I noticed many years ago, that when people go around asking for advice regarding some problem they have, or decision they have to make, it often seems like they are checking out people’s opinion, until they run into an opinion that mirrors their true internal desire, and then, they give that friend or acquaintance the honor of having come up with the solution… and do what they wanted to do from the start.
Which brings to mind one of my favorite stories about Sigmund Freud. He was riding in a train, sitting next to an acquaintance who wanted to take advantage of sitting next to this well known authority on the human mind. He told Freud about a complicated problem he had. The bottom line was that he had to make a decision between two choices, each of which had pluses and minuses. He asked the doctor for his opinion. Freud thought about it for a while, and then looked into the man’s face for a minute, and said, ‘I think you ought to flip a coin’. The man said nothing for a while… and finally admitted that he was expecting something more definite. After all, anyone could advise you to flip a coin. Freud, realizing that the man was disappointed, said, ‘when you look at what the coin indicates, you’ll know by your internal reaction, what it was that you really wanted to do’.
In our tradition, we have something of an answer to this. As you can probably guess, there are many different Rabbis who have as many different opinions on a long list of religious dilemmas, and going to a Rabbi for a learned point of view, doesn’t mean that necessarily, you’ll only get one sort of answer. Of course, there are some issues on which all agree. But sometimes the answers you can get are wide apart. So our sages taught us that you can choose which Rabbi to go to, when wrestling with a quandary. But once you’ve asked him, and gotten his answer, you should accept it, and not keep asking until you get the sort of answer that pleases you.
And if you’re asking how I got to this subject in the first place, I was told by a reader that what he liked most about my blog, were the back streets of Jerusalem, that a tourist might not run into, but that I show in my blog after one of my daily walks. No sooner had I read that, then I was planning a four part study of the back streets of my town… but then I thought, ‘What?, do I need an excuse to do it?’ The truth is that I have a great love for the streets of Jerusalem, and have many collections of such sets, filed according to the different neighborhoods. These photographs are not of the sort usually considered ‘street photography’. For street photography focuses on people doing unusual things, or combinations of images that provoke thought. I have done that too, on occasion. But I enjoy the mere documentation of the streets I love, and don’t publish such pictures often, because I fear that the innocent viewer might find himself bored by a line of houses sitting in the sun; not skyscrapers, and not wonders of architecture, but just photographed as a keepsake of this city I love.
There is a context that I remember, that the viewer of the photos wouldn’t know… and it is within that context, that my feelings are remembered. There was a house, I used to park next to, when I was teaching at the college in the 90s, because often I’d hear a woman in an upstairs apartment singing through an open window as she worked. And another parking spot next to my studio, where the cats of the neighborhood used to greet me enthusiastically when I arrived. It wasn’t because I handed out freshly caught fish… I have no idea why they remembered me, and would always come around to say hello when I arrived, and often bid me goodbye when I left.
And there are those very special one room synagogues, scattered around the town, where people will get together for a prayer, with great regularity. Sometimes it’s in an apartment, and sometimes it’s an old store, or even a bomb shelter, or a store room on the ground floor of an apartment building. We call them a shtiebel. The name comes from the Yiddish. More times than I can remember, I’ve been on my way from one place to another, with thoughts of work on my mind, when I’ve been approached by a stranger, who asked me to join in a prayer, which have to have a minimum of ten men for a forum, called a minyan. I would stop whatever I was doing, and join the company of complete strangers for a quarter of an hour… sometimes longer.
So, today, a few very personal souvenirs of the Jerusalem I love.