Category Archives: life

in memory of Ursula K. LeGuin

I first came across science fiction in the 50s when studying in America. Came across those inexpensive SF magazines and paper back books with appealing covers enjoyed by a relatively small circle of readers. They offered conjecture as to the future; a future in which technology would offer solutions to many of the hardships associated with sustaining material existence. And they seemed to ask what would concern us in the era that seemed then to be just around the corner. What would have to be dealt with when we were freed of our day to day burdens that were then such a large part of maintaining our existence.

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Ursula K. LeGuin started publishing after I had left America, but she continued in the tradition of those writers and thinkers of the 50s and 60s. She challenged us to change our thinking as to the purpose and the content of human life. In her honor, I would like to re-examine one of her classic stories; a story translated to Hebrew and published in the newspaper here after she passed away a little more than a week ago. The story is called, ‘The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas’. It can be downloaded for free from the internet.

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It’s a short story which presents a version of Utopia. It describes a small city. No emphasis is put on technological inventions. Because the people there live simply. But she stresses, the people themselves are not simple. They are sophisticated and intelligent. They are happy. They have no king and no army. They have no cars because they don’t need them. There is music and sporting competition. She describes a festival, the first day of summer, and it is joyful. The one negative aspect of this utopia is an idiot child who is kept in a dirty basement, all alone and neglected. Her description of the conditions of this child’s living space are dismal and repulsive. But the young are taught that this is what has to be. That the happy lives they live are dependent on the misery of this one child.

She also tells of the those who leave the city. She doesn’t tell us much about them. Just that they leave. They leave alone, and we don’t know where they go. They seem sure of themselves. There is the suggestion in the story that they leave because they cannot bear to live in a city where even one person is treated so cruelly. It is of that I wish to speak, the people who walk away from Omelas.

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I have written in the past about my experience in kibbutz. I wanted to try living there after I had studied a bit about communism and socialism, and thought this would be an opportunity to see if the theories could be realized in real life. At the time, the Soviet Union was a cruel dictatorship, and I didn’t want to believe that this was the inevitable outcome of establishing a communist society. While on kibbutz, I fell in love with the society. But I also saw its faults. I left because my dear wife just didn’t appreciate this ideal as I did. I don’t regret that I have lived the rest of my life back here in Jerusalem. I consider myself blessed. Still the experience has stayed with me.

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My example of the paradox of ‘life in utopia’ is less dramatic than the story of Omelas. My work was being part of a team there that grew bananas. There was a fellow on the team that used to bum cigarettes off of me. As members of the commune, we both had all of our needs supplied. “to each according to his needs, from each according to his abilities”. Once a week, I would find as many packs as I used to smoke then, in the same compartment where my newly laundered clothes would be delivered. No charge. Yet day after day, sometimes saying he had run out, and most often just asking if I had a spare cig’, he would ask for one of mine. I never asked him why. But I wondered. Could be he was trying to stop smoking… or was it his way of making friendly contact? No big deal, but it made me a bit uncomfortable.

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Often, what makes everyone happy, will make someone unhappy. Everyone wants to listen to music, but one fellow prefers silence. Everyone wants a nice green lawn in front of his home, but one fellow wants the grass to grow wild, to grow knee high around his house. Sometimes the happiness of the majority can be like a poke in the eye of a small minority. That’s the way it is among people. Even the best society can’t be perfect because human beings aren’t perfect. And no matter how good, there will always be someone looking for the faults; unhappy because of the imperfections. We’re not all built the same way, neither physically, emotionally or mentally. Ask yourselves, is it possible to build a society, even with no expenses spared… even with great consideration and respect towards all… in which one person won’t stand up and yell, “you’re all a bunch of happy idiots”? And isn’t that person an unhappy individual?

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defragmentation

Believing, as I do, that everything is connected means you can study something years ago; let it slip away till it’s a faint ghost of a memory, and then realize later that it’s still applicable, though you’d given it up for lost… locked in a previous context.

