What Freedom Means to You


What Freedom Means to You

Last Friday night, our family, like millions of other Jews around the world, celebrated Passover. This holiday commemorates the liberation of Israelites from slavery and their Exodus from Egypt almost 3,000 years ago.

Two thousand years ago, among other Jews, Jesus and his twelve disciples celebrated the Seder (the Passover meal), in Jerusalem, as depicted in Leonardo da Vinci’s mural painting, The Last Supper.

At our table, there were only eight people, which included both of our daughters with their significant others and our dear friends, Alla and Boris.  During the delicious meal, prepared by my wife Elfa (she made a gefilte fish from scratch and her matzo ball soup is beyond this world) and Alla who made her famous salad and delicious chicken, I retold the story of Hebrew slaves’ Exodus from the Egyptian bondage. The Torah’s Book of Exodus describes events which happened in the 13th century BCE.  After 215 years in Egypt, Moses followed God’s commandment and took about 3 million of the former Jewish slaves to their freedom, by migrating into the desert, after crossing the Red Sea; a scene that has been depicted in many Hollywood films. Once they arrived there, after receiving the Ten Commandments, the Jewish people journeyed for forty years, during which the generation of those who still remembered their life in Egypt, and retained their slave mentality, died. Only the new generation was able to cross over the Jordan River to end up at their final destination – “a Land flowing with milk and honey”, known today as Israel.

Before we enjoyed the delicious flourless chocolate cake prepared by our daughter Tamar, I asked everyone to reflect on what freedom means to each of them.

For our son-in-law David, freedom is having access to the opportunity to pursue one’s dreams. In his specific case, it is time and energy (and access to money to live) so he can write focus on his writing.. For Tamar, it was being free from the emotional and physical pain in her body. For our older daughter Alona, it was freedom to be the best of what she can be.  Her boyfriend Jeff pointed out that as his full name Jeffrey indicates he felt free all of his life to do whatever he could and wanted to do.  Elfa reflected on how after leaving Riga, Latvia, which used to be part of the former Soviet Union, she discovered that she can think freely, without being afraid that the government can “hear” her thoughts.  Our friend Alla, who also came from the Soviet Union, talked about being free to travel anywhere in the world.  For her husband Boris, freedom was to do what he wants without dependents. My view was that we are free to choose with whom we would like to share our lives together. Which also means that we are deliberately limiting our freedom by associating with other people and even pets. When we adopted Max our lives and our freedom was depending on making sure that he has a good life and thus we have chosen the freedom of having joy in our lives together with our best friend.

P.S. Some of my readers wrote that they wish to see more images of Max.  I freely share four of them with you.  Max – the gardener, the hugger, the shredder, the employee (he comes to our office once a week).

You can see more of my photography on www.mannykagan.smugmug.com

“42 Encounters with Dog Lovers” is available on Amazon.com.

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Why Flowers Bloom


Why Flowers Bloom

Every morning when we go for a walk with Max in our neighborhood, we encounter all of the changes in nature, which, unlike the East Coast’s climate, is not so noticeable. But spring is different, because of the colors of all of the blooming flowers. Photographing them and then processing the images on my computer, gave me the opportunity to see flowers up close in their various shapes and colors. We see flowers all the time, and perhaps some of us take them for granted. Turns out that scientists have difficulty answering the question: How do flowersbloom? All the same, the question I actually have is — “Why do flowers bloom and why are they so colorful?” Years ago when our family traveled to the New-York state area in the Fall and saw the changing colors of the leaves, I asked myself why there is so much beauty in nature? Are humans the only ones who could see and appreciate it? Do wild animals benefit from this colorful gamut?

The idea which I shared with my family was that it was part of God’s plan to give people something to enjoy and to look forward to returning every year, and that we do not have to do anything to have this experience, other than just to notice and to appreciate.  My family did not buy the idea that God interferes in our appreciation of nature; thus, my question remained unanswered. The same question continues regarding flowers – why are they so attractive? Only for the bees and other insects to see where they collect pollen?  Regardless of the answer to that question, flowers keep blooming, and not only in our neighborhood. When we travelled to Israel last fall, a friend suggested coming back in early spring and travelling to the Sinai to experience the blooming desert. We do not have to travel so far. We have our own desert – Death Valley. Though it is located in over 500 miles from San Francisco, and it can take 8 hours to get there. Fortunately there is another alternative – the blooming trees, and you can find them in many places (like in our backyard). But the place to really see those beautiful trees is in Golden Gate Park. There are quite a few of them around Stow Lake where we go for a walk with Max on the weekends. One morning while I was driving Max to his doggy sitter through the park, I encountered a woman photographing a blooming tree. And as it often happens, seeing her, the answer came to me. Most of the trees looked alike, however her red coat actually made the image.

Flowers bloom from spring to autumn, which is replaced by the colors of fall. Appreciating the beauty is part of our being. We need it as we need air to breathe and water to drink. As co-creators, we learn from nature and manifest it in the colors of our clothing and the flowers we use to decorate our lives. We plant blooming flowers and trees by emulating wild nature, because we are part of the nature and follow its circles and rhythms.

Part of the circle is prescribed by the Jewish “moadim lesimcha” or “celebration of joy”. This weekend there are number of them. Friday night is the first night of Passover” – the holiday of the liberation of the Jews from slavery.  It is also Good Friday, a Christian religious holiday commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, which led to the creation of Christianity.  It is followed by Easter, also called Pascha or Resurrection Sunday.  Regardless which holiday you are celebrating, most people decorate their homes with flowers, which my wife primarily buys at Costco.

