Tag Archives: life

hindsight

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I recently reread Winston Churchill’s ‘The Second World War’ after which I reread Michael Bar Zohar’s biography of David Ben Gurion in Hebrew. Not the English translation which fits into 426 pages, but the 3 volume Hebrew edition which is 1604 pages long, not counting notes and bibliography. Both of the narratives are fascinating, and cover much of the same time frames from two very different perspectives. In another book I’d read on the politics of Israel at the beginning of the 20th century, there was a comparison of Ben Gurion to Churchill. Since I had read Churchill and learned to respect and admire the man, I thought long and hard about the comparison.

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There are two more or less accepted attitudes regarding the influence of individuals on history. The first is that there are certain unique individuals in history who are able, because of their brilliance or amazing talents… sometimes with the help of a charismatic personality, to rally together a great many other people and produce noteworthy changes in human society or change history by invention or war. The second attitude regards the individual as less important. The exponents of this theory see the progress of humanity as great collective social structures which reach certain strategic planes at which time the most fitting candidate takes the lead in the same way that a dominant lion becomes the leader of a pride. They believe that at any specific time, there are a number of candidates who could take it upon themselves to fill the same role.

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If we look at historical inventions, for instance, we can see that often the same inventions were created in different places at approximately the same time, without knowledge of one another. On the other hand, if we were to study the history of chess, we would see that throughout, there were always chess champions, but some of them were so much more imaginative, that they are thought to be the greatest of all time. When I looked at these two great men, one of whom led his people through a terrible challenge and saved his country from defeat and destruction, and the other who tried to save his people and failed, but who re-established a nation state that had been vanquished and dispersed two thousand years ago, I saw something that I had missed at first read; something they both had in common.

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Both had a vision at an early age and committed themselves to serving their nations in a great way, and they both prepared themselves for the job with severe self discipline. They were both very talented individuals, but more than anything else, they were professionals. That is to say, despite the righteousness of their cause, and their emotional dedication to their goals, they never lost sight of the practical limitations of the circumstances in which they operated. Both of them had to accept choices that were hard for them to live with. They had to be objective about what they could and couldn’t do. They had to accept defeat and continue onward.

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I mentioned in my blog of two weeks ago, after-ache, that I had been studying the beginnings of the modern Jewish State. Now there have always been Jews living in Israel, but it was only in the late 19th and the 20th century that relatively large groups started returning to our home country, the country in which we are the indigenous population. First Theodore Herzl, then Chaim Azriel Weizmann and David Ben Gurion worked to reestablish the state of Israel, and convince the nations of the world that we too deserved a homeland. Coming as I do from a minority group within the Jewish people, it was not that difficult for me to be objective about Ben Gurion, our first prime minister here in Israel, and to compare his vision to what we actually got. When I read that biography the first time, I thought he was a great man, but also made some big mistakes. Looking at him now, I am reminded of the many writers who claimed that after they’d created their characters, they just couldn’t force those characters to act in a certain way… the characters had a will of their own.

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I now believe that history as it unravels, in ever changing circumstances, has it’s own momentum that won’t be bent by man. We can make the most of circumstances, can use our talents to save a hedgehog or teach a kitten to climb a tree, but even with the help of all of mankind’s wisdom and talent, including the wondrous power of the computer, there’s just no way we can make a hedgehog or a kitten. There was no way he could make Israel the way he wanted and hoped it would be, but he had the capacity to understand what it had to be, and that in itself was a type of genius. He was a midwife to the rebirth of our country, and in my heart I believe there was no one else at the time that could have taken his place. There are many quotes by him to choose from, but here’s two that might be the keys to his success.

In Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles.

Courage is a special kind of knowledge: the knowledge of how to fear what ought to be feared and how not to fear what ought not to be feared.

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for better or worse

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We may have been born blind or ugly, with a twisted body. or a body that turns out too short, or too long, or with skin of the wrong color. We may develop disadvantageous habits such as eating too much or biting our fingernails. We may have some borderline personality disorder or be Bipolar or have one of the many different mental diseases that are still part of the human landscape. We could get some terrible illness like Degenerative Muscle Disease or Alzheimer’s Disease. Some of these disadvantages are a matter of luck. And others reflect on poor decisions, and choices. A person who drives a motor vehicle while drunk might pay for it with a lifetime as a cripple, much worse than any punishment the court would sentence. But that’s life. There isn’t much we can do about that.

