Israel-Finding Meaning in Hard Times

If I hadn’t had my accident in Israel, I would have never met the Muslim man who directed me to a deeper understanding of Judaism.

I met him in Syracuse, New York and because of my injuries he knew I had gone to Israel. I sensed that he was a traveler, too, and asked where he was from. He replied, “Persia”. I knew he meant Iran and I quickly told him what I believed to put him at ease. I told him that I traveled to learn about all religions, that I believed in inclusion and in the fact that we all share a common destiny. I asked him about his faith and he told me he was Muslim.

It turns out that the my new acquaintance was also on a quest to understand and showed me that he had downloaded the audio version of The World’s Religions by Huston Smith. That evening I ordered a copy of this book and when it arrived I immediately read the chapter on Judaism.

Picture courtesy of Syracuse University

The Jewish people have endured a long history of exile, discrimination, persecution, and even extermination. But through it all, as Huston Smith points out, the underlying power of Jewish survival has been its people’s search for meaning. Meaning found in God, history, morality, justice and most of of all suffering.

After my visit to Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp in Poland, I read Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, who was a prisoner at that death camp. I thought of him while I have been recovering.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

He has became a widely quoted existential author stating that life has no purpose and it is our responsibility to create purpose for ourselves. Every moment and experience, good or bad, helps us define that meaning.

He offered us a formula-

In my travels in Israel, I found cultural power. I found a country of problem solvers strengthen by a tradition of never giving up. I found myself inspired by this. I chose to find meaning in my mishap. The whole experience has given me a deeper understanding of the Jewish spirit and since I have been home has given me the opportunity and time to reflect even further. But the greatest gift has been a renewed confidence that allows me to declare, “Bring it on world! I’m going to be okay.”

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear almost any ‘how’.” Viktor Frankl

Copyright 2019@ The Autonomous Traveler All rights reserved.

Israel-The Iron Dome

Image result for the iron dome defense system
Picture courtesy of wisemoneyisrael.com

The Iron Dome is a mobile missile launching system using a specific algorithm that can calculate if an enemy missile is about to strike a populated area. With 90% accuracy, the launcher sends out its own missiles to explode the enemy missiles in the air.

Israel is a country surrounded people of many faiths and political leanings. Many of my readers are anxious to learn about what is going on in Israel. I will do my best to present the facts in an unbiased way.

The Iron Dome System, created in Israel, took 3 years to perfect at a cost of 20 million dollars.

Picture courtesy of The Jewish Policy Center

The launchers are compact and can be moved around by truck so at any time their location is hard to detect. Each unit has 12 missiles.

Since I’ve been home The Iron Dome has been used to destroy incoming missiles from the Gaza strip.

Copyright 2019@theautonomoustraveler.com All rights reserved.

Israel- Start Up Nation

My tour took me to The Israeli Stock Exchange in Tel Aviv and The Center for Israeli Innovation.

Image result for israeli stock exchange

Sorry but I need to use an idiom (all my books on writing frown on this) Here it goes, I was blown away by what I saw and learned there. Tel Aviv is called the Silicon Wadi (wadi is the Arabic word for valley). With a population of just 8 million people, Israel is home to 4000 tech start ups. That number ranks it fourth in world behind the US, Uk, and Canada in new company creation. Of the 5000 largest tech companies in the world, 400 have headquarters in Israel.

I took careful notes on this phenomenon during the center’s powerpoint presentation and have done research since I’ve been home.

Why is Israel such a innovative giant?

