This week I had reason to think about the nature of being part of a group, peer pressures versus individuality, and so on. And today is love day here in Israel, which is quite different from Valentine’s day in America or in England. I was thinking of the great need we have for companionship, and that we really are herd animals, living in groups, sometimes larger and sometimes smaller, but we are happiest with the human interchange, and have reached the greatest accomplishments in history when working as groups. We take it for granted. So much so, that sometimes, when we’re complaining about the noise and the crowding of the city, or about our neighbors, who occasionally invade our privacy, we forget that the alternative, loneliness, can be very difficult to bear.
And yet, strangely enough, the ever increasing concentration of the human population in big cities, has not provided a sense of belonging, or being part of the human family. On the contrary, it has given rise to feelings of alienation. I remember reading in one of the books by the fine writer, zoologist and anthropologist, Desmond Morris, that someone had researched a great number of address books in England, and come to the conclusion that most people have fairly regular contact and interchanges with about 300 people, among them, the butcher, the baker, and the auto repairman, etc. His thesis was that we live in a village… maybe a virtual village, even when we think we’re living in the big city. Which also means we’re living in very close circumstances with a lot of people we don’t relate to.
It occurs to me that there are any number of ‘virtual’ experiences or bonds that give people the feeling that they are a part of some greater whole, a part of a movement of some sort, and that this, in a way, serves as an antidote to the loneliness and the alienation that threatens many. My first acquaintance with this phenomenon was in the mid sixties. Until that time, I had been the odd fellow who appreciated poetry and literature, had no great interest in material possessions, nor in competition sports. I found a few friends who had similar interests, but there were always great areas of interest in which the incompatibilities were more striking than the similarities. And then, all of a sudden, there was a new wave of consciousness. The young people of the time, rejected the popular values of the day. Across the west, middle aged people were aspiring to reach the security of a home and a car and a television set… most of all, stability, after having had a taste of hell in WWII. And the first generation after that world war, didn’t want to just go through the motions, and adopt the life style of their parents. They saw a lot of hypocrisy in their parents’ generation, and they wanted to live more meaningful lives.
The Beat poets of the 50s had thrown out the challenge, and in the 60s, the thoughts and literature that had questioned the values of the establishment became very popular, amplified by the music of the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and a wide array of folk singers who had been inspired by Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, who themselves were inspired by literature, philosophy and history. The Beat generation had only attracted a very small minority, but in the 60s, the movement against the war in Vietnam, plus a new found enthusiasm for a ‘widening of the consciousness’, which included the use of psychedelic drugs… all of it together, with a few more ingredients, gave birth to a new tribe… perhaps even an international nation… the hippies, who reached the peak of their expression and joy in that great Woodstock Festival.
For a while there, even I, the oddball; the guy stuck in a corner reading a book, started believing that I was a part of a new generation that would throw out the hypocrisies of the past, and build a new world that was fairer, and more considerate of the poor and the downtrodden. The articles I was writing at the time, published by newspapers and journals in order to demonstrate their loyalty to the concept of free speech, became quite successful, and this too had me thinking for a while, that I was right there, where it was happening; that I had found my peers… That the differences were insignificant, and that what mattered were those shared ideals. Unable to cheer till my throat was hoarse at a football game, I found that I did have a sense of solidarity with the new longhaired rebels.
But that came and passed. And though not with the same intensity, I witnessed other waves of social harmony that included many very different peoples, but feeling at the same time, a kinship. Like those who wore the yellow wristband of Lance Armstrong, in order to fight cancer, or those who worked together to ship food to a starving Biafra, or insulted smokers to bring clean air to the public streets and the cafes, or worked to repair the hole in the ozone in the atmosphere over Australia. The causes always brought people together.
And just as some cause was getting boring, there would be a new cause. And towards the end of the 90s, the technological age of computers and internet brought about a sense of community unlike anything before. If right before the turn of the millennium, we were a bit afraid that all the advantages of this technology might evaporate, the fear itself was soon forgotten, and we found our community in facebook and tweeter, and became ever more attached to our telephones, which had meantime become our computer and best friend… as well as a whole lot of other things for those who have the curiosity to read all of the handbook.
And so it is with a sense of deep respect, that I walk in the orthodox neighborhood of Sanhedria, located in northern Jerusalem. Despite all the changes that have occurred here in the last fifty years, this neighborhood follows customs that have survived thousands of years. The Sanhedrian Park is located here with its burial caves from the time of the Second Temple. And the neighborhood which was evacuated after the 1929 Hebron massacre began to prosper again in 1948. Walking through this neighborhood, I see much fewer cell phones, and people still talking to one another. For an hour or two, I can forget the modern life style, and be reminded of age old customs. Young and old have their place. And I may be wrong, but it seems like it will last forever. All the pictures in this post have been taken from that neighborhood.