Tag Archives: weather

an evening excursion

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

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

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

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Ben Yehudah Str.

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

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the choir in good spirits

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

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that man could sing

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

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Noga reads me the menu

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

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Jerusalem’s Port

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

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

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

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On a white Friday

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There are a lot of things going on around me these days, both in my private life and in the world around me. But as I write this today, looking through the windows of my living room, most of the issues of interest have lost their importance when seen in the context of the snowstorm that is now visiting Jerusalem. Last week I wrote about the dust that descended upon us… the difficulty of breathing… the depressing brown and yellow skies. Since then, we had a good rain that washed the city clean, and then a couple of days that were cold but clear. The air was a pleasure to breathe, and the visibility was perfect. But all the while, there were warnings on the radio that the snow was coming. And then it came.

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We had a few days to stock up on supplies, and to get ready. And now it’s here. Nechama does enjoy watching it all through the window, but she has no interest in going outside. And though I wanted to step outside and get to meet it intimately, the first try was a bit much for me. It was very cold and wet and slippery. The snow got into creases I didn’t even know I had… tried to pet my camera, and tickled my spine. Sneaked into my boots and gave me cold feet. So I went back in, and waited for the calm after the storm. The problem is that it looks almost docile when seen through the window. But it can be fierce when you face it. Finally, the sun peeked between the clouds, and I went out for a second time, for a nice little walk.

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the path from the park to my house

Still, there is something miraculous about the snow, as I mentioned a year ago. Especially in Jerusalem, which is not really equipped to handle such weather. Most of the shops are closed. The transportation is crippled. And for a few days, there’s a break in the routine. For a few days, people have to make do with what they have at home. Last year we had a serious electrical outage as well, and so many of our gadgets stopped working. The heating stopped and we had to stay warm with the help of blankets. And illuminate our rooms with candles and torches. But even so, it was a wonderful adventure. This year, the electricity has been reliable, and aside from a complete shut down of transportation, everything seems to be working well.

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But let me tell you of the picnic basket I found the other day. It was after the big rain, and while we were waiting for the snow storm. And it was found near the trash bin on the street, not far from the grocery store. A place where many people walk by. It was an old fashioned basket. Not made of plastic, but of woven straw… I opened it, and looked in. There was a nice collection of books… some of them, art books, methodically arranged. And a few video tapes. It reminded me somehow of the basket found by the Egyptian princess, within which the baby Moses was found. I could imagine the owner of those books, having realized that he or she no longer had room on his shelves for any more books, but not wanting to throw them in the trash, packed them carefully in the basket in the hope that some young student would find the basket and rejoice at the discovery of the books. It was a moving sight.

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Another image of this last week was the conjunction of some beautiful tulips that Chana brought over last Friday, warning me that they were beautiful but wouldn’t last long. Yet they are still beautiful after a week in my over heated home… and next to them, a bottle of tequila that my daughter Rivka brought when she came to visit, bearing enchiladas to cheer me up. The tequila was brought to get me into the proper mood to eat Mexican food. It was just right.

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eating an enchilada, Rivka

A blogging friend of mine, Corina, has posted that on this day, the 20th of February, a thousand bloggers plan to write about compassion, in concert with the United Nations World Day of Social Justice. So I would like to join the thousand, and ask that we have compassion for the snow. Here today and gone tomorrow… The snow first comes to us with pristine beauty… a pure white cloak that covers our world. And usually winds up looking like mud, and treated like an eye sore. Let’s remember that all of us are here on a temporary basis. And by the time we’re ready to finish our term, we’ve usually been stepped on a few times, and left a few puddles behind us. So here’s my vote of compassion for the snow. May you enjoy a warm and comfortable winter, with a bit of adventure to keep your spirits up.

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doesn’t snow look best with blue skies above?

the eastern wind

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Wherever we might live, and in whatever circumstances, there are always trials and challenges. Even when our lives seem wonderful when seen from outside, we on the inside know the difficulties and the tests. When hearing about a tornado approaching the Florida coast, I tremble at the thought of what those people have to bear. Or I read about the collapse of a glacier in Switzerland. That sounds terrible. Here, when we have snow, it’s usually over in about three or four days. But we have something else. And the older I get, the more difficult it is for me to endure that type of weather. We call it hamsin.

