Tag Archives: people

an eye for an eye

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A new generation has taken over the world, and there are folks still around who don’t know it. Can you imagine that after the French or Russian revolutions… people just living their lives and not being aware of how history had recorded changes that would affect people everywhere in the world? But it happened then too. The world changed radically, as it changed during the Industrial Revolution, and there were a lot of folks who didn’t notice.

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To those of you who feel heartbroken about Trump winning the US presidency; who are hoping with all your hearts that he will be impeached, I say to you, dry your tears, and go about your lives… try to find happiness. Because it doesn’t matter that Trump won. And in the long run, it won’t matter much. It was just a side issue. It wasn’t really that important.

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Looking back, the French Revolution established a new set of values for our world. There was some instability after the revolution, a lot of cruelty, unnecessary deaths and impositions on innocent people, but that’s life. There’s no denying that the human being is a cruel animal. This latest revolution, which I refer to as the Digital Revolution, is much more than the start of a new technological era. It encompasses all the activities and the beliefs of man, and by the time it’ll be accepted by the vast majority, the past will be almost completely forgotten. Of course, there’ll be a few historians who’ll remind those interested of what happened before the new age of enlightenment. But for most, all that was before this millennium will be included in the ‘dark ages’.

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I don’t know how it was for those of my readers who live in countries around the world, but I can tell you I was amazed that on the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution there was no mention of it in the media, here in Israel. Such an earthshaking event. Forgotten. There were some really fine Israelis too, who though they were living fully active lives at the time, and bringing about the rebirth of Israel as a politically independent state, gave up everything and ran to ‘help the revolution’. Most of them died in the gulag, or were killed by Stalin, and never heard from again.

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Back in the days when I was a child, people were still arguing whether the ends justified the means. And if you’re young, you may be surprised to learn that there were some very intelligent and good hearted people who insisted that the ends did justify the means. Their thinking went something like this, “I really hate having to kill Millie the turkey. But Thanksgiving is getting close, and folks have to eat”. While watching Stalin fight Hitler, many enlightened minds were willing to forgive his excesses. But after World War II, most if not all of those same people came to the conclusion that the end doesn’t justify the means, and drummed that particular truth into the next generation.

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I don’t think they’re going to put an end to gambling this time… or an end to eating meat. But they will put an end to smoking tobacco, and will allow smoking cannabis. They’ll legitimize homosexuality, create an environment more friendly to women, and there’ll be a completely different attitude towards family. If we were worried once about the population explosion, it now looks as if that will no longer threaten us. And were it not for hatred and war, we could very likely insure that there’d be no hunger in the world. There is speculation that soon hard work won’t threaten us. And since the less we work, the less we want to work, we’ll have more time to dream… and to dream up collective worries. For instance, that life is so empty… that there’s no meaning to existence…

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I remember asking my father when I was a child… what is this business of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Why do we still learn such savagery? He answered me, No, that’s not savagery. That’s justice. If we were to trust to the magnanimity of the human heart, there’d be at least two eyes to pay for the one… and more likely, ten.

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December Love

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There are still a lot of sweet moments and sights on the streets of Jerusalem, like this couple, waiting for a bus…

human frailty

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Charlie, contemplating human frailty

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photo of the central bus station in Nahariya

there is no loneliness more painful than that in the company of your fellow man.

moods

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Many years ago, while enjoying the hospitality of America, and furthering my education in the US, I fell in love with American music. First, I discovered the blues… and that led eventually to jazz, which is my favorite music to this day. What I loved about the blues was that they offered a catharsis and perspective, both to artists and listeners, often including a hint of humor. For one of the most difficult challenges we face, is trying to work our way out of sadness and depression.

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There are so many great artists and fine songs in that genre, that one could easily spend his whole life studying the culture. Being an outsider, I wouldn’t take it upon myself to be your guide. Yet I do remember one song that I consider an excellent example of the genre because of two lines that have amused me since I first heard them. And that’s ‘I Will Turn Your Money Green’ by Furry Lewis first recorded in 1928. They are: ‘If the river was whiskey, baby, and I was a duck, I’d dive to the bottom, Lord, and I’d never come up’. And later in the song, he sings, ‘I been down so long, it seems like up to me’. This line served as the name of a novel written by Richard Fariña, published in 1966, and was later the title of a song by the Doors.

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What had me thinking about the blues was a combination of listening to bad news on the radio here, all of this week, and reading a touching blog post by John Hayden, called Retirement, Depression, And Blogging. The week before that, there had been an incident here in my country, of a man biting a dog. Now, those of us who’ve studied Journalism 101 know that such an incident is a legitimate news item. But our local journalists who fear that the public has grown tired of exposés of the dire poverty of half the population, and intimidated by the encroaching competition of the internet, fell upon this story as if they’d just discovered a gold nugget in the drain of the kitchen sink. The story was seen as an example of the fallibility and decadence of mankind, and we were berated on countless in-depth studies of what happened, from morning to night, day after day.

