MY DAILY THOUGHT

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April 24, 2014 – Co-existence and compromise

I recently saw a documentary entitled “Dancing in Jaffa” that is the story of Pierre Dulaine, a world famous ballroom dancer who returns to Jaffa ( a town on the outskirts of Tel Aviv in Israel on the sea) where he grew up in an effort to try and break down the barriers between  Jewish- Israeli and Palestinian-Israeli children by teaching them to  ballroom dance.  In trying to fulfill his dream, Pierre has to overcome the challenges and  prejudices of two cultures who have, for many years, struggled to find a way to co-exist.

In the beginning,  the children, who are in some cases being forced into this exercise, are resistant to interact with the other children, in large part based on their awareness of “difference” but by the end of the first session of the program, not only are the children dancing together, but in some cases they have also become friends.

Given the success of the program since it was first introduced, hundreds if not thousands of children have now participated.  It is a beautiful and moving documentary that I would encourage you all to see if you have an interest in this subject.

Throughout world history, countries, religious groups and political factions have continued to be at odds with each other, often resulting in disastrous results sometimes with significant consequences which include the loss of human life.

When you have two sides that have differing points of view or beliefs, and the parties are trying to find a way to resolve a dispute, as a practical matter, no solution will ever be found unless the parties involved are willing to show some level of compromise.   Compromise does not mean that one should abandon important ideals and principals but often there is some room for moving off a hard and fast position.  

There are times when one party may have no choice but to succumb to the wishes of another party.  But for a compromise to work, each party must feel that the underlying agreement is a benefit to both sides, otherwise there is a material risk that the compromise will not last.

The path to peace and compromise is not always an easy one. But when I look at pictures like the ones featured above, of young children smiling, it is a reminder to me that when our children can no longer smile in the comfort of their surroundings, it is a day when the prospects of a new generation are compromised.

 All compromise is based on give and take, but there can be no give and take on fundamentals. Any compromise on mere fundamentals is a surrender. For it is all give and no take.”

Mahatma Gandhi

 (Photos taken in Jerusalem – 2010)

 

Filed under co-existence compromise dome of the rock happy children daily thought

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April 23, 2014 – Don’t Jump to Conclusions Too Quickly

It is very easy in life to look at a situation and jump to an early conclusion without knowing all of the facts.  You see someone engaged in some form of conduct that seems unbecoming or inappropriate and perhaps without even knowing the person or reason they are acting in a particular manner, you judge them.

We all see homeless people on the street and sometimes wonder what are they doing to improve their own circumstances but don’t always stop and consider how they got there in the first place. 

In yesterday’s post, I featured a woman who has been on skid row since she was 17 years old who has constantly had curve balls thrown at her since she was a child.  Yet I look at her and am inspired by her attitude towards life.

Skid row is filled with people, many of whom have interesting stories to tell.  In the area not too far from the LA Mission, you can often find a man who is well known as the “Barber of Skid Row.”  He stands on a street corner and will cut anyone’s hair or give them a shave for whatever they can afford, even if it is nothing.  Over the years he has gathered a collection of cutting and shaving pieces to help him with his trade, most of which he carries around in a mobile cart that he can wheel from one street to the next.  Perhaps he had been a successful barber at some point and then business fell away leaving him without enough money to continue operating.  When you are “sailing close to the wind”, you don’t have to get too far off course and all of a sudden find yourself unable to afford to pay rent, have to move out of your apartment, and all of a sudden have nowhere to go but the street.

If you talk to people who have served time in prison, they will tell you that in most of the Southern California jails, job training is offered to only about 20% of the inmates.  What are these people supposed to do when they come out of prison after serving their sentence with no more skills than when the first became incarcerated?

I remember seeing a short film a number of years ago which shows a man and his children riding a New York subway late at night.  The man is sitting down with his hands on his head, lost in thought.  Another man taps him on the shoulder and points to the first man’s children who are somewhat running around the subway car slightly out of control and says “you need to take care of your children.”  The man looks up at the stranger and apologizes for the behavor of his children and says.  “I am truly sorry for the disturbance.  I have just come from the hospital where I learned from the doctor that my wife and the children’s mother does not have that much more time to live and I don’t know how to explain this to them.”

