39 – Day One Day Two and lunch


Greetings from Maalot-Tarshika, in Israel’s north, midway between the Sea of Galilee and Lebanon. My studio apartment for longer than usual (7 weeks), overlooks beautiful Lake Montfort


First and foremost, as Father’s Day approaches in the U.S., check out what Elie Wiesel’s son, Elisha, has to say about his famous father’s parenting. http://jewishweek.timesofisrael.com/lessons-from-my-father/


Day One

Like many, this particular day began with a wisp of a plan: to buy tickets for 2 performances. Uncertain about best seating from the information on the websites, I opted to check out the venues and purchase tickets on site. A simple 10 minute drive to one and a 30 minute drive to the other. What else would the day bring?

The first, Kibbutz Ga’aton, is known for its well-respected dance company that performs worldwide, each coveted position earned through tough competition.

Contemporary Dance, to be precise. Here’s an example  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_GwuNoQ7cM 

Those of you who know me well won’t be surprised that I love its intensity. “Modern Dance” was the only gym class I liked in high school and I would loved to have had the skill to pursue it.

If the genre is unfamiliar to you, here’s a good explanation. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-modern-dance-1007279 

More dance to watch from Israel:

https://video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?fr=yhs-itm-001&hsimp=yhs-001&hspart=itm&p=modern+dance+in+israel#id=3&vid=2c048be91ed193f2ea9903862fd9f0d5&action=click

back to Day One

Searching for the office to purchase a ticket, I happened upon a group of 30 dancers sitting on the floor in a circle of a rehearsal room. After one young man told me how to find the ticket sales office, I did one of my favorite things to do in life: I told them how amazing they are.

Although I have no way of knowing whether these are the same dancers, dancing in this Company means they are the caliber of those I had previously watched, when by chance I first visited Ga’aton. The word “Dance” on the community’s sign had caught my eye, and curiosity led the way.

I explained to the group, “Last September I happened into the back of the large performing hall for what seemed to be a final rehearsal for a performance. What you do is amazing. Your skill. Strength. Focus. Your dancing gives me joy.”

I love making deposits of affirmation like that. Love Love Love it!

I Wish, and watch always for opportunities. Words like that must, of course, be genuine. 110%

Jaws dropped. Eyes opened wide. Who is this strange woman? A few glanced at each other and smiled. Then I asked if they all spoke English, thinking too late about the language issue. They all nodded, and I thought, “Of course, it’s the common language for all international programs.”

Leaving grins and the love of gratitude, I strolled through the shaded park-garden in the center of the community, and purchased my tickets. Paying cash, I asked about a receipt but was instead assured my name would be on the list for admission. Ok, then. Her name was Simon. The concert is Saturday, June 10.

Ga’aton’s Dance Company does so much international touring, it’s rare to catch a local performance and I’m thrilled the timing coincides with  my stay in the region.

On I drove to the second, Kibbutz Eilon, renowned for world caliber violinist training. http://www.keshetei.org.il/abouts_EN.asp  After purchasing the ticket, navigating the exchange in Hebrew, my hunger reminded me to think about lunch.

In the northern hills of Israel, make-do options for food can be found, but always I want the adventure of eating, not just make-do. I took a chance and followed Waze’s navigation (is it used in the U.S.?) to the nearest “food” place. It turned out to be a pizza and beer joint with mini-market groceries. Ugh.

Opting to hold out for great, I chanced throwing the dice a second time and followed GPS to the next closest. Fifteen minutes of winding through hills found me in a teeny-tiny village called Shtula, on the Lebanon border. The best way to describe it is to tell you that the most recent data I could find (from 2014) indicated 265 residents. It doesn’t look like it’s grown.

There was no signage, but Waze said I’d arrived, so I parked and peered into the windows of what appeared to be a community hall. Round tables with white tablecloths were beautifully set in a large dining room that could have seated 200, but no living being.

I tested, then pushed the door open, thinking, “Perhaps preparing for a wedding reception or BarMitzpha party” just as a woman entered the dining room. In jeans, 30-ish, pony-tailed hair, she was busy setting tables, but welcomed me into a small room off of the kitchen in response to my question, “Are you open?” When she paused from scurrying, I explained that I was looking for a vegetarian lunch.

A man about the same age entered, impressive camera in his hand. That’s when I noticed the white light-reflective boards used by photographers on a table. They weren’t really open for business.

The woman suggested something I didn’t understand (there are just so darn many food words to learn!) and then brought out a delicious looking, artfully designed dish of grapeleaves (dolma) and onion-wrapped rice. Delighted with the adventure of the unknown, I asked for a smaller portion and sat where she motioned, feeling like family, sitting just outside the large kitchen rather than in the formal, prepped for photos, dining room.

The photography session continued and my hostess/chief/waitress brought dish after dish from the kitchen. Some photos were of a round table, filled with platters of wonderful looking food, family style, and each dish was also photographed alone. The photographer’s “eye” was good for balance and color. Even the meat dishes looked appealing!

https://www.facebook.com/pg/hemdathagalil/photos/?ref=page_internal

Meanwhile, food began to materialize on my table: a wonderful humus plate, dolmas as promised, raw and pickled veggies, Kurdish pita (a potatochip-crispy, paper-thin bread). My feast ended with generous slices of perfectly sweet cantaloupe and Kurdish tea (cinnamon-y wonderful).

Offering imperfect Hebrew, smiling a lot, and sharing my food, I managed to charm my hostess’s 4 1/2 year old into sitting with me. The tea party atmosphere and novelty of me made my food more appealing than the yogurt cup with which she had been toying.

After the adventure with lunch, I drove through town and found a huge chicken coop. Check out the utube I found for you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfINrR_BdFU  I’m confident there are more chickens in Shtula than people!

All in all, Day One was a success story, and I returned to my current home happy to have taken a chance. It doesn’t always work out this well, but it would never happen if I weren’t willing to chance.


Can you relate to someone whose dreams and experience are impossibly far from yours?

I don’t currently have a “home” anywhere. Nor am I searching for a place to live or trying to decide between favorites, but intentionally being untied. Staying in cities or villages a month or more, as though I were living there, gives me a sense of local flavors.

I’m currently beginning re-visits, with lists of “to do” from people who asked whether I visited Pki’in(?), learned the story of the statues, or folk danced where I’d found none. During this stay in Maalot, among many things, I’ll be checking out the nearby villages that are restricted to Christian Arab residents (legally). In one, the owner of a Belgium chocolate + coffee shop explained that his family had lived there forever and that he has 400+ neighbors who are relatives. Imagine!

I’m visiting friends I made in September, and bought a month membership at the gym again, things I particularly enjoyed. What began as a potentially 6 month maximum project is now looking like a 2 year plan, twice around this tiny nation.

Meanwhile, I am taking advantage of not paying rent, and traveling overseas as well. This past year to Ireland, China, Italy (search by country name for previous posts with reflections from those trips) and in the coming year: Switzerland, Poland, Japan, and Vietnam.

I’m learning that this structured “homelessness” is disturbing to many, and it is certainly odd for me. All my life, I’ve wanted every move to be the last, learning a new community, building new friendships, establishing new routines one last time. However, each of my lifetime’s 31 addresses were followed by another.

Moving to Jerusalem in November 2014 was the biggest, and still I searched for a neighborhood, even an apartment, to stay forever. It was not meant to be, and after 1 1/2 years, I cancelled my lease and packed into storage my tiny household, viciously weeding out unessential’s yet again.

Only this time, for the first time, the dream was not to move to the next place forever. Instead, I had a different vision: to become acquainted with the Holy Land’s regions, the people who give each area personality, her culture, music, great coffee, amazing food, historical and archeological sites, and whatever else presented itself. I wanted to know the land well enough that when someone said where they were born, I’d have a sense of that area, their roots, possibly even the specific city.

This quest has entailed a minimalistic lifestyle. For practicality, my wardrobe consists of the same “uniform” most days with variance only when clothes are drying or weather warrants a change. Shoes are cumbersome: running shoes, sandals, and another pair of sneakers for pilates/Zumba at the gym and Israeli folk dancing.

I stay in short-term rentals found through friends of friends or Airbnb or  Booking.com, most with minimal kitchen space and equipment, but enough to assemble serious vegetable salads and morning tea, and sometimes even stir-fry veggies with gluten free pasta – a feast.

Days are varied combinations of studying Hebrew and extracting conversations whenever possible, volunteering, taking classes, going almost anywhere I’m invited, and of course adventures like Day One. However, I’ve learned to schedule carefully because all things being new + communicating in a new  language is exhausting beyond words. I resist falling into routines or allowing too many favorites, lest I leave something undiscovered or explored by too often defaulting into a comfort zone.

Exhausting, but I love it! Forever? Probably not. But for now it’s my Journey and I’m learning and growing and happy.

The all too familiar ache of loneliness would visit if I were still dancing and singing and hiking and who knows what else in Denver, or anywhere else. I find or am found by new friends, and enjoy at least one encounter every day for which I’m grateful.

That I’m not intentionally not anchored bothers some, while others say “I’m impressed / Wonderful / You’ll know the country better than most Israelis.” I agree it’s not normal, but even missing conveniences of a home, this lifestyle is working for me. I’m thriving. I hope these reflections encourage you towards your challenges-for-the-good.

P.S. Another dream is finishing the novel I’ve begun, and that it will, well, Happen.


A Catholic Family’s Courage

SPOILER Alert: this is not a concentration camp story.

Lovely, articulate, and full of gratitude, Rachel Malmed spoke to a small group of American tourists at Israel’s Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem, on Jerusalem’s 50th anniversary of liberation. I would have loved to take her to lunch to hear more specifics of her story, but happily can share with you her story.

The Spielberg Foundation’s documentary   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lL9pqOwcHMY

And (translated)pages from Rachel’s diary beginning age 9   Holocaust Diary pdf.

Finally, Leon, Rachel’s brother wrote the story  https://www.amazon.com/We-Survived-At-Last-Speak/dp/1609620267/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1496923285&sr=8-1&keywords=we+survived+at+last+i+speak


It seems that “Kindness” struck a chord in Post 38. One friend told how she and 2 roommates made lists decades ago of character traits they hoped to find in their future husbands, Kindness being agreed upon by all and at the top of one’s list. One roommate seems to have found kindness in her husband of 10+ years, while the other two continue the quest, living full lives in singleness.


This blog, written by my friend Yehuda Lave, has food for thought or a smile for everyone: http://yehudalave.bmetrack.com/c/v?e=B35680&c=8DE03&t=0&l=192A1079&email=%2FAyznM3%2BFTs%2Bn6mNCtRgZxaIw4W6c2hcNyIeD9VsXLU%3D 


Day Two

Day Two was unplanned except for a few things to research and to hit the gym. I googled art classes in the neighbor city, Kfar Vradim, just to double check the areas options before signing up for a Japanese Art class that would begin the following week in Maalot.

What surfaced? A well reviewed cafe/restaurant + sheltered workshop of various arts and craft items for sale. Having stayed in that city before and not learned of the facility, it seemed timely to go for a visit and meal, still hoping there might also be an art studio with classes.

New experiences are upper floors of a building constructed of preceding lessons. Surprised, I find myself more than comfortable –equipped – for some new moments at hand, as though the Present stands on the Past. Is it a function of age that makes this phenomenon more frequent these days?

The building complex was beautifully designed, welcoming, but I checked out the food first. I like to think I’ve mastered the art of strolling past diners without being terribly obnoxious about peering at their food. The cafe seemed worthy of the day’s lunch, and I proceeded to explore the rest of the facility.

Entering an open door, I was greeted by an attractive young man in a bright green T-shirt. His speech and demeanor suggested he was one of the clients, working there, and very capable socially. After my first few sentences in Hebrew, he switched to English, so I asked, “Why?”

Delightfully, he giggled and explained that I had an accent. Really? You think? He had my heart with his charm and verbal skills. Work stopped as several of the 8 other workers sanding wood for what I later learned would be lovely patio chairs, watched the conversation, tennis-match style.

In another room I found 3 seemstresses making skillfully designed and stitched dolls and zippered purse/pouches, and in another young men and women wove strips of fabric into plastic tote-bags, another painting ceramics from molds. There were several rooms with computers with sophisticated nonverbal systems used by physically disabled, non-verbal workers.

Products are sold online, clients receive paychecks based on their days at work, and that the funding is primarily government resources. https://visit.org/israel/maarag/israel-art-workshop-art-in-the-special-needs-community

The lunch, a vegetarian Israel-style Moussaka, was perfect, and I was able to bring half home for the next day. It’s a special treat to revisit a great meal twice and I’ll be looking forward to several other items on the menu for future visits. I spoke at length with the Manager of the program and now volunteer for a few hours twice a week.

Hopefully, living wisely today prepares us for tomorrows. Like flash-backs, my interraction with the clients at Maarag reminded me of experiences dating back decades. The visit was a penthouse on the tall structure of life, beginning while still in undergraduate studies at Cal State University Long Beach, and followed by assorted projects with sheltered work environments during my career. Consequently, it’s a natural and easy environment, although it certainly wasn’t in the  beginning.

Today’s challenges call forth lessons, successes, and failures of the past. Given the uphill climb of learning this language, plus culture, plus each new region, moments of competence are a refreshing aroma that I’m intent upon savoring.

Besides interaction and love, volunteering will be great language practice for me because their language skills are mostly simpler than the “man on the street” and their speech often a bit slower as well. We’ll all do our very best and learn together.

One day everyone gathered for a special musical treat. I hope this brings a smile.

 

38 – Expressions of love

The violinist’s melody danced into the sunset and skipped along the rocks of Tel Aviv’s beach. By chance, happily an audience at the right place and time, we few strangers grinned at one another, grateful for the lovely, but too short, concert.  (try another browser –Chrome, Edge, Firefox, etc- to play videos. Or try your “smart”phone. Let me know if you cannot open the videos. If you’re a techie with suggestions, PLEASE please share them with me)

Here’s his card in case you want to have him at your next event:


Last week Jerusalem celebrated 50 Years of Reunification. Parades, ceremonies, and memorials filled calendars as many flooded into the city from around the world as well as Israel – like a huge 50th birthday party. Although still a frequent site of terrorism, Jerusalem has dramatically been reunited with the entire world. Worshipers of the 3 major monotheistic faiths are at last able, beginning in 1967 until today to enjoy freedom to visit and worship at their holy sites, thanks to it being under Israel’s rule.

The victory came at impossibly high cost to the tiny country whose population then approximated today’s Indiana (around 6.5 million). Proportionately, by deaths + wounded as a percentage of the entire nation, Israel lost twice as many of her population to death or injury between June 5-10, 1967 —

In 6 days, twice the percentage of deaths + wounded than US lost during the 8 year battle in Vietnam.

Six days of fierce battle cost beloved lives and forever broke mothers’ and sweethearts’ hearts . . . and left everyone grieving for more than one.

more specifics on the history: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/background-and-overview-six-day-war

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BrRpzzjYu9Y  a string of youtube’s on the 1967 Upset, appealing to different audiences. perhaps a few you’ll appreciate


The Melody Hotel in Tel Aviv caught my eye for more than the name.

can you see him?

