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Archive for the ‘Empathy’ Category



We Refuse to be Enemies: “Vision Camp” for Israel-Palestine Ends on a Hopeful Note

Aug4

by: Leila Dregger on August 4th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Bombs turn play areas, refugee camps, entire streets into ruins. In these ruins, children bleed to death. Ten thousand people looking for shelter, but hospitals are overcrowded and exhausted doctors. Operations are carried out under mobile phone flashlights because, after the destruction of the only power station in Gaza, there is no electricity. On the other side, an entire people re-experience an age-old fear of attacks and extermination every day, after the discovery of tunnel systems. Eighty-five percent of the Israeli population is, according to the polls, pro-war. Dehumanization, demonization, and hatred exist on both sides. Meanwhile, there is a completely marginalized peace movement – powerless, abused, and threatened. Economies such as the USA or Germany, that have raised their arms exports up to a quarter in the last year, have failed to provide adequate aid, while an airplane with medicine for Gaza was denied landing permission in Egypt.

The only response for an open heart in hearing this news is to act.

Credit: Vision Camp Facebook

Amidst this seemingly hopeless situation Sabine Lichtenfels, co-founder of a peace research center called Tamera in Portugal, initiated what she calls a “vision camp” in the West Bank. It had mainly one goal: to create and maintain humaneness, trust, and equal exchange between Israel and Palestine. Even the international flight cancellations to Tel Aviv could not stop her; Sabine did not give up until she and her team had managed to get the last seats in a fully booked Israeli airplane. Finally, fifty peace workers from Palestine, Israel, and other countries met from July 24 to 29 in a completely open area, near Bethlehem.

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Abe’s Babes: Interfaith Theater to Counter Prejudice at the Dinner Table

Jul30

by: Sara Weissman on July 30th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

When we encounter systemic racism, we know where our moral obligation lies. We speak out. But what happens when prejudice finds its way into the most intimate setting, the dinner table? “Well, you know how they are. They can’t be reasoned with. Could you please pass the salt?”

Abe's Babes members dine together.

Abe's Babes members dine together around their own laden table. Credit: Yvonne Perczuk.

Disparaging comments about another group are unfortunately common in many communities. When these kinds of off-hand remarks emerge in our own homes or in the homes of our friends, how are we supposed to respond? Abe’s Babes, a group of six Jewish, Muslim, and Christian women in Sydney, Australia, may have found an answer.

After experiencing this brand of “dinner table prejudice” in Sydney’s Muslim and Jewish communities, the group decided to confront the issue with a creative weapon: theater. Collectively, they wrote a play called The Laden Table, which tells of two meals – a Jewish family breaking their Yom Kippur fast and a Muslim family celebrating Eid. After seven years of hard work, the first professional production will take place in Sydney on the nights of July 30, July 31, and August 1.

After hearing prejudiced remarks about Muslims at a Jewish dinner table, Yvonne Perczuk, one of the founders of the playwriting group, felt deeply disturbed. Realizing that similar conversations were taking place in Muslim homes, she decided something had to be done about misconceptions harbored in both communities.

“The fear of the other, the fear of the unknown – all of those fears come out at the dinner table,” Perczuk said. “They come out in a spontaneous way so that’s where you hear the truths about how people feel.”


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Where are our Cities of Refuge?

Jul29

by: Howard Cooper on July 29th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Let me start with the most immediate, the most obvious, the most unwelcome, the most disorienting, the most frightening of experiences, in this week when we read from the Torah (Numbers 35) about those six Biblical ‘cities of refuge’- places where anyone could go (Jew or non-Jew, resident or stranger) and seek shelter, protection from bloodshed or vengeance, places you could go where you could await justice, safely, await the processes of law to take effect and not be at the mercy of those who had a personal vendetta against you, or who wanted to take the law into their own hands. What an extraordinary concept those cities of refuge were, protected spaces where – whatever blood had been spilled unwittingly – you could still feel safe from the sudden arrival of someone or something intent on revenge.

Credit: Creative Commons

And what is most disturbing, most disillusioning, most damning, most dementing, about the world we live in and we see unfolding on our TV screens and in our newspapers every day more than two and a half millennia since those texts were written, is that in reality there are no places of refuge. The Torah is like a dream. And then we awaken from it – and the nightmare is that there is nowhere that is safe from death’s sudden arrival, however guilty or innocent one might be. You can get into a plane to fly off on holiday or to a conference – and be blown out of the sky. As those of us living in London remember, you can get onto an underground train or a bus on a sunny July morning – as in 2005 – and you find out that nowhere in our modern world guarantees a refuge from acts of human destructiveness.

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LA Youth Fast for Central American Youth – ‘We Are Just Like Those Kids’

Jul29

by: Michael Lozano on July 29th, 2014 | Comments Off

Credit: New American Media

 

(Cross-posted from New American Media)

Editor’s Note: Young people in Los Angeles held a fast during the fourth week of July to call attention to the welfare of Central American children crossing into the United States. They are asking the Obama administration to take executive action to treat the children as refugees. The Obama administration is currently considering whether to make this change, according to The New York Times

LOS ANGELES – Young people are once again leading the moral charge on a humanitarian issue that they say has been hijacked by politics.

