Category Archives: Spiritual – Religion

Putting Faith into Action

 

The Catholics and Jews came together in my world on Sunday, August 11, 2019 in Baltimore.  I attended the 10:30 am service at St. Ignatius Church with a friend, and then attended the Tisha B’Av #ICEOutHoCo protest in Howard County with other friends in the afternoon.  The messages from both events resonated deeply.

Jesus ChristThe priest said, “Today, young people are the principal protagonists of an anthropological transformation that is coming to be through the digital culture of our time, opening humanity to a new historical epoch. We are living through a period of change from which will emerge a new humanity and a new way of structuring human life in its personal and social dimensions. To accompany young people demands of us authenticity of life, spiritual depth, and openness to sharing the life-mission that gives meaning to who we are and what we do. Accompanying young people puts us on the path of personal, communitarian, and institutional conversion.”

When it was time for the petition, where We pray to the Lord ….. Lord, hear our prayer, my ears couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

St. Ignatius ChurchWe pray to the Lord, defeat the gun lobby and the public officials in their pay. Strengthen us to demand legislation to ban the sale of assault weapons, to require background checks, and to prosecute with rigor domestic terrorism. Lord, hear our prayer.

We pray to the Lord, shield innocent children cruelly harmed by politicians who stoke bigotry to stay in power. Lord, hear our prayer.

We pray to the Lord, end the affliction of all who suffer from violence and rescue them from bitterness. Lord hear our prayer.

Later that day, Jews United for Justice led a protest in front of the Howard County Detention Center against ICE and the detention of immigrants. The goal is to convince the county to end its contract with ICE to use the facilities.

Tisha B'Av Action

Several hundred people gathered peacefully at this Tisha B’Av Action to #CloseTheCamps

Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of the month of Av (Aug. 10-11, 2019), is the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, on which we fast, deprive ourselves and pray. It is the culmination of the Three Weeks, a period of time during which we mark the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

 

We heard speakers talk about the 9th day of Av, a Jewish fast day “commemorating the destruction of the Temples which has become an emotional lightening rod for all Jewish national tragedies. The Jewish community is not the only community that is suffering in our contemporary world. The day prompts us to be human beings in community with others.” We also heard from immigrants and others about their experiences with ICE, and about the call to action — demanding Howard County to cease its intergovernmental agreement with ICE. http://jufj.org/hoco-ice/

Tisha B'Av Action mother and child

This particular demonstration moved me in a way that many others haven’t because of the unity in spirit that I felt permeated almost everyone there.  Old, young, religious or secular, the energy was peaceful yet determined. Everyone was focused on the mistreatment of immigrants, on ICE, and on our responsibility to end this immoral path our nation is on.  [The organizer at the beginning of the action told us the ground rules, and I noted that he said our signs were welcomed but no Israeli flags because they wanted this to be an inclusive event.]

The Catholics and Jews today each reinforced similar messages from different angles.  They spoke from a place of peace, not anger or violence. They focused on injustices and harm occurring in the real world, not abstract concepts of good and bad. And children were highlighted in each. The time has come for leaders of the past to follow the leaders of the future.

Tisha B'Av Action vote

The youth in Gaza are demanding justice too. Our silence to Israel’s occupation and blockade is as deadly as the White Supremacists killing children in mass shootings, and ICE killing children in detention cages at the border.

Our hearts and heads must connect these dots so that our empathy and actions end injustices everywhere for everyone.  The time has come to end our tunnel vision.

 

 

 

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Filed under nonviolent resistance, Peaceful, Spiritual - Religion, Uncategorized

We Are One

Christmas_Hill_Park_in_Gilroy_California_USA,_March_2017

Another senseless tragedy, this time at the Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California.  At the end of the day on the last day of the festival, a white male entered Christmas Hill Park and started shooting. In a flash 3 people were killed, including a 6 year old boy, and many more were wounded.

On the other side of the country, I learned about it within minutes on Facebook. Friends posted their shock and disbelief, their concern for the victims.

I was shocked too. Gilroy was my home in the 1980s, where I worked, raised children, and made good friends. My home was a block from Christmas Hill Park. I volunteered at the Festival for several years. My first assignment as a city planner in Gilroy was to document a massive flood that impacted much of the city, including Christmas Hill Park.

After hearing news of the tragedy, I posted my personal connection to Gilroy and the Garlic Festival on Facebook, and read many similar messages from people who have even a tenuous connection to Gilroy.

Then it hit me.

Although most people are saddened by a tragedy, we feel a visceral connection when the tragedy “hits home” and touches a place or person we actually know. That’s when we want to share our stories and humanity where there were inhumane acts committed.

