General Photography

Pictures from the Zoo

I went to the Zoo recently with Eva, a friend and the friend’s not quite 2 year old (then; since then, the child has become 2). While there, I took some photos, as I am wont to do. So I’m sharing them with you  all, also as I am wont to do. Because, after all, isn’t everyone’s day improved by the presence of a polar bear?

The Polar bear was definitely among the most photogenic of the animals we saw that day. In fact, there were two polar bears wandering around together. And by together, I mean at the same time, but not really ever getting around to acknowledging one another’s existence.

As everyone knows, I’m a cat person, and that extends to the less domesticated of the cats who are present at the Zoo. The ocelot, a small cat, despite a name that sounds like it should belong to a marine invertebrate, was a challenging subject. He was walking quickly, and often not where I wanted him to. Did I mention that he’s a cat?

A much easier photographic subject is the rhododendron. It stood completely still, for which I was very glad.

I’m particularly pleased with the texturing of the flowers in that photo.

In the gallery below, you can find a few more photos: Elephant, warthog, sunbear.

All in all, a day at the zoo.

General spirituality


In pretty much all spiritual traditions I’m aware of, there exists the discipline of surrender: the acknowledgement that we are not in control of our destinies, regardless of our delusions to the contrary. Certainly this is a central feature of most 12-step programs, but it has its roots in traditional spiritual paths as well. It is a based on a sense of humility: the idea that no matter how we may see ourselves, we do not really have control.

This realization is not meant to free us from the obligation to live our lives in the best way we can. Rather, it is to acknowledge that no matter how carefully we may plan, we cannot force our lives into a certain path. When push comes to shove, there are elements of life that are beyond our control.

Tonight, I come face to face with that need to surrender. No matter how hard I may try to fall asleep, I seem to remain awake. And so, I surrender, and admit that I cannot force sleep to come. And write one of the five or so blog posts running through my head.

General Jewish Spirituality Rabbinic spirituality

The Destruction of the American Temple: A Spiritual View of Tisha B’Av

Each year, I find the Jewish holidays are a little different. It’s not that the holidays have changed, of course, but I have. This year, Tisha B’Av is speaking to me differently than it has in the past. (For a look at what I have thought about Tisha B’Av in the past, see  here or here).

Tisha B’Av marks the destruction of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem. It is a day of mourning and lamentation. It is a day that I often have trouble relating to, seeing as I don’t actually want to go back to a Judaism that is based around the Temple in Jerusalem. Yet this year, the sense of mourning  destruction is resonating with me.

I find myself feeling like there are a lot of us mourning a vision of our world that seems to have been destroyed. There was an optimism to American life and worldview that seems to have gone, and many of us are beginning to wonder if it will return. There is a sadness present, both in those searching for work, and those who are employed but remain fearful of what the future will bring.

We are facing an unknown future, as did the Jews following the destruction of the Temple. They didn’t know what it meant to be Jewish without a Temple in which to make sacrifices. We aren’t sure what it means to be  American without a limitless economic horizon stretched before us.

Yet Judaism transformed, and became something far more vibrant than it had been. And America also has the potential to be revitalized. It does, however, require a willingness to accept that the world is changed.

General Jewish Spirituality Rabbinic

Sorry, Can't Lament Now, There's a Cat on My Lap

I was about to write a really good Tisha B’Av post. I even had something to say that’s different from what I said four years ago or what I said two years ago. But then I ran into a problem. There’s a cat on my lap.

Dancer (who is being renamed to Giles), chose this morning to get on my lap, and hang out with me. For the first time. Ever. And he’s purring. Which leaves me unable to get into a proper lamenting state of mind. Which makes it hard to write a good Tisha B’Av post. Which leaves me explaining to you all why I’m not writing this post, rather than writing it.

Oh well, several days left for me to actually write  a lamenting post.

General Jewish Spirituality shabbat spirituality

Watching the Pieces Come Together

It’s Friday afternoon, and Shabbat is on the way. I’m doing a last twitter and Facebook check, and I’m noticing something: the pieces are coming together.

I have a friend and colleague who has just realized that she has a special skill which some of us have been encouraging her to capitalize on for a couple of years now. It looks like it just sunk in that she’s good at doing this thing, and she likes it. And that the rest of us aren’t.

The wedding, which has been in the planning stages for months, is now, pretty much fully prepped. The plan is written, and all I have left to do is a little polishing. It’s all coming together. Time to let thing roll, and to take their course.

Often, life feel like a struggle; it feels like we are swimming against the current, trying desperately to make things happen. Then, occasionally, we look around, and see things falling into place. I wonder, how much falls into place on a regular basis without our noticing? How much happens which we just take for granted? Sometimes, I think in our struggle to make things happen, we fail to notice what happens on its own.

Just a quick thought as we head into Shabbat.

General Photography

The Cats of Israel

I suspect that many of you who read my blog know that I am fond of cats. The recent trip to Israel provided a great opportunity for cat watching–and photography. Throughout much of the Mediterranean, street cats are a constant presence, and part of the urban ecosystems. Israel is no exception, and I had some fun with the camera.

