to calm down and recover from the excitement of politics. Please, don’t bother to ask whom I voted for. In this free country, we get to vote in privacy. I’m not going to tell a soul.

a most unusual holiday

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Walking around town on Purim, my pleasure was looking at the faces of carefree people enjoying themselves in the streets. People talking to strangers and friends, amusing one another with costumes and jokes. All too often, in recent years, I’ve seen people sitting or standing together in groups, in the cafes of Ben Yehudah Street or in restaurants… and each individual occupied with some sort of business by way of his or her cell phone. But on this day, the streets were filled with unhurried people, moving along with grace and good cheer, and alert to the others around them. Entertainment wasn’t just passive. People were relating to one another.

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Last week’s post was in the spirit of Purim. But since then, I’ve received a number of questions about the holiday. And this year, my experience of this holiday was a bit different. Usually, I invite friends to feast with me in my home. But this time I chose to walk about in the city. We are counting down to an important national election, which will take place on this coming Tuesday. There is a certain tension in the air. And I was wondering if I’d sense that out in public. But I didn’t.

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I was thinking that the holiday provides us with a much needed mood break. Both personal problems and the issues of the day seemed forgotten as I watched the friendly crowds walking one way or the other. People were walking in the middle of Jaffa Street as well, with the streetcar politely ringing its bell to make its way through civilian groups that had taken to the streets.

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Kurt Vonnegut, a great 20th century American writer, tells us a wonderful adventure story in ‘Cat’s Cradle’, in which he invented a religion whose messages to mankind are revealed in songs. There you will find the following:
“Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly;
Man got to sit and wonder ‘why, why, why?’
Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land;
Man got to tell himself he understand.”

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Humans are rational beings. We have the indefatigable desire to understand. And even when we don’t, we have the need to rationalize what happens around us. On Purim, we remind ourselves that there are things happening all around us, that we don’t understand. Traditionally, the masquerading and the costumes are meant to remind us that things aren’t always what they seem to be.

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a little angel

Most of us live a regular day to day regime. There is a time for a wide variety of choices. But we realize that we have to make those choices. We can’t have everything. There are obligations incumbent on all of us. Each of us has a role to play. And there are times when we’re barely in touch with our own emotions, or have time for free thoughts because of all the things that are obligatory or routine. And yet, we have our fantasies. Not just the forbidden fantasies… Sometimes, light hearted silly fantasies. Usually pushed aside as we go about our daily routine and work, this traditional holiday of masquerading encourages fantasy. There are those who don’t have the need. But to go along with the spirit of the holiday, they wear pom poms or silly animal ears. Not as a disguise. Just to signal that they are part of what’s happening.

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two blue people with dog

The holiday commemorates an event that happened some two and a half thousand years ago, in ancient Persia, which had a large Jewish population after the destruction of the first temple in Jerusalem by the Babylonians. The most important minister in Persia, second only to the King, planned to wipe out all the Jews of that empire. And had it happened, it would have been something like the holocaust, which annihilated most of the Jewish communities in Europe a little over 70 years ago. As it turned out, the hand of fate intervened in this story, after the plan had already gotten the approval of the all powerful King. The evil minister fell from greatness to dishonor. Instead of watching the extermination of the Jewish people, he himself was executed, together with his closest associates.

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We fast the day before Purim, to remember our fear, as the catastrophe was approaching. And then we celebrate. Jews are actually encouraged to drink to drunkenness (an uncommon practice in our culture). A great banquet is held in many private homes. And most of the population take part, either in producing the banquet or being a guest at the banquet of a friend. People masquerade in costumes. Not just children; adults too. Joking, clowning, and juggling is the order of the day. It is common to watch humorous skits which have a farcical nature.

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A book telling the long story is read in the synagogue or in a public place, and every time the evil minister is mentioned, people make a great noise with noisemakers, in derision. Sweet cookies, representing the ear of the villain of the story are eaten. Charity is emphasized. People bring baked and cooked foods as presents to their neighbors. The pictures on this post were taken a week ago, on Friday. Here in Jerusalem, we celebrate one day later than in most of the world. The reason for that was mentioned last week.

