Author Archives: ShimonZ

book fair blues

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This week was the first time I ever went to the book fair and came away without buying a single book. There are some annual experiences that engender a sense of permanence. But going to the book fair these days is a bit like Grandpa’s birthday. There is always the thought that it may be the last. Here in Jerusalem we have a strong attachment to books, so it took me a while to realize that something was amiss. The signs were there. The crowds seemed thinner lately. And this year there seemed to be less young adults. Children and old folks are still interested.

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With the average book costing around 70 shekels normally, there were some fantastic deals offered; 4 books for a hundred shekels. 3 books for a 100. There was one published who offered 1 + 1; you buy a book, and you get another as a present. Now this should be a very tempting opportunity. But it means that if you want to take advantage of the 4 book deal, you have to find 4 books produced by the same publisher that you would like to read.

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This was no small challenge for me. I’ve been reading book reviews of new books for the last three weeks so I’d be prepared for the fair, and even so, I didn’t have a list of books I wanted to find. In the old days, I didn’t have to make a list. Yes, I had a better memory then, but what was more important, if I saw a book I hadn’t read, on a subject that interested me, I would buy without hesitation and read with glee. But there’ve been some changes since then.

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Sometimes the name of the book has been changed without thought for the innocent. For instance, that old classic, ‘I Went To China’ is now called, ‘A Drop in the Bucket’ and bears the subtitle, ‘how a Jewish Intellectual tried to tickle the armpit of a sleeping giant’, with a beautiful cover showing an abstract photoshopped collage of far eastern headwear. The cookbooks that were once so popular are no longer in the central display. It turns out that any food you want to prepare can be found instantly on the internet with alternate recipes for gluten free diets or kosher as you wish.

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But that isn’t the only problem. I’ve always enjoyed a good novel, but nowadays novels start with the hero lying in a hospital bed, unable to speak or to move his arms and legs, with a series of pipes and electric cables attached to some life-saving device, and though no one can guess that he has more presence of mind than a turnip, he can hear what his visitors are saying. And so he listens to them discussing the challenge of finding available parking as near as possible to the hospital. And then, just when you’re hoping that some mischievous grandchild will pull the plug, the narrative begins pulling you back and forth along a zigzag route of flashbacks and forwards that leave you dizzy by the time you want to go to the kitchen and get a snack. It is hopeless trying to figure out how the plot will be resolved or who the villain or the hero is, because there are no heroes nor are there villains. It turns out that they all suffered from unhappy childhoods and have since vacillated between ADHD and the acdc gender disposition.

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If you, like me, have a fondness for history, there are a number of new volumes on the display table each year. These fall into two major categories:
1) the historiographic, which critically examines flotsam after the deluge in order to synthesize the particulars into a narrative that will uphold the agenda of the day; or
2) demythification, in which the author will tell the story exactly as it would have happened if we were living in an alternative reality in which the Nazis won in Europe, and the Indians in America, after which Marxist literature became viral, coming out of Rio de Janeiro. The two Americas unite, and live happily ever after in an ideal egalitarian state that provides people who have low self-esteem with life-long compensation because love is what matters.

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And I have to mention that the very nicest people in our town are managing the book stalls, and you’re acquainted with about 30% of those over 40. Not to speak of the real live authors scattered among the book sellers to personally sign their works for the reading public. Think about it, what a terribly anti-social disgrace it would be, to come to the book fair and not buy a book… or four.

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To make the experience all the more enticing, this exhibition takes place right at the edge of the old train station, which has become an entertainment compound featuring bars and eateries, a small railroad museum, a series of stalls selling handicrafts, and stands selling popcorn and cotton candy for the children and the nostalgic. So I visited a few book stalls, talked to a few people, tried to find four books, three books even two books that I really wanted to read and didn’t have in my own library. There was one book that I thought might be interesting, but it seemed such a provocation to buy a book at full price when they were offering all these deals that I preferred to wait till my next visit at the local bookstore.