I imagine the designer of this bit of flavor on the building’s side is a fun-loving soul who would be interesting to meet.


Modern Turkish music in Jaffa:


Art Classes were the highlight of more than 2 months in Tel Aviv. Competition was stiff, and included: learning folk dance steps, meeting people, really great coffee, wonderful music on the streets and in cafes, running along the beach, terrific vegan/vegetarian food, perfect weather . . .

But the art classes and wonderfully skilled teacher were like fine chocolate. . . Signing-up on a whim, I was immediately intimidated by the skill and experience of classmates, but stepped past my insecurities to learn and be honest with the process. https://www.telavivartstudio.com/

The Figure Drawing Class was part of my sampler strategy: try a variety of mediums, learn a few techniques, and see what might “fit”.

The first few minutes after the model removed her wrap were uncomfortable-newness for me, but with a timer running to get a quick sketch on paper, her body lost its vulnerability and became a collection of shapes and proportions.

from my first figure drawing class (the ghosty background lines are another work on the other side)

The model, a student of jewelry design, maintained poses in the center of the room for increasingly longer times; first standing, then seated on a chair, and finally on the floor. What did she think about, frozen in time, naked, surrounded and studied intensely by 6 students?

As our teacher circulated to offer suggestions, explaining, asking . . . doing the work of great teachers who know their craft, I wondered about the 2 male students. How different was this experience for them? Was sexuality a distraction? Seeing their work afterwards told me they’d been busy sketching, erasing, revising. Perhaps they compartmentalized potential distractions, or bypassed them as I had. I wished I had a friendship with one of them to discuss it, but alas, my efforts at conversation with them fell flat.

I fully intend to pursue Art Studios at upcoming destinations in northern Israel. However, I’ll release my wonderful experience in Tel Aviv rather than set up impossible comparisons or expectation. Each new opportunity must be unique.


Tel Aviv and Jerusalem parks often include exercise equipment. The ergonomic designs seem to work for most bodies, using the individuals’ body weight as “weight”. I see all ages and fitness types on the equipment, some with personal trainers teaching them creative ways to target additional muscle groups.

Sometimes conversations slow the exercise and the hard plastic seating becomes too much like a park bench. . . until a more serious exerciser asks for the equipment. Just like in gyms.

I ran the beach and used the equipment, walking or running a stretch of the coast most days at least once: early morning, sunset, late at night. I can only imagine that as the hot hot, humid summer reveals itself, the runners will be found late late or early early, and that this equipment will be hot to touch in summer’s mid-day, even under the shade.


What did you do when someone you love received dreaded news of death or illness? or was promised lifelong challenges of a diagnosis, medical complications, cancer, traumatic injury?

The comfort we offer to others comes in so many forms, but the end result I want to give and receive is genuine love and affirmation. Months ago I listened to a story about a much-loved grandson, who had received a diagnosis of childhood diabetes. Although recent Star Trek-like developments are making diabetes far more manageable, the boy’s Savta (Hebrew for grandmother) grieved at the thought of anything less for him than a lifetime of perfect health. Who wouldn’t feel that way?

Besides that, the big WHY? comes into play.

Not one to sit in passivity, this devoted grandmother researched to learn all she could about the disease, new developments towards prevention, management and cure. The energy and intensity of her research screamed to me of her love the for boy. Others would not do that research but instead express love and concern in other ways. Some of my Israeli friends express love with food. Great food. I feel the love of some by their interest in my life and what I love. One friend who passed away years ago was a gift giver. It didn’t take long to discover that the way to express love to her was to give her gifts. Any token qualified, it seemed.

Kindnesses are love to a stranger, and happen on the street. Teens slowing to allow for a fragile, slow-moving “gramps” to pass. The man who let me go ahead in the cashier line at the market. Hopefully, my smiling face and “good morning.”

Kindness from friends is sometimes sacrificial. A friend who tried to give me his ticket when I mentioned I wanted to attend Jerusalem’s national celebration this past week. (I refused his ticket, and he scrambled somehow to find me another) A dear friend who spent hours and gas all over Denver to find impossible-to-find ladies handkerchiefs for me, bought almost 20, and then washed and ironed them.

Listing these few and not listing so many many others stirs in me gratitude to God, to those I know and love, and to the strangers. A perspective that I want to become habit.

I love stories of the lengths people go to love another. Does going great length prove love? I used to think so, but no longer. Needy “love” sometimes compels people to pursue, but need is not the same as love, and in the long run the destinations of Love vs Need are far apart. Like taking the wrong flight, landing in Need instead of Love can be a huge disaster.

Job losses, broken marriages, loved ones making choices of self-destruction. . . Sometimes I wonder what’s around the next corner and whether I’ll be woman enough to navigate the decisions, sorrows, disappointments that life guarantees. Whether as recipient of the sorrow, or friend to the sufferer, I hope to somehow be enough for the challenge.

Until then I’ll lean-in ever closer to the One who gives me each breath, do my part to nourish and prune my heart of love, and embrace the fundamentals that make for coping gracefully.

May you grow in patience and kindness and gentleness and hope and love . . .

 Take a few minutes to let me know your thoughts, with an email or comment on this site (for my eyes only)!

37 – Seeing Life at every turn

This past week was Israel’s Memorial Day, and on it’s heels, Independence Day #69.

The strategy makes perfect sense: Solemn ceremonies gather families and friends from all over the nation to honor the deaths of 23,544 men and women, loved ones forever remembered.

Unlike the U.S., where many don’t know anyone who served in the military, nor have they lost anyone through war, everyone here has lost loved ones in uniform.

Independence Day begins the moment Memorial Day ends, like turning on a light, with upbeat ceremonies, songs, shows, fireworks, flags on cars and homes, barbecue, and even more ceremonies.

Below is the earlier, shorter version of fireworks at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, and the second set were grander and longer. If you have trouble running  my videos, try opening the blog on your smart phone, or another browser (Chrome, Edge, Firefox).

If there are other solutions, or you have suggestions how I can make the videos more easily accessible, Please let me know

 


Do you find some people “look” like their dogs? This beautiful young woman and her doggie just might have the same hairdresser. A photo of them from the front seemed a breach of privacy, so tell me: Am I pressing the envelope to include this?

same “Do”

I give smiles away for free if I can catch the eye of faces that appeal to me – old, young, beautiful or not.

Some startle and then give me a smile back. I calculate a 40% return on my investment.


New Friends Old Friends Odd Friends?

How do we grow from who we were to who we are today, and still keep the connection with friends?

Talking about his Independence Day barbecue, a friend mentioned preferring his conversation with the 4-year-old son of good friends over the adult conversations. It sounded like he was growing away from the child’s parents, so I said, “Tell me about your friendships.”

He described changing each decade and appreciating both new friends who know him as he is today as well as those with history, but that sometimes history is not enough. He’d recently met with someone he’d known well 20 years ago. Over coffee, they discovered how both of them had changed, at the same time recognizing the “who they were” within their current versions. It was clear, however, there was no longer a connection.

Today’s dreams being understood by those who knew us back in the day is precious indeed.

Another woman has only friends from her youth. Why?

Is there no need? No time? Or no room for new friends?

Making new friends can be difficult, and is risky, since trust is built or earned, and betrayal is brutal.

I love talking with children and elderly, and so sometimes find it easier to mingle with them than with my age-peers. I’m likely to reach out to people who are alone. Not always, but I sometimes feel expendable in the peer-mingle.

What about you?


A recent home-of-the-week – around 350 sq ft

The sleepy 3am trips-without-tripping from the loft bed to the bathroom were the only downside of this tiny studio


I try to keep my eyes open for moments to embrace. They soften the day. Precious. Funny. Provoking. 

the challenges of translation are found everywhere – even inside the stall

Not a Singles Group, but…

FluenTLV.com hosts a Saturday evening club that feels like what must be like a singles mixer. After paying my 20 shekels (think $5) and receiving a red wristband indicating I’m a native English speaker, (as though they don’t know that from my Hebrew!) I search the restaurant’s huge outdoor bar area for the table with the sign “Advanced Hebrew.”

The 100+ participants will spend several hours in Tel Aviv’s cool evening air initiating and navigating conversation with speakers in their target language. Each table has one or several “Ambassadors” who earn free entrance volunteering half the evening as a coach /conversation helper /question answer-er. Then they swap around so each Ambassador spends the other half of the evening practicing their target language.

I’m certain I’m the oldest of the attendees(sigh), but they talk with me and I benefit from the exercise. I’m amused to see young men sometimes speechless when an exceptionally beautiful young woman is trying to get him to talk. It’s funny, in a sweet way. I confess trying to assess which conversations are “chemistry” and which are merely open and friendly. Surely some loves will bloom as these mostly 20- and 30-somethings meet to stretch their new-language skills over a glass of wine. It’s a better fishing pool than the bar scenes’ “Haven’t we met before?” or “Hey baby.”

I imagine the servers finish their shifts with headaches since the entire area sounds like one big international argument, except everyone is having a good time, so the vibe is happy. The evening is hard work for me and the overwhelming noise level a huge obstacle. Not yet knowing the language well enough, the ambient noise makes it impossible to “fill in” sounds or words lost in swirls of conversations.

P.S. I’m nowhere near “advanced”, but thankfully well past the extreme basics of “My name is/ How are you?/ Where are you from?”


Like Aspens in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, taxi horns in NYC, bikinis on Southern California beaches, Israel’s desert dons Red Anemones in January and February. I sat in this field a long afternoon last winter, filling my eyes with their happy glory, watching children run and sweethearts kiss.  These months later, I appreciate revisiting the moment.

Darom Adom (Red South) Festival. February 2018


Emerging

In Rome earlier this year, walking towards David, famously immortalized by Michelangelo, I was introduced to a series of 4 of the great artists’ intentionally “unfinished” works.

The concept is: the person emerges from the stone by the hands of the skilled creator

What are we doing if not slowly being revealed for who we are…what we’re about?

Too slowly, by my estimation, but then life demands to be lived one moment at a time. I was never before the woman I am today, no matter what I wish.

Michelangelo’s Slaves

 


Have you wondered why hotels don’t crack down on theft? This is the first of its kind I’ve seen. Do you think it’s crass, or reasonable?

Yitzhak Rabin’s life as a husband and father, Army hero, leader, assassinated Prime Minister was a far cry from my own, but still, these words resonate deeply!

“Extraordinary privilege has fallen to my lot. I have done things that I barely dreamed of, or hoped I would do.” Yitzhak Rabin

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.  Ecc 3:1

Last January, I turned off of a 2-lane road in the Arava to explore a site I’d passed many times in Israel’s eastern desert, along Jordan’s border. (see blogs 32, 33, 34)

I found Camels

and miniature horses (compare these little guys to the camel in the background)

and an outdoor cafe with huge pots of homemade veggie and meat dishes.

I noticed a large tent for overnight stays, and thinking I might be interested in staying there sometime in the future, I peeked inside:

 

Communal sleeping on the ground? I lost count after 30 mats. Hmmm  There was a time when I would have loved the adventure of that. Now? Not so much.

I returned from that drive particularly grateful for my mattress, quiet, and facilities.


the translation?

Have a good week

With a smile

with a hug

with happiness

with a dream

that will come true

 

Let this be a conversation – write and tell me what you think, what you’re up to, what you’re dreaming…

36 – Art Classes and Expectations

This morning’s siren wailed, as it does each year, for 2 long minutes.  As all of Israel came to a halt in Remembrance, I sat on a bench, watching the children who are not, whose chance for swings and slides and all the joys of life was brutally stolen 70 years ago.

Holocaust Memorial Day, my 3rd here, began last night at sunset. The Brodt Jewish Cultural Center opened its doors for an evening of testimonials through story and song from families of survivors.

in Hebrew

and Yiddish even

After the siren, a mother pushed a stroller into the park and I breathed again, feeling the swings’ joy


Around town in Tel Aviv

these can be found everywhere – some are just too cute to resist

Israel Army training at the Mediterranean (no these won’t count as your exercise for the day!)

 

A hot hot day: bikini-clad beside Modesty – Tel Aviv shows more skin more often than Jerusalem, and feels more diverse in religious observance and lifestyle. Statistics confirm the greater diversity
High Rise construction and traffic jams – Tel Aviv is a thoroughly modern city

I even found Oldies Jazz one evening:


Art Happens

Was it pride that felt so “itchy” in my first art lesson? The 20-something instructor was gracious and open-hearted, more than capable. Still, the battle within was with the (small) part of me that felt foolish. “OF COURSE you don’t know this stuff. It’s not a biological instinct and you’ve never been taught.”

I quieted my inner-self about being clueless, opting instead for “childlike” by asking (dumb)questions. I was even honest when I didn’t know where to begin or what next. Teachers teach because people need to be taught. Thankfully, or I’d have missed out on many great experiences. Dancing, my career, how to work-out with weights . . .

It’s almost always about the Within

The first 2 classes and a special event Paint Night has released self-assigned homework for pondering and prayer:

  1. I see only a fraction of all there is to see. I’m missing so much beauty.
  2. Am I exploring creativity, or expression?  Where do they overlap?
  3. From where do creativity and expression come?
  4. With what type of people do my heart and mind connect, and why? The art class question of “with which materials do my heart + mind + hand connect?” reframes a lifelong question about why we connect with some and not others.
  5. Instinct plays a huge role in the learning process – whether a new skill or making a friend. I don’t want to miss out by rejecting something too soon. When should I heed instincts to turn another direction, or embrace? Or, will I miss out if I don’t give it more time? When is “I don’t like the feel of this” to be heeded and when is it necessary for growth?
  6. I wonder what my readers think about these things.  Please write and tell me!!!

During my first lesson, a very experienced student implemented several suggestions from the teacher, and after an hour’s work I noted the cluster of trees in her oil painting had taken on markedly improved depth and realism. Cool.

I’m relaxing (mostly) into letting myself create and play with charcoal and pastels and ink and paints with the teacher/coach. Seeking to see what I look at more honestly has found me sitting and studying shadows of leaves and twisty branches, the natural creasing of the back of man’s t-shirt and how the hair he still has curls tightly in countless shades of gray.

It’s easier to resist researching something on my phone or thinking I should get moving and get something done. I am getting something done.  I’m seeing the world around me.

Although I’ve journaled extensively, only twice have I drawn to express myself. In 2007 I brought a sketch to my counselor, a picture of how I felt. I’ll never know whether it was effective for her, but it was for me.

The second time was April 12 – the first art class. Charcoal in hand + permission from myself resulted in putting Loneliness on paper, and even instilled a bit of confidence that I can do more with what my heart sees.

The pottery class visit several months ago (blog #33) gave me what I needed to go to this next step.  May these reflections free you towards your next step, class, or whatever other good and healthy and wise New of your life is pending.


More Sames and Differences: Israel vs U.S.

Vegetables preside: The mid-afternoon meal is later and larger than “lunch,” and the evening meal lighter and also later in the evening. Vegetables hold a far more significant place in each meal – multiple veggie salads and warm veggie dishes adorn the table. Most veggies seem to have more intense flavor. Is it soil or the super-advanced techniques to grow food from Desert?!?

