—————> Read from Left to Right —————>
I was born in Israel in 1950 to pioneer parents. My mother, a German Jew, was an intellectually rigorous psychologist. My father, an Hungarian Jew, was gentle and poetic but also a labor organizer and engineer.Both had lost most of their families in the Holocaust. Together, they were a visionary, optimistic, determined, and idealistic pair who mirrored the exciting tenor of the times in Israel as the new nation was born from the ashes of the Holocaust. It was only natural that concerns with justice, peace, integrity, compassion, and fairness were discussed daily around our dinner table with lively discussions about social justice, peaceful co-existence with neighboring Arab countries, and the rights of women, Jewish immigrants from Arab countries, and Israeli Arabs.
Born in Israel
To inspiring, loving parents
My destiny molded in their values of justice, compassion & peace
Like a ship beginning a voyage of self-discovery
My parents, the anchors of good deeds & righteousness
my port of calling,
my dock of endless, enduring love.
The years passed and I grew to be a young man. I had a very close group of friends in the youth movement (Hashomer Hatzair) and was close to my older sister. I loved sports, hiking, backpacking, swimming, and basketball, but was also a keen reader of many subjects. In the course of absorbing so much new information and so many new ideas, I soon found I had a passion for critical thinking and its natural consequence: a desire to improve the society I lived in and to question existing 'truths' and unquestioned/given assumptions. Alongside my family and friends, I was politically active in promoting peaceful co-existence between Israelis and Palestinians and in opposing religious oppression and manipulation by the extremist religious Jews....and it all began at our dinner table where Martin Buber, Rollo May, and other existentialists were part of the menu..
A thirst for knowledge blossomed in me
Like a bud growing in springtime,
poking through the newly thawed soil
An examination of life, a proclivity
to challenge rigid dogmas and assumptions
Like an ember that slowly simmered
My quest to question the unquestioned began
At age 10, during a Purim holiday celebration (similar to Mardi Gras) where thousands of Israelis gathered in the center of Tel-Aviv to celebrate, an Israeli soldier mistakenly launched a phosphorous grenade into the crowd while intending to throw a colorful and harmless smoke grenade. The burning phosphorous struck both my legs and my hair, turning me into living torch. Due to the nature of phosphorous, which sticks to the skin and can burn without oxygen, it was hard to put the fire out and I ended up with third degree burns on my legs and a scar on my hairline and spent a month in the hospital. (For the rest of my life I could always resonate with the famous Vietnamese Napalm-Girl, who was photographed in 1972 screaming in torturous pain, after U.S. air-force reprehensibly, inhumanly and immorally dropped napalm on her village.) Oddly enough, my most vivid memories of this ordeal were having fun in the hospital riding a wheelchair on two wheels and spending time with my mother who had also received burns from the same grenade and was in the next hospital room.
Family times were precious and certainly have had a lifelong effect on both my sister (four years older) and me. I am an amalgam (powwow) of my parents: my mother's rigorous intellect and my father's gentle soul and both their devotion to social justice and to 'doing good'. My name also reflects these complementary polarities within me. "Ofer" means fawn in Hebrew, a creature that is gentle and tender, while "Zur" (or "Tsur" or "Tsoor" in Hebrew) means hard rock and represents firmness and rigorousness. At dinner time we often would be asked about any good deeds we had done that day or about any worries or feelings. As a result, for many years, I felt I had to 'justify my existence' by doing a daily good deed. I remember one example of a family discussion just after my bicycle had been stolen. Obviously, I was furious, but my parents reminded me of how privileged (not wealthy) we were and that the boy who stole my bicycle probably has come from a poor or deprived home.
To do good
Values woven into the fiber of my being
A virtuous existence
Peering outside of myself
To step into the shoes of another
To hold a hand
Touch a heart
Mold a life
The Israeli army is a rite of passage for almost all young Israelis and during my service I faced barriers and boundaries that I had never before encountered. I was a paratrooper and I will forever remember the first time I stood at the launch door of an airplane, thousands of feet above the earth - poised at a fundamental boundary between the real and the ethereal - and stepped forward into the void. It was a transforming experience, fraught with suspense and fear but also imbued with joy and the instant dawning of a new perspective. Floating, falling, what a metaphor for Life! - but also entrusting my life to a slip of silk, certain that the canopy would open, trusting to the unknown.
A door separated me from
airplane and sky
One foot placed gingerly on a metal floor,
And the other foot on a cloud
Holding on, letting go
Sailing through whisps of white
Floating endlessly above the earth
Gliding gently below.
Soon after, as a lieutenant and combat officer, just 19 years old, viewing life as a prism of possibilities, I found myself at the greatest boundary of all, that of life and death. For the first time, I held a soldier's dead body in my arms. Simplicity and innocence vanished and once again a new perspective opened before me, a new consciousness. I felt so profoundly the preciousness, the fragility of life and the importance of living each day fully, with care and integrity, as if it were my last day on earth. To this day, I try to live that way.
Life with its infinite possibilities
Could vanish without warning
Cradling a soldier’s dead body in my arms
Mourning a life taken too soon
A new perspective formed in my consciousness
An appreciation for each day
As it could be my last
While some boundaries are physical, existential, or spiritual, others are developmental, metaphorical, or metaphysical. I remember a time, during my military service, when three of us, all officers, were housed in a cement bunker. Late one night, we were all very tired and had turned in for a good night's sleep. I was already in bed and, instead of doing the obvious of getting up and turning off the light switch, I reached for my handgun and shot out the single light bulb hanging from the ceiling. While I accurately hit the bulb, which effectively turned the light off, the bullet ricocheted wildly around the cement walls for what seemed like a very long time, seriously endangered the life of all three of us. On my list of boundaries, this would easily rank as a highly reckless, stupid, and an utterly irresponsible way of pushing boundaries - and fate.
One of my many assignments in the army was patrolling the Arava and the Negev desert from the Dead Sea in the north to the resort town of Eilat in the south, situated at the northern tip of the Red Sea. I loved the desert; I always did. There is something in its vastness, dryness and mysteriousness that have always drawn, enticed and soothed me. Backpacking and riding motorcycles or jeeps in the desert have been a big draw in my life and probably will always be. There were times when we finished our patrol in Eilat. As we arrived, tired and dust-coated from a long, rough day often with searing desert winds, we pointed our jeep straight for the beach. What a joy it was to plunge into the pure, cool, blue waters of the Red Sea. That sensation as I dove deep was a kind of ecstasy.
Patrolling the desert
My soul soothed by
Mountains of sand as far as the eye could see
A stillness, a magic in the arrid air I inhaled
A time to reflect
Turn inward and explore life in all of its wonderment
Before exploring 'life after leaving,' I want to revisit my time in Israel in the early 70s as an officer in the Israeli army. Our highly trained unit was stationed in a tremendously overcrowded, poverty-stricken, and polluted refugee camp in the occupied Gaza Strip. The camp consisted of thousands of single-story houses jammed full with multiple generations in families, and often chickens and ducks as well! The narrow streets—actually muddy alleyways—emitted the foul stink of urine and excrement from donkeys, mules, chickens, ducks and... humans.
As assigned, I led a squad of eight soldiers on patrol throughout the filthy, narrow alleyways of the camp with no specific mission other than to establish the Israeli army's presence and affirm its dominance in the camp. We were wandering aimlessly, but in high-alert ready to fire on a milli-second's notice, when I heard a tall young thin Arab woman, fully covered by a burqa, standing on top of a shattered concrete piece, screaming and gesticulating wildly. She held a tiny baby on her hip and had two malnourished, frightened young boys by her side.
She yelled and cursed from the bottom of her heart at the heavily armed Israeli soldiers who stood silently and motionlessly beside the huge yellow bulldozer that had just demolished her home. The dust from the demolition was still settling among piles of broken pieces of wood, mud and rock, covering her and her three children with thin sticky layers of dust. It was horrifying to observe these figures, covered with dust, standing on what was used to be the roof of their home.
As we approached the horrific scene, she turned to us and screamed at me and my soldiers. We too stood motionless and speechless.
Not knowing the language, I did not understand most of her yelling and screaming in Arabic, but somewhere I understood each and every word she yelled and spit at us.
The second I realized that she was standing on the roof of her own demolished house, I resonated with her rage, fury and despair. I readily imagined what it was like for her to see her house, her shelter, the roof over her babies' heads, so brutally and definitively flattened by a giant bulldozer – her very life all but erased.
According to the Israeli military 'standard' 'occupier's cliché', the so-called 'crime' that led to the leveling of her house was that she hid or shared a living space with a 'suspicious' Arab man, who was nowhere to be seen. It was clear that she did not do anything to harm any Israeli soldier. She was simply living here in the squalid conditions of this refugee camp, where she was probably born, desperately trying to survive and raise three malnourished children.
I was overtaken by the urge to go stand by her, to scream alongside her, to add my own outraged voice to hers and help her be heard. I wanted to help her penetrate the shields of the steely masked faces of the soldiers who had obliterated her home, and installed a lifelong hatred and rage against the occupying Israeli forces in her children.
Obviously, I was part of the occupying forces at the camp, and part of the military operation that flattened her house. I was not just a soldier in the Israeli Defense Forces—I was an officer and commander. While this defied our supposed 'occupier logic,' her fury evoked my sense of guilt and culpability. I felt magnetized towards her, my attention and spirit almost drowned in her outcries. I badly wanted to tell her that her rage was justified, and that I resonated with her outrage, despair and helplessness.
I despised myself for not protecting this woman and her children, for not standing in front of the Israeli bulldozer the way the heroic 'Tank-Man' stood in front of the tanks in Tianaman square in China.
I wanted to tell her not only that she was right to rage, but that, while I definitely have always believed, and still do, in Israel's right to exist, I do not know why I had joined the occupying forces, why I aimlessly patrolled the camp, why I did not try to get the Israeli army out of the refugee camp, why I did not stop the demolition, and why I was such a cowardly passive bystander. I wanted to tell her that we, the Israeli army and its evil bulldozers, should not have been there in the first place.
I was ashamed of 'my army', which was not mine, but was. I did not sign up to demolish houses and leave women and children homelessly alone, standing on the roofs of their erased homes. But I did not act to stop this from happening.
I had betrayed her, myself, and the values I had been raised with. I had committed crimes against her and simultaneously against myself and my conscience. I admired her unbounded expression of fury and hated my own collusion with the occupation, my passive enabling of the destruction of her home. Defeated, deflated, and steeped in self-loathing I retreated to our camp which was bizarrely situated not far from her former home.
Two days later, a top general of the Israeli Military Southern Command and a big entourage of top-ranking officers came to our small camp. The general and his ranks stood tall before us, looming over our 80-men seated unit. He lit into us for not being 'tough enough' on the refugees, for not installing enough fear and horror in them. It was clear his intent was to shame us for not 'generating' more homeless, desperate women and children like the ones I had encountered a day earlier. He then ordered us to immediately evacuate the camp, two days ahead of schedule, to emphasize his rebuke.
At this, I was seized with an enormous upwelling of rage. Not fully aware of my actions, I stood up tall, the way the woman had stood on her flattened rooftop, and proceeded to allow her voice to pour out of my mouth. I didn't think about what I was saying nor try to be logical or measured. Instead, I fiercely shouted her truth... I became her.
Her rage streamed out of me towards those generals standing grimly in front of us, just as her rage had streamed out towards us, the soldiers standing silently before her. Using her voice, spirit, power, powerlessness and fury, I fiercely questioned the high ranking generals, demanding to be told what was the purpose of establishing Israeli military presence in the refugee camp.
I then blasted the question, "What are we doing erasing refugees' homes and leaving innocent women and children homeless and stripped from human dignity?!!!" Being her, the rage kept rushing out of me. When she had yelled her piece, no one had responded. And likewise, when I spoke, all were silent.
The general of the Southern Command or any of his highly ranked officers could have easily had my house erased the way the woman's had been. Any one of them could have rendered me imprisoned with a simple wag of a finger. Instead, the high general and his entourage did not say a word. They simply climbed back into their jeeps and left. The same way the soldiers who destroyed her home left without saying a word. The same way I had.
The officers' houses like my soldiers' and my own home stood intact. Our children were neither starving nor homeless. Nevertheless, like her, I felt defeated, enraged, helpless, hopeless and alone. I also despised myself and my uniform. I hated my power, my country, my army, and my gun. I was her - I was her destroyer - I was my own destroyer.
Came out of my mouth
As I spoke, as if speaking in tongues
I was possessed by the woman
Whose home was destroyed by
…my army, my country, my men
I felt a, suddenly powerful and utterly powerless
Strong and weak
A bystander to wrongful behavior
Angry and unjustice
I wept, on the inside
Then, as a 20 year old, still in the army, I was serving in the occupied Gaza Strip when I found myself, with eight of my soldiers, surrounded by a rapidly advancing, rock throwing crowd of young Gazans. For a split second, I had an out-of-body experience where I saw the scene from high above. In that mystified and astounding instant, I realized the two fateful/calamitous choices I had were to either save our lives by shooting at the young Gazans closing in on us, or to be harmed or even killed by them. Either way lay tragedy. Clearly neither choice seemed right. Thankfully, we were rescued by our troops at the last second; no shots were fired and no one was hurt. At that very moment, I knew that in order not to be confronted with such a situation (which is inherent part of an occupation) ever again, I would have to leave the country I loved, Israel. That day did not come for almost a decade when I went to the US to study.
I saw myself earily
Almost like a phantom
Hovering above a crowd of angry faces
Watching the scene unfold below
My life caught somewhere between
the living and the dead
During a return visit to Israel in 1990, I was interviewed by the editor of "Chotam", an Israeli newsletter, to discuss my culturally unpopular decision (at that time) to leave the country I loved (and still do), Israel. I mapped for him the three options I had if I were to have stayed and thus, however indirectly, have been party to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank: 1. As the Dissonance Theory predicts, I would have gradually become more right wing in order to justify my actions and my country's immoral occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. 2. I would have become more politically involved in order to fight the occupation and promote peace and non-violent co-existence between Israel and its neighboring Arab countries, similar to what my sister did as part of Women in Black. 3. While keep hoping for peace, I would create and live in a bubble, not attending to the whole peace/war/occupation issue altogether... 4. None of these options were acceptable, so I chose a fourth option... to leave.
In other words, leaving Israel was partly related to my interest in avoiding acting like a "passive bystander" (i.e., bystander effect) in regard to the immoral Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
—————> Read from Left to Right —————>
Thinking back to my growing-up years, and including my military service, I can clearly trace the emergence of my fascination with all kinds of boundaries. A striking early example was when, as a young officer, I served on the remote, barren, but intriguing, Tiran Island, a strategic 'bare giant rock' in the Red Sea. My soldiers often referred to me as the "Sheriff of Tiran," a title they painted on my small wooden 'home.' Besides taking care of the basic military duties, I spent much of my time wandering alone around this lifeless speck in the sea with my bare feet, a diving knife strips to my calf and a bathing suit and diving with friendly sharks and huge sea turtles. I found the island to have a profound and complex, spiritual nature. At that time, I was musing about the boundaries between day and night and wondered whether the distinct extreme separation of day and night is an artificial construct created by humans and their ancient cultures, or is it an inherent part of human nature. To satisfy my curiosity - and to the profound dismay of my soldiers - I experimented with inverting day and night by reversing our daily routines and the customary way of life of most humans and many animals living currently on the planet by ordering my soldiers (I was the only officer and highest ranking soldier on the island) to sleep during the day, eat breakfast at sunset, lunch at midnight and dinner at sunrise. While I was quite engrossed by my unorthodox research and the exploration of the nature of Man, I also noticed the resistance and outrage of my soldiers who perceived the experiment as seriously deviant. While not always popular, my questioning 'common knowledge' and our immemorial ways of living has been large part of my life story.
Exploring various social constructs
Night becomes day
A reversal of established norms
Questioning the order of things
A curiosity, welled up within me
A quest, an intellectual adventure
After my land-bound military service, I embarked on the life of a sailor aboard a commercial freighter. Joining the Merchant Marine as a cadet, I learned the ways of the sea, the ancient art of navigating by the stars, and the many skills, rites and rituals of seamanship. The ship dropped anchor in such European ports as London and Antwerp - all of them blessedly far from military camps and battlefields! Besides learning the officers' roles and responsibilities, I found it a most interesting anthropological journey into the life of sailors. On my last trip back to the port of Haifa, a long-simmering, mutual antipathy between the boatswain and me erupted into a ferocious fist fight on an enclosure resembling a boxing ring on the very front deck. As we fought, I had my second out-of-body experience; a part of me seemed to rise up and up to the level of the distant wheelhouse. From there, far below and ahead, I saw these two, tiny figures, like stick figures in a cartoon, ferociously, brutally and meaninglessly fighting each other, with the soft, calm sea around us. It was a singularly odd experience to be simultaneously engaging in the violent, physical fight and also observing the scene from high above, in all its utter senseless stupidity. In that instant, philosophy aside, I realized the two choices I had were to either determinedly defend myself or be thrown overboard, with a good likelihood of drowning. The fight resulted in a broken nose for me and swollen-shut, black eye for him. The senselessness and absurdity of the fight and the out-of-body observing-self stayed with me for a long time. Nonetheless, that sailing experience touched my fate, igniting an abiding interest in the sea which brought me to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where received B.Sc. in chemistry and, more significantly, completed few graduate courses in oceanography, which became my next career.
