Monday, August 26, 2013


Yesterday morning, Sunday, August 25, 2013, I was already thinking in Baltimore terms while sitting in our Elkins Park Pennsylvania kitchen. We were preparing to go take my parents out for their 63rd Anniversary along with some of our cousins. As we were having a wonderful family breakfast the Sunday news magazine shows were on the television and the focus was on the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington and the pivotal “I have a dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I heard a statement by one of the commentators that absolutely jolted and chilled me. The observation was made that fifty years ago prejudice and exclusion and segregation was by intent in the south and de facto in the North. How much has this changed?

I well remember my freshman year in college in 1971. I quickly formed a wonderful friendship with two girls, one from South Carolina and one from New York. Having gone through my high school years in Baltimore Maryland and having been active in Student Council in my school as well as the county and state level, we constantly talked about, showed concern about and wrestled with the lack of integration of whites and blacks and all others who were part of the American tapestry as concerned, idealistic a-bit-too-young-for Woodstock baby boomers. Integration was ALWAYS the topic of discussion and dreams. By contrast, my friend and soon-to-be roommate from New York was from de facto land and my Southern friend and other soon-to-be roommate was from intentional and obvious segregation country. I on the other hand who lived in the North according to the Southerners at school and was part of the South by the estimation of the Northerners learned that this topic and angst so characterized my formative years while I also learned that no one had yet figured out exactly where that Mason-Dixon line was really drawn.

I was really already on the civil and human rights wagon, even though I was too young for the March. In student council we were constantly pushing lines of integration much to the chagrin of many of our parents. We learned to “fight the establishment” and to hold on to those dreams, the ones of Martin Luther King Jr. and others of that era for a better and more shared collective future for all members of the human family. I remember being horrified by the words of prejudice and cringing from the lack of acceptance indicated by too many of the adults in my life at that time – definitely part of the generation gap from my perspective.

And here I sit FIFTY years later. I can say the word FIFTY but I still cannot fully grasp much less fathom what it means, personally or historically – a topic for another post, to be sure. What I do note is that on one hand I agree with the commentators that we have made incredible, though slow and at times rocky and painful progress. What I also note is that we still have so far to go. So at the same time we can feel pride and happiness at goals achieved in the acceptance and appreciation of those different than us in any way (actually, wait, aren’t we all different from each other if we really think about it?!?); while also wanting and needing so much more.

While we were eating breakfast and watching television, we were also reading the paper. We are such great multi-taskers, aren’t we?!? Lo and behold as if in not-so-hidden hidden code, while the front page of the main section of our Sunday paper was about the same fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King’s dream and the pivotal March, the first page of the local section was about another set of dreamers for something better, a lesbian couple who had been married recently in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. These women were celebrating that they were finally accorded their civil rights as two partners sharing their lives and simultaneously not sure this recognition will stick, given the political battles now waged in Pennsylvania amongst other states.

Our Jewish tradition reminds us that we will not complete the serious work and task at hand by ourselves or immediately but that we must all do our part as the course of time moves on. So here we sit on the cusp of the next fifty years. Tom Lehrer reminds us across generations about how easy it is for all to hate the other in his seminal parody, National Brotherhood Week. But as we move into these coming decades, let us remember “it is not for you alone to complete all of the work, but neither are you exempt from doing your part” and that only by all of us doing our part will all of our hopes and dreams, dare I say expectations, of being accepted by each other, be a goal we can realize together. As Jewish tradition also teaches, “If you will it, it is not impossible.” Here’s to the next fifty years and making dreams reality!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


