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Words

Jan12

by: Sara Yamasaki on January 12th, 2017 | 2 Comments »

“My dad killed people like you,” Bobby Jones yelled.

My five-year-old body twisted into a tight knot. Heat in my stomach travel up my chest and settled in my throat. I kept my head down, blinked hard, and watched the ground—one saddle shoe, then the other, moving me in measured slow motion to kindergarten.

I didn’t know what it meant to be killed. Didn’t know anyone who had died, hadn’t seen death on television, and hadn’t even lost a goldfish. But every day, Bobby waited at the bottom of the hill to taunt and follow me to school. As much as I wanted to run, I knew I’d get caught. Bobby was bigger and older than I was. So I listened to the calming sound of gravel underfoot and said nothing, my throat burning, my pace quickening.


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Pedagogies of Freedom

Dec31

by: on December 31st, 2016 | 1 Comment »

On New Year’s Day, at home and abroad, Haitians and Haitiphiles are all about soup joumou. A squash based consommé laboriously made with chunks of beef, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, some kind of pasta, seasoned with epis-that concoction of Haitian spices, which was hopefully brought to perfection by an expert who uses enough scotch bonnet pepper without overshadowing the fragrant aroma. This soup is traditionally consumed to commemorate Jean-Jacques Dessalines’ proclamation of Haitian independence from France on January 1, 1804. Thirteen years after the only successful slave revolution started that abolished colonialism and slavery, Haiti became the first Black Republic in the world, second only to the United States.

For many of us, the soup is as much about its gastronomic delight as it is about redressing history. Under French rule, the enslaved population was specifically forbidden to eat this delicacy. As the story goes, that fateful day, Dessalines’ main squeeze Marie-Claire Heureuse Felicité Bonheur, outdid Marie-Antoinette and declared, Let them eat soup! Indeed, “the antidote to dehumanization has to be rehumanization,” culinary or otherwise, as Zingermans’ Ari Weinzweig has said.

As a child, I enjoyed avoiding those sprigs of parsley and rosemary to gobble up this annual staple. Here we were on Christmas talking soup plans, George Michael was dead, none of the family members could relate to my state of gloom. “Who?” “Wham! Don’t you remember ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-go?’” I sang to no avail. A couple bars of “Everything She Wants” — no response. “Careless Whisper” got me some I-feel-sorry-for-you hums while other lyrics did not resonate at all.

Minutes before, the speakers had been blaring our beloved Kompa rhythms. Not quite my thing, which is enough to get one’s Haitian authenticity card revoked by diehards. Blame it all on migration, as if we have never been plural. Depending on where you lived, resources, and what you had to spend, there were variations of the soup. In keeping with our diasporic tendency to rename things, according to Miami-based reporter Nadege Green, it has been dubbed “liberty soup” or “freedom soup” by younger Haitian-Americans. Dudley Alexis has a documentary in the works about it. Perhaps the greatest honor of all is the brand new Afro-beat mixed-genre soup joumou anthem by Alize Music featuring Paul Papi.

Lately, I have been meditating on notions of freedom and our not so common principles as presidential elections in my birth and adopted countries collided my worlds. Having grown up under a dictatorship, ironically, I feel primed to soon be living under an authoritarian regime. “All we have to do now/is take these lies and make them true somehow.” Yes, I know George was talking about his battles. I had my own. A Black woman who refused to be docile, I was struggling to complete my dissertation in an historically white institution, “Freedom 90″ was my personal anthem. “All we have to see/is that I don’t belong to you and you don’t belong to me.” In the aftermath of migration, it was music that guided my path to individuation. That’s why I lamented his passing. Decades later, the song still resonates. And in these times, it matters now more than ever. “Freedom/You’ve gotta give for what you take.” Someone in the kitchen knew the words. I wasn’t singing alone.

