Tag Archives: Purim

Purim Pics 2 (’18)

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I must be out of step with the universe these days… I told you about starting to work on one post, and then being distracted… and when I came back to finish it, I found myself writing another… which isn’t finished yet. Can you imagine, I have a number of unfinished posts languishing in a folder on my computer… begging to see the light of day. This led to last Friday when I spent a few hours downtown, thinking it might amuse you to see us amusing ourselves… I’d written about Purim a number of times, and didn’t want to repeat myself… but thought a few pics would be good. And took more than just a few, most of which I haven’t yet examined myself.

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And then this morning found myself traveling to the north of Israel by bus and train bringing back memories of half a century ago… (as an unexpected side effect of deciding I was too old to drive, I’ve been seeing more, and thinking more… even staring into space more, though a lot of good that does me); and if we’re talking about thoughts worth the telling, or sights worth the shooting, what about the dignity of that post called Purim Pics 1. If I were to interrupt that series by sending you shots of wild cyclamen… without even going to Purim Pics 2… would that be ridiculous? And if it was, would it matter? A typical Purim dilemma.

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And then I opened the Hebrew Paper on the train coming here, and saw an article about Stephen Hawking suggesting that he might know what happened before the big bang. No, don’t tell me it was the little bang. And it wasn’t. According to this article, he has no difficulty describing the nature of things 13.8 billion years ago. In case you were wondering about that, he assures us that time didn’t exist then, and the entire universe was about the size of a very dense atom. Hawking tells us that because the equations can’t explain what happened before the expansion, the universe materialized out of nothing. One of the talkbacks at the bottom of this article asked him if nothing existed before the big bang, would he be kind enough to make a shoelace. ‘Cause one of his (the reader’s) shoelaces tore as he was reading the article.

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That’s kind of what Purim is about. It’s the occasion where we remember that we take a lot of artificial and inauspicious things very seriously… and so doing, miss what’s really going on. I hate to remind myself, but some of us have trouble remembering what was in a book we read thirteen months ago. So now we’re going to entertain a theory on what happened 13 billion years ago?!

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Purim Pics 1 (’18)

A few pictures from Shushan Purim in Jerusalem 2018
This action was close to the city hall, around the Safra plaza.

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rainy day

 

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at the bottom of the stairs coming out from my apartment

For some time now, I’ve been planning to take a walk in the rain. But every time it rains, I find an excuse not to do so on that day. I do enjoy a nice clear sunny day, with a few clouds in the blue sky, that’s what I like best. That’s when I wink at the camera. And though I remember that I have enjoyed walking in the rain… and despite actually feeling the need of the ground to get that rain, and am happy to see it come down; for some reason or other, it always seems most appropriate to watch it from the windows of my salon. This last week though, hearing of the cold front in Europe, and imagining the snow piled high in cities usually known for their moderate weather, the urge to take a walk in the rain couldn’t be contained.

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And so, off I went one morning this week, to enjoy the wintry mood of my neighborhood. It looks like we aren’t going to get any snow this year. We are blessed with snow some winters, but this is the latest that it has snowed in my memory, and if it doesn’t snow till the Purim holiday, I figure we’re going to miss it this year. Maybe it was exhausted over Europe.

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Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve started a number of posts, each time interrupted by some unexpected event. I would put the half written article aside, and by the time I sat down to write again, I’d be thinking of something else, and start writing a different post. And so it went till now. Knowing that today was Purim, and I would go downtown to see how the young folks were celebrating, I decided to take a few pictures from my recent ‘walk in the rain’ and publish that before missing another Friday. Wouldn’t want you thinking that I’d forgotten my virtual friends.

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These shots were taken down at the corner, the first little commercial center I reach when I come down from my home on the hill, to see a bit of the neighborhood or buy few household necessities for day to day living. The sculpture you see has been recently added to our environment here. I consider it post modern sculpture, because it is devoid of pretension, and only asks to remind me of certain images in the most abstract way. The colors seem to have been chosen in the lightest of moods. I look at these images, sometimes seated on a bench opposite them, and they impress me as doodles in mid air, meant mainly for my amusement.

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Aside from the pizza parlor, a very good hamburger restaurant and an Iraqi bakery on the corner itself, there is also a supermarket, a liquor store and a snack bar just around the corner not seen in these pictures here. When in the need for basics, this is where I go. We’ve had a few new stores open for business but then close down after a short time, unable to find a constituency here I suppose, and I’m always sorry to see them leave. It would be nice if I had the widest variety of choices close to home, because I really prefer to go shopping on foot.

