Tag Archives: music

an evening excursion

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I’d been working hard all day Monday, and was just about to take a walk with Nechama in the park behind our home, when Noga came, and was happy to join us. It was the first day the temperature had gone down a bit, after a week long heat wave. An opportunity to stretch my legs and release the tensions of work. As we walked around the park, I felt lighter and freer. What a pleasure. Fortunately, we didn’t run into any dogs along the way. Nechama doesn’t care much for dogs, and usually hides behind bushes or climbs the nearest tree if we meet a neighbor walking his or her dog. Turns out, this new neighborhood I live in has a sizable population of dogs… most of whom are attached by leash to their human friends. But this time it was an easy walk for all concerned.

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Then, as we got to the edge of the park, Nechama decided to take a shortcut back to the house. Noga and I remained on our own, looking out at the beautiful scenery in the late afternoon. A cool breeze blew. We watched the local ‘light train’ as it came into the station, a bit down the hill. Noga said, ‘you know, we could just get on that train, and continue our walk downtown, if you’re in the mood for it’.

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Well, the idea hadn’t occurred to me, but we had no plans. And the days are still long. It sounded like a good idea. The ‘light train’ is a relatively new addition to our lives in Jerusalem, and it really does make transportation easier. I said sure. And down we went to the station. The train goes by every ten minutes or so. We knew we wouldn’t have long to wait, and we didn’t. It was all very easy. We caught the next train downtown. We found two seats together. It was quite pleasant. Noga asked me if I’d ever taken pictures inside the train, and I told her yes. I’d even posted a few in earlier blog posts.

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Ben Yehudah Str.

The train took us to Jaffa street, and from there we made our way to Zion square, which brought back many memories. But things have changed in the last few years. Jaffa street, which was always the main thoroughfare through town, is no longer open to motor vehicles. Only the train operates on that street, and the side walks have been widened to accommodate pedestrians. It doesn’t resemble the street we knew and visited for so many years. Ben Yehudah str., another important avenue has also been closed to vehicular traffic. It is completely reserved for pedestrians. Which is actually a good thing, because those streets which are still accessible to cars are so overloaded that one often moves at a slower pace than a horse’s gait, and it’s irritating.

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the choir in good spirits

We chose to walk down Yoel Moshe Solomon, ‘cause I’d heard that they’d decorated the street. There were colorful umbrellas above, and I’d been looking forward to seeing them. It was getting a bit dark though, by the time we got there. We’d spent a bit of time in a department store first, looking for an electric grater, which we didn’t find. I had doubts that I’d be able to photograph the umbrellas that I’d read about. All the same, I gave it a try.

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that man could sing

The shops and restaurants looked pretty much the same as they’d always been. We saw quite a few people enjoying the evening. Locals and tourists. Most of the shops were open. I thought I might want to visit a record store I remembered on Hillel street. I was careful to use the words music discs instead of records when I told my plan to Noga. But even so, I was out of date. She explained that the store had closed quite some time ago. People don’t buy a lot of records anymore. But she did tell me of one place that had survived. You still can buy a disc there.

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Noga reads me the menu

Cats’ corner was still there, though, at the bottom of Yoel Moshe Solomon, and I did see a few cats there. But all the little booths where you could once buy jewelry and hookah pipes, and incense, and colorful clothing from the far east had disappeared. It looked like they were building something new there. The cats had grown a bit shy. We continued up Hillel and then down through Ben Yehudah. Aside from meeting some people we know, we also had the pleasure of listening to an impromptu performance of a choral group in the middle of the pedestrian mall. While going up Hillel str., I noticed that the building that used to house the video store had been converted to a restaurant and music venue.

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Jerusalem’s Port

The place is called Jerusalem’s Port. Jerusalem, a landlocked city, has a water complex. We often dream of having a stretch of beach. Tel Aviv went to the trouble of calling one of their stretches of beach, ‘Jerusalem Beach’, in our honor. And now it seems we’ve gone one step further and invented our own port. There were posters on the wall describing different performances scheduled for the coming weeks.

