Category Archives: Essays, Dilemmas, & Philosophy

A Plea to Reform Jews

The two subjects that should never be discussed in polite society are religion and politics; but society has not been polite for an awfully long time. If you are easily offended by religious discussions, you’d best skip this post and move on to another one.

A thoughtful analysis of religiosity will show that the road between the states of disbelief and belief are bi-directional; that is, one may start off as a non-believer and convert to a true believer, or one may start off as a true believer and become a non-believer. Of course we can imagine all sorts of permutations and combinations derived from a wide range states in between. One may even start out in one direction and turn back towards the opposite direction or even stand still wherever he/she happens to be between the two end-states.

I’m talking about the possible, not necessarily what may or may not be desirable in someone’s eyes.

I’m a non-believer, somewhere between an atheist and an agnostic. I don’t really have enough evidence about the existence of God as He/She/It is commonly defined (Creator and Prime Mover of the Universe) one way or the other. I would prefer to exist in a Universe in which God exists, but I don’t have any evidence that I’m in such a Universe. Of course I wouldn’t prefer to exist in a Universe in which God, as commonly defined (Chooser of one people over another ignoring the rest of His Creation, Creator of Heaven for true believers and Hell for non-believers, and Tester of peoples’ faith by commanding them to sacrifice their children) existed. I would prefer and follow a God who loved all his creation equally, who was fundamentally rational, and who was ethical; who was patient with questioners and doubters, and provided us examples we could live by.

I was raised as a Reform Jew. I grew to appreciate many elements of it over time. Much of what I wrote above about my preferences for a God are derived from what I learned from Reform rabbis in sermons, weekly religious classes, and frequent family discussions. There were some things I disagreed with, like the moral of Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice Isaac on the improvised altar on Mount Moriah. I thought Abraham should have stood up to God and rejected His command to sacrifice his son. How many people since Abraham have heard voices commanding them to kill their spouses or children? We hear lots of voices in our heads but we are not supposed to act uncritically on them. Anyway I learned that moral arguments were acceptable.

I would say that, for me, Reform Judaism was probably the last (or the first, depending on which direction you’re going) gas station on the long road of religiosity between belief and disbelief.

From what I had been exposed to, it became clear to me that Reform Judaism was an enlightened, tolerant, and liberal religion. We studied the other religions around us in order to understand the differences and commonalities between us. That orientation spilled over into the daily lives of Reform Jews. When I came across Voltaire’s famous quote from his letter to Monsieur le Riche, “I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write”, it came naturally to me to accept it as an ethical and worthy statement. It was the kind of thing we were likely to hear in a Reform Jewish sermon.

I continued to grow within Reform Judaism, often comfortably but sometimes struggling with some aspect or other, through high school, college, the US Army, marriage with a beautiful Israeli sabra (native), and raising our son in America. Then we decided to pick up our roots and make aliyah (immigrate) from a Democratic country (USA) based on a written constitution, majority rule and minority rights, and the separation of Church and State to a Democratic country (Israel) without a written constitution, majority rule but without minority rights, and no separation of Synagogue and State.

When I arrived in Israel I found that the ultra-Orthodox Jewish rabbinate and religious parties maintained de facto control over marriage, divorce, burial rights, access to the Wailing Wall (Western Wall of the Temple Mount), Jewish conversion, etc. That’s all part of the political status quo, an unwritten agreement that maintains whatever the situation was current at the time that the ultra-Orthodox agreed to support Ben Gurion in his bid to establish a Jewish state. Ben Gurion was desperate. Without the support of the ultra-Orthodox and the ultra-ultra-Orthodox, he felt he would not be able to claim that God promised the land of Israel to the Jews. It was written in the bible that all modern monotheists hold holy. Ben Gurion apparently didn’t believe the Holocaust would be enough to persuade the geopolitical powers that be that the Jews deserved to have their own land. In Haifa the buses and businesses are open during the Sabbath; in Jerusalem they are not. Now the status quo is not good enough for the ultra-Orthodox; they want to codify it into law. They want the Israeli Supreme Court to accept the status quo as axiomatic.