WeAreOne-MedI think it must be human nature. When we feel a connection, we can reach across the time and distance that divides us and reconnect with the victims. We are one.

It’s not yet human nature to empathize with the “other” — those we don’t feel a connection with.  I know, because I’ve watched my own empathy quotient rise as I’ve connected with people.

Before 2016, I had no connection to Sudan and probably couldn’t even place it on the map accurately. Then I met a Sudanese woman who made my Subway sandwich in Baltimore every week. We talked, we got together for dinner at each other’s homes, we shared a Christmas Eve together, and we bonded. Today, I can’t hear news about Sudan without thinking of my friend. I hope to visit her in Baltimore in a couple of weeks.

Before 2004, I had no connection with Palestine. That’s when I made my first trip to Gaza with a friend. (I’ve written about that trip on this blog, and it’s included in the book I’m writing.) I knew the Zionist messaging about the Israel-Palestine “conflict” but nothing more. Then my eyes and heart were opened.

I wish all Americans could open their eyes and heart and be one with the Palestinians in Gaza. Maybe I can because I lived there, I worked there, I visited there and I know people there. 

Maybe that’s why the U.S. State Department prevents Americans from traveling to Gaza; it doesn’t want Americans establishing a visceral connection with the Palestinians. Israel doesn’t want the world connecting either, which is clear from its 12 years blockading the 2+ million people in the Gaza Strip. 

Will homo sapiens evolve? Can we connect with each other as one, and leave the “us versus them” paradigm back in the savanna? I hope so.

 

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Filed under Gaza, Peaceful, Spiritual - Religion, Uncategorized

My First Ramadan

Ramadan is the most holiest of holy times for Muslims because it’s the time that the angel Gabriel gave the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad.  It’s one of the Five Pillars of Islam.  Devout Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset every day during the month of Ramadan. (I knew this from earlier visits to the Middle East.)

This year, Ramadan began May 6th when I found myself in Cairo preparing to join a medical convoy to Gaza, and was scheduled to end June 4th (or maybe June 5th depending on the country). Most of my Egyptian family at Pension Roma, my home when I’m in Egypt, are Muslim. They were looking forward to Ramadan.

On the spur of the moment, without much thought or preparation, I decided to join them in their daily fasting. Of course, fasting is only one part of Ramadan; reading the Quran and praying every day is also very important to Muslims during this time. I didn’t plan to read or pray.

ramadan lanterns

So why did I fast?

  • To respect my friends. It felt disrespectful to eat or drink when they couldn’t.
  • To experience the feeling of emptiness and fasting for myself.
  • To challenge myself. Could I abstain from eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset for an entire month? (I like challenges.)

What did I learn?

  • For a newbie, fasting is not easy, especially during the first week or two. I experienced headaches, fatigue and very low energy at the beginning. Instead of working on a writing project every afternoon, I napped.
  • Surprisingly, the empty feeling in my stomach felt good. By nature, I’m not a foodie who looks forward to cooking or eating. It’s just another bodily function which I must attend to in order to keep my body healthy. My doctor routinely chides me for my bad diet. During Ramadan, I had a good reason for not eating.
  • Giving up water in the hot Mediterranean climate is something else. I found it very difficult not to drink water when I was thirsty. By mid-afternoon, my mouth and throat felt like cotton. Yech!
  • Appreciating how my internal clock could adjust to the early morning (3 AM) knock on my door to join Yousef and the rest of my Egyptian family for a meal before sunrise. I’ll remember that time together with a special fondness.
  • The best part of Ramadan for me was sharing the pre-dawn meal and later breaking the fast with the Iftar meal at sunset with friends and community.

Iftar gathering in downtown Cairo 2

Every afternoon just before sunset, I walked the streets in my Cairo neighborhood and watched people preparing for their Iftar meal. The fast-food guys rushed by on their scooters delivering orders to shopkeepers. Many people took seats on the sidewalk, patiently waiting for the signal from the Mosque that the official time of sunset had arrived and people could eat.

In a restaurant where I frequently ate, everyone was seated and chatting well before the appointed hour. Suddenly, the entire place would fall silent as everyone started eating in unison. Food takes on a new meaning when you’ve been fasting the entire day.  The Iftar ritual always began the same way — eating a date or two, and drinking water and juice (mango or date juice). Delicious!

Breaking the fast with friends (new and old) reminded me how lucky we are to have the gift of food, and also that millions of children and families around the world are starving because of war and ungodly sanctions that prevent food delivery.  [How can Saudi Arabia hold itself up as a good Muslim country when its actions are directly causing so much death, destruction and starvation to millions of Muslims in Yemen? If I was a practicing Muslim, I would boycott Hajj and Umrah in Mecca until the monarchy in Saudi Arabia aligns its actions with the teachings of the Quran.]

