My Friend Rita

 

Last night I received the tragic news of the passing of my dear colleague, Rita Silber. Rita was my friend and I will always miss her.

On the train to Machu Picchu

 

Rita and I met as colleagues- tour managers. Rita had years of experience and I was still fairly new. Rita, fluent in French, Hebrew, English and who knows how many other languages, was not only a consummate professional, but she was a warm, accepting colleague.

Rita and I had many adventures together. Once she led a group of French speakers to Vietnam and Cambodia alongside the group I led of English speakers. We worked together, side by side like a well-oiled machine. I never could achieve her level of elegance, but I certainly enjoyed her company.

I can’t remember at what point in our relationship we did Ecuador, Galapagos Islands, and Peru together, but we did that tour together twice. The first time, she was learning the route which I had already done . On that tour we had a largely Australian group. Both of us were worried about our lack of experience with Australian groups and were concerned about such things as the possible different sense of humor they might have. The group (which also included members from the US and Great Britain), turned out to be absolutely delightful- happy, spirited people with a robust sense of humor. We very much enjoyed that tour.

That tour was preparation for a much larger tour (about 50 people) that was a high level tour for VIPs.  We had another guide, a seasoned expert (fluent in 15 languages- yes, really!), Rita was our logistics person and we also traveled with our own chef and a mashgiach (kosher supervisor). Rita always knew how to get what we needed and even more from the hotels where we stayed. She never compromised on the quality of accommodations or service and most of the time, it was her charm that influenced people. However, when the powers that be were not cooperative, she knew how to be firm and she did prevail.

That tour was challenging in many ways- we had to deal with the leader of the group who was not aware of the limitations we dealt with and who had a very short fuse. We were, for the only time in her career, our colleague’s 40 year long career, and mine, of course, told by our guests that we were to sit at the staff table! The guests did not even learn our names. Our experienced colleague, Rita, and I all began to count the days until the tour would be over.

In the Galapagos, Rita and I got a very large room with a balcony on the ship. The leader of the group had rented the entire ship which held 100- and even with staff, we numbered only about 55- so there were cabins available and the staff on the ship gave us a premium room. One night we had a really rough sea. Apparently, I slept through most of the movement. When I got up in the morning, Rita said to me something about how rough the sea had been. I told her I didn’t notice. She said, “then how do you explain when you got up in the middle of the night you were running from one side of the room to the other!” We both burst out laughing, because I did have a vague memory of that…

When we arrived in Lima, Peru, one couple had mistakenly been assigned a room with a double bed instead of the twin beds they had requested. Rita and I, who were sharing a room, gave our room to them and we slept head to foot- but we did giggle a lot and made the best of it.

After our arrival in Cusco and subsequent visit to Machu Picchu, we stopped at Sacsayhuaman where the Incas had put up walls of huge rocks. It was a place just ripe for photos and so the group all stood in front of one of the rock walls and handed us about 50 cameras. Now this was already during the digital age and really, one or two photos would have been enough to distribute to everyone,. But they insisted we take a photo with everyone’s camera. So once they settled into their places, we started taking pictures. It was a sunny day and virtually all of them were wearing sunglasses. After we started taking the photos, we got yelled at: We hadn’t told people to look our way. We could not see their eyes. In a group that large, it was hard to see any details. But we took the pictures again!

The last night, the leader decided that he had made a wrong decision about the venue for their last group activity. We were in a restaurant where Rita had been supervising the preparation of dinner for several hours. This leader wanted the restaurant to exclusively serve his group and actually went and offered money to people who were either waiting for their order or eating- to leave the restaurant. All three of us were appalled. Rita left the restaurant and walked back to the hotel and rented a large meeting room for a significant amount of money so they could have their private meeting. The hotel was a good 15-20 minute walk away and all of that was necessitated by the poor planning of their leader. When we returned to Israel, it was to a letter sent to the company about the incompetence of all of the guides. Our boss was not impressed. He knew who he was dealing with.

After that adventure, Rita joined me on a trip to Japan, to learn yet another destination for her touring. We spent some pleasant time there as well.

Over the years, she and I would meet from time to time for coffee or for lunch and always for interesting and pleasant conversation. Rita was a remarkable person and I will miss her.

