Since I have been all over this world, the one place I would still like to visit is New Zealand. Another would be to finally get a hole in one, and lastly, catch a trophy trout.
I am eagerly anticipating touring the new heaven and the new earth when I will have lots more time to see and be and listen and learn.
Iceland, Switzerland, Austria, Tahiti and New Zealand
See the aurora borealis in huge displays more than once and become a world class musician and composer and uncover effective new alternative healing treatments and rockhound to find top class rocks and minerals
“What?! I didn’t know I needed a Visa… dont panic dont panic dont panic dont panic dont pan–I surrendered all hope of my ride to the Dragon Palace Hotel during the two-hour delay in HCMC Tan Son Nhat International Airport to resolve (my) mistakes with visa requirements. It was almost 10pm when I at last entered the area of waiting friends and family, still having not seen an Information Desk with maps and transportation options.
Surprised, I reflexively turned at my name, and there stood my young escort, having waiting faithfully. I’d not seen him in over a year and would never have picked him out of a line-up of 25-year-old Vietnamese men. Thankfully, like in Japan, my face was easy to spot.
When was I last “met” at an airport? And would they have waited 2 hours?
We exited the building, into a sauna! As my lungs fought stagnant water-air in search of oxygen, I realized I’d have never found the bus stop on my own, much less navigated the sim card purchase at a fair price.
Had I at last over-extended my adventuresome inclinations? Quieting my heart against fear, I pressed my lips together, forbidding commentary on the debilitating heat and tightened my grip on my roller bag and finding oxygen in the mist.
Apparitions swarmed the Saigon of Ho Chi Min City
They were at the park, on street corners, riding scooters. Their faces recognizable but unnamed, unbearably hot in fatigues and army boots, shouldering heavy packs.
Most, but not all, were young men, well-loved. Over the years, friends have told me their stories of loss — a buddy, sweetheart, father, brother — ever-fresh losses of decades ago, of a generation.
An Air Force Vietnam vet, my friend for over three decades, told me of waking each morning knowing that mechanical failure of his “MASH” evacuating helicopter or a momentary loss of focus of anyone on his team could end his life. He didn’t mention the chance of enemy’s “lucky” or random hits.
And over half-eaten meals in a build-your-own salad joint in Denver, he entrusted to me The Moment, the seconds-turned-eternal of climbing a hill, and taking a life in defense of his own.
Everywhere I “saw” their precious selves – the pieces of so many whose lives were forever changed in Vietnam.
My young escort, Nam was one of eight Vietnamese graduate students I met while living in the Arava (Israel’s farming region along Jordan’s border). “Why would Vietnamese farmers study in Israel?” is explained by Israel’s astounding success in turning dessert sand into world-class produce, combined with 21st Century technology — management of soil moisture and pests. Students from thirty nations in Asia and Africa compete for Tel Aviv University’s under- and graduate programs.
Nam’s girlfriend took a day-off from her several jobs and he took a day from his farm to show me highlights of Ho Chi Minh City.
40′ C (104 F) compels adaptation to sweat’s glow in the mirror and everywhere,… Adaptation made easier knowing it’s only a week, not a lifetime.
What about Communism?
The conversation I was hoping for happened on my last day in Ho Chi Minh city (Saigon), at a Highlands Coffee Shop. Escaping into blessed a/c and the last of what had become a daily ritual for outstanding java, I climbed the stairs to the huge seating area — the largest I’ve seen in any coffee house anywhere — filled with comfy wingback chairs and side tables mixed with cafe-style seating.
My wander-search yielded only two available seats beside:
an animated group of young adults collaborating over laptops and textbooks, and
a man sitting alone, talking on his phone
The latter acquiesced with a begrudging nod to my pleading expression and gesture toward the empty wingback staged beside his. His story unfolded in bits between phone calls, beginning with immigration to Vancouver in 1982 click here for the story
Option 1: 4-hour dusty, hot bus ride that may or may not have adequate a/c Option 2: 45-minute speed boat on Saigon River
The boat we passed is a “homeboats” – a family lives on them (clean water stored in huge tanks, refilled as needed). We saw many more along the way.
Both Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi — the two largest cities — were frenetic. Trash and garbage filled streets and sidewalks that were in gross disrepair, and many private and commercial buildings seemed cobbled together, and yes, they do have earthquakes https://www.earthquaketrack.com/p/vietnam/biggest.
The “Hanoi Hilton” Hoa Lo Prison and Ho Chi Minh’s War Museum the Vietcong and current Communism regime as honorable and benevolent prison and government administrators, as well as the long-suffering and ultimately-victorious victim of the war.
I was told I had little to worry about as a woman alone in most areas of both cities during reasonable hours, but warnings abounded against theft: “Your phone will be snatched from your hand while taking a photo or video!”
BICYCLING THIEF: An American-English speaking man of around 40 stood on a street corner videoing scores of scooters swarming with abandon around cars, when a bicycling man rounded the corner and grabbed the phone. The tourist clutched his phone just long enough for the bicyclist to wobble, and the phone flew and skidded on the concrete. It would be inappropriate to write the words I heard, and it did not appear the phone survived.
DANGEROUS BUSINESS: 10,000 die annually in scooter accidents each year, and 95% of registered vehicles are scooters, which is a reflection of unregistered cars on the road. Plus, police enforcement against drunk drivers is lax.
Modern = could be a descriptor of both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh. It was easy and inexpensive to purchase a cover for my iphone, and wifi functioned perfectly in most venues.
Scary = I was cautioned to not consider sampling street food from vendors pushing carts. And after the brilliantly clean toilets of Japan — well, “scary” is an apt description for many public facilities.
ESCAPE to Serenity = Halong Bay
Halong Bay’s natural beauty was sharp contrast to the harsh realities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh. Serenity abounded in the shades of ever changing gray mist over quiet water with gentle hills staggered in the distance, providing balance and interest. Soul-restoring art.
AND FINALLY, answers to questions from readers:
Thus far, I’ve found Israeli’s in every country — Hebrew is the giveaway — and results in a fun conversation.
English, in all its dialects, has been most prominent in the nations I’ve visited, but is too commonplace to lend camaraderie.
Several days were filled with Shrines and Temples, representing both of Japan’s primary religions, Shintoism and Buddhism. Shintoism is based on nature as explanation of life’s mysteries — simply, that good or bad things happen because the “gods” are pleased, Or Not.
Buddhism found its way to Japan in the 6th century, and the Temples depict the Buddha in many forms. I’m told that many Japanese embrace both Shintoism and Buddhism to varying degrees.
Like ants at a children’s ice cream cake birthday picnic were tourists and worshipers swarming Kyoto’s countless Shrines and Temples, so catching these sites not mobbed was an accomplishment. The next was aborted, because photos and videos were forbidden. ooops. I didn’t mean to be disrespectful.
Food = Adventure
Onsen vs Sento
Japanese bath house experiences were countless naked women, more comfortable in their own skin than I’d ever seen among any group, and that should clarify why I have no photos to share, but click here for the story
Packed like sardines
Squeezing into a Tokyo commuter subway car is like wedging another shoe into the box on moving day, and then another… I saw locals graciously surrender every centimeter of personal space, adjusting shoulders or whatever can be moved to accept yet another stranger, but even on a subway among an otherwise orderly, courteous people, getting to work on time can be dangerous
Two days before leaving for Japan I took a bad fall — tangled in a dog leash between two angry dogs — and injured an already damaged-ACLrepaired-thus-fragile knee. Swelling and pain slowed me severely through the first week but I did my best to be a good travel companion (the story of my companion, Yo, is Post 46). However, the first morning I was on my own and more tuned-in to my surroundings, I noticed for the first time an osteopathic/acupressure medical office we had passed repeatedly.
Leaving my shoes at the door, I took advantage of the receptionist’s attention and whined while pulling up my slacks to show the severe swelling. She fetched a colleague from a back room and the end of the story is that after 15 minutes of pantomime and sympathy, my knee was compression-wrapped for the deplorable swelling and I was gifted a package of 10 poultices to apply. Dr. Google Translate and the staff’s collaboration was 21st Century, and I was not asked my name or for a Yen of payment.
Can you imagine?!
Atomic Bomb Dome, the National Peace Memorial Hall for Atomic Bomb Victims, and the War Memorial Museum, all must-see sites of sorrow left me wishing the World War Two museum of New Orleans to be alongside. So many deaths and destruction east and west. https://www.nationalww2museum.org/
Imagine cccold, damp, abusive winds off the water, pricey tickets, and a long line of fellow tourists. We were instructed to take shoes off outside the entrance, at last entering the facility which was a concrete shell with vast sections open to the unfortunate elements. Here’s the museum link: http://benesse-artsite.jp/en/art/teshima-artmuseum.html
Warned to not ruin the “art” we stepped carefully around it — tiny drops of water, gravity-pulled or wind-pushed along the sloped and very-cold-to-stocking’d-feet concrete floor. That the paintings, sculptures, and artifacts I was hoping for were nowhere to be found, and admittedly labeling it Disappointing reveals me lacking the sophistication for modern art.
