Cross Country #1
Barry: "What should we name our van?" We optimistically decided to call our 1990, 116,000-mile vintage Oldsmobile "Van Gogh." Goldie, being very Goldie, performed an appropriate ritual. We hung our traveling mezuzah on the rear view mirror next to the green throw beads from our trip to New Orleans. We created a little bed on the second row of seats using sleeping bags and pillows, loaded up the rear with miscellaneous camping equipment, gifts for friends we were visiting, enough clothes for three months and enough books for a lifetime.
As long as I can remember, I have always wanted to do a cross country driving trip. Goldie had done one as a teenager on a USY tour, though judging from the stories she has told me the adolescent scenes in the bus distracted from the best nature had to offer outside - like the Grand Canyon. Her subsequent trips around the country were almost always work-related, such as attending meetings and conventions. So she, too, has not seen much of the country.
Goldie gets bored easily and the thought of watching five hundred miles of Nebraskan scenery pass her by is as intimidating to her as the thought of flying in a little plane is to me. So to keep her occupied, we packed a laptop computer and enough work to keep any executive busy for six months. Besides grading school papers, preparing workshops, she is also hoping to write a book.
Our other goals are for Goldie to visit Jewish communities along the way, doing meaningful work there, seeing if there is a community that we would like to settle down in one day and finally, but most importantly for me, visiting relatives and children and grandchildren (Jason and Natalia Aristides in Seattle.)
I will be doing a Gestalt training workshop in Cleveland, Goldie a Project Kesher workshop in Chicago. We will be taking a two week environmental education cruise to Alaska with Mark, one of Goldie's sons. His bar mitzvah is soon and his Torah portion is Noah, so this we he will get a deeper understanding of creation as part of his b-mitzvah year. We will also be teaching at a week long Jewish renewal conference in Oregon.
So I will be realizing my dream of jumping into my van and driving carefree cross country. Goldie has embellished it a little and no doubt I will be returning suntanned, fit and ready for a vacation.
Cross Country #2
Barry: I’d had the van checked out by the dealer and his pronouncement was "it’s perfect, Doc!” reminding me of many a patient in our community expiring after being given a "clean bill of health." The heating contractor was much more positive, finding a $500 leak in the boiler.
Goldie: I laughed when my Barry said that to break up the ride to Warren, Ohio he’d organized an overnight in Pottsville. We would be going only 35 miles north, to visit good friends in this coal mining town. Laughter turned into appreciation of his wisdom as we experienced pure South African hospitality, warmth, humor, total sharing and a peak behind the curtains of life in a town I’d been ready to stereotype as boring.
Barry: Walking on a street lined with mansions of former coal barons and brewery owners and prosperous physicians, I was struck by friendliness of the people. My friend Les Dubowitz waved to or chatted with everyone in a way reminiscent of our walk a few months earlier on Sea Point beach front in South Africa.....only the scenery had changed.
Goldie: Talking to Jean, Les’s wife, I discovered that imprisoned here is a Russian Jew currently on death row for murder....I’d actually consulted on the very case only two weeks earlier. She also shared with me a letter to the editor of a local newspaper from a non-Jewish woman whose son had died when hit in a drunken driving accident. Her note starts with appreciation to the tiny Jewish community for their loving emotional and economic support of her in a time of trauma and loss.
I was struck by the optimism of this community as it shrinks to 50 families and yet is planting a carefully researched biblical garden in the synagogue’s front lawn.
Barry: The dress code in Pottsville is baseball cap; the local vehicle is a 4x4 or truck. This is prime gun territory with hundreds of miles of deer-filled forests, even some bears and only a few miles from the notorious Hegins pigeon shoot (an annual festive occasion where pigeons are released, shot at and when they are only wounded, children run out on the field and break the pigeons’ necks.) Thinking of the tragedy in Colorado, no way these guys are going to give up their guns.
