The Way (Derekh) Forward Begins

Thanks for joining me!

Dear Readers,

In the fall of 1973, my father, mother and I lived in the London ward of Belsize Park in the borough of Camden. Dad was on sabbatical from his university post, mom was on break too from her professional social work job, and I was a 17 year old high school senior. For the first semester of that senior year I had developed learning contracts with my social studies and English teachers so that I could secure a few credits and still graduate with my peers later that school year.

My English teacher, Mr. Felstad, whom I grew to deeply admire, assigned me Beowulf and Chaucer and various English notables, and also required me to keep a daily journal. I still look back on that journal from time to time, decade to decade, cherish it, and thank Mr. Felstad for his wisdom.

It is with this emotional connection to journaling as background and motivation that I attempt to conquer my first 21st Century-style journal – a blog. I fully recognize that the nature of this beasty is not private, and will more likely result in the prosaic than profound. But since this has an audience of more than one, I will attempt topics that may at least be marginally interesting to friends, family and/or colleagues.

Let’s end this first post – written on the day before I take off for Israel – by attempting to answer the question that my wife Jean, my sons, sister, friends and just about everyone who hears my plan has asked me: Why are you doing this? Why visit Israel for three months, a couple weeks after you have retired from 25 years at the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission?

The answer will no doubt change in the midst of the visit. Perhaps with seeping regrets or unexpected revelations. But as of now here’s what I got.

First of all, I want a clean break from my work-centered life. Many folks who retire from full-time professional work, find an emptiness that needs filling. Find a need to redefine self, now that a large part of their identity is stripped from them. Without a major and consuming break from past habits, I might find the road to the next stage of my life more subject to inertia than positive choices.

Secondly, I want to explore my Jewish self. Even in light of the complex and controversial politics, and the intense day-to-day living, in Israel, during my previous two visits I had a visceral sense of being somehow at home there; with people whose manner felt deeply familiar and akin to my own. So I want to connect with my relatives, some of whom are quite elderly, while I still can. I want to attempt to learn Hebrew, while my brain still can. And I want to explore Jewish practice and culture.

Finally, after a full year post heart valve surgery, I am still so conscious that life is precious and short, and one’s health can not be assumed into the future. The opportunity for an extended time in Israel, or any other such adventure, is in the words of Hillel, a question of “If not now, when?”

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

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