a dog’s life in Nachlaot

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A Dog’s Life in Nachlaot

This picture is an old one. It was one of my earliest in color. And one of the first that I scanned to a digital file. It had to be printed just right to get the effect that I wanted. I remember the first time I published it on the internet. I had scanned it on my desktop, and then looked at it on my laptop… and it was different. I was forced to reset the gamma on my screen in order to properly appreciate the picture. I was discovering the disadvantages of looking at art on a computer. Some images are easily appreciated… and others are tricky. A print is a little easier. You make the print, and pass it around, or it’s hanging on the wall, and everyone sees pretty much the same thing. But when looking at the same image on a digital device, every screen tells a slightly different story. Though really, even a print can cause problems. There are certain difficult pictures that have to be seen in just the right light to get their message across. A tungsten lamp brings out the warm shades of the picture. Fluorescent light will emphasize green. And now with the new ‘economic’ light bulbs, the color spectrum is completely different. A fine printer will shade his print in such a way that it looks best in sunlight, though preferably not in direct sunlight. I used to show my work to customers in my studio near a window, with a translucent curtain across the window.

For me, this image is a reminder of what Jerusalem was like when it was still a small town. Even as late as the sixties, most of us were poor, but we didn’t feel poor. A refrigerator was a rare luxury item then. People had ice boxes. Every morning, you’d hear the ice man making his rounds with horse and wagon, shouting, ice… ice… ice… And we would come out of our homes with a ceramic covered metal tray, and buy a chunk of ice. When I moved to another neighborhood, there was another ice man who had a three wheeled motorcycle with which he pulled the wagon. I remember buying a record player back in those days. Since I already had a radio, they sold me just the deck, which then connected to the amplifier and the loudspeakers of the radio. It cost less that way.

In the picture, you can see that the houses were nicely built, from stone. They had the beauty of simple structures, tastefully constructed. But then, as families grew bigger, folks added rooms, and used whatever materials were most readily available. They used sheet metal to make the walls, and wood to make the seams. There were quite a few balconies made of wood. Since then, this neighborhood has been ‘gentrified’. The houses have been enlarged and look quite elegant. The prices have gone sky high too.

But the strange thing about our rich lives, is that people are less satisfied now than they were then. These days, people have nice cars, and more toys than they have time to play with; huge flat screens, and the latest appliances from Japan, China, or the States. And of course, everyone has a refrigerator. It goes without saying. But a lot of people are dissatisfied. Some folks don’t even know their neighbor’s name. In those days of minimal possessions, we were happier. We made do with very little. There was no television, but people would congregate and sing together. In our neighborhood, in the summer, most of the neighbors would bring chairs and tables outside on Saturday nights, and we’d listen to the radio together. There were some specially talented individuals who’d amuse all of us with their stories or songs.

There was one neighbor, known for his noodle cake, and another, for her punch… and two brothers who used to make dry wine. We were very proud of their wine, though all we did was drink it. And it didn’t have a name… we just called it ‘dry’ to differentiate it from the sweet kiddush wine. There was this guy who had a truck, which he parked near his home at the end of the work day. Sometimes, on a holiday, he’d load up some of his neighbors on the truck, all of us sitting on pillows, and we’d go to the sea shore, and marvel at the power of nature… When someone got into trouble, everyone around who could, tried to help.

And there were dogs that you’d see here and there, back then. But much fewer than we see today. We knew they were man’s best friend… but they were a rarity. There were those who felt uncomfortable in their presence. Jerusalem was cat town then as it is now. With affluence, we’ve had an increase in the popularity of dogs.

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56 responses to “a dog’s life in Nachlaot

  1. Thanks to share this story Shimon and …. shana tova umetukah

  2. I love the colour and light in this image Shimon, the lone dog creates a wonderful sense of place.
    It is one of those curious human charactristics that means the more we have the less happy we seem to be. You see the yachting folk down in my neighbourhood. Owners of large cars, even larger boats and second homes. They’re an unfriendly miserable looking lot but you see the folks in the little boats, a couple of oars, a picnic, two little ones trussed up in life jackets, all offering cheery waves as they set out onto the estuary. One gets a very strong sense of who is going to enjoy their day on the river so much much more.

