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Oh Crap! I’m Triggered Again: Part Four, The Renewal of Spirit

Sep20

by: on September 20th, 2017 | 2 Comments »

I started this blog series exactly a month ago, saying I “borrowed the title of this series from a shrink who offered it as a way to call in the awareness and acknowledgement that start to diffuse reactivity. You know what I mean by reactivity? I’m talking about that rush of terror or fury or both that overwhelms brain and body when something pokes its finger into an old wound, flooding the inner world with elicited memory, elicited pain.”

Recently several friends have asked for my assessment of the general state of people as I observe them. I travel a good deal for speaking and consulting gigs and spend a lot of time connecting across distance in other ways, so responding to that query entails a quick mental survey of all I’ve seen in recent weeks.

So far, my replies have begun with my own state of mind. “I’m easily irritated and frustrated,” I say. “I hear something and I put the worst spin on it, making up the worst story to explain it. Then I have to dial back to remind myself there are other equally possible stories. It takes effort to relax into not-knowing.”

Then I say this: “But I’m definitely not the only one: polarizing rhetoric, hardcore posturing, the resistance to empathizing with another’s challenges because that might take attention away from your own—it seems like everyone is a full glass of water, poised to spill over at the next drop. I can think of lots of reasons, mostly things not in our immediate control. If I don’t want to feel this way, the territory I’ve got to explore is the landscape of my own emotions: where are they anchored in false narratives and ungrounded assumptions? What is in my control that can help to shift them?”


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Moving from Fault to Cause: Looking for Systemic Solutions to White Supremacy

Sep14

by: on September 14th, 2017 | 2 Comments »

Downtown Charlottesville, by Bob Mical

The recent events in Charlottesville have brought even more attention and public conversation to the growing phenomenon of visible, explicit calls for white supremacy. Much of what I have since read and heard is horror and disgust at what has happened, and an intense inquiry about what can be done to make a dramatic shift, and quickly.

Although I experience myself as entirely separate and different from the torch-marchers, from their slogans, actions, and hatred, I consciously choose to maintain the discipline of remembering that they were not born this way; they are not in any special category. There are reasons why more and more people are drawn into such groups, and I want to know the causes, not what’s wrong with the people. Like many who’ve been writing recently, I am confident that fighting back, name calling, shaming, denouncing, and other similar tactics I’ve seen used recently are feeding rather than quelling this upsurge.

Clearly, we are facing a huge problem here; one of many that are challenging our overall ability to sustain ourselves as a species. One of the benefits that our very large brains give us is that we are, as a species, amazingly capable of responding to major challenges by solving complex problems. We know, without having to learn it very much, that to solve a problem we need to understand its cause and then look for solutions based on understanding the cause.

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Oh Crap! I’m Triggered Again: Part Three, Monumental Mosh Pit and Cheshbon HaNefesh

Sep14

by: on September 14th, 2017 | No Comments »

I had a friend who in her youth acquired an elaborate multicolored tattoo spanning her stomach, a symmetrical image in which her navel served as a focal point. An eye? I no longer recall. She gave birth by Caesarean operation, and when the doctors stitched her back together, the two halves of the tattoo didn’t match up. As the years passed, the skew and pucker escalated. Her skin was an ever-present reminder of the gap between intention and execution, of innocence and error.

I think of her every time I see a body bearing a significant acreage of ink, especially the tattoos with quotations or aphorisms likely to grow less legible as flesh wrinkles and sags—but perhaps not before the sentiments they convey become stale or tiresome or embarrassing. A time-lapse effect goes off in my brain, fast-forwarding each decorated body fifty or sixty years into the future. Everything changes, I know. What were they thinking? Don’t they know the perils of anchoring tomorrow too firmly in today? The law of unintended consequences is the only one that is never broken.

Just so with the monuments to conquerors, Confederates, and criminals. These bronze-and-stone memorials are tattoos on the body politic. What were they thinking? Surely that whatever seemed worthy or urgent on the day they decided public space needed a tattoo would—should—remain so always.


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More Charlottesville’s To Come – UNLESS!

Sep6

by: Rich Cohen on September 6th, 2017 | 2 Comments »

Condemning white supremacy in Charlottesville, Virginia or anywhere else is how we honor ourselves as human beings. We condemn it by naming it, speaking, mobilizing, demonstrating, legislating, educating against it, and by prosecuting hate crimes wherever they occur. However, unless we want to wake up at age 90 witnessing more of the same we must take a new and deeper look at this endless tension, anger, and hatred by too many whites toward too many non-white people.

