Things That Make Us Happy

Ten Israeli figures share their moments of joy.

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For Sayed Kashua, happiness is a finished column

Four-year-old Eli (left) and Shoko Shtreker. Credit: Yanai Yehiel

The paper's request to write a column about happiness left me deeply saddened. For a week, I have been contemplating nonstop the meaning of happiness and haven't yet been able to find an opening sentence.

"You?" my wife asked in surprise when I told her about the column. "What in the world do you know about happiness?" she asked with a smile that spilled over into the laughter of schadenfreude. Fine, I thought to myself, trying to concentrate, I wasn't asked to write about happiness as a way of life or about bliss in its conceptual sense. Just happiness of the specific, momentary kind, such as can flood your being after ordinary physical activity, like a good meal - and some will say that sex also affords them a type of enjoyment. But will I be sincere if I refer only to the pleasures of the instincts? Anyway, I'm not sure how many pleasures of this kind transcend the mere satisfaction of basic needs and also afford me happiness.

Well, what truly makes me happy? And when exactly was it that I officially received the title of party pooper? Or was I always like that? Could it be that because of the fears that were engraved on my soul I lost the ability to experience happiness without simultaneously dulling the senses? And even then, in those moments of high when I completely lose my ability to judge, am I really happy? And how come it almost always ends in tears?

When exactly did it happen that the mechanism which immediately associates happiness with a severe moral failing began to operate within me? And why is happiness considered a type of flaw that we must be wary of, avoid and suppress by force? The thing is that happiness is intended only for chumps who aren't aware of life's dangers, for those unfortunate complacent types who aren't able to grasp that a cosmic system of balances is at work, according to which happiness necessarily leads to disaster.

Always to be prepared for the worst - I'm afraid that's what I was educated to think. And I'm afraid that's how I'm continuing, despite my efforts, to educate my children. Always to fear what's coming, to remember, like in the childhood tales I imbibed from grandma, that the future is never sure and that numberless dangers lurk on the doorstep. The fool - the happy fellow who owns land, cows and camels and a fig tree that cools the heat on the broiling days of summer - can easily fall into a black funk when he loses it all. By the same token - this is what I learned - a person can at any given moment find himself in an unexpected war, lose his home and livelihood and become a refugee for life. Be prepared, be aware of life's cruelties, so that your grief, when it comes, will be less than that of others. Remember, at any given moment one can be expelled from paradise, even if paradise, in this case, is hell. Remember, too, there are a number of circles in hell: your situation can always be worse.

Oh, the children, now that I think of it, how unfortunate they are, mine in particular and others' in general. Why is it that images of children always cause a pang in the heart, how is it that they are the very opposite of happiness? And I'm not talking about children who live in poverty, who subsist in refugee camps or in remote tribes, not about hungry, crying orphan children; I am talking about well-dressed children who frolic and chortle with all their heart as if there were no tomorrow.

Tomorrow, that tomorrow is absolutely the major problem. Not that yesterday was good, but tomorrow, Allah yustur from tomorrow. Allah, too, or whatever name you choose for him, is also a major problem, the party pooper on high. No, I do not really believe in the inner tranquility that resides in the hearts of believers. Indeed, the fusion between tomorrow and God is lethal. If you dare to be happy today beyond the limits I have dictated to you, woe shall be unto you tomorrow.

What a downer this article is. God help us, this can't be what they meant when they declared a magazine of happiness for the holidays. The truth is that before I started to scribble my thoughts about happiness here, I wasn't aware of the scale of my distress. Now I understand what my wife means when she says I have succeeded in uprooting the last remnants of the joie de vivre she possessed before she met me. "I just want to be rational," I always replied to her allegations against me. Yet now that I think about it, there is nothing rational about my behavior. I have to mend my ways and become a happier person. At least so I will have a good reason to tell my children convincingly when they ask, that life is indeed worth living.