    • Yes, my dear Chillbrook, there is that myth that material goods will bring happiness… and some who become confused between the two… but I have found that simplicity brings happiness, and it crosses across all lines. Our sages said, true richness is being satisfied with what we have. So glad you enjoyed this old picture of mine.

  3. I was drawn back to memories of my growing up years, which your description of ‘simplicity’ reminded me of. We did not, and do not have your Mediterranean weather, therefore construction was and is climate specific. On good weather days we may have played outside or sat in a garden. Housing was not with today’s comfort improvements, which, by the way, has lead to the description of fuel poverty in today’s society here. I digress.

    The sense of personal community has changed from what I knew. My local community was in my street, it comprised people of all ages.

    Where I live now, is quite clannish, (tribal) it is Scotland. You may see affinities here. Extended family has been part of town community. This aspect was starting to break down as I grew up in London, because individuals and families moved to where work was available in the U.K and abroad. Newcomers here, either ‘break into local society’ or, create social groups of their own, much as has always happened everywhere.

    Am I right in thinking that dogs have not been considered as ‘clean’ by some groups of people in your region? Cats have always had a mystic connection making them a more desired creature.

    • Yes, there always is that problem of ‘breaking in’ to an established society or circle within the society. But once again, I’ve found that happy people… people who appreciate each other and the blessings they have received, are more welcoming towards new people or strangers. There are many of our people who have reservations about dogs and uncomfortable around them because of historical incidents. Actually, both dogs and cats are considered ‘unclean’ in a spiritual sense, though cats have always been accepted and respected in Jerusalem. The great divide in the Jewish religion is between animals who eat meat and those that are vegetarian. There is a greater affinity towards the animals that eat grasses. Thanks very much for your comment, menhir.

  4. I love this photo with the sunlight shining off the steps. My uncle who lived to age 107 and was from Poland originally also said they had little but it didn;t matter- they were happier without much. Shana Tova to you and K’siva v’chasima tova

    • I have known people who were very wealthy, and truly happy, though the folk proverb says, ‘many possessions means many worries’. But I do think that there was a time when social organization and caring provided a certain emotional strength that is missing today. But let us hope, Lisa-Elisheva, that the new year will bring enlightenment and joy for all of us and our neighbors, Thanks so much.
      שנה טובה ומבורכת וחתימה טובה

  5. Very nice. I enjoyed reading.

  6. I love this glimpse of the past, Shimon – it beautifully evokes a time when people were not so wrapped up in possessions, but enjoyed what they had and shared with others the truly good things in life.

    • Thank you very much, Tish. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. I am sure there are many wonderful things available to this generation of young people. There have been great inventions and innovations. But it is important to remember, that despite the commercial influence, what brings happiness is human kindness and understanding, and a calm soul. I am still optimistic.

  7. Something about this entire post Shimon makes me cry …those neighbors , how you describe them with such compassion and love , that man with the truck driving you all to the seashore while sitting upon pillows in the back …and of course the photo , the photo breathes to me …Jerusalem , once only a name for me from the Holy Scriptures , now a place where a friend lives ….thankyou so much , so very much ….love , megxxx

    • Thank you so much Meg, for your very sweet comment. As a young man, I traveled quite a bit in this world, and I was amazed to find that many people in other countries and continents were uninformed and had numerous misunderstandings about our country and people. That’s one of the reasons I started blogging. I send you best wishes from Jerusalem. xxx

  8. Two very key points here. One, I agree that images which are digitally printed never quite show what the real image looks like. …This is confirmed when I go to museums and see well known paintings, which have been digitally re-produced. For the most part they look totally different from the original.

    I love your old image in this post which brings me to, point two. I can ditto everything you have said re our society in the UK and in other countries in the West. Since the sixties, when very few people had a fridge and very little else….we have become overloaded with Stuff….and are people happier? Absolutely not. In fact I would go as far as to say that they are very unhappy.

    Here’s to all things Mother Nature, and of course cats and dogs:)xx

    • It is not only digital prints, my dear Janet. In fact, there is something wonderful about being able to see a work of art which is too far away to examine personally. But even when it comes to seeing a two dimensional work of art like a painting versus a reproduction, one should realize that one is a meeting with the artist, and the other is a translation of the original. There is a world of difference. As for happiness, we know that it is something that grows in the heart and soul of a human being, and not to be confused with possessions. I’ve always liked the image of the Buddha where he is fat and smiling, because I do believe it is good to be wealthy and satisfied. But that alone can’t bring happiness. Yes, my dear friend, I’ll lift my cup in praise of cats and dogs, and a big smile to the monkeys. xxx

  9. Belongings and things don’t make happiness and it’s true that although we have more means it seems to have become more complicated to truly connect with others and know those who live around us. Thanks for the post. It has made me think.

