On an eruv, elbows and a contrabass

Listening to the news this week, I am becoming more and more convinced that my grandmother was right and that the world is turning upside down.  And walking down Pinkas Street in North Tel Aviv the other day, I found absolute proof of she was correct in her assessment of things.  

The world turned upside down

I was reminded of her again the other evening when we were watching the superb and rather disturbing three-part BBC documentary about the detrimental use of music by despots and other, Tunes for Tyrants, written and presented Suzy Klein.  In one of the episodes, she reminded us of the ironic fact that both the dictator Josef Stalin and the composer Sergey Prokofiev had died on the same day—March 5 1953—but as the masses had bought up all the flowers in Moscow to honour Stalin there were none left to lay on Prokofiev’s grave.  I can remember to this day the joy on my grandmother’s face and in her voice on hearing that Stalin had gone.  Strange how these things stick in your mind!

In the final episode, Suzy interviewed the cellist, Anita-Lasker Wallfisch, who had been a member of a women’s orchestra in Auschwitz, whose testimony of playing Schumann’s Traumerei from his Kinderszenen privately, one on one, for Josef Mengele—at Mengele’s command (Mengele was a music lover) after which he returned to his notorious “medical” experiments.  That was particularly chilling.  Given that the previous evening I had heard Anita’s son, the cellist Raphael Wallfisch perform live at the Israel Conservatory of Music about 250 m from home sent icy pangs down my spine.  I wrote to Suzy a year ago after I’d watched the programme for the first time and her [immediate—within 5 minutes] response was “yes, it is scary stuff. Awful to have to film in Auschwitz, but I felt it had to be done, so I steeled myself…”

But now to the past week.  It’s unusual on my morning walk to find that there isn’t really anything worth photographing.  It’s happened maybe three or four days over the past 11 years since I’ve been doing this and it occurred again one day last weekend.  Other than that the hailstones that had fallen in a short but wild burst during the previous night and had not yet melted (an unusual occurrence to observe ice on the ground in Tel Aviv) and the fact that a portable loo had migrated from a building site around the corner from one side of the street to the other side, there really was nothing of any interest for me to record at all, and even those two pictures weren’t really worth showing to anybody.

However, on Friday morning this week, I observed something that I thought could be interesting.  Approaching the park from Brandeis Street, I observed two bearded gentlemen exiting an automobile and making their way across the grass in the direction of the river.  There was nothing unusual about their garb — black yarmulkas, waistcoats, white shirts — except for the that one of them was wearing a bright luminous orange waistcoat not normally associated with strictly Orthodox gentlemen and the other was carrying an instrument that I somehow associated with athletics.  You know what I mean, an implement to replace the bar when the high-jumper or the pole-vaulter has not succeeded in clearing it.  

They were walking at some pace so I decided I’d better get the camera working while at the same time figuring out where they might be headed and why.  It didn’t take me very long to guess what they were about and following a brief conversation with them, I scored 100%.  This was the eruv repair team.  

Now for those of you unfamiliar with the term “eruv“, I will attempt to explain without being overly cynical although that is my nature as I age.  (I wasn’t always a cynic, which is possibly, or quite probably, an unhealthy mindset.  When I was younger I used to be a sceptic, which is a healthy state of mind, highly recommended to all and sundry. However, the danger is that you can become a cynic when you realise that most of the things you feared might happen when you were a sceptic have actually taken place and will probably recur.) 

I suppose that in order to keep things free of my disbelieving biases, I will quote directly from an article “Eruvim: Talmudic places in a postmodern world” by two geographers, Peter Vincent and Barney Warf, which appeared in the Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers in 2002:

“Scattered across the landscapes of Israel and many towns and cities in the Western world, frequently invisible to inhabitants who may be ignorant of their purpose and symbolic meaning, lie a series of Orthodox Jewish places called, in Hebrew, eruvim (eruvin – Aramaic; singular eruv). Defined and erected according to ancient Talmudic law, eruvim are important to the behaviour of their residents. As spaces of identity that reflect and reproduce traditional religious practices in a largely secular culture, eruvim are miniature worlds that personalize urban space by making, for Orthodox Jews, the public arena private.” 

Or, as the Wikipedia entry puts it: 

An eruv “is a ritual enclosure that some Jewish communities, and especially Orthodox Jewish communities, construct in their neighborhoods to work around (my italics, SW) the religious prohibition against Jewish residents or visitors carrying certain objects outside their own homes on the Sabbath [and other days on which “work” is prohibited.. An eruv accomplishes this by symbolically integrating a number of private and public properties into one larger “private domain”, thereby avoiding restrictions on carrying objects from the private to the public domain on Sabbath and holidays.  [It] allows Jews to carry, among other things, house keys, tissues, medication, or babies with them, and to use strollers and canes. The presence or absence of an eruv thus especially affects the lives of strictly observant Jews with limited mobility and those responsible for taking care of babies and young children.”

At any rate, if you keep your eyes open anywhere you travel in Israel, streets, parks, municipal boundaries, among other things, are surrounded by almost invisible boundary in the form of chicken wires—or, in this case, a heavy translucent plastic thread.

As I caught up with the two gentlemen concerned, one of them asked if I’d like to photograph them and if I knew what they were doing.  I explained that I knew exactly what they were up to, which seemed to take him by surprise, at which point, he informed me that they regularly check to see if the eruv is whole and undamaged and only attend to when it has it is not, which was another way of saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  

However, if it is, it causes acute mobility issues for those for whom moving while carrying, pushing, shlepping or whatever in private space —even imagined private space— is important.  I told him that I thought that not to fix something that wasn’t broken was a sensible idea and also thought (to myself and here comes the cynic) that all this is an extreme manifestation of Israbluff, which can be desribed as an ethnically particular and highly sophisticated type of “Let’s pretend”.  (You have to realise that this is being written by one whose former sceptic’s agnosticism seems to have been replaced by a cynic’s convinced atheism—except that, and let it be recorded, on occasional days of weakness I seem to revert to a sort of tepid and flaky agnosticism.)

