May, 2011 to September 21, 2012
Garricks Pasture, Nevis, West Indies,
aboard Air France and Woodland Hills, CA
Greetings from Paradise
“Gifts from the Universe, Part II”
At long last, hello everyone,
Hello everyone. Please enjoy “Gifts from the Universe, Part II”
In our 50 years of travels, Lee has never asked much of me. Yet he now very much wanted to experience Paris and recapture our 25-year-old memories of strolls along the Seine River, Eiffel Tower and climb the mount to Sacre Coeur. Over the last few years, we had accumulated enough frequent flyer miles to take the trip. I also focused more on the Normandy Coast and a friend shared that there was a labyrinth walk in Chartre, a beautiful, charming town an hour train ride from Paris where we could walk the labyrinth always a very spiritual and grounding experience.
Lee also wanted to river cruise on a smaller ship. After much research with ports of call not focusing on centuries of wars, he found a cruise that began in Paris for a few days and then took a very peaceful path winding its way through the German wine countryside on the Moselle, Rhine, Main rivers and ending on the Main-Danube Canal. The cruise would pass at midnight on the Main River through Frankfort on the Main, the birthplace of my deeply-loved paternal grandmother who was 72 when I was born. In my only eight visits with her in New York, my Oma Johanna always filled me with unconditional love, wisdom and stories through with her intense bright, deep brown interested and captivating eyes.
Much to Lee’s fascination, the cruise ship would navigate 44 locks and terminate in Nuremberg where we would transfer to coach buses to arrive in Prague, a city I have wanted to visit for years. Because of my family history, Germany would be hard for me, but I had so desired to visit Prague and the Bohemian Forest in the Czech Republic for several reasons. We would be in an area close to the spa resort in Carlsbad, then Czechoslovakia where in 1934 my parents had honeymooned. And, I wanted to find a connection with the Jewish Torah originally from the Bohemian Forest area which Bnai Horin our Los Angeles Spiritual Renewal Community had adopted 20 years ago. After World War II, our Torah, number 518, had been housed in a warehouse in London along with other Torahs and Jewish artifacts confiscated by the Nazis during World War II.
From the first instant I touched our number 518 Torah twenty years ago, I had felt a very spiritual kinship with its gentle touch and history. Eighteen is the symbol for Chai or life and 5 the number of Lee’s and my family with our three children, 5-18, the date of my first major successful surgery and later the birthday of one of our lovely granddaughters. When we adopted our beautiful Torah in 1992, Lee and I were expecting our first grandchild, the Torah was going through a major healing, repairing transformation and in some significant ways, so was I. So going to the Bohemian Forest for 48 hours after Prague and trying to find a connection with the Torah’s original home held great spiritual significance and was a must-do for me. After many challenges and hurdles with the Cruise Line and changing airline tickets at minimal cost, we were all set to go. Lee had wanted to give up and cancel five times as we faced these hurdles, but I pledged “not on my watch”! Going with Lee on this trip was my gift of gratitude to him and I did what I needed to do to assure that God-willing, I would remain healthy and we would have an incredible time which we indeed did. Going through Germany and trying to connect spiritually with my beloved grandmother, connecting with my Mother’s history and our Torah became a part of my journey as well as celebrating and having fun on during big time 50th anniversary season. It was almost surreal that we could even contemplate a trip as I recall we began our marriage with $50.00 and a salami. With hindsight perspective, I do know now with all my heart, though was not always aware, that God has always blessed us with a myriad of blessings along our life’s journeys.
Departing from Nevis with a day layover in Sint Maarten, the Dutch side, then on to Paris, our entire European experience unfolded in cool weather perfection. Flights on time, people helpful and friendly, Paris was 45 degrees and raining with some sun--but nevertheless winter for us coming from the Tropics. We met interesting people each day, I was up to the early and long day trips to the Normandy coast and Chartre and Paris was all that we hoped and dreamt of with the exception of the commercialization of Sacre Coeur. We remember the area around Sacre Coeur as filled with artist creating their unique palettes taking form on a canvas supported on easels. To our sadness that display of creativity was mostly replaced with shops selling souvenirs and restaurant of various cuisines. On the day of the bank holiday we remained in Paris and along with thousands Parisians visited the sites on the first sunny day in weeks. We joined the multitude of Parisians as they sat, mingled and flowed in a colorful, diverse sea of motion at Notre Dame.