Upon learning of the man’s plight, you have a little more insight as to why the man was not in control of his children yet the initial reaction was to criticize the man for not managing them.  If you take a step back, and take the time to learn or understand why people behave in a particular way, or why their circumstances have placed them in a particular situation, your compassion and understanding may well change.

In today’s pictures we see in the first image, a man standing by a hotel that provides temporary low cost housing. He has decent shoes on his feet and appears reasonably well groomed.   He has a sad look on his face but we don’t know why or how long he has been living this way.

The man in the second picture is equally well groomed yet his personal possessions are all lined up on the sidewalk next to him. In speaking to him, I found out that he had held a job for a long period of time and then got laid off and could no longer make his rental payments.  He is looking for work but what can he do in the interim?

Look at the muscular figure of the man in the third picture.  He is in great physical shape, well groomed and wearing what appears to be a relatively new pair of Nikes and clean socks yet look at where he is living?  How many people do you think have passed judgment on this man when they walk past him in this part of the city?

Most of these people who live on the street, including the woman in the last picture, are trying to get off the street but it is not always easy.

When you see a person like the people in these photos, don’t form opinions too quickly about why they are there. These are often not lazy people. Most of them just have failed to get a lucky break. Each of us probably knows at least one person or family who had been living the good life and then had a series of unfortunate events happen to them that were beyond their control.  Don’t forget, this can happen to any of us.

“Life is the art of drawing sufficient conclusions from insufficient premises.”

Samuel Butler

 (Photos taken in downtown Los Angeles – December 2010 and 2011)

Filed under skid row Downtown LA homeless don't jump to conclusions daily thought

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April 22, 2014 – Still thankful

Two years ago when I was taking pictures in skid row in downtown Los Angeles, I met Deborah who is a truly extraordinary person.

Deborah has spent a large part of her adult life on skid row yet she always manages to have a smile on her face.

At the age of 17, when she was already homeless, she managed to scrape together a hundred dollars which she gave to her mother.  When her jealous boyfriend (who also lived on the street) found out, he picked up a 2x4 piece of wood that had a nail sticking out of the end of it and hit Deborah in the face striking her eye causing her to be blind in one eye. With repeated hits to her body, he broke a large number of bones in her chest and arms causing her to spend an extended period of time in hospital.

When she returned to the street, she struggled to adjust to her partial blindness, and as a result, was struck by a bus and subsequently a car causing her to end up back in hospital where she was placed in a body cast for some time until she was recovered to the point where she was sent back out onto the streets of downtown LA.

If you have the time, listen to the short two-minute video of Deborah where she tells here own story.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVhBkH8Q0ZI&list=UUDSxhjzAjYJS_aDl8C97NfQ

What is perhaps the most amazing aspect of my conversation with Deborah is that at the end of it, she is still thankful and appreciative of God looking out for her and taking care of her.

Too many of us still wish we had more.  We look at the people around us and think why can’t we have what they have.  We have been blessed with having more than most and can’t always see how good things are.

Skid row is filled with people like Deborah.  She is an inspiration.  Look and see where and how she lives and then look and see the warmth in the smile on her face.  What does she know that I don’t know that allows her to be so content?  Whatever it is, in the words of Rob Reiner’s mother in the classic scene from “When Harry Met Sally”,   “I’ll have what she’s having!”

 Keep your eyes open to your mercies. The man who forgets to be thankful has fallen asleep in life.

Robert Louis Stevenson

(Photos taken on skid row in downtown Los Angeles – December 23, 2011)

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April 21, 2014 – Coachella

Although I did a post about the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival last weekend, given when it was the opening weekend of the three day festival in Indio, California, I was not going to post again about the some subject but a number of people reached out to me during the week and asked me to post a few more images so given that last night was the last night of the festival for 2014, I am including a few additional photos taken from my visits to Coachella in 2010 and 2012.

