lethargic_man: (capel)
Seeing in my shul library a copy of the complete works of Josephus, as translated by Whiston, I picked it up to see what I hadn't read yet (apart from the obvious condidates—his autobiography, and Against Apion), and, seeing a "Discourse to the Greeks concerning Hades", opened it to have a look what he says.

In the second paragraph, the author writes:
In this region there is a certain place set apart, as a lake of unquenchable fire, whereinto we suppose no one hath hitherto been cast; but it is prepared for a day afore-determined by God, in which one righteous sentence shall deservedly be passed upon all men; when the unjust, and those that have been disobedient to God, and have given honour to such idols as have been the vain operations of the hands of men as to God himself, shall be adjudged to this everlasting punishment, as having been the causes of defilement; while the just shall obtain an incorruptible and never-fading kingdom. These are now indeed confined in Hades, but not in the same place wherein the unjust are confined.
Aha, I thought: this is obviously where the idea in Christianity of the lake of fire* comes from; it's another one of those Christian concepts which derive from thoughts in contemporary Judaism, but which the latter religion has since moved on from. (Another example is the Christian view of the Devil as the source of temptation towards sin: Jewish texts from the first centuries CE, basing themselves on the Book of Job, talk about a being variously called either the Adversary (Hebrew haś-Śāṭān) or Prince Masṭémā ("Hostility"), which has this role, whereas more recent Jewish thought views every person as having a good inclination (יֵצֶר טוֹב) and an evil inclination (יֵצֶר הָרַע), i.e. the temptation to sin is of internal origin, not external.)

(Also noteworthy in the above quotation is the fact the lake of fire is empty now, awaiting the Great Day of Judgement; I don't know whether this is reflected in Christian theology, but one doesn't get that impression from those who invoke the fear of it.)

* It occurs to me to wonder whether the rock group Nirvana did a cover of the song "Lake of Fire" not because they liked it so much as because of the irony of a song with this theme being covered by a band with that name...

The essay goes on:
The just are guided to the right hand, and are led with hymns, sung by the angels appointed over that place, unto a region of light, in which the just have dwelt from the beginning of the world; not constrained by necessity, but ever enjoying the prospect of the good things they see, and rejoice in the expectation of those new enjoyments which will be peculiar to every one of them, and esteeming those things beyond what we have here; with whom there is no place of toil, no burning heat, no piercing cold, nor are any briers there; but the countenance of the and of the just, which they see, always smiles them, while they wait for that rest and eternal new life in heaven, which is to succeed this region. This place we call The Bosom of Abraham.
Aha, I thought; another source of a Christian concept. In paragraph six, however, the text went on to read:
For all men, the just as well as the unjust, shall be brought before God the word: for to him hath the Father committed all judgment : and he, in order to fulfill the will of his Father, shall come as Judge, whom we call Christ.
"What!?" I thought. Now, I know the text of Josephus has been diddled with by Christians, but the diddlings-with in Antiquities at least present Josephus as a Jew trying to make sense of what was reported about Jesus of Nazareth, not as a believer in out-and-out Christian theology. So at this point I abandoned the text, and headed off in search of answers.

William Whiston, the eighteenth-century theologian whose translation of Josephus was used in both the book I read the above passage from, and my Wordsworth Classics edition of Antiquities, states that this essay was written when Josephus was bishop of Jerusalem. Cue one further "what!?" from me, and a heading off to Wikipedia, which informs me that though the text was "erroneously attributed to the Jewish historian since at least the 9th century, it is now believed to be (at least in its original form) the work of Hippolytus of Rome." Which, I have to say, is a damning indictment of Western scholarship between the ninth century and some time after the eighteenth.

Wikipedia adds: "As Whiston's translation is in the public domain, it appears in many present-day English editions of Josephus' work without any noting of its questionable attribution." Quite.

Life expectancy

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014 12:17 pm
lethargic_man: (reflect)

It's been on my mind for a while that none of the deceased ancestors I have known (three grandparents and one parent) reached their eighties. Moreover, there's a couple of not too distant ancestors of mine who died really quite young (my father's mother died when he was eleven, and my father's father's father got out of bed one morning, keeled over with a massive heart attack and died, when he was in his mid-fifties).

