Insanity dressed up as ‘Peace:’ a random Jewish person’s take on Jerusalem

On this day, less than 24 hours after President Trump’s reckless decision to toss a lit match into a dry forest, metaphorically speaking, I am so grateful for my Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom Sisters.

Because of them, I am able to continue hoping that we can somehow surmount all the crazy and horrible that’s drowning out the important thing we need to remember – that we’re more alike than different. That by standing together, we can poke giant holes in the lies of those who want to divide and conquer us for their own selfish reasons.

This past January, we met for the first time – a bunch of Jewish women and a bunch of Muslim women.  Some of us knew each other intra-religiously. Except for Jan, no one knew any of the women who weren’t from the same religious community. All of us were traumatized by November 8th. The Muslim women talked of having to soothe and comfort their children, who feared deportation, even though they were US citizens. That meeting left us all wanting more, and over the past year, we have arrived at the place where we are now – getting ready to do something as sisters for the larger community. A couple of us won’t be there the actual day because of Christmas-celebrating family commitments.

The rest of us will be serving dinner at a local organization, Repairers of the Breach. It serves and is governed by homeless individuals. But we’ll all there in spirit, and we’ll be showing up with some gifts of our own. A large part of our last meeting was taken up with discussion about the finer points of travel-sized toiletries and toothbrushes.

As to the Elephant in the Room, or to put it another way, Jerusalem, I wrote what you will see below six years ago in response to something that was happening on the Israel/Palestine front.

Today, it’s what I’d write if I wasn’t at work, dashing this post off on my laptop in the breakroom at lunch. The big difference is that back then, I didn’t have any Muslim pals off of which to bounce this, and now I do. Also there wasn’t a nihilist in the White House.

Poupsie
Donald Trump, demonstrating his lack of respect and awareness regarding anything having to do with other humans.

 

“Ugly and frightening pretty much sums up the latest chapter in Israel’s relationship with the rest of the world.

It’s hard for me to talk about Israel in general, because I love it so much and want it to thrive and be safe; and I also want to hear the Palestinian National Symphony and see the Palestinian National Dance Company perform before I die, because that will mean that there is a Palestine that’s taking care of itself and its people.

My views on the situation aren’t popular with anyone. My conservative friends think I’m a sellout for not marching to the beat of “Everything Israel Does is Right.”

My liberal friends think I’m a fascist for thinking that Israel has a right to exist at all.

The truth is that Israel needs to exist, and Palestine needs to exist. There needs to be two states – side-by-side and the Palestinian state needs to be contiguous. Both sides need to respect the borders and safety of each other and live like decent neighbors.

And Jerusalem, which is holy to both Jews and Muslims? Sorry, dudes. You need to share it. And I get the whole not wanting to share things. I am an oldest child. I don’t want to share anything. But I am practical. Plus, I have a younger sister. So, bad news, Israel and Palestine. You each have your own country, but you still have to learn to share. You are not only children. You are siblings. Get over it

My latest scheme to institute Peace in the Middle East involves feral cats. I have no idea how, but it seems that trying to solve the feral cat problem has caused as much anguish for some people as the Middle East situation has for others. And there are other similarities. Feral cats are stubborn and difficult to deal with. Dealing with them requires a great deal of finesse and patience. And there are no guarantees that you’ll get the results you’re looking for – trust, affection and a chance to get them neutered or spayed and the chance to love them the way they deserve to be loved.”

 

An open letter to American Muslims and Anyone Else Unsettled by the US Election: a Dispatch from the Land of Trumpelstiltskin

Dear American Muslims and others feeling unsettled by the possibility of no longer being safe in your own country:

There is no delicate way to say what I am about to say, so I am just going to say two things that have been running through my mind since Tuesday night.

  1. I am so sorry for what you are all going through. My heart is with you.
  2. You now understand, in a way more visceral than any Jew of my generation, the reason for the creation of a Jewish homeland – which, although originally posited for anywhere available, ended up as the State of Israel in the Middle East.

Regarding the current state of Israel, its prime minister, its issues around settlements and all the other complications and messy realities of statecraft and daily life, please set it aside for purposes of this discussion. Not because those aren’t valid topics for conversation – they absolutely are – but because it’s not the issue I’m addressing here.

