Tag Archives: holiday

in honor of the temporary

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Riding a bicycle (though I haven’t done it for years) is an allegory for me on living life. We have to be constantly aware of balance, and at the same time are bolstered by the forward movement and the wheels going round, establishing centrifugal force. Though yin and yang is not part of the Jewish tradition, when I read about it in my study of eastern religions, I accepted it as an inherent part of life, familiar and inclusive. Each year we have the same holidays at the same time of the year. Are they repeat performances of something we’ve already done? Yes and no. Every week, we read a portion of the pentateuch. Is it the same each year? Again, yes and no.

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These cyclical events are in fact a repeated framework, and there is a general message that is enforced with each experience. But they are different for us each time we observe them. Each time we read a particular portion of the five books of Moses, we look at it differently, and examine it in the light of different commentaries and by comparing the historical chapter to things that have happened in or own lives, or bits of wisdom that may be understood in the context of our own experiences.

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The holiday of tabernacles comes at the start of our year, after celebrating the new year and having a day dedicated to soul searching and the acceptance of our own mortality. Tabernacles reminds us of our exodus from the slavery of Egypt, but we don’t usually dwell on the subject. I live in a stone house as do all of my neighbors, but once a year, we leave the comfort of our homes, and move into temporary booths which are considered home for a week. It is meant to remind us that all of life is temporary. That even the security of home is a temporary circumstance. We don’t suffer much from hurricanes or terrible earthquakes, so we have to take it upon ourselves to remember that the physical structures of our lives are not permanent. The roofs of our booths are built so that we will see the sky through the roof, and the walls of our temporary homes do not insulate us from the environment. On the outside, they all look pretty similar. But on the inside, they are usually decorated, and pictures may be added to make them as pleasant as possible.

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As the years go by, each year provides a very different experience, even though the framework remains the same. Many of us have used the same boards or tent cloth from year to year with very few changes. What’s important about the tabernacles is our own subjective experience, which changes from year to year. Of course, different people have varying enthusiasm towards custom and tradition. Some folks are satisfied to visit such a booth just once, or a few times maybe. They might choose to visit the booth of a friend, or sit in one set up by city administration, or by one of the many synagogues in our town. Those of us who are more religious will build their own booth, and spend more or less time in it. Most of those who have their own booth will eat their meals in the booth. And there are some people who are so adherent that they will not eat in any other place but a booth, which is called in Hebrew, a sukkah. A lot of the restaurants in town have set up booths for their customers to sit in while they eat. This custom is prevalent in our town.

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Among my family and friends it is common for us to eat all our meals in the sukkah, but only a minority insist on sleeping in the booth. Even so, this practice is respected. In my youth I often slept in the sukkah, but nowadays I’m no longer willing to give up the comfort of my own bed.

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The days of this holiday, this year, have been very intensive. I no longer have the strength I once had and was used to. And in this period of my life, it is wearing for me to spend a lot of time with people. Long conversations and continuous social activity wears me out, even though I have the very good luck of meeting with the finest of people, folks that I truly love. So I didn’t really expect that I’d have the strength to write a blog post today. I thought maybe I’d post a photo and leave it at that… maybe a photo and a link to some previous post. But then, I started searching out pictures of the holiday in past years, and I found so many that it was hard for me to choose. And while looking at old pictures, chose to check out some of the recent photos of family and friends in booths this last week, and that made it even harder. And now I’ve written all of this, so here’s another post on the festival of tabernacles.

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Restart

D099_96I wait each year to eat my first pomegranate on the second day of the holiday and say the blessing which marks the first time I eat a fruit in a year

We all know the experience… working on the computer with a few different tasks in our head. We have a number of open windows on the screen; maybe some different computer programs or applications working at the same time… We go from one to the other. And at some point the computer starts slowing down, if we’re lucky. It might also send us strange messages or make mistakes. Occasionally, the computer just freezes and we can’t get it to do anything. What do we do to deal with a problem like that? Well, if we’re lucky, and the computer hasn’t frozen, we close all the windows and the programs, and restart. In the worst case, we have to force a shut down, and then start from scratch.

Does this happen in real life?

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it is traditional to eat honey cake, and bread with honey, as a sort of blessing for the new year, that it be a sweet year

A healthy human being is usually so wrapped up in what he wants to do or what he expects, that when encountering little signs from body or mind, he virtually ignores them. It’s not that he can’t see these little hints. It’s that he’s so involved in whatever work he’s doing, that he’s already looking for ‘relevant’ information’. And the signals he’s getting to slow down or re-examine the way he’s going seem not relevant to him. It takes a great sense of relaxation to be able to recognize all that’s in our path, as we walk along a trail in nature. Maybe, if we were looking for a nice photograph, we would see more. But if we were looking for mushrooms, for instance, there would be a lot of things we might ignore.

