the upraised flag

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a tractor resting in the shade

My dear friends, one of the hardest things in life is to see ourselves as we really are. How often does it happen, that a person looks at the image of himself in a photograph, and says, ‘that doesn’t look like me’. And similarly when a person first hears his own recorded voice. Don’t we all ask, ‘is that what I sound like?’ The same is true of society as a whole. We’re all part of a greater organism. But each of us focuses on what matters most to himself or herself. It is so hard to see ourselves from the outside, or how we fit into the greater picture.

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And though there are a lot of cheaters and tricksters in this world… who are just after our money… there are some institutions and teachers who can help us along the path, and share with us the wisdom of generations as well as some very practical steps to make life easier. Yes, there are some bad teachers out there. And some very boring classes in school. But there are good teachers too. I believe, more good teachers than bad ones. And plenty of fellow students who are happy to share the knowledge they’ve gained. You can see that, if you just visit a forum on the internet. So many people are willing to volunteer their time to help others.

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Last week I shared with you the terrible story of the kidnapping of the three teenage boys, not far from Jerusalem. What happened caused great pain to the families and the community. The boys have still not been heard from. Their disappearance is an open wound. But in hard times as well as in good times, it is essential for us to keep the whole picture in perspective. Long ago, our prophets filled that role as teachers and moral leaders.

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In ancient times, when Israel was a great country, and truly an example among the nations… we got carried away by riches, and intoxicated by pride… our prophets warned us that we were losing sight of the essence. When we were insensitive to the poor and the handicapped, they warned us that even the strong among us would one day be weak, and the proud would eventually be humbled. When those among us were tempted by corruption, we were warned that if we were piggish we would lose all we had. We would suffer terribly for the abandonment of our ideals and principles.

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And when the armies of other nations came to beat us, to break down our walls and to defeat us, to subjugate and enslave us, even to scatter us among the peoples of the world so that we would never again be the proud nation that we once were, our prophets consoled us with visions of repair and rebirth. They promised us that the day would come when the Jews would come home from the four corners of the earth, and our national home would be rebuilt. And that we would be a light to other nations of the world… sharing our knowledge and understanding.

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Our prophet Isaiah promised us that one day the flag would be raised in the hills surrounding Jerusalem, and the ram’s horn would be sounded… and we would know beyond all doubt that we had returned to our ancestral home. In Hebrew, the word for flag is the same word as miracle. For a miracle is like a flag in that it reminds us of what is beyond our personal interests; what is greater than the individual’s concerns.

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And so, this week, I set out with Chana to visit the little community of ‘the raised flag’ on the hills outside of Jerusalem. It was an opportunity to gain a wider perspective. For centuries, we have been the wandering Jews, persecuted and black listed… invited to contribute to a society, and then thrown out on our ears. We have been housed in ghettos, and forbidden to farm the ground. Lauded for our wisdom and our crafts, and then persecuted in pogroms and reforms… libeled and murdered and exiled from one country to the next.

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But in the last century, the Jews have come home. In 1867 Mark Twain described the situation here in Israel; how the land was infertile and abandoned and abused. You can read his view of the holy land in his book, ‘The Innocents Abroad’. One hundred years later, in 1967, Israel was threatened and attacked by 4 belligerent enemy states supported by eight other Arab countries. The personnel and the weapons were overwhelmingly greater on the side of the Arabs. But Israel vanquished its enemies. Since the beginning of the 20th century, more and more Jews have returned to our ancient home, building institutions of learning, and improving methods of farming, industry, healthcare, and technology. Today Israel is the second largest innovator of digital technology after the USA despite the fact that we are infinitesimal compared with that great nation.

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bus stop

I take comfort in knowing that lives have been saved around the world by the medical inventions produced in Israel, and that we have taught people to produce better food, and to turn salt water into sweet water in far away places, including Africa, Australia, and even China. We are still hated by some. But we have come back to our own place in the world, and that is my consolation. There are still those who would like to push us into the sea, as they threatened to in ’67, but I believe they will eventually learn to live with us in peace.

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I believe that when Isaiah spoke of the wolf and the lamb, and the tiger and the goat, and the cow and the bear, he was speaking of the personalities of people and nations, who will overcome their individual characteristics, and learn to co-exist in peace. We are getting closer to that prophesy all the time.

