Be careful out there

There are a lot of tragedies that are totally unpreventable. People are struck with illnesses that happened without cause or warning. A person walks down the street and is struck by a car that veers onto the pavement. A terrorist decides to murder a bunch of people and you are in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But there are tragedies that can be prevented. Adults can be mindful of carrying or drinking hot liquids when there are small children present. One can equip one’s home with smoke detectors. One can drive safely paying attention to the road instead of the mobile phone. One can check the car before leaving it to make sure there are no children left in it– And there are lists of many such safeguards.

What prompted me to write is a recent tragedy of a young person who had gone on a trip far from home. In Israel it is common for young people to travel after high school or Army or university. And every year we hear of healthy, beautiful young people dying tragically on these journeys. Certainly, not all of these tragedies could have been prevented, but people traveling need to pay special attention to their healthy and safety.

1. As many books as you have read and people you have talked to, you still don’t know this foreign country that you are visiting. You don’t know where it is safe to walk and where it is not. “It feels safe” is not a good measure of safety. A few years ago my husband and I were in Peru. A friend had told us that we should check out the Inquisition Museum in Lima. So one bright Sunday morning we set out on foot to find the museum. We were in the center of town and we knew the museum was only a couple of blocks away. We walked across a bridge onto a pedestrian mall and stopped to get a coke and suddenly two people came to us and said, “You need to leave here.” We were puzzled. Who were these people and why were they telling us to leave? Were they going to strong-arm us into some alley and take our papers and money and camera? They were very insistent and we were in public in full daylight, so we walked with them. As we walked with them they explained that locals target tourists in this area, knock them down, and take their valuables. As we came back to the bridge, our companions wished us well and left. Would someone have attacked us? I don’t know. I do know that we thought that where we were walking was safe and that the people who stopped us had no ulterior motive.

The dangerous pedestrian mall The dangerous pedestrian mall

2. Because you don’t know these countries and most likely don’t speak their native language, you need to make sure that you are in good physical condition before you leave home. Check with your doctor to see if there is any reason why this travel might not be advisable. Make sure you check as to whether you need inoculations for the area you will visit. Make sure that you carry in your hand luggage any medications you regularly take and bring along over the counter remedies for things like headaches, upset stomachs, and digestive disorders. ALWAYS buy medical insurance before you travel anywhere. Once we had a woman traveling with us in Hangzhou, China, who missed a step of the side of a very gradual incline. She broke her leg! Because she had medical insurance, the ambulance to the local hospital, the treatment there, the ambulance back to the hotel, the ambulance to the ambulance plane and the plane ride to Beijing as well as the doctor’s visit in Beijing (to certify her worthy to fly back home) and two first class seats home all were paid for by insurance. The insurance probably saved her tens of thousands of dollars, and such an accident could happen to anyone.
Hangzhou

3. Different trips present different challenges. If you are traveling to a place that is sunny, sunscreen, sunglasses, and appropriate clothing are important. If you are traveling to a cold place, of course you need cold weather gear. Travelers can become dehydrated, so carrying a bottle of water with you and DRINKING from it is important!! If you are going to high altitudes, read up on symptoms of altitude sickness. Understand that it can be fatal. It’s not something you can “tough out.” There are medicines that doctors prescribe to counteract the effects of altitude and getting to altitude slowly over a period of days may help, but at the first sign of altitude sickness, it is time to move lower, immediately. In Kathmandu, the local Chabad emissary lends satellite phones to trekkers so that they can be rescued in the event they are suffering from altitude sickness or exposure to cold temperatures. Recently the rabbi sent a helicopter to rescue two girls who are now alive because they were smart enough to take a phone with them.

Mount Everest as seen from the air Mount Everest as seen from the air

Chabad House, Kathmandu- doing mitzvot at the top of the world!