Miyajima was our next destination and beautiful and charming in every way the Teshima Museum wasn’t. Sometimes extreme disappointment is followed by near perfection. READ MORE HERE
The “As much as we can see in Japan in 10 days” trek rolled through Tokyo, Takamatsu, Miyajima, Hiroshima, and Kyoto via bullet trains, planes, ferries, buses, taxis, and a ride in private car.
Japan added six to my beds-total since beginning structured homelessness in June 2016 (total at this posting is 79.)
Below: Shibuya Intersection Light — a quiet day. (As many as 2,500 at other times)
The setting was Denver, a Tech Center Starbucks
“Would you be interested in touring Japan together?” The question formed and launched itself, and as always the words refused my summons to return. Instead they lurked between us, a heavy fog.
My friend, Yo (short for Ryohei) kept his eyes trained on mine without expression, a beat too long. Oh what have I done?
Below: the moat around the Imperial Palace in Tokyo
Yo did at last say “Yes” on that already-too-hot August morning last year, and by the time I left for Poland (see blog 42) three weeks later, we had AirBNB and hotel reservations in places of which I’d never heard, as well as flights to Tokyo (his from Denver, mine from Tel Aviv) arriving within 12 hours of each other. We’d see Japan’s famous cherry blossoms in full bloom! Or so we thought…
And throughout the months of planning, the trip’s risks made me itchy with uncertainty.
Yo came to Colorado to ski sometime in his twenties, and made it his home. We met ballroom dancing in Denver six years ago, and while I’ll never be the dancer he is, there was a magic moment when my skill was tolerable and he began asking me for an occasional dance. I did everything in my power to work a night of dancing in Japan into the itinerary, but it wasn’t meant to be and it was with great disappointment that I didn’t pack my dancing shoes.
Traveling together was a risk, since a major or minor incident could cost the friendship. Yo could have laughed at the very idea of wasting a moment of his precious, infrequent visit to far-away family and friends just to tour with me. We might have conflict with planning particulars or during the trip. What if he misinterpreted my interest as romantic? The potential interpersonal risks were real to me, and yes, I know he probably never gave it a thought.
Chancing the risk to ask, and surviving rejection or disappointment is a symptom of living life with which I’m at last reconciled.
It was a trip of history, beauty and culture…
Tokyo held another sort of history that was uniquely precious to me, when…
Yo and his five forever-friends dating back to elementary and middle school invited me to join them one evening, and after the restaurant we migrated to the Ryoichi’s apartment. As we filed in behind him, he shouted, “Alexa, play —“ (Why can’t I recall the song he commanded? It was Boomer rock, and caught me by surprise, but then, why not?) While the modern apartment and decor typified upper-middle class apartments/condominiums in the U.S., the Japanese words and melodies filled the air with “Exotic.”
Surrounded by conversations and laughter in a language I cannot understand has become the norm since immigrating to Israel in November 2014, so I played the game of imagining the lives, guessing at their temperaments. There was a story teller who put grins on their faces, another whose laughter could surely be heard next door, and the tall quiet one, fully engaged but ne’er a word. The one sitting beside Yo reached for the bottle to refill his shot glass more than the others, and towards the end of the evening retrieved a guitar from another room and… I didn’t see it coming: the voice of Kris Kristofferson!
I’d been invited into the sanctum of Boys’ Night Out — terrain forbidden to wives and girlfriends, but my USA passport set me in a different category: “Special”
It was not lost on me it was Yo who was special to them. Their precious male-friendship history warmed my heart more than an entire evening of ballroom dancing.
On a flat screen TV larger than the bathtub in my AirBNB unit, we watched scratchy films (converted to DVD from original home-movies) dating back to 1960’s high school camping trips. I studied the faces and forms of today compared with their shirtless selves’, teen-lean bodies, and smile as I write about their laughter and play, past and present.
Where no woman has gone before! The inner sanctum …
Pay attention! Don’t miss the moment.
The subject of how we met came up, so I whispered to Yo, “Let’s show them how well you dance.” In minutes, furniture was moved, Alexa was playing “Lady in Red,” and I savored the perfect, precious dance in Tokyo, a dream come true.
P.S. Yo and I are still friends after a great trip.
Jordan’s side of the Gulf of Aqaba was the starting point to visit Petra — one of the Seven Wonders of the World. LINK: http://visitpetra.jo/#slide-1
Decision made, tour booked, preparation began: studying related history and logistics. The latter included verifying the security of cars parked in the border’s lot. While no one wants their belongings and vehicle damaged or stolen anywhere, consider the headache of paperwork in a language you cannot understand and unpredictable procedures above and beyond the obvious inconveniences. ugh.
“Hope to see you in two days,” I said to the ugly orange, gutless-wonder Hyundai — who would want it? — and my small carryon of core essentials, upon which I rely during these days of transience. The tinier bag that came with me to Jordan included minimal overnight essentials plus quick-dry summer weight pants and a shirt for days into the mid-80’s, as well as warm, fitted “sweatpants” and waterproof jacket to address the promised cccold desert nights.
On our side of the border, the greeter from the Israeli tour company collected four of us — a woman from Miami traveling alone and a couple from Nova Scotia. We would spend the next 27 hours together, beginning with the multifaceted border crossing processes, through which my Israeli passport led the way.
Israeli citizens with multiple passports are advised to use their Israeli document when leaving and entering the tiny nation. I suppose it’s about knowing who’s where when terror occurs. as it has for the past 70 years. Olympics, hijackings, kidnappings…
Traveling Light… Living Light
In June 2016, I left my bed and canceled my rented apartment in Jerusalem to travel Israel in structured homelessness, to learn the regions’ people and culture — where is the good music, open-hearted souls, best cappuccino, art. “Six months at most,” I thought, filling two large suitcases for my first few reservations — a week here, another there.
However, in the 21 months of 64 different beds since, I have reduced my burden to a carryon-and-a-half, proving vanity is trumped by the pointlessness of schlepping one thing more than is crucial.
back to Jordan…
Crossing the border from Israel into an Arab nation — peace agreements notwithstanding — was a first, and almost lost to polite courtesy. But not quite.
In a moment of brashness, I interrupted the fellow traveler who was chattering happily, “We’re not in Israel or Jordan right now and I can’t recall ever before being ‘nowhere’. Can I hear the rest of your story later?” She was gracious and allowed me space to have the moment.
Have years of traveling alone ruined me in some ways for partnership? Or might I be a better partner these days?
Setting my bag on the scanner conveyer, I watched the handsome Jordanian security guards as one thumbed through my Israeli passport. Habit rendered my initial greeting in Hebrew, which was obviously understood by them, but they did not respond in Hebrew; their questions to me were in English — What did I think about Trump, where was I from in the U.S., and (by the way) where would I be visiting in Jordan… Whether they were different with me, offering an Israeli passport, as compared to those with Canadian and U.S. passports was unclear.
The four of us squeezed into our Jordanian Bedouin tour guide’s tiny compact and drove through industrial areas and villages en route to Aqaba, Jordan’s seventh largest and only seaside city. The majority of southern Jordanians are Bedouin, most living increasingly modern lives. Our guide was the first of three we would have from a Jordanian travel agency, which has partnered for decades with the Israeli agency that arranged the tour and coached us about the border crossing process. The employees never crossing the borders themselves, I wondered whether they had ever met.
Along the way, he pointed out a hospital complex and boasted stellar medical care, and then told how sophisticated earthquake-safe building techniques endured a 7.3 quake in 1995 without damage.
7.3?!? Really?! Online, later, I found the only reported damage was a man’s fatal heart attack, and thankfully I had no opportunity to experience their healthcare, so am happy to take his word for it being stellar.
Anyone can make a mistake, and I seldom cross-check data from tour guides, but earthquake numbers mean something to me. My teenaged-self was bounced out of bed onto the floor in the 1971 Los Angeles basin 6.5 quake, and as deeply embedded in the self-absorption of adolescence as I was, I still remember the photos of destruction. With gentler quakes, I’ve watched water in a swimming pool slosh and splash out, awakened in a sleeping bag on the ground feeling the earth ripple like a waterbed and watching thick trunks of trees around me waving like palm branches in a breeze, and I’ve seen countless glasses on tables clatter and dance. Living in Jerusalem through many months of terror attacks found me gratefully without a first-hand story to tell, and thus far I’ve missed out on tornados and hurricanes.
Tell me your stories in an email or leave a comment on this site.
Can you catch the patrol boat in this video?