Under a black curtain of sky
With stars twinkling above our heads
On a ship I sailed to faraway lands
To Antwerp and London
Once I observed a fight with the boatswain and I
Hovering above the earth I witnessed our exchange of fists
A true out- of -body experience
The life of a merchant marine
A new love of the sea born in me
We were housed in a ‘quiet’ military base in the Arava desert area, by the Jordanian border, where Israeli male and female soldiers served alongside each other. It was 1970, I was a lieutenant and 2nd in command of the base and became good friends with Miri, (not her real name) an intelligent, gorgeous female soldier who was being consistently pursued by men of all ranks on the base. We developed a deep and fun relationship discussing how men were looking at her, making comments, inviting, suggesting, reaching out and touching her inappropriately.
As our friendship deepened, she shared with me the various ‘games’ she had been playing, in fact, toying with the male soldiers who pursued her. When they offered to take her for a spin in the desert in their Jeeps or other macho military vehicle, she would keep track of how far they each drove before they began to sexually pursue her until they finally, disappointedly, gave up, turned around, and drove back to the base. She described in rich detail how some started with sweet talking, while others reached straight for her breasts. Some pretended to be interested in her philosophy of life while others took a short cut straight to her crotch. We discussed the pursuers’ strategies and embellished it with fun mathematical (miles) precision.
We established a practice where she would record the vehicle odometer as soon as she entered the vehicle with any ‘hopeful pursuer,’ and then again when they returned to base. In our bemused conversations we ranked the soldiers and officers by their ‘hopeful miles’, i.e., how far they drove the vehicle before they gave up and turned back.
Obviously, we paid careful attention to her physical safety in these ‘adventures’, primarily by sorting out ahead of time who she agreed to run the ‘miles experiment’ on. She also had her own small military radio on her (in that pre-cellphone era) where she could, if necessary, directly connect with me and I could track her physical location.
She never had sex with any of the hopeful pursuers. It was a game that some may legitimately claim was unfair, unkind, manipulative or even cruel… It may come as no surprise to some that she and I never physically sexualized our friendship. Obviously, our measuring games, ranking the officers and soldiers by their hopeful miles and follow up conversations were rather sexy in and of themselves. In fact, one may say, it was as sexy as traditional sex… if not even more…
In parallel with my immersion in my scientific studies, I could not help but be moved by living in the west part of the ancient city of Jerusalem, at the nexus of three major spiritual traditions. I lived in a beautiful old house in the Coptic Church compound. One Christmas Eve, I was mysteriously drawn to my motorcycle and headed out into the still night. Randomly driving through the Judean Hills beneath the stars, I found myself... where else?... but, Bethlehem. Then, neither randomly nor consciously, for the first time I magically 'met' my future beloved wife, Jenji, as she was right there (15y.o.), also attending the Christmas Eve Mass with her family at Manger Square in... Bethlehem. We connected the dots on this miraculous and synchronistic chain of events about 20 years later when we 'met again' when she (again, non-randomly) was the ballet teacher of my daughter, Azzia, in Sonoma, CA.
A magical moment
Under stars that dotted the black sky above the Judean Hills,
I arrived in Bethlehem
At a Christmas Eve mass where
My beautiful and precious future wife stood
We were both together, the fates aligned
And our constant love for each other was magically set in motion
My time attending Hebrew University in Mount Scopus, Jerusalem (1972-1975), studying chemistry and oceanography, was one of my most profound and powerful spiritual awakenings, as Jerusalem embodied the convergence of three major religions. It was at this time that I experienced one of my most profound and powerful spiritual awakenings. In addition to studying, socializing, and playing college basketball, I drove a taxi on the weekend. This was not only anthropologically fascinating but also helped me discover the beauty, complexities and the multi spiritual nature of Jerusalem.
My soul danced like glitter in the wind,
as I embarked on an academic journey,
to study the oceans and chemistry
My mind adrift in a certain enchantment,
as if lit by a thousand tiny candles
A sacredness, a time for deep contemplation
I was living in Jerusalem studying chemistry and oceanography at the Hebrew University, towards my B.Sc. degree in 1973. My home was situated in the beautiful old compound of the Coptic Church on the tiny, historical Ethiopian Street in West Jerusalem. Riki (not her real name) was a delightful, energetic, intelligent, and life embracing cousin whom I met for the first time when we both were 23/24 years old. As we got to know each other, we became aware of plenty of musical, social, moral and political shared interests as well as a budding mutual sexual attraction.
Being biological cousins brought up an interesting moral wonder: Were we engaging in committing forbidden incest by having sex? And beside the intimate and fun sexuality we experienced, were we right, appropriate, moral, medically dangerous, or even ‘sinful’? (We were fully aware of the important and meaningful difference between 'incest' between adults family members and molestation of the young by adults. We were also aware of numerous cultures where cousins and relative regularly married each other) These quandaries led us to interesting and insightful exploration of the idea and construct of the Incest Taboo.
The (pre Wikipedia) encyclopedia, at the time, stated: “An incest taboo is a cultural rule or norm that prohibits sexual relationships between certain members of the same family, mainly between individuals related by blood.”
As Riki and I explored the construct of incest further we realized that, indeed, most human cultures have some rules or norms that forbid close or blood relatives from engaging in sex or marriage, making such relationships a taboo. The Incest Taboo is often framed in a ‘nature or nurture’ debate, wherein a cultural application to the taboo explains biological preference for partners who do not share genes. Another explanation for the taboo is an inborn aversion to genetic effects of inbreeding, like congenital birth defects. The incest taboo also seems to exist to prevent social role confusion or conflicts (and abuse) within a family, particularly regarding parent-child and sibling relationships.
Riki and I spent in depth time studying the historical, cultural and, of course, medical and biological aspects of the incest taboo, while at the same time, enjoying playful intellectual as well as sexual interactions. The rebels we were, found it disappointing and somewhat sad when we discovered that, while being officially and legitimately cousins, we were (are) not biologically related as we share no DNA. The incest taboo did not apply to us. We regretfully were not crossing any established lines or violating any medical or moral codes. It would have probably made it that much sweeter and fun if we were…
Prohibited, of course
An association forbidden
We were not to be together,
Connected, lines drawn to separate us
Sun from shadow
A more, an unspoken word
A whisper at sunset
A tender embrace
Rethinking the forbidden…
During my undergraduate studies at the Hebrew University, one of the more intriguing and valuable experiences in my life was the exposure that I had to a wealth of human experience while a cab driver in Jerusalem. It was an anthropologist's dream. Customers waved my cab down and hopped into the back seat of the cab. Once in the cab, many of them (consciously or unconsciously) realized that it was a unique setting where they could fully trust the privacy, confidentiality, and most importantly the anonymity that the cab ride and my attentive, curious ears provided. Knowing that they had only a short time in the cab, they talked fast and revealed and shared a huge spectrum of rich human experience with me. Most of the stories were about lovers who betrayed them, parents who hurt them or friends who violated their trust. Then, some excitedly talked about upcoming weddings, marital affairs, graduations or spectacular adventures. Some tourists were pleased to realize that I spoke English fluently and proceeded to request a tour of old Jerusalem, Masada, the Dead Sea or the Sea of Galilee. I was happy to serve as their tour guide. While most people paid the full fee for the ride and happily added tips, on the rare occasion some flashed a knife or even a hand gun when I gave them the price. Others had unusual requests, such as an ultra-religious man who laid down in the back of the cab in order to avoid being seen, and asked me to take him to a prostitute where all he wanted was to touch her . . . thigh. Without a doubt this rich engagement with people, fantastically prepared me for my career as a psychologist.
Laughter and hushed conversations
like incense that lingers in the air stories
echoed about lovers and family,
a snapshot into the lives of ordinary people,
my ears thrilled to learn about their rich experiences
My career as a psychologist,
like a brush fire in the wind,
ignited by excited tales in a cab.
Over the years, when I have said or done something stupid, someone invariably has replied, "What! Did you hit your head?" Well, yes, actually several times ☺. During my three years of studying in Jerusalem I had the honor of leaving the hospital AMA (Against Medical Advice) several times following emergency hospitalizations, most of which involved motorcycle accidents. I vividly remember one accident when I was coming down from the Mt. Scopus Campus of the Hebrew University on my powerful BMW bike on a Saturday, being knocked backward by a thin, almost invisible, wire that the ultra-orthodox religious Jews (aka. 'black-hats') had put across a road that wound down from the Mt. Scopus. The wire, which was strategically placed there to 'punish' the 'non-believers' who travel on the Sabbath, hit the front of my neck, while the bike continued to go forward, leaving me hanging on the wire by my throat. To this day, I wonder how I survived this accident and how I could leave the hospital against medical advice. (There may be God after all 😃). Similarly, I have been puzzled about how I miraculously survived another accident where I lost my lights on the bike but nevertheless was determined to ride to my 'not-to-be missed' basketball practice with my college basketball team. It was dark and rainy and it is no wonder that riding the bike on a narrow, wet road without lights ended up with me being rescued from a deep and flooded ditch by the side of the road at the bottom of one of Jerusalem's steep slopes. Both incidents, as did some others, ended with AMA departures from the hospital within a few hours of admittance, concussions and all.
The messages drifted in, almost like elevator music entering my subconscious mind, such good food for the developing ego "Be a man! Be admired! Be a war hero." As a skinny young boy, I recall standing a little bit taller, sticking my chest out a bit more and imagining basking in the admiration of women and children. I was destined to be a war hero! We were groomed to sacrifice. I was 23-years-old when the 1973 war between Israel and the surrounding Arab countries started with a massive surprise attack on Israel. Israel—the country my parents wove every hope and dream into, the post-holocaust safe place for the children of our tribe and the generations to follow. Invaded by the surrounding Arab countries from the north, west, and south, Israeli casualties were mounting fast and a sense of panic and terror engulfed the country. All reserve soldiers were immediately called for military service. I was strongly torn. On the one hand, I believed then and still do, that Israel has the right to exist and obviously has the right to defend itself. This being a given, I felt I should join the armed forces to fight for Israel's very survival. On the other hand, I also strongly believed that the war could have been prevented if Israel had given back (as it should have) the occupied territories that it had conquered in the 1967 war. But on yet 'another hand' I wanted to be a war hero. I did not want to stay behind with the women, children, the elderly and disabled. So in the end, even though I was not drafted or called to serve, I was strongly compelled to join the armed forces fighting for Israel's survival, in a war that could have been avoided. At my own initiative I was assigned to a highly esteemed paratrooper unit. Following that initial egoic impulse, I became a war hero.
The highly trained paratrooper unit, in the 1973 (Yom Kippur) war, that I was part of was stationed by the Sea of Galilee because Central Command did not know where it wanted to deploy us. The Israeli army was sustaining severe casualties to soldiers, as well as damage to tanks and armed vehicles as a result of the new shoulder rockets supplied to the Egyptian army by the Soviets. Knowing that the central command was going to deploy us to one of most dangerous combat areas, there was a heightened likelihood of dying or being severely wounded in battle. Knowing this, I decided to break off my two-year relationship with my dear, sweet, loving girlfriend. As odd as it sounds in retrospect, at the time, I did so for what I considered to be two clear reasons: First: I wanted to be able to go to battle and face bullets, bombs and... death without needing to think of or worry about who I was leaving behind. It meant to me that I was free to die. It seemed to me that if it came to that it would help me face the bullets and die in peace. Second: I thought it was the most loving and unselfish thing to do, as it would free my girlfriend from worrying about me since we would no longer be lovers. Needless to say, this peculiar way of thinking, as many have pointed out to me later in life, was one more manifestation of my eccentric way of doing the 'right thing.' Nevertheless, at the time, it did give me a true sense of freedom to face death head-on without fear, hesitation or worry. I later learned how broken-hearted and upset my girlfriend was with my odd way of thinking and of loving, by breaking off the relationship in order to 'protect her.'
It was my way, to face death
Head on, to protect
Those I loved and spare them from any hurt or pain
To leave her would enable me to
Fight and not have my girlfriend
Worried about my safety and well-being
That she could be protected from fear
I could fight, by doing good
And the right thing
As we were waiting to be deployed in the 1973 (Yom Kippur) war, I noticed that almost all my fellow officers were impatient to engage in battle even though it was clear that doing so was likely to result in high casualties to our unit – and, of course, to ourselves. In fact, some men even tried to exert influence on the high command to get us deployed. Believing that the war could have been prevented, I was more ambivalent. I felt spacious with time in our 'wait and see' position by the gorgeous Sea of Galilee, and wondered what the soldiers were actually thinking in anticipation of being at war and at risk for their lives. So I started questioning soldiers about their attitude, and almost of all of them said they unequivocally wanted to engage in battle, regardless of the high probability of injury or death. As soon as I realized this, I went out again, this time with my notebook, asking the bored and anxious 'to-be-deployed' soldiers why they were so eager to go to war and risk their lives. Aside from the cliché response of wanting to defend the country, when I invited them to go deeper most of them said they did not want to come back home without a war story. Now my curiosity skyrocketed and the researcher in me could not wait to go back and ask the soldiers, "Who is this story for?" The response took me completely by surprise. They did not want to come back home without a war story to tell their wives, sweethearts and girlfriends. It was a truly (personal and academic) 'aha-moment' realizing the invisible powerful presence of women among the battle-ready paratroopers, such that they were willing to risk their lives rather than come home without a story of heroism of some sort.
The fascinating and surprising revelation of the invisible yet powerful presence of women among us heroic paratroopers has stayed with me for a long time. Years later, when I 'converted' to psychology, I chose to explore the intriguing psychological complexities of relationships between men, women and war. Studying the commonly held beliefs, such as "men are more violent than women," "women are the peaceful gender," or "if women were running the world there would be no war," and being aware of my contradictory experience with my paratrooper unit gave birth to my doctoral dissertation, as well as to more extensive post doctorate research, publications and lectures on the topic of The Complex and Intriguing Relationships Between the Warrior and the Beautiful Soul. My research pointed to the obvious facts that some of the most war-mongering heads of states have been women, such as Indira Gandhi of India, Margaret Thatcher of England and Golda Meir of Israel. It also led me to explore the complex, rarely discussed, and certainly politically incorrect topic of the interactive nature of domestic violence in heterosexual relationships and in lesbian and gay relationships. While hard to acknowledge, admit or digest, increased number of studies have determined that the rate of Same-Sex Intimate Partner Violence (SSIPV) among lesbian couples is, surprisingly—or, some may argue, not surprisingly—higher than the rate of intimate partner violence (IPV) [i.e., men violent against women] among heterosexual couples. More broadly I walked into the equally politically incorrect minefield exploring the role of some victims in their own victimization.
Towards the end of the 1973 war, my unit was finally deployed. We were assigned to cross a bridge across the Suez Canal and head north towards the revered city of Ismailia. At this point of the war the Egyptian army was highly concerned that if the Israeli Armed Forces crossed the Suez Canal, they would subsequently have a clear path to Egypt's capital, Cairo. As a result, the Egyptian army was defending the bridge that my unit had been assigned to with all their remaining military might, relying on intense artillery bombardments, air force bombings, and anti-tank guided missiles to deter the incoming Israeli army. When we arrived, Israeli tanks, personal carriers and jeeps were on fire and literally flying off the bridge. It was an intense game of chicken between the Egyptian bombings and the Israeli military engineering unit, which was rapidly rebuilding and repairing the repeatedly hit and damaged bridge. Amazingly they were able to keep rebuilding despite the catastrophic losses they were suffering.
Then, I received my orders: we were commanded to cross this fiery strip and move deeper into Egypt. While the rest of my unit quickly jumped into vehicles and sped as fast as they could into the clouds of smoke that covered the bridge, my recklessness, bravery and perhaps my stupidity spurred my buddy and me to cross this death zone by foot. As fire and metal rained down around our unprotected bodies, we sarcastically argued over who would be the first to die, and who would get to put a wreath on the grave of the other at the prestigious famed national military cemetery on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. Halfway across the bridge I suddenly felt compelled to stop. A strange sense of calm and quiet came over me despite the deafening bombs and missiles exploding all around. Almost engulfed by the chaos and destruction, I looked up at the sky and extended a defiant middle finger to God, a gesture by which I was telling Death, "I do not fear you!"
