Stop the Violins, Visualize Whirled Peas

whirled peas

I always liked that bumper sticker.  It sounds right, but the definitions don’t fit – and sometimes that is exactly what the problem is.

So let’s talk about peace.

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary has a lot of definitions for peace including: a state of tranquility or quiet, harmony in personal relations, a state or period of mutual concord between governments, an agreement to end a war.  I think when English-speakers contemplate peace, they tend to think that all is well with the world and it is good.

Semitic languages work on a 3-or-4-letter root system.  When new immigrants learn Hebrew in Israel, we’re taught that words with the same roots may not exactly have the same meaning, but once we know the root we can figure out the meaning based on context.

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Pages from the Hebrew book of roots.

In Hebrew, peace is shalom based on the root Shin-Lamed-Mem (שלם).  Other words with שלם include: l’shalem to pay a bill, mushlam complete or perfect, hishtalmut advanced training, shalem whole.

So here’s a philosophical question:  Does the English definition of peace match any of the definitions in the family of meanings for Shin-Lamed-Mem?

Let me add another quote.  Israel has often been criticized for the “cold peace” with Egypt.  The common wisdom in Israel is “better a cold peace than a hot war.”

Harmony, tranquility, and agreement don’t pay bills, complete anything, or provide advanced training.  However, if you see peace as a state of balance, then it all fits together.  Balance doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone is happily floating around on clouds playing harps, but it does mean that what you put in, you will get in return.  Everyone is at the same level.

And what about that advanced training?  When you learn more, you become more whole as a person.

To continue the philosophical conversation, let’s turn to Arabic, another Semitic language.  I should say at the outset that in several places I read that words with the same Arabic root are not meant to be understood as being part of the same family of meanings.  Also, being a Semitic language doesn’t mean that all words with similar roots have similar meanings.  However, I’m not a linguist; I’m just positing a few ideas about language in a philosophical way.

Peace in Arabic is salaam, with an S-L-M root.  Other words with a similar root include:

Wiki graph
Source: https://wikiislam.net/wiki/Islam

The article is careful to note that Islam – while appearing with the same root – is not to be equated with peace, but rather submission (to Allah).  But as I said above, this is a philosophical musing.

In the family of words with the S-L-M root, many of them relate to submission and surrender.  Merriam-Webster tells us that submission can be an act of humility and surrender can be to giving yourself over to the power of another.  Tanning leather could fit because the animal skin needs to be shaped into the form chosen by the tanner.  The other meaning is to be saved from danger.  And if you look from the point of view of the snake, it is saving itself from danger by attacking.

Now let’s bring our English speakers, Hebrew speakers, and Arabic speakers into the same room and talk about peace, shalom, and salaam.  Or perhaps we should try to be more accurate:  the English speakers are talking about harmony and agreement, the Hebrew speakers are talking about balance and equality, and the Arabic speakers are talking about submission and safety.

It’s really no wonder that all the talking and not understanding results in more violins and less whirled peas.

Aharei ha’chagim / After the holidays

Parents all over Israel breathed a collective sigh of relief as they sent their kids to school on Thursday, September 1.

after the holidays
Another phenomenon that began on approximately the same day was the throwing around of the phrase “aharei ha’chagim” (after the holidays).  The “holidays,” starting this year on October 2, are: Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year; Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement; and Sukkot, an 8-day festival that includes building temporary shelters outside.  Jewish holidays are national holidays so in this 3-week period there are a lot of days off, children are home from school, and it’s hard to get anything done.

One of the rhythms of life in Israel is for people to put off new projects until after the holidays, but this national procrastination often starts about a month before the holidays actually begin.  This can sometimes delay projects for up to two months!  The holidays are usually in September, so after the slow-down of August, people are busy trying to catch up at work.  They don’t want to start anything new.  So it’s a pretty common conversation among workers to discuss some new project in September and the agreed-upon start date is “aharei ha’chagim.”

The only comparable scenario that I can think of in the US is if you have an idea for something new on December 20, it’s pretty easy to say that you’ll discuss it after the first of the year because you have to get through Christmas and New Year’s.  It’s a slight exaggeration, but imagine the slow-down if any project you pitched in November was delayed until after Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.