I experienced many, many examples of love and kindness during my first Ramadan. The Cairo shopkeeper (the man in the middle) always asked about my bum leg because he noticed I was limping. Each day he told me he would pray for me, and he encouraged me to pray as well. Then there was the date seller from Aswan (right photo) who introduced me to the most delicious dates I’ve ever tasted. He waved to catch my attention each time I passed, even if I was on the other side of the busy street.

I had the wonderful opportunity to reconnect with very good friends from Gaza now living in the United Arab Emirates, so I decided to spend the last two weeks of Ramadan in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah.  

On my arrival we headed straight to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi because the sunset was nearly upon us.  The Mosque prepares Iftar meals for 30,000 people every day during Ramadan. The Mosque and its beautiful surroundings were only surpassed by the superb organizational efforts to provide a feast on such a grand scale. I was speechless.  

Iftar in Abu Dhabi 3

Another day we drove out to the sand dunes where we watched the sun slowly sink in the west and ate our Iftar meal on a blanket under the stars.  Despite the alarm I felt driving out in the middle of nowhere without another soul in sight and no markings or signs anywhere, the serenity and peaceful surroundings was a heavenly experience beyond anything I’ve known in my 65 years.

Iftar in the Sand DunesEid al-Fitr marks the end of the month of Ramadan. It feels like every joyous holiday in the world wrapped up into a single day. We woke before dawn and went over to the small neighborhood mosque in Sharjah where everyone was gathering to say their morning prayers. I stood back and watched.

Eid al-Fitr in Sharjah women praying

Children in their new clothes reminded me of the excitement and anticipation I experienced every Christmas morning as a child. I learned about the Eid tradition in many families of giving their children a little money to spend on sweets and toys. [And I was reminded that many children in Gaza are going without even this little pleasure because life in Gaza is practically unlivable.]

Fasting this Ramadan gave me time to meditate and think. For me, Ramadan is about sharing love with each other and there’s an abundance of love to go around (more than enough for every man, woman and child on this Planet).

Love is love, whether a Muslim, Jew or Christian shares it.  Our world needs much more of it but there are so many examples of people withholding love for the “other”. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Allah – Yahweh – God never intended for any of us to be miserly with our love.

I felt well-loved and cared for during Ramadan. I will always remember my blessings.

 

 

 

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Filed under Egypt, Peaceful, Spiritual - Religion, Uncategorized

My Coddiwomple

Coddiwomple – to travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination.

Kabir (a 15th-century Indian mystic poet and saint, whose writings, according to some scholars, influenced Hinduism’s Bhakti movement) — “I felt in need of a great pilgrimage so I sat still for three days.”

My journey began in Malaysia and ended in Dubai, with visits to London, Langholm, Edinburgh, Stirling, Cambridge, Brussels, Leuven, Tilburg, Paris, Lyon, Geneva, Milan, Como, Venice, Cairo and finally to the United Arab Emirates. Despite all the miles, I failed to reach my destination: Gaza, Palestine. [That’s another story.]

My itinerary was clearly not of my own making. My path appeared as the opportunities opened up. I simply kept my eyes and heart open to the possibilities.

Living out of my suitcase for nearly nine months was easy; traveling light is my forte. Staying connected with family and friends was easy too, thanks to WhatsApp and social media. My online SCRABBLE friends will never know how much they kept this traveler tethered to home.

SNAPSHOTS OF MY JOURNEY

MALAYSIA: The invitation to attend the Freedom Film Festival in Kuala Lumpur jump-started my adventure.  (I wrote about it here.)  A month in Malaysia included a radio interview about Gaza, a wedding attended by the new (old) Prime Minister and his wife, a press conference in Penang about an ill-advised and poorly planned highway project, and ended with a visit to a remote village in the Kelabit Highlands where I spoke with a classroom of middle school students, and received a simple request through a translator from an old woman sitting next to me in the village church. “Pray for me. My husband just died and I’m lonely.”

The Kelabit Highlands in Sarawak, Malaysia

I learned an important lesson in Malaysia. I’m never traveling alone despite the fact that I’m a solo traveler, an elderly American woman who can’t speak any language but my mother tongue, and without resources to squander on hotels.  My new Malaysian friends opened their homes to me in Kuala Lumpur and Penang, guided me through their country, shared their time and experience with me, and opened up new possibilities (from tasting the durian fruit in Penang to learning about stingless bees and honey at the agricultural expo in Kuching). When I left Malaysia, I had a new appreciation and confidence about traveling. It’s important to be cautious and smart about my surroundings, but I don’t need to fear the unknown.