As you can see from the images, the festival is not just about the music.  There is a large part of the festival which is about getting together with friends, making new friends, hanging out and just having a good time.   Sometimes, after a little too much dancing and a little to much fun, there is nothing better than to just lie down in the grass and fall asleep for an hour surrounded by a few good friends as can be seen from the first picture.

There are people there who spend the weekend creating art.  There are some who working in tents making coffee (which can be greatly needed  and appreciated first thing in the morning after a long night of drinking and partying).  There are some people who spend the night in hotels and condos, and then there is a large number that stay in tent city, including the girl pushing the shopping cart above, who has returned from the mile and a half walk to the nearest grocery store where she is returning with a cooler full of beer and a packet of potato chips for the party that will take place after the music stops playing in the evening.  Despite having probably only a few hours sleep, she still has a smile on her face and looks ready for another full day of music and fun.

This year at the festival, the most decorated car pool van going to the festival would win a prize of a VIP pass to the festival for life! Not a bad prize if you were willing to take the time to decorate your vehicle, or perhaps your parents’ vehicle.

By the time the festival finished last night, there would be some people who would spend one more night in the desert and drive back to Los Angeles or from wherever they came, today and there would be others like me a few years ago, who would brave the traffic, despite being tired, and try and get home to get a good night’s sleep in their own bed.

I have not been to the festival for the last couple of years but given how great the line-up was this year, I may well think about going again next year.  But if I do go, don’t expect to find me in tent city!

“With over 90,000 people in attendance, you’re bound to run into people you know.  Some of these encounters will be the best of your life; others will make you want to grab a snicker”

(Quote from an unknown author at Coachella –April 2013)

(Photos taken at Coachella Music Festival – April 2010 and 2012)

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April 20, 2014 – Easter

Growing up in Australia, the thing I remember most about Easter, was that when we were in school, it was a five day holiday weekend with most of the schools and universities closing on Good Friday, Easter Monday and Easter Tuesday making it a perfect time to get away for a long weekend.  In fact for most us, it was a time we would get away either to the beach or go water skiing at the end of the summer before winter would start to set in.

Good Friday in Australia was as solemn a day as Christmas Day with pretty much everything being closed.

It was somewhat surprising when I arrived in the United States to find that many businesses, including my own, were open on Good Friday as if it was just another day.  Although most government offices and banks are closed, certainly all of the retail stores are open and many businesses continue on as usual.

Nonetheless, in the Christian community, Good Friday and Easter Sunday are two very important days, the first being the day on which Christ was allegedly crucified on the cross with the last supper taking place the day before and Sunday being the day when Christ was resurrected.

Today’s pictures, which are a collection of images from both the old City of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, highlight some of the important locations relevant to Easter.

The tile referencing “Via Dolorosa” is as street that forms part of the Old City which was allegedly the path that Jesus took while carrying the cross on the way to his crucifixion. 

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is featured above, is allegedly built on the site where the crucifixion took place. This Church has become an important pilgrimage for many Christian since the 4th Century and today is controlled by at least four different religious groups from around the world who desire to maintain some domain over its presence in the Old City.

There are several pictures taken from the Church in Bethlehem which is allegedly on the site where Jesus was born.

Whether or not you are Christian, Jewish, Muslim or any other religion, in visiting these locations, it is hard not to be moved by the beauty and peace that is contained within the walls of these various churches.

To me, it is not important whether I believe that Christ was the Son of God.  What is important is the willingness to recognize that everyone has the right to their own belief systems and if those beliefs have as an underlying philosophy the notion of peace and good will towards others, it is certainly a concept that if more people were to adopt, the world would certainly be a better place.

(Photos taken in Jerusalem and Bethlehem – July 2006 and October 2011)

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April 19, 2014 – Paris

What is it about Paris that makes it one of the great cities in the world?