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this fellow usually visits with me when I come by. but I was with someone, so he watched me from a distance

When I first started using a PC, and was working intensely, I would get to the point where there was a marked slowing in the ability of the computer to compute. Sometimes it would send me crazy irrelevant messages… until I realized that I needed to defragment the hard disk. No big deal. It just took quite a while… and I’d usually give it some time by itself, till it finished its work. Fragmentation of the hard disk is caused by the dispersal of bits of memory in non contiguous areas. Say, if I had a special drawer in my study, reserved for ‘important papers’… and when my friends would give me advise on how to make money or influence people, I’d ask them to write it all down and then I’d put the notes in that same drawer. I put my insurance policies there too, you know, the warrantees for the refrigerator, the washing machine, and the occasional computer I might buy… and of course post cards from friends and a drawing from a grandchild would go in that drawer too. I remember getting a check one time for a translation, or maybe it was taking a picture back in the days when you actually got paid for taking a picture… and it was raining so I didn’t really feel like going to the bank, and was going to put it in that drawer, but the drawer was filled to capacity, so I just put it between the pages of the book I was reading. And then there was the time when the pizza delivery guy came, and wasn’t able to change a 200 shekel note. I remembered that I had put something in a book. So I open the book on my desk, which is a dictionary of ‘full’ spelling of Hebrew words, in contrast to the traditional spelling, which used to be fine for scholars (the traditional), but was replaced by full spelling in an effort at standardization and the vain dream of avoiding misunderstandings.

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In going through the dictionary, I come across a bill of 100 shekels (or was it liras) with the image of Herzl on it, but that bill, though a collectors item, had gone out of currency long ago, and, I had to check book after book trying to find enough dough to pay the delivery boy… that’s fragmentation in my world.

Defragmentation is the moving of those bits of memory so that particular memories will be arranged in a contiguous manner, saving space, and making things easier to find. Nowadays, the computer is so smart it can automatically decide to put our house in order once a week, and even at 3:00 am, so as not to disturb me, though I’ll admit that I do sometimes wake up at 2:45 and go to the computer to check out what Wikipedia has to say about wells in the desert or some such pressing issue.

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We’ve been fragmented. We live in little houses by ourselves. We’ve been cut off from family and childhood friends. We have no room in our homes for the aged; no time to take care of them. We send them off to institutions. We send our mentally unbalanced off. We send our cripples and those born with ‘birth defects’. We leave behind us the wise and the experienced when they are no longer productive. We sit in our cars for hours, on our way to work or on our way home, finding ways to kill time so we won’t burn away from frustration. We’ve forgotten where we come from and where we’re going. We amass possessions that interest us for a short time until they’re replaced by new flashy toys; plastic boxes with LED monitors exhibiting maps, contacts and play lists. Boxes that take pictures, and can hear us when we ask for a song.

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the Lion of Judah has learned to throw trash in the trash bin

The environment is not just the planet and the hole in the ozone over Australia. It’s the neighbor you don’t know living in the apartment over your head, and the fellow who takes the garbage away, and the clerk in the store. There’s a saying I heard years ago… ‘you can’t take it with you’. It doesn’t just apply to money. It includes all the rest. The shoes and clothes, the car we drive, the refrigerator that makes ice cubes, the TV and the telephone… even time. It’s all temporary. There was a time when we had to work for a while most days so that we’d have something to eat and clothes to keep us warm when the weather got cold. Then we invented machines which could do some of the work and save us time. But strangely enough, we had less time. Now we don’t speak of time saving devices, because that illusion has faded.

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And through it all, the rat race, and standing in a line on the sidewalk, in the middle of the night, waiting for Apple to open their doors and sell their newest version of the telephone that is smarter than we are, we have momentary memories of happiness… memories of thinking that life is precious. Will we find that happiness again if we spend a weekend in Italy? Or in the Virgin Islands? Is there anything better than looking at nature through 3D eye glasses that can follow status updates and take pictures of the parking lot we’re wandering through, looking for the car we displaced?

Aldous Huxley said, “I wanted to change the world, but I have found that the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself”.

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granddaughters visiting

Maybe it’s time for social defragmentation. Freedom is the most precious commodity in life. let’s not waste it. Let’s not waste life itself.

Sabbath Chanukah

The picture of the day was a line of customers buying sweet white bread (which we call Challah), cookies and cakes, and of course, the favorite and traditional pastry of Chanukah, which is the jelly roll. This picture is on the front yard of the bakery.

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While walking to the bakery, I noticed that my neighbor has been lighting his Chanukah lamp (called a chanukiah) outside in front of his house in order to share his joy with the neighborhood. This is an old custom in Jerusalem, which has become less popular as apartment houses have grown taller, and many are distanced from the street. Still, there are those who put the lamp behind a window which faces the public thoroughfare.

