there is bliss on the day of judgment
גמר חתימה טובה
A new generation has taken over the world, and there are folks still around who don’t know it. Can you imagine that after the French or Russian revolutions… people just living their lives and not being aware of how history had recorded changes that would affect people everywhere in the world? But it happened then too. The world changed radically, as it changed during the Industrial Revolution, and there were a lot of folks who didn’t notice.
To those of you who feel heartbroken about Trump winning the US presidency; who are hoping with all your hearts that he will be impeached, I say to you, dry your tears, and go about your lives… try to find happiness. Because it doesn’t matter that Trump won. And in the long run, it won’t matter much. It was just a side issue. It wasn’t really that important.
Looking back, the French Revolution established a new set of values for our world. There was some instability after the revolution, a lot of cruelty, unnecessary deaths and impositions on innocent people, but that’s life. There’s no denying that the human being is a cruel animal. This latest revolution, which I refer to as the Digital Revolution, is much more than the start of a new technological era. It encompasses all the activities and the beliefs of man, and by the time it’ll be accepted by the vast majority, the past will be almost completely forgotten. Of course, there’ll be a few historians who’ll remind those interested of what happened before the new age of enlightenment. But for most, all that was before this millennium will be included in the ‘dark ages’.
I don’t know how it was for those of my readers who live in countries around the world, but I can tell you I was amazed that on the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution there was no mention of it in the media, here in Israel. Such an earthshaking event. Forgotten. There were some really fine Israelis too, who though they were living fully active lives at the time, and bringing about the rebirth of Israel as a politically independent state, gave up everything and ran to ‘help the revolution’. Most of them died in the gulag, or were killed by Stalin, and never heard from again.
Back in the days when I was a child, people were still arguing whether the ends justified the means. And if you’re young, you may be surprised to learn that there were some very intelligent and good hearted people who insisted that the ends did justify the means. Their thinking went something like this, “I really hate having to kill Millie the turkey. But Thanksgiving is getting close, and folks have to eat”. While watching Stalin fight Hitler, many enlightened minds were willing to forgive his excesses. But after World War II, most if not all of those same people came to the conclusion that the end doesn’t justify the means, and drummed that particular truth into the next generation.
I don’t think they’re going to put an end to gambling this time… or an end to eating meat. But they will put an end to smoking tobacco, and will allow smoking cannabis. They’ll legitimize homosexuality, create an environment more friendly to women, and there’ll be a completely different attitude towards family. If we were worried once about the population explosion, it now looks as if that will no longer threaten us. And were it not for hatred and war, we could very likely insure that there’d be no hunger in the world. There is speculation that soon hard work won’t threaten us. And since the less we work, the less we want to work, we’ll have more time to dream… and to dream up collective worries. For instance, that life is so empty… that there’s no meaning to existence…
I remember asking my father when I was a child… what is this business of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Why do we still learn such savagery? He answered me, No, that’s not savagery. That’s justice. If we were to trust to the magnanimity of the human heart, there’d be at least two eyes to pay for the one… and more likely, ten.
We were talking about mysticism, enlightenment, and understanding life itself, a conversation with a friend that stayed with me and accompanied me as I went out to take a walk the next day, Nechama with me, taking her own steps in the park behind our home. She’s never on a leash, but sometimes she walks with me, by my side. This time she was smelling the flowers and the leaves of the plant life in the garden. There were no dogs about, so she was quite relaxed, and it was early enough in the day for the weather to be pleasant. The very best of summer weather.
Now and then, I would get too far ahead of her, and she would run to catch up. But when we got back to walking, it didn’t take much time till she was sidetracked again by the pleasures of nature.
I’d been thinking of writing about the experiences remembered in last night’s conversation, levels of consciousness and intuition, as I watched Nechama investigating the familiar plant life, knowing that she was sensitive to signs and history that I didn’t see, and it occurred to me that I had not yet shared with you the great respect I feel for friendship between human beings and members of other species.
Maybe because I myself am a city boy, born and raised… and having lived almost all of my life in the city, there’s always been an underlying fear that we human beings have distanced ourselves from other forms of animal life, and have become more and more complacent within the human bubble, surrounding ourselves with man made inventions, and often preferring two dimensional fantasy to confrontation with nature.