EGYPT:  In November, I flew to Cairo and returned to my Egyptian family at Pension Roma. My goal was to finish a writing project (which I did) and get permission from the Egyptian authorities to travel to Gaza (which I didn’t).  Pension Roma has been my home away from home since my first visit in 2011, where I’ve met the most interesting people. This time, Elizabeth from the UK, Mona from Paris, Andre from Canada, and Belal from Gaza were my new friends. We traveled to new and old places in Cairo; Mona and Andre and I took the train one day to Alexandria; and Mona and I traveled to an Ecolodge in the Fayoum Oasis where we met Evelyne Porret, a potter from Switzerland, who transported the art and commerce of pottery to the village of Tunis in the 1980s.

Mona and I rode on a Felucca on Qarun Lake, visited the Wadi el Rayan protected area, explored the Meidum Pyramid that hasn’t been open to tourists for years, and dodged the Egyptian security detail following us. On my 65th birthday, my friends surprised me with a cake and a serenade at Filfila, one of my favorite restaurants in Cairo Jimmy Carter visited many years ago. I made a birthday resolution to walk 10,000 steps each day, a reasonable goal since I love to walk so much.

A casual remark from an employee at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo confirmed that the U.S. and Egyptian governments are working together to keep Americans out of Gaza. I was very disheartened and not sure about my next step until an American friend in London invited me to spend the Christmas holidays with him. With my writing project completed and no plans on my horizon, I jumped on a plane to London.

LONDON AND NORTH TO SCOTLAND:

I’ve never been to London, and seeing the city for the first time with Maurice was a wonderful reintroduction to the West following my adventures in Malaysia and Egypt.  In addition to the famous tourist spots, we walked and walked and walked . . . 3 dogs to be exact. Maurice and I decided to accept a house-sitting, dog-sitting assignment in the East End for nearly 3 weeks which allowed me to experience London at the granular level (sidewalk by sidewalk).

One day I met the author of Shy Radicals, another day I met a Facebook friend who shares my passionate advocacy on Gaza and also loves live theater. I joined a protest against the maltreatment of refugees. Amid everything new and exciting, I learned something important about myself. I’m stubborn, judgmental and have little patience when things aren’t going MY WAY.

Maurice and I decided to accept another dog-sitting assignment —- but he headed south and I took the bus north to Langholm where I was suppose to meet up with a retired Buddhist nun. Maurice and I had talked with her on the phone a couple of times from London; Maurice thought she might have a screw loose but I thought she sounded OK. Maurice’s instincts turned out to be accurate. She lived alone in squalid conditions with a little dog. It looked like the kitchen sink held dirty dishes that had piled up for several weeks, and she was a hoarder. I spent the night on her couch and extracted myself at dawn with a quiet “goodbye”.  I would have sought out protective services to assist her but she told me her adult son was visiting later that day, and I told her neighbor that I was leaving.

Without any alternative plans, where should I go? What should I do? I decided to check out the Samye Ling Tibetan Buddhist Monastery up the road from Langholm, the nun’s spiritual home. I found a quiet retreat center at the monastery and was assigned a bunk bed in a room for six people but I was alone. January is a quiet time in northern England.

Samye Ling Tibetan Buddhist Monastery

The monastery’s quiet serenity included peaceful walks around the large estate, simple but delicious meals, nightly prayers in the temple, reading a very good book set in Scotland (Outlander) and lots of sleep. I arrived with a persistent cough that wasn’t getting better. The monk leading the prayers each night read off a list of names — people we were praying for — and I added my family to the list. Someone added my name to the list as well. One evening I was so tired, I skipped dinner and slept. When I awoke, I found a note next to my bed with a piece of bread and jam. “In case you’re hungry when you wake up.” Another evening the night watchman brought me a special medicinal tea bag that he said might help.

A monk recommended I visit with a doctor in town, and so I caught the bus for the 30 minute ride back into Langholm and the small clinic. A nurse practitioner saw me without an appointment. After many questions, taking my vitals and listening to my chest, she prescribed Amoxicillin and told me to return in a week if I didn’t feel better. Neither the clinic nor the pharmacy wanted a penny from me!

Within a week I was feeling much better and able to sit through the evening prayer in the temple without coughing. I may never know whether the prayers, the Amoxicillin, the medicinal tea, or simply the extended bed rest were responsible for my healing, but I learned an important lesson at Samye Ling. 

There are angels all around us, some we see and many we don’t. Speaking to them through prayer is a powerful way to connect with each other and the universe.  I learned how to pray at Samye Ling.

EDINBURGH: 

Scotland in January is cold, damp and gray but I didn’t know if I’d ever return and so at the end of the month I caught a bus to Edinburgh. I was hooked on getting to know Diana Gabaldon’s Scotland in her Outlander series better.