 

I believe that material depravation and low self-esteem occurs before racism is triggered. To reverse racism we must understand that original distress. To ignore it is asking for more pain.

 

“Racism follows a feeling of unworthiness, of being socially, economically, and politically ‘victimized’… and of being a failure. Someone has to pay for such low feelings and self-perception. This means a need for scapegoats in order to feel superior and to exercise personal power over others. Racist people tend to feel insignificant, isolated, wronged and unloved and they remedy that feeling of exclusion by blaming (and hurting) someone else for it” This is meant to be more than empathetic! It is to understand the roots of racism in order to end it.

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A Spot at the Kotel Won’t Save Us: A Crisis in American Judaism

Sep6

by: Ben Lorber on September 6th, 2017 | 3 Comments »

 

“Remember the days of the world; understand the years of each generation” (Devarim, 32:7)

“…that [we] may turn the heart of the fathers back through the children, and the heart of the children back through their fathers” (Malachi, 3:24)

 

Last month, the eyes of the liberal American Jewish world were fixed on the Kotel. In a rare display of unity and resolve, leaders of the Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements banded together to demand a mixed-gender space at the Western Wall, in a clear pushback against the institutional power of ultra-Orthodoxy in Israel. So deep were we stung by this bitter betrayal, that for the first time in living memory, prominent liberal American Jews even threatened to boycott Netanyahu’s government over its refusal to recognize the liberal diaspora.

And yet, even as we are united in condemnation of ultra-Orthodox fundamentalism, the liberal American Jewish world remains more divided than ever. Day after day, the establishment sounds the alarms- rates of intermarriage are skyrocketing, and more and more American Jews are publicly opposing Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Many cease to identify with Zionism at all, as the rift between Israel and diaspora Jewry widens daily[1]. For the establishment, the idea that masses of Jews are embracing intermarriage and abandoning Israel rings the death-knell of Jewish peoplehood in America. Such gestures, according to common-sense logic, threaten to dissolve the very ties that make a Jew a Jew.

Liberal American Jewry is utterly transfixed by these crises. In the same week that the Kotel crisis made headlines, a leading Conservative rabbi shocked the Jewish world by announcing his intention to officiate at intermarriages[2], while a new report warned of a massive drop-off in support for Israel among American Jewish college students[3]. Prominent liberal columnist J.J. Goldberg evokes this creeping malaise in his recent piece, “The Rise and Fall of American Jewish Hope”, where he laments the “strange metamorphosis of the Jewish spirit over the past century, from hopeful optimism in the face of great suffering to bitterness and suspicion amid plenty…[if], for a half-century after 1917, the dominant mood among Jews in America and Israel alike was one of optimism…in the half-century since 1967, the mood has been increasingly gloomy and cynical.”[4]

My contention is that these crises signify not the end of liberal Jewish identity in America, but its new beginning. Put simply, we are in transition towards a future where our communal identity will not be defined by support for Israel, nor will it rest primarily upon markers of blood. This is progress- in fact, far from combatting assimilation, our decades-long fixation on Israel and endogamy has sapped American Jewish identity of the vitality and dynamism it needs to survive.

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Tolerance

Aug28

by: Aaron Ableman on August 28th, 2017 | No Comments »

I was 12 and free

but I got sucker punched by a neo-nazi

who didn’t even let me

get my boxing gloves on before getting

all Rocky Marciano on me…

All his friends laughed

while I held a near broken jaw trashed,

crying dry tears and yelling in silence

like my favorite tragi-comedian, Charlie Chaplin.

Luckily, I lived next to a library

and as I was walking home that fated day

I found myself searching for answers

in the compassion of books.

As fate would have it

 

I found the Dalai Lama, Yeshua Ben Yoseph, Joan of Ark, Maya Angelou,

Abraham Heschel, Zora Neal Hurston, Pablo Neruda, Anne Frank, Nelson

Mandela… and so many of those who have overcome the craziest enemy with power of love

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Oh Crap! I’m Triggered Again, Part Two: Free Speech Slamdance

Aug28

by: on August 28th, 2017 | No Comments »

In my last essay, I wrote about the hair-trigger in my mind activated by recent events in Charlottesville and beyond. Something happens, sparks fly, and centuries of inherited trauma catch fire, fueled by the pain my young self suffered as a first-generation Jewish-American growing up in a community that made us unambiguously other.

Obviously, I’m not the only one being overtaken by reactivity these days.

