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.

“…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.


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.


Click on pictures for full images!

Catching up

If you read parts 1,2, & 3 of the adventure and wonder why I stopped writing, it’s because I have relocated the saga to the travel blog and added pictures when relevant. Chapter 5 in written and 6 is on its way. For anyone wondering about this question… It was a fantastic trip and even with all of the unscheduled adventures, our travelers had a great time, virtually untouched by tension and so did we (although not untouched by tension.) By the time I was home for 2 weeks, I was ready to go back and do it again– that’s how much fun it was… and you only can truly understand if you come along with me next time (hint, hint).

But now here we are in the little town of Modi’in (population >70K) for Hanuka and today we are anticipating the gathering of most of the clan– some members are not feeling well and some are away. Today is also an awful day in terms of air pollution and people have been urged to stay inside.

I have a lot of art supplies, a Hanuka video (“Lights”) and a few dozen latkes. Mostly, I am hoping that the little people get to spend time with their cousins and aunts and uncles.

Across from our house as you look to the right is a hill that some believe was the ancient city of Modi’in. It has artifacts from back to the Stone Age and ruins from several eras in between. At the top of the mountain is a water tower that has a series of columns that look like torches around it. For the last couple of years, they have lit the tower at holiday times with pastel lights. This year, nine of the columns have large lights on them that are lit according to the night of Hanuka. It’s quite impressive!

I wish all of you a wonderful bright Hanuka– and as a gift to yourself, a trip to China or Vietnam/Cambodia in 2010 is a pretty good idea!

Rona & Aaron’s Excellent Adventure, Part 3

Although I was of college age when the Vietnam War was taking place and people were demonstrating, some of them obsessing about every day’s battles, I was oblivious. I remained oblivious even when I got married and moved to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where my husband was serving as a chaplain in the US Army. Sure, I knew that we had guys being shipped out to ‘Nam, but I didn’t really pay much attention to the news, being somewhat self-absorbed. So, all I knew of Hanoi was that it was where the bad guys were and there was a woman who they called, “Hanoi Hannah” broadcasting nasty, morale-breaking things to our guys

Well, the Hanoi that I have come to know and, yes, love over the last couple of years is a bustling, busy city filled with interesting sights and sounds. During our day there we went to visit the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh. It is a tasteful building into which people enter after passing through full security and leaving their cameras checked. People file in a single line, taking off their hats, walking silently into the building , ascending the stairs to the left, turning right and then right again and filing past Ho Chi Minh who is lit dimly and appears to still be alive. We walked the length of the coffin, then turning left, across the front and then turning left once again along the other side, filing out of the room, making two rights, and then going down the stairs. Something about the silence and the dim lighting with the soldiers standing at attention made the experience feel very dignified. Although he was a formidable foe, in the way he is revered in his own country, there is a sense of honor. Always depicted in photos and statuary as being with the children, he is seen as “Uncle Ho” who loved the children.

His tastes were simple. When he gained power, he was entitled to use the magnificent palatial edifice erected by the French when they were the colonial power. Instead, he lived in three sparse rooms for a period of several years until those around him explained to him that it was not an honor to the country for their leader to be so humbly housed. Then they built him a house on stilts, characteristic of Vietnamese architecture in the countryside. It also was quite humble, with just two rooms upstairs– an office and a bedroom– and eating and reception space exposed to the elements beneath it. It was fashioned of fine wood and is very attractive, but not at all the type of home one would expect for the head of a large country. Vietnam is now, by some estimates, a country of 87 million people!

On the grounds of the complex that housed his two homes and the palace, there was a pond where carp were raised. He would clap his hands and the carp would come to the surface to eat. There were also trees that bore fruit and the people of Hanoi were permitted to come and pick fruit.

Adjacent to Ho Chi Minh’s home is the One Pillar Pagoda, an interesting structure with a similarly interesting story. Around the entire area are beautifully landscaped gardens.

After leaving the Ho Chi Minh complex, we went to the Temple of Literature. It was there in the early 11th Century that Vietnam’s first university was founded. You can read more about it here. As our group walked through the front gate, the woman who heads up our operations in Vietnam and Cambodia arrived to talk to me.

The group proceeded with the local guide and my husband. I stayed behind to talk to her and to try and work out our plans. She had to have me sign permission for her people to pick up the luggage when it arrived from Hong Kong. It was due to arrive on the same flight as we had arrived on the day before. That meant that it would likely not be ready for pick up until at least 5 p.m. and with traffic, getting it in time for our people to be able to repack — getting out their winter clothing and putting it in their small luggage– in anticipation of our weekend train trip up north was problematic. I also was worried by the fact that she told me they only had paperwork on 11 of the 14 suitcases because I had not given them my baggage stickers until after they had done the paperwork– so although they had stickers for 14 suitcases, they only had paperwork for 11! I told her that it was really important to get specifically those bags because we had packed a substantial amount of food in them including our challot for shabbat and other essential food supplies that we needed to take with us up north. She said, “If there is food in your suitcase you will not get it.” I said, “I won’t get the food?” She said, “You won’t get the suitcase; they will just not send anything.”