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I could tell you about my own personal life, my bad luck, and my failures. But I’m a person who values privacy. When I go out into public, I prefer to be fully clothed. And when in social discussion, prefer to hear of what people enjoy eating and not about their bowel movements. But if I don’t mention them, it’s not because I want you to think that I don’t shit.

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We arrive here in this, our common world, each person with his own talents and limitations, and we have to make do with what we have. It’s our life, and it’s there for the taking from the time we reach maturity till our death. We can find inspiration in the choices of Helen Keller or Stephen Hawking who were able to overcome severe disabilities. We may read the thoughts of the great thinkers recorded in history since the invention of writing. But finally, it is up to us to find our own way and enjoy this period of time we have on earth.

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There was a time when I enjoyed mountain climbing, sleeping on the ground, eating minimal rations which I could carry on my back, and learning what I could about this world. I lived a good life… maybe even, a few good lives, from my perspective. But now, like Saul who put away his toys when he was grown, I’ve given up the pleasures of my earlier days, and have tried to enjoy the possibilities affordable to an oldster. I miss the libraries I used to visit, miss the high mountains, miss driving with all the windows open across the warm desert, picking a spot to make camp, and finding a universe hidden in the wide wild open. But the computer compensates somewhat for the loss of libraries, and I have the advantage of enjoying the parks, and the cozy corners of this city I live in. We even have islands in the midst of thoroughfares in which flower bushes, different greenery and vines are planted.

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Of course, in my city as in every city, there are better spots, and places which I try to avoid. Usually it’s a matter of choice. Even when I go from one place to another in this city, I don’t always travel the shortest distance. It’s important to me that I enjoy myself while traveling, even if it takes a little longer. I think, how good it is when it takes a little longer and I’m enjoying myself all the way there.

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When I hear the exploits of people richer than myself, how many cars and houses they have, airplanes and yachts, I’m happy for them. I wish them happiness and peace and satisfaction. I know it takes very little to live. And fortunately, I don’t see any hungry people here in the society around me. There are people driven by unquenched desires, but that isn’t hunger as I know it. When I see people living according to twisted values, what used to be called worshiping false gods, I know it’s not my place to steer them against their will towards the good. Everyone has to make their own choices. I tried to influence my own children, but I learned that those with the right stuff, eventually found the right way. And now I believe that it’s best only to give advice when you’re asked for it. Otherwise, it doesn’t usually help anyway.

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Since I feel I’m talking to friends on this, my page on the internet, I feel free to offer a piece of advice here and there, You can read it or skip past to find something more interesting. Some people prefer to look at the pictures without struggling through the text. That’s fine too. As for myself, I make an effort to find those places in which I feel best. Even in my own home, there are more preferable places and less. Outside of the home, there’s a whole world to be found in the city in which I live.

D2715_06this is my home, with clouds above… the room that juts out, with wooden boards between the windows and the roof is my living room

The olive trees posted here are found in the liberty bell park. The park was named in honor of the USA because we admire their aspiration for freedom. Olive trees are native to our land, and there are many stories about them and their wonderful fruit. I’ll share just one that I particularly like. There were priests in the holy temple whose job it was to extract oil. They would squeeze each olive just one time, and the oil from that squeeze was gathered in a vessel. It was called ‘pure olive oil’ and was reserved for the eternal flame. The rest of the olive was used for all the regular needs, as food and oil.
Wishing everyone a very good weekend.

a commentator on the affairs of man

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Nechama and Shimon

A couple of weeks ago, on June 21, Charles Krauthammer, an American commentator and syndicated columnist died at the age of 68. In his senior year at McGill University he was editor of the school newspaper, the McGill Daily and this led him to define his political and social attitudes. He wrote that he disliked the politics of certainty and the politics of the extreme (Maoism was quite popular there in the 60s) and as an editor, decided to go the way of pluralism, which was not so popular then. After completing his studies he went on to Oxford, studying political philosophy. He later wrote, ‘…my muse for this prudential view of the possibilities of politics: John Stuart Mill, whose On Liberty is the foundational document of classical liberalism’.

