After the party’s over … and all that

Succah.jpg

Well, we’re more than halfway through; in fact, we’re nearly there! We’ve seen off Rosh HaShanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) and we’re into the home straight.  These are essential parts of are referred to in common Israeli parlance as Chagei Tishrei or the “Festival Period”. In addition to the New Year and Yom Kippur, there is also the Fast of Gedaliah, which falls on the day following Rosh Hashanah. (Gedaliah had been appointed by King Nebuchadnezzar governor of what had become, on the conquest of Jerusalem, the Babylonian province of Judah.  Never mind Nebuchadnezzar; Gedaliah himself was just a nebuch (nebuch is Yiddish for “unfortunate”) as he had managed to encounter the hostility of the King of Ammon who sent a descendant of the displaced Judean royal family, Yishmael Ben Netanya, to assassinate him. Although Gedaliah had received a warning that his life was in danger, he regarded it simply as slander and ignored it, which led to his ignominious liquidation.  Officially, the fast commemorates his denouement although I really think it’s there to allow sufficient recovery time after the two days of binge eating that precedes it.  Or, it may simply be  no more than a practice run for what is to come during the week following.)

Anyway, to come back to the festival period.  It lasts for 3½ weeks, a term of semi-inactivity when official and quasi-official Israel isn’t quite shut down but one nevertheless has to keep one’s eyes and one’s ears on standby in order to know when shops and banks—never mind government offices—are open or closed.  Schools, which re-opened after the two-month summer vacation on September 1 are closed and then reopened during this period with regular irregularity until the end of the calendar ephemeris.  It’s a time of the year that makes the Christmas/New Year shutdown in other places with which I’m familiar seem like a nothing more than an extended coffee break!  The operative answer to questions of when such and such might happen/be open is “acharei hachagim” (after the festivals).

We are now (Thursday 16/x) in the third day of Succoth (Sukkot[h]), a festival variously translated as the Feast of Tabernacles or the Feast of Ingathering or the Festival of the Last Fruits.  The Hebrew word sukkot is the plural of sukkah, which is a booth or a tabernacle, a temporary walled structure of light construction usually covered with plant material such as palm leaves.  Among other things, it’s supposed to remind us of the fragile dwellings in which the Israelites lived during their 40-year long schlep through the desert after exiting Egypt for the Promised Land.  People decorate these makeshift structures with all sorts of oddities and prizes are awarded for “sukkaesthetics” and such things. In the past, most of these structures would have had a simple wooden frame but these days, most have a metal frame consisting of interlocking rods or poles with “walls” consisting of pieces of material strung between the uprights.  They appear in gardens and on the streets and parks as well as on balconies all over the place.  Religiously observant people eat their meals inside their sukkot and some devouts sleep there as well even though these structures don’t usually have en suite bathrooms.  There are all sorts of other customs associated with this festival but being a geographer (or to paraphrase John Cleese in referring to the parrot he’d had recently purchased, being an ex-geographer) I’ll stick with just the visible landscape effects.  (The two photographs of a fully air-conditioned sukkah on Weizmann Street in North Tel Aviv, hardly calls to mind a tedious 40 years in the desert but so what?)

SUCCAH DE LUXESUCCAH DE LUXE 1

These temporary structures spring up in all these places as soon as Yom Kippur has concluded and indeed, it is regarded as a mitzvah (a moral deed performed within a religious duty) to kick-start the construction of these temporary shelters as early as possible after that fast has terminated.  Consequently, one can often hear the sound of hammers on nails almost as soon as the pangs of hunger have been assuaged.

As for Yom Kippur itself, what can I say? (Or perhaps I shouldn’t say anything at all?)  When I was a boy in Dublin, Yom Kippur meant spending the whole day in synagogue and as far as I knew, everyone—except for one person who made a point of saying that he didn’t—fasted.  It was a long day, indeed.  In fact, the lowlight of the day was the most tuneless (No! the most tuneless humanly imaginable!) rendition of the Book of Jonah by one, Enoch Weller.

A few years after we came to Israel, we joined a Conservative congregation in which the main innovation (for me, at least) was the hiatus between Mussaf (the Additional (read: second portion of morning prayers and Mincha (the Afternoon Service) during which you could walk home and spend a couple of hours in an armchair.  But what to do at home when there was no entertainment and no food?  And that was when the noise-cancelling headphones were placed over my ears and Mahler’s 4th Symphony was played directly into them at full volume (it was the only Mahler symphony I possessed when I started this tradition).  And guess what? I discovered that I got far greater spiritual uplift listening to Mahler (who was even more of a lapsed Jew than me) than what I was going to hear back in the synagogue.   This year, I listened to the recording of Leonard Bernstein with the Concertgebouw Orchestra and Helmut Wittek, the boy soprano, (as apparently intended by Mahler) adding an otherworldly ethereal quality to the singing of Das himmlische Leben—The Heavenly Life, a child’s view of heaven, in the final movement.

Over the years, I have tended to add an additional Mahler symphony to the experience; this year is was Mahler 5 played by a scratch orchestra comprising students from the best North American and Europe music academies 24 years ago in Jerusalem in which Shuli was in the viola section with Lorin Maazel as conductor.

These days, after a couple of years when the Holy-One-Blessed-Be-He and I were not exactly on speaking terms, I go to hear the rendition of Kol Nidrei by the cantor at the Reform synagogue where we are members.  I have to say though that I go less to read the words (which are in in Aramaic and not Hebrew) than to hear the melody, which is such an imposing Jewish air that I really feel I can’t do without it.  It’s sung three times but once it’s over, I’m ready for home.  All in all, the synagogue service can be summed up by quoting the character played by Maggie Smith in the Second Most Exotic Marigold Hotel movie who, when asked about her trip to America, answered with: “I went with low expectations and came back disappointed.”