This attitude of fearlessness towards death, which has harmoniously and consistently coexisted with my deep reverence for life, has revealed itself in multiple ways throughout my life, such as in my predilection for evacuating hospitals against medical advice, diving the magical but lethal Blue Hole, shooting the light bulb, challenge-riding a motorcycle at the Himalayas by 4,000ft drops and many other death-defying ventures. My mother vowed she wanted to 'die erect,' so perhaps there's a strain of this mentality I inherited from her!
Even as I walk, surrounded by flames
On this Bridge of Fire
You, death, will not win!
Though you may try to burn my aching body
You will never singe my soul – my essence
Oh death, You will not defeat me!
After a few days of cautiously moving towards enemy lines in the 1973 war, our military unit became the target of artillery shells. Some fell to the left of us, some to the right, some in front of us where we were headed, and some behind us, where we had been an hour ago. In a curious, fascinating, and yet terrifying pattern, the shells began to gradually close in on us in a perfect lethal circle, closer and closer on all sides. As our unit paused under a grove of high palm trees, the shells began falling so close to our group that it became obvious that the artillery weapons were being systematically directed by someone or something that was aware of our location. Was there an unseen aircraft tracking us, a satellite, or an eye in the sky?
As we frantically tried to figure out who/what was doing this we peered at the sky through the fronds of the palm trees above and suddenly spotted what in some military jargon is called a "monkey" -- a perfectly camouflaged Egyptian soldier sitting atop one of the trees, trying to blend in with the thick canopy. We instantly realized that he was the one providing his fellow artillery soldiers miles away with the exact location of our unit. Within a milli-second, about 20 to 30 solders aimed and rapidly shot their M-16's automatic guns at him. By the time he hit the ground he had several hundred bullet holes in him. Needless to say, he did not suffer much. A couple of distressed, frightened and enraged soldiers even shot a few more rounds into the lifeless bleeding body.
I looked at this bullet-ridden corpse and experienced an upwelling of admiration, respect, and even awe, for this man who had directed his artillery on our unit... and in the end, on himself. I considered how he had been deliberately and consciously ready to face death in defense of his country, just as I had been a couple of days prior while crossing the bridge of fire. My feelings of identification and admiration were not shared by my fellow soldiers. In fact, a fellow officer rushed toward the body and took the bayonet off his gun, both as memorabilia and as an attempt to humiliate the enemy. I was unexpectedly overcome with rage and hatred towards this man's lack of acknowledgement of the bravery of the monkey. I instinctively wanted to protect his body, and at the bare minimum, have our unit spend a few seconds around it to honor the complex relationship that we had with our enemy. I did feel hatred towards the threat he had posed to myself and my soldiers, yet I also was touched by his sacrifice and courage. I was very aware that I could have been the one to be riddled with bullets just a couple of days earlier on the bridge.
In effect, this is what we soldiers are about: walking the tightrope of potential sacrifice while defending our country as heroes. Yet, I suspected that the monkey, like me, had not viewed his defiance of death and willingness to sacrifice as particularly brave or heroic. Rather, his act was a way to embrace life in its fullest. Ironically, saying 'Yes to life' meant also saying 'Yes to death.'
We survived, at least physically, the crossing of the bridge over the Suez Canal under rain of fire in the 1973 (Yom Kippur) war and the close call with the monkey aiming the artillery on us. Getting closer to our target city of Ismailia, my buddy and I were driving a jeep on a mission in coordination with a sister unit when we lost our bearings and shockingly found ourselves behind enemy lines. There, suddenly and unexpectedly we arrived at a most horrific, eerie sight. In front of us were the widely scattered remains of an Israeli army jeep which had literary evaporated, annihilated into thin air when struck by a lethal Egyptian anti-tank missile. We also stumbled upon the tiny dog-tag, all that was left from an Israeli soldier whose body, like most of the parts of the jeep, had vanished into the same thin air.
Realizing that the jeep we were driving was situated exactly where the evaporated jeep once stood was a surreal experience. We knew that in no time, at any given moment and without warning, we too could vanish and annihilated just like the passengers of the other jeep. We exchanged looks of awe mixed with wonder and horror. As we silently and with full presence inched our way back to our unit, we struggled to metabolize the very real possibility of our instantaneous annihilation and death. Thinking of being evaporated in an instant felt very different than considering dying by a bullet. This really drove home how we had neither control of our destiny nor predictive power as to what might be awaiting us. I truly got it how life, and its continuance, is such a mystery, and ultimately, such a gift.
The scattered remains of an Israeli army jeep
A single dog tag
all that was left of a fellow soldier
In an instant death
could tap her cold, bony fingers
Against our shoulders
And in that unreal moment
Life suddenly became more sacred
In the waning minutes of the Yom Kippur (1973) war, I once again found myself at the aweinspiring boundary between life and death during the Battle of Ismailia when I was seriously wounded after most of my left calf was blown off and I collapsed in complete and utter silence. The silence, as I put together months later, was partly due to the fact that I lost my hearing when the intense enemy bombing ruptured my eardrums. As soon as I collapsed into this zone of silence and injury, as if someone had literally pulled the rug from underneath me, I told myself, "I lost my leg because I should have not gone (or walked) to a war that I did not fully believe in." (Later in life I followed up on this interpretation and explore in depth the constructs of the 'metaphor of illness' or the meaning of dis-eases.)
I was evacuated under heavy fire, and to my deep distress found myself in an armed vehicle, which I knew to be an easy target for the enemy's lethal shoulder missiles. What was strange about the morphine-induced delirium I experienced during this evacuation was that I became less worried about being blown up by a lethal Egyptian shoulder missile than I was about being part of an imaginary 'cosmic play,' in which I was the sacrificial lamb to my peace-loving parents who were simultaneously and paradoxically against the war while proud of their 'sacrificial hero/wounded lieutenant son.' Years later, in an attempt to make sense of this bizarre but intriguing experience, I devoted considerable time to exploration of what is known as the Medea Complex, or the unconscious wishes of parents to kill their children as manifested by the 25 years (one generation) average of war cycles in modern times.
Another memory from the 1973 Yom Kippur war: we are deep in the desert and artillery shells, with their lethal downpour, were raining down all around us. Each exploding shell created a crater in the sand. I was standing at the edge of one of these craters, covered with dust from the latest explosion. Obviously, my instinct told me to run for my life, to run as fast as I could away from that crater before the next shell struck, but my military training repeatedly ran through my head telling me that 'two bombs never fall in the same place.'
Accepting that premise meant that this new crater was the safest place around and therefore I should jump into it, against all my instinct. In the confusion of life and death, it was the fight between intuition and the brain - instinct vs. rationality. I jumped into the crater, which probably saved my life. I have, since that day, always wondered how many times in life we stand at the edge of craters needing to weigh our instinct against our rational inclination; our impulse against the logical choice. Indeed, life presents us with situations where a crater may even sink us into the earth, but where the seeds of creativity may flourish.
Accepting that premise meant that this new crater was the safest place around and therefore I should jump into it, against all my instinct. In the confusion of life and death, it was the fight between intuition and the brain – instinct vs. rationality. I jumped into the crater, which probably saved my life. I have, since that day, always wondered how many times in life we stand at the edge of craters needing to weigh our instinct against our rational inclination; our impulse against the logical choice. Indeed, life presents us with situations where a crater may even sink us into the earth, but where the seeds of creativity may flourish. (Listen to an audio recording, describing this junction)
Thinking back to my early years, I can see that encounters with death during my military service, testing boundaries, questioning commonly held beliefs, seeking the truth, questioning authority, and searching for ways to choose between intuition and logic were all inherent parts of who I was. I loved to learn by examining what I or others thought was right or wrong. I did not do it alone; for example, there was an incident where some soldiers did not come back from an R&R furlough to the base in the Gaza Strip, but instead admitted themselves to a mental institution [to avoid returning to the base in Gaza]. This meant that I could not give a much needed break to other soldiers in our unit and I was furious. I expressed my outrage to my mother on the phone. In a soft voice, my mother responded to my anger by saying, "Perhaps those who admitted themselves to the mental institution rather than coming back to the camp were the sane ones". I was speechless. In that one, short sentence, she forced me to question the whole notion and definition of sanity. In my own way, I continue this path.
As part of my rehabilitation from the 1973 war injury, I remember the oddest scene in the hospital where I rudely and highly inappropriately confronted my young surgeon in the hallway in front of other wounded soldiers telling him something to the effect that, "You told my parents that you hope I will be able to walk well one day. It won't be long before I walk normally and kick you with my calfless leg." Without hesitation, the doctor slightly rattled one of my crutches, which caused me to lose my balance and fall to the floor, humiliated, in front of my fellow hospitalized soldiers. The doctor then said to me something like, "If you can walk so well, why don't you walk without crutches right now." Oddly enough, this proved to be a 'magical and highly effective dose of medicine,' and at that very moment, I knew I would fully recover, which indeed I did.
Right after this bizarre scene with my doctor, I started training myself to walk again. I rejected any physical therapy and spent long nights, all alone, walking on the hospital room porch, holding on to the rail, and 'silently' crying in pain. When I eventually went back to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem to continue my studies, I also went back to riding my motorcycle and playing basketball on the university team. The subsequent surgeon, unusually but effectively, used my performance on the basketball court as a yardstick to measure when I was ready for the next surgery. Obviously, this injury was followed by a few years of intense pain, determination, surgeries, rehab, deep contemplation, and finally, full recovery in spite of a very poor prognosis. It took me many years to attend to the traumatic aspect of the war injury & war experience and numerous other traumas I'd experienced in my lifetime and embrace the illuminating concept of Post Traumatic Growth (PTG) rather than Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Learning to walk again
alone At night
the only sound, My heartbeat
feeling intense waves of pain
Looking for an oasis of healing
A spring inside of myself
A determination to heal, spiritually,
Physically and emotionally.
The powerful protest Song for Peace, a first of its kind in Israel, was sung for the first time in 1968, a year after the “Six Days war” was won, to a nation still drunk on victory. It premiered in my basic training boot camp by Miri Aloni and Lehakat Hanchal להקת הנח”ל [Lyrics: Yankele Rotblit; Melody: Yair Rosenblum; Complete lyrics & translation.
Bold, pacifist, and uncompromising, it touched many of us deeply at the time, and ever since, with its fearless message. It calls for the victorious people, and its army, to let go of the dead, to stop idealizing them and continue the fighting on their behalf (in an endless cycle of death and wars), to stop whispering a prayer for peace, and instead to actually, yell it out loud and more importantly, bring it on!
50 years later, both the song and its potent message still reverberate in my body whenever I hear it, or sing it along.
Let the sun rise
the morning give its light
The purest of prayers
will not bring us back
He who’s candle was snuffed out
and was buried in the dust
bitter cry wont wake him up
and wont bring him back
Nobody will bring us back
from a dead and darkened pit
here, neither the victory cheer
nor songs of praise will help
תנו לשמש לעלות
אותנו לא תחזיר.
מי אשר כבה נרו
בכי מר לא יעירו
לא יחזירו לכאן.
איש אותנו לא ישיב
מבור תחתית אפל,
כאן לא יועילו
לא שמחת הניצחון
ולא שירי הלל.
The silent prayers for us
Like balloons released towards the heavens
The dead who died fighting will not
return, will not roam the earth again
Will not laugh or cry
If you honor us
Instead of singing songs
Use your voices to shout for peace
To stop endless wars that take your loved
ones to dark graves void of light
An equally powerful song that has stayed with me since my youth, and is likely to linger for the rest of my life is I was a boy also sang by Lahakat Hanahal. Lyrics: David Atid; Melody: Yair Rosenblum; Translation: DeAnna L’am
Heart-breaking and beautiful, the song captures the lifelong permanent damage suffered by millions of (the best of the best) young men who have been routinely, every generation, recruited to fight wars all over the world in the past 10,000 years. I am among those millions who were indoctrinated to fight to the bitter end, and to sacrifice our lives for the, often, senseless causes of our leaders, parents, as well as variety of economic forces, including the obvious, military industrial complex.
One of my dissertation topics was: “The Medea Complex and the Cycle of war” where I intended to explore the fact that wars, on the average, take place globally in a 18-22 years cycles, which is, like Medea who killed her children, the older generation sends the younger generation to war where the ‘best die first’ thereby the challenge to the older generation’s authority and power is significantly reduced.
The Rolling Stone attended powerfully to the same ‘post (Vietnam) war’ dynamic in their forceful song I want to paint it black.
Generally, ‘we’, young soldiers are barely 18 years old when we go to war to inflict destruction and to readily meet death: of our brothers, of the “other”, and possibly our own. This song potently describes all that we lost in the process: life, energy, power, innocence, trust, the ability to love, and perhaps most importantly the excitement and exuberance of our adolescence.
The targets are cleansed and destroyed
Snow on mount Hermon melts in the sun
In a ghost town on the Golan Heights
A lonely donkey is lost like before the war
Summer returned to its old strongholds
But your face, my boy, remains changed.
היעדים מטוהרים והרוסים
שלגים על החרמון מול שמש נמסים
ובעיירת רפאים על הרמה
חמור בודד תועה כבטרם מלחמה
הקיץ שב למשלטיו הישנים
אבל פניך נערי נותרו שונים
הוילונות הוסרו והנייר גורד
פקיד העירייה נעל את המקלט
שלוחות הדשא מטפסות ומעלות
ירוק טרי על צלקות התעלות
הרימונים חזרו לשוק לדוכנים
אבל פניך נערי נותרו שונים
היה לי נער מאוהב היה לי נער
צלול היה קולו צלולות היו עיניו
הקרב נדם ושוב קרב הוא אל השער
אך הילוכו כבד וחתומות פניו
Snow melts on Mount Hermon,
cleansed by the golden sun
But the boy’s face has changed
Is covered with worry, twisted, shriveled
a mirror reflecting the horrors of war
The battle has ended in the desert
But has just begun in the boy’s mind
A lifetime of suffering
An innocent, lost
I received my B.Sc. in Physical Chemistry from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in June 1975, heading in the direction of studying oceanography, which, for me, was an ideal combination of science (chemistry), adventure (deep-sea & free diving), and idealism (saving the world from starvation). I was intrigued with the idea of growing unlimited amounts of protein (fish) in the oceans, which, after all, cover more than 75% of our planet. Working for the Marin Laboratory in Eilat, I built this raft and conducted the research on floating fish cages and feeders in Dahab, a precious and glorious dot on the map on the pristine Red-Sea shore of the Sinai Peninsula.
As part of me being an oceanographer, I was also a deep-sea diver where I regularly dove the spectacular coral reef in the warm and clear waters (up to 300 feet visibility) amid brilliantly colored fish, turtles and eels. I also dove with sharks in Ras Muhammad off the tip of Sinai next to beautiful and rarely visited or touched coral reef. But most thrilling and risky was adventure-diving (with the standard of air mixture of 21% oxygen, 78% nitrogen) the Blue Hole, also known as "The World's Most Dangerous Dive Site" with the nickname "Diver's Cemetery" with a depth of over 200 feet (60 meter)! It is estimated that it claimed the lives of 130 to 200 divers in recent years, primarily due to Nitrogen Narcosis.
—————> Read from Left to Right —————>
As I move through this map of my life, motorcycles appear again and again. I was introduced to motorcycles by my father and found riding them not only fun and exciting, but also a cross-generational continuity with my father. I have carried on this tradition with my sons and nephew whom I introduced to the love of riding bikes - a passion we all still share. Back then, in the Sinai, I rode my motorcycle (BMW 1954) which, as always, gave me a sense of boundless freedom and exhilaration.
My life, navigated through hills and valleys riding motorcycles,
a link between the present and past
My father passing his love of motorcycles on to me
And likewise my admiration for the vehicles
a gift from the heart given to my sons.
Sailing in my one-person sailboat on the Red Sea, negotiating the water and wind while gliding on the surface of the sea was another multiple boundary experience. Towing my small sailboat behind my heavy motorcycle, carrying my diving gear on the back of my bike, and parking on the reef, was a superb way to reach remote and exquisite diving and sailing places.