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a mischievious holiday

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This evening we’re going to light the first candle of Chanukah. That in itself has usually been reason enough for a blog post in the past… maybe just a picture of one candle, representing the first day. But this day started strangely. I turned on the radio, and the first thing I heard was that Rabbi Steinman had a heart attack and that a missile had been fired from Gaza at Ashkelon, our famous city. The same place where Samson used to take Delilah to spend a night at the local motel. I was thinking about that, when Nechama came into the room. She complained that her water was stagnant. Said she just couldn’t bear to drink it. Would I please get up immediately and change the water in her bowl. I got up with an apology and a sigh, washed her bowl, and poured her some fresh cool water, accompanied her to her dining corner, and then sat next to her as she ate breakfast. I don’t start my day with eating.

I remembered that the old rabbi had a heart attack about a month ago… but I hadn’t checked up on how he was doing in the last couple of weeks. There had just been too much news. It was distracting. Last week, for instance, there had been rumors flying around the middle east that Trump was about to announce moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. And then, on the same day that the US president was scheduled to make an ‘important announcement’, the Israeli army imploded a tunnel which had been discovered deep in Israeli territory and coming from the Gaza strip. These tunnels are designed to kidnap Jewish people in order to negotiate the release of terrorists from jail, or alternatively to kill as many Jews as they can with the intention to depress or scare us. They see how pampered and soft we are and think that if they could really scare us, we’d leave for Europe or places unknown. It doesn’t matter. What’s important to them is that they get rid of us so that they can build a modern Arab state instead of Israel; something on the order of Syria, Iraq, or Iran.

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potatoes and onions are important
in making potato pancakes

Then that night Pres Trump spoke, not only revealing that he was going to move the embassy, but also saying that the capital of Israel was Jerusalem. Now this wasn’t really news, ‘cause everyone knows… but a lot of people pretend that it’s not true, so it was about as shocking as saying that Santa doesn’t really live on the North Pole. The announcement didn’t really lead to dancing in the streets of Tel Aviv, but a lot of young folks stayed up till late that night for the amusement of following Arab tweets promising to raise hell in the holy land. As the Pals explained, they were so incensed by what Trump had said… that Jerusalem was the capital of Israel… that they were going to show him. They would turn life into hell here in Israel, and that would make Trump wish he was never born. “This is war!” said the head of the local Islamic Jihad. And then Hamas promised a brand new intifada. The PLO which has recently repaired their relations with the Hamas terrorists, took time out from burning pictures of Pres Trump in front of the news cameras to declare that the coming three days would be ‘days of rage’. Out of respect for the individuality of man, they left it open. They didn’t dictate exactly how their youth should express their rage. What we know from past experience is that usually on days of rage some emotionally unstable or brainwashed individuals take their kitchen knives into the streets and try to stab some unsuspecting victim, or throw a stone through a car windshield as someone drives down the street. Bombs are better, but they’re harder to obtain these days. No sooner does a guy buy the ingredients than the secret service comes round for a ‘heart to heart’. Usually there are a lot more Arabs killed and wounded in such waves of violence than are Jews. But that’s okay from their point of view, because the Jews get much more upset if you kill one of them than the Arabs do. The Arabs know that if a young man gets plugged trying to kill a Jew he becomes a martyr and goes straight to heaven where he gets 70 virgins to reward him for his good deed.

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some eat the pancakes with sour cream and others with apple sauce

Meantime, back in Gaza, a meeting was called by and for the Directorate of the central committee for democratic revolutionary Islamic Steering. The posted agenda was, “What to do?” This was the shortest agenda published by the Pals in 20 years, though the last tunnel to be discovered by the army under our territory was only 3 weeks ago. Things seemed to be getting serious. All the serious leaders crawled out of their subterranean bunkers for the meeting, in contrast with the Israeli leadership which has to be called back from the Bahamas, New York, Boston, Paris and Catalonia when there’s an important vote in parliament. But unfortunately, a rift developed during the meeting of the Hamas leadership. Exactly half of the self elected delegates insisted that it was of paramount importance to take vengeance on Trump for his saying that Jerusalem was the capital of Israel, while the other half believed that the most pressing obligation of the resistance was taking retribution for the destruction of the tunnel. In the ensuing debate, two paramilitary officers were clubbed with dull weapons, one lost his short term memory after being struck at the base of the skull with a huge stapler made for book binding and provided by the UN committee for international culture, and one member of the steerage committee became an invalid, suffering from a broken knee and an uneven crack in his skull disappearing under his army surplus green and brown camouflage cap. Achmad Sayonara, chief military officer, and acting mayor of Gaza, chose two men, one from each side, as a delegation to a spiritual leader in Gaza, to find a solution to the dilemma.

