Jerusalem, Old City


Jerusalem Old City

“If the Arabs put down their weapons today, there would be no more violence. If the Jews put down their weapons today, there would be no more Israel’” Benjamin Netanyahu

My first trip to Jerusalem was in the seventies. My parents always paid for an Israel extension to my self financed Europe trips. I think they were hoping for an Israeli son-in-law. Our days started at the Jaffa Gate near our hostel. We would meander through the Old City in the heat of summer and end up at the Damascus Gate or the New Gate. You could wander back and forth through a stairway in the Western Wall. We walked in and out of the mosques, often just to cool off and enjoy the peaceful feeling inside.

When we got to the meat part which was deep in the market, I was always ready to turn back. It was the first time that I saw raw, dead animals hanging outside like that.There were a lot of flies. It was hot and smelled bad. We were allowed everywhere. One day, a young  Arab boy decided  to be our tour guide for free. He took us walking on the walls above the city. I remember that he said that they were the only red-headed Arab family in the market.

The Arab souq was our favorite huge shopping labyrinth to get lost in. They sold beautiful handmade backgammon sets, religious artifacts and boxes made from olive wood, interesting jewelry, worry beads, scarves, clothes and evil eyes. The bargaining was half the fun (even though we just got it down to the real price in the stores) “We dont hate the Jews,”said the people in the market. “It’s the Zionists we don’t like.”

On my first trip, I did not blame them. The Israeli boys we met were aggressive and the girls were mean to us. Cheap college day tours took us all over Israel from Jerusalem. We met a lot of Americans doing the same thing. The second summer I met nice Israelis. We truly believed that there would be a lasting peace.

I resisted coming back to Jerusalem for many years because I did not want to see what was happening. The Arabs and Israelis did not learn how to coexist. Now Israel the hero of my childhood, is seen by many as the oppressor. For some reason, they have more UN human rights violations than the most corrupt, brutal, sadistic, child army, third world nations. Israel wasn’t the attacker in the 48, 67 and 73 wars. They defended themselves and won. Isn’t that what happens in a war? Governments get land and young people die or get injured. The Palestinians like the American Indians had unfortunately lost the claim to their land from the British before Israel became a state. Israel built their country from nothing just like America did. It seems to be a hopeless situation now.

They call it apartheid by choice. There are Arab speaking schools and Hebrew speaking schools. The Arab schools are divided into Muslim and Christian schools.

The Hebrew Schools are divided into Orthodox and Secular Schools. There are divisions between the divisions. There are a few mixed schools.

I think those who call it South African apartheid have forgotten or never knew what South African apartheid really was. Yes there is prejudice on both sides  and many problems but it is not that.

The holiest city on earth is even more divided on my return many years later. It is still living as one but with a lot of new rules, security and boundaries.

This time, I am staying at the beautiful King David Hotel. As we enter the city from the nearby New Gate, Dvir, our tour guide, tells me that there is still only one red-headed Arab family in the market.

Fly safe,






Staying Sane In An Insane World

“The most insane things can become normal if you have them around you long enough. A mind can’t seem to hold anything too crazy for too long without finding a way to make it seem normal.” Deb Caletti

You can get used to anything. You think you can’t but you can. When I came home from New Zealand I had horrible anxiety every time I turned on the TV. There was another Presidential order that was always badly rolled out and more protests. There is way too much bad news bombarding us twenty-four hours a day.

A few weeks later, I just feel numb. I am becoming desensitized. Things were said today  that went almost unnoticed. A month ago they would have been front page news. What is going on in America is wrong and it takes all my sanity to get through the day. In the midst of all this I am trying to live a conscious life of kindness and intelligence. Just because America is going insane does not mean that I have to follow.

The cause of these external events have been a long time in the making. They did not just happen. There are no simple answers. Finding a scapegoat to blame sounds very fascist to me. It’s the Muslims. It’s the Feminists. It’s the Immigrants. It’s the Jews. It’s the NRA.  It’s the Whites. It’s the Blacks. It’s ISIS. It’s the Environmentalists. It’s the Left. It’s the RIght. It is so convenient to have someone to blame – especially when said in a confident, authoritative voice. It’s becoming really hard to separate the real threats from the manufactured ones.