  • Talent 47% of people over 25 have a college degree. Hebrew College was founded in 1918 and has a collaboration program with many private companies.
  • Immigration and The Law of Return People from all over the world who are of Jewish descent or have converted to the Judaism are welcomed to be part of the country. Many of those people have degrees in science, technology and engineering.
  • Demographics Unlike Japan whose population is top heavy with elderly people, the bulk of Israel’s population is younger.
  • Venture Capital System In the 1980’s, 800,000 Russian Jewish immigrants flooded Israel. They had skills but couldn’t find jobs. What happened next was problem solving at its best. A system of providing financial capital  to early-stage, high-potential businesses was organized. This was so successful that in 1993 Yozma (Hebrew for “initiative”) was established as a system of “offering attractive tax incentives to foreign venture-capital investments in Israel and promising to double any investment with funds from the government”. And so Israel grew. Since 1980, has it has doubled its population and increased the number of job four times over..
  • High Standard of Living at Affordable Prices The Silicon Wadi in and around Tel Aviv offers a great place to work and live
  • Culture At age 18, all Jewish men must be part of the national military for 32 months,all Jewish woman at that age must serve for two years. In addition to protecting their country, Israeli youth learn how to work in groups toward common goals and to problem solve.They interact with other social classes and have the opportunity to network. Young soldiers with high academic scores work in the special operations division and many of them go on to be hired by tech corporations or able to start their own companies that produce innovative products.
  • Chutzpah defined as supreme self -confidence, nerve, or audacity. I see it as resilience, the bravery to take risks and the strength to go on in the face of failure. Because of my left turn I’ve been given time to research this concept and I’m finding that chutzpah is a strong force in the Jewish identity. It has been built by history and a desire to find meaning. It is the fire of Jewish life.
Image result for innovation Israel

Copyright 2019@theautonomoustraveler.com All rights reserved.

Israel-Remembering The Holocaust

I was raised in the rural part of Western New York State and never knew any Jewish people. But growing up in the 1950’s and1960’s, my teenage imagination and heart was pierced by the life and death of a Jewish girl named Anne Frank.

During my childhood, the impact of WWII was still very vivid. The Diary of A Young Girl was published in 1952 and the movie, “The Diary of Anne Frank” was released in 1959. History lessons about The Holocaust were of great interest to my fellow high school students and me. Hitler and the terrible things he did were the story we grew up with. It wasn’t a colorful saga like the superheroes fighting on the big screen today. It didn’t offer a happy ending as good guys beat up the bad guys. It didn’t allow us a sigh of relief because the conflict finally ended. The holocaust was real and it was horrible.

I read The Wall by John Hersey when I was nineteen. The author wrote about barriers put up around the Jewish Ghetto in Warsaw, Poland during the WWII. These walls kept the Jews of that city confined as they waited to be exterminated.

Because of my Polish roots, I have gone to Poland twice. I visited Schindler’s factory in Krakow and got to see remains of the wall in Warsaw that I had read about.

I visited visit Auschwitz, the Nazi extermination camp. The German words on the prison gates offered a cruel promise, “work sets you free.”

Image result for auschwitz gate

What a horrible place. The Nazi had figured out just how many Jews would generate enough body heat to activate the poisonous chemicals in the gas chambers. In some parts of the camp, I actually smelled the lingering scent of death. I kept it together until I came upon an exhibit filled with the suitcases. I thought of the millions of Jewish victims who carefully packed their belongings thinking they were going to be relocated but were killed instead.

During this 1990’s tour of Poland with my aunt, there was a Jewish man on our tour group named Jack who was a guidance counselor from the midwest. He was a kind person who made a point of asking where everyone was from and taking a genuine interest in who they were. I soon found out that Jack had been a “guest” at Auschwitz. His family was killed there but he was kept alive because he was small and agile and the Nazi used him to light the fuse inside a nearby coal mine. At the end of our tour, I asked Jack what was the most valuable lesson he had learned in his life. He told me it was to always stay positive and to enjoy and cherish every minute of each day. I will write more about the strength that comes Jewish culture in future posts.

I want to close with a warning. We can’t forget this terrible time in history, this extreme time of hate that manifested itself in horrific death and destruction. My memories of The Holocaust have never left me but they were beginning to fade as I, like all of us, have gotten caught up in the stress of our present day world. Society is off balance. We presently live in a high pitched frenzy of gossip and labeling, righteousness and absolutism, bullying and scapegoating, exclusion and discrimination. Anti -semitism and white supremacy are making an appearance again. We all need to stop and look at what we are becoming before it is too late.

Copyright 2019 @ theautonomoustraveler.com All rights reserved.

Tel Aviv, Israel

I’ve never been so excited about going on a trip as I was about going to Israel. Friends on Facebook were looking forward to my posts and pictures but many cautioned me to stay safe and be careful. One friend went as far as asking why I wanted to go to a place “so,so dangerous”.

