Thursday, November 21, 2013

Witnessing History

50 years ago today I was in Miss Brown’s 1st grade class at Wilshire Crest Elementary School when the Principal stuck his head in and motioned her to come outside.  A few moments later, she returned, and with tears in her eyes, said the President had been shot and we were all being sent home.

My Mother was waiting outside.  It was the first time I’d seen her cry.   

We were glued to our black and white television.  The funeral cortege went on for hours.  I don’t remember what my parents told my sister and me about President Kennedy, just that they were incredibly sad and shaken.

Soon after, on a visit to my Grandparents apartment, I saw their commemorative LOOK Magazine on the coffee table. It was devoted to the coverage of President Kennedy’’s assassination.  Around fifty images in black and white of November 22, 1963 in Dallas and the aftermath:  the State funeral in Arlington National Cemetery: Jackie, Robert and Teddy dignified in their grief and anguish, hundreds of thousands of Americans lining the procession of the horse drawn casket, Lee Harvey Oswald’s arrest and murder by Jack Ruby, and finally the last image on the back of the magazine, of John-Jonh’s salute of his father’s casket. 

Pouring over those images became my reason to go to Grandma’s.  I hunkered down in the corner chair with my historical treasure, oblivious to other family members.  Each photograph is seared into my mind’s eye: black and white,  light, angles and shadows on grieving faces. 

I willed myself to enter each picture, to be THERE.  A  I wanted to be an eyewitness to such a momentous event, to  understand and experience how history feels.  I knew then what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I am eternally grateful that I had the opportunity to live my dream.

A really great friend and mentor once remarked that photographs are seemingly meaningless moments made immortal.   That may be true, but even more so, photography is at its core, as Sontag wrote, “Darkness illuminated by little points of light.”  

So it’s my hope and prayer that on this 50th anniversary of one of the most horrific events in American history,  that the light with which JFK is immortalized in thousands of images pierces the darkness in which we find ourselves as a nation now.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

It's Loki hot in LA and it's Rosh Hashanah and I am not connecting to the most sacred of High Holy Days.  It's not the synagogue's fault. I was happy to find IKAR, a wonderful progressive social action oriented synagogue that, if I were to join a temple in LA, would be the one:  the services were excellent, the Rabbi's sermon brilliant and the people welcoming, with old and new friends.

My reality is no matter where I've wandered, Chabad or Modern Orthodox or Reformed or LBGT specific or Conservative, worshiping in a synagogue consistently fails to transport me to that place deep within my soul on the day when you are supposed to connect the most.

No synagogue, no Rabbi, no congregation compares to the most poignant Rosh Hashanah I have ever experienced in Camp Lokichokio.

Almost twenty years ago, in the summer of 1994, I was living my greatest dream as a photojournalist: on assignment for International Medical Corps, one month flying around Kenya, Somalia, Southern Sudan and finally to Rwanda, just after the genocide, landing the day after Yom Kippur.  Talk about the meaning of saying Kaddish.

But this night, on Rosh Hashanah,  I was almost asleep in my tent when I heard the blast of the Shofar.   Someone in the tent next door to mine was listening to the BBC on their shortwave, broadcasting news from the Middle East, from Jerusalem.  I sat straight up in my cot, overcome with homesickness. Imagining my parents at our family dinner.  At that moment I questioned where I was, thousands of miles away in the most northwest corner of Kenya, the only Jew in the base camp of Operation Lifeline Sudan, on the border with war torn Southern Sudan.  I spent a hot, sleepless, emotional night.

The next morning, I took my video camera and wandered the camp, creating a video diary of the day.  My accompanying audio commentary was that it was Rosh Hashanah, and that even though I was desperately homesick, I finally felt connected to what it means to really be a Jew: Tikkun Olam. I was finally living my life's purpose, documenting through my photographs that the world needs for ALL of us to help repair it.  After all, the Jewish people are charged with the responsibility of being the Light unto the Nations. Photography is, at its essence, darkness illuminated by little points of light, and if ever there was a need for that Light, the wars, famines and genocides of the past few years in this region was it.

Staying at the camp were leaders of the  Dinka tribe from Southern Sudan, on their way to a World Food Programme conference in Nairobi.   Their leader, a beautiful elegant man named Aquiele, called out to me from their chairs asking what I was filming.  I explained it was Rosh Hashanah, and that I was on my way back from the mess tent with apples and honey to celebrate the New Year.  He wished me a happy new year, and asked how they could make my new year special for me.  Instantly in tears, so moved by his genuine interest to know why this skinny geeky looking short haired white women was wandering around with a video camera talking to herself, I joined them, explained the Jewish New Year, the significance of apples and honey, who I was and why I was there, and that I was homesick.

