"For months activists have been coordinating tent cities in the heart of Bangkok
I’m no expert at Thai politics. But I do know a good protest when I see one.
Let me be more clear on how little I knew about what’s going on in Thailand before this week: My best friend, Ariel Vegosen, and I, having spent the past two months studying Gandhian nonviolence and working with the anti-GMO movement in India, decided we wanted a little vacation to just chill out, so we booked a flight to Thailand. A flight to Bangkok, that is, which would arrive, unbeknownst to us at the time of booking, on Chinese New Year’s Day, one day before the highly controversial national election, on a weekend when the US State Dept. was warning Americans not to enter the country, the BBC was reporting violence in the streets, and protesters were threatening to shut down the entire city. Oh! I thought we were just headed to “Amazing Thailand,” land of tropical beachy paradise, cheap, delicious pad Thai, lush jungles and some elephants. But try as I might to play American tourist while on a short sabbatical from activism, here I was flying directly into the eye of the revolutionary storm. God must be laughing. Real hard.
On a humid Saturday afternoon in Manhattan last weekend, I found myself going to see a show with a title that would have driven me away not so long ago: “I Heart Hamas”. The one-woman show “I Heart Hamas And Other Things I’m Afraid to Tell You” was created and performed by Jennifer Jajeh, who profiles her identity as a Palestinian-American actor as she navigates family pressures, stereotypes in show business, and intimate relationships with humor, curiosity and frustration. Jajeh takes her audience on a trip to her homeland in Palestine, and through her first-person narrative we get an insight into her daily reality and her ability to find comedy in tragedy.
Jajeh defines her show as “a tragicomic one-woman theater show about my experiences as a Palestinian American and my decision to move to Ramallah in 2000.” Jajeh describes the difficulty of getting acting jobs and directors asking her to “be a little less Palestinian” or trying to decide whether she can pass for Mexican. She takes us to her family’s hometown Ramallah and we discover the sights and sounds of the bustling city with her – the carpeted cabs and the boisterous shuk, the clashes with Israeli soldiers, and the ensuing teargas. We learn through Jajeh that simply going about the grit of living life is an act of resistance under occupation. Arab-American activist Anna Lekas Millerobserves that the show “helps make sense of how our personal backgrounds are politicized, and how this affects us as people.”
Interfaith delegation including young Jews and rabbis with Jewish Voice for Peace who advocated for boycott and divestment at the Presbyterian General Assembly.
We are writing to you as two young American Jews who have just seen something extraordinary. Last week we were guests at the 220th Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly in Pittsburgh where we witnessed the historic plenary vote to boycott Israeli settlement products. We congratulate you as people of faith for aligning your practice with your values and taking a principled stand. Mazel tov!
At the General Assembly we watched Christian clergy and laypeople engaging in dialogue on a very difficult topic – the Israeli occupation of the West Bank – with respect, grace, and open hearts. It is a true blessing to walk the path of peace with you in solidarity. Both of us have spent years educating ourselves on the issues, traveling to Israel and Palestine, and researching companies complicit in the Occupation.
Chutzpa. That’s the word that described all three ancestral change-makers whose stories were told at “Reclaiming Jewish Activism,” a panel discussion held at Congregation Sha’ar Zahav last Thursday, May 24th, that brought together three Jewish activists, including me, to speak about our ancestors who inspire us to action. But while our ancestors had chutzpa – as in, they were audacious, and had the nerve to speak up for justice – the original event host’s withdrawal of its invitation to hold the panel illustrated the negative chutzpah in our own Jewish community: the audacity to silence dissent and meaningful dialogue.
Speaking to a packed audience at Sha’ar Zahav, the three of us panelists brought our ancestors into the room through presentations of anecdotes, pictures and chronological narratives. Author and Jeremiah Fellow Julie Gilgoff wove her own family history into that of Red Diaper babies who witnessed their parents’ persecution during the McCarthy era. She paid tribute to her grandfather Max Gilgoff, who died by a sudden heart attack while being interrogated for his political activism. Author Elaine Elinson brought the suffragist movement into the room through the stories of Selina Solomons, a young Jewish suffragist who, in the first decade of the 20th century, atypically organized working class women to walk precincts, and even had her own restaurant to feed these shop girls. I spoke about my great-uncle, Joseph Abileah, a talented musician and Israeli pacifist who was the first conscientious objector in Israel in 1948 and dedicated his life to efforts for reconciliation and a unity government in Israel and Palestine. Max, Selina, and Joseph all had the audacity to go against the grain of their day and speak up for their values – now that’s chutzpa of the best kind!