She left with the papers. I left with the worry. But would they find the food? If so, would they send the suitcase? and also, why was it that on that Thursday, everywhere we went we saw brides? The answers to these questions (well, to a couple of them) and some pictures of the brides in the next exciting episode.

Rona & Aaron’s Excellent Adventure, Part 2

So we were airborne. Of course the luggage could not have made the flight. We had run over, under, around, and through and the baggage simply could not have been identified and transported that fast. It was all right. There would be another flight that night? the next morning? We’d be fine.

And after about two hours, we landed in Hanoi. We walked to the waiting area where we were met by our local guide. I gave the guide all of our passports, the visa application forms with photos attached, and the visa approval form we had received from the government of Vietnam. And then we waited. And waited. And waited. We could see the office where the visas were being given, see passports opened and visas affixed, but our guide was elusive. So we waited. Did I mention we waited?

After about an hour, she finally came back and we distributed the passports into which had been pasted the visas. Then everyone went through passport control and we met on the other side.

Our guide said we had to go to the lost luggage desk. Reminding her that our luggage was not lost, but tardy, she explained that unless we filed a claim for lost luggage, the luggage would not be transferred to Hanoi. I was to gather up all of the baggage claim checks which they then pasted onto a sheet of paper. Some of my people were hesitant to give up their only proof of every having had a bag, but were reassured when they were told that I would get a copy of the baggage tag page. We were missing 14 pieces of luggage. We had found only 11 baggage claim checks. No one would own up as to having additional ones. They filled out the paperwork only identifying 11 pieces of luggage. As they handed me the paperwork, I opened my ticket holder and found that I was the hold-out. There were the three baggage claim tags. I gave them to the people behind the counter and they copied the sheet for me.

Now about two hours later than we had anticipated, it was time for dinner and everyone was hungry and tired and so we decided to go directly to the restaurant where we would eat rather than to the hotel. We called and made sure that the four Swiss travelers and the one British traveler were brought to the restaurant to meet us.

Finally on the bus, we made our acquaintance with the Hanoi traffic jam– the type that puts everything at a standstill. The major bridge across the Red River was being repaired and construction materials and dug up road surface narrowed it to one lane. But we told people about Vietnam and about Hanoi and most of them were just happy to be finally out of the airport and on our way.

We arrived at the restaurant. It is the “forest” restaurant and it is beautifully decorated with objects that represent the history and folklore of Vietnam. Set in a garden, the wooden building was adorned with cloth and metal and wood wall hangings. The wait staff was dressed in native garb of one of Vietnam’s 54 ethnic minorities. It was beautiful.

What was not beautiful was the fact that our knives, cutting boards, and cooking utensils were in our baggage which was currently homeless in Hong Kong. So there we were with our Hanoi equipment (dishes, silverware, one large pot, and a wooden spatula) unable to prepare dinner.

We sent the local guide out to buy a knife. She had to take a motorcycle ride to get it and meanwhile, the chef was bristling as he wanted to kill the fish already so that he could cook them. Yes, you see when we cook in Vietnam, we need to see the fish whole and intact. So, often the fish are still alive when we meet them. These fish had something of a reprieve as we waited for the knife to appear.

In the end, we ate dinner, enjoyed getting to know each other, and although our luggage was still not with us, we all settled into our hotel that night for some much needed sleep.

Tomorrow: Hanoi as most people never imagined it and what ever happened to the luggage…

Rona and Aaron’s Excellent Adventure– Part 1

We begin our adventure at Ben Gurion Airport. Our travelers arrived so promptly that by 5 minutes after the announced gathering time having received their tickets and bags and hats and information packets, all were in line to get their boarding passes This was surely a portent of a flawless trip!

Several of the travelers asked that I show the people at the ticketing counter the letter of visa approval we had gotten from the government of Vietnam because apparently without it we could not board our flight. One woman had renewed her passport after the visa was applied for and since her passport number didn’t match the one on our approval form, there was a question as to whether she would be able to enter the country. I reassured the El Al personnel that there would not be a problem.

OK, one minor glitch… I called our office and they conveyed the new number to our representative in Hanoi.

We boarded the plane ready for our 11 hour flight to Hong Kong. Our flight to Hanoi had been scheduled for only one hour from our landing time in Hong Kong. I had asked the operations person at our office if that wasn’t much too short a time to get from one plane to another in Hong Kong. He told me that it was a code share and as such, the second flight would wait for us and the two gates would be adjacent. What he didn’t tell me was that he was leaving the company and that he wasn’t really concerned with any fallout if things didn’t go as planned. He was already gone from the company before we left for Vietnam.

As we sat down, we noticed that the TV monitors in front of our seats were registering error messages. As the doors of the plane remained open and we stayed on the ground, we began to realize that they were trying to get the system fixed before we took off. In fact, the system did get fixed and we left not more than about 25 minutes late.

Of course, we likely had lost our place in line to take off and so by the time we were in the air, we were about 40 minutes late.

