Tag Archives: graffiti

learning companion


September means back to school here, as in much of the world. And as I watch the young students with book bags and backpacks… on their way to school or coming home, my thoughts are on school and learning, and especially on the difficulties attached to both. This year we didn’t have a teachers’ strike. But in the past, such strikes often coincided with the beginning of school. You wouldn’t hear many students complaining about how miserable they were without the pleasures of the classroom. On the other hand, unhappy parents were interviewed, moaning in protest as they asked, how are we going to go to work with the children stuck at home? And I would wonder if school wasn’t just a self righteous cover for babysitting.


As I have mentioned in the past, my teachers in the seminary would say, we’re not here to teach facts; we try to teach you how to learn. And one of the most impressive methods of study that I learned there, was studying with a learning companion. We could choose a friend to study with, or a teacher could suggest a match. The nature of the relationship was different from the sort of friendship that develops between people who find themselves thrown together and learn to love one another… or who discover a natural affinity with someone else. There are so many reasons that people become friends… and maybe as many reasons that friendships cool and wither.


The learning companion is more like a partner in sports. It is best that you both have a similar capacity to study, and similar enthusiasm. Because the role of the study partner is not to drag his friend to class or to help each other study for a test. The idea is that every person sees the world subjectively. And when you study with a partner, each understands what is learned in a different way. Often the student thinks he understands well what he has just learned, but sharing the different perspectives offers us a wider view of the possibilities.


I remember at times, having serious arguments with my study partner, and there was no obligation to come to an agreed upon resolution. Nor was there a need to agree to disagree. We could remain with our different conclusions, and in telling others of what we had studied together, I would mention, ‘my study partner came to another conclusion’, then telling what he understood regarding the subject. When we would study legal decisions made over 2000 years ago in the Talmud, the minority opinion was always recorded as well.


I have mentioned recently my discomfort, gleaning the news from the media. It often seems as if I’m hearing propaganda. There is a common agenda that sets the tone in so many areas. The newspeak of George Orwell’s 1984 seems to have come full bloom at the beginning of this century, and it not only washes out the color of speech; it dampens our thinking as well. So discussing things that matter to us with a comrade who has a different opinion is an important part of learning.


art factory

one of the many almond trees we saw blossoming

Thursday was one of those unpleasant winter days in Jerusalem. Dark clouds hung over the city as the temperature rose to a high of 24° by mid day. Noga and I had gone out to look at the newly blossomed almond trees, despite the weather, and by noon, we were looking for a place to have a couple of beers, and maybe something to eat. She suggested we visit the factory, a local art project organized in an abandoned old house, in the middle of Jerusalem. It seemed a good place to take a break. Empty House is a cooperative of idealistic young artists who wish to offer space in which to work to other artists, and also to contribute something to the contemporary scene in our city.

the kitchen and restaurant at the factory

As to the front yard, had it been intended as a vegetable garden… to go with the vegetarian restaurant inside, or was it an artistic statement without having to rely on history? in any case, there’s an abandoned hole in the middle of the front yard amidst the bushes, and a few garden tools thrown in. Next to the hole, you can find the bottom half of the gardener sticking straight out of the ground, fully clothed, as if the ground had half swallowed him.

don’t despair, dear gardeners

The fence that borders the courtyard has a naive ‘back to nature’ theme punctuated by the bicycle parts that landed on the chain link fence above the more traditional stone. And peeking through, across the narrow alley that separates between the houses, we can see the building style typical of our city; houses built of stone, metal shutters. It’s already part of the past. But they’ll last a long time till they’re replaced.


In the central room there’s a sort of fountain… maybe a goldfish aquarium…. for the fish are certainly there… where once stood a statue of a fully dressed woman, looking to the side, her hands in her pocket, her hair piled over her head… sadly, only her legs remain. But we have the consolation of watching the goldfish swim around as we await our lunch. There are two choices: yellow curry rice with cabbage and cauliflower and rice with beans. We ordered both of the plates on the menu, and the food was satisfactory.


Along the hallway, between the kitchen/restaurant and the main room, I found a very interesting white board with a great number of illustrations of the artistic caliber you might find in an ancient cave. But if the art was a bit amateurish, it should stand forever as a testament to freedom of expression. Up on top towards the left, you may recognize the flag of Israel. But instead of the star of David in the center, it has the symbol of the shekel, which is the basic currency of our country. To the right of that is “the factory” which is the name of the venue. And under that is the picture of an ambulance, police, and fire department coming from right to left. On the left is the hand holding the sling shot, and under that are the numbers you call for ambulance, police or firemen and after that, ‘cultural terror attack’, with a question mark after that.


