Tag Archives: spring

on every level

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I could feel the approach of spring as I traveled up north a couple of weeks ago, to the western Galilee. The rolling hills were showing green. There were flowers peeking through the grass, promising the delights of spring despite the chilly weather and the low hanging dark clouds that hid the sunlight more often than not. I’d slip out of my guest cottage on my way to the home of a friend, and find myself enchanted by the flowers in random stretches, in corners, cyclamen hugging the roots of sturdy trees. Though photography had not been the object of my trip, the gorgeous sights stimulated my somnambulating appetite and I had a great desire to take out the camera and capture some of those flowers. But like the birds who smiled at me from the branches of high trees till I began to unveil my camera, and then lifted their wings and flew away… so it was with the flowers whose petals blushed in a moment of sun, and then retreated in modest shyness as a cloud passed overhead, withdrawing the hot yellow brought by the sun. Though teased and frustrated by the momentary flashes of sunlight, once I had gotten my camera out, there were moments when I reluctantly accepted compromise, and took a shot of the blossom in the shade.

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Today is the eve of that great holiday, Passover. It honors the spring and reminds us to tell our children of the exodus from slavery, challenging us to examine our longing for freedom, and all the good reasons that lead us astray along the way. This obligation to tell our children of our aspiration for freedom and the many difficulties in achieving that state most characterizes the nature of our holiday. Their questions are valued, and we don’t have to have all the answers. But spending the whole evening around the dining room table in serious discussion, and the participation of all ages is the major feature of the holiday. The feast is the most extravagant of the three major festivals of our culture; those three events in which all of Israel would make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in ancient times. We prepare fun and games for the kids in order to keep the them awake as long as possible, till the middle of the night. This is a week long holiday, so a lot of folks go out on family expeditions to enjoy nature. Some go camping. And there are some unique dietary laws that remind us of the very special quality of these days.

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We do all we can to make the festival perfect. But we know as we strive, that nothing is perfect, just as in our desire for freedom we know that it beckons to us only when we’re out there somewhere, still escaping slavery… once we have that freedom, history has taught us just how easy it is to corrupt and disrupt, and if we picture ourselves amusing the cows in the meadow by playing lullabies on a flute, it’s just a fleeting vision to be followed by monkeys’ mischief and entropy.

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We had barely left Egypt when we began wailing nostalgically for the watermelon of the ‘old country’. Forty years we traveled around in the desert, working to change ourselves from slaves to free men and women. And since that time, a lot of years have gone by, and every year we’ve commemorated the exodus, studying still another aspect of the work of freeing ourselves. And in every living room, another set of folks have considered those same questions in a different context, and found answers from a different perspective. Some see slavery as addiction, or obsession, or fear… or chasing after an illusion. And everyone sees freedom in his own subjective way. We’ve known miracles, so we don’t dismiss any goal as impossible. There’s been ups and downs all along the way. Even the most miserable of circumstances have left souvenirs in the shape of handwritten and hand illustrated copies of the Passover chronicle as it was recited and learned.

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Since I can’t share with you the many tastes, aromas and textures of those special Passover dishes, nor can I sing you the songs and responses that we sing to one another through the first evening, or share the light headed inebriation fostered by a minimum of the obligatory four goblets of wine this evening, I have chosen to share with you a few photos of spring’s nature. As it happens, these are the pictures I took when the clouds were hiding the full colors available only in the light of the sun. Take them for what they’re worth. Maybe next year I’ll have better.

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Close to our borders, the hyenas are preparing a picnic. They say it’s going to be a peaceful get together, but some of us are suspicious. We have been attacked before on holy days… and hyenas are better known for their attacks than their picnics. So a lot of young fathers are going to be called away to watch the border on this joyous occasion. But we still hope it’ll all work out alright this year. A happy Passover and a beautiful spring to all my friends.

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spring and forgotten memories

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Google says this is a cherry blossom. I didn’t know that, though I’ve watched these trees for years. I can tell you that the hyraxes love the fruit. I haven’t tried them myself… yet.

When my dear old mother was in her 90s, she used to preface many a story by mentioning what a fine memory she used to have… but it was gone now. Every time she would say that, it saddened me. Why did she have to say that over and over again. I knew she had had a fine memory once. I knew that she had lost much of it. Was she trying to excuse herself for her lapses? Was she apologizing? Whatever it was, I wished she wouldn’t mention it then, because it pained me to think of the decline. After all, I was moving into old age myself. It could have been that she didn’t remember she had said that to me many times before.