The country side on the train to the Normandy Coast and Chartre was filled with the ubiquitous fields of canola flowers. I finally figured that canola oil served as ethanol fuel once I realized nobody’s cuisine can use that much canola oil.
Even from the Bohemian
Forest back to Prague, we
saw canola fields during a
A beautiful last view of
canola fields in the Czech
Republic before we leave
The Normandy coast and Memorial was very painful and heavy but Lee and I felt a duty to stop and walk along the beach to pause and give thanks to those thousands of young lives given so we could walk in peace that day. The 800 year old villages close to the coast were well maintianed and charming as could be.
To ease my river cruise through Germany, I decided to buy an iPad to write during half the days that Lee toured some of the German castles and forts. What I learned on the cruise with people from Texas, Nebraska, Australia and Europe, many of the people from the United States were fourth generation, had not traveled much outside their states or in other countries who had not been exposed to many people of differing backgrounds or experiences. These were good people with differing world views. The crew couldn’t have been kinder, understanding nor more creative for my dietary needs. While on the cruise, Lee and I sat on the deck one night at midnight bundled in blankets, coats, hats, scarves and sweaters as we spent an hour softly gliding on the Main River through Frankfort where my grandmother was born, raised and spent her early married years. We passed buildings that years were the center of the city and I later learned from my senior cousin that Frankfort was the political center of Germany three hundred years ago. While huddled in the cold, I shared my memories of my Oma Johanna with Lee which he had heard many times over our 50 years together and as we approached the center of the city, I shared the beautiful love and respect they had for each other. I had just finished telling Lee, “Every night my grandmother walked to the train station to meet my grandfather to walk home with him.” Just as I finished a train passed over us on a trestle-bridge and I thought, she knows I am here.
Approaching the m odern financial center
of Frankfort on the Main.
The trestle-bridge that the Approaching
the modern financial center of
Frankfort train passed over.
The trestle-bridge that the Approaching the modern financial center of Frankfort train passed over.
Prague, the Golden City and the city of 1,000 spirals, was magnificent in all its understated elegance and centuries of blending the diverse cultural design and architecture. In its founding period 1,000 years ago, it was spread out into several scattered villages of diverse neighborhoods and cultural periods that eventually coalesced into one magnificent metropolis. Centuries ago, Prague served as the intellectual center of Europe. Fortunately, Prague was not damaged during World War II so the beautiful spiraled diverse expanse unfolded in front of us. Later we joined some walking tours of the new and old city and saw the architecture up close was as incredibly magnificent as seen from afar.
After a lovely dinner dining on Czech cuisine enjoying colorful ethnic dancing and singing, Lee and I hired a cab for a quick night time tour to the Vltara River spanned by the Charles one of Europe’s oldest and finest stone bridges. I was able to capture its spectacular city lights which I shared above.
The tour through the Old Jewish Quarter was magnificent with its striking Sephardic architecture. It was the first time that I saw a clock with Hebrew writing. The cemetery had over 20,000 tombstones, stacked in numerous layers under the ground and in the cemetery lying over each other in all different directions.
During a tour of the Old Jewish Quarter, Lee suddenly grabbed my arm and said, “Ruthie, look!”! Across the street was a store named Richter. Richter was name of the department store my grandparents had founded in Hamm, Germany in the 1920's. Lee said, “I bet they are related.”
Our guide in the Jewish Quarter told us that most of the Jews in then Czechoslovakia had lived north of the city before the war. So when we left the next day for Marianske Lazne, the spa resort south of Prague in the Bohemian Forest, I didn’t research for a Jewish connection but told Lee, let’s just go walking and see what unfolds on our journey. Since we were on unfamiliar but beautiful territory, we visited tourist information and asked about walking trails in the forest. We did not want to stroll along the numerous, beautiful gardens and promenades designed by landscape architects but the natural floral fields and forests created by the Creator. At tourist information a woman who seemed to appear out of the woodwork approached me and told me how to reach the top of the mountain where she and her deceased husband had wandered in their youth....and, she added, “Would you like to visit the Jewish cemetery?” I almost fell over. When we returned to our hotel, I inquired it and the receptionist showed me a map as she said “Yes, there is a cemetery but it is locked. We also maintain a vacant site of a Jewish Synagogue which the Nazis burned to the ground and honor and commemorate that site with a marker across the street of the former Jewish synagogue.” I could not believe my ears and thought even though the cemetery is locked, let’s go there and at least offer some prayers and take some pictures. That evening we asked the taxi driver to take us to the cemetery and synagogue site on the main street but he only knew the location of the cemetery and wasn’t interested in finding out the location of the synagogue site. We stopped before dinner to discover that the cemetery was indeed locked but were surprised to find that it is open to the public Monday through Friday. Lee and I couldn't believe how fortunate we were to find we could visit the cemetery.