Anyway, be all that as it may, the man in the orange waistcoat approached me and said (in Hebrew) “You’re American, aren’t you”, to which I responded “Heaven forbid” (only because Mr. Trump and his support group—his base base, as it were—turn me off a tad.) “But your accent, your accent”, he says, (still in Hebrew),  “you speak English.” (in English).  I answered that he had correctly determined that my Hebrew is far from flawless and that my accent (in Hebrew) has a distinctly Anglo-Saxon flavour (Anglo-Saxon is the term they use in Israel for English-speakers without having a clue as to whom the original Anglo-Saxons really were).  “Yes”, I assured him, “I am an English-speaker but I hail not from America — nor from Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand or the United Kingdom.”  He was flummoxed, bemused, completely perplexed, as if there was somewhere else in the world that people spoke English and looked sort of “normal”.  “So where are you from?” he inquired — and I told him that I was born in Ireland.  “From Dublin?”, says he.  “I’ve been to Dublin!” at which point, it was my turn to be thrown slightly off balance.  So I asked where in Dublin (because I really didn’t believe him) to which he responded “Well, not really Dublin.  I stayed in Bray.”  

Now to those of you who might be familiar with the Vicar [of Bray] or with asses (which is what they do), the Bray to which this gentleman was referring had nothing whatsoever to so with either.  Bray is a smallish coastal town about 20 km south of Dublin whose main attraction was Dawsons’ Amusement Arcade and the Dodgems, and for many years it was common for Jewish families from Dublin to rent a house there for a few weeks as a summer holiday home.  It was close enough to Dublin for the father to commute into work and be back with family in the evening, and the joke was that those members of Dublin’s mainly Catholic majority who had Jewish neighbours or acquaintances  would say to the Jews: “If you give us back Bray and we’ll give you back Jerusalem”.  Well, over the years, the Jews of Dublin have found other places to spend a few weeks in the summer so the return of Bray side of the bargain materialised.  But as the status of Jerusalem is still in some dispute, I’m not so sure about the rest of it.  (Incidentally, when I was about 10 or 11, my parents rented a house in Bray from a Mr. Butler.  Some way through the stay, I inadvertently moved a bed in the room I had been assigned, knocking the plug of a bedside lamp out if its socket and cracking the socket at the same time and about which I had neglected to tell my parents.  On his return, Mr. Butler was none too happy to find a cracked electricity socket in the bedroom and phoned to relate his displeasure to my parents.  It was the only example of overt antisemitism I had experienced in all the years I lived in Ireland (because in the view of Mr. Butler, Jews were in the habit of smashing other people’s property, it seemed, and for most of the troubles in the world).  It upset my parents terribly.

But to return to the orange-vested eruv repairer, what in God’s name was he doing in Bray?  And that was just the point — he was there in God’s name.  He was at a summer camp for youth run by Agudas Yisroël, a strictly Orthodox Jewish organization, the aim of which was/is to strengthen Orthodox institutions independently of the Zionist movement and mainstream [modern] Orthodox organizations.  I had no idea that Aguda brought their children to Ireland although, in retrospect, I suppose Ireland at that period was considered morally safer than an increasingly secular England.   So I thought back to which Jewish families in Dublin half a century ago might have visited such a place and discovered that he recognised all the names that I could think of.  He even asked me if I knew a Rabbi Zalman Alony, who was one of the two rabbis who participated in our marriage ceremony 52 years ago!  So there!  We departed as if old friends and wished one another “shabbat shalom” (literally, a peaceful Sabbath) and I moved on.


An alternative use of an eruv.  For show: Land, do a double somsersault, and then fly off.  Tel Aviv Port

A couple of hundred metres further along in the park, I came across a scene I’d observed and photographed before and I posted this picture a few weeks ago of two men and a woman involved in some sort of calisthenics, using ropes suspended from a bridge above, along a street upon which there’s usually considerable traffic.  The exercise seemed to involve one guy holding the girl while the other raised her, upside down, until his and her arms were straight, elbows and probably wrists locked.

I subsequently discovered that they seem to be at it every day — or at least each time I pass by.  The female participants seem to change by the day and at least one of the males (he who holds the ladies in the correct position so that they avoid toppling over) appears to be permanent.  Quite what the purpose of all this activity is I’m not sure but as they seem by now to have got used to the idea that I stop, look and click and they don’t seem unduly perturbed by my presence, I think hat it’s now time to ask them what they’re about.

Continuing through the park and into Tel Aviv Port, these two ladies passed me by.  One of the downsides of being a flâneur with a camera is that you only hear snippets of conversation as you pass by other people strolling through the park and some of these conversations sound as if they might be fascinating but to trail them wouldn’t seem quite right.  This pair, of which I was privy to about three or four sentences before they headed off in another direction, were going on about relative qualities of some men they both appeared to have been “friendly” with.  The conversation they were having was at full volume so much so that I was tempted to ask them to turn it down a little but I wasn’t sure what the reaction might have been.

As I turned into the port, the guy in front of me seemed to be having some problem controlling the two dogs he was walking (or who were taking him for a walk).  They had both spotted a cat, which had spotted them as well. But as the cat seemed to be hoping that the angler s/he was sitting beside might actually catch a fish from which s/he might benefit, it backed off first.  The dogs, in contrast would have preferred a fight but might have lost an eye apiece had they succeeded.  The three animals were almost as noisy as the ladies above.