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wild grasses growing on a vacant lot near my home

Now it’s my turn. I have begun to lose memory… though my doctor tells me its nothing to worry about, and that the process begins at about 30, at this point I have just begun to be aware of it. I always had a catalogue of my photography, but for many years it just catalogued which photos were shot for which customers and where the negatives were. Then at some point, I started recording where certain ‘art’ photographs were. I didn’t really have to because I remembered just about every photo I had shot, and when… but since I had a catalogue anyway, I started writing down where the negative or digital file was kept. But there were so many pictures, that there was no point in writing down everything. So I just wrote down the ones that I thought I might look for later.

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the redbud tree flowers at the beginning of spring

Then this morning, I was planning to write about early spring. There is one scene that typifies the very start of the season for me. It is when the very first shoots of grass push out of the dirt on the barren hills of Benjamin or in the northern Negev. It doesn’t look so much like grass from up close. It isn’t that dense. But from a distance you can clearly see the green color on the hills. I know I’ve photographed the phenomenon many times… but looking for it this morning, in albums and in my catalogue, I was unable to find an example. It’s not the first time that has happened. Sometimes I want to write about something, and look for a good illustration… and though I remember a specific photo, I am no longer able to remember where it can be found in my archives.

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snap dragons growing out of the stone wall

Today, the failure of my search for that example distressed me. I started wondering, what would I do if I could no longer find the photos I needed as illustrations. Was this reason enough to stop writing? And then it occurred to me, that I could work the other way. I could look through my collection of photographs, and find a few that brought back memories… This time, I’ll  share some pictures from last week. The holiday of Passover is just a week ahead. And for me, that is springtime at its best. These are the signs of spring in my immediate environment.

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I’ve also included this old picture of Nechama enjoying the wild grass that used to grow behind my old home. It’s a fond memory. Like her, I’ve always preferred wild grasses, though their season is relatively short in our country.

on the promenade

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alternate symbol of Jerusalem by Uriel Raz

There are many variations of the Lion of Judah to be found in Jerusalem. You can see them on manhole covers and on park benches, and on mysterious junction boxes with cables running in and out. That lion is found on many documents and announcements too, and is sported on flags which adorn the city on holidays and special occasions. There’s a promenade on the south side of town, the Haas Promenade, which I visit now and then to raise my spirits if I’m down. I used to take students there to do quick sketches or photograph, because it has a great view of the temple mount.

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In fact, I’ve photographed it so often, that my collection of photos from that particular place represents all seasons and all moods, and this morning I looked through some past posts, just to check if I’d already published that old lion, and to my amazement, it seemed as if I’d never devoted a post to that wonderful place, though there have been a few photos from there that did find their way to this blog in different contexts. For instance, here: http://tinyurl.com/peffs8l

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carved on a trash can

The last time I was walking there, I noticed a small trash can, made of stone, which had the lion carved into its side, and I thought I’d share it with you. But then, how could I show you that, without showing the classic illustration by Uriel Raz, who really brings it all together by depicting the lion of Judah as one of our city’s alley cats.

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a kiss between cats

There are more to come… for I have a collection of the many different versions of that particular lion, who reflects all the different moods of Jerusalem. But today, I was going to continue from that trash can to an eastern extension of the promenade that was added on just a few years ago.

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There are many birds who make their home in the trees that line this path… and wild flowers that find their place among the cultivated cultured ones. If you have the time to extend your exploration after walking the promenade, you can step out of the park and walk back to your car, or to the local shops, by way of the highway, where you’ll encounter the monument to tolerance, which is still another sight in this area that is well worth visiting.

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The amazing thing about this promenade, is that as you walk along, you can get a good look at parts of the city, and the ancient wall that surrounds the old city, as well as the temple mount from almost every step along the walk. Yet the area of the promenade itself is very beautiful too. And so there’s an exquisite balance between what is close and what is relatively far.

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What I most love, are the green lawns on the western side. But if I start looking for photos I like… and this happens often when I’m blogging… I find too many photos, and then agonize about what to put in and what to leave out. So this morning, not being in the mood to pick and choose, I’ll just pull out a few at random from along the path. But I do intend to organize a post that will concentrate on the many facets of this breath of fresh air in the midst of the urban environment.

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the flowers and the olive tress remind me of temporal pleasures and history

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poppies need not be planted in Jerusalem. They invite themselves in this season

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retama is native to the southern parts of our country, and usually blooms with white flowers

the romantic trail

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caution, frog crossing

Yesterday, the third day of the first heat wave of spring, Chana and I drove north to the ‘source of the Yarkon’, a national park neighboring the city of Rosh Ha’ayin, called Afek in distant history. It wasn’t all that hot in Jerusalem. But we knew that most places outside of the city might be too hot for a day trip, and this seemed to us a fine place for adventure. We packed a picnic, took cameras and maps, a folding chair for me, and we were on our way.

