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?
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.
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).
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
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Amazing modern architecture everywhere you look. The urbanization of the island has resulted in the loss of 95% of its original forests. The government introduced the vision of making Singapore a “garden city’ in 1967 to compensate and since then nearly 10% of the land has been designated for parks and nature reserves. The Botanic Gardens and Gardens by the Bay were two of the highlights for me. Stupendous tropical foliage, perfectly cared for, extensive varieties of flowers, trees and bushes due to the abundant rainfall and temperatures from about 72-95 F. Felt more like 110 F to me! I never made it to the zoo but it’s supposed to be quite humane. The Fullerton Hotel was being renovated so I couldn’t visit but I am told it’s gorgeous as is Raffles. Interesting museums here. To be honest, the heat prevented me from being out and about as much as I’d have liked. I was my very own waterfall when I walked about.
Ex-pats live well here. Last I looked, Singapore has the world’s highest percentage of millionaires, with one of every six households having at least one million U.S. dollars. Shopping on world famous Orchard Road, in Little India, on Arab Street, in flea markets and more will provide plenty of juice for the shopaholic in you.
It is quite expensive to live here but if you like living in a state controlled country where safety and security of its citizens is a priority, you can tolerate the rain forest climate and you have a high income, this could be for you.
Arad was founded in November, 1962, the first planned city in Israel. It is located on the border of the Negev and Judean Mountains, 16 miles from the Dead Sea, 28 miles from Beersheva. It is ideally located for desert tourism as it has fresh air, stunning views, hiking, jeeping, bike tours, camping, rappelling and eco-tourism. Near Masada, Ein Gedi, the Ramon Crater, Ein Bokek, Tel Arad, the Israel Trail and Kfar Nokdim, lodging here is far less expensive than the Dead Sea and far more peaceful. There is an artist quarter, Midbar Winery, the Glass Museum, a new car racing track and great restaurants such as Muza (best burger in Israel), Kaparuchka and Anna Ma.
Lucky me to have made wonderful friends here with whom I visit as often as I can! I consider Arad my second home in the world. The people, the scenery, the ease of life all appeal to me. When one makes a friend here it is a friend for life. I like to spend my time not just visiting friends but volunteering to teach English. I usually take a small group of the most advanced kids out of the classrooms and converse with them in English. If you would like to visit Arad, as I just did in January, and teach English there even for a few days, I suggest contacting firstname.lastname@example.org. She and her team are very responsive and helpful.
Chen Pagliari, my adopted Aradnik brother, is the best grill master, bar tender and host I have ever known. He and his beautiful wife Yael will host you and your friends or family at his home.
Contact him at email@example.com for availability and pricing. 972-53-720-4183.
There are many options for overnight stays in Arad. The Desert Bird Guesthouse is one of my favorites. Michal, my dear friend, gracious owner and excellent cook, is also a tour guide and will take care of your touring needs. www.desertbird.co.il. Desertbird2015@gmail.com. 972-52-5958833. She hosts all kinds of events here.
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Ofakim was established in 1955 with just 600 people from Morocco and Tunisia. Today there are about 30,000 residents of mixed ethnic backgrounds. Beersheva is about 20 km from here. Ofakim is about one hour drive from Arad and has rail transportation from Tel Aviv. The town is booming due to the rail transportation and affordable homes for purchase, unlike real estate in
the center of the country.
The people of Ofakim are loyal, proud and devoted to the growth of their town. I had the great pleasure of staying with the hospitable Mayor and Mrs. Danino when I visited in January. I spent all my time teaching English to children and adults….and making new friends, going to the theater and learning about the community. I also spent time in Bayit Cham, which means Warm House. This is a national program for children at risk. I taught English and enjoyed wonderful lunches with the girls which was prepared by the “House Mother”.
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Desert Eagles is a 24 member robotics team of Amirim High School students in Ofakim. Over half the team is female and they compete in 4 leagues throughout the year. There are 75 teams in Israel. Do we have this in our US schools? I was so glad to meet these passionate kids who use power tools, programming and sketch in 3D. They have an unspoken law of helping each other. They won a Tel Aviv national competition with a robot named Delta that took 6.5 weeks to build.
Teaching English in Ofakim is yet another place where volunteering is highly desired and appreciated. Contact Michal Zur for this too. Her info is in the Arad part of this blog.
Next blog: Visiting Singapore and Phuket
Next blog: Visiting Singapore and Phuket
Miriam Seiden is a cultural explorer who loves to write about her living bridges around the world.
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