Another year, another year
The years pile on, the numbers never reverse. What am I doing here? Why was I placed on this earth? Have I achieved my potential? Or for that matter, what is my potential? Can I ever know? I am often frustrated, knowing I could have taken different paths that could have lead to different places, better places. Some of the choices were mine, some were forced upon me by circumstances. Circumstances?
Some people pause every now and again and ask some of these questions. I think many rarely or never do. For those who do ask, how many find answers, satisfying answers, and how many don't even know from where to commence their search?
Yehuda ben Teima, in a mishna in Avoth, divides our lives into decades, characterising each with a specific trait. Thus “… at 20 for pursuing [a livelihood perhaps?], at 30 for strength, at 40 for understanding, at 50 for advising …” I think, as with many things in life, these classifications are a rule-of-thumb, an average across [Jewish] society (like your maximum pulse of 85% of 220 - your age — so mine would be 133).
In our younger years most of us worry about what, figuratively, we are going to eat tomorrow. Once you reach your sixties you are not studying for a new career nor starting a new professional life; you've taken on the world to your best ability, made your mark, brought up a family, carved out an identity, a place in your community. Your peers think they have a pretty good idea of whom you are. I do anticipate we should all still be learning new things and concepts daily, even new skills, both vocational and avocational.
In many ways I feel my life may be redefining Yehuda ben Teima's dictum. While I'm no longer out there chasing anyone, and have learnt to live life at a pace I can handle — I feel calmer and more relaxed than in the past. This is as a result of many factors including meditation, tai chi, a renewed attitude to prayer and to Jewish textual study. I feel, and think I am, physically stronger than in the past. I ride daily to the pool from home, a distance of about 4 kilometres cross country, in a beautiful area up here in the mountains where I have lived for over thirty years. Nowadays I only use 3rd gear — a year ago I was riding with all 3 front gears; in the water I feel strong, working at higher pulse rates (up to 200), a pulse that falls quickly, an indicator of fitness. While researchers do not believe that endorphins, self generated morphine, are addictive, I am often on a high after a good workout. I'm eating better than ever — I have been a vegan for nearly nine years — and I don't rush meals.
I assumed in my forties, probably misled by the above mishna, that I understood many things I previously had not. Perhaps. I can now state categorically that in those days, immaturity was fooling me. My ability today to analyse and understand a text, an idea, a situation, is far superior to yesteryear. In this past year I used my new understanding in many directions. As a result this piece may appear more aggressive than the past; I take on many accepted subjects and slash some holy cows. At fifty I thought I was giving people good advice; now I realise that without the understanding to analyse events within situations, how could I have advised anyone, let alone myself?
But one must exercise caution. The same tractate I quoted above also warns us, in the name of Rabi N'horei, who quotes Proverbs, "… do not lean on your understanding". In other words, test your hypotheses with others; don't become too independent in your thinking; your reasoning is not infallible; you're not always right.
The last week of my 63rd year commenced with a hugely distressing event. The week coincided, as every year, with the Torah portion describing the demise of our ancestral father, Ya'akov, also know as Yisrael. The midrash tells us that Ya'akov was the first person ever to be sick, indicating to him and those around him, that he would not be with them much longer and that he should prepare for what would follow. How did he react? He called his sons together and prophesied aspects of eachs' future. Only then he blessed them. Parenthetically his father and grandfather also concerned themselves with their offsprings' future at the time they assumed their end may be approaching. Without the illness indicator, they were many years too early, Avraham 35 years, Yitshak 58. But with all three forefathers, we see the same contingencies, a concern for their children, to ensure that they continue the work and the message of their parents.
Man is the only animal that anticipates, though he hides the thought in the back recesses of his mind, the day of his death. Everybody from the day of birth, knows his time in this world is limited. Some animals exhibit a knowledge of their expiration in the last hours of life, but for man, knowledge of his ultimate passing is axiomatic.
But it is sad when it happens, no matter what the person's age, and more harrowing when it happens abruptly, unpreparedly.
Our friend Shlomo was feeling good with himself of late. He lost 50 kilograms in the last year. He was fit, working out for an hour daily, elliptical trainer and swim.