Here are some real threats. There are 117 suicides in the U.S. each day compared to 43 murders. There are 129 deaths from accidental drug overdoses. Ninety six  people a day die  in automobile accidents (27 of whom aren’t wearing seat belts)There are 1,315 deaths each day due to smoking, and 890 related to obesity, and all the other preventable deaths from strokes, heart attacks and liver disease.

I need meditation and yoga in my life now.  I can’t exhale this out. Beaches and travel help. I allow a short time period to watch the news and take days off. It looks to me like all this fear mongering is illogical. We are the biggest threat to ourselves.

Fly safe,




A monk was teaching a meditation class. He said “if you hear bombs in a neighboring village and your first thought  is where is my family?” Oh they are not there. Everything is ok” than continue to sit and meditate.” Vietnamese Buddhist Monk

There is a striking similarity between the Jewish refugees of World War Two and the Syrian refugees today. Then as now, skepticism of religious and ethnic minorities and concerns that refugees might pose a threat to national security deeply influenced the debate over American immigration policy. The most obvious parallel between the 1930s and today is popular opposition to the admission of refugees. It was strong then, and it’s strong now.

My parents were older. I often asked my mother why no one helped  to save the Jews from being killed in concentration camps.  She said that we really did not believe it was happening. They couldn’t comprehend that the citizens of a cultured and civilized society in modern times were putting people in ovens. It did not sound real.” We heard the rumors. The articles were written on the back page of the newspaper. If was really true, we thought it would be on the front page.”   When the mass extermination and atrocities became public knowledge, she said, ”I did not believe it at the time and had not done anything. I should have chained myself to the White House fence. I should have done something.” They did not have hashtag holocaust back then.

I am reading the heartbreaking twitter voices of Aleppo, watching the videos and seeing the Facebook messages. The words are eerily similar to the things people said in the concentration camps. The waiting to die messages come from parents, children, teachers and journalists. I have a sinking feeling in my stomach as I read the last contact messages. We don’t have the excuse that we weren’t sure it was true. Advanced technology is allowing us to watch innocent people die and is doing nothing to stop it. The world follows Mr Alhamdo, the young English teacher. His video has gone viral and millions of people have seen it. Yet, no one is saving him or his wife and little girl. I read his last message.

It does not make sense that all we can do is #StandwithAleppo. A hashtag is no solution to another humanitarian catastrophe. Big tragedies have big consequences. Are we becoming numb to all the terror in the world? #killingfieldscambodia  #deathcampsdarfur  #sarajevo #rwanda. I thought that since everyone knew what was happening in real-time, they would somehow be saved. The International community and humanitarian organizations would be able to help them. The repercussions for inaction will end up being far worse than the choice to take action would have been. The world missed yet another call from God by ignoring Aleppo. 

Fly safe,


Sunday Is Monday – Shopping In Israel

Sunday Is Monday – Shopping In Israel

“When practiced, Sabbath-keeping is an active protest against a culture that is always on, always available and always looking for something else to do.” Stephen W. Smith

Tel Aviv appears to be a cosmopolitan, secular city. My time in Israel  included two Sabbaths (Friday afternoon through Saturday evening). I awoke the first Saturday morning and anticipated  the beautiful breakfast  I had  eaten the morning before at the hotel. To my surprise, there was no cappuccino and no one was making eggs. There was dry cereal, pastries, hardboiled eggs,smoked fish, salads  and instant coffee – not the Saturday morning brunch at a hotel that I was used to.

After a walk along the beautiful beachfront to Jaffa and back, I was preparing to do some shopping.


 I was told that everything was closed and there was no public transportation. Coming from a consumer driven society, I didn’t really believe that. This was a tourist area, some stores must be open.  I don’t often have culture shock visiting a country. I expect things to be different. I know all toilets are not created equal. I try to remember to take my shoes off in Asian countries when visiting someone’s home or a temple.  Preparing to be a Sabbath violator, I went out in search of shopping. There were some restaurants and cafes open and a mini market and that was it.   


In the afternoon we went to the old beautiful city of Jaffa. Jaffa is a mix of Arabs and Jews so I was hopeful.


We looked at the beautiful old architecture and walked the maze of alleys to the port.


We had a beautiful sunset  lunch/dinner but no shopping there either.  “Sunday is Monday” said my friend.


