an eye for an eye

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A new generation has taken over the world, and there are folks still around who don’t know it. Can you imagine that after the French or Russian revolutions… people just living their lives and not being aware of how history had recorded changes that would affect people everywhere in the world? But it happened then too. The world changed radically, as it changed during the Industrial Revolution, and there were a lot of folks who didn’t notice.

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To those of you who feel heartbroken about Trump winning the US presidency; who are hoping with all your hearts that he will be impeached, I say to you, dry your tears, and go about your lives… try to find happiness. Because it doesn’t matter that Trump won. And in the long run, it won’t matter much. It was just a side issue. It wasn’t really that important.

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Looking back, the French Revolution established a new set of values for our world. There was some instability after the revolution, a lot of cruelty, unnecessary deaths and impositions on innocent people, but that’s life. There’s no denying that the human being is a cruel animal. This latest revolution, which I refer to as the Digital Revolution, is much more than the start of a new technological era. It encompasses all the activities and the beliefs of man, and by the time it’ll be accepted by the vast majority, the past will be almost completely forgotten. Of course, there’ll be a few historians who’ll remind those interested of what happened before the new age of enlightenment. But for most, all that was before this millennium will be included in the ‘dark ages’.

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I don’t know how it was for those of my readers who live in countries around the world, but I can tell you I was amazed that on the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution there was no mention of it in the media, here in Israel. Such an earthshaking event. Forgotten. There were some really fine Israelis too, who though they were living fully active lives at the time, and bringing about the rebirth of Israel as a politically independent state, gave up everything and ran to ‘help the revolution’. Most of them died in the gulag, or were killed by Stalin, and never heard from again.

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Back in the days when I was a child, people were still arguing whether the ends justified the means. And if you’re young, you may be surprised to learn that there were some very intelligent and good hearted people who insisted that the ends did justify the means. Their thinking went something like this, “I really hate having to kill Millie the turkey. But Thanksgiving is getting close, and folks have to eat”. While watching Stalin fight Hitler, many enlightened minds were willing to forgive his excesses. But after World War II, most if not all of those same people came to the conclusion that the end doesn’t justify the means, and drummed that particular truth into the next generation.

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I don’t think they’re going to put an end to gambling this time… or an end to eating meat. But they will put an end to smoking tobacco, and will allow smoking cannabis. They’ll legitimize homosexuality, create an environment more friendly to women, and there’ll be a completely different attitude towards family. If we were worried once about the population explosion, it now looks as if that will no longer threaten us. And were it not for hatred and war, we could very likely insure that there’d be no hunger in the world. There is speculation that soon hard work won’t threaten us. And since the less we work, the less we want to work, we’ll have more time to dream… and to dream up collective worries. For instance, that life is so empty… that there’s no meaning to existence…

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I remember asking my father when I was a child… what is this business of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Why do we still learn such savagery? He answered me, No, that’s not savagery. That’s justice. If we were to trust to the magnanimity of the human heart, there’d be at least two eyes to pay for the one… and more likely, ten.

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objectivity

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My dear friends,
Back in the days when I was alive, we used to view objectivity as something to be expected from every intelligent and educated person. The news media included more than a score of newspapers which represented all the different political views, but the one state radio station, and afterwards our only TV station did their best to give the impression of objectivity. In fact, our first local media star was this affable newsman who told us the news almost every evening on the one state owned television station, broadcasting from Jerusalem, and all of us… the religious and the irreligious, the left and the right, the rich and the poor, we all believed him and liked him, if just for the fact that he was willing to enter our homes, and let us know what the heck was going on. Of course, we knew he didn’t tell us everything. If a certain well known general was having an ecstatic affair with his secretary, we didn’t expect to hear about it in the news. That sort of thing was whispered to us by our next door neighbor. But we made do with just the essential bad news which was summed up at the end of the day.

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This week, one of our pioneer journalists passed away. Or as we say it in Hebrew, went to his own world. That’s a nice way to say it; nicer than ‘dropped dead’, or as the cynics would say it in our own tongue, ‘turned into a corpse’. Uri Avneri was one of the front line newsmen back when we first re-established the Jewish state, editor and publisher of the first innovative newspaper in our land, a politician, and a man about town in Tel Aviv, hobnobbing with celebrities on first name basis. He was such a lover of peace, that he had no reservations about getting together for hugs and hot coffee with a known murderer.

