Tag Archives: celebration

for the love of books


Around this time, towards the beginning of summer, we celebrate books. It’s called book week, or the book fair. And it’s a long standing tradition here. But this year has been a little different. There’s been a lot of discussion about books and the way they’re sold for some time now. And because I’m one of many who feel a personal connection to books, I’ve been following the public discussions and debate. Books are very important in Israel. I believe there are more books published and translated from other languages here, per capita, than anywhere else in the world. And I would guess that Jerusalem houses more books than anywhere else in the country.


When I was young and traveling abroad, I remember learning what mattered to other peoples just by noticing the proliferation of certain types of shops or stores in a particular city. There was this one town in the far west, where I saw filling stations on every street corner. Well, at the time, it was hard to find a petrol station in our town, but there was a bookstore on almost every street.

you can still see the rails in the old train station

In recent years though, there’s been a change in the way books are sold. For one thing, instead of the many Mom & Pop bookstores, each one with a certain expertise and interest, catering to a specific customer base, we saw the rise of chain book stores. It was a bit like MacDonald’s. Steimatzky, one of the major booksellers in our city, and known for its wide collection of English language volumes, first sprouted a few offspring, in different neighborhoods of our city. Following that, they spread across the country. Then publishers started selling their books retail, setting up chains of bookstores countrywide. They would sell all kinds of books, but pushed the volumes that they’d published themselves. As the competition increased, you could hear advertisements on the radio. Books were offered to consumers in the same commercial way that they had sold us movies in the past.


It’s commonly thought that competition improves the market place. But what started out as playful sport between people of like pursuits and tastes, eventually turned into the fierce competitive spirit of commercial giants. By the time stores were selling 4 books for a hundred shekels, people started wondering if this was really advantageous. True, books used to cost between 70 and a 100 shekels. But what if you’re only interested in buying one particular book? Of course, you can always buy one for a friend… Still, that’s only two, and you had to buy 4 to meet the provisions of the deal. In your mind you’d already reduced the price to 25 shekels… it was a nuisance. And then we started hearing what the authors of these books were earning per book.


Needless to say that the store owners were recompensed for their trouble. And so were the publishers. But the authors couldn’t even buy a pack of cigarettes for what they got from the sale of a book. I know what you’re saying; the author should stop smoking. But I’m just bringing this up as an example.


Last year, parliament passed a law which insured that the author would receive a decent part of the income derived from the sale of his or her books. It prohibited the bundling of new books in sales campaigns. But the results weren’t that gratifying. It turns out that during the last year, less books were sold than in previous years. And it’s harder than ever for a new writer to break into the business. Aside from that, one has to keep in mind that there are not that many people in this world who’re looking to read a good book in Hebrew. Not to speak of the fact that there’s always more reading material available on the internet. Newspapers are going out of business. We wonder… are books the next to go?

blues for women

The book fair this year was a great celebration, despite the controversy over sales methods. All the stores and publishers set up booths in the old railroad station, and most of the books were available at discount. Local bars and restaurants set up shop on the perimeter of the fair. A big tent top was erected pretty much in the middle of the area, and all comers were invited to listen to some of our finest native talent. At seven we heard blues for women. And by nine, we were listening to a wide variety of musical offerings played by some of our favorite musicians. The sound was great. We were entertained by some really excellent local versions of blues, hard rock, psychedelic rock, folk and jazz. It was wonderful.


In fact, it was close to what I imagine as heaven. In the old days, I used to go to nightclubs to listen to fine jazz, while eating a light repast and having a couple of drinks. But since they outlawed smoking, I just don’t enjoy it as much, and hardly go out anymore. In this fine arrangement, smoking was allowed. Because most of the places were outdoor affairs, on balconies or patios. Even the music was considered outdoors, with just the tent top to give us some protection. And here I was, surrounded by books and friends, listening to music that just swept me away, drinking beer and smoking as much as I wanted. Just like heaven, don’t you think?