Krauthammer continued studying, becoming a doctor of medicine at Harvard, and afterwards specialized in psychiatry. His first introduction to real life politics was when he went to Washington, D.C., to direct planning in psychiatric research under the Carter administration. In 1980 He began work as a commentator, and joined the Washington Post in ’84 where he worked as a regular columnist till his death.

Though I was not a follower of his, and read only a few of his columns through the years, I was impressed by his rationality and his humor, and bought his book, ‘Things that Matter’, which is an autobiographical study of his thoughts and ideas through his working life. Though he has been labeled a conservative, or neoconservative, by my standards he seemed a liberal. He explained the seeming contradiction himself when speaking of his hero. ‘Mill held that truth emerges from an unfettered competition of ideas and that individual character is most improved when allowed to find its own way uncoerced’. That was the liberal view in the 19th century. But in the 20th century, ‘Modern liberalism’s perfectionist ambitions seek to harness the power of government, the mystique of science and the rule of experts to shape both society and citizen and bring them both, willing or not, to a higher state of being’.

While still a student, he deliberated whether to make his career in science or in medicine. ‘I had long preferred the graceful lines of physics to the ragged edges of biology. But at 16, I’d come to the realization that I didn’t have what it took to do important work in theoretical physics, namely genius. I chose medicine. I have no regrets. It was challenging and enlarging. I absorbed more knowledge in those seven years than at any other time in my life’. After that, as a commentator, he discussed a great many of the issues that confront contemporary man, and western society with a very open minded and self revealing attitude.

He criticized culture and art; the morality of stem cell research and genetic engineering; the Me Generation, the cult of the body, family and children; gender issues and abortion. He considered religion, and the religious characteristics found in idealistic secularism. In writing about individual and collective guilt, individual and collective punishment, he argued well against the conventional attitude towards collective punishment. He discussed the existential anxiety of man alone in the universe. He examined change and revolution, and the influence of technology on our common culture. He scrutinized racism, both in its classical forms and its derivatives in our society. He studied the problem of gun control. Through his running commentary of the philosophical problems confronting us because of social changes and technological and scientific progress he was aware of the irony that the arts, physics, music, mathematics and other manifestations of human genius are dependent on politics. As he said: ‘Because if we don’t get politics right, everything else risks extinction’.

Regarding stories in the media about the personalities of politicians and social leaders, he wrote: ‘As a former psychiatrist, I know how difficult it is to try to understand the soul of even someone you have spent hundreds of hours alone with in therapy. To think that one can decipher the inner life of some distant public figure is folly. “Know thyself” is a highly overrated piece of wisdom. As for knowing the self of others, forget it. Know what they do and judge them by their works’.

He recognized that violence has become a serious threat to the well being of society, pointing out possible causes. ‘We live in an entertainment culture soaked in graphic, often sadistic, violence. Older folks find themselves stunned by what a desensitized youth finds routine, often amusing. It’s not just movies. Young men sit for hours pulling video-game triggers, mowing down human beings en masse without pain or consequence. And we profess shock when a small cadre of unstable, deeply deranged, dangerously isolated young men go out and enact the overlearned narrative’.

I believe that at his core, he was an optimist. He was constantly looking for solutions. He believed that America had become a democratic success because it aspired to the greatest possible freedom for the individual. Yet he realized that increasing public safety almost always means restricting liberties. In discussing the right of the citizen to carry weapons, he concluded by weighing the two alternatives, both of which were a loss of freedom. Which is better he asked, to outlaw weapons or to perform invasive searches on people going about their private business every time they enter an airport or a public building?

moral qualms

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We live in different countries, different cultures, speak different languages, but the spirit of the time, the zeitgeist affects us all. When I think back to the 60s, I remember the strong feeling I had then, that people were reexamining their values, and that the world would never again be as it was before. A conversation comes back to me from those days. I was sitting with my parents on their balcony and my father was discussing the similarity of scientific research on both sides of the iron curtain. Perhaps this was after Sputnik, that first venture into space. I remember saying something about changing attitudes, especially on college campuses. My mother turned to me and said, “Every generation thinks that they’re going to change the world.” I remember thinking, but this generation is really different, though I didn’t say it. I respected her perspective.

