Jerusalem Welcomes the World

Friday the 13th is not a thing in Israel.  Halloween is also not a thing.  Stores aren’t covered in fake cobwebs.  There are no advertisements for scary costumes.  Aisles in the supermarket are not dedicated to snack-sized candy.

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What is a thing here is a week full of events throughout the city and today being the very last day before the last Shabbat before we finally get back to our normal routines, the aharei ha’chagim time.

On Sunday, the streets were filled with Jews from all around Israel and the world making their way to the Western Wall for the Priestly Blessing.  That is still a thing in Israel.  Twice a year – on Sukkot and Passover – the entirety of the Jewish population is blessed by the descendents of the priestly class, the Cohenim, or anyone with the last name Cohen or derivatives thereof.

Fun Fact: Remember Spock’s hand gesture when greeting someone?  That was based on Leonard Nimoy’s memories of the Priestly Blessing as a kid.

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By Kleuske (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

On Tuesday, the streets of Jerusalem were filled with Christians from all over the world showing their support for Israel with a parade.  It was reported that 60,000 people participated from 80 different countries. (Link has good pictures.)  And this year I didn’t even have to leave my house to see it because the parade route was on my street.

Why You Should Travel Solo (At Least Once)

“Shoot. I forgot to put ‘travel solo’ on my list.”  That was my thought when I woke up the morning after I posted last week’s blog entry, How to Travel Well. But then I thought it might deserve its own post.

This will not be about the Eat-Pray-Love journey of self-discovery that solo travel will allow to blossom in the heart of your true, authentic self.  Who has time for all that navel-gazing self-absorption?  There’s a world out there waiting to be explored!

Also, I’m not advocating throwing caution to the wind and trusting your sacred aura and charged crystals to protect you in every situation.  Take a self-defense class and be aware of your surroundings.

But definitely, at least once in your life, travel solo.

I’ve experienced group trips and traveling as a couple and the truth is that I like traveling solo best.

Get out of your comfort zone

Traveling solo pushes you to talk to strangers, try out some foreign phrases, and try new foods.  Your comfortable rut is no longer your anchor.  Every moment of every day when you are on the road is a new experience.

I don’t greet people in my everyday life by bowing with my hands together in front of my heart and saying “Sawadee-ka!”  But in Thailand I do!

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A temple in Thailand

Step out of the familiar

This is linked to getting out of your comfort zone.  When you travel as a couple or with a group, you surround yourself with the familiar and you travel around the world in a bubble.  Shared thoughts and opinions with your partner or friends will not give you a new perspective. You might just as well watch something on TV and discuss it.  But as a solo traveler, talking to strangers and being exposed to different points of view, you may just come across something you never thought of and see the world in a new and unexpected way.

People tend to be proud of where they are from and they love talking to you about it.  I learned a lot about the revolution in Romania in 1989 and how proud the people of Timisoara were of being the center of such a dramatic change in the history of their country.

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The opera house in Timisoara (r), the heart of the revolution

Celebrate self-reliance

In the dark days of my divorce, my soon-to-be ex-husband said to me, “Who do you think you are divorcing me? You’ll never get along without me.”  My reaction? I raised my left eyebrow and with icicles in my voice, I said, “Really.”

In the early days of traveling solo, every “tourism win” was just more evidence piling up proving that indeed I can get along perfectly fine without him.  I rarely think of his mean phrase these days. I just celebrate my own independence, competence, and ability to rely on myself in any and every situation.

Savor freedom

You wake up in the morning as the mistress of your destiny.  You can march forward to follow your plan for the day. Or you can change it 12 times in the first hour, or change the plan in the middle, or throw out the plan.  And all the while the only opinion that matters is yours.

On my first day in Paris, I was enjoying the view over the city from the top of Sacre Coeur and suddenly I remembered that I wanted to take the free walking tour. I whipped out my phone and checked the internet site for the tours to find out when the next one was.  Oof, 45 minutes.

I ran down the winding stairs and raced down the hill to find a subway station – Google maps!  And then I bought my week-long subway pass – research done earlier so I knew what to buy – and immediately ran into some inspectors checking tickets. Voila! Week-long pass!  Hopped on the train that arrived just then and made my tour with minutes to spare!  For the win!