These days, you can find vegetarian and gluten-free soup joumou recipes online. I have been flirting with the idea of a pescatarian version as I imagine my aunt, a caterer, vigorously shaking her head at this sacrilege. Would it still be soup joumou? That depends, has nationalism ever really recognized its inherent differences? Haiti’s L’Union Fait la Force and the United States’ E Pluribus Unum are mottos built on contradictions from brutal colonial histories that have steeped the past in the present, yet remain unknown. Unity, under such conditions, is improbable without complicity in white supremacy, as well as our silence and absolute negation. For belonging is fundamentally based on a hierarchical system of ownership. The chains of slavery were broken long ago, but there remains unfinished business.

Happy 213thBirthday Haiti Cherie. Now, off to go get some salmon!

Photo: Andy Vernon-Jones

 

 

 

 

 

Minorityphobia: A Letter to American Minorities

Oct10

by: Nazir Harb Michel and Murali Balaji on October 10th, 2016 | Comments Off

Dear Fellow Minorities,

We are not writing this piece as individuals. We are not even writing this as Brown people in America or members of the Islamic or Hindu faiths. We’re not writing this as academics or researchers or activists.

Rather, we’re writing this as minorities to all our fellow minorities in America. But we also hope that those of you in the majority are paying attention because this concerns us all.

We Have To Stop The Circular Firing Squad of Inter-Minority Prejudice and Violence Right Now

As we are living through this nasty spike in anti-Muslim rhetoric and attacks, we need to keep in mind that the incidents are increasing, not decreasing, as we near the November elections. So far in 2016, there’s been an attack against Muslims in the U.S. every 13 hours. And it’s important that we realize as minorities that these attacks, which seem to target Muslim immigrants, aren’t shouldered by the American Muslim or Middle Eastern communities alone. They’re affecting other minorities too.


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Come Celebrate High Holidays with Tikkun and Rabbi Michael Lerner in Berkeley this October

Sep15

by: Staci Akselrod on September 15th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

A dictionary open to the definition of love. Source: Flickr (Il Mago di Oz).

Dear Reader,

Would you be interested in experiencing High Holiday services that combine a Judaism of Love and Justice with deep spirituality? Rabbi Michael Lerner, our spiritual leader, leads our community in a serious teshuvah process (which we understand as both inner transformation and societal transformation). He teaches that the prayers are only cheerleading for the process – the real work has to happen in our own lives in the ten days from Rosh HaShanah (which starts Sunday night, October 2) to the conclusion of Yom Kippur (on Wednesday, October 12th). This combination of services plus engagement in teshuvah is such an extraordinary experience that I’m willing to give you your money back if you attend all the services, do all elements of the teshuvah process that Rabbi Lerner lays out, and don’t feel that it was really amazing and transformative! And please tell your non-Jewish friends about this as well – you don’t have to be Jewish to get a huge amount of psychological and spiritual nourishment and even have a transformative experience by going through the process with us. True, some of the prayers are in Hebrew, but there’s enough English so that non-Jews who have come in the past have told us that the experience was just as powerful for them as it was for the Jews who participate.

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Binarity

Jul22

by: Mazin Qumsiyeh on July 22nd, 2016 | Comments Off

Abdullah Issa was a Palestinian child living in Syria (family of refugees after the ethnic cleansing of 1948 by Israel). He was captured and accused of helping the Syrian government. He had injuries and was thought to be also treated for thallasemia. Pictures show the bandaged boy of perhaps 10 or 11 years old with a catheter in his arm. His captives had him in the back of a pick-up truck (perhaps having taken him from his hospital bed). As he pleaded with them they ignored him and directed their message to the camera against Syrian government then slit the throat of this child. The killer militia shouted Allahu Akbar as the boy was mercilessly murdered. This group is funded and/or supported by the governments of the US, Turkey, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. They were considered by those four governments as “moderate rebels”.

