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!

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