Tag Archives: market

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.

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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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finding beauty in the market place

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as close as you can get by car

Like many others, I too have had to overcome a lot of what I was taught in my early education. It took a while, and sometimes it was hard to figure out what to keep and what to throw away. Some things stayed with me all my life, like finishing everything on my plate… and staying away from the market place. Neither of these instructions seem important to me now. The first came from my mother, who spoke of starving children in China. But that was only because she didn’t want to talk to me about the starving children in concentration camps. It was a time when people felt guilty about eating, let alone throwing food in the garbage. As for the market place… that came from a very different source. Maimonedes wrote that a scholar, aspiring wisdom, should stay away from the market place. I was kept so far away, that it was only as an adult that I began to learn what it was all about. I have since come to the conclusion that the warning to stay away from the marketplace was to protect the young scholar from vulgarity. But in my few visits, I have discovered that there is a lot one can learn about the human personality at the market.

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she isn’t looking at the candy

We call the market place ‘shuk’. And perhaps, because I don’t spend much time there, I appreciate it all the more, and often feel like a visitor from a far away planet, when I walk through the lanes filled with plenty. The marketplace offers meetings between people from many different backgrounds, and we are exposed to a great variety of tools, clothing, and especially foods of all sorts. I usually find myself intoxicated by the colors and shapes. And I find the people quite friendly, and so it’s possible to ask about the many different products available there… even how to cook some food item that I have just discovered.

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For me, there is something exotic about the many aspects of the market. It is wonderful that we are able to find coffee shops and eateries in the lanes, hidden away… the different areas are filled with sound and smells so special, and so different from all other places. We were on our way to the poetry festival the other day, which just happened to be in the same neighborhood as my favorite shuk, Machaneh Yehudah… and I just couldn’t go by without taking another stolen look at the market. The lady friend I was with knew the area better than I did and she easily found the coffee shop I was looking for. We had a couple of beers there, and some pastry. My eyes pulled me in every direction. If I had been there alone, I would probably have gotten lost in the shuk and never have made it to the festival. But I don’t mind getting lost. It’s all a part of living.

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Over the years, I’ve learned ways to live without a lot of personal commerce in my life. Friends do my buying for me, and usually I only buy computers and cameras and their accessories. And the hat that I wear. Even my shoes are bought by others. My food, my clothing, and most of my needs are bought for me by my friends. There are even a couple of stores where I am known, and a telephone call, or a mail, is enough to have them send me whatever it is that I may wish to purchase.

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Actually, I have quite a collection of photographs of the market, including a series I did of panoramic photos of the different stalls there. And I’ve been tempted to post some of these photos, but unfortunately, it’s a little hard to appreciate panoramic photography on the computer screen, and all the more so, when they are just illustrations on a blog. And then, even the best of pictures are missing those wonderful smells and sounds. But I’ll continue to think about it, because it’s a very important part of town. And the people who live in that area of our city are part of a very characteristic culture that we find there.

help from heaven

I’m not one to look for miracles. After all, I consider the day to day life itself, wonderful and amazing… and often beyond my understanding. So why look for that exception to the rule, that crops up occasionally to wake us up from taking it all for granted… But as I’ve lived and learned from this life, there are some phenomena that I’ve experiences… rare experiences… some might even call them extreme… yet still believable to a rational mind like mine. We have an expression in my culture, that refers to such an experience. It is called ‘help from heaven’.

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gazing at the temple mount

Now we’re not talking about a situation in which a person is desperate, and everything he’s tried has failed… and he lies on the floor with his eyes aimed at the ceiling and waits for a miracle. Though I’m not saying I’ve never been in that posture myself. But that’s a different story, and I might find the strength to discuss it one of these days. For now, I’m talking about a completely different experience. You set out to do something, and you plan and prepare yourself for it, making no compromise. You don’t look for the coupons that promise a 20% discount, or say to yourself, ‘as long as I’m going that direction anyway, I’ll take the old bookcase over to my brother’s as he’s been reminding me lately… and it might give me some needed space in the hallway’. No. You focus all your attention at the task at hand, and you try to do it as elegantly as possible. You sleep the night before, and you put on new socks in the morning. And when you go out the door, it is with a steady step, your glasses clean, and as ready as you’ll ever be.

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touring Jerusalem on Segways

And then, as you do your work, everything falls into place as it’s supposed to. But there are unexpected surprises. You just happen to find that the tool you never used before is just perfect for this job. Or that the chair that someone left behind works as a perfect support… and just as you pressed your finger on the shutter button, a seagull came out of nowhere and glided into the picture, leaving its memory just a little above the shoulder of your subject and a bit to the right, making it one of the most beautiful portraits you have ever done in your life… Now how did that happen? We call it help from heaven.

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in prayer with phylacteries and witnesses around him

And that’s what happened when my virtual friend, Bill, came with his wife, for their first visit to Jerusalem. I didn’t know what was awaiting me. I didn’t know how well we’d get on together, and I didn’t know what plans or expectations they had. And yet, on the strength of having known him for some years in cyberspace, I managed to clear my calendar for a week, rearranging my different chores and work, so that if all went well, I would be ready. The camera’s battery was charged; there was gas in the car, and my mini laptop was in my backpack… just in case I’d have to wait for something. I really don’t like to idly wait. I didn’t know that the battery in my ‘easy-park’ was about to play dead, and that it would make it next to impossible to find a parking space downtown. But you never know what’s going to come around the corner. You can only do the best from your side.

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even the market can be a delightful experience

And what I got, was that little extra something. I think it’s like what they say about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. I have experienced that knowledge too, in the most sober of circumstances… and it has since been etched in my consciousness… but that too is a different story. Together with my two friends, incarnated in this world now, we went off to discover Jerusalem together, and then the dead sea, and the remains of the fortress, Massada, where the Jews of 2000 years ago stood off the Romans in a losing battle. All of which, was familiar to me. But in partnership with them, I had the pleasure of seeing things with new eyes… and each day brought little gifts from heaven that added to my joy, and had me sailing in the wind and rejoicing in awe.

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ibex on the shore of the dead sea

Of course (!) there was water in the pond where I used to sit with my father and discuss philosophy… and some new very beautiful fish as well, and there was a middle aged man putting on phylacteries to remember his father in a beautiful nook in downtown Jerusalem, and some youngsters going by, were sweet enough to tell me that if I stood in the center of that nook, and said a few words… I would hear those words coming back to me in echo… and I never knew that… and there was the young man who explained that ‘eating like a bird’ is a misnomer, and why. And there were the deer drinking from the sweet-water springs at the edge of the dead sea… and the nuns dressed in black, allowing themselves the rare pleasure of dipping their toes in the lake. Oh, my friends, I had the most wonderful vacation… right here in my own home town.