Tag Archives: Nechama

wisdom of our parents

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Our sages told us, he who chases after honor… honor will escape him. And he who tries to avoid honor, honor will chase after him.

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And likewise we heard, don’t work to win a prize.

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Watched television last night. It was one of those reality shows. You know, the type that gets you praying, ‘please don’t let this be reality’. Sometimes it comes as ‘news’. Sometimes, it’s an event.

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If you’re not careful, you can start identifying with the characters in the show… thinking I would do it this way, or I would try something else.

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After a while, I started thinking I would have enjoyed my time a lot more if I’d been watching cats.

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I like the company of cats because they don’t flatter, and they don’t try to please us…

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Never Ending Meeting

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Written in Hebrew by Nathan Alterman 1938
Free translation by ShimonZ 2015

I was taken by storm while singing to you
those stone walls stood in vain;
my passion is yours, your garden is mine
dizzy, without hands, how could I open doors

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Let the sin and the judgments languish in books
while suddenly and forever my eyes are shocked
through the warring streets and raspberry sunsets
and too, you’ve bound me in bunches

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Don’t ask for the bashful to approach
alone in your country I’ll go
I ask for nothing
my prayer is that you’ll take from me

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From the ends of my sorrow
in the black of night
on the long, empty, asphalt streets
my god has sent me to offer the little children
raisins and almonds to console my poverty

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How good that your hand still grabs our hearts
have no pity on us when we’re too tired to go on
don’t let us crawl for refuge to a dark lonely room
leaving the stars that still shine outside

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There the moon is shining; sends us a smiling kiss
and the damp heavens thunder and grumble
the sycamore dropped me a branch it could spare
and I’ll grab it up for my support

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And I know that while the drum keeps beating
to the pace of the city and the issues at hand
I’ll drop one day with my head bashed in
and find our smile… between the parked cars

the post that went missing

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Shadow on the Wall
(when Nechama looked at me)

Back in the day when I was looking for contemporary literature that would move and inspire me as much as some of the literature I read in my younger days, I asked for recommendations from my readers. I haven’t yet finished reading all those books that were recommended, but I did read ‘Shadow of the Wind’ that was suggested by a number of readers. That volume offers both a story and a story within the story. It tells the tale of a man who discovers a writer he really loves, but it turns out that there has been someone who’s been chasing down all of his books and destroying them. We find a hint that the fellow who burns this writer’s books is the devil himself. The suspense around the hounding of the wonderful writer, and the rarity of his works provides an important ingredient in the telling of the story. I couldn’t help but think about the possibility of such a thing happening in our day. But of course, once some writing or picture has been uploaded to the internet, it is hard to imagine that anyone would succeed in making it disappear.

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Black & Blue asks ‘what is a blog?’

And then, this very weekend, a short while after I published my most recent post on this blog, I started getting mail from readers that they had been informed by different ‘feeds’ that I had written a new post, but were unable to find the article after following the link. And to make the matter all the more interesting, the post that they couldn’t find was called, “It’s a cruel world”. My imagination came to life as I contemplated the possibilities. Could this be the result of hacking by the ‘league of positive thinkers’ in an attempt to put an end to negative comments about the world, or the spread of sorrow by way of the pens of pessimistic scribblers? The more I thought about it, the more outraged I became. I discussed it with my cat, and though she doesn’t have time to read blogs on the internet, she too was offended. Something’s gotta be done, she said.

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Jinji can’t believe that Nechama is a blogger now

But it was then that I remembered how that post had come to be written. The truth of the matter was that I hadn’t written it at all, Nechama, my cat, had. She’d tried to convince me to go back to blogging, claiming that a lot of people weren’t enjoying their Fridays as much as they had been before, bereft of the enjoyment of reading my blog. As I’ve mentioned previously, I found it hard to write after the war we endured this last summer. Sometimes, I couldn’t even talk. ‘You know, Friday is fish day’, said Nechama with a glint in her eye. Okay, I said, giving her some fish. And then I started thinking about her comment. Was she trying to hint that there was something fishy about my avoiding the blog? ‘I just might write a post myself’, she continued, ‘if you don’t come up with something for your readers’. We tossed the ball back and forth, and I asked her what she’d write about, if she were to take my place at the laptop.

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Nechama tells a neighbor what she has to go through…

She mentioned that I come across like such a friendly old gent, that it might be a service to the community were she to present a portrait of me from another perspective. ‘they deserve to know the truth’, she muttered under her mustache. What truth? I asked innocently, thinking that as a cat, she couldn’t possibly understand my real sins. ‘Well, what kind of man serves pumpkin pie with whipped cream to a cat?!’ she asked in a growl that betrayed deep seated resentment. I burst into laughter. Is that what you’re going to tell my reading public? And with that, she started making her case. You know, when you live with a pet, they do adapt your ways. She was shoving ancient history at me, including the menus that were enjoyed by cats in the Greek temples when their occupation was protecting the local gods there. The more she told me, the more I laughed. Till finally, she got really irritated and asked why I wasn’t writing it all down.