Aharei ha’chagim can also be used sarcastically at other times of the year.  If someone is constantly delaying a project, it would be perfectly appropriate to ask, “Oh, and when will you be getting started on that? Aharei ha’chagim?” I imagine that it could be used by a parent to their teenager, “When did you plan to clean your room? Aharei ha’chagim?”

Aharei ha’chagim is most often used around the holidays in September, but it is also used before the Passover holiday in the spring. Passover is 8 days long and about 2 weeks before people might start delaying projects to aharei ha’chagim.

Stepping back to look at the big picture, I see aharei ha’chagim as part of the intensity of life in Israel, not a lazy delaying tactic.  In Israel, you work hard during the week and during the year and then rest completely and unplug from the world during Shabbat and holidays.  You finish everything you have on your list before the holidays, rest and rejuvenate during the holidays, and then give 100% effort to something new aharei ha’chagim.

Springtime Stroll in Jerusalem

While a lot of really depressing things have happened this week, this Friday post comes to you on April Fools’ Day.  So rather than try to make sense of that paradox, here’s a photo essay of a springtime walk in Jerusalem.

This week as I walked to various appointments I noticed that there was a wonderful aroma in the air and so many flowers were blooming everywhere I looked.   I didn’t take pictures at the time, so this afternoon I retraced my steps and captured some of the beauty of Jerusalem.

Community garden on Zamenhof Street, tended by volunteers from the neighborhood.

IMG_20160401_141040-COLLAGEZamenhof Street and Lincoln Street.  Funny fact:  The pronunciation of Lincoln in Hebrew doesn’t resemble the English very much.  All the letters are pronounced with an extra vowel between the last l and n – Lin-co-lin.

IMG_20160401_141325-COLLAGEOutside the Orthodox Union building.  They take care to bring lots of glorious color to the street.

IMG_20160401_142432-COLLAGENear Jabotinksy Street.  As I took the photos of the window box and the orange blossoms, a group of monks in brown robes tied with rope belts walked by speaking Italian.  Just a typical day in Jerusalem.

IMG_20160401_142714-COLLAGEGan HaShoshanim.  I was nearby, so I decided to take a detour and I’m glad I did.  Another interesting fact:  Gan HaShoshanim means rose garden, but there are no roses growing in this park.

IMG_20160401_143736-COLLAGEArlozorov Street.  Wisteria, lilacs, and many other beautiful things.

IMG_20160401_150119-COLLAGEAnd finishing my walk with a passion fruit ice cream.  I can happily confirm that it was GOOD!

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I hope you enjoyed this little springtime stroll.  There’s so much more to Jerusalem than the typical Old City views and while there may not have been actual roses to stop and smell, there is plenty of beauty to stop and admire.

Happy Spring!

Purim in Israel

Today and yesterday were Purim in Israel. The story of the holiday can be found in the Book of Esther.  A young Jewess wins a beauty contest to become queen and is uniquely poised to save the Jews of Persia from the very powerful Haman whose mission is to exterminate the Jews.

The story of Esther might not be your first thought if you are here in Israel on Purim.  Purim is celebrated as a cross between Halloween and April Fools’ Day.  Top items on the to-do list:  Drink A LOT and party like it’s 1999.  Give baskets of sweets to neighbors and friends (the opposite of trick-or-treat).  Pull pranks and laugh a lot.

You could liken this version of Purim with secular Easter celebrations.  Why does a bunny bring eggs in a basket?  Why does he hide them?  Why is the Easter Bunny a he?  What does a bunny have to do with Jesus rising from the dead?  Moreover, why is it that in France, Easter bells deliver eggs from Rome?  Well, I digress.

There are 4 things that you are actually supposed to do on Purim.

  1. Listen to the Book of Esther (in Hebrew, it’s Megillat Esther – you have to listen to the whole megillah)
  2. Have a festive meal where you drink a lot
    • This is where the sages suggested that you drink until you don’t know the difference between Mordechai and Haman
  3. Send gifts of food (in Hebrew, Mishloach Manot) to friends
  4. Give to the poor

You’ll note that dressing up is not mentioned and neither are pranks and jokes.

