Tag Archives: flowers

on every level

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I could feel the approach of spring as I traveled up north a couple of weeks ago, to the western Galilee. The rolling hills were showing green. There were flowers peeking through the grass, promising the delights of spring despite the chilly weather and the low hanging dark clouds that hid the sunlight more often than not. I’d slip out of my guest cottage on my way to the home of a friend, and find myself enchanted by the flowers in random stretches, in corners, cyclamen hugging the roots of sturdy trees. Though photography had not been the object of my trip, the gorgeous sights stimulated my somnambulating appetite and I had a great desire to take out the camera and capture some of those flowers. But like the birds who smiled at me from the branches of high trees till I began to unveil my camera, and then lifted their wings and flew away… so it was with the flowers whose petals blushed in a moment of sun, and then retreated in modest shyness as a cloud passed overhead, withdrawing the hot yellow brought by the sun. Though teased and frustrated by the momentary flashes of sunlight, once I had gotten my camera out, there were moments when I reluctantly accepted compromise, and took a shot of the blossom in the shade.

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Today is the eve of that great holiday, Passover. It honors the spring and reminds us to tell our children of the exodus from slavery, challenging us to examine our longing for freedom, and all the good reasons that lead us astray along the way. This obligation to tell our children of our aspiration for freedom and the many difficulties in achieving that state most characterizes the nature of our holiday. Their questions are valued, and we don’t have to have all the answers. But spending the whole evening around the dining room table in serious discussion, and the participation of all ages is the major feature of the holiday. The feast is the most extravagant of the three major festivals of our culture; those three events in which all of Israel would make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in ancient times. We prepare fun and games for the kids in order to keep the them awake as long as possible, till the middle of the night. This is a week long holiday, so a lot of folks go out on family expeditions to enjoy nature. Some go camping. And there are some unique dietary laws that remind us of the very special quality of these days.

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We do all we can to make the festival perfect. But we know as we strive, that nothing is perfect, just as in our desire for freedom we know that it beckons to us only when we’re out there somewhere, still escaping slavery… once we have that freedom, history has taught us just how easy it is to corrupt and disrupt, and if we picture ourselves amusing the cows in the meadow by playing lullabies on a flute, it’s just a fleeting vision to be followed by monkeys’ mischief and entropy.

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We had barely left Egypt when we began wailing nostalgically for the watermelon of the ‘old country’. Forty years we traveled around in the desert, working to change ourselves from slaves to free men and women. And since that time, a lot of years have gone by, and every year we’ve commemorated the exodus, studying still another aspect of the work of freeing ourselves. And in every living room, another set of folks have considered those same questions in a different context, and found answers from a different perspective. Some see slavery as addiction, or obsession, or fear… or chasing after an illusion. And everyone sees freedom in his own subjective way. We’ve known miracles, so we don’t dismiss any goal as impossible. There’s been ups and downs all along the way. Even the most miserable of circumstances have left souvenirs in the shape of handwritten and hand illustrated copies of the Passover chronicle as it was recited and learned.

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Since I can’t share with you the many tastes, aromas and textures of those special Passover dishes, nor can I sing you the songs and responses that we sing to one another through the first evening, or share the light headed inebriation fostered by a minimum of the obligatory four goblets of wine this evening, I have chosen to share with you a few photos of spring’s nature. As it happens, these are the pictures I took when the clouds were hiding the full colors available only in the light of the sun. Take them for what they’re worth. Maybe next year I’ll have better.

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Close to our borders, the hyenas are preparing a picnic. They say it’s going to be a peaceful get together, but some of us are suspicious. We have been attacked before on holy days… and hyenas are better known for their attacks than their picnics. So a lot of young fathers are going to be called away to watch the border on this joyous occasion. But we still hope it’ll all work out alright this year. A happy Passover and a beautiful spring to all my friends.

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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.

my kind of town

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walls of the old city and David’s Tower

In an ancient city, such as Jerusalem, a study of history leads one to an ironic perspective. Some of the finest neighborhoods of the past are overcrowded and burdened by poverty, while other neighborhoods which were once occupied by the helpless and poor now feature the most expensive housing available. In the west, this phenomenon is known as ‘gentrification’. Yesterday, while walking from Mamilla through Yemin Moshe, opposite the walls of the old city, and marveling at the beauty of the place, I couldn’t help but remember its history.

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a glimpse into the old city through one of the gates

Yemin Moshe was built as the first neighborhood outside of the walls. And in 1860, only the poor and desperate were willing to live there because it seemed exposed to danger. But the over crowding in the old city was difficult to bear, and little by little more streets and homes were built outside the walls. Today, the old city only holds a fraction of the city’s population, with most people enjoying a more comfortable life in what is now called the western part of the city.