Coffee:  Homes don’t have drip-coffee makers!  Expect instant, or what Israel calls “black coffee”, more like cowboy coffee.  Boiling water is poured into a cup that’s already prepared with a generous teaspoon of specially-ground coffee; milk and sugar are usually stirred-in to preference, and the concoction is left a minute as cake or conversation fill the table. The coffee grounds settle to the bottom of the cup, leaving a richer coffee flavor.  Once I understood I was not obliged to drink the sludge at the bottom, I found the flavor better than instant.


Bedouin Museum

Then and now – violin and guitar of goat skin and horsehair strings
Then and now – model of tent-homes
Needlework of assorted Bedouin Tribal Insignia – wall hanging approx 13′ x 10′

Not what it seemed: Encounter vs Keeper

I wrote about meeting people at cafe’s and exchanging contact information, or being told where they gather – a sort of casual invitation. Nothing came of either. Did I misunderstand? Perhaps.

What now? Am I disappointed in what wasn’t, or delighted with the encounter that was? Finally, I can say I’m genuinely delighted with the moments of encounter. Period.

My quest for relationship is not permitted to steal the gifts of moments I receive. That includes the many fun, albeit brief conversations with servers, cashiers, bus riders, etc.

As multitudes of stars in a night sky make the night more lovely, I’m treasuring each encounter. They’re not all (my) sun, but rather stars flickering at the moment.

I’m letting go.


Kibbutz Negba fighters – statue stands about 12 feet tall

Negba Kibbutz, founded in 1939, played a substantial role in Israel’s War of Independence. Like most, Negba’s Kibbutzniks were socialist idealists. Forced to become soldiers with too few reinforcements or weapons, they desperately defended themselves against Egypt’s well equipped and manned 6,000 troops. The Egyptians attacked Negba in waves of 500 against the Kibbutz’ mere 140 (residents plus reinforcements). Meanwhile throughout Israel, the surrounding Arab nation armies attacked, stretching impossibly thin the fledgling Jewish nation’s resources.

After 3 months of battle, Negba Kibbutz was destroyed-but-victorious.

What?

Victory is incompatible with complete destruction. Isn’t it? Stories like these abound, and challenge me to revamp my expectations regarding success. Negba’s statue above conveys to me the power of Determination and Courage. While not enough on their own, aren’t they crucial to living well?

http://www.zionism-israel.com/dic/Negba.htm   for more of the history

What was the success of Kibbutz Negba? Egypt’s plan to conquer Tel Aviv after marching through the Kibbutz was thwarted. Negba held the Egyptian army long enough. Just long enough to allow an Israeli rag-tag army to be formed and deployed to fight for survival, with miraculous results.

The records I found shows 11 defenders died. Many of that generation immigrated here to escape pre-war persecution, or were post-war survivors with no remaining family. Still, family or not, is it a comfort to loved ones to know that the impossible cost of death brought the safety of so many other lives, even generations ahead?

Strength and determination scream from Negba’s enormous statue. Two men and a woman call to me to be more than I am.


Ilana Goor’s name may be familiar to those of you with art education or exposure beyond my own. Atop a huge cliff with a 3-sided view of the Mediterranean is the Israel home of this eccentric artist/collector, who also resides and works in NYC. My photos couldn’t capture anything worthwhile, so take a few minutes to checkout the museum website and Utube links below.

Eccentric is an understatement. (if the site comes up in Hebrew, click English in the upper left corner)

http://www.ilanagoormuseum.org/Collections/Collections/  On the lower right side of this link find the 2014 video of her interviews in NYC and here. It’s fun meeting the artist in the video… while I’m sure my vote cancels hers in most elections, I respect her talent and appreciate the success she’s enjoyed.

Other pieces are displayed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l3lRbUncGW8

 


 

Last but not least, are videos from this past Saturday morning’s Israel Folk Dancing by the sea, and evening Fluent Tel Aviv (FluenTLV.com), a weekly gathering for conversation-experience among language learners (Hebrew!!, English, Spanish, French, Russian, and others).  Though impossibly crowded and noisy, my first visit was a grand success and I look forward to returning.

35 – Italy, cheesecake, and love

 

One morning in Tel Aviv I slowed my steps past an outdoor cafe to get a better look at some men. That is, what they were eating. Cheesecake.

 

NY-style baked cheesecake is a rare find in Israel. Options are usually either a sweet, creamy, unbaked concoction or a too-sweet baked-but-cake-y textured variety. Neither worthy, in my humble opinion.

The men watched me slow my pace, scrutinize the half eaten slice, and enter the tiny shop. I peered at the slices in the case. It was baked and didn’t look like the “cake-y” variety. I take this cheesecake quest seriously.

Exiting the shop, I Good morning‘d  the 3 at the table and asked about the cheesecake. They confirmed that it was worthy of a try so I said I’d return, thanked them and went my way.

An hour and a half later, I found them still there.  It was nice to be seen, and greeted. I ordered coffee with the cheesecake, hoping the effort would be beneficial on 2 counts: cheesecake heaven + conversation and potential friendships.

I’m always hoping to “pick-up” potential friendships and (Hebrew)conversation. When people are friendly enough for brief interaction and SEEM normal (safe), I peek through that partially open door with words and questions.

I hope I’m open and friendly, without being foolhardy or seeming needy. A few of my friends here are people I “picked up” in similar scenarios, a .0?% of all the conversations I’ve had on the streets, shops, and hiking trails. But the tiny minority who are interested in friendship reinforce my effort. If I talk with 50 and come away with one who becomes a resource for places and people in Israel or more Hebrew practice conversations or best of all, a friend to meet for coffee . . . Terrific.

The men left me to myself to savor perfect coffee and 1/2 of the slice, which was not a disappointment.  As always I eavesdropped to pick up whatever snippets of words I could catch. Finally, the one who had first spoken to me initially asked how it was, talked with me a bit, introduced the others, and said they’re there every Friday morning. I’ll return in two weeks when I’m next in town on a Friday and hope they have patience for my level of Hebrew.

I share the story because carefully, sometimes, it’s really OK to talk to strangers. Who doesn’t want more friends?

“Its harder to make new friends as we age.”

That saying has followed me around for a decade of birthdays. I’m a better friend now than when I was younger, and so think it should be easier.  I’m certain that I’m a better person.

a “quiet” mid-afternoon

However, the busy sidewalk cafe’s that fill the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv trigger loneliness within me. I wonder if it’s also a trigger for others.

Groups of friends afternoons and evenings, laughing, every age range and gender mix, sharing great looking food, leaning into each other’s stories, standing to hug as others arrive or leave. . . some are Birthday parties or other obvious celebrations, but mostly friends sharing a meal.

If I decide to eat there because the food looks great, I wrestle with having to chose one item.  If “we” were a group we could order-to-share, which is as Israeli as the Star of David.

Many restaurants serve an array of appetizers/salad-y dishes to groups, with certain orders. I love that variety and taste adventure. Sharing a (typically huge and substantial) salad is accepted practice, but it takes 2 or more to share! I eat half, and bring the rest home for another meal.  It’s fine, but not the same.

What to do about the alone feelings when passing these restaurants?

  1. Accept the situation as it is:  I moved half-way around the world, 8-10 time zones away from my precious, closest friends with shared history.
  2. Appreciate their fun: While resentment is always an option, not a tiny part of me resents what they have. I absolutely hope they are as happy as they appear, savoring each other and their moments. It brings a smile to my face and my loneliness flees when I step out of my own feelings to enjoy their happiness.
  3. I am reminded of my own precious moments of camaraderie.
  4. I can’t help but wonder: What sorrows balance these moments for them? I can only imagine the struggles of their lives, and would not trade my problems for anyone else’s.

Recently, a friend explained that these are relationships from army service or college days.  Israel’s size, culture, typical family and friends’ proximity, and the era of electronic connections make keeping friendships a different experience than the many lost contacts of my school days and (too)many moves. My friend explained that the impenetrable shared history of these connections make my hope to be invited-in to meet their friends pure fantasy.  Of course there must be exceptions to the rule, but not (yet?) in my experience, so understanding this cultural perspective helps.

After drafting the above, I took a walk to get out of the apartment for the first time all day.  As always, I asked God to set me where I belong, if anywhere. I passed many cafes, studied menus, was discouraged by too much cigarette smoke (more on that later) and whatever other intangibles kept me walking.

Having given up, I passed a cafe on a corner with the aroma of freshly-baked pastry and coffee, instead of cigarette smoke. Two women approached the table beside me, pulled over another chair and asked for my extra chair; I offered to move so they could push the tables together for a group. That opened conversation with the mother, about my age.  By the time her husband and adult daughters had settled in, she’d asked for my contact information to talk again.

I LOVE IT when they ask for mine, since 99% of the time I’m initiating. When I left, she reminded me to be sure to call.  Wow!

I walked home sweetly melancholy because her openness and kindness were a special treat, better even than the coffee and warm chocolate croissant.

Chance encounters? Friendly smiles.  Love is a muscle, to be nourished and exercised and stretched.

what do you think?


These days I’m loving Niki Haley. But hoping she has Secret Service security, given her UN position and, her courageous words. But will anyone listen? Will you? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uv8Hqlubst4&sns=em and the transcript: https://usun.state.gov/remarks/7678


A week in Italy included 3 days in Rome, 3 in Florence, and 2 in Venice.

Michelangelo’s David. What a guy. Florence

A few Predictable and some Surprising highlights:

Predictable:  Vatican art, Madame Butterfly opera in a historic church, getting lost in spaghetti-grid streets that change names every block, more art, concert of familiar Renaissance classics with orchestra + opera in era costumes and wigs, an impossibly awful tour guide, more art, once-in-a-lifetime-perfection cannoli and a pizza slice, 3 tenors in another great-acoustics-church concert, Synagogues and Jewish History, perfect cup of coffee, genuine gelato. . .

 

St. Peters’ Basilica – Vatican

Smoking was everywhere.  Predictable, but still I’m surprised

Italy’s streets were full of smokers, seemingly always up-wind from me on sidewalks and outdoor cafe seating. How can they taste the food? I’m especially surprised to see teens and young adults smoking, given the health campaigns of my own youth plus the cost plus the restrictions on smokers in pubic.

Addictive.  Expensive: health, social, financial. (Smoking is prohibited indoors in Israel but the outdoor seating is usually fair game. As an aside, several months ago I had an appealing conversation with a very interesting Israeli man…until he lit up.

Back to Italy’s Predictable Highlights:– Rome and Florence were great but I enjoyed Venice most because of the water, and rode the ferries for hours.  Water restores me.

Surprises…unpredictables in Italy:

In a perfectly respectable neighborhood, this caught my eye:

condom vending machine

The paintings below were in Florence’s Uffizi gallery – one of several museums that was worth the trip for me.  Their stories caught my attention: The first is one of a set of 4 war scenes painted for someone-important’s bedroom.

War scenes in your bedroom?!?

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/18/feng-shui-bedroom_n_6888646.html

And this one is of the artist’s lover, a “fallen” Catholic Nun, and the baby (not the angel) is their “love child”

 

No Wine Appreciation.  That is surprising for some  Sorry. I don’t like wine.

 

Have I led a sheltered life?  I had no idea bodies could be made VISIBLE in coffins, in Churches, for centuries!!

Antoninus Pierozzi 1389-1459 Archbishop of Florence & Patron of Diocese

The lyrical Italian accenta felta likea Ia wasa ona a movie seta the entirea weeka.

I appreciate a wide range of art.  These handsome Italian police were lovely to behold.  There were others, but I’ll subject you to only one photo.

My natural “foreign language” response  is Hebrew.  I could feel High School Spanish from so long ago trying to surface in the midst of its cousin-language, but the Spanish is too deeply buried under these years of Hebrew. Alas.

I was pained to see how much easier Italian would be to learn. The letters afford easy “reading” and so many words on signs were guessable.

“No thank you” = “לא תודה רבה”

It seemed tour-guides and vendors were soliciting everyone, everywhere. I watched them guess at tourists’ language and then offer Spanish, English, French, Russian … but never Hebrew! I admit it was fun seeing them stop in their tracks, and tilt their heads to my “לא תודה רבה”.

However, one waiter asked where I’m from and then spoke Hebrew with me!  He was darling, oh so young and handsome. Throughout the trip, I interrupted strangers speaking Hebrew to introduce myself and enjoyed those conversations, even collecting contact information for future follow up.

have you been to Italy? what did I miss?


ADVISE Regrets: to accept or reject?

Back in the day, a university career counselor advised me against pursuing a double major: Spanish + Speech Pathology. His rationale was that I could not hope to master a 2nd language without living in a Spanish speaking country at least one year. Makes sense.

But, for the 17-year-old I was, the thought of being a foreign exchange student felt overwhelming. Logistically, it could have been an option for me, but I didn’t feel even remotely capable, and so accepted his advice to drop the Spanish goal.

In hindsight, had I pursued the double major, a few years of maturity might have generated the confidence and sense of adventure for an exchange program. Who knows?

That advise I accepted, regretfully.  And I don’t have the heart to even begin to list of the times I rejected advice which later, oh-so-desperately, I wished I’d accepted.

Is it some sort of “Murphy’s Law” to establish a bizarre equilibrium between bad-advise-embraced and good-advise-rejected? Probably not, but seems so.

I remind myself that the outcome of the choices that we do not make can only be imagined.

There’s no way to know what might have been. Speculation, logic, values, history, and whatever else, try as they may, but rarely is there certainty whether we missed better or worse outcomes in the “what if’s?”. Would we have dodged a bullet or bought the winning lottery ticket? Gwyneth Paltrow in Sliding Doors (1998) brilliantly demonstrates the phenomenon of not knowing outcomes other than the life we live. 

your thoughts?


Purim in Tel Aviv

Purim is celebration of deliverance (from extermination) of the Jewish population of the Persian Empire in 478 BCE. It honors the courage of Queen Esther. And is a happy costume holiday (see also Jerusalem’s Purim in blog #15)

everyone gets in on the act

Randomly, I stumbled upon this neighborhood children’s event, singing a favorite Purim song

and Hokey-Pokey!!!  (why do some videos distort horizontally and others don’t!?!)

All in all, Tel Aviv’s streets the day before, during, and after Purim are as entertaining as Jerusalem’s.


wanting to be loved

in my friendships, I want to be loved, included, pursued even…

but more than wanting others to love me is my yearning to be a conduit of God’s love

my choices boil down to:

  1. basing my actions on earning someone’s love, respect, or being wanted  OR
  2. opening my life and love to others, and hopes of stimulating them to open their heart toward God, beyond the bad press, stereotypes, abuses, and whatever else stands in the way

the anchoring of my heart into this passion has kept me from turning myself into a pretzel for approval-love

it frees me to be who I am

your thoughts? please take the time to tell me about yourself

34 ~ MUSIC and dogs and museums

“For he who lives more lives than one – – more deaths than one must die.”  Oscar Wilde

Have you considered the versions of YOU over a lifetime?  Did you push against the deaths – transitions into new seasons – leaving fingernail-scrape marks like in a cartoon?

My version of resistance sometimes manifested as decision-impairment. Stuck.  I spent many years under the illusion that if I had done better or made better decisions, I’d have avoided the changes of a lifetime.  Weary of letting go of what was known and venturing into unknown, I’d stagnate at a decision-point.