Shimon in heaven by Chana


marriage of a torah scroll

he’s recording it for posterity

As a child, I was taught to treat books with reverence; to handle them with care… to put them down in a respectable place; never to put a banal object on top of a book. And if a book happened to fall to the floor, which in itself was an unhappy event, I would pick up the book and kiss it. In our culture, books were a vehicle of knowledge, and knowledge represented the elegance of the human being.

the beginning of the procession

We have many old books that have been copied from generation to generation. They have been copied with great care and as exactly as humanly possible. These books were copied by scribes using a quill and ink prepared according to ancient tradition, and inscribed on parchment. In our time, ancient remains of books have been found, and when compared to the copied texts available today, the texts have been almost identical. Of all the books, the most precious and revered of them all, are the five books of Moses. In the event that one of these books falls to the floor, it is common for the whole community to declare a day of fast. People are overcome by sorrow because of the disrespect to the book. But this has happened only very rarely in our history.

the wagon with the torah on it

On the other hand, the way these scrolls are usually treated is characterized by joy and friendship. The scrolls themselves are dressed in clothing, and often have a crown at their head. Occasionally, a wealthy person will commission a scribe to copy these five books of Moses, which we call the book of torah. Sometimes the copy is dedicated to the memory of a loved one, or to the memory of an event. Such books, written on parchment, can be found in private homes, in schools, and in synagogues. When such a book is given to a synagogue, the event is seen as something like a marriage between the book and the community. The book is carried in the arms of different members of the congregation, and there is singing and dancing along the way.

the way they do it in Jerusalem

When the book reaches the synagogue which will be its home, the books within the synagogue are taken out of their special closet, and they approach the new book in the arms of the congregation, and welcome the new book. Music is played, and the devout dance and sing in honor of the occasion.

children celebrate with torches in their hands

Yesterday evening, I was visiting with Chana at her village, outside of Jerusalem, and as we approached the close of the day, we went out with the dog, so that she could do her business in nature. After Bonnie had taken care of business, we continued to walk around the village. It was a day in which we celebrated the new moon. Ours is a lunar calendar, and a new moon means a new month, and it’s a happy day. All of a sudden we heard cheery music, highly amplified and filling the air.

and the adults in their own way…

We walked in the direction of the music, and saw a van moving down a side street, decorated with numerous symbols of our people and our faith, and with crowns above it, illuminated with many little colored lights, and loudspeakers broadcasting the music. And behind the van was a wagon, and on the wagon a book of the five books of Moses inscribed on parchment, and around the wagon were common villagers in their everyday clothes, singing and dancing.

the villagers are more informal

We approached the celebration, and followed at a respectable distance. This was a holy assembly. Men were in one group, and women were in another. The two of us with a dog in tow were in a separate category altogether. But our hearts were with the congregation. And as the procession made its way through the village, more and more people joined the celebration. I was reminded of such scenes I had seen in Jerusalem, where thousands of people had lined the streets to pay their respects to the new book. On an occasion such as this, children will dance in the street. Police close down the streets where the procession will pass, and police cars are seen moving very slowly, with their blue lights blinking as they protect the festivities, and move at the speed of the walking and dancing public.

as seen in Jerusalem

I thought of the many years of our history, and how we had continued this tradition of love for our books even in foreign lands, when we were in exile… sometimes very modestly, for fear of recriminations by hostile neighbors. And I was very moved by the sight of this ancient ceremony taking place at a time when even books printed on paper seem a little old fashioned, and a great many people read ebooks and articles on digital devices and telephones. I myself enjoy the new media, and take pleasure in my computer and Kindle. But there is something very special about reading an ancient book written in our own language on parchment. And how wonderful it is to see such a celebration in honor of a book.