Gliding in a sailboat
Braving the waters, the wind blowing at my back
Exploring the Red Sea
Two young ones, not quite adults, still nourished by the springtime of possibilities. We held hands and while walking the coast-line of the Red-Sea, immersed in the calm beauty of the sunset, enjoyed the silence of getting to know each other. She was a 19 year old young Israeli woman. I was a few years older and we had just met. We touched each other softly with a sense of innocence and wonder, more exploratory and curious than sexual. We sat with legs crossed, her head on my shoulder, as we watched the slow decent of the sun. Her soft fingertip touch came to the place where my calf was blown off in the war. She briefly paused and broke the silence by casually offering up: "All of you guys are missing some parts, aren't you?" Then, she continued to silently and gently stroke my leg. She said it as a simple matter of fact. She could equally have said "The ocean temperature is moderate." It was a powerful, insightful and profoundly sad moment for me. While, like most of my fellow soldiers, I was still in denial of the profound traumatic impact of my battle experience and war injury on me, it was painfully clear to me that this young woman was already completely resigned and profoundly aware of the, so called "parts" that so many of us, young men - soldiers, "were missing".
“Missing some parts”
Parts suddenly removed
Limbs blown off
Our souls not quite intact,
Grappling with a broken body
From the injuries of yet, another war
Working as an oceanographer in Dahab, I was extremely lucky to be mentored and kind of 'adopted' by my boss, a kind and brilliant scientist. He taught me the basics of marine biology, we went on exciting diving and sailing excursions in the Red Sea, and were close friends. About two years into the relationship, standing on my research raft in the middle of the bay, I was excited to tell him that I was heading to East Africa to apply what he had taught me, to do research on fish ponds. I expected him to be proud of me and was utterly shocked when he exploded in rage and actually came at me jabbing his fists. I learned a few years later that it was similar to what happened when Freud turned on Jung, as Jung announced that he was going to pursue his very own new track of Jungian psychology. Almost exactly the same way Freud exploded on Jung, my friend and mentor called me the "betraying son", erupting with accusations of how ungrateful I was and how I would not amount to anything without him. To punctuate this archetypal scene, we got into an actual (rather spectacular) fist-fight on the research raft on the beautiful clear water of the Red Sea. Learning from this experience, I have taught numerous supervisors and mentors over my long career about the difficult challenge for mentors-supervisors to ultimately graciously accept their supervisee as equals who have their own path and who, at times, may even surpass them.
At the age of 26-27, my work with growing fish as a protein source eventually brought me to East Africa where I tried to put into practice some of our theories in regions where the people's diet was poor in protein. I had many humbling attempts to alleviate suffering and starvation by developing small, family-sized fishponds where the fish were entirely fed by agricultural and kitchen waste.
In my heart had held the beautiful thought
that as a scientist I’d use
My knowledge to elleviate
Suffering from starvation
I worked, tirelessly to help
People who were suffering
Family-Size Ponds to Ease Starvation in E. Africa
In my heart had held the beautiful thought
that as a scientist I’d use
My knowledge to elleviate
Suffering from starvation
I worked, tirelessly to help
People who were suffering
During my time in East Africa I also helped develop a running water system in order to improve the quality of sanitation and eradicate malaria. With the help of a wise old man of the tribe, I came to realize, to my chagrin, that this project, however well intentioned, also destroyed one of the most important institutions of the village . . . the Well, which forever had been the heart and gathering place of the community. It was painfully ironic.
In addition to my scientific activities (age 26-27), I also drove safaris in Kenya and Tanzania across the vast savannahs and landscapes of the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Nakuru, and Lake Turkana. The parade of life and the seemingly endless herds of lions, giraffes, zebras, elephants, wildebeests, rhinos, hippos, crocodiles, and buffalos were everywhere. To this day, I vividly remember the hundreds of seasonally migrating zebras and wildebeests that did not make it to the next watering hole. This significantly influenced me and much of my psychology work as I thought of the interconnectedness of life and death and how often thoughts of mortality unconsciously influence our actions and thoughts.
Rhinos, crocodiles and elephants
A collection of animals roaming scattered terrain
The connection between all creatures
Great and small
Humans were bound together
Swept up in life,
ashes scattered in death
All things tied together.
I learned a great deal about different attitudes towards life and death during the time I spent in remote areas of the Somali desert. I watched in bewilderment as tribesmen let their only source of water in that desert area be polluted with a seeming disregard for their own lives or the consequences: the inevitable, rapid destruction of the community. These new realizations regarding different cultures' varying attitudes towards life, death, destiny, community, responsibility, survival, and spirituality initially baffled, confused and, at times, upset and depressed me. Later on, they humbled me and irreversibly impacted me for the rest of my life. I have learned not to assume anything about other cultures and to always stay anthropologically open, deeply respectful and able to honor and approach cultural diversity with a sense of awe.
Spending time by Lake Turkana (age 26), also known as Lake Rudolf, fishing for Nile Perch and Nile Tilapia and encountering Nile crocodiles was another transformative experience. The surrounding desert was harsh and awe-inspiring, as were the crocodiles found in great abundance in the lake. The scorpions and vipers that ring the rocky shores completed the cruel and truly inhospitable scene.
Some time later, I returned to Lake Turkana as the driver of a safari (age 27) made up of Israeli tourists, where, against my judgment and instincts, I followed the guide as he walked the entire group through the crocodile-infested waters of the shallow lake to El-Molo Island, rarely visited or touched at that time by Western or even Eastern Africa civilizations.
Living among the Maasai in Kenya and observing their relationships to the land, animals, each other, and the spirit world was a fascinating anthropological adventure. The photo depicts a ritual of drawing blood from a cow and mixing it with her milk to come up with the ultimate 'protein shake'.
There's never a dull moment living in Africa, and not just in the wild. One can encounter wonders in the urban landscape, as well. On one of my morning jogs in a Nairobi suburb, I bumped into a woman feeding a ... giraffe. In this photo, her family was visited for dinner by the young giraffe, which they had rescued and taken care of.
I was around 27 years old traveling in East Africa, hiking, climbing mountains, scaling rocks, riding small motorcycles (pikipiki), studying fish-ponds, driving safaris, canoeing on the Indian Ocean and Lake Victoria and ‘socializing’ with crocodiles in Lake Turkana. I found out that, apparently, the anti-malarial Chloroquine pills that I had been taking were no defense to the disease carrying mosquitoes I encountered after crossing the border into Tanzania, as I ended up coming down with a serious case of malaria. It was fortunate as I got the illness while visiting a friend who happened to be researching malaria at none other than the East Africa Institute for Tropical Diseases. I was fantastically cared for medically and felt super safe as I was seen by several highly experienced doctors and researchers who were top experts in the treatment and study of malaria. There was a surreal atmosphere as they had seen thousands of cases like mine over the years and could predict to the second when the high fever (107°F) would turn to chilling cold and visa versa. After a couple of weeks of intense sickness, I recovered enough to where I could continue to travel throughout East Africa. It took me many months to gain my full vision and strength.
Staying consistent with how I have traveled in the past, I decided that I wanted to explore further than the already remote location of Lamu. My precious fellow traveler and I got a tiny 20 ft. sailing boat to spend the day on the next island, that not only did not have cars, but in fact, did not have houses, animals or people either. We could not even identify its name on the map.
In London 1976, I was fortunate to meet Lady Lorna Gore-Browne (77 yo) wife and Penelope, granddaughter (25), of the famous British/Zambian legend, Sir Stewart Gore-Browne (1893-1972), called ‘Black heart’. He was the only white man to serve on the newly indepedent government when Zambia got its independence in 1964. He was also the only white man in the history of Zambia to have been given a state funeral, with a eulogy given by then-President Kenneth Kaunda. Then, I got to visit and stay in what I considered “The last bastion of British Colonialism” in the modern age – At the magnificent and, indeed, magical “Shiwa House” (or ‘Shiwa Ngandu Manor House’ ). The legend of the magical house is accurately told in the movie The Curse of the Africa House.
The mansion, the lake and 25,000 acre estate around it were, indeed, magical and equally high in British standards. I could easily imagine the hundreds of African men who took many months to carry the sofas, reclining chairs, book shelves, books and everything else for the royal mansion from the port of Dar-A-Salam, Tanzania, thousands of miles to the east.
In addition to my ‘anthropological’ curiosity, I studied the potential fisheries of the nearby lake by spending wonderful long days on small fishing boats mixing with the local friendly fishermen.
London 1976 to Zambia
Learning of a magical mansion
From my old dear friend, Lady Gore-Brown
Later, my eyes, hypnotically, landed on the Shiva Ngandu
The last bastion of British Colonialism
A treasure trove
Of riches opening before my very eyes
History, blossomimg around my shoulders
Going too far in the right direction was not new to me. Through many years of traveling in Africa I was drawn to visit a fascinating and unique ruined old spiritual center in a country in Africa where I was clearly unwelcomed. Needless to say I was drawn to this destination, or better said driven and compelled to get there. This drive was definitely not new, it drove me throughout my life to ignore obvious obstacles, to dismiss basic rules, and deny extreme dangers.
This includes an incident some years ago in which I chose to turn out the light in a crowded bunker by shooting the lightbulb out or stood still and refused to run on the heavily bombed bridge or many other similar acts of looking at death straight in the eyes.
Perhaps the most terrifying was the expected of being arrested and detained on some unclear grounds in a foreign land with no language or knowledge of the culture or the terrain. My passport, at that time was definitely not helpful, and probably put me at high risk. I was detained in a remote prison, not knowing the language, left to wander around only wearing underwear, with hundreds of men around me but with no common language or familiar culture. At night I was housed in a 6ft x 6ft cement cell, sitting on the floor with my back to the walls with three more prisoners with no way to comment, hearing the horrible, extremely loud, painful screams of tortured prisoners in the next building neither facilitated a restful night sleep nor peace of mind.
Detained, alone, afraid
On lands that were not my own
My face covered in shadows
In a remote prison
Screams punctuated the heavy air
Beads of sweat clung to my body like tears
Suddenly I became hysterically blind
thinking of my own pending torture
covering my mind In cobwebs of horror
My captors shining a light on me
My release from captivity a blur of emotions
A soul full of sorrow – A shadow inside my eye,
To remind me of my ordeal.
After my adventures in Africa finally came to a close, I spent some time in England and northern Europe. In London, living in the Kilburn area, I spent a few months exploring this historic city in all its surprising variety. I had many memorable moments there - afterall London is a world center of all the Arts - but the pinnacle perhaps was when I saw the legendary Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn in one of their dazzling ballet performances.
From England, I took a ferry to Holland. On board, I met a young British woman who offered me some 'real' English tea on the upper deck of the ferry. We spent the next couple of weeks in the swirl of beautiful, intriguing Amsterdam with its burgeoning, multicolored sub-cultures. It was there that I got a tattoo from a one-legged tattoo artist in a tattoo shop in the famous and infamous Red Light District. Tattoos are very common today, but in 1977, they were still quite rarely seen and, because of an ancient biblical proscription, a very un-Jewish, un-Israeli to do.
A splattering of color
A mosaic of sorts
Painted on my skin
Reminding me of the trip
A postcard on my arm
Sent from a faraway place
A memory sewn onto my skin.
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After my time in Europe I returned to Israel, this time as a limnologist and found an interesting job at a fresh water fish pond research lab located on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, not far from where Jesus walked on water and 'healed' Mary Magdalene. It was a scientifically stimulating and inspiring locale in which to work. My main scientific work was to explore some aquaculture 'myths' or commonly held beliefs among the fish farmers in Israel regarding the nutrition cycle in the fish ponds. (See scholarly articles.) Exploring commonly held beliefs was a theme that I grew up with and carried with me throughout my life, whether I was researching fish, war and peace, men and women, or ethics in psychology.
During the years of studying fish, I lived in the city of Tiberias and then in the charmed, ancient village of Rosh Pina, one of the oldest Jewish villages in Israel, where some streets were still paved with old Roman stones. I loved living in Rosh Pina and my daily commute down the mountain to the Sea of Galilee to research the fish ponds. During that time, I also played and coached basketball in the neighboring town of Hatzor HaGlilit, where certain racist aspects of Israeli culture became painfully obvious by the way the referees and other teams, who were 'Ashkenazi' (i.e., of Eastern European origin, with generally lighter skin) treated my team, who were 'Sfaradim,' (i.e., of North African origin, with darker skin). Anthropology again.
My spirit soared during the era when I worked by the Sea of Galilee and the view from my home took in the magical Jordan River Valley. Daily, I made the gorgeous commute to work in Kinneret on my huge, old, classic BMW bike. I was excited to be doing research on ways to promote a huge protein resource from fresh water fish ponds to feed humans all over the planet. I routinely cooled off by swimming in the Sea of Galilee, which added to a delightful way of being. As in many other periods in my life, I felt unbound and free to live, explore, wonder, love, create, imagine and, of course, risk. It was a Friday afternoon when I picked Ganit, my niece (11) and Tal, my nephew (5) at the local tiny airport to bring them up the hill to my Rosh Pina home for the weekend. The fact that I needed to bring both of them to my home on my bike inevitably led to the 'only' solution where Ganit sat behind me on the standard passenger seat and Tal, enthusiastically, sat in-front of me, on the prime available seat... the motorcycle's gas tank. As we were heading slowly up the hill on the curved road toward Rosh Pina, we suddenly saw in the distance a police car slowly zigzagging its way downhill towards us. As was discussed in the 'pre-ride orientation' of needing to 'hide from police' protocol, Tal leaped off the gas tank into the thorny-prickly-thick bushes on the side of the road where, scratched with some light bleeding, he hid perfectly until the police car went by. The image of Tal jumping from the gas tank into the thorny bushes and being picked up scratched and with some bleeding, yet proud to complete our ride home, has stayed in our collective memories for many years to come.
Traveling up a hill towards Rosh Pina
My nephew, perched on the gas tank
of the motorcycle we rode
All of us illuminated by the afternoon sun
Plastered against a cobalt sky
Excitement paints our cheeks red
When a police car approaches
My beloved nephew, Tal, leaps from the motorcycle,
an image in flight,
Landing inside thorny bushes beside the road
Scratched, but hidden from the police.
It was 1978 and I was conducting fish pond research at a lab by the Sea of Galilee. The lab was situated in a uniquely historical and spiritually potent locale. Just a quarter mile to the south was a monument marking the sacred place where Jesus healed Magdalena and Magdalena, according to some, graciously reciprocated and, in her own 'Magdalena way,' 'healed' Jesus. A quarter mile to the north was the location where Jesus walked on the water and miraculously multiplied two fish and five loaves of barley bread into enough to satisfy 5,000 people with twelve baskets remaining. This is when I met a bright and creative woman, Jean, in Jerusalem and we embarked on a few months of intense, creative and often hilariously creative letter writing (it was 1978, before e-mails and texts). After a few months Jean moved in with me in the gorgeous historic village of Rosh Pina. I was still magically and mysteriously drawn to East Africa. I knew that when I could no longer run my fish pond experiments in the winter when the water temperature in the experimental ponds would dip below 70°F, I would be heading back to East Africa for the summer there. Creative Jean, who could write a good story of any interesting life event, made a habit of coming down to my experimental ponds with a thermometer in hand every few days, precisely and systematically detecting how many degrees were left for our relationships. She regularly announced, in a sad yet sweetly accepting or even romantic tone, "I have 2 degrees left before my relationship with Ofer is over" or "My love with Ofer has barely half a degree left."
At 29 years old, I moved to the US to do my M.A. in counseling at Lesley College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, 'slightly' shifting my career interests and path from fish and oceanography to psychology, psychotherapy and counseling. Within psychology I was interested in learning about the healing process for individuals, couples, families, communities and cultures. Initially I was intrigued by the psychology of peace and violence on all levels from the individual to the cultural. I was interested in the roots of war and the prerequisites of peace and explored a variety of theories on these topics. I was especially intrigued with how men and women co-participated in the making of war, or what I called "The role of women in the making of war", and similarly how parents and their young adult children co-created war systems. (Later, I expanded these interests into thinking about the tensions between life, love, and mortality.)
I continued my work, exploring the roots of war and promoting peace, which led me to literature that discussed the meaning of the fact that the average frequency of war is 25 years, which corresponds to the span of a generation. The theory posited the puzzling and odd idea that war may be the unconscious wish and impulse of parents to kill their children, or what is also known as the Medea Complex. I asked my mother her thoughts on this idea and did not hear back from her for a couple of months. Then one day, I got a package from her with probably all the available literature on this obscure topic. She noted that compiling this literature was one of the most difficult challenges she had ever faced. That was the last correspondence I had from her as she died soon after from her second heart attack in November 1982 at age 68. Mother repeatedly told us that she neither wanted to slow down in old age nor have a prolonged death. So on her gravestone we engraved her own words -"Trees Die Erect".
