Speaking English Together
Like most of you, I’ve been stuck at home for over a year occupying myself with busy work and Netflix. When my NYC Pastor friend asked me how I am, I replied that I was feeling disconnected from doing anything really meaningful. She asked me what I wanted to do. I immediately responded without hesitation or forethought: I’d like to teach English again. She, being the ever helpful spiritual leader, asked her Spanish speaking congregation if anyone wanted to learn English on line. And so it began!
I gave lessons for free, asking only for a donation to their church. I had two classes, one for beginners and the second for more advanced English language students on Zoom.
Teaching those with very little or no background in English proved to be quite challenging, especially on Zoom. I used pictures from magazines and objects in my home. I even bought a blackboard and chalk.
These beginner students, none of whom worked, were still immersed in their native tongue and culture. Spending all their time with Spanish speaking family, friends, tv, books, magazines and newspapers with very little outside exposure proved to be a real handicap. It was a daunting task both for them and me. I didn’t want them to be so frustrated that they would dislike English. I was frustrated as well. I mean, how many times could I teach the same I, you, he, she, it, we, you, they? I had to let that class go.
On a happier note, my more advanced students are like sponges and continue to grow in knowledge and confidence. What has emerged from this is a program I created and named “Speaking English Together”. The need to practice what they are learning in a safe space became apparent. I called upon one of my retired friends and asked if she’d be interested in volunteering once a week with one of my students to just chat. And make corrections as necessary…gently of course. She is now working one-on-one with two students.
Today I have 35 English language volunteers who are speaking one hour weekly, one-on-one with their partners who want to improve their English. High school kids in Israel are talking with high school kids in PA and NJ. One Rabbi in Israel is speaking with one of the American volunteers in FL. What is transpiring from this program are cultural exchanges, friendships and living bridges as well as improved language skills. One of my students told me she is starting to think in English!
If you or anyone you know might want to participate as a volunteer or student, I can promise you this: fulfillment, purpose, fun and stress-free learning. The program is open to adults and teens. i can be reached at 973-735-3610 or firstname.lastname@example.org. And check out our new website: www.speakingenglishtogether.org/
A Different Kind of Love
I lost both parents and the responsibility of caring for them together along with their professional caregivers this past spring. Grief and empty hours to fill: a bitter pill to swallow. COVID 19 appeared and spread, forcing isolation upon me just like everyone else.
I was living alone. But, something was missing. I needed to give my love to another living soul face to face. Sure, I could clean out closets, reorganize my drawers, take classes on Zoom, talk with friends by phone, read, garden and more. But something was missing.
A light went on: foster a dog. A perfect solution! I’d wanted one for so long but held off due to my parents’ medical needs. I called two local rescue organizations and soon thereafter I not only fostered, I adopted a one year old mixed breed named Lulu from a kill shelter in Alabama. I didn’t meet her until she arrived in a van with 21 other rescues from Alabama. She was skin and bones, shaking and scared. I put her in a crate in back of my car with blanket and toy. She was whimpering. I sang to her, making up silly songs using her name. She calmed down a little.
My life with Lulu began with crate training her, but she cried relentlessly every time I put her in there. I couldn’t keep doing it without breaking my own heart. I later learned she’d lived her first year of life in a crate where she peed, pooped and ate. A hoarding situation. She was rescued by animal control. Crating was a punishment, not a safe place, so no more crate for Lulu. Her first walks outside were a new experience for her. A collar and leash? Grass? Other dogs? Cars? People stopping to greet her?
Housebreaking took time and I seriously thought I might give up on her a few times. I finally told her if she didn’t quit using my house as a public toilet she couldn’t stay with me. I tried a trainer. No go. I finally called an animal communicator. No, I’m not a nut. Well, maybe just a little. But let me tell you, that woman helped by giving me valuable information about Lulu. It completely changed the relationship for the better.
I learned that Lulu was peeing and pooping in my house because it was “convenient”. Well, of course it was. She was able to do it in her Alabama crate any time. My house was just a larger crate to her. She promised to do better, to change her habit. She had no intention of leaving my home where she felt safe and secure. She was grateful and said she’d never felt love from a human before. There was lots more information including the food she liked. No eggs, yes to chicken. She even said she didn’t want me to bring another dog to live in the house to live with us.