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Back then there were folks coming from all over Europe to volunteer on kibbutz. Young people were rejecting the crass commercialism of the 50s, and even in America, there were new experiments in communal living. Free speech was the battle cry of youth. Forward thinking people were building homes and public facilities based on geodesic engineering. But looking back, the effect of that cultural revolution was short lived. What remains of those bright eyed and long haired revolutionaries is not much more than the obsessive use of the word fuck in Hollywood movies.

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Here in our country, a new law is being discussed in parliament which is intends to put an end to prostitution. Any person caught hiring the services of a prostitute would be made to pay a sizeable fine. If caught a second time, he would pay double the fine. And after that, might face criminal prosecution. As expected, there were protests from the ‘working girls’, and a television program pointing out the advantages of such employment for handicapped people who might suffer were it not for the release provided by such service. But most of the progressive people in our society support the legislation. Women too. Our Minister of Justice is a fine, intelligent and serious thinker, and she was for the law. And the head of our socialist leftist party, also a woman, was pushing for it.

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When Israel achieved statehood after being a colony of Great Britain, we inherited an English law prohibiting homosexual activity. Though I am a religious Jew, and we believe that male homosexuality is a perversion and contrary to the injunctions of the bible, I supported the repeal of this law. Believing in ‘live and let live’, I don’t think the state should get involved with a person’s private life. On the subject of homosexuality, it is interesting to note that the Greeks and the Jews disputed this issue more than 2000 years ago. The Greek standpoint was that homosexual relations were on a higher level than heterosexual love, because they weren’t necessitated by self-perpetuation.

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Nowadays, there are many examples of the state’s involvement in the lives of citizens. Compulsory schooling is already taken for granted in all western countries. We have recently seen the heavy handed approach to smoking, while at the same time there is a growing tolerance of Marijuana. In the past, the US made a great effort to prohibit the imbibing of alcohol, which caused havoc and the loss of lives. But these days, the common attitude is to encourage individual liberties.

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Prostitution is an immoral act, and has become an allegory for a great variety of distasteful behavior, including the self promotion of politicians, journalists, and business men. But if two consenting adults agree to have sex in exchange for money, is it our business to interfere? What if a rich man or woman suggests a date with a younger indigent person? Will that too be against the law? Will we allow discrimination against the obese? Israel already has a law against pimping. The law hasn’t been very effective, especially since the arrival of the internet. Because women looking for that sort of business can advertise without an agent. If this new law will work, it’ll deprive a minority of their freedom. And if it doesn’t work, it’ll demean still further the respect of society for law and government.

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I believe its important that laws are made to protect the society within a framework representing consistent values. It is very sad to see the constant growth of laws and ordinances to the point where an individual is easily strangled by the heavy weight of never ending paperwork, and where changing fashions dictate the lives of all, including personal preferences. Appearing before a court is an expensive enterprise and we are becoming completely dependent on lawyers for dealing with the judicial system.

The photos on this post describe a visit to my favorite market, Machaneh Yehuday, and dinner at a restaurant there with my dear friend Noga.

so-called peaceful demonstration

This week all of Israel rejoiced at the opening of the American Embassy in Jerusalem. Though Jerusalem has been our capital for 3000 years, the nations of the world have found some pleasure in ignoring that. And the fact that since the establishment of the modern state of Israel, this city has been the nation’s capital. I heard that in a few countries, some folks were so outraged that they got out on the street to demonstrate against the US for moving its embassy to our city. I hope those were peaceful demonstrations.

