Tag Archives: friends

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.

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After the Sabbath

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context

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a new life for the yams. soon they’ll be potted plants

There were a couple of pictures of Charlie in my last post. And that brought comments and mails with questions about Charlie. And with them, an awareness, that though I do use photos to illustrate my blog posts… often from my own life, and environment, each of the photos is a glimpse, taken out of context. It occurred to me that much of life is like that. We tell a story, paint a picture, or snap a photograph… and choose among them those incidents or images that have struck us in a certain way, that have amused us or moved us… and very often, because these moments or images are taken out of context, our friends get a different impression of our life from that which we know and relate to on a day to day basis.

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last week we saw Charlie, but not the roses behind him

I take a walk most mornings, and see the same scenes, over and over again, each time in a different light, or a slightly different time of the day… in different weather, and with different company. And with each meeting, the people, the cats, the birds, the dogs, the bushes and the trees… the buildings and streets become more a part of me… and I more a part of them, without effort or much thought.

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between the two of them, they see it all… while in conversation

I remember, when I used to take walks with my old mother, and I would stop to photograph a certain familiar scene in the neighborhood. She would often say, ‘Shimon, you’ve already photographed that scene in the past’. And I would say, yes, but not with those long shadows. Or something like that. For photography, which has been my profession for most of my life, is also my way of relating to my own personal environment.

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a conversation with my son Jonah

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my daughter Rivka tells an amusing story

But even though I’ve shared many scenes from my daily life, they often revealed only a part of the story… taken out of context, to a certain extent. And so the world as I know it, never really comes through. Sometimes I feel that it would be best to present a series of images… to demonstrate the changes in time, or a wide sweep of the environment.

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Occasionally I come across a scene that stands by itself… one of those pictures that tell a complete story. But sometimes, they too are just hints. I don’t know the story from the point of view of the participants. But I invent or guess at the story, just looking at the scene. That happened the other day, as I was coming back from a walk, and saw a motorcycle, well hidden by a protective cover. Facing the hidden motor bike, were two shoes. I couldn’t help but wonder what happened. Did a hubby, or a lover, arrive in the middle of the night, and take off his shoes before coming into the house, so as not to wake the sleeping?

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the medical clinic in our neighborhood

Since Chana moved back to Jerusalem, her apartment has become ‘a home away from home’; another station for me here in the city. Chana lives with Charlie, her cat, and Bonnie, her dog. They have both adopted me as well. We take walks together, and stare out the windows in each other’s company on rainy days. My little world keeps growing, and I discover new stars that were always there… but unknown to me, until I discovered them.

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Chana and Charlie

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soaking up some sun, Bonnie

It’s Friday today, and that means preparations for the Sabbath. According to our tradition, we either buy two loaves of bread or bake them before the Sabbath. They represent that free day on which we refrain from work. A loaf for every day, and an extra one for the Sabbath. Here’s a picture of the two loaves that Chana baked. One is covered with poppy seeds, and the other with sesame.

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There are so many pictures, that I have to choose from… all of which are part of the whole story. But only a very few get included in these posts. And how often I’ve deliberated over a pile of images, wondering which would best represent what I’m trying to show. It’s always hard to choose the few photos that will be part of my message… and after I’ve made my decision, there are usually some very special ones that stay behind.

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Jinji enjoying the winter sun in the back yard. His cousin waits for him on the other side of the gate…

looking back

saw the founding fathers resting in their graves…
on my way out from your burial… I was in a daze
in memory of David

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There are smells, and sounds… certain places… sometimes clouds, or a certain blue in the sky that brings back old moments, memories… or emotions. One minute you’re on your way to buy a pack of cigarettes, and the next, you’re a young man on your way to work… and memories come rolling in, one after another… till those subjective visions have more substance than what you were planning to do with your day.

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I’ve never been one to revel in the joys of nostalgia. I prefer to enjoy each day as it comes, and to make the most of it. Not to give too much attention to the future or the past, but to savor the present. The library was my first home away from home. But if I visit the library today… even though that institution has lost most of its importance now that I’ve learned to take advantage of search engines and online academic facilities… still the library remains a store house of wisdom from the many different ages of man, and I enjoy it for what it has to offer me these days.

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But there’s a village in the Galilee, where years ago I tried to realize my ideals and fantasies… and where I tasted the sublime. It’s a place much like any other place. With good and bad, and all kinds of people who’ve made their homes there. Except that it wasn’t like any other for me. I chose to live there, among friends who had similar ideals to my own. It was there for me, at a critical stage of my life. I had already enjoyed the life of an adult for a number of years. I had started a family. I had made compromises and adjustments along the way. I pretty much knew what life had to offer if my luck stayed with me. And before I got sedentary or set in my ways, I wanted to try living according to my highest ideals, just to know if it could work. And to know whether the theories we kicked around in those days were practical.