What will I tell them? What is happiness? Maybe it's love? Yes, for sure, love. The ability to love, always. The ability to fall in love, even if it's only for an instant and even if it's not always moral. No, that's not right, love always has to be moral. That is what I will do, I will teach my children not to erect moral hurdles in the path of possible loves. Never to lose the ability to experience another pleasant heartbreak. Yes, without doubt, life is worth living, if only because of those moments I too occasionally experience. Those moments in which I catch myself smiling without any logical reason. Listening to good music and heading west into the sunset.

"Well," my wife asked as she opened the door of the study, snapping the imaginary moments of serenity, "how is your happiness coming along?"

"I'll be done in a minute," I replied. "You can't imagine how happy I am that I finished writing this. Only I don't have a good ending."

"It's a holiday issue, isn't it?"

"Yes."

"So at the end write, happy holiday."

Sayed Kashua is a writer and a columnist for Haaretz Magazine.

Dorit Hakim is thrilled to return to those she loves

I returned to Ithaca. Every year as summer approaches, I am filled with yearning for Thasos, an elderly Greek sailor, and his son Artemis, our hosts at a house by Ithaca's sea. I feel the longing for this homecoming at night as I tuck my sons in, flapping their blanket high in the air and then floating it over them like a sail, imagining to their delight that we are on the Allegro, Thasos' faithful boat, which has spent 40 years on the sea and is still as beautiful as a queen pursued by suitors.

Like every homecoming, this one too mixes joy and sorrow, as well as amazement at the depth of the connection we can have to places that become our home even for a brief moment. Odysseus spent 10 years at war and another 10 on the road, and all that time he was always on his way home to Ithaca, to his wife and the son he did not know.

I, too, never knew my mother. She died a just few hours after I was born, and ever since I have been on my way to her. On my way to a hidden place that feels so familiar. That longing to return to her, to her body, which was my home for the nine months during which I turned from nothing into a person, tugs more strongly at my sleeve now that at the end of the summer we are departing. This year we will not return from Ithaca to Israel, but will instead continue on to Silicon Valley, which is to be our home for the next two years.

It will be my first time leaving Tel Aviv, the place where I found a home and the freedom to be. For 20 years I lived here, and it rewarded me with a sense of belonging. And now I don't know if, when I return, it will still be what it was for me, whether I will still be who I was for it, or if I will be recognized when I return.

At this moment, as another cicada-filled Greek evening falls on the dining table, I look around and see my family, and I am happy. Happy to have traveled, to have found, to love and be loved. Aware that home is here, because home is the people I love and always carry within me.

Perhaps the return is not the main thing; perhaps, as a wise man from Alexandria wrote, the main thing is to be on the road to Ithaca: "And if you find her threadbare, Ithaca has not deceived you. Wise as you have become, with so much experience, you must already have understood what Ithacas mean."

- Constantine Cavafy

Dorit Hakim is a filmmaker and a writer.

Dorit Peleg finds happiness in the independent lives of trees

Trees make me happy. I'm happy to lift my head from my desk, from its papers, from the computer screen, and have my gaze encounter foliage. I see the totally independent lives led alongside us, in our environs, by those living entities we call trees. These are creatures on which our ancestors, not by chance, bestowed souls, calling the tree nymphs Dryads. There are days, like today, when it seems that not a single leaf moves at the end of a branch. But in contrast to their hosts' stillness, summer flies, short-sighted creatures, buzz about the foliage, together with their winged friends. You can even sometimes see butterflies in spring or summer, defying concrete barriers in their delicate existence.

After twilight, only fruit bats, deaf, dizzy and quiet, hover around the Persian lilac, hidden from view; but when morning comes, the tree's presence, still blocked from view behind the drawn curtain, declares itself via a wide array of voices, all singing the same song: 'life is here.' Today the bulbul cries loudly, as does the sparrow, along with a couple of sunbirds, a splendid pair (one painted in vibrant green-blue, the other a modest gray ) scrambling among the branches next to the porch, wondering: Inside? Outside? For the tree lives not only its own life; its branches embrace all kinds of smaller, faster, fluttering life forms.