But here’s the reason I’m sharing this with you. My four-legged roommate and I have the sweetest, most loving special relationship I have ever had with a dog. And this is not my first dog rodeo! Having her with me during these difficult times is as comforting for me as it is for her. Maybe even more so. I do not feel isolated at all. I’ve met other dog owners in my neighborhood whom I'd never even noticed.
Lulu and I play, we communicate with our eyes and body language. We cuddle. We watch tv. We go on long walks. She’s been to a Cape May dog beach, running along the shoreline with freedom and pure joy. She’s been to the Berkshires. Maine is next with more adventures to come. She’ll need a doggie passport as soon so we can travel abroad!
She looks into my eyes with this naked adoration. I melt. I swoon. I declare my love to all of her 9 pounds. She wants to be petted and knows how to ask for it. When I lie down on my mat to exercise she kisses my face and makes me laugh. She is active like me, friendly to all the neighbors, dog or human.
At first the toys were ignored. She’d never seen a dog toy! Now she plays with them all the time and even humps her stuffed elephant. This really cracks me up because she looks like she’s riding the elephant across the floor. She suddenly gets a burst of energy and runs around the house like a lunatic. An acquaintance of mine calls that "zoomies". We play hide and seek and she loves to be chased. It’s an all -day love fest in my house these days.
We are clearly in love, unconditional love. If you want to do yourself and your family a huge favor, rescue a dog (or cat). They need us and we need them, especially now. I am motivated to give both of us new experiences together. My Lulu showed up at the perfect time in my life. Yours can too.
Dog Daze of Summer
It’s been a long while since I have checked in because events of 2020 have been taking a toll on my sense of well-being. I lost my dad on 2/26, my mom on 4/1. They were 91 years old, married 71 years. Part of me went with them, leaving me feeling sad, alone, disoriented and lost.
Perhaps if I had my own family now, as in a life partner and/or kids, I’d feel less orphaned and alone in the world. But I’m not sure it would make a significant difference. I did, however, rescue a dog and while she can’t give me what a human can, she is a wonderful companion and a delight. We bonded very quickly and I feel rescued by her love, attention, affection and playfulness. Feeling responsible for another life fills a void for me.
I don’t want to depress anyone but I do want to share what is happening for me. Where I belong in this life has always been a question for me. Even though I’ve had wonderful parents, close friends, significant others, excellent and meaningful work and interests to anchor me, I’ve still wondered where I really belong. I imagine this is a universal question. I long for an answer. Maybe you do, too.
Here is a snapshot of my current state of being: As I approach the age of 70 I am keenly aware of time constraints. COVID -19 has certainly added to my sense of urgency to figure out what I really want for this last chapter or two. I see life as a puzzle with constantly moving parts. As soon as I put pieces together, thinking they fit rather nicely, along comes an impactful change to make me rethink my choices. Living in limbo is very uncomfortable but I’ve come to the conclusion that we all live in limbo. Feeling secure is an illusion. Some of us are aware of it, some not so much. What’s that expression? “The only thing we can count on is change”.
The grief I am experiencing from loss of my parents, the virus totally disrupting all our lives, and the hot, humid weather in N.J. has forced me to go in. And I mean inside myself as well as inside my house. No longer able or willing to travel by plane has forced me to cancel trips I was so looking forward to. No Israel. No Guatemala. No California. No Nada. I don’t even want to think about this coming winter being stuck inside. I’m in a daze. Can’t plan ahead. Can’t create the kind of big adventures that feed my soul and stimulate my imagination and brain.
I am trying hard to focus on what I can do: write, teach ESL, exercise, cook, read, connect with friends on Zoom, play with my sweet pup. But I’m telling you it’s hard. The state of the world and our country in particular clouds my outlook. I don’t want to live in fear. I don’t want to dwell on “what ifs”. I want to use this time to quiet my soul and my overactive mind. I want to trust and have faith that something entirely new and better will come out of these troubled times for us all.
When Biden chose Harris as his running mate I cried tears of joy. I got a much needed boost of energy. I felt hopeful and recharged. I felt possibilities are alive again. I am embracing these positive feelings. I sense something true and right has emerged from the fear and paralysis so many of us have been experiencing.