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hummingbird

It’s summer time. School has let out. The sky is blue, and the days are getting warmer. The pictures here are from our excursion to Nes Harim, named after the upraised flag in Isaiah’s prophesy. I’ve included a photo of an interesting sculpture I found there between the houses, and concluded with a picture of a female humming bird who came to drink from a bird feeder on Chana’s balcony after we returned. That’s my tip of the hat to my dear friend Janet, who paints the most beautiful hummingbirds.

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46 responses to “the upraised flag

  1. … sad right now, Shimon … as my beloved uncle Pawlie died, age 91 … i see you visited my blog, thank you … smiles … love, always, cat.

    • It happens, when someone we love reaches great old age… we expect them to die, and think it natural… think it won’t be hard… but then, when the person dies, all of a sudden we realize how empty we are… how empty the world is without them… and it takes us by surprise. That happened when my mother died. She was over a hundred years old. But it took me by surprise. My condolences to you.

  2. As the Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote, Burns original :

    O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
    To see oursels as ithers see us!
    It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
    An’ foolish notion:
    What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us,
    An’ ev’n devotion!

    Standard English translation
    And would some Power the small gift give us
    To see ourselves as others see us!
    It would from many a blunder free us,
    And foolish notion:
    What airs in dress and gait would leave us,
    And even devotion!

    It’s even harder to see ourselves in our global context, especially with contending views about our own nation. But you have an ancient hope and I am glad to see that you still hold on to the prophecy, in the midst of sadness and evil. And you have a family to be part of, and a camera that can tell an enchanting story of a bold, clever and vigorous nation. May peace come to you all soon and speedily.

    • Thanks very much, Gill for your comment. Yes we do have hope. But just a few days after I wrote this post, there were bombs falling on us and missiles, and I was hearing lies and defamation on the international news… and I just couldn’t keep on writing… I shelved this post too, for another day.

  3. It is interesting to hear how the idea of an upraised flag can be interpreted as “miracle”, especially when my first reaction to the words “upraised flag” was to automatically think of a white flag being raised, as in surrender.
    That’s two entirely different directions; with a miracle being something to celebrate, whereas a surrender is usually associated with something to mourn. Celebrate the victory of returning to your homeland at last, or mourn the defeat of your efforts, finally giving up the fight. Both marked by an upraised flag. Both signaling the end of a long struggle.

    My mind tends to pursue parallels and opposites in just about any situation, always comparing one thing against the other, always searching for a deeper meaning, or exploring any message that might be buried in whatever information becomes available to me on any given day. In fact, in some ways, I believe that my Creator often speaks to me by revealing information, giving me the opportunity to listen, and observe, and learn. Useful information can be found in any direction, from any number of sources, and casting your net wider and wider only enhances your ability to grow and learn. Sometimes I feel the need to listen, rather than to speak.

    The concept of an upraised flag that signals the fulfilling of a prophecy, and a returning of your people to your homeland, is very encouraging, and I thank you for sharing it with us today. The photos help bring the concept to life. I especially loved the tractor resting in the shade.

    The bigger picture, for me, is one where we might all live in a world of upraised flags. Where we all return to our essence, and to our history, marking the rebirth of all humanity. Multiple nations, united in peace. A world filled with celebration. I like to believe that it is possible. I like to believe it could happen. One upraised flag at a time.

    • It does seem to me that often we get to know certain things and experiences in parallel with their opposites. As for miracles… I’m not one who looks for them or loves them. Because they usually come at hard times. I too, would like more than anything to see all the different people of this world, honoring their heritage and living in peace with others who might think differently or behave differently. It wouldn’t be so hard. But it hasn’t happened yet. Thanks for your comment, Nancy.

  4. I, too, had difficulty with the flag and miracle thing. Wonder how that happened. To me, it’s illogical. (dumb country kid). I also had to look up the definition of pogrom…and then felt bad to what it meant. And, I was unaware of Mark Twains book. You certainly are well read!
    It’s wonderful to have a friend like you to learn from. Only natural to wish it had happened earlier in my life.
    Be Well Shimon.

    • Thanks very much for your comment, Bob. It would have been very nice if we had met earlier. If we had gotten to know one another in the flesh. But I haven’t gotten used to the idea that it’s possible to make friends over the internet. It still seems like a miracle to me.. like science fiction.

