Tag Archives: happiness

hope

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My dear friends,
I consider myself very lucky to have lived in this period of time. I had some very fine opportunities. For the most part, I enjoyed my life. I learned a number of languages, studied history, morality, philosophy, art and science. And during my lifetime, I’ve seen major changes in the world around me. I am grateful to the frivolous nature of fate that offered me the opportunity to learn the English language, and so, to be able to write you a bit about our lives here in Jerusalem, and to share with you some of the things I’ve learned from life. One of the many reasons I started blogging, was to overcome the many misunderstandings that exist between the Jewish people and other cultures and peace loving peoples. I had the hope that those things we loved, considered sacred, and shared would enable us to bridge differences and afford us communication.

At the present time, we in Israel are engaged in a war we didn’t choose. As many have declared, war is terrible; it is hell. I carry scars from previous wars, and don’t know if I will survive this one… don’t know what sort of person I will be, if I do survive it. But I can’t go on about my usual business while this is going on. I did try. But I just can’t anymore. I remember, as a young fellow, reading the letter of a Jew in the Warsaw ghetto who wrote of his experiences and then secreted the letter in a bottle, which was plastered into one of the walls of his home. These are different times, and I have been free to write my story by way of the internet, transcending borders and crossing from one continent to another. But I know next to nothing about countering lies. And the immensity of the conflict has weakened my broken heart. Perhaps some day, this blog will be my ‘letter in a bottle’.

At this point, I feel I have no choice but to retreat to the safety of my own little home. I would like to thank the friends I have met in the blogging world for what we’ve shared, and for what I’ve learned from you.

Our national anthem here in Israel is called ‘the hope’. I still have hope. I hope that this parting will be more of a ‘see you later’ than a goodbye. I might continue to post a picture now and then, just to let you know that I’m still alive. But I don’t think I’ll be writing anymore, until this is over. If I manage to survive it, I might write a little about what I’ve gone through. My best wishes to all of my readers, and my gratitude to all of you who’ve shared your lives and interests with me.
Shimon Z’evi, a citizen of Jerusalem.

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soul searching

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

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

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

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

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

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

idolatry

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In my previous post last week, I mentioned that the study of sculpture had been neglected in our culture because of the prohibition of idol worship. And this raised the question of why. Many in the west have accepted the concept of monotheism. And many are atheistic or agnostic. Because of the free thinking attitude towards faith and belief, many believe that the issue of whether it is proper or not to pray to, or worship an image seems irrelevant in our time.

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My dear friend Janet reminds us often that ‘everything in this world is interconnected’. This is the basis of monotheism, and one of the most important tenants of our religion. There are those who see powerful forces in this world as gods. The sea is a god to some, and there is a god of reproduction to others. Some people have a need to relate to an inspiring picture of a saint or a prophet in order to remind themselves of the virtues they believe in. There are so many pictures of saints, and medallions, and symbols of all kinds, that we have become accustomed to seeing such things. But our sages warned us that focusing on an image might distract us from our awareness of a god who is an intricate being reflected in all we sense in the world around us.

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I believe that those who coined the expression, ‘the almighty dollar’, meant to laugh at the phenomenon. But there is no doubt that a large portion of the population in the west has raised the importance of money to god-like proportions. Is it important? To some it is. To others not. For those of us who believe in god, it is important to consider what we receive from him, what sort of inspiration or example we envision when contemplating his presence in this world of ours, and how or if we choose to worship him.

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I have studied a bit of other religions, and found wisdom that has enhanced my own beliefs and worship of god in my religion. I have also found things that I cannot accept. Today is Friday, and this evening my Sabbath begins. And an essential part of my religion is not to work on the Sabbath. That is a day of freedom and appreciation of life, and it is set apart for contemplation and joy. This Sabbath is called the ‘Sabbath of consolation’, for on this last Sunday, we remembered the destruction of our holy temple. It was a very sad day for all. My best wishes to my readers for inspiration and delight from life. We all have our ups and downs. And how important it is, to maintain our perspective, to remember that there is beauty and pleasure in this life, despite the disappointments and pain.

summer time

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We usually have a short spring, and then a fairly long summer. And summer is my favorite time of year. Doesn’t matter, a heat wave or two. I can sit them out, inside. It’s rare that Jerusalem gets uncomfortably hot, because we’re on a mountain. And even when it does, since almost all the houses are made of stone, it stays quite cool inside… even when it’s terribly hot outside. And nowadays, just about everyone has air conditioning… so that makes it still easier. In the past, I didn’t care much for air conditioning. But I’ve been convinced.