Realizing this, I began to be very concerned. It was not just that there was not another Vietnam Airlines flight to Hanoi that night, it was the fact that at the same time as we were in transit, so were four people from Switzerland and one from England, all of whom were to arrive in Hanoi about an hour before we were due. They were being met at the airport and taken to the hotel, but if we did not make it to Hanoi that night, they would be left with nothing to eat until we arrived as they all kept kosher and there is no kosher food available in Hanoi. The only Chabad in Vietnam is in Ho Chi Minh City — Saigon.

I began fairly early in the flight speaking with some of the flight personnel. Some said, “Oh no; you’ll never make it.” Others said, “You’ll be fine.” Still another said that when we get close to Hong Kong, they will call Vietnam Airlines to see if they would wait for us.

And so passed the night.

About two hours from Hong Kong, our projected arrival was 10 minutes before the connecting flight’s takeoff. I was never told they would wait for us. I was, however, still under the impression that the gates were adjacent and if we could only get our people out of the plane first, we might have a chance. When I asked if they could just ask the other people on the flight to remain seated and to let us get off the plane first, I didn’t get an answer.

About 10 minutes before landing, long after the seat belt lights had been lit and the tray tables returned to the backs of the seats and all of the seats in an upright position, I was told to gather my people quickly and bring them up to the first class section. Amazingly, my people were incredibly responsive and in seconds they had gathered their carry-ons from their overhead compartments and joined me in the first class section. (Parenthetically: it’s definitely the way to fly).

When we landed, we got out first. Waiting for us was a lovely lady from Vietnam Airlines with a big sign with our names and she ran ahead of us, leading us to the check-in counter where we quickly received our boarding passes.

Then the fun began.

The Hong Kong Airport is more a city than an airport. It is huge. It is the third largest airport in the world after Dubai and Beijing with a terminal area of 570,000 square meters. Our gates were not adjacent.

Three Vietnam Airlines workers ran with us across aisles, down escalators, onto a train, up elevators, across more halls and aisles, through concourses, and finally to the gate. As we didn’t all fit on the same elevator, my husband and I ended up running separately from the other travelers. Apparently our person was a faster runner than theirs because when we got onto the plane, we realized that none of our people had made it yet. The plane was already 10 to 15 minutes beyond takeoff time. I didn’t want to sit down because I was worried our people would not make it onto the flight in time and the plane would take off without them. In a short time, however, the first of them showed up and after a few minutes we were missing only three. As I begin to make my way up the aisle, the last three boarded. In a few minutes, the captain apologized for the delay and we were airborne.

Freed from the earth, but not out of the woods…

Off we go…

In a few hours we will we taking off on what we hope will be a fabulous trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. There always are last minute things to do, remember, take, eliminate, take care of, but somehow it all gets done and I am sure that we will be ready when it is time to leave.

Although we will probably have internet access while away, we are likely to be too busy to make use of it, so I will leave you with the URL of my travel blog and there you can see where we’ll be in two days and also have a chance to look at some other sights in Vietnam and Cambodia (you can search by category).


Bratislava, Slovakia

I started the travel kosher blog to post information, anecdotes, and pictures of some of the places we visit on the Shai Bar Ilan tours to China and to Vietnam & Cambodia. One of my readers commented on one of my pictures and suggested I begin posting links to photos of my travels on some photo blogs and last week, the theme “mellow yellow” got me to thinking about any pictures I had that featured the color yellow. Well, there was one and it happened to be in Bratislava, Slovakia. I decided to post a short article with photos about Bratislava. But the more I looked at it on my China and Vietnam page, the less I liked it, so here, for your pleasure, is that post, moved over to here to yet further confuse anyone who wants to know what my blog is about. I think the answer to that question should be “whatever I’m thinking of at the moment.”

One of the most interesting memorials I have seen is the one they have in Bratislava where the image of the synagogue that was destroyed is etched into a granite wall- appearing and disappearing, there and not there at the same time.

The Bratislava synagogue

The Bratislava synagogue

Of course the city itself is very beautiful and has some fine architecture and points of interest. There is the Bratislava Castle which has a wonderful museum inside with works of art, visiting exhibits, and some wonderful furniture from the art nouveau/ art deco era.

Bratislava Castle

Bratislava Castle

and the Nový Most (New Bridge) across the Danube River

Nový Most

Nový Most

There are lovely walking areas in the old town.Walking area

Old Town, Bratislava

Old Town, Bratislava

At the time we visited, Bratislava was constructing a light rail line and we walked past the construction which I thought was the highlight of the trip. Here’s what it looked like:

Light rail construction

Light rail construction

and here is my favorite picture from Bratislava.



See other Mellow Yellow pictures here

Giving birth

Can you believe it? At my age? But it’s true. My incredibly talented doula has enabled me to give life to a new blog that is devoted to information and experiences related to travel to China, Vietnam, and Cambodia. It can be found here. This is not a replacement for this blog. It is an additional blog. Here at, I will continue to talk about life in Israel, parenting, spirituality, emotional health, and family life.

Meanwhile, here is a picture of last week’s Bar Mitzvah boy, my grandson, Daniel Michelson, juggling torches for the first time– at his Bar Mitzvah party.

Daniel juggling torches

Daniel juggling torches