Luckily after dinner, another driver picked us up and told us he knew the exact locations of the cemetery and former synagogue as his parents lived only two houses away. So we stopped by the synagogue site immediately and stood in silence and reverence on holy ground. A decade ago, on a safari in Africa with Lee, a guide with rifle in tow escorted us back to our bungalow. I had taken off my shoes and my feet felt the moisture of primal ground. With lions roaring in the distance and drums beating from a neighboring village, from the earth’s distant depth a spiritual reverberation moved forcefully and deeply within me as I experienced the connection with my primal ancestors. Now again, this time in Marianske Lazne, I felt the earth move under my feet as a vibration from a shallow depth and recent past time swelled up within me. I sensed an energy of a joyous, spiritual and light-hearted souls at a time in then Czechoslovakia when life was good. As I stood there then and looking back now, I strongly felt our Torah came from this or a similar community not only because the sensation I so strongly felt but I know that our Torah is scribed on deer skin which is rare and I learned the next day that deer inhabit the Marianske Lazne area.
The next day the same driver took us to the same site to experience the hallowed ground in daylight. We then went to the cemetery and spent half an hour connecting with each tomb stone some dating back to birth dates in the 1700. The earliest record of a Jewish presence in the area was 1821. Prof. Dr. Theodore Lessing who was a strong, vocal anti-fascist activist who was killed by the Nazis in1938 was buried there. I took photos of every tombstone in their beauty unique stone carvings and design. There were some a few, small, rectangular, functional, plain white metal markers with black inscription which Lee noted were set during Communism rule between mid 1950's to mid 1970's. This contrast reminded us of the stark, gray, drab, functional cinder block rectangular design of some of the apartment buildings typical of the Soviet Era we had seen in areas of Prague. These stark edifices again contrasted sharply with the magnificent, pleasing beautiful, artistic, creative, colorful views that unfolded during the 1000 plus years of varying architectural periods in Prague.
Before we grabbed a quick lunch and returned to Prague for our following morning flight back to Nevis, Lee and I thoroughly enjoyed a lovely hour and a half walk in the in the Bohemian Forest. It was incredible for me to just be there, absorb the beauty through all my senses and enjoy in deep gratitude yet another 50-year-long-experience immersed in nature with Lee.
The soft, alluring light caught our eye.
A beautiful boulder
beckons us along the way.
Our experience didn't end there as we returned for lunch to the same lovely tapas restaurant where we had dinner the previous evening. When I saw a man sitting eating what looked like a delicious meal, I inquired what he was eating. The man in his early 30's eating lunch noted, “You don’t eat dairy”. I replied, “I also don’t eat pork of shell fish.” He then asked if I was Jewish and when I replied, “Yes,” he responded, “So am I.” He was Jewish, the owner of the restaurant and one of only three Jewish families in Marianske Lazne. We asked him to join us and shared our experience at the synagogue site and cemetery. He shared that some of the tomb stones were brought from surrounding areas. He also shared that he was the fourth generation in hospitality and shared some of his life’s experiences. We exchanged email addresses and promised to keep in touch. Lee, who doesn’t share my sense of spirituality commented, “This all had to be more than coincidence.” I felt some force from the other side had been our tour guide these last 48 hours in Marianske Lazne.
On one of our serendipous stops in a shop on the Rhine River cruise in Germany, we also met a man whose family was also one of the few Jewish families in the area. His shared that father was always stopping to help others. Then on Dutch, Sint Maarten--not to be confused with the other side of the same island, French, Saint Martin--on our next to last leg of our Prague-Paris-Sint Maarten-Nevis flight, we overheard a woman in one of the shops speaking to a Rabbi. We explained that a month ago (remember our 50 year anniversary season with no chores,) we had attended a Sedar in Sint Maarten and asked if she was talking to the Rabbi who had led the Sedar. She said, she was.