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summer food

For me, an important part of summer is getting out early to take my morning walk… while it’s still relatively cool. Then I get a day’s work done, and still have time left to sit out on the balcony, where it’s always quite comfortable… or enjoy the light of day even in my salon till after eight at night. I have to admit, when people were still arguing here, about whether to have daylight savings time, I was against it.

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clothes hanging out to dry in the warm sun

For one thing, it’s nice for people who get up late in the day. But for people like me, it means getting up in the dark at the beginning and the end of the season, and there’s something discouraging about that. All the same, it’s very pleasant to sit with friends at the end of the day and enjoy the colors of the setting sun in late evening. And aside from the colors, which are at their best during this season, I also enjoy the fruits of the season; wave after wave of wonderful and tasty fruits.

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Nechama listening to a conversation between friends

I start out my day with a couple glasses of cucumber juice, which has proven to be a very healthy ingredient in my life. This was Chana’s idea, and it has proven better than any pill or medicine. I know a lot of you like to start the day with a glass of beer or coffee. But for me, drinking that cucumber juice feels as natural as a cat stretching himself, when waking up from sleep.

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And speaking of cats… you can see that all the animals in the neighborhood are affected and inspired by the coming of summer. Nachshon here, above, is playing panther, as he walks between the neighboring houses. As much as I care for him though, I’m hoping he doesn’t catch any of the local birds. But if he does, it’s all part of nature, and we have to accept that cats have their own way of looking at the world. We’re not going to convince them to be vegetarians. Why, even Nechama likes to have a light repast of herring in the afternoon.

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Noga feeding Nechama a herring

The children come by from time to time, each one with stories of the real world. The world that is constantly changing and challenging. They too have their ups and downs, and I take great pleasure in watching how well they deal with it all. I often have the feeling that they’re handling life’s challenges better than I did, and have reached a style of existence that I could only dream of at their age. Which is an exquisite feeling. It seems to me that since the computer became part of everyone’s life, I’ve been living in the ‘future’. But now, with waze, that feeling has been intensified.

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my son, Jonah

When Jonah was here this week, he spoke of the probability that cars would drive themselves within his lifetime. And that the person who would otherwise be driving the car could be enjoying a cup of coffee, and still working while on his way from one point to another. I thought of how much I used to enjoy driving when I was a young man. But that changed long ago. I think it was when they forced us to wear seat belts. And now with all the traffic jams, it’s become something of a pain. Not to speak of the difficulties of parking in the big city. Yes, having a car drive itself would definitely be an improvement. Less people killed and maimed on the highways too.

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cottage cheese is a popular summer food

So let me wish you all (at least those who live in the northern hemisphere), a joyful summer, with easy going long days; good reading and studies, and the pleasure of successful work. May you enjoy pleasant communication with human and animal neighbors. Listen to good music. See beautiful sights,

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the park behind my home

material goods

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I learned about Black Friday when a friend asked me what it was. My first thought was that it was some sort of religious holiday. But then I checked it out on the internet. Though western culture is enthusiastically accepted in our country, there are many aspects of western life that haven’t made it here, and some things that are virtually unknown. Thanksgiving, for instance, as beautiful as it is, is a holiday we don’t celebrate. The act of giving thanks for what we have received is an integral part of our heritage. Likewise, Black Friday is unknown here.

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But yesterday, when hearing of lines of people waiting to be admitted to certain department stores, in anticipation of the sales available on black Friday, I was led to thoughts concerning our relationship to physical possessions.

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For me, religion is a vehicle for dealing with the conflicts and difficulties inherent in our human existence. And it occurs to me, that one of the characteristics of religion, even before the advent of monotheism, was giving and sacrifice. For some reason, man felt a need to give of himself to god. Today, we tend to look at idolatry and primitive religions, as something of a caricature. For many, the idea of a rain god, or god of the seas, a fertility god, or some special god who watches over the harvest, is patently absurd. But even today, many people remember or pray to a special saint when they’re worried about some aspect of their day to day lives.