Goldie: Which reminds me of an amazing book Barry found in the garage yesterday. Titled "The History of Berks County" (where we live), written in 1925, it gives a view of how people saw the manifest destiny white America in terms so dramatic to me I must share them. Describing Native Americans it speaks of them as: Savages, Red Skins, who built no monuments, did not improve the land in the way we civilized people have, they leave the land untouched.
Leaving the Dubowitz’s with what South African’s call "padkos" [food for the road] - South African grapes and Provita crackers, we almost immediately drove past the gaping wounds in the earth left by two centuries of mining and more recently strip mining.
Barry: We had to bypass the town of Centralia, Pa, which is largely abandoned because a fire in the coal seams smolders underneath it. The cemetery is the only part of the town that is maintained.
In tiny town of Ashland, PA we were greeted by a sculpture of a woman atop a hill in the center of town. Goldie’s feminist nature was immediately piqued by the rare phenomenon of a public statue of a woman in small town America. This weekend is mother’s day, and this sculpture proved to be an image of Whistler’s mother as portrayed in his famous painting, dedicated to motherhood by the Boys Association of Ashland in 1938.
Settling into the drivers’ seat, Goldie turns the key and says "uh, oh....it’s Van NoGo!" Our affectionately named Van Gogh wouldn’t respond, not even a kvetching of the alternator, nothing. Happily within moments we fixed the loose battery terminal and resisting the urge to call the dealer off we went to visit our family in Warren, Ohio.
We were met by typically wonderful mid western hospitality. Cousins Bernie and Louise Schultz organized a dinner at a local resort and we were joined by a dozen relatives, several of whom came from Cleveland. Goldie shared some stories and we enjoyed getting to know one another.
So tomorrow I go off to Cleveland and the Gestalt Training Center.
Goldie: Time with the family in Warren was just so joyful and interesting. Richard Rose, age 16, taught me about his favorite music genre which discourages drugs and alcohol, he’s very active in his USY [United Synagogue Youth] region and spoke glowingly about Hebrew High School in this area. I know my teenage sons will enjoy meeting him some day, as much as I did today.
So tomorrow I’m off to Chicago to work with Project Kesher at their international gathering in support of Jewish women in areas under economic and political stress. We’ll post again in a few days!
Cross Country #3
Barry: We left the Schultz’s at 6.30 am once again with padkos of South African grapes (the fruit exporter we had met in Cape Town at Ralph and Helen’s must be doing well) apples and strawberries. Bernie was making damn sure we were not going to get lost again he drove ahead of us in his red Volvo sports car - (possibly an indication of some latent wild streak in an otherwise conservative man?) until we were on the highway to Cleveland. On our drive we reflected on this couple whose life revolves around giving to children, community and even a blind elderly relative in Argentina. We thought about their story of a recent trip to Israel to visit their children and grandchildren with four heavy suitcases filled with toys and gifts, two items of hand luggage with their own personal effects. Seems like a metaphor for their priorities.
Louise gave us a genealogy of our family before we left and we plan to share it with our other family members.
The workshop at the gestalt center is titled "The voice of shame." There are about 25 participants, most of them therapists. The first person to speak is a woman with a strong southern accent. She says she is uncomfortable around Jews. Before she is lynched she explains it’s because she so envies our long traditions, family roots and all the Jews she knows have long family genealogies. She’s from Appalachia, and they have no pride in their roots, just want to escape the poverty. Another is a Native American with issues around prejudice.
I just love these coincidences.
It was a mind blowing workshop with lots of new concepts about shame and the role it plays in shaping our connections to others. Everybody was very friendly and I made some good contacts. Two women offered me a place to stay. I declined, choosing instead to indulge myself in my king size bed in the Cleveland Clinic Hotel and watch junk TV without any rabbinic interference. Unfortunately, being the Cleveland clinic, several of the channels are in Arabic.