Usually when we think of pets, we think of the companionship that they provide. Sometimes even when locked in a cage, or swimming in a small body of water in an aquarium. But there is more to relating to an animal, and as one grows closer to the animal one learns to feel the joy and the pain of that other species… and there is always that chance of finding answers to the very questions we ask ourselves.
I believe that the dog is the most popular pet in the world, and he is known as man’s best friend. In Hebrew, the very word ‘dog’ means ‘like a heart’ when literally translated into English. I had already lived a full life when I first became friends with a dog, and though I had always treasured my many meetings with different animals, both domestic and wild, I discovered a new (to me) level of communication with that bitch.
My first relationship with an animal began when a cat took interest in me, and initiated friendship. I was a small boy at the time, wary of all human company, and had taken a chair and a book to read in the shade of a tree. When the cat approached, I was too shy to even pet him, so we locked eyes and looked at one another for the longest time. And that cat made the moves. Since then I have had similar contacts with many different mammals and birds. It has often been an awesome experience. Occasionally there have been misunderstandings or severe differences. I have experienced happiness and sorrow. I’ve learned from animals so, so much, and the most I’ve learned from cats.
When reading Theodore Roosevelt’s autobiography, I came across a couple of bear stories, including one in which the bear almost did him in. While reading that book I felt love and respect for Roosevelt, and so it was almost painful for me that I was unable to share with him (he died before I was born) my own confrontation with a bear in which we eventually sat down face to face in a forest at night, and shared the space in peace. Of course, Roosevelt had been hunting at the time, and it’s hard to get on even footing with another living thing once you’ve been hunting him.
I know that too from my own experience, though I never hunted an animal with a gun. But when I was still a very young man, I met a buck deer in the forest once. He was very cautious at first, but satisfied himself that I was not going to do him any harm. And so we stood there for a while, about two meters separating us in this small clearing. He might have been interested in food, but I offered him none. And then when I’d gotten pretty relaxed and figured he felt the same, I reached for my camera, and lifted it in front of my eyes. It was at that moment that he lunged forward and kicked me in the chest with one of his legs before running away. He knocked me down. I’ve been a little more cautious about photographing without permission since.
We sat around the table in my patio last night… a few friends sampling the different cheeses that Mariana and Paul brought back from Bucharest. I had prepared the old fashioned rye bread, and my friends put together the cheeses, salads and vegetarian enchiladas to make a satisfying dinner to be eaten outdoors. There was a full moon in the sky. We drank a spritz, white wine and soda. It brought back memories of our more sophisticated friends who would have been revolted by mixing good wine with soda… there are all kinds of blasphemy in this world.
And talking about the past (when spritz was more accepted), it didn’t take long till we got to the future. Paul was telling me about Harari’s latest book which he saw selling like watermelons at the open market when he visited the book fair there. ‘Ah, they have the book fair there too’, I asked. ‘All over the world’, he said. Harari’s book is about the future. He sees the start of the new epoch too. He sees it as the end of the organic age. Everything, including biology will be designed by computer.
I suppose it’ll give us a lot of free time… not only because the computer is well known as a time saving device, but also because we won’t have to waste good time arguing whether computers exist or not. Everyone’s in agreement about that.
He had spent the spring meditating on Gnosticism, and gave us a short run down on the essence of such studies. Materialism is evil, but the gnostics didn’t bother with pitting good against evil; they were dedicated to releasing the real god from the spark found in every human being (maybe in every living thing?) Instead of denouncing sin, they denounced ignorance, which explains why there are so many agnostics running around these days. Basically, it’s mysticism, so if we have the patience we can wait, and soon Hollywood stars will be explaining it to us. And since it persevered all the way to China in the last millennium, it might be just the religion appropriate to the global village.
What did I learn? That if you have a beautiful river running in front of your living room window, it is likely to be accompanied by a super highway which will emanate the roar of fast moving up to date motor vehicles. At night you might hear motorcyclists racing one another which is more like a soul shattering whine. If you have a beautiful park behind your house, it’s very likely that it’ll be chosen as a perfect venue for a rock concert if you’re lucky, or a convention of the young enlightened with trance music in the background if your luck has turned. On the other hand, the leaves are greener in Europe, whereas the bureaucracy is further entrenched.
For dessert we had cherry muffins that Mariana had made herself, and one of our number (I’m not naming names), applied an edible plastic whip cream to the top of the muffin which no doubt gave a taste of the future to come. Oh, it’s wonderful to sit outdoors while still enjoying all the comforts of home, and welcome the summer.