Purim is not one of those holidays where offices are closed, but workers are given the option of taking one of the two days off.  One of two days, you ask?  Purim in non-walled cities is on the 14th of Adar and Purim in walled cities is on the 15th of Adar (don’t ask, it’s complicated).  Jerusalem is considered a walled city, so we celebrate on the 15th, but since people have families outside of Jerusalem, some of them celebrate on the 14th.  Nowadays, the celebrating goes on for 2 days because it’s less confusing and a lot more fun.

ScreenHunter_01 Mar. 25 23.01

This guy’s video went viral in Israel for his awesome flight through Tel Aviv.

Back in the day, people used to dress up as characters from the Book of Esther.  No longer.  You’ll see superheroes; characters from literature, movies and TV; fantastical characters; clever visual puns; or at a minimum, people wearing funny hats or wigs.  If ever I dress up, I just plop on a tiara and call it done.  I read one article that traced the dressing up to Italian Jews following the traditions of Mardi Gras.  But the retroactively spiritual version, which I like, is that everything is hidden in the Book of Esther.  She wears the mask of a non-Jew to win the beauty contest.  God is not mentioned in the story, but the story is propelled forward by several coincidences that might be considered the invisible hand of God.

If you try to ask for hamantaschen in Israel, people will look at you funny.  The triangular, filled sugar cookie traditionally eaten for Purim is called oznei haman in Israel.  You might notice that Haman is mentioned in both cookie names, but strangely enough taschen and oznei are not the same.  Hamantaschen is the German for Haman’s pockets.  Oznei haman are Haman’s ears.  And then there is the common story that the cookie represents Haman’s hat.  But still, why are we eating anything related to Haman at all?  He’s a villain!  There’s no good answer for that, but the cookies are yummy nonetheless.

purim

There’s a joke about Jewish holidays that goes like this:  Jewish holidays can be summarized as “They tried to kill us.  They failed.  Let’s eat.”  Purim is a great example.  But it is also a reflection of day to day life in Israel and we don’t need any holidays to remember that.  So Happy Purim!  Let’s eat!

Death is a door

Nobody likes to talk about death.  There are so many euphemisms for death just so that we don’t have to say it.  Transitional: passed away, passed on, crossed over, went to the great beyond, no longer with us.  Scientific: expired (like milk?), deceased.  Fated: taken, number came up.  Weird: kicked the bucket, bought the farm.  Yesterday, my dad cashed in his chips.

RWS_Tarot_13_Death

 

It might be a little scary to think of Death coming as a Grim Reaper to gather your soul.  So scary that maybe immortality is better (and so say many, many TV shows and movies, especially vampire ones).

 

In the Tarot deck, Death seems like it would be the scariest card.  It’s Death!  But it is actually the one with the most potential.  Death means change.  One thing passes on to make room for another.  The loss is sad, but there needs to be room for something new to come into your life.

 

The truth is that while I like all the euphemisms – mostly because I like to play with language – I don’t think that death has to be feared.  It will happen to all of us.

Here in Israel, there are also many euphemisms for death.  Niftar comes from the root meaning “to be released.”  Halach l’olamo means “went to his world,” which, all things considered, sounds very pleasant.  There is talk of an olam ha’bah, “the next world.”

When my grandmother “went to her world” I was 8 years old and didn’t quite understand why she left her cane.  Hysterical, I shrieked, “How is she going to walk around without it?!?!”  Dad told me that where she was she didn’t need it anymore.  She was young and healthy and having a picnic in the shade of a tree with Grampa Brown, who was also healthy and young.  The tree was by a small stream.  It was a sunny, warm, pleasant day and they were happy.

In order to get to this other world, you have to go through a door.  That door is death.  We don’t really know what is on the other side of the door.  We are asked to have faith that when our souls leave the body they’ve inhabited on this earth, our pure souls, the sparks of light that we are, will go on to something else, something better, something our material minds cannot even begin to comprehend.