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Nechama eating pumpkin pie – photo by Chana

I told her I’d write it down, exactly as it came from her lips… very thin lips… but I wouldn’t sign my name to anything like that. I’d put hers on the by-line. This rather pleased her, and her story became still more colorful as she progressed. I was writing and she was telling it. I was drinking whisky and she was eating fish in a sour cream sauce, right there on the table next to me. Towards the end, she started including little parenthetical remarks mentioning a number of her friends by name, just for the fun of seeing their names in print. I kept saying, now that is off topic, and she would say, ‘when you write, you can decide what the topic is. This is my post’. And when we finished she just had to look over my shoulder, and asked where it said that she had written the blog post.

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she seemed to enjoy it – photo by Chana

She decided on the name of the post. I myself would never have written anything like that. It was all hers. And I had a riotous two hours writing down what she said. I thought it was one of the funniest pieces I’d ever heard. After we finished, I published the post, and we both went to bed for a bit of a cat nap. But when I got up, the thoughts in my head sounded like the sound of bowling pins falling in the alley. I went to the computer, and checked out the post that I’d published. It sounded hollow. I didn’t laugh once. I pressed the edit button, and ran through it again. It wasn’t funny at all. So I threw it into the trash. All through the Sabbath, Nechama kept coming by and rubbing herself against my legs. ‘Any comments yet?’ she would ask. You know I don’t check the computer on the Sabbath, I told her.

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napping now, while I’m writing

But when the Sabbath was over, I turned on the computer. That’s when I found all these letters from people wondering how my post had disappeared. I really didn’t know how to answer them. What could I possibly say?

in the vicinity

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Nechama in the park

When I was going through the rather lengthy process of moving from my old home to my new one, I shared my adventures with you my readers. It was a period of instability and upheaval. There were times when I could only describe my sense of loss, parting from my home of forty years, in poetry. Meantime, I have resituated in my new home, as described in a previous post https://thehumanpicture.wordpress.com/2014/02/28/up-on-the-hill/ . Slowly, I’ve adjusted to the new conditions, most of which are an improvement on what I was used to.

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Though most of the work had been done for me by my dear friends, I had to unpack my personal items, and decide where things would go in the new house. As a creature of habit, everything had its place in my old home, and I could just reach out my hand and find the scissors or the radio. But once in my new home, even after I decided that a certain item would go somewhere, I sometimes forgot the chosen place when I needed that same item a day or two later. Sometimes I forgot where I’d put something only 15 minutes earlier. It was a challenge.

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There was a period when my personal space extended only as far as the clothing I was wearing. If an object was in one of my pockets, I knew where it was. Otherwise I wasn’t sure. Little by little that personal space began to extend to facilities within the home. There was a closet with three shelves where I put some things that were essential… I knew it was a temporary solution, but my wallet and my credit cards, my camera, eye glasses, cell phone, and flashlight went there. And the external hard disc, reserve batteries, a tape measure, my car keys, a prayer book, and a few other indispensable items. After a week or two I began to get the feel of the house. I noticed that my cat, Nechama, was quicker at finding her bearings than I was.

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checking out the area, Nechama

The process hasn’t been completed yet. The desktop computer hasn’t yet been returned to full service. My scanner and printer are still under wraps. But I am beginning to feel more at ease at home, and have begun an acquaintanceship with the neighborhood. In my old neighborhood, there was a path that led from the back of the house to a forest nature reserve where I would occasionally meet with wild animals. Nechama and I used to like taking walks in nature.

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one of the lawns of the park behind our home

Our new home is adjacent to a well groomed park. And though it is pleasant, with benches to sit on, grass lawns, and bushes bearing a variety of flowers, I worried that it might be too civilized for Nechama. Aside from that, there is more traffic on the street where I now live, and this too had me worried. I thought Nechama might not be able to perceive the dangers of our new environment; might get lost once I gave her back her independence. But she was anxious to be free, so we did venture out together. She met other cats in the neighborhood, and already has three new friends, with which she maintains social intercourse. One of them even gained entrance to our home through an open door from the balcony and sampled my supper before I managed to convince him to depart. Her friends come by quite often. They call to her from outside the cat flap. Sometimes she is willing to go out and join them. But other times she prefers to converse with them by way of the window; she inside, and her visitors on the balcony.