In 70 CE, the Romans dispersed most (not all, but pretty much all but the equivalent of a tiny rural village’s worth) of the country’s Jews. From then until 1948, we were an itinerant crew, depending on the hospitality and governmental vagaries of the countries to which we managed to hie ourselves.

whoarethey1
I think these two are my great-grandparents, who brought my then six-month-old  grandmother over from Russia in a valise. From what I understand, he was, to paraphrase our incoming president, “Not their best.” His offspring were better. Bobby married a peddler. They saved money, bought a farm and raised dairy cattle, cash crops and five children. My mother was the first to graduate from college.

 

It’s not a happy history. There’s a joke that so many Jewish kids played violin because you could pick one up and run when you got kicked out of whatever country you were living in.  Jews got really good at languages, because they had to learn so many. When we were allowed to live in a place, we were often made to keep to a restricted part of town, and wear visible clothing that marked us as different. (Note: It was a thing WAY before Nazi Germany.)

My lifetime has been a period of what is best described as a golden age for Jews. I live in a country where, for the most part, we’ve been pretty welcome. (Exceptions exist, but again, not the issue I’m addressing here.)

Some of that is due to what happened in 1948, when the Jews got what no generation for more than 1,000 years had had – a place of our own, a country of refuge in which we would never be “other.” A country where national holidays would be our holidays, our shared culture and religious observance would be the norm and not the exception, where we could raise our babies and care for our elders without having to explain what “kosher” entails. Most of all, it was a country where we never wondered when a mob would burn our neighborhood, round us up and run us out of town, arrest and/or kill us.

Talia_and_Alex_Frolkis_at_Maale
The great-great grandchildren of the people in the photo above. This picture was taken in Israel, with Shelli the Labrador retriever. The great-great granddaughter on the left is in medical school, the one on the right is getting ready to apply for Ph.D. programs in biology.

 

Everything else aside, it’s a terrible thing to feel unsettled in your own home, whether that means the space on the furniture-filled side of your front door or the space beyond it, the public space.

I live in the United States because my grandparents fled Russia and Ukraine. I don’t want my country to be a place where those of us who are different are made to feel “less than.”

That said, I’m not gonna lie. Knowing what  – and that – my forebears sacrificed to try and create a place that would take me and mine in without question  gives me a sense of place and security.

It requires something else too. Because of my history, I have an obligation to do as much to ensure the physical, emotional and moral safety of those around me. Whatever happens over the next four years, for better or worse, I’ve got your backs. We’re in this together.

The Art of Knowing What You Don’t Know: Cultural Intelligence, Tamir Rice and Hope for a More Enlightened 2016

The first time I heard the term “Cultural Intelligence” was in a church basement. The topic under discussion was an update on the redesign of Milwaukee County’s Behavioral Health division; the person updating us was describing an all-too-familiar and depressing reality:

The group doing the  redesign work is comprised of mostly white, upper middle class, suburban people who know, socialize and interact with other mostly white, upper middle class suburbanites. These well-meaning people are creating policies and procedures that will affect mostly black, poor, urban people whose realities are very different. Worse, they have no chance to understand that they doesn’t understand, because people with the ability to effectively reality check those committee members (people who are, were, know, socialize and/or interact with mostly black, poor urban people) have virtually no voice at the table.

St._Dionysus_Kehinde_Wiley.jpg
When I saw this painting at the Milwaukee Art Museum yesterday, I knew it was the image I wanted to go with this post. Tamir Rice was already in my mind, and he will never be as old as the young man in this painting. It’s called St. Dionysus; the artist’s name is Kehinde Wiley. Check out more of his work at http://www.kehindewiley.com

Or, to put it another way, there is one person of color on the board. There used to be two, but one took a job that meant having to leave the board.

One thing the two people of color were able to achieve was getting the County to pay for Cultural Intelligence training for Human Service workers. Last month, offered a seat at one of the trainings, I jumped at the chance. We had to take a pre-workshop assessment. Our scores would be given to us at the training.

I wondered what mine would look like. A few years ago, I took one of Harvard’s Project Implicit tests. I wasn’t surprised to pull a score showing an automatic preference toward white over black faces.

