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Stories from the Road

An assortment of interesting that have happened...

1. I was having dinner with Fabio and Cristian by myself, since Jay was too tired after a day of working and beach to from the bed. “What?” I cried, “no dinner???”

This could never happen in my life so I messaged the two guys and asked if I could join them for dinner. “Of course,” they shot back.

So there I was, sitting with the sweet Italian men in a restaurant in Skopelos town, overlooking the port and the sea, talking, when all of a sudden I noticed Fabio’s necklace. He was wearing a hamsa tied to a leather string.

I stopped mid-sentence and stared at his neck. “wait,” I said slowly, “are you Jewish??”

“What is Jewish?” he said, looking confused.

“Jewish,” I said. “Jewish, like jude,yid, yehud,” fumbling for a word that might mean something to this Italian guy who claimed he didn’t know English and yet always knew what we were saying.

“Ebreo?” he asked.

“Yes,” I pounced on the word, “Hebreo. Are you Hebreo?”

He looked totally confused. Why would I think that he is Ebreo?

I pointed to his neck. “The hamsa. Why are you wearing a hamsa? Do you know what that is? Where did you get that?”

“Oh,” he said, relieved that he was starting to understand my crazy questioning. “the hamsa. I got it at a market. It’s a good luck symbol. A man from Nepal gave it to me for good luck.”

That was the craziest story I have ever heard. In a split second I had constructed a story of how this Italian man from Milan, goes to a market and meets a Nepalese man who is selling trinkets and is handed this Jewish hamsa for good luck.

Maybe some Israeli met the Nepalese man in Nepal and gave it to him as a token of friendship. What are the chances of that? And then the Nepalese man makes his way to Italy and is trying to make a living by selling trinkets in the market?

And then Fabio stops by his stand and he gives Fabio this hamsa? And Fabio is now wearing it around his neck.

“Do you know what this is? What it means?” I ask him. I’m still processing this story. “Can I see it?”

I hold it in my hand and there is the eye in the middle of the downturned hand, warding off the evil eye. I turn it over. It’s inscribed in Hebrew but the engraving is worn down.

I look carefully and see the words written “T’fillat Ha’Derech” or “traveler’s prayer”. How fitting that this man is on a three-month journey away from home and he is being watched over by the traveler’s prayer.

As I explain to Fabio what he is wearing and what is written on the back of the hamsa, his eyes light up with excitement. “Wow,” he exclaimed. “I had no idea. I knew it was called hamsa and I knew it was good luck but I had no idea what was written on the back and what it was.”

I then googled t’fillat ha’derech and read with him:

May it be Your will, G‑d, our G‑d and the G‑d of our fathers, that You should lead us in peace and direct our steps in peace, and guide us in peace, and support us in peace, and cause us to reach our destination in life, joy, and peace. Save us from every enemy and ambush, from robbers and wild beasts on the trip, and from all kinds of punishments that rage and come to the world.

Wow, we both said. This is crazy. Fabio and I were both so excited to discover this together and we discussed for a while more the significance of this necklace, the meaning, and how he is being protected against the evil eye while he is traveling abroad. Even now I am so intrigued by this story and wonder where this hamsa came from. I know there’s a great story in there somewhere.


Story 2 We had Rosh HaShanah dinner at Chabad in Athens. We had planned to meet up with old friends of a distant cousin and were looking forward to making a connection with someone, as we had been wandering around the streets of the city, just the two of us, with no one else to talk to.

Earlier that afternoon we went to find the Chabad so we would know where we were going and found that it was in an area of Athens called Psiri, a series of winding, narrow alleys with grafitti on all the walls and shady looking building all around.

It’s filled with tavernas and cafes, as well as this crazy block of buildings called Circus. Take a look.

It’s supposed to be a hip area, but it’s kind of spooky walking around there.

Anyway, we found the Chabad and so felt confident that we would find it easily when we returned several hours later.

And so we did.

We walked in and saw rows and rows of tables and chairs and a room almost completely empty. We found our name on a list and sat down at table number 1, next to a quiet young couple. Upon some initial questioning, we learned they were newly engaged Israelis, and were celebrating their engagement with a trip to Greece. We immediately hit it off and spent an enjoyable evening talking with them. Our other new friends, the friends of my cousin, soon joined us, and the six of us had a wonderful Rosh HaShana dinner.

One other thing: the Chabad rabbi was so nice, and his wife was wonderful. She spoke English and Greek and Hebrew fluently, and I remarked to my neighbor, the Israeli guy, how amazing it was that she speaks these three languages, and she probably speaks French also.

"How do you know?" he asked.

"No," I said, "I don’t know. I’m just guessing because she already speaks these other languages."

Just then, she said to some people in Hebrew, "Oh, and by the way, I’m from France."

So it was true! She did speak French also!



Story 3. Fires in Zakynthos

You may have read that there were many forest fires on Zakynthos island this summer, like 90 or something like that. The firefighters were ill-equipped to handle that many fires, and in the end, many, many acres of forests and olive trees were burned. Arson was suspected and an investigation took place.

The people that we talked to were almost unanimous in what they believed. It was definitely arson. But by whom? The police said it was two Albanians. How convenient, the people said. Blame the foreigners, particularly if they are Albanian. If it really was these Albanians, they definitely didn’t do it on their own. There is a Qatari or Saudi billionaire that wanted to develop the northern part of the island. Depending on who was telling the story, the islanders, in their small-minded way, or in their protectionist nature of their island, or their ecology mindedness, or their lack of foresight about the economic opportunities that would result from this increased tourist development, fought this developer and it went to court. The developer either pulled out on his own in the face of the islanders’ opposition, or he lost his case.

Either way, he went away and now there are no plans for the development of this part of the island. But, did he put the arsonists up to the plot for revenge? Or was it the work of other developers who can burn the forests and claim it was agricultural land and then do their own development in this virgin, beautiful, natural part of the island?

Was it the corrupt politicians who were mad at the islanders? Or was it disgruntled people in general? Everyone had an opinion, but everyone said there are greater forces at work here and we don’t know the whole story. But something is going on.

Here are some links to videos of the fires of Zakynthos this past summer. And here are some photos of the fire-burned forest that we saw.

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