I need to focus on what’s important and take action, improve myself and my circumstances as much as I can, trust my gut and choose carefully, remember what I do know, let go of fear, breathe, and not give up. I CANNOT GIVE UP.
I’d love to hear from you: the good, the bad or the ugly. I will gladly respond.
Pets Provide Living Bridges, Too
Animal relationships with humans are often trivialized by non-pet owners who don’t understand the connection. How many times have I heard that animals don’t have feelings? So not true. I have seen my dog smile, cry, demonstrate hurt feelings and even provide comfort and sympathy when I am upset.
Pets provide unusual, unconditional love. They give us feedback that lets us know they love us when they purr or wag tails. They are always happy to see us, are non-judgmental, forgiving and pure while meeting our need for affection and attention. Providing loyalty, companionship, security and comfort comes easily to them. No complications. No drama. And playtime is always a joy, whether we are observing or interacting with them.
We communicate with our furry friends and they with us. We read each other’s body language such as when a dog is hungry or needs to go out. They might whine or bark. They might lead us to the door or to their water or food bowl. Living with a pet can provide an important antidote to isolation or loneliness. Who greets us joyfully at the door regardless if we are gone 5 minutes, 5 hours, 5 days or 5 months?
Humans have an intimate physical connection with pets. We make sure they eat and go out. We groom them, look in their ears, check their teeth, have them vaccinated and sometimes travel with them. We pet, hug and kiss them as they lay beside us. Some of us sleep in the same bed with them. Some people actually spend more time with their pets than with other humans.
Some of us treat our pets as our furry children. That can be weird or endearing. Or both. The absence of a pet creates a disruption in our daily routine. Letting them go is a huge, difficult decision when we are called upon to take that final step as the humane solution to a painful situation.
Sometimes losing a pet can be even more intense than losing a person. We all experience loss in our own ways and in our own time. There are two types of grieving styles. Instrumental grievers get busy, take action, take on projects. While hurting on the inside, they choose not to show it on the outside. Expressive grievers cry, emote, express their loss verbally and can lose motivation. We all hurt; it’s just expressed differently. We all go through a grieving process. It’s normal and to be expected. Be gentle with yourself and don’t worry if others don’t understand.
Some people wait to get another pet. Others do it right away. I lost my best girl, Jerzey, many years ago and have never stopped thinking about her. It’s time to bring animal joy back into my personal space. Jerzey chose me. She entered my apartment, peed on the floor and refused to leave with her breeder who said Jerzey and I had an unusual connection, as in a previous life. Who knows? All I know is I was in love, even when she insisted on stopping in the middle of Broadway in NYC to poop. Or when she peed on the way to the elevator on the 46th floor of my apartment building. Or when she refused to be crated and insisted on being next to me.
Our bond was strong. She was a character with a distinct personality all her own. She taught me so much about love and responsibility. For me a house is not a home without a dog. So it’s rescue time, 2020. I’ll be rescuing my new pup and she will rescue me. Stay tuned….I’ll post pictures when we find each other. Can’t wait!
We each have our own valuable story. Sometimes told. Sometimes not. I am of Eastern European Jewish descent, second generation American. My perspective is colored by my personal history.
I am Lucky. Blessed. Grateful. I am living a fulfilled life of my choosing in the U.S. But I cannot ignore the rising antisemitism here and abroad. I am fearful of the past repeating itself while trying to keep the faith. It’s hard. And so scary.
Many of my ancestors could not fulfill their destinies. They died in multiple ways: pogroms, the Holocaust, overcrowded boats, such as the SS Exodus, turned away with Four thousand five hundred desperate refugees on board a space suitable for five hundred.
People have endured horrific hardships in their homelands and again when fleeing. It takes tremendous courage to leave one’s former life regardless of its gruesome reality. Jumping into a pool of unknowns with no real resources is an act of sheer desperation.
I have met many of today’s refugees who are seeking not just a better life, but simply stated, a life. They express their initial fear, their gratitude, more fear, and finally faith that things will work out. They huddle together in their communities, documented or undocumented, where they find love and support, hope and faith and the feeling of safety in numbers. Their cultures and religions bind them together.
Immigration is certainly not a new story. Within waves of immigration are many individual stories. Some have happy endings. Some do not. It’s important to continue telling these stories, regardless of country of origin or motivation. The U.S., since its inception, has been a shining light of hope for those escaping repression, religious prejudice, gang wars, dictatorships, ethnic cleansing, torture and more. We haven’t always been the best we can be, but we have held onto our democracy saying “Give us your tired, your poor”.
