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Leon's No Newsletter 236 A Shavuot Message - What is my excuse?

Wheat harvest

What is my excuse? This question has plagued me every time I've thought of doing something, no matter how big or small. I've never been at a loss of having something to do. If ever I was idle it wasn't for the lack of something to do, but rather for the lack of of a good reason to do the thing I had in mind to do.

There was always someone close to me, watching for the moment that I would start to do something, so that he or she, could spring to life, jumping in with the eternal, infernal question, “now what do you want to go and do that for?”.

It seems to me that I've spent most of my life thinking of reasons for doing things rather than getting ahead and doing the things themselves.

A short, elegant, middle aged, lady with short blonde hair who I'd never met, walked at my side as we were leaving the cinema in Shderot, after seeing one of the many excellent movies at the film festival there, asked me whether I was in the film industry. Obviously she thought that only “being in the industry” gave one an excuse for travelling all the way from Jerusalem, regarded by some as the centre of the world, to Shderot, unknown, excepting for the rockets that sometimes rain down on it, far away at the end of the Negev Desert, next to the Gaza Strip.

Everything has a reason, but that doesn't mean that we can always explain our actions. This makes it difficult to answer the question “what do you want to do that for?”.

Doing a thing I love I used to wonder why others weren't doing it. The question in my mind was mostly “why not do it? “

I could understand the people walking out of the movie from Sri Lanka, “ Forsaken Land” (in Hebrew it's called the God forsaken land) directed by Vimukti Jaisundra. I also felt that nothing is going to happen in this movie and felt like walking out. There isn't any development as one finds unfolding, in a story with a plot. There is only the rich dark emerald green of the Sri Lankan jungle, the grassy plains and muddy sloots. Men expending their lust and women making love in sweaty hovels. It was disgusting, even so monotonously disgusting that it became boring to watch. The only relief was provided by a massive military vehicle, passing at odd moments across the background. Even that couldn't count as relief because it just added to the sense that something even more terrible was going to happen. I think this ominous sense was created by the vehicle being darker than the dark green jungle around it and the rumbling noise it made, like the growl of a vicious animal.

Life is like that, a monotony of evil in the midst of beauty, unless the individual gets up and does something that makes it good, because only he can take the initiative. We can't expect nature to take the initiative. It is beautiful or ugly without initiative.

As you know, if you are one of my regular readers, I visit my grandchildren at least once a week. When they were little I took them to the park, pushed them on the swing and so on. Now that they're bigger we play soccer or chess or eat Sushi in the canyon (Hebrew for shopping center). I'm very proud to walk with Tamar, my (almost) teenage granddaughter, who lives in Modiin. Alon, 7 years old is the under 8 chess champion of Kiriat Ono and Ophir his 9 year old brother plays soccer for the town kiddies soccer team. They also have this amazing dog, who never gets angry, but runs as fast as lighting and looks like Sancho Panza, the most popular dog in town, because they all try to catch him (her) and when they do she's as sweet as can be and rolls around, as if inviting them to tickle her.

For several years now I've been guiding groups of people from Nigeria, the Congo and other African countries, living in Tel Aviv, members of various churches operating there. Actually, I was surprised to hear from Moses, the slim, photographer with the little pointed black beard that made him look like Lenin, that mostly they came from Ghana. They enjoy praying, visiting the Holy places mentioned in the scriptures and picnicking.

I'm constantly on the lookout for new places to take tourists to. One of these places is Ramat Hanadiv (the hill of the generous one) which has been cultivated with gorgeous gardens around the tomb of Baron Edmond de Rothschild and his wife. Besides the well ordered gardens Givat Hanadiv also has several interesting walking paths that take between 1 ½ hours to 4 hours to walk.

Walking or running had always been difficult for me, although I did these things at school I never did them well, I was forever panting and puffing. Things reached a climax when I reached the age of 72 or so. I simply couldn't move 10 paces without stopping for a rest. Then I had a heart valve replaced, took a few months to recover and now I walk even long distances without tiring.

I easily walked the 1½ hour spring walk at Ramat Hanadiv and came to the spring and the ruins of the Roman baths. I was surprised to find them in better condition than Roman baths in more frequently visited places. Probably being out of the way protected them from damage of treasure hunters.

This walk made me realize that I was made for greater things than short 11/2 hr walks and I decided that I'd try a good, long walk, especially considering that I'd lost about 13 kilos in weight, and last week I walked my first section of the Israel Trail, an 1100km trail divided into bite size chunks of about 20 km. each. I started at Castel, a famous battle site, overlooking the road to Jerusalem and continued on a beautiful, scenic 1 km path, through the vineyards of the Judean Hills, to kibbutz Tzuba. From there I slowly made my way down the steep embankment into nahal (dry river bed) kesalon and came out, 20 km later at Eshtaol, an agricultural settlement in the Shefela (the lowland) near Bet Shemesh, near the place where, according to the Bible, Samson was born and lived. Then it was a border town on the border between the Land of Judah and the Land of the Philistines. Now I'm pondering my next walk, either in the Galilee or the Negev.

I wrote this letter mostly in between peeling potatoes and washing dishes, my contribution to the Friday night and the Shavuot dinners we celebrated at Mishkenot Sha-ananim, a beautiful hotel, located in the apartments built by Moses Montefiori in 1860, the first Jewish settlement outside the walls of Jerusalem, with a beautiful nighttime view of the Old City. Ettie’s cousins were staying there for Shavuot and it's within easy walking distance from Ittamar and Anat’s apartment. They don't ride on the Sabbath or on the festival. So that we could celebrate together with them.

Shavuot is known as Zman Matan Torateinu (the time of giving our Torah). We believe that we should continually receive our Torah anew. This means continually studying the Torah, because that’s how we receive it; one who doesn't know Torah can't be said to have received the Torah. However it's impossible for one individual to know all the Torah. Therefore each individual who knows Torah contributes to the collective knowledge of Torah, thus a situation comes into being where all the Torah is known by the collective knowledge of the whole Torah studying nation or group. It is therefore a custom for each individual in the Jewish nation to spend the whole night of the eve of Shavuot in studying Torah.

It's a custom to eat dairy foods on Shavuot to remind ourselves that the wisdom of Torah is as sweet as honey and as nourishing as milk, as it says many times in the Bible “I am bringing you to a land of milk and honey”,e. g. Exodus 3:8. The Torah is also compared with milk and honey in the Song of Songs 4:11, “Honey and milk are under her tongue”.

Ettie and I planned to listen to some Torah lessons at midnight at David's Tower, but after all the blintzes and cheesecake she didn't have the energy and I was in Tel Aviv having pizza and wine at a beautiful sidewalk place at the end of Dizengoff with Ariel and Lilach and the kids. Those lectures go on until 4 or 5 in the morning then they do a walking tour to Mt Zion, David's tomb and end up at the Kotel to pray and dance.

I wish you all a happy Shavuot.

Yours truly

Leon Gork

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