I'm not worrying about this too much: medical technology has advanced (the cancer that killed my father's mother in the fifties would be treatable now), life expectancies have increased, and I live a healthier lifestyle than most of the ancestors I have dates for (I exercise more, don't smoke, and don't subsist on a diet of eastern European stodge). But still, I did find myself wondering whether I came from a particular short-lived line, on the whole.

It's taken me years to get around to collating dates from my family tree, for such of my ancestors as I know both birth and death dates, to find out, but the answer:

67? = 80? 88 77?
| | |
69 = 73     87 = 86  72? = ?   65= ?   77? = 88?     75 = 71?  

|

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54? = 70   63 = 93  77? = 79   79? = 78  

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79 = 44   70 = 75 

|

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שליט״א = 65  

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me (also שליט״א)

...is no. Average life expectancy of the above: 74.1 years.

lethargic_man: (reflect)
The BBC published an article the other day, "The six key moments of the Cold War relived" (for the benefits of those who couldn't remember it). Under the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, it quotes a former communist supporter from London:
"My family saw the Soviet Union as the first country in which the working class had broken through and taken power. The invasion came as a tremendous shock. There were families and friendship groups divided by it. My father continued to believe that the Soviet Union's actions were correct. Others, like my mother, were more critical. It took me two decades longer to realise that the Soviet Union wasn't a socialist country after all because you can't have socialism without democracy."
It's well known how communist supporters in the West were shocked by the Soviet action then, and in Prague in 1968; it's only recently that I discovered that the whole phenomenon had happened before, in East Germany, in 1953. How did that uprising become so completely forgotten from the western consciousness (or at any rate, that part of it outside Germany)?

Evolution of English

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014 12:16 pm
lethargic_man: (linguistics geekery)
On the subject of yesterday's posting, it's occurred to me that something I'd love to hear is a text read which starts in Old English, and as the reading progresses, the pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary gradually shift into Modern English, via all the intermediate stages. A quick google does not show me any such thing, though there are things like this, which have discrete texts jumping forward several hundred years between each.
lethargic_man: (linguistics geekery)
I discovered this morning from [livejournal.com profile] ewx's blog that Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog hath ycalled, *ahem* has called for a celebration of ancient languages today, which ties in very nicely with what I was going to post this week anyway.

As some of my readership here will be aware, I use the Ashkenazi pronunciation of Hebrew, but most people nowadays use the Israeli pronunciation, which is to say the Sephardi pronunciation watered down to remove sounds Ashkenazim find it difficult to pronounce. Since most Jews today are Ashkenazim, this means they or their ancestors switched pronunciations in the course of the last century.*

* Or, in a few cases, the last two centuries: see my notes on Ismar Schorsch's talk on the European roots of Masorti Judaism the other day, if and when I get around to blogging them.

I grew up in one of the few non-Chareidi communities still to use the Ashkenazi pronunciation; everyone else in the synagogue I now attend, however, uses the Israeli. Over the course of the last ten years, I've had a few people tell me to change my pronunciation. "Why should I?" I said. "We did!" they replied.

Now, there is a tradition in Judaism of fitting in with one's community, but in today's individualistic world, few outside the Chareidi community take this very seriously. There's also a tradition, however, of adhering to the custom of one's ancestors; and if my parents and grandparents used the Ashkenazi pronunciation, and indeed their ancestors for the previous half millennium (though they mostly a different dialect of it*), who am I to change this custom unnecessarily.

* Newcastle uses the Yekkish pronunciation; I have a few Yekkes among my ancestors, but most of them are Litvaks or from what has historically been Poland (or in a few cases Sephardi); which differ mostly in how the vowel חוֹלָם is pronounced.