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View from the very top of Sacre Coeur

Solo traveler at home

And when the solo traveler comes home, she has cherished memories and a few tools in her pockets for her everyday life.  She no longer needs to stay in her comfort zone, she can immerse herself in the unfamiliar and take pride in her self-reliance, and she can embrace her freedom. Life at home can also be an adventure.  It just depends on your perspective.

How to Travel Well

Having just returned from Paris, I had some thoughts on traveling. I have always believed that traveling makes us global citizens and shrinks the world.  Here are five tips to travel well.

Set a couple of priorities. The rest is gravy.

For this visit to Paris, my second, I decided that my top two destinations were going to be St. Chappelle and the Rodin Museum.  Everything else that I saw and did was extra.  I made sure to schedule my days around these two things and let go of whatever else I didn’t manage.  The new kiosk appointment system for climbing the towers of Notre Dame didn’t work with my schedule, and as much as I may have wanted to visit those lovely gargoyles keeping the Hunchback company, I let it go.

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St. Chappelle in the morning.

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The Thinker at the Rodin Museum.

Have an open mind and be curious.

I saw many people who seemed to view Paris and all its sights as part of a tourist checklist.  Eiffel Tower. Check. Notre Dame. Check. Louvre, esp. Mona Lisa. Check. And on and on (there’s a lot to see in Paris!)  Moreover, they wanted to get through their list with all the comforts of home.

Instead, appreciate the shoe box-sized, creaky elevator in your quaint hotel.  Pay attention to your surroundings and find out what the cultural differences are between your home country and the country you are visiting.  Then accept them as part of your travel experience.  Embrace them if you like them.

Get some historical background of the place you are visiting.  Do something simple like take a walking tour in the center of the city and listen to your guide.  They function as bridges between you the visitor and the city they love.  Ask questions.  Nothing will endear you more to your hosts than asking about the city and its history.  If you like something, gush about it.

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I know you thought that the Moulin Rouge was just a dance show or a musical film, but actually in French it means “red windmill.”

Buy blister patches, if needed.

On my first day in Paris, I got a monster blister.  It could have ruined my whole trip unless I liked the idea of walking for hours with a limp and in pain.  In Europe, I’ve found these amazing things that specifically treat that annoying blister on the back of your heel.  Usually the patch can stay on for 2 to 3 days and your heel is like new.  They are kind-of expensive, but totally worth it if you have a painful blister.

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I have French ones and Danish ones.

Roll with it.

Sometimes things don’t work out.  It rains on your only day in the Highlands.  The statue you came to see in the museum is not on display.  The tour you show up for is only in Spanish.  These things actually happened to me.  On the Highlands tour, I met someone from China who I still keep in touch with.  I saw different versions of the missing statue and I was able to appreciate the lesser known works more because they were no longer in the shadow of the more famous one.  I walked in a lesser-known neighborhood and found an excellent Korean restaurant.

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Bulgogi (beef), side dishes, and Korean beer.  YUM!!

Sometimes your plan doesn’t work out, but if you roll with it, sometimes an even better plan appears.

Stay in the moment.

I read an article recently that suggested that if you take too many pictures and videos, you lose the experience in the present by trying to document it for the future (or for social media).

On one walking tour, we saw racing lights on the Eiffel Tower.  It happens every hour in the evenings and it’s really worth seeing!  I took a couple of pictures and a few seconds of film.  And then I put my camera away so that I could just enjoy it.  I noticed out of the corner of my eye a man spending the entire light show trying to get just the right shot.  Will he remember looking at the lovely lights of Paris with his wife or will he remember fussing with his camera and his wife’s framing suggestions?

15 seconds of racing lights.  Go see them for yourself!

A concluding thought for Yom Kippur

This is my late dad’s (z”l) favorite story about Yom Kippur.  The original is much longer, but this shortened version gives you the main idea.

Heavy.  The Yom Kippur prayers were heavy and try as he might, the rabbi simply could not lift them up to Heaven.  A young man came into the synagogue.  He only recently became aware of his Jewish heritage and knew only how to recite the aleph bet.  He didn’t know what day it was or what was going on, but with pure and focused intention he recited the only thing he knew.  Aleph. Bet. Gimel. Dalet. …

The rabbi noticed that the prayers were suddenly lighter.  They floated like feathers on the wind straight up to Heaven.  And he knew that is was because of the young man who prayed with all his heart in the only way he could.