Other things I discovered after arriving in Israel were that Reform Judaism is just about the most despicable thing that exists, worthy only of being spit on or stoned, desirous of diluting the blood of the Jewish people, misleading them, and attracting believers away from Orthodoxy to Reform. Frequently, on slow news days, you’d hear reports of veiled or unveiled threats made over phone to Reform rabbis and cantors, stones thrown through Reform temple windows, and spray-painted slogans on temple walls. The police never found the perpetrators. I used to mention how I felt about it to my local friends, but I soon discovered a lack of empathy on that score. It appeared that even among traditional believers and non-believers, the ultra-Orthodox propaganda against Reform Jews was taken as in the case of “where there’s smoke there’s probably fire”. I learned to keep my particular brand of religion to myself.

As time went on I found my belief in Reform Judaism eroded, along with my belief in Judaism or any other religion. There are too many reasons to go into why it happened in this post; maybe another time.

This is just so that you will know where I’m coming from.

Reform Jews comprise roughly 80% of American Jewry; Conservatives roughly 15%; Orthodox the remainder. American Jews have been very generous and charitable, but Jewish American support (financial and political) for Israel has been declining over the years (1997 – 2017).

In spite of the fact that there are many reasons why Reform Jews around the world would rather not give their hard-earned charity and support to Israel or would prefer to redirect their funds and support to more democratic or pluralistic groups in Israel, Israel needs your support and funds now as much as ever. People outside the Middle East (including the Americans) seem to believe that Israel is invincible; after all, they have won every war since gaining their independence in 1948. Those same people don’t seem to realize just how close Israel came to losing the October War in 1973.

I appeal to your tolerant and liberal hearts to give what you can to support Israel as it is today, good, bad, and the ugly. If any enlightened, liberal, or tolerant voice is raised in Israel and it becomes known, hinted at, or public record that that voice received special funding from overseas, that voice will lose its legitimacy here.

I appeal to you to remember the words of Voltaire and take them to heart in our case: I [may] detest what you [say or do], but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to [say or do so]”.

According to Maimonides’ Eight Levels of Charity, “The greatest level (of charity), above which there is no greater, is to support a fellow Jew by endowing him with a gift or loan, or entering into a partnership with him, or finding employment for him, in order to strengthen his hand until he need no longer be dependent upon others”.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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The Stone Conjecture

Today I was listening to my favorite Saturday morning radio broadcast, Dr. Yitzhak Noy reading and commenting on interesting newspaper articles from around the world. I had just come back from walking Daisy and tuned in to the tail end of an article he read about these strange bursts of radio energy and how some astronomers at Harvard had suggested they might be alien space travelers zipping around our galaxy at close to the speed of light.

Well, since I didn’t think Harvard was your usual source of unsubstantiated “Abducted by UFO” headlines, my curiosity was piqued and I Googled some key words and phrases I remembered from the article Dr. Noy had talked about and found Fast Radio Bursts Might Come From Nearby Stars from 2013 and then Harvard Scientists Theorize That Fast Radio Bursts Come From Alien Space Travel from a couple weeks ago (March 9, 2017).

Why was I intrigued? Although the conspiracy theories about incarcerating little green beings with elongated heads in Area 51 or UFOs coming to us from millions of light years away just to make crop circles, mess with our minds, and leave before we can talk to them may very well be true, I tend not to believe them because there seem to me to be many alternate explanations that could be offered that would be just as good if not better. Remember Occam’s Razor. The simplest explanation of those available to us is most probably the correct one. Here’s what intrigued me about the Fast Radio Bursts: since 2007 when they were first discovered by astronomers, nobody had ever come up with an explanation of how they could occur naturally. In other words, there were no other competing theories. The Harvard researchers went one step further and used currently accepted engineering principles to show how an alien technology could propel space craft weighing a million tons at 20% of the speed of light and be visible to us in the frequency and amplitude our radio telescopes recorded.