Our patriotic guide pointed out the flagpole at Aqaba’s boardwalk center. Did he really say it was the tallest in the world? This time, the internet indicated otherwise, and whether translation or language confusion prevailed, this pole is the 6th tallest. LINK: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aqaba_Flagpole
These musicians, sitting at the base of the extremely tall and noteworthy flagpole were happy to give a performance-lite for you:
Our first night was at 4-star City Tower in Aqaba, a “high rise” of six floors, comparable in all aspects except at a fraction of the prices it would have cost in the U.S. and Israel. LINK: http://citytoweraqaba.com/
After checking in, I took advantage of the last hour of light and walked the boardwalk. Sweethearts, families, teens, music, smokers, eaters, bicycles, all predictably “boardwalk,” although the costumes ranged from chic to skinny jeans with hijab to traditional robes and veils. Samsung, Avis, hawking vendors and honking traffic made it feel like everywhere, and the sun’s last reflections on the water is a universal cause for celebration of life.
The brave and courageous delighted in the morning’s breakfast-of-champions buffet of eggplant, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, goat cheese and yogurt, hummus and fava beans, as well as dips of assorted pastels and unknown ingredients. The faint of heart ate white bread, hard-boiled eggs, seasoned potatoes, fruit, and questionable meat (all meat is questionable to this vegetarian).
Advertising strategies reveal interesting facets of a society.
What do you suppose is the message?
We collected others and totaled around 25 for the hour+ drive into Jordan’s mountains to tour the ancient city of Petra with our 2nd Bedouin guide, who we later learned was born in a tent, as were his 13 siblings — including 3 sets of twins — from one mother, still living! They are the first generation living in homes and with smaller families. His comments validated and were validated by the autobiography I’d read in preparation, “Married to a Bedouin.” The story of Marguerite van Geldermalsen, a Kiwi tourist who married a Bedouin in the ’70’s and made their home in his cave, tells of learning the language, culture, raising children, and all.
I had the opportunity to meet her at her booth in Petra selling silver jewelry, art and of course, her book. No photo, because she preferred none, and there was no way for her to autograph my Kindle Reader.
Petra was built by the Nabateans, a pagan polytheistic people, as a holy city (think Mecca for Muslims) around the third or fourth century BCE. The pre-Roman civilization evidenced sophisticated wealth, water management, and construction techniques.
“Raiders of the Lost Ark” was a great boon for tourism.
The earth has music for those who listen” Reginald Vincent Holmes
The site is adorned with Bedouin merchant’s tables filled with postcards, refrigerator magnets, silver jewelry, head scarves, and such. Donkey and horse rides and horse-drawn carriages for hire accommodate visitors struggling with the 8+ kilometers (5 miles) of walking paths; most paths are retraced to return, to double it.
A very challenging hour climb rewarded us with the massive structure named “Monastery” that rivals the “Treasury” in grandeur, also a misnomer, as it was likely originally a temple, later perhaps used as a monastery. Those not up to the challenge of the steep grade paid to ride one of many donkeys available for rent from any number of hawking 10-year-old boys.
(That hour up and down combined with miles of walking that day warranted icing and gentling a decades-old ACL repair from Breckenridge ski slopes. Hopefully not indicative of future limitations.)
The goofy signs in the next video launched an eager search, but…
alas, the spectacular view was not to be found and I abandoned the quest, lest I miss our group’s bus meeting time. Who ever wants to be the person holding up the schedule, or worse: is left behind?!
Dinner was a lovely array of vegetable salads sans lettuce (cucumbers tomatoes, mint, arugula, cabbage, beans, onions) and cheeses and warm dishes of more veggies with something chicken; nothing simple, AKA boring, for Food Fradies.
What, no photos of food? Be patient.
Weary, happily showered, and fed, our group mixed with others from Kenya and the Netherlands and Germany and Japan and who-knows-where-else to enjoy local music in the huge communal tent.
It was lined with cushion seating surrounding a cast iron stove generating too much heat, and was filled with aroma of apple tobacco being smoked in what I only know to call a “bong.” If you know about such things being used these days by smokers on beaches and in cafes, please clue me in via email or leave a comment.
When asked whether they smoke marijuana, they said it was very difficult to get and, oh yeah, illegal.
The concert was an informal jam, with a folk guitar, hand-held drums, hand clapping and singing, and the musicians took frequent cigarette breaks and swapped instruments – a “gotta experience it yourself” kinda thing.
Hardly camping, the bed was a good mattress on a sturdy base in my very own tent-cabin with FIVE, count them, 5 serious blankets, and for good reason in the cold desert mountains. There was no heater. The facilities were in a building of dorm-like rows of toilets and a few showers. Prior tent experiences suggested the morning sun would be like a rooster, so I was delighted to discover the heavy goat hair fabric rendered morning as deliciously dark as was the night.
After a simple breakfast of raw vegetables, hummus, pita and olives, we piled into the new Mitsubishi SUV of our 3rd Bedouin guide for a day in the desert. LINK: http://wadirum.jo/
SUPRISE! Food. And our guide who prepared it from a cooler of groceries, the chicken and produce fresh from his garden-farm. Delicious.
What about honeymoons, you ask? Mine? Yes, but no, not that. While there have been no recent applicants, a honeymoon is both in the making and is already all sorts of fun!
I’m writing a fiction series!
Best described as contemporary fiction/ travel fiction/ coming of age, this project began as an unshaped idea, in this case, a character in a situation. The embryo has grown with my embrace and attention, and lots and lots of time. Two characters I’ve recently introduced will hopefully be enjoying a honeymoon to Petra and Egypt’s pyramids in the near future. I saw much of the Jordan trip with them in mind.
What is the gestation for such a thing? Next year? I don’t know yet. It’s difficult to be patient for the process, although I love the work of discovering and crafting the stories.
Mostly I’m eager to introduce you to my peeps, and hope you’ll love them as much as do I.
I cherish your comments and emails!
Please consider yourself invited to share the blog link. A website is in my future, although the technical process of that is not a sweet thought.
hOW DO YOU WANT TO BE REMEMBERED?
A friend wrote about plans for her mother’s funeral:
We’ll play Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood.” Mom really loved that song, and since Dad didn’t like to dance, she would do swing dancing replete with high kicks every time that song came on the radio over the refrigerator. Her partner…the handle of said refrigerator.”
I’d love to have known her mama.
Finally, a tune of new beginnings… A few nights ago, music called to me from a tiny bar in the center of town. It was their second night open for business. Karaoke in Jerusalem, anyone?
Whichever song about September has significance to you, I’m guessing its theme includes hope, loss, and memories.
The first week of September was POLAND for me, revealing hope and loss and memories – mine and others.
Welcome to my September Song. I hope it brings you hope amidst losses of the past – yours and others’ – and memories that will change you for the good.
Whenever friends sit together, it seems they eat, so we’ll begin with a few quick meals. I love to eat.
I realized how spoiled I’ve become, finally able to read some Hebrew.
Can you find words you recognize in these Polish menus?
I was told Polish is a language-cousin of Czech, but then they could have told me anything. How would I know any differently?
The trip to Poland began with the process of deciding to go. What were my goals? Why, of all the places in the world, did I need to see the two sites I had in mind? Was I ready?
Sometime after the first year living in Israel, a dear friend asked whether I’d found what I was looking for. Was I looking for something? What? Would I know when I’d found it?
I “wear” decisions, like trying on shoes, to see how they feel over time. Praying, thinking, and learning are all part of the process. The longer I stomped around in the Poland Decision, it felt good, right for me: worth the emotional investment, time and money, and hopefully the inevitable unknowns.
I lost count of the times I was asked, “Why Poland?!” Does it help to say that the Warsaw Ghetto and Auschwitz were the must see’s, after years of images from movies and books?
The risks of Living Whole-Heartedly demand that I walk forward. Paying attention, even ready to turn back. Praying. Learning. Listening.
With far greater ease than I make most decisions, group tours were dismissed in lieu of independent travel. In hindsight, that choice made the trip far more difficult to plan, and far, far lessdifficult on the emotional plane — from the moment I entered Poland.
Schindler’s Factory Museum and Majdanek Death Camp emerged through Internet research, follow-up emails, and talking with those who had visited. Both grew into must-see’s, and so the journey had a skeleton.
Oscar Schindler, as portrayed in Spielberg’s award winning film, has been my hero for decades. Schindler’s List is one of the few DVDs I own, although this Lenovo 11″ laptop has no DVD player and I’m told most people don’t have them anymore. Have DVD’s for movies gone the way of 8-tracks for music? Being without grandchildren renders me distinctly technologically ancient, along with a host of other regretables.
From self-centered and self-promoting into a sacrificing, caring person, the story represents to me redemption of a man. HOPE, at so many levels.