4. Many people, particularly young people, enjoy extreme sports. They require special insurance coverage. Without it, in the event of an accident, they have no one to come and rescue them and no medical coverage. It is important to note that safety standards in some countries are not as strict as in others. Regular inspections of zip lines (omegas) and bungee apparatuses are common in many countries, but there are countries that rely on good luck. A few years ago I had a great time on a zip line in Mindo, Ecuador. About two years later, the apparatus failed and someone was killed. Would I go on it again in Mindo? Not so fast. How can I be sure that the authorities are more conscientious than they were then? In addition, many times young people do not listen to instructions for safe conduct on extreme sports. Before we rode on our snowmobile in Finland, we were outfitted with proper cold weather gear and helmets and we listened carefully to instructions that ended up keeping one couple safe when their vehicle overturned. They were fine, but listening to the instructions is what saved them from broken bones. A recent tragedy while white water rafting could have been prevented if the young people had listened to a local person who warned them that the water was at that time much too rough.

The zip line that later failed The zip line that later failed
Our snowmobile adventure Our snowmobile adventure

Travel is fun! Adventures are the best! But be cautious. Even if you are young, you are not indestructible. The people who love you are waiting at home for your safe return. Please please please…. stay safe!!!!

Update: April 2 2014

Family, Traveling, and Pollard

The Family
Family
It’s been a long time since the whole family was together at a time when we could take a picture. This one was from last year’s Shabbat HaGadol weekend at Yad Binyamin. Interestingly, this year’s pictures will have a lot to do with Binyamin as well. Tomorrow we will be gathering for my son, Benjamin (also known as “Ben” and “Benjy”) and his bride Shlomit as they get married! We are very excited and happy for both of them.
Traveling
I haven’t written a blog post in a very long time, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about lots of things. We have done a lot of traveling in the last year- China in May, Tibet and Nepal in August, China again in October, Vietnam, Cambodia, Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore in January and February- and we are looking forward to a lot of traveling in the coming year as well. We still have space on our tour to China, leaving on May 7 and guaranteed to go. We also are looking for adventurous people to join us in Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, and Peru in June/July. All of these tours are in English and kosher, of course.
Random Thoughts
Pollard: Jonathan Pollard has been in jail for 28 years. Those in the know, even those who wanted him to have a harsh sentence, have said enough is enough. It infuriates me to see the US wanting to demand a price for his freedom.He has served a longer sentence than anyone else in a similar position. Anything he knew when he was jailed is old news. Much of the damage that he was purported to have caused was in fact found out to have been done by Aldrich Ames. So instead of doing the right thing and freeing him already, the US is offering us the opportunity to have his freedom considered if we release terrorists? Does this make sense in any universe? Have we all gone so amazingly liberal that we think that sworn murderers will suddenly play nicely if freed? The evidence is solidly against that. We have seen terror perpetrated by former prisoners and we have caught others as they were preparing to kill innocents. Why do we even need to pay a price for the Palestinians to talk to us? What price have they paid for the privilege of talking to us? Would you negotiate with someone who is unwilling to say that at the end of negotiations there will still not be a cessation of hostilities? What is the point? and how does Pollard even become related to all of that? Oh, I know… Israel/Jews/what do they care about?/other Jews/who is a Jew that we can offer them to exact a price? I get it. Sounds to me like the thinking of a criminal.

Slow motion

At times when I am very busy, when the tendency is to become unsettled, upset, panicked, I employ a coping mechanism that works for me. I think the idea actually came from the opening of the old TV show, the Six Million Dollar Man. Whichever show it was showed someone running very fast, but in slow motion. He’s making all of the rapid moves, but slowly.

I picture that slow running man when I am in situations that require a lot of thinking and a high level of activity. I picture myself slowing down, taking things much more slowly than usual. The background music becomes slower, softer, more gentle. So do the thoughts swirling around in my head. By slowing down, I avoid all of the hazards of haste- the frenzied movements, things being misplaced, bumping into things, feeling stressed.

I have my list. I do things one at a time. And I take my time.

