Tag Archives: work

a fence worth looking at

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As I have mentioned previously, Hebrew is a conceptual language. It is built on a great many roots which are found in all verbs. When the same root is found in different words they reflect a conceptual relationship. For instance, the words: writing, dictation, correspondence, letter, and reporter all have a common root. The very nature of the language hints at certain values which are part of our culture. And so, it’s interesting to find that the root of the word ‘definition’ is the same as that for ‘fence’.

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A fence, we learn, gives definition to an area. Which goes together well with a saying I’ve heard in English, ‘a fence makes good neighbors’. This fence was found in one of the two industrial neighborhoods of Jerusalem, Talpiot and Givat Shaul. Both of them accommodate factories and workshops. And since there are workers there, they also have restaurants and simple eateries, shopping centers and stores. And because no one sleeps there at night, you’ll find night clubs there too, so people can enjoy themselves as noisily as they care to, at all hours. And where there are fences, they are meant to hide an unsightly industrial property or designed to keep people from wandering into a construction sight.

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I was visiting some clients in Talpiot when I first noticed this fence. It was made of sheet metal that had been put up between posts in the ground, and was painted in three colors with black lines. Turned out that a few businessmen had put together the money to buy paint, and some students from the Bezalel Art Institute in our fair city had volunteered to decorate the fence. The unpretentious stick figures fit in nicely with the many examples of graffiti found in the area. The paintings have a somewhat humorous, minimalist approach. And in my eyes, it’s art.

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As for fences, their very existence is something of a provocation. One wants to trespass or transcend. But if they’re designed well, they might seem like the skin that surrounds and protects our bodies. Though Jerusalem was a walled city in ancient times, there are relatively few fences within the city. The housing is fairly dense, yet here and there are open spaces, which provide that very important taste of nature in the city. I hope to do a post very soon on some of those public spaces here.

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You can see the set of the fence pictures here:

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imperfection

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The strident cry of an ambulance siren on the freeway, coming in from the north… on it’s way to the hospital on mount scopus, not so far away… begs to remind the speeding drivers that at times, there are incidents even more important than their own intentions. The drivers slow for a moment, moving a little, left or right, to make way for the ambulance. It passes, and the traffic resumes its previous pattern.

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The sun is shining. The skies are blue. A few white cotton clouds floating up there. Blue and white above, and fierce geometric patterns of shadows falling from the corners of stone buildings opposite, across the street. In my pleasant room, there is a light breeze through the open window, and the sounds of overwhelming beauty from the guitar strings of Lanzboim coming through the speakers. The name of the album is ‘Beyond This World’. Life seems as beautiful as it can get. What happens now?

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In the garden of Eden, it seems that our first sin was rampant curiosity… or was it the temptation to experience the forbidden. And then came hatred, jealousy, and murder. I heard on the radio this week, of a young man who died from shooting some designer drug right into his veins. It had been intended for smoking. But he wanted a more intense experience. I hear of bungee-jumping. There are people out there looking for thrills. Sometimes it seems to me that the greatest sin is taking this world and the life we were given for granted.

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And on the other side of the street there are people struggling to overcome a handicap. Some were born blind, and others blinded by illness or accident, and are working hard to appreciate the world with their other senses. Despite their handicaps, they are trying to enjoy the world around them as much as you and I do. And it seems sometimes, as if a handicap can be a present from heaven, reminding us of how precious life is… how precious, that which we do have… and that which we can enjoy.

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A few weeks ago, we were on the balcony with Gila… on another beautiful day like this. We were drinking beer and soaking up the sun. Our friend Ilanit told me that she had heard somewhere that life is like riding a bicycle. If it’s easy, it means you’re going downhill. If it’s hard, it means your climbing. I liked that one.

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Yesterday, I had an early dinner with a friend in the Fortuna restaurant here in Jerusalem. It’s a modest restaurant. You would have trouble finding it, if you weren’t a resident of Jerusalem. The owner prepared the food, and carried it himself to our table. There were quite a few little plates with all kinds of different salads on them. The salads were wonderful… just as good as the main course. The photos on this post are from the machaneh yehudah neighborhood, where the restaurant is found.

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Sitting there, eating my meal, and talking with a friend… after having had my eyes examined by an optical cat scan, and thinking that even blindness might be an experience that could enable an appreciation of life… it occurred to me that we don’t really need a handicap to appreciate life… nor a bungee-jump for the thrill. It is enough to remember that life is a temporary experience. We’re here today, and gone tomorrow. And if we remember that, we should be able to treasure each day, and every experience that comes our way.