As we travel the world and live as global citizens, we don’t have to be multilingual or the most knowledgeable, but if we approach the world with pure intention and genuine love, perhaps we can lift up everyone around us.

Gmar Hatima Tova! May you be inscribed

and sealed in the Book of Life! 

And for those of you who fast, may it be meaningful!

5778. Sure, why not?

A headline caught my eye this week. Earth Is Flat as a Pita: The Israelis Who Push the Ultimate Conspiracy Theory.  I admit it. I do enjoy a fun conspiracy theory. But Flat Earth Society? Here in Israel? In this day and age? Yes, they are here and they prefer to be called “flatters.”

The moon landing was directed by Stanley Kubrick.  In fact, the moon is a hologram.  NASA is faking all the spherical earth pictures. There are no such things as satellites. The “space race” was just part of the Cold War propaganda of the US and USSR lying to each other.  We are slaves in the matrix.  Fun stuff!

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I had the opportunity to see The Book of Mormon on Broadway and along with everyone else, I laughed at the very detailed and specific beliefs of Mormons.  For a little taste, here’s “I Believe” from The Book of Mormon.  Interestingly, according to the lyrics, God and Jesus have planets and our singer expects to get one as well.  However, no reference is made to whether the planet would be flat.

The Book of Mormon got me thinking: Phrased in a certain way, wouldn’t all religions sound ridiculous?  For example, the basis of Judaism is that a guy went up a mountain and sat in the clouds for while. He came down with two tablets listing ten rules for living that he said were carved by the finger of God. If you believe that, why couldn’t the earth be flat?

Rosh Hashana is coming up next week and we will be starting the year 5778.  The rabbis calculated how long it has been since the world was created based on ages given the Bible, reigns of kings, and then some post-Bible history, and they came up with 5778.  Never mind that the sun was only created on the fourth day and so it seems unlikely that the three days before it were on a 24-hour cycle.  How long is God’s day anyway?

A year should be earth’s revolution around the sun.  But “flatters” believe that the sun revolves around the earth.  I wonder if they just accept the matrix version of a 365-day year.

One thing that I think everyone, no matter their beliefs, can agree on is that it is worthwhile to regularly take some time to be introspective and evaluate where you are in life and where you want to go from here.  When you look in the mirror, are you proud of the person you are?  What can you do to improve?

Every year, Jews spend a few days doing some “soul accounting” (heshbon nefesh) to have a good start to the next year and be written (probably by the finger of God) in the Book of Life.

Here’s a little video about gaining clarity in the New Year (with the mention of the planet spinning).  Never mind that there are no women in the video and who knows what break dancing has to do with clarity, but that’s a different blog post.

Wishing everyone a Shana Tova u’Metuka!

A good and sweet year! May it be a year of good health, much happiness, and great success!

*Next week I’ll be on hiatus and maybe doing a little introspection, but I’ll be back the week after.

Immigration

After the US president’s announcement that he was rescinding the DACA program, I was reminded that Israel has faced very similar issues recently and just a few days ago Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled that Israel could not forcibly deport illegal migrants.  Specifically related to DACA is the situation of children born in Israel to foreign workers.  They are not citizens of Israel, but they feel no connection to their parents’ homeland.  Yet some of these kids – under the age of 12 – may face deportation. (I don’t know if the decision of the court affects them.)

Let’s start with some definitions.  There are two ways people gain citizenship in a country:  jus soli and jus sanguinisJus soli is a Latin phrase meaning the “right of soil.” That means that if you are born within the borders of a country, you are a citizen of it.  Jus sanguinis is Latin for “right of blood” meaning that the right of citizenship is passed down from one’s parents.  The US and Israel have a mixture of both.

There is no way that a short little blog post will completely explain immigration issues in a US or Israeli context.  But I wanted to point out that Israel is also facing challenges with immigration and we all could probably learn from each other.

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Israel’s biggest challenge is that it doesn’t actually have an immigration policy per se.  Yes, there is the Law of Return that applies to Jews who wish to come to live in Israel.  But the founders didn’t really imagine that anyone other than Jews would want to live in a postage stamp-sized Jewish country.  For decades this was generally fine.  There were some general rules, but no real policy and anomalies could be handled on a case by case basis.  After 1967, Palestinians started to work in Israel.  Then there was an influx of foreign workers and later non-Jewish refugees from Ethiopia and Sudan found their way to Israel and hoped for a better life. These people were not necessarily looking for citizenship, but a policy would have to address their rights and status.