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A Taste of America

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credit Yakov Nahomie, and special thanks to Ronnie!

Today is the holiday of Purim in Jerusalem, which commemorates the deliverance of our people from a terrible plot to kill all the Jews of Persia, some 2400 years ago. The holiday has been popular ever since, and is somewhat similar to Halloween, in that it is common for people to dress up in costumes and masks for the occasion. It’s the one day in the year when it’s a religious good deed to get drunk! I mention that it’s happening today in Jerusalem because the holiday was celebrated in most other places in the world, yesterday. That is because when the holiday was first declared, it was decided to celebrate it on a certain day according to the Jewish calendar, but that in all walled cities it would be celebrated one day later. And since this rule applies only to cities that were walled cities at the time, Jerusalem has the singular honor… there aren’t too many other cities that were walled at that time, and exist to this day. And Persia, if you’re wondering, is not a mythological state. It’s still around. Except they’ve changed their name recently. Now they’re called, Iran.

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Last week, when I heard that our prime minister, Mr. Netanyahu was going to visit America, to tell congress there to do their bit, and keep Iran from making atomic bombs, it gave me an idea. I would volunteer to help him. After all, I’m pretty good at English, and this is a very important issue. We could do it as a team. He could be the straight man, and I could tell the jokes. As you probably know, Israel is like a family. Everyone knows everyone… and half of us are related, one way or another. So I got in touch with my sister in law who’s ex boyfriend just happens to have a second cousin who is married to the cook in the prime minister’s mansion. And asked her to get the message across to Bibi. That’s what we call our prime minister. You can just imagine my disappointment when I wasn’t invited to join the delegation.

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After Netanyahu made his speech to congress on Tuesday, there was much discussion here the next day. People from all across the political spectrum here in Israel thought it was an excellent speech. Some said it was even powerful. But about half the country said, ‘well it was just words. Will it really stop Iran from making the bomb?!’ Listening to this, I got a little dejected. I kept thinking, if only he had taken my suggestion. If I’d gone with him, we could have really gotten those congress folks off their seats, and changed the course of history! And what’s more, I would have gotten a taste of America! That’s what I told Chana, when we were driving through the rain in the northern Negev, looking for a picture that was worth a thousand words.

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So she told me, ‘But you could still get a taste of America’. Remember, Chana, I told her, ever since they forbade smoking on airplanes, I’ve no interest in traveling abroad. ‘No problem’, she answered. ‘I know a place just a few kilometers from here, where you could have a taste of America’. So off we went, to a gas station at one of the larger intersections found in the Negev. Around the gas station, a number of coffee shops and restaurants have settled in. And among them, McDonald’s. They’ve got a big sign there, that promises ‘Big America’. And if you don’t eat meat, you can get their Egg McMuffin plus coffee, for only 14 shekels! They call it, ‘the happy meal’. We walked in and stood in line. And I tell you, just standing in line already made me feel half American. We both ordered children’s portions. I didn’t want them to have to call for an ambulance when I was finished eating. I’m a cautious guy.

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But what we didn’t know, was when you order a child’s portion, you also get a toy, and a chance to win the big prize, after the guessing contest. All the food came in cardboard buckets, and on the bucket, there was a reproduction of the Mona Lisa that just about knocked my eyes out. Eating would be enough, but here we were, filling our bellies, and filling our eyes with high powered culture. The object of the guessing contest was figuring out how the Mona Lisa on the cardboard bucket differed from the original version of the painting, painted some time back by someone named DeCaprio or DaVinci or some kind of Italian name. We didn’t get to see the original. But I suppose everyone who’s been to Europe has already seen it. Though I couldn’t remember if I’d ever seen it, I could see that the lady in this version of the picture was frowning. I was sure that if the original was so famous, the lady there had probably been smiling. And guess what? No sooner did I give my answer, then we got a prize for each of us. It was called a ‘Gogo Squeeze’, and the package assured us that it was made of 100% fruit!

