Walking my dog in a local park at the beginning of the week I was struck by beauty. The sky was blue; the almond trees were blossoming. And then a blooming almond fell off a branch and bopped me on the head. This naturally got me thinking. Unlike Newton and his famous apple, I did not discover any amazing principle of gravity or motion. But with stunned realization I noted that there is always a mix of good and bad in the world. It’s more a matter of metaphysics than physics.
The almond that is so healthy also contains cyanide. You can choose how to use it.
The news globally was gloomy yet my Facebook feed was divided almost equally between stories of Islamist terror atrocities (and President Barack Obama’s seeming inability to acknowledge some of them) and photos of friends frolicking in flowering fields.
It’s that time of year. Tu Bishvat, the Jewish New Year for Trees, was celebrated just over a week ago and the country as one seems to be finding joy in the almond blossoms – Israel’s equivalent of Japan’s cherry trees. Friends, colleagues and acquaintances took photos in fields of anemones or lupines or zoomed in on cyclamen shyly peeping out from the cracks in rocks. It’s what we do as spring shows its colors.
When outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz delivered his optimistic message to residents of the South in August, he spoke too soon. Hamas continued to break cease-fires and launch rockets on Israel. But Gantz’s words resonated with citizens suffering from the rocket barrage, terrorist threats and fatalities of Operation Protective Edge because he used very real and comforting images.
Describing carpets of anemones is not mere rhetoric. The flowers are something that Israelis seek and find every year as spring approaches. It’s proof that the world, however strange, is still turning.
“We have a hot summer. Fall will soon come. The rain will wash away the dust left by the tanks. The fields will turn green, and the South will be awash in red – in the positive sense of the word – in anemones, flowers and stability, which will be here for many years to come,” said Gantz, some seven months ago.
For the last couple of weeks, the flowers have been out in full force, a cause for celebration. I doubt many Israelis, let alone Gantz, believe the peace and quiet are permanent, but perhaps it would be better to think of them as coming and going rather than an illusion.
Life goes on and – at the risk of making you burst into a round of “Always look on the bright side of life” – it’s not all bad.
The International Book Fair opened at Jerusalem’s First Station compound this week. It’s definitely on my “to-do list,” as is the new “By the Rivers of Babylon” exhibition at the Bible Lands Museum.
On February 9, I attended a press conference launching the 50th anniversary celebrations at the Israel Museum.
Museum director James Snyder showed a short film recording the inauguration events in 1965 and noted that the country’s Who’s Who could be seen making the time to come and see Teddy Kollek’s vision in its physical form.
David Ben-Gurion, Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan, Yigael Yadin, Yitzhak Rabin and a much younger but clearly recognizable Shimon Peres were among the celebrities who could be seen in the footage (black-andwhite, of course). Among the most remarkable things, Snyder noted, was that someone thought to record the event for posterity.
The country was still young, just 17 years old. The threats facing Israel were enormous, and yet it was understood that the Jewish state had to look ahead and grow. With exhibits ranging from the prehistoric (you have until next month to see the display of 9,000-year-old stone masks) to contemporary art, and housing the famed Shrine of the Book, the museum is a great place to appreciate the continuum of past, present and future.
A talkback on my column last week was more painful than the head-hitting almond.
“I have always wanted to be a mother now I am not sure I want to bring children into such a wicked world,” concluded a reader at the end of a comment on the barbarity of Islamic State, which had just released the video showing it burning Jordanian pilot Lt. Mouath al-Kasaesbeh to death, a video which it screened to young kids.
I hope that was a passing thought on her part. There are many reasons to decide whether or not to have children, but what a victory it would be to the terrorists if they were able to persuade ordinary people that producing a future generation – a leap of faith under any circumstances – is not worth it.
There is tension and uncertainty everywhere. I’m the last person to suggest readers ignore the risks presented by Islamic State and al-Qaida and the radical Sunni alliance on the one hand and the nearly nuclear Shi’ite threat presented by Iran and its satellites on the other.
While Israel was involved in petty electioneering, inflating every step and statement of party leaders into a major scandal, the true life-changing stories were taking place elsewhere.
Obviously, given our neighbors in Syria and Sinai (not to mention reported increased support for Islamic State among Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza), many people were particularly interested in which jihadist group was lining up close to which border.
An event of huge significance was relegated as almost an aside: The takeover of Yemen by Shi’a Houthi rebels opens the way for Iran (with or without nuclear weapons) to eventually control shipping routes from the Persian Gulf to the Red Sea and Suez Canal.
By midweek, I suffered from the “deep depression” that descended on the country from North to South. “Deep depression” was the term used by the meteorologists as they described the storm that came in over the Mediterranean, mixing with the sandstorms that made it hard to breathe and created an impression of an all-encompassing yellow hue. A jaundiced picture, indeed.
“This too will pass,” I reminded myself during a particularly cold and uncomfortable wait at a bus stop.
It’s no sin to enjoy life. Finding the simple pleasures is a victory each and every one of us can have over evil. Read a good book; visit a museum; take a walk in the park (with or without a pet dog or a two-legged friend).
The sky’s not falling – but you might want to keep a wary eye open for almonds dropping out of the blue.