Aquiele gave me a huge smile, asked me again, how they could make my New Year happy for me, and so together, we said the Shechecheyanu prayer, thanking God for bringing us to this moment.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Time to Start again

Some times Life appears to be one bizarre non-sequitur after another....but when you see the grace in every single event, suddenly your winding Path becomes vibrantly, beautifully evident, then your heart opens with gratitude for the Journey and floods your being, giving you the courage and the faith to follow your inner Light and fly. ‎#NeshamaSafari#TheoryoftheKosmikSlingshot

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Fragrance Diplomacy

I love a man who wears his cologne effortlessly.  Not the I-Sprayed-a-Whole-bottle-of-Men's-Obsession-All-Over-Me, and the elevator at the end of the day still reeks as it did that morning, when you lost the delicious scent of your latte to warpath pheromones attacking your sinuses.

I love the quiet scent.  Watching the hilarious Old Spice ads and You Tube videos, brings back old family stories:  My Mom loved the fragrance so much and it smelled so good on her she wore it when she and my Dad were courting.  He gave her a bottle as a gift, and then she gave one to him, he still has it in his cabinet--truly an antique.  It was another of their bonds, still unbroken after 70 years together.

I will always love the smell of Brut's why I fell in love with journalism--or, in the interest of full disclosure, a journalist.  Mr. Robin Nelson, brown cordoroy jacket with patches on the elbows and that baby blue Oxford shirt and khakis with loafers.  I was 14 and on a  family vacation: a Princess cruise to Canada and Alaska, Robin had just turned 18 and was traveling with his Aunt and Sis.  He had just finished his first year at Indiana's Ball State University, and was flush with the possibilities he would write for the Washington Post one day.  This was 1970, post Kent State but pre-Watergate, and Robin was sure he would do his part to save the world.  And he was always prepared too, with a Reporters Notebook and pens at the ready in his pockets.

My Dad had just given me my late Uncle Morrie's Argus C3 camera, even then, it was older than dirt, but after that first click of the shutter,  I knew I would be the photographic equivalent to Robin's crusading hell-raiser.  We sat in the lounge of the Princess Italia as it steamed away from the various ports, Robin reading passages from Upton Sinclair's  social action classic, The Jungle. . I was hooked. On crusading stories, on saving the world, on Robin, and on Brut.  The last night of the cruise, we stayed up in the lobby, laying on the couch, watching the waves and talking about what stories we would do, the impact we would have.  I fell asleep on his chest, the gentle smell of Brut lodged forever in my senses.

I wear Tsar  the fragrance I've worn for a couple decades now.  I love how it wears off, and I get compliments all the time from both men and women.  But there's more of a historical reason:  allegedly, my great grand-uncle was Russian-Soviet apparatchik Yakov Sverdlov, the guy who gave the order to murder the last Tsar, Nicholas II and his family.  Call it my apology to the Royal family,  a tip of my fragrance hat or simply a sick sense of humor, either way, I know I smell good.

My Dad must feel the same:  ever since he operated on Liz Taylor - he was her Proctologist- Mom has been buying him Liz's White Diamonds Cologne.

Which brings me to the title of this post: Fragrance Diplomacy: after all, one of the cardinal rules is the importance of face to face encounters.  So, our pheromones are the essence of our attractiveness in its most primal form.  It's our First Responder on high alert and we don't even have to think about it.  Smelling good:  It can be a lovely way to close those last three feet.  Given the incredible popularity of the Old Spice Guy, this seems like a no brainer.

And Robin, thanks for inspiring my career track.  Forever, each time I smell Brut, I remember that night, and how I hope you followed your dreams.  Thanks in part to you, I have.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Casualties of Empowerment: Part I

So I've been back in LA now for around a week and a half, and this phrase--Casualties of Empowerment-- has been bouncing around in my psyche since before I left. 

This trip to Israel was magical in more ways than I could ever describe with mere words.  The hot tears finally melting my hardened heart and quenching the thirst of my parched spirit were absorbed by the gorgeous sand beaches of Tel Aviv, and so many other, incredible places and experiences.

I don't recognize myself in the mirror just yet, and I haven't since around the second week.  My facebook photograph, taken on my birthday at this great nightclub in Tel Aviv, with me somewhere in between my first and second vodka shows someone I know is me, but someone so incredibly happy, so at home and fully filling out her skin--with a stunning tan---that I have to look twice sometimes to make sure it's my profile page. It's not a Yael I am used to, at least not in LA.  It's the Yael that now thinks of herself as Israeli, not American Jew.  I've been searching for home my entire life, and now that I've found home, home now inhabits ME, fully, and, even though I am back in LA.