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He wasn’t a ‘New Journalist’ like Tom Wolfe or Norman Mailer. He was a provocateur who liked to break the toes of clay idols and didn’t find fame any more attractive than infamy. The ‘new journalists’ tried to present the story they found from a subjective view point. They shared with us the very personal way they captured and understood the story. He wrote as if he were imparting facts, but he was so wrong that most of his contemporaries didn’t even bother to knock holes in his arguments. They were obvious. He mixed facts, lies and fantasies with abandon. He would cook up stories which included social rumors he heard in the local clubs and bars, a few pictures of naked or half naked women, and a full rack of accusations and revelations of corruption, whether true or not, about any member of the establishment and especially those he saw as his enemies; that is, his brothers and his sisters.

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Though I belonged to the opposite camp from his, I loved him for his childlike innocence. He seemed to me as if he was starring in his own hand made movie, and a wonderful hero to himself. Though he had almost no sense of humor, he had a vivid imagination, and it was most amusing to see the ways he found to offend his fellow citizens by provocation arm in arm with absurdity. He wrote his own story, and if it didn’t make me chuckle , it often made me smile. Of course, now that the news media keeps pounding away at their agenda, his newspaper would not stand out or be noticeable. But a lot of his ideas became popular among the lunatic fringe, and I believe there are still some parliament members here who quote him without the bother of attribution.

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As we get old we watch our own familiar crowd thin out, drop out, and disappear till there are just a few of the old crowd left, and then they too get frail and eventually die and are buried. He was one of the last who had something unique to say or something memorable to contribute to the society I enjoyed so much when my country was just getting on its feet. In those days, I felt affection for many who had different political leanings or worldviews. But these days the hostility and the belligerence of the opposing camps has alienated me, and it is hard even to listen to their arguments. When there was just one fellow like Avnery, he contributed to a sense of balance to our society. Maimonedes said you can’t really call a place a city unless you have at least 10 bums around. I say, what’s the point of having a king if you don’t have a court jester.

tools of the trade

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I was a young man when I first began writing professionally. It was what I expected to do… what I’d set as my personal goal. I had been so grateful for the advice and friendship I had received from writers in my childhood and youth, that I felt a personal debt to them, and in this way I hoped to repay them. I wrote long pages in blue-black ink from a fountain pen on white linen bond paper. That same pen is still in one of my drawers. The act of writing was as gratifying to me as the possibility of conveying thoughts to paper. I could smell the ink. I enjoyed watching the trail of blue-black ink slowly drying on the page as I continued to write. I had a number of different pens, and numerous nibs which enabled me to write in different styles as well as different languages. I preferred a fine line, but used wide nibs as well… sometimes to emphasize something in the text, I used italics as well. To me, good writing meant no spelling or grammatical mistakes, and the ability to organize my thoughts in such a way that they would be readily understood by the reader. This was so important to me because if I (or my editor) found a mistake, I would usually rewrite the page. Which took some time. Such work was drudgery.

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My first typewriter was a present from an aunt. I was greatly moved by her gesture. It seemed such a personal and appropriate gift. And strangely enough, I received another three typewriters through my life, from very close friends. But as much as I enjoyed typing, I felt most comfortable and most natural writing by hand with pen on paper. Though I felt no need to study journalism or creative writing, I did take a typing course so as to learn to put my thoughts on paper as quickly as possible. Typewriters could only write in one font, which meant that I needed separate machines for Hebrew and Latin letters.

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The machines stayed with me for decades, and became part of my physical presence in this world from my point of view. In a way, they were more an extension of my body than the pens I used, maybe because I typed blind. The Royal portable traveled with me across the world on ship and in airplanes. I used to feel a sense of intimacy in my relations to tools. But since the start of the digital age, tools come and go. The life expectancy of a computer is so short that I haven’t really gotten attached to any of them. Software programs change and become more complicated. I would discover that I didn’t have enough RAM, and by the time I moved on to a new computer I was glad to get rid of the old.