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It turned out that there would be a performance of flamenco music and dancing that very evening. We decided to go. It was only after I’d bought the tickets that I realized the performers were Israelis. That was a bit of a let down. I’ve always enjoyed flamenco music. But the idea of Israelis playing flamenco music, and dancing… I just couldn’t imagine how that might sound…

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As it turned out, though, I was too much of a pessimist. The music was fantastic. There were two men, each of them playing guitars. And two women who danced some of the time. One of the men sang as well. Not all of the time. But he was electric. His voice pierced through any reserve I might have had. When we left, a few hours later, in the middle of the night… the music stayed with us in our heads. The dancing was good too. I’m not really a connoisseur of dance, but what I saw impressed me. The food was good too. The only problem I had, was that I had to take advantage of the few breaks, to go outside and have myself a smoke. Can you imagine that? A performance hall where they don’t let you smoke. It almost makes a person prefer listening to a record… but then… records have gone out of style, I heard.

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for the love of books

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Around this time, towards the beginning of summer, we celebrate books. It’s called book week, or the book fair. And it’s a long standing tradition here. But this year has been a little different. There’s been a lot of discussion about books and the way they’re sold for some time now. And because I’m one of many who feel a personal connection to books, I’ve been following the public discussions and debate. Books are very important in Israel. I believe there are more books published and translated from other languages here, per capita, than anywhere else in the world. And I would guess that Jerusalem houses more books than anywhere else in the country.

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When I was young and traveling abroad, I remember learning what mattered to other peoples just by noticing the proliferation of certain types of shops or stores in a particular city. There was this one town in the far west, where I saw filling stations on every street corner. Well, at the time, it was hard to find a petrol station in our town, but there was a bookstore on almost every street.

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you can still see the rails in the old train station

In recent years though, there’s been a change in the way books are sold. For one thing, instead of the many Mom & Pop bookstores, each one with a certain expertise and interest, catering to a specific customer base, we saw the rise of chain book stores. It was a bit like MacDonald’s. Steimatzky, one of the major booksellers in our city, and known for its wide collection of English language volumes, first sprouted a few offspring, in different neighborhoods of our city. Following that, they spread across the country. Then publishers started selling their books retail, setting up chains of bookstores countrywide. They would sell all kinds of books, but pushed the volumes that they’d published themselves. As the competition increased, you could hear advertisements on the radio. Books were offered to consumers in the same commercial way that they had sold us movies in the past.

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It’s commonly thought that competition improves the market place. But what started out as playful sport between people of like pursuits and tastes, eventually turned into the fierce competitive spirit of commercial giants. By the time stores were selling 4 books for a hundred shekels, people started wondering if this was really advantageous. True, books used to cost between 70 and a 100 shekels. But what if you’re only interested in buying one particular book? Of course, you can always buy one for a friend… Still, that’s only two, and you had to buy 4 to meet the provisions of the deal. In your mind you’d already reduced the price to 25 shekels… it was a nuisance. And then we started hearing what the authors of these books were earning per book.

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Needless to say that the store owners were recompensed for their trouble. And so were the publishers. But the authors couldn’t even buy a pack of cigarettes for what they got from the sale of a book. I know what you’re saying; the author should stop smoking. But I’m just bringing this up as an example.

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Last year, parliament passed a law which insured that the author would receive a decent part of the income derived from the sale of his or her books. It prohibited the bundling of new books in sales campaigns. But the results weren’t that gratifying. It turns out that during the last year, less books were sold than in previous years. And it’s harder than ever for a new writer to break into the business. Aside from that, one has to keep in mind that there are not that many people in this world who’re looking to read a good book in Hebrew. Not to speak of the fact that there’s always more reading material available on the internet. Newspapers are going out of business. We wonder… are books the next to go?

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blues for women

The book fair this year was a great celebration, despite the controversy over sales methods. All the stores and publishers set up booths in the old railroad station, and most of the books were available at discount. Local bars and restaurants set up shop on the perimeter of the fair. A big tent top was erected pretty much in the middle of the area, and all comers were invited to listen to some of our finest native talent. At seven we heard blues for women. And by nine, we were listening to a wide variety of musical offerings played by some of our favorite musicians. The sound was great. We were entertained by some really excellent local versions of blues, hard rock, psychedelic rock, folk and jazz. It was wonderful.

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In fact, it was close to what I imagine as heaven. In the old days, I used to go to nightclubs to listen to fine jazz, while eating a light repast and having a couple of drinks. But since they outlawed smoking, I just don’t enjoy it as much, and hardly go out anymore. In this fine arrangement, smoking was allowed. Because most of the places were outdoor affairs, on balconies or patios. Even the music was considered outdoors, with just the tent top to give us some protection. And here I was, surrounded by books and friends, listening to music that just swept me away, drinking beer and smoking as much as I wanted. Just like heaven, don’t you think?