Anyway, I didn’t want to talk about this particular speculation about Fast Radio Bursts. If you want, you can read the articles yourselves. But the articles did get me thinking about what other kinds of conjectures might be made.

So, without further ado …

The Stone Conjecture:

  1. Life is probably pretty common in a mature universe. The first generation of stars after the Big Bang were made of relatively simple elements, but subsequent generations of stars were composed of increasingly heavier elements in a variety of configurations. Atoms of various elements bound together into increasingly complex molecules, giving rise to organic molecules. When the circumstances proved adequate, organic molecules combined into organelles and cellular structures igniting the engine of life. Cells differentiated into colonies of specialized organs giving rise to plants and animals on our planet to adapt to its ecosystem. When the variety and complexity of these adaptive systems reached a critical mass, consciousness arose and then self-consciousness. The same kinds of processes probably happened with other kinds of systems in other kinds of ecosystems randomly occurring around our galaxy and others throughout the universe. A system beyond a certain level of quantity, variety, and complexity would be unlikely to remain integrated in a dynamically changing ecosystem over a certain period of time without developing self-consciousness. Entropy would cause the system to break down. This is what happens when we die.
  2. Given #1, self-conscious life that developed significantly before us would possibly be significantly more advanced than us. The stars in the center of our galaxy probably gave rise to civilizations far more advanced than civilizations in our solar system located pretty far out along an arm of our galaxy. Our local star was created long after the stars clustering around our galactic center. What I’m talking about is only orthogonal to the Kardashev scale.
  3. There may be more dimensions of space than the three we perceive. Given #2, an advanced civilization might know whether there are more than three dimensions and take advantage of those dimensions in traveling from one point to another or they would perceive only the three dimensions of space that we perceive.
  4. Given #3, if space spreads out over more than the three dimensions we perceive, then an advanced alien civilization would either know the short cuts through higher dimensions from one point to another or know how to warp one of the observable dimensions to access hyperspace.
  5. As far as we can see with our telescopes pointed in every direction from the vicinity of our planet, there is something: meteors, moons, planets, stars, and galaxies. What we can’t see is probably dark matter. These are all potential obstacles for us to travel in a single vector at or near the speed of light. In other words, in order to avoid running into these obstacles we’d probably have to slow down our speed significantly and jinx up, down, left, or right, to go around.
  6. If there are only the three dimensions we perceive, then traveling through the galaxy at close to the speed of light would require tunnels of emptiness through our galaxy. Tunnels of emptiness through our galaxy or any other would not appear naturally. It might be an indication that an advanced civilization had ploughed that tunnel to allow near light speed travel. Travel between galaxies at light speed could probably be made without tunnels because the space is mostly empty. Of course there is the issue of dark matter, but current theories posit that matter does not interact with dark matter. See Why Doesn’t Dark Matter Interact with Ordinary Matter.

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Roll Over Maslow

Some of you have heard of Maslow’s Pyramid, a diagram representing a man’s or woman’s hierarchy of needs. The pyramid is divided into five levels from the wide base to the narrow apex.

The first and lowest level at the base of the pyramid represents our Physiological needs: the physical requirements for human survival, air, water, and food. The inability to satisfy needs at this level means death for the individual.

The second level just above the first represents our Safety and Security needs: the absence of war, natural disaster, violence, abuse, and the requirements for personal security, financial security, health and well-being, and protection from the adverse impacts of accidents or illness. The inability to satisfy needs at this level can engender post-traumatic stress disorder and other extreme psychological coping mechanisms.

The third level represents our need for Love and Belonging: being part of a family, having friends, and having a significant Other with whom one can be intimate, both sexually and non-sexually. Not satisfying these needs can lead to loneliness, anxiety, or depression.

The fourth level represents our need for Esteem: status, recognition, fame, prestige, attention, strength, competence, mastery, self-confidence, independence, and freedom.

The fifth and highest level at the top of the pyramid represents our need for Self-Actualization: to become the most that one can be. Whatever one can do, one must do.