P.S. The four images of the blooming trees are for your enjoyment.  I also added three groups of flowers on my website mannykagan.com. To see them – click on www.mannykagan.smugmug.com.

Happy Holidays!

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Are You Happy?


Are You Happy?

What is happiness and how can it be measured? According to the recently compiled World Happiness Report produced by the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network, for the second year in a row, the happiest country is Finland, a small Nordic country with a population of 5.5 million. The survey was based on factors including economic wealth, life expectancy, social support, freedom to make life choices and levels of government corruption. The United States dropped from 18th to 19th place. Venezuela came in last place, at 108th. I found a fascinating article in Wikipedia, regarding the philosophy of happiness. In his book Nicomachean Ethics, written in 350 BCE, Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle stated that, “happiness (as well as being well and doing well) is the only thing that humans desire for their own sake, alike riches, honor, health or friendship”.  The term Eudaimonia which was translated as “happiness”, is for Aristotle an activity rather than an emotion or a state of being. According to Aristotle, “the life of excellent rational activity is the happy life”.

In her book The How of Happiness, positive psychology researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky describes happiness as “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful and worthwhile.”

I do not know about you, but for me all of those words are just “words”. To support Aristotle’s statement that happiness is an activity, in 1604, Miguel de Servantes Saavedra, famously proclaimed in his book Don Quixote that, “The journey is better than the inn.”  In this context, the question one would ask oneself is, which activity makes me happy?  This can obviously vary from person to person. But then, since we would like to learn from others, let’s ask what the Scandinavians of Finland, Denmark and Norway, who were listed as first three countries in the Happiness Report, do that we in the United States do not.

For starters, those countries have a significantly smaller population. In addition, Scandinavians live under their own version of Socialism, something the U.S. Presidential candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders frequently references. You can read about “What is socialism like in Scandinavia” in a recent article written by Scotty Hendricks.

I feel happy when I see our dog Max in the morning with a ball in his mouth. I feel happy when we drive with Max and my wife Elfa to go for a walk in the park. I feel happy when I write a story for the “Encounters” series, and someone sends me an email liking it. I feel happy when I can help my clients with their mortgages. I feel happy when someone buys one of my books. There are too many things which make me happy to list. How about you?

P.S. My journey for happiness starts in the morning, when Max and I go for our ritual walks, during which I always carry my small camera. I encountered these four images of calla lilies in our neighborhood after the rain.

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How Much Water Do We Need?


How Much Water Do We Need?

On my recent visit to the San Francisco Public Library I picked up a free copy of a 2019 wall calendar.  It has twelve images of flowers photographed by various photographers. However, what piqued my interest was the theme of the calendar information related to the water in San Francisco.  Whether you enjoyed or didn’t enjoy the recent heavy rains, this is what we needed, because we are currently using about 64.7 million gallons per day, or about 83 gallons per person.  That sounds like a lot.  Where does all of this water go?  Health authorities generally recommend drinking eight 8 oz glasses of water a day, which comes out to about 2 liters, or half a gallon. There is an opinion that we need to sip on water constantly throughout the day, even when we are not thirsty.  There are other studies pointing out that there is no science behind the 8X8 Rule, therefore, people should drink water when you are thirsty, when not thirsty any more, stop.  And lastly, during hot weather and when exercising, it’s important to drink enough to compensate for lost fluids. Online I found a number of articles and videos on the subject.  But then there is another question – which water is good for our bodies?

What is remarkable – we do not need to spend money on the plastic bottles, which pollute our environment.  In San Francisco we are blessed to have great tasting water which mostly comes from the Hetch Hetchy Regional Water System. Unlike bottled water, the tap water costs less than half a penny per gallon.  Reading this information online got me thinking. We use a costly filter at home, which needs to be replaced every so often, and at work we use large plastic bottles.  Do we need all of those devices?  Turns out that the water that goes straight to our tap is tested over 100,000 times a year and is highly regulated by FDA.

Regardless how much we drink, it is still a small portion of the water we consume every day.  According to the article titled “How We Use Water and Why We Should Conserve More”, Marni Evans points out that according to the United States Environment Protection Agency, the average American family uses more than 300 gallons of water at home daily.  Wow! Why do we need so much?

Turns out that the total amount of water needed to produce one pound of beef is 1,799 gallons versus 108 gallons for corn. This information alone would turn me into a vegetarian (I have already been one for the last forty-three years).  I do not think that you will make this decision right away, but I hope it will make you think.  You can find more information about how much water is needed to produce food on different websites.  Meanwhile, visit your local library branch and pick up a copy of the calendar to read a lot of good advice regarding the use of our water.  While there, do not forget to check out an interesting book or an educational audio-program.  Through the years, I have listened many audio courses and books while driving.

P.S. I like to photograph water as an abstract image. You can see the result in these three images (you can see more images in my photo-gallery in our office).  But I also included a photo of Max cooling off in a water puddle at Stern Grove where he “worked hard” to chase his ball.  This is just as a reminder that you can learn more of how to take care of dogs while enjoying their whimsical images in “42 Encounters with Dog Lovers”, which you can order on Amazon.com.

P.P.S. While checking the archives of my “Encounters”, I encountered the story I wrote on March 11, 2016 with the same title “How Much Water Do We Need?” but with different content.  If you need some easy reading, check out my other stories.

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