Thankfully, a few of my “lives” included dreams realized: 

  • Ballroom dancing
  • supporting causes dear to my heart
  • my career as a Speech Pathologist
  • living in Israel

I’m happy with most aspects of the lifetimes’ collage.  Still, I’m painfully aware of how much better to have gained wisdom more wisely.


What do the Jews do to Palestinians?  Cure their deaf children.

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4924163,00.html


leashed and unleashed

I began watching relationships of dogs and their people when living in NYC. Devotion. Affection. Patience. Attention. That is, what the dogs receive. I’m told their masters (is that the right word?) receive the same in return.

I wish for all children to have parents with as much patience for exploration as people give their dogs. Rarely do I see a dog yanked away from his curiosity.

A few years ago I hiked with a friend and his wonderful dog, who requires no leash.  He was fun to have on a hike or walk, well-behaved and smart, and didn’t slow down the hiking group.  While he lingered to investigate, he kept an eye on us and stayed within reasonable proximity.

Staying at a friend’s beautiful home in the hills of Har Adar, 30 minutes west of Jerusalem, I took Shadow, their dog, for a walk.  Shadow is also wonderful but absolutely needs a leash.

Leashes compel the dog’s person to Wait! while the dog explores absolutely everything for as long as it takes.

Lingering as we did released a revelation: In a museum, I’m the dog on a leash.  I must stop to read and take in everything, and then linger for my heart to absorb the colors and shapes.  They are aroma to my soul.  I return to sections to reread descriptions or history, to revisit paintings, compare styles. . . it’s crazy-making. And I know from experience it’s no fun to have someone along who is intent upon strolling through a few areas of the museum and then leave.

My conclusions after leash-walking Shadow:

  1. I still don’t want a longterm relationship with a dog; visiting is great, a better fit.
  2. Continue solo as an intense, museum visitor rather than drive my friends away.

Oh, and Shadow did find something special on our walk.  It took all my strength to let him explore without biting or being bit.


5 minutes of digestible history  with  http://www.israelvideonetwork.com/the-video-that-obama-and-the-u-n-want-removed-from-youtube/?omhide=true

 


 

Museums show me souls searching for Creator. Artifacts and posted descriptions share commonalties that bind times and cultures. I find all or most of the following:  creation stories, worship, blood sacrifice, music and dance, fasting, lamp ceremonies, bells and fire in worship, ceremonial clothing, incense.  History screams of man’s quest for meaning, for help with the struggles of survival, and hope for when this life is no longer.

For some, life’s struggle is more focused on physical, cognitive, or emotional issues challenging life’s challenges.

Autism’s spectrum seems to encompass all three areas.  The Artists’ House in Beersheba has a room of amazing art by those living courageously through the blur of autism.   For all we know and don’t know about it, I relate to it most personally in the quest to connect through the haze of disconnection: The times of my life when I strived to connect with someone, but failed for reasons that in some cases still elude me.

Empathy leads me always to gratefulness for my struggles, never coveting someone else’s or thinking they have none because they aren’t evident.

I’m curious about the artists. How I’d love to hear them describe what prompted the choice of subject and medium.  Does their work express something about themselves, their perceptions, or?

I took an art class and a drama class in high school, but both experiences were flat.  I was hiding then because I was afraid to fail.  These days I’m a seasoned expert at failing, so boldly go where no (wo)man has gone before into uncharted (for me) territory.

I’m planning on signing up for an exploratory art class in April.  It’s not that I think there’s some hidden “gift” but rather that even a limited experience might release creativity that hasn’t found its way through writing. If not now, when?

Is there something you’ve wanted to try? or learn? Well, then, take your class, and please write to me about it!  Take a risk.  If not now, when?

EXCEPTIONS: parachuting, climbing Everest, wrestling crocodiles, and such .  It’s better to live to tell the story.  I think.

Commit with me to be Gently Courageous


“If you board the wrong train it’s no use running along the corridor in the opposite direction” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I’ll be taking a break from Israel thanks to off-season rates in Italy.  Traveling via train from Rome to Florence to Venice, so sharing these life’s-train quotes from two people I admire greatly.  

“When the train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off.  You trust the engineer.”  Corrie ten Boom


Personal expression

During my stay in the Arava (eastern Negev – blogs 32 and 33) I visited a retired farmer’s woodshop.  This farmer by trade, his degree in engineering, now pursues his lifelong hobby.  Although we conversed simply in Hebrew, he seems to be a man of few words; his expression is his craft.

The adventure began, as do many, in finding his workshop. Finally, a sweet young soldier called someone to say she’d be a few minutes late, and then helped me understand/translate his directions (in Hebrew) and even accompany me to the site. The kindness of others is like fine chocolate.

I entered a metal, industrial looking building the size of a tennis court. It was filled with industrial shelving, huge slabs of various woods, equipment and tools, and lots of dust.  I can’t name walnut from mahogany, but the slices of assorted woods stacked against one another were like body parts, varied in size, shape, color, and origin.

He led me to the end of the workshop and opened the door to a space filled with his work.  4 levels of shelves lined the room (about 20′ x 15′). In the center were tables, some furniture pieces, and toys/games.  All his handiwork, each piece unique.

I breathed.  The aroma of the wood was . . . rich.  I deliberately oooohed and aaahed aloud, thinking it the best compliment I could offer.  He left me to explore, and explore I did.

With his hands he shouts his love of beauty! Variety of color, size, shape. Bowls, cups, plates, Judaica, candle holders, toys. Like so many children on a playground, each one-of-a-kind, beautiful and full of life.

(the video distorts horizontally, but might be helpful)

Places where line and color shouted texture demanded to be touched.  Smooth as porcelain.  The few with intentional knot-y texture with holes felt somehow like they should: polished and yet still earthy.

I was wishing I had a wedding gift to buy… something… but alas, left only with my heart full.


Elie Wiesel said, “With a Nobel Prize come quite a few lessons. For one, you learn who is a friend and who is not. Contrary to popular wisdom, a friend is not one who shares your suffering, but one who knows how to share your joy.

I count among my closest friends incredible people who have rejoiced at the blessings of my life, regardless of their own struggles.  Their expressions of love is humbling and shakes me to my core.


Music!  (finally)

The universal language, with so many dialects!

I can’t define Blues, but I know it when I hear it.  I found great blues in a pub in an artists collective in the old city of Beersheba, the capital city of the Negev (8th largest city of Israel).  Feel free to tell me how to improve videos recorded in a dark room!

OK, you music critics: whaddya think?

A great aspect for me was that the pub was about the music, not drinking and smoking.  Smokers took care of that outside before the music began, and drinkers weren’t drinkers, but rather listeners, with a beer or glass of wine. Perfect!


unique expression in Tsukim, a tiny community of a few hundred in in the Arava (eastern desert):

She played a variety of instruments, perfect for the desert’s breezy warmth, the surroundings, the crowd’s mood…


The field workers and the university agriculture students of the Arava’s performed their cultural dances at a fair.  Think county fair (food and specialty and craft items to buy) + trade show for farming equipment, seeds, pest control + concert and performances in the big tent. Here are a few of the students’ and workers’ performances from countries of Africa and Asia.


Saturday night Jam Session at the best restaurant in the Arava


A local concert in the Arava. Everyone but me seemed to know all the songs and sang along, until:

Knock-knock-knockin’ on Heaven’s door =  להידפק על דלתות השמים


The following are something-for-everyone-variety from Ramat HaNegev’s Annual Music Festival, including a few you’ll recognize. I was invited to 2 amazing days of touring plus the festival from the gracious leaders of the Ramat HaNegev’s Regional Council.  Israeli-grown music expands far beyond what I found on the streets of Jerusalem.

Even if you have not learned to appreciate opera, this voice is a MUST HEAR for 26 seconds of your life.

(more music coming) Vietnam in Israel

New friends: these young people from Vietnam are studying for their Masters degree in Agriculture at Tel Aviv University.  The extension campus for “AG” students is in the Arava.  I was asked to help them with their English and we became fast friends, mostly discussing cross-cultural living as well as U.S./Vietnam wartimes. I hope to visit them and their culture next year, when they finish their degree and return home.

January 22 was Vietnam’s New Year so I met my students at the Vietnam Embassy (in Tel Aviv) for a once in a lifetime party.  Several hundred students, temporary workers, and immigrants (converts? or by marriage?) filled the small Embassy space.

The table was filled with an astounding variety of pork dishes and a few vegetable options.  For me the highlight was this (PAINFUL) karaoke, which I’m compelled to share with you under a very very broad definition of “music”

And what to do at the end of the Embassy’s party?  Dance!  or is Vietnamese Macarena?


last but not least…Childrens Entertainment.  I’m told that this group is like having the Sesame Street performers come to town.  BIG TIME.  Or for some of us, Sheri Lewis’ and her puppets, or Mr. Rogers or Annette Funicello.

The theater was packed, the kids excited beyond measure. The hour long show was darling (almost too-sweet, but not quite), filled with familiar songs everyone except me knew from childhood past and present.  I was delighted to see as many dads as mom’s there, most seeming to enjoy.

It’s a big deal to bring national celebrities to the Arava’s 3,700 population.  My few weeks of volunteering had earned me sweet, excited greetings from several children, explaining to their parents the new face in a region of few strangers.

Please write me!  post a comment (it’s private to me only) or email. Tell me what you’re doing. I welcome feedback about the blog, of course.

 

33 – Wildlife in the desert and the potter’s wheel

Near the south end of the Arava, Israel’s south-eastern desert, is Hai Bar Wildlife Preserve/National Center for Biblical Wildlife http://www.natureisrael.com/haibar.html   They are re-building the population of native species named in the Bible but “lost” to the land through centuries of drought, unrestricted hunting, and whatever else. It’s a work in progress, because some species struggle to adapt… much like China’s panda’s who don’t survive when released into their natural habitat.

Here are 4 to see, including the cranky one who attacked my car.

As with many birds, males ostriches are colorfully attractive.

 

It seemed my presence aggravated this female ostrich (Job 39:13; Lam 4:3) – she attacked my (rental)car, but fortunately didn’t leave a dent.

There are baby ostriches a-comin’.  She or one of the other gals must have been friendlier at some time; perhaps with the fetching pink, black, and white dude in the first photos.  The huge eggs will take around 45 days to hatch and both papa and mama will take turns sitting to warm them.

 

Below are Addax, a type of antelope, translated assorted ways depending on the Bible translation

 

The next are onager, a type of wild ass, usually translated “donkey” in English Bibles  (many references). They were far away and it’s a bad video, too long, so take a quick look, but I included it for you Bible-knowers who will remember Balaam riding the donkey who sees the angel in their way.  Perhaps these fellows are ancestors of that donkey.

Here’s the Bible story – um, sort of.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EPE1gwBLbz4 

Finally, check out these White Oryx’ great back scratchers!  They’re also a type of antelope (Deut 14:5; Is 51:20).  They star in this video with Israel talk radio in the background, just for fun; don’t ask me what they’re talking about!!

A Few More Differences  Israel – U.S.

  • Israeli’s don’t leave a voicemail message, or seem to check theirs. However, they return calls to numbers that have called them, even numbers not recognized, and expect the same.  It’s just the way it’s done.
  • Israeli traffic signals flash green before changing to yellow.  It helps!
  • While U.S. drivers are likely to hurry through the light before it changes to red, most Israeli drivers stop for yellow as though it were red.
  • At the end of the signal, most U.S. drivers seem to be momentarily cautious before entering the intersection after it changes to green, but the red light flashes before changing to green here and Israeli’s enter the intersection the Moment! it changes.  You can count on being HONKed at if you’re not immediately moving to a green light.
  • No right turn on a red light.  Ever! That’s a tough habit to break.

I have graduated to (almost always) being able to put gas in my car without having to ask for assistance. That means navigating the various computer instructions at different stations, entering information required (assorted combinations of my ID#, the car license, how the charge will process on my VISA, etc).  It’s still such a new phenomenon that I can’t resist doing the Snoopy Happy Dance each time I succeed.


a few shots in my farming community neighborhooddoes anyone know why the birds crowd together?  Family groups?  Good buddies?  Or are they like strangers who crowd together in an empty theater?

This farmer obviously wants his Thai workers to enjoy their time off!

sunset

The community’s mailboxes.  There were more at my college dorms and we had an exceptionally low residence-on-campus program for the 20,000 students!


The Hands of the Potter – a nearly missed opportunity

My hostess on the farm mentioned several places to be sure to visit during my stay in this community, so I took phone numbers and names.  Later that afternoon one returned my call and 15 minutes later I was in her ceramics studio/shop.

Her craftsmanship was impressive and she explained (in Hebrew!!!) the why’s and what’s of her collection/items for sale. While I couldn’t pass an exam on the specifics, I was delighted to find I understood reasonable chunks of her narratives! I think.

Better yet, she mentioned teaching a class that evening, so I asked to visit. When I returned for the class an hour later, both students were at the 2 electric “wheels,” one shaping a mug, the other a small bowl. 

The pottery teacher alternated from one to the other, explaining, demonstrating, guiding their hands to model pressure with a tool or a finger inside the vessel. I understood enough of her interaction with her students to realize why her Hebrew had been clearer than most: a teacher at heart gracefully simplifies to the student’s level.

My heart became a collage of learning-memories.

At first I was envious of hands-on teaching. I thought of countless attempts at pie crust and cakes from scratch – failed projects I’d tackled from a recipe alone, without skilled hands to guide mine.  Learning to make my own clothes by trial and many costly errors.

Then my Memories found me, times of being taught for which to be grateful.  A few:

  1. voice lessons detailing how to use my instrument to its capacity
  2. dance partners patiently guiding me to “feel” their lead
  3. my mother teaching me how to make macaroni and cheese for a girl scout badge
  4. a favorite prof teaching teaching-strategies in graduate school
  5. Bev Powers, my counselor, teaching me to this day how to live as who I am

I regret not taking advantage of opportunities for fear-based reasons, like not taking, or fully participating in, classes in high school – art, ceramics, drama, chorus – because I didn’t know how to do something.  DUH! That’s what classes are for.

Not always knowing when to ask for help or bother someone with our troubles is universal, right?!  What do you think?

I realized my own not-trying occurred primarily during my years of childhood and adolescence, but not entirely. While the trip through Europe and Israel alone at 19 (blog 32) cracked open a door to risk… released confidence…and a sense of not wanting to miss opportunities, I see that the fears holding me back as an adult were about earning/keeping (“important”)critical people’s approval.

They certainly knew so much more than I did. If they didn’t see my potential, how foolish would I be to even try? That door has opened more with the years, allowing me to GIVE IT A SHOT.  Sometimes to disappointment, but not every time.

Hindsight is glorious

Back to the potter’s wheel:

The teacher’s hands made it look so simple, easy. The students struggled not because of anything other than inexperience and learning curve.  For one, this was a second lesson, while the other had had several lessons months ago. Can aptitude even be revealed before we give it a good try, with effective instruction and guidance?

The clay resisted the students.  An odd lump refused to yield to pressure. Later, the other student suddenly found herself holding half of a vessel, the clay in her hand having separated itself from what remained, now spinning wildly and threatening to fly of off the wheel.