During the trip, I read David M. Crowe’s biography of Oscar Schindler, to swap Hollywood’s version for reality. It was comprehensive as I’d hoped, and while a bit more scholarly than my needs, a worthy read.
Sadly, most Poles became betrayers of Polish Jews to gain Nazi favor. How lovely it would have been for them to nationally resist the Nazi agenda alongside their Jewish friends, neighbors, and colleagues, rather then participating in history yet again throwing the Jews “under the bus.”
Below are one of several collections of Schindler’s Jews portraits in the Museum. Click on the arrow to activate the video (Please let me know if these videos don’t work for you)As poorly executed as it is, I’m sharing the video with you because each face is a life!
A father, a sister, daughter, grandfather because of Oscar Schindler. These faces represent to me Courage X3:
Schindler’s Courage to risk all for others because its RIGHT;
the survivors’ Courage to continue trying to live, while suffering without hope;
and the Courage of millions more who did not survive.
For those under Oscar Schindler’s care, being a “Schindler’s Jew,” became a coveted title, a badge worn proudly their entire lives, even after his death in 1974. Many (perhaps not all, since some survivors never discussed the suffering of the war years) taught their children that their very lives were also owed to Schindler. Grateful without measure, they were devoted to him and advocated for a pension from Germany as well as assorted loans and grants, since business success eluded him after the war. It was the Schindler Jew’s advocacy that earned him multiple recognition and awards for his sacrifices on their behalf, and for Yad Vashem’s highest honor as a “Righteous among the Nations.”
The scene in the movie when Schindler and Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley’s character) create the list was pure fiction, for the romance of the concept. There were in fact several lists at different times, but no definitive, single Schindler’s list. Hence, accounts of numbers of Schindler’s Jews vary. However, whether he saved 1,200 or 1,100 or ??? makes no difference except for those not saved.
Initially, Schindler employed primarily Poles who, under German restrictions, worked for impossibly low wages and a few Jews, who could be paid a fraction of the Poles’ pay, but as time passed, the Jews proved to be better workers. Better, perhaps for assorted reasons, but certainly partly because those with work permits + work were exempted from Ghetto deportations. Over time, he saw the brutality, starvation, murder of Jews and knew through his Nazi contacts of the Final Solution – the plan to murder all European Jewry.
Extermination is done to rodents and insects. I refuse the word in application to people.
Many Jews benefited from working for Schindler at one point or another at his several factories. Those most fortunate were the few Jews with him the entire time, but those working for him many months or even a year benefited as well – a far greater chance of survival. Each Schindler-month of being fed adequately, living and working in tolerable conditions, and not being constantly brutalized was far more than a temporary respite from suffering.
The reprieve strengthened them, increasing their likelihood of survival – a sort of “re-boot” – in preparation for the next round of starvation and abject brutality. Finally, those brought by Schindler to his last factory in Czechoslovakia are the star-survivors of the story, escaping death in the face of Nazi’s escalation of murder of as many Jews as possible in the final years of the war – hence the dramatic scenes as the film’s end.
The link below takes you to the museum. PLEASE NOTE: I’ve not planted any horrific photos from death-camps here or anywhere in the blog, and have selected links without them as well.
Impassioned recommendations and reading online compelled me to devote a day to the Schindler Factory Museum in Krakow. Regardless of having become a “must see,” I set my expectations low, partly because this Schindler character is an important person in my life and I didn’t want to be disappointed. It’s better to be surprised by joy.
As a stand alone, The Schindler Factory Museum would have been worth the trip, and reading his biography extended and magnified my day’s visit for a month.
The other place that became a priority was a concentration/death camp of which I’d never heard: Majdanek. I found it outside a small town, Lublin, a long distance northeast of Warsaw, in the opposite direction of Krakow.
The detour to Lublin launched exploring travel options: train, bus, plane. I opted for train travel for cost and opportunity to see the country, and made 3 online reservations for my destinations: Warsaw to Lublin to Krakow.
It seemed the week of rain that brought me also brought green-green-andmoregreenacross grassy plains, hills, and forests through which my trains chugged. Farm homes – some pristine, other not so much – cows, horses and crops dotted the landscape. Some homes seemed entirely isolated, others clustered but too small to call a village, and many train stops at small towns gave me a view of Poland beyond two major cities (Warsaw and Krakow) and a small city (Lublin).
Eight hours of train travel on two separate days lit my imagination of partisans and Jews hiding in Poland’s forests. Some managed for years, I’ve learned. Utterly challenging. Impossible.
Decades ago, I enjoyed one or two night tent-camping excursions with friends in Colorado. We had propane and food and water and vehicles for escape if need be. Those experiences are light-years from qualifying for survival in Polish forests. How did they know what to eat? Where to find water? How to survive sleeping?
Traveling alone was enough of a risk for this gal. English was hard to find on many of Poland’s streets, seldom in menus, and absolutely not to be found in the Lublin Train Station. I was grateful I’d arrived an hour early. I watched trains and people come and go and compared the words on my ticket with posted signs (I couldn’t actually read the ticket) to discover which platform my train would appear.
During the hour of waiting, not one train stopped long enough for me to have time to make my way from the wrong platform. I had one chance to get it right. No pressure.
All ridiculously minor challenges compared to living in those forests alone, clueless.
The Nazi’s established many thousands of Ghettos and camps for slave labor and murder throughout Europe – other camps specialized in forced abortions of non-Arians, political prisoners, sex-slave brothels, and POWs.
Click on the link below for more information on camps
With countless places of horror all over Poland, some would wonder why I needed to go out of my way, investing two days of 3 separate train rides, away from my target destinations in Warsaw and Krakow “just” to see Majdanek?
Because during the war, a friend from Jerusalem was there, as a child.
It’s that simple.
I can’t tell you his story because I don’t know it.
Grief is managed differently by each of us, and in this case, the story and the subject are not discussed. However, because I love and respect this friend beyond measure, I was compelled to learn of and visit this place. It’s my puny way of honoring his suffering.
The link below takes you to more Majdanek information. No disturbing photos are in this one:
The concept is disturbing enough, and I appreciate you hanging in with me this far. It means so much to share this experience with you.
The link below has one small photo of too-thin inmates standing at a fence, that could catch the eye of those of you more sensitive souls, but the information provided is more detailed and might be of interest to others, so I’m including it
A Colorado ballroom dancer buddy, who happens to be a photographer (he has all 4 often-clustered skills: dancer, IT/engineer type, musician, photography!) urged me towards special photography for the Poland sites. I could probably have learned to set my iPhone 6 for black and white, but he described other techniques that I didn’t even understand. Since that wasn’t going to happen, rainy, grey, cloudy days replaced the expected late summer/early fall sunshine, and I didn’t need to change a thing!
A few photos in reverse, from the End moving backwards into Life.
One is not inclined towards whining about not having an umbrella while visiting a rainy concentration camp.
Above is a video of the building in the above photo – click on the arrow to play
The nearby town, Lublin has a charm and a history all it’s own. Centered around its enchanting Old Town and Castle are plenty of history of murders and prisoners long before the Nazi’s used it.
The link below suggests there’s enough to do there to warrant a week of touring. For me, Majdanek and walks through the Old Town was it.
More than 90% of Lublin’s Jews were murdered by the Nazis. Who can not wonder about those living in the town back in the day, knowing, or wishing they didn’t know what was going on . . . or in denial because it’s more comfortable . . . OR agreeing that all their problems are the Jews fault . . .
On the lighter side, there is a wonderful Vegan fast food cafe in the Old Town. another video below. click on arrow to hear the fiddler
Majdanek stories from survivors’ interviews
The following are told by survivors in their language. I recorded the translations for you by reading the English subtitles into my phone’s recorder. The clumsy language flow reflects the speakers’ spontaneity and emotion, as well as awkwardness of translation, without any editing by me. Tearless emotion was evident in their voices’ tension, pauses, facial expressions. Some are Jews, other’s Poles
1.“That’s a shock. The first hours, the first day, the second day, that’s the second shock. They are making me take off the clothes I am wearing, shaving my head, taking my clothes somewhere. They disappear. My outfit is a part of me. That’s all I have. They have taken everything. The only thing I have is my clothes and now I haven’t got it. A shaved head. That is a sign of humiliation or negative distinction in the society.”
2.“The first memory, or should I say, the terrible shock for me was when they took away our clothes, the civilian clothes. And it was the first time I had seen my mum naked. In the countryside nakedness was something either condemned or nonexistent, and suddenly I saw my mother so deprived of something, so embarrassed, and I remember it was a shocking experience for me.”