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In 1948, after the UN approved a partition plan for the area that had been previously known as Palestine, four Arab nations invaded us, declaring that they were going to push us into the sea. It wasn’t the first time. There had been murderous attacks against us by Arab Moslems for 100 years. I can’t begin to tell you how surprised these Arabs were when they realized that we, bookish and spoiled Jews, were fighting back. And they were unable to complete their project. They celebrate a day of mourning when we celebrate Independence day. Nakba means catastrophe, and they consider the independence of Israel the catastrophe rather than remembering that they themselves caused the disaster by making war on us when we were ready and willing to share with them, accept the UN partition, and live together in peace. Since then, there have been wars with Israel’s neighbors every few years. This is very painful for us, because we are a peace loving people. We are also a compassionate people. We would rather be doing all kinds of other things than making war. But when people openly say that they are working to exterminate you, it makes you cautious.

After the war we provided the Arabs living in our country with citizenship and all the freedoms that we enjoy. The Israeli Arabs enjoy a standard of living far higher than the average for the middle east, and freedom of speech that it is incomparable with any other country in this area of the world. In fact, we have Arab members of parliament who regularly denounce us and lie about us to our faces.

The so-called occupied territories were not taken from any other nation. They were included in the Balfour Declaration published by the British Government in support of the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. The Pals embraced the four countries that invaded us, and were appropriated by Jordan after the ’48 war. In 1967 we once again were promised by our Arab neighbors that they were going to destroy us and push us into the sea, and after one of our ports was blockaded, we moved first, and hit them in the nose. That war is known as the 6 day war.

In 2005, our prime minister, Ariel Sharon, decided to try an experiment for peace. He ousted 10,000 Jewish families from the Gaza strip, so that the Arabs could live in peace without Jews to bother them. They received farms and hot houses, and all kinds of modern facilities which they could use to build their own little county. A few short years later, the radical Islamic terrorists of Chamas received more votes in an election than the PLO, and started replacing public officials and clerks by dropping them out of 8 story windows.

The PLO had not taken any pains to develop the land that they had received. They had destroyed almost everything. But they did build luxury homes for the rich. They had a few night clubs and a marina. Then when the Chamas took charge, the whole society went on war footing. The children went to terrorist summer camps, and I actually saw the videos of children with war paint on their faces, and toy rifles in their hands practicing jumping through rings of fire so that they would know how to invade Jewish cities, and kill Jews. Then we had a few wars. I don’t know their names in English. I might have even forgotten a few names in Hebrew. I wouldn’t say that we won. But I can assure you that they didn’t either. The Chamas spent all of it’s resources to make weapons. They are making tunnels to cross the border and attack Jewish villages. They used one of those tunnels to attack a group of soldiers, and kidnapped one of them which they took back to Gaza. After bombarding us with rockets for quite some time, we developed a system which intercepts missiles and rockets. After a series of failures in making war against us, but some success in murder and mayhem, they devised a new plan.

This project is called peaceful civilian demonstrations. Just like in Europe which refuses to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the Pals of Gaza refuse to accept Israel as a state at all. They want the return of Palestine. They explained to their poor starving people that Israelis don’t shoot at women and children, so they need a lot of women and children in the demonstrations. And cleverly they salted the demonstrations with a relatively small number of blood hungry murderers and vandals. These hoodlums flew kites over the border fence; with attached incendiary devices, which burned the fields of the farmers on the other side of the border. They stormed the Pal side of the border crossing, destroying everything in it, even though this is a life line for them by which Israel sends 100s of trucks bearing food and equipment for them every day. They even destroyed the pipes which bring them natural gas for cooking and heating. And you can learn from this that the blockade that they complain about all the time is not a complete blockade. We don’t want them to suffer. We just don’t want them to import any more weapons. Still the Chamas appropriates the money and goods sent by donor countries, and invests it all in their fight. They are militants. When they started tearing down the border fence (after burning tires to make a lot of smoke so that we wouldn’t see what they were doing), we started shooting.

I just read that we have a new weapon. It was put into use for the first time on Nakba day, the day after the 60 fatalities at the border fence. This is a stink bomb which is dropped by a UAV on a riotous crowd. Let’s hope it works.

yesterday

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almond blossoms at the top of the little hill where I live in Jerusalem

When I came into this world, it was hell on earth. My earliest memories are of nightmare qualities. My parents, who were orthodox Jews, were married by ‘arrangement’. and complemented each other in a strange and unexpected manner. My father didn’t really want to bring any children into this world, but my mother wouldn’t hear of such a plan. It was either marriage with children or no marriage and he agreed. In an attempt to offer me some consolation, he suggested that I read history, and this I did. It gave me a wider perspective of human affairs. My mother, on the other hand, told me of the good in the world. She tried to share with me what she loved about life. She was an incurable optimist.