I guess the reason this phrase in this context keeps coming to mind is that without becoming empowered, I would not have made this journey, and this journey had casualties left in its wake. One casualty is who I thought I was. 

I was way too caught up--indeed caught, trapped by my own self-image--in being who I thought I needed to be: The Martyr, and what a wake up call it is to realize that even though you can get your ya-ya's met by sacrificing yourself, there is no way you can be truly fulfilled, or happy hanging on that cross (yeah, well, religious imagery is the theme of the locale).  But more than that, you cannot reach your true potential as a human being, and do what God or the Fates have planned for you.  You are not fully living, you are just existing, because in order to be fully alive, you have to be walking your Path.

My personal definition of empowerment is the steadfast courage to risk everything on every level to fully live your beliefs, especially the belief of who you are meant to be,  to relentlessly pursue your Path to make a difference for good in this life, and the full acceptance of the responsibility and consequences of taking that Path.  In my mind, it's the sacred Oath to Self, and I am humbly grateful to finally swear to it.   Thanks, Illana.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Freefalling...Tel Aviv style

Sunday morning:  It's 4:00 in the morning and I can't sleep, and have one of those toxins released headaches, thanks to an amazing massage earlier today, along with shiatsu pushing of all my emotional trigger points.  As Hannah the Healer said when she finished, all the toxins are raging through my bloodstream right Israeli understatement.

So, I'm hugely emotionally wired right now and it seems the universe is throwing spiritual fastballs and curve balls these past few days and it's all I can do not to strike out.  What makes it all harder to deal with rationally and not overreact is that I am not at all in my comfort zone, with nothing to grasp on to when I freefall. So my fears and issues rage with nothing to talk me down from the ledge.

At least if I am home then I am home when this happens. Here I am home, but in such a different way. I am spiritually home, physically I am in Israel so I have come home, but I am not in my own home, with my own trappings and distractions and comforts and escapes. This stunning view of the beach is great comfort but it is still not mine, with my stuff in the drawers and my photographs on the walls.  I miss Leica-la badly and I miss my stuff, my routine that you only have when you are at your address. It blows my mind that today I went from dreading going home to missing home. I miss my friends in LA, but even that is a metaphor because BFF Paul is now in Taiwan (healing my heart via Skype), Lana is still in Doha, Brigitte is in New York, and most beloved Lauren and David and the kids are poised to move to Charlotte. So what also weighs on my heart more than ever is that I will be coming back to an LA that is a colder place than when I left.

An hour before going out on my birthday I had scary news about my Dad, and essentially said good bye just in case something happens while I am not there.

Tonight I spoke to him and he's having one of his bad, confused days.  My Mom is a stepping up to situation like a rock-star, but I worry about her too.

Today, Saturday, Shabbat, I went to synagogue for the first time in around 5 years. It was a completely different experience than any I have ever had. Going to synagogue in Israel by definition is a different experience. It's that local call thing again.

What added to it was that this was at a Rabbi's home in Hertzilya, and it was so gentle, and so that even though it was all in Hebrew, and I did not fully comprehend what was being said, it didn't matter.  I felt welcome, I understood the essence and I absorbed what I needed to further piece back together this spiritually cracked heart of mine. Thanks again, Illana:) 

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The View From My Living Room: Tel Aviv

Souk at Ben Yehuda, Jerusalem

The Absolute Best Iced Double Espresso, LaLoush Cafe, Jerusalem

Street Graffiti, Jerusalem.

Fogged in all day, Jerusalem (and, Tel Aviv too)

Kotel, Women's Side of the Wailing Wall, Jerusalem

Old City

Souk at Ben Yehuda, Jerusalem: This pix gives me hope

This time the tears were from God

Yesterday I finally cut loose a lifetime of spiritual longing and pain. Of always feeling outside. Of always searching elsewhere and refusing to trust that divine intuition. Of being deliberately, defiantly, insistingly lost, always wandering, parched, in the desert of my own creation.

Last year, when I finally came here, to Israel, I was still caught in my own crossfire, not fully Yael, my given first name still on my old passport, Yael my middle name. I was not integrated yet, not whole.

This trip I arrived (!!) with a newly issued passport, Yael my first name, with entry into Israel its first stamp. The beginning of the ending of my disconnect.

It's no accident that my Hebrew birthday is the day before Erev Shavous. 4 Sivan. It's also no accident that this trip I landed just two hours before Shavous ended, and began this journey watching the sunset on the day Jews essentially became officially the Jewish Nation.

