Sunday, May 28, 2006

minorities in iran update

do click on the melanie phillips blog or here for an update regarding the story that jews in iran are going to have to wear yellow signs on their clothing. the current perception is that this was an inaccurate report.

nu - what would YOU do?

did you see the story this week about the death of the everest climber?

a british mountaineer named david sharp collapsed along a well-travelled route to the summit. they think that about 40 people walked right past him. a couple stopped to check on him, and said that he was about to die and there was nothing that they could have done. one group gave him some oxygen.

so there you are, climbing the mountain. conditions are very difficult for you, with the lack of oxygen up there, and all the dangers inherent in such an expedition. you see someone by the side of the road. they are clearly in trouble.


the article i read on yahoo noted the following:

a. sir edmund hillary (who with sherpa tensing was officially to first to make it to the top of this mountain in 1953) said it was "horrifying" that a climber would leave a dying man.

b. lydia bradley, who in 1988 became the first woman to reach the top of this mountain without extra oxygen, said that "if you're going to go to everest ... i think you have to accept responsibility that you may end up doing something that's not very ethically nice ... you have to realise that you're in a different world"

c. apparently, trips up the mountain have become so commercialised, and climbers pay tens of thousands of dollars for their trip of a lifetime, so that the guides are under extreme pressure to get their clients to the top.

finally, a guy from the team that stopped to share some of their oxygen said "the trouble is that at 8500 metres it is extremely difficult to keep yourself alive, let alone keep anyone else alive".

so, nu, what would you do?

my instinct is to say my god of course i would stop. at the same time, i have not been in that position, so it would probably be more accurate for me to say that i hope that i would stop.

next i turn to the texts of my tradition. two stand out immediately:

there is the concept of pikuach nefesh - that saving of life is an obligation that over-rules commandments connected to the sabbath and other festivals. and thus, all the more so when it is an ordinary day!

however, the talmud does state that if it is a choice between one's self and another, it is permissible to choose yourself.

secondly, there is the teaching from the talmud that to save one life is as if you have saved the world, and to destroy one life is as if you have destroyed the world. i believe the wording is almost exactly the same when you read this teaching from the qur'an.

falling asleep ... will continue later ...

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

a day off

judith & salome hoschander
Originally uploaded by ravaj.
there is so much to consider, so many plates to keep spinning ... some to let go and new ones to start up.

85 years ago or thereabouts my grandmother and her sister got all dressed up and had photos taken. mutti is the one in the cutaway coat. what fun!

need more fun. what do you do for fun?

Saturday, May 20, 2006

last will & testament

yesterday, my mother e-mailed me a text she had just found, a text from 42 years ago. it was a will my father had written, when we lived in nyc, and i was a few months old. my mother thought it might give me strength to read it. perhaps it will for you as well ...

"In the event of my death, I name my wife to be sole heir to my estate. I know that I can rely on her judgement in regard to my family. She, and all my family, will also know that my prayers and my love abide with them. If the inheritance is small in worldly goods. I yet hope that the testimony of my life affirms the greatness of human existence created in the image of God. I have found each day rewarding, and have not met anyone in whom I could not discern the touch of God. This affirmation of the goodness of man and God is part of the heritage I leave my loved ones."

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

impossible question

a friend taking a melton class told me they just did the unit on why do people suffer. since it was a judaism class, it centred mostly on the torah interpretation, i.e., punishment for non-compliance with commandments, human minds not able to encompass the bigger picture.

knee-jerk response ... i think it splits into 2 areas - the suffering humans cause directly and indirectly, e.g., lack of care and concern for each other in our daily relationships, plus a similar lack for the consequences of our actions. and then there is that suffering that we cannot explain, e.g., natural disasters, and incurable diseases.

i see religion as a system developed and organised by humans to help engender ethical behaviour and to give explanations and meanings to our lives. i believe that it needs a contemporary context - to connect with the teachings in our scripture (for me - using the torah as my example) it helps to make them relevant to the current community. my liberal jewish way of doing this is to try and extract the essence of the text, and apply it to today.