As it happens, though, I have been subtly changing my pronunciation of Hebrew over the last few years, in the direction of greater historical accuracy: I now pronounce מַפִּיק (the dot in a ה at the end of words), and I pronounce שְוָא נָע where, and only where, it is indicated in good siddurim.*

* My justification for this change, in the light of what I said above, is based on the precedent of Ashkenazi rabbis persuading their communities during the Middle Ages to place the stress when leyning where the trop is indicated on the words, rather than in the historically incorrect position used in the Ashkenazi pronunciation. I had never noticed before I learned this how when I am speaking, I pronounce, for instance, יִשְׂרָאֵל as /jɪs'rɒeɪl/, but when leyning as /jɪsrɒ'eɪl/.

Consequently, if I were to change my overall pronunciation, it would not be to the newfangled Israeli pronunciation at all, but to Biblical pronunciation (or as close as I can get to it). And if you'd like to hear what this sounds like, come along to Assif this Shabbos, where I shall be delivering a redacted version of the above rant prior to reading the הַפְטָרָה in Biblical pronunciation. (PS: This is not an April Fools!)

Online petitions

Monday, March 31st, 2014 01:03 pm
lethargic_man: (reflect)
Online activist sites have burgeoned. A couple of years ago, I'd occasionally get an email (such as from IRAC) asking me to sign a petition or participate in a mass email. In the last year or two, however, I saw the odd petition, on sites such as change.org, 38 Degrees or SumOfUs, about a cause I felt sufficiently strongly about to want to sign; once I did so, they had my email address, and would email me from time to time with other petitions to sign.

This sounds good in theory—mass activism via the Internet—but soon I began to feel I was drowning in petitions. There'd only be a few a week, but when they arrived, I'd put them aside to look into later: I didn't want to simply read a summary and sign; I wanted to check first I had all the facts, and agreed with the evidence. Some of the above sites include links to external articles on the web corroborating what they say about their causes; some do not. But checking facts takes time, and everything else I wanted or needed to do took priority.

Now I've got nineteen emails dating back two months waiting to be attended to, and I simply do not have the time to give each one the attention it deserves. I feel I'm reduced to a choice between signing petitions without checking them out thoroughly, or ignoring worthy causes I would agree with had I the time and effort to deal with them. And this, I'm sure, is not how it's meant to be. But once it becomes easy to deliver the man on the street one request for action, it becomes just as easy to deliver him as many as there are; and it's simply not possible to deal with everything.

But I'm not the only person out there receiving requests to sign petitions or email organisations. So how do the rest of you deal with this problem?
lethargic_man: (Default)
When I snack after dinner, it's on nuts and raisins (what the Germans amusingly call Studentenfutter, "students' fodder"). One reads that one should snack on healthy food like nuts, so I was quite surprised when [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m made a comment to be about nuts being high calorie. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised: a nut is a seed; it has all the resources in it to allow the germinating seed to grow to self-sufficiency. But I said that surely raisins would be higher calorie, because they contain all the sugar you find in a grape, but compressed into a smaller volume, meaning you are likely to eat more of them.

Well, in the way that one does (or at least I do), I went off to the Net of a Thousand Lies to investigate, where Google says that their calorie content is:
Nut typeCalorie content per 100g
Almonds576
Brazil nuts656
Cashews653
Hazelnuts628
Peanuts*567
Walnuts654
* Yes, I know they're actually peas, not nuts

Against which, raisins were just 299 calories per 100g. So go figure.

No, I'm not a calorie counter, but I find myself intrigued as to what one could snack on if one wanted to keep the numbers down. A quick glance at Google gives figures of 112 for couscous, 52 for apples, 89 for bananas, 47 for clementines... and 50 for the King of Fruit, the pineapple.

Well, looks like I've learned something.

Minhag vs. din

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014 10:00 pm
lethargic_man: (capel)
When a Jewish community's practices disagree with your הַשְׁגָפָה, sometimes it's possible to point a finger and say "but that's minhag, not din." An example that even my non-Jewish readers will be able to sympathise with: Reb Tevye getting so worked up about his daughters making their own matches in Fiddler on the Roof. (Indeed, something which would be lost on non-Jewish watchers of the film is that the reason he was willing to compromise with his first two daughters, but not with his third, is precisely because there the issue crossed the line from minhag to din.)