One of things I like to do is to search out different renditions of Kol Nidrei and amongst all the versions by cantors aplenty is one sung by a Italian-American gentile crooner, Perry Como.  I just find it immensely appealing and moving.

 

The other version of Kol Nidrei that I find emotionally stirring is Max Bruch’s Adagio on Two Hebrew Melodies for Cello and Orchestra, a series of variations on two main themes of Jewish origin—Kol Nidrei and the middle section of Isaac Nathan’s arrangement of “O Weep for Those that Wept on Babel’s Stream”.  Of the many versions available, the one that appeals to me most is that by Mischa Maisky, not only because it sounds so wonderfully mellow but because Maisky looks so appropriate for the part.

 

This year, Yom Kippur was disfigured by the attempted murder of people at prayer at the synagogue in Halle, Germany.  The attempt—streamed live by the neo-Nazi perpetrator from a head camera—failed, probably because he had constructed his own weapon, based on a design by one Philip Luty, a West Yorkshire-based gun enthusiast who had developed a series of firearms that could be manufactured from off-the-shelf materials without any ready-made components or specialist tools, publishing DIY manuals to demonstrate the futility of Britain’s “fascist” gun-control laws, and who was imprisoned in the late 1990s for publishing these gun-making instructions. The firearm in Halle failed to fire properly and instead of killing “as many Jews as possible”, he had to make do with two consolation prizes, a doner kebab employee and a passerby who complained that he was making “too much noise” by trying to force his way into the synagogue by blasting the door.  Incidentally and coincidentally, the Halle Synagogue is located on Humboldtstrasse and as I heard the news, I was just coming to the end of The Invention of Nature, Andrea Wulf’s unputdownable biography of Alexander von Humboldt, the German polymath explorer and scientist who straddled the 18th and 19th centuries and who is mostly forgotten in the English-speaking world, probably my best non-fiction read of the past decade.

The logic of the individual who set out to commit this crime was morbidly thought-provoking.  The basic premise is that Jews are to blame for everything wrong in the world.  More specifically, the Jews are guilty of supporting and promoting liberal ideas in societies, thereby arresting the development of the natural order of things, i.e., the never-ending struggle between nations seeking adequate resources and “living space” (sound familiar?).  Even more specifically in this case, feminism—as a facet of liberalism—is responsible for falling German birthrates with the places of unborn Germans being taken by immigrants.  Consequently the Jews are held responsible for flooding Germany with immigrants.  In other words, in his eyes, Jews are responsible for everything reprehensible in German society.

Q.E.D.

By the way, I was reminded that several of my hangups about religion hinted at here were expressed in a chapter I wrote for a book on Geography and Religion which came out three or four years ago.  At the time I started to write it (probably six or seven years ago), I really wasn’t interested but the editor was so persistent that, literally, in order to get him off my back, I agreed to give him a chapter on Jewish dietary laws about which I knew next to nothing.  However, the more I got into it, and the more I learned, the more I enjoyed writing it.  When it was eventually published in 2015, I discovered that mine was Chapter 150 of around 250 (pages 2867—2880) in a four-volume book, so the likelihood of anyone ever finding it was as close to nil as it is possible to get.  As a consequence,  I sent a copy to anyone I thought might be even slightly interested.  I hadn’t looked at it for about four years until the other day when I decided to give it another read and [re]discovered that is actually an interesting (and very readable) piece, even if I say so myself.  So if you’re interested, here it is!

Eating,Drinking, and Maintenance of Community – Jewish Dietary Laws and Their Effects on Separateness

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And now for some pictures.

Tel Aviv Municipality has been upgrading its street signs over the past few months —three languages, new fonts and new colours.  A couple of weeks ago, this went up around the corner from the house, a nice addition but wrongly placed.  So what to do? I took out the phone, took a photograph and opened the Municipality’s complains application and sent it off hoping that someone would take it seriously …

Bnei Dan - Brandeis

… I received notification within the hour that issue was being dealt with and in less than a week, the directions had been righted.  I was impressed.  It’s a pity the Israel Postal Service can’t match the Municipality for efficiency.  I paid for synagogue membership and was told that the receipt would arrive in the mail.  The distance between the synagogue and the house is 450m; the postmark said that the envelope had been mailed the following day; the receipt arrived in our mailbox 17 days later.  A good example of acharei hachagim!

Bnei Dan - Brandeis 1

In the park and on the streets, the tree trunks still smile at me and express wonder and pain and birds of all shapes and sizes parade in front of the camera lens.

Smile and the world smiles with you …

Did I scare you?

Heron.jpg

The grey heron strut.  Yarqon Park

Bathtime

Public birdbaths.  Nordau Boulevard

Every now and then, a rower on the Yarqon will provide me with the raw material for a good photograph …

Rower

… while a friendly neighbour will leave a pot plant on the windowsill just a few metres away which, with a bit of editing work, provides a fine image.

Window sill

Similarly, the Reading Power Station, just a large chimney, provides the basis for something a bit more artistic …

Reading spray

… as do the sea and the boardwalk at Tel Aviv Port when juxtaposed.

The sea

And although I posted a picture like this a couple of weeks ago, I decided to take it a second time with the Tel Aviv lighthouse superimposed on the effluent from the Reading Power Station

Lighthouse

And I couldn’t quite resist this one of man and dog with similar expressions of boredom and/or disillusionment …

Like father …

… or of this piece of body art walking in front of me in the park.

Fine tattoo

Finally, Arneath, Vivien’s carer likes to cook with fresh ginger so I took of photo of the root that I bought last week, which somehow reminded me of J.P. Donleavy.

Ginger Man

 

 

 

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