I had this fleeting image right at the beginning of reciting Ana Becho'ach yesterday of a barge piled high with all the issues I have been holding on to, the ones I've let fester inside, being set alight and drifting out to sea. My stubborn insistence of my outside-ness was the top heap on that burning barge. I remember thinking how tantrum-angry my separate self was at being no longer wanted, necessary or needed.

It was a momentary visualization and I didn't even remember it until today at the Kotel.

This morning I took the direct bus to Jerusalem and made my way to the Wailing Wall.  As I began to write my prayers to leave in the many overflowing crevices of the wall, along with so many others, it began to rain: huge, giant raindrops falling in a short, almost hot rain, a brilliantly timed downpour. Gesh'em. I tried to shield my letter from the rain, lest the ink run, and for a moment I felt like a little child afraid that God would not be able to read the smeared words and therefore not grant what I so long for. But it was perfect.  The rain blessed me and my prayers, permanently ending my parched wanderings and washing away any last bits of ash that might have fallen on me from the barge's final inferno.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Ana Becho'ach Part II

So this morning my daily walk on the beach had an inner, different, more chaotic, jumbled energy.  Each moment here in Israel I am letting go and healing, so I've felt more emotionally raw and there is nothing that scares me more than my own vulnerability. At last, though, here, I am fully, completely safe to actually risk being in this space and let this experience be all it needs to be to fully transform - thanks Illana.

I've been here just a week, and cannot handle the fact that I physically live in Los Angeles, where the connection to your soul is sold as a souvenir trinket. I should know, I've bought a lot of them, over the years, from a lapis and turquoise Yin Yang to somehow grant me Zen inner peace, to a Goddess figure to remind me that I am the embodiment of the divine feminine.

But this morning, with a spontaneous pause to sit and meditate and be gently helped in reciting the Ana Becho'ach prayer, and the healing of my soul that began when the plane landed at Ben Gurion Airport finally kicked off the spiritual meltdown I knew would come.

It's painful but incredibly liberating to admit to myself how spiritually damaged I am from chaotically meandering around on this self inflicted spiritual safari: all the searching I've done for comfort outside of myself did nothing except create static between me and the voice I have been listening so hard to hear. My looking to others who claimed to be holy-know-it-alls definitely showered them with undeserving Guru dust, and dis-empowered me.

I have been afraid all these years to draw boundaries with those who wanted to change my belief system for their own holier-than-thou perks. They were only interested in their power over me, not me finding my spiritual strength on my own.

The reality is that no one has your spiritual back except God.  Not the Sikhs that promised Karmic salvation with each Breath of Fire, nor the Chabadniks who tried to ma-carv (make religious) me. I've no longer any interest in becoming a denim skirt wearing Baalat Teshuva, or a white turbaned follower of another religion.  And there is no way I am ever, ever again going to allow a Talmud rejecting screaming hypocritical spiritual-but-atheist-Yogi to humiliate me for my Jewishness in my own home.

I am connected now to the Source that I've known all along to be there at the place where it all began.  It's realizing that even though I am in Israel where this is, as the joke goes, a local call, that whole-ness, that holiness is always within me, and it will be there, even on the plane back to LA.

Anah Bakoach

It's so easy to listen to my soul here, and even easier to pay attention to what is being whispered so beautifully as the waves crash against the rocks and I sit in quiet meditation and recite the prayer for grateful completeness: you are home, you are safe, you are whole. You can let your fears go now. It's okay to be vulnerable, to trust, to change now. You can let go and just be.... and so of course, my automatic reaction takes over and I freak out at being so vulnerable and push it away with my brain on overload. Gently I am pulled back to silence and just being, grateful for the feedback and riding the waves of letting go.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

...And the Walls Came Tumbling Down

 I am finally on the beach in Tel Aviv.  Really, literally, on the beach.  I wake up and the view from my bed is the ocean.  I fall asleep to the sounds of waves breaking on the shore.  My sunsets are beyond spectacular, and it's really, unbelievably, the view from my living room, from my balcony.

I am starting to detox from the constant state of hyper-alert that comes with being the kid taking care of the parents. It's been my daily and much more scary nightly existence in LA for over the past six years. Now my shoulders around my ears drop along with each setting sun, disappearing into the ocean. I've only just watched my 4th sunset tonight since arriving and my body, mind and soul are reacting to it all. Emotionally, this is like getting off the roller coaster while it's still going 90 miles an hour.

There is irony here: my state of hyper-alert is less in Israel than in LA.  Seriously. This country is the definition of constant mind-numbing adrenaline specializing in the "just-in-case."  My walls are tumbling down a short city journey from where the still standing Wailing Wall is the embodiment of the joy and pain of sacred devotion.