I was having a shower after my swim, and noticed Shlomo coming around the corner towards the showers. Suddenly his body slowly crumpled to the ground; he didn't fall, just gracefully slid down the screen behind him. His face was totally blank. We had spoken earlier in the gym. I didn't notice anything peculiar about his swim. And now he was lying before me, a lifeless form on the locker room floor. People were around him immediately, resuscitating him, heart massage, mouth to mouth … a paramedic arrived within minutes, ambulance close behind. They worked on his poor body for over an hour. But haShem, in His ultimate wisdom, needed Shlomo close to him right then; and pulled his soul out of his body, leaving it slumped on the cold floor. The Zohar metaphors sudden death as haShem picking for Himself the prettiest flowers in the garden.
I think that Shlomo may have left us on his terms. "Select a kindly death" says the Talmud Pesahim 75a. I believe Shlomo would have been content to go doing what he enjoyed, friends around, swimming, working out ….
In the words of the Bassa priest, Shlomo "when me meet again it should only be for good". May your memory always be a blessing.
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Jews on the Periphery
I first became directly involved with Jews on the periphery in 2011 when I travelled to Putti, Uganda with Rabbi Riskin. I maintained a strong connection with the Putti Abayudaya on my return home, both with those who came here to yeshiva to study, leading to conversion, and those who were in Putti.
In parallel, I started communication with other, what I thought were similar Judaising groups in Africa. Some like the Abayudaya arrived to Judaism in a Jewish vacuum, and others like the Lemba in Zimbabwe and the Igbo in Nigeria, claim a level of Israelite or Jewish descent.
In 2012, in a similar vein, I visited the Kaifeng Jewish community. Though I have written about this visit, I mention it here in context of my work and thinking on the subject of Judaising.
These people are the progeny of Chinese Jews, a community dating back at least 1,200 years. Ample evidence remains to the community's existence, though they maintained no connection to the Jewish world. Three stelae, the oldest from the 15th century, are displayed in the local museum; the British Library possesses a Torah from the synagogue; a prayer book in Chinese characters and a Hebrew codex of the Bible are located in the Hebrew Union College library; Matteo Ricci, a Jesuit priest, the first European to meet Kaifeng Jews in 1605, wrote to Rome about his discovery including sending a detailed diagram of their synagogue.
Sadly, for over a hundred years, members of the community have been marrying Han Chinese women. Without a procedure for conversion, they quickly lost their halakhic status. In what may be a demonstration of the hardiness of the Jewish seed (a concept without status in halakha) the last few years have witnessed a revival of Jewish interest amongst the descendants. Some have come to Israel and converted. We hope that in the near future many more who desire this will also fulfil their dream of rejoining the people of Israel.
Another example of a location we know and have proof of old Jewish presence — though nowhere near as early — is in Cape Verde, off the west African coast. Though Portuguese Jews in the early 15th century were forced to adopt Catholicism or leave Portuguese territory, including the new colonies, the King allowed Jews to settle in Cape Verde, openly as Jews. This was because Portuguese people were needed to reside there in order to hold onto the territory; but no-one wanted to migrate there. (This is similar to Britain's Chamberlain offering Herzl settlement on the [today's] Kenya/Uganda border after it was realised British farmers would not move there — after all, European Jews were white, or close to it.)
In addition to documentary evidence, there are Hebrew gravestones in Cape Verde attesting the facts. I believe this is the only location in Africa, outside the Egypt and the Maghreb, where such historical evidence exists of Jewish settlement.
I have written in the past about the impressive Jewish community in Cameroon. A couple of months ago Yisrael Amir, the leader of that community, returned to Israel to the yeshiva and is currently studying in the s'mikha, rabbinical ordination, program. I reiterate that this community sprung from Catholics who turned to protestantism. As a result they started to read the Bible, something which Catholics are still discouraged from doing. Together with a study of the history of the late Temple period, this lead them to dismiss christianity and turn to Judaism — in a country where there are not, and never were, any Jews.
This year, my interest in peripheral Judaism took an interesting turn. Towards the end of 2014, one of the leading academics in this Jewish arena connected a Lemba man from Johannesburg to me. Manasseh asked me to introduce him to Rabbi Riskin. His motivation was to learn [more] about traditional Judaism with the intent to formally convert. He had already been registered for conversion with the Johannesburg beth din but was interested in more intense study than available to him there. We had our first meeting during Pesah, following which Manasseh spent three months studying with us, undergoing conversion in October.