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with one of her new friends

The closest grocery is farther from home than the grocery was at my previous residence. Getting there means going down a hill, and then a climb on my way back. I found myself without smokes one morning this week, and decided to walk there to buy cigarettes. Nechama wanted to accompany me, but I thought it too far for her to go, and was worried by the fact that we’d have to cross a few streets. I told her that she would have to wait for me. She expressed the opinion that I was too square, and unaware of the full extent of her capacities. She made it quite clear that she thought I was becoming a despot. What rot!

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the commercial center

Ignoring her arguments, and with some elegant foot play, I managed to open the front door and squeeze out of the house, while at the same time preventing her from leaving with me. After closing the door, I listened to her analysis of the situation from inside the apartment, and honestly, I was embarrassed by the way she was taking it. She seemed on the verge of hysteria. But I was resolute. I locked the front door and proceeded to the commercial center to buy cigarettes.

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it seemed almost too civilized for us

The walk down the hill was quite enjoyable. I had my camera with me, and took a few photos so that I could show you what it looks like. Aside from a pleasant lane, there are also a few places where one can use a public stairway to descend from one street to the next. On the way back, I noticed that it had gotten a little warmer. But even so, decided to take the stairway in order to save myself the distance that I would have had to traverse, had I followed the switchbacks of the road. By the time I was nearing the house, I looked forward to sitting on the balcony with Nechama, and having a cool drink of soda with freshly squeezed lemon juice while she would enjoy some cold milk.

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the park is surrounded by residential homes

But then as I climbed the steps from the street to my apartment, you can imagine my surprise at seeing Nechama waiting for me in a flower bed by the side of the highest steps. She was sitting erect, and her eyes following me as I ascended. Presently, she joined me and accompanied me to the front door. It was clear that she had used the cat flap to exit the house and get on the balcony. From there she’d hopped over the balcony’s parapet to the park, and then taken the footpath to exit the park; walked down the street and up the stairs to wait for me near our front door. She was telling me in no uncertain terms that she already knew the lay of the land… and could go wherever she pleased.

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she waited for me at the top of the stairs

I told her that I was impressed… but. And she said, no ‘buts’ about it. I was thinking, sometimes we think we know all about something… but there is more that we don’t know… But I didn’t know how to explain it to her. We still have our differences on this particular subject.

sheep in pasture

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Nechama looks out at the rainy day

Well, it’s winter again. I’m sitting opposite the window, watching the rain come down, and it’s cold outside. And because of all the windows here in my living room, some of that cold is getting in, despite the fact that I have double windows here. But I’ve added an extra heater to my arsenal, and have still another one ready and waiting if necessary, so it looks like I will be able to withstand the winter cold. But it’s not just a question of temperature. Looking out at a gray world has its effect too. It brings a somber mood.

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the light of winter

My thoughts go back to a week ago… and the trip we took, Chana and I, to the south. Though it was warm then, the skies were gray then too, because of the dust that had blown in from North Africa. That dust was uncomfortable, but there was fresh grass in the fields, brought by a spell of sunny days, and flowers all around. We visited a flower farm, and saw some beautiful flowers, meant to be placed on my table or yours, in a vase for decoration. That was the day we visited the book barn. And that was the day we saw the sheep grazing on the green grass that had come with the premature spring.

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rainy day seen through the window

Watching the sheep graze on the newly sprouted grasses was a great pleasure. I felt like I could easily spend a day just watching those sheep, and be satisfied. I watched the shepherd for a while. He sat comfortably with an eye on the sheep… not doing much… watching them eat and play. I thought of shepherds, and of those mentioned in the bible.

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goat trying to climb a tree

Jacob was a shepherd. So were Moses and King David. From the biblical standpoint, being a shepherd is considered good training for a leader of men. Jesus spoke of himself as a shepherd. Watching the sheep graze, though, I thought it much easier to take care of sheep. They didn’t seem to be nearly as troublesome as human beings. A little mischief here and there, but not much. And not many wolves to threaten the herd either. But there are livestock thieves around. I suppose that’s the worst threat to the shepherd these days. The characteristic that is most connected with the shepherd is that of compassion.

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sheep in the field

I watch the birds take advantage of a short break in the downpour, moving as a group from one roof top to another, down the street. The trees sway in the wind. The skies are getting darker, though we are still in the middle of the day. The cars on the nearby highway have their lights on. Nechama seems to enjoy watching the world go by from our elevated windows. And it’s warm here, behind the windows, I too enjoy the winter scene. I remember that only recently I spoke of not finding inspiration to photograph when it rains. Now I wonder if my new circumstances might not lead me to a new appreciation of winter.