The morning I was to fly out of Syracuse was a bit foggy and offered a kind of a mystical backdrop that seemed very appropriate for the journey I was beginning. Having checked my bags and gone through customs, I sat near my gate. And even though it was not dawn I gave my own Hindu salutation to the sun.

Having left my home and the North Country and no longer experiencing the stress about what and what not to pack, I was at peace. And with peace comes gratitude. Remembering the words of Rashid, my Islamic guide in India, I gave thanks to the God “who had created us all”. I knew I was very lucky to have this travel opportunity but I worried that my inclusive respect for all religions might get me in trouble with the other members of the tour. The trip was a secular overview of Israel but I knew there would be people of both Christian and Jewish faiths. Would they accept that even though I have a strong commitment to God, I choose to have no affiliation with any religion?

Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv was nothing I expected. It was a cosmopolitan center with a progressive personality. The city recognizes unmarried couples, including gays and lesbians, as family units and grants them discounts for municipal services. It is a place of modern structures along the beachfront of the Mediterranean Sea.

I asked my tour guide if it was safe for me to walk along the board walk after dark. He assured me it was.

As I explored this part of Israel on my first night, the word that kept repeating in my mind was “health”. The city was clean and well cared for. People ran and jogged, biked and skateboarded. There was music and smiles. Everyone was relaxed. It was very safe but beyond that its essence was harmony as people seemed to be living the beauty of the present moment.

I met my fellow tour members. I sensed their desire to learn rather than to judge. I felt very comfortable with all of them. They were nice people.

My first day in Israel was quite a happy experience. I was grateful.

Copyright 2019 @ The Autonomous Traveler All rights reserved.

Israel-The Left Turn

My trip, like my life, was subject to an unexpected twist. If you read my blog in the next few weeks, you will find out all the details of my surprise adventure in Israel.

My trip took an unexpected left turn like the gate at a fort built by The Crusades in the early 1200’s in Caesarea, Israel. Enemy soldiers felt triumphant getting across the moat and breaking down the gate only to find fighters raining down on them from above in the entrance hall. The only way forward was a left turn, a seemingly good alternative offering the sunny illusion of relief. But unfortunately additional troops waited at the turn to kill more of their numbers. There were some, however, who survived by fighting hard, moving fast, and not giving in to defeat.

My trip to Israel took a left turn. But I am a fast moving fighter, not given to defeat. I’m The Autonomous Traveler. I don’t know if my past has made me a skilled wanderer as I tend to get numb under stress and use humor as a way to cope. Or if travel has made me a rugged person by teaching me to be accepting of the unexpected and to see in every situation a lesson to be learned.

I did not have the trip I signed up for but in many ways I got much, much more. Layers and layers of experiences and encounters beyond a tourist’s vacation touched my heart and soul. I wanted to see the real Israel and, maybe, learn something about myself. I got what I wished for. I’m home now and the journey still continues as insights and teachers still make their appearances.

I will explain it all in my blog posts, piece by piece. Be patient, readers, I have much to tell.

Copyright 2019@ The Autonomous Traveler All rights reserved.

Israel Next-Why?

Back home, surrounded by my familiar things, I continue to learn, to wander in my mind back to India. The Hindus divide life into four stages. At age 70, I find myself in the last stage, Sannyasa, a time for renunciation. The Hindu see this as time to move away from material concerns and judgment. It can be a wonderful final chapter, a time to freely wander without expectations, an opportunity to look within and in doing so, find our true selves. It can be a time of exciting spiritual growth.

Joseph Campbell points out a different approach to life roles through his studies of the power of myths. He has written about the “hero’s journey”, the story of a person, usually a male protagonist, who overcomes a big obstacle to become victorious. And we all know the story archetype of the damsel in distress who needs to be rescued. I can’t identify with either. I’m surely not a hero having made so many mistakes in life that have hurt others. The hardest part of my new maturity is remembering, in hindsight, all the obnoxious and horrible things I’ve done. But thank goodness, I’m no longer a damsel in distress. I’m rescuing myself now, thank you very much.