This cat and I made our acquaintance in Acre. A friendly sort, he enjoyed conversing and lounging. He was, however, very clear on one point. That was his tree.

Like many of the cats, he was fairly solitary, though there were a few other cats in the neighborhood.

In other places, there were groups of cats hanging out. In Capernum, for example, there was a group of three cats who were a posse. Making themselves at home, in around, under and on top of this bench, they napped and groomed, seeming to enjoy the heat of the day. It was quite warm that day, which made it perfect cat weather.

As with everything else in Jerusalem, the cats of Jerusalem are special. They clearly regard themselves as the guardians of the city, and take that responsibility quite seriously.

Admittedly, there are some who seem a bit more, ah, engaged in the whole watching over everything than others. Case in point: this feline somehow managed to find a soft couch to use as his base of operations. Most other cats in Jerusalem were out and about, whether supervising the Western Wall crowds, as these two kittens were, or stalking the wild discarded pizza, like this leopard-like fellow.

And then, there were the cats who simply sat and supervised, whether amid archaeological ruins or a wall in the old city.

General spirituality

Celebration of Freedom, American Style

Today is July 4th, the day we, in the United States, celebrate being free (free as in speech, not free as in beer). Today marks 234 years since the signing of the Declaration of Independence, inaugurating the first modern democracy, and arguably, the first nation instituted by design rather than  by might.

The United States has never had a transfer of power that was other than peaceable and in accordance with our constitution. We may, at times, resent how the process has played out. We may have our doubts about the correctness of the Supreme Court decision which awarded the 2000 presidential election to G.W. Bush, but throughout, the process has worked. The transfer of power has always taken place peacefully, and has always taken place in accordance with the constitutionally prescribed process.

You may note that I’m talking a lot about the Constitution on a day devoted to the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence sets out why a change was needed. The Constitution set up a better way to do things. The Declaration tears down, the Constitution builds up. In general, I find the Constitution to be the far more important text. But today, I ask you to go read the Declaration. Not just the first, vague paragraph, but the subsequent ones that lay out the specific grievances which caused the colonies to break away.

What I hope you noticed in your reading of the Declaration is that no matter what your political views, no matter your critiques of the current or past governments of the United States, no matter how unfairly, or inappropriately you believe the government to have acted, we are not subject to the sorts of injustices the founders were rebelling against. Two-hundred-and-thirty-four years later, we are free. Today is a day for giving thanks to those who came before us for their vision, their courage, and their willingness to risk their very lives to establish a free nation upon the Earth.

Happy Fourth of July.

General Jewish Spirituality Rabbinic spirituality


What can one say about Jerusalem. It is a city that seamlessly merges ancient and modern, building today from the same stone that the ancient Israelites used 3000 years ago. It is a city revered as holy by three faiths. It is a city which has inspired its own psychological disorder: Jerusalem Syndrome. And, it is a city of people trying to live their everyday lives.

Among the images of Jerusalem, these are the ones that predominate our imaginations: Yet, these images are only the smallest part of Jerusalem, or the Jerusalem experience.

The Done of the Rock, gleaming golden in the sun, the third holiest site in Islam, sits just above the Western Wall of the Ancient Temple. It is said that the rock at the base of the dome is the same rock upon which Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac. That rock is referred to as the Oompholos Mundi, the bellybutton of the world.

The Western Wall, the Wailing Wall, The Kotel, is all that remains (more or less) of the Second Temple. Jews have visited for centuries in an attempt to get closer to God, sticking notes into the cracks in the wall. Moving into the electronic age, you can now email your note and have it inserted. Yet pilgrims still come, and many Americans (and others) travel to Jerusalem each year to celebrate Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies at the wall (this was, in fact, the occasion for this trip to Israel: my cousin’s bat mitzvah).

The old city, however, is far more than just these holy sites. It also includes millenia of buildings, like the Domition Abbey.

No visit to the Old city of Jerusalem is complete without a trip through the markets. Crowded and bustling, the sellers are by turns friendly, cajoling, and insistent bargainers.

All of this is within the Old City. Without, there is another market, Machane Yehuda, where there are fruits, vegetable, and even kippot (yalmukes).

Yet none of this is my experience of Jerusalem. Jerusalem, for me, is a city a walk through. A modern-ish city of cafes and restaurants. A place which changes so fast that every time I visit (usually about 10 years apart), the routes I relied upon during my previous visit no longer exists, or no longer leads where it used to. It is a city in which I visit the Supersol each time, since I was 10 years old (it’s just a supermarket, but it one of my personal landmarks).

I’ve walk through the streets of Jerusalem in times of peace and times of trouble. There have been times when it was safe to take the bus, and times when no one took the bus for fear of bombs. I’ve walked these streets with family, with friends, with colleagues.

Jerusalem, despite all the change, is an eternal city. The more it changes, the more the heart of the city remains. It is a city which cannot be truly known, so much as encountered anew each day. It is a place which can spark the spirituality of our soul, or it can extinguish every spiritual impulse.

Jerusalem is a city which changes and endures. It challenges and soothes, but it is never boring.