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Noga and I did our best to retreat unobserved from the book fair to Restaurant Row. where we managed to get outdoor seating at the Asian Eatery. That’s right, the old Chinese restaurant I loved has gone out of business, and I don’t eat sushi because I worry that the raw fish might come back to life and swim away from my plate. The Asian Eatery offers selected highlights from any country east of Israel, and actually, we had a tasty dinner to conclude our adventure.

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on noticing clouds

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A few weeks back, I got a comment from menhir, mentioning that someone had said that there were no clouds in Israel. I decided to photograph some immediately. Went out for a walk and did it. But then… just couldn’t think of any story to tell that would enable me to use the clouds for illustration. I guess I just like a wide open blue sky, and we do have them now and then. Watching clouds in the sky brings me very personal subjective thoughts… nothing I would share in public. I remember the cloud photos of Stieglitz and Steichen, and how people enjoyed them. But clouds never did that much for me as a subject for photography.

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When taking a walk, by myself or with others, I don’t look for subjects. They find me. Some to be appreciated visually, and some as thoughts, memories, dilemmas or inspiration. I do enjoy company, but when walking alone my thoughts are deepest and longer lasting. If I read a fascinating book, it’ll often accompany me as I walk. I have spent a lot of time with Theodore Roosevelt in the past few weeks. First his autobiography, and then ‘River of Doubt’ which Cheri recommended, and got me interested in TR. It’s an excellent book. As a study of Roosevelt, it reveals much of the same man that I got to know while reading his autobiography. Aside from that, it enabled me to know the others who were part of his great adventure in the Amazon, and provided the background to better understand TR’s passion to conquer new territory.

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A hundred years ago, when he lived his life, there had been a great leap in mankind’s understanding of nature and this planet on which we live. Roosevelt was inspired by the first successful expedition to the north pole. He found a romantic delight in the heroic feats of previous explorers who had revealed many parts of the world, unknown to Europeans and the west. The invention of the train, automobile, airplane, electrical light and devices aroused the hope in people that they would soon know and understand all of the world.

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From the start of the tale, we are aware of conditions and attitudes which will weaken and challenge the expedition. He wishes to learn unknown territory, to map the geography and examine wildlife and plant life which may be completely new to him. But because of prejudice, does not choose to first acquaint himself with the human beings who live on that territory. I don’t blame him. As we do today, he accepted the conventions of his time. He was exploring an area of Brazil. And Brazil was a sovereign nation, whose government was cooperating with him. The natives of that country, living outside of those territories that had the advantages of modern technology and culture were considered primitive cave men whose only hope was being civilized by the representatives of western culture.

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At the start of the expedition there were 19 officers, almost 150 hired hands, and 200 pack animals. As the expedition approached that leg of the journey which was completely unknown (to modern mankind), after reducing the crew to 22 men, there was no way of going back, not enough food, and a lack of equipment, especially appropriate boats to enable them to travel efficiently down a river in which the rapids were impassable. They were forced to bypass those rapids each time when encountered. How different the expedition would have been if they had found some way to cooperate with the indigenous tribes who were native to the land. Or if they had made a primary small visit to the area in order to acquaint themselves with the conditions in the Amazon jungle before attempting to follow a river nearly 1,500 kilometers in length.

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But Roosevelt was a romantic hero of historic proportions, and influenced by the standards of his time. He approached his mission with the preconceptions of his day. He traveled with an entourage that was fitting for a king, or for the ex-president of the USA. As difficult as the journey became, through sickness, wounds, fear and worry, he remained loyal to his principles. He was a man who did not fear to live his life despite the dangers.

life is a great adventure, and the worst of all fears is the fear of living

wisdom of the past

Since starting to use the internet, I’ve encountered a regular stream of quotations from well known thinkers and writers, on a variety of subjects meant to enlighten and encourage us. I’ve often felt that the quotations were false. They didn’t always fit the personality of the individual being quoted. Sometimes they quoted a person whom I’d previously read, and the quote seemed highly unlikely. Occasionally they were irrelevant, such as: “Always zip up your fly before going out” by Albert Einstein. When seeing something like that, I wonder how many people go to the source and try to understand the thoughts and intentions of the person quoted.