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almost an identical copy of the Mona Lisa

After we finished our Gogo Squeezes, we started opening our toys. We had each gotten a little plastic doll in a hygienic plastic bag, as befits a classy American restaurant like McDonald’s. Chana got the girl doll, and I got the boy doll. In the interest of heterosexual fantasy, we decided to trade presents. I opened up my present and laid her down on the table, just looking at her and wondering what to do now. A twelve year old boy ambled up to my table, and mumbled something out of the side of his face. What’s that, I asked? ‘If you want to get her to spread her legs, I could tell you how, but it’ll cost you 20 shekels’, he said. Please go back to mumbling, I whispered, pointing to Chana with my eyebrows, while trying to hide my blush with the napkin, generously provided by Mac.

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his recommendation: transcendental meditation

Cunningly, I pulled my wallet out under the table, and passed a twenty to the young man. He pocketed the money without anyone noticing the transaction. ‘What you’ve got to do’, he said, ‘is the simple exercise of transcendental meditation’. You compose a sentence that is the bare bones expression of what you want, and say the sentence over and over again for twenty minutes with your eyes closed. It works for more than 70% of all who’ve tried it, and has proved itself all over the world. Something like ‘legs apart’ will do. ‘Just close your eyes and say it over and over again. Ask the lady across from you to tell you when the 20 minutes are over. You won’t be disappointed’. Man, that was really a taste of America.

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fate or free choice

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blue skies and the snow beginning to melt away

I got the letter from goodreads this week, with the March New Releases. I found interest in a book called ‘The Bookseller’ by Cynthia Swanson. It tells the story of a woman in her late 30s who runs a book store with her best friend and enjoys her life and circumstances. But then she starts having this reoccurring dream in which she lives a different life, married to a wonderful man and the mother of three children. And as the story continues, she finds herself torn between the two lives.

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sculpted by nature; I see two birds facing one another

It reminded me of a poem I read many years ago, by a Chinese author, Chuang Tse, in which he tells us that he doesn’t know whether he is a man dreaming that he’s a butterfly… or a butterfly dreaming that he is a man. And strangely enough, the book, and the whole idea of alternative lives or alternative universes integrated well with some ideas I’ve been having about our national elections, coming up in less than a month.

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red anemones raising their heads between patches of snow

I have noticed in recent years, that the democratic contest at election times has become more and more desperate. Where once we listened to ideological arguments regarding the economic system, or the best way to insure the national security, we are now bombarded by insults and accusations coming from both sides of the barricades. Accompanied by hysteric claims that life won’t be worth living if the opposing side were to win the election. Charges of corruption are heard every day. And the mood that is felt in public seems less like that in the halls of academia, and more like that in the football arena, each side shouting their support for sporting heroes, and insulting the opposing side. I have seen this happening in England too, and in the US.

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cultured flowers whose seeds were blown by the wind… and came up in the middle of the park’s grasses

How and why this has happened, is interesting. And I have some thoughts on the subject. But more important to me, is whether we can overcome the urge to look at the political determination as a life and death struggle. The truth of the matter, is that when we live among friends or as a family, we have to accept that we are not all the same, nor are our desires identical. We make compromises. We forgive all kinds of irrational behavior, difficulties… even pain. My beloved cat Nechama, scratches me at times. She has bitten me. These are momentary outbursts; the expression of disappointment, or of frustration. Sometimes, frustration just because I didn’t understand her.

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clover amidst the grasses

Even within ourselves, we have to make compromises in order to live this life with some sense of wholeness. One of the most valuable lessons, is that which we heard as children, ‘you can’t have your cake and eat it too’. On a national level, we should keep in mind that our society is made up of a whole lot of people, some of whom have needs very different from ours. With great difficulty, we’ve tried, as human beings, to find the mechanisms which will reflect the majority, with care and insurance for the very small minorities as well. Nothing is truly guaranteed. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone sins now and then, And still, if we look back in time, just a few hundred years, we can see that the majority of people lived a much lower standard of living than we are living today. They had shorter life expectancies, and suffered more from disease and ignorance. Let’s not turn a blind eye to all the advantages we have today, and only focus on what we’re missing, and what we want for ourselves. How much happier we could be if we were to appreciate our riches and not envy those who have more than us.