In their shared existence with the tree, they find a deep form of consolation. In our own hive of activity, whose urgent purposes often remain unexamined, the feeling that there is other life being lived placidly, and murmuring by the window, can be a comfort, allowing us to understand that this continuing lifeline remains humble, stable and unperturbed by our tumultuous being. I bless the yard, from the depths of my heart, and seek to join it. Impervious to our cloak of chaos, it persistently responds to the feverish changes we impose; it continues to live, almost cut off, neglected, yet in its constancy it preserves its - and our - essence. Not coincidentally, Honi the Circle-drawer rested beneath the branches of the carob tree, it being the only anchor in a world of change.

The tree's joy is complex; its deepest essence derives from the cool ability to view the changing of the seasons, and the great drama of annual cycles, with equanimity, calmly facing this routine of death and rebirth. Here, yet again, the tree presents us its shoulder, humbly as always, without demanding a word of thanks. Were it not to do so, we would doubt our own ability for renewal; it is crucial to see, on occasion, that the tree is still there, that it has not disappeared: to see the tree outside the window living its life on the basis of its own, more heart-filled, delicate understanding. Whoever lives with this comprehension need not chase after anything, does not even need to grope toward the northeast part of the yard, near where the trash cans stand.

Dorit Peleg is a writer.

Yuval Sherlo is pleased when people realize their hidden potential

Nothing makes me happier than to see something repaired in the world, be it parents who speak correctly and thoughtfully with their children; a parking space for the disabled that is not taken in heedless vulgarity by others; a convincing, well- argued ruling of Jewish law that conforms to the criteria of reasonable explanation, loyalty to tradition and human sensitivity; a cultural work presented with love, refinement and modesty, which does not corrupt the beholder with vulgar commercialism; moral comportment not tainted by egoism, which self-consciously asks itself whether it has chosen the right course; people smiling when faced with the hardships of life; a car slowing down so that another one can enter the road; a speech that conveys meaning and real assertions. All of these are sources of happiness because something good occurs in the surroundings where I live. I love watching the raw grow more refined, the fog clearing, the darkness brightening and the pain subside. Does man fulfill, in a repaired world, more than the image of G-d? I'm excited about that possibility. All such mending touches and truly moves me. Suddenly all the special strengths within us find expression; we are limbs of creation, but also our own sovereign selves who have the power to be part of creation. G-d is the source of aspiration for the good, and is the high force hovering in the world, attracting to it all petitions for mending, like a magnet. Chaos gives way to the created and the orderly; beastliness becomes refined as humanity; responsibility takes the place of impulsive wastefulness; and everything becomes more harmonious, pleasing and content.

This might sound heavy, but the fact is that the deepest experience of life is the joy of mending.

Rabbi Yuval Sherlo is a member of the Tzohar association of rabbis in Israel.

Nothing gives Dror Nobleman greater pleasure than other people's misery

I tried to think of the one thing that gives me the most happiness. Is it a good film? A new romance? A baby's laughter? I came to the conclusion that what most pleases me is the suffering of other people. Not suffering of an inhuman sort - I'm not delighted when someone is terminally ill, or dies; but a certain degree of wretchedness faced by someone else definitely makes me feel good. It doesn't have to be anyone famous or important, though it's better if they are well-known. I remember being taken as a 7-year-old to the Western Wall, and I put a note in it asking God not to grant anyone's wish, ever. That really felt great; for clearly God was in any event drowning in work.

Today, any negative news headline brings me to orgasmic moans. Thrilled, I exclaim: that's it! The state is finished! We brought all this upon ourselves! The last one to leave the country should turn off the lights! These feelings can be a bit strange, because often the headlines relate to someone stealing a water tank in Or Akiva, but am I to blame for getting excited by the news? When it comes to my friends, I certainly do not want them to suffer; I simply don't want them to be more successful than me. A friend is going out with a model? That's awful! A friend got a part in a Hollywood movie? Insufferable! Friends are getting married? Disgusting! A friend strikes it rich with a start-up? A lethal curse upon him! But if a friend is fired, gets sick, suffers from depression, I am suddenly filled with positive energy. Perhaps that's because I'm so good at consolation; my friends know I will always lend a comforting hand; their failures help me to help them. That, I think, is true friendship. Dror Nobleman is a scriptwriter and satirist.