On the same day that Abdullah was beheaded, a Palestinian boy roughly the same age (Mohyee Sedki Tbakhi) was shot by the Israeli occupation forces. I could not help note the similarity between the two as they looked like twins. As happens, only by intensifying our efforts are we able to cope with such tragedies. Coincidentally I accepted an invitation by the US Consulate in Jerusalem for Independence Day celebration (the event was held July 20th rather than July 4th here). Such trips to Jerusalem (without an Israeli permit) are always painful for me but the contradictions and conflicting emotions here were high. The area is in West Jerusalem long since transformed to a “Jewish city” the only real remnant of Palestinian next to the consulate is a cemetery (Mamilla or Maman Allah). But development is even eating away at that space and what is left of it is treated as a garden park.


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Social Justice and Theater at a Time of Crisis

Jul14

by: on July 14th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

Augusto Boal at Riverside Church, NY City, in 2008

All of last week I was at a Theatre of the Oppressed (TO) training. I was drawn to the intensely evocative and provocative forms first created by Augusto Boal in the 1960s, designed to support marginalized groups in creating social change. Intuitively, I sensed these practices could support the rudimentary role play forms that are part and parcel of learning Nonviolent Communication (NVC) and dramatically (pun almost not intended) enhance NVC’s social justice applications.

This week became a thick, rich, powerful, challenging entanglement of the personal, the symbolic, and the political as a group of 36 of us from across many social divides and several countries grappled together with our experiences and all else that unfolded that week. By necessity of care for our agreement to protect the specifics of what happened in the room, most of the below is only about my own experiences and lens.

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“African Exodus” Film Documentary

Jul5

by: on July 5th, 2016 | 4 Comments »

On June 20, 2016, I was privileged to see a screening of the film African Exodus directed by Brad Rothschild at San Francisco’s Sundance Kabuki theater, sponsored by Right Now: Advocates for Asylum Seekers in Israel and Ameinu. This troubling and moving documentary exposes the plight of African refugees fleeing to Israel to escape the horrific civil wars in Sudan and Eritrea. Some 60,000 refugees and asylum seekers found their way to Israel hoping to find safe haven and 45,000 remain. Many live in south Tel Aviv near the central bus station in squalid conditions, in limbo, and often going hungry. The Israeli government has labeled them “infiltrators” and denies them work permits. Many have been transferred to the isolated prison-like Holot detention center in the Negev desert, where they have been held for months to years.

Through interviews we get to know some of the asylum seekers, their stories, and their hopes. We learn of the horrific killings in Cairo on December 30, 2005 under Mubarak’s regime, causing many to flee across the Sinai in search of safety. We see the gratitude of a mother toward Israeli army troops for providing food and water to her children after the harrowing journey. We see the cruelty of Israeli government policy, which refuses to see their plight and treats them as pariahs, leaving them to languish in limbo. We see the spewing of hatred from religious Jewish nationalists, and the tremendous generosity of everyday Tel Aviv residents who embrace the “stranger” by setting up soup kitchens and collection centers.

Andrea Kruchik-Krell, founder of Microfy, is a powerful voice in the film. She was present for the after-film discussion.

Click here to view the heart-wrenching short trailer of African Exodus.

For further information on African Exodus or to show this film in your community, contact Morgan Buras Finlay at morgan.buras@gmail.com.

A Call for Love in the Face of Hatred: Rabbi Lerner’s talk at Muhammad Ali’s Memorial

Jun16

by: on June 16th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

In case you who missed it, here’s Rabbi Lerner’s talk at Muhammed Ali’s funeral.His vision is all the more relevant given the horrific killings in Orlando and the way it is being used to promote fear, hatred and Islamophobia. It has gone viral on social media and inspired over a million people already. If it inspires you as well, please read below for how to be an ally with Rabbi Lerner to help build the world he describes.

Wondering why Rabbi Lerner got invited and how to respond to the handful of naysayers who have been upset by Lerner’s powerful message? Please read below.

Muhammad Ali had known Rabbi Lerner as a friend and ally in the 1960s and early 1970s when both were indicted by the U.S. government for their roles in opposing the war in Vietnam. He then wrote Rabbi Lerner to praise his book with Cornel WestJews and Blacks: Let the Healing Begin.Approximately seven years ago, he decided to invite Rabbi Lerner to represent the American Jewish community at his memorial service. Rabbi Lerner only received a phone call invitation from the Ali family four days before he got on an airplane to Louisville.