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I got a comment from our friend Cheri a few weeks ago that included a recommendation of River Of Doubt by Candace Millard. I read a couple of reviews, and bought the book. I had long heard of Theodore Roosevelt, but had never read him. I had read about him in history books. many years ago. I knew he had written quite a bit himself. But none of his books are translated into Hebrew. Thinking about him, and this tale of an adventure of his in South America, I thought that I would rather meet him in his own words before I read the book about him. I got his autobiography. It’s very different to read a man’s account of his own life as compared to how others see him. Even as I read the forward, I felt a great respect for him. I’ve been reading about American presidents and following their speeches and decisions since the days of Eisenhower and I had never encountered anyone like him. He reminded me of Thomas Jefferson who had led that nation a hundred years before Roosevelt.

As I continued to read the autobiography, I learned to love the man. He was a true leader and teacher. A modest man, he was very aware of his faults and his limitation. He saw himself as a regular fellow. He writes of an occasion when he was toasted by the crew of a Navy vessel on which he had sailed with his wife. It was a a time when he was working with a Government Commission to revive the inland waterways of the country. At the conclusion of the trip, one of the petty officers proposed the toast as follows “Now then, men, three cheers for Theodore Roosevelt, the typical American citizen!” That was the way in which they thought of the American President, and it pleased him greatly.

As a child he had health problems, was a bit weak. As he describes it, he was neither a genius nor exceptionally gifted in talent. But he kept on working on himself, trying to learn what this life was all about and what was truly valuable. He read and studied as a youth. Often beaten by bullies, he learned how to box in order to defend himself. And as a young man, he left his comfortable environment in a well-to-do neighborhood of New York City, and went out west (in those days the Dakotas were considered part of the west), and chose to live the life of a cowboy. As he progressed in life, he sought out challenges; tried to actually live the experiences that attracted him in books. Moreover, he tried to live his life according to the values he believed in, and though he had the greatest respect and affection for the common man, he was not satisfied to go along with the crowd.

Perhaps he was overshadowed by the second President Roosevelt, but in these days, when so many Americans are disappointed by the present American President, I think it would be very helpful to read this exemplary man. For he saw that there was something wrong with the direction his country was taking, and tried to change things. And he tells us what works and what doesn’t when you’re trying to make a change, trying to reform established practices. I don’t agree with all of his opinions, but I do think that what he writes about is important for all who love and care for democracy. And I believe that he presents his values well. He translated the ideas of ‘conservation’ (now called ecology), to a working plan for government, and was the first leader in the world who actually provided tools of government with which to control the abuse of the environment.

He writes:

The men who first applied the extreme Democratic theory in American life were, like Jefferson, ultra individualists, for at that time what was demanded by our people was the largest liberty for the individual. During the century that had elapsed since Jefferson became President the need had been exactly reversed. There had been in our country a riot of individualistic materialism, under which complete freedom for the individual— that ancient license which President Wilson a century after the term was excusable has called the “New” Freedom— turned out in practice to mean perfect freedom for the strong to wrong the weak.

He writes that he often listen and consulted with those with whom he did not agree. He even deliberates on whether one should listen to the arguments of truly evil people, and says that he was able to learn even from them.

I consulted all who wished to see me; and if I wished to see any one, I sent for him … and I always finally acted as my conscience and common sense bade me act.

I would find an occasional humorous anecdote here and there, and laughed along with him as I read.

There was a big governmental job in which this leader was much interested, and in reference to which he always wished me to consult a man whom he trusted, whom I will call Pitt Rodney. One day I answered him, “The trouble with Rodney is that he misestimates his relations to cosmos”; to which he responded, “Cosmos— Cosmos? Never heard of him. You stick to Rodney. He’s your man!”

He talks about reading and books, giving great advice to the student. He might not have told all about his presidency, but he did tell how he worked to live a meaningful life. Telling that, he manages to cover numerous activities that we all engage in. And there is much to learn from his words. I could bring you many quotes from the book, but I will conclude with a short one that I found most important:

But life is a great adventure, and the worst of all fears is the fear of living.