Is it the small cafes where you can sit and drink café or perhaps a glass of Bordeaux?  Is it the grandeur of the Eiffel Tower that rises over 1000 feet above the ground erected in 1889 and was the tallest man made structure in the world surpassing the Washington Monument until the Chrysler Building was constructed in 1957.  Of course just because the French didn’t want to be outdone by the Americans, they added an antenna on top of the Eiffel Tower so that it now stands 17 feet higher than the Chrysler building.

Is it the attraction of riding a Bateaux along the Seine at night watching lovers strolling along the river or making out in dark corners under bridges?

Is it the smell of fresh crepes smothered with Nutella, that you can find on street corners in Paris open 24 hours a day?

Is it the majesty of walking along the Champs Elysees, one of the most beautiful boulevards in the world, in part lined with trees where as you approach Place Charles de Gaulle you can see the magnificence of the Arc De Triomphe which opened to the public in 1806 and is still open daily to tourists until 10:30 PM?

For the lovers of art, is it the overwhelming number of Museums including the Louvre, which is home to such works as the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo, or perhaps the Musee d’Orsay containing works from Van Gogh, Delacroix and Manet?

Perhaps it is the smell of fresh baguettes first thing in the morning where if you get to the patisserie early enough, the bread is still warm and will melt a piece of cheese if you break it open and place it inside?

I guess for me, it is a little bit of all of the above. It is, like New York and Rome, one of the great walking cities in the world. If you want to experience Paris, you can experience it from sitting in a little café in San Michel or on top of Montmartre.  At night you can still go and watch the Can Can being performed at the Moulin Rouge.  As a tourist, you cannot see and understand Paris in a day. You cannot see or fully understand Paris in a week. You can get a little bit of the flavor of the city in such a short time but I suspect to really know and understand Paris, like any great city, you need to live there for a period of time or go back as a tourist again and again and again.

For me, it is a reminder of why I love to travel.  Even if I go back to some of the same places time and time again, I will always find something new - perhaps another alleyway or perhaps a sculpture or a fountain I hadn’t noticed before.

 If you have not been lucky enough to visit this great city, it needs to go on your “bucket list”. Try and get there soon. Paris is waiting for you.

 If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.

Ernest Hemingway

(Photos taken in Paris – August 2006)

 

Filed under Paris eiffel tower arch de triumph creperie daily thought

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April 18, 2014 – Man cleaning shoes
I can honestly say that I have never had my shoes “shined” by a man, woman or child while I was wearing them.  It is fair to say that when staying in hotels, especially when they offer a free overnight shoe shine, I have taken advantage of this, given that I do not do a particularly great job at cleaning my own shoes, but, to the best of my recollection, I have never had a “split and a polish”.
I certainly appreciate that people do this for a living but I still struggle with the concept of sitting a chair, reading the newspaper or smoking a cigar while someone is either down on their knees or, in the case of the above photo, sitting on a plastic bucket giving someone a shine!
People who’s occupation it is to polish shoes, has in the past been referred to as a “shoeshine boy” a name given due to the fact that the job was historically performed by young males.  Although such a task is frowned upon in many western civilizations, shoe shining nonetheless continues to provide a source of revenue to children and families around the world particularly in societies where there is a higher than usual, level of poverty.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons I have resisted in participating in, what for some people, is a daily ritual.    At many of the locations where you find people willing to shine your shoes, including airports, train stations, bus depots and on the sidewalk, the shoe shiner is working only for tips, something else that I find troubling.  If you took a pair of shoes into a repair store, they may charge you ten dollars to get your shoes cleaned.  Why should a person on the street be expected to get paid any less?
It is true to say that I do love getting a shave in a barber shop with a straight edge but there I am paying a price for the experience of the man in the chair and he is certainly not kneeling at my feet in a manner that somehow seems demeaning or degrading.
I appreciate that for many of the people who fulfill this function, they are more than happy for the many customers that show up on a daily basis as it puts money in their pockets to allow them to put food on the table at night and certainly the costs of  performing the trade are fairly minimal.
Still, it is something I continue to struggle with.