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But when I do want to go the distance, there is no shortage of public transportation. We’re close to the light train, and have a number of city buses that can take me to any destination I might choose. I have given up driving. and though there are some disadvantages, I feel as if I’ve been relieved of a great weight. Even so, the end result is that I travel less.

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I was on my way to the promenade park where I like to meet with my hyrax friends. But I really didn’t expect to see any there. They don’t usually appear in the rain. I did see one, eyeing me from behind a bush. I suppose he was one of the watchman who come and check out a site before the whole tribe shows up. He seemed even more reticent than they usually are. We’ll have to put off our meeting till the next sunny day. Still, I did manage to get a few winter pictures to share with you. I’ll attach them to another post. And who knows, maybe I’ll get around to finishing up one of those posts I started.

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And today, Friday, it’s Purim, the holiday of masks. We’ve had good luck and the weather forecast promises a sunny day. The children… and a few of the braver adults will be able to walk around in costume. I might get a few shots of that. Sending you all my very best wishes from Jerusalem.

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P.S. Just got back from downtown. Lots of fun. So I’m adding this picture for Mary, who complained that I never have people in my pictures. This should be seen as an apology, and compensation of sorts. Boy, were there a lot of people at the center of town today! And now I’m off to get ready for the holy Sabbath, my friends. There is more to come…

a most unusual holiday

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Walking around town on Purim, my pleasure was looking at the faces of carefree people enjoying themselves in the streets. People talking to strangers and friends, amusing one another with costumes and jokes. All too often, in recent years, I’ve seen people sitting or standing together in groups, in the cafes of Ben Yehudah Street or in restaurants… and each individual occupied with some sort of business by way of his or her cell phone. But on this day, the streets were filled with unhurried people, moving along with grace and good cheer, and alert to the others around them. Entertainment wasn’t just passive. People were relating to one another.

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Last week’s post was in the spirit of Purim. But since then, I’ve received a number of questions about the holiday. And this year, my experience of this holiday was a bit different. Usually, I invite friends to feast with me in my home. But this time I chose to walk about in the city. We are counting down to an important national election, which will take place on this coming Tuesday. There is a certain tension in the air. And I was wondering if I’d sense that out in public. But I didn’t.

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I was thinking that the holiday provides us with a much needed mood break. Both personal problems and the issues of the day seemed forgotten as I watched the friendly crowds walking one way or the other. People were walking in the middle of Jaffa Street as well, with the streetcar politely ringing its bell to make its way through civilian groups that had taken to the streets.

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Kurt Vonnegut, a great 20th century American writer, tells us a wonderful adventure story in ‘Cat’s Cradle’, in which he invented a religion whose messages to mankind are revealed in songs. There you will find the following:
“Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly;
Man got to sit and wonder ‘why, why, why?’
Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land;
Man got to tell himself he understand.”

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Humans are rational beings. We have the indefatigable desire to understand. And even when we don’t, we have the need to rationalize what happens around us. On Purim, we remind ourselves that there are things happening all around us, that we don’t understand. Traditionally, the masquerading and the costumes are meant to remind us that things aren’t always what they seem to be.

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a little angel

Most of us live a regular day to day regime. There is a time for a wide variety of choices. But we realize that we have to make those choices. We can’t have everything. There are obligations incumbent on all of us. Each of us has a role to play. And there are times when we’re barely in touch with our own emotions, or have time for free thoughts because of all the things that are obligatory or routine. And yet, we have our fantasies. Not just the forbidden fantasies… Sometimes, light hearted silly fantasies. Usually pushed aside as we go about our daily routine and work, this traditional holiday of masquerading encourages fantasy. There are those who don’t have the need. But to go along with the spirit of the holiday, they wear pom poms or silly animal ears. Not as a disguise. Just to signal that they are part of what’s happening.

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two blue people with dog

The holiday commemorates an event that happened some two and a half thousand years ago, in ancient Persia, which had a large Jewish population after the destruction of the first temple in Jerusalem by the Babylonians. The most important minister in Persia, second only to the King, planned to wipe out all the Jews of that empire. And had it happened, it would have been something like the holocaust, which annihilated most of the Jewish communities in Europe a little over 70 years ago. As it turned out, the hand of fate intervened in this story, after the plan had already gotten the approval of the all powerful King. The evil minister fell from greatness to dishonor. Instead of watching the extermination of the Jewish people, he himself was executed, together with his closest associates.

