The Arty Semite

Welcoming the Apocalypse at the Jerusalem Philosophy Festival

By Alon Raab

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Courtesy Jerusalem Season of Culture

Two
 days
 before
 the
 world
 was
 to
 end,
 as
 calculated
 by
 engineer
 and
 prophet 
Harold
 Camping,
 seemed
 as
 good
 a
 time
 as
 any
 to
 find
 answers
 to

 eternal
 questions
 about
 human
 life
 and
 meaning. Thus
 I
 joined
 “What’s
 on
 your
 Mind?
” an “International Philosophy Festival” in Jerusalem that ran from May 18 to May 20 as part of this year’s Jerusalem Season of Culture. The
 city
 where
 more
 philosophers,
 prophets and
 messiahs
 roam
 than
 on
 any
 other place
 on
 earth,
 and
 in
 which
 the
 momentous
 events 
of 
the 
Apocalypse 
will 
unfold, 
was 
the 
obvious 
locale. 
The festival 
was 
held
 in
 a 
large 
tent 
erected 
at 
the 
beautiful 
cultural
 center 
Mishkenot
 Sha’ananim,
 a 
stone’s
 throw

 from
 the
 walls
 of
 the
 ancient
 city
 and
 facing
 Mount Zion.

The sessions included “Old Man, What Is His Life,” about modern medicine’s growing ability to extend life, with the participation of a gerontologist, a jurist and 80-year-old novelist Yoram Kaniuk; the impact of social networking on the concept of friendship, led by Web editors and a professor of management; the ways new discoveries in brain research impact the concept of free will and whether it exists, with talks by an Israeli clinical psychologist and by Princeton philosophy professor and author of the best selling study “On Bullshit,” Harry Frankfurt; “The Sexual Revolution — What Next?”; and “Man in the Role of God,” examining scientific innovations in the field of human reproduction. Well Known Israeli law professor Ruth Gavison, philosophy teacher David Heyd, and progressive Orthodox rabbi Yuval Cherlow debated such issues as “improving” the human race.

Discussions were accompanied by musical performances and hikes. These included “Touring the Mind,” led by philosopher and art curator Roy Brand, a leisurely stroll in the style of Socrates, discussing “progress,” in the lovely gardens overlooking David’s Tower, until suddenly emerging into the noise and commotion of a modern shopping center.

Another tour, with the knowledgeable and enthusiastic preservation architect Moshe Shapira, winded through Rechavia and Talabiya, the tree-lined neighborhoods of the Jewish and (until 1948) Palestinian intellectual elites, respectively, as we paid homage at the homes of well known scholars and writers. These included Gershom Scholem, founder of the modern critical study of Jewish mysticism, and Martin Buber, thinker, collector of Hasidic tales, translator of the Bible into German, and co-founder, in 1925, of Brit Shalom, a Jewish-Palestinian peace group. Musical soirees were conducted with popular musicians, singing and speaking about such topics as predicting the future.

As these words are written, shortly after the prophesized doom and gloom, the world, fortunately, is still in existence. The big and small questions asked at the Jerusalem Philosophy Festival remain, relevant during the next apocalyptic cycle as well.


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