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Shimon in heaven by Chana

a new chapter

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Those of my readers who follow me regularly have read of my odyssey from my old home, staying with a dear friend, and then in rented apartments, till I finally moved into my new home as described in last week’s blog post. I shared with you my agony and my bliss… sometimes the blues, and sometimes the wonder of a youngster who looks around him and is amazed by the beauty and the endless possibilities of the world around him. Being uprooted from my old world was painful. But coming face to face with new environments and conditions taught me to appreciate what I had taken for granted. And I discovered I was more flexible than I had thought. And that as long as I was alive, I could learn new things, and new ways of dealing with life. As rooted as I was in old habits, I discovered that even habits could change.

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Though I worked in a number of fields, most of my career was spent as a professional photographer. Towards the turn of the century, everything I had known about my profession changed, as we moved from film to digital photography. It wasn’t easy. I had to learn new skills and acquire new tools. But somehow I managed to learn the new system.

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Now, moving into my new home, I’ve had a similar experience. Not so much, in having to learn new skills and standards. For I, like everyone around me, have made many adjustments as our world changed over the years. But in moving into my new home, I came face to face with all that had changed over the years. I see those changes reflected in the physical reality of my living space.

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Two of my great passions have been the written word and music. The first recordings I bought were 78rpm records. After some years, the 33rpm records made their appearance, and then there were ‘long playing records’ and stereo. The quality of the recording improved in stages, and each time, I bought the latest devices so as to appreciate the added element in recorded music. I had a very fine record player which allowed for minute adjustments of the weight of the ‘needle’ on the groove of the record, so as to avoid excessive wear on the vinyl. Because after a while, one could always hear the sound of the needle in the groove, and sometimes there were bumps and scratches on the record that spoiled the purity of the sound. It was for that reason that I was so excited when the stereo reel to reel tape recorder became available in electronic stores, and backed up my favorite recordings with copies on tape. A few years later, the cassette player became the player of choice. Eventually, many of my favorite pieces were recorded again on to cassettes, joined by original recordings which were sold in cassette versions. This system was replaced by the CD, and over a number of years I bought several CD players as well as a sizable collection of discs.

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With the advent of the digital age, it became possible to transfer recorded music to digital files, and to play them on the computer or on an MP3 player. A few years ago, I started converting many of the records, and taped recordings to digital files. Today, I listen either to internet radio, or to recordings that have been converted to digital files. But in my old home, I still had an extensive collection of records, reel to reel tapes, and recorded music cassettes, as well as the instruments made for playing these old recordings. That old record player with diamond needle whose weight could be adjusted still stood on the top of a music chest in my old home, within which were stored musical recordings on a number of different media. No sign of any of that in my new home.

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The walls of my old living room used to be covered with book cases and shelves, bearing more books than I ever counted. It was a great pleasure for me to access many of my favorite books at a moment’s notice, and to reread a thought or piece of information. I remembered the place of each book on the many shelves around me. The books are still with me. They have been moved to my new library. But they are no longer as crucial as they once were. Because now I often read digital reproductions of books on my computer or Kindle, and when I want to review a quote or a poem, they are often available on the internet, and it’s even faster to find them on the computer than it is to locate the book and bring it to the table.

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This week, Chana and I visited an old barn in the northern negev, where books have been donated and collected from people in the area. We met two very charming people who are doing their best to organize these treasures of a previous generation. A visitor may buy any of the books for ten shekels, regardless of size or topic. The price is between one seventh to one thirtieth the original price of the books, but there are not that many customers. We heard the young man singing as he worked. The young woman, Adi is her name, offered to help us find any particular book we might be looking for. We told her we were just looking. I saw many books I have read and loved… and some I have never encountered. I didn’t expect to buy any. But as it happened, I did buy two: ‘The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’ which had impressed me greatly as a young man, and ‘Prey’, a delightful book by Michael Crichton, which I gave to Chana as a present. I was touched but not saddened by the great array of books. For though they told of the conclusion of an age, I knew they had been replaced by a fine new method of enjoying the written word.

descent for the sake of ascent

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Though not raised in the Chasidic movement, I learned to appreciate it later in life. It offers a transcendental understanding of the human predicament in this life. One of the ideas I found there, was that descent is necessary in order to ascend. At first, I found the concept difficult to accept. In fact, when I first heard this theory, I thought that the whole idea had been invented to console the individual who found himself down, and was suffering from his misery. But the more I studied the concept, the more I realized that there was a great truth behind it.

