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.

India-History Speaking through Art

As part of my tour, I was taken to the Qutub Complex in Delhi which was built by Muslims in 1192 who conquered and then occupied Hindu Delhi. During this time they constructed a mosque and a tower, The Qutub Minar.

Picture by zeenews.india.com

The tower is 220 feet tall and made out of variegated and detailed layers of sandstone and marble. The garlands and lotus are characteristic of Indo-Iranian design.



I love art and art history and was thrilled to see, close at hand, the intricate carvings in stone. I am always amazed at the skill and patience of crafts people of long ago.



The site is part of history, a reminder of one of the many times India was under the rule of a group outside its borders. It will be forever an UNESCO World Heritage Site, always protected for all of us to experience and learn from.

India-A Muslim Friend

Travel opens us to new worlds. I have lived my whole life in rural areas in New York State, quiet places that have little diversity. I have really never known a Muslim even though there is a mosque in my area. Like many Americans, I know very little about Islam. Unfortunately in my country there is a lot of suspicion about the people of this religion and almost a taboo about wanting to know knowing more about them

I found out our guide was Muslim as he took great pride in telling us about the Mughals, Muslims who came from Persia (present day Iran ) and ruled India from 1556-1707. They ran a consolidated government that used local people to collect taxes in cash from agricultural sources and trade. The arts flourished especially in the form in architecture. Forts, mosques, and mausoleums, notability the Taj Mahal, were build under their reign. Tolerance was encouraged as Hindus were integrated into the governing process. But as time went on, systems broke down and the Mughals lost their hold on India.

Our tour guide was the first person of the Muslim faith I ever had an opportunity to really talk to. He was kind and very patient with me as I tried to sort out all the sights and sounds of India and relate them to what I knew and hoped to learn. On one of our last days, I mention to him that I wanted to buy a terracotta cup that is meant to absorb the excess water from the yogurt. I really thought this was clever and I wanted to show people back home. Near the Ganges River on the way back to our bus, the guide stopped our group at a stand and asked us if we wanted a chai tea. A few of us, including myself, said we would. Our guide paid for them all and then he handed me a larger cup, a yogurt cup, that he had some how gotten from the vendor. I was thrilled by this kind gesture. This little cup is my most precious souvenir of the trip. Its meaning goes beyond its efficiency. It represents a new knowing and a change of heart and mind that will always stay with me.

In America, as part of my country’s culture, I was programed to suspect and fear anything to do with the words “Muslim” or “Islam”. It is so much easier, as a human beings, to label people with broad brush strokes and dismissing them, sometimes forgetting they exist or, even worse, hating them. We don’t take times to listen to stories and really look at reality and gather facts. I’m now spending some time learning about Islam and I will no longer feel uncomfortable doing it.

I have my first Muslim friend. It is sad that it took almost a lifetime to find one but I feel so fortunate that it was him.

India-A Traveler’s Hope

I travel to learn about other people in unfamiliar places. I go to listen to their stories and understand.

I was raised Catholic and have since left that religion. I don’t call myself a Christian but rather a Jesusist because I believe in the doctrine of inclusion and I honor all religions. I still post a picture of an angel on my Facebook page every Christmas with the words, “Be not afraid. I bring you tidings of great joy.” In this troubled world, this declaration always brings me comfort.

I also travel to learn about other religions. Through direct experience during my time in India, I got to witness the history and practices of Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, and Buddhism. I was really touched by many lovely philosophies. The meaning of namaste which states that “the goodness in me recognizes the goodness in you”. The belief in the interconnectedness of all people and creatures. The fact that the Sikhs feed hundreds of people each day. The call from Eastern religions for self examination and responsibility to others. And I will never forget the acceptance and kindness the Indian people showed me. I could not spend 17 days with these wonderful people and not be changed forever.

In 2018, I took a journey close to home, a tour called “The Lost Villages of Fort Drum.” I was thrilled to see our local history preserved and acknowledged by the archaeological department on the base. This prompted me to started reading about the Antebellum Era of the early 1800’s when America was new and trying to define itself. There was a shift away from Calvinism that defined a person’s fate as a good or bad person before birth. The movement called The Second Awakening put more emphasis on the importance of doing good deeds. I loved a quote from that time that stated “injustice to one is injustice to all.” This belief motivated people to work for reform, the emancipation of slaves, and the right of women to vote.

This year of travel has given me great hope. I have seen the history and geography of humanity’s heart. The spirit of the human soul wants the best for others, for all of us. There will always be people in this world who will believe in that light and will work to keep it alive.