Walking through the port, I came across this man at the entrance to a store which had not yet opened to the public for the day’s business — a case of itchy feet if ever I saw one though it might have helped him had he removed the sock!

Exiting the port, and waiting to cross the street, this couple were having an intense conversation but it was only when they moved ahead of me that I noticed the cut of his trousers.  Smart!

Then, turning into Nordau Boulevard, there was this image which is common enough in Tel Aviv.  The sea was rough and there was a lot of surf and this young man was obviously off for a morning’s entertainment, surfboard in hand.

A little further along the street, the man below asked me (yes, he asked me) if I’d like to take his picture.  So I did because I thought he had an interesting face and, for once, I had the right lens on the camera.  Unfortunately, he had neither a smartphone nor an email address so there was no way of sending the pic to him.  Later in the day, my granddaughters (aged 6 and 7) were convinced that it was a self-portrait but that might have been because I hadn’t shaved that morning!  I checked in the mirror and remain unconvinced of any resemblance! Mind you, Gali and Lily were smiling at one another when they told me of the imagined similarity.

On my way home, I passed a food store and looked at the arrangement outside the shop and thought to myself that, yes, they’re absolutely right.  Money does indeed flow like water!

Finally, passing the Conservatory on the way home, these two young men were sitting on a bench.  Jazz musicians, one was a saxophonist and the other a contrabassist.  They were obviously on their way to a performance somewhere and had booked a taxi to take them there and the vehicle had arrived.

However, it looked and sounded as if the taxi driver (or the person who took the order for them) had no idea what a double bass was and the driver was having some difficulty wondering how on earth he would manage to get the thing into or on top of the car along with the two musicians, a saxophone in its case, a suitcase and a suit.

Eventually, they gave up trying and the saxophonist obviously thought it best to try and explain to the taxi company that they needed at least an estate car or a minibus.

And then I was home, and this Friday made up for the previous weekend deficiency in pictures.

Happy Hanukkah to all those to whom it applies and have a great week everyone else!


Cry or Laugh/ (Or just rant again)?

Big Ben

Believe it or not, I try to write this blog without reference to politics or political events. Yes, really, I do!  I can see some of you smiling and I know that it doesn’t really look as if I am being totally straight with you and in that sense I am hardly much different from some of the politicians that get mentioned here from time to time.

This past week was one of those weeks when the politicians run amok and you really didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  California is suffering its worst wildfires in living memory, so Trump twittered and tweeted to excess, exacerbating a highly emotional situation by blaming the fires on the “gross mismanagement” of state forests and threatening to withdraw all federal funding unless the situation was remedied, drawing an indignant reaction from local residents, administrators, opposition politicians and environmental scientists,  not to mention the stressed out firefighters risking their lives, He then repeated his attacks, telling them to get smart.  It seems to me that withdrawing federal funding is like telling the National Hurricane Centre they’ll see no further funding until the hurricanes decide to calm down and go away.  And climate change never really entered the discussion as Trump is a strict non-believer in such “nonsense” and anyway, without being considered too cynical, California didn’t exactly vote for Trump or Republicans in large numbers, re-electing a Democratic senator, electing a Democratic Governor with Democrats winning 46 out of 53 seats in the House of Representatives with two-thirds of the popular vote.  So why help them?

Israel’s seen a busy week in politics, too.  Last week, following the semi-war in and around Gaza, the Minister of Defence, Avigdor (Yvet) Lieberman resigned on the grounds that the agreement to a ceasefire with the Hamas was a capitulation to terrorists. Netanyahu had explained that he had no stomach for a wider war, which is possibly true, and knew that he would pay a political price in the form of criticism coming from his right-hand side, which was absolutely true.  

Screen Shot 2018-11-23 at 13.10.25

And at his news conference, Lieberman said the military response to the rocket fire had been “insufficient and inappropriate” and that the government was making a serious mistake by accepting a ceasefire with Hamas and other militant groups that the US, EU and UK have all designated as terrorist organisations.  “Buying quiet for the short term at the price of serious damage to national security in the long term” was the way he put it.  It was not that his resignation alone brought about a crisis but his announcement that he was withdrawing his party from the coalition thereby reducing the government’s majority to just 1 seat.  In coalition politics, that means that just one or two crackpots can bring the government down or shore it up for a price. 

Hardly had Lieberman finished his exposition of whys and wherefores when we were treated to scenario about which I simply didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  The Minister of Education, Naftali Bennett, just couldn’t wait to appear in front of the cameras and microphones to tell us that he was the only person in Israel who had the guts and the abilities needed to be Defence Minister.  

Screen Shot 2018-11-21 at 12.11.24.pngWhen he entered politics, I knew nothing about him except whose son he was and up until last week, what interested me most was how he managed to keep his tiny kippah on his balding and shaven head come rain or shine, calm or gale force winds.  Perhaps he applied honey to his skull after the morning shave? Maybe he uses Velcro?  It could be, that as an ardent advocate of Israel’s hi-tech industries, he employs some sort of self-dissolving staples, programmed to be absorbed into his skin around 11 p.m. each night.  State secret, I guess.

Anyhow, quoting this esteemed gentleman, who obviously had had enough of meeting kiddies in kindergartens and dealing with recalcitrant university heads and thereby needed a change of surroundings: “I would not allow terrorists to cross the border from Gaza every day … and if they do, we should shoot to kill. Terrorists from Gaza should not enter Israel … Just as in Lebanon, Syria or anywhere else we should shoot to kill.” (And this is one of his milder statements—he would happily flatten Gaza.)  The news programme we were watching accompanied this infantile performance with a video clip of Mr. Bennett rushing into a conference room in the Knesset over and over again (he never seemed to come out), making the whole thing seem more surreal and funny than it actually was or should have been.