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Here in Jerusalem, we have another recipe for keeping life precious. Six days a week, we go about our work and play. And on the seventh, we take a break. A break from all the work and all the regular things; a celebration of life, of simple sensual pleasures like a good meal and a walk… of song… and reading a good book. It works most of the time. But, of course, there is always the temptation to break the rules. This evening, my Sabbath begins with the setting sun. My best wishes to my readers and friends.

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work at something you love

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… to Janne with love…

work at something you love
’cause work wasn’t meant to be a picnic
isn’t just highs and deep realizations…
but drudgery and pettiness, and remaining true
through the worthless moments…
going back to hoe another rut again
under the hot sun, breathing the gray fog
carrying meaningless loads… of something
that should have been thrown away last year
being kind to complaining animals
who think they have it coming to them,
straining at the ropes… barking through the fence…
remembering that those old tiles on the footpath
were going to be replaced long ago
looking at the salesman’s catalogues, thinking…
what’s the minimum that I can buy
to keep this old farm still going
and avoiding the glamour, and the color,
and the promised miracles…
getting up when you’re still tired
keeping on when it looks like hope is gone…
the horse has blinders, but you just have purpose
and a fading commitment that doesn’t make sense
if you love your work…
if it doesn’t come out right the first time… or the second…
who’s counting… when it’s been all day…
rubbing in that old stain… till you’re carried away
the doctor heals the sick… and there are more sick
from here to the end of life, than we could imagine…
facing sad eyed misery, again and again…
from the road cleaner to the laundry man
to the cook in the hash house who’s fried more eggs
than there are flies round the garbage can.
from the man on the assembly line to the boss himself
there are excuses and embarrassments and expectations
mistakes and retakes and going through the motions…

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so love your work and await the sublime
which makes up for what happened that other time…

days getting shorter

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The days seem to pass very quickly. There was a period in my life, when I had so much to do, I’d plan the day to the minute. And it was amazing, how much I managed to fit into a single day. I am reminded of those intensive times when I talk to my children. They’re still doing that. Have a number of projects running at the same time; often eat on the run; answer mails on their cell phones; pick up something from the store on their way from here to there. I admire their pace, and their many accomplishments. All the more so, because they seem happy. They have the pleasure of accomplishment.

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I start my day with a walk. It’s most beautiful shortly after sunrise. Talk to the neighborhood cats, and they share with me that which interests them. Each day is different. The light falls differently on the trees and bushes, and the neighborhood buildings. By the time I return to my studio to begin work, it’s already the middle of the morning. Time seems to move quickly. I often listen to music while I work. Music is a great inspiration, though. Sometimes, I have to stop work just to listen a bit better. A little after noon, I eat a modest lunch, and then take a nap. And in the afternoon, I spend the time studying and reading for pleasure. By evening there are often visits with friends and family. And at the end of the day, there are always things I planned to do, that I didn’t get around to. That’s the way it is at the end of the week, or at the end of the month… there are always things that I planned to do, and didn’t manage to get to.

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I like the summer, and enjoy the heat. It’s almost never too hot, here in Jerusalem. And since the heat is a dry heat, I can enjoy it without an excess of sweat. The other day, I returned, with a couple of friends, to the ‘Spring Garden’, where I’d visited in the spring of this year. It’s an ancient garden at the edge of the city that had been deserted and abandoned for many years. The plant life had grown wild. The terraces remained, but the water ways had become blocked, the furrows forgotten, and the place had lost its lively culture. But then about ten years ago, some neighbors got together, and revived the garden. The water ways were cleared, and new fruit trees were planted, and old ones nursed. Birds and animals soon found their way to the renewed garden, and it is once again a lush corner of our world.

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After a very pleasant walk among the flowers and trees, we returned to a pub, and had some beers in the patio, as we watched carefree people, many on vacation, walking along the street. The shadows grew long. The colors grew rich in yellows and orange. It was a pleasure to enjoy the long day, knowing that soon the days would get shorter. We ate pizza and a variety of salads. I especially enjoyed the stuffed mushrooms. They were delicious, and brought back good memories as well.

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Because of the spring we had just visited, I was thinking about water. A few years ago, here in Israel, there was a bit of a panic about running out of water. Since then, we’ve created a few desalination plants, and it looks as if we’ll soon be able to supply as much water as needed, for an acceptable price. But I was reminded too, of our ancient forbearers who designed collection funnels on the roofs of the buildings here, collecting rain water for all the necessary uses. There is so much we can do, so long as we look for answers, and don’t raise our hands in despair.