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In our time, the mall has become one of the most visited and beloved institutions of the western world. It is not just a place to visit when you need clothing or tools with which to work. Most people go there for pleasure. They enjoy examining the wares on display. Time there, is considered entertainment, and I’ve often heard people describe the experience as a pleasurable one; improving their mood, and inspiring them to feel good.

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The photos shown here are of the Haas promenade in Armon Hanatziv, opposite the walls of the old city of Jerusalem. One can see Kipat Haselah, and the El Aktza mosque from the promenade, as well as many other parts of our city. The promenade was built in 1987, and people come every day to look at the city of Jerusalem, and to contemplate the holy temple which once stood on the temple mount, also known as Mt Moriah.

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The holy temple was an institution that provided health care, and psychological treatment, as well as religious counseling and ceremony. It was also a source of entertainment and learning. There were great concerts there with an in-house orchestra. People went to give thanks to god, and to pray for relief and success. On the three pilgrimage holidays, the city was filled with pilgrims who came from all over the country to bring s sacrifices to the holy temple. Those sacrifices included beasts that they raised, as well as fowl, fruit and grain. It was customary to choose the finest of one’s agricultural yield, as a sacrifice for the temple.

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Why this need for sacrifice? In English, we’re familiar with the proverb, ‘you can’t take it with you’. Most people, as they grow in awareness, become aware of the limits to the pleasure taken from physical objects. True, there is pleasure in a nice car and a beautiful house, and in fine tools, and art objects, comfortable furniture and toys. But there is also pleasure in knowing that that isn’t us. That these things are just an envelope surrounding us. And that in our center, there is something, almost indescribably, that is beyond the physical nature surrounding us.

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Those of us who eat meat deal with yet another paradox. We prefer to buy the meat as small geometric objects wrapped in nylon, ready to be roasted or cooked. The meat iyself has been disassociated from the animals from which it is taken. In the days of the temple, people brought their finest well loved farm animals as sacrifices, and these sacrifices reminded them of the temporary nature of all life. It inspired them to contemplate on their own impermanent presence in this world.

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I am sure that many of the people lining up to buy commodities on Black Friday are hoping to bring joy to their loved ones. And that, of course, is a worth while endeavor. But I can’t help wonder of those who throng the malls, haven’t chosen to distract themselves from the universal questions that trouble a man’s soul. Are we still missing something we had in the temple?

imperfection

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The strident cry of an ambulance siren on the freeway, coming in from the north… on it’s way to the hospital on mount scopus, not so far away… begs to remind the speeding drivers that at times, there are incidents even more important than their own intentions. The drivers slow for a moment, moving a little, left or right, to make way for the ambulance. It passes, and the traffic resumes its previous pattern.

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The sun is shining. The skies are blue. A few white cotton clouds floating up there. Blue and white above, and fierce geometric patterns of shadows falling from the corners of stone buildings opposite, across the street. In my pleasant room, there is a light breeze through the open window, and the sounds of overwhelming beauty from the guitar strings of Lanzboim coming through the speakers. The name of the album is ‘Beyond This World’. Life seems as beautiful as it can get. What happens now?

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In the garden of Eden, it seems that our first sin was rampant curiosity… or was it the temptation to experience the forbidden. And then came hatred, jealousy, and murder. I heard on the radio this week, of a young man who died from shooting some designer drug right into his veins. It had been intended for smoking. But he wanted a more intense experience. I hear of bungee-jumping. There are people out there looking for thrills. Sometimes it seems to me that the greatest sin is taking this world and the life we were given for granted.

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And on the other side of the street there are people struggling to overcome a handicap. Some were born blind, and others blinded by illness or accident, and are working hard to appreciate the world with their other senses. Despite their handicaps, they are trying to enjoy the world around them as much as you and I do. And it seems sometimes, as if a handicap can be a present from heaven, reminding us of how precious life is… how precious, that which we do have… and that which we can enjoy.

