By: Ofer Zur, Ph.D.
This page presents what my dear friend, Sam Keen, calls personal mythology. My personal sense of calling - that which gives me joy and provides meaning in my life - is often related to critical thinking, challenging commonly accepted truths, and examining unquestioned beliefs. This page is a map of my journey; a melange of the personal and professional, with its circuitous paths, milestones and landmarks; an odyssey that has led me to confront, defy and breach intellectual, spiritual, interpersonal, physical, emotional, and other boundaries.
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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.
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..
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Years later, 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 . . . None of these options were acceptable, so I chose a fourth option . . . to leave.
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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 and spread the word to the other soldiers and others in the Southern Command and beyond. While not always popular, my questioning 'common knowledge' and our immemorial ways of living has been large part of my life story.
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.
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. It was at this time that I experienced one of my most profound and powerful spiritual awakenings. 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.
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. 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.
During the 1973 Yom Kipper war, at age 23, I was part of a paratrooper unit. (I was ambivalent about the war. While, obviously, I believed then and still do that Israel had and still has the right to exist, the war, maybe, could have been prevented if Israel had given back the occupied territories before the war.) Towards the last part of the war, my unit was finally assigned to cross the bridge across the Suez Canal and head north toward the revered city of Ismailia. Tanks, jeeps and command-cars were driving as fast as they could across the heavily bombarded and, at times, collapsed and reconstructed bridge. Being young and reckless, my buddy and I decided to walk across the intensely shelled bridge and at the middle of the bridge we came to a complete stop, thumbing our noses at death and giving the middle finger to . . . God, while sarcastically arguing who is going to put a wreath on whose grave. This represented one of my first experiences of choosing to look death straight in the eye.
In the waning minutes of that war, I once again arrived at the boundary between life and death during the Battle of Ismailia. I was seriously wounded when a large part of the calf of my leg was blown off and I was evacuated under heavy fire. What was strangest about my evacuation was that I was more fearful about being part of an imaginary 'cosmic play' where I was the sacrificial lamb to my 'peaceful', loving parents rather than being actually scared to death of being blown up by an Egyptian's guided shoulder missile. In addition to my physical injury, I must note at that time, and for many years later, neither I nor my culture were aware yet of the construct of PTSD. In fact I grew up with the nonsensical and arrogant (and costly) mythology that "Israeli paratroopers do not get PTSD."
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.
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. I remember a time in my life when I wanted to test the unquestioned belief that sleep is necessary for human survival. Afterall, fish do not sleep. So, I fruitlessly constructed an experiment to test my capacity to live without sleep. While it did not take too long to realize that humans cannot survive too long without sleep, other unquestionable ‘givens' have continued to be tested throughout my life.
As part of my rehabilitation, 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).
I received my B.Sc. in Physical Chemistry from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in June 1975. In that first career as an oceanographer, and concerned with issues such as worldwide hunger, I was intrigued with the idea of growing protein (fish) in the oceans, which cover more than 75% of our planet. Working for the Marin Laboratory in Eilat, I built this research raft with fish-cages in Dahab, a 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 (100-300 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 184 feet! It is estimated that it claimed the lives of 130 to 200 divers in recent years, primarily due to Nitrogen Narcosis
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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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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, 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 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.
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.
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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. 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.
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".
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 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.
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.
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, 24 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 completely revised in 2013 and updated in June 2016 and May 2018 with significant updates and revisions of the Security Rule, Online Presence, and much more.
In 2005, I completed the 3rd Edition of The Complete Fee-for-Service Private Practice Handbook. The book encouraged therapists to practice creatively and heartily without the mostly financially-focused managed care and insurance companies and without being blindly wedded to the pharmacological companies controlled DSM. While the first edition was published in hard cover in the mid 1990s, the latest is now the 6th edition.
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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.
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.
In 2007, after finishing my fourth book (on Boundaries), I explored the altitude boundaries of air, or lack of, by climbing the awesome 19,300 feet of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest stand-alone mountain in the world, in Tanzania with my oldest son, Eitan (14) and our dear friend Sarah. The climb was steep and long. While there was very little air to breath, there was a sense of care, love and camaraderie among three of us.
At 18,000 feet I already could not tell right from left, front from back or . . . up from down. Still, all three of us summited. To this day, I cannot forget the incredible view of the curve of the earth from the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. Needless to say, the experience re-affirmed the boundless connection between father and son.
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 I took the opportunity to go on another adventure, this time backpacking on the vast glaciers of Alaska. For a person that thrives at 114° F, the subfreezing temperatures of the glaciers and bear footprints provided new, exciting, frightening, and challenging adventure for me.
While my keynotes focused on introducing psychotherapists in Alaska to the legitimized view of flexible therapeutic boundaries, the subfreezing temperatures and bone-piercing windchill factor while camping on the ice gave me a glimpse of the borders of human endurance when exposed to the awesome power and immense presence of the Alaskan glaciers.
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. My digital native daughter, Azzia Walker, and I co-authored an article and a PowerPoint presentation on the subject.
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.
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, 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.
In 2011, I co-authored, with my daughter, The Psychotherapist's Guide to Online Marketing for Private Practice, which was geared toward guiding 21st century psychotherapists and counselors in promoting their private practices online.
Writing with my daughter, Azzia (B.A. in philosophy, UCB) has been inspiring and has launched us into a new and exciting phase in our relationship. Additionally, Azzia Walker, our resident digital native, has ushered the Zur Institute into the 21st century by managing its Social Networking marketing.
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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 an M.A. 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.
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. 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 Alves, 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.
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.
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.
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", 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", hopefully 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.
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.
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.
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 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.