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Language too, is an intimate tool. A tool of the mind by which we communicate our deepest thoughts and feelings. And that too is changing. When I was young, our ancient language was sacred. Educated people went to great pains to conform exactly to the rules of grammar. The language we heard on the radio was elegant. When a word was added to our vocabulary, it’s addition was decided by The Academy of the Hebrew Language, and though we laughed sometimes at the new inventions, they were necessary for scientific and technological subjects that hadn’t existed when our language first flowered. But then slang appeared in the army, and folks were amused by these new additions and used them. Foreign words were included in our speech as well, and slightly changed to correspond to our rules of grammar. Slowly, gradually, the slang increased, and nowadays when conversing with the young, I have to ask the meaning when hearing an unfamiliar phrase. It makes me feel less grounded.

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The pictures on the store front windows, were found on Jaffa Str., here in Jerusalem. They represent visual illustrations of Jerusalem slang and expressions unique to our town. The artists involved in this project wished to decorate the city with local expressions.

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.

old as the hills 2

for readers with time to spare
this is fiction

My first impression of the new place was emptiness and quiet. The landscape seemed to continue on and on to the horizon. There was the big house and a barn. But mostly, what I could see of this world… new to me… was heaven and earth. Aside from the two structures, and a few sentinel and shade trees, everything that wasn’t in the heavens was found close to the ground. The few people that I met spoke little, with little intonation in a language that was so far unintelligible. The landlady took us to our quarters, We were shown what to do by example. The first familiar voice I heard was the crow of a rooster, It was reassuring, recognizable sound.

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Time seemed to move slower than ever before. the newspaper which I saw passed from one person to another, was foreign too. Very likely, even if I could read it, there’d be nothing there that’d interest me. My bible and prayer book had been pulled out from between the shirts and the socks in my suitcase, and were now on a little table next to my bed. but I hadn’t brought pages to write on, and I longed for some connection to my parents. The one phone in the house, hardly ever used, held no promise for me. In those days, international calls were a rarity and expensive. Such things were beyond me. The radio too, which was turned on for about an hour, or an hour and a half in the evening, seemed like a special luxury, and it occurred to me that the classical music we listened to, in chairs arranged around the radio, might have been especially for my benefit. For I was asked more than once if this was the music I liked. Music was a word that I knew.

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As the days passed, the shock of landing in an unknown environment receded leaving the door open to curiosity. I began to notice that there were sounds, mostly subtle and of lower intensity, but sounds all the same, which seemed to be interwoven with the landscape. Daytime sounds and the sounds of night. A bird that sang at the approach of sundown. People here seemed to get up with the rising sun, and went to their beds not long after night had fallen. Little by little I began to realize that my first impressions had been incorrect. The quiet that at first had overwhelmed me was merely the absence of sounds I was used to. My eyes began to register distances as my feet mapped the territory from the house to the farm and from there to the fields. By way of my feet, through socks and shoes, I sensed the land. My nose and ears became sensitive to this new reality. The hair follicles on my head could recognize a gentle breeze when it came. washing face and hands was less a ritual and seemed a necessity. Some of the vile smells which at first I had tried not to smell (that was impossible) became pleasant after a while.

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In my parents’ home, my earliest associations had not been defined. Home was a medley of familiar voices and smells; routines that I expected without ever thinking about them. The warmth and good cheer of mother. I thought she knew everything, and I trusted her implicitly. Singsong voices wrapped around me like a comfort blanket. Home was familiar and protective though I often discovered new objects or signs that bore meanings, were there for me to learn. There were orders, requests, and instructions from parents to children, usually in a matter of fact voice without emotion. Punishments were so rare that I can remember only one example. But it was quite easy to read the faces of mother and father, and a message of disapproval or disappointment even if unspoken, was punishment enough. The word that could best express my relationship to parents and teachers was awe. A person who could be completely trusted was usually described as a person having awe of heaven.

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Our sages used to say, turn your home into a meeting place for the wise. This advice had been so thoroughly absorbed by the adults I knew that it never needed mentioning. As much as human beings were an integral part of our home, so were books. They could be scrolls, or pages sewn and bound together. There were holy books and there were kosher books. These were the scrolls on parchment. And there were secular books too.

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There was often a book or two on the dining table, and occasionally a group of books, some of them opened to a particular page, if someone had searched for an explanation or information regarding some obscure subject. On all the doorways of our home, except for the toilet, there was a little box made of wood, attached to the frame of the door. I had once seen this box opened. Maybe it had been opened especially for my edification. Inside was a tiny scroll. And on the scroll there was writing, black square letters on white parchment, crying out to all of Israel that god was one, and he was all encompassing. This was followed by a few paragraphs from the bible regarding how one should or could relate to that.