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Nechama my cat does not believe in religion or any ideology. she looks at life from the ground up. she has an exaggerated faith in me. but when we’re taking a walk together and she sees a dog in the area, she hides behind a bush or up in the tree. she doesn’t rely on me to save her.

As a young man I started my learning with the study of religion, and from there I continued to mechanics, science and engineering. This was simply because Jewish people could not feel safe in any country. They had been driven out of one country after another and been forced to adjust to endless changes in language and cultures. The study of engineering or mechanics would allow me to feed myself and my family regardless of where I might have to go to find shelter. But after securing a professional base, I found myself drawn to philosophy. As I would read the thoughts of different philosophers, I was convinced almost every time, identifying with the thinker, and adopting his point of view until I came across the next which I would adopt too. I was naive and trusting when reading these volumes by intelligent rational people… well, some of them were rational. Eventually, I came to existentialism, and this was more or less where that search ended. I tried to live the present. Not to reach out in hope and prayer for the future… not to entertain fantasies about what could happen, and what I wanted to happen. And not to look back… because in my case, I couldn’t even take a peek without inadvertently seeing images of a blood drenched inferno, being beaten up, and tortured by fear.

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she’s an old one eyed cat, but she hasn’t run to fat. she watches the birds on the hill without disclosing her opinions

For most of my life, I continued on this path. And as I’ve mentioned many times in this journal, my life became better and better. To the point where after sixty some years, dying quietly on the floor of my college office after a heart attack, I argued with an ambulance paramedic who wanted to take me to the hospital, saying that I had a good life, and just wanted to be taken home, which was a good place in which to say good bye to the world. Circumstances outwitted me, and I was eventually taken to the hospital where I was saved, but that is a story for another time.

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this is wild mustard that grows freely in the fields at this season, and can be included in a sandwich without industrial additives

What I wanted to say, though, was that for most of my life I preferred to focus on the present. But as I grew old, I realized that in many cases that which was most precious to me, was not the contemporary favorite. It was not just that I’d grown old and was no longer able to keep up, and so waxed nostalgic about what had been popular when I was younger. In my youth I had enjoyed Vivaldi and Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert. I had read philosophical speculations that were sometimes two and three thousand years old, and back again up till the present day. In the pursuit of happiness I had the advantage of checking out anything and everything that had been studied before me. And then… sometime after my retirement, I became entranced by the desire to keep ‘up to date’… and was disappointed.

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more almond blossoms at the same place

technology is a straight line; the arts, philosophy, and music are part of a timeless blossoming of the human spirit. there is no before and after in art.

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As we all know, there is nobility in ‘art for art’s sake, or studying for the sake of knowledge. One discerns music by taste. The reason to play is for the sake of enjoyment…of the player or the listener; either or both. But in the case of technology, there is constant forward motion and progress is judged by practicality. Technology started before recorded history, before the invention of the wheel, before the invention of scissors and pliers or the discover of the uses of fire. And we moved a step forward every time we encountered a practical way to get results that were even better than what we were getting before. There was a long period of time when man was learning how to harness the power of water moving in a river to perform jobs that people had previously been doing by hand. And then there was the steam engine, and then the internal combustion engine. And while these major industrial miracles were being celebrated, there were hundreds and thousands ‘little’ miracles that added to man’s ability to impose his will on nature.

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the same corner where we looked at post modern sculptures on that rainy day

The industrial revolution was perhaps the first time that major customs and conventions were replaced and changed in order to placate the demands of technological progress. After that came the electrical era, and we are now at the very start of the digital age. It is hard to guess just exactly where we’ll go. But I keep in mind that the god of technology is efficiency, whereas the god of art, music and philosophy is reflected in the infinite variations of human sensitivity, empathy, emotions, and the questioning of our own existence.

corner Jaffa & King George

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love