loving our neighbor

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We are told to love the stranger in our midst, to insure justice without prejudice for the poor and for the rich. We are taught to take responsibility for the misfortunate… so that the poor, the orphans and the widows won’t go hungry. All of these precepts seem quite logical to a modern person. But why would we be asked to love our neighbor? And specifically, to love our neighbor as we do ourselves?

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And yet, when we examine our relationships to those closest to ourselves, we realize that we have the most friction, and the most disagreements with those closest to us. When dealing with a stranger, we may have to overcome certain differences… he might not know some of the conventions that we take for granted… he might not express himself the way we’re used to… and it might be easier to take advantage of him. So we’re reminded that we too have been strangers in the past. We too have been outsiders, we too have been without connections, and we should watch out for his interest. But with our own people, it’s almost the opposite. With a spouse or a relative, with a brother or a sister, everything is known. Or so it often seems. We speak the same language. We share the same conventions. And so we have expectations.

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It is our own country that we most often criticize. So often we have contempt for our own leaders, our own politicians, the religious leaders, and the clerks that manage the paperwork of the institutions we come into contact with. When we’re driving on the road, we’re appalled by the discourtesy of other drivers, and when we take a walk in a public space, we’re irritated by the litter we find, and outraged by all the advertisements. The fact that it might be much worse somewhere else in the world is no consolation for us. We expect that in our own country, among our friends, we should not have to encounter a lack of respect for nature, for innocent animals… certainly not for ourselves. And when it happens… sometimes… it makes us forget those very things that we love so much about our own society.

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This is a period in our country, when we count the days from Passover to Pentecost. In the first holiday we were delivered from slavery. And in the second, we receive the rules by which we live. During this period, we grieve the deaths of many great scholars who died because they didn’t have enough respect for their fellow man. And we grieve for the mass murder of a third of our people in the holocaust. And we grieve for all the soldiers who died in wars to defend our people and our society. But we celebrate too. We celebrate freedom and independence and love, and the renewal of our ancient state. In a few days we celebrate our Independence Day with fireworks and concerts and picnics all over the country. And the very day before that, we will grieve all the soldiers who died to insure that very independence.

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Recently, I showed you a picture that my father drew of the pond in the rose garden. And then I posted some photographs of the same place. The photographs shown in this post are of the same place, as my fellow Jerusalemites enjoying themselves there on a holiday. I love them, and it is a pleasure to watch the citizenry of my beloved city come out and celebrate together. But I have to admit, I was a little dismayed by the litter I saw. Ah, expectations… they can really do us in at times…

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76 responses to “loving our neighbor

  1. Yes, I find these observations to be true in my own country. Human nature compels us as much as convention, I think. Your photographs are so very vibrant and beautiful, Shimon. It’s always such a treat to view them!

    • Yes, there’s a paradox in human nature. Most of us would like to be better than we are. We try and aspire to a better world, to live better lives. And that’s a good part of the function of religions and different ideologies… and also part of why the young often look at the mature as being hypocritical. But it’s a beautiful world, George, with all its defects… I think you would agree with me. Thanks for the comment, and your kind words.

  2. Good morning, Shimon…..ah yes, expectations….how they can catch us all up!
    Like you, when I see litter, I am appalled….a whole tape goes through my head saying…’how can they do this?” etc. etc., I smile as I write.

    It is not always easy to love our neighbour, however, I have learned that it’s much more comfortable all round to be kind and courteous to those people we encounter throughout our daily lives. It is true that when we smile at someone, they usually smile back:)

    As for families where expectations are always high…..well we just have to love them and leave them for a moment or two when they going gets rough…….and share their joys and laughter in the good times.

    I wish you and your family a lovely holiday period and of course please do give Nechame a big hug from me:)x

    • As you know, Janet, it always makes me happy to imagine you smiling… even if its over our conversation about litter. Ha. And yes, I think in many ways, it’s hardest to love those closest to us. And it’s such a paradox, that it takes us a long time to learn to see it… and forever to do anything about it. You’re right about smiling at someone. Sometimes, I even smile back at some image on TV… even when I’m not enjoying the show! Thank you for your good wishes, for remembering Nechama… for being there, Janet. It is such a pleasure to know you.