 I was thinking about it.  Does a day of rest strengthen a country and a family? There were a lot of families in the park. The beach was packed with people. Families were strolling around the city. For us Saturday is a day of housework, soccer tournaments, ballet classes, sporting events, matinees, movies and shopping sprees.


In America Sundays used to be a day of rest. We didn’t have a national religion but all stores and businesses were closed on Sundays so we did have a national day of rest. Some people went to church, visited their grandparents, had a big family meal, went to the beach or the park or for a drive. One day a week we did something different. Our day wasn’t defined by consumption or production. We had fewer choices of what we could do. It was a day to be lazy and read. It was a peaceful ordinary Sunday, a common day of rest which for us  ended in Chinese or Italian food.  As we now search for inner peace through mindfulness and meditation, it is interesting to see  what disappeared when America lost that.

Fly safe,


The Iran Nuclear Arms Deal Or Why It Is Still Unsafe To Visit Iran

The Iran Nuclear Arms Deal or Why It is Still Unsafe To Visit Iran

“The only people who should be allowed to govern countries with nuclear weapons are mothers, those who are still breast-feeding their babies.”
Tsutomu Yamaguchi

This is how I feel about the Iran Arms deal. You don’t give nuclear weapons to an unstable country in an unstable part of the world. I don’t care about the political ramifications. I care about the human ones.

Isn’t this the same Iran that when the Ayatollah came into power, he kidnapped the Americans there? Isn’t this the country that thousands of people were forced to evacuate and can never come back? Isn’t this the same Iran that funds terrorists groups? Isn’t this the Iran that is holding American journalist Jason Rezaian and others on trumped-up charges? Will the Mullahs suddenly decide that an international community is the way to go? What happens when a new even more unstable regime takes over? Do they return the weapons to us?

I recently wrote a blog on the ten most dangerous countries not to visit now and there are many more than ten. I was torn based on my research on the tenth one between Iran and North Korea. I ultimately chose North Korea but Iran was a good choice as well. I am confused about why we would give nuclear weapons to a country that is very dangerous for us to go to without the nuclear weapons.

I imagine from a financial point of view it is profitable. If Iran buys nuclear weapons the surrounding countries will need  more weapons to defend themselves. Everyone in the Middle East will be buying more weapons.

We are the self-proclaimed “watchdogs of the world” and giving Iran nuclear weapons is not protecting our world in any way. Is the hope that if we trust them they will behave with integrity? I believe Winston Churchill thought the same about Hitler when he signed the Munich Agreement in 1938 to avoid war. The Munich Agreement has become synonymous with the futility of giving power to totalitarian states.

Hate is irrational and there appears to be a lot of hate in these countries – especially for Jews and Israel. I imagine the Jews who signed a petition in favor of the Nuclear Arms Deal with Iran probably would not have left Nazi Germany in time. Many intelligent wealthy Jews held out hoping that the threat of persecution and death would pass. – that rational, intelligent thought would prevail over the death camps.

Have any of the Jews who signed the petition or people in favor of the Arms Deal with Iran been to the Hiroshima museum in Japan? Every Japanese school child has to go. The motto is No More Hiroshimas. The symbol is the Hiroshima Dome (Genbaku dome), the only building left standing in the area where the bomb exploded. Anyone who has spent time in this museum and listened to the stories and continued health problems would know the only good use for nuclear weapons is to keep people from using them. Ultimately what would be our defense against Nuclear Weapons? Nuclear Weapons.


Fly safe,

The Delicatessen – Growing Up In New York

The Delicatessen- Growing Up in New York

“As I see it, there are two kinds of people in this world; people who love delis and people you shouldn’t associate with.” Damon Runyon

I just saw Deli Man. a documentary film that chronicles the delicatessens that opened up in the twenties on the lower east side of New York City. . They started as German restaurants. As the Eastern European Jewish immigrants began coming to America they brought the foods of Lithuania, Romania, Hungary, Poland and Russia. The film tells the stories of  the rise of the delis and the Jewish immigrants. Their success and technology erased the old traditional urban blocks with everything you need run by mom and pop storefronts and delis on every block. In the 1930s New York had fifteen hundred Jewish delis. Now there are about twenty left. As the Jewish population assimilates and we all become foodies, we don’t just eat Jewish food anymore.

In other cultures  such as Mexican, Italian and Asian, there are always new immigrants coming in and cooking and wanting the food from their countries. There is no more Eastern European Jewish culture. The ones who live here have assimilated and the Holocaust took care of the rest. The Deli Culture is dying out.