Eight Los Angeles youth between the ages of 14 and 22 are fasting to call attention to the welfare of the tens of thousands of Central American children who have entered the United States to flee violence in their home countries.

Eighteen-year old Yamilex Rustrian says she decided to participate in the seven-day fast to remind the country whom the White House and Congress are seeking to deport: “These are children, not animals,” she said. “They still deserve to have human rights.”

The youth are spending their nights inside a giant white tent encampment perched on the grass lawn of historic Olvera Street in Los Angeles, hoping that Washington, D.C. politicians will consider treating the 50,000-plus children coming into the United States as refugees.

Attitudes toward the Central American children have clearly become politicized. Forty-six percent of Democrats support speeding up immigration proceedings even if those eligible for asylum may be deported, as do 60 percent of Republicans, the Pew Research Center reports.

But the fasters say they want to keep politics out of the discussion. 

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A Prayer for Peace

Jul21

by: on July 21st, 2014 | 4 Comments »

Avinu ve’ emoteynu sheh ba shamayim, tzur Yisra’el ve’ go’aloe

Our Father and Mother energies in the cosmos, the rock of Israel and our salvation,

Credit: Creative Commons

Bless all the peoples of the Middle East with peace, security, environment sanity, and a sense of being genuinely cared for by the world and by the God/dess of all flesh, however they conceive of this God or Goddess, whatever names or language they give to the ULTIMATE SOURCE OF LOVE AND MEANING IN THE UNIVERSE.

In this hour of war, violence, and pain, we reaffirm the humanity and decency of all the people on our planet, and our ability to see the humanity and God-presence in the Palestinian people, the Israeli people, and all people on the planet. We understand that each of the many sides of the conflicts tearing our world apart today have their own legitimacy, but we also know that violence cannot be the path to a peaceful and safe world. We may be outraged at the behavior of governments, political parties, or groups acting in hurtful ways, but we will not accept any attempt to generalize that righteous indignation into generalities about all people of a certain nation, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other such grouping.

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Memoriam for Zalman, Mourning for Israel

Jul16

by: Lynn Feinerman on July 16th, 2014 | 7 Comments »

July 3rd, 2014, Rabbi Zalman Schachter Shalomi left his body, dying after a long, deep, and rich life. I consider Reb Zalman a teacher of mine…a master able to impart knowledge of an authentic Jewish tradition and practice.

Reb Zalman escaped the Holocaust in Nazi Europe and joined the Chabad Lubavitch movement in the United States. The Lubavitcher Rebbe chose Zalman to become a shliach, a messenger and “pied piper” to the great number of unaffiliated young American Jews in my generation.

He was the perfect messenger, an open hearted, open minded man who dropped acid with Timothy Leary, prayed with all others who prayed, and eventually was recognized by the Muslim community as a Sheikh, in addition to being world renowned as a Jew. His sweet, laughing, knowing soul shares a light-filled gaze with the Dalai Lama, in one of my favorite photographs of him.

My sense of Zalman was that he didn’t hate – ever. He’d been there and seen the Holocaust, lost most of his own loved ones. He even requested to be buried with ashes from Auschwitz – the notorious Nazi concentration camp and crematorium – because most of his family never got a proper burial. But he never expressed hatred or desire for revenge. In fact, this great soul had fled the flames and strengthened in reverence for life, love, and forgiveness. May the memory of his blessing take us all there as well.

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Go to Hell! God’s Gracious Word to American Christians

Jul15

by: Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove on July 15th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

For every season, there is a message. “Do not be afraid.” “Let my people go.” “Take up your cross.” “I have a dream.”

In America today, I’ve come to believe, God’s Word for us is, “Go to hell.”

Unbeknownst to most Americans, our justice system changed radically in the late 20th century. Like most countries in the modern West, roughly one in a thousand Americans were in prison in the early 70s. Today, we incarcerate 1 in 107 Americans. Over 7 million adults are currently in jails, in prison, or on probation. More than 65 million US citizens now have a criminal record, while another 11 million undocumented people live outside the the law, subject to seizure and deportation.

Legal scholar William Stuntz has described the past 40 years as the “collapse of America’s criminal justice system.” Noting the ways “law and order” has landed more black men in prison today than were in slavery in 1850, Michelle Alexander calls it the “new Jim Crow.” Or, as Piper Kerman puts it, “orange is the new black.”

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Compassion and Empathy: the Path to a Peaceful and Just Middle East

Jul14

by: on July 14th, 2014 | 29 Comments »

I have been struggling with how to respond to the current crisis in Gaza (and frankly, the craziness of so many things in the world right now – including the horrific reality that Obama is closing our doors to refugee children sending them back to their countries to face horrors unimaginable).