“After some thorough soul-searching and thoughtful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that if you get a shoeshine in public in 2011, you’re probably an a**hole.
I thought about this as I walked past a gentleman on 9th Avenue in Manhattan getting a shoe shine. The look of the man screamed Willy Loman, and he obviously was one of those pretenders to the crown in middle management that do things like get his shoes shined in public to give himself the false impression that he’s on the fast track. The pseudo-classism was abundant: he was on a raise, and as he got his shoes shined looked off into the distance, avoiding all eye contact and communication with the man inside.
It then occurred to me that of the handful of men I have come across in my life who have had their shoes shined in modern times – both as novelty and habit – they’ve universally been what I would consider an a**hole. Friendly acquaintances, mind you, and great for a laugh, but total a**holes none the less.”
Posted by Kevin Marshall on March 8, 2011 on “Kevin Marshall’s America”
(Photo taken in New Orleans, December 2010)

 

April 18, 2014 – Man cleaning shoes

I can honestly say that I have never had my shoes “shined” by a man, woman or child while I was wearing them.  It is fair to say that when staying in hotels, especially when they offer a free overnight shoe shine, I have taken advantage of this, given that I do not do a particularly great job at cleaning my own shoes, but, to the best of my recollection, I have never had a “split and a polish”.

I certainly appreciate that people do this for a living but I still struggle with the concept of sitting a chair, reading the newspaper or smoking a cigar while someone is either down on their knees or, in the case of the above photo, sitting on a plastic bucket giving someone a shine!

People who’s occupation it is to polish shoes, has in the past been referred to as a “shoeshine boy” a name given due to the fact that the job was historically performed by young males.  Although such a task is frowned upon in many western civilizations, shoe shining nonetheless continues to provide a source of revenue to children and families around the world particularly in societies where there is a higher than usual, level of poverty.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons I have resisted in participating in, what for some people, is a daily ritual.    At many of the locations where you find people willing to shine your shoes, including airports, train stations, bus depots and on the sidewalk, the shoe shiner is working only for tips, something else that I find troubling.  If you took a pair of shoes into a repair store, they may charge you ten dollars to get your shoes cleaned.  Why should a person on the street be expected to get paid any less?

It is true to say that I do love getting a shave in a barber shop with a straight edge but there I am paying a price for the experience of the man in the chair and he is certainly not kneeling at my feet in a manner that somehow seems demeaning or degrading.

I appreciate that for many of the people who fulfill this function, they are more than happy for the many customers that show up on a daily basis as it puts money in their pockets to allow them to put food on the table at night and certainly the costs of  performing the trade are fairly minimal.

Still, it is something I continue to struggle with.

“After some thorough soul-searching and thoughtful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that if you get a shoeshine in public in 2011, you’re probably an a**hole.

I thought about this as I walked past a gentleman on 9th Avenue in Manhattan getting a shoe shine. The look of the man screamed Willy Loman, and he obviously was one of those pretenders to the crown in middle management that do things like get his shoes shined in public to give himself the false impression that he’s on the fast track. The pseudo-classism was abundant: he was on a raise, and as he got his shoes shined looked off into the distance, avoiding all eye contact and communication with the man inside.

It then occurred to me that of the handful of men I have come across in my life who have had their shoes shined in modern times – both as novelty and habit – they’ve universally been what I would consider an a**hole. Friendly acquaintances, mind you, and great for a laugh, but total a**holes none the less.”

Posted by Kevin Marshall on March 8, 2011 on “Kevin Marshall’s America”

(Photo taken in New Orleans, December 2010)

 

Filed under shoe shine boys shoe shine spit and a polish daily thought new orleans

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April 17, 2014 – San Francisco

My very first trip to San Francisco took place in July of 1972 when I was 13 years old. My family was in the process of relocating from Melbourne Australia to New Jersey for a few years after my father had decided to change jobs.

