The long & winding road to Masada with Hummus

The Judean desert overlooking the Dead Sea is home to an ancient site in Israel; Masada. Anything on the World Heritage List fascinates me. It’s true. Why am I in Israel? Being in Israel brings me to my family on my mother’s side, the home of the Jewish people, and a country that not only has the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea & The Dead Sea plus pretty mountains and a bonus of yummy falafel and hummus.

Sitting in a bus is relaxing as we drive in the desert since I don’t have to worry about directions. I feel my breath slow down. When we physically don’t move, our minds become still. I don’t need any mantra or teacher or technique. Our minds were given as tools to serve us not to be our master. I recognize my breath in broader terms than simply respiration. As I slow my breath down, I close my eyes remembering the story of Masada.

It’s a great, awesome yet tragic story. Not to be flippant but if nine hundred sixty Jews committed suicide so the Romans wouldn’t force them into slavery, the least I can do is climb the snake path. You can either take the snake path, which is eight hundred thirteen steps, ( I love minutiae) and was the original and only way the ancient inhabitants walked or you can take the cable car to the summit. The 1st century Roman-Jewish historian Joseph Flavius wrote of the snake path “And one of these ways is called the Serpent, as resembling that animal in its narrowness and perpetual windings and he that would walk along it must first go on one leg and then the other; there is also nothing but destruction in case your feet slip, for on each side there is a vastly deep chasm and precipice, sufficient to quell the courage of everybody by the terror it infuses into the mind.”

You’d never see something like this in America without rail guards. Frankly I think it’s completely safe and I doubt anyone is going to fall. I have the fear chromosome. I just refuse to let it run me & my life. Honestly the walk was challenging but it’s worth the pain. I had an injury that I’ve never been quite the same from and whenever I attempt to do things like this, I pay for it dearly. In my head I’m still able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

I go off into a fantasy where I see Jewish people climbing this path and I hear them singing my favorite songs from Hebrew school. Hevenu Shalom Aleichem which means we brought peace onto you. Don’t worry if you don’t get the first verse. Second verse is exactly the same. I always liked mantra because I was trying to quiet my thoughts. I just didn’t know that it had a name back then.

I wish I had shorts on instead of jeans. I start to remove my layers of clothing as I begin the steep climb. It’s just me and my favorite MJ Off The Wall t-shirt all the way to the crown.

I was nearing the top as a group of four was coming down the stairs. A woman, noticing my obvious discomfort says “take some water”  in a tone that is part stern teacher and part loving mother. “I don’t have any” I replied. “Honey, give her some water” she said to her husband in a tone that was not negotiable. For a split second I saw a “why do i want to give up my water to a complete stranger when I still have to climb this entire mountain down the hill” look in his eyes. Without missing a beat, he handed me his Arrowhead water bottle. “Keep the bottle” she said my discomfort so apparent anyone could see. They continued their descent down the mountain.  I leaned my right hand on the mountain as I was shaky, stopped and drank the entire bottle and was thankful for this person reaching out to me. I would have done the same. That is if I had any water.  I love when we see each other.

I reach the summit. I feel the light of god’s presence which swallows my loneliness whole. As the group around me chit chats with each other I am off with my camera recording what I see. The force of holiness is looming in every crevice in this all at once sacred and god forsaken spot.

I have a meeting with G-d. I ask if he can take away my mother’s pain and sorrow from living in a home for the aged for thirty one years. I further make a request to remove my sister’s hurt and anguish because she’s the only one who visited my mother most all those decades. Please G-d grant me acceptance of my mother’s life. I beg him. I have no choice but to feel everything I have been running from.”Sorry but it’s all yours” he says. Mine’s so big he can’t make any arrangements. It’s karma that belongs to me because I choose her to be my mother so I could learn forgiveness. Who was it that said no matter where you go there you are? I flew all the way to Israel and I still can’t get away from me.

Freud defined neurosis as the separation of self. If I’m a child of G-d then the love is inside of me. It has been all along. It’s so simple but we mess it up. Whenever love disappears we become fearful. Fear is to love just as darkness is to light. Anytime your mind goes south, it’s fear that the love is gone. G-d didn’t create fear. We did. If it’s not love, it’s an illusion. Speaking of illusion, next stop is the Dead Sea. It doesn’t seem like it could be real.

The Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth. But the translation is not accurate. Yam Ha-Melah, means the Salt Sea. It’s the lowest place on the earth, 33.7 % salt and eighty six times saltier than the ocean. It’s so dense you can’t really swim rather you float. You can see my view from the Israeli side looking across to Jordan.