Klil Zisapel on the joy of first discovering the sea and snow

A group of women, fully clothed and holding hands in a chain, enters the water. At first with hesitant steps, but then running into the waves and back, and back again into the waves. Now no longer hesitating, they smack the water, splash one another, flaunt themselves, laugh wholeheartedly, swallow water and gag and laugh some more. The words are swallowed in gales of laughter or in the waters of the sea. Screams of pleasure, jubilation and cries of surprise - that is how they express themselves - women we brought, against the law, from the West Bank to Jaffa. This is a language that every ear knows, that every mouth speaks. That's why my Israeli girlfriends and I, who don't speak Arabic, can also take part: Now, after we have tricked the last roadblock, the language block has fallen, too. R., the bravest of them all, dives into the waves and splashes her friends by kicking the water vigorously. I offer to carry her. The others also pick one another up. The feeling of weightlessness in the water fills us all with childish delight. The laughter is infectious, the delight contagious. With these women I see and feel the sea as though for the first time: stretching to the horizon, comforting to the view, its embrace upending, stormy and salty, its fingers pinching and tickling. We go back to frolic in the surprises the waves afford us: again and again, more and more - like little girls.

I was already 14 the first time I saw snow. I was putting on a respectable front; a hyper-respectable front, the way adolescent girls do when they start to acquire self-awareness. Still, I could not help myself and implored my parents, the tour guide and the bus driver to stop - immediately! It was to no avail that they promised me I would see snow for the next two weeks "until it comes out of your ears," and that there would be plenty of nicer and more convenient places. Those moments are engraved in my memory: I ran and scampered and jostled with my younger brother on a small patch of snow at the intersection of the grid of expressways that surrounds the airport. We were happy.

The font of happiness that wells from the body, the rapture and the wonder at the world's being, the joy of the first discovery that sends boldness and the passion of curiosity coursing through the body belong largely to the realms of childhood. Afterward, most of us no longer have access to them. On a Friday at the end of July, when I was infected by the happiness of women who themselves are hardly girls any longer, that grace of the first discovery was again bestowed on me. We were as dreamers.

Klil Zisapel is a writer

Geula Even is glad to be a citizen of the State of Israel we don't know

In an advertisement for a certain credit card, a satisfied customer wonders, "What did we do to deserve all this goodness?" Immediately thereafter, she says rapturously, "They spoil us, they're always spoiling us." I couldn't put it better when trying to describe the things that make me happy in Israeli society.

In an egalitarian society such as our own, the lack of racism consoles me. It is truly comforting to see Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews fighting to study together, especially in the Haredi town Immanuel. And who says Arabs face discrimination? Here is a pleasing statistic: Out of 150,000 workers in Israel's high-tech industry, a whopping 460 are Arabs. Equal opportunity at its best. Are we to blame that they prefer "Arab jobs" in cleaning, construction and agriculture? Of course not! Even the Shin Bet upholds the principle of equality between Arabs and Jews: the security service prevented both Amir Makhoul and Chaim Pearlman from meeting with their attorneys.

I feel fortunate to live in a state where security and political policy is undertaken with meticulous forethought, as was clearly seen in the elegant blockage of the Turkish flotilla, a naval action entirely bereft of international repercussions. In fact, the act was carried out so well that one could have mistaken the Mavi Marmara for a Mediterranean pleasure cruise.

I am delighted to live in a state in which no "technical hitches" prevent the prime minister from informing the foreign minister that the minister of industry, trade and labor is the acting foreign minister, since the defense minister, who usually also acts as the foreign minister, opposes the meeting between the industry, trade and labor minister and Turkey's foreign minister. Complicated? Yes, but complication breeds bliss.

I have the honor of being a citizen of a country where the parliament is an exemplary model of verbal culture, as exemplified by MK Yulia Shamalov Berkovich when she so kindly called MK Hanin Zouabi "MK Zubi [penis ]." I was certain that this appellation derived from her concern for Zouabi's teeth, since "zubi," in the Russian language that comes naturally to Shamalov, means teeth. What could be more empathetic than that?