And so we returned to Nevis on May 17th when I thought the landing marked the end of our 50th Anniversary Season, but there was one more gift before the closing book-end is placed on this once-in-a-lifetime Gifts from the Universe year. On the way home to Nevis, I reflected on what I thought I would never again experience--a jammin event that Lee and I had participated in 1999 during Culturama, an annual 10 day event of Nevisian-Caribbean culture with shows, concerts, beauty contests, yummy food, j’ouvert–arise at sunset and jamming and limin--having fun into the late night. Lo and behold on Whit Monday, which coincides with American Memorial Day, a j’ouvert, rise in the wee hours of the morning and slowly jamm to Herbert’s Beach where an all day gathering of food, music, friendship and joy in the peaceful, fun, Nevisian style happening would unfold. In the evening a limited-seating concert ($11.00) with Gramps Morgan, a world renowned Jamaican, reggae singer would occur 10 minutes from our home. And so Lee and I ended our 50th Anniversary Season with a little bit of walking not jamming and a few hours of concert--not till midnight–in the deepest of gratitude for the blessings we and our loved ones have received during this time.
Shortly after we arrived, our youngest daughter asked, “Mom, what was your favorite part of the trip. I didn’t even have to stop and pause to respond. There were two moments from our cabin with a french balcony where you look out but not step out. One was a morning when Lee and I didn’t have to arise early and just lay in our cabin and watched the morning unfold as we passed a very serene pristine shore in camping area. The other, which is my very favorite was in the evening in the same type of natural surroundings with the sun setting in the mist.
Before I end this dispatch, I do want to go back to my early years and share where I came from so you can gain a greater appreciation of my deep and often overwhelming sense of gratitude. My Mother was blessed with wealth and social status and yet at 19 upon her Father’s sudden death, returned from her freshman year in college in Switzerland where she was studying languages to become an interpreter. She remained at home with her Mother assuming responsibility in running their Richter department store. In 1938, two years before I was born my parents immigrated to the United States escaping Nazi Germany. Our relatives were scattered around the globe: Brazil, Australia, Israel, New York and San Francisco.
Growing up in Columbus, Ohio, I lived with my mother, father and sister. I never felt a true sense of belonging to my family or my community. In elementary and junior high school, I was the only
Jewish person in my class, never ridiculed, but never completely accepted nor fit in as I was raised in a German culture living in the mid-west America. I was envious of classmates who on week-end and holidays relished visits with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Monday morning "share time" filled me with visions I could only dream about. In the early photos of my life, my Father was and remained the lightness of the family and my Mother was still smiling and seemed happy. Nazi Germany wasn’t too far off in her memory and she was and always remained hopeful and optimistic. As the years unfolded my Mother’s fears, anger and burdens grew until later in her life. In Germany she had been surrounded by family, numerous cousins in neighboring towns. She lived in wealth with maids catering to her needs. When she arrived in New York, she became a maid. In other ways life in New York was good. She no longer enjoyed the affluence, but family, love and support with my Father’s Mother and sisters which meant a lot to her. The move to Ohio changed all that. Not only did she not have the support of family and close friends, she would not see her own Mother for 11 years and her sister for 18 years. She assumed much of the responsibility as my Father was a traveling salesman gone five days a week and sometimes longer. She was always grateful, never complained, but was not happy. That energy permeated our home in my younger years. Validation of my personal needs or acknowledgment of my feelings were rare. I was honored for what I did instead of cherished for who I was. When my mother became pregnant with my sister, I was under four. When I reached four, my Father told me “Take care of your Mother” while he was on the road. I took his word and at that point I lost my childhood and assumed the role of an adult who was responsible for my Mother’s well being. I learned at a very early age to make sure my Mother’s needs were taken care of before I even thought of my own needs. It must be hard to imagine for those who have known me and witnessed how blessed I have been to know that for most of my life my beating inner mantra was, "What do they need, what do they expect, what do they think"?
I carried these and other mantras for most of my life though to a lessening degree as the years passed. This burden has taken me decades to completely overcome with the guidance from Bnai Horin, my US spiritual community, gifts of the universe I received this year, Buddhist teachings and last but not least the incredible, wonderful gift, the experience of knowing the Nevisian people for 20 years and living among them for 12 in a local village immersed in local life. The Nevisians are hard-working, wise people who know how to have a lot of fun and laugh with me especially in my silliness. With them, I gained the childhood that I had lost decades ago. There is mutual love, respect and a tight bond that oceans will not separate. The Nevisian women that I know are internally strong, have great faith and connection with God or Jesus. They believe in faith, family and friends. They are lovely, do not wear their religion on their sleeve or force their views on me, but quietly and stoicly in joy, appreciation, gratitude, laughter and wisdom live their lives. There is no feminist movement, they just know what they have to do without making a lot of “noise” their term for arguing. If it doesn’t feel good, they just don’t take it on; it’s as simple as that. That has been my experience with my circle of Nevisian friends for more than a decade. During rough times, they rarely complain, but “make do,” “feel good enough” and thank God often for life’s blessings.