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dangling legs

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Nechama looking out the window, as Noga works on the computer

a study of work and rest

a professional portrait

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Catriel on the ‘Seat of Elijah’

I was asked to do a portrait, by an old customer last week. I first started working for him about 25 years ago, and I regard him highly. I have had a photography studio and lab for many years here in Jerusalem. I have worked with museums, industrialists, artists, and private people. I’ve had a number of employees who have worked for me over the years, most of them for long periods of time. And I have tried my best to maintain friendly relations with both customers and workers during all that time. But some of these people have made a lasting impression on me, and Catriel is definitely one of those.

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detail of peacock on the seat

When first I met Catriel, he was a craftsman; a woodworker who made exquisite religious objects out of wood, often employing rare woods from far away places, and embedding silver and gold and mother of pearl in the pieces he made. He designed the pieces himself, and his work was elegant. My job was to photograph the objects for his catalogue. Occasionally, my photographs appeared in magazine articles about his beautiful work.

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mezuzah made to look like a house

I can’t say that the photography itself was a great challenge, or especially interesting work. But I considered it an honor to document these wonderful objects, and when I photographed them in my studio, I felt as if I was handling holy objects. Each of them had a ‘presence’ that I couldn’t ignore. He made all kinds of things, from spinning tops for children to celebrate the Hanukah holiday, to spice holders used in the ceremony in which we mark the end of the Sabbath, and the beginning of the new week. He made the little boxes for the mezuzah, in which the parchment that declares our faith in one god is attached to the doorframe. And since this box is called ‘house’ in Hebrew, he made some that were in the image of a Jerusalem house, complete with solar panels on the roof, and a water tank. But there were bigger projects too. He made a model of the tabernacle in which we live outside the home for a week in the fall, called a sukkah. And likewise, made a model of a synagogue. And eventually, he made the most stirring model of all, a model of the holy temple.

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a little model of a synagogue as seen from the inside

In order to make this model of the holy temple, he had to study quite a bit about how the temple itself was made, and became an expert on the subject, and was invited to lecture in numerous places. In a way, this was the beginning of his turn from wood working to scholarship. He became a regular lecturer. And since then, he has turned his hand to writing, and this recent request for a portrait was because a book he has written is about to be published, and he was asked for a portrait to be included on the cover of his book, by the publishers. It was not the first time I had done a portrait of him.

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chalice for wine

Many years ago, he had built the seat of Elijah, a ceremonial chair that is found in most synagogues. When a baby boy is circumcised, he is placed on the seat of Elijah, or on the knees of his godfather, who sits on the seat. And this seat is usually somewhat ornate. But the seat that Catriel made, was so beautiful, that it couldn’t be compared to any other. On the sides, the images of peacocks were embedded in the wood. It was truly a work of art. I made a portrait of him seated in this chair he had made, and he was dressed in clothing from the time of the holy temple. I loved that chair, and loved the congregation that was so blessed as to have that chair in their synagogue. When I met him last week, I asked him where the chair was these days, expecting to hear that it was now in some synagogue in a wealthy neighborhood of New York, or somewhere else in the west. But to my disappointment, I was informed that it resided in a museum. I would have preferred it, if it was still in use, as a piece of religious furniture.

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spice box for parting from the Sabbath

In any case, when he approached me with the request that I do his portrait, and explained that it was for a book cover, I asked him how he would like others to see him. He answered, ‘genial and benign’. I was amazed. I have done many a portrait in my professional life, and I have often asked what the purpose was, or what the subject wished people to see in the portrait, but I had never been told that he or she wished to be seen as benign. But there is something aristocratic about Catriel. His beautiful work is a testament to his exceptional character.

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Catriel today

And I have to tell you, that I take a certain risk in publishing this post. For he is one of the very few Israeli readers of this blog. Most of my readers reside in foreign countries. And most of my Israeli acquaintances and friends don’t even know that I write in English as well. But Catriel has found my blog and reads it regularly.

how focused

There was a time, once, when one of my cats had to undergo surgery… and I remember myself asking the doc, if he could give me something for the pain. And he looked at me for a moment… obviously, a bit surprised that I would make such an unreasonable request… and then, realizing that I just didn’t understand, he explained. You can’t give an animal a pain killer, because the pain serves a valuable function in nature. Without the pain, the animal feels as if everything is all right, and he will behave as if he weren’t limited… and might not live through the experience. No, he has to have that pain all the time to remind him to just lie around and not do anything till he recovers.

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to know you is to love you

I suppose that’s why I had to have three heart attacks before I changed my life style. Most of my life, I was so strong, that I just didn’t have to think about limits. I could carry any burden, work for as many hours as I thought was appropriate, under any conditions; could keep on going without sleep or without food… and at worst, it just seemed like an inconvenience to me. There were a few times, of course, when things went wrong… when I was wounded or sick, but they were unusual and rare incidents, and I did what the doctor ordered. But then, one day… I discovered that I had found my limit, and it took a while before I learned how to live differently. But I did. I am thoroughly enjoying living life within the limits nowadays.

