Thursday, December 29, 2016

#Chanukah day 6 - War

I joke with my son: "I''m a pacifist with violent tendencies..."

He laughs. I laugh. And then I sigh - because sadly, it's true.

I remember talking to a gaggle of pre-teens once, telling them about my heroes, Dr. King and Gandhi. They wanted to know why, and I told them about non-violence. I climbed up my metaphorical mountain and sat there, in some divinely serene lotus position, and the vantage point of my lovely, modern, suburban life, and waxed profound on the profound nature of peace. And one of the smart kids (being in 6th or 7th grade, all of whom have a natural tendency is to search out every chink in an adult's armor) raised his hand, and asked in a voice loaded with innocence, "But what about the Holocauset? Would you have fought then? If you could have killed Hitler, would you have?"

They all perked up then. They sensed blood. "I don't know," was my only answer. "I am really grateful I have never been in a position that I have to choose." Even as I said the words, I could feel my insides twist and churn. Would I? In those days, I was single and childless. Now - I have my beloved son. What if the threat were to him? Would I be able to maintain my position of non-violence if the threat were to my child rather than to me - or to my community?

Hannah had an answer. She lived with her seven sons somewhere in Judea. She supported Judah and the Maccabbees, and worked to defeat Antiochus and his army. When the soldiers came, as they did to every Jewish household, to force conversion upon then, Hannah was so steadfast in her beliefs that she was able to watch those soldiers throw each of her seven sons off the roof of their house, one by one, because she would not kneel and pray to a false god.

What a bizarre twist on the Hillel story - he was stopped by a Roman soldier who put a sword to his throat and said "Teach me the Torah while standing on one foot. If you can, I will convert. If you cannot, I will kill you here." Hillel, we are told, thoughtfully stands upon one foot and answers, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to others. The rest is commentary. Now go study.," And the general, so the story goes, did just that.

Hannah was told, "Bow down and pray or we will throw your sons to their deaths!" And she refused, because she was steeped in her faith. She held firm to her convictions and watched each of her sons die. Did they scream? Did she cry? Did the soldiers think twice, wondering how they could kill an innocent child? Did the soldiers question their inhumane orders? Did Hannah even once question a faith that could revere martyrdom over life? She was so sure that right was on her side; did she forget Moshe's cry: "Choose life!"

We were at war, fighting for our lives, our beliefs, our identity. And war - it changes you. It changes us all. We celebrate our victory over the Assyrians, and praise the bravery and might of Judah and Mattathias and the Maccabbean army.

And still, I am torn, between my love for peace, my belief in non-violence, my absolute conviction that violence only leads to violence, that it never solves anything. And I look around the world, at the wars and the conflicts that are killing us - all of us (because we are an "us," this world of ours, this human race of which we are a part) and I still cannot answer the question "Would you fight? Is there a Just War?" with more than an "I don't know, and thank God that I haven't had to make that choice."

It is Chanukah - a time to celebrate miracles and identity and victory. Perhaps - I hope, I pray - the lesson of this war, of any war, is not to help us answer the question "Would you fight?" but to spur us to redouble our efforts to create a world in which there is no war. Work for peace, for justice. Fight poverty and ignorance and need, not one another.

I am naive, I know. But that is my hope, even so, and I will cling to it, hold fast to it, work tirelessly for it.

#Chanukah. #festivaloflight

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

#Chanukah - day 4: Liberation

Three views of liberation, since three is the number of intention.

First, for this fourth day of Chanukah, Judah the Maccabee, the Hammer of Judea. He took a rag-tag band of guerilla warriors, and from the dark corners of the land, he and his band of merry men overcame the superior forces of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, fought them and finally won the day.

Huzzah! Liberated - but still, there was much work to do.

The Temple had been overrun with Assyrians, Greeks and idols (oh my!). The altars had been smashed, or worse, defiled. It was unfit for people and for God.  So it was reclaimed, cleaned, made pure and holy again, and finally dedicated before the glorious miracle of the oil: only enough to last a single day, that oil, once lit, lasted for a full eight days, just long enough to get a new supply.

Nes gadol hayah sham - a great miracle happened there.

Huzzah, again. The people rejoiced in their liberation from tyranny and oppression, scrubbed the Temple -- and promptly ushered in one of the most corrupt and oppressive regimes in our history. And as long as we're talking about cleaning - let's not forget the dead, the bodies of various Judeans who were not collateral damage, but the victims of internecine warfare. Apparently, we weren't content with just Antiochus' soldiers.

We jumped from the frying pan straight into the fire. Liberation is a double edged sword. It cuts, no matter which side of the blade you're on.

FLy through several thousand years after the Hammer hit home. Humanity has learned a staggering amount during the intervening millennia, whether learned ex nihilo or some refinement of the original , that allowed civilization to flourish. Here's a list, in no particular order (and I'm not even gonna Google this, and I'm gonna miss a gajillion things here) - the stirrup, the printing press, perspective, language, poetry, drama, fireworks, gunpowder, paper, music, smelting, science, astronomy, philosophy. My God! We went from the Bronze Age to the Age of Reason in the blink of an eye, and with every jump, with every advancement, there remained some spots of darkness and decay.