I told you: they spoil us, they spoil us all the time. And if all this is not enough, here is one last gratifying point. More than anything, I am proud of my state for making clear that it will never allow an IDF soldier to remain in captivity, and will bring him home before four years have passed. Our soldiers come home! After all, we are a happy, united family, and soldiers are "our boys." Happy New Year.

Geula Even is a news presenter.

Ada Yonath is excited by science, but would like Gilad Shalit to come home

The ribosome proudly entered people's consciousness during the past year. Though most citizens live detached from science, many learned that the lives of scientists are not necessarily boring. I heard reports that many who are preoccupied with fighting corruption, gossip, envy and blame-throwing became entranced by the wonders of nature, and discussions about the way antibiotics work, and their medical impact.

I rejoiced with my family, friends, and scientists in Israel and worldwide on receiving the Nobel Prize. "Chemistry," in all senses of the word, can be found all around me. Students are full of questions, young men and women consider careers in science, and even our government announced its desire to step up support for science and has desisted from threatening to make cuts. Plans for regional collaboration in science are met with moderate interest, rather than mockery.

I am stunned by the continuing exposure and the incessant support. Who would have thought that the public at large would show affection for a miniscule particle? Who would have thought that phrases such as "a head full of ribosome" would have inspired caricaturists and Purim costume-makers? We proved that we have in our hands the power to do wonders with science. A new year is just around the corner. Can we hope that this year a transformation will, at last, occur in our lives? We already know how the ribosome creates protein according to orders relayed by a genetic code. We can expect that we will learn the code needed to guide our future, and carry out steps that will free us from dead ends in which we are currently stalled. And, of course, we hope that Gilad Shalit will return home.

Prof. Ada Yonath is a Nobel Prize laureate in chemistry.

Sailing on the sea keeps Uri Avnery happy

I am happiest when I'm sailing at sea. When I was 10 years old, I made the sea voyage from from Marseille to Jaffa. Early on the final morning, I stood on the bow, my eyes glued to the horizon. When at last a thin brown line appeared, I was filled with indescribable joy. To the present day, when I'm on a plane and the thin strip of Israel's coastline appears, something of that thrill returns to me. On that ship, in November 1933, the sea was stormy, and most of the passengers, new immigrants from Germany, straggled onto the deck and vomited convulsively. But I went to the ship's dining room and ate a few dozen helpings of chicken, to the waiters' delight.

I am lucky: I don't get seasick. Once I traveled on a Japanese peace ship from Morocco to England. A raging storm hit the ship when it reached the English Channel. Sitting next to a porthole, I watched waves high as a house approaching the ship, and felt nothing but joy in my heart. I traveled several times on that Japanese ship. It takes Japanese peace activists on journeys around the world, and stops at various harbors to pick up local activists who lecture on conflicts and peace campaigns in their own countries. What could be more delightful than to enjoy the deep blue sea on a journey from one coast to another, breathe the salty air and at the same time serve a noble cause?

In my youth, when I belonged to the Irgun Tzvai Leumi (Etzel ), I was sent to the Zevulun naval youth movement to establish an underground cell. We wore white sailors' clothes and sailed on the sea every Shabbat, and it was a lot of fun. But when I grew older I didn't have time for sailing, which is really the only civilized way of journeying from country to country. For many years I had to be content with riding a hassakeh (a flat paddling boat ) at Tel Aviv's Gordon Beach.

I also enjoy boating on rivers. When I find myself in Germany, I try to take the time to journey down the Rhine; the cruise passes medieval fortresses located atop wooded hills on both sides of the river; picturesque towns line the banks (many people in Israel are named after them, reminding one of the Jewish communities that once dwelled there ). My family lived in one of them for generations, but I don't know which one it was.

My most memorable sea journey occurred on a voyage to Venice. Before reaching the city, we entered heavy fog and it was impossible to see anything. Foghorns sounded all around us from unseen boats. Suddenly the fog cleared, and we were in the middle of Venice, one hundred meters from Piazza San Marco. The thrill I felt is beyond words.

So if I'm invited to board a Gaza flotilla, it will be a very tempting offer.

Uri Avnery is a journalist and peace activist.

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