Cultural intelligence measures one’s ability to work and relate across all cultures. When we got our scores, my “CQ” was higher than I had expected. So, just for the heck of it, I went home and retook the Project Implicit test. My automatic preference had disappeared. That I’d had it wasn’t a surprise. That it’s gone isn’t surprising, either.

As a white lady of a certain age, my first experience with people of color occurred before I understood anything about what color was. Lily Mae Madden cleaned our house once a week and sometimes took care of my sister and me when I was way too little to know anything other than that Lily Mae wasn’t scary like my mom and I loved her. She was big and soft and kind. Her husband, Sam was tall, slender and as kind as his wife. My sister and I adored them.

By the time I was in kindergarten, they had passed out of our lives. There were no black children in my class. Or my school (which went to sixth grade). Or my neighborhood. There were no black characters on my TV screen (“I Spy” came on after my bedtime), until “Julia” came out in 1969.

In junior high and high school, things changed some. My urban public high school had no ruling class. Race differences were a reality but not an issue. White and black kids hung out together during the day, and maybe some socialized outside of school. All the girls in my crowd were white, though none of us thought about it in those terms.

In college, I was a fish out of water. It was my first real brush with class differences, although I was too green to realize it. At my small, private liberal arts school, most of the students had come from families with way more money than mine and many had gone to private boarding schools. The norm was to spend junior year somewhere else. My “somewhere else” was Israel.

The program was through the Reform movement, a year on the same kibbutz outside of Jerusalem. Professors came to us, and our single summer class was three hours of Hebrew instruction, six days a week. I wanted to learn Arabic, too. Attempts to connect with anyone who could help me find a class or teacher were quickly quashed. (“What do you want to do that for? You don’t want to do that.”) I was a good sheep, out of my element and with enough strange things to handle. I didn’t push things with the authorities.

I still tried, though, and achieved a small victory.

My aunt, in Minnesota, had a friend there whose cousins lived in Acco, a lovely city in Northern Israel. The Shaabi family’s Roman-era house was a cavernous stone structure just across from the sea wall along the Mediterranean. I didn’t learn much Arabic. But I was able to experience an aspect of Israeli culture I wouldn’t have otherwise. The experience taught me a lot about race relations at home. In Israel, it was the secular Jews, the religious Jews and the Arabs living separate lives in shared space. Here, black and white people mostly live separate lives in shared space.

I was 30 when my first marriage ended and my quest to find a family-supporting job led me to a racially mixed nonprofit agency where people socialized outside of work. The result was my first experience walking or driving down a street and wondering, instead of being a little uncomfortable and scared, whether the non-white person coming toward me was someone I knew.

These days, everybody I pass on the street looks like someone I might know and it feels weird to be in a roomful of people where everyone is the same color as I am.

I don’t know how to make that the reality for more of us. I wish I did.

Because it’s the only real way we can stop living in a country where police officers who look like me won’t be able to pick off a 12-year-old black kid with a toy gun and get a free pass from a grand jury. Tamir Rice’s family deserves better. The same goes for Trayvon Martin’s, Deontre Hamilton’s, Sandra Bland’s, Laquan McDonald’s and Walter Scott’s.

May 2016 be a safer place for all of us.

American Library Association declares war on former food stamp recipient, plus a mini rant and a throwback post featuring Israel, Palestine and feral cats

Seven years ago, I decided to go to graduate school, because I don’t ever want to qualify for food stamps again. I want them to be there for people who need them, and I am all good with my tax dollars going to do that.

In fact, I’m pretty good with my tax dollars going to all kinds of things that make other people jump up and down and throw big fat tantrums. Things like public education – from pre-kindergarten through college – and health care and green space and road repair and publicly funded transit and art and music. I even like having my tax dollars go toward police and fire and prisons.

I’m not crazy for prisons, but there are nasty people out there who need time – sometimes a lifetime – to cool off and think about what they have done. I also think there should be education and constructive things for people in prison to do. Even someone behind bars can contribute good things to the world. Years ago, I reviewed a book called Cruciverbalism: a crossword fanatic’s guide to life in the grid by Stanley Newman. In it, he reported that because crossword puzzle design is a painstaking and time-consuming endeavor, a lot of puzzles are designed by prison inmates. (The book is a really fun read, and I highly recommend it.)

