Israel-The Kindness of Strangers

“Those who wander are never lost”

I never made it to Jerusalem. I honestly believe I wasn’t supposed to . I travel to learn things I don’t know, to witness things and try to understand what they mean. I went to Israel to learn about Judaism, a religion I know little about. What happened to me made that possible.

Our tour bus stopped in the Golan Heights near the Lebanon and Syria borders. I took a picture of the UN jeep and wished I had the opportunity to take pictures of the military equipment being transported along the the highway.

I climbed a little incline and this was the last picture I took before the incident.

As I came down from this little hill, I slipped on the gravel and my rear end landed on my foot. I tried to get up and and felt no support. The nice people from my tour gathered around me. Somehow I got my foot from under me and saw that my foot was at a strange right angle from the leg bone that was a large knot at the end of my shin. My guide, who was very upset asked no one in particular if if my foot was broken. The anthesialogic member from tour group relied in the affirmation. His wife asked what level of pain I was in. I picked 3 and she replied that I was at least a 5.

I honestly felt nothing. I was embarrassed by all the attention and wanted the crowd around me to resume walking to the observation area. All my life I’ve had the ability to go into a state of numbness when needed. I’m an adult child of an alcoholic. Denial of situations and circumstances is a skill perfected by ACOAs like me. We trained ourselves to move through the awful stuff. The bad part of this is we smile through a lot of garbage. The good part is that we are very resilient.

Our tour guide called an ambulance. As the attendants lifted up me onto a gurney, I warned them that they were dealing with a woman who was not petite and cautioned them not to hurt themselves. I also asked the driver if we could stop for ice cream on the way to the hospital. Self- deprecation and humor have become my adult tools for dealing with life. They’ve became more pronounced as I grow older since I ‘m no longer the shy child I used to be.

I was rolled into the ambulance. I looked up and saw a smiling young man who said, “When I saw you I prayed you’d be American.”

What? From my prone position, as I tried to move my good foot so it wasn’t touching the injured one, I was totally confused.

“Hi.” was all I could come up with.

The attendant was glad I was American because he wanted to practice his English. I thought he spoke well and he told me he had learned much from watching American television. We ended up talking a lot and as a result I came to know about his fascinating religion.

This wonderful young man was a Druze. The Druze broke off from Islam in the 10th century and see themselves as a monotheistic religion that combines Judaism and Christianity with Islam. They strongly believe in reincarnation and accept no converts. Only individuals who achieve a specific spiritual enlightenment are able to be a part of the group and read Druze literature. They have no set ceremonies but eating pork, smoking and drinking are prohibited. 120,000 Druze live in Northern Israel. They speak Arabic but are a community distinct from other Israeli Arabs and serve their required time in the Israeli army.

Before my mishap we had driven through a Druze settlement and I was able to take this picture of a Druze woman.

The young man was kind and he told me he wanted be a doctor. I assured him be would be an excellent one.

I arrived at The Ziv Medical Center in Zefat, Israel and did the usual, met with the billing department, explained what happen, had blood work. I was then taken to a little room filled with people who turned out to be be medical students. As they stared at my broken foot, I told them I was very glad I got a pedicure before I left America or they would have been appalled by my ugly old lady toenails. They laughed. The real doctor didn’t seem amused. My leg was numbed and he proceed to twist my ankle bone back into my leg. I squeezed the young female medical student’s hand. A very heavy plaster cast was put on my leg and I was transported to x-ray. The bone wasn’t placed right. The cast was taken off, the bone repositioned once again as I squeezed the same girl’s hand, then more x-rays and success. One more trip to the little room and time for pictures.

I had to stay overnight but what a wonderful experience. I was sung to.

I was visited by a female rabbi. She came into my hospital room like a superhero dressed in a stylish black outfit, so powerful in her convictions. She seemed to give off an energy and almost glowed. She preached about the sanctity of marriage and I didn’t have the heart or the courage to tell her I was divorced and had no plans of ever getting married again. Strangely enchanted, I somehow knew I was supposed to put money in the yellow silk bag she carried. She said a blessing over me and I asked if I could take a picture of her. She wouldn’t allow it, saying that what she said was more important than who she was.