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This tiny scroll looked much the same as the torah scrolls which were read in the synagogue on Mondays, Thursdays and twice on Saturdays, except for the fact that the torah scrolls had two poles and the tiny scroll was rolled into a cylinder without any pole at all. There were scrolls without poles, with just one pole, and with two poles, depending on how much parchment there was to read or study from. They were all called books. In my new home I found only one book, obviously a bible though I couldn’t read the writing. It was kept on the same shelf that carried numerous ceramic figures.

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Later, a teacher once told me, ‘we’re not here to teach you facts, but to teach you how to learn’. I wonder if I knew that then, or if it was a natural reaction to an environment completely new, but soon I was learning from the bushes and the trees, and from the vegetables whose leaves were still anonymous. How thrilling it was to discover that there were carrots, radishes and onions growing under those leaves, and a little scary to observe the tomato bugs trying to get to that fruit before we were able to enjoy them at the table. I learned to fold leaves or rub them to intensify their smell; to check the taste of leaves; to smell the barks of trees… to hold dirt in my hand. Dirt, which had always been an unwelcome intruder in my parents’ home, and whisked right out… had joined the assembly of characters who now occupied my new world.

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The language of the locals was my biggest challenge. No one talked to me, so when I heard others talking my mind would stop and stand at attention. I would try not to think at all. I would let the words enter my head like waves at the sea shore, reverberating sometimes back and forth till they were replaced by others. I would watch the faces of the speakers, discerning expressions that accompanied the sounds. It was difficult at first to know when one word ended and another began. The faces were more expressive than the sounds. Occasionally there were familiar sounds. Now and then there was a word that I thought I recognized. And then there were more. I was in no rush to speak. I knew I was different enough without spilling broken and twisted words in front of everyone.

all photos here from the Makor Baruch neighborhood
in Jerusalem

old as the hills 1

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this is a work of fiction, no flash intended; any similarity to persons living or dead must surely be coincidental

“I was about your age”, said the old man, looking at me as if he was searching for something in my face, “and we were suffering through the previous war then… my parents worried whether we could make it through. We’d seen sights in the streets…” he paused. I knew he was thinking maybe it was best I didn’t hear what he’d seen in the streets at that time. He was still looking at me with that big question in his face, but I figured I might have to wait a long time till I figured out the question. Maybe he was wondering if I’d cry when he finally got around to telling me what he had to say. I knew it wasn’t about the sights he’d seen in the last big war, because he never talked about such things… and I knew that no matter what he said, I wasn’t going to cry… because it was hard for him to bear, and we didn’t have too many of these heart to heart talks. They usually came when there was bad news in the offing. I’d tried now and then to initiate a conversation with him. But I really didn’t know the things that interested him. So I just did my best to hold up my side of the conversation. The contact… the communication was precious. This time, he wasn’t telling me something that I was supposed to have known before he even started talking. No, this was about getting a piece of news. And my part of the interchange was just waiting for it to get out there; the less I said, the easier it would be for whatever it was to get out.

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We were heading towards another war. That I knew. He said he didn’t think it’d have to be as bad as the previous one… though you never can tell. Still, there might not be much food around for a while. And food is very important when you’re growing. Children, he explained… didn’t see any of them around… have all kinds of needs. They make noise, even without realizing it. I couldn’t help wondering about that. I knew children made noise. But it seemed to me that they were aware of it. Didn’t say anything myself. Because I knew that such facts had been assembled to let me know what was coming… this wasn’t about sharing mutual experiences.

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It turned out that we children… me and my sister, and the next door neighbor’s boy and a few other kids were going to be sent far away, though it wasn’t really that far… to a farm, where there’d be all kinds of animals, and nice people who weren’t like us at all, and chores that we could do, to help out on the farm. Maybe there were children there too, that we could get to know and play with once we learned their language, and it was a lot easier to learn a new language when you were a kid. We’d have plenty to eat, and lots of new things to learn. We’d see where food comes from.