What it’s like for me

I imagine that what is going on in Israel is subject to all sorts of assumptions. Let me tell you what it is like for me.

For more than 20 years, every new apartment/home built in Israel has (by law) to have a sealed room.  This is a room that has heavily reinforced walls, ceiling, and floor and a door that when closed seals it shut when occupied in emergency situations. Some rooms are full sized rooms usually used as bedrooms. They have windows that open in and on the outside a heavy metal cover that the occupants can seal closed in times of emergency.  Once sealed, they are to protect us from bombs. missiles, rockets, and poison gas.

When an attack is imminent, we are notified by radio and/or phone app that our particular area is in danger. Depending where in Israel one lives, one may have as few as 15 seconds to reach the sealed room. In this current war, we in our city have about 90 seconds. Once inside, we must wait 10 minutes before opening the door and emerging.

Those attacking us, sending their weapons into cities to destroy, kill, and maim, are, of course, unpredictable and attacks can come at any time.

The destruction and deaths they cause are devastating, but we are strong and unafraid and try to conduct our lives normally. There are safe areas in stores and malls and hospitals and office buildings.

But here’s the part that pains me constantly: this war began when our enemies began firing at us, at the civilians. When our armed forces responded, we were told that we are wrong. We are criticized and are called “an apartheid state” – yet ask our Arab doctors, dentists, Knesset members, lawyers, pharmacists, nurses- and they will tell you that this is a society that is open to all of its citizens. If our radicalized Arab neighbors in Gaza were to make the decision to face the future with dignity and hope and to build a bright future for their children, we would embrace them and help them. It could happen.

Though never at war with us, the Emirates did not have diplomatic relations with us. But they decided to look to the future- to build a better future for themselves and finally, to build a future that includes us. When we visited in December, we found a warm welcome from people who see us as their cousins, all relatives of our father Abraham.

Israel does not want any innocents to suffer, not Jews, not Israeli Muslims, Christians, Druze, Circassians- and not the citizens of Gaza. That is why before any large action targeting the terror structures, the citizens of Gaza are warned and told to leave the premises.

Whoever says the people in Gaza are suffering- are right, but it is their own government, Hamas, that oppresses them. They cannot rebel because they know what the consequences will be for them and their families. If the UN, if the world, really cared about them, they would assist in freeing them from their oppressive government.

So while I sit in my closet (yes, my sealed room is my closet) and receive whatsapp photos of my grandchildren sitting in their sealed rooms, I wait for the day when people will understand that this is not a matter of who’s right- it’s a matter of people who want to live their lives (us) and people who want us dead (them).

Eliezer Bar-Ad Z”L

Today marks shloshim, 30 days since Eli’s untimely death. It is very hard to believe that he is no longer with us.

I first met Eli shortly after I moved to Modiin in the spring of 1998. He was one of the first people I met here. With his friendly manner and contagious smile, he was immediately likable and as time passed, I got to know him better and better. He and my husband became fast friends, and whenever they were together there were deep discussions and lots of laughter. Eli had a smile that lit up the room. He was active, curious, interested in everything. He loved serving as a volunteer for the local police and would stop by our house on many shabbatot when he’d go to the station to see what was happening. He was always full of enthusiasm, and excitement.

People in Modiin in the Anglo community knew him and everyone felt his warmth and kindness and enjoyed being around him. He taught English in local schools and enjoyed his interactions with his students. He loved to teach and he loved to learn.

After his wife passed away, he came one day to our house and asked if I would give him my sister’s telephone number. Of course I did! The two of them couldn’t have been a better match. When Eli and Vicki were together there was lightness and happiness. I never saw him smile as much as he did during the times he and Vicki were together. Months later he came to our house and explained that since our parents were no longer alive, he could not ask them for her hand in marriage, but since I was the older sister, he could ask me.

Of course I said yes. It was obvious that they would be very happy together.

We went with them to make arrangements for the wedding- and what a wedding it was! It was so very happy with very special flower girls and a juggler who put on a great act and amazing music from a Dixieland band. And most important, our family embraced their Uncle Eli!!