and yesterday in the village



waiting for another celebration…


Valentine’s Day

Rotem listening as we discuss what to eat

Ever since I started blogging, I’ve been writing about those things that interest me, or interest others, within the framework of the give and take in the blog world. I never really tried to present a diary or a log of my own day to day adventures. Nor did I try to meet any of the ‘challenges’ that circulate here in blogland. But there is something about the immediacy of the internet that does fascinate me. And on occasion, when I was away from home, with a portable computer in my back pack, equipped with a cellular modem and able to connect to the net from almost any corner of the world, I did want to share some feeling or experience immediately. A few months ago, I was in the north. Late at night, I took a somewhat abstract picture, after a very full and emotional day, and thought I’d upload it, and accompany it with a poem written on the spot, in order to enjoy that experience of sharing the ‘here and now’ with my readers. For some reason, that very evening, I had a problem uploading the picture, and so abandoned the attempt, and haven’t tried since.

the waitress said she wasn’t photogenic

But last night, as I was dining with a few very dear friends, at a restaurant, in honor of Valentine’s day… which is probably a day I have never celebrated before… I had some thoughts about the subject, as a red balloon sporting a cartoon heart, sashayed above our heads, tied to a bottle on the table… it occurred to me that it would be fun to share the experience with you, my readers.

checking out the menu, Rivka

We belonged to three different generations, and came from all parts of Israel to meet here in Jerusalem. One of the youngsters was in the army, and had just arrived from the battle front, taken a shower, and joined us for a good time. We have very different interests and live different lives. And in fact, none of us are really motivated by St. Valentine’s day, but it was a good excuse to have a good time, and get together. And the decorations in the restaurant of our choice set the scene for a celebration. We chose to make the most of the positive vibes. There was music in the background, almost drowned out by the conversations at our table and around us. But all the same, at one point, I made the effort and was able to identify the almost subliminal presentation of a song… the Beatles singing, ‘I want to hold your hand’. It was an Asian restaurant, but kosher… and so I don’t really know how similar the food was to what we might eat in the far east. But it was tasty and exotic for us, and we drank sparkling wine with the food and had a very good time. Smoking was forbidden, and so I would go out to the balcony between courses, and have a cigarette near the strategically placed ashtray, standing in the cold, and watching the traffic out on the street, and the city lights, full of spirit, and reflecting the constant stream of activity around us.


Sitting around the table, I thought of my mother’s comment about ‘mothers’ day’. She had said, “If it’s not everyday… if it’s just one day a year… I don’t want it”. And I thought of the nature of a day, dedicated to romantic love. It seemed to me, that even if it was rare… even if it was only once a year… it was better than none at all, just so long as it was real and it worked. And then, I thought of romantic love, and how often it gets lost in the day to day grind, and the buckets of banalities that we have to deal with, sometimes face to face with those we’ve chosen as partners in living this life. As we drank the intoxicating beverages, I was talking to the young man across the table from me, and he mentioned drunkenness. I shared with him the thought that getting drunk is missing the experience. That I had found that the greatest appreciation of intoxication is to get pleasantly high, so as to be more sensitive to the music, the sights, the company of those around you, and to maintain that sense of appreciation for hours without letting it diminish or overcome you and then cause you to lose control of your actions.

my date for the evening

And as I thought of that, I was looking for a key to understanding how to maintain romantic love without seeing it turn into disregard, or resentment, or any of the other negative phenomena that are so often seen in relationships that have grown old. As I contemplated the subject, I realized that the key to continued love is to remember that we are all different as people, and that very often we are attracted to people who are essentially different from us. And that the more we are aware of that, and don’t try to force our loved ones to act and think as we do, and don’t think of them as ‘belonging’ to us, but marvel at our capacity to bridge the gaps and truly appreciate them for what they are, the more we can marvel at the connection we have with them. I believe that when the French say, ‘long live the difference’, they are referring to the difference between the sexes, but I would like to adopt their toast, and direct my appreciation to the differences between human beings in general. So here’s to the differences, and to everlasting love.

Giddi and the wine in a bucket of ice

greeting the new year


There are no firecrackers on the Jewish new year, nor do we drink to abandon. The New Year is a two day holiday. There are banquets, and formal get togethers with friends and family. People wear their best clothes, and eat their favorite foods. The observant visit the synagogue, for the prayers, for the familiar songs, and for the social interaction. The traditional calls of the ram’s horn inspire thoughts of life and death, and are meant to awaken us from the routine… and taking things for granted. Some folks come just to hear these calls which have been part of the new year’s celebration for over 3000 years.