I can't seem to connect with any physical memory of my previous life in LA.  It only appears as spontaneous tears. These past couple nights it comes, making my eyes all swollen along with allergic reactions to the toxins leaving.  There is only now, and it is so disconcerting at times.  Maybe that is what being in Israel does to you: makes you let go of who you were before, beckoning you to become who you are meant to be.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Liberation from my personal Egypt: Part V

A few hours ago I was writing yet another blog post about what I was not doing, and how I needed to be liberated from yet another issue that I allow to hold me back.

And then my eye fell on this section I cut and pasted to stay on my desktop, on the significance of tonight, the seventh night of Pesach in Kaballistic terms (thanks Illana:)

"The holiday of the Seventh Day of Pesah is a great opportunity to connect to one of the biggest rites of passage of humanity; the ability to overcome doubt and the boundaries of human logic, the ability to connect to the source of Creation and to draw from there, the knowledge, certainty and faith that everything happens for the best."

So I stopped writing about what I was not doing, and just started doing it.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Liberation from my personal Egypt Part IV

Monday night at the Sterns' wonderful Pesach Seder we went around the room taking turns reading the Haggadah-the story of Passover. When we reached the part about the 4 Sons: the wise son, the wicked son, the simple son, the son that does not know enough to ask, there was an added paragraph, which fell to me to read:  In this particular Haggadah, (a Chabad one) there is the addition of the 5th son: The Son Who Is Not There.  That's the son who chooses to stay away from the Seder table.  The son who self-exiles.  When I read the passage, I almost burst into tears.  I know I blurted out, "Wow, that's me!"

I believe that Life is a spiritual journey, not necessarily a observant religious one....even though I bless Shabbos candles, I am more culturally Jewish, I have serious barriers up to anything further.  Experience is the best teacher, and each time I've gone deeper in any of my spiritual pursuits-- and my spiritual path has taken me down many roads, from the Sikhs on Robertson doing yoga and helping the prayer services at the Sikh Temple, to Cape Town and hanging out with the Chabadniks there and here in LA--that road has been cast with hypocrites  searching for a way to exert power and control rather than nurture self discovery and faith in the Divine.

Plus, I am not a fan of organized religion.  Far from it.  I think the world needs a good dose of John Lennon.  The endless wars and killings and crimes against each other, especially women, have made me run in the opposite direction from anyone who would have the chutzpah to tell me what they think God wants from me--and being gay, my journey to be at peace with myself on this issue is not something I would ever want to repeat.  In fact womens' sexual relationships with each other are not even mentioned in the 613 laws or in Leviticus or anywhere.  Yep, another place where we don't count in the religion as much as men.

But lately, at this spiritual place--Judaism newly combined with Taoism--need that promised Zen peacefulness--- with just enough Wicca to believe in the Divine Feminine as savior to the world, I've felt I am just hanging out until I gather the strength to move on again.  Kind of comfortable in my doubts, but in reality not at peace spiritually, and therefore, not at peace at all.

There is something missing and I feel the absence so keenly there is this restlessness and emptiness where that sense of belonging should be.  I've tried to find my footing on my spiritual path over and over again, and again and again, I stumble.  And I love ritual, it makes me feel grounded and elevated at the same time, and yet I purposely don't partake.

These past few Pesachs I have not even kept the week, in fact, I've broken it with a vengeance, throwing a religious tantrum, eating a bacon cheese burger as soon as possible...and then the spiritual stomach ache comes along with that inner sadness that I've given up on myself.  Not necessarily that God is disappointed, (but, being really honest, that is in there too, hoping that you count enough on the spiritual plane to warrant that reaction).

So, this Pesach, for no other reason than believing it so necessary this time for reasons I don't even know yet, I am going to keep the week without wheat.

What I know for sure is the result of this spiritual laziness is I lost a lot of the faith I had before in the Divine Plan. I could let go then, not grip the steering wheel so tightly, but lately, I trapped myself into believing that I am the one fully in control of my life, my parents lives, and all sorts of circumstances around me.  Not consciously, but subconsciously, I've been spiritually at odds lately with really believing that there is a higher power, a universal force, and that has caused me to ignore my soul's whispers for the past few years.

So this is part of my liberation from my personal Egypt.  For it's only when you have faith in the godliness in your soul at all that you get quiet enough to listen and find your Path.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Liberation from my personal Egypt Part III

Okay this one is no surprise, least of all to me (and God love my inner circle of friends for gently trying to call me on it) and I am loath to admit it, but, this is about really being free, so here goes:

I use being the caretaker to my parents to avoid risking whether or not I would really succeed or fail pursuing my goals.