They have more institutions in one square mile of University Circle in Cleveland than anywhere else in the world. Museums are outstanding, the buildings and gardens are beautiful. Saw a huge exhibition of Diego Garcia paintings, also the actual 13 foot boat in which an Ohioan sailed across the North Atlantic.
With everyone’s good wishes, I set off on a three hundred mile drive to Chicago to join Goldie.
Goldie: (after this we wrote our postings almost always together)
On our way across the country we first stopped in Pottsville, a Pennsylvania coal mining town. One Jewish resident was telling the story of another who had asked the local Imam: "What is your community doing to help Moslems in Serbia?" The gleeful report was that the Imam’s face fell in shame.
Later I met a synagogue leader. Ignoring the former report, I asked her: "What do you think about meeting with leaders of the local mosque and exploring a joint initiative for non-sectarian relief work?" My heart lifted to hear a most affirmative and excited response. To build the possibility of a decent human future it will take such deliberate consciousness to transform ethnocentric impulses into a potential mitzvot.
Despite the dwindling population typical of small Pennsylvania towns, optimism glowed on the synagogue’s front lawn. A biblical garden was being planted, carefully researched and proudly emerging. They are looking for a part-time rabbi or rabbinical student....any takers on this list? A lovely house and very appropriate part-time salary are included; there are fifty hopeful families, growth unlikely.
We stopped briefly near the eerie heat of Centralia, Pennsylvania on our way out of state. Devastated by strip-mining, the town has been evacuated while coal fires burn out of control beneath it. A pristine and carefully kept cemetery meets one at its entrance, testimony to a collectively maintained memory.
The grossly carved coal country-side reminds me of a book from 1935 my husband found in the garage just before we left. In it the writer proclaims something to the effect that "We white men have almost leveled the forests, factories proudly dot the horizon. We have done so much for this great land!"
We stayed our second night in Warren, Ohio with cousins of my husband, whose huge Lithuanian family (via South Africa) spans the globe. They had gathered a dozen of the clan and presented us with an extensively documented family tree and news of family in Argentina whose poverty is being eased by a family campaign.
Some healing work was also needed; it seems shortly after leaving their employ to move to California, the student rabbi who trained in their synagogue committed suicide. Feelings of betrayal, guilt, sadness and despair were shared when they learned of my professional capacity as a seminary dean. They emphasized the importance of psychiatric screening for the rabbinate (mandatory at The Academy for Jewish Religion, where I serve.) I found myself praying for guidance and the ritual work we did together seemed cathartic and healing....I hope so.
The Project Kesher Women’s Exchange International gathering in Chicago for four days was special far beyond my expectations. I can’t forget the women from Russia and Ukraine commenting angrily on the action in Kosovo, "Men of all nations drop bombs on problems they cannot solve." Among the sessions I led was a bibliodrama intended to reclaim meaning from the sacrificial system, the amazing women present redeemed the voice of the High Priest’s daughter who is described as being required to be burned to death should she play the role of the harlot......these brave, bright women helped to take the parsha to an amazing level of healing and hope...incredible.
My husband had just returned from training at the Cleveland Gestalt Institute on the topic of shame. "In the long view," he observed by way of validating the women, "shaming results in the inability to act based on values. One enters a state of toxic shame; a sort of immunity to it develops as one continues to prove oneself right and enters into solidarity with those who share one’s inclination.
What is the goal of all this traveling - so many countries in one year? At the Project Kesher Conference a sense of the flow of history became clearer....the goal is to carry ideas and methods of peace-making, of new ways of leading and living.....methods that will feed into the several hundred year project of taking humanity to a new level of behavior.....send ideas, come along with me, critique gently and as much as necessary....we can and must do this work!
Generously endowed with guidance for enjoying Chicago, Barry and I took an architectural walking tour which began with the great fire of 100 years earlier that destroyed much of the commercial part of town. We learned fascinating facts of how fire-proofing strategies came out of the strategy and also saw much of interest regarding Art Deco and Frank Lloyd Wright design.