Michelle was sent from the tour company to watch over me and make sure I was okay. She became a friend and I will have more to tell about her in my next post.. A lady entered my room and chatted. She gave me two candles for Shabbat, the Jewish weekly day of worship. One candle represents the the obligations of worship from sundown on Friday to the morning sunrise on Saturday. The other candle represented the joy and benefits of these special hours spent in God’s presence.


The candle lady and my friend, Michelle.

So much kindness. I never cried during the whole adventure until just before I left. The medical student who held my hand while I went through orthopedic torture brought me a chocolate bar and the note shown below.

The kindness of strangers is why I travel. I’ve been lucky enough to find the true spirit of human beings untainted by personal preference or prejudice. They are encounters with no time to gossip or label or judge. People reaching out to live and love in the present moment with smiles and acceptance. Our exchanges are fresh and alive without fear. This is the beautiful world.

I broke my ankle in The Golan Heights near the Lebanon/ Syrian border and never got to Jerusalem but I got exactly the journey I was suppose to have.

“We travel, some of us forever,to seek other places, other lives, other souls.”-Anais Nin

Copyright 2020 @theautonomoustraveler.com All rights reserved.

Perspective

My last post was on New Year’s Day, a symbolic day of fresh starts and hope. I wrote about fractals and taking one step at a time as I looked forward to marching into the new year with energy and focus. On my first day at PT,  I graduated from my knee bike to using a walker. My ankle swelled a bit and I went into worry mode. Then we had the almost WWIII incident. Anger and fear became my state of mind. Next an impending ice storm was predicted in my area. I’m very self reliant when both ankles are working but I wondered how I  would  bring in wood if the power went out.  The weather report proved to be false. But then this weekend a new storm, Jacob, was touted as  devastating with more snow and high winds. I prepared again for a power outage; solar lantern handy, homemade apple scones ready to be eaten in the dark, bathtub filled for flushing, and my gas camp stove ready for morning coffee.  Jacob ended up  being a whimper.

My ankle is now doing great, so far no WWIII, and  two storms proved to be weaker than expected. But something happened to me in those 18 days.  My perspective changed.  It was assaulted by a creature that slithered like a snake from across the road, traveled across the snow covered asphalt and invaded my house by burrowing underground into my basement and up into my home office. It was high speed internet allowing me to stream. I now have access to all the news and every viewpoint that youtube has to offer. But in my hunger for political, wartime, and electrical outage updates, I lost myself.  My brain underwent some rewiring as I desperately tried to figure out what was happening in the world. And as a result, I stopped wanting to write.

 

For the last 18 days, the world went on without me, things were not in my control but instead of calling up my strength, I surrendered to what turned out to be the information propaganda offered to me at $44.99 a month, no contract needed. As I sloshed through it, a lot of of it changed and became untrue. It was very intense stuff offered from many viewpoints. There was so much going on that many times my screen was split in two. Sometimes six heads in little boxes would chatter on the news screen to punch their network points even harder into my head. As I looked deeper for the truth on obscure youtube sites, I found many things did not add up or were lies. I guess it didn’t matter because like the weather what was once solid fact became something else as the days went on. This faulty information was seductive, in my emotional state I had an unstoppable hunger to cure the anxiety that was being fed by the unknown and uncontrollable future.

What are we doing to ourselves? The ancient philosophers pondered, “What is truth?” In their old fashion way, I think they had it a lot easier. Presently we are being manipulated with all sorts of technology. With rapid fire images in commercials and ads, we are convinced to buy and consume things we don’t need and can’t afford. And by working on our fears, those in the information business have made us angry, hateful, and frantic. Our petty jabs and arguments are dividing us. The things that concern us all in this country (infrastructure, healthcare, cost of prescription drugs, education, environmental challenges, etc.,etc.) are being ignored and nothing is getting done. Unfortunately, we share a common destiny and will eventually have to face the consequences of our inability to work together.

I getting myself back, reducing my digital information intake, looking closely at reality, silently reflecting, and writing again. There is a force out there that is strong and ugly. I’m going to do my best to keep it out of my mind.

Copyright 2020 @theautonomoustraveler.com All rights reserved.