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usually, it’s more fun with company

After they had opened me up and put me back together, what I was given to understand, was that I should just calm down. Fortunately, I was informed that there are some very light medicines that could calm me down. But this was a problem for me. I’d never taken any pills all my life. Not even vitamin pills or an aspirin for a headache. And what’s more, all my life, I’d tried to be more sensitive and not less; to take things to heart; to empathize with my fellow man,… and so on. I accepted their opinions with confidence and respect. But I just couldn’t imagine myself taking a valium every day to remain calm. So I told them I would have to learn to deal with this problem with my own resources. But that it looked liked a serious job. It was. It was one of the hardest changes I had to go through. But I don’t take valium to this day.

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the future was in the bag

When I first got into commercial photography, it was because I had numerous expensive habits, and most expensive among them, was my interest in art. Having to support a family, I couldn’t take it for granted that I would succeed in such a mercurial profession, where fashions and taste often determine success or failure. And the percentages of financial prosperity are extremely small. Commercial photography is like any craft or business. You have to know your craft, and you have to know a little about business. And then, if you’re willing to work, your biggest problem is not letting your money slip out of your pocket on the way to the bank. I got to know some of the finest in my profession, and I often heard the same story. They had fallen in love with the profession, when first they studied it. But after a while, the greatest pleasure turned into a chore. You had to do the same thing over and over again… and the better you get at it, the more boring it gets.

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a cat, even when it’s up in a tree, knows how to get down… usually

I’ve heard similar complaints about other professions. I became good friends with another photographer in my town. He too had a studio, and did work much like the work I did. And I admired his imagination and originality; his flair with the camera. He was able to turn an advertisement into a compelling story, or pull your eyes into an image till you just wanted to bathe your senses in the pleasurable colors and shapes of the images he produced. Since we actually worked in relatively close proximity, we used to go off for long lunches together, drinking and eating to our hearts’ content, and discussing what the world was all about. And since we came from different backgrounds, and had different political points of view, it was all the more fun to discuss and compare our attitudes towards life, culture, politics, and what the future might bring.

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my friend Ilan in that same restaurant, a few years back

One day, we had finished our lunch and were sitting on the patio of an enchanting local restaurant that specializes in ‘country food’… you know, using those ingredients that are native to our country, and the spices that grow wild around here. When we would finish our lunch, the owner of the restaurant would come by to ask how we liked the meal, and offer us a liqueur that was flavored with a number of local spices, and was actually pretty strong alcohol… and that day we were feeling especially good, and just kept refilling the little shot glasses we had their on the table. The both of us had a good amount of work to go back to, but we also had employees working hard while we were gone. And we knew, that come what may, we would manage to complete those jobs that we had committed ourselves to.

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work

And then, after a long pause, he said, ‘you know, Shimon, You could make a lot more money’. How, I asked. I was making enough money. I was thoroughly enjoying my life. But he was always looking for ways to make more… and of course, I was always willing to listen to his ideas. And his was pretty simple. My studio had a photo lab attached, and we were open to any sort of business that would come our way. Sometimes it was some little job, but had to be prepared just right, and that meant setting up a studio background, finding the right lens, arranging the lights just so… And other times it might be a project, which included a lot of graphic work, the use of Polaroids to check the lighting, and dashes into the lab, to check to see that the work was coming out just the way we wanted before all of the theatrical set-up was taken apart. There was a lot of work and time spent, going from one job to the next. And his idea was for me to specialize; to pick just a few types of jobs that were well remunerated, and then to concentrate on them.

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sometimes I’m happy just studying wild flowers

I thanked him for his advice, and explained to him that I enjoyed my work being an adventure. Going from one thing to another, having constant challenges, and a lot of variation in my work, was just the thing that kept me in love with what I was doing. I could probably make a bit more money, concentrating on just a couple of really well paying types of work, but then I might lose the feeling of fun I had about my work. He didn’t reply. Because we both knew, that though he was younger than me, he had already lost the fun of working in our profession.

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And why do I think about that now? Because in blogging, I do the same. I allow myself to touch any number of subjects, and don’t really specialize, though art and photography are pretty high on my list of interests. And this morning, as I was reading the paper, I thought of a number of subjects that were certainly worth writing about. But then I thought of those people that Lenin used to call ‘useful fools’. And that I might be inviting some responses that would bring me heartache. It isn’t like me, to avoid a subject, just because it is out of the consensus. But at the same time, I thought, I’ve got to avoid this heartache… and that gave me another idea of something to write about.

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there are newspaper pages that will give me heartache all my life