My heart is broken. At Shabbat services Friday night, as we sang a prayer for healing, my thoughts turned to all the victims in Gaza – images of their maimed and murdered bodies (that I had unfortunately seen on the internet) flashed before my eyes, resulting in tears running down my cheeks and sobs of sorrow and grief), just as I mourned the death of the three Israeli teenagers. I sometimes feel a sense of hopelessness at the current situation and know many people don’t have any idea what to do to stop this madness, nonetheless I am now working to expand our Network of Spiritual Progressives to help spread a different worldview and to bring a voice of compassion and empathy to the situation.

Israel, with its overwhelming power, has a moral responsibility to stop bombing Gaza. Israel is killing innocent civilians under the guise of wiping out Hamas when in fact, this sort of attack will only strengthen militant forces and voices in Palestine who will use the attacks to further their position that Israel (and “Jews”) are murderers and only care about controlling all of Israel and Palestine. In addition, this behavior by Netanyahu only perpetuates anti-Semitism and puts Jews at greater risk around the world. When the actions of the State of Israel are equated with the actions of Jews, Jews ultimately suffer.In fact, just today I read about pro-Hamas protesters in Paris trapping hundreds of Jews in a synagogue, chanting “Death to Jews” while throwing rocks and bricks at the synagogue. The police dispersed the crowd. The members left the synagogue – two were lightly injured. Anti-Semitism, like any form of racism, is always illegitimate. But when so many institutions of the organized Jewish communities around the world line up in solidarity with whatever military or political action the State of Israel takes, I can easily see how easy it is for some to equate the activities of the State of Israel with the entire Jewish people (unfair though that is).


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A Variety of Memories of Rabbi Zalman Schachter Shalomi (z’l)

Jul12

by: Tikkun Community on July 12th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

We invited people in the Tikkun community to share some memories of their personal connections to Zalman. We cannot publish them all—so many hundreds of people pouring out their wonderful experiences and wishing to honor this great Tzaddik!  So we’ve selected a representative sample.

I have so many memories myself I didn’t mention in the earlier piece I sent out. One that comes to mind as I read the Israeli press describing mobs of Israelis roaming the streets of Israeli towns and beating up Israeli Palestinians that they come upon, while the Israeli army blows up homes of “suspected terrorists” though they have no plausible connection with the horrible murder committed against 3 Israeli youth last week, and reading about the Palestinian youth murdered by Israeli settlers (according to the latest information from the Israeli investigators of that crime).

Zalman and I spent many months in Jerusalem some twenty years ago, and we were talking about the distorting influence on young Israelis of having to serve in the IDF for 3 years before they could go on to college or university. The activities of enforcing the Occupation, often brutal, always discriminatory and implicit racist, generate in these young people the need to justify to themselves the activities they’ve been assigned to do, and this in turn leads many of them to accept either racist or at least fearful stories of who the Palestinian people really are, ideas which then they bring back with them into their lives as citizens after their army service is finished (well, not really finished, because most have to serve a month each year in the reserves, mee’lu’eem, till they are forty).

So Zalman proposed that we try to create a mikvah ceremony for young people finishing their active duty at which we would both immerse them in the healing waters of mikvah and simultaneously urge them to leave behind the ethos of domination (what I subsequently began to describe as “the Right hand of God) and instead embrace the loving values of Torah, including the notion that vengeance is forbidden and that Jews are commanded to Love the Other (which in the case of Israel today means Love Palestinians—rather than oppress them and treat them in ways THEY experience as oppressive). We proposed this to the Rabin government as something that we’d need government cooperation to do, but Rabin had not yet made his turn toward recognizing the humanity of the Palestinians though he was formally trying to make peace with them, so our proposal was never accepted. Here, as in so many areas, Zalman’s creative genius to make use of Judaism’s treasure-trove of spiritual wisdom, was not fully appreciated.

May his memory be always a blessing!

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Mercy over Vengeance: Israeli Jews and Palestinians

Jul8

by: on July 8th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

“I would like nothing better than to see you die, Mr. McKinney. However, this is the time to begin the healing process. To show mercy to someone who refused to show any mercy. Mr. McKinney, I am going to grant you life, as hard as it is for me to do so, because of Matthew.”

Credit: Creative Commons

Thus, Dennis Shepard, speaking for himself and his wife Judy during a gut-wrenching and terribly emotional court-room speech to one of his son Matthew’s convicted murders, Aaron McKinney, 22, spared both McKinney and his accomplice, Russell Henderson, 21, of the death penalty. As he spoke, his voice often breaking as he wiped tears streaming down his cheeks, the sound of weeping throughout the courtroom, including both men and women in the jury box, Dennis Shepard called his 21-year old son his hero, and talked of Matthew’s special gift for reaching out and helping others.

McKinney and Henderson beat, tortured, and left Matthew for dead tied to a wooden fence near Laramie, Wyoming on the chilly night of October 6, 1998. Surrounded by his loving family and friends, Matthew died six days later in hospital succumbing to severe head and brain injuries.

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