Those who would like to read more about the holiday, might find it interesting to read what I posted last year: https://thehumanpicture.wordpress.com/2011/09/28/happy-new-year/


We start the meal by dipping pieces of bread into honey. May it be a sweet year. For an appetizer, we may eat a slice of cold fish with a sauce based on horse radish and beets. And there are usually more items offered than I have the strength to try. By the time we finish with one of these banquets, it is sometimes difficult to get on our feet again. So it is also quite customary to take a walk after the feast. After the evening meal, it often happens that everyone finishes at about the same time, and you see the whole neighborhood out on the street in their finest clothes, walking up and down the streets just to limber up. And after the walk, we’re back at home… and wouldn’t you know it… there’s a fruit salad. Because we didn’t have room for it earlier.

a giant puppet that amused the children

But this holiday is not just about celebration. A lot of attention is devoted to soul searching, and repentance for the things we’ve done wrong. The ten days from New Year’s to the day of Atonement, are called ‘the terrible days’ because they are dedicated to self examination (but they’re not really so terrible). We ask our friends to forgive us before we ask that of God. And it is a time of renewal in the country. After the hot summer, we have some cool breezes blowing through, and in the evening it is just perfect for walking. Soon, the rains will come (we hope).


As I wrote earlier, we started this week with a beautiful celebration in one of the fine neighborhoods of our city. The summer is almost over. The main street was cordoned off, and there was an arts and crafts fair, all kinds of delicacies were sold to passers by, and there were four musical stages where one performance followed another as afternoon grew into evening. Israeli music, folk, and Jazz. And there were delicious smells in the air, as the local restaurants were joined by some enterprising stalls, set up just for this event, and the offerings were varied. You could eat traditional food, and barbeque… all the way to Thai and Asian foods. There was an array of Israeli beers. And of course there was cotton candy, and popcorn. The children were all enjoying themselves, and many people were buying new and beautiful objects… some of which we’d never seen till that very day.

two dear friends who brightened my evening

I had the pleasure of getting together with dear friends that I just do not see enough. Including a couple who had a stall at the fair. Though I got a little tired before I left, there was a constant stream of new entertainment that I enjoyed so much, it was hard for me to leave. I had a miniature hamburger, just to keep on going… and then finally said my goodbyes, walked back to my car, and went home.

the food never stopped coming

I would like to wish all my friends and readers, a beautiful sweet new year. May it be a year of learning and growth, health and financial security, and friendship and love. And peace…


music to my ears

We are getting very close to the Jewish New Year. The devout go to the synagogue every morning, very early… before the prayers, to do a bit of collective soul searching… reading verses which have been called, the ‘verses of repentance’ for generations now.


For those who are less devout, this is a good time for celebration. Last night we had a wonderful gathering here in Jerusalem, and I plan to write more about it, and share some pictures with you on Friday. But meantime, a little something I saw for the first time last night… a musical instrument that comes from Africa. It’s a rhythm instrument. One of the balls contains seeds, and produces a very soft tone, when you shake it, and the other has a little stick going through it, with a ball at both ends, and when you shake it, it gives a sharp little knock. There was much music last night.


the hill top boys


What I love about her
isn’t what most see, when she walks by
that’s the pleasure of our intimacy
both the passion, and the way she makes me cry

she’s crass and she’s rude
and she’s pushy when she’s in a rush
she can be mean too, when in a bad mood
But she’s a sucker… and lost in a crush

I’ll celebrate her birthday all the same
we’ll eat steaks, grilled on charcoal embers
I’ll lift up my glass, and call her name
it meant something different once, I remember

but together we’ve gone, through good times and bad
I see my faults in her reflection
and when I see them, I get real mad
yet still, I feel that old affection