As I sit silently in the bus as we make our way back to the bus station in Tel Aviv I begin to think of my father and what it took for him to leave Poland after losing his entire family during the Holocaust, seven siblings, his mother, father and both sets of grandparents. No one. He was completely alone. He didn’t speak English, not a dollar in his pocket and he boarded a ship to make his way to America. He had nowhere to go simply because he was a Jew. Out of nowhere I feel the emotion well up inside of me like a wave. I have no family on my father’s side because he is Jewish. That seems insane. I’m in Israel because I feel connected to the people here. There’s an unspoken understanding we have. Even if I feel as if I don’t belong sometimes; which I struggle with less and less; in Israel I am part of a group.

I moved to Israel thirty years ago to deal with my feelings and emotions surrounding my mother. Now I am back in Israel and am thinking of my father and what a survivor he is. In the dictionary there is a photo of my father next to survivor. He worked a nine to five job for thirty years at Hughes Aircraft as an aircraft inspector. On his lunch hour some days he’d sell porn out of the trunk of his Chevy Nova and/or leather jackets he would buy wholesale. Once a week he’d tell his co-workers to cover for him as he would drive to downtown Los Angeles from Culver City, a half hour drive, to buy clothes second hand which we’d sell every weekend at the swap meet. “These pants are too small.”  someone would say trying on clothes. “They’ll stretch” he’d swiftly reply.  “These pants are too big.” from another.” They’ll shrink.” he’d come back just as quickly. He bought real estate on the side; renting out homes in the San Fernando Valley. My father was raising five children so he had to hustle. His motto of stay hungry kept him working non-stop seven days a week. I never saw my father kick back on a couch on Sunday with a Budweiser can in his hand. He makes most men look like bums my father. He taught me to sell just by watching him. My eyes are so filled with tears now that I can’t see the road anymore. I don’t need to see it. I’m not driving. I’m thinking about a friend that I miss so much that I flew to Israel for the holidays so I wouldn’t have to be at home. I have a tendency to run when I start to feel too much.

I’m noticing the beauty that is in front of me and all around me. G-d created the mountains on either side of the road and the sun is beginning to set as the sky turns a brilliant orange and pink. I have a bag filled with bath salts from The Dead Sea that I purchased to give to a friend along with olive oil to bring a friend because she practically lives on it.  Michael Jackson is singing to me from my iPod and in between the tears from thinking about how inspiring my father is; I am humbled with how blessed I am. I am in Israel, I’m thinking to myself. I have my mother’s family here that I love, friends like Hope and her beautiful family are nearby and I have time to be alone when I need to. When I return home I am going to visit my father. I will call him just to say how are you doing Dad. I have my breath. My life is a blessing and a gift. I’m off to search for the perfect hummus and falafel in Tel Aviv when I get off this bus. And a side of forgiveness.Now we’re talking.

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My father, Holocaust Survivor

My father is a Holocaust survivor. He was never a victim. His unresolved grief and sadness became a catalyst for ambition. His parents were Orthodox Jews who in my fathers’ words “never had money in the bank and lived hand to mouth.” One of eight children, he is the only one to survive in his entire family including his parents and grandparents. His education stopped at the seventh grade when he was taken away from his home by the Germans. They came for his father but my dad talked them out of taking the grandfather I never knew and to take him instead. He was in nine work camps in Poland from the age of fifteen to twenty and suffered from Tuberculosis because of the conditions he was forced to live under.

On the day the Russians came in he heard in Yiddish, “the Russians are coming, the Russians are coming”.When Dernau, the final camp he was in was liberated May 8, 1945, he collapsed at sixty-five pounds.He spent a year in a sanitorium called Marin House, a place mainly for people for Tuberculosis. He would suffer from Asthma and Bronchitis his entire life.I remember when we were driving he’d frequently have to pull over to open his driver’s door, lean his head out and spit.

A self made man, at one time he had eleven homes in the San Fernando Valley. He never spent money he didn’t have. He was street smart and knew how to talk to people. He worked as an aircraft inspector for Hughes Aircraft for thirty years but he always sold something on the side. At lunch time at work guys would line up for leather coats and porn, which he sold out of the trunk of his car. He also went to downtown Los Angeles on his lunch hour where he bought thousands of pairs of seconds of jeans and shirts.When most people were eating lunch, this hour became another way for my father to make money. All his children knew not to call him at work for this reason.I remember him telling us not to call him at work on his lunch hour. We spent the eighties working the swap meets on Saturday and Sundays selling the clothing. I learned how to sell from watching him.

My father married twice. After his second wife died from a brain tumor when he was eighty years old, he sold his home in Los Angeles and moved to Las Vegas, a city he always loved. He has a full time, live in caretaker.

He is a proud, resilient man. Even though he suffered a stroke and a heart attack, he continues. He has a spiritual outlook on life and believed it was because of G-d that he survived the work camps. He told me recently that he thinks he has ten years left.

My photos show him at home, in casinos and at dinner. His capacity to go on is unlike any person I have ever known. I remember when I was a little girl and my mother went into intensive care.He said “Hannah, you have to control your emotions and not let them control you”. He is an inspiration to me to keep going especially when my emotions get the best of me.

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