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If you look at a seed, say our teachers, you realize that first it has to soften and come apart before it can grow to become a fruit tree. In order to climb a mountain, says another, one can not go up higher and higher all the time. No, one reaches a certain height, and then has to go down a way before one can go up even further. An example is found in the Talmud of Rabbi Zira who decided to go to Israel from Babylon, and fasted a series of fasts in order to forget the religious rules of the diaspora, so as to learn the rules of living in the holy land with a clear head. Many examples are given, but the message is enforced again and again…

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enjoying the music, Rivka

For a serious person, being down is not a state in itself, but part of the process of going up. When all goes well, a person is satisfied with his life, and doesn’t push forward. But when he is unsatisfied or unhappy, he examines himself and his situation, and in that way finds a path to improvement. And so our teachers tell us, we shouldn’t look at unhappiness and misery as bad luck… crying out, ‘why is this happening to me?’ but should see it as part of the preparation for ascent.

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Pini joins in on the drum

In another place I found this explanation. When a person is on a high, he sees everything about what he is doing and how he is living as perfectly all right. And so, is unable to see alternatives that are even better. To remedy this, he has to fall from his position of grace in order to ascend to a still higher level of consciousness.

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In the last couple of weeks, I found myself more and more miserable after hearing that my previous landlord was not interested that I continue to rent his apartment. I didn’t like the apartment that much. There were a lot of things wrong with it. But I liked moving even less. I felt uprooted and homeless. It has been about four months since my friends convinced me to move from my old apartment to a new one, and during that time, I’ve been living in temporary conditions. I have been without all sorts of tools and implements that I was used to. I’d moved from one temporary home to another. And there didn’t seem an end in sight. When I asked how my new home was coming along, I got one of two answers. Either I was told it was almost ready. Or I was told that there was a lot more to do to set it up. If I got the first answer, I would immediately suspect they were just trying to cheer me up. If I got the second answer, I would despair.

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My last move to still another temporary home was made with great speed and little caution. The new place was cleaner and nicer, and it had a little garden next to it. But though it was a two room flat, it was very small, and there wasn’t enough room to store all of my possessions in an orderly fashion. The kitchen was so small that I had to move the drying rack for dishes to the couch in order to have room to prepare a meal. And the two little windows let very little light or air into the apartment. I had to use artificial lighting all of the time.

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When my daughter Rivka was about to visit, she asked me if I would like her to bring dinner. I told her not to bring anything. I thought that since the kitchen was so small, it would be more trouble to prepare a good meal for us than it was worth. I decided to eat out. We went to Pini’s new restaurant. For years I used to go to the old one, and it was a place I loved. The story of how and why he moved is too long to tell here.

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When we arrived at the restaurant, it was full. There were musicians playing in one dimly lit corner of the restaurant, and we were offered a table right next to the band. It was clear that we would have to give up any hope of dinner conversation, but I said yes immediately. I love music. The music was of the Grecian style, and warmed the heart. It started out good, and got better when a singer joined the musicians. At a certain point, Pini himself, proprietor and master chef, joined the musicians to play the drum, Customers got out of their seats and started dancing. I hadn’t brought my favorite camera, because I worried that the rain my damage it. But I did have a little pocket camera that I always take with me for emergencies. These photos tell the story. As I started beating the rhythm on the table, while eating the exotic foods offered in this wonderful restaurant, I raised my head with a radiant smile, and said… ‘ah now I understand. The descent is for the sake of the ascent’. I was one with the world, and filled with happiness.

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touching our hearts

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Looking back at those days, some thirty years ago in Jerusalem, we were wide open and unsophisticated, but we didn’t know it at the time. The sixties were long behind us, and it seemed at the time as if life had settled down, and folks had gotten serious. But it was still pretty easy to find music somewhere on a week night, and on a Saturday night it was a sure thing. There were a number of bars that were happy to host a performance. You’d see locals and tourists, and expatriates from all over the world who’d find their way here for one reason or another.

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You could see them in the park on a sunny winter day, or in the spring and summer… making music for themselves till they got an audience, and then turning an accidental meeting into a full performance. And there were some very talented people who worked a day job, but came out at night to play. Often the venue was lit by dim lamps or candles because the place itself was lacking anything in the way of decoration, and if it was well lit, we’d have been distracted by the dusty shelves, the deteriorated furniture, or the garish paint peeling off the walls.