His behaviour at this news conference reminded me that we have heard such talk before—”I’m the greatest, I’m the best, I’m the only one”—though in a slightly different context.

The bottom line of Mr. Bennett’s startling outburst was the announcement that if he wasn’t given the job by the following day, he would withdraw his party from the coalition, causing it not just a difficult time as the weak Mr. Lieberman had promised a few minutes before but its complete demise, new elections and all the rest.  As Tommy Cooper, a Welsh prop comedian and magician famous in mid-20th century Britain for deliberately screwing up magic tricks, might have said: “Just like that”.  (Incidentally, for those of you might be morbidly interested, Cooper’s death on stage from a heart attack can be watched “live” on YouTube!!!)

Screen Shot 2018-11-23 at 10.22.43.png

As Bennett went on, my sceptic’s mind kept straying to a simple issue: How is this [dangerous] mutt going to eat crow when the response eventually came from Netanyahu, a man who is no novice in politics and plays his minions and his enemies off against one another with great aplomb.  And sure enough, Bibi appeared the following day to announce that he and not Mr. Bennett was the greatest — he had served and been injured as a brave warrior in a special forces unit (true), he had lost his brother in the same (true), he had saved the Israeli economy when Finance Minister (trueish), etc., etc. and now he was appointing himself Defence Minister.  In doing so, Bibi is now not only the Prime Minister (obsessively hoping and expecting to steal the record for longest-serving prime minister from David Ben-Gurion) but also the Foreign Minister, the Defence Minister, and the Minister for Immigrant Affairs.  He is also the Health Minister as the Deputy Minister of Health is a Knesset member for the devoutly Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, which now recognizes the State of Israel (yup!) but, in a version of the well-known parlour game called Israbluff, does not allow its Knesset members to become government ministers lest they be tainted with the modernist label “Zionist“. Consequently, yet two further ministerial mantles have been placed on already broad shoulders of the Prime Minister.  At this point, I became even more curious about how the young Mr. Bennett would emerge from the corner he had so carelessly painted himself into the previous day.

And sure enough, the next day, after the Minister for Kindergartens and Kiddies had had a chat with Israel’s version of Miss Agatha Trunchbull (who, you may remember was the despotic principal of a rundown elementary school, Crunchem Hall in Roald Dahl’s Matilda,) in other wordsthe newly self-appointed and anointed Minister of Defence, he appeared in front of the cameras once more and contritely admitted that he had been a very naughty and irresponsible little boy and would behave himself in future—or at least until the date of the next elections would be announced, at which point he would be permitted to misbehave as he saw fit.  

… and Prime Ministers

… and Prime Ministers, too, it seems

While explaining this to what I imagine was a minuscule TV audience, Bennett was accompanied by his comrade-in-arms, the Ministress of Justice, Ayelet Shaked (pronounced: “shack-head”), which translates as “almond”, probably because she’s a hard nut to crack), a much more level-headed and calculating politician than her erstwhile leader and whose main aim over the past couple of years seems to be how to emasculate and defeminise the judiciary system (i.e., to politicise it completely).  My guess is that both of these politicians (who, incidentally, were aides to Netanyahu when he was in opposition and probably know things about him and he would prefer they didn’t) would like to become Prime Minister but in order to get there, will have to find a way back into Netanyahu’s Likud party in order to accomplish this, which will be no easy task given the number of sycophantic nincompoops in that party who owe their political lives to the one and only. Though as I’ve mentioned before, as Bibi is embroiled in three or four serious police investigations …

And this brings me to another curiosity in this seemingly endless sardonic synopsis of the week’s events, which I reckon would only happen in Israel.  We were following all these events on Israel TV Channel 1 news, whose main anchor is a professional ahd hard-headed TV interviewer and presenter, Geula Even-Sa’ar.  She used to be plain Geula Even but then she married Gideon Sa’ar who, believe it or not, was the Minister of Education and then the Minister of the Interior—until he resigned (read: took a time-out) from active politics following his decision to lend his support to the elevation of former Knesset Speaker, Reuven Rivlin, to the position of State President. That was a move been opposed by Mr. Netanyahu (and his wife), apparently because Mr. Rivlin was seen as more popular than the PM (probably true).  It is rumoured that Mr. Sa’ar will one day make a comeback and that he, too, has ambitions to achieve the top job; it is also reasonable to assume that he has the support of his wife in this regard.  

Given that I am naturally distrustful and suspicious, and doubt everything I read and hear until it’s proven, each time I see Mrs. Saar present the evening news, I can’t help wondering about potential conflicts of interest.  I know she’s extremely professional but she’s also human, so when you wake up in bed each morning beside a man who would like to be Prime Minister,  one can’t help thinking that the conversation might not exactly start with whether they would prefer strawberry jam or raspberry jam on their morning toast and my mind wanders to whether perhaps the conversation might stumble on to the content of the evening’s newscast and how potential rivals might best be portrayed.

(Incidentally, in 2014, she was suspended from her job by Ayala Hasson-Nesher, who had recently been appointed Head of Channel 1 news, for violating her instructions regarding an actual conflict of interest as she was Sa’ar’s wife and he was still Minister of the Interior.  The instruction was that interviews with Likud politicians on Even’s (then) nightly current affairs programme were out of the question.  Despite this warning, Even interviewed a Likud Knesset member, resulting in an apparently fierce argument between these two highly professional journalists, hence the suspension, which was resolved when Mr. Sa’ar left the government that week.  The fact that these two women in question were neighbours, living two doors away from one another—less than 200m around the corner from where I live—must have added some spice to life on an otherwise quiet street!)

