Category Archives: personal

a week in the life

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a slice of blue

It’s been a full week for us here. We had a two day war, a run-off municipal election, and ominous signs that the government is about to fall… and more. Every day is full to bursting at a time when I feel as if I’ve reached the stage where I just want to withdraw and study history. Don’t want excitement, don’t want action, don’t want to listen to radio or watch TV. Nowadays, it takes a war, a natural disaster, or a terror attack for me to turn on the TV. And even so, I watched it twice this week.

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And then there comes that time of the week when I sit down to write a post. Often I’ll have a subject in mind when I sit down to write… but just writing is enough to lead me on to another subject. If I’ve had an interesting adventure that I want to share with you, it’s easy. I have the subject, and a set of pictures to go with it. The only dilemma I might encounter is the difficulty of picking out the 6 pictures to illustrate the post with. But other times, like today, I might be thinking of a certain picture that would serve well as illustration, and look for it. And then while looking for it, come upon a number of other images that are hoping to be famous. But that would mean explaining them or telling the story that went with the photo. Barely noticing it, I’ve managed to put a whole stack of ideas and images together, and it’s too much. So I’m forced to reduce the ingredients. There have been days when I got so carried away, I had to put off writing till tomorrow.

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We had the election for mayor a couple of weeks ago, and my candidate came in low on the list. Turned out he was a lot less popular than we thought he was. The great thing about a democracy is that we get to choose who runs the show. Well, not exactly choose, but at least we have some influence. That is, if we’re in the majority. When considering the candidates, I was not enthusiastic. Had my doubts about all of them. But I believe that even when we don’t have a candidate that truly represents our political point of view, it’s our duty to choose the least offensive of those running. There was this guy with whom I agreed on most things. There was just one thing I didn’t like about him. He’s been our minister of ‘Ecology and Environment’ in the national government up till now. And serving in that position, he tried to remove the hyraxes from the list of protected animals in our country. I listened to the arguments in favor. Hyraxes have really been multiplying recently, and they’re all over the place, even checking out urban neighborhoods. Not only that, but some of them have been infected by some flee which happens to carry an illness called ‘the Jericho fever’. Anyone who gets that disease may be left with unsightly blemishes on his or her skin, including the skin of the face, which can be a disaster for those affected.

D2743_04A hyrax checking out my neighborhood

Of course, as I’ve mentioned before on this blog, hyraxes are very shy animals. They are frightened of human beings because humans are tall, talk in loud voices, and make unexpected movements which no hyrax has ever understood. So the cases of people getting Jericho Fever, and having to walk around for years with a pink stain on their faces are few and far between. In my opinion this is far from enough to let hunters start pointing their rifles at animals who may be more polite and intelligent than they are. But there are people who’re convinced they’ve been overpopulating our common territory. After much deliberation, I chose this candidate as the least of the evils, and decided to vote for him.

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But my compromise candidate lost in any case, and so I was presented with a new choice in the runoff between two characters I didn’t like at all. After careful consideration, I decided to take advantage of my right to abstain. It isn’t a disaster. I really enjoyed the work of the last mayor who served two terms. It occurred to me that whichever of the two won, he still might surprise me and turn out to be a good mayor.

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But because life in Israel is just full of action and interest [I remember once during an extended vacation in California, I was on the verge  of getting bored. Nothing ever happened, or so it seemed. I would pick up a newspaper and read about an accident on some freeway I didn’t know… or about a princess half way across the world who just got engaged. I couldn’t wait to get back home], though the election had been planned for weeks, it turned out that we were in the middle of a little war when the big day arrived. Benny, my neighbor, was burned up at having to turn away from video reportage of a high rise apartment building which had just been demolished by a rocket coming from Gaza, and go vote. But it’s a civic duty you know… so he went. Lucky me, that I had decided to abstain.