LETS GO TO THE CIRCUS! Mark Rosenstein and I never officially met (and no we are not related to each other!) but our professional lives crisscrossed and at different times and in different gilgulim, we each gave so much on behalf of an institution in which we were involved, Akiba Hebrew Academy in Merion, Pa. Mark went on to make Aliyah and I continued to try to do everything I could for Jewish Education and Jewish communities in North America. Through the years, our paths crossed briefly. But this I know, we also share a dream and a vision for our collective future, in addition to our shared stints at one Jewish educational institution. We both just want us to realize that at the end of the day we are all much more alike than different and if we do not learn how to play nicely on the same playground, there will be no playground on which we may play – my words and image, but a shared vision, I think, perhaps, nonetheless. So several weeks ago, again our paths briefly crossed. And for those of you who have been wondering what ever became of Mark, I can fill you in on at least part of his wonderful story as a committed educator, a passionate Jew and a successful professional. Mark has joined the circus! Let me explain. The Galilee Circus is explained in the following way in its brochure: “In the world – and a region – where fear and distrust between peoples lead to insecurity and violence daily, how can the individual make a difference? One way is through the circle. After all, what is circus all about? It’s about overcoming fear, it’s about trust, it’s based on non-verbal communication, it represents a multicultural tradition, it creates a place of shared culture – and its purpose is to make people smile.” Our group from Hartman went to the circus as part of our Arab-Israeli experience and we did smile. Not only that, but they were GOOD! I felt at times like I was at training camp for Cirque d’Soleil hopefuls. The aerial acrobatics and the gymnastics included some very impressive routines. And what is most important was that these routines were based on the complete trust between Arab and Israeli from beginning to end. The Galilee Circus includes kids who are Arab and Jewish aged 6 through 19. This is a project of the Galilee Foundation for Value Education from Moshav Shorashim of which Mark is a part. As the consummate educator that he is, Mark explained that when the kids met, there were definitely negative reactions to each other. But, through trust building exercises, peer work, and a shared goal of creating a circus, that eventually dissipated and wonderful friendships and trusting relationships were formed. Now that is truly an accomplishment! I was thinking of the teaching -- “All of Israel is responsible for each other.” Yes, truly these kids were responsible for each other and trusted that the other would hold on to them and protect their safety as their responsibility while they were jumping through the air, on top of a human pyramid, doing stunts over each others’ bodies, and so on. This became part of the collective culture and individuals made this happen, where they were Jewish Israelis, Arab Israelis, or …. It was indeed a lesson in action, devoid of words. Maybe it is words that get us into trouble. It certainly seems that way. I know I spend a lot of time trying to fix the harm that words do in many venues. What a concept – instead of sitting at tables and negotiating ourselves out of the very corners we get ourselves into, let’s all join the circus. Oh and by the way, the clown was also entertaining. That is the only part I would have a chance of trying out for, as my gymnastics skills are, shall we say, underdeveloped or more accurately never developed!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

What I Learned In The Corner of an Arab Woman's Kitchen

One of the many things I love about being part of the “Hartman Institute Gang” every summer is the field trips. This year, as I usually do, I went into and was able to explore areas and meet people that represent the widest breadth (and breath for that matter) of what it means to live in Israel and be Israeli and maintain so many complicated identities at once. So allow me to introduce you by way of these words to an amazing Arab woman named Amna Kanana. Amna lives in Kafr Kara nad is originally from Kafr Ara. She is an accomplished Israeli Arab woman who directs Man Ajliki (For You: Awareness). This organization was begun in 2003 by a group of women with the stated goal of improving the lives of Arab women in the Wadi Ara area and empowering them to go forth and do wonderful things with their lives. So, Amna, modestly dressed in her hijab, graciously invited into her beautifully appointed home and brought us to the Arab woman’s “place” in the home, the farthest corner of the kitchen, where the men who are sitting in the salon (living room and dining room combination) would not see her and the required sense of modesty she must maintain in her community, culturally and religiously speaking, would not be compromised. Amna is a religious Druze woman and shared with us her stories of rebellion and acclamation of self (and trust me, this woman rocks!). We stood crowded in the corner of her kitchen in front of a very large floor to ceiling pantry. She explained how oppressive life can be for a religious Druze woman and continued to beckon us to crowd in the corner so we could better understand “her place.” Then she said something to the effect of the following: “So now I want to show you what I have turned my corner into.” At that point, she opened the pantry doors, and expecting to see shelves of food, there were curtains through which we walked into a large welcoming and colorful room. This is the place where “Amna School” occurs and you immediately see the joy and pride in her beautiful face. Amna meets with women here and she and others support their religious sisters and encourage them to follow their dreams. There are colorful posters, a white board with markers for lessons and tables of crafts that the women have made and are for sale. This corner has become a haven, a sort of intellectual and educational spa for women of Wadi Ara, if you will. She spoke lovingly of her work and the triumphs of the women she works with, while showing us their handiwork with pride and joy. She also told us the beautiful story of how she met her husband and married him (a very cool guy by all standards and the details of her story) – who totally supports what she does (obviously). There is definitely a revolution going on in this room and Amna is the capable general, teaching, encouraging, guiding – and all without compromising who she is as a religious observant woman who is also educated and has great dreams and hopes. Hers is an undertaking we can all understand. What she has so expertly done is turned her corner to which she was confined culturally and religiously relegated by convention into a wonderful and lighted room of learning, growing, laughing, hope, sharing and so much more. May we all take this lesson from Amna and turn those dark corners imposed upon us into something light and airy and wonderful! May you continue to be blessed in your wonderful work, Amna!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Fragmentation or Fusion, You Choose!

