Tag Archives: choices

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.

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myth of the washrag

Western culture as we know it, has been influenced to a great degree by the ancient cultures of Greece and Israel whose histories were an example and an ideal for the many countries of Europe and the Americas. Of course, culture is fluid, and change is constant, and every generation added something of value as societies evolved and developed. The Roman empire and its establishments still influence us today alongside the Christian ethic which spread some of the values of Israel while serving as an antithesis to early Roman culture. Through history, we defined and redefined our values, and these values found their way into art and history and the many different cultural expressions that were part of our education, recreation, politics and social services.

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I felt the holy spirit in the joy of the multitude

Even today, a youngster might have heard of Achilles. If not by way of Homer’s Iliad, then he might have met the hero in the pages of a comic book, or in a poem or a movie. Throughout history we have been influenced by heroes as an ideal. We loved Socrates for his questioning conventions, and Ulysses for his adventures, and learned that the first had a wife who made his life miserable, and the second, a wife who threw a party in his absence. Our heroes were strong and committed to ideals. They had to overcome certain disadvantages, and that is part of what made them heroes. Achilles was invincible except for his heel. Moses was a stutterer who, though extremely modest led a revolution against the pharaoh of Egypt. David was a small statured redhead, a guitar player who faced a warrior giant and defeated him before becoming king of Israel.

These heroes and the many who came after them were often flawed. They had to rise above their flaws. But it seems that in contemporary culture the flaws have overcome the hero. The more flawed the better. In literature and films, the anti hero is more popular than the heroes of old. I saw this process of changing direction in my own area of expertise some years ago, when photography became attracted to the banal. What was revolutionary at first when Marcel Duchamp challenged the decorum of museums by installing a urinal as a piece of art (called the ‘Fountain’) became quite tiresome as more and more artists extolled banality. One is just as likely to see an old washrag or used tire in a photo exhibition as once we saw the wonders of nature. That urinal was installed in the museum 100 years ago. Stephan Hawking took pride in the fact that he was born on the 300th anniversary of Galileo’s death, and now that he’s died on the birthday of Albert Einstein, there seems little question that he was an extraordinary scientist. Whether he’s the greatest ever is still not decided. What we can be sure of, is that he is the ultimate hero of this generation: a flawed hero who could not walk, and could not write. Couldn’t even talk. He was our first real bionic man, with a computer built into his wheel chair to talk for him; a mind bereft of a body. He was the embodiment of the myth we were looking for; the victim of evolution gone wrong saved by artificiality.

D2685_070and I felt the holy spirit here too, in the desolation

Unlike Albert Einstein to whom he’s often compared, his theories have yet to be proven. But like John Lenon (who said that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus Christ and that rock n’ roll might outlast Christianity), he had the temerity to state plainly that god didn’t exist. His theory regarding the creation of the world was that gravity could create the universe out of nothing. Now I have always had great affection for this man for no other reason than that he kept on going, regardless of the body that had betrayed him. Sigmond Freud, the inventor of psychology as science, faced a similar physical challenge. When cancer had decimated his jaw, and he was forced to sacrifice half his face in order to stay alive, he continued to hold on to life, wearing a veil to hide his disfigurement. At the end though, he did choose to die by an overdose of morphine rather than suffer the cruelty of nature.

a mischievious holiday

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

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

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potatoes and onions are important
in making potato pancakes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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this is how the jelly rolls are served

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

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

 

intimate conversation

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

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graffiti in memory of Rabbi Nachman

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

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

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men in prayer


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

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a glimpse of my Jerusalem

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

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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whereabouts of the muse 1

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There is an adage in Hebrew that says, ‘the muse disappears when the canon roars’. As a rule, I don’t have trouble finding my muse. She finds me most of the time. It’s not that I never have trouble writing or photographing. Sometimes it’s hard to get what’s on my mind onto the paper. But usually, I get to work after something has caught my fancy. I don’t have to go looking for inspiration.

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And yet, at times of war or tragedy, my thoughts are on the tragedy. And I lose touch with creativity. This time, with the start of the violence, I had thoughts so terrible that I couldn’t bear them. Not just thoughts… dreams too. I would wake up in the middle of the night after a particularly depressing dream, and couldn’t fall asleep again. And often, during the day… I would find myself staring out… not focused on anything… or through my window… and my heart would be filled with sorrow. After a while of this, all I wanted, was not to think. But that’s a bit of a problem for me. Because I’m used to thinking. I think just about all the time. So I tried to find a way not to think of those specific things that bring on overwhelming unhappiness. And one easy solution presented itself to me. The situation in which I am least likely to think my own thoughts is when I am studying, or reading the thoughts of someone else. So I started reading.