One never to slow down
An intellectual giant
A loving mother
A questioning soul
Who didn’t wish to linger too long between life and death,
between sunshine and shade
So on her gravestone we wrote the words
“Trees Die Erect”
From 1984 to 1991, alongside my friend and colleague, philosopher-author Sam Keen, I devoted my professional life to promoting peace by deepening the public understanding of the complex psychology of peace and war, as well as the roots of enmity. During these final and challenging years of the Cold War, I gave dozens of presentations and media appearances across the US on such subjects as: Gender and War, The Psychology of Peace and War, Understanding the Light of Peace in the Shadow of War, and Psychology of the Nuclear Age.
In 1987, I was honored to be invited with my friend and colleague, Sam Keen, to Moscow, Russia for a symposium on “Soviet-American Images: A New Perspective,” organized by the Soviet Peace Committee and the Center for Soviet-American Dialogue. Our guest appearances included working sessions with scientists from the USSR Academy of Science. These were exciting times in Russia – the early years of Perestroika and Mikhail Gorbachev’s political reforms. An interesting part of the trip was Kris Kristofferson and his crew was part of our group, where he performed the first rock concert in the history of Russia.
With my first marriage in 1981, I became a step-parent to my step-children, Suzannah and Jeremy. Soon after (1983), our daughter, Azzia, was born which marked one of my most profound inner shifts; my sense of self was expanded and, obviously, my sense of responsibility for my daughter's and step-children's growth and well-being.
I met my first wife in orientation to our doctorate program in psychology. We spent our honeymoon in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, where I learned wind-surfing. We also visited the lovely island of Isla Mujeres, fascinating ancient sites in Talum, touristic Cancun Island, and Cozumel.
In 1984, at 34 years old, I received my Ph.D. from the Wright Institute in Berkeley, CA. My dissertation centered on the dynamics of how men and women view and co-create warfare, and called sharply into question the almost universal belief that only men are inherently warlike, while women are inherently peace-loving. Subsequently, in a paper, "The Love of Hating", I refuted another faulty belief - that war has no intrinsic appeal and is only a necessary evil or last resort - and explored the conscious and unconscious attractions of war.
A time of immense pride
To explore unquestionable beliefs
Of war and peace
Shade and sunlight
Perhaps in the shadows
The truth would lie
On my lifelong quest
To examine the faulty notion
That men were mainly warlike
While women were capable of only peaceful actions
In 1988, I was single again and moved to the beautiful town of Sonoma, CA where Azzia went to school and rode her horses. These were special years where Sam Keen, who had moved to Sonoma a year earlier, worked with me on men's themes and peace and war issues. Even more special was that, at Azzia's 'insistence' :-), I started dating her ballet teacher, Jennifer, and later, in 1992, I married her. We had two boys, Eitan, born in 1992, and Ilan, born in 1995, and are still married, all these 30+ years later.
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Azzia, my first born (1983), besides her love of reading and ballet, enjoyed and became skillful in horseback riding and jumping. Later, she graduated from UC Berkeley in philosophy, became an excellent writer and editor, and has established herself in many ways, including as a Sensei, in an Aikido dojo in Berkeley, CA.
Supporting my children as they developed their unique identities, interests, and gifts has been one of my life's greatest joys. I have had the fun of sharing the love of basketball, motorcycles and adventures with my two sons, Eitan and Ilan. Later in life, Eitan developed the love of swing dance and trapeze arts. Ilan, who I have had the chance to coach, has come to excel in his academic studies, his pursuit of justice causes, leadership, and basketball. But more about them later...
In the mid 1990's, I took on debunking the myth that all victims are always innocent and invited people to re-think the then prevalent belief in the dictum, "Don't Blame the Victim." While some victims are truly innocent (e.g., abused children) others thrive on being victims. The victim's stance is a powerful one and was erroneously framed as: The victim is always morally right, neither responsible nor accountable, and forever entitled to sympathy. That perception has since changed to some degree, I am pleased to say.
Another boundary to be experienced was the Na Pali coast in Kauai, Hawaii, which is considered "the Everest of sea kayaking". My son, Eitan, who was only 12 at the time, and I went on a demanding, 17 mile kayak trip, where the cusp of the Mammoth Mountains slopes into the ocean. It was an incredible day with breathtaking 2,000 foot sea cliffs, cool lava-formed sea caves and mile-high waterfalls plummeting into the blue Pacific.
On the beautiful Na Pali coast in Kauai, Hawaii
Kayaking with my precious son
Mountains, like gentle giants, hung over our heads
As our oars cut through sun-kissed waves
And we marveled at sea cliffs and caves in this nautical realm
Spending time with my children in nature has been uniquely rewarding as it combines adventure, physical and emotional challenges, reliance on self and others, and, of course, connection and fun. In this picture, my boys and I are on a lovely ride in Annadel State Park. Engaging with my young children in fun, but at times also challenging, experiences not only created memoriable experiences but also enhanced our closeness and mutual respect.
Spending time on bicycles
Against a splash of blue sky
Serene scenes unfold of
Grasses and water
underneath soft pale clouds
Our trek together
Our closeness felt forever
In the stillness of nature
By ties of family, friendship and fun
Eitan has always been adventurous. Here he is at age 11, fearlessly joining me (the first time for both of us) paragliding in tandem off Sonoma Mountain. And there was another mountain in our future: It was with Eitan that I summited Mount Kilimanjaro 2007, as we shall see. In later years, Eitan pursued skydiving, catcher in trapeze, commanding sailboats and scuba-diving, worked as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), and much more.
Ilan was 6 years old when he joined a local basketball league for young boys on a team that I led (kind of “coached”). The court was designed for young beginners and was only 42 ft. long. By comparison, standard college and NBA courts are 94 ft. long. One of the league’s rules was that teams were not allowed to defend the other team past half court. Young Ilan’s skills were unprecedented. He was able to shoot with high accuracy from the 21 ft. half court mark (a bit short of the modern 3-point line of 25 ft.). So, “according to plan” he shot the ball beyond the half court line where the opposing team was not allowed to defend or contest the shot, which led our team to endless victories and understandably infuriated both the parents of the opposing team and the league organizers 😋.
At age 15 ½ Eitan applied for a provisional drivers license in our state of California. This was the first step towards getting his license. His status was called “Provisional” which meant that he had to have an adult accompany him while he drove. Hearing about the endless arguments of friends with their children after they got the permit and constantly asked their parents to accompany them in driving around the clock, I decided to take a different tack. Eitan and I planned a trip from our home in Sonoma to Las Vegas to watch a fantastic circus show where he would drive the hundreds of miles, the WHOLE way to Las Vegas and back. The long trip was great driving experience for Eitan. A few days later, half way back home, Eitan, exhausted, stopped the car at the side of the road and announced that he had had enough driving. The plan worked out perfectly. For the next couple of years there were no arguments, begging or conflicts about driving. Eitan got it out of his system in the first week of his permit.
Basketball, as mentioned, has been my sport. I have played basketball since the age of 10 and later coached. I love the intensity, mastery, camaraderie, as well as the strategic, competitive, physical, mental, and social aspects of the game. I played in leagues in Israel, college ball at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and in the Jack Benny League in Sonoma (over age 39). I retired from playing at age 56, but always find other ways to keep active.
Basketball: The chess of athletics
Dribbling a ball and strategizing
How to pass an opponent
With a deft spin
A look to a teammate
A masterful pass
The flicker of a wrist
A swoosh sound
As the basketball sails through the net
A magical moment
Under stars that dotted the black sky above the Judean Hills,
I arrived in Bethlehem
At a Christmas Eve mass where
My beautiful and precious future wife stood
We were both together, the fates aligned
And our constant love for each other was magically set in motion
In the millenial year of 2000, I suffered my first heart attack and cardiac arrest at the age of 50 (100% occlusions of LCA) and crossed the boundary of life and death (flatlined) for 90+ seconds. I remain disappointed that I neither saw a white light nor God, a truly wasted opportunity. With a stent in place, I have increased my focus on my "bucket list". In that same year, my father died, but unlike my mother, he went slowly at the ripe old age of 84.
In an instant of course
Life can change,
Sands stop running through
An hourglass, my hourglass
My life suspended
Each day meant more than the day before
A new journey
A thirst for adventure
A new appreciation
A life reborn, made anew.
In the mid 1990s, I stepped into the ring to dispute the whole notion of the so-called depravity and danger of dual relationships in psychotherapy and counseling and, through my writing and teaching, emphasized the importance of healthy connections and community. In 2002, I co-authored, with Dr. Arnold A. Lazurus, a break-through book, Dual Relationships and Psychotherapy, on the eponymous subject.
In 2007, the American Psychological Association published my book on Boundaries in Psychotherapy which invites therapists to be more flexible in regard to issues, such as touch, multiple relationships, gifts, home visit, bartering, and self disclosure. This also signified that psychology, as a result of the relentless work of a few colleagues and myself, now embraces a more flexible and context-based view of therapeutic boundaries.
So-called risk management 'experts' have in effect hijacked parts of the fields of general medicine, including mental health, by inducing exaggerated fears of lawsuit. Some of risk management's standard, yet unfounded, instructions in psychotherapy have been: Never touch a client, don't self-disclose, don't leave the office with a client, and don't engage in any form of dual relationship. These overly cautious 'defensive medicine' practices, often perpetuated by purported risk management experts and attorneys, can actually hurt clients, as they in effect deny them adequate focus on effective patient care. In my article on the Risk of Risk Management I document how, even though the healing benefits of touch, therapist self-disclosure, or meeting clients where they feel most comfortable or safe have been scientifically documented in the last 50+ years, many poorly trained and frightened psychotherapists regularly avoid doing what is therapeutically right and helpful out of regulatory fear.
One of my clients was a gentle, pleasant older man in his 50's, suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, with whom I worked in the East Coast. As part of therapy, I was continually in touch with his parents, his three children and sisters, as well as his landlord, employer, psychiatrist, and everyone else involved in his life. He happened to be a Starsky and Hutch TV show 'junky' who closely identify with the show and even drove a car that mimicked the signature car of the show. My curly dark hair reminded him of Starsky—in fact, at times, he confused me with the character. So it came to be that his car was the 'office space' where we met for most of our weekly therapy sessions. He never liked my office—being there made him nervous, frightened, paranoid and withdrawn—but he felt relaxed, engaged, and receptive while tooling around town with me in his signature car. As we cruised, like in the TV series we checked out the hotspots, all the while talking about the client's relationships, dreams, fears, and work. He felt safe going into the stores to do basic shopping, knowing that Starsky was 'backing him up' from the car. As I described in my Ethical Eye article, several ethicists and attorneys warned me of the dangers of leaving the office or being involved in what they labeled as a dual relationship. After consulting with several 'true' experts, I decided to continue my approach to therapy with this client, for the simple reason that it was effective. At all times I reminded myself that I was being paid to help him, not to practice defensive medicine.
As previously discussed, the adoption of rigid risk management practices has taken a serious toll on client care in the medical field in general as well as on mental health services. In the following I want to hone further in on the ill-advised rule 'never leave the office with a client.' This rather irrational 'one size fits all' dictum bears the consequence that mental health services are denied to the agoraphobic, the paranoid, and the millions of home-bound patients. It equally interferes with treatment for 'side-by-side' (rather than face-to-face) oriented clients who could benefit from a walk on a local trail rather than the standard face-to-face mode in the office. Equally, it denies services to disorganized, homeless, or poor clients who are not capable of finding their way to a therapist's office.
I have incorporated Out-of-Office Experiences (aka OOE) into my therapeutic practice by making perfectly legitimate, clinically sound visits to home-bound or hospitalized patients, as well as conducting sessions with the mentally ill homeless at street corners. I met with one highly distrustful and resistant adolescent client on the basketball court after he refused to show up at the office. My approach—meeting him, a dedicated athlete, on his turf—provided a good context for connection, particularly since this was also my game! With this tactic I succeeded in gaining my client's trust and, most importantly, engaging him in psychotherapy (albeit somewhat unorthodox!). An older, rather depressed and isolated old lady with three beloved dogs, from whom she would not separate, refused to come to my office due to her dogs, but agreed to a walk-and-talk session on a nearby trail. She was also a 'side by side' kind of a woman.
Other legitimate contexts for disregarding risk management's arbitrary injunctions against interaction outside the office include: engaging in adventure/outdoor therapy; going on a therapeutically initiated tour with an architect client to her newly designed house pursuant to the therapist's helping her find her 'voice' via architecture; attending the funeral of a client at the request of the spouse whom the therapist has seen in couples therapy intermittently for 20 years; or attending a theatrical performance of a young client whom the therapist has successfully helped to overcome shyness and stage fright.
In 2003, a new federal privacy regulation called HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) took effect. In an attempt to help psychotherapists make sense of the complex and often confusing regulations, I wrote my third book, The HIPAA Compliance Kit distributed by Norton Publishing. It was significantly revised several times over the years to keep up with the ongoing changes of the Security Rule, new telemental health technologies and practices and much more...
In the mid 1990's I completed the first of many editions of The Complete Fee-for-Service Private Practice Handbook. This handbook encouraged and guided psychotherapists how practice creatively, ethically, and heartily without relying on the mostly financially-profit focused managed care and insurance companies and without being blindly wedded to the pharmacological companies controlled DSM or to risk-management ideologies. Following these principles have been a major focus of my contribution to the field of psychology and mental health services since the mid 1990's.
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In 2006 we celebrated the Bar-Mitzvah of our oldest son, Eitan, on top of the ancient and inspirational Jewish stronghold of Masada, followed by a 'for men only' rite of passage in the Negev Desert in Israel, where I had the dubious pleasure of jogging in 114° F heat.
A special ritual
Shared with my son
An ancient place swept by the sands of time
The sun hung high above the Negev Desert
Wrapping us in a blanket of heat
Eitan's bar-mitzvah reminded me how as a young man I often spent time in the desert, enjoying the dry heat and powerful, arid landscape. I rode motorcycles (and camels) and drove jeeps in the Sinai and Negev Deserts, as well as hiking and backpacking. I was once drawn to a sacred place there: Saint Catherine's Monastery located on Mount Sinai, which, according to some Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions, was the place where the Ten Commandments were given.
Exploring the desert,
An ocean of sand before me
My spirit, in tune with the landscape
Painted in pastel skies
Riding on a motorcycle
Peering at the earth
On top of a camel
Backpacking through arid, consecrated ground
In 2007, after finishing my fourth book on Boundaries in Therapy, published by the America Psychological Association (APA), watching the movie Motorcycle Diaries threw me into an "existential funk" that sent me searching for meaning and new experiences of beauty, adventure, connection, and heights. The result was my resolve to explore the challenging 'altitude boundaries' of air, or lack of, by climbing the awesome heights of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest stand-alone mountain in the world--also known as the "Roof of Africa" in Tanzania. I undertook this journey with my oldest son, Eitan (14 at the time) and our dear family friend Sarah (24). We departed in June 2007 and took a seven-day journey on the Rongai (northern) Route up this magically impressive mountain. Starting at the northern side, our trail passed through stunning coniferous forest and offered fantastic views along the way. While not 'technical,' the climb was steep, long, and challenging. After summiting Kilimanjaro, we proceeded on a Safari at the spectacular Serengeti and the Nogorongoro Crater game reserves, the same route that I drove safaris on as a 26–year-old.
At 18,000 feet, where the oxygen level drops from the normal of 20.9% at sea level to as low as 'effective oxygen %' level of 10.5, I could not tell right from left, or front from back. Oddly enough, and rather disorientingly, I also could not tell the difference between up from down. We all succeeded in reaching the summit (at 19,341 feet or 5,892 meters) and took in the spectacular view of the earth's curve from this truly magnificent height. While there was very little air to breath, the three of us were nevertheless permeated with a deep sense of care, support, camaraderie and love. Needless to say, the experience also re-affirmed the boundless connection between father and son.
As Eitan and I were training for the Kilimanjaro climb, many friends and acquaintances confronted me. They wanted to know why at the age of 57, after having suffered a major cardiac arrest, I was so keen on risking my life with this climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro alongside my 14-year-old son. After growing tired of the questioning, and what felt like narrow-mindedness, lack of imagination, and subtle guilt-inducing harassment, I started responding with, "You are absolutely right. I may die on the mountain! However, can you think of a better place to die than on top of the highest, most gorgeous, stand-alone mountain in the world?"
When people continued to challenge me about having my 14-year-old son with me on this venture, supposedly risking my life, I came up with this response, which I told the 'concerned/questioning ones': "If I am to 'glamorously' die on top of spectacular Kilimanjaro, I will be cremated there, and my ashes will be placed in a Tanzanian ebony box. Eitan will bring me down the mountain and back home in this beautiful small carved memento." This ebony box story was repeated whenever I was confronted or accused of being irresponsible by friends, colleagues, and guest at dinner tables. While Eitan did not seem to be flabbergasted, distressed or upset by this story, many other people did.