Yesterday and today we’ve had rain. The temperature has gone down to normal for winter. The air has been cleaned. And in the very same area of town that we visited on Thursday, we had an entirely different adventure just yesterday…. but knowing how easily the past is forgotten, I wanted to jot this down before it was lost in the past…


street art, Nachlaot


As I mentioned in my previous post, one of the features of that walk through the Nachlaot neighborhood of Jerusalem was the examination of the graffiti found there. I enjoy street art, and have grown more tolerant of the scribbles and the name inscriptions that are also included in the category. But I’ve noticed that even in those cases where I was really impressed by a painting appearing on a street wall, after a short while I tend to take it for granted, as I pass by again and again.


But sometimes, the unexpected can spark a greater interest. That is, if a picture has been moved or changed, or one that I especially liked has disappeared or been blocked by some other structure. Then, there’s that chase after old friends. And part of the chase is always the discovery of new contributions unnoticed before. Many are difficult to photograph because of limited space in the small alleyways of our city.

what is written on the side: “How can I ask for what I really want as if I were joking?”

There is a series of very special miniatures that I like… they are in a place exposed to harsh nature and may not last all that long. Another series of paintings I especially enjoy, have something to say in the way of morality and self criticism. They are on a wall that seems almost too public. I worry that they will soon be replaced by advertisements. I remember some biting messages that had a short public life before being painted over by someone who didn’t care much for what they said.


On my walk last week there were the big paintings, colorful and full of life. And there were also some very modest ones that you could easily miss, if not looking for them. Some seemed like footnotes to those ‘in the know’. One of them said, ‘sex now’, and I suppose it was meant as a retort to the many banners of ‘peace now’ that can be seen around the country. The drawing under that title was unexpected, and wide open to interpretation.


One of the most interesting series I’ve encountered here might have been produced by three separate artists. As they appeared, I imagined two artists adding their works to the original inscription, though it could have been produced by the same artist who came back to the scene and added yet another and then another. All of the illustrations speak of a longing for Jerusalem by the Jews of the diaspora.


There are these closed metal boxes that one finds all around the city, containing electric meters and connections of sorts. It is common to find paintings on their sides. Sometimes it’s a very abstract composition of form and color, and sometimes a picture of a butterfly or bird. It seems a lot of work was invested into this rendition of the inside of a refrigerator filled with drinks.

this image was etched into the wall

a fence worth looking at


As I have mentioned previously, Hebrew is a conceptual language. It is built on a great many roots which are found in all verbs. When the same root is found in different words they reflect a conceptual relationship. For instance, the words: writing, dictation, correspondence, letter, and reporter all have a common root. The very nature of the language hints at certain values which are part of our culture. And so, it’s interesting to find that the root of the word ‘definition’ is the same as that for ‘fence’.


A fence, we learn, gives definition to an area. Which goes together well with a saying I’ve heard in English, ‘a fence makes good neighbors’. This fence was found in one of the two industrial neighborhoods of Jerusalem, Talpiot and Givat Shaul. Both of them accommodate factories and workshops. And since there are workers there, they also have restaurants and simple eateries, shopping centers and stores. And because no one sleeps there at night, you’ll find night clubs there too, so people can enjoy themselves as noisily as they care to, at all hours. And where there are fences, they are meant to hide an unsightly industrial property or designed to keep people from wandering into a construction sight.


I was visiting some clients in Talpiot when I first noticed this fence. It was made of sheet metal that had been put up between posts in the ground, and was painted in three colors with black lines. Turned out that a few businessmen had put together the money to buy paint, and some students from the Bezalel Art Institute in our fair city had volunteered to decorate the fence. The unpretentious stick figures fit in nicely with the many examples of graffiti found in the area. The paintings have a somewhat humorous, minimalist approach. And in my eyes, it’s art.


As for fences, their very existence is something of a provocation. One wants to trespass or transcend. But if they’re designed well, they might seem like the skin that surrounds and protects our bodies. Though Jerusalem was a walled city in ancient times, there are relatively few fences within the city. The housing is fairly dense, yet here and there are open spaces, which provide that very important taste of nature in the city. I hope to do a post very soon on some of those public spaces here.