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You can imagine how worn out I am as we come to the end of the week. I haven’t even mentioned a couple of evenings spent with friends… or the topical discussions that we had regarding war and elections… or the letter I got from Flickr informing me that all my photos there would start disappearing after my death. As for results… you already know that my guy didn’t win the election. About the war? We lost. But that could possibly be a good thing. If you want to know why, you can ask. As for the ideas and the fascinating pictures… I threw most of them aside. They were good, but they just didn’t fit into this post. I changed the title too.

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self knowledge

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I was thinking of a title for this post, and remembered a common saying in Hebrew, but couldn’t think of how to say it in English. So I went to Google Translate and wrote it in the Hebrew window, expecting to find my title in translation. But what I got was: “He who own imperfection invalidates”. Well, that wouldn’t work, so I’ll translate it myself: He who invalidates another, points to his own imperfection. It comes from a volume in the Talmud which deals with problems of government. What it means is that when we want to disqualify someone, the first flaw that we’ll notice is a flaw we have ourselves. That happens because we are most familiar with our own flaws, and we recognize them quickly when looking at others.

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I had an old pair of eye glasses which were meant for working on the computer and for reading books on paper. They were bifocals, so they enabled me to see everything close, as well as little print. For instance, if I wanted to check the ingredients in a box or can of prepared food. But over the years my eyes grew weaker, and it got to the point where I had to make a real effort to read, and when it came to the little letters I’d have to use a magnifying glass. Finally, one of the handles of my glasses broke, and I went to the optometrist.

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Strangely enough, standing at the counter, when asked by my amiable and smiling optometrist how he could help me, I told him that the frame of my glasses had broken, and it was time for another set. I’d be satisfied, I said, if he just copied the prescription onto a new set and put them in a frame I could wear. He looked at his records to check how long it had been since my the previous prescription, and since it had been some time, suggested a free examination. I agreed. We went to the back room and it took a little while. But it wasn’t a disagreeable experience. He’s a bright young man, and I even enjoyed a bit of conversation while reading the same line from different distances as he placed varying lenses in a frame designed for such examinations. And when he finished, he assured me I’d really enjoy the new glasses once they were ready.

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And so I did. When I put on these new glasses, I was just amazed at all the details I saw. And after trying them with my desktop, my laptop, and reading a book, it seemed to me that the quality of my life had just improved greatly. I thought about all the time I had endured visual difficulties without doing anything to ease the problem. The stress of sitting in just the right position so as to be able to read from the computer screen. I know I’m a self indulgent person. But self indulgence could mean running to the optometrist as soon as I had difficulties reading, instead of avoiding the act because I don’t like stores, and don’t like the help of doctors and such.

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This is just one of my idiosyncrasies. There are many things in life that I don’t care for much, and I just avoid them. This is made possible by some very dear friends who are willing to take the trouble so as to make life a bit easier for me. But there are some things I have to do myself. Like buying a hat… or a camera…or going to see a doctor. In those cases, when I have to do something that is to my own advantage, but that I don’t like to do, I put it off indefinitely. Which is in sharp contrast to my normal behavior. I’m a punctual person. When going someplace to meet someone, I’m usually there between 15 minutes and a half an hour before the designated time (with a book in my backpack, so as not to waste time). When I was in business, if I promised a job for a certain date, I was never late.

I am reminded of a comic sequence by Lenny Bruce in which he berated the police of Los Angeles for hiding in public restrooms and watching through a spy hole to catch homosexuals doing something nasty in the toilet. And then as an aside, he said, ‘I don’t know about you guys, but when I go into a public restroom the only thing I’m thinking about is how to get back out as fast as possible’. That’s the way I am when I go into a store.