During Maslow’s final years, he posited a sixth level, above all the rest, which he called self-transcendence: giving oneself to some higher goal outside oneself, in altruism and spirituality, thinking about the ends rather than the means, to oneself, to significant Others, to all mankind, to other species, and to the Universe.

The most basic needs must be satisfied before the higher needs. Each level of needs depends on the satisfaction of the needs of the previous levels.

But then I thought about what an amazing species we really are and how there are those among us who could flip Maslow’s Pyramid over on its head, so that the highest levels become prerequisites, pre-conditions, for what were previously the lower levels, that our need for self-transcendence precedes and overrides our need for self-actualization, which overrides our need for esteem, which overrides our need for love and belonging, which overrides our need for safety and security, which overrides our physiological needs.

Yes, there are people like that.

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The Truth about Fiction

Animals are realists. All the species except for us. There are a couple significant differences between the rest of the animals and us that are probably related to each other.

The first difference is that animals are born with the knowledge of how to make use of all their bodily functions and how to get along in the world whereas we are born with only a partial knowledge of our bodily functions and how to get along in the world. Animal instincts are transferred and stored in their genes. Sapiens’ knowledge is acquired through our senses, stored in the brain, and transferred by means of language. Animals are capable of learning varying amounts of information but could probably get along with nothing more than their instincts for most of their lives. Sapiens have instincts too, but not enough to survive on.

The second difference is that animals have only rudimentary languages, if at all, for conveying only real concepts, commands, and warnings whereas we have highly developed languages for conveying representations of internal and external realities, as well as fictions. Fictions include assertions that may or may not be true, that haven’t been proven yet, that we’d like to be true, that we wish were true, that we want to believe are true, that we want others to believe are true, that were once thought to be true, that we are willing to accept for the moment as true, or that are patently false.

Examples of fiction include stories, myths, religious dogma, beliefs, astrology, political propaganda, rights, duties, lies, traffic lights, metaphors, hyperboles, scientific conjectures and theories, histories, nationalities, communities, races, cultures, civilizations, money, corporations, gender roles, purpose, meaning, romance, and our world views. Examples of reality might be hungry, lion, waiting, and waterhole.

I’m reading a fascinating book called “Sapiens, a Brief History of Humankind”, written by Doctor (of Philosophy) Yuval Noah Harari. One of the interesting points he makes in his book is that animal species cannot aggregate and cooperate in groups composed of more than a few hundred individuals whereas Homo Sapiens can and in many cases do aggregate and cooperate in groups numbering millions or more. Harari attributes this capacity of Sapiens to get such massive numbers of individuals to live, work, and fight together to their ability to convey fictions with their languages. Our fictions unite us, keep us together, and direct us towards common goals far more so than our reality. If a lion enters our camp, it’s every man for himself. As we say, you don’t have to run faster than the lion. You just have to run faster than the guy in front of you. If you want to kill a mastodon, you don’t need more than a hundred or so men with spears to surround it and bring it down. If you wanted to launch a Christian Crusade to take Jerusalem from the Muslims back in 1099, you’d need thousands of foot soldiers and 300 knights and if the Muslims wanted to take Jerusalem back, they’d need even more soldiers and horsemen, which they were able to muster easily. For the Christians, God was on their side, but for the Muslims their God was greater, or Allahu Akbar (الله أكبر).

Lest we conclude that civilizations would be a lot better off without their fictions, Harari goes on to point out that every social structure comprising more than a few hundred individuals would break down without the fictions that organize them. Many large groups enforce religious beliefs or official party lines, such that non-believers are subject to violence and/or death, for the groups to survive. If, however, enough members of a group stop believing the organizing fictions, that group will cease to exist, as will any benefits accrued by members of the group.

Remember Kant’s Categorical Imperative? Kant’s criterion for whether an action was moral or not was derived by asking what would happen if everybody were to perform that action. If the answer were that society would survive or even thrive, then it would be considered a moral action. If, however, the answer was that society would break down, then it would be considered an immoral action. For example, is it moral to steal from a person? No, because if everybody were to steal from each other, then society would break down. Is it moral to give charity? Yes, because if everybody gave charity, society would survive or thrive. It’s a lot more complicated than that, but you get the idea. If not, read the link above.