There were two or three small delis on a block where I was growing up. There were larger deli restaurants as well. The people who worked in the delis had been there forever. They were the old timers and warranted a certain amount of respect. There was a kind of familiarity that the waiters and waitresses had – like they knew you for your whole life, even if they didn’t. They could be funny, mildly insulting and roll their eyes while you ordered everything on the side or asked for the fat to be cut off the corn beef.

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I was brought up on natural and health foods at a time that no one was. People who ate like this and exercised regularly were called heath nuts. Now they are called normal. Everyone that I knew except my family was eating Wonder Bread, Hershey Bars, Frosted Flakes and drinking Cokes and lemonade.There was no Whole Foods or McDonald’s.

We had fruit and vegetable stores so we always had plates of fresh sliced fruit and vegetables after school – not that anyone wanted that, but it was there so we ate it. We made our own candy out of peanut butter, raw coconut and honey. It was definitely more fun to make it with our hands than eat it. Our package desserts included Fig Newtons and something inedible called halvah. (It wasn’t till I went to Turkey that I found out that when it was served fresh it was delicious.) I thought Fig Newtons were inedible also. I can’t believe they are still around. We had some green herbal thing in a salt shaker that they tried to pass off as salt. We drank orange juice and we could have had a V8 instead of the cokes we longed for. We ate meat that was very rare, sometimes it looked right off the cow – blood for the blood. I don’t think I ever ate brisket until I was much older and to this day I do not like potted meat (in Yiddish gedempte flaisch)

We did not eat out because the kitchens were dirty and unsanitary in most restaurants – according to my father. It was before the rating system and they probably were. We did not use aerosol sprays because he said there was a hole in the atmosphere – something only he knew about so I was sure it was untrue. We did not have a car because it caused pollution and had to ride our bikes everywhere or take public transportation. Everyone else had cars. I was sure he was wrong about that as well.

But for some reason, delis were ok. I never asked why. Maybe it was the food of their childhood, their parents who I never met, the lower East Side of Manhattan – food they knew. We could have knishes, blintzes, sour pickles from a barrel, frankfurters, muenster cheese, peppery roast beef and they would let us order a chocolate egg cream. Occasionally we would have pastrami and corned beef sandwiches on fresh rye bread.  We ate a lot of smoked fish. Those small smoked golden white fish  had a lot of bones but they tasted good and I guess they were cheap. We were not rich and lox was expensive even then. My mother would buy a ¼ lb of lox and could easily feed six people on bagel and lox sandwiches that were mostly cream cheese. I think those neighborhood delis probably kept me alive because there was not much I was eating at home. I stopped in one every day.

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We could not have salami or bologna because “we didn’t know what was in it and there were probably chemical additives”. I grew up bringing ham sandwiches to school for lunch and lying and saying it was bologna because the Jewish people in my neighborhood did not eat ham. We used to eat Lithuanian black pumpernickel bread. I dreamed about having white bread sandwiches like everyone else. I’m not much of a bread person now unless I see that black whole grain bread of my childhood and then I can eat the whole loaf. Mayonnaise on meat still grosses me out and I’ve lived in California for a long time.

The other foods in the delis were weird to me. “What is that?,” we would ask. Stuffed kishka – skin – ew really?), chopped liver–yuk, , gribenes – fried chicken skin -uh, schmaltz, -chicken fat – gross, borscht – beet soup, (I cannot eat beets in any form), kasha –buckwheat, kreplach – dough floating in soup with liver and onions in it, kugel -noodle pudding, matzoh balls – dumplings made from matzoh that were really big and heavy), tzimmes – root vegetables and varnishkes – pasta with kasha. It all sounded awful and I’ve never liked it. But when I see it and smell it now, it always reminds me of my mom and the stories she would tell of how her mother made those foods.

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When I turned thirteen years old,  I started having summer jobs and my own money. I began going to diners, coffee shops, Italian and Chinese restaurants. I drank cokes. I ate pistachio nuts with the red dye on them that got all over your fingers, red M and Ms (we grew up in fear of red dye #2 and BHA and BHT – which was a preservative in packaged sugar cereal),  Bonomo Turkish Taffy – the kind that was really bad for your teeth and Carvel swirl ice cream cones.  I was rebelling. But NY delis were always around. You could smell the food as you walked down the street. It was the comfortable smell of my childhood and I thought it would always be there.