I’m solidly in Sannysas or, to put it in Western terms, I’m on a quest, peacefully observing and listening. Noticing what is real, I look for the stuff beyond marketing, media, and shallow material glitz. Maybe, in a way this has been a lifelong journey, I’ve always lived the word ”why”. I love books and the secrets they hold. I remember, as a kid, pouring over my family’s maroon bound Funk and Wagnall Encyclopedia which we patiently acquired, volume by volume, as a weekly promotion at our local supermarket.

I’m leaving for Israel soon. Why? Because I know so little about what has and is happening there. Because I think it’s fascinating that three major religions share a small space within the walls of the ancient city of Jerusalem. Because I don’t want to judge. I want to continue to stay away from the sharp edges of life, labeling nothing right or wrong, good or bad. Why? Because there is a lot about my true self I still don’t know.

I will be sharing my insights about my trip on my blog. Please sign up to be a follower. That way you won’t miss anything and it will make me happy to know you’re always with me.

“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls.”
― Joseph Campbell

Copyright 2019 @theautonomoustraveler.com All right reserved.

Flesh and Blood, Bits and Pieces

I walk for hours. Sometimes my hip will end up hurting from the unevenness of the trek, one foot on the shore, the other in the water. I have learned to wear an old pair of sneakers tied tight so rocks don’t get in my shoes. My hair is now long enough to pull back out of my face when the breeze blows. I have become my favorite animal, the red tailed hawk, able to spot even the smallest bit of colored glass in large expanses of wet stones.

I grew up in a little town on Lake Ontario. My sisters and I used to gather beach glass after swimming. Our collection is long gone, seen as just a foolish child pastime. Our jar of precious gems has been thrown away.

At age eighteen, I left Western New York to start college but I have returned from time to walk the Ontario shore to reclaim the lovely smooth glass pieces weathered down by 20 to 30 years of wave action. My travels have taken me even deeper into uncharted territory, to a new exotic place called Barcelona, New York on Lake Erie. The beach glass is abundant there because, over the course of history, 2000 shipwrecks have found a resting place below its cold waters.

I have jars of glass but I love the search. Walking on the beach is a kind of meditation nicely interrupted by the excitement of seeing the sparkle of green, brown, or blue treasures among the pebbles. I have found rare red glass, four pieces to be exact. Red is the ultimate prize for all who roam the shore. Even having achieved this, I still go back and I think there are many beachcombers who would understand.

I decided to stay a week in Barcelona in early September. I considered my continuum of comfort and my budget. Should I tent? The campsite I usually stayed at sometimes had high winds that in the past have blown over my equipment. At the other end of the spectrum was the option of a hotel room but that would have been expensive. I compromised and chose to rent a little barebones cabin at a KOA campsite. It would be economical but sturdy enough to shelter me from any type of weather.

I drove across the state to the campsite on the NYS Thruway. I stopped once to get a cup of coffee and use the restrooms. I glanced at the large posters on the walls that gave historical information about the area. I knew some of the history of my state. I had gone to Seneca Falls to the Women’s Right Museum and sitting on Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s porch, I silently thanked her for all she did in 1847 to help females get the vote. I took art classes at The Chautauqua Institute established in 1874 as a church camp and later turned into an education center. I knew Frederick Douglass frequented this part of the state and that John Brown, the abolitionist, was buried in Lake Placid. The Underground Railroad had passage through New York and after Harriet Tubman helped so many slaves escape to freedom she settled in Auburn, NY. I had heard once about the strange Oneida Community founded in 1848 which offered a system of free love to all its members. In Lily Dale, the Spiritualist community that has been in existence since 1848, I listened with a bit of scepticism to the claims about contacting and communicating with deceased relatives.

I noticed the words “The Burned-Over District” on a poster directly in front of me as I drank my coffee. It explained that this was the label given Western and Central New York in the early 1800’s. What? I had never heard that phrase before. Was there a fire? Maybe a very big explosion that had scorched the area? A book was mentioned,The Burned-Out District, published in 1950 by a professor named Whitney R. Cross and before I got to my campsite I had bought it for my Kindle.

Every morning at my little cabin, I would start a fire, make my coffee and read for hours.