Let's not even list the timeline of weaponry that paralleled that of music and dance, of art and architecture. We went from rocks to sticks to swords and spears, connon and gunpowder. The holy oil that burned in the Temple could also burn your enemies. 

Let's talk about the Jews, still considered the scourge of the western world. If we weren't thrown out of a country (don't cry for me Spain, I'll hitch a ride with Columbus), we were put into ghettos (medieval Italy) or made chattel of the king (hoorray for the Magna Carta)). We were practice dummies for the wonderful knights of the Crudades. We were demonized as money-grubbers and child-killers. 

While the Age of Enlightenment and Napoleon seemed to liberate us from the bondage of the past, there were still a few hills to climb, and work to be done. Liberation is a double-edged sword.

Seven or eight years ago, I got an email from a friend. It had a huge distribution list along with a link to a video. The body of the email read "My God, you must watch this!" Normally, I would delete such an email, wise in the ways of phishers and scams. However, I trusted the friend so I clicked on the link. He was right. It was something I needed to watch. You should, too.

Were we ever liberated? Who can retell the things that befell us? Who can count them? Evil arose, covering the world with smoke and darkness. Our people were rounded up like animals. Humanswere rounded up - Jews and Gypsies, Communists and Catholics. It didn't matter. A king arose with the power to strip  people of their humanity, of their personhood, so they could be bound and gagged and murdered, one by one by one, fed into the pits of some hell that we don't believe in. 

And can you imagine? Truly - having been made a slave, having been starved and beated and worked unto death -- in the very first moments of your liberation, you sing of hope. You sing praiases to God. Can you imagine? 

Baruch hashem - blessed is God's name. Nes gadol hayah sham - a great miracle happened there.

We rejoiced in our liberation. There was so much work to be done! We learned from our liberation. "Never again," we cried out. This degradation, this dehumanization will never happen again. We cannot allow it. We learned to be strong, To be vigilant. To be free.

And we dug in our heels, put our backs into building a land that the desert had claimed for its own. And we kept watch and we defended and we sang our "Never again" like a psalm. And we worked to make it so, to make sure we never again felt the boot of the tyrant on our necks.

And we taught the ones who came after - "Never again." And we meant it. And we meant it for the world entire. "Never again." Never let our past become another's present. Let us learn that all of us - Jew and Gentile, Muslim and Sikh, every single one of us - we must all sing the psalm of Never Again, and we must all make sure that our song is true.

And so, the third view of Liberation, for the fourth day of Chanukah, the holiday of light and liberation - liberation is hard, and is a double edged sword, and the work is long.

Sometimes, the hardest lesson of all: failure. From the dead in the Killing Fields of Pol Pot to Bosnia and Herzogovina and Rwanda. From the sex slaves in every city and town the world over to the child laborers that allow us to buy our toys so cheaply. Look at the Women of the Wall. How different are they, really, from the girls stolen by Boko Haram? Only minutes ago, I saw a tweet that read "Only 10 days to #Day1000..." 

A thousand days! A thousand! But it's not on tv much, so we can sweep that one under the rug. Right? I could go on, it seems for an infinity - a whiny chunk of infinioty: Flint. Ninth Ward. The African American community. The poor. Women. The differently-abled. Does it matter, which group of oppressed? How can we rest while there is such pain? 

We are all human. 

Liberation is a double-edged sword. It never means "and then we all lived happily ever after." It means there is work to do, much work. And the work of liberation is difficult. We may never finish the work; neither are we free to desist.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Strange Fire

The world is on fire.
I feel the flames licking
along the walls
that have all but fallen.
They shelter only shadows now,
and hunger.

They call the bombs friendly,
and the damage collateral;
the deaths unfortunate
and their cause is
holy, holy, holy.

Does God hide in the shadows,
do you think, still
waiting for a pleasing odor
to feed an insatiable hunger?
Or perhaps God has fled,
the altars abandoned to
strange fire, whose only
scent is decay?

I would flee, too,
leave the altars behind,
and the crumbling walls
and this eternal fire
fed by hatred
and your war.

I would flee,
but there is nothing left
except fire.

I would beg,
but the shadows are empty,
and their silence
is a shroud.

I would leave, but
Pharaoh's heart has
turned to stone.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Rude Awakening

Like many people I know, I woke up that Wednesday morning, the day after the election, shocked and unnerved. I was supposed to have awakened elated - finally, a woman president! And hooray - we were joyfully continuing that long march begun a century ago, with the Wobblies and the suffragettes, that led to the union and labor movements, that led to the New Deal, that led to civil rights, that led to gay rights and marriage equality that led to gender equality and... Hell, you get it.