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Of course, most folks swore up and down that they had never bitten any dog… but others, like myself you know, who don’t have such a good memory anymore, just weren’t sure. There are things you don’t think about till you’re accused. One of my friends, for instance, when asked if he’d ever spoken out against biting dogs, remained silent for a few seconds more than might be expected. And then, when the reporter mentioned that while males were 40% more likely to bite dogs than other members of the population, he was seen blushing. So hell yes, I was thinking of the blues… I was even thinking of maybe writing a blues song…

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And then I started thinking about how to get up. It’s been unusually hot here in Jerusalem for the last week. Like today, they said it would be 36° during the day, and then go up to 37° at night! So while it’s been that hot, I haven’t been walking that much. But I know that a brisk walk can really improve my mood. It usually stimulates a stream of consciousness which in turn improves my perspective. I thought if I’d go out towards evening and have a long walk, I might have more positive thoughts. Another thing I’ve noticed, is that though I don’t really like getting together with people when I’m down in the dumps, sometimes it is encouraging to see others having a good time, oblivious to the evils of this world.

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So I called up a very tolerant friend of mine, and asked him if he’d care to accompany me in my blue black mood as I walked from Talpiot to the German Colony and back. Despite the heat, it was really a beautiful day. The grass was green, and the sky was blue… and after we got back to the ‘First Station’ in Talpiot… I noticed that the beer was yellow. On our way, we stumbled across a ‘street library’ which was offering free books. You remember how I told you about finding those bus stops in Tzur Hadasah, where people donated their old books, and anyone could just pick one up for free. This street library was much the same, only more elaborate… with a lot more books. I tell you, I’d gotten kind of used to being blue, but after I found a weathered copy of ‘The Island’ by Aldous Huxley, I couldn’t help it… I was starting to feel better.

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The ‘first station’ is what they call the old railroad station in central Jerusalem. It was abandoned when they built the new one at the edge of town. But in the last few years it’s been redeveloped as a popular entertainment center, including bars and restaurants, toy stores, art galleries and jewelry and vegetable stores. We were sitting at the outside tables of a bar restaurant listening to some good Greek music and drinking that yellow beer when the waitress suggested we try their Arak. And would you believe it, it went well with the beer! In fact, I had another. And though I had no appetite to begin with… after a while… it occurred to me that it might be nutritious to eat something.

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Now if that hadn’t happened yesterday evening, I might be as blue today as I was most of the week. I might even have written a blues verse or two for the blog today… and I certainly don’t know what sort of pictures I would have published today. But now, you’ll just have to wait for that, ‘cause right now, ‘it looks like up to me’.

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escaping the ivory tower

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This week, in honor of the last day of the holiday, Chana and I took a trip. Not to the sea shore, nor to some ski resort up in the mountains… nor to some exotic foreign city… I didn’t choose to commune with nature in the desert, or among the tall trees of a forest. My heart’s desire was to go south to a small town in the northern Negev… where the sun always shines, and people live their lives more or less as they did fifty or a hundred years ago. You can buy a lunch there for less than the price of a pack of cigarettes, and you can talk to a stranger, and he’ll answer you. It was a thrilling trip; heart warming, and a pleasure to the senses.

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The getting there was a great delight too. Not only did we leave the rain behind in Jerusalem, as we rolled out into the country, but the traffic too, is so much easier as you move from the big city to ‘out in the sticks’, far from the crush of people going two blocks in their cars to pick up some groceries, or ferrying their children around… people rolling back and forth to visit friends and family members, tied up in traffic jams that have you crawling at snail’s pace in long lines of metal boxes… whose inhabitants are all engaged in conversation with one another, with one foot on the brake, gingerly releasing its hold every now and then to let the automatic transmission pull you another few centimeters to avoid an excess of space between cars…

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I buy roses every Friday to exalt the Sabbath, but I’d almost forgotten the smell of natural flowers grown in the fields… of hay stacked alongside the barn… of cow shit… ah, I love that smell; it brings back the finest memories… that, and the sight of prickly pears growing out the edge of cactus leaves. The old trees standing along the soft shoulders of the old fashioned highway, where you can cruise at a moderate speed… even at the pace of a country walk, the better to see the trees and smell the fields… unlike the super highways and the freeway, where you have to use an official exit in order to take a leak, and while driving along with the rest of the herd, are unable to get even a hint of the world outside the rapid transit system.

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When we got to Kiryat Gat, we easily found a parking spot not far from the roundabout near the commercial center, and I got a chance to take a long look at the sculpture in the middle of that roundabout. The sculpture depicts a man in a winter coat, politely tipping his hat, carrying a violin case in his right hand. The man has no head. The moment I saw the sculpture, I knew exactly who the subject was, of this work of art. I won’t mention his name, because I have to keep living in this country. But I will say that he plays the violin with magnificent expression. It’s just when he opens his mouth, that you realize he has no head at all. I love art.