In a few short hours, the delegation returned with happy news from the Imam. It was possible, they learned, to mount an attack on the Zionist entity that would be dedicated both to vengeance on Trump and retaliation for the destruction of the tunnel. In no time at all, three rockets carrying heavy loads of TNT invented by Alfred Nobel, the very same person who later established the Nobel Prize, awarded for achievements in culture and science, but most revered for its recognition of peace making. Obama got that award. So did Yasser Arafat. Did I say three rockets? Yes, all three heading towards Israel. Sadly, two of these rockets fell on the Pal side of the fence. But one made it all the way to Ashkelon, where it was intercepted by an ‘iron dome’ missile which effectively neutralized it.

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my daughter Rivka preparing jelly rolls
they’re as important as pancakes in celebrating the holiday

At the same time that all this was going on, the doctors in Bnei Brak were giving their all to saving the greatest rabbi of the generation, Rabbi Aharon Yehudah Leib Steinman, recognized by our whole country as the finest of living rabbis. As the president of our country said about him, “his intellectual brilliance was only exceeded by his great modesty”. He was 104 years old; a genius, and a great teacher. When  there arose an issue or a question that no other sage could answer, they would go to him to hear his answer. He was known as a strict teacher, but his modesty was legend. I heard a student of his tell the story of how he was bawled out by the rabbi once, when he demonstrated sloppiness in his studies. The student, properly chastised, returned to the study hall and devoted himself to learning. But a few days later he was called back to the rabbi, who apologized to him for the way he had upbraided him earlier. “I let my emotions influence my judgment”, he said, “I’ve been thinking about it, and I truly regret it if I offended you”. Though he suffered a serious heart attack the time before, his doctors who were also his students, couldn’t bear to see him die, and did their best to revive him. And somehow managed to keep him alive for a month. And even last night, when he had another heart attack, they revived him. And it was only after the second heart attack this morning, that he finally died. One of the reporters asked the doctor, what is the point of trying to revive a man, 104 years old, after he has had two heart attacks and is so weak he can barely speak? The doctor said, I can’t explain it. We loved him so much, and just couldn’t bear to see him go. He was buried today.

His position was not an elected office, nor was it a national appointment. We have a chief rabbi of the country. No this is something else. He is chosen by the wisest rabbis, and the heads of the rabbinical seminaries. There is no pomp or ceremony around him. He lived in a very simple apartment. People who visited him reported that he lived as a poor man, though he could have had anything he wanted.

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this is how the jelly rolls are served

The rabbi asked in his will that his followers not follow him to his burial. Don’t print announcements in the newspapers, he wrote. People have better things to do than make a spectacle of my death. This made no difference, though. There were crowds at his funeral. He said, “please don’t call me a ‘righteous man’ after I’m gone. I don’t want to be ridiculed for it in the world of truth”. Of course, very few listened to his wishes. We will not be sad this evening. We’ll celebrate the holiday We have days of mourning which bring us tears, and celebrations that fill us with joy. That’s the way our religion reminds us that there are ups and downs… even when the intensity of day to day life could mislead us.

for more on the holiday, see:
https://thehumanpicture.wordpress.com/2013/11/29/the-golden-path/

 

intimate conversation

One of my favorite writers is Rabbi Nachman of Breslev.  He had thousands of followers, but told his students that it was hard for him to speak to more than ten people at the same time. Because, he explained, when he talked to people, he wanted to communicate with each person present on a one to one basis, and he was unable to focus on more than ten people at one time.  After writing that blog post that I called ‘comeback’, a very dear friend of mine said, ‘Now you’ve done it. You’ve spoken straight from your heart. You ought to write that way in the future’. But instead of encouraging me, this advice put a damper on my ability to write. I started thinking about those subjects that I study in solitude and about my dreams… and realized that were I to discuss such things in a public forum, it might lead to the unhappiness of a reader. Not because they would feel sorry for me, but because they might challenge themselves with those same thoughts… even if they weren’t ready for them. The questions I ask myself, and my perspective in life have been influenced by what I saw in childhood. Rabbi Nachman chose to tell stories that were complex parables, and each reader could take from them those messages that appeal to him or her. There have been many commentaries of his stories. Some of them very deep. To others, his stories resemble fairy tales.