During his stay, Manasseh introduced me to a professor from UNISA who was visiting Israel for a summer archaeological dig with her students. The professor invited us to attend a conference of the International Society for the Study of African Jewry (ISSAJ) to be held in Paris. She invited Manasseh to join a roundtable discussion about the Lemba, and me to submit a paper on an aspect of my research. They accepted my abstract about the Bassa, a tribe whom I had researched in Cameroon. This tribe claims to be descended from the twelve Israelite tribes, who did not leave with Moshe at the Exodus.
Sadly I was only able to present a portion of the paper — 20 minutes was the allocated time — to some thirty to forty people. As I do not think that the conference proceedings are being published, and as I think some people may want to read it, I posted my paper, An Examination of the Bassa Narrative in Light of Biblical and Rabbinic Sources, on my site.
While there abound many versions of the Lemba narrative, a short version is as follows: Yemenite Jews were involved in trade along the tranquil African east coast. According to both the Yemenites and those who have written about the Lemba, Jews left Yerushalayim for Yemen, the earliest date given being 42 years before the destruction of the First Temple viz 638 BCE. (Another version has them coming from a town on the east side of the Jordan River named Lemba, but this would put their exodus from Israel some hundreds of years later and would imply arriving in Yemen independently.) The Lemba narrative claims they left Yerushalayim carrying with them the holy Ark of the Covenant (or the Ark which was carried into battle). I have found no such tradition amongst Yemenite Jews. Additionally, even if there once was a war Ark, a proposition rejected by most biblical and talmudic commentaries, it certainly did not exist after the dedication of the first Temple.
At some point in the past, possibly as late as the 14th century, a group of Yemenite sailors was forced to leave Yemen, or prevented from returning to it — there are multiple versions as to the origin of this exodus — and stayed/returned to southern Africa. As they were but a few (four or seven are two numbers often mentioned) men, they intermarried with African women.
We can be certain that there was trade between Arabia and Africa, going back at least 1,000 years. There is no shortage of physical evidence — cf. mosques and architecture in Mombasa, the strong Arabic influence on Swahili. Evidence exists of Jewish sailors from Egypt (cf. the Rambam's brother who was lost at sea on one of his ships).
One of the things I find interesting in much of the discussion around the claimed Jewishness (or Israeliteness) of Africans is the lack of thorough grounding in historical facts. There almost seems to be a hidden agenda of genteel antisemitism in assertions I have been hearing and reading. There is an emphasis on African "Jews" retaining the Israelite practices of the period of Judges; this negates what many researchers call rabbinical Judaism. I suspect that this may not be totally intentional, but is product of Christian thinking. By most definitions, Rabbinic Judaism would have developed in parallel to or later than Christianity, so one may conclude that it is less authentic. However Judges' Judaism is common to both.
As a result of this thinking Manasseh found himself severely criticised by academics and fellow Africans for accepting orthodox conversion. In their eyes, all are already Jewish, and who is to say that "my Judaism is better than theirs". I may see an element of truth in this claim were I to accept everybody's right to define his own Judaism. But I do not believe in this type of Judaism. It is totally revisionist. Judaism is a continuum of development from the Egyptian exile until today, a living, evolving, organic system which builds on precedents to meet ever changing challenges. It is a product of Divine revelation (cf Rambam's introduction).
The problem arises when people think they understand Judaism from translations of assorted Jewish texts rather than viewing the unity. This is why the 8th Teveth is commemorated as a fast day. Our Rabbis saw the tragedy of this date, the day the Torah was translated into Greek. They foresaw this exact problem. Things are taken out of context and all translations are interpretations of the original.
Possibly I view events with different spectacles to most working in the field. Though without formal anthropologic training, I believe I have a unique background, planted in the physical sciences — physics, mathematics and computer science, each requiring rigorous proofs and not accepting of hypotheses based on incomplete knowledge. As one researcher put it to me in response to criticism I raised over a particular issue, "That was good. Everything here is of course speculative. Who really knows what happened? Not you and not me."
The second component of who I am, is my yeshiva, particularly Talmud, study. In addition to my scientific skepticism, Talmud study has taught me to question and examine each hypothesis from every angle. It has also given me a broad understanding of the development of Judaism over time, an ability to extrapolate on how ancient traditions apply to today's world, and how these were applied to the many and different diasporas through which the Jewish/Israelite people have traversed.