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It was Wednesday, and that’s the day when the shuk is set up in tents and stalls across the wide plaza alongside the commercial center, and all the produce from the local farms in the area were on display as well as an exquisite collection of olives, and a wide variety of pickled vegetables, and endless products that might attract the interest of the locals, such as a couple of thousand bras in the colors of the rainbow, and handy tools from far away China, with the names of prestigious American factories printed on the front of the plastic packaging. I bought a vice grip pliers to give to a friend. I didn’t need anything I could think of at the time, but I didn’t want to pass up such a unique occasion to buy. I wanted that total experience of a visit to the shuk.

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We were on our way to buy lunch when I bumped into Benzion with his arm in a cast. I had never met him before in my life, but the moment our eyes met, we realized that we had been friends all our lives, and just hadn’t had the opportunity to meet till this moment. He asked me to take his picture. I could have died of happiness right then. But not before I’d snapped his photo. I asked him for his email address, so I could send the photo to him. He said, he didn’t have a connection to hi tech, but his children knew all about computers, and I could send the photo to them. I pulled a business card out of my pocket, and gave it to him, showing him where my email was engraved. Told him to tell his kids to send me their address and I would send the picture. And he promised to do so.

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Lunch was fantastic, and so was everything that followed. The people were as sweet as candy, and the cats were well fed, but willing to accept a few tributes, just to make us feel good. On the way back, we watched the sheep munching on some exceptionally green grass to the beat of fine country music, and some of the most beautiful clouds making their way across the heavens to Jerusalem. Ya lalai, ay yay yai. Ya lalai, ay yay yai.

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context

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a new life for the yams. soon they’ll be potted plants

There were a couple of pictures of Charlie in my last post. And that brought comments and mails with questions about Charlie. And with them, an awareness, that though I do use photos to illustrate my blog posts… often from my own life, and environment, each of the photos is a glimpse, taken out of context. It occurred to me that much of life is like that. We tell a story, paint a picture, or snap a photograph… and choose among them those incidents or images that have struck us in a certain way, that have amused us or moved us… and very often, because these moments or images are taken out of context, our friends get a different impression of our life from that which we know and relate to on a day to day basis.

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last week we saw Charlie, but not the roses behind him

I take a walk most mornings, and see the same scenes, over and over again, each time in a different light, or a slightly different time of the day… in different weather, and with different company. And with each meeting, the people, the cats, the birds, the dogs, the bushes and the trees… the buildings and streets become more a part of me… and I more a part of them, without effort or much thought.

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between the two of them, they see it all… while in conversation

I remember, when I used to take walks with my old mother, and I would stop to photograph a certain familiar scene in the neighborhood. She would often say, ‘Shimon, you’ve already photographed that scene in the past’. And I would say, yes, but not with those long shadows. Or something like that. For photography, which has been my profession for most of my life, is also my way of relating to my own personal environment.

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a conversation with my son Jonah

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my daughter Rivka tells an amusing story

But even though I’ve shared many scenes from my daily life, they often revealed only a part of the story… taken out of context, to a certain extent. And so the world as I know it, never really comes through. Sometimes I feel that it would be best to present a series of images… to demonstrate the changes in time, or a wide sweep of the environment.

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Occasionally I come across a scene that stands by itself… one of those pictures that tell a complete story. But sometimes, they too are just hints. I don’t know the story from the point of view of the participants. But I invent or guess at the story, just looking at the scene. That happened the other day, as I was coming back from a walk, and saw a motorcycle, well hidden by a protective cover. Facing the hidden motor bike, were two shoes. I couldn’t help but wonder what happened. Did a hubby, or a lover, arrive in the middle of the night, and take off his shoes before coming into the house, so as not to wake the sleeping?

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the medical clinic in our neighborhood

Since Chana moved back to Jerusalem, her apartment has become ‘a home away from home’; another station for me here in the city. Chana lives with Charlie, her cat, and Bonnie, her dog. They have both adopted me as well. We take walks together, and stare out the windows in each other’s company on rainy days. My little world keeps growing, and I discover new stars that were always there… but unknown to me, until I discovered them.

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Chana and Charlie

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soaking up some sun, Bonnie

It’s Friday today, and that means preparations for the Sabbath. According to our tradition, we either buy two loaves of bread or bake them before the Sabbath. They represent that free day on which we refrain from work. A loaf for every day, and an extra one for the Sabbath. Here’s a picture of the two loaves that Chana baked. One is covered with poppy seeds, and the other with sesame.