Hanging out with my buddies


(and I stay less focused)

Parting

June 1967

I am 7.5 months pregnant with my first child. My husband of just a year is serving as a chaplain in the US Army. We are planning to leave the Army after our baby is born and to go to a civilian congregation. He has been hired as the new rabbi at the House of Peace synagogue in Columbia, South Carolina. We have just visited there a second time to talk with them about where we will be living and what changes we would like to see in the house the congregation owns. We are in the Atlanta airport. He is flying in uniform back to Fort Knox. I am flying to Philadelphia where I must take final exams at Gratz College so that they can see that I really did study on my own that year so that I can receive my BHL (Bachelor of Hebrew Literature) degree.

I am young, 21 years old, and very pregnant.

We wait for my plane. When we are called to board, we embrace. I cry. I will miss him.

I take my seat on the plane. The man next to me starts to speak. “He’ll be all right. Lots of men return healthy and whole from Vietnam. He’ll get to see that baby of yours.”

December 2011

I am a bit older. That baby is now a man with 6 children of his own. Soon I will be saying goodbye to my husband once again. This time he really is going to Vietnam.

But I am not worried.

He is going to supervise the kosher cooking for a tour. We have been to Vietnam together several times. We lead tours there. It is a lovely place to visit. It is beautiful and has rich traditions and friendly, welcoming people. The war years are barely a memory by now except for in places they have designated as war museums or in Cu Chi where the Vietcong built an elaborate tunnel system. A tour there is a treat and I look forward to returning.

This morning I bought him some instant coffee to take along because Vietnamese coffee is “different.”

We’ll keep in touch over his iPad and my computer.

But there still may be tears when he leaves.

Thanksgiving 2011

I will spare you the usual blah-blah of how wonderful my family is and how amazingly great it is when we adults all get together and tell you instead about the good things that have happened recently and wonderful things to look forward to that make me really thankful.

We recently returned from a trip to the US. In a few weeks time my sister, the last member of my immediate family not yet living in Israel, will be coming to Israel to live. All of us are very very excited. I will finally have my sister nearby after 45 years of living varying long distances from each other (all my fault… she stayed in the same place while I roamed planet Earth.) I wanted to go and be with her to visit some of the places we shared, to reminisce, and for me to say goodbye to Philadelphia, the city where I was born, where I grew up, and where I got my education. It is unlikely I will visit there again.

When we drove up to the house we used to live in, we were surprised to find the woman who had bought it from my mother out on the lawn. She was friendly and chatty and we enjoyed speaking with her. My sister pointed out that the “new” owners had lived in the house about as long as we had.

We enjoyed walking in the downtown area. I loved seeing my cousins and hearing about their lives.

I even enjoyed the antics of a future Israeli immigrant

There’s more to tell about the trip, but that’s a small taste of some things that made me happy with the promise of more to come!

“…hey it’s good to be back home again…”

Hello all!

It’s been a very busy time since I last posted. We spent the second week in August making final preparations for our tour of Vietnam & Cambodia. We did shopping (for all sorts of foods we took along), baking (6 loaves of bread for the first shabbat) and, of course, packing. On the way to the airport I commented to my daughter who was driving us, “Remind me that I never want to do this again.”

You see, in addition to all of the physical preparation, there is a lot of preparation in terms of planning all sorts of logistical issues such as how to meet a couple we didn’t know at the Bangkok airport (we got lucky… despite our plans, they happened to walk by us after we had despaired of meeting them, and were spotted by friends of theirs who were on the tour), how to feed 20 people a kosher dinner immediately on arrival at our hotel in Hanoi (at about midnight), etc. As much as we planned, we prayed a lot too because we traveled in the rainy season and we hoped that the forecasts we had seen for every city that predicted “chance of thunderstorms” every day(!!!) were wrong.

In the end, we did have a couple of days with rain, but it never really got in our way, and on several occasions, the cloudbursts came just as we walked inside or subsided just as we were ready to walk outside.

