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Leon's No Newsletter 209

The secret of optimism

Dear friends, At long last I’m in a position and mood to write a no newsletter. Unfortunately I’ve been in hospital for about three weeks; I had the aortic valve replaced and I’m happy to be able to write this letter. I confess that before the op I thought I was a gonner. This has given me a new lease on life so I’d better make the best of it.

I was in a very comfortable, well supervised recuperation hotel, actually, in my opinion a glorified hospital. The idea was really to keep one in hospital while giving one the feeling that one is in a hotel for about a week. The food was a little better than in the hospital and every day there were exercise sessions and lectures on healthy living, how to deal with pain and so on.

I suggested I’d give some lectures about Israel to my fellow recuperating compatriots, but my generous offer was turned down. They didn’t give me a reason but I figured out that they want keep everybody’s mind on how to live healthy and hearing about all the wonderful tour sites and historic sites in Israel would be a sort of distraction.

Well, I can tell you that’s not my idea of getting better. I think one has to get one’s mind off one’s physical condition and look at brighter things that await us in life.

This thought was actually with me all through the long days and nights; the thought that something better is waiting to meet all of us just around the next corner and it’s worthwhile sticking around to find that wonderful thing. No matter how dismal things seem now the belief that there are good things awaiting us in the future helps us to endure the suffering.

This has become my new definition of optimism. Optimism isn’t seeing a bad situation as if it’s good nor is it even seeing the good in a bad situation. That’s just fooling oneself. Optimism is the feeling of certainty that there is a future and the future holds good things and bad things for all of us and life is worth living for those wonderful things in the future.

Optimism is an emotion which is available to all on a personal level, namely the certainty that good things await one, personally, in the future. But optimism is most available to people who expect good things for the world in general, not just for themselves, in the future, even if they aren’t alive to enjoy them personally. This makes optimism at its highest level a very altruistic emotion. The feeling of happiness that there are good things in store for the world can have a comforting effect on one’s personal suffering.

Naturally I took some reading material with me into hospital “The way to 1939” which my friend Shaul had lent me. It’s about the events that happened concerning the 3 million or so Jews living in Poland, in an attempt to explain how could so many people have been killed in the holocaust (almost all) when they knew that the Poles and the Germans were out to get them: couldn’t they have escaped or couldn’t the state of Israel have been established so that they’d have a place of refuge? Unfortunately the answer is in the negative and that’s what the book is all about. In the framework of international relations, Polish Jews were hurtling on an unavoidable track to destruction.

My great surgeon, Prof. Bitran caught me reading this in the intensive care ward the day after my op and suggested another book “The blood lands” which I immediately downloaded to my kindle. It’s much more shocking than any book I’ve ever read about the holocaust because it deals with Stalin and Hitler’s policies of creating a pure society and in the process deliberately killing 14 million people to achieve this: Hitler about 8 million and Stalin about 6 million. It’s really the deliberateness with which they killed people as part of a policy which is so saddening. These terrible murders didn’t happen by accident; it was a deliberate plan.

My lovely daughter in law Anat decided that the books I was reading were a bit too morbid for a person who had just undergone surgery, so she kindly brought me a great, amusing book called “On the Beautiful” by Zadie Smith. The story is full of fun and awkward situations involving mostly two families of black academics; the one in London and the other in Boston (in a fictional university town called Wellington). The father of the family in Wellington is white and his wife, Kiki, is black. It’s very entertaining and I can certainly recommend it. Now I’ve lent my copy to my friend Shaul and I’m reading another book of hers “White teeth” a story about Jamaican, black and white families living in London.

Now I’m almost back in action, looking for tour groups and individual tourists to guide. I had the most pleasant surprise from my friend from Ukraine, because he asked me to guide him for two days last week. So he gave me the opportunity to show myself that I could do it and we did my usual tour around Jerusalem, had a great lunch at Haba, a new restaurant in the market (the Shuk), a great dinner at Katy’s, a top, French style restaurant in Jerusalem and to top it off we toured Massada and my friend had a dip in the Dead Sea.

I must sign off by telling you that my friends Vincent and Anja also came to Jerusalem and toured all over and the highlight was an organ and choir concert which they gave at the Augusta Victoria Church on Mt.Olives. I didn’t guide them, I thought that might be overdoing it, but look forward to their visit again next year.

Wishing you all a wonderful day

Yours truly

Leon Gork

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