Fragmentation or Fusion, You Choose! Some years ago, I heard Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (one of my favorite voices of our contemporary world, truly a Gadol – great and singular teacher – as far as I am concerned!), quote and expound upon the following statement: “Peace is counter-intuitive to the human nature; unfortunately war and conflict is a much more comfortable domain for us. Why, you ask, did he make such a statement? The moment he said it, I was hooked. Peace, you see, involves giving up a bit of ME for the greater good of WE. In Peace, we see all people and sides of a potential problem as equal with equally legitimate voices. The OTHER becomes a legitimate and important voice in our own gestalt. This is not something we in our modern era do so well collectively. This thought was reinforced for me during the last few weeks as I have read through an amazing book, "The Sacred Hoop" by Paula Gun Allen, which is subtitled “Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions.” Forgetting for a moment the clear feminist orientation (perhaps a topic for another post), I want to share one specific paragraph about identity that I found resonates so loudly within me as an American Jew or …. Just substitute the words of your choice that apply to you and your own identity when you read “American Indian” or “Indian” in the following passage: A contemporary American Indian is always faced with a dual perception of the world: that which is particular to American Indian life, and that which exists ignorant of that life. Each is largely irrelevant to the other except where they meet -- in the experience and consciousness of the Indian. Because the divergent realities must meet and form comprehensible patterns within Indian life, an Indian poet must develop metaphors that not only will reflect the dual perceptions of Indian/non-Indian but also will reconcile them. The ideal metaphor will harmonize the contractions and balance them so that internal equilibrium can be achieved, so that each perspective is meaningful and that in their joining, psychic unity rather than fragmentation occurs. Throughout this wonderful treatise, Allen talks about identity and the ongoing internal dialectics between the various elements of our identity. She goes on to lament how the portrayal of the American Indian as a war chief and with weapons of conflict is not accurate and that the American Indian’s world is traditionally and generationally invested in the maintaining of peace at all costs. This, as some of us may recall, was actually their undoing when the Europeans came to this ground and the indigenous population was willing to share all that they had in a peaceful manner. This overture was misunderstood by the Europeans and perceived instead as “their victory” over the lowly Indian. How sad! This is precisely what I, as a Jewish educator, have been trying to address with my students and the communities with and in which I have worked and learned and grown. I often find that this very issue is the ultimate disconnect between others and myself. Where so many see internal conflicts, yes, even wars, I see confluence and the need and desire to unite all elements of our multi-faceted being in a calm and unified matter of fusion. I DO respect and honor others with view different than my own; and I suspect that others do not always understand the space that I occupy in this universe, being personally observant and accepting the standards and ways of others as legitimate and possible as well. Many see this as compromising or not standing by what you believe, or worse, not having defined beliefs at all. Oh, quite the contrary. Allen, in her well written book, talks lovingly and with a connection that is palpable about her beloved Indian heritage and its beautiful feminine unity and fusion that is often not seen as such and worse, rewritten into male dominated conflict language that inaccurately skews how many of us have come to learn and understand the American Indian. She proclaims that the picture that we have which has been sifted through the eyes and pens of male dominant writers is not the heritage and rootedness of American Indian tradition at all. Funny, in addition to sympathizing, even empathizing with Allen, I feel some of the same pangs about the Judaism that I know and live and love and have tried to communicate to family, students, friends and colleagues. This explains why my involvement in human rights issues is NOT antithetical to my Orthodox observance but mandated by my adherence to Halacha. For me the Shechina, the feminine presence of the G-d Force and Power, The One and Only, is not relegated to obtuse discussions of mysticism or warm and fuzzy nostalgia, but part of the daily world in which I live and learn. I see the unity and fusion of my life as a Jew, woman, American and citizen of the world in a multi-faceted yet unified way. Thus I care about the asylum seeking refugee in Israel, am proud of the work that Jewish scientists and doctors are doing to heal people throughout the world, always encourage my students to work for wonderful organizations like Habitat for Humanity, do see that our concern for the environment and its resources IS a Jewish OBLIGATION according to Halacha, and that we are kind and caring and non-judgmental towards all members of our human family. Yes, for me the texts, teachings, values and deeds of Judaism are fused and unified. I guess I would make a wonderful American Indian or at least could be good friends with one or two. Rabbi Sacks would also enjoy the shared perspective, I suspect!