Tag Archives: family

the elders of the tribe


In western society, the population seems to be more splintered all the time. It didn’t take too long to move from ‘self realization’ to ‘every man for himself’, and there seems to be a steady increase of alternative families, which include a great many ‘single parent’ families.

Good or bad, I don’t know. I don’t know such families intimately. But I very much appreciate the traditional family structure, in which the family unit often includes different generations, cousins, and distant relatives. Everyone has their place, and everyone has their special talents which are available and advantageous to the whole family structure.

I photographed the above scene more than a generation ago, at a family get together. These old men were well placed on a porch, overlooking the festivities, but a wee bit removed. They didn’t understand all of the interests of the young, but conducted a very interesting discussion among themselves, modestly, with the characteristic reservation of wisdom. From time to time, younger members of the family visited with them, paying their respects. Nowadays things are different. When we have a wedding or a Bar Mitzvah in the family, the music is so loud it is next to impossible to have a serious conversation round the table. I’m one of the old men now, so I don’t understand most of what interests the young. But that little niche that used to be provided for the old is no more. Sometimes, I’m just not brave enough to attend.


another generation


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


connection and disconnect


There was a time when you’d make a new friend, and you’d get to know his or her brothers and sisters, father and mother, or children… depending on the ages involved… you’d get to know the family. Today, the family is often a more complicated entity… with a somewhat fuzzy definition. My friend John has a daughter from his first wife, and a son from his second wife, but he’s closest to Annette, his second wife’s daughter from a previous marriage, and she was over having breakfast with him and his present wife Sally the other day when I came over with a recording of Oscar Peterson that John had wanted to hear. Annette had come with her best friend, Miriam, who as it turns out, loves Jazz too. Miriam is Annette’s ex sister in law, because she was married to Annette’s half brother Sam, before they divorced.


Shortly after I arrived, Avigdor, John’s upstairs neighbor came by with Ruthy, his step mother who is five years younger than he is, and they joined us in the consumption of lox and bagels, while listening to the music and telling us exotic tales of intrigue in the world of jazz here in Israel.


Miriam was telling me about the guy who introduced her to Jazz. That was Bill. He had one of the largest collections of CDs she ever encountered, and as it turned out, he was a second cousin of Ephraim… or maybe it was Oscar Peterson who was a second cousin of Ephraim. Ephraim is a disc jockey on radio 88, and his biological mother is Chava, who’s now married to Bill. They have these two boys who are part of the band called the ‘who dunits’, which is quite popular in France and barely known here… or was it Peterson who is well known in France but couldn’t make a living if he were living here…? Forgive me, it’s not that I don’t want to remember… it’s just that life has become a little confusing in recent years.


Well, Miriam was telling me about how much she loved Oscar, and it was only about twenty minutes later that I realized she wasn’t talking about Oscar Peterson. It was when she mentioned that Oscar had died in a motorcycle accident when coming off the freeway in Tel Aviv. I told her that as far as I knew, Peterson had died in Canada in ’07, and I hadn’t heard that he was on a bike at the time… and it turned out that she was talking about Oscar Goldblum with whom she’d had a love affair before marrying her ex, Ilan, who is now married to Hagar, whose ex, Yekutiel has just recently joined the ‘who dunits’ in Paris, and they are thinking of doing a special ‘come back’ concert in Tel Aviv.


While talking of her love for Oscar, she shared with us that his wife Ruby had arranged for a very private funeral service, and none of his old friends had been invited. So Miriam was aching for closure… she told us she felt like she was just hanging in air. John suggested that she might hold a wake for him, and invite all of his old friends. But Miriam said that he had a lot of old friends, and she didn’t know if you could legitimately advertise a wake with a ‘bring your own bottle’ policy. And then Sally suggested that she might organize a minion of ten people and visit the grave and say kaddish there.