Questions I have been asked such as, "Well Jews are everywhere around the world, so why wouldn't they also have found their way to [sub-Saharan] Africa?", do not constitute any proof of Jewish habitation in Africa.
My twin backgrounds coalesce to provide me with tools to examine the work of anthropologists in a way they are unaccustomed and with which they feel uncomfortable.
I present here some examples and make no apologies.
While most claim the Lemba are descended from Yemenite Jews, I have seen very little study of Yemenite Jewry, especially during the first millennium and earlier. Most people don't realise that Yemen had a Jewish king before the rise of Islam. Surely I would want to know how the community's customs have affected Lemba practice. It is absurd to claim that I can learn about Torah practice from the time of the Judges by studying Lemba customs, if the Yemenites from whom the Lemba are descended lived for as many years under the monarchy and the Temple as they did under the Judges and Shilo Tabernacle, and then some unknown time in diaspora in Yemen, cut off from the main Jewish centres of the Galilee and Babylonia. As a footnote, the ten tribes disappeared some 150 years before the Yemenites left Yerushalayim.
I find too much reliance on secondary sources. One author mentions in passing that King David ruled for thirty years. Kings I explicitly states he "reigned for forty years, seven in Hevron and thirty-three in Yerushalayim". But rather than referencing the Bible as his source, this author endnotes a left-wing historian! I don't know the latter's source, but once we get to this level I won't be following it up. Yes, very unacademic Menachem.
'Proofs' given of the Lemba's Jewishness are genes tying them to western Asia, a sabbath day, circumcision — at age approximately eight years — they don't eat pork and they slaughter their animals with a sharp knife, hanging the carcass by its rear legs until all blood drains into a special dug ditch. If you ask me, we have a pretty good definition of Moslems (especially the timing of circumcision). Indeed Islam is found all over Africa, and many researchers have claimed the Lemba are of Moslem origin. Jews don't hang an animal to drain its blood. We have other means of ridding the carcass of blood; draining is insufficient for Jewish practice. We also do not dig holes to collect the blood of domesticated animals.
The Lemba don't eat meat with milk! Unfortunately we can never tell at what point 'new' customs were added to ancient ones. The effect of Christian missionaries and of Islam needs to be taken into account in every case we examine. Especially when we consider the desire to locate the lost tribes and to bring everyone to Christian or Moslem practice. Plus many of the missionaries did not have a firm understanding of what constituted Jewishness.
The Igbo claim they are descended from Jews and/or Israelites — many versions abound. They came from Israel, from Egypt, from the north, from anywhere. They claim as a proof their practice of circumcision … on the eighth day … or the ninth, or the tenth, eleventh or twelfth … and they circumcise both baby boys and baby girls! They "have forgotten the reason" for the practice.
Circumcision in not uncommon in Africa. The Egyptians circumcised well before the arrival of Islam; circumcision is common in neighbouring, non-Igbo Cameroon; the leader of the Abayudaya, upon accepting shabath and circumcision as their first Old Testament practices, sent his brother to a neighbouring tribe to learn its circumcision techniques.
The Igbo say their marriage arrangements are based on the marriage of Yitshak to Rivka via the agency of Eliezer. This was not a Jewish marriage, although the Talmud learns some marriage customs by implication, not direct practice, from the forefathers' marriage experiences. I have seen no reference to these by Igbo writers. They refer to something totally different.
The earliest recorded mention of the Igbo having Jewish practice comes from the late 18th century by a writer living in Sierra Leone. This region was set up by the British as a base for anti-slavery action. Recaptives from slave ships and emancipated slaves were brought here to settle. This included many Igbo, who for various reasons were not repatriated to their homeland. On what basis could other Africans make a statement that the Igbo were Jewish? That they had lighter black skin or the shape of their nose is often quoted. That they were good businessmen, industrious, but often persecuted.
It is feasible, here and in other cases of Africans labelled as Jews, that some of these people had been the slaves of Jews in London, the US and the Caribbean. Some were circumcised as Jewish slaves (according to Jewish law) and all learnt Jewish practice in their masters' homes. Some retained these customs on manumission. They had lost whatever religious practice they once had, so incorporated some Jewish ones.