Eli and Vicki made the most of their time together- traveling to Canada and the US, India (twice), Crete, Germany, England, and Austria. We were with them on a couple of their trips and Eli seemed to enjoy every minute of them. He was particularly enthralled by a little girl in the Tibetan Children’s Village in Dharamshala, India, who took him by the hand to show him where she slept.

On many shabbatot, Eli and Vicki would come to have lunch with us. His eyes sparkled as he looked at Vicki- as did hers when she looked back at him. They were always together- a couple, a team- and their love for one another and their happiness was always evident.

All of us will miss Eli, that is certain, but for my sister, the loss is beyond words. I pray that she will find comfort in the memories they made together and in the knowledge that the time they spent together was the happiest time of his life.

 

 

 

It’s not over

Friends, all of us are tired of this Covid thing. It’s been going on way too long. There are little people we need to hug. There are big people we need to hug. There are places we want to go, friends we want to see. Enough with the frightening statistics! Enough with the distancing! ENOUGH!!!!

But wishing it away isn’t working. And pretending it’s over is actually prolonging it. All of us who’d hoped that by summer things would ease up are still sitting at home. Part of the reason is that people are not being careful. Good people, people I respect, are wearing their masks on their mouth, but not their nose or on their nose but not their mouth. They are getting too close to each other.

Because this virus can’t be seen or sensed, we think that we and our family and friends are clean, uninfected- but this is an insidious, wily virus that sneaks its way into people, unrecognized until it begins to do battle with us. For some people, it seems there are no discernible symptoms, but this nasty virus can attack parts of the body so stealthily that harm is done before it is detected.

And the news media- even they are tired of this. Remember in the beginning there were heart-wrenching stories of people becoming very ill or dying from Covid-19? That’s still happening, but they are tired of reporting. If we don’t see it on the news or hear it, then it must be rare, we think.

Friends, it isn’t over. There is even reason to believe, say some, that it is getting worse. Guard your lives and those of the people you love- for yourself, for them, and for all of us. This will pass eventually- let’s at least do our part.

Life in the time of CoRONA #4

I want to write about something that left me speechless, so it may be a bit difficult.

First I have to reassure my children (read “jailers”) that I took every possible precaution and made sure not to be in any danger. Remember, one of my finer qualities is paranoia.

We realized that we were missing a very few things, so I got into my car and drove to the mall (about 1 kilometer from our house.) I put on my gloves (I took 3 pairs of gloves for this mission) and pressed the button to take the ticket at the parking lot.

I headed straight for the pharmacy where I had heard they had a supply of the N95 masks. They also had cleaning sheets impregnated with bleach and thermometers. I purchased what we needed. In the pharmacy was one cashier and me.

The mall was empty of people. The escalators were not running. Aside from the pharmacies (I only saw one, but I am certain the other was open too), the supermarket, and a health food store, everything was closed. It was silent.

I stopped at the supermarket – to purchase that all important granulated garlic- there were perhaps 10 people spread over a huge area and spots on the floor near the checkout counters instructing people to stand on them in order to keep a safe distance. Everyone I saw was wearing gloves- most were wearing masks too. Of course once I purchased the masks, I was wearing one also.

No one spoke except the checkout clerks at the pharmacy and the supermarket. They were friendly and helpful.

But the truth was, I had entered a completely alternate reality.

We have traveled a lot- to many different countries. We are not surprised that people have different customs and folkways- but this was so very different from everything else I have ever experienced. It is as if the life has been sucked out of us and we are going through the motions like people on a treadmill who walk and walk and get nowhere.

I know- I firmly believe- that what we are doing is preserving life and it is necessary and important.

But it feels so weird.

Life in the time of CoRONA

Although people are posting endlessly on Facebook, much of what they write is lost after the first day or two. It occurs to me that what we on this planet are experiencing is so different from what any of us have experienced before, that sharing information, thoughts, ideas, feelings- might be helpful and I welcome input.

I’ll start by saying that awareness of this virus only began for me as something vague and unrelated to me. Although I have visited China many times and have some wonderful Chinese friends, I never visited Wuhan. I do remember feeling sad that the Chinese people were going through this.

A couple of days before we left for our most recent tour to India, I received a call asking if I was available to lead a tour to Australia and New Zealand because the assigned guide was unable to go. The tour was to begin on the same day as our India tour. Of course it was impossible, but subsequently we found out that the tour had been cancelled because the cruise on which participants were scheduled to sail was cancelled.

