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Newsletter 219: A feast of Passions

Shalom dear friends, I love learning new things, especially new words, but what use are they if I can’t recall them easily and quickly. We need the information at our finger tips, not stuck in some place in our brain or on some computer disc, which takes ages to locate. The gigantic financial success of companies like Facebook, Google, Microsoft and others who’s business it is to supply information, is a good indication of how many people there are who like storing and searching for information. I start out looking for a piece of information, but then I find myself getting sucked into the system, like a man in a swamp, finding lots of information, albeit interesting but not what I started out searching for. This becomes such a pleasant pastime that I completely forget myself and suddenly find that many hours pass me by as I read really interesting stuff, but not what I was looking for. Mostly I like to make notes of new words and quotations and I find it fun to go into those storage systems sometimes and reread the statements I saved. For example the quote I noted some time ago from “The age of longing by Arthur Koestler”, referring to old age as “The absurd age when desire survives virility.” Socrates in “The Republic” thinks differently: “For certainly old age has a great sense of calm and freedom; when the passions relax their hold”. Koestler and Socrates are completely opposite types; the one complains about frustration that old age brings, while the other praises the calm that it brings. I’ve always been passionate about experiencing beauty of all kinds. I’ll never forget the excitement I felt when my mother told me that she was taking me to see Danny Kaye or George Formby or some pantomime at His Majesty’s theatre in Commissioner str. in Johannesburg. We always went together with my mother’s sister, Aunty Lily, usually in her blue, sleek Chevrolet. I think it was called Fleetline. I don’t remember anyone else with us, like my brothers or my cousins; it was only Aunty Lily, my mother and I. I’m sure there must have been someone else with us and I try to figure out why I remember just us three. Sometimes my excitement got the better of me and I started running such a temperature that my mother let me stay at home, then the disappointment nearly killed me. Nevertheless I survived and still get excited at attending shows, so I make it my business to attend one as often as possible. These days, I don’t have much else to do, except visit the library which still excites me. I thank God for these gifts which He has caused to come my way in the course of my life. I can’t say that I’m worried or pleased about the loss of passions, like Koestler or Socrates. This year on Succot I received the most wonderful gift a grandpa could wish for, namely a new, beautiful granddaughter. In the words of my son, Ittamar, when she’s a bit restless, it’s to be expected because the world around her is something new to her and it takes time getting used to it. For 9 months she was in a dark, cozy place all by herself, where, perhaps all she heard was the sound of gurgling. Although some scientists claim that the embryo hears words and music. When my wife was expecting I used to talk and play music for them. Anyway now, suddenly, Noga’s come into this chaotic place, which we call world, full of light and sounds and all her senses are fully alert to absorb all of them. It’s a big adjustment and it really takes a lifetime to get used to it all, it’s a wonder she can relax and sleep at all.


Last Sunday The Open University in Raanana offered a Sunday lunch time concert of my favorite music, Medieval and Jewish Folk music by an ensemble called Modalius for a mere ₪30. Getting there from Jerusalem took about 11/2 hrs and a walk of about 10 min by means of the 947 bus, but it was well worth it. The first sound of music I heard as I took my place, after entering the beautiful auditorium a little late because a sudden downpour slowed the bus down, was a simple recorder played as if the musician was leading a jolly troupe of singers and musicians, one playing a guitar, a young girl on the cello, a bald guy on the drums and a pretty singing lady, Ettie ben Zaken, the one in charge of the merry band, who sang stories as she went dancing merrily through the countryside. I loved all the players but the cellist, Orit Messer, was my favorite. As the years go by the Jews who have come to settle in Israel from all the different countries of the world are slowly melting into one unified group with a singular cultural style of their own, created out of an assimilation of the different cultures where they come from , but in the midst of this process each national group is doing everything it can to preserve the history and culture of their countries of origin, and today the universities offer courses of study of the music, literature and history of the different Jewish communities. You can find courses for studying Yiddish, for example even though it’s not a very widely spoken language, but it has a rich musical and literary tradition characteristic of the Jews of Eastern Europe. My interest in the origin of the Jews in different parts of the world lead me back to the Open University again the day after the concert, to listen to a discussion about the Yemenite Jewish community as an example of a traditional society in the process of transition as a result of migration. I don’t think, however that one can speak of a changing cultural environment in Yemen, but rather of the change taking place amongst Jews who have migrated to Israel and other countries of the West. Looking around me at the collection of academics in the audience I felt very humbled and, with my meagre knowledge of the subject didn’t dare raise any questions as many of the audience did, but I felt that the discussions neglected to deal with the fact that Yemenite Jewry underwent change as a result of the migration to other countries, such as Israel and via Israel to America and other western countries and not as a result of the penetration of foreign cultures into Yemen. Yemen, like most of the Arab countries is very much closed to cultural influences from outside. Yemenite culture is very beautiful, as are most of the cultures from where Jews have migrated, but I don’t think that the West would have been as familiar with those cultures as it has become had the Jews not migrated away from Yemen and other similar countries, carrying the culture of their countries of origin with them. The Jews are the bearers of cultures from one country to another. While living in those countries they absorbed those cultures as much as everybody else there and when they left they took that heritage with them. In the midst of lectures we were treated to a sampling of Yemenite Jewish music by a famous Yemenite singer, Gila Bashari. You can have a taste of this beauty by listening to her sing, on “YouTube” . Here’s my translation of one of the songs she sang, called prayer: From Sea to Sea From Here to There I am all a prayer May it be so I will continue living. By the way the words “From Sea to Sea”, taken from the book of Psalms 72:8, are inscribed on the emblem of Canada, in Latin, naturally: “May he rule from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth”. I think that the Canadians were thinking of the sovereignty of Canada, while the Psalmist if talking about the sovereignty of God. One can never go wrong choosing a book by a Nobel Prizewinner, so as soon as I heard that Patrick Modiano was the latest recipient I bought one of his books on Kindle, “The Search Warrant”. I don’t know whether the story is fact or fiction, but, in my opinion the thing that makes it very interesting and absorbing is it’s solid ring of truth and he achieves this by mentioning the most minute details of the events, like street names in Paris, descriptions of buildings, their use and the names of people who lived there and so on. His language is so clear that one can’t have any doubt about their meaning and it creates brilliantly clear word pictures of everything. He’s obviously been at all the places he describes. A writer must remember a place or person or event he writes about, and to do this he must have actually met those people or animals and he must have actually experienced those events. I don’t believe he can write such detail from imagination, yet that is what Margaret Atwood seems to do because there’s no way she could have actually met and seen a creature like a liobam or a rakunk, a pigoon or other things she writes about in the world which has developed out of genetic engineering. Wishing you a great No Newsday Yours truly Leon Gork

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