Then the situation started to get complex.  What do you do with children of non-Jewish foreign workers – either legal or illegal – who were born in Israel, only speak Hebrew, and have built a life in Israel?  What about children of refugees born in Israel who may or may not have gotten asylum in Israel?  What about the Israeli citizens who live in south Tel Aviv and now live in a de facto refugee center because the majority of Ethiopian and Sudanese refugees live there?

Israel chose compassion first to deal with the situation of human beings in Israel, so many of the children were granted residency status, but still some were left out due to technicalities.  The issue of refugees and asylum seekers was a bit more clear cut.  If asylum or refugee status was granted then they stayed; if not, they were deported (not always to the country they fled from).

And yet, Israel still doesn’t have a formal immigration policy except for the Law of Return.  I imagine that if you want to have a Jewish and democratic state and you don’t have total agreement on who is a Jew and you haven’t decided how to deal with the question of immigration of non-Jews, having a formal policy would be nearly impossible.

So while US immigration policies may be headline news around the world, the US is by no means the only country dealing with huge questions of who can come into their country and how those decisions reflect the values of that country and its people.

Only in Israel

Shifting back to the real purpose of this blog, this post is about moments that could only happen in Israel.

Recently I got a call from my insurance company to upgrade my life insurance.  For the most part, this is a pretty standard conversation.  This kind of conversation is often hard for me because the guy always speaks so fast and listening to Hebrew on the phone with a diverse and unusual vocabulary such as illness and other life insurance-y terms is also a struggle.

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“Hey, slow down.  My native language is English.”

“Oh, sure.  No problem.  I’ll speak slower.” He doesn’t.

But he’s really nice about explaining things that I don’t understand.  He doesn’t translate; he explains things in simpler Hebrew.

When he gets to the parts about what my benefits will be if I get cancer or any other accidents occur, he throws in a few has v’halilas. This is a phrase that more or less means “God forbid” or “Heaven forbid.”  (There are a lot of discussions about the origin of this phrase, but suffice it to say its roots come from the Bible and other explanatory ancient texts.  But in Modern Hebrew, it’s simply understood as “God forbid.”)

“If you should, has v’halila, get an illness – and, of course, you should always be healthy, that’s the most important thing – then the policy …”

He also has to confirm that I’m currently healthy.  I say that I am and get a toda l’el (thank God).

By the end of the conversation, we’ve blessed away all potential illnesses and been grateful for good health.  And as a closing, “of course, you should be healthy, happy and live a long life.”

And this is where I fail my Israeliness test.  The common/correct response when getting good wishes heaped upon you is to respond, “Amen.” Ah, but the American in me still runs the auto-pilot and I say “thank you!”  This leads to a confused pause, but since I’ve already explained that my Hebrew isn’t that great, it’s just seen as a cultural faux pas.

The time that I did say “Amen” it seemed more appropriate.  It was the evening before a holiday and my internet went out.  I called the internet company and the Russian customer service guy tried absolutely everything to get the internet stabilized.  We must have been on the phone for an hour.  The holiday was about to come in and he had to go home at some point.  I was already at home hoping to stream TV shows during the holiday.

And then at the last minute there was a miracle.  The internet worked!  And my Russian customer service guy joyfully declared she’chechiyanu v’kiy’manu v’higianu l’zman ha’zeh! And my automatic response was “AMEN!”

[The she’chechiyanu is a prayer that you say at a joyful occasion, among other uses – (Praise and thanks to God) for giving us life, for sustaining us, and for allowing us to reach this season.]

There’s no reason for me to believe that either of these two guys on the phone were religious.  And their invocations of God in life insurance and internet service didn’t lead me to think that they were religious either.  They were just Israeli, using the vernacular of Israeli society.

And to that I say, “Amen!”

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A day late and an idea short

Confession #1: I didn’t have a good idea for a blog post this week.

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Confession #2: I’m exhausted.  This week completely wiped me out.

I had a few thoughts, but they aren’t fully formed ideas yet, and I was too tired to flesh them out.  But it was important to me to at least show up.

There’s always next Friday …