NEVERTHELESS this is all human beings working with their human minds and hearts in their human experience. i hope i do the best i can. i also believe and feel that i must accept there are things beyond my ken that make no sense to me and do not feel fair.

so what do i do with that?

i can blame god. i can say that a god who lets these things happen is not a very good god. i can damn religion and refuse to take part in it.

i can be angry. i can be angry with god. and the world. and myself. and people. i can be sad. i can be miserable. i can be depressed. i can be cynical.

interestingly enough, however, all these things are all about me. ME. that does not mean that i am not stricken on behalf of someone i love who is going through chemo, or sick at the news from darfur. i am not a bad person.

the thing is - maybe i need to switch the focus. instead of feeling powerless - is there something i may do to make a difference?

the first choice is to try and fix the situation at hand. that may not be possible. i cannot cure my friend's cancer. i cannot stop wars and corruption on the other side of the world.

what then can i do? NUMBER ONE IS TO HAVE HOPE. it ain't over 'til it's over

number two is to do something. there is no quick fix for the ills of the world. it took a long time for us to mess it up like this, and it will take a long time to make it better. perhaps, if we were not so attached to the need to see the results of our actions, we would find it easier to act. yet we harvest and eat fruit planted by those who never enjoyed that fruit themselves. so why do we balk at following their example?

that's all very well and noble, you may say, but what about my sick friend? what about the evil and corruption in the world far and near?

my answer is that we do the best we can. we love and comfort and care for our dear ones. we live the values to which we aspire. we work to improve the world by speaking up for those values, by being active within the forces for change.

if you believe in a god or divine presence, then perhaps you may draw some of the strength you need from this faith. if you do not, then it is up to you. the point is, the power is in our own hands to do something. it is a cop-out to blame anything or anyone else. if you don't like it - do something about it! it may take baby steps at first, but if you don't start, you'll not get anywhere.

ps yanks 9 runs down tonight after one and a half innings and the radio guy saying this is embarrassing. guess what - they just won in the bottom of the 9th with 2 out. they didn't give up :-)

Monday, May 15, 2006

home sick

albert and kitaj painting
Originally uploaded by ravaj.
small person across the table from me during barmitzvah lesson coughing and spluttering. later i ask his mother how he is and she tells me he's missed 2 days of school. 2 days later i start coughing and spluttering. i cancel my barmitzvah lessons because the parents don't want me coughing and spluttering across the table the week before the barmitzvah.

i'm at the part of being sick when i am no longer yoyoing between sleep and mildly dazed, but not yet strong enough to shower or screw the last difficult screws into the last ikea chair.

here is another lovely picture of albert. the painting is by r. b. kitaj. this photo is taken at the gallery where a number of kitajs were being exhibited. the painting was sold for 80,000 dollars or pounds (sorry, i have a sudafed memory today) and my father went over to the desk to ask who bought it. they would not tell him, and asked why he wanted to know. he said to them that if this person was willing to pay that much for a painting of him, he'd be happy to go over and stand in their house himself!

time for another boots sugar-free blackcurrant cough pastille ...

Thursday, May 11, 2006

more thoughts of ahf

ahf and the dl in prague
Originally uploaded by ravaj.
another picture i love. i remember when my father returned from this conference, i asked him how he and the dalai lama addressed each other. i suggested that "dal" & "al" would be cute. ahf smiled gently and said that they never did use names, they just spoke together.

marcus aurelius

don't ask me why, but last time i was inside la guardia airport i decided that i would buy a paperback copy of the meditations of marcus aurelius. this is the quote that stands out so far:

"begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness - all of them due to the offenders' ignorance of what is good or evil. But for my part I have long perceived the nature of good and its nobility, the nature of evil and its meanness, and also the nature of the culprit himself, who is my brother (not in the physical sense, but as a fellow-creature similarly endowed with reason and a share of the divine); therefore none of those things can injure me, for nobody can implicate me in what is degrading. Neither can I be angry with my brother or fall foul of him; for he and I were born to work together, like a man's two hands, feet, or eyelids, or like the upper and lower rows of his teeth. To obstruct each other is against Nature's law - and what is irritation or aversion but a form of obstruction?"

from book two in the new penguin books great ideas series

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

keeping the plates spinning

when i was little, i used to watch a tv show called 'blue peter'. it had everything on it from collecting milk bottle tops in order to get a guide dog for the blind, to visiting ceylon with hrh princess anne on behalf of save the children fund. it showed you how to make a gift out of egg-cartons, paint and some tissue paper; and lit an advent crown each week before xmas. nice and english all that. i mention it because i remember seeing them present the world record attempt for the greatest number of plates that could be kept spinning simultaneously on a stick. the guy had to keep running around and touching up the ones that were slowing down, otherwise they would fall off and smash.

nu - in which order do you decide which plates to attend to?

work, and different issues within it?
personal health & fitness?
relationships near and far?

this week it has become clear to me (for this week at least) that the most important thing upon which i should concentrate is how to let nasty behaviour to me by others affect me like water off a duck's back (thank you labensons).

the problem is that, while my brain knows this, the reality gap between it and my feelings is wide.

w i d e

end of musing - have to get back to work

Sunday, May 07, 2006

a walk in the park

1929? 3 friedls in tiergarten
Originally uploaded by ravaj.
sorry lis, no pix of piglet in the e.r., but a moment of happiness upon which to float off to bed.

ahf & siblings in weimar berlin. life is good. and you know that when he reaches you, you will swing him up into the air, and there will be laughing and hugs.

i really do have to stop this now and go to bed!

happiness is a warm puppy?

just got back from the temple dinner dance. all mothers who have been to countless bnei mitzvah parties are experts at the electric slide. rabbis don't usually get invited to those parts of the celebration so i am not much good at that dance. in my day, as we fogeys say, you either did this skip and kick thing like clare out of altered images who was in gregory's girl, or you pogoed. i can pogo. just not in heels. and not in a dress. and not at the temple dinner dance. and not to "tears of a clown".

so i am reading through tomorrow's english papers (i do like the idea that i am reading the news before it is the news, plus i get to do the polygon puzzle before my mother!), and find this article about happiness. the writer - frank furedi - does seem to have a political perspective, especially since he suggests that as a current "buzz word" of the time, the government is pushing the vague idea of happiness as a way of covering up its lack of ideas. he does not hold back:

"Back in the 1940s and '50s, the big idea was the Welfare State. Today it is the Happy State. Stalin, who called himself the "constructor of happiness" would approve. So would the Controller in Huxley's Brave New World, who believed that making people happy was the precondition for stable government"

stalin and orwell in consecutive comments?! although he doesn't seem to think the tories can do any better. so, ok, he is slamming the politicians. but there are a couple of paragraphs that got me thinking ...

"People have always pursued happiness. Policy makers have always hoped their initiatives would make people happy. But happiness was not seen as an end in itself. Teachers hoped that their students would be happy with their experience but did not set out to teach their pupils how to be happy. Those charged with moral education were devoted to explaining the difference between good and bad but not to instructing children how to feel."

happiness was not an end in itself. that's the thing. i have to think about that a lot, and now am just writing as it comes to mind ... there are ideas like the messianic age and nirvana and heaven ... the ultimate reward is absolute peace and wholeness ... but not absolute in this life. a difference between slavery and freedom is that a slave is told to do or do not; while a free person is told this is what is going on, and then left to decide what to do.

maybe furedi is just poking us with a stick. he says that:

"Today's turn towards the management of people's internal life is motivated by moral disorientation and political exhaustion. Unimaginative politicians who are unable to decide what needs to be done - or implement the appropriate policies - feel more comfortable with instructing the public how it should feel."

and that

"Discontent and ambition have driven humanity to confront and overcome the challenges they faced. That is why people like the Controller in Brave New World want us live on a diet of "feelies" and "scent organs". That is also why we should be suspicious of experts who seek to colonise our internal life"

the british senses of freedom and justice are bound to feel piqued by analogies with totalitarian states real and imagined.

i, however, want to hear more about this "moral disorientation" to which he refers. and who does he believe should be charged with moral education today?

i also need to think about how i would define happiness. i just punched the word into google and got 106,000,000 results. some of the titles on the first page:

finding happiness and self-actualisation

you are amazing - don't let anyone or anything take that away from you! @

70 day life makeover

a guide to having it all

be happy - create your ideal life

20 minute breakthrough - uncover miracle that melts mental roadblocks and live your dreams now

authentic happiness - using the new positive psychology

the rational basis of happiness

the happiness project

and from the definition given at

2. An agreeable feeling or condition of the soul arising from good fortune or propitious happening of any kind; the possession of those circumstances or that state of being which is attended with enjoyment; the state of being happy; contentment; joyful satisfaction; felicity; blessedness.

o dear, i am getting tired just as i am getting interested.

this kind of happiness seems to centre on the self, and have little connection to anyone or anything else except in how they affect this happiness.

is it healthy to have this feeling all the time?
is it an escape from the unpleasant things in the world?

today i was listening to the cd of the tertiary phase of hitch-hiker's guide to the galaxy. near the end, ford prefect tries to explain to arthur that the reason nobody can see slartibartfast's spaceship parked behind the sight-screen at lords cricket ground is due to a phenomenon called a "somebody else's problem". it works through the fact that people don't want to see things that force them out of the status quo, and so they actually do not see them. much easier than making a spaceship invisible.

anyway, thoughts of drugs and drink and nicotine and sugar and carbs all being used to numb ourselves to the painful things in life ... the good things are an antidote, i.e., to relieve or counteract; a remedy against - but they do not obliterate all traces.

a warm puppy would be lovely right now, though :-)
good night.

Friday, May 05, 2006

bunny ears in petosky

1950 16:9 ahf&sf petosky mich
Originally uploaded by ravaj.
the 10th of may would have been ahf's 79th birthday. i tried to send this picture to a number of friends, and many of them could not see it on their computers so i decided to put it up here.

this is my father and his mother. a person always with a book, and always with a sense of humour.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

les miserables

don't think it is an apocryphal story ... heard it from my father z"l. years ago, after the lockerbie bombing (my father had a proselyte who died on that flight), americans stopped travelling to europe. tourism went waaaaay down. some time later, a group of american rabbis considered a trip to london. the organisers wanted to make an extremely attractive package, and asked what elements were necessary. word came to them that theatre tickets for the hottest show in town - a show called "lemmy's rabbi" - could do the trick. sadly, the organisers could find no such show on shaftesbury avenue ...

it's been an interesting week, in the chinese curse sense of the word. all the stress finally got to me, and instead of grouping in my back and immobilising me that way, it decided to try a new tactic, and raised my blood sugar until i got dehydrated and fainted! thus i spent the night on a gurney in a corridor at the e.r. no beds available. still, i got to meet eddie from dublin, and a perky young woman who announced that she was my p.c.a. (whatever that may be); and we (there were about 6 of us by the end of the night) got to hear the nurses trying to get info out of the juiced-up guys (what did you take? was it drink or drugs? did you take drugs? don't take your pants off!).

lesson to learn? how to deal better with stress. any suggestions?

p.s. qpr's season over, and ended badly with no wins in last eleven matches. now for the world cup, and already england have lost their best striker and the next best may not be fit by then. i think it will be another win for brazil. i never make predictions. i do feel, however, that they play the most beautiful football.