Did I say a century? Ha! Make it two. Let's not forget that whole contretemps with the folks across the pond. Let's not forget Hamilton and that rad hip-hopper Jefferson, and the other Founding Fathers. We have been marching steadily, (with a very painful layover while we straightened out the mix up over just who is a person and just what is property, and fought a war to ensure that everyone in the country got it), towards that bright, shiny future, which was supposed to be my bright, shiny present, of peace, love, equality and justice for all.

And yet, on Wednesday morning, November 9th, I woke up shocked and unnerved. And frightened. I am a woman. I am a Jew. My son is black. I fear for him most of all. On November 9th, while I woke up terrified (literally terrified at the revolution that was seemed to be taking place in my world) there were a whole host of people who woke up with this insane belief that it was ok to haul out the white hoods and disgusting invective and hatred that they had been keeping under wraps for what - a decade? more? a century? And if that weren’t enough, to add insult to injury, the cold water shock of realizing that this notion - that it had all been excised somewhere in the murky past - was merely one more instance of my white privilege. This behavior had always been around; I just had all the proper armor in place to not see it.

A month later, and I continue to be mind-numbingly outraged (sorry for the oxymoron, but I can't think of any other way to explain it), as I watch the (real) news and see, more than the mysogeny and racism and anti-lgbtqa hate speech spewing forth, but the great glee and lightening speed with which that That Man is dismantling 60 years of civil rights and liberties.

And, as I prepare to send my son off to university next fall, my black, liberal, loud and wonderfully vocal son, who has been taught to speak truth to power, I worry about the landscape into which he is stepping, and wonder if it's filled with landmines.

Actually, I don't wonder - there will be plenty of landmines (and some of them are actually good - you know, the ones that blow up youthful preconceptions or the petrified ideologies of the know-it-all teen that need to be softened or changed, that are a part of healthy college life). There are some landmines, though, that have been planted by the sudden normalization of all the other horrible "-isms" that have plagued our society and have been gaining ground at too rapid a pace. These are mines that can hurt. These are mines, I fear, that can kill.

Right about now is the part where I'm supposed to find some grace, some kind of uplift - that light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel that will ease my readers' (and my) mind, right? You know, the part where the dragon may have eaten the princess, but we find out, just in the nick of time, that she was cruel and not the real princess at all, while the real princess grabs the sword to fight the battle... I fear that the light at the end of the tunnel is really the light of the oncoming train.

I just typed "no one is racing to pick up the sword," and deleted it, when I realized that fear is not quite true. Many are sprinting towards the sword in the stone - all of us who are outraged and frightened, we are picking it up. We are speaking out and shouting truth to power. (Ugh. I found the sliver of happy after all. Yay me.)

We will continue the battle. We will face insurmountable odds. We will lose a lot. Not just lose, but scary lose - on the environment, civil rights, education, etc etc etc - but we will slog on. Because that's what we do. We slog. It will not be enough. Not right now; maybe not ever. "Enough" rarely ever is. Right now, though, it is all we have. So we will use this blade until someone - perhaps you, perhaps me, maybe my son one day - forges something more powerful, more permanent.

Until then, we will be afraid. Until then, we will suit up and show up nevertheless. And we will raise our voices to speak truth to power and lose a bunch of battles and fight through the fear and one day, we may actually win the war.

Monday, December 12, 2016

My Name is in Me

Will you name me,
before I can name myself?

Will you see my skin
and name me a color,
as if that defined me?
As if pigment is a thing
at all.

Will you see my sex,
my breasts that swell with milk,
and desire, and righteous indignation,
as if a mere body part
or two can claim the whole of me?

Will you find my name in my faith -
or what you think of as my faith?
Will you shackle me
and shame me,
blame me for what you
think you know?

My name is in my skin,
in its cracks and rough-edged
wrinkles, earned honestly
in the measure of my days,

It's in my sex,
in my womb that opened
and my breasts that fed
in my body that cradled life.
It's in my hands that reach
higher than I could ever grasp,
and my eyes that see
beauty in the chaos of a storm.

My name is in me,
in my back that is bent,
and my knees that don't
yet still they bear the
weight of all my days.

My name is in my faith
even as I wrestle
with the angels
who still climb their ladders,
and wrestle with me.

I feel it, the name that I
call myself, that I claim
for myself. It dances
along my skin, and fills me

Would you name me?
I have my own name,
I don't need yours.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Remember Me

How should I be remembered -
even through the sorrow
and those moments of grief
that come of their own accord,
and shake us
and make us weak,
make us bend and crumble?

The sorrow passes,
and the grief,
in their own time:
A slow and stately cadence,
steady, and the space between
each beat lengthens
like shadows at dusk.

Remember, and I am in the here,
in the slow and steady rhythms
of those in between spaces.
I am motion.
I am sound.
Find me here
in the sweep of time
in the grand abundance of life.
Remember me,
and do not grieve for long.
I am here in the song
of traffic and midnight silence.
I am in fallen leaves
and wood smoke in winter,
I'm in your generosity and in your hope.
I am here,
in your sorrow,
your grief
your joy
your love.

Remember me;
I am here.