It's easy to say this, but what exactly marks the line between minhag and din? Outside of Orthodoxy the answer's clear: you have rabbinical assemblies, with law and standards subcommittees, to which responsa are submitted, which debate them, then either accept or reject them. Inside Orthodoxy, I'm not aware of a formal process for determining halacha in this way; it seems to me that people publish responsa, and either the majority of rabbis of the generation accept them, or they do not. But even then, the minhag of a community is regarded as inviolable, and treated almost on par with din. An example not from a teshuva is the materials [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m taught herself the practice of Judaism from when she first became practising; they made no distinction between kabbalistic minhag such as which order to cut your fingernails and core Jewish practices. And, come to think of it, the ([livejournal.com profile] aviva_m: look away now) Kitzur Shulchan Aruch) is no better.

So what, then, does distinguish minhag from din in Orthodoxy and pre-Orthodox normative Judaism?
lethargic_man: (capel)
I seem to have taken the injunction to recite kaddish three times a day for the full twelve months of mourning much more seriously than the other members of my family, even my Modern Orthodox brother. It intrigues me to speculate why. I think I know the answer.

Like some other communities including my present one, the Newcastle community has a mourners' siddur. It contains extracts from the second edition Singer's Prayer Book, adapted to leave out the prayers not said in a shiva house; along with prayers to be said in a house of mourning. I probably knew beforehand, but had forgotten until I saw the book again when my mother died, that it was not, as I had thought, a national publication, but was put together by R. Shlomo Toperoff, minister in Leazes shul in Newcastle before my birth (he was the rabbi who married my parents).

In his lengthy introduction to the book, R. Toperoff (whom my father informs me was very strict) bewails how mourning customs are, as he sees it, falling into disuse, and urges their observance. This had a big impact on me when I first read it at a formative age, when my paternal grandfather died in 1985, and when my maternal grandfather died in 1987.

So why, then, did this have such an influence on me but not the rest of my family? Answer, because I don't think they read it. I certainly know one member of my family did not. But I am the sort of person to read lengthy prefaces, as witness this prior incident.
lethargic_man: (capel)
Sometimes I really do not get where the traditional commentators are coming from. Psalm 90 opens "A prayer of Moses, the man of God"; the traditional commentators declare that this introduces a series of eleven psalms written by Moses. The problem with this is that 1 Chronicles 16 attributes a slightly corrupted form of Psalm 96 explicitly to King David. So why do the traditional commentators complicate this (the implication, presumably, being that David was quoting Moses)? Why not go with Occam's Razor, that the simplest explanation is normally right?

I suppose Psalm 95 makes reference to an incident in the life of Moses, but the Mosaic origin explanation then requires that King David changed the wording from an original "you" to "your ancestors"; Psalm 98 also refers to Moses and Aaron, but also to Samuel, requiring another purported Davidic change.
lethargic_man: (linguistics geekery)
Follow-up to my last post: I only realised a few months ago that אוי ווי זמיר "oy vey zmir, which I first heard in between the lines of a Shabbos zemira, has got nothing to do with zemiros, but is short for oy vey iz mir.

I was just thinking about this just now, and had another ping moment: In the English equivalent "woe is me", "me" is not accusative, as it normally is when without any accompanying words, but dative. (How could it be accusative when "to be", being a copula, takes a nominative?). In English "me" can be either accusative (corresponding to German/Yiddish mich) or dative (corresponding to German/Yiddish mir). The latter is normally preceded by "to" or "for", but it doesn't have to in German, and it strikes me there are probably stock phrases which preceded the need for the preposition to distinguish the two. That "woe is me" is an example is confirmed, I now see, by the places it is used in the KJV corresponding to dative in Hebrew, e.g. Psalms 120:5.

Another example that springs to mind is "methinks", which I already knew is not bad grammar for "I think", but short for "[it] thinketh me," Middle English for "it seems to me". Again, I hadn't realised until now that "me" here is dative.