By the time we came back from India on February 24, people were already talking about the virus having spread and indeed, when we arrived in Cochin a few days earlier, all of us were checked for fever.

It wasn’t until the quarantines began that I really became aware of the extent of the contagion. The week they began quarantines for people arriving from specific countries, I had one son and his children arriving from Bulgaria, one son from the US, and one son from Romania. Two of my grandchildren were quarantined- one had arrived after a visit to Italy and one from Austria. Then came the mandatory quarantines for everyone arriving in the country. When they announced no gatherings of more that 5000 people, then 1000 people then 100 people, the situation became more and more a serious matter.

Just last week we attended a concert; this week, we wouldn’t think of it.

The strangest thing for me is that this is literally worldwide. There is no place to go. All of us living on this beautiful planet are sharing this experience.

Here is what I have observed:

Disbelief- there are people who are sure this is all media hype. How sad that the media have so distorted the truth in the past that people can’t believe them.

Wishful thinking- “It’ll be fine. No one will get hurt”

Compliance- We should just listen to the folks who know more than we do about this. (Respect for education and experience)

Kindness – Granted HS age kids can’t stand to have nothing to do, but the offers to run errands, babysit, tutor, walk dogs, etc. are heart warming.

We are in a new world now. When I was taught family therapy I learned that when there is a crisis, given proper supports, a system will reorganize itself at a higher level of functioning.

Let’s hope that is what happens in our world….

You are invited to join a discussion with only three ground rules:

  1. No politics (no mention of political parties or politicians)
  2. No foul language
  3. No insults

Let me hear from you!

Travels with my grandchildren

My husband and I travel a lot as tour managers, mostly to exotic places, but it is a different kind of tour that I want to tell you about…

When we first started traveling, our tours were almost exclusively to China. By the second trip, our oldest granddaughter started asking me if I could pack her in my suitcase and take her with me. Imagine her surprise when in 2007, a year before the Olympics in Beijing, there was a tour that was ridiculously inexpensive, and I decided to take her along.

We were fortunate that on the tour were several other girls in her generation- one a year younger and the others a couple of years older.

We spent 11 fun-filled days in Beijing. We learned together, laughed together, and had all sorts of adventures. It was a trip of a lifetime for me (and maybe for her…)

A couple of years later, a grandson mentioned in his Bar Mitzvah speech that he liked the fact we traveled all over and, by the way, he was available at the end of June. He planted a seed in our heads and we couldn’t ignore it. What about taking him somewhere? At that time there was a kosher cruise company with reliable kashrut supervision and so we took him, his brother, a boy cousin, the cousin’s twin sister, and two other girl cousins on a short cruise on the Mediterranean. I shared a room with the 3 girls and my husband shared a room with the 3 boys. We traveled to Turkey, Greece, and Cyprus. Both we and the children had a great time. The children enjoyed being with their cousins and discovering new places. They loved bargaining in local shops and realized that one of the boys was an expert bargainer and he became spokesman for all of them. They climbed on statues, took photos, shopped and laughed the entire time.

One grandson did not have a passport when it was his turn, so my husband took him on a tour through northern Israel while I was away on a group tour.

Well, now that we had established the practice of taking the children on tours after Bar and Bat Mitzvah, we took two boys, brothers, to Barcelona; three girls, cousins, to Amsterdam; three girls, cousins, to Venice; two boys, cousins, to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands; and two boys, cousins, to India.

All of these tours had one thing in common- we got to spend real quality time with our grandchildren. We enjoyed traveling with them, watching them learn and experience new things, and just listening to them and learning who they were in an atmosphere of zero pressure. When else could I learn of random thoughts and ideas or hear stories that lasted an hour or more? But as we walked along a shoreline or across a desert island or through a mountain village, there was plenty of time and no interruptions.

After each trip we make a photo book for the travelers that will help cement the experience. I would say that these experiences are wonderful for the children and surely they enjoy them and talk about them, they connect on a new level with their cousins, and the tours give us a common frame of reference, but the most important aspect of it for me is to really get to know and appreciate these precious grandchildren. If you’re a grandparent, treat the grandchildren; you’ll end up treating yourself!

