Bikes & Mormons

We are back from the last of our summer travels and settling down into what passes for “normal life” these days. 

We were lucky to spend three ten day periods this summer in three very nice ways:  first in Israel with a group mostly from Fauquier Jewish Congregation, second at the beach, and third in the Netherlands and Belgium with our son and his wife.  The first was very spiritual, the second totally relaxing, the third the sweetest.

Let me focus on the sweet.  My son Marc and I do an organized bike ride almost every summer. The last one was in Maine, very hilly. Our wives urged us to find a ride that would allow them to travel parallel to us and spend each night with us, and we found it, which is partly why it was so sweet. The other part of the sweetness was the biking. It is so flat in that region, mostly below sea level in fact. On a 50 mile ride, the total elevation was usually about 15 feet, not kidding.  Is that the reason why there are more bikes than people in the Netherlands (formerly Holland)? There are, and it takes a lot of getting used to when you see everyone going everywhere on their (crummy to avoid theft) bikes. No helmets, not so good. Bike lanes almost everywhere, which is good - except crossing a street involves twice as many judgements as our roads do, and  we all felt lucky that we didn’t get run over before we realized what is going on. 

We were the 4 Jews in the group of 24. Because of who I am, religion comes up.  The most interesting discussions were with three Mormon couples who travel together a lot. We think of Mormons and there are red flags, especially around diversity. But there is more to it. Theirs is a close knit community back home in Salt Lake City. Families have Sunday dinner together, which isn’t happening in mainstream Christianity much anymore. They don’t do alcohol or coffee or tea or cigarettes; since beer flows day and night where we were,  they clearly outdid us on the martyrdom scale. Their wards (what we could call congregations) are lay run; one of the best bikers in the group also plays the organ for services. Another helps each year to replace the 250,000 bulbs from the Netherlands that grace the Temple Square. Much of the Square sits on a large parking lot so there is no drainage and the bulbs would rot if not replaced. Who knew?  They have all been to Israel and love it; their tours were more like ours than the ones other Christians in the group told us about which focus on the Galilee and include Bethlehem and Jordan and not much Jewish. Our new Mormon friends were abhorred by the effort to posthumously convert Holocaust victims to Mormonism. So there - travel does open us to new experiences and perspectives for sure. 

Early on, when Gail and I would stay in a B & B, we would want to quit our jobs and buy one.  So it was with the Netherlands. It’s captivating and beautiful (and flat), the people are sort of friendly, the weather isn’t awful, there are lots of flowers even in the summer, lots of bikes, good fish, great cheese, politics that are complicated but seem benign, and a train ride away is much of Western Europe. We aren’t moving, but hope to go back for an extended period sometime soon. We feel lucky to have had this taste of a different world. Anyone out there have a similar experience this summer? Do share please. 

Best regards. Less than a month till Rosh Hashanah, in case anyone besides rabbis and cantors is counting.