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But still, looking at myself critically, I just couldn’t excuse the discomfort I had imposed upon myself just because I don’t like shopping. And as I contemplated this defect of mine, it suddenly occurred to me that this was one of the things I most dislike about my country. As I have often complained to my friends, it’s exasperating to watch the way the government will let a problem grow and grow until it’s unbearable before doing anything about it. For example, Jerusalem used to be a very nice, comfortable little city. When I was a young man I used to go almost everywhere on foot. But over the years the city grew; the population grew much greater; and it seemed as if everyone got a private vehicle. The streets bore more and more traffic until they choked up with gridlock. Bicycles would speed past us as we in cars moved at a speed of two kilometers per hour, before they finally decided to improve public transport. Take another example from five years ago, when the ‘militants’ of Gaza started shooting rockets at towns and cities in the south. At first they just shot a few to see how we’d react. We condemned the rocket attacks. So they figured it was safe, and shot hundreds of them. Our citizens kept running to the shelters, and we would shoot back now and then… but still, it took more than a year till we realized it was war.

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According to my favorite philosophical attitude towards initiating change, I would have to change myself before trying to change the country. I’m willing to give it a try. But I tell myself, I’m old. What’s the point? Change is so much work, and who knows how much longer I have to live anyway. Whereas the country is young. It has plenty of time to improve, and it would be such an improvement. But you know what they say about people who tell you, ‘don’t do as I do, do as I say’

little ones

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I’ve been working on a post, and just haven’t managed to complete it yet, so I’ll let it wait. Meantime, I’ll share a picture taken this week when some of the cubs joined the adult hyraxes at the park… or should I say manger?

I think it was last year… maybe two years ago; a little later in the year… at the end of summer. I watched the adults teach their cubs how to climb a tree. An adult would take a running start and sort of continue up the tree. The cubs tried, but they would fall down. This continued for a while till everyone was tired, so they had a bit to eat and went home. I wasn’t able to take a picture. I’d been sitting for a time with my back against a tree (which they studiously avoided), and I knew that if I raised the camera to take a shot, that would be the end of the exercise. So I just sat there and watched. This time, all they were interested in was the grass. And I did manage to get a shot for you. The cubs are so cute.

another generation

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Passover is coming to a close. This evening we will celebrate the last day of the holiday which will continue through tomorrow. Then on Saturday we will continue eating matzot instead of bread, and maintaining the passover diet, because the sabbath will have arrived without giving us the time to change our pots and pans and dishes back to normal.

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The holiday was a continuous social event with many meetings of dear friends and relatives. I’ve grown used to a lot of solitary time, and found the emotional pitch, the many conversations… even meeting with so many very different individuals, somewhat enervating.

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What an intense experience it was to be in a room filled with my youngest grandchildren, each of them different, a world onto himself or herself, part of the family… and at the same time, part of a generation that I can barely understand. Looking at them and listening to them I became very aware of the new world and the new souls already on their way to replace almost all I’ve known in my lifetime.

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These young souls had great sensitivity, and much sensibility, though occasionally I would hear a blood curdling scream or a growl of discontent. So different from one another, and yet managing quite well to co-exist in peace. So many words. More than stars in the skies. I listened for a while, but just couldn’t keep up. I saw some youngsters putting together a building from plastic semi transparent and brightly colored plastic. Is this something like Lego, I asked. No, they explained. This is magnetic.

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Spent time with people of all ages, from the very young who had just recently learned to speak their minds to old folks like myself, and most of them were completely unconcerned with the things that usually occupy my mind. But that didn’t bother them or me. There were a lot of rickety old bridges between us, and we had no fear. We sat around long tables and short. Round tables too. And the variety of food was amazing.

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My biggest problem was the immense contrast between the light coming through the windows, and that within the rooms when visiting with some of my grandchildren. I would have had to photograph with flash in order to get some sort of balance in many of the pictures or arrange people in better relationship to the light. But I like to catch them as they are.

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I was reminded of the many stations of life I’d gone through, the decisions; turning a house into a home; finding a balance in life; bringing children into this world with my wife; learning the characters of those children, and building bridges. I’ve been reading a book by Wendell Berry called ‘Hannah Coulter’. Here’s a short passage from that novel: “Nathan and I had to get used to each other. We had to get used to being two parents to Little Margaret. We had to get our ways and habits into some sort of alignment, making some changes in ourselves that were not always easy. We had to get used to our house. We had to get used to our place. It takes years, maybe it takes longer than a lifetime, to know a place, especially if you are getting to know it as a place to live and work, and you are getting to know it by living and working in it. But we had to begin”.

