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 the tour group replied 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 me up 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 it was. 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.

Israel-The Temple of Pan and the Dancing Goats

How so very strange to have old memories that go way back in time to rooms with high windows and desks in rows and the smell of chalk. How peculiar to conjure up visions and facts about myths and Zeus and Roman gods. How startling to suddenly find myself in the very concrete place of their essence. My guide said we were going to the Temple of Pan. As a tourist, I surrender myself to new places and new things. Pan? Pan was a drawing from an eighth grade textbook, a man with the features of a goat. He was creature who played some sort of flute and represented the wild, nature, fertility, mischief, and spring. He wasn’t real but something very vivid I had memorized for the test on mythology at the end of a chapter.

The setting was right. We walked along the edge of the water. A fitting place for a wild creature of the outdoors. It turned out to be a spring, the source of the River Jordan. I was enchanted.

We climbed.

And we came upon something huge and impressive, the remains of the Sanctuary of Pan.

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How surreal on that blue sky, amber lit day to so clearly witness what was left of 19 BC place of worship built by the Herod to honor Caesar Alexander and the Roman gods.

The Cave to The Underworld

The Romans of this time worshiped many different gods, almost all with a connection to nature. Their practices were pagan and by today’s standards very crude.

I wonder, now that I am back home in supposedly a civilized modern environment , was God at The Sanctuary of Pan. I was taught during my Catholic upbringing that God is everywhere and has been since the beginning of time. If an old woman, just like me, had sat by the the spring that fed The Jordan River back then in 19BC, would God be with her or would He decide she didn’t count because she didn’t worship in the right way?

I wonder about the ancient Native Americans who said prayers of thankfulness instead of petitions of want. Was God with them or did He think they were too primitive?

I wonder about my Muslim friend in India, Rashid, who told me we are are all united by the God who created us all. Is God with him or has He chosen to dismiss Rashid’s method of worship?

I wonder about my gay friends who have lovingingly married their partners. Is God with them or is He withholding His love because of their love?

I wonder about people in other political groups or countries. Is God with them or is God a political creature who takes sides?

I wonder about myself, an old lady without a religion who has done a lot of bad things and will probably do more. Is God with me or has He given up because He sees me as unworthy?

Like the old lady who sat by the source of The Jordan river before the birth of Christ, I, too, look for God.

In the stillness, I find Him. He is always here. He is with me. He chooses to be with us no matter who we are.

Copyright@ 2020 The Autonomous Traveler 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.

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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-Really Cool Ancient Stuff

It was like going back to the times of the Ben Hur movie! I was thrilled!

Caesarea Maritima was build from 25-13 BC by King Heron ( yes, The King Herod of the Bible) as a major port for the Roman Empire. It was the place where Pontius Pilate governed during the time of Jesus.The site is now a historical site between north of Tel Aviv.

Herod build himself a grand palace on the sea plus an amphitheatre and a hippodrome for chariot races just like in the movies.

The site changed hands many times over the course of history. It was the capital of a Byzantine providence. Then it was the last city in the Holy Land to fall to the Arabs. The Crusades march in later and changed the whole port into a fortified city.

I witnessed the layers of history represented in artifacts from different eras.

I enjoyed the exhibit showing pottery from different periods of time.

Glass came later.

What an experience back in time! I loved every minute!

Copyright@2019 The Autonomous Traveler All rights reserved.

Israel-The Seashell Lottery

On April 11, 1906, sixty Jewish families moved north from nearby Jaffa to the sand dunes of the Mediterranean to established a new community.

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Image result for shell lottery Tel Aviv

A lottery was held to pair families with a building plot. Using sixty white shells imprinted with each family’s name and sixty grey shells each showing the number of a single building lot, the land was was fairly divided. This was the founding of Tel Aviv.

Yanay, my tour guide, was a wonderful teacher, very passionate about Israel and his Jewish roots. He told us that Israel was a miracle and he did an excellent job telling us why.

He took us to the Founders Monument that depicted the history of Tel Aviv. I loved this piece of art because it showed clearly a layering of history, how events can build on each and bring about progress.

Image result for founders monument tel aviv

A the bottom of the picture was nature. The Jewish religion had moved away from the polytheistic traditions of early religions that had different nature gods and goddesses in multiple locations. In monotheistic Judaism, there was loyalty to Yahweh and a promise of good results from doing what was right, following traditions and Jewish law, valuing justice, and working together on common goals. The communal hard work of the founders of Tel Aviv was shown in the second tier of this sculpture. The next layer showed the first water tower and the Herzliya School, the first Hebrew school in Israel. Yanay pointed that it was very important for the Hebrew language to be established as the language of Israel. At the top of this pictorial history were renditions of the modern cultural buildings in Tel Aviv and in the background there were imaginative representations of buildings of the future.

Sir Patrick Geddes, a Scottish pioneer in the area of town planning was invited to lay out the plan for the Hebrew school. He went further and drew up a plan for the whole Tel Aviv area. In 1920 there were 2000 people in the settlement. By the end of the1920’s, 40,000 people came to live in this new vibrate Jewish community.

During my time in Israel, I felt a different vibe than I had felt in other countries or even in my own US. Culture is defined as “the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group”. The culture in Israel seemed to be based on optimism, unity, and common goals. This clarity of purpose seemed to be moving their country toward positive action and continuous progress.

We have so many problems in the US. I heard about two shootings in the States while I was in Israel. I’m sure Israel has its faults. But my time in Israel made me really wonder if America has a cultural problem. We are a country that judges people on their wealth, not their character. Greed and the need for power seems to be national norms. We live in a place of name calling and bullying. Our government is getting nothing done. We, as American citizens, no longer share a common destiny as we scurry into our special interest groups so we can look down on those who don’t belong. Our health, both physically and mentally, is being affected as we feel the weight of our nation’s continuous fighting and bickering.

I don’t know what the solution is. My purpose in writing this blog is to tell about the things I see and feel on my trips. I needed to write about this because unfortunately the contrast was so very strong and disturbing.

Copyright @ 2019 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

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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-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.