Traveling recently with Israeli Micha Feldman, author of “Wings of Eagles” and a living legend whose life is dedicated to rescuing Ethiopian Jews, I visited some of the thousands still stuck living in squalor in Ethiopia. They wait for years, still hoping to get to Israel.
I also met Ethiopian Jews living in Israel and heard their stories of walking through the Simien Mountains at night, often barefoot, the very young and very old, pregnant, ill and desperate to escape antisemitism and poverty. Marauders along the way demanded money they had very little of. Many did not make it to the refugee camps in Somalia. Many left family behind. Today there is a film on Netflix titled “The Red Sea Diving Resort”, the fascinating story of escape and rescue thanks to the Israeli Mossad.
A short time ago I met 3 undocumented Mexican couples and their children. All are working menial jobs here, all paying taxes and rent, all were terrified to leave their homes and families in Mexico. Their need to escape gangs and/or poverty overpowered their fear. In some parts of Mexico it was hard to get jobs unless you knew someone or agreed to have sex in exchange for some kind of work.
They are sending money to relatives back home. One woman’s talented grandmother embroiders bags and sends them here to sell for $30 each. The granddaughter sends that money to her grandmother.
These people have been here 15 -19 years, led by “coyotes”, paid guides who know the ropes to cross the border. Trekking by foot at night, crawling by day, sleeping on the Sonora Desert floor with tarantulas, snakes and human skeletons, they arrived to a van in Phoenix that piled them one atop another for the drive east.
There were problems in the desert along the way. When they ran out of water they drank from a dirty pond. Shoes falling apart resulted in barefoot, bleeding soles. Fevers occurred from the thorny bushes pricking their skin and causing infection. The biggest issue was fear, all- encompassing fear of getting caught, or worse, injury or death. At that time they paid $2000 to the coyote. Today it’s about $12-13,000.
One of the men tried to cross the border three times. The third time he was helped by a ranger who gave him water and directed him to an easier crossing. All their marriages happened here and the kids are U.S. citizens in school. The parents are waiting for their children to turn 18 so they can begin the process of legal citizenship.
The fear of separation from their kids and deportation is prevalent. Some have alternate plans in place, some do not and cannot face the possibility of deportation. Two young daughters cried bitterly as we spoke. It was impossible to comfort them.
Faith keeps these people moving forward in their daily lives in spite of the fear. Their children can achieve something here. Their families integrate the best of both cultures to create loving homes. They fully embrace our Thanksgiving holiday.
Living under the radar is challenging. They have no voice, no rights, no police protection, no insurance, no political power, no vacations. But they are self-sufficient, often working jobs many Americans don’t want. There are no handouts.
These are resilient, proud hard working people who only want to give their kids a better life. It was an honor to be trusted with their heartfelt stories. Kind, compassionate, honest people with strong family values.. We need more citizens like them these days here in the good ol’ U.S.A., don’t we?
A Living Bridge Of Another Sort
I’ve been writing in the blog, mostly about Living Bridges from my travel adventures. But here is a most extraordinary Living Bridge I had the great honor to be part of. I am sharing for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the soulful connection among living adults from many different walks of life. We all had one thing in common: We were in close relationship with one married couple: Nancy McCarthy and Bruce Herzog. They were both only children and were childless.
They chose to leave this planet with love, generosity, practicality and no waste.
Here is the Reader’s Digest version:
I met Nancy in 1994 in a photography class at International Center of Photography, NYC. My life was enhanced and changed significantly by our friendship. I even relocated to Bucks County as a result of this relationship. Not only did we create photo images in joint projects together in our many classes, we invited each other into our lives outside the classroom. As a result I knew Bruce, Nancy’s husband, and ultimately about 99% of all the other peeps in their lives. And there were many.
I speak in past tense because both of these dear friends succumbed to Multiple Myeloma. Upon Nancy’s death 3 years ago, all of us friends and family were invited to celebrate Nancy’s life at their home in PA, a home they lovingly and carefully designed from ground up. It was intended to house their many guests and provide a peaceful retreat. And it did just that. And more.