3.“And here a glance at the future again. This camp anxiety, the fear and vigilance were one of the basic causes of stress for someone who survived the camp. 50 years have passed now, and I got over it, but it was something like 30 years after the camp that I still didn’t like sitting in a room with a door behind my back. So if I still live with these subconscious fears, I think they are the reason for the stress which can wake you up at night from your dream for 30 years or more”
4.“They brought these little kids, and even they looked good at first. There was this baby seven or eight months old, who didn’t want to let go when I took him into my arms. I couldn’t hold him as I was unable to do anything so they somehow tied him to me with some bandages and a piece of a blanket. We didn’t have any nappies. We didn’t have anything. And then this horrible day came when they took the kids away. And a lorry came. Hanna Protowska climbed the lorry and we handed the kids over and the SS were standing around us. Hanna said, ‘Listen we could have refused, but do you know what they did with the children?’ We know. We’ve seen that. They threw them, took a leg and threw. So we should keep them by our side as long as possible. But she stands to lift Isaac off my back and I say ‘Why, let him stay.’ In fact I don’t have any choice, I thought. I couldn’t leave this child, and then Hanna banged me on the ear and took the child. We seated the kids carefully. They cried. They knew what was going on. They cried. We flung ourselves. We almost convulsed and then we started to cry. We cried all night long.”
5.This last speaker had the bearing of a professional – in stark contrast with how difficult it was for him to get started. He gestured helplessness with his hands. He sighs and shakes head. Another sigh. Pause, then sighs again and finally begins with, “I said I’d left Majdanek for home, however Majdanek didn’t leave me. It’s here,” gesturing to his heart. “Each time I got my academic degree, the first one, the second one, and the third, I always said, ‘I first graduated from Majdanek.’ I think that one minute spend in Majdanek is like one year, or even more.”
Those in the know stressed that the Warsaw Ghetto is impossible to tour independently, so my research turned towards finding a terrific guide. Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum, gave me several names and I settled with Pawel Szczerkowski, a 30-40-ish Polish Jew who was worth far more than the surprisingly reasonable “private guide” fee.
I love looking back on great decisions!
I’d been a bit discomfited by concerned friends and strangers, who were shocked by a solo trip. Was it really unwise? I discovered that mentioning I’d reserved a Guide for my first destination, the Warsaw Ghetto, comforted them a bit. It’s always lovely to be cared for with concern, and surely they were also saying they would never consider going it alone. I understand that. For all we share with our friends, we have vastly different life experiences and needs.
Having never hired a private guide, I fretted a little that it would be awkward to be paired up for hours with a stranger, and so promised myself that I would change the plan, linger, take a break…whatever. All were options precisely because he was a private guide.
In my wanderings before the scheduled Warsaw Ghetto tour, I happened upon the History of Jews in Poland Museum. Here’s the link
It proved to be worthy of many more than the recommended 2-3 hours, and perfectly timed at the front end of my week – a sweep of history that framed the days ahead. The visit fit snugly into the day after the Warsaw Ghetto tour and before the 1:50 train to Lublin.
I was in Warsaw only about 40 hours. As the plan was evolving, I looked at art museums of interest and even searched for concerts in Warsaw. But soon dismissed these “fun” options. How could I enjoy the work of Monet or Picasso in the morning, and spend the afternoon visiting a concentration camp?
Like the cleanse regimen of a serious fast, it seemed easier on my emotional system to be there solely for what I came to call “The Hard Places”
Since I wasn’t confident of the emotional energy to bounce from beauty to suffering, I opted to assume that in the decades since the war, Poland has found for herself beauty and newness. I’d return another time, if need be, to see Poland’s contemporary culture.
I understood that those who fretted about my solo journey to Hard Places envisioned me crying or upset. But, who would comfort me? My choices boiled down to two options:
a group of strangers in the midst of a tour’s busy agenda, filled with busses and places and timelines, or
go it solo.
It didn’t take long to realize a tour group of strangers would likely bring far less comfort than having the liberty to take an hour alone, alter plans, sit under a tree and cry, whatever. I love getting to say this: It was a good decision for me.
And I never needed to cry. I was OK
I’d searched maps the evening I arrived in Warsaw. WHERE was the Ghetto?
For a meal after the long flight from California, the hotel directed me to Old Town Warsaw, and I initially thought its streets of charming restaurants and shops, historic churches, synagogues, and homes was a restored section of the Ghetto. Until I realized it wasn’t.
The next day, my guide, Pawel, explained the Ghetto was entirely demolished after the war, that new Warsaw was built on top of what was or wasn’t fully scrapped away. The city’s post-war apartments at what was the north end of the Ghetto is where the resistance was fought – a long murderous month. The German’s succeeded, but only by burning the entire area to incinerate or flushout the last of the resistance fighters.
As we strolled through a complex of lovely apartments situated on gentle slopes, surrounded by esthetically pleasing greenery and playgrounds, Pawel explained that these apartments were built WITH as well as on top of the burnt-to-dust remains of incinerated fighters and buildings. A-lot-of-dust. Macabre as it sounds, the gentle slopes were/are the uncleared remains of the Ghetto and it’s Jewish fighters, forever together.
And, not surprisingly, decades have revealed that the ruins are an unstable foundation for homes. The parallel must not be missed: that the foundation upon which we build our homes – our lives – must be reliably solid and pure.
Only two segments of the Ghetto’s wall were preserved. Elsewhere, throughout the city of today’s Warsaw are reminders of the Ghetto – signs and memorials, markers on sidewalks and streets. I imagine routine and the blindness of busy-ness makes residents mostly unseeing of such things.
We are only correct sometimes, and it’s oh-so-much-better to know when we don’t know.
During a return visit to Nahariya’s Lieberman House Museum in July, I learned something crucial about the sculpture that had opened the rush of Grandma memories described in Blog 40.
How do I say this?
The sculpture was a self-sculpture by Alexander Kirzner. I checked and double checked, but it’s not Alexandra. My Grandma sculpture was a MAN!
Is it a bit too much reality to say this? After a certain age, men’s and women’s features become more androgynous.
When first examining the sculpture, it did cross my mind that it could be a man, but the seduction of delicious Grandma memories made the simple, Crucial!, fact irrelevant.
After my moment reorienting to the sculpture we’ll now call Grandma Alexander – instead of Grandma Edith – I began my appointment with Mia, the Museum’s manager/historian extraordinaire. She filled me with more than two hours of history and stories of the region’s characters, even her own family’s experiences as early settlers.
Mia’s around my age, and her parents are among the few who survived Auschwitz, afterwards immigrating to Israel. Still going strong, her mother takes art classes and produces beautiful oil paintings. We looked at old time photos of early pioneers tilling soil, building first markets, etc and Mia told me about them as folks now in their 80s and 90s, some as strong and sharp as ever. Others, not so much.
I could have sat all day listening, but alas, other visitors arrived. Her stories were a gift to me, hopefully my enthusiastic attention a gift in return.
Finally, I’m accepting one-time encounters for what they are, and not imagining that I’ve made a new friend. Our connection as teacher and student was fascination with the lives lived and the region’s history. Also, my only conversation-of-substance for the day.
some mistakes are just plain Cute
Last Spring, I planned a trip to visit Poland in the first week of September.
Specifically, the Warsaw Ghetto, Schindler’s Factory, and Majdanek and Auschwitz Death Camps.
You’re asking: Why?!?!?
Simple. I felt it was time. And yet there are many reasons.
Consequently, in June and July I was compelled more than ever to immerse myself in the Courage of the sufferers, the Spirit of the fighters, the Kindness of the non-Jews, and as much as I could bear of the cruelty of the Cruel.
Yad LaYeled (translates loosely “hand to child”) is a Children’s Museum extrordinaire with fascinating videos of survivors telling their stories of childhood years. Some hid or were hidden by gentile families or in convents. Others tell of feral lives alone in forests, with other children, or with strangers united for survival. One described as a girl spending her days in a large, covered pit with men and women sharing a bucket as toilet without privacy, not enough room for everyone to lay down at the same time, waiting until darkness to stand, receive the day’s food and water. . .
A different child’s voice filled each area of the spiraling downward museum. Each exhibits’ photos, memorabilia, and visual displays is narrated by a child reading authentic diaries and letters of children from that era. The floor’s notable decline and sense of “going in circles” gives a bodily experience to what was happening as the story is told: normal life morphing with initiation of one restriction after another. Jews can’t sit in the park…work as a physician…attend school…enter this store…
My heart split into two:
The young writers’ description of life’s changes under the Nazi regime
The post-war boys and girls of various ages reading the letter or diary of a child their approximate and age – a child who most likely didn’t survive the war. How could the readers not be affected by these first-hand accounts reeking of fear, confusion, and loss?! An earlier generation of children suddenly forbidden to go to school or music classes, accosted on the street, fathers losing jobs, forced moves into squalid, impossibly cramped conditions – Ghettos – starving and imprisoned in their own city. A few writings described the train rides without toilet facilities or water, and life in the camps. How could reading for such recordings not have been a dramatic experience for these post-war children?