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Usually I like to take the back roads and the slow roads to all destinations. But since we knew we would have a lot to see once we got there, we made an exception this time, and took Highway 6, arriving there in just a little more than an hour. Though there were a few groups of children around… and in one area we did encounter the grating sound of an enthusiastic nature counselor urging some of those children on to a demonstration of physical prowess, with the help of some electronic amplifying equipment, most of the park was peaceful and calm. We chose to follow the example of the ducks on the pond, and avoid the youthful noise, taking comfort in the natural beauty of old trees and calm waters. It was a beautiful day.

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The sun wasn’t always out. At times, cloud banks covered the sky. But the weather was in movement, and there were ample opportunities to capture the full color spectrum when the sun did show itself. The natural scene was rich and inviting. Trees supplied ample shade. And there were a number of adults enjoying the advantages of the park.

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There is a small Baptist village just outside the park, and there was a couple, two middle aged Baptists dressed in comfortable walking attire, that we kept running into, though we traversed the park from one end to the other. Along the way we discovered the ‘romantic trail’, adorned as it was with a magnificent array of beautiful flowers.

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the two Baptists

From prehistoric times, the land of Israel served as a pathway between Africa and Europe. And from earliest history the city of Rosh Ha’Ayin, which translates into English as ‘the fountainhead’, was a focal point of that passageway.

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The city is mentioned in the old testament and in Egyptian documents from eighteen centuries before the common era. Seemingly, it became an important city in historic times because of the springs found there, which provide plentiful water. The Yarkon river which flows to Tel Aviv and through it, originates there. And the national park we visited is located right next to the city.

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I have to admit that the ducks were very cautious and we never did get close enough to get a good picture. Nor did we find a single frog willing to pose for the camera. But we did hear them when we approached the larger bodies of water. I have a very beautiful frog portrait from a previous visit to the same park, but decided to share with you only those shots captured yesterday. And it was only after returning to Jerusalem, that I realized that I hadn’t gotten a single duck photo, and felt a certain measure of sorrow. Because ducks are rather rare in our country. I should have tried harder.

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Still, there was a bit of comfort knowing that I had captured my dear friend Chana, actually hugging a tree, evidence that even here, in the backward middle east, one can find enlightened people who know how to express their love for nature in the most up to date manner.

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There was no need for my folding chair. We found plenty of picnic tables and benches to sit upon, and our picnic was all the more delicious, in the shade of an old eucalyptus tree, having the local birds serenade us as we ate both humus and soft cheese with pita bread and tasty spices, and quenched our thirst with local beer.

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We will be celebrating Pentecost this coming Sunday, and I imagine that the park will be filled to overflowing with visitors on the holiday. How lucky we were to visit just before the big rush, enjoying the serenity of this natural treasure at its best. And how good it was to conclude such a pleasurable adventure, knowing that we were about to return to our beloved home town, Jerusalem.

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not a duck, but it was a pleasure meeting this bird…

skies and fields

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We were a little south of Jerusalem last week, looking at the flowers and the trees in a nature reserve. It occurred to me that in springtime the flowers are sometimes so plentiful that we don’t really examine them as individuals. Both flowers and trees can become pleasant backgrounds, taken for granted.

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In contrast to that scenery, let us take a look at the skies and fields a little to the north of Jerusalem, in the county of Benjamin. Often seen as a background to human activity, when focused upon for their own beauty, we can see the counterpoint of images, as if in conversation: the boulders at the edge of the field and the little clouds above, lighter, but still like individual rock clouds of heaven.

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I let my eyes wander across the sky, looking at the arrangement of the clouds. Usually I need the horizon to enjoy a picture… but just this once, I lose myself in the story of the clouds. The skies change dramatically, sometimes every few minutes. There are heavy cloud banks that hang on for a while, filtering the light differently… and then the scene changes again as time goes by.

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Down below, on solid ground, the rocks and boulders give way to a grove of olive trees. Between those rocks you’ll find soft greenery, tempting and luscious to the goats and sheep that graze there, and to the gazelle, a native life form on our land. The gazelles run over the rocks without hesitation… they know how to dance across the rough terrain.