We’re in a time of heightened susceptibility. This moment is throwing into high relief essential questions of value and meaning, of harm and healing. People fling them at each other like weapons: if you don’t agree with me on X, you are aiding the enemies of justice. If you aren’t with me on Y, that’s because you can never understand my pain: we may be talking about Z, but you are the real problem.

Today’s case-in-point: freedom of expression. I invite you to think along with me. Perhaps we will be able to reconcile freedom and justice without triggering the flesh-and-blood equivalent of one of those scenes in the original “Star Trek” where Captain Kirk talks a computer into a meltdown.

I have been a First Amendment fundamentalist my entire life. Now I am thinking again.

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Remembering the Holocaust: Doing Justice to its Memory

Aug21

by: Donna Nevel on August 21st, 2017 | 3 Comments »

I used to think about the Holocaust all the time. It didn’t happen so long ago. Six million Jewish people were murdered not so long ago. Millions of other people were also targeted and murdered, including those from the Roma and LGBTQ communities and those who were disabled, as well as communists and other political activists, and many others.

As a young woman, I worked for the World Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and heard stories of survivors from across the globe. I had their stories etched in my heart and deeply in my soul.  I learned that Never Again meant that we had to fight with courage and dignity so that it would never again happen to Jews or to anyone, anywhere.

Several days ago, I saw Paula Vogel’s play, “Indecent,” about the Yiddish play, “The God of Vengeance,” written in 1907 by Sholem Asch. “Indecent” is so deeply moving and multi-layered that I felt compelled to see it a second time. The central character, who tells the story of the play’s performances, is the stage manager and former tailor, Lemml.  Lemml traveled with the play from Europe to the US (where it was shut down for “indecency”) and back to Europe.

There is a scene towards the end that continues to haunt me. The scene has Lemml and the actors wearing Jewish stars and performing the play—the God of Vengeance”in an attic in the Lodz Ghetto right before they are exterminated by the Nazis.

I was not only haunted by seeing the Jewish stars prominently displayed on the actors as they performed with such soul and passion in the attic. I was also haunted because I realized that, in recent years, I had pushed out of my heart, the stories, the experiences of those Jews who lived their lives and then were destroyed by the brutality of the Holocaust. My heart sank as I watched the scene, feeling overwhelmed with emotion, realizing I had allowed my feelings and memories to shut down. I knew I had done this, unintentionally, in reaction to the way the Holocaust has been so abused and mis-used by the Israeli government and its supporters to justify Israel’s behavior, and, in effect, the Nakba (Arabic for catastrophe), the expulsion of approximately 750,000 Palestinians from their homes and land before and during Israel’s creation.

I won’t let that happen anymore.

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Oh Crap! I’m Triggered Again, Part One

Aug20

by: on August 20th, 2017 | 2 Comments »

Holding steady when the ground is moving is normally part of my stock-in-trade.People often ask me for something to help put their own fears into perspective. Usually I am willing and able to oblige. Mostly I try my best to see the bigger picture, and mostly that effort pays off.

But not now. I was staying more or less centered until a few days ago when something caught me off-guard. In the middle of a conference call, I got a text message carrying information that turned out not to be true, that the Barcelona terrorist who mowed down 13 lives like grass had been heading for a kosher restaurant on Las Ramblas, hard by the assassin’s abandoned car. It was an intense activation, hard to control despite my wish to hold to decorum, despite the fact that everyone on the call had been talking about their fears for their own communities’ and others, their responses to the nazi demonstrations in Charlottesville and the havoc they wreaked. When I rang off, a bit of research led me to conclude that the location of the car was likely a coincidence, that even though ISIS hates Jews, the attack did not target us directly.

Ashamed, I apologized to my colleagues for spreading false information, then gave myself a talking-to. Oh, crap! I’m triggered again, and not only that, but right now I am super-susceptible to recurrence.

I borrowed the title of this series from a shrink who offered it as a way to call in the awareness and acknowledgement that start to diffuse reactivity. You know what I mean by reactivity? I’m talking about that rush of terror or fury or both that overwhelms brain and body when something pokes its finger into an old wound, flooding the inner world with elicited memory, elicited pain.

Do you want to know why I was so easily and massively triggered by a stray rumor?Let me suggest four readings. First: Eric Ward’s important essay “Skin In The Game: How Antisemitism Animates White Nationalism.” This piece was written by a non-Jewish African American who has studied and worked against white supremacist movements for many years. He exposes in detail how “antisemitism forms the theoretical core of White nationalism,” how it is the cornerstone of their racist ideology, and how this is often neither understood nor believed despite ample evidence.