“A million and a half children perished in the holocaust. Only tens of thousands survived in the forests, in hide-outs, with non-Jews who saved them, on city streets, and in hiding places throughout Europe. This exhibit focuses on the children who survived the Holocaust. It describes their emotional and geographical journey, as well as the role of survivors, youth movement members, and volunteers from Eretz Israel who stepped forward in order to return to these children something of their lost childhoods, to light a path of light for them so they could find their lost faith in people, laugh, sing, play, create, learn, and believe in a better future, one that was worth living.”
Each exhibit has a video monitor offering visitors Hebrew, English, or French subtitles of the testimonies of survivors. I guessed these people ranged from mid- 50s to 80s at the time of the recordings, from all walks of life. The speakers’ styles and speaking skills were deliciously Non-Hollywood Genuine in both monologues and interviews.
Telling of being hidden, their facial expressions in the recordings flash the confusion of the child they were at suddenly living with strangers. Most mention being forbidden to speak of their real family, adapting to a new name and even pretend to be Catholic, not Jewish. These Grandparent-aged men and women’s faces portray their early years’ vulnerability. While some describe episodes of miraculous timing, most of life seemed about emotions screaming “Panic!”
Their courage, and those who helped are the stuff of life. Fertilizer on roses… The cruelty of mankind is history, and still there are roses:
People who love and sacrifice for others
I choose to honor the victim’s lives by not protecting my heart from their suffering. What disease could I possibly be exposed to in learning of their lives? How can words begin to touch upon the magnitude of their experience?
Learning about them is one way I honor who they were, much like I try to learn about a new friend’s life.
Extreme Sport? I feel more alive when connecting with the Real life of others, and that must by definition include both sorrows and losses as well as successes and joys. It’s not about me, but about them.
What’s depressing is to think only of My Life. One drop in the bucket. I love knowing, one way or another, a few of the other drops.
The specifics blur because I have never retained dates and geography and couldn’t pass a history exam, but I know the people’s stories – those I’ve “met” – even if not their names. “Self,” I say, “You don’t have to learn everything. There is no exam, and if people think you’re a dummy because you don’t know names and dates, well, so be it.”
What expectations or standards have you released yourself from, for the good?
Whose September songs do you know? Frank Sinatra? Earth Wind & Fire? The Tempo’s? JD Cooper?
September Songsis the working title of blog #44. Why? There are countless “September” songs about love and loss and hope, so it’s seems the perfect title for recounting Poland, the first week of September.
Try Google-ing “songs about September”. You’ll find memories and unfamiliar, and hope and loss . . . that’s what I experienced in September’s journey through Poland. Don’t fear that you’re not up to it because it’s a Good journey.
Finding music is an unexpected gift. Stop-and-Smell-the-Roses moments season the day. Click here if below is black: https://vimeo.com/235023646
So many days have Moments of funfilled surprise and wonder, along with Sadness, even suffering, that sparks thought…revelation, and growth. Balance.
Is it like a balanced diet?
Sadness doesn’t have to result from learning or seeing sad things. While not the Chocolateof life, others’ sorrows nourish me with courage to LIVE well.
Because of the worlds’ history, war museums abound, and the suffering represented couldn’t be further from my own life’s dramas. Still, I choose to go. To hear their stories, and respect their lives by remembering. To look at baby shoes, wire-rimmed glasses, a silver-handled hairbrush.
Learning about them, I learn about myself, and am changed.
Driving north of Haifa, along Hwy 70, is the Ghetto Fighters’ Museum. I’d not heard of it, but the sign called to me from the highway, so with each passing I’d mentally re-add it to my list of “to-do”s. Finally, last July I visited. It was more than worthwhile; it was timely.
After an hour or so on my own, I happened upon an English speaking tour guide brilliantly leading a group of 40 or so American Jewish 16-20 year olds. I’m not sure about the etiquette of these situations, but am not too proud to tag along at a respectful distance. I was absolutely her most engaged listener, although the students were attentive, even participating.
At first opportunity, I introduced myself and complimented her skill. There was a time in my life I’d try to listen without getting “caught” and would certainly not have introduced myself, fearing it was inappropriate. Perhaps it is, but most seem to appreciate a compliment, and hopefully my low profile is not distracting. Someday, we – you and I – should compile a list of things we do now that intimidation or timidity forbade years ago. Could the earth bear such a list?
I can’t help but think how different my life would have been
One of many take-aways from that visit was learning that Holland was not the great rescuer of Jews that I’d thought. Anne Frank’s story tells of food and supplies being provided by loyal, brave Dutch gentiles. Corrie tenBoone’s Christian family was murdered for hiding Jews. Post-war testimonies of surviving Jews told of help from good Dutch people in assorted venues. It seemed that something exemplary had occurred in the Netherlands.
However, decades of research has revealed that the voices – the lives – of disproportionately many many more Jews were silenced by the “good Dutch people’s” overwhelming cooperation with the Nazi regime. Disappointing as it is, the evidence is that Dutch citizens, police, and government cooperated with the Nazis far more than initially presumed.
I finally found the answer to a question that has nagged at me since learning of the Holocaust as a child: Why did the Jews cooperate?
Surely I missed the answer in countless movies and books and museums and lectures… But, instead of wondering what’s wrong with me that I didn’t “get” until now, I rejoice that finally the answer resonates within. “You’re learning and growing. Good job.” I tell myself, rather than chastising, “what a dummy.”
With Dutch cooperation and brilliant strategy, the Nazi leadership introduced their evil restrictions to Holland’s Jewish population. Gradually. Beginning with minor freedoms (is there such a thing?), the Jews adjusted to new laws imposed by the regime, one prohibition at a time. Each new one surely the last.
The frog doesn’t jump out of the kettle if the water is heated slowly.
Systematically, they lost their place in the life of the community until basic survival became everyday’s challenge, with humiliation on the street and betrayal by friends and neighbors. I can only imagine the hopelessness.
Finally instructed to pack supplies of diapers, clothing for several seasons, essential household items, and valuables, most Jews complied and reported to the trains as assigned. Grieving their losses of home, livelihood, liberty, and dignity, they accepted “relocation” by the German Occupiers. Little did they know they were being relocated from LIFE.
When is knowledge complicity?
When should I intervene, or look away?
A parent’s harshness seems brutal in the subway. When is it abuse, and what is my role?
Two girls pocket (ie, steal!) candy in the market. Is it right for me to speak up? To whom?
The unspoken truth is that much was known about the death camps years before Russian and US soldiers took the famous photographs. Who could admit they knew and did nothing, under the guise of “minding our own business”?
It was more comfortable to say they had no idea, but now we have too much evidence otherwise. Certainly not in entirety, but 10s and 100s of thousands murdered should have been enough, to do more . . . so, I recycle to WHEN should I speak up? What is my role with a stranger?
Refocusing on Holland, many wonderful Dutch people risked their lives by hiding and helping Jews, assisting escapes, taking-in children, etc. But too many Jews were betrayed by their neighbors. The Dutch police and other authorities’ participation with Nazi regime edicts resulted in a far greater percentage of Holland’s Jews being sent to camps than any other nation.
Having admired the courage of the Corrie ten Boom story since I heard her speak as a college freshman, I resisted reconfiguring my impression. I’d still rather think that the sacrifices of Corrie’s family and other good Dutch people earns the reputation for the nation. But, resist as I might, the facts prevail. Their good deeds and sacrifices are still HUGE, but they were a too-small minority.
I must be truthful with Truth, I’m doing my best to be honest, both before the mirror and God.
Assorted documentation included films of disturbing interviews. I’ll give you Only one example, lest you fear having to endure more than you can bear of this painful topic, and leave in search of clips of Robin Williams or Lucille Ball.
⇒One former Dutch police captain answered questions about conducting round-ups with a shrug, “We were following orders. . . it was a nasty job.” My heart screamed at his abdication, “Where is your humanity?!?”
Yet again, my response compels me to the mirror. “Where is YOUR humanity?” May God reveal my attitudes to me. And, make my heart tender where it’s sharp, stronger where it’s weak.
Finishing the Ghetto Fighters’ Museum, since I had a trip to Warsaw scheduled for the first week of September – working title is “September Songs – blog 44” – I soaked in as much as possible of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Here it is in a nutshell:
Team 1: Several hundred Jewish resistance fighters, mostly teens and young adults affected by years of malnutrition and deprivation, wield sticks, Molotov cocktails, and too few WW1-era guns with insufficient ammunition AGAINST
Team 2: Several thousand well-equipped and nourished troops of the German Army.
It took a month for the Germans to overcome the defenders, and that only by burning down the area, building by building.
The young Jews faced the reality of the death camps and chose to not go as lambs to the slaughter. Their courage fills my empty tank for the ridiculously incomparable tiny feats that my days sometimes require.