I can write a book about Nancy and her extraordinary life but my goal here is to share an experience both she and Bruce created for themselves and for all their friends and family. With great and precise detail during their simultaneous illnesses, a plan was created and eventually unveiled to us after Nancy passed. We were invited to the house to celebrate Nancy’s life and to choose from her huge collection of apparel and accessories purchased on their many trips abroad. Nancy lives on in our closets, in our hearts and on our bodies!
In 2019, three years after Nancy passed, Bruce died. Once again, we were all invited to their home in PA to honor these two outstanding human beings. We celebrated Bruce’s remarkable life with five friends storytelling with laughter and tears on Friday night. Impossible to talk about one without the other. Their lives were entwined in the best way. Sad and happy, we gave a befitting going away party to two veteran party-throwers. Not only were these two remarkable in their individual and collective ways, but the people with whom they surrounded themselves, extended family for decades, are remarkable as well.
So much community, love and support during their health struggles over the past few years was itself a testament to their humanity, but the ongoing, authentic friendships over the years was something I personally haven’t seen elsewhere in my adult life. We all attended parties celebrating every holiday, birthday, and life changing event at the McCarthy/Herzog home. Always playful and meaningful, these extraordinary events were the mainstay in everyone’s lives.
Back to Bruce’s memorial: After anecdotes were shared, we were presented with a bowl and a spoon. Combined together in the bowl were both their ashes. This was so befitting their devotion to each other; we were invited to take a spoon of the ashes and spread wherever we chose on the 12 acre property. This, to me, was the most awe inspiring action I could never have even imagined. To think that they so clearly expressed this request prior to passing was and remains for me a true lesson in divinity. The sacredness of life, a shared life.
On Saturday morning those of us invited to partake in the distribution of household possessions each chose a number from a hat. Bruce had written: “Have good food, reminisce about those acquisitive characters, Nancy and Bruce, and have a good time while looking over goods.”
I was #6 and thrilled to acquire a puma sculpture, an amazing piece of art which hangs in my house. It was the only thing I really wanted but with so many exquisite items in the house I inevitably ended up with Zulu baskets from their Africa trips. We continued the process of choosing starting with #1 and going to #40, choosing only one item each time. Then backwards from #40 to #1. We did this for 2 days till 5pm on Sunday. Whatever was left was to be donated to charities. We worked within the constraints of the estate’s executor, PNC Bank, which designed this event according to Nancy and Bruce’s wishes and with the assistance of several friends.
While this may sound rather strange to some, most of us felt this was the best way they could have chosen to utilize their many collections for the greater good. We all now have extensions of our dear Bruce and Nancy in our homes both for every day, practical use and for sentimental reasons. I feel their presence in my home daily with the happiest of memories. Losing them both has been a very difficult adjustment for all the tribe. They were the glue holding the family of choice together.
I was honored to be part of this unusual “family of friends”. And I loved this unusual process.
Cusco, Altitude & A Clinic
I swear I did what I was supposed to do: Took anti-altitude sickness pills and exercised diligently on the treadmill prior to arriving in the 12,000 foot high city of Cusco. As recommended, I took it nice and slow (which is not my style, mind you) prior to striking out on the hilly streets. I drank lots of water and chewed the cocoa leaves. I arrived on January 4 and by January 10, much to my surprise and disappointment, I was in the SOS Cusco Medical Center under the care of Dr. Grover Quispe Orihuela.
Thank God my travel buddy Maren forced me to see a doctor because I was quite sick with altitude sickness and bronchitis, a hefty combination if you want to breathe. And live.
The doctor spoke excellent English and, while the nurses did not, their round the clock care was beyond anything I have ever experienced in the good ol’ USA. Oxygen, antibiotics, and a nebulizer for 4 days brought me back to life, at least enough to exit Peru and head back to NJ. The doctor, who was competent, caring and extremely handsome, even sent me to my apartment on oxygen with an aide to help me pack to go home. I was originally scheduled to stay till January 22 but left on the 16th. Never made it to Macchu Pichu nor the Sacred Valley. Never got to hike up 14,000 feet to villages with Maren and explore, photograph and write about the Inca residents. Never got to participate in sacred rituals with shamans.