I walked and walked and walked, but noticed I was walking with more difficulty. Old Edinburgh is a three-dimensional city with steps everywhere. I spent part of every day in the Central Library Reading Room working on another writing assignment. Then I went exploring the city when it wasn’t raining, and sitting in Starbucks reading when it was.

Friends suggested I taste the Scotch. One evening I went up to the bar to ask for a recommendation. The bartender served me and the young man next to me paid for it. He could have been my grandson. I thanked him and asked him why? He said he was paying it forward, and suggested I do the same. The next day I discovered Social Bite where I bought lunch and paid it forward.

In Edinburgh I observed a heated debate about homelessness in Parliament, and watched the Advocates make their oral arguments in court wearing their robes and white wigs. I walked past protesters demanding a vote on whether or not to leave the UK following the ill-conceived Brexit move which a majority in Scotland didn’t support. I found myself caught in the middle of the Irish rugby fans waiting in front of Balmoral Hotel for their team to depart, walked through the Palace of HolyRoodhouse, and felt immersed in history everywhere.  The high points of my visit were the people I connected with — including a friend from Samye Ling, a friend from Gaza, and new friends from South Korea and Italy.  I finished my writing project and reserved a train to London.

I learned an important lesson in Edinburgh.  As much as I love to explore places and cities (I’m a city planner after all), it’s meeting people (old and new) that give my life meaning. The places and cities shape our understanding of the world and each other, but people provide the glue that makes the world turn.

LONDON REDUX:

In February, Maurice and I reconnected in London. This visit involved less tourism and more activism as I stood with the Women in Black at the Edith Cavell memorial, observed a discussion about Palestine in the House of Commons, attended Emma Sky‘s book reading at the Frontline Club, listened to Professor Ilan Pappe speak about colonization versus occupation in Palestine, and joined thousands of students protesting our inaction on the climate crisis.  I was keeping my pace at 10,000 steps or more each day but with difficulty. The pain in my left leg wasn’t going away. Maybe I should visit the doctor when I return to the US.

BRUSSELS, LEUVEN, and TILBURG:

I boarded a train on February 28 to Brussels and must have looked bedraggled when I arrived at the hostel. The receptionist asked me if I knew it was a hostel? Yes. “A youth hostel.” Yes. “We have an age limit of 35.” I didn’t notice any age limits on the website when I booked the reservation. She made an exception for me. Although I was clearly the oldest guest, young people from many countries struck up conversations with me and I felt right at home.

Brussels YOUTH hostel

Lora at a YOUTH hostel in Brussels

The museums, churches and the European Parliament filled my days, as well as a massive march opposing the Death Penalty.  One day I caught the train to Tilburg to visit an Egyptian friend pursuing his graduate studies there. Another day I took the train to Leuven to attend the Women in Black international conference. We stood outside city hall holding our signs in our vigil for peace and the end of war. When the organist in the church across the plaza played John Lennon’s IMAGINE, many of us had tears. It was the most meaningful vigil I’ve ever participated in.

PARIS, LYON and GENEVA:

A train to Paris (3 days), on to Lyon (7 days), and then a bus to Geneva (7 days) connected me to Mona, Naki, Eva and a new friend – Claire Elise. This was my second visit to Paris. I wasn’t interested in seeing the typical tourist sites. Instead, I spent one day walking around the Marais neighborhood only a few steps from my hostel. This is the Jewish quarter with very different architecture and history than most other districts in Paris. The Shoah Memorial and the Museum of Jewish Art and History captured my attention; a beautiful piano recital at the oldest church in Paris where Herbert du Plessis performed Chopin and Liszt soothed my restless soul; and a tour inside Notre Dame Cathedral and the Crypt under the plaza in front turned out to be prescient. Five weeks later, Notre Dame was engulfed in flames.

On March 10, I headed to Lyon on the train (the European Union has wonderful trains) and again I spent the days walking, walking, walking. The stairs up Fourvière Hill, the historical site of Lyon, almost did me in. The effort was worth it to see the whole city of Lyon below and the Basilique de Fourvière.

I joined students protesting climate inaction on Friday, and thousands of people marching and demanding climate action on Saturday. But I was questioning my next steps. Should I return to the US? Then I received a WhatsApp message — my name had been included in a medical convoy traveling to Gaza in a month!

Suddenly, my focus shifted to fundraising for the medical convoy. I consulted with a seasoned fundraiser and decided to record short videos about my campaign. Before returning to Cairo to join the convoy, I decided to meet a friend in Geneva.

Lora and NakiThere are people who touch your heart unlike any other. I hadn’t seen Naki since our days together in Cairo at Pension Roma seven years ago. When we reconnected in Geneva, and I met her husband, I felt the time melting away. We’re bonded together whether we share any physical space or not. I can’t explain it. 