Yes, I didn’t know after two days of the non-stop Lieberman—Bennett—Bibi soap opera whether I should laugh or cry so I decided to take a break from Israeli news and tune into Sky News on Channel 103, which I find pretty obnoxious but a change from the local stuff.  And there, what did I discover? News was of mass self-immolation of cabinet ministers following claims of a Brexit deal in the offing.  There were so many resignations (which included, incidentally, the minister responsible for negotiating said deal) that I was reminded of the stories I’d heard about lemmings when I was younger.   All that was missing were interviews with the chief harlequin in that particular farce, Boris Johnson, and that politician of conviction and ersatz anachronistic upper-class mannerisms, Jacob Rees-Mogg, who in 1997 was famously driven around by his nanny when canvassing on his first attempt standing for parliament in Fife (Scotland) but became upset when it was reported that it was in a Bentley and not a Mercedes. Mind you, Mrs. May, whatever her limitations and with her second-class degree in Geography, has shown considerable resilience is the face of knives pointed at her back and has, in a peculiar way, to be admired for that, though all the admiration in the world may not help in the long run.  

At this point, I was convulsing with laughter; I was also whimpering, blubbering, and weeping unashamedly and had come to the conclusion that, without a shadow of a doubt, British humour outdoes Israeli comedy any day.  

The finger of suspicion

Politics: The finger of suspicion and the garbage skip.  Dizengoff St., Tel Aviv

I’ve also managed some photos over the past 10 days, too.  We had a wild storm some time last night with not just lightning accompanied by thunder but thunder that sounded as if it was 2 m above the house.  The Donner und Blitz were partnered by rain and hail, which literally lashed the walls and windows.  At 8 a.m., this was what remained of the storm but as this is Tel Aviv and we’ve been living here for almost 13 years, I’d never seen anything like it before this, so I decided it warranted a photograph. If it ever chooses to snow, I’ll make sure to phoyograph it.

Winter's here 1

A more gentle reminder of winter could be seen in the park.Winter's here

The rain brings out the snails and the footpaths become a cacophony of “crunch-scrunch” if you don’t keep an eye open as to where you’re going.All in one — damp morning

Tattoed leg

Legs (1). Tel Aviv Port

Lame dog without

Legs (2) (one missing).  Ibn Gvirol Street, Tel Aviv

Lame dog

Legs (3) (missing part replaced).  Yarqon Park, Tel Aviv

Mynah on bridge

Mynah on bridge.  Yarqon Park.

And finally, is there some way that this could be modified to keep track of politicians?

Clean government?

And as an “extra” … shot with my own camera held tightly to my chest just to see what might come out.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5wl0KkbsmA

A terrible state o’ chassis

I started a post with a version of the paragraph which follows about 2½ years ago but as any self-respecting academic would be able to appreciate, why not recycle material if you think you can get away with it?

The final scene of Seán O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock, set during Ireland’s Civil War, involves “Captain” Jack Boyle, a man who spends all his time and money at the pub with his buddy Joxer Daly rather than look for a job despite his family’s poverty.  Stumbling home, completely inebriated, and collapsing after an evening at the pub with Joxer, unaware that his son is dead or that his wife and daughter have left him, Jack accidentally drops his last sixpence on the floor after having a short conversation, and before passing out, drunkenly utters that “the whole world is in a terrible state o’ chassis”, which in sotted Dublinese refers to his perception of the chaos into which the world has sunk.

And so, if that’s the way the world looked from a Dublin tenement in 1922, what would Captain Boyle have made of the world in 2018?  The American mid-term elections are over and the result seems to be that the chasm in that already disunited society has just deepened further.  Mr. Trump is unhappy and angry (was well as being unpredictable, narcissistic, etc.) and has decided rather than try to unite and bring people together, that stepping up his rhetoric a notch is the thing to do, thereby accentuating the divisions.  With the House of Representatives now to be controlled by the Democrats, there is talk once more of impeaching him.  A move to do so might pass in the House but with the Senate controlled by the Republicans, the likelihood of a trial ending up with the removal of the President from office is probably far less than the Man in the Moon coming to dinner at our place this evening.  Anyway, there have only been two impeachments in the history of the United States, and neither of them was successful.  On the other hand, there have been four successful assassinations so I leave any conclusion up to you, dear readers.

Then once more from America, news of another mass shooting, this time in a Country & Western bar in Thousand Oaks, near Los Angeles.  As a result, once again, the President ordered flags to be flown at half mast.  When I heard that, the idea crossed my mind that surely it would just be simpler and more energy-saving to fly the Stars and Stripes permanently at half-mast?  Meanwhile, the 85-year old Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsburg has had a fall and broken three ribs, so the Conservatives in America must surely be hoping for the worst.

Not that things are much better here in Israel.  The police have recommended the indictment of six people for bribery, corruption and money-laundering in a case involving the purchase of submarines for the Israel Navy from the German firm of Thiessen-Krupp.  This bunch of “senior officials” include the Prime Minister’s cousin who is also his personal lawyer, a former head of Netanyahu’s bureau, a former Commander of the Navy and two other not so admirable admirals, as well as a former minister.  Given that there was a seventh man involved who turned state’s evidence and spilled all the beans and provided lots of apparently interesting material, it should provide the news editors with stuff to excite us with for at least a couple of years.  As is par for the course, all declaim their absolute innocence and are sure that the prosecutors will see that the police recommendation is without grounds.  We’ll see.  And, of course, the Prime Minister knew nothing.