    • We’re going through many changes in this age, among them the rise in technology, greater communication between peoples, and extreme commercialization. And when there’s change, there has to be adjustments. I believe that what we’re seeing these days, is just the beginning of social change in the world, and that things will get a lot better. Thanks very much for your comment, Olga.

  10. “… people are less satisfied now than they were then”, so true! The younger people don’t even say “good morning” to each other (when you say to them, they don’t hear). Most of them are either glued on their smart phones or thinking about the FB. It’s a different world, say the least. 🙂

    • I am not connected to FB or any of the other social media that have become so popular in recent years. But I trust that there are some wonderful things happening on that level. Change is very powerful and dramatic. But let’s hope that when the dust settles, we’ll find more positive attitudes than ever before; peace on earth and good will towards man. Thank you so much for your comment, Amy.

  11. Shimon, I LOVE this photo, as thought the pup is calmly surveying his domain and finding it good. The lighting is so pure, and the stone houses so lovely. I miss that sense of neighborhood and community as well, and I agree that the frantic, anxious drive to gain, purchase, and own more “stuff” has helped destroy it.

    I think people seek community on the internet and it’s true that I’ve located companionship here, like your own fine art and essays, but it’s not the same intimacy as old friends sharing stories and energy on a porch, is it?

    I think there’s more of this neighborliness in a small town, but it’s hard to “merge” with such long and tightly woven communities if you move into them as an adult. Always a “newcomer.”

    Thank you for this reflection and the wonderful photo of that majestic dog!

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed this old photograph, Kitty. And I agree with you that there are many advantages to the internet. And even though I’m not connected to most of the social media, I do appreciate all the communication that is going on between people, and believe that it is going to lead to some very good things. But as you say, we don’t want to neglect intimacy, which is so much a part of happiness. I remember reading somewhere that people with pets lead longer and healthier lives… and it seems to me that one of the advantages of dogs and cats, is that they can’t read our status on facebook. So let’s give a hug to our pet… and to a person too.

  12. The phenomenon of technology breaking down social custom arrived long before everyone was staring into an iGadget. My parents grew up in households with ice boxes, and even after the arrival of refrigeration, neither they nor their friends and neighbors had it for a while.

    While they were courting, one of their favorite activities was to go to the ice cream parlor. It was the only place in town to get an ice cream cone, so on hot evenings, anyone who wasn’t sitting on a front porch drinking iced tea or lemonade probably was at the ice cream parlor, visiting with people.

    Thinking about it, there could be other examples. My father never played a video game in his life, but he spent a good bit of time in the pool hall. In his youth, it wasn’t a place of disrepute, but a gathering place for men. Even after I came along, it was a man’s place, and when I was sent the few blocks to town to call him home, I stood outside the door until noticed.

    As for the dogs, it’s just a little ironic that their physical needs are what helps to bring people together these days. The ritual of walking the dog, especially in the evening, leads to conversations among humans. Those of us with cats have to find other ways to meet our neighbors!

    • I feel that I’ve seen very many positive changes in my lifetime. And because of that, I’m so grateful to be living in this era. I saw a much more brutal world in my childhood, and at the time, a very large part of humanity didn’t know how to read and write… had no idea of what was going on in the next country… and most had to work long hours just to stay alive and to keep their families going. So I do believe there have been a lot of improvements. And more than anything else, technology has completely changed the world we know. It is only to be expected, that with all that good, there have also been some negative side effects. Commercialism has become intrusive, and certain social frameworks have been abandoned. The old fashioned ‘family’ is not so prevalent today.But I do believe that over time, there will be a restructure of social behavior, and what is lost will be replaced… maybe in a different form. It does seem that intimacy between human beings is not something that can be replaced. But I also think that there is a lot we can learn from our pets, and from animals in general. I personally have learned so much from animals. Thank you very much for your comment, Linda.

  13. Beautiful photograph, Shimon, and a beautiful evocation of a time now past. I wonder if some of our nostalgia for those days may not also be driven by the desire to be young again, which of course is now forever beyond reach.