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There are so many pictures, that I have to choose from… all of which are part of the whole story. But only a very few get included in these posts. And how often I’ve deliberated over a pile of images, wondering which would best represent what I’m trying to show. It’s always hard to choose the few photos that will be part of my message… and after I’ve made my decision, there are usually some very special ones that stay behind.

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Jinji enjoying the winter sun in the back yard. His cousin waits for him on the other side of the gate…

looking back

saw the founding fathers resting in their graves…
on my way out from your burial… I was in a daze
in memory of David

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There are smells, and sounds… certain places… sometimes clouds, or a certain blue in the sky that brings back old moments, memories… or emotions. One minute you’re on your way to buy a pack of cigarettes, and the next, you’re a young man on your way to work… and memories come rolling in, one after another… till those subjective visions have more substance than what you were planning to do with your day.

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I’ve never been one to revel in the joys of nostalgia. I prefer to enjoy each day as it comes, and to make the most of it. Not to give too much attention to the future or the past, but to savor the present. The library was my first home away from home. But if I visit the library today… even though that institution has lost most of its importance now that I’ve learned to take advantage of search engines and online academic facilities… still the library remains a store house of wisdom from the many different ages of man, and I enjoy it for what it has to offer me these days.

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But there’s a village in the Galilee, where years ago I tried to realize my ideals and fantasies… and where I tasted the sublime. It’s a place much like any other place. With good and bad, and all kinds of people who’ve made their homes there. Except that it wasn’t like any other for me. I chose to live there, among friends who had similar ideals to my own. It was there for me, at a critical stage of my life. I had already enjoyed the life of an adult for a number of years. I had started a family. I had made compromises and adjustments along the way. I pretty much knew what life had to offer if my luck stayed with me. And before I got sedentary or set in my ways, I wanted to try living according to my highest ideals, just to know if it could work. And to know whether the theories we kicked around in those days were practical.

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It was a time when a lot of people thought the world was on the threshold of a great social change. The youngsters who were attracting attention then, were chanting ‘make love not war’; and instead of checking just how many people could fit into a public telephone booth, there were those who chose to live in communes, to grow their own vegetables, to make their own movies, religions, and social order. Expanding one’s consciousness was considered a legitimate occupation. And tolerance and love for one’s fellow man was the spirit of the time.

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I didn’t choose a radical path. My choice was a commune which was based on traditional values. The family remained the basic building block of society. But we believed that everyone should enjoy the same income, regardless of talent or education. And that the unpopular jobs should be performed by all according to a system of rotation in which everyone did public service once every couple of weeks in order to keep things running as they should. Each person offered his work to the society according to his ability, and received according to his needs. That meant that the surgeon and the gardener received the same salary, but the invalid or madman was given all kinds of added resources in order to make his life more comfortable. Basic education was offered to all. But no one was forced to learn… or to live up to a standard that he didn’t choose. And those with special talents could develop them at the expense of the society as a whole. A friend of mine, who was an accomplished and successful writer, worked as a kindergarten teacher. And I, a scholar and a business man, grew bananas.

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The children lived in children’s houses, where they studied and played and lived life with the direction and nurture from teachers and counselors, and house mothers and fathers. They spent time with their parents every day. But they met with their parents at tea time, and learned to appreciate them around the table in social intercourse. Mother and father were not identified with punishment or demands. The time spent together was marked by friendship and common interests.

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Our leaders didn’t run for office, promoting themselves, and making promises of what they would do for the common man. They were chosen by others, and elected by common vote. And in most cases, they didn’t want the job, because it meant giving of their precious free time for the sake of the community. But usually they were persuaded to give of their talents for the common good. There was no police. Public opinion, and group pressure maintained order in our little world. Medical and dental treatment were free to all. The public spaces of our village were beautiful beyond description, cared for by gardeners who loved their work. I never saw litter. We all used to eat in a public dining room, and the food was good.

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There were flaws and weaknesses in the system, for all men and women are flawed. Many folks thought they were giving more than they were getting. There were pet peeves, and personal conflicts. There were in-groups, and outsiders. But it worked. I felt as if I’d found the garden of eden.

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This week, I went there to bury a friend. He was a good man and had lived a good life. He’d worked as a cotton grower, a tractor driver, and for many years as a skilled metal worker. He’d never asked for special consideration or a bonus. He was a modest man and didn’t stand out. But many in the community recognized his unique character and personality. His children had gone on to other places and other life styles, as many of the younger generation have done. The community has changed greatly. It is no longer a communal village.

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As I walked through the town, I couldn’t help but notice the changes. There were new roads, and parking lots. There weren’t many private vehicles when I lived there. We used to borrow a car from the car pool back in my day. The houses and gardens were more individualistic than I remembered. And the public dining room no longer caters to all comers. Nowadays, people prepare their meals at home, and children live with their parents. But as I walked along the streets and lanes of the village, I felt as if transported to a world that might still await us… a world of values that aren’t especially popular these days.