In O’Casey’s words, “the whole world is in a terrible state o’ chassis”.  Or as my grandmother used to tell me, “Die Welt geht unter”.  Or so it seems.

Mind you, the news is not all bad.  Manchester United beat Juventus in Turin last Wednesday night!


Wet paint

Walking through our neighbourhood, I observed this newly painted bench, fresh with a notice in three languages that the paint was indeed wet (Arabic, perhaps reflecting the spirit of the times, is notably and noticeably absent).  However, it was obviously quick drying paint as the bloke with the dog was parked on it the following day.

Paint has dried

Walking through the park yesterday morning, my eye was attracted to the bicycle in the picture.  There are all sorts of one-, two- and three-wheeled vehicles around these days, from unicycles to scooters to gyroscopically balanced wheeled platforms with no handles and more.  There are also various kinds of wheeled vehicles for transporting babies and this is one of them, positioned beside the dog park.  As I passed by, I noticed that it was, indeed, a bicycle, and not the more commonly seen tricycle with two front wheels.  And then, as I passed, I stopped, for something inside the basket part seemed to be moving…

There's a baby in there

… a baby.  I thought it couldn’t possibly be but on closer inspection, yes it was.  I could only assume that the child’s parent was inside the dog park with the family’s pet canine but I didn’t hang around to find out.

Baby in the box

A little farther along, there was the meeting of the Tai-Chi master and pupil.  They’re there at least once a week, perhaps more often, and I’ve been observing them for several years now.  I assume that they’re master and pupil because I was once a pupil of the master until I came to the conclusion that Tai-Chi really wasn’t for me.

Master and pupil

You never quite know what you’re going to come across in the streets, which is what makes these unremarkable photographs so remarkable.  Individually, the images may be nothing special.  They’re not the sorts of things that street photographers exhibit because street photographers look for photographs that are a little out of the ordinary.  However, in contrast, I am looking for pictures of things that are so humdrum, so uninteresting in themselves that nobody ever thinks of photographing them but when taken together create a “geography of the mundane”, which will be the title of my next book.  In this particular case, the woman in question is seated on a street bench eating a healthy breakfast of vegetables and low fat white cheese.

Breakfast on the street

I couldn’t resist the image of the little pinkly-primped pooch, obviously attempting to discern whether the last visitor to the lamppost was male or female.  Given the colours that her owner had got her up in, I am assuming that this is a she although I couldn’t get down low enough to check it out without being noticed.

A he or a she?

And once again, our local Member of Knesset for the Communist Party was off to do his shopping by bike.


And not more than a couple of hundred metres away, I couldn’t make up my mind whether the Ginsburg family had really enjoyed their version of Halloween or if they just wanted to keep visitors away from knocking on the front door!

Keep out

And around the corner from us, on Brandeis Street, a lovely example of the ongoing skirmishing between individual and officialdom.  In this case—and there are cases from across the city—the street number on the left has been put on the wall by the family that lives in the house whereas Tel Aviv Municipality prefers the version that appears on the right, preferring to see all the number plates uniform.

Individual .v. Authority

The image below was taken earlier in the week.  I was walking along the promenade at Tel Aviv Port, minding my own business (which really means that I was looking for an interesting picture) when I spotted a pair of crows on the roof of one of the buildings.  I thought I could see that one of the birds had something in its beak but they were too far away for a photograph given the lens I had on the camera that morning.  Then the crow with the something in its beak took off and swooped down low over the promenade and then flew parallel to the coast in a northerly direction.  I trailed it from the beginning of its dive and I followed its trajectory with the camera glued to my eye until it passed me, at which point I clicked the shutter and hoped for the best and this is what resulted.  It was obviously breakfast time for the bird and it was on its way to find somewhere secluded to eat it before one of its brothers decided to nick it or in a worst case scenario, kill him first and then take it.  

Hungry crow

Given that I have seen (and photographed) two crows consume a rat, watched three go at one of their own and mortally wound him and been walking along a footpath when a dead pigeon dropped out of the air having been speared by a crow that was crowing about it, this swooping crow had probably made the right decision.

Crows and ratCrow and crowCrow and pigeon

Then yesterday morning, while walking along by the river, I chanced upon this gentleman seated under a bridge, apparently doing nothing special.  I said good morning and he acknowledged the greeting and then I took a photograph, at which point he got out of his chair and said to me in Hebrew with a heavy Russian accent “No, No. No”, meaning “Don’t photograph me”.  At this point, I thought it would be a good idea to get a move on quickly rather than get into an argument with him and try to explain to him that as I was in a public are, I was entitled to photograph whatever I wished. But then he started to point to the river and it dawned on me that he wanted to show me something in it.  I looked over the barrier but all I could see in the rather murky waters of the stream were some plastic bottles and other paraphernalia that ecologically-minded citizens are always going on about.  


It was at this point that he grabbed a rope that had been draped over the barrier and proudly hauling it up showed me a basket housing what looked like four or five blue crabs.  What they were doing in the rather filthy water and how they got there is anybody’s guess.  Given that they’re hardly household pets and that their main purpose in life (or, more correctly, in death) is to provide nourishment for people, I couldn’t help wondering what sorts of dread diseases these animals are carrying and what they might pass on to those who might choose to consume them.

The gentleman in question was oozing pride and gave me a thumbs-up signal to indicate it (or it would have been a thumbs-up if he had had a complete thumb!).

Crabs 1

And from the archive — as I attempt to thin my collection (yet again!)