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Now, here was a new idea… my first thought was I knew where food came from; from the market, from the green grocer, from the bakery… but his words told me that I didn’t. It sounded interesting. For the first time since he’d taken me aside to ‘talk’ I realized that the news might be seen as an opportunity. I didn’t like the idea of going far away… nor all the rest of the things that had been mentioned… terrible things to be seen in the streets, or nice people that spoke a different language… it didn’t seem like I’d want to go far away, even to see animals. I’d seen my share of animals. But none of them had been quite as intelligent as my cat, and he was always here with me. mmmm… I wondered if my cat could join us on this trip. But I had a feeling I knew the answer to that one. No. All the same, it would be interesting finding out where food came from… before it got to market.

for better or worse

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We may have been born blind or ugly, with a twisted body. or a body that turns out too short, or too long, or with skin of the wrong color. We may develop disadvantageous habits such as eating too much or biting our fingernails. We may have some borderline personality disorder or be Bipolar or have one of the many different mental diseases that are still part of the human landscape. We could get some terrible illness like Degenerative Muscle Disease or Alzheimer’s Disease. Some of these disadvantages are a matter of luck. And others reflect on poor decisions, and choices. A person who drives a motor vehicle while drunk might pay for it with a lifetime as a cripple, much worse than any punishment the court would sentence. But that’s life. There isn’t much we can do about that.

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I could tell you about my own personal life, my bad luck, and my failures. But I’m a person who values privacy. When I go out into public, I prefer to be fully clothed. And when in social discussion, prefer to hear of what people enjoy eating and not about their bowel movements. But if I don’t mention them, it’s not because I want you to think that I don’t shit.

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We arrive here in this, our common world, each person with his own talents and limitations, and we have to make do with what we have. It’s our life, and it’s there for the taking from the time we reach maturity till our death. We can find inspiration in the choices of Helen Keller or Stephen Hawking who were able to overcome severe disabilities. We may read the thoughts of the great thinkers recorded in history since the invention of writing. But finally, it is up to us to find our own way and enjoy this period of time we have on earth.

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There was a time when I enjoyed mountain climbing, sleeping on the ground, eating minimal rations which I could carry on my back, and learning what I could about this world. I lived a good life… maybe even, a few good lives, from my perspective. But now, like Saul who put away his toys when he was grown, I’ve given up the pleasures of my earlier days, and have tried to enjoy the possibilities affordable to an oldster. I miss the libraries I used to visit, miss the high mountains, miss driving with all the windows open across the warm desert, picking a spot to make camp, and finding a universe hidden in the wide wild open. But the computer compensates somewhat for the loss of libraries, and I have the advantage of enjoying the parks, and the cozy corners of this city I live in. We even have islands in the midst of thoroughfares in which flower bushes, different greenery and vines are planted.

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Of course, in my city as in every city, there are better spots, and places which I try to avoid. Usually it’s a matter of choice. Even when I go from one place to another in this city, I don’t always travel the shortest distance. It’s important to me that I enjoy myself while traveling, even if it takes a little longer. I think, how good it is when it takes a little longer and I’m enjoying myself all the way there.

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When I hear the exploits of people richer than myself, how many cars and houses they have, airplanes and yachts, I’m happy for them. I wish them happiness and peace and satisfaction. I know it takes very little to live. And fortunately, I don’t see any hungry people here in the society around me. There are people driven by unquenched desires, but that isn’t hunger as I know it. When I see people living according to twisted values, what used to be called worshiping false gods, I know it’s not my place to steer them against their will towards the good. Everyone has to make their own choices. I tried to influence my own children, but I learned that those with the right stuff, eventually found the right way. And now I believe that it’s best only to give advice when you’re asked for it. Otherwise, it doesn’t usually help anyway.

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Since I feel I’m talking to friends on this, my page on the internet, I feel free to offer a piece of advice here and there, You can read it or skip past to find something more interesting. Some people prefer to look at the pictures without struggling through the text. That’s fine too. As for myself, I make an effort to find those places in which I feel best. Even in my own home, there are more preferable places and less. Outside of the home, there’s a whole world to be found in the city in which I live.

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The olive trees posted here are found in the liberty bell park. The park was named in honor of the USA because we admire their aspiration for freedom. Olive trees are native to our land, and there are many stories about them and their wonderful fruit. I’ll share just one that I particularly like. There were priests in the holy temple whose job it was to extract oil. They would squeeze each olive just one time, and the oil from that squeeze was gathered in a vessel. It was called ‘pure olive oil’ and was reserved for the eternal flame. The rest of the olive was used for all the regular needs, as food and oil.
Wishing everyone a very good weekend.