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graffiti in memory of Rabbi Nachman

When my children were little, I remembered that my parents had never spoken to me about sex. At that point in my life, I was trying to correct my parents mistakes in the way I raised my own children, and so when my two oldest children got to the age when I thought they might be curious about the subject, I decided to tell them ‘the facts of life’. They were about the same age that I was when I became curious about such things. But when I took them aside and told them how this particular function, essential to human continuation, works, they showed very little interest. They couldn’t wait to find another subject to talk about. I realized that any knowledge may be meaningless to us till we’re ready to deal with it.

As luck would have it, I was exposed to cruelty and death at a very early age. In fact, I was born at a time and place that introduced me to circumstances so extreme as to make me feel as if I had been born on an alien planet. I could find no emotions to deal with what I saw and heard outside of my well furnished room, and the comforts my parents afforded me. As I grew older, life around me improved. I discovered the pleasures of nature, and liked riding my bicycle. My greatest pleasure was reading and studying. That was what comforted me in my loneliness. The writers that I read were like older brothers and sisters to me. I heard their voices in my head, and felt a familiarity with them that I was unable to find in the social world around me.

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men in prayer


Life kept getting better though. It seemed to me that the world relaxed. There still were wars, but they were far away now. And the people I saw around me seemed to be busy chasing happiness and sensory pleasures. They seemed most cheerful when accumulating money, eating rich foods and playing with toys. When I heard about post traumatic stress syndrome, I thought such phenomena only concerned other people. For me, it seemed that all of life was a cluster of ripe traumas. When reading psychology, I learned that for some people a real trauma seemed to be wanting to have sex with a parent and realizing that it was forbidden… or wanting something else that was forbidden. Ah, happy normality. I remember listening to Woody Allen in an interview… he mentioned that as a child he worried about the sun dying in another 5 billion years. Okay, I thought, he discovered his mortality, and could joke about it. Humor might provide relief from anxiety… but what about horror?

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a glimpse of my Jerusalem

As a professional photographer, I used to prepare lecture slides for some of my customers. This was before the PC and PowerPoint. I was once having coffee with one of my customers after having delivered his work. He told me of the amazing progress that was being made in chemical treatment of psychological complaints. He said there were new medicines that effectively cured depression. I said to him, ‘you know, I suffer from depression occasionally’. He said, ‘Ah Shimon, if that ever happens to you again, get in touch with me, and I’ll give you a pill that will just amaze you’. Some time later I called him up and told him I felt pretty depressed at the time. He said, ‘I’m really sorry to hear that. Why don’t we get together today, have a beer and talk’. We got together at a pub and drank a couple of beers. He never mentioned the pill. And I didn’t want to ask if he didn’t offer it. I’ve lived most of my life without pills.

politics

President Trump
It’s been a year since the citizens of the USA elected their new president, and both the social media and the news media have great difficulty accepting the results. We read the stream of disparaging comments regarding the president, alongside the moaning and crying of the disappointed. Since then, there’ve been devastating hurricanes in Florida and Texas, and a terrible fire in California. Those natural tragedies became old news very quickly. But the anger and the insult over Trump’s election have not gone away. It looks as if it’ll continue till the end of his term in office. Is this in our best interest? They’ve had a lot of presidents there, and they’re strict about the rules. Once a president is elected he serves for a term of four years, and if the people like him they can ask him to serve for another term. It’s very hard to fire a president. There is a mechanism for it, but it’s never been really done.

Let’s take a break from the super charged emotions, and study the situation objectively. Looking at ourselves, it’s important to remember just how lucky we are. Most of our ancestors lived in harder times. We don’t choose when or where to get born or which culture to be raised in. It’s a matter of luck. We come, we live a while, and then we’re gone… like a lot of people before us. Usually, not long after we get here, we notice a few things that could be improved. And if we don’t notice, someone tells us. Youth, having come recently, are most enthusiastic about change. The older folks are more aware of the complexities.