A tuna is a very large fish—3 days’ hard work to create tuna steaks. (Siracusa, Sicily).

Karen's scones

Karen’s scones (I have the recipe but they never turn out like this for me!)

Hard of hearing

A little hard of hearing

Comb your hair with great respect

He tried combing it but it didn’t really help

Bow your head with great respect
Bow your head with great respect!


Abroad and at home

Where does one start this week after last weekend’s events in Pittsburgh?

“All Jews must die!”.  It seems that I might have heard that somewhere before and I’m not sure that I like the sound of it when I do hear it.  Somehow, we’ve become half-used to such things in Europe and when it does happen, as often as not it’s Islamist-connected and somehow related to Israel.  But in America, one feels that it shouldn’t happen, even though anyone with an vague knowledge of history knows that there’s a deep-rooted anti-Semitism there, too, and in some parts of the country more than others.

So the Pittsburgh murderer (or as he is still being referred to, the “suspect”) apparently acted alone and had no accomplices.  However, he belonged to several groups of American neo-Nazis who really believe that all Jews are evil, are out to destroy America, and should therefore be wiped out before their dastardly deed is done.  And it’s really comforting to know that there are thousands of others like him who might try a something similar somewhere else, sooner rather than later.

Watching the news and seeing the President of the United States standing in the rain and telling us that if there had been armed people inside the building, the outcome might have been different, wasn’t really what one wanted to hear.  He didn’t utter a single word about anti-Semitism but instead he fell back on issues that the National Rifle Association believes in with regard to the need for armed guards in the synagogue, as if a guard armed with a pistol would have been much of a match for a lunatic armed, yet again, with an AR-15-style assault rifle and much more—and anyway, he managed to insure.  I mean, people should go to synagogue on Saturday or to church on Sunday or the Mosque on Friday all armed so that they can shoot it out with whatever madman happens to enter a place of worship and decides to kill everyone there?  By the time the Donald appeared again later in the day, reading from a teleprompter, he had changed his tune a little, telling us that it definitely looked like an anti-Semitic crime and that it was something you wouldn’t believe could still be going on.  Why not?  Has he no sense of history?  And when he reads from the teleprompter and uses words other than “good”, “bad”, “horrible”, “winner”, “loser”, “tremendous”, “terrific”, “amazing”, “fake”, and so on and tries to sound serious using that high-pitched voice, from far away in Israel, it really inspires confidence.

And remember that this is a man who, after American neo-Nazis last year screamed in Charlottesville “Jews will not replace us!”, could not find words to condemn their anti-Semitism then, either. In fact, he actually declared that some of them were “very fine people.”  Really?

The most astonishing thing is that this man seems to be incapable of understanding that his own bombast has inflamed passions and that his rhetoric that has been interpreted by those whose hatred of others—Jews, Blacks, immigrants, LGBTQIA or whatever—is such that they think they have carte blanche to murder and maim at will.  And this is is the President of the United States?

The Economist’s Washington correspondent  got it about right, I think and says it far better than I can.

Donald Trump and violence

A massacre in Pittsburgh illustrates America’s disunity
A leader without morals cannot provide moral leadership

Democracy in America, Oct 27th 2018 by LEXINGTON | WASHINGTON, DC

THERE is nothing remarkable about the fact that America will go to the polls next month with mass murder hanging over it. It is a first-world country with a third-world gun-death rate. Nor is it unusual that the killing of 11 people in a synagogue in Pittsburgh on October 27th was instantly politicised. One party to America’s culture wars, the Republicans, stands for the loose guns laws that are the obvious explanation for so much bloodshed. Democrats stand for tightening them. Yet the presidency of Donald Trump has deepened America’s crisis of violence.

That is most obviously because he has helped incite some of it. There is no recent precedent in front-line politics for Mr Trump’s hatefulness. The president has suggested protesters at his rallies should be beaten up. He has praised violent white supremacists. He demeans immigrants as “animals”, his political opponents as traitorous, and journalists as the “enemy of the people”.

Apologists for the president and the angry right he is speaking to point out that the left is not guiltless either. A supporter of Senator Bernie Sanders shot and wounded a Republican congressman, Steve Scalise, last year. But anyone who claims to see equivalence between left and right on this issue is not a commentator on the culture war but a participant in it. The list of 14 people a Trump mega-fan, Cesar Sayoc, mailed pipe-bombs to this month reads like a Who’s Who of the president’s favourite objects of vitriol.

Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Representative Maxine Walters (a black congresswoman to whom the president has given the sobriquet “low IQ”), CNN and John Brennan, a former CIA chief, were among them. Hours before Mr Sayoc was apprehended Mr Trump appeared to cast doubt on the existence of his plot. He implied on Twitter that it was a fiction intended to hurt the Republicans in the mid- terms elections. After the arrest, when the would-be bomber was discovered to be an habitué of Mr Trump’s rallies, who lived in a van plastered with Trump slogans, the president furiously denied that there was anything wrong with his rhetoric. “I could really tone it up”, he said.

Robert Bowers, the 46-year-old anti-Semite who is alleged to have shot up the Tree of Life synagogue, was not a Trump supporter. Jews, unlike immigrants and women, have not been subject to attack by Mr Trump. He bears no responsibility for this attack. But his response to it reveals the toll he is taking on American national life. The occupant of the presidency is supposed to provide moral as well as political leadership. His job is to provide reassurance in times of crisis—as George W. Bush did after the 9/11 attacks, and Ronald Reagan during the cold war. Mr Trump’s response to one of the worst anti-Semitic attacks in America’s modern history shows how incapable he is of this.

His first response to the attack was to try to score political points. “If they had some kind of protection inside the temple maybe it could have been different,” he told reporters. Four policemen were injured in the shooting.