    • I will admit, Nina, that there have been times when I wished I were dead. But it still hasn’t happened that I wished I to go back to my youth. Moreover, as I’ve mentioned in other comments on this post, I am very grateful to have seen so many improvements in this world within my lifetime. We are going through a change in the very nature of society as a result of life becoming easier for most people. And so, certain frameworks and relationships have been weakened, and others have appeared. I believe that on the whole things are better than ever before, and still getting better. But of course, this doesn’t mean that it is to our advantage to trash all that was essential in the past. We have to learn to choose well. Thanks for your comment.

  14. After reading your narration, inspired by your evocative photograph, I am moved to observe that I think such nostalgia has little to do with a wish to be young again but rather with an astute observation of the vacuousness of modern culture.

    Your photo of the neat stonework of the homes,made taller to accommodate more people, reminded me of the Venice ghetto which grew to about six stories, at least 4 stories higher than all of the other structure in Venice. Ghettoized Jews built upward as there was nowhere else for them to go.

    Shana Tovah, Shimon!

    • Yes, there is a connection, Cheri. Not only did many Jews return with habits that were influenced by life in the diaspora, but in Jerusalem, for generations, it’s been our custom to own our own homes. Even if the home was just an apartment and part of a larger complex. As a result, people are less mobile. Added to that is the importance of neighbors and friends who live close. All of which makes people reluctant to move to a new and better home. As for modern culture, I am not all that pessimistic. All through history, it has always been a few that have been the deep thinkers, the great students and the innovators. The majority has been satisfied with light entertainment. I measure the society according to its ability to give support and respect to those exceptional members. In modern society, we have many who’ve chosen to give expression to their creative urges, and their love for nature and their fellow man. Though there might still be a lot of shallow ‘entertainments’ around us, I believe there is reason for optimism. Best wishes to you and yours for a Shana Tova. May it be a year of good health, and good news; a year of happiness.

  15. Thanks for sharing such a fascinating bit of history.

  16. Nice memories of days of old. In our neighborhood, when I was growing up, every family had a dog, who was well known throughout the neighborhood. If you went for a visit on your bicycle, your dog was certain to follow along.

    • How nice to think of someone riding on his bicycle and his or her dog running along. I’ve only seen that very rarely. But I am used to taking walks with my cat. And at times, strangers would stop and chat with me, saying, that cat must think he’s a dog. Of course, that wasn’t at all the case. But people just weren’t used to such a sight. Thanks very much for your comment, Bev.

  17. Intriguing memory Shimon. Mine started at age 3 or 4…1942-3, where we had an ice box and a man called “Coke Oven Johnny” with a horse and wagon, and he would deliver ice and we youngsters were treated with a chunk of ice to lick. And so goes the flow of humanity.
    Be healthy.

    • How nice that we have some common memories, Bob, even though we live at opposite points on the planet. I always find it fascinating, how quickly we take improvements for granted… and once we get used to something good, we just can’t live without it. Here in Jerusalem, when my children were teenagers, we only had one phone in the house. And there were arguments at times about whose turn it was to use the phone. Nowadays I see young people sitting at a table together in a cafe, and each one is on the phone to someone else.

  18. Such beautiful colours in that picture with all the golden tones. We have a hymn, ‘Jerusalem the golden’ – and your photo reminds me of that.
    And as for having less and being happier – yes indeed. With fewer expectations there are fewer disappointments, and more capacity to enjoy what one already has.

    • I am always moved, Gill, by the songs and hymns praising Jerusalem, and I have heard many. I can’t tell you how grateful I have been and still am, to have lived my life in this beautiful city, surrounded by the very sweet people here. I am particularly honored by your including me among the many who’ve sung in praise of this holy city.

  19. Lovely insight. Where I come from the less affluent communities also tend to be more social whereas those in big houses seem to hide behind high walls, ‘guarding their goods’. it is a strange world that we live in!

    • Fortunately, in our city there are also wealthy folks who are very much a part of the community, and are seen in the marketplace, and sitting in the bleachers when there’s some big sports activity. I believe that social activity as well as happiness is open to all, and that it blooms in those who are satisfied with what they have, and look out to appreciate their surroundings as much as they look within. Today, because of intense commercialism, we sometimes mix up happiness with possessions. Thanks so much for your comment, ‘mom’.