Yeah, ME, who's favorite phrase to others so often is "The cross is rented".  Well, hell, I am nothing if not a first class hypocrite sometimes.

But this Martyr thing is not as black and white as it seems, though, because I am indeed the daughter that is here, the one able to handle the things my sister is afraid of, even if she were on this side of the US.  I am the one who's in charge of all the STUFF, including those emergency room visits and checking in every day, all the practical things, etc. etc. etc. etc.........

But, the truth of it is, I have been much safer complaining that my life is on hold than actually doing something about it.  Okay I felt that, deep in my gut like the punch that knocks the breath out of you.

It's easy to fall into this...too easy, when the lines are blurred as to what really is necessary and what is rescuing them when they can take care of it themselves.

A year ago when I had to have my right ankle rebuilt and I was not able to go run after them for the 8 weeks I had to stay off my foot,  I affected a paradigm shift that actually led to me letting go enough to feel semi-free to go to Israel for a couple of weeks over the summer, to look at pursuing an overseas Phd, to a lot of things that in the past 6 years of care taking, I would not dare take seriously.  But then, I fell back into my old routine....kind of like that wet diaper that is more comfortable than a fresh, albeit scratchy, new dry one.

It's easy to not risk pursuit-of-own-desires-and-goals-failure, especially when you're doing the Noble Dance--which goes something like this---two steps towards your own life, then run like hell back to whatever obligation you can find to avoid going further.  Plus outsiders see you as so incredibly giving, sacrificing and loving, the mileage from the affirming comments from outsiders, even other family members is a priceless warm fuzzy.  You get love when you fall on the cross, when you bitch everyone understands the stress you are under--except for those bastards who have the nerve to actually suggest you DO something about it.  Who needs solutions?  I'm happy in my double M, Martyr-Misery.

Except that I'm not.  I never was.  It was convenient to take a pass on living that life with a larger purpose, and admitting this now to myself hurts in my cells, but finally I can let this insidious illusion go.   I was lying to myself thinking that what I was doing here staying small was more important and noble than the one thing that has ALWAYS mattered to me more than anything, or, for that matter, anyone: making a difference in this world on a global scale, pursuing my goals and dreams, and actually achieving them.

I have always believed that everything that happens in life is to guide you to the purpose for which you are born, and all of my Neshama Safari has been to find it.  It's ignoring that call of your soul that enslaves you, and now that I am free, I am answering Hineni.  Here I am.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Liberation from my personal Egypt Part II: WEW.LA

I finally posted some of my professional photojournalism work on line.  I've been making photographs since I was 14 years old, and now I'm 52.  That's a helluva lot of images.  I've worked for the Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times and gone overseas for International Medical Corps to photograph their war zone work in Somalia, Southern Sudan and Rwanda.  And I've just found it in me to value what I have to say with a camera enough to post some photos on my Facebook profile.  Yeah.  I know.  Just this past weekend.

A few years ago I bought a film scanner and my own domain name with the intent to create a website of my work, and enough Leica gear to do the more quiet, introspective projects I've been putting on hold.  A couple of weeks ago I bought a Leica M9,  allegedly the supreme act of confidence and faith in my own talent, desire and commitment to telling those stories.  Yeah, well, sort of.

It says a lot about an artist when he or she finally believes in their value, the power of their message, and I can tell you, through a lot of scotch and tears stained dark nights of the soul, you don't ever get there alone.

I got there, finally, just now, because of Illana Shoshan,  Dr. Galit Dayan, and Meirav Oz.  I am blessed enough to be a part of Illana's organization, WEW.LA   She has pulled together these two phenomenal Israeli women and for the past two weeks, all three have worked tirelessly to empower other women to believe in themselves, to reach for their dreams and to market themselves with the confidence it takes to succeed.

I've been photographing and videotaping their empowerment seminars, from San Diego to Orange County to Beverly Hills to West Hollywood to the San Fernando Valley (missed an amazing one in San Francisco) and heard their presentations in Hebrew and in English around a half a dozen times, and even though that kind of elusive confidence does not necessarily transmit through just listening, their presentation was so incredibly powerful, it did.

Listening to Meirav tell her personal story of how she followed her dream of publishing her first novel, "One Wrong Move" and personally, through her own marketing campaign, made it a terrific success is nothing short of inspiring. Her marketing strategy, done on literally no "real" money, but when added to that incredibly overlooked intangible source- creative and networking generated funding- is pure genius.