The last surprise was one of a related series. People from various countries keep asking for help in conversion to Judaism....universally they cite being turned away by rabbis of all denominations. A woman on the F.S.U. (Former Soviet Union) team at the Project Kesher Conference takes me aside......"please work with me, it must be a woman, a rabbi who understands us...please...) Raised under communism, many have only one Jewish parent and a deep sense of needing a ritual for authenticity of their passionate commitment to Judaism and our people. I felt tears begin to fall at their asking this, and wonder your thoughts on how to proceed?
Billboards are speeding past with curious messages:
"Know who the father was: 1-800-DNA-TYPE"....."Care for my land or I will make rush hour worse...God."
The wind is severe and it looks like Tornado weather, hopefully all will be well.
Love and blessings and hoping to hear back from you. Goldie
Cross Country #4
Barry: Des Moines, Iowa. Driving here from Chicago is quite an experience...threatening skies, wind buffeting "Vinnie," a road sign blows off its pole in front of us, flying across the high way....the swirling soil of recently plowed fields created an eerie haze...
Goldie: Golden-gray skies yielded a sense of danger; impending tornados perhaps...switch on the radio to learn of the devastation in Oklahoma, only a few hundred miles away.
Barry: just read that Illinois has 60,000 square miles of prairie, now reduced to three square miles. At the Fermi National Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, they have a prairie sanctuary surrounded by the linear accelerator.
Goldie: In a film at Fermi scientists reflect on their creative process. I was elated to hear one talk about long, long showers as his favorite spot for integrative thinking.....he once worked out an equation in the condensation on the shower door that led to the discover of the "top quark".
Barry: Now reading about the adverse environmental effects of parking lots and thinking about evolution. Forests, yielding to glaciers, yielding to prairie, yielding to plowed farm land, yielding to suburban sprawl and parking lots....Civilization improving on nature.
Other lessons learned today......
Victoria’s Secret is that no one over thirty can fit in her lingerie...
In Chicago we met a woman who said that for three years she used to fly back to NYC to have her hair done by her favorite hair dresser.
Goldie: In Chicago I called all over, couldn’t get an appointment for a haircut. In Des Moines my usual method prevailed. Wandering a local street, enter a local salon, and there stands someone waiting. We share the Torah of our lives......his wife died when their daughter was 13...etc., etc. I left looking and feeling well cared for and rich in details about farm and city life in the mid-west.
Barry: Had the best steak of my life at the 801 Steak House and Saloon. The cow died and I went to heaven. Goldie wonders if you call it "dead-stock" instead of livestock at this stage in its process.
Barry: My son Jonathan calls, saying he enjoys reading my email postings of the journey, but wonders how I’m feeling about traveling like this. It occurs to me that this is a profound question and makes me feel proud of his sensitivity.
Answer - On the one hand I feel some loss in my identity as a physician without important work in the world, on the other there is a certain satisfaction that I am pushing the limits of creating time for myself and experiencing the world.
Cross Country Posting #5
Goldie: Zoos and military installations are two points of ambivalence on our trips. We passed on the albino tigers and simulated rain forests promised by the Omaha Zoo brochures and highly recommended by my hairdresser in Iowa.
Instead an hour later I found myself leaning against a metal canister about three feet high and seven feet wide as a World War II veteran explained the "Peacekeeper" airplane in whose shadow we were standing. Vaster than my sci-fi conditioned imagination, the impact of the plane which circled the world during the Cold War as a "deterrent" was diminished by his next comment.
"We never used them, but, the woman in the beanie is leaning against a nuclear bomb six times the power of that used at Hiroshima. These were stacked inside the Peacekeeper as it constantly circled Russian airspace."
My husband recently studied how to use Gestalt to deal with those who suffer from toxic shame. The Strategic Air Command Museum docent’s comment sent me into toxic ambivalence. A sequence of memories played through in what seemed like years, yet must have been seconds.