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It was a time when a lot of people thought the world was on the threshold of a great social change. The youngsters who were attracting attention then, were chanting ‘make love not war’; and instead of checking just how many people could fit into a public telephone booth, there were those who chose to live in communes, to grow their own vegetables, to make their own movies, religions, and social order. Expanding one’s consciousness was considered a legitimate occupation. And tolerance and love for one’s fellow man was the spirit of the time.

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I didn’t choose a radical path. My choice was a commune which was based on traditional values. The family remained the basic building block of society. But we believed that everyone should enjoy the same income, regardless of talent or education. And that the unpopular jobs should be performed by all according to a system of rotation in which everyone did public service once every couple of weeks in order to keep things running as they should. Each person offered his work to the society according to his ability, and received according to his needs. That meant that the surgeon and the gardener received the same salary, but the invalid or madman was given all kinds of added resources in order to make his life more comfortable. Basic education was offered to all. But no one was forced to learn… or to live up to a standard that he didn’t choose. And those with special talents could develop them at the expense of the society as a whole. A friend of mine, who was an accomplished and successful writer, worked as a kindergarten teacher. And I, a scholar and a business man, grew bananas.

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The children lived in children’s houses, where they studied and played and lived life with the direction and nurture from teachers and counselors, and house mothers and fathers. They spent time with their parents every day. But they met with their parents at tea time, and learned to appreciate them around the table in social intercourse. Mother and father were not identified with punishment or demands. The time spent together was marked by friendship and common interests.

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Our leaders didn’t run for office, promoting themselves, and making promises of what they would do for the common man. They were chosen by others, and elected by common vote. And in most cases, they didn’t want the job, because it meant giving of their precious free time for the sake of the community. But usually they were persuaded to give of their talents for the common good. There was no police. Public opinion, and group pressure maintained order in our little world. Medical and dental treatment were free to all. The public spaces of our village were beautiful beyond description, cared for by gardeners who loved their work. I never saw litter. We all used to eat in a public dining room, and the food was good.

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There were flaws and weaknesses in the system, for all men and women are flawed. Many folks thought they were giving more than they were getting. There were pet peeves, and personal conflicts. There were in-groups, and outsiders. But it worked. I felt as if I’d found the garden of eden.

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This week, I went there to bury a friend. He was a good man and had lived a good life. He’d worked as a cotton grower, a tractor driver, and for many years as a skilled metal worker. He’d never asked for special consideration or a bonus. He was a modest man and didn’t stand out. But many in the community recognized his unique character and personality. His children had gone on to other places and other life styles, as many of the younger generation have done. The community has changed greatly. It is no longer a communal village.

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As I walked through the town, I couldn’t help but notice the changes. There were new roads, and parking lots. There weren’t many private vehicles when I lived there. We used to borrow a car from the car pool back in my day. The houses and gardens were more individualistic than I remembered. And the public dining room no longer caters to all comers. Nowadays, people prepare their meals at home, and children live with their parents. But as I walked along the streets and lanes of the village, I felt as if transported to a world that might still await us… a world of values that aren’t especially popular these days.

blind faith

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after we’d finally arrived

Call me old fashioned, but a telephone for me, is still a miracle, even when I’m only using it to talk to one of my friends who lives two blocks away. But the rest of the world has gone on to bigger and greater things. Not so long ago, my grand daughter was visiting. She had just come out of the shower, and lifted the receiver off my rotary dial phone in the kitchen, and asked me how to adjust it to a medium warm blow. She’d never seen a phone like that, and thought it was a hair dryer.

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Rivka and Chana in the kitchen

And so, last week, when Rivka and I were over at Chana’s house, preparing dinner, I proudly told them of my success at sending a letter by way of telephone. They immediately began to encourage me. I was told of the wonders of using Waze. One could just jot down the destination in the program, and Waze would know the best and fastest way to get there. Rivka told me of a recent incident that happened on her way home from her Yoga class. She had her Waze on, and was taking the route she knew well. The fellow on the phone told her to take a right down some side street, but she ignored him, thinking she knew which way was fastest. But then a couple of blocks later, she got stuck in a terrible traffic jam. There’d been an accident. Cars were packed in for about a kilometer, as one by one, individual vehicles managed to pass the standing police cars and ambulance at the site. If only she had listened to the Waze, she said.

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Noga and Michael

Well, it was on Monday of this week, that Noga and I had arranged to visit my friend Michael, who lives in the little village of Vineyard, at the edge of Jerusalem. He lives on Yemenite Immigrants Street; I forget the number. It was raining, when we set out in the afternoon, and the entire city was one big parking lot, as it often is at the beginning of the rainy season. Cars were crawling along… moving a meter forward, and then having to wait a few minutes until the next opportunity to move again. Though I’ve driven to Vineyard so often, I could probably do it in my sleep, it did seem like these were just the circumstances in which to try out the wonderful new invention. I typed Yemenite Immigrants and Vineyard into the Waze program, and settled into the driver’s seat, happy in anticipation of finding the shortest route through the traffic, on our way to my friend’s house.