The final twist to this story came at 18,000 feet, where I became disoriented and suddenly unable to breath and experiencing severe heart pains. This was a clear sign of (another) potential heart failure. Instead of asking Eitan who, according to plan had carried my nitro (Nitroglycerin), to stay nearby and be ready to hand it to me, I found myself believing my absurd story and (yes, sincerely) telling myself "There is no better place to die..." Miraculously, I survived, in spite of myself.
In 2008 I was invited to give a keynote address at the Social Workers Annual Convention in Anchorage, Alaska. Being there, I heard 'the call of the wild' and took the opportunity to embark on another adventure, this time backpacking on the vast glaciers of Alaska. For a person who thrives at 114° F, the subfreezing temperatures of the glaciers, with their bear footprints, provided an exciting challenge. I decided to hire a guide to take me backpacking on the Matanuska Glacier. As the temperature dropped into the low teens at night, we heard the deep, resounding reverberations of glaciers cracking, like tectonic movements rumbling far inside the earth. The sounds and vibrations evoked in me a deep sense of awe and wonder, as if I were tapping into something larger than life itself. By day, learning glacier survival techniques for climbing the ice was another exhilarating experience. All told, this endeavor opened a new world for me. I am used to and feel very much at home at the desert, in the mountains, or on and under the ocean. But being on a slippery ice surface was an utterly new sensation and way of being, affording me a new relationship to 'the earth'... calling for great precision, and technical awareness. I was delighted to learn these new skills practice this level of physical attentiveness.
Carrying a pack on my back
My eyes scan the horizon
As my feet step onto glaciers
Slowly, methodically I walk
And inhale the frozen air
The mystery of a world covered in ice
A place of quiet exploration and mystical intrigue
While my keynote address focused on introducing psychotherapists in Alaska to the legitimized view of flexible therapeutic boundaries (such as unavoidable multiple relationships, home visits, therapy sessions outside the office, gifts, bartering, etc.) the subfreezing temperatures and bone-piercing windchill factor while camping on the ice gave me a glimpse of the edges of human endurance. I was deeply impressed by the awesome power, immensity and out-of-this-world experience of these glaciers.
Before I had gone on this glacier journey, I had asked my family over dinner whether it was time for me to walk on the ice, as the old Eskimo legend is told, and feed myself to the bears so that my sons could 'hunt the bear to feed the tribe.' They nodded with a smile, knowing too well that I would very likely return to regale and 'feed' them with stories of yet another amazing adventure!
Surrounded by frozen earth
Stars dot a canvas of black sky
Constellations of twinkling light
Beauty in this frosty wonderland
Where glaciers surround nature
In a palace of ice
As my oldest son, Eitan turned 17, it was time for me to revisit the depths of the ocean and the boundaries of air and water - this time with my son. It was a true joy to introduce him to that glorious other world. We both earned our scuba certifications, and I had the thrill of diving once again into the serene, clear blue waters of the Red Sea in Israel. Eitan has seriously taken to scuba diving and continues to dive in San Diego, Catalina Island, Hawaii, and the Caribbean, among other places.
In the new millennium, it became increasingly evident that technology, in its many forms, was shaking and reshaping the world. The implications for professionals in psychology and allied professions were emerging and I had become increasingly aware of how the digital-technical divide between the older, pre-computer generation of "Digital Immigrants" and the younger generation of "Digital Natives" would impact us.
When I was invited to speak on the Digital Divide in Singapore in 2009, as usual, I looked around for possible local adventures in that part of the world and decided to do some jungle trekking in the tropical forests of Malaysia. Endless drenching by the monsoons in a remote jungle area gave me a new sense of what rain can be. Despite my efforts, the leeches were undeterred. The main reason for my trip to Malaysia was to walk the stunning longest suspension bridge in the world in the Titiwangsa Mountains. However walking on this amazing bridge was not possible, at that time, because the bridge was closed due to the monsoons.
In 2009, I was nominated as an American Psychological Association (APA) Fellow (Div. 42) in recognition of my contribution to the field. This award marked the arrival of much-needed changes in professional ethics from rigid and fear-based to more humane and care-based. Besides my private psychotherapy practice and teaching on ethics and other topics, I have been consulting with therapists and have been retained as forensic expert (expert witness) where I could combine my knowledge and expertise on ethics and standard of care issues with my sense of fairness and justice.
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In 2009, the family moved west from the beautiful wine country town of Sonoma to the more rustic and interesting town of Sebastopol, also known as the "Berkeley of the North." We were intrigued by the political sensibilities and the artistic and spiritual qualities of the town, which were a better fit for us than 'perfect' Sonoma. The move also eliminated the Sonoma to Santa Rosa commute for the boys who attended the Summerfield Waldorf School in Santa Rosa, not far away.
Life in Sebastopol has been quite wonderful. The culture, community, arts, and the politics have been a good match for us. The boys enjoyed their Waldorf school, although Eitan jumped ship to our local high school in his junior year. Ilan, however, continued at Summerfield, playing and starring on their basketball team for all 4 years. I had the honor to be the assistant coach for the basketball team during that period.
By 2014, our Zur Institute online continuing education program had expanded to include 180 Online Continuing Education Courses. Every year, thousands of psychotherapists, counselors, MFTs, nurses, and lay people have been benefiting from our innovative and unique offerings.
Modern Internet technologies and social media have drawn me to explore the boundaries involved in "digital ethics," which include issues of online searches, e-mail in therapy, telemental health, and clients as Facebook friends.
Turning 60, and now living closer to the Pacific Ocean, I purchased a 2007 classic-looking Triumph Bonneville motorcycle (850 cc) that I could ride along the ocean and also teach my boys (15 and 18) the love of motorcycles as my dad did with me.
With the motorcycle, I also acquired an 18 foot ocean kayak that gives me freedom and much needed humility. I found keeping myself in the kayak in rough water simply impossible.
Paddling on serene waters
That lay under a canvas of teal sky
My hands delicately grip oars
That propel me onwardMy spirit soars
Gently as I move above the ripples
that dance beneath me
Returning to teach in Singapore in 2010 gave me a chance to further explore this unique, tiny country, which focuses on a healthy balance between community and individual needs and rights. They also had just completed a 55 story man-made wonder called Marina Sands SkyPark.
Being in this part of Asia, I also could not miss the opportunity to experience that wonder of the world (age 60), the Great Wall of China. (Reluctantly, I had to give up the idea of retracing the steps of Gengis Khan and his journey from Mongolia towards the Great Wall.) Stretching over 5,000 miles through treacherous terrain, this wall is undeniably the ultimate physical boundary.
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In the summer of 2011 my wife, Jennifer, all three children, and I embarked on a routine visit to Israel to my family's kibbutz. It is a beautiful community, and home to my beloved sister and her family, which seems to give rise to new babies every year. My sister, Shlomit, is 4 years my senior and in contrast to my proclivity for adventure and mobility, she married her first love at 19 and has stayed in the kibbutz all her life as educator, writer, wife, mother, and now grandmother of 10 grandchildren.
The second part of the vacation was, as my children noted, about "old rocks." On the return trip we visited Greece, visiting the Acropolis in Athens and remote palaces and caves on the island of Crete. Happily for them, Athens at night is as vibrant and full of young people as Tel-Aviv.
Ilan (16) excelled on his Summerfield Waldorf High School basketbal team, which won the local Small League Championship. At that year, Ilan was the 2nd top scoring junior in California. It was fun serving as an assistant coach, applying my knowledge of and passion for basketball and psychology to coaching, and seeing Ilan's success in his senior year.
Eitan Zur (18) got himself a Kawasaki ZX-14 (1,400 CC), which barely fit in our garage but was fun to drive. I spent some of the summer of 2012 sharing the love of motorcycles and travel with him.
In July 2012, Azzia married her long time close friend, Nick Walker. Nick is the founder and senior instructor of Aikido Shusekai, an aikido dojo in Berkeley, CA, and has a 6th degree black belt in aikido. Nick holds a Ph.D. in Somatic Psychology from California Institute of Integral Studies and is also an author of two online courses for the Zur Institute.
Azzia's wedding provided a wonderful chance for me to enjoy my children and step-children. From left to right: Eitan (19), Azzia (28), myself, Jeremey (39), Suzannah (37) and Ilan (17).
In August 2012 my son, Eitan (19), and I (62) went to the highest 'ridable' road on earth at 18,380 feet above sea level - in the Himalayas on ... motorcycles. The two-week adventure turned out to be one of the most physically and mentally onerous experiences of my life. Driving the narrow, rocky roads often bordered by cliffs falling thousands of feet (with no guard rails), blind corners, reckless, over-loaded trucks, long days of riding through endless potholes, and water crossings turned out to be an unparalleled adventure and realization of a dream.
18,380 feet above sea level
My son and I
zigzag, cut through
Earth and heaven,
Feel sun and shade at our backs
As we ride
The enormity and grandeur of the Himalayas are incomparable and so are the centuries-old sacred Buddhist temples and monasteries we visited. Sometimes it felt like we were riding the clouds. The trip evoked in me such humility and helped me come to terms with physical and age-related limitations (age 62). Ultimately, once again, we looked death straight in the eyes (or at least around every blind corner). And, of course, it also intensified a special connection with my son. In contrast to my experience, Eitan found the trip joyous and quite easy.
In 2015, the Zur Institute celebrated 20 years of our website which we started in 1995. We truly were pioneers of the Internet. With the unequivocal support, competence, and dedication of my webmaster, Deborah Porter, and Operational Manager, Pamela Adler, the site has grown to 180 continuing education online courses. In addition to directing the Zur Institute, I have been writing books and articles, as well as teaching on variety of topics, such as boundaries, multiple relationships, TeleMental Health and much more. All of this is in addition to providing psychotherapy and serving as expert witness and forensic consultant.
I daily treasure and try to nourish my rich connections with my beloved wife, family, and friends. The interaction with my children is an ongoing delight, whether I am playing basketball with Ilan, biking and kayaking with Eitan, or writing with Azzia. Adventure, meditation, and community remain, as always, important to me and recently, I started writing short personal-philosophical essays for the public.
I have been practicing psychotherapy since 1988, for over a quarter of a century. I use traditional clinical orientations such as CBT, psychodynamic, humanistic, existential and other similarly well established clinical approaches. I have been privileged to work with, help and learn from individuals, couples and families who have been traumatized or struggled with existential or relational concerns, as well as those with a wide variety of diagnoses or difficulties in living, such as schizophrenic, borderline and suicidal patients. I have explored with my clients various ways to live safely and meaningfully, and how to love and connect well.
My clinical work has been enhanced by my education, as well as my various life experiences, whether living with the Masai in Kenya, mixing with the English in London or living among Israelis and Americans. Consistent with my beliefs as expressed in my writing, when clinically appropriate I have made home visits, attended the weddings of couple/clients, conducted therapy in nearby parks, appropriately self-disclosed, given supportive hugs when needed, and bartered with cash-poor, talented artist clients. I have learned from my patients, not only how to live with dignity, but also how to die with dignity. Living in a small town, I was inevitably, exposed to a wide range of unavoidable dual or multiple relationships.
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I've written much about my children and my special relationship with them. My pride in them is deep and strong and I will share, here, a bit more of who, what, and where they are: At age 22 (2015), Eitan is finishing his senior year at SDSU, and preparing to embark on his career as a firefighter, EMT, and paramedic. He transferred from his first career as an aerial circus instructor and performer to public service during his junior year of college, and has been enjoying working as both an EMT on an ambulance and a firefighter with his department ever since. When he is not working, he enjoys riding his motorcycle, sailing, surfing, scuba diving, hiking, and has recently set his sights on attaining his solo skydiving license.
Ilan completed his first basketball season at UC Santa Cruz in June/2014 playing for the UCSC Slugs, where he, as a freshman at 6'5", started 11 games and played an average of 23 minutes per game, scored an average 7.7 points per game and pulled down an average 4.5 rebounds per game. In his sophomore year at UCSC, Ilan (19) got his first bike, a Ninja 250, so he can get around Santa Cruz. He joined his grandfather, brother, and his father as a motorcycle rider. In 2015, starting his junior year, he upgraded to a Kawasaki-Ninja 650. Alongside intense basketball practices and motorcycle fun, he also maintains a 3.8 GPA and takes a serious interest in issues of justice and fairness. His academic double major is in environmental studies & sociology.
A family vacation in the Summer of 2014 took us to the Big Island in Hawaii. The powerful lava fields, the vast ocean, and the exquisite diving sites were all a great background to a delightful family vacation. We did some hiking, snorkeling with sea turtles on coral reefs, scuba diving with manta rays, ate well, relaxed, and hung out, as we got know this exotic paradise.
I took my first ever cruise in July 2014, where I was the teacher of a Continuing Education Ethics class, "Conducting Therapy in the Digital Age", on a cruise from Seattle to Alaska. Teaching a large, lively class of 40 mental health professionals was intense and rewarding and being on a cruise ship was 'anthropologically' fascinating as I got to be a 'participant- observer' of cruise culture.
Dogs have always been part of our family. Here is Ilan (19) basking with the joy of snuggling with our beloved Tasha, the German Shepherd, and Moshi, the Australian Sheperd.
In the last year or so, I have been starting my days with a peaceful walk with the dogs - always a part of our family - in the hills and apple orchards around our house. Beside the connection with the dogs and nature, this turns out to be an ideal time for reflection and contemplation.
Walking with dogs
among, apple orchards
And green hills covered in sunlight
The air sweet
The walks, a way to be present,
to enjoy Life at a slower pace
My eyes, observing the world around me
Slowly, and serenely
In his sophomore year at UCSC, Ilan (19) got his first bike, a Ninja 250, so he can get around Santa Cruz. He joined his grandfather, brother and his father as a motorcycle rider. In 2015, starting his junior year, he got himself a Kawasaki-Ninja 650. In 2018 Ilan started his 4 year challenging combined JD (law) and MA program in Public Policies in the prestige program in UCLA.
Sept. 20, 2014 - an historic day in the Zur Family as all three boys own their own bikes. The three of us celebrated by riding our motorcycles today on scenic Highway 1 along the Pacific coastline.
The dream of riding our motorcycles together
A reality now
Cruising along Highway 1
Catching glimpses of ocean and coastline
As smiles form on our faces
A sense of comradery, a joyous adventure
In April, 2015 (65 years old) I suffered my second heart attack. Similar to the first, my a-symptomatic presentation was puzzling. Way into my heart attack, my EKG and heart enzymes were still 'normal'. This time I ended up with two more stents, for a total of 3.
I taught my second 14 hour workshop on Ethics aboard the Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas That same year, in December, I taught my second 14 hour workshop on Ethics, this time aboard the Royal Caribbean's "Allure of the Seas" (2015), and this time in the Caribbean. It was a unique experience being among 8,000 (yes, 8,000!) passengers and crew and, like the last cruise, it was an anthropologically instructive experience.
In 2015-2016, I edited and contributed to another book entitled Multiple Relationships in Psychotherapy and Counseling: Unavoidable, Common and Mandatory Dual Relations in Therapy, published by Routledge (2017). A colleague has labeled the book as "Polishing the Monument", indicating that it finally puts to rest the erroneous idea that all dual relationships are unethical. It demonstrates that not only are some multiple relationships mandated, unavoidable, and common, but in fact some can be healthy and beneficial.
As I approach my 66th year of life and the next stage of the journey, it is a time not only for renewed reflection, but for igniting new flames, burnishing dreams in progress, and stirring old embers. Sebastopol has become the home of my heart and it affords me opportunities to do all this. I have joined a group of local Israelis that we jokingly call, "Israelis Anonymous". I am a member of a stimulating, creative writing group where I can channel my lifelong pleasure in writing by Writing from the Heart. I've joined a men's group whose impressive members enjoy the pleasures of thoughtful discussion, as I do. I am, once again, exploring unfamiliar territory, engaging in new activities, interacting with new people, and, of course, finding and crossing new boundaries on the way.
With pen pressed delicately against paper
My stories flow
From my memory
A footprint in a faraway land
A portal to the past
A discovery for the future
A written word
A spoken truth
A page rustling with magic
In 2017, I embarked on my third teaching cruise, this time with my wife and two sons. Just as on my previous cruise to Alaska, my classes were occasionally interrupted when the students sitting by the window yelled, "Whales!". Of course, the entire class, including myself, rushed to the window to see the spectacle of magnificent, broaching whales flailing the water with their great flukes right next to our ship! Our plan to experience dog-sledding did not materialize due to poor weather, but we were amply compensated when we took an unforgettable flight in a single-engine plane over the awe-inspiring Alaskan glaciers.