Reciting kaddish

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014 01:24 pm
lethargic_man: (capel)
I learned from R. Chaim Weiner in a shiur some years ago that the reason for the multiple mourner's kaddishes at the end of an Orthodox service goes back to the Middle Ages, when there was only one mourner's kaddish, and only one mourner recited it. This would lead to fights for the privilege of reciting kaddish when there was more than one mourner present, so more kaddishes were introduced. Now, multiple mourners may recite kaddish together, but the multiple kaddishes remain (due to Orthodoxy's apparent inability to discard any established practice).

You know, I could sympathise with the old system; reciting kaddish alongside other mourners is a thankless task. During the week I have to try and keep up with seasoned mourners who gabble it out faster than you can say "Yankel Rubenstein"; on Shabbos, I try and pace myself to new mourners or people with yahrzeit, a process which involves looking at their lips rather than the siddur (so it's just as well I know the words off by heart), but invariably fail, because said other people are always halfway across shul, and reciting the kaddish in a low mumble rather than loudly and clearly enough for me to be able to hear where they've got to, and I end up getting told off as a result.

אוי ווי זמיר!

Buses

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014 12:20 pm
lethargic_man: (Default)
I read somewhere I can't now find a little while ago about how Routemaster buses were judged the most recognisable symbol of Britain, or something.

Well, they aren't. What they are is the most whatever-it-was of London, and portraying them as representative of Britain is yet another example of London-centric thinking (though I will grant that as far as foreigners are concerned, it will be features of London that represent Britain for them).

Where I grew up, there was nary a Routemaster in sight. Indeed, only half of the buses, the ones operated by Northumbria, were red, and even those were later repainted to match the company's revised branding.

The local buses, the ones operated by the Tyne and Wear Passenger Transport Executive until its deregulation in 1986, and Busways thereafter—i.e. all the ones I ever took—were, rather, yellow:

[photo]
Image by Martin Addison.

This, though it looks a bit funny to my eyes now, was the right colour for buses to appear when I was little: that, and red (and green in Leeds).

(As a teenager, my mother, like myself when I too was first prescribed them, avoided wearing glasses when she could possibly get away with it. She used to tell the story of how she finally realised she had to start wearing them more, when, waiting at a bus stop, she tried to flag down a bus, only to realise as it came nearer it was actually a girl in a yellow cagoule on a bike. :o))

FWIW, the child fare on one of these buses was, at the time, 5p. (I remember a friend telling the story of how a driver refused to give him change when he tried to buy a 5p ticket with a £20 note!) It's now 60p; why has it risen so much more than inflation?

Jesmond shul

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014 05:23 pm
lethargic_man: (capel)
This is Jesmond Synagogue, where I was barmitzvahed (and next door to now long-closed the Jewish primary school I attended):

[photo]

Wikipedia informs me it was built in 1914–15 in an Art Deco interpretation of Byzantine Revival style. Like elsewhere, the Jewish community in Newcastle started out with immigrants in a poor inner city area (in this case, the West End; the first shul was, appropriately enough, on Temple Street). As its members became more affluent and moved further out, making it difficult for observant Jews to walk to the older synagogues, they built new shuls where they now lived.*

* <rant> As the Conservative Movement in America should have done once its members moved out to the sprawling suburbias, rather than making a mockery of Jewish law by permitting driving on Shabbos, as if use of internal combustion engines did not directly violate the prohibition on making fire. </rant>

At its height, after the War, the Newcastle community numbered 4500. I think the numbers were in decline ever since then, though it took until the 1970s for any sense of decline to become apparent, and the 1980s for anyone to think of doing anything about it (by which time it was too late). By the time of my barmitzvah, the community was down to about 1300 (it's now two or three hundred), one of the three Orthodox synagogues extant when I was growing up had already closed, and the other two were about to be closed and replaced by a new one in the centre of where the community now lived.

Jesmond shul was the last to close, and did so two months after my barmitzvah (though it's not my fault!). Unlike Leazes, which was turned into a shopping arcade* (and later burned down), and Gosforth & Kenton, which was demolished and replaced by a block of flats, the synagogue building in Jesmond was taken over by the local girls' school. The interior's been divided up, I gather, but the exterior remains almost as it is, complete with the beautiful mosaic of Num. 24:5 "How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel":

* The brass rail around the women's gallery visible in the abovelinked photograph of Leazes shul is actually the only feature I remember from when it was a shul: It shut when I was five, and the brass rail would have been at eye-level for me!