There is no written source for any Jewish connection in sub-Saharan Africa prior to this date, other than the Ethiopian Falasha, and here there is contention on the veracity of their Israeliteness. What there is is probably based on the fictional work of Eldad haDani, which many people, including rabbis, surprisingly want to accept as an historical record. In addition we cannot be certain the location of the biblical Cush is today's Ethiopia, nor do we know to whom exactly the term Cushi applies — it is often just a synonym for [black] Africans.
I am currently studying the long responsum of Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, who in 1973, while occupying the post of one of the two Chief Rabbis of Israel, ruled that "the Falashas are Jews in every respect". I believe that he was probably misled on some of the information on which he based this decision. Interestingly, his partner Chief Rabbi did not concur with this determination.
The Pashtun tribes in Afghanistan and Pakistan are said to be of Israelite descent, arriving in that region soon after the dispersion of the ten northern tribes (a problematic statement when you take into account that there were two independent exiles, first two tribes and later eight, but most people claim the Pashtun are from eleven tribes!). I won't go into the theories and proofs here, but these Afghans are known as Bani Israel, obviously reminiscent of B'nei Yisrael, "the Children of Israel". There is a group who have lived in Maharashtra, India, for perhaps 2,000 years, who are called the B'nei Yisrael. They claim to be scions of seven Jewish men and seven Jewish women who survived the shipwreck of their boat travelling from Yerushalayim. They practised very minimalist Jewish customs. They were discovered in the eighteenth century by a Cochini Jew (another interesting community, also shrouded in mystery) who was travelling through their region and who subsequently taught them Jewish practice.
I asked one of the academics if he thought that, given the strong similarity in name and geographic proximity, whether there could be a connection between the two groups, that the shipwrecked B'nei Yisrael were perhaps Pakistani Pashtun sailing south.
"There's no connection", he shot back.
"But how can you be so certain? Has anyone looked into it? Surely it's at least feasible?"
"No, there's no connection!"
Well it was just a thought ….
Back to my paper, while I worked very hard on it, locating sources, biblical and talmudic, to match the Bassa practice and custom to Jewish ones, I certainly have not proven that the Bassa narrative is true nor even plausible; in fact I find it humorous to make such an assertion. Even though there are parallel threads, it is simply not possible that the Bassa, who separated from mainstream Judaism before the Torah was given, would have these customs — unless they received them at a much later date, viz less than 1,500 years ago! So the question has to be, from where did the Bassa learn these practices? or why am I seeing correlations that cannot exist?
I want to end here with something I have written in the past, and that is that there are two places in the Talmud (of which I am aware) where there is a rejection of the idea that we will be reunited with the ten lost tribes in future. In one of these sources, Rabi Akiva tells us that this union already occurred. That is not to say, I believe, that we will not find genetic descendants of these tribes, but this is inadequate for their acceptance into the Jewish people, the congregation of Israel.
On the other hand, in my humble opinion, anyone, in Uganda, Cameroon, China, India, Nigeria or elsewhere, who sincerely wants to be part of the Jewish people on its travel through this world and accepts the mission of the Israelite nation, is welcome to join, but according to the rules of the Jewish people. Perhaps progeny of those we lost on the way have a special place in our hearts and should be more welcomed.
My Jewish Life
I continue to learn daf hayomi, a sequential page of talmud each day. I have now sailed nearly halfway across the "Talmudic Sea".
This year I completed shas mishnayoth, the six orders of the mishna for the third time with Rav Golan, and am into my fourth cycle, learning for just half an hour each day between prayers.
As I alluded in the introduction, I continue to increase the depth of my understanding of what is required of me in this world, though each answer brings with it more questions, and in many ways I find myself more ignorant the more I learn.
My understanding of the esoteric Torah leaves me with even more questions. It may be audacious to make any judgement on the relatively little I have learnt, but my questioning is deep and possibly only a few have real answers. My scientific scrutiny is not tolerated by everyone though some find it of interest.
The main body of work that is today called the kabala, exists at two levels, the first being the Zohar, a work supposedly written by the second century Rabi Shimon ben Yohai, one of the later tanaim (rabbis in Israel during the mishnaic period), and second, the work of the Ari in 16th century Safed. The Ari reworked the misdrashic format (my definition) of the Zohar, based on the Torah portions, to produce a working model of God's universe and how we are to work within that model to achieve personal and national salvation. (There are other works such as the Bahir and Sefer Yetsira though these have been largely ignored since the Ari's times.) Students of Arian kabala accept the Ari's model as the only way to understand the Zohar, not an easy proposition.