  3. I know the spot you’re photographing and it is a lovely park. I used to go there when I could with my family. It is always lovely to see the children playing. The litter bothers me too, though. The natural distinction between family and strangers, the different rules for each, isn’t always a clean line. It’s true that even when we love our neighbors, we still love our family and our close ones even more.

    • I’m so glad you’ve had the experience, Bumba, and that you’ve been here and have good memories of the place. It is one of my favorite places in the world. There is so much that could be said about love… and I’m sure you’ve given it thought too, with all the blues songs that you know. I like to think that it’s the holy ground where we begin to know god. Thank you very much for your comment.

  4. i love sitting back and watching how people use a public space – like my local beach. thanks for taking me to your park and pond – its full of life.

    • Yes, there are public spaces where I feel as if I’m seeing the whole of humanity… sometimes beaches are that way for me. And then there are other places, still public, but where I feel as if everyone was part of my extended family. I guess that was the way I was feeling as I took these pictures. In both cases, there’s inspiration in watching people. Thanks for your comment, Claire.

  5. Yes that happens. For instance, I am a Bengali and Bengalis love to travel (which is something I really like about them) but they also litter around a lot and I absolutely hate that about them (I mean, us).
    Parks and Ponds…I think it is the Tragedy of commons…where everyone uses them, enjoys them but no one quite takes responsibility for them!

    • Well, here we’re quite lucky. Even if I see the litter all over the place on a holiday, I know that the next day, the city servants will be picking up all the trash and putting things back in order. It’s just that the attitude bothers me. I am so glad to get to know a Bengali. I barely know what that means, but I will try to learn more about it. That is one of the most blessed things about the net… we get to know people of other cultures, and it is so rich. Thanks for the comment.

      • Yes, you are right about cleanliness as an attitude and a habit, something that has to be consciously followed.
        Well I am an Indian by citizenship (which is my first identity). But my mother-tongue is Bangla/Bengali (which is a language)…so that is how I am a Bengali.

        • Thank you so much for the explanation. Language is certainly a sort of identity. I too, could easily say, I am a Hebrew. For that is the language that speaks to my soul.

  6. It’s awful to see a beautiful public area ruined by litter – your photos are beautiful though. I love people watching, especially at celebratory events, it’s lovely to see each individual go about their daily lives x

    • Yes, it’s a great pleasure, people watching… and I especially like the way you do it. Because it is always with great humor. I too, try to take it all with a bit of humor. And don’t worry, the park does get a good cleaning after a holiday. Always good to hear from you, Scarlet. x

  7. Such clarity of thought Shimon!! I found my feelings reflected here regarding ‘expectations’. Enjoyed the post, as always!!!

  8. We live in a world of contradictions, do we not – and we ourselves are a mass of contradictions. I very much enjoyed the way your words and pictures capture this.

    • Yes, you’re so right Gill. It’s those contradictions that make us laugh… and make us cry… but we keep trying… and sometimes there’s a taste of glory.

  9. I, too, am saddened by how much we abuse and take for granted those relationships closest to us. If a stranger were able to observe my whole life, who would be the people he judged that I love the most? Am I more considerate to strangers than to my children, my spouse, my siblings?
    I’ve also notice that people tend to criticize their own (family, friends, government, etc) but will rise up (outraged!) in defense if an outsider starts to criticize those same things.
    Shimon, I appreciate your gentle and compassionate commentary on life. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

    • Thank you very much for reading, Ruth. We all make mistakes… and thank god we can see them now and then… and not take ourselves too seriously. And how good the love that keeps us going.

  10. Nice explanation of a precept taught often to me as a child. I love your thoughts as I always find them full of understanding as are your photographs. Reminds me of the talks me and Joseph used to have around his dinner table.

    It is also great to learn about how you celebrate your holidays or holy days.

    I bought a business book the other day, Jeffrey Gitomer’s Little Red Book of Selling, very well written I might say, and thought of you. I thought, if Shimon was buying a business book he would love this one! 🙂 I always love coming over any book that is written by one that has understanding. A rare thing.