I read Ward’s piece when it was first posted to Political Research Associates’ site at the end of June, six weeks before white nationalists marched in Charlottesville, VA, chanting “Jews will not replace us,” inspiring one of their number to use his automobile as a weapon, murdering Heather Heyer and injuring others,.

When you’re done with “Skin in The Game,” read “Jewish Fear, Love, & Solidarity in the Wake of Charlottesville” by Jonah S. Boyarin, published on the Jewschool site a few days after the events in Charlottesville. Among many other closely observed depictions of fear, love, and solidarity, Boyarin writes:

Jewish fear is the recurring silence from non-Jews about the explicitly, particularly antisemitic language and behavior of the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville. It is seeing, with rare exceptions, only Jewish friends of mine posting on social media when Jewish cemeteries are vandalized or when the Boston Holocaust memorial was destroyed this week for the second time this summer.

Jewish fear is if we bring up our struggle to non-Jewish comrades, we will be gaslighted and shamed into silence, because structural antisemitism functions by portraying us as conspiratorially, greedily powerful despite our repeated vulnerability to structural, white Christian male violence.

Third, read Michael Chabon’s and Ayelet Waldman’s “Open Letter to our Fellow Jews,” enacting our tradition and imperative to rebuke injustice within our community:

Among all the bleak and violent truths that found confirmation or came slouching into view amid the torchlight of Charlottesville is this: Any Jew, anywhere, who does not act to oppose President Donald Trump and his administration acts in favor of anti-Semitism; any Jew who does not condemn the President, directly and by name, for his racism, white supremacism, intolerance and Jew hatred, condones all of those things.

Finally, if you have the bandwidth for one more, read Danica Bornstein’s account of struggling to reconcile two identities, the provisional social category of whiteness and her lived experience as a Jew:

What I’m trying to say here is that the privilege that accrues during the good times is very much real, and I am not denying or hiding that. It is also true that the privilege is provisional, and can be revoked, and becomes the very thing that is used against us when the shoe finally drops.

It overwhelms me trying to explain this history and how both of these things live inside my body: the very real privilege but also the very real and repeated experiences of expulsion, scapegoating, genocide, and terror. I talk about the part that is easier, but then I end up feeling very alone.

None of these writers is identical to each other in approach, style, content, or the way they position themselves in the story, but they are all telling parts of a meta-story that has shaped my experience.

In the context of this big story of Jews in the USA, when I tell myself, “Oh crap! I’m triggered again,” I am reminding myself that despite the intense feelings I’m experiencing, I’m not truly in it alone. I’m reminding myself that I’m not alone despite the fact that so many of my colleagues on the U.S. left are quite happy to hang a label reading “white” around my neck and never hear another word about why that might not sum up the experience of disbelonging for a first-generation American whose earliest memories were explanations in halting English of why I had so few living ancestors and so little knowledge of those who had survived, and of being chased home by Catholic kids when they got to the part in catechism about Jews killing Jesus, and whose recent memories are crowded with experiences of being an acceptable target, a handy “buffer group” for multiple racial categories.

I’m reminding myself that even if I am once again attacked from both right and left for having the audacity to take the space to tell this story and the willingness to risk this self-exposure, I am not alone.

And why must I remind myself so insistently of this truth? The trajectory of all traumatic activation is the same. The person who is triggered is propelled toward extreme isolation, often into an intolerable loneliness that obscures or precludes the actual antidote to white nationalism: connection, reciprocity, collaboration, respect, generosity across lines of difference.

From what I see, my story rhymes with much of the current state of things. The white nationalists gathering in Charlottesville, Boston, and many other places overwhelmingly share certain characteristics: pale skin, male gender, Christian heritage. None of these is intrinsically the generator of evil, but the giant chickens of power and domination their possessors have birthed have been marching home to roost for a long time, lusting to punish the rest of us for daring to live our freedom. In the face of this long march, so many people I know are displaying the signs of extreme reactivity grounded in trauma: believing the inner voice that says no one else can know my suffering, no one is truly on my side, I can’t trust anyone who fits different categories of race, religion, gender, orientation, even generation. So many are locked in just this combat with would-be allies: whose perspective matters? Who has earned the right to have a say? Who understands the urgency and seriousness of the threats? Who has the capacity or right to glimpse what it is to live inside my skin?

What do you do when elicited trauma pushes you into a dark corner? For me, many things can help in the moment. Music, a walk, or a distraction—anything that disrupts reactivity long enough to allow the fear chemicals to dissipate.