So the bottom line is I shouldn’t attempt to persuade people to give up their fictions. If I did, society would break down, people would stop working at their jobs, drive through red lights, crash into each other, babble meaninglessly, commit crimes, acts of violence, and suicide, starve, get sick, and die. As a matter of fact, I should probably keep my opinions to myself.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Message in a Bottle

Nothing is more desperate, more poignant, more romantic than a message in a bottle. You visualize a beautiful young woman or a handsome young man on a lost island writing a letter, possibly with a description of the constellations he sees in the night sky, tracking them in their arcs from sunset to sunrise, possibly including an inventory of the few remaining supplies, and possibly mentioning the young family waiting at home, the love that was abandoned or passed up, or the wrong which was never admitted.

You visualize these things written on a ragged scrap of parchment rolled into a cylinder, stuffed into a bottle, sealed with a cork, and cast in a long arc over the waves crashing against the beach, into waters moving in a deeper current away from the island toward someone also handsome or beautiful who will find the small bottle floating between the waves in the immenseness of the ocean stretching from horizon to horizon, someone who will be able to decipher the strange markings on the parchment, someone who will care enough to drop everything and change course, setting sail for the lost island where the desperate writer waits before it is too late.

And what is the Voyager 1 space probe, launched from Earth in 1977, reporting back to us all it sees until 2025 when it will continue its blind inertia towards the star Gliese 445 somewhere in the constellation Camelopardalis about 40,000 years from now, carrying a gold-plated audio-visual disc in the event that the spacecraft is ever found by intelligent life forms from other planetary systems, but a message in a bottle cast into the endless seas of space, even smaller and darker than a bottle floating between the waves on a moonless night?

But if it is found, the Voyager 1 that is, will the finders be smart enough to decipher our strange markings? Will they be kind enough to come rescue us from our loneliness and ourselves? Will they laugh at our primitive efforts or even recognize them as worthy of scrutiny? If they do come, will they come in peace or will they come as we do, wreaking havoc and extinction upon us? We are the most destructive species that has ever lived on our planet. Are we the norm in our galaxy or in our universe? If not, then how do we expect our alien rescuers to welcome us into the family of worlds? But if so, then we should cease shining our beacons at the stars and our explorations of distant worlds before they detect us and come to root out the risk to the universe while it is still small and confined.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Chapter 18: The Leap of Intent

“That box of kibble is starting to look pretty good to me,” Cadmus said to whomever might be listening.

“Sorry,” Galen said, “I’ve been remiss. Just be patient a moment longer and I’ll fix something for us to eat and drink after I get us going. Besides, it’ll be better for you if your stomach is empty during the leap.”

“What should I do? Where should I be?”

“Just put your hand over Lonesome’s goggles and close your eyes.”

Cadmus did as he was told. At first nothing out of the ordinary happened. Then there was a crescendo of rumbling. He felt a vibration in the chair. Then he felt it in his skin, his muscles, his stomach, and his bones. It was as though somebody had reached inside him and pulled his internal organs down, up, or sideways – he couldn’t tell which direction. He opened his right eye, just a squint, and saw only whiteness out the window.

The pull on his innards diminished somewhat. The vibration lessened and the rumbling turned to silence. He opened his left eye and saw Galen puttering around in what looked like a kitchenette against one of the walls. He looked down at Lonesome who was panting and smiling, seemingly ready for anything. He removed his hand from the dagu’s goggles.

“What’s going on now?” Cadmus asked.

“I’m making us something to eat.”

“No, I meant what’s going on with the ship?”

“Oh. We’ve leapt off your moon, left 763, left Draco, and are traveling on a vector toward the center of the universe.”

“Didn’t you say the Frats might be in the opposite direction if there was a big bang?”

“Firstly, the big bang is not very likely because it’s a singleton. Secondly, if the Frats are not at the center of the universe then we’ll travel to the edge and try to find them there. Thirdly, it doesn’t matter where we think they are because they will find us by our intention.”