You can see the set of the fence pictures here:


national trauma week

autumn leaves in winter

We have a saying here, when someone tells us something that is no longer relevant. We say, ‘that’s as interesting as last year’s snow’. But this week, despite a rather aggravated case of political heebie jeebies, with national politicians changing parties after each fresh edition of an opinion poll. All of a sudden… under a blue sky of momentary sunny weather in the midst of winter, normal, rational men and women lost all interest in anything but the weather. It started slowly at first… If I remember correctly, last weekend, there were a couple of comments made… you know… ‘such beautiful autumn weather, and next week it’ll probably snow’. The sort of idle talk you might hear as someone reluctantly looks for something, and then gazes through the window at the colorful leaves left on a tree.


But later there were solid rumors. Not just the ‘I heard Jake say’, but those rumors that make you stop and take stock: the report that the assistant director of the Jerusalem sanitation department demanded all snow removal machines be checked to see if they had a full tank of gas in their tanks. It only took a few hours until every news item had to find its place in line on national news behind the weather report.

mini graffiti found on a schoolyard fence

By evening, when the weather appeared at the top of the Channel 1 news roundup, it was in fact reported that the coming snow fall, this week, might exceed that of last year. Immediately after that hit the airways, a silence moved through private homes from the Negev desert to Mount Hermon. Around the country, fathers looked at mothers, mothers looked at children. And children rolled their eyes heavenward; our version of the ‘gasp heard around the world’.

I like to keep warm with some hot kube soup in winter

Now, those readers who live somewhere outside of Israel may not remember last year’s snow. I think most of us Israelis would find that completely excusable. After all, we’re a very small country, and we always have one kind of trouble or another. Why should our little troubles interest the big boys on the international stage of events? Of course you don’t remember. But there isn’t a cat over the age of two in Jerusalem, or a man, woman or child in all of Israel over the age of five, who can’t recall all the details of last year’s snowfall.

and how wonderful that artichokes have come into season…

Needless to say that it snowed last year. And it could be that the clever fellow in charge of keeping the snow removal equipment ready for action, had heard that the price of benzene was about to go down, and wanted to impress his superiors that he was the sort who knew how to save a penny. Of course, if it had just been that, the whole incident would probably be forgotten by now. But it got kind of cold, and everyone turned on their electric heaters at the same time. And then when the electricity failed, everyone called their closest friends to see if it had happened to them too. That paralyzed the cell phone system. And then, when a few hundred cars got stuck on the main highway to Jerusalem because of ice and snow, with bob sleds and skis sticking out of a wide variety of hybrid passenger cars, the truckers bringing food to the supermarkets were unable to think of anything better to do than take a nap on that cot they have behind the driver’s cabin.

one of my neighbors keeps all of his emergency equipment out on the balcony

Not only were all the shelves in the supermarket left vacant, but those who insisted on buying those items left behind in the mad rush to stay supplied, were further frustrated when they got to the cash register. Because all the communication lines were down, and it was impossible to check whether credit cards were stolen, or invalid because of pathological buying habits on the part of the consumer. And so, the clerks were asking for real money! As a loyal Israeli, I hate to say it, but that meter plus snowstorm last year led to confusion, chaos, and then out and out pandemonium, as my fellow citizens began to realize that they couldn’t go on with their everyday lives in the middle of a snow storm.

what could be better for an evening meal than Portobello mushrooms

And now, just the memory of what happened last year, was enough to give rise to an aftershock, a year later. Of course, it’s easy to laugh at others. So I feel an obligation to disclose my own share of disquiet. Remember the tablet I bought recently, in an attempt to be just as up to date as all the kids? And how I went out of my mind trying to peck out messages with two fingers instead of ten? That was after trying to write an article describing my impressions of the ‘ever growing gap between rich and poor’ on my smartphone, and discovered too late that the phone was so small I couldn’t find it after putting it aside for dinner, and then had trouble reading what I myself had written on its small screen.

Shimon - portobello
and here I am taking the above picture, captured by Chana

So now, equipped with a rather addictive tablet that I had learned to use after infinite suffering… and despite the fact that its batteries are able to keep it functioning for nine hours without recharge… I stopped using it altogether so that it would remain fully charged when the electricity failed in the upcoming snow storm. That is to say, I too was taken in by the mass hysteria, and willing to make any sacrifice to avoid the consequences of last year’s snow!

one of my friends recently complained after seeing my dining room table on the blog without its customary bottle of whisky. So here you are, two bottles, and my tablet squeezed in, on the bottom right.