Failure?  Absolutely NOT.

Learning? Big Time.

The teacher’s words were gentle, her hands knowing when to guide theirs, when to simply rescue, always explaining.

Then I smiled at thought of my high school sweetheart, Tom, who taught me how to write for a class report.  Literally, how to structure sentences.  It was humbling, but that lesson was the best equipping for college I received, proved to be crucial to my career, and developed into a lifelong interest.

Risk-taking-to-learn reveals abilities and NON-abilities.  When in your life might a (better?) teacher have made the difference, or unlocked skills to a higher level?

FAILURE!Learning.

Calling it what it is has taken a lifetime

Back again to the potter’s wheel

The hands at the wheels were covered with clay from the vessels in process.  It was intimate, the potter and her vessel.  Even the most simple bowl or cup required skill, concentration, time and energy, with clay-crusted hands.

The teacher prepared a handful of clay by throwing it on the hard surface again and again, again –  WHAP WHAP WHAPWHAP.  I was the clay: thrown hard to get the “gas” out, being made into something solid, something real.

These days, I have several precious friends who are wrestling with their worth – to God, to friends, in life. Whether simple bowl or more complicated 8-stemmed Menorah, we are in the hands of the Master Potter.  And loved while being remolded.

Much of my life I’ve embraced the concept of being clay in God’s hands (Jeremiah 18).  The 2 hours in the potter’s studio, watching a seasoned craftsman, deepened my understanding of being molded-by-design-for-purpose.

Also, the process of being SMUSHED for remaking.  Still not my idea of a good time.

This greater knowing is peaceful within, because I’ve come to trust the Potter.


Holocaust Memorial Day

was January 27 – remembering liberation from the camps. The recurring theme for me is (No surprise!) COURAGE.

This link includes interesting bios of several survivors, now living in Denver. http://mizelmuseum.org/program/eyewitness-to-history-a-holocaust-survivor-speaks/   They are choosing LIFE rather than destroying their lives with resentment (or denial) of their suffering and loss.


Films with Courage to live ~ Courage to love

Sometimes movies inspire me towards courage. 

Hidden in Silence  Living in the remote desert, 1½ hour drive to a theater rules out my (rare) desire to see a movie.  One evening I searched the internet and found a WW2 movie that I hadn’t seen. It rang within me because of the heroine’s COURAGE, thankfully without battles and war scenes  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bIFI_MneBQg&spfreload=1  Let me know if you watch it, what you think.

Defiance is a movie I found at the library years ago…. It’s a true story, intense, and intensely inspirational. Violent.  Based on one family’s leadership of over 2000 Jews hiding about through several years of WW2 in Poland’s forest http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/education/newsletter/28/bielski_brothers.asp

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bielski_partisans

You’ve Got Mail  I admit the romantic me responds to the courage in Tom Hanks’ determined, for the good, pursuit of Meg Ryan. It was a gamble more likely to fail than succeed, and I appreciate the character putting his heart on the line.

The Age of Adaline is about a woman whose injury in an accident results in her not aging. At All.  She lives her situation with grace and learns to live with short relationships, since after some number of years, anyone expects their friend or sweetheart to age.  The concept is heroic to me because, well, instead of lamenting that her life isn’t “normal” or even typical, she lives it, adjusting her expectations and pursuits.

Adaptation to new versions of ourselves  – whether chosen or forced upon us – requires choosing life over regret, failure, disillusionment

Braveheart – Great courage inspires me, especially for the good of those who need help.

Bucket List – the surprise precious friendship of Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman!


Tamar

One afternoon I explored a nearby archaeological site with a name the Bible readers may connect in the wrong direction: Tamar.  The name of the daughter of King David who was raped by her (half) brother.  euuuuu.However, in this case, Tamar is the name of a way-station, confirmed by archaeologists to date back to King Solomon’s Empire (around 1000BCE), (Gen 14:7; 1 Ki 9:18; Ez 47:19; Ez 48:28) and the Ottoman Empire(1300-1500CE), and of course today’s Israel.  It may even have been a way-station in the days of Abraham.

http://www.biblewalks.com/Sites/BiblicalTamar.html#Structure

A 4-room home – what remains of it – stands here.  (the panorama shot makes it appear curved, but it’s squared and straight)Alone, in the barrenness of old stone structures and dry sand, I heard the voices of life.  Building, loving, crying, bearing babies, carrying water from the nearby spring, offering hospitality to travelers.  I wondered about predators then.  From what did mothers protect their young?

I live so comfortably, even when I’m not comfortable.  I’m acutely aware that I have no capacity to even imagine what their lives were like.  And yet, imagine, I do.  Better to imagine than sign up for some sort of bizarre survival excursion to experience living as they did. It’s enough heartbreak for me to know some in today’s world live lives only somewhat more comfortably than did they.  My life, my heart, is full, thankfully, and filled with thanksgiving.  Without experiencing everything possible.

The more I learn the less I know.

my prayer these days?  fill my heart with what You want me full of.  

oh, and please show me what to do with it.

 


 

If you were reading along on this journey in the first year of living here, you might remember the wait through scores of numbers for my turn in Jerusalem’s main post office.  As it turns out, outside of the big city, a visit to the post office and government offices is, well, “small town easy.”  It took 5 minutes to apply for my Israeli passport. No one waiting. Quiet office. It took longer to find a parking space.


The school at which I volunteered in the Central Arava includes all 800+ students, from preschool through high school, and their very own mini-farm – animals and two large greenhouses filled with colorful arrays of veggies.  I spent two or more mornings each week with the kids, as a teacher’s helper in the farm area. The children work together for projects, learn to prepare and sell produce, care for animal families (goats, chickens, guinea pigs, rabbits), go bird watching and other outdoor excursions on and off of school grounds.

They are curious and fun and happy, and they take care of one another. Some were interested in this new face, and then more-so or not-so-much when they realized I couldn’t speak or understand well. Others brought me classmates who spoke English, having immigrated as families from elsewhere.  Some naturally spoke slower, patiently offering correction of my vocabulary or grammar – probably future teachers.  The youngest counted or asked questions in English to show what they knew.  Since they spend most of their day in the traditional classroom, their time at this school farm is a favorite for most, and I enjoyed the “side” of them that I saw.

Some gravitated to the pens with the animals.  I imagine they were working out the rough things-of-life that are softened by holding a fuzzy rabbit. Rubbing the scratchy head of a baby goat as though he were a dog, feeding the fish, catching the baby guinea pigs.  Does it give their souls a break from whatever bothers their hearts?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They were more affectionate with one another than American children. Hand-holding, arms around each other, leaning in to see or speak with body contact. Not sexual, but comfortable.  Perhaps a manifestation of small community? the farm school area’s relaxed atmosphere? fewer lessons about the danger of (big city)strangers? other ideas?

A deep hole was needed for a project and some (mostly boys) were eager to use the shovel to help.  I felt their moment of realization that it’s so much harder than it looks, digging into the dirt, lifting the too-full shovel.

Picking vegetables, learning about the roots and weeds, peeling countless cloves of garlic for yummy pesto.  They work as a team, mostly, to prepare the food, and if they’re not selling it at the fair, they’re consuming vast quantities of the just-picked veggies from their farm: munching on raw cabbage, cherry tomatoes, carrots, cauliflower. . . without dipping it in anything!!!

Work Dodging:  a few in the older classes usually managed to do no real work, instead flit from one working group to another, always below the radar of distracted teachers. I guess that’s universal!

This city gal had never before pulled a vegetable out of the ground, so I was way out of my element.  The immersion in Hebrew and the loving energy of children, the warmth of the teachers. .  .  I should have paid them for the opportunity and the fun.

32 – Desert at the right time

Desert at the right time  because the weather in my new January-February home in Israel’s desert has January temps of 65′ days and 40′ nights, a far cry from summers’ 103′ days!  More about the Arava and this new region, later.

Like the Grand Canyon…amazing…like Mars…I want to stay to do all these hikes…who knew(this was here)?…breathtaking…no one told me. . .

After map-studying and internet research I visited Timna Park. What I found rendered me muttering aloud “like the Grand Canyon…amazing…like Mars…I want to stay to do all these hikes…who knew?!…breathtaking…no one told me. . .  over and over, all day.

My photos don’t do it justice, but I’m sorry to say that were you to fly here for a full 2-week tour, you’d likely not make it this far. Most don’t.

Copper was first mined here at Timna when Egypt’s Empire was at its strength – probably before 1500BCE.  The above “holes” are natural, due to erosion. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timna_Valley

the Mushroom below is also from erosion!The 15,000 acre park is filled with a variety of rock formations of truly salmony-pink sand and rock.

It is laid out so visitors see the main sights by driving from one to the next, in/out of the car to walk short distances to the vista, cave carvings, or whatever.

The dry sand in some areas so deep that I was reminded of the extra effort of each step while walking through Southern California’s far-from-the-water, deep, dry beach sand .  But here at Timna, right beside the deep loose sand is hard stone or a thin layer of dirty-sand scattered with rocks. This desert’s absolute mix of texture and line and color lends drama and beauty.

 

The following 3 photos of the worship site are the only man-made items in these photos from Timna. (Besides the 2 children in one photo and handrails in another)

And here is the view  from above – a good climb, although this is the highest view of it that I could get, about 1/2 way up.

My ascent continued and the following photos are the view from the TOP.

An Israeli around my age concurred with my muttered exclamations of awe and we had a conversation. Although he was born here, this was his first visit(!), bringing his mother on an outing. Besides them, a few families, a few sweethearts, and a mini-tour-bus of well-behaved tourists, I had the park to myself.

Can you see the camel nursing her calf on the ancient etching, below?

or the people standing below, on the left, then someone beside a table. Are his/her arms raised?  What might he/she be doing?

P.S. After spending the day resisting the gorgeous hiking trails’ that beckoned to me, my plan is to return when the weather cools next Autumn for a devoted 4 days of glorious hikes. I’m already looking forward to it.  Fortunately, lodging is available nearby, since I’m way, way, way past camping outdoors.  I’ve paid my dues with all that effort and discomfort.


I’m now staying in the center of the Arava – that means I’ve left the north to learn-live in the south-eastern region.  The Arava is the eastern region of Israel’s desert, bordered by Jordan and extending south of the Dead Sea all the way to Eilat, a beach city at the southern tip. The above described excursion to Timna Park was 1 1/2 hour desert drive south, nearly to Eilat.

All places within 2 1/2 hours of this current home are a desert drive.  Pay attention to the gas level, bring water and food. Hydrate, but not too much unless you’re nearing facilities!

A simple map:  http://www.aicat-arava.com/86748.html  This is website of the University in which I’m volunteering with North Vietnam students.  13 nations come here to learn Israeli agriculture techniques!

website about the region https://www.facebook.com/centralarava     Also, the videos at the bottom of this website are a fun view of the what I’m seeing every day (albeit the singing by students from the Agriculture University program in which I’m tutoring is not for the musically inclined)

More about the University’s students that you might find of interest: http://www.thetower.org/3358-thousands-of-african-asian-students-study-agriculture-at-israeli-institute/  and more at http://www.jnf.org/byachad/winter-2015-byachad-articles/spotlight-aicat_p5.pdf

And here are more maps, in case you’re struggling to envision Israel in relation to our neighboring countries:  https://images.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?p=arava+israel+map+today&fr=sgm&hspart=SGMedia&hsimp=yhs-sgm_fb&imgurl=http%3A%2F%2Fisraelproject.kolemeth.org%2Fimg%2Fmap.png#id=22&iurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.elciudadano.cl%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2F2012%2F01%2Fisrael.jpg&action=click

 

 

This move means I’ve traded Lebanon and Syria as neighbors for Jordan.  There is no fence on Israel’s 307 km (191 miles) eastern border with Jordan.  I’m told the IDF has it under control, which means the security process is in place but not made public, as is appropriate.  Also, the Jordanians have benefited from keeping the border peaceful since 1994’s agreement; nowadays they are also motivated to keep our shared border (as well as all of Jordan) free of ISIS and their lot. 

However, the residents of the Arava talk of “when” not “if” conflict arises from Jordan’s border.  It is doubtful that Jordan has the strength to resist ISIS, plus 70% of Jordan’s population consider themselves refugees – Palestinians – (although now 3 or more generations removed from the actual refugees) and are easily manipulated by the “push the Jews back into the ocean” dogma of Palestinian leaders and as preached in many mosques.  In addition to that, Jordan’s king does not have the support of the people that his father enjoyed.  It seems only a matter of time.

The road east, towards Jordan’s mountains

Driving to explore, I’ve seen landmines-warning signs around fields (remember the landmines in the Golan?).  I rest peacefully, knowing the IDF has set in place whatever other defense measures are warranted, without posted signs or fences.

If there isn’t enough danger from landmines or terrorism or war, this region is challenged with flash floods.  Earthquakes (California) and blizzards (Colorado) are the limit of my dangerous natural phenomenon experience. I’ve learned that don’t need to experience something to want to stay clear of it:  films of floods have left me with respect enough for their strength.


Wikipedia translates the Arava as “dry and desolate” although I’ve not heard those words from the residents.  They love their lives here in Arava’s central area, where around 3,700 residents live and work in 7 (mostly farming) communities.  These pioneer-spirited folks appreciate what they have:

  • One supermarket,
  • 3 gas stations,
  • 1 school for all 800 students,
  • 6 restaurants that are open 2 or more days each week… most of the time,
  • A Mobile phone/computer shop,
  • A Medical clinic,
  • Assorted artists and entrepreneurs (soaps, candles, massage, etc),
  • Tourism specialties (lodging that ranges from Bedouin-like tents to pricey-romantic get-aways)

What to do on day off?  Family outings for hiking or support local entrepreneurs:  jeep rides, crocodile farm, bird watching, guided treks….

A visit to the hospital, buying clothing , vitamins, large appliances, furniture and most everything else means a drive of 1 ½ hours to Beer Sheva or Eilat.

Many of the area farmers employ short-term or long-term laborers from poorer countries (Thailand, Nepal, Philippines, India,…) and so have built simple housing for them on the farm property.  Some have also built guest-housing for vacationers to rent for weekends or special events in the area.  My guess is that the nearest hotel is 1 1/2 hour drive elsewhere.  I’m renting a perfect little studio apt on farm property.  This weekend the 3 other guest houses on our property are full as well, as there was a big bicycle race in one of our communities.

Whoa! this is my backyard? what happened?!  I’m a city-girl!!!

I spent my childhood in San Francisco!  And then many years in the hustle, bustle of Southern California and the 2 largest cities in Colorado, and 5 years in NYC. My reservation for 6 weeks on a farm in this tiny community would be a first!

Turning from the highway towards my next home, my first thought was “oh no.” It looked too barren!!!

The gated entry is not like prestigious like “The Gates” of high-end property. Instead, these gates surround most small Jewish communities throughout the nation. Schedules vary, based on terror risk, but most are closed every night, and the communities’ emergency plans include them closing against terrorists.  So the gate didn’t bother me at all, and I was encouraged to see a few trees.

and then delighted with the oasis-feel!  It’s lovely, and an I’ve since discovered each of these communities of the Arava to be oases.