Listening to Dr. Galit Dayan, a brilliant Egyptologist who re-invented herself to be an organizational management consultant to the top companies in Israel, speak candidly how she combines being a Mom and being the wife of a diplomat moving around the world every few years with her own business success gives perspective to the balance: I don't have a husband or kids, but I am caregiver to my parents and have many other stresses governing my life,  ones that I've allowed to take me away from my goals and dreams, always taunting me to give up on myself. 

Most of all,  the visionary force behind this empowerment mission is Illana Shoshan. Elected Miss Israel 1980 and now, because of her dedication and single mindedness to the economic and educational empowerment not just for Jewish and Arab women in Israel, but for all women no matter who or where they are, Illana's just been elected Israel's Queen of Beauty for all time.  It's an understatement that she is beautiful inside and out, but truthfully I don't think the title does her justice.

Most traditional definitions of beauty don't include qualities like the selflessness, incredible courage, creative intelligence, strength, passion, guts, stamina, sacrifice,  focus, fearlessness and pure love required to take on a cause like this.  Listening to Illana speak about how important it is for women to be economically able to take care of themselves and their children, to be respected, to be equal in every way, to be able to educationally compete in the workplace, there is no mistaking her purpose.

Photographs are little points of darkness illuminated by light, and I've always believed women are the bearers of that light....Illana, Galit and Meirav are definitely the bearers of those torches. They help light the way for all of us to liberate ourselves from our personal Egypts.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Liberation from my personal Egypt...Part I

So here it is the Shabbat before Pesach, the holiday of the Ultimate Liberation and I so desperately need and want to be finally, truly free from so much that all I can think of is Oh My God, Where To Begin?  A new friend who's very wise in the Kabbalic  significance of Passover told me that the impact of the intent lasts for the entire year.  Great.  No pressure. 

More than ever before I feel like my entire future (and may I live to 120 yrs) happiness, my inner peace all rest upon my freeing myself from this emotional and spiritual rollercoaster I've been on for so long.  And to make it even more intense, I am more emotionally raw, more exhausted than ever before.  Seriously.  Ever.  With my father's impending death, along with the sudden passing of Ralph Purdum, a truly amazing and much loved friend of my family at the age of 46, I feel like I am skidding on the handrails of a massive grief crash. 

I am so much in the moment handling everything for my parents, all the details, that I have not allowed myself to really sob--except for when Beethoven's Violin Concerto happens on the radio--- for such a long time as my Dad's days now pass slowly, excruciatingly, into night. Each day I am in the thick of it trying to at least make sure decisions are made now to somehow make it easier for both my Dad and my Mom to bear.

And so I hold back me.  It's what I do, it's what I've always done--there was no room to need nurturing as a child--- and it's only what I know and it's what I need to let go now if I am to be truly liberated from my personal Egypt, my tyranny of my self constructed "Shoulds" of how I should or should not be.

My fear of being fully, gloriously, emotionally human is the capitol city of my Egypt. (And of course I know the main river, of tears in this case, really is called Denial.) I am not comfortable with ALL of me, especially the part that has needs.  The part that is needy sometimes. The part that is vulnerable. The part of me that hurts so badly right now and desperately needs to be held while I cry and slobber over someone's shirt as I wail and let all this go.

So, instead I become defensive, sarcastic, snarky and way too macho for even my faux Xena stance.  My walls go up and I do my best to drive people away lest they find out that I'm a really strong but  also fragile woman.  I know I give off that strong woman vibe, that Knight that rescues, and that's truly, a really accurate and good part of who I am, but I am also gloriously infuriatingly human, and that's the part that needs to run into the Red Sea as it parts (or doesn't) without fear of drowning in the crashing waves of my own tears.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

On Loss

I've had way too many conversations about death these past few weeks, and news yesterday that a family friend passed away at the age of 46 just has made my emotions tail spin.  I don't mind admitting that I am terrified of dying, I always think I can save myself in the nick of time.  I simply have too much to do to leave this place. And yes, writing this I am creeping myself out, like it will be some ironic morbid obit or something because my hypochondriac self is feeling pain in my left arm (it's the pinched nerves in my neck, not my heart), and because things like this always happen. 

But the reality that is haunting me  is that most lives are lives not really lived.   I always feel like I am not really living mine.  I am afraid that I will not accomplish all my goals, and being focused on that a lot of the time stops me in my tracks.  Hence my fear.

The conversations I've had about death have been intense, mostly they revolve around walking my Mom and the caregivers through the various scenarios of what will happen when my Dad's dialysis catheter finally quits, and he runs out of options.  I don't want a decision made in the emotion of that moment, and so I am doing my best as the one in charge (The One in Charge is God) to avoid it.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A few articles on Israel

Since I had to cancel my trip to Israel, I am feeding my fix with some reading of current stuff on Israeli PR.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Living in LA....