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In the past few years, my primary reading interest has been current fine literature. I’ve been trying to find new writers who have the impact of the literary giants I loved in the past. I thought it would be a good way for me to keep in touch with what concerns the generation that is dealing with the current problems of life. And to better understand the problems and the challenges of those people who are starting out now, living their adult lives, and those who’re right in the middle of it all. I have to admit that I did not have much success in my quest. But in the last half year, I started getting the feeling that I understood the issues of the day better than I had before I started this project.

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But now, with this new intention of redirecting my own thoughts, reading fine literature did not do the job. If I read about the problems of others… or even a page turning mystery… my thoughts would often return to the problems of Israel, and to the threats to my own safety, and the safety of those I loved. For each day there was news of some pal who had suddenly knifed an innocent victim, waiting for a bus, or walking down the street, lost in his or her own thoughts.

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So I moved from fine literature to biographies. I always have a few books around that I haven’t yet read. Sometimes I will read a review that interests me, and buy the book ‘for later’. I used to have quite a pile of books that I kept for ‘retirement’. But I have been retired for some time now, and I’ve read most of those books, starting when I had my first heart attack some years back, and had nothing to do while I recuperated. But recently, there has been a new fashion of ‘give and take’ public libraries. A stand or a closet… sometimes even a number of closets that are set up in the public domain, and the public is encouraged either to take a book for free, or invest a book for which one has no need, and so these little public libraries offer free reading material to passers by, and are continuously being replenished, without any official staff to maintain order. I have run into quite a few such libraries and occasionally found interesting books.

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The first biography I started reading was the autobiography of Arthur Miller, who had always interested me, since his first plays were being performed. It was one of the books I had on my bookshelf, waiting for the appropriate time. His recollections were very interesting and I felt I got to know him quite well through the autobiography. His attitudes and choices made fascinating reading. Moreover, he seemed honest and straight forward, and I felt I was getting to know the real man, which was quite different from his public image as I remembered it. I underlined many sentences as I made my way through the book, and even read some of those selections to my friends. And after that, I went on to read a biography of Gertrude Stein. These books really did help me to redirect my thoughts.

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While still reading the book on Gertrude Stein, I saw an autobiography of Isaac Asimov in one of those free public libraries. I read that one after reading the very impressive Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant. He served as president of the United States during the 1870s. And previous to that, was the chief of staff of the U.S. army during the civil war between the states. I had first become aware of this volume when reading praise of it by Bob Dylan, who had read it in the 60s. Though I have always found interest in history, and had read a bit of American history, this book helped me to understand the US civil war better than anything else I had read before.

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Isaac Asimov was an American professor of biochemistry, who became famous as a writer of science fiction, and later as a popular teacher of science. He was one of the most prolific writers ever. He wrote or edited more than 500 books. He was famous for offering the reader historical background in the explanation of scientific concepts and inventions. Reading his autobiography, I was delighted by his modest description of his own life, his learning processes and the way in which he worked. In fact, as I read about certain questions he had about the Jewish religion… questions to which he did not find answers, though he himself was Jewish, I deeply regretted that he had already died, and I was unable to write to him and explain a mysterious ceremony that he had seen, and never understood. As I read about these lives, I was surprised by the difference between their public image, and what I thought they might be like when I read their works as compared to my impression when reading of their actual lives. When I was younger, long before the invention of the internet and Wikipedia, I was not that interested in the private lives of writers and thinkers. I had the feeling that I had gotten to know them through their work. Nowadays, when I run into a new writer or painter or photographer, I often look them up on the internet. It seems that I know a lot more about the people whose work interests me than I did in my youth. Such knowledge was less available then to the casual reader.

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Usually, I like to write what I have to say in a single post. But this time, I have to conclude with a ‘to be continued’ bottom line. I want to thank those who’ve commented on previous posts, and those who’ve written me mails. Thanks to Chana for these pictures of me, here on this post. The situation here in Jerusalem right now is so difficult for me, that I find it hard to write… I am trying to get back on track again. I hope to answer some of the questions I’ve been asked in further writing.

Sabbath Chanukah

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in the south of Israel

Most of us live in little homes, hidden away in the back streets of the city, or on the horizon, at the edge of the fields. We wish for rain in the right season, and the light of the sun at other times… privacy, and peace… quiet. To learn a little something each day… to enjoy the company of those we love… peace and freedom is reason enough for a holiday.

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little houses

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planting potatoes in the field

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a bicycle built for three

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the fifth day of Chanukah