 

so-called peaceful demonstration

This week all of Israel rejoiced at the opening of the American Embassy in Jerusalem. Though Jerusalem has been our capital for 3000 years, the nations of the world have found some pleasure in ignoring that. And the fact that since the establishment of the modern state of Israel, this city has been the nation’s capital. I heard that in a few countries, some folks were so outraged that they got out on the street to demonstrate against the US for moving its embassy to our city. I hope those were peaceful demonstrations.

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In 1948, after the UN approved a partition plan for the area that had been previously known as Palestine, four Arab nations invaded us, declaring that they were going to push us into the sea. It wasn’t the first time. There had been murderous attacks against us by Arab Moslems for 100 years. I can’t begin to tell you how surprised these Arabs were when they realized that we, bookish and spoiled Jews, were fighting back. And they were unable to complete their project. They celebrate a day of mourning when we celebrate Independence day. Nakba means catastrophe, and they consider the independence of Israel the catastrophe rather than remembering that they themselves caused the disaster by making war on us when we were ready and willing to share with them, accept the UN partition, and live together in peace. Since then, there have been wars with Israel’s neighbors every few years. This is very painful for us, because we are a peace loving people. We are also a compassionate people. We would rather be doing all kinds of other things than making war. But when people openly say that they are working to exterminate you, it makes you cautious.

After the war we provided the Arabs living in our country with citizenship and all the freedoms that we enjoy. The Israeli Arabs enjoy a standard of living far higher than the average for the middle east, and freedom of speech that it is incomparable with any other country in this area of the world. In fact, we have Arab members of parliament who regularly denounce us and lie about us to our faces.

The so-called occupied territories were not taken from any other nation. They were included in the Balfour Declaration published by the British Government in support of the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. The Pals embraced the four countries that invaded us, and were appropriated by Jordan after the ’48 war. In 1967 we once again were promised by our Arab neighbors that they were going to destroy us and push us into the sea, and after one of our ports was blockaded, we moved first, and hit them in the nose. That war is known as the 6 day war.

In 2005, our prime minister, Ariel Sharon, decided to try an experiment for peace. He ousted 10,000 Jewish families from the Gaza strip, so that the Arabs could live in peace without Jews to bother them. They received farms and hot houses, and all kinds of modern facilities which they could use to build their own little county. A few short years later, the radical Islamic terrorists of Chamas received more votes in an election than the PLO, and started replacing public officials and clerks by dropping them out of 8 story windows.

The PLO had not taken any pains to develop the land that they had received. They had destroyed almost everything. But they did build luxury homes for the rich. They had a few night clubs and a marina. Then when the Chamas took charge, the whole society went on war footing. The children went to terrorist summer camps, and I actually saw the videos of children with war paint on their faces, and toy rifles in their hands practicing jumping through rings of fire so that they would know how to invade Jewish cities, and kill Jews. Then we had a few wars. I don’t know their names in English. I might have even forgotten a few names in Hebrew. I wouldn’t say that we won. But I can assure you that they didn’t either. The Chamas spent all of it’s resources to make weapons. They are making tunnels to cross the border and attack Jewish villages. They used one of those tunnels to attack a group of soldiers, and kidnapped one of them which they took back to Gaza. After bombarding us with rockets for quite some time, we developed a system which intercepts missiles and rockets. After a series of failures in making war against us, but some success in murder and mayhem, they devised a new plan.

This project is called peaceful civilian demonstrations. Just like in Europe which refuses to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the Pals of Gaza refuse to accept Israel as a state at all. They want the return of Palestine. They explained to their poor starving people that Israelis don’t shoot at women and children, so they need a lot of women and children in the demonstrations. And cleverly they salted the demonstrations with a relatively small number of blood hungry murderers and vandals. These hoodlums flew kites over the border fence; with attached incendiary devices, which burned the fields of the farmers on the other side of the border. They stormed the Pal side of the border crossing, destroying everything in it, even though this is a life line for them by which Israel sends 100s of trucks bearing food and equipment for them every day. They even destroyed the pipes which bring them natural gas for cooking and heating. And you can learn from this that the blockade that they complain about all the time is not a complete blockade. We don’t want them to suffer. We just don’t want them to import any more weapons. Still the Chamas appropriates the money and goods sent by donor countries, and invests it all in their fight. They are militants. When they started tearing down the border fence (after burning tires to make a lot of smoke so that we wouldn’t see what they were doing), we started shooting.