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A few weeks ago, we were on the balcony with Gila… on another beautiful day like this. We were drinking beer and soaking up the sun. Our friend Ilanit told me that she had heard somewhere that life is like riding a bicycle. If it’s easy, it means you’re going downhill. If it’s hard, it means your climbing. I liked that one.

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Yesterday, I had an early dinner with a friend in the Fortuna restaurant here in Jerusalem. It’s a modest restaurant. You would have trouble finding it, if you weren’t a resident of Jerusalem. The owner prepared the food, and carried it himself to our table. There were quite a few little plates with all kinds of different salads on them. The salads were wonderful… just as good as the main course. The photos on this post are from the machaneh yehudah neighborhood, where the restaurant is found.

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Sitting there, eating my meal, and talking with a friend… after having had my eyes examined by an optical cat scan, and thinking that even blindness might be an experience that could enable an appreciation of life… it occurred to me that we don’t really need a handicap to appreciate life… nor a bungee-jump for the thrill. It is enough to remember that life is a temporary experience. We’re here today, and gone tomorrow. And if we remember that, we should be able to treasure each day, and every experience that comes our way.

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Here in Jerusalem, we have another recipe for keeping life precious. Six days a week, we go about our work and play. And on the seventh, we take a break. A break from all the work and all the regular things; a celebration of life, of simple sensual pleasures like a good meal and a walk… of song… and reading a good book. It works most of the time. But, of course, there is always the temptation to break the rules. This evening, my Sabbath begins with the setting sun. My best wishes to my readers and friends.

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sheep in pasture

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Nechama looks out at the rainy day

Well, it’s winter again. I’m sitting opposite the window, watching the rain come down, and it’s cold outside. And because of all the windows here in my living room, some of that cold is getting in, despite the fact that I have double windows here. But I’ve added an extra heater to my arsenal, and have still another one ready and waiting if necessary, so it looks like I will be able to withstand the winter cold. But it’s not just a question of temperature. Looking out at a gray world has its effect too. It brings a somber mood.

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the light of winter

My thoughts go back to a week ago… and the trip we took, Chana and I, to the south. Though it was warm then, the skies were gray then too, because of the dust that had blown in from North Africa. That dust was uncomfortable, but there was fresh grass in the fields, brought by a spell of sunny days, and flowers all around. We visited a flower farm, and saw some beautiful flowers, meant to be placed on my table or yours, in a vase for decoration. That was the day we visited the book barn. And that was the day we saw the sheep grazing on the green grass that had come with the premature spring.

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rainy day seen through the window

Watching the sheep graze on the newly sprouted grasses was a great pleasure. I felt like I could easily spend a day just watching those sheep, and be satisfied. I watched the shepherd for a while. He sat comfortably with an eye on the sheep… not doing much… watching them eat and play. I thought of shepherds, and of those mentioned in the bible.

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goat trying to climb a tree

Jacob was a shepherd. So were Moses and King David. From the biblical standpoint, being a shepherd is considered good training for a leader of men. Jesus spoke of himself as a shepherd. Watching the sheep graze, though, I thought it much easier to take care of sheep. They didn’t seem to be nearly as troublesome as human beings. A little mischief here and there, but not much. And not many wolves to threaten the herd either. But there are livestock thieves around. I suppose that’s the worst threat to the shepherd these days. The characteristic that is most connected with the shepherd is that of compassion.

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sheep in the field

I watch the birds take advantage of a short break in the downpour, moving as a group from one roof top to another, down the street. The trees sway in the wind. The skies are getting darker, though we are still in the middle of the day. The cars on the nearby highway have their lights on. Nechama seems to enjoy watching the world go by from our elevated windows. And it’s warm here, behind the windows, I too enjoy the winter scene. I remember that only recently I spoke of not finding inspiration to photograph when it rains. Now I wonder if my new circumstances might not lead me to a new appreciation of winter.

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grazing sheep

The telephone rings. News of a friend with health problems in the north. Not the best weather for a trip. But life is full of surprises… and I see some large birds on their way to the horizon. Maybe there will be some interesting images along the way. Wishing my friends a joyous Sabbath, and a very happy Purim holiday.

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an alien I found on my table… it’s a date