“So why didn’t we just stay put in my cabin in the middle of a rather picturesque lake or your cave?”

“Because that would not have broadcast our intention. Besides, we are only going where we went in our future, at least until we reach the event horizon.”

“So everything is determined in advance?”

“That’s the only rational conclusion.”

“Well, I don’t think that.”

“That’s why you and Lonesome are onboard.”

“And that’s why you don’t know what I’m going to think before I think it. So how do you know what I’m going to do in the future?”

“Do you think you can come to the table without any help?” Galen asked Cadmus.

“I’ll try.” Cadmus got up from the reclining chair tentatively and tried to think himself over to the table near the kitchenette. He walked unsteadily at first until he got the hang of it. He pulled out the chair and sat down.

Galen brought over a kettle of tea and bowl of fruit, laying it on the table. He put out plates, cups, and a loaf of bread. He sat down and poured tea for Cadmus and himself. “Consciousness and thought are not the same as action and physical being,” he answered. “Consciousness and thought are totipotent. They contain all possible states. Anything non-physical can develop from them. They are only limited by the structures through which they pass, structures which they create for themselves. Action and physical being are only multipotent at most and monopotent at least. They are limited by the structures of physicality, what you might call reality, at least the part of it you are aware of.”

“Don’t I have to think of doing something before I do it?” Cadmus asked through a mouth full of bread.

“Most of what you do, you do without thinking about it,” Galen answered. “You do it automatically, predictably.”

“But sometimes I think and then I act on that thought.”

“That’s what I’m banking on.”

After they finished eating Galen took Cadmus and Lonesome on a tour around the ship.

They walked up one hallway and passed the sleeping quarters. There were two hammocks suspended between walls in opposite corners of the room. There were a shower room and a personal service room for evacuating waste products. Up the hall was a simulation room and, beside that, an audio-visual communications room.

“After I give you the tour I promised Remi I’d give her a call.”

“Can you only call her from here?”

“No, I can call her from anywhere in the ship but the visuals are better in this room.”

“What is the simulation room for?”

“For exploring possibilities.”

They walked past an exercise room, a library, a music room, a storage room, and finally they came back to the main control bridge.

“Is that it?” Cadmus asked.

“No, there’s more downstairs.”

They walked down another hall past a huge engine room, a telecomm room, and a situation room. A little further down the hall they passed a closed door.

“What’s that room?” Cadmus asked.

“The war room,” Galen answered without embellishment.

Finally, they came back to the control bridge.

Cadmus tried to stifle a yawn. “What time is it?” he asked. He hadn’t seen a clock since he passed through the portal into the ship. He remembered he hadn’t seen a clock in Remi’s and Galen’s cave either.

“Time for you to get some sleep,” Galen smiled. “Besides, where we are, your question doesn’t make much sense.”

Galen walked Cadmus back to their sleeping quarters.

Lonesome was lying in his usual heap underneath one of the hammocks fast asleep.

“Should I take off my suit and goggles before I go to sleep?”

“No, leave them on in case you have to get up to go to the personal service room. You can take the suit and goggles off before you shower. Put them in the recycle bin before you step into the shower and they’ll be refreshed by the time you’re out. The molecules maintain their programming throughout the recycling.”

“Good night Galen.”

“Yes, I suppose.”

Cadmus lay down carefully in the hammock and turned off the bright lights, leaving only the soft ambient lights in the base boards. Soon they were snoring a soft duet.

The ship accelerated two orders of magnitude faster than the speed of light, leaving behind the local cluster of galaxies, known as the Draconian super cluster, and the largest artificial structure in this part of the universe.

If anyone had been watching this pin-point speck of a ship from afar, he would have surmised that its intention was lonely but brave.

from Out of Time

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

 

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The Chocolate Shop

“What? You don’t like chocolate anymore?” He asked them.

“No, Saba,” Tommy was pulling away. “I still like chocolate. It’s just that I don’t want to go here.”