    Great post!

    • How good of you, to think of me as you were reading a book you really liked. I consider that a great compliment, because I am a life long book lover, and found my greatest inspirations in books, and some fine consolations there too. But strangely enough, I have never read a business book. I’m not sure why. I was in business for many years. I suppose I had the good luck to learn from some fine teachers. And thank you very much for your kind words. I liked those fashion portraits on your home page. Always good to hear from you, Bojo.

  11. You observations are not isolated to your country, but are one of the downside of being human. I say this because a human characteristic seems to dwell on the negative more than the positive.

    On the other hand, the points who make early in light of the challenges of human behavior, may be want we should aspire to achieve in life.

    As always, good thoughts to ponder!

    • I was very lucky, Frank, in that I had a mother who always tried to look at the positive side of things. I don’t think I’m as good at that as she was. But I do believe that the choice is ours… and I keep trying. And I have the feeling from your writing, that you too try to seek out the good… and what’s more, like to spice things with a little humor. It makes life a lot easier. Thanks for your comment.

  12. I do agree that we are the meanest to those closest to us, because we know each other so well. And we are so much nicer to strangers, who do not know us at all…..human nature I suppose.Many humans hate so easily, I always remember these words in one of my favourite songs….”Don’t the wars come easy, don’t the peace come hard”
    The pics are lovely, especially the third one!
    Litter….the bane of Britain. We’ve lived next door to a primary school for 23 years and have never had a litter problem until the last few years, so I contacted the school asking if they could maybe send a letter to the parents. The school totally dismissed the problem. Years ago the headteacher would have discussed the litter problem with the kids…..now they don’t seem to care. What annoys me most is all the drink bottles and cans that can injure wildlife…..If things don’t change I think radical action is called for. I’ll be out each day with a bin and a huge notice…..xxxxx

    • Back in the sixties, I was one of those who believed the slogan, ‘make love not war’… but then I discovered that making love could raise a lot of hell too. At some point I realized, that when you really want peace, you have to start making peace within yourself. And then with those closest to you… and then bit by bit, you can expand. I find litter hard to take. But it’s really a good example. It’s a little thing. We could easily stop it, if we all wanted to. But just as easy, it can drive us crazy. Sending you best wishes for a beautiful spring, Dina. xxx

  13. Another thoughtful post Shimon. I’d not considered why specifically the admonishment to love our “neighbor” as ourselves…but yes, the expectations we have of those nearest to us are the very things that so often separate us from one another, making that sometimes painful extra effort necessary. (Lovely park photos.)

    • One of the sad aspects of modern life is that our families and our communities have been broken into very small units. We’re all part of a general society, and we’re all in touch with the far corners of the world, by way of the internet. But we have far less need for our neighbors in the city than we had in the country, and often without noticing it, we become more alienated… and then truly, there is less love around. And love is our great strength. Thank you for your comment, Spree.

  14. This is such a challenging and insightful post. I had never really thought about why we are told to love our neighbors but I think you are exactly right–sometimes our proximity to family and friends allows us to treat them the worst. The pictures are beautiful, too. I love seeing the trees branched out in green and the light was perfect for pictures.

    • Sometimes I’m really dissatisfied with the light, or there’s a little fog or haze… but almost always, there’s something that merits the eye. This time, the pressure was coming from the fact that it was getting dark. I had been too busy with other things, until I finally got around to shooting. But then it worked out. Thank you so much for your kind comment. I have a feeling you’re going to be seeing a lot of green pretty soon.

  15. Very thought provoking, Shimon, and true. Lovely photographs.

  16. You are so insightful ShimonZ—–maybe we expect more because that is more a reflection of our own self?

    • Yes, I think you’re right, winsomebella. And we tend to take the good for granted. And then complain about the rest. Wishing you a beautiful spring!

  17. I do like these photographs greatly bas I like to see people and usually people put landscapes or nature photos without people in them.Did you mean our neighbors are our family whom we should treat better?I think we treat strangers better in case they are someone important.. or they have power..but in close relationships people can take liberties or be thoughtless.
    We have a lot of street sweepers here so we don’t suffer from litter..Or maybe I don’t notice it.We do get green slime on water in the summer though.

