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Leon's No Newsletter 142 The inevitability of catatstrophe

Hecht synagogue Hebrew University Mt. Scopus

As you know this letter doesn’t give you my opinion on current events, no matter how spectacular they are, even the recent flotilla event won’t receive more than this mention.

This is not because the event isn’t important, on the contrary; its repercussions, by which it is judged, are serious and long lasting and ultimately long in coming, so it requires long hours, even days, weeks and usually years of observation to form an opinion about it.

For example I was still arguing, only a week ago, with some colleagues of mine, while sweltering in the hot Tiberias evening air, the results of the Great Wars of the Jews against the Romans, in the first and second centuries of the last millennium.

Spectacular events, which I call catastrophes, include wars, floods, earthquakes, car accidents and even personal events like messing my trousers by sitting on a rock covered with pine gum drops, while waiting for a lecture, coincidentally on Culture and Catastrophe in modern European History.

I believe that the long lasting nature of the results of spectacular events is the reason why people’s attention is drawn to them; people want to know every last detail of a spectacular event like an earthquake, even though the event took place thousands of miles from them, hardly affecting their lives in any way.

This is why newspapers, TV and radio is so successful.

I’m always disappointed not to have tourists to guide, but sometimes I’m compensated by a good lecture instead, like on Wednesday and Thursday there was a conference on “Culture and Catastrophe in Modern European History”.

As you can guess I got there by my favourite means of transport; a combination of my 86 Renault Megan and my beautiful, sleek, silver folding bicycle with the aeronautic-like name of “F1”.The beauty of the system is it brings me on wheels right to the door of the room where a lecture or some other entertaining event is taking place.

Thinking, ridiculously that my F1 would not be considered worthy to stand in the lecture room of the conference, I sadly parked it in the garage with all the gasoline gobbling gargantuans and walked all the way to the Rabin Bld at the Mt. Scopus campus of the Hebrew University, where the two day conference on this fascinating subject was taking place.

It was lunch break when I arrived, so I read “The Galilee in the days of Mishna” by Aaron Openheimer while I sat on a flat comfortable looking rock in the university botanical garden, this is where I messed up my trousers.

This also could be considered a catastrophe. One could say that the path to a lecture on Catastrophe was strewn with catastrophe.

One could even say that the book I was reading was also about a catastrophe, The Bar Cochba Rebellion.

The thought I was thinking was also a catastrophe, the dramatic stopping of the Marmara from entering Gaza.

It was obvious that some of the great thinkers of our time tried to foresee catastrophe and to prevent or at least escape its consequences for themselves.

For example Gershon Scholem, the great exponent of Kabalah, according to one lecture, escaped the draft in Germany in the First World War. France Rozenzweig, the great German Jewish philosopher, on the other hand participated and was even injured, turned into a Zionist, probably as a result of his wartime experiences.

Hans Kohn left Israel because he saw the establishment of a Jewish State as inviting a catastrophe for the Jewish People.

Walter Benjamin committed suicide to escape the catastrophe of leaving Europe.

It worries me a little that I’m not at all like any of these great thinkers. I don’t believe in taking action to avoid catastrophe (e.g. the pine gum incident). Sometimes I feel that I’m walking headlong into it.

It’s clear that one can choose to be motivated either by promise of better or by fear of worse.

Although I admit to foreseeing catastrophe in S.Africa, that wasn’t what motivated me to leave and come to live in Israel.

In those days (1976) most people foresaw greater catastrophe for Israel than for S. Africa. I wasn’t sure of that, but I was sure that Israel offered a new hope for me and for the Jewish People. Now I believe it offers hope for the entire world.

I’m a very spontaneous person; my late mother, of blessed memory, always used to advise me to think before taking action.

Thinking about the consequences of actions is considered the correct way to behave. For example the Jewish sages, o.b.m., say: “Who is the wise man? He who sees the future.”

We’ve all heard of the aphorisms “look before you leap”, “fools run in where wise men fear to tread”.

My conclusion is that few people, even great scholars, like those I’ve mentioned consider catastrophe inevitable.

Most people believe in their ability ultimately to prevent a catastrophe from happening or at least to avoid it for themselves.

I don’t believe I have such an ability, which does not mean that I won’t try to prepare myself to face the inevitable in the happiest way possible. In fact, I think my whole life is devoted to this preparation.

I can’t deal with the inevitable, but I can deal with how I face the inevitable.

Catastrophe is inevitable

Wishing you a great no newsday.

Yours truly

Leon Gork


Come for a Jerusalem Walk with Leon Gork

Tel: 0523801867

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