Believing, as I do, that everything is connected means you can study something years ago; let it slip away till it’s a faint ghost of a memory, and then realize later that it’s still applicable, though you’d given it up for lost… locked in a previous context.
When I first started using a PC, and was working intensely, I would get to the point where there was a marked slowing in the ability of the computer to compute. Sometimes it would send me crazy irrelevant messages… until I realized that I needed to defragment the hard disk. No big deal. It just took quite a while… and I’d usually give it some time by itself, till it finished its work. Fragmentation of the hard disk is caused by the dispersal of bits of memory in non contiguous areas. Say, if I had a special drawer in my study, reserved for ‘important papers’… and when my friends would give me advise on how to make money or influence people, I’d ask them to write it all down and then I’d put the notes in that same drawer. I put my insurance policies there too, you know, the warrantees for the refrigerator, the washing machine, and the occasional computer I might buy… and of course post cards from friends and a drawing from a grandchild would go in that drawer too. I remember getting a check one time for a translation, or maybe it was taking a picture back in the days when you actually got paid for taking a picture… and it was raining so I didn’t really feel like going to the bank, and was going to put it in that drawer, but the drawer was filled to capacity, so I just put it between the pages of the book I was reading. And then there was the time when the pizza delivery guy came, and wasn’t able to change a 200 shekel note. I remembered that I had put something in a book. So I open the book on my desk, which is a dictionary of ‘full’ spelling of Hebrew words, in contrast to the traditional spelling, which used to be fine for scholars (the traditional), but was replaced by full spelling in an effort at standardization and the vain dream of avoiding misunderstandings.
In going through the dictionary, I come across a bill of 100 shekels (or was it liras) with the image of Herzl on it, but that bill, though a collectors item, had gone out of currency long ago, and, I had to check book after book trying to find enough dough to pay the delivery boy… that’s fragmentation in my world.
Defragmentation is the moving of those bits of memory so that particular memories will be arranged in a contiguous manner, saving space, and making things easier to find. Nowadays, the computer is so smart it can automatically decide to put our house in order once a week, and even at 3:00 am, so as not to disturb me, though I’ll admit that I do sometimes wake up at 2:45 and go to the computer to check out what Wikipedia has to say about wells in the desert or some such pressing issue.
We’ve been fragmented. We live in little houses by ourselves. We’ve been cut off from family and childhood friends. We have no room in our homes for the aged; no time to take care of them. We send them off to institutions. We send our mentally unbalanced off. We send our cripples and those born with ‘birth defects’. We leave behind us the wise and the experienced when they are no longer productive. We sit in our cars for hours, on our way to work or on our way home, finding ways to kill time so we won’t burn away from frustration. We’ve forgotten where we come from and where we’re going. We amass possessions that interest us for a short time until they’re replaced by new flashy toys; plastic boxes with LED monitors exhibiting maps, contacts and play lists. Boxes that take pictures, and can hear us when we ask for a song.
The environment is not just the planet and the hole in the ozone over Australia. It’s the neighbor you don’t know living in the apartment over your head, and the fellow who takes the garbage away, and the clerk in the store. There’s a saying I heard years ago… ‘you can’t take it with you’. It doesn’t just apply to money. It includes all the rest. The shoes and clothes, the car we drive, the refrigerator that makes ice cubes, the TV and the telephone… even time. It’s all temporary. There was a time when we had to work for a while most days so that we’d have something to eat and clothes to keep us warm when the weather got cold. Then we invented machines which could do some of the work and save us time. But strangely enough, we had less time. Now we don’t speak of time saving devices, because that illusion has faded.
And through it all, the rat race, and standing in a line on the sidewalk, in the middle of the night, waiting for Apple to open their doors and sell their newest version of the telephone that is smarter than we are, we have momentary memories of happiness… memories of thinking that life is precious. Will we find that happiness again if we spend a weekend in Italy? Or in the Virgin Islands? Is there anything better than looking at nature through 3D eye glasses that can follow status updates and take pictures of the parking lot we’re wandering through, looking for the car we displaced?
Aldous Huxley said, “I wanted to change the world, but I have found that the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself”.
Maybe it’s time for social defragmentation. Freedom is the most precious commodity in life. let’s not waste it. Let’s not waste life itself.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.