It was an exciting time for my sister and I to be moving to a new country, starting at a new school and hopefully making new friends.

San Francisco was one of the first main cities that we visited in America.  Although we had trams in Melbourne, we certainly did not have cable cars and to find myself riding on one (actually I stood on the steps because I felt like that is what the cool kids would do) as we headed up what seemed to be the steepest street I had ever seen, was an experience.

Of course, no visit to San Francisco is complete without a stop at the world famous Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory in Ghirardelli square.  The factory first opened its doors in in the 1850s and today Ghirardelli is one of the few companies in America that controls the entire chocolate manufacturing process, from cocoa bean to the finished product.  For a young teenager, to go into the factory and sit down and eat one their huge ice-cream Sundays and drink a thick strawberry milkshake was more than enough to make any kid happy.  (In case you are wondering, the photo above is of me and my sister who is probably going to kill me for posting this picture of the two of us).

The first picture is of me sitting on the Sausalito side of the Golden Gate Bridge. The photo taken of me was shot by my father.  Even then, at the age of 13, my camera was wrapped around my neck and ready for action!

Although we had a fairly large Chinatown in Melbourne, nothing could compare to the one in San Francisco which was enormous.  To walk around the Chinese markets and see some of the animals, vegetables and spices that were for sale was eye opening.  I am not sure I have ever seen so many ducks and chickens (dead of course) hanging in restaurant windows before.  On the outskirts of Chinatown was an area that was filled with adult bookstores, topless nightclubs and other interesting institutions.  I am not sure that I fully appreciated at the age of 13 exactly what these places were but would eventually figure it out.

We then took the ferry from Fisherman’s Wharf out to Alcatraz, a prison used for military criminals starting in 1868 and then used as a Federal Prison from 1933-1963.  Given its location on an island surrounded by treacherous rocks and cold seas, despite 14 attempts to escape, no one prevailed and most died.

Many people often think of San Francisco as not that different from Melbourne where I grew up.  Perhaps it because they are both located on a bay.   Or perhaps because Melbourne has trams and San Francisco has cable cars and we both have fairly large Chinatowns.  But over the years that I have been visiting there, it is perhaps the existence of a real downtown city where people live and work that is the center of day and nightlife and with great residential neighborhoods surrounding the city is what the two locations have in common.

Other than the fact that the weather is just a little too cold in the Bay Area, it is definitely a city that I would enjoy living in.

“It seemed like a matter of minutes when we began rolling in the foothills before Oakland and suddenly reached a height and saw stretched out ahead of us the fabulous white city of San Francisco on her eleven mystic hills with the blue Pacific and its advancing wall of potato-patch fog beyond, and smoke and goldenness in the late afternoon of time.”

― Jack KerouacOn the Road

 (Photos taken in San Francisco in 1972, and 2006)

 

 

 

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April 16, 2014 – Coachella

For thousands of parents this last weekend, they experienced three days of trauma as their teenage children gathered with their friends and headed to Indio, California for the three day music festival known as Coachella.

Some of these kids stayed in the camping ground.  Some stayed in a motel room with accommodation for two but which for three or four days would accommodate as many as eight!   Some were lucky enough to have friends, family or relatives who owned a place out in the desert and could stay there and some just drove in every day to avoid the overpriced cost of accommodation.

Coachella first appeared on the scene in 1999 and has taken place every year since.  Owing to its popularity, starting a number of years ago, the festival now runs on two successive weekends mostly with the same acts appearing.

Over the years the festival has attracted such musical legends as Paul McCartney, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dr. Dre and Snoop, Nine Inch Nails and Madonna.

While it is true that the kids may sometimes drink a little too much beer, occasionally smoke a little too much weed as well as taking other things to enhance their senses, in general, it’s a pretty mellow weekend with adults and kids managing to blend together and have a pretty good time.

Yes.  To be clear.  Adults such as myself, do attend these festivals and can “rock on” with the best of them!  As the man in the photo’s tee-shirt says – “Never 2 Old 2 Love Music.”