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Instead of Being Silent

Jun14

by: on June 14th, 2016 | Comments Off

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. - Martin Luther King, Jr.

There is something about people dying that I cannot fully make sense of. When it’s a group of people, and even more so when it’s at the hands of other people, I have nothing inside me that feels prepared to know how to make sense of it, what to say to myself, to others. Silence then becomes appealing. Yet silence allows hatred to continue.

What does love look like in the wake of violence I cannot grasp? What does love mean when one of two contenders for the most powerful political position in the world is responding with targeting entire groups of Muslims?

It is love, for me, to explicitly say that the killing in Orlando wasn’t actually the largest mass shooting in US history, no matter how often this message is repeated. Why? Because it’s an invitation to remember people who, at the time of their mass killing by the hundreds, were considered other, and to have their lives count, at least now: the 400 Tolowa Indians in Yontoket in 1853 and the 300 Black people in Tulsa in 1921, as just two examples.

It is love, for me, to note to myself that this recent carnage brought together in a terrible tragedy three groups of people all of whom are made other, all of whom are targets of violence, violence which often goes unnoticed: LGBT, people of color, and Muslims. My heart sinks at the horror of imagining that a subtle hierarchy of whose life counts is woven through the fabric of US culture. Today, Islamophobia is on the rise. In Trump’s world, for example, the fact that these were mostly Latinos, another group he has maligned, shrinks in comparison with the killer being a Muslim. No, I won’t go for that. I want to go for love, for knowing and proclaiming that all violence counts. I want to join Alan Pelaez Lopez in remembering “that xenophobia teaches us to only celebrate and empathize with white immigrants,” and to claim that all humans are precious. As Michael Lerner said: “We are one global ‘we,’ and we must never let any part of us become the target that is somehow made a ‘legitimate’ target.”

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President Obama & Hiroshima: A Pathway to National Atonement

May27

by: on May 27th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

President Obama’s speech today in Hiroshima did not contain the word “atonement.” Nevertheless, the spirit of atonement was carried throughout. It was not only the most remarkable speech of Barack Obama’s presidency, it is arguably the most remarkable speech given by any U.S. president, ever.

In concluding his speech, President Obama said:

Those who died, they are like us. Ordinary people understand this, I think. They do not want more war. They would rather that the wonders of science be focused on improving life and not eliminating it. When the choices made by nations, when the choices made by leaders, reflect this simple wisdom, then the lesson of Hiroshima is done.

The world was forever changed here, but today the children of this city will go through their day in peace. What a precious thing that is. It is worth protecting, and then extending to every child. That is a future we can choose, a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare but as the start of our own moral awakening.

There are so many areas in which to critique President Obama’s tenure in office, and yet there are times, like today, that I am grateful to have a sitting president whose core intention is to seek the greater good of all humankind.  Yes, it is disappointing that he has presided over a wholly corrupt military system and has done nothing to change it: namely, a military system that lures young men and women with financial and emotional enticements to fight the nation’s wars, all while the rest of the nation, whatever their politics, goes about the charade of “supporting the troops,” as if morally tolerating the corrupt military machine that has and is devouring their lives can remotely approximate the notion of loving fraternity.  We have a long way to go as a nation, from President Obama to the men and women of Mainstreet, to atone for our toleration of this ongoing assault on the sanctity of human life.

Yet I give President Obama credit for at least endeavoring throughout his presidency, and the last two years in particular, to create the emotional space for the American people to atone for our sins as a nation.  Politicians do not succeed at their primary craft – winning elections – by creating that emotional space, and that largely holds true for Barack Obama as well.  Yet that space, that space for genuine national atonement, has been carved by this president.  It may be a small space for now, but it is something that we can, I believe must, expand upon.


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