Israel-A Kibbutz (not what I expected)

I’m from Upstate New York, way up state near the Canadian border. During my life in a rural area dotted with orchards and dairy farms, I never got to know many Jewish people. Somewhere, somehow I had heard the word “kibbutz”, maybe on TV, maybe in school. I grew up in a kind of diversity vacuum, where a Mayberry and “Leave it to Beaver” existence were the standard norm. Perceptions were clearly defined and rigidly maintained.

In my mind, a kibbutz was a farm where people came to work and plant trees. I don’t know where the idea of the trees came from but I had a very strong image of them. I knew that the kibbutz was unique to Israel and I deduced it must be must be warm there because I think I had seen pictures of everyone dressed the same in shorts

As I sat on the tour bus in November anticipating my stay at a kibbutz , my know-it-all teacher mentality kicked in and I wondered how I would react to the very vivid “reality” in my mind. Would I have to wear shorts? Feed some chickens? Plant a tree?

The concept and the necessity of The Kibbutz was started in 1903 as Russian Jewish immigrants flooded into Israel. They were communes meant to be an ideal utopia where people shared work, money, and childcare in order to create a better life for all. In its earlier history the Kibbutz members could own no private property or possessions. The concepts of social equality and gender equality started back then are still intact today.

What a surprise I had when we arrived at the kibbutz and it was a resort hotel.

The economy of the original kibbutz systems were built around farming but have now advanced to manufacturing and the hospitality industry. Some businesses are privatized and workers are salaried. Others have members work as their obligation to the kibbutz as a whole.

One of the daycare facilities on the kibbutz
A kibbutz air raid shelter frequently used during missile attacks

My visit was an eye opening and enjoyable experience that cautioned me to rely less on my preconceived perceptions.

Copyright 2020@ The Autonomous Traveler.com All rights reserved.

Israel-Maybe Life is Like Broccoli

Picture Courtesy of wiseGEEK.com

I haven’t written in days, I have been putting off trying to explain the dilemma of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I have both Jewish and Muslim friends and acquaintances now. I want to learn about the world and its people but I want to stay neutral. The conflict in Israel is not about religion but rather about territory. It is about two separate factions wanting their land of origin back. It involves centuries of history, interference from other countries, politics, anger, and unsuccessful compromises.

Picture courtesy of WPBS.com

My country is divided. This, too, has been caused by centuries of history, interference from other countries, politics, anger, and an inability to compromise.

The world situation and the constant bad news is starting to affect me as it affects all of us. I’ve been waking up each morning feeling very crabby. I’ve been wanting to stop this since it comes with a lot of negative thoughts. My memory is sharp enough to replay all the scenes of stupid things I’ve said and the awful mistakes I’ve made in life and there are many.

But this morning I got an idea. A long time ago at an outdoor art festival, I learned about a thing called fractals. A young artist had made a design that repeated the same pattern in different sizes to make one big piece of art. He explained that fractals are everywhere in nature, for example, a grain of sand is a fractal of a once very large boulder.

Image result for fractals broccoli
Picture courtesy of inverse.com




Picture courtesy of SFU.com

This is clearly illustrated in the pictures above. Each part of whole thing is made of smaller parts that are miniatures of itself.

Maybe life is like the broccoli in the picture. I’ve decided to break down my life so I can be a better part of the whole. I will never be able to totally understand or change the whole world but I can appreciate one person at a time. I can listen to human stories and enjoy the uniqueness of each one. And in the process of customizing each individual encounter, I hope to find that it is okay to stand up for myself when needed, changing the things I can and accepting the things I can’t. I can acknowledge my flaws and imperfections and learn from them. Calming my busy mind, I can let go of the past and remain unanxious about the future. Reducing things into manageable steps, I can take one day at a time and make the most of every moment.

Today is January 1, 2020, the beginning of a new year and a new decade. Tomorrow I start PT for my broken ankle and I will learn to walk again, one step at a time.

I’m writing again on my blog. Some of my entries are better than others. I make errors, sometimes I find them when I reread and sometimes I don’t. There are people who won’t ever read my blog and there are some people who don’t like what I say or how I say it. But I love to write. I will keep writing, one post, one word at a time

Happy New Year! May each of us, in our own way, find peace.

Copyright@2020 The Autonomous Traveler All rights reserved.

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-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.

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.