  5. Thank you for sharing the history, the tour, and the wisdom. I always come away from reading your words the richer and delighted by the pictures.

    • So glad you enjoyed this post, Judy. I wrote it after a couple of terrible weeks, when I thought things were getting better… and then they went downhill very quickly. I shelved the post, and haven’t looked at it till now. Want to thank you for your comment.

  6. I loved every word in this post….and as always I continue to learn so much from you…..and then when I arrived at the end….a hummingbird…and even mention of me. Yes, Shimon I have a huge smile all over my face:)

    • It was all so strange, this post. We had faced some very hard times, and I thought we were recovering… and then all hell broke loose again. I put the post away, and have just rediscovered it now. I hope you have lots of things to smile about now.

  7. I love the sculpture. The hummingbird brings it to life

  8. Your faith, hope, and pride in your people shines through this post, Shimon! The photos show a place that looks so bright and clean…what a lovely retreat to reflect and be renewed. Gentle peace, and thank you for another thought-provoking essay.

    • Thanks very much for your comment, Kitty. Shortly after I wrote this, we were attacked with hundreds of rockets, and I found it hard to communicate. We never know what awaits us around the next corner. But there is always room for hope.

  9. I’m deeply saddened to hear that the boys have not been returned to their families Shimon. As Israel raises its flag once more, many nations of the world, including my own are being invaded from within by a people who’s views and beliefs are so at odds with the mature liberal democracies that welcome them in I very much fear for the future. A silent invasion for sure. Our vote courting politicians are weak, our national identity happily traded via an open immigration policy for the promise of more votes to come. It is a worrying time. With our schools no longer teaching our traditions and values for fear of offending our ‘guests’ where does that leave us? Should we not be offended by our guests unwillingness to integrate, by guests who would impose their own archaic and evil laws upon us rather than accept the law of the lands they have migrated to. Apparently no, this is a one way street. So they wait, biding their time for their time will come.. a silent invasion indeed.
    How long before we can no longer raise our flag is the question your post raises in my own mind Shimon.
    I will continue to hope for the boy’s return.

    • I agree with you, Chillbrook, about those immigrants who come and want it their way and don’t try to blend into the general population… but though I have very little faith in politicians, I’m not sure that we can blame them for this development. I think it’s the manufacturers, and speculators, who’re looking for cheap labor, and figure they don’t have to pay the social price themselves… that’s a serious problem. In Europe as a whole, people have less children all the time. And so, to keep the economy on the same level, they need workers. They don’t realize that they’re giving away their country. Unfortunately, those boys were murdered. After that, we were attacked with bombs and missiles. And then the enemy went running to the UN to complain, because we fought back. I watched international news, and just lost my capacity to speak… it was a difficult time. Thanks very much for your comment.

  10. It must be comforting to have something to believe in and own as you own your own heart. It is the struggles you talked about that created your soul…bob

    • When you believe, it’s not necessarily comforting… but then, I don’t know what it feels like to have no faith in anything. I agree with you that the struggles help give shape to the soul, though… and the pleasures too… the passions, and the love… life experiences altogether, carve our faces and give us character. Thanks, Bob, for your comment.

  11. Hoping that the raised flag is an omen of the boys return.

  12. I am glad that Jews once again are home. However, in being forced to wander, people of your heritage have been a blessing everywhere you have been. My first neighbors were Jewish, and what a beacon of enlightenment were they! Educated and well-read, their hearts and minds were enormous and generous. Would that all people, from every walk of life, would choose to be such flags. It breaks my heart to hear of the persecution your people still endure.
    Here’s to peace.

    • Thank you Melissa for your kind words. We learned from every place we went, and found righteous people too, wherever we went. We don’t believe in stereotyping others, just like we don’t like being stereotyped… In Yad Va’shem, our memorial to the holocaust, we have a special room, where we remember the righteous gentiles who helped us even when we were down, when we were suffering and had no place to go.

  13. Flags, beacons, miracles. These adjectives all signal a guiding sign. Are all guiding signs positive ones, I ask? My answer is, not always. The pros and cons should be weighed up. Notwithstanding that chain of thought, those adjectives also signal, by dint of practice and use, (no matter what ‘side’ you are on) something positive, they signal hope. I hold on to that, as you seem to and so do many, many others. We have to. We should remember that our forefathers, our teachers, people like you, have given us much to cherish.