Walking my neighborhood these days, multiple senses are startled by horses and goats and chickens in neighbor’s yards, laborers driving noisy farm equipment, huge packing houses on most everyone’s property filled with produce from today’s harvest, and greenhouses on fields in every direction from the community filled with …GREEN.

Here are a few sights around town:

My hosts, an open-hearted couple, met almost 40 years ago as young adults on a kibbutz, when he immigrated from Zimbabwe. Note the well-worn stuffed character adorning the front of my ever-cheerful host’s tractor

Every few days I find just-picked tomatoes, red peppers, onions and/or eggplants at my door.  Fresh is wonderful! The only thing better would be if they prepared the meal for me as well, or raised chocolate.

As with my last “home”, in the Druze Village, there are no addresses here, although homes here are numbered.  Not street names, but numbers at least help to ask for directions.   A woman I met was one of the first families here 40something years ago.  She is still living in the same home, albiet modified over the decades.

In those days it was a Mosh-butz.  Kibbutz communal organizational strategies were used to begin the community, with intention of it growing into an independent, entrepreneurial community, which it has done.  Somewhat like an HOA (Home Owners Association), the Moshav committees maintain shared areas/facilities and addresses shared concerns that arise.

Did you know that the pioneering-Israel Kibbutz of the first 1/2 of the 20th-Century fully embraced socialist values and structure? However, in the past 20 years most have undergone re-organization for privatized ownership  and hence are called a “Moshav” (small community/town) instead.  I believe the Kibbutz model of communal care for the children and shared facilities was the only way to begin efficiently from scratch.  There still remain a small number of true Kibbutz as well, whose members are devoted participants to the communal idealism of the original model – except children now live with their parents rather than in Children’s Houses.

More about how a Kibbutz functions: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Society_&_Culture/kibbutz.html

Some other Israel desert “words” you’ve probably heard:    

Negev – is the southern ½ of Israel – desert – of which the Arava is the eastern region,   

Sinai, is south of Israel – desert in Egypt – that Israel won when attacked in 1967, and then gave back to Egypt in keeping with the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt. 

 

 


I’ve learned the desert takes shape in countless ways.  Some places like Utah, others Las Vegas, and still others a movie set for the Sahara Desert.

Driving my Kia Picanto here feels like driving a toy car in a sandbox.  I see the Mountains-Hills-Rocks surrounding me as though the sand was poured and scooped and patted to create unique shapes as far as the eye can see.  My perspective is that of a toy soldier in a sandbox. Except I KNOW that the hills I drive between are solid, even though some appear to be poured sand with a peak that could blow away.

This past Saturday I sat atop a mountain,

or hill,

or hill-rock covered with sand and dirt and more rocks. . . Mountain feels too “Colorado”; Hill too inconsequential and soft, Rock is too small. What should I call these?

Whether mountain-hill-rock-sand, I sat on it for a very long time and it was very hard.  Its beauty, quiet, its big-ness, the peace was the best “Sabbath” for my soul. Prayer for me is conversation with God, rather than read or recited prayers of others.  We talked about issues inside and out, and I left the mountain-hill-rock-sand with Perspective and Peace accompanying me on the descent and return “home.”  As always, I thought about you –  and so wish I could give you what I received – soul-to-soul.


Throughout my stay in the Arava, several times each week, I’m helping Israeli children with their English, plus a group of North Vietnamese Master’s Degree university students use English in their classroom.  Logically, English is the universal language for education of multinationals and I was asked to help the Vietnamese students. Exceptional with reading/writing, they seemed less confident verbally.

I’ve discovered they are up against a huge cultural issue: “Good students” in Vietnam do not ask questions or offer ideas, and there is no class discussion.  Consequently, they are not only challenged with the pronunciation and vocabulary and grammar issues of communicating regarding course content with the professor, but even more significantly, out of respect and conformity, they have spent their lives as students not speaking in class.

We’ve discussed culture at length, and adaptation to learning/living among others with very different ways of doing things.  I’ve challenged them to adopt the mantle that they have earned – to intentionally shift from being “Vietnamese children in school” into “International Graduate Students (with a voice).”  As they are freed-up in the classroom, we’ll use our time together to improve their pronunciation.

I thought there would be a downside, that these English tutoring gigs would not be Hebrew-learning opportunities for me.  But I’m surrounded by Hebrew at the children’s school.  I even understand the teachers and children better than last year’s classroom gig.  Hallelujah!  More about the kids in the next blog.

The 7 Vietnamese students are so loving and warm that our sessions feel like friendship.  Also, their group is a simple, short-lived revisiting of my professional skills.  Given the many times each day that I make mistakes with Hebrew – although I know better, my heart still defines those mistakes as “failure” –  I’ve really enjoyed being in a “zone” in which I feel competent, even if only for these weeks.

Otherwise, as during my stays elsewhere, I spend time visiting places and hoping to make friends.


LOST

I was warned that not everyone is “made” for this desert. The colors and serenity, and the quiet, as far as the eye can see.  Stark. Troubling? Depressing?

I’m sure not all readers will understand, but I’ll take a risk and share it anyway: By the end of my first week here, I was troubled.  The only word for how I felt was Lost, and it took a couple of days to sort out why.  I was feeling the desert, and “LOST” is my heart’s response to it, this desert.  I’m not lost, but the desert resonates within me as that.

This is absolutely the time to be here! Days are around 68’ and nights 44’.  August averages are 103’ day and 80’ night.  Ughhhhhhhhhhhh  My friend who lives here concurs it’s just too hot, but not too hot to drive her and her farmer-husband and 3 year old to leave this land they love.  They’re raising their family in this community, plus being a part of building this community’s resources for future generations.


1974

My darling dancing buddy and friend, Richard, asked about my first trip to Israel.  The photos impossibly faded, negatives long ago lost in countless moves, I’ll do my best to paint the pictures with words.

In the spring of 1974, I called my father to tell him that I’d decided upon a major I thought would be a good fit (Speech and Language Therapy), that it required graduate degree, and then took a huge leap to add that I’d decided what I wanted for college graduation, years away: a trip to Israel!  I’d been studying the Bible for several years and yearned to visit – where it all happened.  It was a far-reaching impulse, a dream, to so boldly ask for a generous college graduation gift I was certain he’d never consider.

However, he called me weeks later and said to put together a plan with costs for a summer visit to Israel.  “You betcha!” I got right on it and sure enough, found myself trekking Europe enroute to Israel that June.

I shudder now to think of how unprepared I was, doing it alone at 19… for almost 2 months. Really all I had were flight reservations and a pre-purchased Eurail-pass for 90 days.  I met a woman on the plane to Copenhagen who showed me where to begin – getting around, find a room to rent in a home, etc.   Three days in Copenhagen was my first experience adjusting to language/culture challenges of transportation, food, tourism, etc.  I took the train south, sleeping on the dreadful, upright seat through Switzerland, chewing on bits of bread and cheese.

As the train made it’s trek south through Italy, I talked at length with an “older” man – he must have been 40!! – from San Marino, a tiny country within Italy. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Marino  Horrified that I was seeing none of his region except what daylight allowed through train windows, he persuaded me to leave the train with him for the afternoon.

I went! 

I know. I know!! Who does that?? And lives to tell the story?

He was the perfect gentleman, honorable and kind and charming.  Without agenda!

He took me to a lovely restaurant for one of the best meals of my summer. I remember tasting mineral water for the first time, at his urging, but my youthful palate thought it a poor substitute for sugary or artificially sweetened soda; now I love it!

He took me to the beach, sand hardly visible under large umbrellas filling the expanse like a silly puzzle.  I thought, “how absurd” to use umbrellas, since the point of the beach was to get as brown as possible.  Now I invest in and use quality sunblock products, wide-brimmed hats and scarves, and have wished many times to be sheltered under a massive umbrella like those that day, so long ago.

I wish, oh how I wish, I could tell you his name, but alas, it’s gone.  I’ll always remember his face.  After the most amazing afternoon, he took me back to the train station. I can’t recall whether we even exchanged contact information.  He was a gift to me on my journey, as have been so many others.

The next overnight was transit in another uncomfortable seat on the ferry from Brindisi, Italy to Greece, followed by a few nights on an awful upper bunk in Athens’ noisy, co-ed hostel, and then a late night flight to Tel Aviv.  It was a student flight and there were more of us than seats on the plane.  I remember sitting on the floor of the aisle of the plane with a number of others, certain this would not be allowed in the U.S.

The first few days in Israel I stayed with 2nd cousins in Tel Aviv and Haifa, although in those days I was really not at all clear how we were related.  They seemed so far away, their family here since before Israel was a nation, I didn’t put together that our grandfathers were brothers until years later.  I guess the language, culture, and national differences in a family that was already confusing to me, besides being fragmented, rendered me incapable of sorting out the family tree.  They graciously hosted me several nights, did a much needed load of laundry, introduced me to humus – which years later became an acquired taste and favorite – and off I went to explore the land.

A hostel in the Old City of Jerusalem became my home there many weeks, and I found a 10-day student tour to visit north and south regions that were impossible to access alone. The previous autumn, Israel had been invaded by Egyptian and Syrian forces on Yom Kippur – the holiest day of all – and miraculously conquered the Golan Heights from Syria, and nearly Damascus as well. http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3621090,00.html

Our tour bus passed countless tanks in the hilly battlegrounds of the Golan, still “parked” from the war 9 months ago.  In days long before iphones, we marveled at elaborate TV antennas on Bedouin tents in the south, in the Sinai Desert.  As is mandatory on all Israel tours, we floated and then shmeared our bodies with mud from the Dead Sea, the area far more rustic then, and the Sea much larger in mass than it is today.  http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/israel-dead-sea-shrinking-hundreds-sinkholes-are-opening-its-shores-photos-1513207

My heart was alive here in ways I’d never known, especially so in Jerusalem. Seeing the places about which I’d read, learning more of the history and archaeology was a dream come true.  The city of Jericho, caves in which David hid from jealous Saul, the Mount of Olives . . .

I yearned to stay, but that seemed a fantasy.  One day noticed a clerk about my age working in a local market, and realized I couldn’t even get a job because I didn’t speak the language, that I stood no chance surviving here.  I see now that I had absolutely no confidence to even consider studying the language, much less the international move.

Vision for a career path that felt like a good fit, for which I must have –  amazingly! – had  the confidence (“faith”), offered a more viable future. Looking today at the girl I was vs the woman I became, I see I had much to learn through career and life to be able to do what I do these days.

While the successes are more fun, I’ve learned far more from the failures and disappointments.

The trip wrapped with returning through Athens, and then more trains into Spain.  My destination was a small village where some other cousin-y person was somehow the queen of the summer’s fiesta.  I never did sort out how there was “family” in Spain. I’m painfully aware how disconnected I was in youth, so unable to ask for clarification of important things, feeling shame for not knowing so many things magically . . .

The train brought me to Barcelona just before midnight.  I’d been sitting beside a Catholic nun, and using my High School Spanish to ask without asking (why not ask?!) whether they had room for me to stay overnight at her convent.  She didn’t understand or didn’t want to… so I exited the train at midnight with no bed for the night.  The station’s resource desks were closed.

A man appeared, inviting those of us who had lingered in the station to follow him because he knew of hotels with rooms available.  Winding through dark streets of Barcelona, I did what I still do when talking with others: not pay attention to the direction and completely lose my way. The hotel in question had no rooms and the group dispersed.  Alone I stood on the empty street.  The dark, empty street somewhere in Barcelona, Spain after midnight.

I began walking towards what I thought was retracing steps and quickly realized I had no clue.  High school Spanish gave me some ability, but there was no one to ask and even then I knew enough to hesitate to reveal that I was lost and alone.  Praying “though I walk through the valley of death You are with me and You guide me and …” I found myself at the train station.  Locked.  And Dark. Several others and myself “slept” (somewhat) on the steps of the Barcelona train station that night.

The next morning I found my way to the looooooooooong un-airconditioned bus ride through August’s hot oh-so-hot country terrain of Spain to the tiny village for the festival.  I stayed in the home of an old woman who I think was a relative of the relative… it’s still a blur and I don’t know who I could ask now.  The large, old home had an outdoor toilet.  She had no refrigerator, but walked every day to the village’s shops for fresh milk, produce and meat. The paella was amazing!

From seedling to tree

Writing this forces upon me the girl of then.  And the journey to the woman of now.  Unrecognizable, and yet so familiar.

During that trip I discovered museums in Athens and Israel surprisingly appealing:  clay pots for storage, pouring vessels, jewelry, tools, and weapons of ancient civilizations.  Museums, years later in England, New York, Austria, Germany, Kansas City had the same allure . . .

I came to understand they anchored me in a way.  Immersing myself in a people long passed, likely working much harder towards physical survival that I’ve ever imagined, settled an unsettledness within.  Their lives put a perspective on my struggles that complimented my practice of thankfulness to God for my blessings as well as the disappointments.

It’s not the same now.  I’m in a different space and those areas of a museum don’t pull like a magnet.  In hindsight, I see that my soul resonated there.  I needed to rest my life with theirs as part of a vast continuum – same though different.  It helped me feel less alone.  I don’t know how to define it any better, but please write to tell me how this resonates with you.

If it’s not apparent, one of the many reasons I write is with the hope to stir your heart, and your curiosity. I love hearing what you’re thinking on these or other matters that come to mind.

31 ~ Omri and LIFE

I live in the LAND of astounding archaeological discoveries.  Yet, on the other side of the globe is another of the 20th century’s significant archaeological excavations  –  the Terra Cotta Warriors – “guarding” China’s First Emperor’s tomb in Xi’an.

Terra Cotta WarriorsAt the age of 13, in the year 208, Ying Zheng assumed China’s throne, and at the same time began planning his own tomb.  After reigning 25 years, he had unified a collection of warring kingdoms, hence is considered China’s first Emperor, assuming the name Qin Shi Huang Di.

Throughout his 36-year reign, workers continued toiling to prepare his tomb as well as the entire mausoleum.  This included as many as 8,000 lifesize terra cotta warrior figures.

vast army

Each was painstakingly crafted with unique facial expressions(!)  Traces of paint suggest they were once brilliantly colored to accompany the Emperor during his final rest.  Excavations of portions of the 1974 discovery ultimately unearthed three huge pits filled with terra-cotta soldiers, cavalry, archers, their weapons, horses and chariots.

This warrior survived with more detail and color than most, so received a place of acclaim in the museum.

IMG_1105

Note the tread on his shoe!!

IMG_1111

The Emperor’s concubines who had not borne him sons were immolated (killed or burned as a sacrifice) at the time of his death and buried in small pits within his vast mausoleum.  Additional nearby digs revealed other kinds of figures such as acrobats, dancers, and musicians.  The guides leading my tour explained that for scientific/technical and political reasons, excavations are currently on-hold indefinitely.

http://science.nationalgeographic.com/science/archaeology/emperor-qin/in

However absurd to our 21st century ears, the entire story  – planning and funding laborers from the age of 13 to take countless terracotta soldiers with him into death – lends a new twist to cuddling a favorite teddybear during sleep.

