For me, a high point of our trip was the visit to Israel – and our stay in Jerusalem at the David Citadel Hotel which overlooks old Jerusalem. So much to see and do that Donna and I concluded one could not experience (if not “see”) everything in less than a week or ten days. We floated in the Dead Sea, visited Masada, collected water from the Jordan River and wound our way through the security of the West Bank into Bethlehem.  And of course there was Jerusalem . . . .

We learned a bit of Israel that you don’t read about in the news. The population of Israel is about 7 million. Of that 21% is Arab and 4% Christian.  The Jews and Arabs (who are Israeli) apparently get along okay even though most of the Arabs are related to the Palestinian contingent in the Occupied Territories (there is no “Palestine”).  Arabs are allowed – but not required – to serve in the Israeli army.   The “Palestinians” (who were led by Yassir Arafat – an Egyptian) are not regarded favorably by any of the Middle Eastern countries.  Hamas (Palestinian’s military wing) is committed to the destruction of Israel and inflicts its senseless violence.  On Israel.  And on its own people.  The Palestinians have had numerous opportunities to resolve the issues with Israelis but either stupidity or stubbornness get in the way.  The issues could have been resolved years ago.  But as one of our cruise ship lecturers said, “Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”   

An internal concern of most Israelis is the Haredim (ultra-orthodox) community which numbers 11% of the population.  The men refuse to work given their perceived religious obligation to study the Torah.  They also refuse to serve in the Army.  Unlike Quakers and pacifists in America, Haredim will not even serve as medics. Because they refuse to work, they and their families live off the dole.  More than half of the Haredim live below the poverty line.  Thus there are the obvious political pressures from outside of Israel.  But there are political tensions from within as well.      

Political Correctness

Anyone who believes in political correctness should be fired from their job.  They should be silenced and have no forum for their speech. If they press their PC beliefs too much, they should be sued, vilified, and scourged. Right? Oh wait a minute . . . . that’s what people who believe in political correctness want to happen to those not like them.  Yep.  I got it. . . .

Freedom of speech is anchored in the Constitution.  Yet the dark malignancy of political correctness has infiltrated every aspect of American life.  Freedom of speech is no longer guaranteed.  There are topics that are not permitted for discussion — despite constructive intent.  There are words we may not say and topics banned from dialogue.  Horrible violence and vulgarity remain uncensored.  Yet the wrong humor is filtered.  The “wrong” word can lead to one’s downfall in business or society.  The risks are increasingly great.  And it’s getting worse.  Watch your door, people.

Jerry Seinfeld recently discussed on ESPN his decision not to perform on college campuses.  He won’t go near them.  Why?  “They are so PC.”  Seinfeld comments that young people “just want to use the words ‘that’s racist’ ‘that’s sexist’ ‘that’s prejudiced’.  They don’t even know what they are talking about.”  Mel Brooks laments that “Blazing Saddles” probably could not be made today because of “the rabid vigilantism of the language police.”  Colleges and universities are supposed to be bastions of free speech.  Yet they have become vindicators of suppression.  Students are brainwashed by professors with destructive political agendas.  And impressionable students accept.  Without question.  Without thought.  How often do we see the news trumpeting someone’s errant or careless comment?  A murderer may be released from prison – and integrate back into society, but if you say the wrong word, there will never be forgiveness (see November 9, 2014).  Great.  As I said, watch your door, people. . . . . . .   

The Quran

I just finished reading the Quran.  All 114 suras (chapters).  I previously described my journeys through the Old Testament (6/11/12) and New Testament (11/10/13).   Given our trip to the Middle East, I thought I’d read the Quran.  The Quran is intended to be read in Arabic (26:195) but my copy was in English. 

I consider myself to be a good Episcopalian (nee Lutheran).  But apart from an Old Testament attitude and repetition of theme, there was not much in the Quran to question.  The cast of characters, the prophets and the stories are the same.  The commands (believe, do good works, pray) are pretty much the same.  God’s (or Allah’s) warning to his people (re heaven/hell) is similar.  Jesus (Isa) plays a prominent role as a Messiah.  While I might be accused of oversimplification, I discerned three fundamental areas of disagreement between Islam and Christianity.  First, the Quran denies that God actually “came down” from heaven to father a son (Jesus).  He simply said “Be” and it was done (19:35).  God/Allah does not have children.  Second, there is the overarching theme that Mohammed received God’s message through the Archangel Gabriel (see 1/30/12 and 3/26/12) and wrote the Quran over 23 years.  Third, Muslims consider Islam to be a “perfection” of Judaism and Christianity.  It is the true religion . . . .   

Despite that “perfection,” Jews, Christians and Sabians are considered “People of the Book” — and cousins in the Faith.  Whether you call Him God, Jehovah or Allah; whether you worship on Friday, Saturday or Sunday; whether you say “Pax vobiscum”Peace be with you“Shalom” or “As-Salamu alaikum” the three Abrahamic religions have similar roots and much in common.  So why all the strife, violence and hatred?      

The Pirate Drill

On our cruise, we sidled through the Arabian Sea, the Straits of Hormuz, the Gulf of Aden, the Red Sea, Suez Canal and into the Mediterranean. On our third day out — in advance of traversing the narrows between Somalia and Yemen, we had a “Pirate Drill.” Seriously.

We had had the required emergency lifeboat drill on the first day. But it was the Pirate Drill that had everyone slightly unnerved. Because of the risk of Somali pirates (“extremely remote, folks“), we had a drill for that contingency.

Code Yellow” (an unknown sighting) meant the crew and staff had to report to duty stations. “Code Orange” (a possible encounter) required all passengers to leave staterooms and gather in halls and aisles in the center of the ship. And “Code Red” (encounter) meant that all passengers were to sit or lie on the floors and the ship would turn on the after-burners. Yes, we practiced this.

But I was ready for those pirates.  Little did they know that when I was 21, I studied kung fu.  AND I had my Swiss Army knife.  HAY-YAHHHHH!

The Cruise

Donna and I just returned from a cruise that took us from Dubai to Barcelona. 24 days of some amazing stuff and relaxing times.  We were aboard the Regent Seven Seas Voyager in stateroom 1052.  The ship is 670 feet long with a 94 foot “beam” (width).  We spent two days in Doha then flew to Dubai for launch. 

To me, there were four independent dynamics of the trip:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1.  The Ship — Beautiful, luxurious and outfitted with everything you could imagine — including a putting green and paddle tennis court;   2.  The Staff — The folks working on the ship could not have been nicer or more solicitous.   We wore a perpetual smile given the constant greetings from every crew member;   3.  Food and Wine — Marvelous.  Copious.  You could literally eat and drink all day long.   And some people appeared to take advantage of that.  One guy – I kid you not – wore a t-shirt “How do you expect me to drink all day if I don’t start in the morning.”  This chap usually disappeared from view shortly after noon . . . .; and  4.  The Venues — The itinerary was pretty special (Oman, Aqaba, Wadi Rum [think “Lawrence of Arabia“], Luxor, Petra [think “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade“], Israel, Rhodes, Malta, Cyprus).  The ship sponsored bus tours in all places we stopped though we had private guides in Petra and Israel.  Well worth the extra.   I worked remotely with my laptop and kept up with work fairly well. 

Wonderful trip.  Fantastic photos recorded on a CD by Donna’s sister, Carol.  Indelible memories.