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Usually, it’s a hot eastern or south eastern wind that gathers dust over the desert in Africa, and blows it in our direction, filling our skies with dirty brown air that makes it hard to breathe and leaves houses, cars, and park benches covered with dust until it rains. When it happens in summer, it often doesn’t even rain afterwards, and we have to wash everything ourselves. Hamsin means 50 in Arabic, and it’s said that somewhere… doesn’t seem like it would be so in Jerusalem… but somewhere… there are 50 days like that a year. There’s an old folk tale I remember hearing many years ago. According to this story, in one of our neighboring Arab countries, if a man killed someone after a week of such weather, he wasn’t prosecuted. It was taken for granted that the weather had driven him out of his mind. Hamsin refers to the hot wind. In winter, when the wind is cold, it’s called a sharkiah, but it brings the same terrible air pollution.

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We get warnings on the radio that the old, the very young, and people with heart or lung ailments should not go outside! When I was young and healthy, such announcements didn’t catch my attention. But now that I myself am suffering from a heart disease, I don’t even have to be warned. Just once or twice outside in that weather, and I knew it wasn’t worth the effort. It’s hard to breathe, and it wears you down very quickly. Some people become irritable, while others become unhappy just having a brown sky overhead.

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We’ve had it this week, for a few days now. Started out hot, and then turned into a cold wind. The dust is still here in Jerusalem, because it hasn’t rained yet. In most of the country it’s already raining. That washes away the pollution. So we’re waiting for rain. I like to take a walk every day, but for most of this week, I haven’t even thought about it.

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Just a few years back, I wouldn’t have stayed at home because of the weather. I had commitments, work, and people I’d scheduled to see. So I went out and took care of business. Even in the car, though, it was oppressive. I remember once, on a day like this, in a café, asking the waitress (whom I knew from previous visits) what sort of a day she was having. ‘What sort of a day?’ She asked me back, raising her eyebrows with comic despair. ‘What kind of day could it possibly be with all this dust?’ And the café itself was half empty.

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I took the pictures in this post on that sort of a day in February of 2009. I was visiting my mother, and had some free time, because I’d arrived early after being invited for tea at 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon. So I walked around the neighborhood a bit, near where she lived. Strangely enough, though the weather was terrible, the photos bring back good memories. It was nice being able to visit my mother late in life. She lived to be 101 years old. And it was a pleasure watching my stubborn, fellow Jerusalemites doing their best to ignore the conditions of the day.

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Nowadays, there is one place where you can escape the hamsin. Not the sort of place I visit often, but the shopping mall is unaffected. There, in a completely artificial environment, and constant air conditioning, one can walk around, go from one shop to the next, without really being bothered by such a primitive thing as weather. The sky is always a blue tinted high glass ceiling; the colors always pleasant. The lighting is easy on the eyes. I do visit once in a while, just to marvel at the work of man. It is an allegory of the city. But most of the time, I prefer to be in the city itself. And so, I’m waiting for the rain. On the radio, they said there was a storm coming. In fact, it’s already snowing again in northern Israel. And there are rumors it’ll soon be snowing here. I don’t know..

cows in the rain

In last weeks post, I spoke of my discomfort in winter weather; the difficulty I have trying to find artistic inspiration in the rain. But as I told you, when looking for pictures I photographed in the cold, rain and snow, I came across a number of old images I thought worthy of sharing. The photographs shown here are part of a set, called ‘Bashan cows’, and were photographed some 30 years ago, on negative film, in northern Israel on a cold and rainy day.

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My readers are aware of my love of cats. I have lived with them almost all of my life. I have learned from them, and built lasting friendships with them; more than I could count. But there are other animals as well, that I have learned from and loved. And from early childhood, I have had a very special regard for the Bovinae family, commonly called cows or cattle. I enjoy watching them graze; enjoy their moderate temperament, and learned a bit of meditation in their company.

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I first met them on a dairy farm, and afterwards spent time in their company in Switzerland, where they chewed the mountain grasses in summer, without a care in the world, appreciating nature. The voices of cows and bulls have a timber that makes its way to our hearts. And humans who enjoy the company of cattle are known to sing to them. Both in Switzerland and on the grasslands of Texas, in the western US, you can hear cowboys yodeling to these massive four legged domestic animals. And it seems to me, that as much as their herders influence these fine animals, they are themselves influenced by the spirit and the character of the cattle they live with.