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spring and forgotten memories

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Google says this is a cherry blossom. I didn’t know that, though I’ve watched these trees for years. I can tell you that the hyraxes love the fruit. I haven’t tried them myself… yet.

When my dear old mother was in her 90s, she used to preface many a story by mentioning what a fine memory she used to have… but it was gone now. Every time she would say that, it saddened me. Why did she have to say that over and over again. I knew she had had a fine memory once. I knew that she had lost much of it. Was she trying to excuse herself for her lapses? Was she apologizing? Whatever it was, I wished she wouldn’t mention it then, because it pained me to think of the decline. After all, I was moving into old age myself. It could have been that she didn’t remember she had said that to me many times before.

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wild grasses growing on a vacant lot near my home

Now it’s my turn. I have begun to lose memory… though my doctor tells me its nothing to worry about, and that the process begins at about 30, at this point I have just begun to be aware of it. I always had a catalogue of my photography, but for many years it just catalogued which photos were shot for which customers and where the negatives were. Then at some point, I started recording where certain ‘art’ photographs were. I didn’t really have to because I remembered just about every photo I had shot, and when… but since I had a catalogue anyway, I started writing down where the negative or digital file was kept. But there were so many pictures, that there was no point in writing down everything. So I just wrote down the ones that I thought I might look for later.

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the redbud tree flowers at the beginning of spring

Then this morning, I was planning to write about early spring. There is one scene that typifies the very start of the season for me. It is when the very first shoots of grass push out of the dirt on the barren hills of Benjamin or in the northern Negev. It doesn’t look so much like grass from up close. It isn’t that dense. But from a distance you can clearly see the green color on the hills. I know I’ve photographed the phenomenon many times… but looking for it this morning, in albums and in my catalogue, I was unable to find an example. It’s not the first time that has happened. Sometimes I want to write about something, and look for a good illustration… and though I remember a specific photo, I am no longer able to remember where it can be found in my archives.

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snap dragons growing out of the stone wall

Today, the failure of my search for that example distressed me. I started wondering, what would I do if I could no longer find the photos I needed as illustrations. Was this reason enough to stop writing? And then it occurred to me, that I could work the other way. I could look through my collection of photographs, and find a few that brought back memories… This time, I’ll  share some pictures from last week. The holiday of Passover is just a week ahead. And for me, that is springtime at its best. These are the signs of spring in my immediate environment.

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I’ve also included this old picture of Nechama enjoying the wild grass that used to grow behind my old home. It’s a fond memory. Like her, I’ve always preferred wild grasses, though their season is relatively short in our country.

about my previous post

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Dear friends, a few weeks ago I published a post, only to pull it off the net a few hours later. I had given it an ironic name, ‘the chosen people’, because this was right after a vast majority of the member states of the United Nations voted to condemn President Trump for recognizing our ancient capital as the capital of Israel. I got some comments, and some mails… that made it evident to me, that there were quite a few people who didn’t understand what I was trying to say.

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I have friends who tell me, don’t worry about how people will take what you write. Just write what’s on your mind. But that’s not what blogging is all about. It’s an interactive process, and I’ve always enjoyed the conversations as much as the writing of posts. There was one comment that I just couldn’t publish here in my little home on the internet. It wasn’t even aimed at me. But it was vile. Since then it has really been hard for me to write.

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I had planned to write about the concept of sanctity in my next post. I sat down to write about the subject this morning… and just couldn’t write. And since I do have some friends here, people with whom I feel there is understanding and conversation, and I miss you… I thought I’d let you know what’s going on in my mind. I’ve chosen some of the pictures I planned to attach to that post here. Shimon