Social science was my major in college and still peaks my interest as I have come to realize nothing in life or history is one dimensional. My reading of Mr. Cross’s book confirmed this as I read through the clues that explained the dynamics of the antebellum era of my Western New York home. I soon learned that this area had been a hotbed of reform. All my life there were hints around me but, in school, history was only presented in dates and battles. I have come to realize that the true story is one of flesh and blood and actual things that happened, bumping and pushing around in one big motion that goes on and on and touches us today.

In the early 1800’s, our new nation was already looking for ways to expand. People in The East wanted more farmland and space. The Appalachian Mountains running from the south to The Adirondacks were a difficult wall to cross. But there was a way to get through, The Mohawk River. Using this natural waterway, the Erie Canal was started on July 4, 1817 and completed when it reached Buffalo on May 17,1821. Transportation was easier on this much shorter route to The Atlantic as compared with the route to the ocean down the Mississippi to New Orleans.

Because of the sudden rapid development and migration from the east, at this time at least thirty spiritual movements, cults, utopian communities or religions sprong up. The Shakers, Mormons, the Oneida Community and the Spiritualist are the best known. And there were many more divergent groups that are now gone and not as well know.

Joscelyn Godwin in his book, Upstate Cauldron, states “the whole phenomenon, with its concentration in time and space, is without parallel in social or religious history.” The forming of the Burned Over District itself that got its name from the emotional experiences of revival meetings lit the fire of new ways of thinking all over the countryside. Charles Finney was instrumental in this evangelist movement. I had no idea he moved and peach throughout my county and got his ministerial training from a mentor in Adams, New York.

As Mr. Godwin points out progressiveness of this area was due to”the mass emigration of New Englanders cut loose from their home churches, the mushrooming of towns along the Erie Canal and the opening to the West, with its sense of a new world dawning, and the growing disgust with institutional racial and gender injustice.” The passion of the revival meetings pushed many to action. The temperance movement gained strength and the crusade for women’s right to vote took off. The Liberty Party founded in 1839 in Warsaw, New York was dedicated to the freedom of slaves and had followers all over the state, including in my village in The North Country. Churches in almost every town worked for the abolitionist cause.

All these revelations about my home, the places that I thought knew but never really did, overwhelmed me. People in my state once banned together to help others. Why wasn’t I taught more about this? Has too much history passed for us to remember the good that was done? Has The turmoil of The Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and The Civil Rights Protests moved us away from the original goals of fairness and inclusion?

My little cabin faced a small creek and I spent some peaceful moments just thinking. I thought of the present, my existence in a world with so much conflict. I wondered if I would have been happy two hundred years ago in my little town in Burned-Out District. At least there wouldn’t be any internet. But would it matter? We are all on this continuum called history and each one of us must find our place in all the pushing and pulling. The people of Western New York did the best they could. Can we do better? Maybe our salvation as a society will come when we stop slipping so close to the edges and realize that over two hundred years later we are, still, all in this together.

Copyright 2019 @ The Autonomous Traveler All rights reserved.

How to Be an Explorer of the World

“It worries me greatly that today’s children can recognize 100 corporate logos and fewer than ten plants.” -Robin Wall Kimmerer

I found this great book in a thrift shop. I loved the title and was intrigued by its unconventional format. The author, Keri Smith, calls herself a “guerilla” author, priding herself on creative ways to present books and deliver her message.

Someone on Amazon wrote a review saying they hated this book, declaring that it looked like a five year old wrote it. However, most reviewers loved it and so did I . With no rules or expectations she invites readers to go out and experience the raw world, reality without a screen or someone else’s interpretation.

I’m a retired teacher and a grandmother. It was very natural for me to bring this book when I visited my class of three grandchildren. We went through some of it but it was not the book’s purpose to be merely looked at. It was a springboard for action.

The second day of my visit was coincidently a day for my grandson, a five year old , and I to spend some time alone together. With a plastic bag, a camera and no expectations we set out for a walk in the neighborhood around Syracuse University to see what we could see.

Street Artifacts

The book encouraged us to look for faces. We found one.

We stopped to see the progress on the house we liked that had a part of its wall made of glass bricks. The people who lived there were always making improvements and we enjoyed noting the changes.

I did a little teaching, pointing out the ionic style columns on this house

We found a lot of great art.

And some interesting things that could inspire art.