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it is common to eat round challah on the New Year

The Jewish New Year, which will begin this coming Sunday evening (for all our days begin with the evening, followed by night, and then followed by day), is a ‘restart’ celebration for us. We bathe, and put on special holiday clothes. We join our families and friends. There are so many symbols and gestures, that I won’t even try to itemize them. But all of them are intended to remind us that we are experiencing a new beginning. And to do so, we have to put our lives in order, clean up, close open files, return tools to their proper places, pay up old debts, and start our life anew.

D1871_10the squill appears around this time, and reminds us of the season

And since we are aware of our own human failings, the new year holiday isn’t just one day. It is one day followed by another. We pray a special prayer with the start of the holiday. And this is followed by a feast on the first day, on a table usually covered by a white table cloth, on which all kinds of symbolic items are displayed. Many of us wear something white to remind us of the holiness of the day. Luxury and plenty are emphasized. And then the next day we do it all over again. The holiday is actually observed twice. Day after day. Because we know that sometimes we can do a thing without really throwing our heart in it. And that’s not all.

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a hand made street poster designed and put up by teenagers in the neighborhood to wish everyone a happy new year

Because we know human failings; because we know that people always put things off… even if we’re sure we’ll do them, we’re allowed 10 days after the new year, to put our lives in order. To search our hearts and search our minds for the sake of peace and closure. We ask forgiveness from our friends and relatives for our offenses. Then comes the day of atonement, in which we stand before god, and say, this is who I am. Such are my affairs. My business (and most private, personal cares) are an open ledger before you. And that day is a day of reckoning… mostly within our own hearts. The purpose of it all, is to appreciate life anew. To really, really live life. It is so easy to get carried away by our occupations, obsessions, and even taking care of business. Just as every seven days, we stop what we’re doing to celebrate the holy sabbath, so once a year, we settle our accounts and deal with all the things that have distracted us.

D2469_18it is common to eat apple dipped in honey on the first day of the new year

My best wishes to all my readers. May the new year bring with it peace and contentment for what we have; and wonder at what we can’t understand. May there be plenty for all, good health, and clear thinking. And most of all, love.

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celebrating lag b’omer

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yin & yang of independence day

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On the Jewish new year, we have a two day celebration, and there is a lot of feasting, and prayers and song… and then we have a fast day immediately after; it is called the fast of Gedalia in memory of a politician who got murdered about two thousand years ago. The fast day fits in right with the holiday, it is a built in anti-climax to the feast.

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This week we have Independence Day. It comes with a prologue. The day before is memorial day, and that gives us the opportunity to thank the soldiers who died in defense of our country immediately before celebrating our independence. Each year is somewhat different. There have been times when the excitement and happiness of the holiday filled me before I had adequately mourned for our fallen soldiers. And there were times when I managed to transcend from mourning into joy exactly as prescribed, on the eve of Independence Day.

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This year was different for me. I got into reveries of memorial day as never before. Could be because there has been a lot of politics in the air lately; a lot of political controversy here in Israel, and I couldn’t turn on the radio, even to hear the news without being exposed to an overdose of politics. And so, on memorial day, I chose not to listen to the radio as I usually do. Instead of listening to the stories of different soldiers who died in our many disparate wars, I thought back on some of my friends and relatives who had died in action. I got up in the morning and after a short prayer, started listening to a Jewish blues musician whom I thought could well accompany this day’s mood. I opened my mail, and there was a letter from my old friend Alan, who lives in the northern Negev. He wrote about memory and memories, which complemented some of my reflections.

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My thoughts were on the painful memories. How to deal with them. There was a time when I was much younger, that I wished to erase them from my mind. I thought I knew how to do that at the time. I left a message with my mind, ‘don’t ever remind me’. And a whole block of memories just disappeared from my thoughts. Till one day, I was struggling with new problems… and decided to do some soul searching. Well what do you know? A whole slew of unexpected memories awoke, all of them ready to party in my head. I tried to relate to them from the perspective of an older man. I wasn’t old then, but I’d had quite a bit of experience since I’d lived those earlier times, and I was able to think of them rationally. It occurred to me that I had been a different man when I had those earlier experiences. I had kept growing… I had kept changing. And the circumstances around me had changed. Thinking about it, those earlier memories were part of an incarnation that I had lived and left. There had been more than one reincarnations since then, and I was truly living another life today. It seemed I could look back and consider the events of that previous lifetime without suffering all the pain.

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Thinking back to fighting and war, losing a friend who was a true hero with a lion’s heart… another friend, who had been disadvantaged from childhood, and overcame a handicapped body, built a life for himself, and found a wife and started a family relatively late in life, only to be stabbed in the back by an Arab at a bus stop. He might not even have known what hit him. It’s a hot day in Jerusalem. A taste of summer in the spring. There’s something of a dust cloud over us, blocking out the blue skies. But they say it’ll cool down tomorrow and the skies will clear. It should be a good day for a celebration. I plan to go out on my balcony, and have a picnic there with friends. I used to go out to nature to have that picnic, according to the advice of Rabbi Cook. He said it would be proper to celebrate the holiday by walking at least four paces on our land where we’d never been before. And this was something I enjoyed doing. But then there were more and more people who did likewise, and now there are millions who go out on the holiday, and I don’t want to be caught in a traffic jam in my search for ‘nature’. So I find satisfaction on my back balcony, outside but still attached to home. When you’re fighting for your life… or your country, you like to think of the future, and your hopes for your survivors. You think of destiny. But on independence day this year, I’ll just enjoy the present. I’ll sit with my friends on the balcony, and open a bottle of wine. I’ll enjoy the freedom that those friends dreamed of when fighting our country’s battles.