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And the olive trees; they too are native to our land. The fruit of those trees have been part of our daily meal for generations and centuries. They’ve provided the oil for our lamps since the beginning of recorded history. They’re so common, so much part of the scenery, that they too often taken for granted.

seven days

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this concept is an accepted maxim in Jewish tradition. What starts out as a custom becomes law.

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The holiday of Passover, like the holiday of Tabernacles, lasts 7 days. The first and the last day of the holiday is similar to a Sabbath.

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During the intermediate days we are permitted to ride in a vehicle, use electric devices, and write as well as read. I can write my blog, for instance.

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Unlike the Sabbath, we are allowed to cook on the first and last days of the holiday. Unless one of them falls on the Sabbath. This year, the first day fell on the Sabbath. And so we had to prepare the food before the start of the holiday.

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So this is a holiday, when many of my countrymen and women go out to enjoy nature, and revel in the spring. I used to go out with the intention to photograph the beauty of nature… But I found that landscape photography was often difficult, because in this season it is often rainy or hazy.

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Still, there are some beautiful days…
And there are very special flowers that bloom at this time.

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Right now, as I write you, there is the wail of a strong wind blowing through the city. Yesterday was a better day, and together with two sweet friends we wandered off on dirt roads, southwest of Jerusalem.

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The intermediate days are more open to subjective celebration, personal taste, and individual pleasures.

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with Noga in the forest; photo by Chana

Many Israelis enjoy a barbeque, by which they celebrate the holiday. I attended one such barbeque this week, which was very enjoyable. My friends drank wine. I drank grapefruit juice with Vodka. Beer is forbidden on Passover and so is whisky, because fermented grain is not allowed.

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These amazing flowers are called the blood of the Maccabees in Hebrew, and the little beetle appreciating the flower, known as a ladybug in English, is called Moses’ red cow in Hebrew.

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This evening marks the beginning of the last day of the holiday. It is followed by the Sabbath, so in many ways we’re about to enjoy a two day Sabbath. That means an extra day without bread.

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We will continue eating matzot, unleavened bread until the conclusion of the Sabbath. And after that, back to normal.

in the holiday spirit

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three of my grandchildren eating matzot (unleavened bread)

I’ve no idea if this happens in any other country, but for a week here, everyone is off for a holiday. We visit friends and relatives, go off to commune with nature… and because all of the nature reserves, the beaches, and the usual holiday sites are full to overflowing… some take off and travel abroad. But wherever you go, you find your fellow countrymen enjoying the holiday.

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granddaughters

Walking down the main street of my new neighborhood, I saw a few stores that were exhibiting portable barbeques. It is quite common for families to go out to nature for a picnic. And in that context, we have been hearing good news this week. According to reports heard on the radio, campers and picnickers have been taking their garbage home with them, leaving the public camps and forests cleaner than they were in years gone by. In the past, at the end of the holiday we would always learn how many tons of garbage were gathered in recreation sites, left behind by lazy tourists.

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Hillel plays us a Passover song

All the major highways are filled with vacationers. Those with little children visit the amusement parks. And there are festivals, and musical get togethers. Only the restaurants suffer. Because of the restricted diet, many eateries close for the holiday. Others provide food that is fitting. But even so, there are less people who eat out… especially here in Jerusalem, where the dietary rules are very strictly observed. The bakeries offer special cookies prepared just for this holiday, which are made of peanuts and coconuts, and cakes made of potato flour, because flour made of grain is not used.

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cookies prepared especially for the holiday

Spring is in the air. All the fields are decorated with flowers. It brought me such joy to see large patches of wild mustard flowers in the nature preserve where we visited last week.

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wild mustard

When I was younger, I often planned a photography expedition for this particular time. But as it happens, the change of seasons usually brings with it a haze, or winds from the east or south which stir up sand and dust, resulting in poor visibility. I had many disappointments on that score, but learned to appreciate some of the unique possibilities even if landscape photography wasn’t always possible.

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Hagit and Tamar

I’ve been going to bed late this week. There is so much happening every day. But I do take a nap in the afternoon. And I’ve been reading a really fine book that I picked up at a bus stop. Yes, picked up… I didn’t buy it. In Chana’s village, they’ve started a program of voluntary book donations. And every bus stop has a couple of shelves filled with a wide selection of books. The passer by is encouraged to take some reading with him. I found one that was just to my taste, and have been reading it all week.

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playing cards

This Sabbath Passover will be a very special day, offering the special holiness of the Sabbath, and the joy that is characteristic of this holiday of freedom. My best wishes to all my friends and readers. It is my hope that you will be able taste something of the holiday spirit from the photos offered here.

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the grandchildren’s cat, jinjit