שמע ישראל

22 01 2009

i am still so angry. angry and sad. perhaps still too much of both to really craft the words and feelings i’m stumbling between tonight. and for many nights.

tonight i went to the kick-off event for the interfaith coalition for transgender equality. it’s an interfaith group working to pass “an act relative to gender-based discrimination and hate crimes” to include gender identity and gender expression in the protected categories in massachusetts’ hate crimes and discrimination laws.

there were some meaningful words said, and it felt good to come together. i didn’t feel particularly a part of the community, it lacked familiarity. but that’s mostly on me.

but, i noticed that despite a good showing across christian denomenations and the jews, there were no muslim speakers or groups highlighted. (or any other faiths, for that matter.) masala was included in the list of supporting organizations, and i’d presume that they have some muslim members, but they aren’t explicitly a religious group.

so i left wondering why. i probably should have asked someone, but M* wasn’t feeling well, so we just left.

there’s a transition here, but i can’t put it into words. i drove home from the event, and was absorbed in thought.

i’ve been feeling disconnected, in many many ways. so i davened tonight. ma’ariv. facing ירושלים. and gaza. hoping that it would bring me some moments of contemplation. and i wrapped my tallis around my shoulders because even though it might not be halachically required, the warmth and smell of the threads are both keva and kavannah. there were moments, and i’m holding on to them.

and then i saw this page of photos from gaza, and my heart kept breaking. and i felt the anger rising.

because dammit, israel is making it harder for me to be a jew. harder to abide identifying myself with that umbrella and those actions on my behalf. i refuse to concede that THIS is judaism. refuse to concede that judaism can ever justify such disregard for life and growth and love. because that is not a judaism i have ever known. but dammit, this still isn’t okay on so many levels and i know there’s a ceasefire but it’s not done or over because people still don’t have food or medical supplies and their children and mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and lovers and friends and teachers and nurtures are dead or dying in hospitals without enough beds or bandages. and the borders are still closed. and we still have the audacity to control their *every* movement. this is abhorrent. this is wrong. for jewish reasons, and for reasons that transcend religious teachings and are about basic f’ing human decency.

if these actions are symbolized by those letters and that land in that space – then that’s not a direction i want to be praying toward.

dear israel, give me back my faith.

שמע ישראל

hear, o israel


semi-incoherent thoughts on violence and oppression and work and sustainability

17 01 2009

I’ve been really struggling to pull my thoughts and conclusions together on the issues related to my last job and why I left it. I don’t know that I can even pin down a coherent narrative or argument, much less any sort of conclusions, so I’m going to just start writing.

Some issues:

  • straight white-dominated domestic violence movement; how it ignores issues of communities of color, of queers, and more broadly, how it is disconnected from the needs of survivors –> related to how DV strategy reinforces systemic violence based on race, gender, sexuality, class, ability –> relying on police to prevent violence, even as those same police are responsible for committing acts of violence. how to simultaneously address structural and institutionalized violence w/in communities while also adequately serving the needs of survivors. abuse and violence replicates itself in a cyclical fashion, and it is painfully clear to me that institutionalized violence bears responsibility for individual instances of violence and abuse. this isn’t just about racism or police brutality either (although that, obviously, is huge – but let’s not pretend violence is just a problem for communities of color; not only is that trope so tired, it’s not true, and even if we’re talking about it in terms of explanations and larger social issues, it’s not an okay untruth to perpetuate), it is about sexism and homophobia, and how that plays into constructions of masculinity, strength, and violence (perpetrated by all people, not just men or masculine-identified people). however, the process of confronting, challenging, and eradicating systemic and institutionalized violence and oppression is far too slow, if people’s bodies, lives, and safety are on the line. how do we ensure that *all* people are able to live safely and thrive? Because *clearly* police and law enforcement are not the answer. Maybe they have a space in a multi-faceted solution, but the way the prison industrial complex perpetuates violence makes me doubtful that they are useful in an ongoing fight to disrupt cycles of violence.
  • non-profit funding structure; how the non-profit funding structure cripples agencies and encourages mis-direction of efforts and resources away from community-identified needs and toward donor-identified priorities.
  • how unhealthy patterns of engaging with one another and a community are replicated within the agency environment; not understanding self-care (with self as defined as individual and collective) as inherent to the work of building a healthier and more just world – not an after-thought or an addendum to “more important” social justice work – “be the change you wish to see in the world” and all of that; also, hero-mentality in social-justice work
  • the privilege to have left an unsatisfying and unhappy job. I don’t think that staying in a soul-draining job is the answer, and I am still comfortable with having made the decision to leave, but i need to think more about the inherent privilege in having the ability to have left. what it means as part of the larger picture, who has the wherewithal to prioritize their mental health and spiritual well-being, and how do those of us in that position productively direct energy toward changing the larger system so that it isn’t a sacrifice people have to make, and it isn’t a decision dictated (in whole or in part) by class privilege?
  • also related to that last bullet, in going forward, how do I find spaces and work that is responsible and fulfilling. I’m thinking about this recent post on Enough about working in philanthropic circles and in the philanthropic world to bring about change in how donors think about giving away money, even though it’s offensive and disturbing sometimes and other donors/philanthropers often function in really f’ed up and problematic ways, but the value of using privilege-based access and power to bring about change. What does that mean for me? (obviously, nobody else can answer that one…)

this will probably be ongoing, but those are some things that are percolating this morning. i don’t think this blog has all that many readers, but if anyone has any thoughts on those or related issues, please do share.