I’ve attended funerals that were filled with joy over the life lived, and I envy that. I absolutely want those who love me to celebrate the life I lived, the person I became. I’m doing my very best towards that goal.

While I don’t particularly care about the event – except no “viewings” or open casket  (I prefer a nice photo, if one were ever to be taken).

How would you like people to remember you after you pass?  Some sadness, as well as happier reflections?  How about gathering for a special event to celebrate your life?  Once? Every year?

A new friend invited me to join her remembering Omri, a young Israeli, who died tragically 7 years ago, just months after completing his military service.  As usual, I had no idea what the event, or the experience, would be, but I most often go where I’m invited.

After High School graduation, Israel youth spend a year preparing to enter the military: a combination of physical training for the rigors ahead, volunteer work, and employment. I’ve been told by many Israeli’s that military service is the question following introductions. “Where/in what unit did you serve?” launches a series of connections and comparisons, instant bonding.

IMG_0628

As an aside, certain Ultra-Orthodox groups are exempted from military service, and most Orthodox gals and very few boys opt for non-military service entailing assignments in an extensive variety of community projects.  These are real “jobs” and earn the benefits of army service. Both military and community service require boys serve 3, while girls 2 years.

The women’s unit in the following video had gathered on the campus of Ben Gurion University in the Negev.  In an early morning walk, I happened upon their voices, laughter, and the breathtaking dessert view of their outdoor classroom.

Here’s where we pick up Omri’s story  After completion of military service, many Israeli youth spend their savings on the trip of a lifetime: 3 – 6 months overseas. India or South America are the regions I hear of most often, and Omri went to South America.

It’s a time of transition and unwinding from the intensity of military experience before beginning university.  Easy to see why these Israeli young adults are far more mature and settled for the discipline of serious studies and career-prep focus than most fresh-out-of-high school 18-year-olds elsewhere.

Two days before Omri was to return from his post-military 3-month backpacking trek in South America, solo, he stopped calling home.  Family members flew immediately to search, but his body wasn’t found for many, many months.

He was 23.  The cause of death was a poisonous snake bite.  Someone buried him, so perhaps he was not alone when he passed.

The (7th Memorial) event was held on a beautiful autumn day in Omri’s home town, at a rented theater.  Approximately 150 guests gathered for an early lunch picnic-buffet-potluck that felt like a wedding reception, not a funeral.  Ages clustered mostly around 30, the age he would be now, and what I guessed to be his parents’ generation (and teachers?).  They mingled with genuine warmth, happy to see dear friends or heartily welcoming guests like myself to “meet” this amazing young man.  And meet him, I did, in the 3-hours ahead.  Time well spent.

After eating and meeting and greeting, we entered the theater for a professional-caliber presentation of family photos/videos of Omri’s life.  It seems each year a new “production” brings in different photos and memories.  Funny, happy, touching, heartbreaking, not morbid.

Then his father and sister and brother spoke about him, some tears and a lot of laughter.  I felt honored to be allowed into the intimacy of their loss, their joy of having had him, and they did well comforting each other with remembrances of the child/man they had known and still love.

A movie followed. A French film that translates loosely into “Funny Gods”.  I struggled to NOT try to match what I heard – French! –  with the Hebrew subtitles.  High school Spanish doesn’t help listening to French, and I can’t read Hebrew fast enough to benefit from subtitles beyond the few words I catch in the mere seconds they’re on the screen.  It’s a movie I’d like to see again with the benefit of dialogue.  I felt the audience’s engagement, serene nods, and laughter.  If you happen upon a U-tube showing of it with English subtitles…

Meeting Omri this way and seeing his family and friends loving him well wasn’t overwhelming or sappy, but a clean, clear MemoryStream that refreshed me.  The pure love of others for each other – how could it but invigorate?

Omri was obviously a leader, charismatic, well-loved, and seems to have loved well.  Fearless with character, not foolhardy. I like to imagine he was more about LIVING than being stopped by fears. I like the young man I met that day.  Perhaps more so now than ever before, I’m particularly tuned-in to what I hope is character-infused, wise, risk-taking,

His face and build and personality tore at my heart because he reminded me of 2 men I knew well: smart, charismatic, leadership potential, but for whom “wild” was a better description than “courageous”, perhaps because their choices were more about their drives and compulsions.  Neither seemed to reach their potential.  Why?  Shame. Addictions and unresolved “issues.”  Self-centeredness.  Secrets.

Omri’s death, as with all deaths of the young, leaves the “what would have been’s” unknown, so we imagine the best, most amazing future — missed.

Meanwhile, so many others who “survive” take few risks, but miss much of life.  For too many years I shied away from opportunities and pursuits because of fear. Reasons?  Of course.  But still I know I gave too much to fear. It seems that Omri LIVED well his 23 years.  Some might say he died young because of recklessness, but where is living safe? Each day I hope to succeed at the balance between LIVING fully and the wisdom to not be reckless.

How can I spend this day, oh Lord, as the precious gift it that is, from You?

I remind myself when disappointment finds me questioning my choices, that I’ll never know the outcome had I taken another route.  Better? or Worse?

I spent the first day of 2017 with a first “real” hike in the Negev, map in hand, water, sunblock, and hat.

However I found myself in a situation that required climbing with arms and legs up and down rocky hillsides, without the strength I needed.  The trail was extremely difficult to follow and I was seriously frightened over and over again – hoping each steep, slippery incline/decline was the last one that required hanging-on to…something (that I couldn’t reach, or grasp confidently).  I fought visions of lying disabled or unconscious after a fall or being rescued by the Israeli Army helicopter-rope…like a movie.  I had no recourse except to press on with hope that what lay ahead would be better than the overwhelming passages I’d survived.

Retreat was impossible.  I knew better than to re-attempt the terrain behind me.

I asked God for the help I needed.  For strength.  Direction.  Courage.

My left arm had been injured the week before and I had only a fraction of normal strength; had I been at full strength, I would still have been frightened and concerned at the situation.  The pain and swelling of my arm increased with each effort, but I had to use my hand for the little it was worth.

The silence of the desert is deep.  Peaceful, really, not barren. And I was alone the entire time, except at 4 distinct points, when other hikers appeared, helping perfectly.

The first literally pulled me up an incline that I simply could not have managed otherwise.  The family in the above video as well as a group of teen boys who came along later, each helped me re-access the trail I’d entirely lost on two separate occasions. The last approached as I stood at a fork, thinking of Dorothy and her friends in the Wizard of Oz at a similar fork enroute to their Enchanted City.  He directed me to the easiest route to the parking lot, to avoid further climbing.  Need I paint how relieved I was to climb into my rented (Enchanted) Kia Picanto?!

Upon my much delayed return, the woman who had recommended and carefully detailed the hike on the map said I’d gone left instead of right at one critical point.

How could I not be reminded of the many aspects of my life that were so difficult because of one wrong turn – mine or others’.  Some cost me years, untold sorrows and confusion.

This roadsign tells you I’m no longer on Lebanon or Syria’s border.

30 Driving in Israel and Love

30  Driving in Israel

What if STOP had a different symbol?  How long would it  take for you to respond automatically?

I received a parking ticket,  because I didn’t notice the curbs were painted blue and white, meaning “pay-to-park” during certain hours/days. Besides the ticket, came the indignation of not being able to read it or know HOW to pay it.  As it turns out, a trip to the post office, cash in hand, is the way to pay a parking ticket in Israel.  And going forward, I’ll pay more attention to the signs.

How long before the symbol for “WRONG way” catches your eye as it should? (saying: this is a one-way street, dummie, and you can’t be here, facing this direction!).

Driving, like most things, is same-but-different in Israel!

img_1982Road signs!

img_1983Learning them is one thing, NOTICING them, and responding smartly, immediately, is another.

img_1998It’s hard to not miss the automatic responses of 40+ years of driving is only one aspect.  I remind myself often that missing “autopilot” in multiple aspects of life is exhausting.

 

I’m finally accustomed to seeing 100km for my speed, which is just under 60mph, and 120km on most highways.  Much like open road driving in the U.S., the rule is to let faster vehicles pass on the left.  Israeli’s do a lot more moving-over, even straddling the right shoulder, to allow or invite faster vehicles to pass.

Since some of the roads in the Golan are simply too narrow for a compact vehicle (mine) + huge oncoming buses or military trucks hauling tanks, I slow substantially to cleave to my edge.  Although professional drivers are typically the best, even when hugging their side they take up much more than their share; it’s tempting to flinch and close my eyes when they pass. . . but I don’t, unless I’ve stopped as I did for this photo.img_1969

How to describe the Golan? Besides beautiful hilly nature, small communities and a few larger cities (6,000 residents), agriculture, livestock, beautiful huge homes and simple dwellings, bicyclists, motorcycles, army jeeps/tanks/huge trucks, soldiers and many others hitchhiking.  Prices for dental floss, groceries, etc reflect the isolated nature and I’ve been told many plan 45-60 minute biweekly “big shopping” treks to major areas to save household funds.

 

Holy Cow…

img_1989

 

no BULL

img_1991

Fences surrounding fields adorned with signs warning of landmines!  I found one community surrounded by this 10ft wide “border” of of landmine fencing and signs.  img_1986Imagine them “cleaning out” the community area (of landmines) before building. Wouldn’t the landmine border provide a certain security to the residents, albeit cause for concern for parents…

img_1970Driving in the Golan is entertaining: I see horses in stables or luxuriating in huge fields. Cows roam free, but seem to give right-of-way to vehicles.  I saw several drink from a small lake at which an assortment of Israeli’s (Druze, Muslim, Jew, ??) were fishing. Foxes, jackals, and other creatures dart across the road.

img_1972

(this sign says buses cannot enter – it’s so nice to be able to read some things)

Others often remark on my courage to live this way, but I’ve also been told the most courageous thing I do is to drive Israel’s roads.  Israeli drivers describe themselves as aggressive.  That’s accurate.  In order to accomplish my purposes: arrive safely and see what I’m passing, note places of interest, etc. I do a lot of straddling the shoulder to invite them to pass.

Searching for a specific restaurant or signage for landmark is a greater problem in traffic since reading signs takes longer, to sound-out words. It’s often complicated further by artsy script on many non-government signs.  I remember thinking as a child that it was so unfair when letters strayed from the long banner of upper and lower case, printed or cursive letters surrounding the walls of the classroom.

Besides a variety of compact, gas efficient cars and commercial and military trucks, motorcycles “fly” at break-neck speeds, and scooters and golfcart type vehicles share Golan Height’s roads, some impossibly noisy and others slowing traffic.  Some of the motorcycle riders are fully equipped with helmet and road gear, while others are in sandals and tshirts; they generate visions of peeled skin and head injuries, and again it’s tough to not close my eyes as they whiz past.

PROGRESS! A few weeks ago I took on the challenge to transition from GPS navigation in English to Hebrew, thinking the open roads of the Galilee and Golan would be the place to begin, and it’s working!  Whoohoo!!!

That means I’ve graduated from Google maps in English to the Hebrew language version on Waze (Waze is improved GPS navigation plus many other features including speed traps, invented here and recently bought by Google).

Why is this an accomplishment? My understanding is improved enough to follow Waze’s vocal instructions in Hebrew about where/when to turn, what’s ahead, rerouting, etc.  At first I relied on the map on my phone to learn-to-understand what “she” was saying, but now I know by listening to the directions in Hebrew.

The next test will be in busy city traffic.


A Yoga Studio in a beautiful Yurt was hosting accomplished young, local musicians for a night of Music from India… isn’t that what you thought Israeli’s do?!?!

img_1948

As with most of what I do (except for washing clothes in the bathtub) the evening was more than the event itself. The narrow mountain roads enroute were lit only by my bright headlights and a few drivers very familiar with the curves and driving much faster.  Next, I navigated by “braile” of memory among homes and streets I couldn’t see.  There was no assurance that I’d find the Yurt I’d visited during a daylight visit 2 weeks prior. Thankfully, the tiny community of less than 200 people has very few streets.

Upon entering the Yurt, I found the musicians setting up and tuning instruments, but the ccccold was assaulting and  the heater was yet another 30 minutes away from bringing comfort to the large space and high ceiling.  The yoga teacher and husband, 3 year old in tow, entered and left repeatedly to bring items from their home next to the Yurt, each door opening and too often incompletely closing, blasting us with another frigid chill.

I was grateful for each of the 25 or so eventual attendees, partly for making the evening successful for the musicians, and even more for the warmth their bodies contributed as the Golan Heights’s evening dropped below 4C(39F).

The round building, approximately 40ft diameter,  was constructed with wood walls and ceiling, skylight in center, a (Pergo) wood floor, and was lined with 3- inch pads and stacked yoga mats, pillows, and thin blankets.  The guests staggered in before and an hour after the music started.  I always feel badly for performers, especially in a small venue, having to stay focused as people arrive late, later, and later still.

I played my game of “Imagine”: how did this one meet that one, are they a couple, what is her story, is that a happy couple, why is he wearing shorts and barefoot in this extreme cold?…

Usually I corner someone, or many someone’s, into conversation but something about the crowd interfered with that.  I heard Hebrew and English and had even met one couple at a previous visit to a hostel, but it was one of few instances that I was not compelled to interact.  I wonder what we’d see if we could see at all levels, beyond the substance of matter…Do I feel that I “fit” or not because of the group, or because what I ate for lunch is doing something to my metabolism/ mind/ whatever? Are some “my people” and others not, or am I not “theirs”? Am I “peopled-out” and need to take this time to reflect, watch, listen…

click to download: Indian music

I felt as though I was Julia Roberts, from the movie Eat Pray Love.   (Romantic-me appreciates her best in the Cinderella story of Pretty Woman, but I’ve certainly never felt like I was in that story!!!)

The lovely music became my pre-sleep calming time, rocked like a baby before the cccccold drive home.  Still, I slept well, and am taking note re sleep after music, rather than the computer screen before bed.  Hmmmmmmmmmm.  Just as they say…

My prayers these days are for God to fill my heart with whatever He wants in it… and for me to learn to nurture those things.  I believe what He puts in my heart is to give away, and my responsibility is stewardship.  How could I not give what I’ve been so freely given.

More often than I can recount, I am again the 19-year-old visiting here so very long ago.  The encounters I have, brilliant vistas, conversations, moments of realization, peace. . . it’s as though a part of me is alive here that never was fully alive.  I understand some of this may be attributable my season of life, and yet I know the air here, the land that resonates in me, brings to me a great settled-ness.

 



Let me know if you hear this one on CNN…

Muslim Arabs – Palestinians –   who love Israel enlist in Israel Defense Forces (the Army) http://www.reuters.com/article/uk-israel-arabs-army-idUSKBN13X1YF 



Sometimes it’s Easy

One recent morning I left early to catch the lab technician’s 1 hour window of either 7-8am or 7:30 – 8:30 am for a routine blood draw.  (I couldn’t sort out which information was accurate, so I targeted the 7:30 – 8am window)  The lab was in a larger village – a whopping 6,000 Druze, twice the size of “my” village.

Besides the time factor, I didn’t have an address for the Clinic and couldn’t find one, even with Google and Waze and other internet searches.  Since the language of the Druze is Arabic, I’d been told that it was unlikely to find many English speakers on the street but that merchants might be reasonably fluent in Hebrew.

