Sisterhood Blog

Hawaii's Lessons for 5771

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

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I’ve been here in Maui for nearly three weeks — far from my home in Israel nearly 180 longitudinal degrees away — and the contrasts are striking.

Drivers stop at crosswalks even if the pedestrian is standing still on the sidewalk. Everyone stops to say a cheery “aloha” to people they pass on the street, making me wonder at first if my host actually knows everyone on the island. The talk is slow, the breeze is refreshing and the surrounding waters remind you that there is no current known threat of enemy or terror in the foreseeable distance. Even the looming volcanoes are dormant and benign.

I realize that the tranquility here is something of an illusion. After all, Hawaii has socio-economic and ethnic woes like many other places, as well as a severe drug problem and less-than-perfect educational system. Locals like to say that Maui is a tough place that spits some people out. Still, there is something about the energy here that I want to bring back with me to Israel. When the ocean breeze blows in the afternoon, I feel like everything washes away. I can close my eyes and let myself drift out into the grand universe, allowing God to take me wherever the wind can carry me.

But there is actually much more in common between Maui and Israel than it may seem. Both are charged spiritual centers on the planet. The spirituality of Maui, where people regularly mention the spirits that direct them on their journeys and the voices of guides around them leading them through their decision-making, is one of a rich and ancient cultural heritage that blends forces with contemporary people escaping pains of their current lives. That’s not so different from Israel. Maui calls people, and Jerusalem calls people. They are locations for seekers and sensitive souls, searching for meaning, depth and inner serenity.

I took a drive through a region called Pukalani, which means “hole in the sky,” and its neighboring town, Makawoa, which means “eyes,” famous as a spot where people go for visions. It’s a charming town where rainfall is spontaneous and invigorating. The air is positively charged, and locals believe that ancient spirits wander around at night. There is an old Portuguese community there, which has been discovered to be composed of descendants of Crypto-Jews running from the Inquisition. I met a woman named Kaaty, a 63-year-old former surfing champion and devout Christian who recently discovered that she is from a famous Crypto-Jewish family named Carvajal who were burned at the stake in Mexico City. She was working for many years as a Christian missionary only a block from the square where her ancestors were killed, but she only recently discovered the connection during a trip to Israel. Today she is exploring her connection to Judaism, and has started a group called “Voice for Israel” to support Israel.

If there is one thing I’ve learned here it’s that life can be a little easier. It seems to me that a lot of the stress of Israeli life is self-inflicted: the aggression, the anxiety, the overworking, the interruptions, the abrasiveness, the sense that people are constantly putting the squeeze on one another. It doesn’t have to be that way. Israel has a rich cadre of spiritual ancestors who would like to direct the region to peace, if only we would heed their voices. But first, we have to believe that we are deserving of that peace and tranquility. That seems to be our greatest obstacle.

My prayer for this coming new year is that the Jewish people will come to see ourselves as deserving of peace — internally and externally — and that we will allow ourselves to receive the healing blessings that are around us, the spirit of peace that are waiting for us to embrace them.


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