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And those first neighborhoods, outside of the walls, which were once filled with small apartments, most of them having only 1½ rooms of living space, after having been repeatedly damaged by two wars and numerous acts of aggression by our neighbors, have since been rebuilt, and are now the most beautiful and luxurious areas of town. The poor, of course, were given minimal compensation for their property. And some of them still harbor resentment when seeing what has become of the area where they used to live.

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The Teddy Park, named after our legendary and longest reigning mayor ever, is a recent addition, hosting children during the day, and tourists in the evening and night. Slightly behind it, is the first row of houses built in this neighborhood, which was turned into guest housing in the 70s for visiting men and women of letters, artists and musicians. The environment is considered ideal for the creative process. There is also a music center there which was inaugurated by Pablo Casals.

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Within easy walking distance, one can visit a concert stadium, or the Jerusalem Cinematheque which moved to this location, close to the city walls, in the early 80s. My walk in the neighborhood yesterday concentrated on the little lanes and foot paths of the neighborhood, where cars have no access. Though overlooking the main highway which circles the walls and then continues by the Cinematheque, the inner neighborhood is very calm and quiet, decorated by a never ending assortment of attractive plant life and cultivated gardens.

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I went all the way, past the windmill erected by Moses Montefiore at the end of the 19th century in order to provide jobs and inexpensive bread to the population, and reached the Lions’ Fountain, which is in itself a public landmark. Perhaps I’ll post a number of pictures of that, one of these days, together with some thoughts about sculpture and the Jewish people. It’s an interesting subject.

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Similar homes to these can be seen in many other neighborhoods of the city, but they seem to have reached an ideal of balance and aesthetics here. For they were renovated in the last forty years, and many of the residents have a leaning towards the arts. Because space is at a premium, most of the houses are modest in size. Some of the gardens are tiny. But there is impressive scenery all around, and public gardens which serve all.

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There’s a foot bridge which stretches over the cross-town highway, from this neighborhood to the Cinematheque, and the view of the city walls and the Hinnom valley from that bridge is so impressive that I have gone there many times just to photograph the scenery. It invites panoramic photography. I’m very fond of the panoramic format, but have been reluctant to share those photos on the blog because they are far less impressive when viewed on the computer screen.

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you can see a glimpse of the windmill there in the background

Which brings to mind a tension I have felt at times, when writing my blog. If a picture is, in fact, worth a thousand words, just how many photos dare I use as illustrations between the lines of my text, without overwhelming the blog post? Some time back, I planned to link certain blog posts to collections of photos on the same subject. But that takes quite a bit of time. And because I wanted the immediacy of telling my story shortly after having lived the experience, I haven’t yet explored this possibility. For instance, if I were to provide such a link some weeks or months after publishing this blog post, it would have much less exposure than the original article. Ah, I just got an idea…

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this wonderful water fountain has been built to offer its water to everyone. for all sizes. it offers a comfortable drinking height to grownups and children. the bowl at the bottom gives drink to pets and birds as well

an ecological park

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Ariel Sharon… we called him Arik, was a legend in his own lifetime. He was born in the village of Malal, here in Israel, in 1928. He became a central figure in the army when the modern state of Israel came into being, and proved himself a fearless hero and a leader of men. His father was an agronomist. He was a farmer. He had a big farm, and put a lot of work into it, but was always willing to ‘serve the people’. During the 1973 war, after we were attacked on the day of atonement, he went back to the army, though at the time he was already successfully involved in politics. He turned the tide of the war by crossing the Suez Canal and breaching the Egyptian forces on their side.

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He retired from the army with the rank of Major General. Though successful in politics and a hero too, he wasn’t liked by all. He was often involved in controversy. The first real protest movement here against government policy occurred while he was Minister of Defense. In his long career, he served as Minister of Industry and Trade, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Minister of Defense. In 2001 he was elected Prime Minister and held the office till 2006. While Prime Minister, he visited the garbage disposal site at Hiriah, near Tel Aviv, and decided to turn one of the ugliest sites in the country into a park.

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When he proposed the project, there were scoffers. But the park did come into being. Not only is it the largest park in the middle east, but its unique ecological character stands as an example to the young. The project demonstrates our ability to change a contaminated site into a place of beauty, relying completely on natural means.

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In 2005, he visited the mountain of garbage in Hiriah, just outside of Tel Aviv, where garbage had piled up for years, and suggested that the mountain be turned into a park. The original garbage pit had become a mountain of garbage. It’s still a mountain. But a pleasant one now. The emphasis is on the use of natural processes to improve the environment.

