Category Archives: life

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

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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.

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A Happy New Year

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hope

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My dear friends,
I consider myself very lucky to have lived in this period of time. I had some very fine opportunities. For the most part, I enjoyed my life. I learned a number of languages, studied history, morality, philosophy, art and science. And during my lifetime, I’ve seen major changes in the world around me. I am grateful to the frivolous nature of fate that offered me the opportunity to learn the English language, and so, to be able to write you a bit about our lives here in Jerusalem, and to share with you some of the things I’ve learned from life. One of the many reasons I started blogging, was to overcome the many misunderstandings that exist between the Jewish people and other cultures and peace loving peoples. I had the hope that those things we loved, considered sacred, and shared would enable us to bridge differences and afford us communication.

At the present time, we in Israel are engaged in a war we didn’t choose. As many have declared, war is terrible; it is hell. I carry scars from previous wars, and don’t know if I will survive this one… don’t know what sort of person I will be, if I do survive it. But I can’t go on about my usual business while this is going on. I did try. But I just can’t anymore. I remember, as a young fellow, reading the letter of a Jew in the Warsaw ghetto who wrote of his experiences and then secreted the letter in a bottle, which was plastered into one of the walls of his home. These are different times, and I have been free to write my story by way of the internet, transcending borders and crossing from one continent to another. But I know next to nothing about countering lies. And the immensity of the conflict has weakened my broken heart. Perhaps some day, this blog will be my ‘letter in a bottle’.

At this point, I feel I have no choice but to retreat to the safety of my own little home. I would like to thank the friends I have met in the blogging world for what we’ve shared, and for what I’ve learned from you.

Our national anthem here in Israel is called ‘the hope’. I still have hope. I hope that this parting will be more of a ‘see you later’ than a goodbye. I might continue to post a picture now and then, just to let you know that I’m still alive. But I don’t think I’ll be writing anymore, until this is over. If I manage to survive it, I might write a little about what I’ve gone through. My best wishes to all of my readers, and my gratitude to all of you who’ve shared your lives and interests with me.
Shimon Z’evi, a citizen of Jerusalem.

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serendipity

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it takes a village

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Always had this romantic love for the country… It was half a century ago, and I was on my way to visit a friend in a little village up north. I was used to buses that ran every few minutes, back in the city. Hadn’t occurred to me to check the bus schedule. So here I was, out in the country, after the big intercity bus had let me off… waiting… and no bus came by. I slipped my bag over my shoulder and started walking along the country road. What did it matter if it took me an hour… or even three. I was young, and the day was beautiful. I could walk.

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After I’d walked for about a half an hour, I heard the sound of a tractor coming down the road. It wasn’t moving fast, and you could hear it a long way off. I turned around and watched as it approached. Made the sign of the hitch hiker, and he slowed down to a stop. “Where you going?” he called out to me over the noise of the tractor. It was a big one, and it towered over me. I told him the name of the village I was headed towards. “I’m going to the same place,” he said. “But you’d have to sit on this dirty fender, and you’ve got your Sabbath suit on”. I’m not worried about that, I said, and with a smile, got up on the fender and rode the rest of the way. It was like visiting heaven. There was nothing I didn’t like about the place.

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bomb shelter

In the years that followed, I never got over the love I had for that beautiful piece of country. We even lived there for a while. But my darling wife couldn’t appreciate it the way I did, so we went back to the big city. That wasn’t hard for me, because I was part of Jerusalem too, as she was part of me. But there was something about living in the country that left me with a great longing for that kind of life.

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play car at the kindergarten

This was long before people started having ‘virtual’ experiences, and living the virtual life. But even back then, the difference was profound. I felt an intensity in the country life that made the colors more brilliant and the earth under my feet more immediate. There was an intimacy with nature that was always with me. I could listen to the plants growing… hear the flies as they flew in the air. I always had the feeling that it was a better place to bring up children. When you live in a village, you get to know a lot of people, all of whom are contributing something to the welfare of the general population.

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It isn’t as abstract as living in the city. You actually get to know people and the way they work… what they do all day. That’s the benefit of a real community. When you grow up with people you meet every day, you get a more realistic example of what can be gained in this life. You might get to know the garage mechanic and the barber, the horse trainer and the scholar. You see them working. You see a working man or woman on their feet from morning to night, and the farmer repairing fences. When you try helping with the chores for a neighbor or a professional in town, you get something of an idea of whether their work would interest you, whether you could really figure out the sort of problems that they have to deal with all the time.

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The photos here are from the same village… taken just a few years ago. Time moves a little slower there. The society I got to know there has changed a lot. But the village itself still carries traces of its past. And the people too, aren’t quite as up to date as we are in the city.

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