    • We have street sweepers too. But when I see beautiful people leaving bits of paper and plastic behind them, it saddens me. It’s part of the same thoughtlessness that you are talking about. How important, how crucial it is to give thought to what we do and what we experience. For that is the degree by which we can measure how alive we are. And every hour is precious. Thanks, Mary. I like people too. Lately, I enjoy watching the way everyone photographs with their phone.

  18. Shimon, I so enjoy the the clarity of your thoughts and the photos you post. Thank you. Your statements reminded me of something I once read that made quite an impact on my own thoughts. The idea is this: we should treat our family members as though each were a prized guest and an honor to know. Employing that philosophy completely changes one’s veiwpoint and the dynamics of each relationship. Works just as well for friends – and parks, if you will, probably because it evokes respect and thoughtfulness.

    • Yes, that does sound like a key to good relations and relationships. If we’ve been away from a beloved place for a while, we get pleasure seeing an old beat up chair, or some dish we haven’t seen for a long time. Every little thing becomes more precious. It all depends on how we relate to things. So good to hear from you, Myra. Thanks for the comment.

  19. Dear Shimon, we are human… As you faithfully carryovers, even with crude words, it’s a matter of fact, an irrefutable reality.
    I find myself in these deepest thoughts and concerns of yours… it makes you nervous when you see those which dirty the nature, those who mistreat animals, those who behave improperly and in contravention of the precepts… But how many, are breaking these rules of moral and ethical value? Millions, billions…
    And then we rage against those people that we love so much, who are our blood, and perhaps for this reason, these patiently endure.
    I have brothers, but our families follow different paths… after many attempts (punctually unsuccessful) to riprestinare the harmony of “the pack”, I let it go.
    I’m looking forward not to judge (gosh, how difficult is), but always with frequency I find myself looking at everything and everyone with criticism.
    Then I found a way to bring peace to my heart: if no one listens to me and then changes, I bring into writing these utopias of wanting to change the world.
    And so I feel better, much better!
    Forgive me if I have dwelt, perhaps also intrigued by these images they show families, walking and to spending joyful moments together… it isn’t like that here in Switzerland. But each country puts its “value” to the sense of unity… and perhaps this value has for us, faded over time away…
    Sunny weeked :-)claudine

    • It is true that as we grow up, and then grow older, we move on, and sometimes build a family that is quite different from those we first knew in the nest. But often it is difficult to relate in harmony even to those we have chosen as our intimate friends. I think that’s why it says to love our neighbors as we do ourselves. Because in ourselves we know that we may have some very good intentions that we can’t always live up to. And so we’re a little forgiving towards ourselves. We say, ‘I meant to do that, but I didn’t get around to it’. But I agree with you that it is a great aspect of art, that we’re able to create a world as we would like it to be. That is such a high! Thank you for your good wishes. And wishing you a very beautiful spring, Claudine.

  20. Dear Shimon,

    The 3rd image of 4 girls and 2 boys — what’s very sweet is that these girls in your country wear comparatively modest clothes. They wear very long skirts like I do. I’ve always enjoyed the images you take of these everyday children. They are very different from a lot of western girls that I see everyday. Young people in this country are exposed to sexualised images and commercialism has made a lot of western little girls look too ‘mature’. Normally I wouldn’t be too bothered by this, as it’s our everyday reality, but looking at your images, the stark contrast of the girls’ dress sense (or their parents’ dress sense) in different countries have prompted me to write this note.

    • I think our country is a little different from most of the west. But my city, Jerusalem, is even more different. Children see much less television, and the internal culture is much stronger. It’s not that they stay childlike longer… but they are more modest. It seems to me that a lot of standards in the west have been influenced by commercial interests, and that is quite dangerous. I can certainly understand your concern. Thanks for the comment, Janet.