The older man looked inside at the tables and chairs, the shelves of light and dark chocolates, the cloudy displays of ice creams and sherbets, and the nice looking young girl holding the menus standing in the open door way smiling at them. It looked like nothing had ever happened here. It looked like a perfect place to take his two grandkids for a holiday weekend.

Daniel was busy double-thumbing something on his smartphone and didn’t seem to notice where he was at the moment.

“Why, Tommy?” he asked.

“Because,” Tommy said.

Daniel stopped double-thumbing and explained, “He doesn’t want to go inside because this is where those terrorists came in and shot and killed those four people.”

Tommy nodded his head somberly, agreeing with his brother for a change.

“Oh,” the older man said, “I see.”

They walked over to the low wall surrounding the open square where kids were skating and riding their bikes. They all sat down facing the square with their backs to the chocolate shop only ten meters away.

“If the world is such a good place, why are there such bad people?” Tommy asked his Saba, which means “grampa” in our language.

“I ask myself that all the time,” he replied. “If the world is such a bad place, why are there such good people as you kids and your parents?”

“That’s not what he asked, Saba!” Daniel interjected. He was the wiser of the two brothers. He was going to be bar mitzvahed next month. A long time ago, when we lived in tents in the desert, that was when a boy became a man. He still felt like a kid though. “He said ‘if the world is such a good place …'”

“I know what he said, Daniel,” the older man smiled. “I just wanted to show you both that reversing what he asked was also an interesting question.”

Tommy said, “What I meant was why do bad things happen? Why can’t we be protected from them?”

“Your parents, your brother and sisters, your grandparents, and everyone else who loves you want more than anything in the world to protect you from bad things,” Saba said, “more than they would want to protect themselves.”

“But what happens if you are not with us?” Daniel asked.

“That’s why we try to keep you close to us when we go somewhere.”

“What if the bad people are stronger than you?”

“Love gives good people strength they didn’t know they had.”

“What if they shoot you?”

“There will be good people around you who will try to protect you.”

“What if they run away with their kids or what if they’ve been shot too?”

Saba was quiet for a few moments. He didn’t really believe in God but he didn’t want to weaken their confidence. Neither did he want to lie to them.

Daniel asked, “Why do bad people do bad things anyway? Don’t they know they’re not good?”

Saba was thankful to be rescued from the previous line of questioning. “I don’t believe they think they’re doing anything wrong. Nobody does anything wrong intentionally. Everyone believes what he’s doing is the right thing to do.”

“How can anyone think killing an innocent person is the right thing to do?”

“Maybe we killed an innocent person whom they loved very much, like we love you, and they wanted revenge for what we did.”

“Why would we do that? We don’t go around killing children, women, or old people. Sorry, Saba.”

“Maybe we killed an innocent person by accident when we were trying to kill terrorists.”

“But who started it?”

“Nobody remembers. Everyone believes his enemies started it.”

“But who really started it?”

“I don’t know. It depends on who’s doing the counting.”

“Don’t they know we wouldn’t kill innocent people on purpose?”

“They don’t care what we say or think. They just care about what we do, like us. We don’t care what they say or think either, just what they do.”

“Why do they think revenge is the right thing to do?”

“They think that revenge is a kind of justice, when no other form of justice is available to them, just like many of us do, and everyone believes that justice is the right thing to do.”

“I wanted revenge when one of my classmates said I was too short to play basketball at recess,” Tommy admitted.

“What did you do?”

“Well, at first, I wanted to punch him in the stomach.”

“So what did you do?”

“I threw the ball into the basket. Everybody laughed at that and he said I could be on his team if I wanted.”

“If only people could think of other things to do to get even, besides killing, that would be good,” Daniel raised his finger wisely.

“Anybody up for an ice cream,” Saba asked, standing up and stretching his arms and back, “somewhere else?”

“Yes!” they both answered.

The older man offered each his hand and they walked away from the chocolate shop on the square. He said a silent prayer to no one in particular that today wouldn’t be the day and this would not be the place.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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