For many years I rejected the hypothesis that the Zohar was written in 13th century Spain. I now see merit in this claim. Whether there was tradition that goes back many generations before it was actually written down is a disparate question. Either way however, we are talking about a work that is at least 800 years old. (A broke Hungarian printer at the beginning of the twentieth century claimed to have found a missing tractate of the Talmud Yerushalmi. His print run fooled many people, supposedly including the great Hafets Hayim who started wearing Rabeinu Tam t'filin as a result.)
Accepting the Ari's model is a difficult proposition. The narrative, as presented by the Ben Ish Hai in his introduction to the Ari's work, is that the Ari, born in Safed, spent most of his short life in Cairo where he was taught — let's call it the unifying theory, the theory of everything, ToE — by "a mentor", perhaps Elijah the Prophet or an angel. (A similar chronicle is reported of Shulkhan Arukh author, Rabbi Yosef Karo, having a mentor.) This is intellectually unsatisfying because the Talmud has taught us that the development of halakha is now in our hands, "it is not in the heavens".
In effect we are saying that we were at a stage in our history, some thousand years after the final compilation of the definitive Talmuds, where we were unable to continue the development of Jewish thought without direct divine intervention!?
Back to the Ari … at some point during his exile in Egypt, he returned to Safed, where he lived less than two years before his premature demise. There he gathered around him a number of willing students and followers, but the only one, by the Ari's own account, who understood what he was saying was one Hayim Vital. But Rabbi Vital, known by the acronym Molho, wasn't the most willing student and was not always available to study. After the Ari died, Molho wasn't keen to keep up the Ari's study. Only some time later, following a search involving lengthy travel, he returned to Safed to dedicate the remainder of his life, over forty years, to writing down everything he had heard from his master. Others too wrote books of their understanding of the Ari's teachings, but the Ari had repeatedly warned that only Molho understood him and should be studied.
Just before Molho passed away, he instructed his son to bury all of his writings of the Ari's teachings with him in his grave. We were now in the situation that the only authorised version of the Ari's teachings was inaccessible. Later two rabbis in Safed received heavenly permission to exhume the manuscripts from Molho's grave. They were given a mere 48 hours to copy and reinter them. To put this into perspective, we are talking about nine lengthy books, the Etz Hayim (strangely named by Molho after himself) and the Eight Gateways.
Does the above discussion mean that I reject the Zohar or the Ari's restatement of it? Well, no, not at this point; I must study it further. Many of the greatest rabbis, including the Vilna Gaon, to whose halakhic route I adhere, wrote extensively and expanded on these works; they obviously believed them, at least at some level or other. And the Arian system does work in explaining many things in the Torah and in the world. But to me, with more yet unanswered questions attached ….
(An interesting aside on the short time available to copy all of the Ari's works, it is said that people who copied music by hand, before music was printed, could not produce all of Bach's music in a working lifetime — but Bach did it, and that was in addition to all his other musical duties to his duke … and to his 20 children.)
We must attempt to understand the language of the kabala in terms of the times in which it was written and not in our vernacular. For example, the Torah informs us that light, ohr, was created on the first day. This obviously cannot be our concept of light, as the sun was only created on the fourth day (here I shan't enter into what constituted a day). Let's say this light was a primordial light (whatever that means) or in terms we understand today, something along the electromagnetic spectrum outside of the range of visible light, or even including visible light from a source other than our sun. When the Ari speaks of light emanating from the Divine, via various channels and routes, into the space evacuated to enable the universe's creation/existence, can we perhaps say we need to understand his language rather than dismiss his model?
One trap into which I see many fall, is to take allegorical and anthropomorphic models of the kabala and apply them to everyday human and halakhical situations. An allegory must be understood as that and not an historical fact. You have to understand what the parable is teaching you, why it is teaching in this particular fashion and where it was intended to lead your thought processes.
In January Jill and I flew to Venice. Jill had been there for two days with her mother a couple of years ago (I wasn't invited so I went to Japan).
I returned to India in May. Jill decided she did not want to join me there, being rather Indiaed out from our trip only six months earlier. I crave India. On this trip I only visited locations which I had not previously been, largely in the north: Manali, Parvati, Dharamshala, Amritsar and Rishikesh. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and visited and photographed spectacular places and scenes – after all that's one of the aims of my travelling.