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We fast the day before Purim, to remember our fear, as the catastrophe was approaching. And then we celebrate. Jews are actually encouraged to drink to drunkenness (an uncommon practice in our culture). A great banquet is held in many private homes. And most of the population take part, either in producing the banquet or being a guest at the banquet of a friend. People masquerade in costumes. Not just children; adults too. Joking, clowning, and juggling is the order of the day. It is common to watch humorous skits which have a farcical nature.

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A book telling the long story is read in the synagogue or in a public place, and every time the evil minister is mentioned, people make a great noise with noisemakers, in derision. Sweet cookies, representing the ear of the villain of the story are eaten. Charity is emphasized. People bring baked and cooked foods as presents to their neighbors. The pictures on this post were taken a week ago, on Friday. Here in Jerusalem, we celebrate one day later than in most of the world. The reason for that was mentioned last week.

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A Taste of America

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credit Yakov Nahomie, and special thanks to Ronnie!

Today is the holiday of Purim in Jerusalem, which commemorates the deliverance of our people from a terrible plot to kill all the Jews of Persia, some 2400 years ago. The holiday has been popular ever since, and is somewhat similar to Halloween, in that it is common for people to dress up in costumes and masks for the occasion. It’s the one day in the year when it’s a religious good deed to get drunk! I mention that it’s happening today in Jerusalem because the holiday was celebrated in most other places in the world, yesterday. That is because when the holiday was first declared, it was decided to celebrate it on a certain day according to the Jewish calendar, but that in all walled cities it would be celebrated one day later. And since this rule applies only to cities that were walled cities at the time, Jerusalem has the singular honor… there aren’t too many other cities that were walled at that time, and exist to this day. And Persia, if you’re wondering, is not a mythological state. It’s still around. Except they’ve changed their name recently. Now they’re called, Iran.

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Last week, when I heard that our prime minister, Mr. Netanyahu was going to visit America, to tell congress there to do their bit, and keep Iran from making atomic bombs, it gave me an idea. I would volunteer to help him. After all, I’m pretty good at English, and this is a very important issue. We could do it as a team. He could be the straight man, and I could tell the jokes. As you probably know, Israel is like a family. Everyone knows everyone… and half of us are related, one way or another. So I got in touch with my sister in law who’s ex boyfriend just happens to have a second cousin who is married to the cook in the prime minister’s mansion. And asked her to get the message across to Bibi. That’s what we call our prime minister. You can just imagine my disappointment when I wasn’t invited to join the delegation.

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After Netanyahu made his speech to congress on Tuesday, there was much discussion here the next day. People from all across the political spectrum here in Israel thought it was an excellent speech. Some said it was even powerful. But about half the country said, ‘well it was just words. Will it really stop Iran from making the bomb?!’ Listening to this, I got a little dejected. I kept thinking, if only he had taken my suggestion. If I’d gone with him, we could have really gotten those congress folks off their seats, and changed the course of history! And what’s more, I would have gotten a taste of America! That’s what I told Chana, when we were driving through the rain in the northern Negev, looking for a picture that was worth a thousand words.

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So she told me, ‘But you could still get a taste of America’. Remember, Chana, I told her, ever since they forbade smoking on airplanes, I’ve no interest in traveling abroad. ‘No problem’, she answered. ‘I know a place just a few kilometers from here, where you could have a taste of America’. So off we went, to a gas station at one of the larger intersections found in the Negev. Around the gas station, a number of coffee shops and restaurants have settled in. And among them, McDonald’s. They’ve got a big sign there, that promises ‘Big America’. And if you don’t eat meat, you can get their Egg McMuffin plus coffee, for only 14 shekels! They call it, ‘the happy meal’. We walked in and stood in line. And I tell you, just standing in line already made me feel half American. We both ordered children’s portions. I didn’t want them to have to call for an ambulance when I was finished eating. I’m a cautious guy.

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But what we didn’t know, was when you order a child’s portion, you also get a toy, and a chance to win the big prize, after the guessing contest. All the food came in cardboard buckets, and on the bucket, there was a reproduction of the Mona Lisa that just about knocked my eyes out. Eating would be enough, but here we were, filling our bellies, and filling our eyes with high powered culture. The object of the guessing contest was figuring out how the Mona Lisa on the cardboard bucket differed from the original version of the painting, painted some time back by someone named DeCaprio or DaVinci or some kind of Italian name. We didn’t get to see the original. But I suppose everyone who’s been to Europe has already seen it. Though I couldn’t remember if I’d ever seen it, I could see that the lady in this version of the picture was frowning. I was sure that if the original was so famous, the lady there had probably been smiling. And guess what? No sooner did I give my answer, then we got a prize for each of us. It was called a ‘Gogo Squeeze’, and the package assured us that it was made of 100% fruit!