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There is a pond in middle of the park. It is the visible part of a complex underground water storage pool. A system of four more underground pools is located at the top of the mountain and these pools collect rainwater. Water overflows from the upper pools into the pond at the heart of the mountain.

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The depth of the pond varies and reaches eight feet at its deepest point. Around the pond is constructed wetland. This method helps maintain water quality by flushing the water through a system that uses both filters and water plants to purify the water. Schools of fish were also introduced to the pond to feed on mosquito larvae and other bugs, thus maintaining biological pest control. The pond is an ecological water project which serves as a natural habitat for a variety of wildlife species, including water fowl, amphibians and water insects.

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School children come to visit the park, and are given guided tours in which they learn about nature’s ways of cleaning itself, and how plants and fish and other life forms help purify the water. There are lawns and flower beds, and little rivers that cross the park making it a very pleasant place to visit. The man whose name was tied to bloody battles and fierce controversy is remembered today as a lover of nature. The park is now called the Ariel Sharon Park.

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on the promenade

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alternate symbol of Jerusalem by Uriel Raz

There are many variations of the Lion of Judah to be found in Jerusalem. You can see them on manhole covers and on park benches, and on mysterious junction boxes with cables running in and out. That lion is found on many documents and announcements too, and is sported on flags which adorn the city on holidays and special occasions. There’s a promenade on the south side of town, the Haas Promenade, which I visit now and then to raise my spirits if I’m down. I used to take students there to do quick sketches or photograph, because it has a great view of the temple mount.

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In fact, I’ve photographed it so often, that my collection of photos from that particular place represents all seasons and all moods, and this morning I looked through some past posts, just to check if I’d already published that old lion, and to my amazement, it seemed as if I’d never devoted a post to that wonderful place, though there have been a few photos from there that did find their way to this blog in different contexts. For instance, here: http://tinyurl.com/peffs8l

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carved on a trash can

The last time I was walking there, I noticed a small trash can, made of stone, which had the lion carved into its side, and I thought I’d share it with you. But then, how could I show you that, without showing the classic illustration by Uriel Raz, who really brings it all together by depicting the lion of Judah as one of our city’s alley cats.

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a kiss between cats

There are more to come… for I have a collection of the many different versions of that particular lion, who reflects all the different moods of Jerusalem. But today, I was going to continue from that trash can to an eastern extension of the promenade that was added on just a few years ago.

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There are many birds who make their home in the trees that line this path… and wild flowers that find their place among the cultivated cultured ones. If you have the time to extend your exploration after walking the promenade, you can step out of the park and walk back to your car, or to the local shops, by way of the highway, where you’ll encounter the monument to tolerance, which is still another sight in this area that is well worth visiting.

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The amazing thing about this promenade, is that as you walk along, you can get a good look at parts of the city, and the ancient wall that surrounds the old city, as well as the temple mount from almost every step along the walk. Yet the area of the promenade itself is very beautiful too. And so there’s an exquisite balance between what is close and what is relatively far.

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What I most love, are the green lawns on the western side. But if I start looking for photos I like… and this happens often when I’m blogging… I find too many photos, and then agonize about what to put in and what to leave out. So this morning, not being in the mood to pick and choose, I’ll just pull out a few at random from along the path. But I do intend to organize a post that will concentrate on the many facets of this breath of fresh air in the midst of the urban environment.

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the flowers and the olive tress remind me of temporal pleasures and history

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poppies need not be planted in Jerusalem. They invite themselves in this season

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retama is native to the southern parts of our country, and usually blooms with white flowers

the romantic trail

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caution, frog crossing

Yesterday, the third day of the first heat wave of spring, Chana and I drove north to the ‘source of the Yarkon’, a national park neighboring the city of Rosh Ha’ayin, called Afek in distant history. It wasn’t all that hot in Jerusalem. But we knew that most places outside of the city might be too hot for a day trip, and this seemed to us a fine place for adventure. We packed a picnic, took cameras and maps, a folding chair for me, and we were on our way.

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Usually I like to take the back roads and the slow roads to all destinations. But since we knew we would have a lot to see once we got there, we made an exception this time, and took Highway 6, arriving there in just a little more than an hour. Though there were a few groups of children around… and in one area we did encounter the grating sound of an enthusiastic nature counselor urging some of those children on to a demonstration of physical prowess, with the help of some electronic amplifying equipment, most of the park was peaceful and calm. We chose to follow the example of the ducks on the pond, and avoid the youthful noise, taking comfort in the natural beauty of old trees and calm waters. It was a beautiful day.

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The sun wasn’t always out. At times, cloud banks covered the sky. But the weather was in movement, and there were ample opportunities to capture the full color spectrum when the sun did show itself. The natural scene was rich and inviting. Trees supplied ample shade. And there were a number of adults enjoying the advantages of the park.

