This series of portraits paired with interview-based articles attempts to start a conversation about how change makers think about, communicate, and embody their identities; and how this relates to the personal and spiritual motivations behind their work. The intention of the series is to explore our differences and what makes us individual so as to underline a common thread of desire for love, non-violence, generosity, peace, and caring about others that I happen to believe lies at the heart of all activist work. In particular this work attempts to focus on the idea that bringing your own story of how your identity interacts with your activism allows for those looking from the outside in to be touched on a human-to-human level, allowing them to feel compassion for you and the goal of the work at large.
Click here to read part I in the series, and here for part II. This is the final installment in the series.
Ramsal grew up in New Jersey in an “Orthodox conservative insular Jewish community” as they describe it, and for a large portion of their life lived by the values they absorbed during that time. The one they focused on in our interview was the particular relationship they developed to God. “It took me up until about my last year of college to realize that I was interacting with a God that was masculine and domineering and judgmental and separate from me and the tangible accessible world. I realized that because I was viewing God as this separate other domineering judgmental entity, I was practicing my religion from a source of fear where I was scared that if I didn’t do what God asked me to do or what I believe God asked me to do that I would be punished.” This realization was the first step in their process of re-constructing their understanding of God’s relationship to themself and how God exists in the universe as a whole. Ramsal recognized the toxicity in a spiritual life driven by fear, their religion had become an obligation, they walked a careful line, doing as they thought God wanted, for they did not see God as forgiving or understanding of missteps, but as awaiting their mistakes ready to slap them on the wrists. “Finally I had this eureka moment, and I realized the entire universe is God. It’s not this separate entity that I am praying to. I think that words and the way we phrase things subconsciously end up dictating how we…interact with our world. When we constantly refer to our God as a He and as something that we are praying to, we tend to forget that we are part of God, that God is part of us and the universe as a whole, that is where the oneness of God exists… God is oneness, the universe is God. And when I started approaching religion from that space, God had a sex change for me.”
When Ramsal says God had a sex change for them, they do not mean in the way we have essentialized gender in our society today. What Ramsal means is that “God became this motherly loving figure. In Hebrew the world love translates to the word אהבה (Ah-ha-va) a four letter word, alef he et he, and the root of that word is hav, which means to give. So love to me means giving, and I received this life without having been asked for anything in return, so it’s this unconditional love and unconditional gift which I am eternally blessed and grateful to receive.” God came to embody this ever giving power which Ramsal sees as acutely akin to the type of giving that begins when a mother has a child. In many ways this association with God as feminine manifested itself for Ramsal during their time working on the floor as a nurse in a labor and delivery unit. “I was constantly surrounded by the essence of motherhood, and everyday was watching the intense love and giving that a mother gifts to her child from the moment they are born, just massive acts of giving.”
Ramsal later stopped that job so that they had time to turn to themselves and light their own inner flame with love and self-compassion. Ramsal had felt they were pursuing that career out of fear, but took with them the most compelling part of the job when they left- the gift of giving. Ramsal thinks of spirituality as this flame inside of them that they must keep lit in order to live a fulfilling life full of love and compassion toward themselves. This has become the most essential part of their activism as it allows them to then spread the essence of the feminine loving spirit they have embodied over the last few years. In particular, Ramsal has adopted a song they used to sing to their Mother during Friday Shabbat with their Father, and has developed a much deeper awareness of the power the message of the song holds. “In terms of my activism and my work, one of the things I’ve started doing which allows me to carry on this message of feminine power and love and divinity is a Hebrew song that was written by King Solomon who according to Jewish tradition is the wisest man who ever lived. He wrote three books, one of which is called Mishlei which means book of proverbs, and the last 22 lines of the book is this song…called Eshet Chayil which means woman of valor…[The song] describes and praises, some might call it, the ideal woman, but because King Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived, it’s a much deeper poem than that …it’s really praising the divine feminine spirit here on earth, a godly female form, which in Hebrew is the Shechinah.”
The song is full of wisdom, wisdom they have only now discovered to be much larger than the power of their Mother, it is everyone’s mother, it is the motherly spirit of this universe. Ramsal shares this wisdom with as many people as they can as they have sung it at open mics and Red Tent events, which historically were held in Jewish communities when women were on their period. “Women tend to find it really empowering… Every time I sing it, it puts me in a trance-like meditative state. My eyes are closed and, in whatever way it means to me, I can really sense very deeply the divine feminine presence.” But Ramsal wanted to make it clear that the song is not only for women, but that the divine feminine spirit lives in us all, we all can tap into it. Thus, when they sings this song, they hope to transmit the power of the oneness of the divine feminine spirit into the hearts of everyone and anyone who hears it.
Ramsal sees themselves as the site of their activism as they travel with their internal light in the hopes that they can gift the same type of mindfulness and focus they have been able to hone for themselves on the beauty and power that the world has and gives us in this present moment to all those around them. Ramsal’s eventual goal is to allow for people to make that same switch from a life of fear where you are always living for the future, to living a life of love and self-compassion for your present self that will rub off onto those around you. “When I was living in that world that was guided by fear I cared more about the product as opposed to the process and I felt this stress and this pressure to affect as many people as I could. Through and by shifting to this lifestyle where I am guided by love, I care less about the product and more about the process and I instead of let’s say wanting to, as a metaphor, spend as much time as I can wanting to gather a bunch of firewood together to make this massive bonfire that can one day light up and give light to a lot of people, instead what I care about is keeping my own small inner flame lit everyday so that I can trail blaze light and love to whomever I encounter along the way.”
Emily Monforte is a senior at Wesleyan University doing her thesis in Photography, with a double major in Sociology. She is particularly intrigued by the effects of mixing multiple forms of individual representation, both visual and verbal, and how it allows for the multi-faceted truths of an individual to show through. At Tikkun magazine she has helped to illustrate articles in the magazine with both other people’s as well as her own work, she has designed multiple visual advertisements, and most importantly has created a photographic and written blog series on local Bay Area artists.