I just read that we have a new weapon. It was put into use for the first time on Nakba day, the day after the 60 fatalities at the border fence. This is a stink bomb which is dropped by a UAV on a riotous crowd. Let’s hope it works.

home and garden

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the garden behind my home

In the past, I’ve taken you along with me on many a walk, here in Jerusalem. Sometimes in my own neighborhood, and now and then, in other neighborhoods I love. Once, a long time past, I published a series on a number of different communities here. Yet often, after photographing a neighborhood, I feel a sense of frustration. I have such a love for this city… for almost every quarter and every street. Each time I go to the town center, I feel an emotional uplift… and have the same feeling when I am out of town and return to my beloved city. Usually, I would return in my own car, and as I went up the mountain, especially after Ein Chemed, I’d feel this swelling in my chest… of happiness, to be back home, and excitement in anticipation of seeing the city again.

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the perimeter of the block – ‘the gardens of Katamon’

Taking a portrait of a person, one discovers many faces. In Hebrew, the word for face is usually used in its plural form. But it is possible to take a single portrait, and to capture that person that we or his or her acquaintances know. I have done that many times, but when coming to photograph this city, or a part of it… I always have the feeling that I have left out more than I have captured. There is so much here. Recently I got to know a blog which regularly publishes a photo with the title ‘1000 words’. I asked the blogger where the words were, and she told me that she’d heard a picture is worth a thousand words. I think that sometimes that is true. But I have often thought that words, or a painting, have a great advantage over photography. The artist is free to produce those delicate variations that don’t make it into the photo.

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As some of you may remember, I moved to a new home about four years ago. It’s a very nice home, in a pleasant residential neighborhood. I have a neighborhood park right behind my home, so it serves almost as a personal garden. I’ve published some photos of it and the immediate surroundings, in a number of posts since I moved. I couldn’t ask for more. But today I want to introduce you to a small building project in the middle of the city, that is sort of hidden away, not far from the German Colony, which is one of the up beat neighborhoods these days. It is called ‘the gardens of Katamon’.

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It is built on a square piece of land with three and four story houses sitting in line at the perimeter of the block. Their faces towards the center, which is a landscaped park with trees, flower bushes and grass. It’s a fine place to visit, which I do occasionally. And I’m sure it’s a great place to live. I’ve visited that project since it was built, about 20 years ago, and always thought it must be one of the best places to live in the whole city. I get a sense of completeness when walking there. I imagine that the people who live there must surely live happy lives, even though I don’t know anyone personally who lives in one of those homes.

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Even so, it wouldn’t be the right place for me. We all have our personal tastes and particular demands when looking for a home. Some people like the excitement of the center of town. Others want a grocery store just a few steps from home. Lots of people like to live close to work, or close to where their friends live. There are people in our city who would only consider living in a neighborhood where most of the people have the same religious or cultural inclination as they do. Only the luckiest among us are able to find a home in the neighborhood we want, available at an affordable price, and fulfilling all of our demands including the way it looks. But most of us here are very happy to be living in this city that we love.

