Tag Archives: choices

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

human frailty

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Charlie, contemplating human frailty

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photo of the central bus station in Nahariya

there is no loneliness more painful than that in the company of your fellow man.

islands in the raging sea

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with violence erupting
from deranged, festering, unthinking minds…
thirsty for action in the Hollywood style
so like the action thrillers that perked them up
as they stared listlessly
at the silver screen… in the theater
or the computer screen alternative
to their meaningless existence.
rivers of blood and forbidden sex
as an antidote to boredom and insignificance
wishing for a moment of glory before sacrifice
empty moon faces lost in space
spastic hyper active bodies
distended from shallow minds
the Arab spring, they called it, a few years ago
you can find it on facebook, I’ve heard…

can it be…
that we, on our island of serenity
may still enjoy some peace of mind
in the light, filtered through fall leaves
chickens picking at grains of vegetation
in the gravel…
and the cats, leisurely in their presence
taking pleasure in life itself,
cleaning themselves from time to time
awake, aware, but calm
in the patches of sunshine between
the approaching rain clouds

islands in the raging sea
in the midst of the storm

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soul searching

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As human beings we live with an endless chain of paradoxes. We have a desire to know the world. And yet, the more we learn, the more we are aware of all we don’t know. For each step in the learning process widens our horizons, and allows us a glimpse of something more. Many have found that the most difficult subject to learn is the nature of ourselves.

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How well we know the situation in which someone we know is able to give advice and support to others, but is unable to help himself or herself when caught in the same situation. Our view of ourselves is subjective. When we first hear our own recorded voice, we are surprised. ‘Do I sound like that?’ we ask ourselves. And for many, a photograph of themselves can be a strong emotional experience. Some people can’t bear to be photographed… and not because they believe that the camera steals the soul from the individual. Which reminds me of a miniature poster I saw attached to the refrigerator of a dear friend I visited in Berkeley in the 90s. It said: ‘Denial is not a river in Egypt’.

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Early in childhood, we begin to see ourselves in a certain image relative to the people around us. As a young student, I enthusiastically adopted the viewpoint that we all have similar potentials, and that our education and environment direct us to the view we have of ourselves. Since then, I have become convinced that genetics have an important part in the forming of the personality, and I now believe that it is a combination of inherent personality characteristics and the early experiences of coming to terms with others, including parents, siblings, and general environment. But as important as these influences are, I also believe in personal choice. That we can work with what we were given, and that exercising this choice, we can find freedom. We know people who seem filled with themselves, positive, and self confident… and others who are painfully shy, and self-effacing. The better we get to know such a person, the more apparent it is that there is no true reason for such an extreme persona.

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A good part of the problem is the subjective nature of a person. If we are extremely self critical, a compliment can be interpreted as ridicule. If we are very self confident, a word of criticism may be interpreted as an attack, or as an expression of jealousy on the part of the person who criticized us. Most of us do not reach such extremes. We are somewhere in between. But there is always the danger of losing sight of ourselves. This is the nature of subjectivity. The antidote to that is objectivity; seeing ourselves from outside. Now and then it is necessary to detach ourselves from all the stimuli around us, and study ourselves… our behavior and our thoughts… the vision we have of our own image.

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The existentialist thinkers emphasized the present, and saw dwelling on the past or the future, a distraction from reality. It wouldn’t be true to say that the past no longer exists. Much of it does still exist. But it has been integrated into the present, and by becoming aware, as much as possible, of all that has been taken from the past and incorporated in the present, we have a better grasp of our own unique world than when we are relating to separate tidbits of experience and memories isolated in another framework of time. If we had a traumatic experience, for instance, each time we revisit the memory, we are once again shocked and crippled by the experience itself. However, if we were able to see ourselves objectively, including the scar that we carry from the time of the original trauma, we might come to a very different conclusion about the importance of that trauma, and might choose to relate to it differently.

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Denial has tremendous power. We can bury ourselves, or invent a false image of ourselves, all for the purpose of avoiding certain truths that we can’t bear to see. We might be conscious of making the same mistake over and over again… and try to stop this errant behavior. Yet our distaste for a certain subject, or a certain memory… our embarrassment or shame… may lead us while our efforts at repair go unresolved. This process, the examination of our own behavior, and looking at ourselves as others see us, is called ‘soul searching’. We are searching for the true individual behind the defenses, the excuses, and the persona with which we negotiate inter personal relations with others.

moods

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Many years ago, while enjoying the hospitality of America, and furthering my education in the US, I fell in love with American music. First, I discovered the blues… and that led eventually to jazz, which is my favorite music to this day. What I loved about the blues was that they offered a catharsis and perspective, both to artists and listeners, often including a hint of humor. For one of the most difficult challenges we face, is trying to work our way out of sadness and depression.