We visited the International Committee of the Red Cross and I dreamed of a career my alter ego could have/should have had. My own career trajectory seemed so pitiful in comparison. Regrets and more regrets.

One day I walked past a well-organized Zionist demonstration in front of the United Nations Building. They were condemning the UN Human Rights Council meeting which had just wrapped up a discussion about Israel, Gaza and the Palestinian Territories. Back at the hostel, a young man overheard me talking with someone about the demonstration. He was from Brussels and had traveled to Geneva to be part of it but had questions after Googling information about some of the people who had spoken. He supported Israel and its right to defend itself against terrorism, but the information he found indicated the speakers at the demonstration were Far Right reactionaries. He was questioning what the “other side of the story” might be. We had a good engaging conversation, listening to each other, and both agreeing to disagree respectfully. We agreed on the most important thing —- that it’s important to build bridges across the great divides in our society.

I learned something important in Geneva. It takes courage to walk across the divide and speak with the opposition (whether Israel-Palestine, pro-choice and pro-life, etc). That young man showed me how to do it, with respect and an open mind and heart. I hope I can emulate him in future conversations I have, and take the initiative to reach out across the divide.

MILAN, COMO and VENICE:

My three weeks in Italy (March 23 – April 11) was an adventure of pure convenience. I didn’t know anyone there, but it was so close. I didn’t want to pass up a chance to see a part of Italy I’d never visited. I also didn’t want to pass up the chance to take a bus through the Swiss Alps!

I was still managing 10,000 steps in Milan but not every day, and my gait was much slower. My posture must have given me away. Clerks were routinely asking me if I needed assistance and offering me special consideration to get to the front of the line. My head felt young and inquisitive, but my body was feeling its age. I thought about attending a performance at the Teatro alla Scala but I was too tired to stay out late.

Throughout my journey, I’d been reading history books about the places I visited. For the very first time, my high school history lessons were beginning to make sense. This was especially true in Milan and Venice.

Milan will always stick in my mind as a high-fashion center of clothes and design with very good public transportation, and some of the most magnificent buildings I’ve ever seen. I felt like a country bumpkin wearing the same things I’d been wearing for the past 6 months, but there was no one to complain, and I took a shower every other day. Ha!

A guest at the hostel raved about his visit to Lake Como, so I decided to take the train there the next day. The natural beauty + the town’s charm = a very special spot to return and settle down for a spell to write. I rode the funicular up the mountain. Just imagine — it’s been in operation since 1894.

Then I boarded a train to Venice (March 27 – April 11). Train travel everywhere was easy, inexpensive, and a joy. When will the U.S. emulate Europe’s leadership in public transportation?

Arriving at the Santa Lucia Train Station, I had directions to my hostel on Giudecca and knew I had to get a vaporetto (water taxi).  I knew exactly which one too.

I asked the first man who approached me for directions. He was slick and firm with his response. He could take me to my hostel on his private water taxi for a princely sum. I insisted I was looking for the public taxi, and he finally caved and pointed me in the right direction. As I walked off pulling my suitcase behind me, a young man said “Good job!” I asked “What?” And he told me I handled the pesky taxi sales person very well. On a scale of 1 – 10 with 10 being the highest level of confidence, I think my confidence traveling alone has shot up to 8 or 9 since I started this journey in Malaysia six months ago.

venice-sestieri

I loved Venice so much, and the people were so welcoming, I decided to stay two weeks and really explore. Venice is definitely the city to walk. I walked everywhere, every day, but now slightly limping on my left leg. I explored nooks and crannies that I suspect the first time tourist never sees, but I also visited all of the tourist sites. I purchased Jan Morris’ book “Venice” at the most beautiful bookstore in the world, and took it everywhere I went. The weekly transit pass for the vaporetto was 60 Euros and well worth it. I jumped on and off several times each day, along with Venetians and their pet dogs. Venetians love their dogs.

The Vivaldi concert at Chiesa San Vidal was excellent. The food everywhere was delicious but expensive. Along with the calories, I was counting my Euros carefully.

Naila and the Uprising 3Every day I was fundraising for the medical convoy to Gaza, and slowly making progress. Asking people for money is difficult but I have overcome my reticence because I know the need is so great. One evening I decided to go to the mainland to see “Naila and the Uprising” — the same film that I’d seen at the film festival in Malaysia. I was curious to see how many people might show up. Are the Italians good solidarity activists for Palestine? I was pleased to see a roomful of people (probably 75-100) of all ages. My biggest surprise was seeing Naila herself, the central protagonist of the film, at the event with her husband. They answered questions after the film through an interpreter.