Of the things you say to a mourner, my favorite is yehi zichro baruch, sometimes said as zichrono livracha, which means “may his memory be a blessing.”  To me it means that every time you remember the dearly departed, there is a blessing that comes with it.  I like less baruch dayan ha’emet, which means “blessed is the true judge.”  That more or less suggests that God works in mysterious ways and we praise God even in sorrow.

Dad wasn’t an Eric Clapton fan, but “Tears in Heaven” seems appropriate.

Beyond the door
There’s peace I’m sure
And I know there’ll be no more
Tears in Heaven.

Dad, your memory is a blessing to me and all who knew you.  Holding on to those memories keeps you close to my heart.  You’ve gone through the door and I hope whatever is over there is exactly as you described it.  You have been released from this world and the pain of illness, and I’d like to imagine you are with your mom and dad having a great picnic.  When the time comes (far in the future), please be there to greet me and show me around.

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Me and my dad, zichrono livracha

Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall

Here are the mandalas from this week.  This is also an experiment to see which pictures Facebook will post as links to the blog post.

Mandalas of the week (and experiments for the Facebook post)

Mandalas of the week (and experiments for the Facebook post)

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Rain

Here in Jerusalem it rained.  I went out with an umbrella a few times and it was just an average October for me.  After sunny and hot for months, I was pretty happy about the rain.

Rainy day and a pot of jasmine green tea

Rainy day and a pot of jasmine green tea

Down in the valley it was apparently apocalyptic.  Record setting rainfall.  Floods.  Power outages.  Some wanted to declare a state of emergency.  Keep in mind this is about 60 km (40 miles) away from Jerusalem, but 800 (2,600) meters difference in elevation.  For pictures and video.

Morgan Freeman in the House!

In awesome news this week, Morgan Freeman came to Jerusalem to film his documentary “The Story of God.”  But he didn’t just come to Jerusalem.  In these really tense times, he went to the Old City and filmed at the Western Wall and at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  Of course he had body guards, but as a celebrity, he would have had guards anyway.  He didn’t make a statement about the situation, but his actions said that he wasn’t going to stop filming because of the tense situation.  That’s good enough for me.  (The documentary is due out in April 2016.)

Screen shot from the Times of Israel

Screen shot from the Times of Israel

A Word of Hebrew

The word “matsav” means situation.  It can be used as an informal greeting, “ma hamatsav?” (what’s going on?) – though it usually sounds like “ma matsav?”  It can also be literal as “ma hamatsav po?” (what is the situation here?) when you are asking for an evaluation of a situation.

Matsav is also a kind of euphemistic term Israelis use when referring to everything going on in Israel at any given time.  Even English speakers will throw it in an English sentence because it’s so heavy with additional nuance.  “The matsav is just terrible.”  “What is the government doing about the matsav?”

A Few Words about the Matsav

Prime Minister Netanyahu gave a press conference last Saturday and stated four main points:

  1.  Israel respects Jordan’s special role as custodian of the site (via the Waqf).
  2.  The historical status quo will be maintained, that is, Muslims pray there, non-Muslims visit.
  3.  Israel has no interest in dividing the site and rejects any attempts to do so.
  4.  Israel welcomes increased coordination between Israel and Jordan to ensure restraint and respect on the site.

The takeaway is that it is not Israel’s policy to change the status quo on the Temple Mount.  There are Israelis who are actively campaigning for the right to pray there, but that does not make it Israel’s policy.  In fact, there is disagreement among the Jewish community itself about praying on the Temple Mount – for religious reasons, not political ones.

The other takeaway from these points is that the Temple Mount is administered by Jordan via the Waqf.  The Palestinian Authority is not involved and never was, even before 1967.  Israel does not administer the site, but is in charge of the security.  It’s complicated and messy.  So when Jews try to pray near the Al Aqsa Mosque, they are arrested by Israeli police.

Netanyahu also said that he would welcome CCTV on the Temple Mount (Jordan’s idea) to be able to respond to incitement from either side and possibly prevent violence before it happens. Full article.