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Not so long ago, I had a dream in which I’d fallen in love with a cow, and she had come to live with me. Her behavior in my dream was much like that of Nechama my cat, in real life. And when I’d be eating or working at my table, she would jump up on the table, to sit by me. But her weight proved overwhelming for the table, and again and again, the table would be smashed to smithereens, ending flat on the floor as a pile of wood. I would try to explain to my cow that this wouldn’t work, but she would just nuzzle up against me, and assure me that she was motivated by love.

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At one point, the carpenter came to repair the table, and I pointed out a large pile of wood on the floor of the salon, telling him he could use any of the wood he found there… explaining that those boards were what remained of three previous tables. When I awoke, I was laughing.

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The cows depicted in this series accepted the weather conditions with equanimity. And because of the heavy fog, one sensed their presence more than the details of their features. In art, as in dreams, the message comes through by way of hints, more often than not. Though I have photographed cows many times, in a great variety of circumstances, this series is most loved, because it doesn’t go into the details. It just tells the story by way of impressions.

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If you’re interested in seeing the whole series, your welcome to check out the following link, where you’ll find the pictures in larger dimensions. You may enjoy a slide show by pressing the play button at the top of the Flickr page.
https://flic.kr/s/4dhc

when it rains

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Yesterday morning, while taking my usual morning walk, I couldn’t help thinking about the cold and rain of winter. Though I had dressed warmly, I felt the cold nibbling at the skin of my face, and it was a challenge. My fingers ached. I hadn’t put on gloves because I thought I might want to photograph some nice winter scene. And though my camera hung from my shoulder, in a very nice camera bag which has its own clever raincoat tucked away in a pocket, there were no pictures. As I’ve written in the past, I seem to lose all interest in photography when dealing with winter weather. I’ll admit, that there is something about snow that attracts me visually. But the cold has a decisive negative effect.

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My dear friend Noga, used to try and inspire me to take pictures of cloudy or rainy days. She would speak of the beauty of low visibility, and sometimes point out scenes that had a mysterious or romantic nature. And listening to her, I could appreciate the wonder, as seen from her point of view. I have seen photography of winter weather that I found very beautiful. But when trying to do it myself, I am usually at a loss. It seems as if the dark clouds overhead cause me to close my eyes. Yet, at the same time, one of my objectives in writing this blog is to share with you what life is like here, in Jerusalem. And it’s not just sunny days. As I was thinking about this difficulty of mine, to see the beauty of winter weather, I remembered a photo taken long ago, that I liked.

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the photo I remembered

It was a rainy day, and a group of us had gathered in the home of one of my friends. The room was dark, but it was warm inside. The conversation was animated. We were sitting around a table… drinks in front of us… and an ample supply of snacks and sweets. And suddenly I asked one of the guests if he would please give me his seat for a few minutes. My request stopped all conversation, and a few of the guests looked quizzically at me. But when I pulled out my camera, there were laughs all around. ‘Ah, the photographer has an inspiration’, said someone across the table. The man I’d asked, gave me his seat, and I moved over next to the window.

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This happened over thirty years ago. Now, I wanted to find the picture. But how was I going to do it? I do have a catalogue of my photography, but mostly, it refers to commercial jobs. And back in the days of negative film photography, I would often have a camera with me that I had used for some job… and I’d add a couple of extra shots to a film that had been part of work. Sometimes, there’d be a number of different subjects on a film, which provided 36 shots. There was a time when I remembered every shot I took… remembered the aperture and shutter speed… and more or less remembered when I‘d taken the shot. But my memory isn’t as good as it used to be. I started looking for the photograph yesterday afternoon, remembering only a few of the folks that had been there at the get-together. It took quite a while, till I tracked the photo down. And while looking for it, and checking out many, many contact prints, I saw quite a few photos that could easily provide stories for my blog.

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I realized that I’ve mostly taken the easy path in writing this blog. For it is much easier to use a digital file, than it is to hunt down a negative, and scan it. And negatives have to be worked quite a bit more than digital files. But now that I’ve been reminded of several good stories from the old days, I think I will go back occasionally, and share with you some of those photos that were captured on film.