Throughout my travels, I found tremendous support for Palestine, much more so than I’ve seen in the U.S.  Maybe my solidarity work should focus on Americans in my own back yard.

Before I left Venice, I had to know whether there were any plans or actions addressing the inevitable sea rise and impacts of climate change. One evening Piazza San Marco was flooded when there was a convergence of high tides, full moon and lots of rain. It seemed to me the entire city would be under water with rising sea levels.

I asked to meet with the city’s planning director and was pleased that an appointment could be arranged before I traveled. I sat with Vincenzo de Nitto and his colleague, Marco Bordin, and our conversation ranged from the impact of tourism on the historic center of Venice to the inevitable rising sea level. They showed me the MOSE project which should be completed very soon, a series of steel gates at the inlets which will be raised whenever the sea level is expected to rise, and lowered when the water recedes. A technological fix to a new reality, but I wonder if it will work. Many planners and scientists laud Venice as a leader in addressing climate change.

On April 11, I boarded my flight to Cairo to connect up with the medical convoy going to Gaza.  That’s for another story.Coddiwomple

Mary Oliver (1935 – 2019) — “Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn’t everything die at last and too soon? Tell me what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

 

 

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Filed under Climate Change, Gaza, Peaceful, People, Spiritual - Religion, Uncategorized

Deliver Me

israel-bombs

Psalm 140: deliver me

by Rabbi Brant Rosen

oh lord deliver me from my people

who wield their weapons with impunity

whose armies rain bombs on the imprisoned

whose apologists equate oppressor and oppressed

defending those who punish resistance without mercy.

keep from those who speak so easily of two sides

of dual narratives

of complexities of coexistence

those who call submission peace and lawless laws justice

who never tire of intoning never again

even as they commit crimes again and again

who have forsaken every lesson they’ve learned

from their own history and their own sacred heritage.

like Jacob I have dreamed fearful dreams

I have struggled in the night

I have limped pitifully across the river

and now like Jacob in my last dying breath

I have nothing  left but to curse my own

whose tools of lawlessness

who maim refugees who dare dream of return

and send bombs upon the desperate

for the crime of fighting back.

so send me away from this people this tortured fallen assembly

keep me far from their council

count me not among their ranks

I can abide them no longer.

Follow Rabbi Brant Rosen at https://rabbibrant.com/

 

 

 

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Easter & Passover Travel

 

Ghetto Jewish store

Store window in the Venice Ghetto

Movement is on my mind.  Or the lack thereof.

A middle-aged American woman, married to a Palestinian from Bethlehem, was stopped at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport last week, interrogated for hours, and then put on a plane back to the United States. (The news is here.) The Israeli authorities denied her permission to enter Israel to reunite with her family in Bethlehem where she has lived and raised a family for over 30 years. Why this treatment?  She was told “because she married a Palestinian.”

A young Palestinian-American woman, originally from Gaza but now living in the United States with her husband and baby, was stopped at Istanbul’s new airport from boarding her connecting flight to Cairo where she planned to travel by bus to the Rafah crossing into Gaza. She and her young son were looking forward to spending Ramadan with her family but the airline authorities told her the Rafah border was closed, and she would not be allowed into Egypt to wait for the border to open.

Notre Dame interior 5

Notre Dame Cathedral

The news reports that Israel has imposed a week-long closure of the West Bank and Gaza ahead of Passover, and is preventing hundreds of Palestinian Christians from Gaza from traveling to Jerusalem or Bethlehem to partake in their Easter celebrations.

The irony certainly does not escape me.

Jews worldwide celebrate Passover to mark their exodus from slavery in Egypt. Their freedom of movement is called Passover because, as explained by the Chabad Jews:

They were also instructed to take the blood of the lamb and smear it on their doorposts, a sign to G‑d that this was an Israelite home, to be passed over, while death was visited upon the firstborns in all other homes. This is what gave the Passover sacrifice (and holiday) its name.

Their exodus so long ago saved them from suffering and bondage, but what lessons were learned? What are Jews celebrating in the Twenty-First century as the State of Israel keeps millions of Palestinians oppressed and under occupation, preventing them from moving freely?

For those who are awake, I suspect their discomfort is growing.

As Cohen writes in Patheos:

But for a growing number of Jews around the world our relationship to the Palestinian people has become the greatest challenge to our Jewish identity and values. How can we celebrate our ‘feast of freedom’ and tell the story of our Exodus from the ‘narrow place’ of ‘Mitzryim’ while we deny, or stay silent, about the oppression of Palestine? It’s a profound challenge to our faith and the understanding of our own history.

Attempting to uphold a Jewish ideal of justice and freedom is not easy when you’ve just read that Israel has detained, kidnapped or jailed 1,000,000 Palestinians since 1948.