Who is against the idea of CCTV on the Temple Mount?  Palestinian leadership and the Jewish activists who want to pray on the Temple Mount.

Why does it matter?

Sheik Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the guy in charge of Al Aqsa, got on Israeli TV news this week and announced that there has never been any Jewish Temple on the site – not 3,000 years ago, not 30,000 years ago.  Al Aqsa Mosque has been on the site since the beginning of time.  It was apparently built by angels in the time of Adam.

Huh?

Let’s say for a minute that he means it spiritually; Al Aqsa has been there spiritually since time immemorial.  But he rejects any evidence that there has ever been a Jewish presence there.  Biblical references.  Rejected.  Archeological evidence.  Rejected.  Historical documentary evidence.  Rejected. What he actually means is that the Jewish people were never here and have no connection to the land and thus, Israel has no right to exist in this space for any reason.

Is the current wave of stabbings because of Temple Mount?  Not really. (Palestinian leaders have said so.)  Is the Temple Mount important in the big picture?  Absolutely.

And that’s the matsav from here.

Let’s all have a Shabbat shalom and a great rainy weekend!

And for everyone who’s celebrating, Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween from the Dark Knight!

Happy Halloween from the Dark Knight!

9/11 and Rosh HaShana

Today is 9/11.  Of course I remember September 11, 2001, and we should take a moment to commemorate those whose were robbed of the rest of their lives by a major terror attack.  Let this sad day remind us all that none of us knows what the future will bring.  Let’s be kind to one another today.

For me 9/11 is directly linked to the High Holidays.  Next week it’s the Jewish New Year.  Rosh HaShana (literally, the head of the year) is a two-day holiday that is usually in September or October.  I won’t get into the religious details and questions; you can look those up yourself.

Rosh HaShana is the beginning of a 10-day period that will end with Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement).  In English, these days are called The Days of Awe.  In Hebrew they are called the much scarier yamim nora’im (The Terrible Days).  It’s traditional to take a spiritual accounting (heshbon nefesh) of the past year – determine if you did well, where you can improve, make some adjustments for the upcoming year.  It’s more than the January New Year’s resolutions that go out the window on January 2nd.  Not so the spiritual accounting of Rosh HaShana.  It’s not about losing weight and taking care of your health.  This spiritual accounting is internal and focusing on becoming a better person.

“Aharei ha-chagim!”

The bureaucratic joke in Israel is that if you have a project starting at any time in September it will likely be pushed off to “aharei ha-chagim” (after the holidays).  However, this is not after the two-day holiday of Rosh HaShana.  Not even after Yom Kippur ten days later.  No, “aharei ha-chagim” means after Sukkot is over.  In Israel if you start anything in September, you can count on at least a 3-week delay.  Because there are so many holidays and kids are out of school (even though they only started last week), the entire country grinds to a halt and everyone is on vacation (again!).

On one hand, there is something really powerful about taking the time to reflect on the year that passed and look to the future; or, more likely, taking the time to be with your family during the holidays.  The rhythm of life in Israel allows for both (without mandating either one).

On the other hand, this is 3 weeks of sanctioned procrastination.  “Acharei ha-chagim” can be used for just about anything.  All your big plans and aspirations?  Meh.  Leave them until later.  Perhaps some real soul-searching is going on in these 3 weeks and it might be a legitimate way to pause and take a breath.  But who can honestly say that they are taking the full 3 weeks to do an internal spiritual cleanse?

And so we come back to 9/11.  What is the spiritual message that I heard in this tragedy?  You never know when the end will come.  Around this time I ask myself:  Is my spiritual accounting up to date?  Was I kind enough?  Did I let the important people in my life know that I care about them and they matter to me?  Was I true to myself?  If today was my last day, would I have regrets? Am I procrastinating or am I regrouping? What can I do to make tomorrow/next year better?

Well, I don’t want to end on such a blue and morbid note.  Rosh HaShana is a happy holiday!  We are given the opportunity to clean our slates and start fresh.  So let me wish you all a Happy New Year!  A Shana Tova u’Metuka (a good and sweet year)!