The first was during my years as director of an archive, taking depositions on video from Holocaust survivors and Allied soldiers. Changing his voice from sad reverie to pure passion, the survivor described furiously scribbling notes to the President of the United States and begging every passerby to see it would get there.....he would slip the notes through slats in cattle cars into fearful fingers...sometimes they were dropped like electric shocks after being read, others were furtively pocketed.
Always the same message....."Just bomb us all. Stop the death camps. We are prepared to die." Later inside Auschwitz he waited for a message to tell him to have everyone turn on their attackers and climb atop the crematoria to mark the spot for allied bombers. "Just make it stop." Until he died whenever he would come to my office he’d leave a message with my affectionate name for him, "Queen Esther will be dropping by." I was one of two people in town who knew his secrets, gay and Jewish, he was marked twice to die.
Sixth graders on our tour caress the cruise missiles on display as we are told the US inventory is down to only 100 and it takes a year to go back into production. Barry photographs a girl hugging the missile unconsciously as she listens; so elegant and sleek in design, both of them.
I flash to a Bosnia rally. My sons are with me at the Liberty Bell. From the stage I see my youngest tugging on the jacket of a camera person. She pushes him away...don’t bother me little boy. Undeterred he goes to the anchor person, who obligingly films his passionate view which airs for 16 seconds on the ll o’clock CNN News. "Why are you all standing here shouting at bad people in Bosnia? Do you think they are watching television? Why doesn’t my mommy and her friends charter airplanes and go right up to those bad men. Do what you do when I make a mistake. Take their hands and lift them high into the air and say: "This is unacceptable behavior."
Flash to the High Holidays. An angel of a board member has given me a week at Club Med on Turquoise Island as a gift between leading Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur services. The trick to meeting people turns out to be what language you speak at the entrance to the dining room. Each day when asked "how many people?" I mutter my lonely "one" in a different language. That day I spoke in German....the Berlin Wall was coming down as we ate.
Seated at a table of young German businessmen on a company holiday I feel foolish and out of place. The German banter flies over me, I don’t really speak the language. At some point though, I start to make out some of what they are saying. Blood freezes in my veins. "We will defeat America on the battleground of commerce. Then our might will rise again as it always has and next time we will prevail...." "Yah...Yah..." (Yes, yes.)
A word which has become holy to me ( as in hallelu-yah) is supporting horror... "Yah...Yah.....". Anger churns up inside me from more voices than my own. I speak out involuntarily...something to the effect of "How can you say that? Was it all for nothing?"
Heads turn toward to me. One asks in German: "What language is she speaking? Why can I understand it?" Silence. The blond-haired, green-eyed man beside me finally speaks. "It is Yiddish." They look blankly at him. "Yiddish?" one asks. He responds, "It was the language of the Jews." Silence. Another man looks at him and says slowly, distinctly, "and how would YOU know that?"
Hot tears are splashing down my face. The green-eyed man looks at his peers, wipes my cheeks with his napkin, stands and says to me in English...."come, let us walk." To this day we are still in touch...the secret of his Jewish grandmother wandering between us like a lost missile.
The tour has moved on, we are beside a Russian MIG that was flown against our forces in Vietnam. I walk off lost in oceans of ambivalence. On the other side two tourists stand talking. One reveals he is an air force engineer that works on fighter-planes. He is in transit from a base in Germany to one in Utah. The other was a pilot during the Vietnam War. He recalled that the technical superiority of the Russian MIGs was terrifying. "That plane could outmaneuver us, we would have been doomed, if not for the fact that our pilots were better trained and we had more aircraft than they."
Flash. Economics 101, when I was a student at the Wharton School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The thick accent of a professor from India stills resonates in my ears......"One foolish, arrogant leader of a third world country can attack us with a nuclear bomb for no sane reason. How much for guns, how much for butter? Nothing I can teach you will give the right formula. How will we ultimately decide? That is the question that really belongs on the final exam."
Cross Country #6