But I took it as part of the “adventure” rather than feeling sorry for myself. I even had Roku thanks to Maren’s brilliance in bringing it to Peru. I got to watch Netflix and sleep a lot. A real lot.
So here are a few tips from my experience:
Be safe my Blog Friends….happy trails till we meet again in the Blogoshere! And may The Force be with you!
While visiting Cusco, Peru, the gateway to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley, to explore both Inca and Catholic cultures and tradition, I discovered Jewish life in this 12,000 foot high city in the Andes. Who knew?
It was lunchtime at Papacho’s, a casual hamburger restaurant in the historical center of the city. Right there on our table was a sign advertising breakfast in 4 languages: Spanish, German, French, Portuguese and Hebrew. The Hebrew was so unexpected that I was compelled to do some digging.
I learned that most Jewish Peruvians are either descendants of those who fled the Inquisition or mid-nineteenth century Jews who came from Western and Central Europe. Jews also arrived from Eastern Europe and the Ottoman Empire pre -World War I. Most live in the capital city of Lima where there are three synagogues and two Jewish newspapers. There is still a dwindling population of Jews in the Amazon Basin city, Iquito, where a mattress shop serves as a makeshift synagogue.
The Jewish population of Cusco, however, is made up mostly of young Israelis, 40,000 of whom descend upon the city per year after finishing military service. Travel after military service is a rite of passage for many, a transition from discipline to freedom. Attracted to backpacking, rafting, rock climbing and hiking as well as the archaeological remains and sheer beauty of the cobblestone alleys, green velvet surrounding mountains and sweet disposition of the local population, the young Israelis find Israeli flags, Hebrew signs advertising various businesses and even Israeli pop music welcoming them from the shops. Some restaurants serve falafel and schnitzel and I bet in another season or two shakshuka will be the new favorite dish.
Some Israelis have relocated to Cusco and opened restaurants, food delivery service and nightclubs, saying it’s easier to open a business and be entrepreneurial in Peru. Even some Peruvians who own restaurants offer Israeli food as well. In addition, there is a popular hostel named Beit Asimha (House of Happiness) with a large hamsa above the entrance.
Cusco has its very own Chabad-Lubavitch Center established in 2006 which caters to Israeli and Jewish tourists. Shabbat meals are served every Friday night during summer high season to approximately 300 Israelis. Rabbi Ofer Kripor and his wife Yael claim to hold one of the biggest Passover seders in the world with 1200 participants. The center has a restaurant offering kosher food, classes, synagogue services and more. It is located at Calle Vitoque 631. What’s app number: 972522623770.
I have often said that in spite of everything, we Jews are still everywhere. Even here, in a city of 7 churches, I am happy to say we can find our “mishpucha” (family).
First Days in Cusco
This is Day 3 in Cusco, Peru and, like so many trips I take, I am here thanks to an invitation by a friend. In this case, Maren Elwood from Carmel, CA, invited me to blog about her project, On-Site Expeditions. She is a Visual Anthropologist studying the descendants of Saqsaywaman and ancient stone architecture.
We have rented a two bedroom apartment in San Cristobal community overlooking the historic Plaza de Armas. The view is stupendous. At night the street and residential lights on the surrounding mountains appear like magical twinkling stars.
The Altitude & Shopping
Maximo Nivel - The Language School
Tomorrow I begin learning Spanish two hours a day at Maximo Nivel, a language school. They also offer cooking and salsa classes. I’m in. If I had my druthers I’d have visited the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu prior to Cusco so I am passing that valuable information on to you. They are at lower altitudes. I will visit both these prior to leaving this fascinating city.
Jewelry & Textiles
One must beware of alpaca vs synthetic. Hold the garment up to the light. If the color is uniform, it’s likely alpaca. If you see red, blue or green sparkles, this indicates synthetic material. Wool feels soft and cool.
I visited the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco on Avenue El Sol #603. It’s a non-profit organization promoting the empowerment of weavers in ten villages through the sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral weaving in the Cusco region. Through workshops, educational opportunities and the promotion of their textile art, weavers are enabled to maintain their identities and textile traditions while improving their families’ quality of life. www.andeantextilearts.org. Donations are appreciated.
Locals & The Epicurean Life
The Belmond Hotel - Formerly the Hotel Ministerio Built On
Miriam Seiden is a cultural explorer who loves to write about her living bridges around the world.