Building Permanence Among the Temporary (Sukkot 5783)
While generally not a fan of dystopian fiction, I recently fell for one such book: “The Second Sleep” by Robert Harris. A page-turner murder mystery, it takes place in 31st-century England, a time in which civilization has reverted to a new Middle Ages.
The narrator in the story has only a vague knowledge of our civilization but knows that it was a mighty one, full of hard-to-fathom technological wonders (although he struggles to ascertain the meaning of the “emblem of the bitten apple” that can be seen in bizarre artifacts ). Interestingly, in this dystopian future, there’s virtually no trace of our gravity-defying skyscrapers. As the narrator explains, our modern style of construction, with iron and steel beams inserted in concrete casing, is deceptively fragile. The glass that covers modern buildings doesn’t decay, but it breaks and falls off. When that happens, the building is exposed to the elements, small cracks in the concrete allow moisture to penetrate, and the iron beams end up rusting, eventually bringing down the entire structure. In the novel, London is dotted with reddish-brownish stains where skyscrapers used to stand, like monuments to the futility of human hubris.Read more
Embracing the Transition (Sukkot 5782)
The novelist Milan Kundera noted that the difference between a path and a highway is that a path is “a strip of ground over which one walks,” whereas a highway “is merely a line that connects one point with another.” A highway, he wrote, has no meaning in itself; its meaning derives entirely from the two points that it connects and “is the triumphant devaluation of space, which thanks to it has been reduced to a mere obstacle to human movement and a waste of time.”
Kundera wondered whether, in all but disappearing from the modern landscape, paths have also disappeared from the human soul. He lamented that people do not view their lives as a path, but as a highway, “a line that led from one point to another, from one role to the next … Time became a mere obstacle to life, an obstacle that had to be overcome by ever greater speed.”Read more
Bonus Episode: At Home in the World? (Sukkot 5780)
Tonight begins the holiday of Sukkot, so I wanted to drop into your podcast feeds for a bonus episode to share a word about the holiday, and how I’m feeling about it this year.Read more
At Home in the World? (Sukkot 5780)
Until now, I’ve always felt at home in the world.
I have lived in five different countries and visited close to a hundred. I’ve always felt that the world was a place of opportunity and promise, a place where I could feel at home. After visiting most countries I’d say to myself, “I think I could live here.” If I felt particularly ill-adapted to a specific country, I always knew that there are many other places in which I can feel “at home”.
Lately, however, I’ve been besieged by the opposite feeling: a sense of homelessness in the world.Read more
Rivers, Rain, and Morality (Sukkot 5779)
Is there a relationship between Israel’s dependence on rain and the traits and values we developed as a people?
Sukkot: Don’t Read This—It’s Utterly Futile
The choice of Kohelet for Sukkot is a curious one. Sukkot is supposed to be the most joyous festival in our calendar, and yet, on it we read a book that starts with this uplifting phrase: “Utter futility, utter futility, everything is futile”. Gulp.
The Junta, the Park, and the Sukkah: A Lesson in Community Architecture
We’re more affected by architecture than we might want to believe. The built environment conditions our thoughts and behaviors. Every building sends a message.Read more
The Strength of Our Fragility During the Chag
Cross-posted at the Times of Israel
Jewish tradition has a lot of paradoxes, but Sukkot is probably the biggest of them all.
Yom Kippur probably hired PR consultants to make us forget that Sukkot used to be the most important holiday in the Jewish calendar. It’s called “Hechag,” THE holiday. When the Talmudic rabbis referred to the chag without adding a specific holiday, it was obvious they were referring to the Festival of Tabernacles.Read more