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There is a small Baptist village just outside the park, and there was a couple, two middle aged Baptists dressed in comfortable walking attire, that we kept running into, though we traversed the park from one end to the other. Along the way we discovered the ‘romantic trail’, adorned as it was with a magnificent array of beautiful flowers.

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the two Baptists

From prehistoric times, the land of Israel served as a pathway between Africa and Europe. And from earliest history the city of Rosh Ha’Ayin, which translates into English as ‘the fountainhead’, was a focal point of that passageway.

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The city is mentioned in the old testament and in Egyptian documents from eighteen centuries before the common era. Seemingly, it became an important city in historic times because of the springs found there, which provide plentiful water. The Yarkon river which flows to Tel Aviv and through it, originates there. And the national park we visited is located right next to the city.

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I have to admit that the ducks were very cautious and we never did get close enough to get a good picture. Nor did we find a single frog willing to pose for the camera. But we did hear them when we approached the larger bodies of water. I have a very beautiful frog portrait from a previous visit to the same park, but decided to share with you only those shots captured yesterday. And it was only after returning to Jerusalem, that I realized that I hadn’t gotten a single duck photo, and felt a certain measure of sorrow. Because ducks are rather rare in our country. I should have tried harder.

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Still, there was a bit of comfort knowing that I had captured my dear friend Chana, actually hugging a tree, evidence that even here, in the backward middle east, one can find enlightened people who know how to express their love for nature in the most up to date manner.

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There was no need for my folding chair. We found plenty of picnic tables and benches to sit upon, and our picnic was all the more delicious, in the shade of an old eucalyptus tree, having the local birds serenade us as we ate both humus and soft cheese with pita bread and tasty spices, and quenched our thirst with local beer.

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We will be celebrating Pentecost this coming Sunday, and I imagine that the park will be filled to overflowing with visitors on the holiday. How lucky we were to visit just before the big rush, enjoying the serenity of this natural treasure at its best. And how good it was to conclude such a pleasurable adventure, knowing that we were about to return to our beloved home town, Jerusalem.

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not a duck, but it was a pleasure meeting this bird…

love and ego

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Many years ago, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, of blessed memory, was visiting with friends and students in Jerusalem. Word of his presence in our city soon spread among his followers, and one by one and then in small groups, people started showing up at the apartment where he was staying. Outside, the sun was setting. Inside, it was beginning to get dark. A friend went to the light switch, about to turn on the electric light. But then Shlomo said, I would prefer a candle. A candle was placed in a single candlestick and lit. The sun went down completely, and more people came. After evening prayers, Shlomo asked for more candles.

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Rabbi Shlomo singing with friends

Friends melted the base of a candle and stuck it to a little plate. More and more candles were lit and placed on shelves and on the tops of high book cases. The apartment filled with people and Shlomo encouraged them to light more candles. A few friends went out to get more candles, and soon there were more candles than could be counted. They provided a soft light that filled the room. Friends pulled guitars out, bells and drums, and other musical instruments. We told each other stories, and sang songs together. Though each particular candle offered just a modest amount of light, all of the many candles together filled the apartment with light.

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At one point, when there was a natural pause in the conversation and the music, Reb Shlomo waved his hand, signifying the many candles, he said, ‘You see, each candle is like a human soul radiating its own particular light. But when we are all together, the space is filled with light, and it is difficult to attribute this great light to any specific source’.

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This week began for me with a visit to the rose garden opposite the Knesset, our parliament here in Jerusalem. The newly elected members of parliament were trying to organize a new government. And the news media was filled with dire warnings about what might or might not happen. But now, in the height of spring, the rose garden was filled with flowers, and the sun was shining overhead, and the sky was blue.

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Yesterday was the holiday of Lag B’omer. A day dedicated to the memory of the great mystic, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who was born and married and died on this day, and taught us a mystical understanding of the light in this world. It is also a day in which we remember the struggle of our ancestors against the Romans. It is a holiday which is marked by bonfires and celebration in the middle of a very serious period of time, during which we progress from our exodus from slavery and aspire to the acceptance of enlightenment. And that is such serious work for the soul, that it is a great relief to have a day of fun and joy to offer release from our contemplation on the fact that true freedom is found only when one has a framework of values and intentional behavior.

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dancing around the bonfire

While watching the revelry around the campfires, I was reminded of Reb Shlomo’s words in praise of the candles. Let us remember the unique character of each and every human being, and value his individual contribution to our society. But remember too that the light that we generate is not held within, but is shared by all, lighting up the world around us and bringing us the warmth and happiness of love.