  21. I love your photography but even more the way you put your thoughts into words.

  22. A very thoughtful piece on our relationships to our neighbors and our families. Mother Teresa said that it is often easier to love people who are distant, than those right next to us who need our acceptance, kindness, and love. We need to start there, to practice tolerance, but at times it is hard. I smiled at your comments about finding the litter strewn about, I would feel the same. We need to be good caretakers of the earth, and thoughtful and respectful of it as well as each other. I really liked this post, and the wonderful photos you used to illustrate it. I always feel like I am taking a short walk there along with you, and it’s captivating for eyes that have never been there before! Thank you, Shimon!

    • I’m very glad you enjoyed the post, Josie. And glad you join me in these walks. Thank you very much for sharing with us the words of Mother Teresa. I think they have much to add. As much as we might have reservations about some of our own bad habits, or those of our friends and neighbors, we should do our utmost not to let that interfere with our appreciation and love. It is so important to keep a sense of perspective.

  23. Very enjoyable post, Shimon…more insight…more reminders. Thank you.

  24. You’ve made me do a bit of searching. I’ve heard the word Pentecost but never properly understood it and don’t remember any teachings of it. When it comes to garbage and unclean areas, I will be appalled to tell you of the situation here in Lee Co. Virginia. There is so much thrown out the car windows it is (for me) intolerable. The prison makes young people prisoners collect trash along the roads, but they shouldn’t have to do it and wouldn’t if it weren’t simply accepted. The emphasis is wrong and obviously nothing is done about it. Great photos, and great to have your Dads drawings.

    • Glad you enjoyed the drawings, and the pictures, Bob. Yes, I can commiserate with you on the litter. We don’t have prisoners clean it up. They’re usually too busy playing table tennis and getting a higher education. But we do have well paid civil servants who keep our streets and parks clean. Even so, it really gets under my skin to see the careless attitude of people I usually love. It reminds me that we all have our faults. Thank you for your comment, my friend.

  25. Shimon, it is good to hear from you, and thank you for sharing the photos of people enjoying the park and pond. I get very discouraged by litter as well … it seems like such a blatantly disrespectful way to treat our respective corners of the world … and it also makes my heart heavy with the general idea of so many people simply not caring enough to contribute to keeping this world a more tidy and friendly place to inhabit. When I was a younger person, I knew littering was wrong, but sometimes did it anyway, out of either having a rebellious spirit, or a lack of caring, or the failure to understand the impact of my actions. In my early twenties, or maybe even my late teens, something shifted, and I realized that every person has the ability to make even a tiny difference by simply making a choice. I am dismayed that our social conscience has shifted so that so many ordinary people can regularly disregard their own responsibility in keeping our earth clean. Why allow a blemish to exist if we can prevent it from happening?

    Sorry … litter is a subject that frustrates me, and despite my knowledge of loving our neighbor as we love ourselves, the subject still manages to get my feathers ruffled. Again, it was good to hear from you.

    • I can understand your frustration, N. It’s something that bothers me too. But we have to realize that we all mature at a different pace, and how hard it is to ask all to apply themselves to the same rules. As you mentioned, when you were young, you did it yourself. If you think back to the many heavy burdens you were carrying at the time, you’ll understand that back then, you couldn’t possibly have worried about the common good. Unfortunately, many of our brothers and sisters out there are carrying terrible burdens too. They hide it well. We don’t see it from outside… but they’re hurting… they’re alone, they’re miserable. The world isn’t a place they want to save. They can’t even save themselves… and so they throw their trash out like it didn’t matter. All we can do is give them a hug… or a smile.

  26. WordsFallFromMyEyes

    Shimon, such deeply thoughtful contemplations, as always. You always pass on such worthwhile considerations.

  27. Your post has really got me thinking about a personal dispute (there was an angle missing from my version of it), so thank you for that. And I love your photographs, Shimon – they are so celebratory.

  28. How thought provoking! Where I live at the moment, I still feel like an absolute stranger even though I have lived here for 6 months or so. Nobody has said anything to me unless I have to – I don’t even know all the faces of my next door neighbours. This is a little challenging for me I guess – to treat strangers like I would myself; I sure feel like I have no neighbours and few friends here.