Had she been alive to read “ridiculously” in the above paragraph, my wise friend, Penny, who spent over half of her life as a quadriplegic, would have gently chastised me. It was she who taught me better than anyone else that each person’s sorrows are their own, very genuine sorrows and that there is no place for comparison. Even so, how can I but compare?
May we find the courage to spend our lives on the Good
In the tiny gallery of Nahariya’s Historic Water Tower, I noticed Caroline pondering herself in the mirror. Is she feelingdarker than she is? Why? What does the darker-ness mean? Has it been put upon her by someone or generated from within, her own perception?
After my few art classes, I examine renderings of water and mirrors for technique, but it’s the suddenly-revealed-to-me Stories that keep me rooted before a painting. Subtleties pull me in, and I ask the painting questions, pushing deeper. Reflections in water and mirrors make me especially curious, and when pictures are without explanation by the artist, the art is entirely liberated to reveal its own stories. In this instance, it seemed important to name her. What comes to mind as you consider Caroline’s life? What would you have named her?
Art frees my imagination far beyond reading a great novel, because it invites me to create the story. In the process of creating, my heart engages with characters and their moments, their emotions. Admittedly, I love making them be who I want them to be. Is it like playing with dolls?
A hot air balloon, my free flowing imagination wants to fly untethered. But it’s not always been that way. With each decade I find my soul responds to things I didn’t like or even notice in years past.
These days I give myself time to absorb beauty, food, well-phrased words. I even eat more slowly, enjoying the texture and taste of the food and the view from my balcony, when I have one. Quiet, instead of using the time to read or computer surf.
Above was my view of Monfort Lake in the Galilee’s lush hills, until a few days ago. For the next few days I will visit friends from a home base of a tiny, pristine AirBNB rental nestled in the heart of Jerusalem, sans balcony.
Israel is again burying police and citizens because of terror. You may have heard about the terrorists who smuggled, stashed, and then used weapons to murder and terrorize at the Western Wall (aka”Wailing Wall”) and Al-Asqa Mosque complex. The Arab world voiced outrage over the immediate, temporary closing of the site for investigation, as well as installation of metal detectors, obviously warranted.
Against what other nation would international protests be directed for temporarily closing-for-investigation a crime scene and implementation of increased security measures? It is beyond logic. There have been other attacks since then, within and outside of Jerusalem, and more terror just yesterday resulted in slaughter of a family sitting in their home for Shabbat dinner, resulting in 3 civilian deaths and others critically injured. What next? Where?
Muslim Arab religious and political leaders continue to promise to terrorists a glorious heavenly reward, plus astounding financial gifts for their families, and streets or monuments likely being honored in their name – all for the killing of Jewish civilians, children, elderly, security workers, as well as whoever else happens to get in the way.
At around the age of 9, my long ponytail was cut dramatically into a pixie style. Shortly afterwards, I was sitting in the car waiting for my mother when a pickup pulled up alongside the car and three noisy 20-something boys/men climbed out. They looked around guiltily and then noticed me. While I couldn’t hear the discussion that ensued, I heard well their parting words, wrapping themselves around me as only words can. “It’s just a little boy in the car.” They laughed, piled in the truck, and drove away.
I relived the moment for decades. Both my younger and older selves debated between 2 undesirables:
They knew I was a girl and were ridiculing my haircut. (But how likely was that? Wasn’t I just being self-conscious?)
They thought I really was a boy. (arghhhhhhhhhhhh)
Both options were far worse than the already-regreted haircut that took years to return to “normal.” Far, far worse.
Tacitly accepted for decades, those words shouted louder than affirmations from others or the mirror of hypercritical self-assessment. I was almost 30 before I finally found courage to tell trusted friends what had happened.
All along I feared telling the story would give it reality, but of course keeping it locked within gave it far more power. Need I say how freeing it was to release the mean or unfortunate moment into the trash, where it belongs. Thankfully, my trusted friends didn’t ridicule the power of the words, or the pain they’d caused.
Can you relate? Have you told your story? Stories? Be courageous.
People-watching kept me going around the lake 3 or more laps: Arab men of all ages gathered around bong pipes (what do they smoke?), family picnics and birthday celebrations, sweethearts and good buddies strolling or sitting in conversation, athletic trainers coaching 10-15 women with boot-camp style exercises and running. The variety was endless.
Israel’s intense summer is upon us, and the humidity from the lake and beautiful greenery is thick, but nothing compares with the hot-humidity of Tel Aviv and the other beach cities.
The family who had rented to me the studio on their property has 5 beautiful daughters under the age of 10. The community is so routinely safe – Muslim and a smaller number of Christian Arabs + Druze + religious and secular Jews living and working side by side – that the older sisters enjoy the lake’s community swimming pool independently!
when words are swords
I’ve spoken many, many words that caused pain, and my regret is deep. I can’t dismiss them to youth or zeal. . . they were entirely my responsibility and horrid. Just a few months ago a friend implied she didn’t know a lot about something and I agreed, too heartily and quickly. Her hurt expression and “OK, then,” told me I’d seriously offended her.
“I’m so sorry,” is so lame, but all I had to offer, over and over, impotently. “I don’t know why I said that.” Trying to put into words what the friendship means and my respect for the person and and and arggggggggghhhhhhhhh.
Much later I realized the source of my words: Her knowledge of all things Israel far surpasses mine, and I was startled to discover that I actually knew more than she did about which of two cities is larger, a tiny thing. My thinking was not that she didn’t know much, but rather that, surprisingly, I knew one thing more. Can you see the difference? I wasn’t putting her down, but rather myself, awkwardly, and unfortunately.
worse than Clueless in Seattle is Clueless Everywhere Anytime…
I know there are many more instances when I’ve damaged someone and remained completely clueless, even to this day. A long term friend recently told me how she felt very disappointed and upset after our previous conversation. Clueless-me frantically tried to remember what I could have possibly said to offend her so deeply, all the while saying over and over “I’m sorry…never meant to…so sorry…obviously was clueless…”
Words cut like knives. Not knowing we’ve done it, sliced someone into pieces is the worst. Don’t you think?
Often I get clobbered by strangers. Questions, observations, not speaking to me or even acknowledging my presence. I’m sensitive but my hurt feelings are mature enough to tell me the stranger, or even friend, was Clueless. Strangers don’t know where the soft sides are. How could they?
Intentional clobbering by friends and acquaintances is the last category. These hurt because my walls are down. Having had many many birthdays, I’ve finally learned the pain is sometimes avoidable. Too often, I ignore my intuition or “feel” for the person in the interest of building a friendship. I let them too far in and then the snake bite hurts. I have myself to blame for not using good judgement, not taking care.
Still, as painful as it is, I’d far rather be a recipient than give unintended word bombs, inflicting wounds, sadness, or uncertainty about how others – friends or strangers – are valued in relationship, or life.
Learning about issues surrounding Jewish history, and history in general, as well as everyday life, I’m stunned with what people take to their graves. Impossible experiences, too often never exposed to light of healing. There is so much we never know about each other, parents, siblings, lifelong friends.
July 26 will be the 1st anniversary of leaving my Jerusalem apartment for structured homelessness, to explore this land and her people. I’ve wrapped up a record breaking 7 weeks in one city, Maalot-Tarshika (in the western Galilee) and 6 of those weeks in one bed! (Week 1 proved to be too noisy to be viable, so for the first time all year, I ended a reservation sooner than initially planned, moving to the quieter one).
The year has been thrilling and peaceful, successful and frustrating, disappointing and fulfilling, lonely and blessed with moments of kind companionship – all the things of life!
Not paying rent (except for where I lay my head day by day) has made traveling now seem smart, so I’ve offered one or both passports in Ireland and China, as well as the U.S, and have 2018 plans for Japan and Vietnam and Alaska and even a few cruises. I’ll soon leave Israel’s desert heat for a week in Switzerland with a friend who’s lived there since before WW2, then the US, and finally a week in Poland.
May your journey today be blessed, whether working your way through today’s to-do list, enjoying family and friends, or changing diapers, and may you know how LOVED you are.
A 30-minute drive from my current digs brings me to the beach town of Nahariyah. 54,000 Israeli’s currently call Nahariyah home. I’ve discovered those who don’t speak English speak Russian, as the area became a popular landing point for Russian immigration.
Tragic events of 1979 link then with now for this resort, seaside town just 10km (6.2 miles) from Lebanon’s border. Wikipedia‘s version reads like a Patrick Clancy novel, but far worse than a terrific imagination, it Happened.
I finally dedicated a morning to visit 3 of the 4 landmark/historic places listed online. The first was closed, with a sign telling me that much and more, but the more was beyond my language skills. I drove on to the next: the Lieberman House Museum.
What did I know in advance? Only that it was listed with the others as a site to visit when in the city. Google “What to see in or near (Your City)” and see what you find. Perhaps something for an outing. Let me know!