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a little park in our neighborhood, with fantasy meant for children

Today, many of us tell our children, ‘you can do anything you wish if you just desire it enough, and work unceasingly towards your aim. But this too can be misleading. We can do anything, just so long as we understand our strengths and limitations. For our lives are a tapestry of fate and free choice. Chance has delivered us to the parents that raised us, to the country in which we were born… has given us talents and capacities at birth, certain physical characteristics… and perhaps certain mental and emotional dispositions as well. And within that framework, we have the ability to make choices, to learn or not to learn… to look and listen, or to crave attention. By way of our choices, we can direct our course in life. Or we can allow ourselves to be continuously buffeted by the winds of fate.

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And there is nothing so warm and so consoling as the love of our brothers and sisters, our friends, and our fellow human beings that have to face the uncertainties of life’s challenges the same as we do. These have been my thoughts as I watch the snow recede after the last storm, and listen to the excitement about the upcoming election. May we accept the choice of the majority, even if it requires compromise on our part. We are all part of the family of man.

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On a white Friday

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There are a lot of things going on around me these days, both in my private life and in the world around me. But as I write this today, looking through the windows of my living room, most of the issues of interest have lost their importance when seen in the context of the snowstorm that is now visiting Jerusalem. Last week I wrote about the dust that descended upon us… the difficulty of breathing… the depressing brown and yellow skies. Since then, we had a good rain that washed the city clean, and then a couple of days that were cold but clear. The air was a pleasure to breathe, and the visibility was perfect. But all the while, there were warnings on the radio that the snow was coming. And then it came.

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We had a few days to stock up on supplies, and to get ready. And now it’s here. Nechama does enjoy watching it all through the window, but she has no interest in going outside. And though I wanted to step outside and get to meet it intimately, the first try was a bit much for me. It was very cold and wet and slippery. The snow got into creases I didn’t even know I had… tried to pet my camera, and tickled my spine. Sneaked into my boots and gave me cold feet. So I went back in, and waited for the calm after the storm. The problem is that it looks almost docile when seen through the window. But it can be fierce when you face it. Finally, the sun peeked between the clouds, and I went out for a second time, for a nice little walk.

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the path from the park to my house

Still, there is something miraculous about the snow, as I mentioned a year ago. Especially in Jerusalem, which is not really equipped to handle such weather. Most of the shops are closed. The transportation is crippled. And for a few days, there’s a break in the routine. For a few days, people have to make do with what they have at home. Last year we had a serious electrical outage as well, and so many of our gadgets stopped working. The heating stopped and we had to stay warm with the help of blankets. And illuminate our rooms with candles and torches. But even so, it was a wonderful adventure. This year, the electricity has been reliable, and aside from a complete shut down of transportation, everything seems to be working well.

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But let me tell you of the picnic basket I found the other day. It was after the big rain, and while we were waiting for the snow storm. And it was found near the trash bin on the street, not far from the grocery store. A place where many people walk by. It was an old fashioned basket. Not made of plastic, but of woven straw… I opened it, and looked in. There was a nice collection of books… some of them, art books, methodically arranged. And a few video tapes. It reminded me somehow of the basket found by the Egyptian princess, within which the baby Moses was found. I could imagine the owner of those books, having realized that he or she no longer had room on his shelves for any more books, but not wanting to throw them in the trash, packed them carefully in the basket in the hope that some young student would find the basket and rejoice at the discovery of the books. It was a moving sight.

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Another image of this last week was the conjunction of some beautiful tulips that Chana brought over last Friday, warning me that they were beautiful but wouldn’t last long. Yet they are still beautiful after a week in my over heated home… and next to them, a bottle of tequila that my daughter Rivka brought when she came to visit, bearing enchiladas to cheer me up. The tequila was brought to get me into the proper mood to eat Mexican food. It was just right.