I’m offended

Do you want to know what offends me? People who are offended. By pretty much everything they don’t agree with. And people who therefore want to tell me what I may and may not say.

In the olden days, if someone found something offensive he/she might deal with it directly by informing the person that it was hurtful and having an honest exchange with the other person. If the “offender” were not someone who was open to speaking about it, then the alternative was to remove one’s self from the area.

For a couple of seasons, I watched a TV show that I felt was intelligent and entertaining. And then, it began putting forth political dogma that I didn’t agree with. When I realized that watching it was making me feel agitated, I stopped watching. I did NOT write the network and insist it be taken off the air. I am certain that many people enjoy the show and many people agree with the point of view it is advocating. And that’s fine with me. I don’t need people to be silenced because I don’t agree with them.

Years ago I was with a group that did the NASA exercise https://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/nasa-exercise . Like most groups, what we found was that a free and open discussion led to decisions by consensus that were superior to decisions made by any individual. Open exchange of thoughts and opinions strengthens groups and societies.

When any point of view is shut down, it impoverishes discussion and limits knowledge. With the exception of calls for panic or violence, all speech should be permitted and if one finds it offensive, one can take responsibility for one’s self and remove one’s self from the situation.

Oh, and if you don’t like what I said, please ignore it (once you’ve considered it.)

Israel Independence Day- The defining of Israel’s unity and values

I am not fond of crowds. I also am not fond of cold- and last night it was cold. So, as we have done now for many years, we watched the official Independence Day celebrations on TV, at home.

We are not connected to a cable company and have no television, so I took my laptop and connected it to our projector and found the ceremony being broadcast over the internet and we had an instant wide-screen TV on the back wall of our living room.

As I watched the ceremony, particularly the lighting of the 12 torches, for me the highlight each year, I became acutely aware of the fact that this ceremony is not just about honoring the people who light the torches-through surely we do- and not just about honoring our country- though surely we do- but about defining what are the values that lie at the core of who we are in this country.

Yuli (Yoel) Edelstein, former Soviet prisoner, now chairman of the Knesset, our parliament, spoke about aspiring to goals and not giving up, achieving the impossible (something which he personally has done) and exhorting Israelis to keep going, keep working, keep dreaming.

And, as one by one the torches were lit we saw examples of people who faced huge personal challenges who not only survived, but transformed themselves as a result- doing deeds of kindness for others, dedicating themselves to working to make the country and the world a better place for everyone.

My dear cousins visiting the Kotel, July 2017

We heard about the unity of the people, sharing generously with each other. We saw the recognition of all of our citizens, Jews and non-Jews – all of whom work to make our lives better. We saw respect for others as the audience was with those who went off-script and saw how the audience smiled and cheered and stood to applaud.

I watched in awe. This amazing little country has achieved so much in such a short time in the face of such enmity. We have lost precious sons and daughters and fathers and mothers to war and terror, and yet we continue to strive and work and help each other like one big family.

I realized that this ceremony is a yearly public affirmation of what the country’s values are, what unites us. I feel so proud and privileged to be a part of this beautiful country. And I am happy that each year on Independence Day we publicly affirm our values and renew our devotion to our fellow citizens and our country and to making the world a better place.

Old City, Jerusalem

Welcome, little one!

Yesterday we entered a new phase of life. Our exquisite granddaughter, Elisheva, and her wonderful husband, Elad, became the parents of a darling baby boy.

When I think of the changes this birth brought about, it’s almost staggering. For the baby, of course, it’s the beginning of what we pray will be a beautiful life- filled with love and warmth and devotion- filled with happiness and light, filled with exploring and learning. For his parents, it is a step into a totally new life- of being a parent, of having the joy, and yes, the responsibility, of caring for a small helpless person who will provide them with surprises on a daily basis as he grows and develops and forms his own personality. (I always think of babies as surprise packages that we never fully know until close to adulthood.) For the new grandparents, they too are moving into a new phase of having a new person to love, to spoil, to smile at and play with. And for us, becoming great-grandparents- oh my goodness- how frighteningly awesome is that!!!

We pray that this new little one and his parents, grandparents, and yes, we and his other great-grandparents too will share many many warm and loving experiences and that we all value the miracle that we have been granted.