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grazing sheep

The telephone rings. News of a friend with health problems in the north. Not the best weather for a trip. But life is full of surprises… and I see some large birds on their way to the horizon. Maybe there will be some interesting images along the way. Wishing my friends a joyous Sabbath, and a very happy Purim holiday.

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an alien I found on my table… it’s a date

up on the hill

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When I was just a little chap… before I’d learned to drive or read the newspaper… I had a visit from Moses Ben Amram, our beloved teacher, forever famous for writing those wonderful best sellers, the holy bible and the book of Job. He said, Shimon, my boy, you’re about to go out there… and have the most wonderful life. He told me all the secrets of life on this earth, and how to recognize sanctity in the midst of banality, how to please god… and the very best recipe for chicken soup with matza balls. But I wasn’t impressed by any of that. I said, ‘I’d prefer to stay right here, dear teacher’, and curled up in my mother’s womb, determined never to leave. He pressed his index finger against my upper lip, and said, ‘don’t tell a soul’. I’ve had a depression on my upper lip ever since…

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That’s the way I’ve been all my life; trying to appreciate what I have, and not looking over the fence, envious of my neighbor’s greener grass. I’ll smoke my own grass, thank you. And so, when my dearest friends came to the conclusion that my neighborhood had lost its youthful charm, and that my home, having embraced me in warmth and security for the last 40 years, no longer suited me, … and offered to find me a better place to live, I said, ‘No thanks, guys. No place could possibly be better than this. I’m surrounded by my books and memories, live on the ground floor so that my cat can come in and out without an elevator, and everyone in Jerusalem knows exactly where to find me’.

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checking out the scene from the edge of the balcony, Nechama

But you know, I can tell a story… and I can sing a song… I can even photograph a picture… But I’m just no good at arguing. And when these friends started arguing with me, and proving without a doubt that they were only pressing for my own good… I just gave up, and wrote a couple of poems about how life sucks. What do we have friends for, I wondered… if not to listen to their advice? So my old home was sold, and a new home was found… snails were hired to drag my books and furniture from the old home to the new… and meantime, I went off… to find refuge in the country, and then back in the alleys of my city… moving from one place to the next, inhaling the dust deposits on the curtains of rented rooms, and rediscovering the magic of life as I smelled roses in the company of village cats outside of Jerusalem. It was a learning experience. It was almost like getting reborn.

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looking up at me from the back yard

The process started at the beginning of October, and this week, the last week of February, I moved into my new home, joining my beloved cat Nechama who seems to be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder as she drinks tomato juice through a straw and avoids meat and fish. She barely recognized me when I first arrived. I tried to reason with her. ‘I was as much a victim as you were’, I told her. ‘I couldn’t take you with me… I stayed in a house with a dog!’

‘You think that’s bad?’, she countered. ‘I had to live with children!’ She knows that I too am unable to withstand the assault on my nerves of the screeches and shouts of happy children…

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she likes to relax while I work

So here I am at the top of a hill, with a living room that is surrounded on three sides by big beautiful windows… work tables in every room, music easily available, a library separate from the living room, where guests may entertain me, a large refrigerator in the kitchen, and air conditioners that have been designed to warm me up in winter, as well as to cool me off in summer. My old cuckoo clock, once attacked and defeated by a previous cat of mine, has been repaired, and now cuckoos on the hour. Looking out the window in the right direction, I can even discern when there’s a traffic jam on the freeway that leads to my neighborhood, and plan my exits wisely. I would never have thought of such comforts, and am overwhelmed by the upgrade of the quality of my life. I don’t believe I deserve all of this. I keep thinking it must be some terrible mistake. But I can’t wait for spring, so that I’ll be able to take advantage of my new balcony, which is roomy and surrounded by flower pots under the blue skies of Jerusalem.

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my neighbors, seen from the stairway up to my apartment

Nechama has already learned to use her cat door… to traipse through the cat door and out to the balcony. With one graceful leap, she is able to land on the hillside behind our home, and to visit the park, with me or without me. And being an existentialist cat, she’s already halfway to forgiving me for deserting her, and busy smelling the plants the trees, the grass and the flowers in our new surroundings. She doesn’t smile… and her eyes look piercing… but it does seem that she’s happy. I’ve been smoking as much as I can, drinking whisky, and listening to music, as I try out the speakers in each room. There are a few boxes of my things that haven’t been unpacked yet, and I use this readily available excuse to complain to my friends. I don’t want them to get too smug thinking they were right and I was wrong.

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guarding the groceries that have just been delivered

What do I know about life? Was there anything more important about this move than the many lessons I learned along the way? I am grateful for the kindness. Overwhelmed by my good luck. This evening I will welcome the Sabbath surrounded by dear friends, and a wise cat who turns from time to time… sometimes to look out, and other times, to look in.

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spring is here

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