For those Jews who are not awake or prefer not to see, I think their journey must also be difficult because it takes a good bit of energy and struggle within to ignore the suffering of others.

I remember the wise words of a young Palestinian exchange student from Gaza who I met in Albuquerque, New Mexico over a Passover Seder many years ago. Reading from the Haggadah, a Jewish woman said “I don’t believe Jews are the Chosen People,” obviously to ease the discomfort she thought this young Palestinian Muslim might be experiencing. His response was genuine and thoughtful: “I believe Jews are the Chosen People. I believe God chose the Jews to be the people to show mankind how to treat one’s neighbors.”  (I wrote about Sami from Gaza here.)

If Sami is correct, then clearly the Chosen People have a steep learning curve. Israel’s occupation and subjugation of millions of Palestinians for the past 70+ years is merely a tick in humanity’s clock but it’s unbearable for those waiting for their moment of liberation, for their exodus.

Cohen concludes by saying:

“Tonight, we’ll conclude our family meal with this passage written by Aurora Levins Morales, a poet and activist. I discovered her writing in the 2018 Jewish Voice for Peace Haggadah.

“This time we cannot cross until we carry each other. All of us refugees, all of us prophets. No more taking turns on history’s wheel, trying to collect old debts no one can pay. The sea will not open that way. This time that country is what we promise each other, our rage pressed cheek to cheek until tears flood the space between, until there are no enemies left, because this time no one will be left to drown and all of us must be chosen. This time it’s all of us or none.”

May minds and hearts be moved this Passover and Easter, so that next year everyone has freedom of movement, a life of dignity with compassion, and we treat our neighbors as we wish they would treat us.

 

 

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Borders

Protest refugees 8

A simple message seen in London the week before Christmas. A few people protesting the government’s actions with refugees seeking asylum in the UK. They quietly read the names, dates and circumstances of those refugees who have died trying to find safety and a new home in the UK. I was shocked to hear how many suicides occurred after the refugee learned his or her asylum application had been rejected.

Sharing that photo on social media elicited many who supported it, with one person making the effort to point out that “Yes but sovereign countries do. And that matters a lot, whether you want to acknowledge it or not!”

My initial reaction, if I’m honest with myself, was one of scorn. I decided not to respond because I know we’re using different playbooks — I’m a Democrat and a Progressive, the poster is a Republican and a Conservative. Our worldviews clash, and there’s no point in engaging with someone who is so wrong and misinformed.

However, his reaction to a simple message of love for our brothers and sisters no matter where they may live, continued to needle me. Why would he assume I don’t acknowledge the importance of sovereign countries or understand that there’s a significant political dimension to borders?

Then it dawned on me —- he must think the same of me, as I think of him. That I’m wrong, misinformed, uneducated, naive, stuck in my box and unable to appreciate the nuance of any issue.

And then an “AHA!” moment —- there are different kinds of borders.

  • the legal, jurisdictional borders between nation-states,
  • the political borders such as the divisions between the Republicans and Democracts in the U.S., the Conservative and Labor Parties in the UK, and Fatah and Hamas in Palestine, and
  • the borders we create in our own heads every time we think about “us vs. them.” 

Refugees die on boats that are sinking in the Mediterranean as they try to cross the borders between countries, while politicians cavalierly throw up political and legal roadblocks and refuse to engage in any meaningful sense with the forces driving the refugees to flee their homes in the first place.

The Israeli military sharpshooters are killing and maiming Palestinians every week at the fence (not a legal border) between Israel and Gaza for the simple purpose of protecting their sovereign country.  Fatah and Hamas appear to be sabotaging each other and the dreams of a future State of Palestine because they have erected impenetrable borders between the two. “Either you’re with us or you’re against us!”

And I automatically threw up a border between myself and my friend on social media, refusing to engage with him, dismissing his comment, and moving on to others with whom it was easier to see eye-to-eye. Us versus them!

There’s no immutable magic in the geographical borders between nation-states. History demonstrates how often such borders have changed, and they will undoubtedly change in the future.

And there’s certainly nothing special at all about any political party, despite what the politicians may tell us.

But the borders we create in our heads are the most pernicious and impenentrable because (1) we don’t see or acknowledge them, and (2) even if we do, most of us are unwilling to eliminate those borders. It’s far easier to stay within my comfort zone where I’m right, or at least I feel affirmed in my beliefs. It takes work and perhaps a bit of humility to try to tear down those “us versus them” borders in our minds.

And so as Christians celebrate Christmas 2018, the message I want to share is to remember the Golden Rule, treat your neighbor as you wish to be treated. I think that’s the key to breaking down every type of border.

Bethlehem

 

 

 

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