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eating an enchilada, Rivka

A blogging friend of mine, Corina, has posted that on this day, the 20th of February, a thousand bloggers plan to write about compassion, in concert with the United Nations World Day of Social Justice. So I would like to join the thousand, and ask that we have compassion for the snow. Here today and gone tomorrow… The snow first comes to us with pristine beauty… a pure white cloak that covers our world. And usually winds up looking like mud, and treated like an eye sore. Let’s remember that all of us are here on a temporary basis. And by the time we’re ready to finish our term, we’ve usually been stepped on a few times, and left a few puddles behind us. So here’s my vote of compassion for the snow. May you enjoy a warm and comfortable winter, with a bit of adventure to keep your spirits up.

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doesn’t snow look best with blue skies above?

the eastern wind

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Wherever we might live, and in whatever circumstances, there are always trials and challenges. Even when our lives seem wonderful when seen from outside, we on the inside know the difficulties and the tests. When hearing about a tornado approaching the Florida coast, I tremble at the thought of what those people have to bear. Or I read about the collapse of a glacier in Switzerland. That sounds terrible. Here, when we have snow, it’s usually over in about three or four days. But we have something else. And the older I get, the more difficult it is for me to endure that type of weather. We call it hamsin.

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Usually, it’s a hot eastern or south eastern wind that gathers dust over the desert in Africa, and blows it in our direction, filling our skies with dirty brown air that makes it hard to breathe and leaves houses, cars, and park benches covered with dust until it rains. When it happens in summer, it often doesn’t even rain afterwards, and we have to wash everything ourselves. Hamsin means 50 in Arabic, and it’s said that somewhere… doesn’t seem like it would be so in Jerusalem… but somewhere… there are 50 days like that a year. There’s an old folk tale I remember hearing many years ago. According to this story, in one of our neighboring Arab countries, if a man killed someone after a week of such weather, he wasn’t prosecuted. It was taken for granted that the weather had driven him out of his mind. Hamsin refers to the hot wind. In winter, when the wind is cold, it’s called a sharkiah, but it brings the same terrible air pollution.

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We get warnings on the radio that the old, the very young, and people with heart or lung ailments should not go outside! When I was young and healthy, such announcements didn’t catch my attention. But now that I myself am suffering from a heart disease, I don’t even have to be warned. Just once or twice outside in that weather, and I knew it wasn’t worth the effort. It’s hard to breathe, and it wears you down very quickly. Some people become irritable, while others become unhappy just having a brown sky overhead.

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We’ve had it this week, for a few days now. Started out hot, and then turned into a cold wind. The dust is still here in Jerusalem, because it hasn’t rained yet. In most of the country it’s already raining. That washes away the pollution. So we’re waiting for rain. I like to take a walk every day, but for most of this week, I haven’t even thought about it.

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Just a few years back, I wouldn’t have stayed at home because of the weather. I had commitments, work, and people I’d scheduled to see. So I went out and took care of business. Even in the car, though, it was oppressive. I remember once, on a day like this, in a café, asking the waitress (whom I knew from previous visits) what sort of a day she was having. ‘What sort of a day?’ She asked me back, raising her eyebrows with comic despair. ‘What kind of day could it possibly be with all this dust?’ And the café itself was half empty.

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I took the pictures in this post on that sort of a day in February of 2009. I was visiting my mother, and had some free time, because I’d arrived early after being invited for tea at 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon. So I walked around the neighborhood a bit, near where she lived. Strangely enough, though the weather was terrible, the photos bring back good memories. It was nice being able to visit my mother late in life. She lived to be 101 years old. And it was a pleasure watching my stubborn, fellow Jerusalemites doing their best to ignore the conditions of the day.

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Nowadays, there is one place where you can escape the hamsin. Not the sort of place I visit often, but the shopping mall is unaffected. There, in a completely artificial environment, and constant air conditioning, one can walk around, go from one shop to the next, without really being bothered by such a primitive thing as weather. The sky is always a blue tinted high glass ceiling; the colors always pleasant. The lighting is easy on the eyes. I do visit once in a while, just to marvel at the work of man. It is an allegory of the city. But most of the time, I prefer to be in the city itself. And so, I’m waiting for the rain. On the radio, they said there was a storm coming. In fact, it’s already snowing again in northern Israel. And there are rumors it’ll soon be snowing here. I don’t know..