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almost an identical copy of the Mona Lisa

After we finished our Gogo Squeezes, we started opening our toys. We had each gotten a little plastic doll in a hygienic plastic bag, as befits a classy American restaurant like McDonald’s. Chana got the girl doll, and I got the boy doll. In the interest of heterosexual fantasy, we decided to trade presents. I opened up my present and laid her down on the table, just looking at her and wondering what to do now. A twelve year old boy ambled up to my table, and mumbled something out of the side of his face. What’s that, I asked? ‘If you want to get her to spread her legs, I could tell you how, but it’ll cost you 20 shekels’, he said. Please go back to mumbling, I whispered, pointing to Chana with my eyebrows, while trying to hide my blush with the napkin, generously provided by Mac.

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his recommendation: transcendental meditation

Cunningly, I pulled my wallet out under the table, and passed a twenty to the young man. He pocketed the money without anyone noticing the transaction. ‘What you’ve got to do’, he said, ‘is the simple exercise of transcendental meditation’. You compose a sentence that is the bare bones expression of what you want, and say the sentence over and over again for twenty minutes with your eyes closed. It works for more than 70% of all who’ve tried it, and has proved itself all over the world. Something like ‘legs apart’ will do. ‘Just close your eyes and say it over and over again. Ask the lady across from you to tell you when the 20 minutes are over. You won’t be disappointed’. Man, that was really a taste of America.

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Purim

A friend, Dr Bob, asked me what Purim was, and it gave me a pause. Living here in Jerusalem, I had never had to explain it before. But Purim, though it goes back to the time of the second temple, 2500 years ago, is the most unusual of Jewish holidays.

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The holiday celebrates the invisibility of God, or the fact that God’s presence in this world is not always obvious or reasonable. It is preceded by a fast of one day. Following that, Jews go to the synagogue and read an old story from the time of the Persian exile, written on parchment in the same way that our Old Testament is written with ink on parchment. The story of Esther is written on a scroll, and it is a rather long story and takes a while to read. But it is read in one sitting. Because of that, it is customary to refer to a long drawn out story as a ‘long megilla’, for a megilla is a scroll. The story tells of a grave danger to the Jewish community living in the Persian empire (called Iran in the present time), and how things worked out. The name of God is not mentioned once throughout the book. And one might think that the events described were of a random nature But this series of coincidences is thought of as revealing the hidden hand of God in the affairs of men.

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Presents and gifts of food are brought to friends and to the poor. Little cookies are prepared with a filling inside of either poppy seeds or fig jam. Friends and family are invited to great banquets in the middle of the day, and it is considered a religious exercise to drink until your drunk. It is customary for both adults and children to appear in costume. Sometimes men dress like women, and women like men.

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There are those who feel uncomfortable with some of the characteristics of the holiday, and try to avoid this discomfort. And so, some religious folk simply drink a good bit, and then go to sleep, considering this a drunken stupor. But it is common to see serious and upstanding citizens dressed in ridiculous costumes. One of the explanations I have heard for the costumes, is that since we are instructed to give gifts, and it is considered most charitable when the recipient does not know who has given the gift, the fact that both the recipient and the giver are in costume helps avoid any possible embarrassment. But beyond any such rational explanation, it is clear that the costumes remind us that there is a reality that exists beyond the apparent reality.

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On the subject of drunkenness, there are also some explanations. One is certainly not encouraged to act in a vulgar or crude manner. And the instruction is to drink until one can’t tell the difference between Mordechai (the male hero of the story… the real hero is Queen Esther, a woman) and Haman (the villain). One of the explanations I have come across in my studies, is this: There are two ways to relate to the world. One is to look at those examples of righteousness and to emulate their behavior; to strive constantly for good in the world. The other, is to find those things that are wrong with the world, and to denounce them, and work against them. To protest against injustice. Each of us chooses the path that is closest to his or her heart, in order to make this world a better place. But on this day, we drink until we can’t tell the difference.

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The holiday falls on the 14th day of the month of Adar, according to our calendar. But in any city that was a walled city at the time of the original event, the holiday is celebrated the next day, on the 15th of the month. When I am in Jerusalem, which was a walled city in those times, we celebrate a day later than all the rest of Israel. But this year, I am visiting an old and dear friend who is in poor health. I am in the Galilee, and so this is one time that I will be celebrating the holiday at the same time with Jewish people all over Israel, and all over the world.