On Oscar Grant’s Murder

10 01 2009

This is outrageous, but not anomalous -and that further compounds this tragedy.

Oscar Grant was my age – 22. His daughter is 4. Oscar Grant was, according to witnesses and friends, trying to descalate a confrontation between his friends and San Francisco BART police officers. Oscar Grant was shot, execution style, on the subway platform, surrounded by people. Oscar was unarmed and pinned to the floor before he was shot. Grant and his friends had been pulled off the train supposedly because a fight broke out – but the police had no knowledge of whether these specific men were involved in any sort of altercation. They were young, they were men, and they were black – and that was enough. If this doesn’t make your blood boil, if this doesn’t spark outrage – I’m not sure what to say to you.

This video is hard to watch. It made me want to throw up. But it’s also important to watch, to see for yourself what happened here. It is poor quality, from a cell-phone (one of the few that wasn’t confiscated by the police before the train pulled away), but this version has a voice-over narration, and points out which figure is Oscar Grant.

Like I said, this is tragic, and outrageous. And those words don’t feel like enough. Because this is another name added on to a long list of black bodies thrown aside by this system that we all contribute to – with our taxes and our complicity. And even if “justice” comes to the police officer who shot him, it won’t bring him back and it won’t actually mean that endemic racism has been thwarted, at all. Remember Sean Bell? Black men in this country are always already deemed “threatening” and “dangerous,” by virtue of being black and male. That is racism, point blank.

From this interview on Hard Knock Radio:

Davey D: I was listening to a number of speeches and old news clips that went all the way back to the murder of Bobby Hutton here in the city of Oakland and was remembering the harassment and the beat-down that Tupac Shakur got and going through just this long list of Black males who have been killed unceremoniously by the police department right here in the city all the way up to last year or the year before when everybody was down on protesting for the Jena 6 – and Gary King, 20 years old, was shot and killed in the back by an Oakland officer right here on 54th and Martin Luther King.

Many people have spoken far more eloquently than myself on Grant’s death, so I think I’m going to leave off with some of their words and thoughts.

Yolanda Pierce, at The Kitchen Table:

So the question of police brutality in the Grant case, and the many others including Sean Bell’s, are ultimately questions about value, cost, and lives – in addition to the questions of racism, violence, and bias. We built a nation based on judgments of what one human life is worth versus the worth of a different human life. We did this by annexing territories that did not belong to us; removing people from their home lands; forcing labor on certain groups and not on others; and creating states based on “fractions” of human beings. Some people were merely disposable commodities, chattel, heathen, or savage and therefore, “worthless.” Are black men in America, in 2009, still disposable commodities?

The question of the “value of our lives” is a question of fundamental human dignity and equality. I’m arguing that we have a long way to go before our rhetoric of being “created equal” catches up with our political, social, and economic practices.

From Renee, at Womanist Musings:

We teach our children that “officer friendly” is there to protect and serve, we never ask to protect and serve who.  Black lives are cheap and when men that hold hatred in their hearts are given the power to act upon their unearned privilege it often times leads to death.

How many times do we need to see police brutality to come to the determination that they have become nothing more than armed thugs pretending to be acting in the service of law and order?  Today because of the advent of technology we are able to witness some of these acts, but how many times daily are black bodies battered?  If this kind of atrocity can occur publicly with cameras rolling, what occurs in the dark alleys and the forgotten places?

There is more at Feministe as well.

And, 5 Things You Can Do Right Now, via RaceWire.


9 01 2009

I have far too many drafts of posts waiting in the queue, and yet now they don’t seem quite as timely.

I’m feeling pensive and reflective tonight, and came upon this post by ms. bliss honeycomb. In it, she touches on a lot of things, most of which I’m not comenting on here. It’s worth reading though, so go check it out. It was this sentence that caught my attention, though:

“[H]ow do we become more fully, vibrantly human as individuals while collectively learning and practicing how others should be treated, particularly in love/loving?”

I’ve had so many conversations as of late (today, this week, in the last few months, over the last years – it seems to repeat) about that tension. About the tensions so often inscribed in the work we do – the tensions between caring for others and caring for ourselves.

Of all things, I’m reminded of mixing and pouring concrete. Of the hours I’ve spent with a hoe and a large trough, under the fierce Tecate and Rosarito sun, mixing concrete. Many days, I’d reach a gloved hand into a large back of fiberglass strands. Thin, sharp, wistful, and powerful – I’d sprinkle them throughout the foundation. They are not always the most important part, and yet they persist. They help give the concrete its particular form; serve to resist change or fissures.