He proceeded to condemn the attack, call for unity, and recommend the death penalty for religious hate crimes such as this. Within hours, on the campaign trail in Indiana and Illinois, he was back to his old self, though, wise-cracking that the only reason he might have considered cancelling his rallies, as some had urged him to, out of respect for the dead, was because his hair had got wet in the rain.

Meanwhile, on Fox News, the cable news channel which supplies Mr Trump with many of his views, a guest pushed a version of the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory— that Jews are running America’s government—which appears to have inflamed Mr Bowers.

Mr Trump did not inspire his abhorrent crime. But he offers no hope that future massacres can be averted. And he represents the starkest rebuke to the necessary fiction that America is sometimes united, especially in grief.


Pittsburgh has been visited by many since last Saturday, not least by Trump himself and his entourage.  Others included Israel’s Minister of Education, Naftali Bennett, representing the Israeli government.  As well as heading the Orthodox Jewish political party that champions West Bank settlers and the settlement movement, Mr. Bennett also holds the portfolio of Minister of Diaspora Affairs.  He came to assure the Jewish community in Pittsburgh that Israel stands with them, which, of course, is how it should be.  However, this is the same Mr. Bennett who, when the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America held their annual meetings in Tel Aviv a couple of weeks ago  (they hold their annual meeting in Israel once every five years) under the banner “We Need to Talk” and the discussions revolved around the strained relations between some parts of the Diaspora community (Read: non-Orthodox communities in America) over religion and state issues in Israel, couldn’t find half an hour to spare from his busy schedule that week in order to address the delegates.  Really?  Yes, really!  It inspires confidence.

However, the same Mr. Bennett didn’t have to think twice about hopping on a plane to New York and another to Pittsburgh as soon as the tragedy had unfolded. Then when asked if he didn’t have a problem visiting a Conservative Jewish synagogue, given his party’s opposition to non-Orthodox religious affiliates in Israel, he responded without batting an eyelid and with some hypocrisy and a little more cynicism that a Jew is a Jew no matter what his religious persuasion—except, it seems, when they come to live in Israel.  Really?  Yes, really!  It inspires confidence.


Meanwhile, to business.

Tel Aviv continues to supply me with images.  The weather is changing and changeable and as I wrote in the past post, autumn is definitely in the air although it’s not yet here full time.  Last week, we had days of wind and rain followed by sun, calm and low humidity.  These two men rowing were rowing “downstream” towards the sea but the wind was so strong and the river is so shallow that it appeared that they were rowing upstream and I, walking along the south bank of the stream felt as if I were walking up a steep hill.  Even the crow seemed to be hovering.

Upstream, downstream

By the time I reached the coast, the sea was having one of its rougher days and the woman in question was having some difficulty standing upright.

Against the wind

Then, the following day, all subsided and the sea appeared rather different, like this … 

Calm sea

… and the following day, as well.

Calm sea (a)

And on one of the same tranquil days, the lady in question, smartphone and cigarette in hand,  coffee by her side, appeared to be imperturbability personified…

Enjoying the sun

… as did this scene.


However, calmness didn’t apply to all.  This crow became rather frustrated by being unable to  figure out how to get the remaining coffee out of the cup so he eventually flew off to a tree to contemplate the issue …


… while some other avians watched on and gave some raucous advice.


Meanwhile, in the park, in the absence of any sign of snow, all one can do is go through the motions of training for a cross-country ski and hope that later in the winter, the real thing will happen somewhere.

Ski practice

The Yarqon stream has multiple functions.  There are those who row and there are those who teach their five children to paddle and then lead them to under the bank for some rest and recuperation after their exertions.

Ducks & rowers



I took several bus rides over the past couple of weeks and one never quite knows who or what one is going to sit opposite or beside for the duration of the ride.  On one day on a ride into town, I sat opposite this woman who was glued to her phone (as, alas, are most people these days) for the duration.

Bus - 1

On the return journey, however, I got this person who was not only glued to the phone but was tapping away so ferociously and repeatedly that I thought she might shorten the length of her index finger my a few microns in the process.  How shall I say it?  She seemed rather edgy and somewhat highly strung.  And then a couple of stops before I alighted, she suddenly addressed her fellow passengers rather animatedly in a shrill voice with an explosive and impassioned speech about the conduct of the driver, who had apparently upset her earlier on boarding the bus. 

Bus - 2

And interesting pictures also occasionally appear as you look out of the bus window.


Dressed for work

Where are my keys? my change? my phone?

Then last week, I came across a new take on the problem of parking in Tel Aviv.  This gentleman was as happy as Larry to have found somewhere to put his car for a few hours and then discovered that he had a problem finding a way out of the car and onto the footpath.

Found a park

I progressed down the street to the local deli to buy some of Tel Aviv’s best smoked salmon for the weekend and on waiting my turn and with the right lens on the camera, I thought that the bottles of truffle oil made a pretty picture …

Truffle Oil

… and then making my way to the smoked salmon counter, I thought that the person serving me would make another such image and to my surprise, when I asked if she minded, she said to just go ahead, so I did.


And something I’ve noticed over the past few years walking the streets in Tel Aviv is the apparent growth in the canine population.  They’re everywhere.

So nice to make your acquaintance

Happy to make your acquaintance … and let me say the pleasure’s mine

Finally, performing my annual ritual of trying to thin out my photograph collection, I came across a few that I had clean forgotten about.


Primrose Hill, London with a covering of snow


Tel Aviv Port, 31/x/2014

Rainbow 1.jpg

Tel Aviv Port, 31/x/2014