CARBONDALE, Colorado - Artist and community activist Ro Mead visited her her 19-year-old grandson in Israel last month, only to discover that he is living in what she termed "a slum" in the city of Tel Aviv.
Nevertheless, Mead said her grandson, Jordan Meer, is doing well.
"I was quite impressed with the way he spoke to cab drivers and all" in Hebrew, the language spoken by Jews living in Israel.
Mead, 76, a longtime Carbondale resident who describes herself as a secular Jew, was traveling with her daughter-in-law, Jill Meer, 50, of Littleton, who is Jordan's mother and the widow of Mead's late son, Douglas Meer.
"Ro, she was great," said Meer, a self-described "California blonde of no particular religion."
"Being on the Jewish side, they really connected with her," she said of Mead's interaction with Israelis. "She's amazing. She's just doesn't stop. She has energy, she's inquisitive, she asks questions."
The two women stayed in Israel for 18 days, from Oct. 23 to Nov. 8, leaving the country just a few days before the start of the most recent exchange of shelling and rocket blasts between Israel and Hamas, the militant Islamic group that governs the Palestinian-occupied Gaza Strip.
While traveling in Israel and briefly in Jordan, Mead and her companions saw some of the historic splendor that is mere background to those living there.
"The most fascinating place in Israel we went to was the old city of Jerusalem," a holy city for Jews, Christians and Arabs, Mead said. "I could have spent weeks there."
They wandered around the four quarters of the city - Christian, Muslim, Armenian and Jewish. The different groups often blend together geographically and linguistically.
"I couldn't tell Arabic from Hebrew," Mead said of the swirl of talk that surrounded their group. "But Jordy said he could tell them apart."
They also went to the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, located in the West Bank and named in the New Testament as the birthplace of Jesus.
At Bethlehem, Mead said, they went through a checkpoint to enter the city, where they were handed off from an Arab Israeli guide to an Arab Palestinian guide.
"There's such a marked difference between an Israeli Arab and a Palestinian Arab," she said. The Israeli Arab conveyed a "lively, warm, Christian feeling." The Palestinian, she said, "didn't say one word after we got on the bus."
Visiting Jordan, which borders Israel to the west, they made it to Al Aqabah, a Palestinian village in the Jordanian section of the West Bank.
Aqabah in 1917 was the site of an allied Arab-British victory over Turkey, in a battle made famous by the 1962 movie, "Lawrence of Arabia." It now is controlled by Israeli military and civil institutions.
Mead and her entourage also went to Petra, which Mead described as "one of the seven wonders of the world." It is the site of the Treasury, a 2,000-year-old temple of pillars and rooms carved into a cliff face.
In her travels and talks with natives, Mead said she was surprised to learn that the people of Israel show no fear when discussing the precarious nature of their lives and their national security, given the fact that bombs and rockets are a continual threat from more than one direction.
"The people never expressed fear," she said.
"That's their environment. They've grown up with it. It's their reality, and they have to deal with it," she added.
Mead said that she now believes a majority of the Israeli people favor a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian question. Mead supports that as well.
"There were no demonstrations when we were there," Mead recalled. "But the people I talked to, the majority of them, wanted a two-state settlement."
The exception are the ultra-conservative and orthodox Jews she called "the Black Hats," which includes the Hasidic, Sephardic and other nationalistic groups.
These groups, she said, oppose the two-state solution and are the greatest contributors to the controversial settlement program in areas occupied or claimed by the Palestinians.
"They are hated by everybody else," Mead said.
These groups do not pay taxes, do not serve in Israel's armed forces, and generally stick to themselves in most circumstances, according to Mead, and they are fervently nationalistic.
Aside from her discomfort over the Black Hats, though, Mead said the trip was as fascinating for her as it was for Jordan and his mom.
Jordan Meer is taking a year off from traditional school activities, and is on a year-long study program in Israel with the Aardvark-Israel Gap Year program. He is studying Hebrew and other subjects, and traveling abroad with other students to visit the Israeli ambassadors in other countries.
Mead said her grandson is "not really Jewish, because his mother is not Jewish."
But having a Jewish grandmother, Mead said, meant he qualified for the study program in terms of his ethnic heritage.
Jill Meer, confessing to some early trepidation over her son living in what could quickly become a war zone, said she has learned to accept it.
"I was going over as a mother who has a child that far away ... to check out the surroundings my son was in," she said. Jordan is living on Levinski Street, in a somewhat rough and run down area of Tel Aviv populated by students.
"It's grungy-chic," said Meer of her son's apartment, countering Mead's less-than-positive take on the matter.
"If she was 20," Meer said of her mother-in-law, "she'd think it was cool."
"I'm at ease," she said. "He's up to it."
She talked with Jordan during and after the recent exchange of fire between Israel and Gaza.
"He wasn't alarmed," she said. He did hear a missile land near his Tel Aviv apartment, shaking the walls, she continued, but he betrayed no particular concern about it.
"It's expanding his horizons," his mother said of the experience. "I wanted him to see that, to say, who am I, what are my roots?"
Meer said she wanted a better understanding of her son's growing interest in his own roots and in the conflict-prone region where he was living.
Mead was exhilarated by the trip, she said, and definitely would like to go back for more.
But she is not about to move there, despite its attraction for those of Jewish heritage.
"It's not Carbondale," she said simply.