    • This is a well known problem in the big city. Because families or even groups of friends do not usually settle in the same place in the city, there is a sense of alienation from the great mass of neighbors that just ‘happen’ to live around you. It would take a long time to get to know each one of them, and people usually give up early… but maintain relationships with people who live at a greater distance. The problem becomes harder when you need someone on a moments notice, and your neighbors are strangers. Usually, the best thing to do is to try and find people of like interests in the neighborhood. Sometimes there are clubs, churches, art galleries, and libraries that provide a ‘station’ for people living in a given area. Thanks for your comment, SighYuki.

  29. I always enjoy reading your thoughts, Shimon. The photos are lovely and show a deep connection to your people as well as your father who loved to sketch the area. Love always has its disappointments, doesn’t it? But it’s the only road to joy, and along the way, we learn to forgive and occasionally pick up litter. 🙂

    • Yes, love can really bridge the greatest chasms, and strengthen us in our weakness. I like what you said about picking up the litter, yearstricken. I hadn’t even thought about that because we do have custodians here who clean up after every event, but I think that sometimes it really helps, even if it’s just a gesture, to go against the current if it’s something we believe in. Thanks for the comment.

  30. “…when we examine our relationships to those closest to ourselves, we realize that we have the most friction, and the most disagreements with those closest to us…” – 50% / 50% I would say Shimon 🙂 – I have two daughters, would be clearer, if I had three …

    • With children, there is usually an in-between stage, after they’ve grown up, and making their own lives. Sometimes it takes a while till they learn to appreciate what being a parent is really like, and to forgive us for our sins. I do hope that eventually you will establish a very good and wholesome relationship with both your daughters, Dietmar.

  31. You posted this on my parents 50th wedding anniversary. Over the past few years we have lost many family members (I’m sorry for David) and my brother and I were not certain how we wanted to celebrate this occasion – it is a big deal – very big – but sad for us, a time to reflect as we watch our parents age. We too are between Easter and Pentecost – when the Holy Spirit came to us – and then 50 years – a jubilee year – but bitter sweet. Between Easter and Pentecost is a moment of silence and reflection – a time to regroup and remember or directive.
    My brother being the eldest made the toast during a large family celebration on Saturday, to a room full of family and he broke down – looked at me and I said -“take a deep breath and finish.” And we laugh – we all did, siblings, children, grandchildren, raised our glasses, clinked crystal and agreed that we’d start the next 50 years together, despite the litter, the mistakes, the rudeness and the bitterness we have here in our own country – I wish you the same.

    • It’s a wonderful thing, having a family celebration, and especially for your parents, seeing children and grandchildren around the table. Thank you for your blessing, Sandy, and my best wishes to you and yours.

  32. “The only beauty is a pigeon in the sun
    And a black man with gentle,luminous eyes
    smiling at me as he sweeps away the paper
    tossed down by the blinded people
    who jabber beside the coffee shop.”

  33. I appreciate that your writing always leaves me thoughtful. It is always clear but never obvious. Yours is a very pragmatic and compassionate voice Shimon. Thank you for this.

  34. I have always found it easy to be kind to strangers … probably because I feel like a stranger … even to family and friends … I am content with that though, because it’s a blessing and a curse at the same time.

    • You describe the situation very well, cat. And even so, I think it’s a great blessing to be kind to strangers. Thanks for your comment. It is always good to hear from you.

  35. I’ve missed a few of your posts Shimon, with all the shenanigans I have been involved in. As I scrolled through this one, I immediately recognised The Rose Garden. It appears to be a different time of year from when we were there and there are a lot more people around the pond area. We benefitted from that, because there was no litter, which,these days, is sadly a sure sign of gatherings of humanity. Why oh why can’t people respect their surroundings and other people, and take their detritus away.

    • Yes, the rose garden looks very different during the different seasons, and it is only on holidays that you see so many people in the park. And usually, of course, one doesn’t see litter. There are people, whose job it is to clean up after those who are careless. But even so, it saddened me to see the litter on that day, even though I knew they would be cleaning up afterwards. Thanks for your comment, menhir.

  36. Pingback: Memorial: grief and celebration | Janet's Notebook

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