by Elizabeth Stephens
Our Two Aunts Invite Us to Israel
When I was 20 years old our two aunts came back into our lives. They asked Adrian and I if we wanted to come and visit them, in Israel. They had left the Beverly Hills area and started a synagogue in Israel. We accepted their gracious offer. We flew to New York and met our cousin, and spent the night. I remember the TV was on but the reception was so bad we saw the reflection of the two twin towers on the screen. The next day off we went to the Middle East. This was the first time I saw armed military patrolling an airport. That was back in 1972. It was a whirlwind experience and opened my eyes to a much larger vision of the world. I went to Masada where 900 Jews had killed themselves rather than be captured by the Romans after a long siege of their mountaintop fortress. There were ruins of Herod’s palace and boulders from the catapults. We floated in the Dead Sea and even visited Jesus’ Tomb. I could always feel pressure from the aunts. They were constantly watching me to see if I would put the glass of water on the proper side of the counter. There was a kosher side and a non-kosher side and of course I did not understand what that meant. Once we visited a kibbutz (a work, live place) and they even had separate dinning rooms, one for meat and one for dairy products.
As a Buddhist all our activities flowed together, whatever comes naturally was the most meaningful. I would never insult anyone and made a lot of accommodations during our stay. In a blink of an eye, our three weeks were up and I am sure the family wanted us to stay, move into a kibbutz, marry and populate the homeland, but that did not happen. We returned to the states.
It was hard to come back from vacation, especially after you had spent sometime in a foreign country. Life seemed very dull and it took time to readjust. Culture shock. From time to time I needed another challenge at work so I was promoted from my position as a residence to a business representative and started worked with larger companies. Then I tried out as an installer, but I did not want to climb a 16 foot pole. I knew I needed something different so I went into the switch room. That was traditionally a man’s job and I was one of the first women to be accepted into that classification. It was also one of the highest paid positions. Unfortunately, it had some drawbacks. Once I knew what to do, I had to walk about and look busy, but only when the boss came around. My hours were 6:00-2:30 and I lived up the street so this was an ideal situation.
I was able to go on a pilgrimage to Japan, twice with a large group of members. The first time was in 1972, then 1973. These were significant times as the Grand Main temple (ShoHondo) was being built as the completion of the three great secret laws. In this sect of Buddhism one of the tenets was that a large temple would be built; it was supposed to be good fortune to attend.
This temple was supposed to last 10,000 years, seating 6,000 all with an unobstructed view of the object of worship. How interesting that it is not in existence today. There was a disagreement between the priesthood and the laity. The layman built it form the interest on 100 million dollars collected from the members and the priesthood paid 30 million dollars to have it demolished.
When we were on these trips, no opportunity was left unattended. All the members would visit meetings with the local members to rub shoulders and for mutual encouragement.
Here I was in my convention uniform. Unfortunately it was rather short as I did not know polyester would burn when ironed.
I did like these uniforms much better, the Hawaiian dress for the Hawaii Convention.
Again, I was totally immersed in Buddhism, as it was my whole life. By this time I had lived a few places and I always had meetings at my apartment. This was one place I lived in West Los Angeles, California on a street called Ohio. The building’s name was Quo Vadis in Roman or ‘Where are you going?’ At the time I did not realize the significance.
Adrian had a totally different outlook on our past situations. When she was 18 and got the invitation to leave she continued to go to movies on Sunday afternoons for over a year. I think it was her defense and still is. Sometimes when she talks about the past I feel bad that we couldn’t have been better comrades at that time. That was the only world that we knew.