another generation

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Passover is coming to a close. This evening we will celebrate the last day of the holiday which will continue through tomorrow. Then on Saturday we will continue eating matzot instead of bread, and maintaining the passover diet, because the sabbath will have arrived without giving us the time to change our pots and pans and dishes back to normal.

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The holiday was a continuous social event with many meetings of dear friends and relatives. I’ve grown used to a lot of solitary time, and found the emotional pitch, the many conversations… even meeting with so many very different individuals, somewhat enervating.

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What an intense experience it was to be in a room filled with my youngest grandchildren, each of them different, a world onto himself or herself, part of the family… and at the same time, part of a generation that I can barely understand. Looking at them and listening to them I became very aware of the new world and the new souls already on their way to replace almost all I’ve known in my lifetime.

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These young souls had great sensitivity, and much sensibility, though occasionally I would hear a blood curdling scream or a growl of discontent. So different from one another, and yet managing quite well to co-exist in peace. So many words. More than stars in the skies. I listened for a while, but just couldn’t keep up. I saw some youngsters putting together a building from plastic semi transparent and brightly colored plastic. Is this something like Lego, I asked. No, they explained. This is magnetic.

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Spent time with people of all ages, from the very young who had just recently learned to speak their minds to old folks like myself, and most of them were completely unconcerned with the things that usually occupy my mind. But that didn’t bother them or me. There were a lot of rickety old bridges between us, and we had no fear. We sat around long tables and short. Round tables too. And the variety of food was amazing.

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My biggest problem was the immense contrast between the light coming through the windows, and that within the rooms when visiting with some of my grandchildren. I would have had to photograph with flash in order to get some sort of balance in many of the pictures or arrange people in better relationship to the light. But I like to catch them as they are.

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I was reminded of the many stations of life I’d gone through, the decisions; turning a house into a home; finding a balance in life; bringing children into this world with my wife; learning the characters of those children, and building bridges. I’ve been reading a book by Wendell Berry called ‘Hannah Coulter’. Here’s a short passage from that novel: “Nathan and I had to get used to each other. We had to get used to being two parents to Little Margaret. We had to get our ways and habits into some sort of alignment, making some changes in ourselves that were not always easy. We had to get used to our house. We had to get used to our place. It takes years, maybe it takes longer than a lifetime, to know a place, especially if you are getting to know it as a place to live and work, and you are getting to know it by living and working in it. But we had to begin”.

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on every level

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

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

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

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

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

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

Purim Pics 2 (’18)

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I must be out of step with the universe these days… I told you about starting to work on one post, and then being distracted… and when I came back to finish it, I found myself writing another… which isn’t finished yet. Can you imagine, I have a number of unfinished posts languishing in a folder on my computer… begging to see the light of day. This led to last Friday when I spent a few hours downtown, thinking it might amuse you to see us amusing ourselves… I’d written about Purim a number of times, and didn’t want to repeat myself… but thought a few pics would be good. And took more than just a few, most of which I haven’t yet examined myself.

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And then this morning found myself traveling to the north of Israel by bus and train bringing back memories of half a century ago… (as an unexpected side effect of deciding I was too old to drive, I’ve been seeing more, and thinking more… even staring into space more, though a lot of good that does me); and if we’re talking about thoughts worth the telling, or sights worth the shooting, what about the dignity of that post called Purim Pics 1. If I were to interrupt that series by sending you shots of wild cyclamen… without even going to Purim Pics 2… would that be ridiculous? And if it was, would it matter? A typical Purim dilemma.

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And then I opened the Hebrew Paper on the train coming here, and saw an article about Stephen Hawking suggesting that he might know what happened before the big bang. No, don’t tell me it was the little bang. And it wasn’t. According to this article, he has no difficulty describing the nature of things 13.8 billion years ago. In case you were wondering about that, he assures us that time didn’t exist then, and the entire universe was about the size of a very dense atom. Hawking tells us that because the equations can’t explain what happened before the expansion, the universe materialized out of nothing. One of the talkbacks at the bottom of this article asked him if nothing existed before the big bang, would he be kind enough to make a shoelace. ‘Cause one of his (the reader’s) shoelaces tore as he was reading the article.

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That’s kind of what Purim is about. It’s the occasion where we remember that we take a lot of artificial and inauspicious things very seriously… and so doing, miss what’s really going on. I hate to remind myself, but some of us have trouble remembering what was in a book we read thirteen months ago. So now we’re going to entertain a theory on what happened 13 billion years ago?!