View piccies )

In fact, the first photo is a composite: the sun was reflecting so brightly off the mosaic in the original you couldn't make the words out.

There are a few exterior changes which have been made: the foundation stones have been removed, along with a representation of the two tablets of stone at the top; here's how the building originally looked.

Here's a photo of what the shul looked like from the inside, that I don't have permission to embed directly in this post. (I used to sit just off the bottom left!) Notable features include the beautiful ornate wooden ark (which probably met a miserable end after the synagogue's closure), the stained glass window (somewhat overexposed here) showing ה׳ surrounded by rays of light (you can still see the one on the other end of the building in the exterior photograph), and the intricate brass chandeliers.

In fact, the two large chandeliers you can see (but not the third behind them, or the small ones around the edges) were preserved and installed into the new synagogue built in Gosforth—also a building I am much attached to—as was a replica of the central portion of the stained glass window:

[photo]

(I found this photo here and was surprised to discover it was taken by my father! And I sit here at the front right of the leftmost block of seats, or do normally—whilst in mourning, one sits further back from the Ark.)

It was decades after the shul closed, however, in the age of Wikipedia, that I discovered the irony in the name Jesmond Synagogue: "Jesmond", it turns out, derives from "Jesus Mound".

Home

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014 06:49 pm
lethargic_man: (reflect)
When I was soliciting subjects to post on, [livejournal.com profile] miriammoules asked:
Where does "home" mean for you?
In this context, I can't help quoting [personal profile] rysmiel's line "Wherever I lay my hat, that's my head"; but since we don't (yet) have the technology to transfer minds between physical housings, though, I shall ignore this in the rest of my answer. :o)

They say home is where the heart is. That's not quite true for me. Some of my heart is in Newcastle (and the Northumbrian countryside), but though my parents' place is there, it's not really home any longer: I haven't lived there for nearly two decades.

I also have a soft spot for Edinburgh (and the Scottish countryside), but at this remove of time, the best I can say there is that it was my home during the last four years of the last century.

So, really, that just lives my place in the big bad megalopolis. I have rather ambivalent feelings about London: I moved there to be where the young Jews are, and stayed there because of the interlinked (Jewish) communities I (eventually) found my place in, but I'm a small city person by inclination: London's way too big, and <insert standard rant about the downsides of London>. But it's the (frankly rather lousy) one-bedroom flat I got for myself that I always want to come home to when I've been away, so I suppose that's home for me, even if I don't feel strongly attached to it or to some aspects of the surrounding city. Though there are places in London I feel greatly attached to, Golders Hill Park and the adjacent part of Hampstead Heath in particular.

What about Berlin? Well, I spent two months living there, long enough to build up the kind of routine that doesn't come with a shorter visit. But it never really felt like home: I was living in [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m's place; it couldn't properly feel like a shared place when it was her paying the rent, and my stay one of limited duration. But I could see that changing if we moved into a separate place together there.

Lastly, what about Israel? Well, between the First and Second Revolts against the Romans, nineteen and a half and eighteen and a half centuries ago, my ancestors' homeland was invaded and its inhabitants kicked out, enslaved and forbidden to even set foot in the capital; the country was renamed after their hated ancient enemy, and the capital after a pagan god and the man responsible for its conquest. Jews have been yearning for it in their prayers ever since. As the survivor of an earlier conquest wrote:
If I forget thee, Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I do not raise Jerusalem above my chief joy.אִם־אֶשְׁכָּחֵךְ יְרוּשָׁלִָם תִּשְׁכַּח יְמִינִי׃ תִּדְבַּק־לְשׁוֹנִי לְחִכִּי אִם־לֹא אֶזְכְּרֵכִי אִם־לֹא אַעֲלֶה אֶת־יְרוּשָׁלִַם עַל רֹאשׁ שִׂמְחָתִי׃
And that is how one is supposed to feel about the lost homeland. We pray for the ingathering of the exiles and the rebuilding of Jerusalem and of the Temple and the restoration of the Davidic monarchy three times a day; pious Jews leave a patch of wall in their home unpainted because how can our joy be complete when Moshiach has not yet come and led us back to the Land of Israel; at weddings the groom breaks a glass for the same reason.