While continuing to manage the Zur Institute and its 150 online continuing education courses, I have also put down strong roots in my town, Sebastopol, where I am active in groups such as "Israelis Anonymous" 😀, Depth Psychology discussion group, Carl Jung's discussion groups, a Hebrew book club, a writing group, and more. I have re-immersed myself in the practice of meditation, as well. Daily sitting-meditation seems to have a profound impact on my psyche, opening me to a deep appreciation of the "Now"; and thus, empowered, I strive to be present, as if each day (or each moment) were my last one on earth.
Like a tree whose roots are nourished by rich soil
I have planted myself firmly in Sebastopol, as a part of the Israeli Anonymous community
My soul, soothed in silence
A practice to clear my mind
And let the stillness, the wonder of
Life flow through me
As I turned 66, one of the questions that naturally emerged was 'how do I want to live my remaining years?' Summiting mountains on foot or on a motorcycle, diving to extreme depths, fighting wars, jumping out of planes, teaching all over the world, backpacking on a glacier, authoring cutting-edge books, fighting irrational dogmas, implacably seeking justice and peace, were all achievements and enriching challenges of the past. Now the question is, What's next? When I consider the possibilities, I can't help but feel that surge of excitement that always precedes the new and unknown. I will intensify my meditations on a range of subjects, some old, some new. I will resume reading classic literature. I will write from the heart, for I still have so much to say. Perhaps I will travel to new parts of the world, visit new museums, libraries, or ancient sites, or. . .??? The ideas flood my mind as I go through the process of figuring out this new phase or how to begin again. Well, I do know that I am not going to take up golf. What is certain is that I will continue to nuture my close bonds with my precious family, friends and community, to engage in meaningful activities, and always promote peace and justice. While I know that life is going to move at a slower and more contemplative pace, I am yet not sure about its focus or form.
A match struck in the dark
A candle in the soul, reignited
A time for reflection, contemplation
A thirst for knowledge
A new day dawning
A life luminous with endless possibilities
Alongside the question of 'what is next in my life?', I ponder 'how do I want to die?'. I know that I neither want to die 'erect' (i.e. in my prime) as my mother did, nor do I wish to go through the lengthy, painfully slow journey that my father took in the final period of his life. My young son, Ilan, insightfully said one day "Aba (dad), you will not die on top of Kilimanjaro nor on the glacier in Alaska nor among the sharks in the deep ocean. You are mostly likely to die slipping on a banana in the local Safeway." When it comes to death, I love the scene of Little Big Man where Chief Dan George announces "Today is a good day to die" and wanders off into the woods. The "Right to Die" law that was passed in California in 2016 gives me some choices or control regarding the way I may choose to die, which is a relief. I found appealing the story of a terminally ill California woman who invited friends from all over the country to a 'farewell party' - a jubilant celebration of her life and relationships. After two days of partying she retired to a room where, with her doctor and a few close people, she took the drugs that ended her life. Personally, I also wish to die among my family and friends but I am also resign to not knowing how I will spend the last days or last minutes of my life.
This day could be my final one
A foot placed between sky and sand
Heaven and earth
Life and the in-between
And the precious moments
Sun fading to pink
Tender embraces of family
Long walks with friends
Plane rides above the earth
To faraway places
A slower pace
An embrace of all that is.
In 2019 I had the golden opportunity to fulfill a dream I have had since I was a 21-year-old Israeli merchant marine wishing to sail through the majestic and iconic Panama Canal. I was thrilled to be invited to crew for my son, Eitan (who lives on his beautiful 36-ft. sailboat in San Diego), who was hired to transport a 47ft sailboat from Baltimore to San Francisco. The Panama Canal certainly deserves its impressive rating as one of the top 'Wonders of the World'. Eitan, a competent captain, led us through the 50 miles long perfectly designed three locks going up from the Atlantic Ocean side to the impressive and enormous man-made lake at the top, and then through three impeccably constructed locks down toward the Pacific Ocean side. This was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience in many ways.
Fulfilling a dream
Born long ago
Sailing through the Panama Canal to crew for my son
A wish brought to life
Looking out at the majestic waves
My heart, warm with camaraderie
and love for my son
Not too long after crewing for Eitan on the majestic Panama Canal in 2019, he and I joined up for another fantastic nautical journey, this one off the coast of Newport, Rhode Island. On this three-day trip I enjoyed the great pleasure of crewing for him on a 44-ft. catamaran headed to Martha's Vineyard, passing along neighboring islands off the coast of Rhode Island.
Sailing with Eitan, just the two of us together on the magnificent Atlantic, opened a special door to our hearts, as it reminded us of the many adventures we have taken together, including kayaking 17 miles along the Na Pali Coast off of magical Kauai, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, and many more. The meaningful connection and deep conversations we had into the night were precious beyond words. What was at one time a father to child relationship has now morphed into that of man and man.
The following are my thoughts on the different types of guilt and some of the ways in which I have experienced guilt. These are less obvious forms of guilt and go beyond lack of guilt (psychopathy) and excessive guilt (depression, anxiety, suicide, etc). As would be expected, by the age of 71, I have experienced most forms of guilt.
1. Appropriate Guilt: This type of guilt is an appropriate response to, or regret for, what we have come to understand, acknowledge or admit that we have done something wrong, unjust or immoral, or feel remorse for what we have not done. In my own life, I regret some of the ways I endangered others with the way I rode my motorcycle or shot the light bulb in the bunker, what I did or did not do in war, or was insensitive to friends’ needs.
2. Catholic Guilt - Religious Guilt: This kind of guilt is religion-induced that does not differentiate ones thoughts from their actions. Besides the Catholic church, other Christian denominations also believe people should confess to ‘sinful’ thoughts, yearnings or desires even when no actions were taken. Similarly, the ultra orthodox Jewish religion makes no distinction between 'sinful thoughts' and 'sinful acts.' I have experienced this kind of guilt as a young man when I felt guilty for internally reacting disproportionately with extreme anger.
3. Survival Guilt: This kind of guilt primarily manifests in people who have survived a life-threatening situation, such as battles during war or car accidents where others died or were severely injured. They often believe they could have done more to save the lives of others even if they could not. I have definitely felt this kind of guilt in relation to fellow soldiers who died or were heavily injured in military operations I was part of.
4. Neurotic - Toxic guilt - Persecutory guilt: This form of guilt is derived from a sense of not being a good-enough person, feeling like a failure who deserves to be punished. Persecutory guilt is a form of self-inflicted punishment
5. Existential guilt: This type of guilt can seem free-floating or unrelated to any particular situtation. It is about one's sense of accomplishment or success in addition to an awareness of the inequalities and injustices that exist in the world, such as a family member or community of people who are less capable or less fortunate than you are, or the fact that there may be people starving in Africa, or that the whales are dying off due to over hunting, pollution and other factors. When a person asks themselves “Am I doing enough to help others or help the world?” I have definitely experienced this kind of guilt combined with deep concerns for the underprivileged people worldwide, victims of unjust war, and disappearing species around the world.
The Coronavirus Pandemic exemplifies a variety of feelings of guilt that are the result of the fact that billions of people are unemployed, locked at home, or struggling with food needs, yet ‘you’ still have a job or can provide for your family. People may feel guilty because their children can’t see friends and grandparents or participate in normal activities. Perhaps someone they care for has been ill with COVID-19 or they feel guilty because a loved one has died all alone (‘coronavirus way’), and they couldn’t be there to say goodbye.
Infidelity, unlike what most people assume, is neither rare, an exclusively man's doing, nor the likely end of the marriage. Almost a third of all marriages may need to confront and deal with the aftermath of extramarital affairs. Women, men, gay, straight, young and old, all seem to be somehow engaged in affairs. Online affairs have become extremely prevalent. Marriages can get stronger when couples deal constructively with the affair. See: Infidelity & Affairs: Myths, Facts & Ways to Respond
|1. Conflict Avoidance||8. Unsatisfactory Marriage|
|2. Intimacy Avoidance||9. Exit Affairs - Jumping off point|
|3. Individual Existential/Developmental crisis||10. Long Term Parallel Lives|
|4. Sexual Addiction – Sexual Obsession||11. Online (Most prevalent)|
|5. Accidental – Brief – One Time Affairs||12. Cyber Affair w/ a Sex-Robot|
|6. Philandering||13. Consensual|
Myth: An affair inevitably destroys the marriage.
Fact: Many marriages survive affairs and many emerge stronger from the infidelity crisis.
Myth: Infidelity is rare in the animal kingdom.
Fact: Only 3% of the world’s 4,000 species of mammals are pre-programmed for monogamy.
Myth: Infidelity is rare and abnormal in our, and most other, societies.
Fact: Men's infidelity has been recorded in most societies.
Myth: Society, as a whole, supports monogamy and fidelity.
Fact: Society gives lip service to monogamy/fidelity, but actually supports affairs. (i.e. Ashley Madison)
Myth: Men initiate almost all affairs.
Fact: Infidelity has become an equal opportunity issue in the West.
Myth: An affair always means there are serious problems in the marriage.
Fact: Research has shown that some of those who engage in affairs reported high marital satisfaction.
Myth: Infidelity is a sign that sex is missing at home.
Fact: Some unfaithful spouses have reported increased marital sex during the period of their affair.
Myth: Infidelity always has to do with a bad marriage or a withholding partner.
Fact: There are many reasons that people may choose to have an affair.
Myth: Full disclosure of all the details of the affair to the betrayed spouse is prerequisite to healing.
Fact: Giving the uninvolved partner all the X-rated details of the affair can be traumatizing.
Myth: Extramarital affairs are never consensual.
Fact: Open marriages used to be popular in the 1970s and are still around.
My 2019 trip to Israel had a different flavor than previous ones, as this time I traveled alone. This afforded me the chance to spend quality time with my sister, and to fulfill a yearning to revisit and re-experience the Negev desert via off-road motorcycle. My body and psyche clearly remembered the long and exciting days that I had spent as a young man navigating and exploring the dirt roads, creeks, springs, and craters of that awesome landscape. To start the adventure, my nephews Tal, Shay, Leor and young Ely had planned an exciting day along the steep slopes of Jerusalem, so that I could prepare for the desert ride. I rented a Yamaha WR250 dual-sport off-road motorcycle and headed with them to the Jerusalem hills. It turned out I was indeed in need of this 'prep' trip, as I flew off the bike at least half a dozen times, landing on my shoulders, my recently replaced knees, my back and, yes, even on my head (again). I ended up in 'urgent care,' where they put me on antibiotics via an IV drip. Miraculously, I sustained no broken bones and no damage to my 'new' knees, although who knows what it did to my head! A couple of days later the five of us headed south to our 'real' destination, the stunningly powerful Negev Desert, with three dirt bikes and a 4x4 pickup truck trailing us with food, water, tents, etc. The ride, the awesome landscape, the challenges, the comradery, and the conversations with these generous and capable young men was immensely gratifying.
It has been interesting for me to contemplate this adventure at this point in my life, now pushing 70. "Twisting the throttle wide open" had a different feel to it this time. Now, death did not seem so remote or abstract. Looking it in the eyes I still felt a sense of calm, but gone was the former strain of defiance or romance. Stripped bare through the hard cast of age, death is simply an objectively possible outcome!
My friend Garry Cooper describes this part of my character as:
Roaring toward the precipice,
twisting the throttle wide open
to either soar over the abyss
or crash in a blaze of adrenaline and glory.
On my 2019 return trip to Israel, observing its political-moral scene was a painful reminder of why I left the country 40 years prior. Back then, I knew I had to leave, as it was clear to me that staying in Israel and bearing witness to the immoral occupation would corrupt me as well. This was a consequence I refused to pay. As Dissonance Theory explains, when there is an inconsistency or discrepancy in people's minds between attitudes and behaviors it is most likely that the attitude will change to accommodate the behavior. People tend to adjust their ideology to their behavior and not vice versa. Sadly enough, this is, indeed, what seems to take place in Israel today.
A tragic example is of an Israeli teenager girl who was brutally murdered in August 2019 by a homemade bomb that exploded at a natural spring. She was visiting this spring not far from her home in a settlement in the West Bank. Government officials declared it an act of terrorism. A local rabbi, declared her "a martyr," calling on God "to avenge her death." There was barely any mention of the greater context. The fact that the young woman was part of the occupation, living in a settlement built on military-conquered Palestinian land in the occupied territory of the West bank was barely uttered.
I decided to conduct an experiment, asking people first what they thought about "the girl who was recently murdered in the West Bank" and asking others (a second group in the 'experiment') for their thoughts about "the settler-girl who was recently murdered in the West Bank". Almost unanimously, people in the second group objected to my referring to her as a settler, accusing me of "justifying her murder." I definitely did not justify the murder; all I was doing was simply putting the murder in context. I think that sadly enough, most Israelis, even the ones that lean to the left, after 50 years of occupation (as predicted by the dissonance theory) have lost track of the context—the oppressive, inhuman, murderous immoral occupation of the West Bank.
The map of areas under wildfire evacuation order was slowly but inexorably growing in the fall of 2019. The cellphone text alerts for my neighborhood eventually progressed from "Evacuation Advisory" to "Evacuation Mandatory." But before that moment, there was some time to consciously, or unconsciously, contemplate the evacuation 'wonders', considerations and choices. There were the standard questions of What should I take with me? (e.g., dogs, cats, passports); What is easy to leave behind? (e.g., old financial records and old clothes), and What am I reluctant to leave behind? (e.g., hard copy photo albums, beloved old clothes).
However, the more interesting question to me was: What did I wish the fires would burn away?
I was somewhat surprised with what came up for me: I started by wishing the fires would, once and for all, consume my impatience. Then, I progressed to wanting the fires to do away with my over-identification with the part of me that endlessly challenges unexamined-faulty beliefs and myths; with the relentless, and at times, overbearing part of me that is intensely invested in making the world a better place, rather than just a place, to live; and with my over-identification with my accomplishments. I also wished that the fire would burn up my huge collection of many hundreds of hard copy academic articles, books. audios and videos, so that my study could be transformed to a...sacred meditation space. Now is the time to listen to and implement what I became aware of regarding my yearning and wishes.
Dr. Zur is well known for having the vision to introduce ideas well head of their time: When almost no one spoke of HIPPA or Clinical Form he was already touring the country giving presentations about it. He was one of the pioneer leader the Private Practice Outside Managed Care movement in the 90’s. When almost no one contemplated the complexities of Dual Relationships or the Risk of Risk Management, he was already writing and publishing books and articles about it. When almost no one cared to invest in Telemental Health education he was already envisioning and focusing on creating courses and resources about it.
In 1997 Dr. Zur developed a vision that was also ahead of its time, the Zur Institute: The creation of a successful model of online education that would provide CE credits for Mental Health practitioners. When asked, “Who do you think you are? Do you think you are going to compete with UC Berkeley?” Dr. Zur, simply, responded, “What a great idea.” Indeed, Zur Institute, Inc. has since served dozens of thousands of individuals, becoming one of the most successful and biggest online CE programs in the world. After 25 years of passionately devoting himself to developing and upholding the highest educational standards for Zur Institute, in April 2020 Dr. Zur left his role as its Director/owner. He then devoted his energy and time to the non-profit he created: Project Insights.
Whether in psychology, oceanography, chemistry, limnology, or on ‘hot’ topics such as gender, race, victims or war, I have devoted a big part of my life to exploring the ‘given’, the unexamined truths, and often, the politically incorrect beliefs. The Following are some samples of the faulty beliefs I have challenged (and links to my writings on each topic):
In my forensic/expert witness practice I have encountered the most fascinating, colorful and intriguing cases where BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) clients have gotten their (otherwise solid, competent and ethical) therapists to behave in ways they regularly wouldn't such as giving them money, regularly texting with them at 1 or 2 in the morning, doing drugs with them, moving in with them, wearing their clothes, even adopting them, and, of course, having sex with them.
This dynamic is often present in the BDP's personal, intimate, familial and vocational life and can also occur with psychotherapists or counselors.
Without a doubt, it is a therapist’s responsibility to maintain clinically appropriate boundaries with all clients. However, that is not always easy when it comes to BPD clients, especially for therapists who are either new to the profession or not experienced with these clientele. Clients with BPD are extremely unstable and are so desperate for connection that their fierce need can draw a therapist in. At the same time, many BPD clients have learned not to trust those very attachments they demand and crave. Thus, therapists can find themselves caught in their BPD clients’ conflicting desires. Therapists and others the borderline is in contact with will often accommodate, give in, support, yield to no-end in order to avoid the "borderline" rage.
Mid-March 2020 was a perfect time to fly to the Bahamas for another long weekend of sailing with Eitan on a 40 ft catamaran, this time around the Bahamas Islands. It was an odd time on the planet, as the worries and concerns around coronavirus pandemic had not taken hold yet. Eitan got a few days off from his 1st mate position on a giant 130 ft. mega yacht that was docked at Nassau.