We had a group of people who were absolutely the best. We had Hebrew speakers who knew English and English speakers who knew Hebrew. We also had people who only knew Hebrew or English. And just for fun, we had a couple whose best language was French. Despite this, they became one happy family. They were caring and kind and thoughtful and appreciated everything we did for them.

Of course Vietnam and Cambodia are beautiful countries and we and our people had no shortage of excellent opportunities to photograph them. The countries are populated with wonderful warm, friendly people and we were happy to see some of our favorite people like our guide in Hanoi, Phuong, and the Chabad rabbi in Saigon, Rabbi Menachem Hartman and his lovely wife Racheli and their three beautiful sons.

After the tour, we traveled on our own in Thailand… but that’s a story for another day.

It was a magnificent trip, but it’s good to be home.

La-di-da-di-da-di-da*


A long time ago I was living in the US and one, and then two of my children were living in Israel. As time went on, the third and fourth joined them. By January of each year, knowing that I wanted to visit the children, I would make my airline reservations for the following summer. Months of anticipation and and planning culminated in a wonderful visit.

When several years ago we traveled to the US and gave an audio-visual presentation and spoke to people about travel to China, they responded by saying they would have to think about it and maybe in a year or two, they would want to travel. They would perhaps be saving money in the interim, but often it was the case that they had other long term plans that superseded these trips.

Now everyone knows that Israeli culture is different from US culture, but there is no greater difference, at least in my mind, than that of the attitude toward travel.

It is rare to find an Israeli who has not traveled outside of the country. A weekend in Turkey or Cyprus or Greece is no more exotic here than a weekend in Eilat. In many instances, it is cheaper. Years ago when the dot-coms were booming, it was not unusual for companies to take their workers away to Turkey for a weekend as an extra bonus. Israelis love to travel!

We have any number of travel agencies that offer package deals to European locations for prices that are practically unbelievable. And people may decide on a Thursday that they would like to go away the next week and by Sunday they are on a plane and by Sunday night they are strolling the alleys of Rhodes or perusing the English book shops in Malta.

But try planning a trip to an exotic location like the far east. We will be leaving on August 15 for Vietnam and Cambodia. Our American participants started planning the tour in the winter. Our Israelis (yes, I’m talking about English speaking Israelis too) have all pretty much started registering in the last 2 weeks with several calling today!

OK, I’ll admit it: this isn’t even last minute by Israeli standards. I once had a call from a woman on a Thursday to ask me about a tour to China leaving on that Sunday. Of course that one was impossible. It takes several days to get a Chinese visa.

I have to admit, I am more like the Israelis than the Americans. I get a real adrenaline rush from these last minute arrangements. I enjoy the spontaneity of making decisions and then acting on them immediately. So, if you know anyone who wants to come along, there’s still time!

*just nonchalantly hanging around… hmmm… maybe I’ll visit Singapore next week….

Ooof!

One of the things that people learn when they move to a new country with a new language is that exclamations differ from those they were raised with. In English, pain evokes an “ouch!” In Hebrew, it’s “Ay-ah!” Frustration in Hebrew evokes an “Ooof!” I’ll admit it; I forgot the English.

So why am I frustrated? It actually has to do with the fact that there is so much right with my life these days. I am feeling healthy, have kept off the weight I lost, and have no problem maintaining a healthy diet. We recently witnessed the graduation from high school of our oldest granddaughter and the awarding of a PhD to our son-in-law. My husband and I had a great honeymoon getaway for our 45th anniversary, and our children invited us to a wonderful dinner celebration in its honor, bringing along a nice sampling of well-behaved gorgeous grandchildren. We are in a state of high preparation for the tour we are leading to Vietnam and Cambodia and are looking forward to a week of fun in Thailand on our way back. In the fall, after the holidays, we’ll be taking a trip to the US and when we get back, I’ll be teaching marriage and family therapy once again. And then, best of all, we prepare for my sister’s aliya!