I feel like the tensions in our work are often like those shards of fiberglass; sprinkled into the foundations of the structures of our work – providing a sense of support, and yet resisting change, resisting cracks, keeping us stagnant and stationary. The message we send and receive so often makes it feel like it is wrong to work on behalf of others without becoming a hero, or a martyr. As though our commitment to the cause, our dedication to the mission, is judged by our self-sacrifice. As though being whole, vibrant human beings must come at the expense of investing in our communities to make them whole and vibrant.

And yet… how can we build vibrant, sustainable communities, if they are to be filled with burnt-out, sacrificed, martyred individuals? What kind of disconnect must we perceive between our selves and our communities in order to believe that our well-being is not part and parcel of the well-being of the collective?

I don’t usually make New Years Resolutions. It has always felt rather contrived, at least for me. But I was talking to a friend today who helped frame my thinking. He suggested, in this period of in-betweeneness, of liminality and uncertainty, and of disillusionment with so many of the structures and foundations within which I operate, that I allow myself to articulate a vision. Rather than demanding of myself, and my communities, to have it figured out now – that I pull together the world I imagine for myself, and work backward. He didn’t phrase it quite that way, but that’s what I took away from our conversation, at least.

So at the start of this year, I’m resolving to prioritize that vision. I’m resolving to let myself imagine the world, as it could be, and take small steps toward that vision every day. And I’m resolving that, within that world, I will exist as a whole, vibrant, thriving human – and so I will work toward that vision. I will do things every day that contribute to my own well-being and the well-being of the world; refusing to disconnect from my environment and my communities, refusing to stagnate, and refusing to isolate.

in your mouth and in your heart

8 01 2009

i haven’t written about gaza. i haven’t really talked about it with most people either. i’ve had bursts of anger that only my partner and one dear friend have witnessed, but for the most part, i’ve been silent.

which, really, is pretty f-ed up. because it’s not my family that’s been ghettoized (this time) for too long, and it’s not my family that’s had bombs raining down from the heavens (this time) and because it’s being done in my name. IN. MY. NAME. to protect the jewish people (that’s me). to protect be’er sheva (that’s been one of my homes). to protect the negev (that swath of desert i love so fiercely). to defend the rights of my friends and loved ones to exist in a land that we all want to claim but that none of us can ever own and that has known more innocent blood than any spread of this good, nurturing, life-giving earth ever should.

so i know i shouldn’t be silent. i know i should be decrying these actions because i do, so heartily, disagree with what the israeli government is doing. i should be reminding people that this is wrong. unequivocally wrong. and the only way in which we convince ourselves that this is okay is to make those lives in palestine count for less. to convince ourselves that those tears and mothers and daughters and sons don’t matter is to believe that they are less human than the mourners and families in ashkelon. really, sit with that for a minute. have you come to believe that their lives matter less? have you really convinced yourself that they are less deserving of joy and tears and freedom and opportunity and warm food and laughter than yourself – because they had the luck to be born 10 kilometers from you? i can not abide that. i can not accept that valuation of human life. i can not stand by that dehumanization.

but saying that is potentially terrifyingly lonely. so much joy in my life has come from the communities and warmth of the jewish people. so many of my friends have asked me to join them at rallies, or in facebook groups, or to add my name to lists that say that i always support israel. and the thing is, i don’t. not even close. but turning my back on that feels like turning my back on those that i love.

and then i remember how that shouldn’t matter. how this is a blog post, and a blog post and a few angry friends (who, if by now, haven’t figured out my radical politics, probably weren’t particularly good friends to begin with) are nothing compared to the death and destruction that has been enveloping the lives of the people of gaza for longer than this particular assault has been raging.

people are dying. innocent people are dying. and you can claim that it’s hamas’ fault, and that they use civilians as shields, and that may all be true – but the people of gaza are locked in one of the most densely populated regions of this planet, and how the hell is anyone supposed to get enough space from their neighbor to breathe, much less bear the burden of proof that they were not engaged in ilicit terrorist actions?

i can’t even speak in proper sentences, or use capitalization, because i can’t even give myself time to think or i get scared again. i’m afraid to write, to speak, to say what i know is right. to condemn the actions of my own when they have gone terribly off course. what we are doing is wrong. and i say we because i know that as long as i am a jew and israel exists, israel will not abandon me – and so i am accountable for the actions of the country that could always, one day, be my own. because this is being done in my name and at the hands of people i’ve laughed with, shared challah with, prayed with, danced with, and loved.

but we are doing is wrong, and it has to end. there is no justification for actions like this. people are dying, and their blood is on our hands.

our traditions teach us that we are always, above all else, to choose life. to save a single life is to have saved the world, and to destroy a single life is to have destroyed the whole world. and i say traditions very intentionally. this teaching is found in the torah, but it is also an important teaching of islam.

From the parsha Nitzavim (נצבים) in Deuteronomy 30:14-19

(14) כי–קרוב אליך הדבר מאד בפיך ובלבבך לעשתו

(15) ראה נתתי לפניך היום את–החיים ואת–הטוב ואת–המות וא–הרץ

(19) העדתי בכם היום את–השמים ואת–הארץ החים והמות נתתי לפניך הברכה והקללה ובחרת בחיים

(14) The thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it

(15) See, I set before you this day life and prosperity, death and adversity.

(19) I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day: I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life.