And last, but certainly not least the connection with my Mother. As the years passed and my sister and I grew up, life became easier for her. She became a strong, independent and happier woman who always kept her word and persevered; she did not give up. She set a wonderful example, role model and high-bar for self-discipline, integrity and commitment. At 78, she won a gold medal in swimming in the Senior Olympics at the Jewish Center in Ohio with an award presented to her stating, “For demonstrating that age is no barrier in the pursuit of personal triumph and fitness” which I proudly display in my office as a reminder of who she was and to never give up. Along with that example, she and my Father instilled wonderful values of empathy, help take care of those with infirmities, less fortunate or include newly arrived immigrants. These became a large part of my progressive foundation and inclusive views and deeds for which I am always grateful.
Less than a day after my Mother’s death in 1990, while Lee and I were sitting in our back yard in California sharing thoughts of her passing, a hawk descended from its usual high overhead glide in the wind currents and flew down between Lee and me at eye level. I knew then that her now unencumbered spirit would be with me. I did not quite realize then the extent to which her freed spirit would give me what she couldn’t while alive encumbered with life’s pains and burdens. Over my life, the negative thoughts between my ears had robbed my daily emotional strength often as much as 30%. After freeing myself of these negative thoughts, I have had more stamina than anytime in my life. Hopefully with this glimpse into my journey, you will gain greater understanding of my profound gratitude and appreciation of the “Gifts from the Universe” and these gifts will somehow inspire and lift you higher as well.
It is now more than three months since our 50 year anniversary season has ended. A few days ago in our Woodland Hills rose garden where roses bushes are chosen, planted and named for loved ones: Lee, our parents, each of our children and grands and a few other persons and Nevis. Upon our return from Nevis in June , I quickly noticed that the rose bush which I had planted for a special person had never before grown tall but now had one new tall, stronger, healthier shoot that was twice as high as the bush had been. I immediately felt its significance. A few weeks later, I again stood admiring and feeling a strong spiritual connection with the rose bush that now had four buds. I couldn’t determine the significance of the unexpected four buds growing so I asked a friend. She immediately shared her feelings and her thoughts felt right. On another morning, three white buds had already opened and were dropping their leaves but the fourth bud a very, very small bud had not yet opened. Over the next several days, three of the buds opened into beautiful ivory roses with a subtle fragrance, but the last little bud remained closed. The bud was small, had a dark area which could signal disease and I became concerned because I had placed significance on all four buds blossoming.
A few mornings later, still clad in my pajamas, I stood with my shiny jet-black-thin-computer-reading glasses close to my face in my right hand I held the soon-to-hopefully open ivory rose bud in my left hand when a beautiful dragonfly landed four inches in front of my face on the left thin temple of my glasses. It loomed huge in front of my eyes and with laser precision beamed its magnificent penetrating 30,000 blue ball-like eyes with a gentle yet steady strong force straight into my eyes. With its two-pronged tiny feet wrapped around the left jet-black- temple of my glasses, it held on with its wings capturing the shifting light and sensed me for at least twenty seconds. As I stood frozen, captivated and beholden to its powerful energy and blue fixed eyes and energy, I quickly glanced to take in its entire little body just poised hanging there and beamed back to it what do you want to tell me. Within seconds its male energy sent a profound message to rid my mind of any negative thoughts and concerns not only about the concern for the last bud delayed opening but on all negative and concern thoughts that I have as Lee and I age. It then flew briefly to the other temple of my glasses with it eyes still locked with mine before it took flight.
I share my gifts from the universe to an open spirit. I know my gifts will never--nor do they need to be--as grand or frequent, but the universe continues to provide daily in the ray of a sunset, the glow of the moon, the song of a bird, the scent of a flower, the patter of rain, the feel of the morning dew, the softness of a gentle breeze, the hues of a garden, the dance of autumn leaves in the wind, the flight of a butterfly, the voice of a friend, the contagious laughter of a child and the connection with a loved one’s soul through a touch, glance or word and yes, the deep connection with a beautiful, little dragonfly.
Love and later,