Just found out I have developed allergies and that's why my sinuses are wrecked so much of the time.  Pollen. Grass. Trees. Dust mites, (both D.f. and D.p.-apparently there are two different kinds, who knew??), Cats....the plagues of living in Los Angeles in this era. 

At least I am not allergic to any foods.  At least, not so far.

So I am going to do allergy shots to build up an immunity to these toxins.

They say that sea and ocean air are best for people with these kind of allergies.

Maybe I just need to move to either of my most favorite places:  Tel Aviv or Cape Town.

For medicinal purposes, of course.

About time.

Kindle this!

I've been wrestling with buying a Kindle, or a Nook or some electronic book device that will enable me to be a walking books I've-not-yet-read library.  I normally carry at least one book and magazine with me at all times lest I actually have a moment not filled with checking my twitter feed or my e-mails or my facebook notifications.  Normally I pack one fiction, one scholarly, and one travel essay collection.  Just for a weekend in San Francisco-packed with birthday party functions, I still took two books with me. The problem was my mood, and so neither hit the spot.  You know, that transported from the first page and suddenly it's hours later and you're in another universe.  Not Borges nor Graham Greene, I tried to sink into one, then the other, for some reason was not instantly immersed, so sat on the plane, frustrated.  Immediately I found the Barnes and Noble near my hotel, and bought "The Art of Travel" that I added to the San Francisco edition Moleskin birthday gift given the next day because it fit perfectly.

I am addicted to buying books.  My Amazon visa card, and before that, my American Express card, can attest to how much I feed my fix.  Lots of money and lots of trees have gone into my habit.

So I started thinking, what if I had a Kindle?  I would have at least 50 choices on there, from Tolstoy's War and Peace to Alan Furst's "The Spies of Warsaw"  I would have been able to read The New Yorker, and all the other magazines piling up all over my condo.

Everyone I ask loves theirs.  They swear by the ability to carry a literary truck load in something the size of a DVD case, and the ability to look words up immediately by pointing the curser is one helluva selling point. And they can take it anywhere.  Maybe except the bathtub, but I can't read in there anyway because my glasses keep fogging up.

I was sold, and was almost ready to click "add to cart" when I started thinking of how much I LOVE BOOKS.  Real books. I love the feel, the smell of a book.  I love turning pages.  I love to plan curling up with a book with that perfect espresso or tea or wine or scotch or martini.  My selection of drink always fits my choice of reading material. Sometimes I cheat and, trying not to read the ending, check where I am on the journey until that last page is turned.  There is something really satisfying about closing in on that last page of a tomb like the fifth Harry Potter.  Somehow I don't think it would be the same feeling coming up on the last downloaded page. How would you know?  Books have weight.

I love to go to a bookstore with someone special, new or old friend, or lover, or relative, and buy them one of my favorite books I think they will enjoy.  One of my most favorite things to do in a strange city is find the city's treasured bookstore.  I lose myself in their stacks and always buy at least one new novel, and it becomes a cherished memory of where and when I read it. 

I love to see what other people are reading.  Stop into any Starbucks anywhere and anytime and you can see who you want to meet, even who you don't.  How many great conversations and relationships begin with "what are you reading?" or "I read that, I loved it!".  And how many times has that tell tale self help book steered us clear?

I love to gaze at my bookshelves to decide what I have not read and pull it off the shelf.  And for friends, mine is a lending library with no late fees.

I love the idea that when traveling, you can find books people have left behind, and leave yours for future travelers.  It's  Used Book Diplomacy and it's a magical way to exchange ideas and cultures.  Even in doctors offices and waiting rooms. 

The Borders Bookstore near my home is closing because no one shops there anymore.  At least not enough to pay to keep it open.  It's a huge pinkish building, two stories with a cafe and it's the only bookstore in my neighborhood.  I normally make a stop there at least once a month, now that I know they are soon to be gone, I have gone more often.

Yesterday I went and bought a few more.  Even a couple of hardbacks. The place has been packed, with fire sale deals of 30% off and more.  The shelves are a bit in disarray, picked over.  Standing in line to check out, I realized something: the Kindle and all the rest of the virtual reading devices are elitist.  Libraries and even bookstores are the great equalizers of society.  Anyone can come and sit in a library and read.  Bookstores welcome people sitting on their floors and in their cafes, pursing the shelves for hours. These electronic devices will be the death of bookstores, of libraries, and that would be tragic.

Readers of the world, unite. 

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Israelis and Obama...and peace initiatives

Terrific reality check by Foreign Policy Magazine on Obama's approval in Israel and the peace process.