Dare I mention that the anti-climax was more than a little disappointing? A special train shuttle had been scheduled to ferry tourists from the ‘House of the Rising Sun’ village to Jerusalem every 20 minutes after the highways would all be frozen. The cellular companies invested heavily in new equipment to avoid the embarrassment of a breakdown in service. And drivers were asked to abandon the public avenues and thoroughfares so that emergency vehicles could administer to those incapacitated by the storm. All the supermarkets increased their wares by seven fold, and the customers did not disappoint. The sale of gas heaters would have topped all peaks of the last ten years had not department stores run out of those heaters to sell. We whipped ourselves into a frenzy… and then… nothing went wrong. Each of us felt whipped by the cruelty of nature. There was snow. But then there was rain that washed it away. All the preparations seemed wasted. It was a disaster.

work at something you love


… to Janne with love…

work at something you love
’cause work wasn’t meant to be a picnic
isn’t just highs and deep realizations…
but drudgery and pettiness, and remaining true
through the worthless moments…
going back to hoe another rut again
under the hot sun, breathing the gray fog
carrying meaningless loads… of something
that should have been thrown away last year
being kind to complaining animals
who think they have it coming to them,
straining at the ropes… barking through the fence…
remembering that those old tiles on the footpath
were going to be replaced long ago
looking at the salesman’s catalogues, thinking…
what’s the minimum that I can buy
to keep this old farm still going
and avoiding the glamour, and the color,
and the promised miracles…
getting up when you’re still tired
keeping on when it looks like hope is gone…
the horse has blinders, but you just have purpose
and a fading commitment that doesn’t make sense
if you love your work…
if it doesn’t come out right the first time… or the second…
who’s counting… when it’s been all day…
rubbing in that old stain… till you’re carried away
the doctor heals the sick… and there are more sick
from here to the end of life, than we could imagine…
facing sad eyed misery, again and again…
from the road cleaner to the laundry man
to the cook in the hash house who’s fried more eggs
than there are flies round the garbage can.
from the man on the assembly line to the boss himself
there are excuses and embarrassments and expectations
mistakes and retakes and going through the motions…


so love your work and await the sublime
which makes up for what happened that other time…

Einstein in Tel Aviv

Yesterday, a reblogged post on LensScaper’s fine blog, lead me to Michael Fiveson, who had posted a beautiful graffiti image of Albert Einstein http://m5son.wordpress.com/2013/05/23/einstein/, and this in turn reminded me of a trip I took to the Tel Aviv University a few years ago… and how pleased I’d been at the time, to discover a street named after the great genius. And it was on that fine street, that I found the first graffiti portrait of him I’d ever seen.

a portrait of Einstein drawn by Doron Wiener

The four lines that Mike had written under his photograph of a graffiti portrait of Einstein, brought a wave of thoughts and memories. Mike mentioned that he shared a birthday with the great man. And while I don’t have much faith in astrology, I was able to understand and share his pleasure at having been born on the same day. He also mentioned that he would have felt lucky to be either a chauffeur or a friend of the noted physicist, and this reminded me of two friends of mine, who had actually offered their services as a driver to men they regarded as heroes. The first had been a full professor and had visited our greatest writer, here in Jerusalem… just to get to know him. Upon hearing that he was about to take the bus to the center of town, he volunteered to drive him, and after they had both enjoyed the trip together, my friend offered to drive for the writer, whenever he might need transportation. Back in those days, a car was quite a luxury, and the writer accepted his offer, and my friend learned a lot from the time spent in his company. Some years later, I heard a similar story from another friend, who offered his services as a chauffer to a much loved Rabbi we both knew; a man whose company alone was a precious gift. This friend had the pleasure of driving the Rabbi all over the country.


Well, it’s too late to offer such services to Einstein, but it is a great pleasure for me to discover that graffiti artists have paid tribute to his genius even in far away cities. When he died, he left all his papers to the Hebrew University here in Jerusalem, and I had the great pleasure of reading parts of his journals, written with beautiful penmanship in green ink on white paper. Like others, I fell in love with his personality without any connection to his accomplishments in physics and mathematics. I am unaware of any street that bears his name here in Jerusalem, but I did find Einstein street in Tel Aviv, and I offer you a picture of the street sign, topped with an advertisement for BurgerRanch and CocaCola. I like the picture because it brings together the banal and the sublime, and reminds us that we’re all part of the same package.