But you know what helps me the most? When compassion opens a door between my heart and another person’s; when neither of us needs to slot the other’s story into a hierarchy of oppressions, judging if it deserves equal dignity or goes on the dismissible pile. When we hear each others’ stories without turning away, when we open our arms to each other. When we join together to rebuke injustice and call in the beloved community.

I’ve been thinking about trauma a great deal over the past year because it is one of the subjects of my current book-in-progress. Even if it weren’t, I’d still be thinking about trauma today because laying fresh damage on the site of old wounds seems to be our national pastime. Every day, I have to remind myself to stay aware enough to say, “Oh crap! I’m triggered again,” because without that awareness, the past prevails.

When I am triggered, my capacity for rational thought is greatly diminished. This is bad news not only because of the immediate suffering it catalyzes, but because the thing that helps me most to release trauma-induced reactivity is staying aware that I am activated. Keeping part of my thinking mind free to be an observer allows me to begin distinguishing past from present. I begin to remember that the loud voice in my head—the one telling me I’m all alone in an uncaring world and they want to kill me—is not the voice of reality, the objective truth, but the over-amped voice of old pain.

My grip on my composure remains tenuous. In Shabbat services yesterday morning, we talked about the Torah portion for this week, Re’eh (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17). A short way into the text, we read this exhortation about how to treat the conquered who worshipped false gods: “Tear down their altars, smash their pillars, put their sacred posts to the fire, and cut down the images of their gods, obliterating their name from that site.”

Aha, I thought, the Confederate statues! You get to a fresh start by wiping out the symbols of an abhorrent belief system. My mind reeled into the slam dance that’s been playing over and over on my inner soundtrack. But wait, that’s what ISIS leaders thought they were doing when they demolished the Bamyan Buddhas! (See this compendium of pictures and links for images of that and many more examples of monuments toppled). On the one hand crashes headlong into on the other hand. Both tumble into the mosh pit of my brain. I try to blink back the tears and steady my breathing, knowing that unless I can resolve this state of hyper-susceptibility, I will be cycling through that dance every day, perhaps every hour.

Coming next in the “Oh Crap! I’m Triggered” series: Free Speech Slamdance.

Odetta and Dr. John, “Please Send Me Someone to Love.”

Charlottesville and Thuringia

Aug19

by: Victor Grossman on August 19th, 2017 | 4 Comments »

The sirens and shouted curses from Charlottesville resounded all too audibly even here in far-off Germany. Little imagination was required; how well we know such brutal faces, twisted with hatred, the racist epithets and threats! Sometimes we even heard the ugly words in German: Sieg Heil!

Scenarios like that, not only as echoes from the past, have become a part of life in today’s Germany. Almost every weekend, in some town or city, we see the racists and neo-Nazis march, with their hard boots, their flags and fearsome banners, so much like those in Virginia. Sometimes just a small, hard core or private gathering with nationalist songs escalating to texts about gas and Jewish blood. But also big crowds; four weeks ago, in Themar, a hitherto unknown little town in Thuringia, 6000 gathered for a “rock concert”. One sponsor, who runs a Nazi restaurant nearby, sold T–shirts marked “HTLR”. The full name is officially taboo but, he explains with a twisted grin, it means only “Homeland-Tradition-Loyalty-Respect”. Who can object to that? Or to prices of 8.80 euro – when everyone knows that 8 is letter H in the alphabet, and 88 is code for Heil Hitler! Or ”1933” – the year the Nazis seized power. It’s all legal, OK’d by the court. Even a big parking lot was reserved for them.

Even very decent-looking citizens may join the marching, like in Dresden every Monday for two years. “Who us? Racists? We only want to defend ‘German culture’ against the inroads of those ‘Islamists!’” With slogans, songs, only now and again with torches and weapons. They called themselves PEGIDA – “Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West”. Then a party was founded by an attractive young entrepreneur and an elderly, respectable professor; AfD – Alternative for Germany. It is already treated oh so fairly by some in the media – just short of favorably – and will soon have several dozen seats in the national Bundestag; it is already represented in many local and state legislatures. Like the booted men or the T-shirt singers, its main voters, its basic program is “Hate the enemies”! In Charlottesville the enemies are sometimes Jewish, but mostly Black or Muslim, but always if possible weaker, poorer – and somehow different – in color, clothing, faith. And in Germany the same: sometimes Jewish but mostly Turkish or, with the recent refugees, Arab, African, Afghani. A hijab head-covering is sufficient: “A Muslim, an Islamic enemy!”

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