And speaking of cross words, I got an e-mail yesterday from my friend Saundra. Her son is my very favorite son-in-law. Saundra also has a master’s degree in library science, but she got hers at a more sensible point in her life. So she’s been a librarian for something like 30 years, and has deep connections in that world. I am a baby librarian, and still very idealistic. Or was, until Saundra’s e-mail asking whether I’d heard that the Council of the American Library Association, of which I am a member and which is meeting in Chicago this weekend, is taking up a resolution to boycott three American companies (Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard and Motorola) for doing business with Israel – specifically the IDF, its armed forces.

Talia_and_Alex_Frolkis_at_Maale
My two youngest offspring in Israel with Shelli Beham. Shelli’s humans Danny & Arlene were my adopted parents when I spent a year living at Ma’ale HaChamisha, a pre-1948 kibbutz 22 kilometers outside of Jerusalem.

I am having a big problem with this. For starters, the Council is doing this on a Saturday afternoon, which is the Jewish Sabbath. I know, I know – this is about Israel, not Jews. But…hmmmmm….Israel? Jewish state? Anyone see any sort of connection? I had a whole bloody comprehensive exam question on cultural warrant and its importance in librarianship. I have a problem with the resolution all on its own already. Now I have the extra problem of feeling like the ALA Council is a great big sneaky baby with its fingers in the cookie jar because it knows Mom is on the phone. Which I would not have had if it had scheduled this voting session on, say Sunday afternoon.

Then there’s the whole idea of the ALA Council voting on this. (I’m not going to even get in to the question of whether this is an appropriate issue for this particular governing body to address.) Really, ALA Council? I get the whole “commitment to social justice and fairness” thing. I even agree with it.

Which is why I just keep thinking “Aren’t we better than this?”

Here’s my problem: If the ALA wants to put to a vote a decision divesting itself of any investments in American companies doing business with Israel’s military, then it needs to do the same with American companies doing similar business in Sudan, Iraq, Syria, China, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Liberia, Congo, Angola, Russia and others. I could go on with my list of countries engaging in naughty behavior, but I won’t.

I also won’t get into how I feel about a group that prides itself on scholarship and accuracy of information taking on a really complicated issue in a manner that is reductive and simplistic. Not going to go there.

I have no clue as to what will happen on Saturday afternoon. I wasn’t planning on going, but if any of you library types think I should show up, maybe I will.

I’m going to end this little rant with a throwback post I wrote some five years ago.  I was just playing with bloggy formats between grad school assignments, and I think I let about seven people see what I was posting.

A throwback post

Ugly and frightening pretty much sums up the latest chapter in Israel’s relationship with the rest of the world.

It’s hard for me to talk about Israel in general, because I love it so much and want it to thrive and be safe; and I also want to hear the Palestinian National Symphony and see the Palestinian National Dance Company perform before I die, because that will mean that there is a Palestine that’s taking care of itself and its people.

My views on the situation aren’t popular with anyone. My conservative friends think I’m a sellout for not marching to the beat of “Everything Israel Does is Right.”

My liberal friends think I’m a fascist for thinking that Israel has a right to exist at all.

The truth is that Israel needs to exist, and Palestine needs to exist. There needs to be two states – side-by-side and the Palestinian state needs to be contiguous. Both sides need to respect the borders and safety of each other and live like decent neighbors.

And Jerusalem, which is holy to both Jews and Muslims? Sorry, dudes. You need to share it. And I get the whole not wanting to share things. I am an oldest child. I don’t want to share anything. But I am practical. Plus, I have a younger sister. So, bad news, Israel and Palestine. You each have your own country, but you still have to learn to share. You are not only children. You are siblings. Get over it

My latest scheme to institute Peace in the Middle East involves feral cats. I have no idea how, but it seems that trying to solve the feral cat problem has caused as much anguish for some people as the Middle East situation has for others. And there are other similarities. Feral cats are stubborn and difficult to deal with. Dealing with them requires a great deal of finesse and patience. And there are no guarantees that you’ll get the results you’re looking for – trust, affection and a chance to get them neutered or spayed and the chance to love them the way they deserve to be loved.