Connor found a simile. “The white garbage bags look like little snowmen.”

We solved a mystery as we tried to guess what we were seeing across the street (first picture) and discovered what it was with a closer look (second picture).

We saw a lot of examples of people trying to communicate with printed words.

A construction crew caught our attention.

We found a prompt for a story. What happened here?

At the beginning of our walk, I told Connor about my goal to someday make it up these steps without stopping.

On the way back to Connor’s house, I said I would try doing thirty steps. Five year old Connor bounded up this hill encouraging me to keep going. I made it to the top, stopping three times for about 30 seconds to catch my breath but I made it. Connor inspired this teacher grandmother to achieve something she didn’t think she could do. For me, it was the greatest lesson I had learned in a long time.

I encourage my teacher, parent, and grandparent friends to look into other books by Keri Smith, The Imaginary World of (your name here), This is Not a Book, F nish Th s B k, Pocket Scavenger, Wreck This Journal, The Line, and Guerilla Art Kit.

I soon learned that what Connor and I did during our day together was just not kids’ stuff. Wandering around (exploring?) in a bookstore recently I found an article in the August 16-23 2019 issue of “Newsweek” called “The Pathway to Innovation”. In the article, Rob Walker states “noticing things that everyone takes for granted-and that could be improved, amplified, repurposed or replaced-is often the first step to innovation.” He uses the example of the creation of Velcro that came about when the inventor was on a walk and found the hooks of burdocks attaching to the loops in the fabric of his socks. Mr. Walker has written a book for adults, The Art of Noticing. Like Ms. Smith’s book it suggests many activities that will get adults away from the screen and out into the real world.

Copyright 2019 @The Autonomous Traveler All rights reserved.

Wearing a Fuzzy Pink Bath Mat to the Prom

My last post, “Everybody Must Get Stoned” was a bit dark and discouraging. I guess my intention was to sound the alarm about where we are headed as human beings if we don’t get our act together. I’m really an optimist and I owe my resilience to my mom who repeated the same mantra over and over,”don’t worry, we will figure something out”.

My family was poor and we faced a lot obstacles that I won’t go into now. My parents didn’t go beyond an eighth grade education and, like all of us, they made some bad choices in their lives. But they did manage to give their children some important skills

Because of her promise that we would figure things out, my mom gave me a sense of power. When things broke or didn’t meet the required expectations, confident problem solving was always invoked and we persevered until things were back on track again.

In the peace of my camping trip a few weeks ago, I found the time to think about a lot of things including my childhood, my mom, and who she helped me to become. Because of her, I don’t give up, have chosen a life of action, and I’m a happy person. And I’m proud to say that I haven’t given in to any addictions (well, maybe, a small Pecan Turtle Blizzard at Dairy Queen from time to time.) The hard times in my life, have always been motivators for me, opportunities to figure things out and move on to the the next or an alternative step.

Before doing this blog, my approach to writing used be all screwed up. I would start something and then label it “dumb” and give up. It took a long time for me to finally hear my mom whispering, “don’t worry, just revise. You’ll figure it out”.

There is a funny story about the lengths my mom and I went to solve a particular problem. I was going to a formal dance and I needed the appropriate clothes that we just couldn’t afford. My aunt let us borrow a long white brocade dress and my mom added a lovely pink satin ribbon to the waist, letting it cascade down in the back. I needed a shawl and after some creative brainstorming we decided to buy a pink faux fur bath mat and line it with satin fabric. We devised a clasp hidden under more pink ribbon that matched my dress.

Well, I went to the formal event and people said my shawl looked like a bath mat. I guess what was important was that they didn’t figure out that it actually was a bath mat.

I can laugh about this now. It was one humorous glitch in a long line of my mom’s victories. She was determined that all three of her daughters would go to college and, beating almost impossible odds, she made that come true. She did other incredible things, too, that only came to light after she died.

When I was looking for a picture of a pink fur bath mat for this post, I came across pictures of pink fuzzy pillows that were for sale. I’m going to buy one so from time to time when life presents me with a problem I don’t think I can handle, I can hold the pillow, remember my mom, and know everything will be okay.

Copyright 2019@theautonomoustraveler.com All rights reserved.