It seems Nahariyah owes its foundations to a handful of visionaries and many hardworking pioneer families, most formerly middle classes of Europe, beginning new lives far from all they’d known. The visionary founders, experts in their respective fields – agriculture, city planning, finance, land management -endured conflicts not unlike today’s leaders. Disagreements, ego, competition, and whatever else complicated the effort. A lifetime of working with skilled professionals in several different arenas leaves me convinced there are predictably challenges among any group, doing most anything. What’s your experience?
The timing was crucial, as foresighted Jews who were and able to escape Europe in the mid-1930s arrived. Learning agriculture, climate and endless adjustments of an international move, they were the embodiment of centuries of prayer to return to the Land. They received none of the assistance I received in 2014. I can only imagine how very very difficult.
I studied the visionaries faces, read their bios, and imagined them finding commonalties and differences as they collaborated to establish Nahariya. Never a team person as a child, I learned in professional arenas to collaborate, follow the leader, and disregard the irritants that accompany every group effort. Years later I enjoyed teamwork singing with Sweet Adelaines choruses, 70 – 170 women, ages 13 – 85, as well as smaller bands. All had challenges, but were functional because unified by common goals.
What teams are landmarks in your experience?
How were you stretched?
What did you learn?
I read Nahariyah’s story and studied photos, taking in all of the tiny Museum’s first floor in 20 minutes. The first few years of the settlement went well, with great crops and growth, but then the crops struggled the pioneers were forced to explore other options. Some built guest cottages and tiny hotels, earning the settlement a Honeymoon Stay reputation. Others opened shops to train hairdressers, or made clothing, furniture, and other specialty items. Surely they would not have ventured in new directions had their initial agriculture plans succeeded perfectly.
How adaptable are those who succeed! Whether finessed or clumsy, it seems the goal is to maintain vision while adapting, changing methods and strategies whenever warranted.
Fifteen noisy tourists had arrived after me, looked over the first floor displays and climbed the stairs to the second floor, so I waited. Their voices carried through the floor so loudly, I absolutely did not want to be beside them, and later was grateful I’d been patient.
The 2nd floor was at a glance, a disappointment. Nothing of interest. Black and white photos of the 1930s and 40s hung on the walls, and in a corner by the window stood 2 mannequins with women’s regional attire. I took a quick look, shook my head and glanced at the stairs I’d just climbed.
I shrugged, and stood.
A scratched and chipped sculpture of a woman’s head was on a stand in a corner. It called to me, so I approached. Nearly lifesize, and not especially impressive, I looked more closely. My fingers wanted to touch it more than any other sculpture before which I’ve stood.
Confession Alert: I touched it.
Museum behavior like that can get a gal in serious trouble, but they must have not had video surveillance because the authorities were not waiting for me when I eventually descended the stairs.
My fingers traced her eyes, cheekbones, her lips, over and over. Tears filled my eyes.
What’s this about?
I was touching my grandmother’s face. How long has it been, or did I ever touch her face like that. Perhaps when my hands were tiny, the size most grandmothers wouldn’t push away. I don’t remember her ever pushing me away.
Years later, I did caress her face, but it wasn’t clear then that she recognized . . . herself or anyone. My fingers, now on the keyboard, remember and pull my heart back to that non-descript corner’s humble sculpture. I’m stirred by how real she was to me in that moment, and now.
Her love, imperfect as it was, but passionate for me, filled me with memories. Sleeping in her bed with her, pet name for me only, Matzo Ball soup, her cookies (I have her cookie jar, but never has it produced for me any of her cookies). Her eccentricities!
She once shook her finger in the face of a beau who towered above her, warning, “If you hurt her, I’ll kill you.” He nodded and said, “Yes Ma’am.” I wonder these many years later whether she would have killed him, had she know how that went.
Why that sculpture? I don’t think the face was so like hers? Was it a memory I needed refreshed?
I was refreshed.
I’ll return to Nahariyah for the other places yet unseen, as well as continue to walk her beach when the evening’s cool the humid heat, but Nahariyah will forever be sweet to me for the experience of Grandma.
Silly pictures and games with sounds help me begin to learn new words. With repeated use they become what they mean and the association drops. Do you have a story from using similar techniques to learn professional vocabulary or hard to remember names?
Imagine a park or beach scene with colorful kites flying, their colors a kaleidoscope: קייץ is pronounced “kites” and means: summer (easy enough so here’s another)
How do vegetarians feel about meat? חלבון sounds like “Hell-bone” and means: protein. It kind of fits, if you think about it.
They say learning is good for your brain, and now your brain has had some exercise. Besides new information here and there, I hope this blog overall stimulates your heart. Has it?
You cannot even laugh when you want to laugh, and you want to tell me that I’m in prison and you’re free? Natan Sharansky
Is the name Natan Sharansky familiar? A Russian Jew who agitated against the USSR regime, he was convicted by political court for spying for the CIA, despite U.S. government efforts to prove otherwise. Sharansky spent 9 of a 13 year sentence in USSR prisons (1977 – 1986). Relentless protests and appeals led by his wife, Avital, combined with the changes in USSR’s regime and finally resulted in his eventual release and immigration to Israel.
I took the opportunity to see him interviewed in Jerusalem in May. He told the audience of more than 300 about taunting his captors by telling them jokes about the Communist Regime, and that they wanted to laugh, but didn’t dare. How much freer he was, as a prisoner, than were they.
His quote above rang within, and I scribbled on a scrap from my purse, in the dark. I think a lot about freedom. FreedomS, that is. There are so many kinds I’ve experienced in a lifetime, and yet have often felt bound, nonetheless. Those binds are wrong lessons learned and fears that I no longer want to rule my life. Many have been shed, but it’s an Onion Phenomenon – always another layer.
This link has several good video clips of his interview (simply scroll down a few paragraphs into the article)
Recent news about Otto Warmbier’s return and heartbreaking death brings to the forefront that some things remain the same, always. Absolute power. The fragility of our lives. A family’s grief. What can others take from us? Sometimes, we only think they have power, and yet other times they really do, and can take those we most love.
Animals! I prefer people
I came home one evening to find a HUGE roach on my bathroom floor – this guy was easily 2 inches long. It took a lot of “whapping” cuz he moved fast, but I finally got him with the bottle-bottom of toilet cleaner stuff. Then the dogs in the neighborhood barked all night. Big, deep, barks and barks and barks. Then leaving for the morning, I encountered a SNAKE easily 3 feet long and a fatty, too. The last snake I met was on a Colorado hiking trail, an angry rattling rattler and we hikers and bike riders lined up giving him his due respect, AKA “distance!” After about 10 minutes, he calmed himself and slithered off of our trail. I greeted the snake here with a startled scream and my hostess’s daughter, around 10, came running, then explained something about another snake shorter but still plenty long, having recently been sighted. She said more but that’s all I could sort out of her rapid Hebrew. I walked to my car still shuddering, thinking how fat he was. Shuddering, until it occurred to me, they eat mice. A good thing. He looked like he had eaten many many mice. Finally, most evenings I walk the nearby lake, smelling like the repellant to keep the mosquitoes at bay.
Addendum: Several days later my hostess explained Fat Snake was actually some sort of legless lizard. Neither would be a friend of mine, but I hope they keep up good appetites.
Note the Hebrew letters for spelling play, and the don’t-litter sign
The woman from Ethiopia immigrated to Israel with family more than 25 years ago. A grandmother of several, she is blind, welcomes conversation and is quick to say she is grateful to work. Besides 2 languages from her nation of origin plus Hebrew, she speak some English. Most days she strings ceramic shapes with assorted sized beads into simple decorative mobiles. Someone arranges, from left to right, the color sequence and unless one of the handmade shapes was not made correctly and is without a tiny tunnel for the wire, she works independently.
A week after our initial meeting, she recognized my voice as soon as I spoke. “Linda, is that you?” Please don’t ask me if I remember her name.
One recent morning, she worked beside a younger woman, wrapping for store display darling ceramic catch-alls, tiny soap dishes in the days before liquid soap. Downs Syndrome does not interfere with her intense concentration to the task at hand, filtering out a bevvy of distractions that take down most other workers. She never, absolutely never, seems to be told to get back on task, as do so many others. As the expert at our project together, she told me when I’d not met her expectations, but otherwise keeps to herself while working.
At one point the Ethiopian woman coughed, lightly, a suddenly dry throat. A moment passed, and the younger woman with Downs syndrome asked if she was alright, then whether she wanted “something cold.” Without waiting for a reply, she left her own work and returned several minutes later with a glass full of water.
The simple gesture made my day.
What have you seen in the way of kindness that took your breath away?
May you draw closer to those you love, and may they become more sure of your affection for them. I’ll be visiting friends in Colorado and California in August and hope to manage the same.