Why Travel? Enlightenment in Greece

Thessaloniki Travel Blog

 › entry 12 of 13 › view all entries


September 15

Man’s perception is determined by his genetic makeup, his environment, and his psychological background. Given those parameters, every sensation, opinion, feeling and belief is a testament to his personal history. Family, friends and those encountered day to day will share in at least one of these filters and will serve to re-enforce pre-conceived notions as well as new ones as they come about. It is only through travel, physical or spiritual, does man fulfill his obligation to the cosmos. That being a moral imperative to get out explore learn, broaden oneself and through experience contribute to the global enhancement of the species.

 

Without the benefit of a reframed perspective, created by direct, first hand immersion into the mental and physical sub-sets of those individuals who share little or no commonality with you can the planetary mandate of homo erectus be substantiated.

 

I have chosen to expand, to listen and learn to share my history with the world and allow the world to share its history with me. It is not a choice as much as a directive from my insides, nourishment for my curiosity and a continual re-affirmation of myself and my position on the globe.

 

An ability to open and expose tenets formerly held dear and true, to be able to suspend experience and beliefs which have been based on personal history and lay them bare, open, and vulnerable on the alter of the greater world’s objective reality, to draw nourishment from the cosmos satiates like no cordon bleu chef ever could. Lessons imparted and thoughts henceforth assumed to be incontrovertible fall by the wayside, landing up on the trash heap of unsubstantiated didactic.

 

I’m 22 and on a bus in the Greek countryside. The beauty of the day, the brilliance of the sun, crisp clarity of the sky interceded with the dust of the country road play tricks with my vision. I am seeing light in crystal. At the same time the haze created by the passing traffic raising miniscule bits of dirt on the ancient Hellenic roads creates a contrapuntal effect of clarity and obstruction, which, in effect is obstructing my greater view, in a clear and precise light.

 

The previous night was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement for Jews all over the world. A holy day of reflection and self-judgment. Not so much a holiday as a time for personal and spiritual re-evaluation. Although not particularly religious, in fact closer to atheist than any other applicable appellation, I feel close to the cultural history of my people and engage in rituals and experience events that bind me to those who have gone before. I had meandered down the coast of Greece and found myself in the town of Thessalonica. Through a series of gestures drawings and charades, I managed to determine that one synagogue remained in a town that had housed a large vibrant Jewish community for over a thousand years. I went to the house of worship and was struck by a number of factors. Firstly, the prayer books were printed in Hebrew on one side of the page, as is the case at home, but instead of an English translation on the left side of each leaf, was a Greek translation. Normally, I am able to follow along reasonably well in the original tongue, but once in a while, my eyes would wander to the English side and I’d read along in a more familiar text, easier to understand and quicker to get through. Sort of a Cole’s Notes version of God’s commandments. In this particular instance, I was hard pressed to pay attention, one slip, and I’d be scrambling through the text trying to re-locate my position without the benefit of English, my linguistic equivalent of a GPS. I developed an immediate and deep understanding of the phrase “It’s all Greek to me”, firsthand knowledge is the only true knowledge. Once I got over the shock of the bilingual books, I looked around at the congregation and was struck by the glaring reality that the next youngest person in the building (there were about thirty people in all) was probably triple my age. I began talking with my pew mate during the service (another culturally shared activity that apparently is a worldwide phenomena). When asked about the dearth of Jewish youth in the synagogue, in broken English, my neighbor recanted a tale of horror that left me shaken. During the Nazi occupation, the commandant of the German division that was poised to invade the coastal town approached the head Rabbi of Thessalonica. “We have no issue with your people, the Rabbi was advised, “We want to rout out the Greek resistance. Please provide us with a list of the Jews n this town and we will avoid confrontation with them”. The naïve Rabbi was relieved to receive such assurance and readily provided a copy of names and location of every Jewish resident in the city, which the Commandant immediately used as a check list to round up deport, torture and ultimately kill virtually every Jew in the city, wiping out in a matter of days a civilization that had grown in peace and prosperity for over a millennium. Those few wretched old souls, huddled together, losing the battle to old age, the lucky ones who avoided death camps were now reciting Kol Nidre prayers each one wondering id this would be their last incantation, knowing as each one dropped off the face of the earth that the shard and remnants of a once proud culture would be no more.

 

The revulsion for the Nazis is one shared by most members of the western world, and to a greater extent by the Jewish people. The vague impersonal disdain that I had always felt was brought a lot closer as a result of the opportunity I had to mingle with and experience the new environmental and psychological reality of these old Greeks. I felt sadder, more bitter, but gratifyingly richer for being able to get a degree closer to the actual experience as a result of my travels.

 

I’m boarding the bus on the clear and dusty road. I take my seat among the other passengers, by and large a cross section of old, young and middle age Greeks who live in and around the area. They are all engaged in conversations, generally two or three clustered together. At one non-descript stop a young couple, blonde both of them, fair skinned, and blue eyed, each carrying a knapsack, branding them as young travelers alighted. My initial feeling was one of kinship. Here were two individuals with whom I share a commonality. We are obviously fro differing parts of the world, but we are sharing a wanderlust experience. The twosome sat down, a boy and a girl, and began speaking to each other in German. All other extraneous conversations stopped as is every passenger’s vocal chords had been cut. The Greeks gathered around he twosome began a vitriolic tirade, and began to spit on the two bewildered travelers. They arose and descended from the bus. Our eyes caught for a minute and I was able to enter their souls for the briefest of moments. “Why must we endure this, how much longer?” they were posing with beseeching eyes. I identified with these two German kids who were doing exactly as I was under a horrible yoke of historical responsibility. I feared no wrath; I felt not hatred, yet I was doing exactly as they were - Exploring the world and experiencing life on a global level.

 

The same way that I was able to see the crisply   of the air and the haze of the dust on the road with equal clarity minutes earlier, I was able to see the clarity of my experiential hatred of the Germans as a race obscured by the haze of the recent experience of the two unfortunate fellow travelers. I realized then that the war was over and my blanket hatred of those not even born during the holocaust was morally and spiritually untenable. I do not forgive, forget or condone the historical activities, but I have created a dividing line in my mind between past and present. In an instant, I move forward on the road, although this time the road was not a Greek highway, but rather the inner path of my personal development.

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