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But we didn’t notice all of that. We’d come without expectations, and reveled in the music. Most of us knew one another, by sight if not by name, and we’d have a good time, and a few drinks as the evening grew long. We loved the performers without there having to play a role for us… and if someone started accompanying the musicians while sitting at a table in the bar, he was liable to be asked to come join the band. The scene was very informal.

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There were two stars though, in those days. And though each had their own career, they would often perform together. Libby and Ted. Sometimes they had a whole band to back them up, and sometimes it was just Ted accompanying Libby. They performed the blues and some rock and roll. And when they got into the mood, they could just tear the night down the middle, and stop all conversation in the bar, as everyone there would focus on them, and forget anything else.

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Libby would belt out a blues or some soul song, and she’d have the power of Janis Joplin, though it was never an imitation. She was just doing her own thing. And I remember on numerous occasion, hearing a passing visitor say, ‘Wow, she’s great. Is she famous? Has she made any records?’ Well, she was famous in our town. But I don’t think she ever got to the music big time. She was known in a lot of places here in Israel. I guess you need more than talent to make it big. A lot of drive, and ambitions, and a bit of luck. Sometimes you have to sacrifice part of your private life too. But back in those days, we didn’t need any more than we had… and we had some really fine music of all types.

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childhood

I don’t usually write much about childhood. My own was so difficult, that it is a subject I try to stay away from. But lately, I’ve discovered the works of Margaret Atwood, and right now I’m reading ‘Cat’s Eye’, and this has lead me to thoughts on children, and a visit with some of my grandchildren, amplified these thoughts. So I thought I’d share them with you, accompanied by a few photos of my visit to the country, and time spent with family.

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the home of my youngest son

When the Chinese instituted their program of only one child to a family, most westerners were stunned by the disregard for basic freedoms in that distant, mythical, gigantic land. And yet, strangely, without a dictatorship to impose a new order on a helpless population, more and more people in the west have limited child bearing of their own volition. Whether because of economic pressures, or choices of life style, children often find themselves unwanted, or a bother to the adults around them, and without the company of other children to give them support and a perspective on life and the world around them. Even though it is common to think that an only child enjoys much more attention from his or her parents, the parents are two great imposing figures in the life of the child. And with increasing frequency, only one parent remains in the child’s immediate vicinity, and that parent is besieged by other obligations and interests.

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If an adult suffers from alienation and frustration in today’s highly stylized and regimented life, where a call to a public service often means being answered by a robot, and waiting on the line while listening to muzak, how much more a child must suffer, trying to adjust to continuously changing conditions and authorities.

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And though one might think that the school environment provides both adult teachers, and children with whom to learn and play, a child who is a little different (and aren’t we all a little different from others) might feel constant tension, inadequacies, inferiorities, pressure, and even cruelty. And somewhere, in the midst of all this, is alienation. Today it is common to let the TV and the computer do the work of a babysitter. Any game is good, so long as it distracts the child, and keeps him or her out of our hair.

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In the traditional society, older brothers and sisters watched out for their younger siblings. And the occupations of parents, uncles and aunts were an example to the young of what one could do in life. Grandparents and other older members of the family or the tribe would provide the advantages of experience and the comfort of understanding. It is said that can choose one’s friends, but not one’s family. That was always true, and some children feel as if they were dropped into a family that just doesn’t fit right. But usually there is a basic loyalty and care for family members, if only because of the greater intimacy afforded by family life. A child that lives down the block may be mean to me, but my brothers will stand by me and protect me.

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But there have been drastic changes in the last century. Many families are split and separated, living in far away places. And in many cases, the parents are no longer part of the same functioning family by the time the child reaches his teens and is in need of parental support. And even when the parents have stayed together, they often both go to work away from the home, leaving the children to cope for themselves.

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And when the parents are away at work, in an office or factory, far from home, how do the children learn a work ethic, or learn about overcoming failures and difficulties? What examples do they have? Can they learn the nature of life, the value of life, from watching movies or programs on the TV, or playing games on the computer? Do they trust their school environment? Or are they struggling to play by the rules, and feel trapped there?

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Watching my youngest grandchildren, I realized that almost every one has individual characteristics that make him or her different from all the rest. Yet, because they live in a more traditional environment, there are many sources of education and enlightenment, and there are always compassionate people around to give comfort and support.

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Thinking about the future, it seems necessary that we develop a social environment for our young, in which many of the characteristics of the tribe or the extended family will be provided for children at all stages of their development.

Darbuka

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waiting for another celebration…

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