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There are so many great artists and fine songs in that genre, that one could easily spend his whole life studying the culture. Being an outsider, I wouldn’t take it upon myself to be your guide. Yet I do remember one song that I consider an excellent example of the genre because of two lines that have amused me since I first heard them. And that’s ‘I Will Turn Your Money Green’ by Furry Lewis first recorded in 1928. They are: ‘If the river was whiskey, baby, and I was a duck, I’d dive to the bottom, Lord, and I’d never come up’. And later in the song, he sings, ‘I been down so long, it seems like up to me’. This line served as the name of a novel written by Richard Fariña, published in 1966, and was later the title of a song by the Doors.

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What had me thinking about the blues was a combination of listening to bad news on the radio here, all of this week, and reading a touching blog post by John Hayden, called Retirement, Depression, And Blogging. The week before that, there had been an incident here in my country, of a man biting a dog. Now, those of us who’ve studied Journalism 101 know that such an incident is a legitimate news item. But our local journalists who fear that the public has grown tired of exposés of the dire poverty of half the population, and intimidated by the encroaching competition of the internet, fell upon this story as if they’d just discovered a gold nugget in the drain of the kitchen sink. The story was seen as an example of the fallibility and decadence of mankind, and we were berated on countless in-depth studies of what happened, from morning to night, day after day.

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Of course, most folks swore up and down that they had never bitten any dog… but others, like myself you know, who don’t have such a good memory anymore, just weren’t sure. There are things you don’t think about till you’re accused. One of my friends, for instance, when asked if he’d ever spoken out against biting dogs, remained silent for a few seconds more than might be expected. And then, when the reporter mentioned that while males were 40% more likely to bite dogs than other members of the population, he was seen blushing. So hell yes, I was thinking of the blues… I was even thinking of maybe writing a blues song…

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And then I started thinking about how to get up. It’s been unusually hot here in Jerusalem for the last week. Like today, they said it would be 36° during the day, and then go up to 37° at night! So while it’s been that hot, I haven’t been walking that much. But I know that a brisk walk can really improve my mood. It usually stimulates a stream of consciousness which in turn improves my perspective. I thought if I’d go out towards evening and have a long walk, I might have more positive thoughts. Another thing I’ve noticed, is that though I don’t really like getting together with people when I’m down in the dumps, sometimes it is encouraging to see others having a good time, oblivious to the evils of this world.

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So I called up a very tolerant friend of mine, and asked him if he’d care to accompany me in my blue black mood as I walked from Talpiot to the German Colony and back. Despite the heat, it was really a beautiful day. The grass was green, and the sky was blue… and after we got back to the ‘First Station’ in Talpiot… I noticed that the beer was yellow. On our way, we stumbled across a ‘street library’ which was offering free books. You remember how I told you about finding those bus stops in Tzur Hadasah, where people donated their old books, and anyone could just pick one up for free. This street library was much the same, only more elaborate… with a lot more books. I tell you, I’d gotten kind of used to being blue, but after I found a weathered copy of ‘The Island’ by Aldous Huxley, I couldn’t help it… I was starting to feel better.

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The ‘first station’ is what they call the old railroad station in central Jerusalem. It was abandoned when they built the new one at the edge of town. But in the last few years it’s been redeveloped as a popular entertainment center, including bars and restaurants, toy stores, art galleries and jewelry and vegetable stores. We were sitting at the outside tables of a bar restaurant listening to some good Greek music and drinking that yellow beer when the waitress suggested we try their Arak. And would you believe it, it went well with the beer! In fact, I had another. And though I had no appetite to begin with… after a while… it occurred to me that it might be nutritious to eat something.

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Now if that hadn’t happened yesterday evening, I might be as blue today as I was most of the week. I might even have written a blues verse or two for the blog today… and I certainly don’t know what sort of pictures I would have published today. But now, you’ll just have to wait for that, ‘cause right now, ‘it looks like up to me’.

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