With the demise of Delis and  the Yiddish language comes the loss of our Eastern European cultural roots. With the pursuit of complete assimilation into American culture, and the absence of new Eastern European Jewish immigrants, we lost our history and we are losing our food.

I did not pass on the cultural traditions and Yiddish phrases of their grandparents to my children. They don’t know about their life on the lower east side of NY in the thirties and forties. They don’t know the stories from Yiddish theatre and vaudeville that my mother used to tell or the Eastern European melodies I heard growing up.  They don’t know the old Jewish comedians, the Borscht Belt, the Catskills or that we were the people of the clarinet. But they do know a good pastrami sandwich and a black and white cookie and that Nate and Al’s Deli makes a delicious chicken soup when you are sick.

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Fly safe,


Anti – Semitism in Europe – Again?

Anti – Semitism in Europe – Again?

“At Auschwitz, tell me, where was God?” And the answer: “Where was man?” William Styron

We are all born into some story, with its particular background scenery, that affects our emotional, social and spiritual growth.

My story was anti-Semitism. My grandparents were part of the well documented immigration of eastern European and Russian Jews at the end of the nineteenth century to America. Restrictions and barriers were placed on Jews that made it impossible to have a normal self-sustaining life in their countries.   In Russia and Poland, pogroms (physical attacks on the Jews and their villages) happened on a regular basis.

Both my parents were born here and had experienced anti-Semitism growing up. My father was a high-ranking officer in the army (not a job Jews could have at that time) and had fought in two wars. He experienced extreme prejudice during his twenty years in the army. My mother grew up on a farm where they were the only Jewish family in their town. She also had a lot of experience with bigotry and discrimination.

When they had children, they moved into the most Jewish neighborhood they could find so their children wouldn’t have the same experiences. Many holocaust survivors moved there as well. I grew up hearing all the stories.

I  was able to read at a very young age and for some reason read the story of Anne Frank when I was nine years old. I looked at the picture of Anne. She had brown hair and brown eyes. I thought that she looked like me and she was Jewish also.  I decided in my nine year old wisdom  that they  could come for me too. I quickly became friends with the only Christian I knew, Frankie, the son of the superintendent of our building. His family could hide me if it happened again.

Children don’t understand prejudice. The world is black and white to them. If someone is mean than you don’t like them. But for someone to not like you and want to kill you because you are Jewish, or Black, Gay or Muslim – that is a hard concept for kids. It has to be taught. As in – if your parents hate them or are afraid of them, then they must be bad. Being hated because I was born into a Jewish family that wasn’t even religious was hard for me as a child to comprehend.

I grew up on the beach and saw a lot of people with numbers on their arms. All the old people who I knew had heavy European accents. For a brief period I thought they counted the older people and when you became old you got an accent. Many of my friends were the children of holocaust survivors. Their lives were shrouded in mystery and darkness.

The holocaust changed so many lives by simply observing just how horrible certain humans can treat each other. It didn’t just scar the survivors but anyone who came in contact with their stories. I grew up in a frightened community. I have always felt how tenuous the world was and that things could end at any moment just as it had for Anne Frank.

As I got older, I became obsessed with reading everything I could about the holocaust. I saw every film and documentary. Someone asked me once “What job I was going to get as the leading authority on the holocaust?’ But I needed answers. How did it happen? Why did people hate us so much? How do people hate for no reason and of course – the nature of evil.

I learned that evil can happen when it is beyond the realm of civilized human consciousness – like planning to kill all the Jews in Europe by gassing and burning them in ovens, flying a plane into the World Trade Center, murdering all the intellectuals or killing  or kidnapping children for going to school.

I am watching that evil again. I recently  saw a map on CNN listing the number of Jews living in each country in Europe. Was that the same map that Hitler looked at? The last time I saw a map listing the number of Jews in each country in Europe it was in a holocaust book showing the number of dead Jews from each country.

So there are no lessons to be learned from the past. The people committing atrocities don’t think of themselves as evil. They commit these acts in the name of righteousness or religion. As someone who loves stories, I wanted restoration and redemption in my story. But instead the monsters of my childhood turn out to be human beings in the present.

Fly safe,