    • Shimon, I have heard the awful news of the three boys. I am so, so sorry. My heart goes out to their parents, families and friends. I feel for all of you.

      • Three young innocent boys murdered. And the Pal leaders refer to the murderers as heroes. Another wound… another scar on our hearts, that we’ll carry with us… ideological, hate murders…

    • Yes, I go along with you on that, Menhir. The signs aren’t always good. But we do have hope. It’s hard to face certain turns of life without hope. But I have no special love for miracles… even when they’re good, they usually come when we’re in the worst possible shape. Thank you for your kind words.

  14. I learn a lot looking at your photos without thinking

  15. Lovely writing, Shimon. We are all of us looking for home, and what a great gift it is to find it.

    • Anyone who hasn’t had a home, knows how precious it is, yearstricken… precious and wonderful. But when you have one, you start taking it for granted, and you whine about taking the garbage out, and having to fix the roof, or the taxes… or having to mow the lawn. I will be forever grateful, though, for having my own home… knowing as I do, what previous generations in my family suffered.

  16. Thank you for this exploration through time and space, Shimon, and especially for the frank, and heartfelt discussion of your faith, and tribulations overcome. There is so much of the past to mourn, but as you say, Israel now has so much to be proud of too.

    • I think pride can be a bitter trap, Tish. I know that some people encourage it. But I don’t care much for pride. I think it’s much better to have a level head, and to see things in proper perspective. We have a long history. And I would like to think we’ve learned something from it all. Thanks for your comment.

  17. Oh, I do envy you the sight of a hummingbird, such delightful little creatures….I did enjoy the vulture sculpture too.
    I recently watched a marvelous documentary called the history of the Jews, it told of persecution worldwide and shocked me to my core. It was narrated by a fantastic guy who was Jewish and the richness of his voice and gestures, and his passion and thirst for knowledge seemed to me to capture the spirit of Jews everywhere……I cannot understand for the life of me why this endless persecution happened/still is happening. I think Jewish people are wonderful and unique, and enrich this world of ours….I would certainly enjoy sitting with you and a bunch of your friends, maybe one day eh???
    I’m so sorry to hear of the plight of those boys, but I still have hope, sometimes that is all that’s left.xxx

    • So sorry to hear the sad news Shimon, sending you love and hugs.xxx

    • Many people have studied the continued and long lasting hatred for the Jews. There are a number of different theories. There are some countries in this world where it doesn’t exist. For instance, in Asia it is unknown. There was a sizable Jewish community in China for many years. And even after the Jews disappeared, the local Chinese continued to maintain and look after the synagogue and the library. The disappearance there seems to have been the result of assimilation.
      Personally, I believe that the characteristic which most antagonizes others, is our tendency to stick to our own, to stubbornly continue our old customs, and our lack of interest in converting others to our faith (though there have been converts throughout history… they too were stubborn). It is not surprising that some of the worst treatment we’ve received have come from those who borrowed bits and pieces of our religion. They are the Christians and the Moslems. However, even when the persecution was at its worse, there were always some righteous people among the hostile groups, who saved individuals or tried to stop the evil.
      Thanks very much for your comment, Dina. xxx

  18. I say ‘Amen’ to what Chillbrook wrote earlier. I have just started to re-read ‘The Pianist’ by Wladyslaw Szpilman. An uplifting story of a Jewish Pianist in the Warsaw ghetto.

  19. I always enjoy your writings Shimon and this is no exception. I also agree with Adrain’s (Chillbrook) comments. The world is indeed becoming a scarier place. My son left yesterday on an organized trip to Poland and then Israel and I wish that more young people not just Jews can delve into our history so that they can learn from our past. I also pray everyday to #bringourboyshome

    • Unfortunately, Edith, these boys never came home. They were found dead, as you probably know. And afterwards it took me a long time before I could blog again… about other subjects… and other thoughts. Thank you for your comment.

  20. Dear Shimon, we haven’t heard from you and hope you are well. Want to wish you a “Gute Yontiff”, and peace and good health during the New Year.

    Barbara

    > >

    • Thank you very much for your good wishes, Barbara. I send you mine as well. And with them, the hope that this year will bring good news and happiness to all of us.

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