The story is told of how Napoleon once entered a town in eastern Europe and found it empty. The people he sent to find out what had happened came back reporting that the inhabitants were all in the synagogue mourning and praying, as this was the anniversary of the day on which the Jewish Temple had been destroyed. Napoleon was incensed, and demanded to know what enemy had committed such an offence in his empire—only to be told the act had taken place seventeen hundred years earlier, but the people were still mourning.

So, that's how you're supposed to feel about Israel. But do I? Well, no, not really: I grew up in the Diaspora, to a family that has been securely settled for the last century in a country friendly towards Jews. I don't want to go and live in Israel; even were Moshiach to come tomorrow, I would venture that it is important there continues to be a Jewish presence in the Diaspora. (Also, I don't like Israelis' attitudes: not all of them, by any means; but if I were to go and live there, it would make it harder to instil the values I live by in such children as I might go on to have. Whoever it was that said "You can take the Jews out of the Diaspora, but you can't take the Diaspora out of the Jews" had evidently never met a second-generation Israeli.)

That said, I do have a deep connection to Israel. I spent my gap year there, on a scheme doing social and voluntary work, mixed in with tours and seminars, Gadna and Sar-El. The idea was to strengthen young Jews' connection to the country, with the hope that after they had finished (and, in most cases, completed the university degree they had already signed up for) they would return and make aliyah. For me, that first aim was an unqualified success, the second one an abject failure. All my year off did in that regard was to ground in me firmly the conviction that this is my country, not Israel.

So, by that criterion, Israel is somewhere I know I will always be welcome; it's like the mansion of the rich uncle whose political views you do not agree with, but who is nevertheless part of the family. But it's not home. Not unless things go belly-up in Europe in a way I hope will never happen in my lifetime or that of my (still hypothetical) children. In which case, though I will go and live there, I will always have at the back of my mind "If I forget thee, O Blighty"...

Anybody got any other post requests for me?

Mileage graph

Saturday, March 1st, 2014 10:14 pm
lethargic_man: (bike)
When I got my current bike, I didn't attach a mileometer to it. Instead, I wrote a CGI script for my work computer, and every day either ticked a checkbox saying I had cycled in that day, or filled in how many miles non-commuting I had done, or both.

After seven and a half years, the resulting mileage graph looks at the first glance not to have too many features leaping out of it at you, but a closer look shows that actually quite a lot of my cycling habits are visible:

[graph]

Music

Monday, February 24th, 2014 09:18 pm
lethargic_man: (Default)
When I was first confronted with imminence of bereavement, the prohibition that worried me the most was the ban on listening to music; music's what I use to get me up when I am feeling down. As it happens, though, so far I've had little to worry about, due partly to doing what I can to ensure I don't get depressed, and partly to the fact I am still continuing to listen to lots of music, just all in here. <taps head>

It's now six and a half weeks since I last listened to a piece of music, other than anything I happen to hear in a shop, or sung music on Shabbos, and yet my brain is still continuing to serve up a rich and varied diet of music, each piece of which I last listened to a varying period of time in the past; today's offerings have included: a piece the name of which I cannot recall by Taraf de Haïdouks, "Thirst" by the Apples, a piece with a very superficially similar opening from the Babel soundtrack, a track from Inside Stories by Peter Chase (an album of music for the Hybrid Music System, dating to the late eighties), "Alcohol" by Gogol Bordello, and a track from The Afro-Celt Sound System, Volume I.

I wonder whether this is going to keep up for the full year, by which time (if I keep to this) it'll obviously be a year or more since I last listened to any of the source material.

Clock

Monday, February 24th, 2014 05:56 pm
lethargic_man: (Default)
What time is it?

[photo of clock]

Gad to Zevulun, apparently.

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