My role had been mostly that of a listener up till then. But having gotten completely lost in my attempts to follow the family ties in this story, I tried to approach the subject from a philosophical point of view, and raised the possibility that after the love affair had fallen apart, and both she and Oscar had each found a separate spouse, maybe it would have been best if she had forgotten all about him, and put the memories behind her. ‘Isn’t it better to disconnect when the relationship is over?’ I asked, ‘rather than to feel pangs in the heart each time you see him?’ Looking back, the question was probably superfluous, now that he was in his grave. But the answer I received was unanimous, right across the table. The general feeling seemed to be, the more love, the better. And once you realize that you and that special other weren’t really made for one another, there’s no reason not to be friends… and then there are no heart pangs either.


‘But what about simplicity’, I groaned. How the hell do you remember all of your relatives? I looked across the table, in a vain attempt to find an ally. Sally met my eyes and winked at me as she said, ‘life isn’t that simple anymore’.

The photos here are of a hedonist gathering of friends on the balcony of my new home.


I don’t usually write much about childhood. My own was so difficult, that it is a subject I try to stay away from. But lately, I’ve discovered the works of Margaret Atwood, and right now I’m reading ‘Cat’s Eye’, and this has lead me to thoughts on children, and a visit with some of my grandchildren, amplified these thoughts. So I thought I’d share them with you, accompanied by a few photos of my visit to the country, and time spent with family.

the home of my youngest son

When the Chinese instituted their program of only one child to a family, most westerners were stunned by the disregard for basic freedoms in that distant, mythical, gigantic land. And yet, strangely, without a dictatorship to impose a new order on a helpless population, more and more people in the west have limited child bearing of their own volition. Whether because of economic pressures, or choices of life style, children often find themselves unwanted, or a bother to the adults around them, and without the company of other children to give them support and a perspective on life and the world around them. Even though it is common to think that an only child enjoys much more attention from his or her parents, the parents are two great imposing figures in the life of the child. And with increasing frequency, only one parent remains in the child’s immediate vicinity, and that parent is besieged by other obligations and interests.


If an adult suffers from alienation and frustration in today’s highly stylized and regimented life, where a call to a public service often means being answered by a robot, and waiting on the line while listening to muzak, how much more a child must suffer, trying to adjust to continuously changing conditions and authorities.


And though one might think that the school environment provides both adult teachers, and children with whom to learn and play, a child who is a little different (and aren’t we all a little different from others) might feel constant tension, inadequacies, inferiorities, pressure, and even cruelty. And somewhere, in the midst of all this, is alienation. Today it is common to let the TV and the computer do the work of a babysitter. Any game is good, so long as it distracts the child, and keeps him or her out of our hair.


In the traditional society, older brothers and sisters watched out for their younger siblings. And the occupations of parents, uncles and aunts were an example to the young of what one could do in life. Grandparents and other older members of the family or the tribe would provide the advantages of experience and the comfort of understanding. It is said that can choose one’s friends, but not one’s family. That was always true, and some children feel as if they were dropped into a family that just doesn’t fit right. But usually there is a basic loyalty and care for family members, if only because of the greater intimacy afforded by family life. A child that lives down the block may be mean to me, but my brothers will stand by me and protect me.


But there have been drastic changes in the last century. Many families are split and separated, living in far away places. And in many cases, the parents are no longer part of the same functioning family by the time the child reaches his teens and is in need of parental support. And even when the parents have stayed together, they often both go to work away from the home, leaving the children to cope for themselves.


And when the parents are away at work, in an office or factory, far from home, how do the children learn a work ethic, or learn about overcoming failures and difficulties? What examples do they have? Can they learn the nature of life, the value of life, from watching movies or programs on the TV, or playing games on the computer? Do they trust their school environment? Or are they struggling to play by the rules, and feel trapped there?


Watching my youngest grandchildren, I realized that almost every one has individual characteristics that make him or her different from all the rest. Yet, because they live in a more traditional environment, there are many sources of education and enlightenment, and there are always compassionate people around to give comfort and support.


Thinking about the future, it seems necessary that we develop a social environment for our young, in which many of the characteristics of the tribe or the extended family will be provided for children at all stages of their development.