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Quite a few years have gone by since that first democracy in Greece. It wasn’t perfect. Only about 10% of the population voted, slavery was legitimate, and there wasn’t equal pay for women. But over the years, the institution has grown. The objective of democracy is to govern the society according to the will of the majority with consideration and sympathy for the minorities and for the helpless. You could say that it’s a lot more comfortable living in a democracy these days than it was in the past. And there’s hardly any room for comparison with living in a dictatorship, whether it’s governed by a king, an ideologue or a despot. All of us live in countries that have known better leaders… and worse. One of the nice things about living in a democracy is that leaders are exchanged after a while. In other regimes, leaders have been known to hand the reins over to a son or best friend. Once, they were offered to a horse.

In this last election there was an elderly professional politician with a dubious reputation running against an elderly TV personality who had organized a number of ‘beauty competitions’ in the past. Most of the voters didn’t like either of them, but the rest of the candidates were even less popular. The majority chose the woman politician. She would have been the first woman to be president in their country. But according to the time tested conventions of American government, the position was awarded to the TV personality. He was more popular in more states or something like that. The race was close. Keep in mind that these rules were established long before any of the voters were born.

Since then, the crying and moaning, good jokes and bad about the president; and some really vulgar insults and hints that he might have betrayed his country have become an obsession of the news media. Some of the most enlightened citizens of the west, intelligent and educated people, think nothing of descending to the lowest levels of foul mouthed insults in order to express their disapproval of the president. The half of the country that voted for the TV performer are insulted as well. Instead of offering new goals and aspirations, the disappointed are demonstrating their contempt for the president, and for government, and the barbarians are watching.

This isn’t only happening in America. I’ve seen the same phenomenon here in Israel. Political groups rally against one another with outspoken hatred, and hurl insults and lies at each other. I do not believe in political correctness. But at the same time, I’m amazed that the same people who worry about the feelings of minorities and handicapped people see no necessity for respect and politeness to their fellow man when it comes to political expressions. From what I’ve seen, such emotion packed politics have become common in Europe as well. Let’s not forget that respect and self-respect are part of the same thing.

Society as a whole is built on common conventions. Just as we personally undergo change, our society and our rules change with the passage of time. We make new laws in order to improve our collective well being, and sometimes these laws are retracted or changed because they didn’t work. An example of this in the US was the prohibition of alcohol which led to a rise in criminal activity and public disobedience. The law was rescinded. The nature of leadership has progressed in like manner. Like the swing of a pendulum, the leadership has gone back and forth, giving priority to conservatives and liberals alternatively. What might be considered an advantage to one part of the population may be suffered as a grievous injury to another part. And yet we need the cooperation and the partnership of the vast majority of the population in order for this sort of government to work. When encountering injustice, we may protest. The most severe protest in a democratic society is civil disobedience. It’s considered elegant. But often, it is accompanied by violent anti social behavior as well. If we are to countermand civil order, we risk chaos and an increase in the power of the police and army, and a reduction of our own civil liberties. Because of the price that has to be paid, the public is usually loathe to employ such methods. For we know, that in another four years we’ll have a new opportunity to change the government.

If we insult or provoke our political opponents, we will just amplify the hostility between the sides. If I have a neighbor with whom I disagree, but I see him every morning as we go to work and again as we return home in the evening, I prefer that we’ll wish each other a good day and smile when we meet. Our fellow citizens are our neighbors. Those that voted for the prohibition of alcohol didn’t intend to bring gang fights and machine guns to their city streets. They just wanted more peace and quiet. Those that think that aggressive confrontation against injustice will teach the other side to respect our freedom should take a long look at Syria where a half a million civilians have been murdered in the past few years, and many more millions have fled the country and remain refugees in far off places.

I believe that a truly progressive person should speak clearly and softly. He or she should be careful to stick to the truth and focus on reason much more than on emotion. We should remember that the message is not meant to influence our greatest opposition, but to convince those that are still undecided. If we convince some of the opposition, that’s good too. But time and experience may convince even those who don’t want to listen to us. And all the while, we certainly don’t want to alienate any of those who might be considering our merits.