 

Most of these pictures are from an album of the place found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/shimonz/albums/72157696040847104
Those of you who would like to revisit the post in which I shared the environment of my new home are welcome to find it here: https://thehumanpicture.wordpress.com/2014/04/25/in-the-vicinity/

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celebrating lag b’omer

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remembering Henny Penny

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the lobby of the Agricultural Center for Community Gardening in Jerusalem

As I mentioned in my previous post, it’s tiring listening to the political messages we keep getting from the news media. Thinking about it, and in discussions with friends, I realize that it’s not just politics. Something has changed in the way that news is offered us. Maybe it’s been a long process, starting with the more subjective approach to journalism, called the ‘new journalism’ in the 60s, and reaching the level of an hysterical rant in recent years. The way issues are presented reminds me of ‘re-education’ in China during the cultural revolution there. The news media, having taught us politically correct discussion, are now trying to move us into action. I haven’t joined facebook but every now and then, the various movements or causes that reach prominence on that social platform are reported in the news as well, and it’s not clear whether these reports are meant to point fun at the social media or whether they’re considered important concerns for all of us these days.

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the old nature museum

Of course, there are also the real world social movements, like the ‘me too’ revolution, the anti-smoking movement, and the warnings of climate change on the planet. I feel obliged to mention that I oppose the abuse of women, addiction of any sort, and have believed all my life that pollution of the environment is an affront to nature and a terrible abuse of the general public. All the same, I don’t like to be preached to constantly. And I’m disturbed when I see a large portion of the public resorting to extralegal means to influence the processes of government or the courts.

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There has been quite a bit of controversy regarding the climate warming issue. The big question seems to be not whether the planet is warming, but whether man is responsible for this change. But it should be pointed out, that even if we human beings are not responsible (and we know there have been ice ages and scorching periods on the planet before man took over), we still have the same interest in trying to prevent a world disaster, whether it be a critical change in climate or an asteroid that comes crashing into our world. DrBob sent me a very interesting article recently which suggests that there may have been some very sudden climate changes in the past as a result of a reversal of the magnetic field of the planet.

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Yet what is to be gained by scaring ourselves and our friends with extremely pessimistic forecasts regarding the future? I too have my doubts about the future. I am convinced that we are watching the dawn of a new age that will be different from anything that has come before. We can expect changes just as radical as those that came after the development of sophisticated tools by cave men. I don’t believe that we can stand in the way of such change, even if we disapprove the path that society seems to be taking. Virtual reality might be a preview to an entirely different attitude towards sensual awareness. And we have yet to see what computers can do when they’re designed by computers.

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inside of the hot house

So, in an effort to find a balanced perspective regarding our relationship to nature and the environment, I visited the Agricultural Center for Community Gardening of Jerusalem this week. What impressed me the most was the ‘hotel for insects and bugs’. I had some expectations before I visited the place, but this was something I hadn’t even imagined. A home built by humans to offer insects and bugs a little comfort in this world. Usually we are just killing them or banishing them from whatever space we seize. And this was just the sort of thing I had been wondering about… is there a positive way to deal with the phenomena that disturb us, rather than just complaining or crying about it?

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Another thing that impressed me profoundly was hearing that there are 70 community gardens in Jerusalem, including allotments and wild flower reserves. I wrote about the allotment in my neighborhood a while back. You can find it here: http://tinyurl.com/y9c673o6

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the hotel for insects and bugs

The agricultural center is manned by some very talented and schooled volunteers. They are situated right next to the nature museum. They build a lot of their facilities and furniture themselves from recycled wood, sponsor a free library, lend tools to amateurs, hold seminars and cultural get-togethers. There is the Saturday ‘garden meet’ every week featuring lectures and cultural events. A photography exhibit was still on the walls when I was there. They have a very professional looking compost facility, conduct experiments in growing plant life on water without earth, and rely on an exceptionally well designed nursery to provide plants to all the different community gardens in our city. Quite a few of the many plant species native to our region have become extinct, and the botanists and green thumbs of the agricultural center are doing their best to prevent the extinction of such endangered species today. As I wandered around the grounds, there was no end of delightful surprises and a great variety of sights and smells.

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a demonstration roof garden

There was a fascinating roof garden, with huge wooden plant pots in which you could grow your own food, even if you lived in an apartment house. I think it would be hard for anyone to visit this center without catching a bit of the excitement about what is going on and the enthusiasm of the volunteers of all ages. The attitude among the workers and visitors is one of encouragement and friendship.

for more pictures from this visit see:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/shimonz/albums/72157668282675148