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, loving relationships, 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, intimate, 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. (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.
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... 4. 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. 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.
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.
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.
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 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.'
As we were waiting to be deployed, 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 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!
After a couple of days of cautiously moving north along the Suez Canal towards the Egyptian city of Ismailia, 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 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.
In the waning minutes of that 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.
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, 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, 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.
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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.
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".
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.
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. (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.
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".
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 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 Ngoro 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 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 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 years 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 was disoriented and suddenly I could barely breath and felt 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 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 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.
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", 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, 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.
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 36ft 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 3 locks going up from the Atlantic Ocean side to the impressive enormous man-made lake at the top, and then through 3 impeccably constructed locks down toward the Pacific Ocean side. This was an amazing once in a life-time experience in many ways.
Not too long after crewing for Eitan on the majestic Panama Canal, 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 at 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.
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, while recalling a former moment of looking death in the eyes when I was standing on the heavily bombed bridge as a 23-year-old Israeli combat officer, or even during my daring trip along 4,000-ft drops in the Himalayas at 60. 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." "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 had cast of age, death is simply an objectively possible outcome!
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.
For direct links to each paragraph in the above 'pictorial bio', click here
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.