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a modest mermaid in Jerusalem

comeback

The way I look at life, there are incarnations, and there are chapters. And since moving to my new home, I don’t know whether this is a chapter or a reincarnation. In any case, it’s different from any life I’ve lived before. Nechama, my dear cat is still living with me. She seems a little older though, and she gazes mostly through her right eye. The pupil of her left is slow to open or close. She had some sort of eye infection, and never recovered fully.

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You might remember that I stopped posting here a while after moving to this new house. We were enjoying a wave of terror attacks here in Jerusalem, and this life around me became so absurd and obnoxious that I thought myself incapable of dealing with it; how could I describe it. Time goes by. It’s relative of course. A day is a much smaller part of one’s life after 80 years than it appears to be at 8. Aside from that, we seem to perform much slower when we’re old, and so it happens sometimes, that the day comes to a close before we’ve actually gotten into the swing of things.

Finding myself in a new home didn’t come smoothly for me. For some time I was still bouncing back and forth between my new home and the home of a friend. Truly, there was nowhere I felt at home. I was a ‘displaced person’. I am just now beginning to feel the generation of tiny new absorbent roots reaching out from the base of my existence. It’s a childlike experience and takes some work to integrate into the consciousness of an old cat such as myself. As I write you, I sit at my desk with an open window before me, looking out at a number of well cultured trees, and another building made of stone. I’ve read that the roots of trees can have a circumference three times that of the branches. It is easy to lose touch with a friend who no longer lives down the street… Some friends have died. Some have gone off in a different direction. When I try to meet with a friend I haven’t seen for a couple of years, I hesitate. I’ve changed so much recently. I hardly recognize myself. It seems quite possible that my friend has changed as well. Will we be able to understand one another? Will we still be speaking the same language? I remember my parents meeting friends after the war. They were bent, prematurely gray, scarred for life. And looking at one another, their eyes would light up, and they’d say, ‘you haven’t changed a bit’. I thought they were lying to be kind. Now I understand better.

It’s something of the same dilemma when sitting down to blog. Am I obliged to tell of the changes. If I didn’t, the reader might suppose that this Shimon fellow had gone turned himself into a corpse, and some other rascal continues to abuse the space hollowed out by that first fellow, why, who knows… maybe to sell coca-cola and attract likes on facebook. On the other hand, sometimes you can see through the wrinkles right into the soul. That’s what I thought when I heard Leonard Cohen’s last song. So maybe I don’t have to apologize before starting again… just thinking about it makes me dizzy. Still it is habit that keeps us alive. Hold on to your toothbrush, your walk around the block after dinner… and throwing out that ball across the field so your doggy can fetch it. Without them the chasm yawns.

There was a year that hurt like hell after my dear doctor gave me this pill that was going to prolong my life. What a disaster! I hurt every day. I started praying for death. And when you’re taking 12 pills every day, it’s easy to forget why you take the 13th. Well, I finally went to the doctor and he changed my medicines.

Then a delegation from Pitcairn Island came here to visit me here in Jerusalem. They were unhappy because I hadn’t filled out my tax return for 1967. My claim that I was never a Pitcairn citizen, that I had never lived there, and that 50 years had passed since last I visited were dismissed out of hand. A photo of mine had been published in a magazine, and a payment had been sent. And I hadn’t paid taxes. It was that simple. They threatened to freeze my bank account. My lawyer smiled when he saw me.

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After that, my downstairs neighbor decided to renovate his apartment. Immediately after replacing a good part of the sewer system he began with the destruction of his internal walls. They used an air drill called a Congo here in Israel, and this tool produced a sound which I can only compare to a crashing air liner. The only difference is that when an airplane crashes, it’s all over in a few minutes. But this renovation had all the longevity of inter tribal wars in central Africa, or revolution. It just kept going on and on. Though I bought ear muffs that supposedly protected my ears from the noise, my brain became all the more receptive and aware of what was going on under me. I felt like I was sitting on a volcano.

Through every one of these aftershocks, I kept telling myself that when it was all over… when things had returned to normal… when there was peace and quiet here… I would consider going back to writing. But these were trembling words spoken in the storm.

I found some comfort in a Scientific American article which claimed that after the dinosaurs were decimated by a falling asteroid (or monkey wrench, believe what you will), life bounced back in the vicinity of the mass extinction after a mere 30,000 years. So it seems, all I have to do is wait.