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Meantime, going through the catalogue, and looking at contact prints, I did find quite a few photos of winter weather. But looking at these images with the detachment that is characteristic after a long gap in time, I could see that the photos were more a reminder of the conditions on a given day… and not a record of my appreciation of the specific scene. I know that many think of Israel as some desert country where rain is a great rarity. Well, we do have some deserts. But the country is blessed with a large variety of scenery. Jerusalem is on a mountain, and has real winters. And I do desire to represent it honestly. But in my efforts, I realize that my choices reflect my personal taste and preferences.

approaching winter and politics

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The Yemenite Jews have a saying. ‘There are no fish without bones; no life without troubles’. It rhymes in Hebrew, which gives it a little pizzazz. And knowing that non Jews eat certain sea food that are devoid of bones, I suppose that this pearl of wisdom should be looked upon as a cultural tidbit rather than a universal truth. But as I took my morning walk each day this week, looking at the beautiful autumn colors on the vegetation in the neighborhood and in the park, this saying has been going through my mind again and again.

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Here we are in this gorgeous country in the middle east. We have temperate weather. The summer isn’t too hot. The winter isn’t cruel. Nowadays, as we reach the end of fall, and approach winter… after a week of rain, green shoots are seen everywhere, spurred on to optimism by two days of sunshine. We have the sea shore, a short drive from anywhere you might live in the country. A few beautiful deserts, and some mountains too. The lowest land spot on dry land in all the planet, next to the Dead Sea, where you can actually sit on the water’s surface and read a newspaper on a lake that has a depth of three hundred meters, because of the buoyancy of the water. There hasn’t been a serious earthquake in a hundred years, and there are no tsunamis or hurricanes in our area. What more could we request?

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my friend, Charlie

Of course, we have a few vocal minorities… but that’s the sort of thing you have to expect in a modern democracy. After all, the discomfort here is less extreme than what a number of other countries face… see for instance, the US. We have had to endure a few wars, now and then. But the cynics among us point out that more people die from motor accidents than from wars.

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and indoors, soaking up the sun

Yet even though I could argue that we’re enjoying the good life, and are enjoying good fortune, life does have its problems. In fact it seems like it’s a series of ups and downs. And we wouldn’t appreciate the good times without their being interspersed by bad. As we know, when the young have it too good, they often endanger life and limb (or good sense), just to avoid the threat of boredom. In our case, or so it seemed to me this week, our sorrows seem to come from a distended sense of drama.

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For instance, there has been some serious debate in our parliament over next year’s budget. A lot of money is going to be spent on ‘security’. That is, we have to have more police and army to deal with an increasing occurrence of terror attacks, plus we have just recently watched millions go down the drain as expenses in the last war. So it seems that we will either have to adopt an austerity plan or tax the middle and upper classes, who are already paying about 50% of their income supporting the general welfare. But at the same time, word has arrived from Berlin, where some Israeli yuppies are enjoying European culture, and sharing their impressions on Facebook. They report that cottage cheese is cheaper there than here. This news has the young middle class up in arms, and they are demanding free baby sitting, free dental care, and cheaper cottage cheese immediately. They feel that these minimal demands are the hallmarks of an enlightened society.

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At the same time, there have also been some harsh words exchanged in parliament about the definition of our state. Though it was stated in our Declaration of Independence that we have established the state as a Jewish, democratic nation, there are those among us who believe it is a matter of urgency to pass a law making Israel a Jewish state. At the other end of the spectrum, there are those who see our country as a ‘state of emergency’, while still others claim it is a ‘state of mind’. Members of the coalition government became insulted by their own interpretations of what their colleagues said… and all of a sudden, one year after this government was elected for a four year term, I hear that the government is to be disbanded and a new election about to take place. Of course, elections cost money. The coming election will probably cost many cups of cottage cheese.

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And since every one of the public opinion polls in the last few months reveal that the majority of the public see our present prime minister as the most appropriate choice for the job, it is hard for me to appreciate what could possibly be gained. But our dear prime minister assures us that he will be able to do a better job if he gets a bigger majority. The opposition on the other hand, is not impressed by the polls, and assures us that they will do the better job just as soon as they throw out the reigning prime minister and replace him with their own. Still, what about the baby sitting and the free dental care?

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The hard part, though, is listening to political propaganda for the next three months. Ear plugs alone can’t guarantee happiness. And even if they could assuage some of our distress, there is always the danger that we’ll find out that they can be bought cheaper in Berlin.

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