As we tend to do on such trips, we took our time sailing in the clear/shallow water all around the gorgeous Bahama islands while enjoying peaceful weather, great conversations, sweet long silent periods, and variety of colorful tropical fish and spring-time bird flocks.
Re-entering the world via flights to Florida and back home to California was like entering a war zone of Humanity vs. Coronavirus, or more accurately entering a brave new world where humans are forced to encounter the inevitable and most denied facts of life: Death (especially of old people) is part of life not necessary always to be feared, combated and avoided but also to be... celebrated.
My new adventure as of mid 2020, Project Insights, is an online forum in which I invite you to reflect and share about an ‘Aha’ moment you have encountered along the way and to read about insightful experiences of others. By sharing, reading, and contemplating these meaningful moments in our lives, I hope to support the deepening of our personal and social reflective practices as well as to promote intercultural dialogue about the subtexts that impact our choices and help define our human experience. Engaging with this virtual community, I hope, will help you examine your life choices, cultural assumptions, belief systems and biases.
The first topic explored on Project Insights involves experiences with the Corona Virus: If the Coronavirus could speak to you… what would it say? What would You say to it? What gift could Coronavirus offer you / the world? There are 12 different themes that are dear to my heart around which I will invite you to share your stories. These themes include: Regretting not doing the right thing; Looking at death straight in the eye; On being sane in an insane place. I hope you will join me.
In 2021, I was highly honored for my expertise in psychotherapy ethics, when asked to submit an amicus brief (amicus curiae) to the Minnesota Supreme Court regarding psychotherapy and mental health standards. This is in addition to being nominated in 2008 as a Fellow of the American Psychological Association (APA) Div. 42 of Independent Practice, as well as the publication in 2007 of my book, Boundaries In Psychotherapy, one of the most comprehensive books on therapeutic boundaries published by, no other than, American Psychological Association, APA Books. I have authored and edited 5 books and hundreds of professional articles on a variety of psychological topics.
Serving as an Expert Witness in administrative licensing board hearings and in civil lawsuit trials has been an exciting and invigorating experience for the last 30+ years, as I have been able to shed light on numerous misconceptions and errors in understanding the standard of care, the importance of context, and, of course, boundaries, such as dual relationships, physical (non-sexual) touch, gifts, home visits, sessions taken place outside the office, and bartering. The explosion of TeleMental Health in 2020 has also been the focus of many of my depositions. On a weekly basis, I provide phone or zoom consultations for therapists all over the US (and abroad) on standard of care, context and boundaries.
During graduate school, I worked as a forensic psychologist in one of the most dangerous county jails in the country. It was crowded, noisy and short-staffed. Often, I had to make suicide assessments in only 1 minute through a jail-cell door’s pothole. Putting an inmate on suicide watch was not a decision I made lightly because it meant that the prisoner would be checked upon (and if asleep, woken up) about every 15-30 minutes. This level of sleep interruption can cause someone to become suicidal, even if he/she had not been suicidal prior to being placed on the suicide watch list.
After I realized that I didn’t have 30 minutes to conduct a thorough suicide assessment, nor could I sit with them face to face in a private office, I developed a 20-30 second interview to determine whether an inmate should be placed on suicide watch. This included 3 questions: 1. What is your name? 2. Why are you in jail? and 3. Are you suicidal? If the person clearly stated they were suicidal I placed them on suicide watch.
However, if the person stated that he/she was not suicidal, but I doubted whether they were coherent, oriented, or truthful, I would say, “I will not put you on suicide watch, but if you kill yourself, I will kill you!” I would then wait to observe their response. If they realized how crazy the statement was and told their roommate something like “The doctor is crazy,” I was more likely not to put them on suicide watch. However, if they responded back to me with “Doctor, you cannot do that to me,” I knew that their judgment was probably impaired and I placed them on suicide watch.
Moving to the small town of Sonoma, CA in the 1990’s was an eye-opening experience in regard to dual or multiple in a small community. Soon after I opened my private psychotherapy practice, I got a call from a couple who sought couple therapy. When I asked them how they got my name, the husband told me that he played basketball with the local old-men league and he liked the “ferocious” way I played. The wife added that she was on a field trip with our 1st grade daughters and witnessed me impressively helping a group of 1st grade girls negotiate a heated disagreement. As they shared their familiarity with me, I readily recalled my graduate school, ethics and risk management instructors warning us repeatedly that, in the words of K.P., one of the most renowned ethicist psychologist at the time “. . non-sexual dual relationships, while not unethical and harmful per se, foster sexual dual relationships.” When I inquired with top ethicists and risk management experts whether it is ethical or advised to see the couple in therapy, they unanimously warned me that dual relationships are unethical and likely to lead to sex. I wondered if they were concerned that I would have sex with the husband, the wife, or perhaps, with both at the same time .
Early on in my residence in the town of Sonoma, I stepped out of the shower stall in the only gym in town, realizing that I was standing naked next to one of my clients. I had heard similar experiences from therapists who served on military bases, aircraft carriers or retreat centered,
These experiences and many similar others, led me to study the faulty beliefs about dual relationships, to publish articles, authors books, teach hundreds of workshops, consult with hundreds of therapists, testify in licensing board hearings and in civil lawsuits on the myth that all dual relationships are unethical and to expose the fact that dual or multiple relationships are unavoidable in certain settings, such as military, prisons, small and isolated communities and, in some situations, positively contribute to the therapeutic process.
2020 and 2021 years were distinct as they were the beginning of a new ‘Post Zur Institute’ (ZI) era (sale went through in Ap./2020) and a divided world struggling to comprehend and attend to the coronavirus threat. Free of ZI, I turned my professional focus to teaching ethics and consulting & expert witness forensic work.
I quickly and gradually more joyously, adjusted to the new ‘coved-19 reality’ and have been intensely teaching remotely via zoom. Teaching from my study at home (with running shorts and flip flops) was odd and freeing at the same time. I recall the moment when I cracked a joke in a live zoom webinar but had NO idea if any of the 600+ attendees laughed or grimaced. My two main focuses of teaching ethics at these times have been a. Debunking myths and commonly held beliefs in psychotherapy and b. 20+ ways to avoid being sanctioned or disciplined by mental health licensing boards.
My consulting & expert witness work has also flourished in the post ZI era. I have asked to provide expert opinions on highly complex, interesting and intriguing psychotherapy licensing boards and civil lawsuits cases in several states across the US. A couple of ethicists and attorneys have referred to the cases they retained me as an expert as "Even Dr. Zur"😋 reflecting on the informed-importance I place on context in standard of care matters rather than on "risk-management." In June 2021 I had the honor of receiving an authorization from the Minnesota Supreme Court to prepare an amicus brief regarding the standard of care for psychotherapy and counseling.
Selling the Zur Institute, Inc. after a quarter century of intense, challenging and highly rewarding engagement, opened up a huge psychic space and time for the ‘new’. Then, launching Project Insights has been a creative challenge and exercise in the rare commodity of… patience.
I have been training for a potential dream-challenge of posting a stake in the South Pole as well as hike, kayak, camp there and hang out with the penguins for my 70th birthday. Obviously, with the current (mid 2020) COVID-19 hysteria it is hard to know when this plan will materialize.
Exploring boundaries has taken another dimension for me these days. This time, it is to the limitless expanse of the heavens and the incredible, awe inspiring view from far-above. I started taking pilot lessons as I am exploring getting a pilot license to fly small planes high and to exotic faraway places. Hard to know where it may lead.
To gaze upwards towards the heavens
From far below
To view an endless sky
Horizons painted in swatches of pink and orange
My soul charts a new journey
Hovering about the earth in a plane
A pilot set to soar above the clouds
In Sept. 2021 Jennifer and I joined Eitan and his friend, Amanda, for a fantastic sailing week on a 46ft catamaran on the Sea of Cortez (Mexico). It was a wonderful break from a tormented and hostile divided world around the complex coronavirus related issues of life-death-health-fear-trust-responsibility and much more. Sailing, swimming, snorkeling and some hikes in the powerful-arid-rocky landscape cleared my heads and refreshed my spirit as I was looking for ways to find meaning and joy in a tormented world.
In December of 2021 we ‘needed’ to get out of town again and after a lovely Chanukah party we headed, this time, to the east side of Mexico, the Yucatan, with our 2 boys and Amanda. It was a lovely experience to hang out at the resort town Playa Del Carmen, and on the gorgeous island of Isla Mujeres and visit the amazing Chichen Itza Ruins during Christmas time. Unlike many parts of the world tormented by COVID-19, the Yucatan was friendly, vibrant, musical, colorful, hospitable and truly celebratory.
My 3 weeks visit to Israel in May 2022 was diverse, challenging, longer and more unique than in the past. It included riding in Negev Desert on 250cc off-road motorcycles with 3 nephews, I attended ‘Memorial Day’ for those who died in wars and being reminded of my own intense-profound war experience, and enjoyed a high school reunion for the first time in... 54 years.
Visiting Israel during memorial-day for the fallen soldiers has added an interesting and intense aspect of the visit. I joined my best friend Eitan to his military units annual memorial-day ceremony at Tel-Saki on the Golan Hight where his small unit was surprised attacked in the 1973 war and found itself surrounded by hundreds of Syrian’s tanks and soldiers. The ritual included the parents and siblings and the photos of the soldiers who died right there. Some members of the unit, got severely injured and 50+ years later are still heavily disabled. I chose to walk into one of the dark underground tunnels in Tel-Saki in an attempt to remember and re-live my battle experience in the 73 war in the Egyptian front across the Suez Canal. As expected, walking into the dark, long and narrow tunnel, I encountered strong bodily memories of tunnel fighting, of keeping the non-stop the intense fire upfront/ahead while stepping on enemy soldiers’ dead bodies. It was, definitely, an intense experience, but fortunately did not activated any of my PTSD, on which I ‘worked’ for many years, after I finally realizes the stupidity of the belief I was indoctrinated with, that “Israeli paratroopers do not get PTSD”.
In Remembering, I forget sometimes. What war was like but then am reminded under these tunnels of Tel-Saki of the dead who whisper their memories, sketch their stories in my mind.
I went on a challenging and equally exciting adventure in the Negev Desert on 250cc off-road motorcycles, with my 3 nephews: Tal, Leor, Shai and Tal’s Son, Ben (16). I was determined to enjoy the awesome (challenging) beauty of the dessert, its rough terrains, and the (unavoidable) falls off the bike, and keep away from the hospital, where I ended up in my last motorcycles adventure 2 years prior. We embarked on our trip in Mitzpe Ramon and made our way in the Israeli “Grand Canyon” where we spent 4 days in awsome, challenging and varied terrains, meandering up hills and steep river banks made of rocky and sandy surfaces. Inevitably, I did take some hard falls off the bike but luckily did not break any bones or infect my body with bacteria as I did last time. The journey indeed felt epic.
Climbing up a staircase of stones on a motorcycle I took in majestic sights, surrounded by the desert in its glorious mixture of silence and story hidden below the pedals I pressed.
A surprisingly unique event took place during this visit when David Eldar invited me to the 54th year reunion of our mathematic/
I was schedule to teach ethics class on zoom for psychologists in California while in Israel. Many friends and colleagues stated the obvious to me: “What is so special about teaching from Israel, it's the same Internet and same Zoom”. Yes, it is the "same" indeed, yet it felt surreal to me: sitting in front of a screen in the Middle East and teaching ethics to psychologists in the USA, half way around the world. A sure reflection of modern times.
We celebrated my seventy second birthday in May 2022 by gathering in our back yard and inviting people to share memories, stories, narratives, and anecdotes about me or to share a poem or song. About 25 people joined the hearty celebration, catered beautifully, by King Falafel and with celebratory, funny and, of course, embarrassing, stories and creatively funny original poems.
After 2.5 years of corona virus hysteria and multiple remote teaching, primarily via zoom, the Lutheran Community Services Northwest, in Portland, OR invited me to teach live, in-person, seminar on TeleMental Health and Digital Ethics. It was an exciting hearty event where in-person exchanges, hugs, laughs, and even present exchange took place… again.
In 2022 at 72 years old, I have decided to confront fear, challenge, and adventure by going to Brazil and spend time in gorgeous, adventurous Rio de Janeiro, on the magnificent enormous Amazon River and encounter unique personal challenge with the legendary dangerous awesome Piranhas.
I travelled in this 3 weeks adventure with my beloved nephew, Tal (52) and a young friend Jenn Gaskell (32) a Scottish doctorate-mathematician, and ultra marathon runner.
A short video of our delightful time in Rio, Santarem and the gorgeous Amazon
The city that never sleeps
Majestic, draped in a rainbow of colors
The heartbeat of life
The soul of Brazil
A short video of my amazing encounter with the awesome piranhas and the rational for this rather ‘crazy adventure’
Piranha’s song for my 73rd birthday
Our first encounter
Your sharp famous teeth
a reminder of your legendary power
My eagerness to engage
In 2022, I rekindled my passion for presenting ethical issues with the aid of clips from popular movies and TV series. It turned out to be very effective, popular, educational, and, yes, a truly fun way to discuss complex therapeutic ethical, standard of care and boundary considerations. I developed a continuously growing web site that presents 17 ethical aspects Psychotherapy & Psychotherapeutic Ethics in Popular Movies & TV series where people (you) can (still) contribute their movies ideas and suggestions.
At the same time, I have also developed keynote presentations and courses on Therapeutic Ethics in the Movies that I presented in person, online, in the US and . . . in Israel. They all include dozens of short movies’ and TV series’ vignettes offering looks at a variety of ethical complexities in psychotherapy and counseling.
Towards the end of 2022 at 72 years old, I developed several undiagnosed mystery medical complexities, such as walking pneumonia and an enlarged heart. That have slowed me down physically and emotionally, luckily, not spiritually or intellectually. It brought up, again, the question of when is the right time to walk on the ice or the time for the (polar) bears to eat me (so the young ones can hunt, eat the bear, survive & live longer).
Having the warm-loving-immense support of Jenji, my kids and my nephew, Tal, has meant the world to me. Additionally, being part of community, such as weekly ‘Walks & Talks’ with my best friends, teaching ethics, and developing my interactive, hopefully, helpful website, have also provided me with a meaningful life and reasons to live . . . for now. . .
Family Bonds across Borders: the Negev Desert, Israel & Petra, Jordan, 2023
Dangerously steep rocky cliffs brought us together: my 2 sons, my 3 nephews, and I, rode our motorcycles off-road in the Israeli Negev Desert, to find much more than a wild, majestic landscape. It was amazing to experience the 6 of us getting along seamlessly, helping each other master the raggedy difficult terrain challenges, and share both joys and responsibilities required by riding an inhospitable, dangerous, rough surface.
This fulfilled a long lasting dream I held together with so many of my generation growing up in Israel. Finally, at age 72, I explored the vast miraculous Wadi Ram and magical Petra. The reality of these monumental sites was far more fascinating than my visions were. It was mind boggling to stand among these striking structures, formed by nature over 200,000 years ago, to meander through such magnificent temples, hand-carved in the 4th century BC, and to share it all with the next generation of men in my blood line. Petra was a big part of ‘hero mythology’ and such a dream for us as a youth in Israel, symbolized by the (historically banned) HaSela Ha’Adom song (Lyric: English – Hebrew)
An interesting and unusual audience combination of Israeli psychologists, some of whom also lead a traditionally religious Jewish life, presented me with a challenge I was happy to tackle on in my visit to Israel in 2023. My presentation Therapeutic Ethics in The Movies had to be reinvented in order to be sensitive to audience members who could be offended by nudity, language, and sexual references, to name but a few. I didn’t know what to expect from the English-speaking, largely traditional Jewish psychologist audience in Ra’ananah, Israel. The challenge doubled as I was not willing to dull my presentation in order to appease an audience. The result was the best of both worlds: my points were able to come across and be absorbed poignantly, while I did manage to evoke some strong reactions from the audience, which I always considered to be a bonus!
A second presentation during the 2023 visit was on Myths We Live By in my sister’s kibbutz Nachson. It was exciting and surprising presentation in… Hebrew on challenging topics such as victimization and abuse to an audience that experience both. It was interesting, respectful and intense presentation as the audience include holocaust survivors and victimized women.
Addendum to my Pictorial Biography
For direct links to each paragraph in the above 'pictorial bio', click here
Poetry in the bio is by Megan Pielmeier
Disclaimer: Some of the characters, and incidents portrayed in this document are fictitious. Unless it is clearly mentioned by actual name, date and location and fully identified occurrence, no identification with actual persons (living or deceased), incidents or places is intended or should be inferred.