      • The challenge that I feel so many folk face is what is enough? How does one predict the future? Will we be ok when we are old? Will we have enough to live? Will we be able to afford to send our kids to college if we step off the tread mill now and spend more time ‘in the bleachers’? I guess at some point one has to be brave and just leave certain things up to what ever it is one believes in.. of course learning to live with less and not get caught up in the commercialism that you speak of helps too! I think fear of difference also plays a huge role in keeping us from engaging. We hold onto what we know with such intensity – often closing ourselves off to new experiences and ideas that could lead to happiness while we entrench old fears….Your city seems to have reached a level of maturity that is deeply lacking in many parts of the world.

  20. Just a note — I recently discovered that I could subscribe to “The Times of Israel Daily” for free, so I did. It’s very interesting to be getting a daily look into your world. I was astonished by the huge sandstorm that arrived there. I hope it’s passed, and that you weren’t terribly inconvenienced by it.

    • To tell you the truth, Linda, though I subscribe to a regular printed newspaper and follow two on line newspapers, I’m unfamiliar with English language papers here, and have never seen the Times of Israel. I hope it’s a good paper, and disappoint you. As for the sandstorm, it has been very difficult, and I was definitely inconvenienced. But fortunately, I have an air conditioner in my home. So once I realized that I would have to give up on my daily walk till nature ‘had its way’, I was able to enjoy my days inside. So glad to hear that you’re even more connected to our country now.

  21. Shana Tova, Shimon – thank you for providing so much beauty and delight into my life and so many others.

    • Thank you so much, Mimi, for your very sweet comment. And my best wishes to you too, for a Shana Tova. May the coming year be a good one for all of us, and bring peace and good health, and much joy.

  22. It seems that everywhere I’ve been, as an adult, my friends and colleagues always talked about “how it used to be,” how life was so much simpler, how work was less complicated, more friendly and pleasant…and that’s going back over 30 years…and it seems to be common across our human experience, as you and your other commenting friends have mentioned above. I hope the members of our species can still enjoy their lives in the years to come…based upon the changes that we’ve seen so far, I can hardly imagine how life will be in another 20 or 30 years.

    Thank you, as always, for sharing your memories, Shimon.

    • It’s true, Scott, that we all tend to take the advantages of progress for granted, yet often complain about this or that, that we appreciated in the past. When I look back, life was quite a big harder some 50 years ago. We used to work 6 days a week. And long hours too. When my children were babies, we had to wash the diapers, and there were no ‘throw away’ items in our daily lives. It seems to me that going through such radical changes as we have seen in our lives here, leads to unwanted side effects at times. And sometimes we have to check it all out and choose what is worth keeping and what can be discarded. But honestly, I am pretty optimistic. Sending you my best wishes.

  23. I enjoyed reading about the past when I was young, but I preferred the present and anticipated an even better future. Looking back with fond nostalgia is old speak, Shimon. Now that I’m older I’m also yearning for my past. I don’t seem as optimistic about the present as I once was and would rather not think of the future. So, which version of me is right?
    I loved that photo, Shimon and your explanation about the process you went through to get it looking the way that it does. It’s nice that you (almost) left people out of it. The place looks so serene.

    • I realize from quite a few comments I’ve received that some people might have gotten the impression that I believe we’ve left the ‘good times’ behind. But quite frankly, Mary, I do believe that I have seen a lot of improvement in my life. And I’m quite optimistic about the future. It seems to me, that we should be careful about discarding practices that have been fashioned over generations. But I also believe that we’ll find ways to deal with our new conditions as our life styles change and old frameworks are exchanged. So glad you liked the photo. Thanks for the comment.

  24. I like this and it gave me an inkling of how much I don’t know about art and photography

    • Both art and photography are very interesting subjects, Jim. The more we learn about them, the better we get to see human beings… from a slightly different perspective. But having worked for many years as a professional photographer, I can tell you that it’s a great joy for me to watch the profession move out of its former niche and become a very popular hobby, available to all. And I have been seeing some fantastic photography in recent years.

  25. How lovely to read of your neighbours back then, it must have been lovely all sitting out on warm summer evenings. I think the communities here were more sociable years back too, but then most of them were broken up or moved away in search of work.
    I agree that less is more, I prefer the simpler life too.xxx

  26. Times and attitudes have really changed over the decades. Great post and image.

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