Paris was not on our bucket list, but as I was invited to present a paper at the ISSAJ conference, we decided to go there for two weeks. The conference took place during the first week, and we had planned to spend the second week largely outside of Paris. On Friday night as we slept peacefully, a number of murderous terrorist attacks took place in the city. This forced us to modify our plans; we didn't return home early as many suggested we do. We stayed. After all, we're Israeli! However our plans had to change. We didn't get to the Loire Valley and its chateaux. We did get to Mont St Michel, a place I had wanted to visit since reading about it in childhood — and I wasn't disappointed. In Paris we toured as usual, but the ubiquitous crowds weren't there. The streets emptied out of fear and fleeing tourists. Everywhere we subsequently visited didn't require us to queue, a rarity for Paris and the long lines outside the entrances to attractions.
It was interesting to observe the reaction of Parisian Jews. While the exodus has increased over the last couple of years, it is still not a rushing torrent. But it made them stop and think. In the back of every European Jew's mind, perhaps with the exception of Russian Jews in Germany, is the knowledge that their settlement is temporary, transient. This is not the case of American Jews, who still believe they live in the Promised Land.
Next year will probably take us back to Uganda. Our work there is unfinished. I would like to visit more of the wildlife. I would love to visit India again, Cochin and the far north, the lower Himalayas, Lei. And other than that, the world is a big place. On the bucket list: South America, Antarctica, parts of China and Mongolia ….
My photography style has continued on the major upheaval, which started last year. I continue to work closely according to my understanding of Ansel Adams's guidelines and style.
This year I held an exhibition of my work, the first for many years, in Yerushalayim, together with two friends. Please feel free to view my exhibition. I am sitting here writing with most of that body of work surrounding me, and I feel good about it.
I displayed a photograph at an exhibition in a gallery at the Yafo port. This was also recent work, which while steeped in the same techniques, was designed to shock more than attract aesthetic adoration.
I continue working through a large backlog of work from my recent travels (as well as local work) but I am afraid I will be on my way again before I get too far.
I have been worried about the direction medicine is taking. Sadly most physicians receive 70% of their continuing training from drug company salesmen. Many have merely become agents for these companies and cases of "incentives" for producing sales have come to light in some countries. While I know that a large number of customers for alternative medicines lack an ability to be skeptical and thus are unable to differentiate between legitimate research and quackery, I am not certain that this is not true of many qualified medical practitioners.
Please do not misunderstand me; of course I am not saying that modern medicine is bad. We have reached unbelievable heights, achieved wonderful cures and preventions. But I think we have lost the ability to see the whole in front of our eyes, to not look at a person as disparate parts.
Also it worries me when neither conventional doctors nor alternativers have much concern for diet. I was in China three years ago with a group of high level Chinese Medicine practitioners, and it is difficult for me to describe what they were eating. The Chinese diet of Campbells' China Study is long dead.
I went to a new dermatologist the other day. My old one was retired.
The new one was very observant. “You have tinea, athlete's foot, foot rot, fungi on your feet,” he exclaimed.
Since I've been hanging around swimming pools since I'm eight years old, and locker rooms are where this fungus lurks, this is hardly surprising and well known to me, something I discussed with my previous doctor a number of times and elected not to treat. The treatment involves orally taking antifungals daily. My old doctor didn't think I would want to ingest months of these poisons, and actually wouldn't do it herself. There are also some noxious [possible] side-effects.
The new doctor said we have to do something about this. I'm endangering the environment. Above my protests that I wasn't prepared to ingest something that would reach all of my body, when it was intended to treat a topical problem, he went ahead and prepared a script. I told him to skip it. He responded, “It's totally safe. You take it for 3 months. After every month, we do a blood test to make sure your liver is still OK. If it's not clearing up after 3 months – it takes a year for the nail to grow out fully – I'll give you another month, but that's not usually necessary."
“You may also get an unbearably bad taste in your mouth. Then just stop taking it and a week later your taste will be returned."
“Look we give kids antibiotics for strep even though some people are allergic to penicillin."
“Your chances of it returning are quite high; once you've had it, you're more susceptible to picking it up again.”
And that's not to mention I am constantly, every single day, in the environment in which I first picked it up.
Want to see how my views have changed over time? I don't go back each year and read what I said the previous year. But someone may want to ;-)
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2nd January, 2016 -- 21st Teveth, 5776