When the temperature gets a little  too hot, you can cool down by dancing in an area where water jets are flowing.  Or if you want to relax for a while, you can sit quietly on the grounds of the polo fields and just chill!

Mostly, people are just there to have fun including the kids who are piled on top of each other in the photo above.  It is worth noting that they are drinking a can of Pepsi and a bottle of juice!    Of course, you are not allowed to drink alcohol outside of the designated areas but even still, things tend to stay pretty calm.

In the evenings when the sun goes down, most of the main acts appear.  During my last visit to Coachella a couple of years ago, we were lucky enough to be able to see Snoop and a hologram of Tupac!

So for those of you parents who still have one more weekend to go and are a little bit worried, don’t be.  Your kids will be home soon enough in one piece and having had such a great experience, already talking about what other festivals they can go to next year!

(Photos taken at Coachella – April 2012)

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April 15, 2014 – Passover

All over the world last night, Jewish people celebrated “Passover”.  It is a night when we remember that when the angel of death came down upon Egypt to kill the first born male in all of the Egyptian households as the final plague in an attempt to force Pharaoh to let the Jews leave Egypt and be free instead of continuing their existence as slaves, the angel “passed over” the Jewish homes so that no one was killed.  The Jews had been instructed to place blood on the front of their houses so that the angel would know to leave them alone. 

For me, Passover is one of the truly wonderful Jewish events and has great memories for me as a child growing up.  In the same way that American families get together for Thanksgiving, Jewish families in America and around the world get together for Passover.  The story of the Jews being slaves in Egypt is told in varying degrees of length depending on who is leading the services.  It an evening filled with the mandatory drinking of multiple cups of red wine and eating Matzo ball soup, and massive quantities of food including wonderful deserts, all of which have to be made without grains that may cause leavening to take place to remind us that the Jews when they were leaving Egypt did not have time to bake bread.   If the Matzo balls are too heavy, there will be murmuring at the table so the pressure is on whoever is making them to ensure that they are light and fluffy! 

There is a section of the service where there is a story is told of four sons, including one who is described as “the bad son” and even one who is described as “the simple son.”  Whoever gets to the lead the service has the power to assign the reading of the passage of each of the four sons to very specific people which was certainly entertaining in seeing who would be assigned the specific roles when we were kids. 

After the meal, the young children in the house get to search for a piece of Matzo that was hidden earlier in the evening and whoever finds it gets a prize which is often an amount of money.  As kids growing up we would destroy whoever’s house it was as the race began to find the piece of Matzo and claim the prize! 

At our house, my mother, when she hosted the Seder, the name given to the evening, always invited people who were without families and had no place else to go which made the evening special for everyone. 

Last night, my family in Australia got together with the same group of people they have been celebrating Passover with for years and I am pleased to say that in Los Angeles we got together with a group of Australians who have been getting together for Jewish holidays for several years now, continuing the tradition. In fact our host last night was someone who I often celebrated the second night of Passover at their house more than 40 years ago.  A large part of the evening is spent eating a very traditional meal that starts with gefilte fish with horseradish, followed by matzo ball soup and then chicken and brisket. The meal then finishes with wonderful deserts that cannot be made with any flour which in our case included a Hungarian chocolate and hazelnut cake with cherries and an orange cake together with coconut macaroons.  In the center of the festive table is a round dish that lists all of the items that cause us to reflect on the story of the affliction including a shank bone, an egg, bitter herbs and of course Matzo. 

I am sure for some, the evening might be seen as a little strange, including a part of the service where you dip your finger in red wine and spill a drop on a plate as a reminder of the 10 plagues that God inflicted on the Egyptians before they were eventually allowed to leave, but certainly the opportunity to get together and have a meal with people you know and care about is not such a bad way to spend an evening!

(Photos taken in Santa Monica – April 15, 2014)

Filed under passover gefilte fish matzo seder daily thought