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telling our adventure to Michael – photo by Noga

Since I hadn’t yet hooked up my phone to the car, and didn’t know that blue tooth was anything but a tooth that had died and discolored, I asked Noga to hold the phone and just pass on the instructions to me. From the very beginning, I could appreciate the advantages of the program. Instead of the usual situation in which a friend suddenly yells ‘take a right now’ or ‘turn left’, forcing me to cross a lane in the last moment to execute the maneuver, this program gave me warning 800 meters before I had to make the turn. It even advised me ahead of time to switch from one lane to another. I was happy to have joined the world of the enlightened.

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Strangely enough, though, I was getting instructions that I would never have thought possible. With a surety that only a robot could muster, the GPS program had me go left when I thought right, and into a neighborhood I thought totally illogical. But I remembered what Rivka had told me. How clever, the program was helping me to avoid an accident scene. We were going to get there much faster than we would have, had we gone the old route.

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And then amazingly, we were out of the traffic jam, and down an old road I didn’t even recognize. It was a little narrow, and when a car came the other way, we had to pass one another carefully, with one car or the other going slightly off the road, it was so narrow. But I was ecstatic. Wasn’t it great that Waze had found the way to avoid all the traffic?! The phone told us to go left when we reached the fork in the road. It got dark. The rain kept coming down. Then there was a turn to the right which put us on a road that was even worse. There were no street lights here. We were driving through the Jerusalem forest, And when we left the forest, the pavement gave out. It had been supplanted by gravel. ‘Maybe we should go back’, said Noga, a bit aghast at our surroundings. But I insisted. What? You want to get back into the traffic jam in town?

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photo by Noga

After the next right, I could tell by the limited light of my headlamps, that we were now on a dirt road with large rocks here and there, and holes where you didn’t expect them. From the speed of a horse’s pace I slowed down to what might best be called a walk. Fortunately, we were no longer encountering any cars coming the opposite way. But finally, after hopping over the rocks and trying to avoid the holes, we encountered a large sign. It was so dark I couldn’t see what it said. But I got out my flashlight, and put its light on the sign. It said, ‘graveyard’. A couple of letters were weather worn, but it was still readable. The Waze was no longer speaking to us. Noga thought we might have gotten to an area where there was no cell phone reception. So we kept going straight. But soon we were facing another fork in the road. Except that this time, it looked as if both choices in front of us were foot paths. I turned the car around, and that’s when the right rear tire blew. Luckily, I had a spare.

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I was ready to go back by then. But the problem was that I didn’t know where in the hell I was. As we slowly made our way back, we checked any signs we could find. It was then that we discovered the intersection of Vineyard street and the Yemenite Immigration. And it turned out that we were in the backwoods town of Olive Tree. I would never have guessed that. But fortunately, the town of Vineyard was only an hour away. Hope you enjoy the pictures of Michael’s home. On our way back to Jerusalem, we decided to go without the help of artificial intelligence.

Not This Time

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Most every week, I sit down to my computer on Friday morning and share with you a bit of my world… what’s important to me… what occupies my mind… something I’ve learned or experienced. I find a few pictures to illustrate my post. If I can, I try to keep it light hearted and amusing, and hope that it’ll be a comfortable experience for my readers. I might ask some questions. I might raise some issue. But I’ll try to provide answers too. And wrap it all up with conclusions. Not this time, though. I’m suffering, and my heart is aching. I don’t have any answers. I have no conclusions. What I’m telling you is with a heavy heart. And there’s nothing about it, that I find amusing.

A week ago yesterday, three teenage boys were on their way home from school. They are Ayal Yifrach, Naftali Frankel, and Gillad Shear. They were seminary students on their way to enjoy the Sabbath with parents and family when they were kidnapped by a terrorist organization. Minutes after they were captured, one of the young men sent a message to the police, saying that he had been kidnapped. Since then, we haven’t heard from them. The parents of the three boys have shown great courage and restraint under pressure.

But this story isn’t just the story of the boys and their families. As a society, we have faced extortion before. Using just such methods in the past, our enemies succeeded in getting the release of convicted murderers. In the last year alone, they managed to get 75 convicted terrorists released as payment for their willingness to talk peace with us. Once they got these murderers released, they lost interest in peace. Many of the released terrorists have gone back to their previous inclinations, and have continued their criminal behavior.

Most of my countrymen, including myself, are horrified by this latest kidnapping. I feel as if I were holding my breath, waiting for the return of the boys, hoping that the army or the police will find them soon and return them to normal life among us. It is hard for me to think of anything else. These boys could be my own grandchildren. I love them and worry about them as if they were. And a lot of people around me feel the same.

Ayal, Gilad, and Naftali
Ayal, Gilad and Naftali

connection and disconnect

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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‘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.