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-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.