Hopeful, off I went, wondering when I would be reasonably fluent in Hebrew.  Shortly after entering the village, I pulled alongside a car to ask for directions.  One of the passengers was, thankfully, a Hebrew speaker and familiar with the Clinic.  He gave me directions and they drove off.  My ever-limited understanding caught only the first half of several turns and landmarks.  Completing that much, I didn’t know the next step, so I asked school girls standing on a corner.  All but one were startled into silence – was it my Hebrew? My face? My rented car? But one forged through and jabbered something in Arabic, pointing.  So I went that way and sure enough in 200 ft found the Clinic, clearly marked.

And Open.

With no one waiting.

And even warm, to comfort the serious chill of the early morning.  The orders were in my electronic file as my doctor had said, the computer and printer worked, the clerk and lab tech were friendly, happy and efficient, the needle painless.  I left in 10 minutes!

It’s not always that way!

Sometimes it takes a second trip to find an agency or office, read through the opening hours posted, and then return again to wait my turn only to learn I don’t have all the documents I need, so return again to find I’ve neglected to notice it’s a holiday or the afternoon before a holiday – it’s posted on the hours, but some of the holidays my first 2 years caught me by surprise.  Then there are crying babies and cranky clerks and people who’ve been waiting too long and those hurrying back to work or other obligations and needing to step ahead in line… arggggh

I’m giving you both ends of the spectrum: the smooth-as-silk perfection and the challenging because I’m pretty sure you’ve been at both ends, too.  Here, the language ups the ante, plus the  culture (think: New Yorkers on steroids!!).  Summer is worse, because with too many too hot, potentially aromatic bodies crowded for too long, it’s just, well, uncomfortable.  Hardly suffering, but certainly character building.

 

In China

We sat in the home of Tibetan nomads and learned that during growing seasons, the women care for the children and elderly in the homes.

Where are the men? Tending to Yak herds high in the mountains to keep them away from roaming into fields growing much needed produce.  Later, during Tibet’s harsh winters, at 16,000 feet, it’s impossibly cold to live on the mountains in tents, so the men and the Yak are home.

img_1191

Their hospitality was humbling. The homes basic, yet decorated elaborately, crowded with Buddhism symbols, relics, and icons, obviously a priority.

Prompted by our tour guide, we brought them instant coffee packets and toothbrushes. We were told other essentials like soaps would go unused. He was right.  While their warmth and simplicity was endearing, these are a people for whom cleanliness is not a priority.img_1171

 

Gathered into the chilly salon/guest room/meeting room lined with couches that could serve as beds (think narrow beds with bolsters), we drank the national beverage: Butter Tea (black tea leaves with yak or cow butter and salt). It tastes like broth – easy to see how substantial and warming it would be on impossibly cold winter days.

We also drank Sweet Tea (black tea leaves, with sugar), another popular drink found in Tibet’s Tea Houses.  Liken those to Starbucks, except a cup of the tea is (the equivalent of) a few pennies.

img_1173We were treated to amazing steamed dumplings filled with a lightly sweetened white cheese and literally dripping with butter.  I’ll remember those for a long time, but will never even try to find them. A lifetime of lessons-learned includes the truth that attempting such a replay is most always a disappointment.  Instead, I’ll savor, really savor, the memory.

img_1180

The Chinese Government has supplemented costs for Tibetan nomad homes up to 80%. Another way to say that, is that the tax payers in China have supplemented Tibetan nomad homes up to 80%, but that’s not how it’s said.  So to that extent, it’s like the U.S.

Helping the Nomads by establishing sewage and other simple services is surely crucial for public health goals and even more likely, bespeaks of the long term goal to settle this nomadic people.

During the Q&A through a translator, we’d learned our hostess’ childhood home had been a village far south, so I asked how she met her husband, whether through matchmaker or other. She sparkled with the memory and explained they’d met in Lhasa, not through a matchmaker as I’d presumed.  Our interpreter elaborated, “Theirs is a marriage of love.”  May it ever be.

But her sparkle dimmed when asked how often she visits her parents in that village far away.  So much is universal: close families want to be near each other and love comes with sorrow.

There were no indoor facilities: shower or bath or toilet, although they had a sink for food preparation/clean up; I don’t recall whether it had a water faucet or not. We were told that toileting had a designated area in their home’s courtyard and I regret not asking to see it.  I think.

img_1176

After touring her home, we walked through the village of around one hundred souls.  Some would allow us to take their photo, while others forbade it because of the belief that a photograph extracts something from one’s soul.  A few minutes after our departure, our hostess rode past us on an old green scooter.  I wonder where she was going because we were in the middle of NOWHERE.

img_1177

Tibet is a land of streams filled with fresh water fish, but Tibetans absolutely do not fish.  Buddhist philosophy is that it is better to take the life of one large animal to feed many people, rather than many lives of fish to feed only a few.  Lhasa, the largest city, is filled with huge statues honoring Yak, THE large many-people feeder.  Prayers evidence a palpable guilt/appreciation towards the huge beast for feeding multitudes.

Agriculture has improved dramatically due to the recent introduction of greenhouses; we drove past long tents filled with produce.

 

Clothes define culture and often faith: can they be separated? Tibetan folks everywhere – whether in Buddhist temples, the young Nomadic housewife (jeans and a nondescript sweater), shopkeepers, etc – were dressed in traditional or western garb.  Having spent nearly 2 years in Jerusalem, where some outfits send clear messages about the person’s religious practice and external lifestyle, I was particularly interested in Tibetans’ attire.  “What is practical rather than religion dictates clothes”, they explained, and yet the robes of Monks, color coded scarves, head coverings, etc remind me of dress codes of many other faiths.  Is there a religion or culture without some garment dictates?  Practical makes so much sense, but then it’s seldom about “sense”.

Tibet’s largest city, Lhasa, has 2 medical facilities. Climbing the steep stairs and dark narrow hallways of the Tibetan Traditional Hospital, it was impossible to miss the dirty floors and walls, the long lines of people waiting for service.  Obviously lacking economic resources.  I was uninspired, even though I genuinely value the strategies employed (eg, pulse and tongue analysis, herbs, acupuncture, cupping, acupressure etc).

The facility’s directing physician met with our group for over an hour, explaining the philosophy underlying traditional Tibetan medicine’s diagnosis, disease, and cure paradigm.  Since the efficacy for certain ailments is undeniable, they enjoy a mutual referral process with the nearby western medicine hospital – what to westerners is “traditional” medicine.  I appreciated the successful model of healthcare workers comfortable using or referring to all applicable techniques for the benefit of their patients.

As an aside, several days after this encounter, I had my own visit to a physician with combined specialties.  I’d suffered from altitude sickness on the 3rd day in Tibet and benefited from a Chinese Traditional-Medicine Physician (not Tibetan, but there are vast similarities).  Dr. Who (yes, for real, his name) was the ship’s physician, dual trained in western + traditional Chinese methodologies.  Besides teaching tai chi each morning as we cruised along the Yangtze River, he treated several of my traveling companions who were debilitated from intestinal something-or-other from the undrinkable water or food presumably washed in it.  He used acupuncture, cupping, and herbs to set me aright.


DRUZE.  I’m currently living in a Druze village in north-north Israel, in the Golan Heights, and have met a number of the locals, but wanted to see their homes…I prayed they’d invite me in.

The family from whom I’m renting this tiny apartment for a month was the first to invite me to come for tea, which turned into a whole meal.  We sat on 3-inch cushions lining the large room, with “backs” of more cushions and huge pillows.  The room’s 3 walls lined with these cushions could have easily accommodated 30 adults sitting, assuming all were in shape to get Down and back Up from the floor cushions.

The colorfully painted walls were adorned with 3 separate paintings – a photograph of bearded sheik, a large fantasy print of a knight slaying an animal, and soldiers on horses.  The 4th wall was lined with built-in cupboard/cabinets surrounding a mid-sized flat screen which seems to be always on. The loud Arabic “background” mingled with my hosts’ Hebrew into auditory chaos I struggled to decipher.

While my hostess was out of the room, I noticed the show: ET Entertainment Today.  Is that still a U.S. program? But it wasn’t the U.S. version, it was from Turkey, my hostess’ daughter explained.

Arabic is their language, and they learn Hebrew and English in school – some better than others, as would be expected.  The Druze university students I’ve met speak fluent Hebrew, the language of their studies at Haifa’s university, and less refined English.

Centered in the room was a wood-burning stove producing welcoming, albeit dry warmth. The top was flat, which I soon learned was for food preparation.  After snacks of popcorn and tea, my hostess spread a cotton floral tablecloth on the floor of the corner area in which we sat, which then became our table. I found myself stepping around it.

I initially obeyed her refusal to let me help prepare or bring items in from the kitchen, and talked with her college-aged daughter, using our phones to translate Arabic to Hebrew or English and visaversa when her Hebrew or mine met its limit.  My hostess returned with a huge tray of shallow bowls and plates filled to delight: humus-like sauce with fava or similar beans, sliced raw veggies, a creamy white cheese (labani) garnished with olive oil, mashed avocado, pickled miniature eggplant about the size of roma tomatoes, green olives  (think substantive, with seeds and flavored with spices, rather than flavorless, pitted variety from a can), Druze bread, which is an unleavened wheat product, thinner than a flour tortilla.

She spread the white cheese on the flatbread, folded like a burrito, and warmed it on the stove.  It was perfect alone or wrapped around any/all of the other flavors on the tray.  It seemed messy for me, without napkins, but manageable and truly delightful.

An assortment of unsalted seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, peanuts in shells, some other small dark black) and tea ceremony with Mate tea brought closure to the meal.  The tea tray included a hot water teapot, sugar bowl, a bowl of mate tea leaves and one tiny pitcher you might think used for coffee cream, but not so.  The pitcher was our cup to share. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mate_(beverage)

The dry tea is put in the pitcher, then a bit of sugar, and water while stirring to help the dry tea accept the water until the pitcher is filled.  Since she’d been offering me “firsts” at everything else, she clarified that with this she goes first (“a ceremony!”, I thought) and she placed a stainless “straw” in the pitcher to sip, gingerly at first because of the heat.  After a few minutes sipping and chatting, the tea leaves were relieved of the hot liquid and she rinsed the mouthpiece of the straw under a splash of hot water from the teapot, refilled the pitcher to the brim with hot water, replaced the “straw” and handed it to me with a warning, “hot”.  I sipped, thankful for the sugar I’d said yes to because that’s the way she likes it.  I’ve survived most of the cultural experiences by first doing it like they do, modifying later as warranted.

Throughout Israel I say “no thank you” to meat and alcohol, explaining I don’t eat/drink those items at all, and thus far all seem to understand without taking offense, even if encouraging me that both are healthy.

The tea was not tea-like, but heartier, as though from an herb, and the texture thick as the straw sat surrounded by plumped leaves.  A few good sips, perhaps an ounce, and a serving of hot water was drained, handed to the hostess to prepare with more hot water and sugar or tea leaves as needed for the next person.

The hostess does not have to do all the tea preparation, but usually does. Another female relative might help, and if there are many guests they use 2 common pitcher/tea cups, but tradition dictates that a woman must prepare this tea. Starting with the eldest or most honored family member or guest, the cup is passed in this way around many times.

Absurd as it sounds, I was reminded of how a marijuana cigarette might make its way around the room, except there is no drug effect.  I asked about protocol, and learned it would be inappropriate to drink and then refill the pot for oneself.

The assorted seeds-in-shell are a popular middle eastern post-meal or between-meal habit I’d seen in many Jerusalem households after a meal, Shabbat or otherwise.  Although unsalted, they remind me of the seasons during middle school that we’d munch our way through bags of sunflower or pumpkin seeds.

Was there something tangible that prompted them to invite me n?  Throughout that first week, they’d seen me alone in the apartment most evenings, when not out exploring the region.  Maybe they remembered I said that I want to learn about them as a culture, how they live, what they love, etc. Or perhaps they’d simply figured out that I’m ok, and don’t have a hidden agenda. What motivates people to express kindness or generosity of heart?  Regardless, I am grateful for the kind hospitality, the gentle explanations, especially their patient efforts at communicating with me.

Since then, I’ve been invited to return as well as into a number of other homes so I am learning the variations, what’s common, etc.  The Mate tea is everywhere, so far.  Wanting to have these experiences, and asking in prayer for the doors to (literally) be opened is a risk for me.  Why?  It’s pushing right up against a personal life motto: “be careful what you wish for”.  While that may sound cynical, it’s also a reflection of my life being in God’s hands.  These days, I’m trying to balance the risk of asking-and-wanting with holding-loosely.  I thank God for the amazing things that happen rather than whining about wanting more OR being afraid to ask for something….

Conversation with several Druze has turned to Syria and Israel relations.  It seems there as many opinions as individuals and I’m not sure my language limitations will allow a realistic understanding of their true perspectives.


Back to China

 

img_1154

Apprenticeship has always been interesting to me.  The thought of a young child or teen learning from a “master”, knowing his life’s work at such an early age and mentored . . . America’s university degrees bring longterm debt for unemployed graduates, while trades that might have been a better fit for their innate talents are not valued . . . Tangkka painting originated in India, then found its way to Nepal, and finally Tibet 2500 yrs ago.  Boys as young as 7-9 would begin apprenticeship, most often from their father, their lifetime career determined by heritage and gender.  Nowadays, apprentice for boys AND girls begins at 17-19, after compulsory education.img_1155

Finding love in China

One afternoon, settling back onto our bus, our tour guide described how love is found in China, revealing snippets from his own saga enroute to his wife.  That morning we had ambled through a huge park filled with exercise and dance-exercise groups, hacky sack players, Tai Chi, and board games.

click to download hacky-sac

Most were retirees staying well-connected socially, toned, flexible, and active.

click to download Chinese seniors

At one point we were told to put our cameras away, and the 14 of us wove our way past park benches and grassy areas filled matchmaker mothers and grandmothers sharing photos to arrange meetings of their unmarried children and grandchildren.

The criteria of value are whether the young man had purchased an apartment, how much he earned, and whether he owned a car.  Cars are typically one year’s income, and not bought with loans(!!)

Our guide told us that without those assets, a young man stood no chance to attract a wife. Hence, midlife and aging parents’ goal is to save every yen possible towards enabling their son to buy an apartment and car, along with educational expenses towards a career or government job.

Like a stand-up comedienne, our guide described multiple first dates orchestrated by cousins, friends, coworkers, etc.  The gals typically asked outright: “How much to you earn? Do you own your apartment?”

Why waste time, right? It seems the lines for dating to marriage are clearly drawn and the ladies’ goals clearly defined.  Harsh? Perhaps, but better than gals thinking they’ll whip this loser into shape.

 


On the subject of “love”

I met a Bedouin who has one wife and “is looking for love”.  To my response that I couldn’t go to coffee or a meal with a married man, he quickly explained that Bedouins often have 4 wives and besides that, it’s all fine with the mother of his 11 children who’s in bad health.

Sigh


img_1830

(Translation)  Have a good week with a smile, with joy, with a hug, with pleasantness, with a dream that comes true

Please write to me – an email directly or post a comment, which will be read only by me.