The blessing of a beautiful garden in Israel, filled with gorgeous plants and fruit trees brings with it the worry of the health of our gorgeous plum tree that has been attacked by some type of a worm. The blessing of a great apartment that we are renting out brings with it the work of cleaning it thoroughly between occupants. The blessing of being close to our children brings day to day discussions and concerns about the types of issues that remote grandparents never hear of.

So why am I frustrated?

I guess it’s because I wish I could split myself in two or three or four in order to give adequate time and attention to all of the wonderful people and things in my life.

I worry about letting people down.

Ooof!

Click on pictures for full images!

Wednesdays with Ephraim

Wednesday morning

I get into the car.
My husband drives me to the train station.
I put my backpack through the X-ray machine, take the escalator downstairs.
There he is, smiling. “Savta!” he says.
His mom is there too, prepared for the trip.
I buy the tickets- one adult, one senior citizen (me???)
We get onto the train.
He sits on the seat and looks out the window.
“Tunnel!” he says.
We leave the tunnel and outside is interesting “trees! cars! bus!”
But after a while, it gets boring.
We take out the notebook computer.
He puts on the headphones and watches Dora.
He smiles.
Dora is over, he is ready to do something else.
“We’ll be there soon”
His mom gives him something to drink, a granola bar.
I give him my magnetic necklace.
Each occupies him for a minute or two.
“We’ll be there soon.”
Binyamina
It should be soon now.
Trees, cars, bus.
But it goes on and on.
Twenty minutes with a two year old who is bored is not easy.
Finally we arrive.
The taxi driver calls out our destination address. He took us there two weeks ago.
In the taxi the driver says, in English, “Wake up!”
Two weeks ago our two year old almost fell asleep in the taxi.
This week, he also looks like he will fall asleep.
He closes his eyes.
We say, “Wake up!”
His eyes stay closed, but a mischievous grin appears on his face.
This happens a few more times during our 7 minute trip up the mountain.
We arrive.
We walk up the stairs.
The waiting room has toys that by now are familiar.
He wants coffee.
They take him into the other room.
He doesn’t like when they look at his eyes.
They don’t touch him, but still he holds his hands across his eyes.
Each time they want to see his eyes, we distract him with something else.
The same item doesn’t work twice.
Finally, they are finished looking at him and we can go.
He still wants coffee.
His mother gives him a little tea with a lot of milk.
He is happy.
We walk to the taxi stand.
Soon we are at the train station.
In a few minutes, the train arrives.
The train is full.
But we find seats.
He is not pleased.
He screams and wails.
We take out the notebook computer once again.
This time he sits in his stroller and like any guy in a recliner, he settles back and watches another episode of Dora.
Relaxing on the train
Near the end of the ride he becomes bored again.
We try to find something to entertain him.
Even my Chinese fan loses its attraction in a short time.
Finally we approach the station.
Next week, we get to do it all over again.

What I should have said

Here is what I should have said to some recent acquaintances (who I likely will not see again):

It’s not all about you. Just because you think that the world belongs to you doesn’t make it so.

The animals of the Galapagos have plans of their own and they do not include showing off for you.

It is not possible to convince all the other people at the theater not to take pictures because they may momentarily block your view.

The airline did not ask me which seat I reserved for you. Nasty people- they just decided arbitrarily.

The Chinese guides were not spying on us; I promise you- they did not mistake you for anyone of consequence.

Just because you have an outdated, inaccurate guidebook in your hands, it does not make you an expert on a place you have never visited.

Taking food with your fingers and coughing and sneezing on the serving dish might account for your having spread your cold to the others who were not aware that the serving dish had turned into a petri dish.

Berating family members in public does not enhance your reputation.

Gratuitous criticism does not make you seem erudite; just crotchety and unpleasant.

Common courtesy is apparently not so common. Ditto common sense.

If there were a contest between “rich” and “kind”- kind would always win. I don’t admire you. I pity you.

And remember this: Beauty, money, and material things are fleeting, but good character lives on. There is still time to develop it. Try. It is a gift for yourself and for all those around you.