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Is This It? I’m Afraid So


by: on June 16th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

Jews of my generation are trained from infancy to sense which way the wind is blowing. If you descend as I do from a long line of nomads and refugees—if your family tree is stunted, the branches disappearing into cracks in history, if the images of children being torn from their parents’ arms are imprinted just behind your eyes—you develop a keen sense of impending disaster. And so the question that reverberates is simple: Is it now? Is this it?

I’m afraid so.


Response to “Thoughts on Roth”


by: Judith Mahoney Pasternak on May 30th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

As a woman, a Jew, and a writer, I’ve tried for the days since I learned of Roth’s death to parse the grief I felt at that moment. It comes down to the repeated shocks of joy I felt on first reading Portnoy in 1969, before the very different shock of Second-Wave feminism had carried me down different paths, although never away from appreciating his work.

In fact, I think, it was feminism that enabled me to articulate what Portnoy had achieved: Roth had revealed, as no one before him had, the ways in which so many men of my demographic saw women—the Jewish American men of my generation, good men, men I had admired, loved, even married. As everyone has already noted about Roth’s work, I didn’t see myself mirrored in it. The so much smaller proportion of published works by women throughout most of Western history—combined, of course, with the profound differences in experience between the genders in a gender-divided world—has always made it hard for us to find ourselves mirrored in the literary canons.

So no, I didn’t see myself reflected in Portnoy. But I saw men I knew. They were exaggerated, of course. I was pretty sure that no one I knew had ever fucked his own family’s dinner, although I rolled on the floor laughing when I read Alex Portnoy’s confession of having done it.

That’s what writers do. We don’t create real people, God does. We create people who feel real, for the purpose of telling a story. There’s never been a literally real Alex Portnoy, or a literally real Mr. Micawber or Constance Chatterley. (One of my worst arguments with my father in our lives was when he told me how well D.H. Lawrence understood women and I demurred.)

Roth wrote great stories. Like what’s still the preponderance of the canons, they were about men, about what men think and feel and experience, including their experiences of the women in their lives. I’m glad there are more women being published now, glad our stories are being told. But I’m also glad Roth was here to write the ones he wrote.


Now based in ParisJudith Mahoney Pasternak  is a long-time U.S. writer and journalist in the progressive media and an activist for feminism, peace, and Palestinian self-determination.

Thoughts on Philip Roth: America, Jew, Male


by: Shaul Magid on May 30th, 2018 | No Comments »

By Shaul Magid   (and please also read the afterword by Rabbi Michael  Lerner with another  and somewhat critical reflection on Roth after the bio of Shaul Magid below)

Why did it matter so much to me and so many others like me that Phillip Roth has left this world? When I first heard the news in the early hours of a late spring morning, I felt a kind of shudder like a window had closed suddenly and the air quality changed just a bit. He was, of course, a gifted writer and an American literary icon, but why does it really matter more than when other great literary figures leave this world. But there was something about Roth for anyone who really came to life in postwar America that is different. He often said he hated the term Jewish writer and always denied he was one. He identified simply as a writer and said “If I am not American I am nothing at all.” And yes, and yet. His use, manipulation, parody, obsession, subversion, and yes even diabolical love of Jewishness and Judaism made him one of the great Jewish writers in the past century at least. He is equal in my view to Shalom Aleichem or Shai Agnon, although painting a different world, for different people, of different Jews.

His Jewishness reminds me of what Hannah Arendt said she was asked what she thought of being a Jew, she replied, “Well, I can’t think of being anything else.” So while Roth may have denied being a Jewish writer, he was a writer who spoke to Jews in a way that was similar but different than the way he spoke to everyone else the same way that Toni Morrison speaks to blacks in a way different than the way she can he heard by whites. But for both Roth and Morrison it is all in the context of being an American, quintessentially so.

But what was Roth really saying to us…about being Jewish. First, it is that in today’s America, there is nothing to hide about being Jewish. He believed in America and he believed Jews were deeply a part of America. In the early 60s when Goodbye Columbus was first published he claimed he was booed at Yeshiva University, after being invited to speak there, and rabbinic leaders there tried to use their muscle to derail his literary career by writing to his publisher. One of the rabbis said, “In the Middle Ages they knew what to do with people like Roth.” (Steve Zipperstein’s May 28th essay in The Forward “Phillip Roth’s Forgotten Tape” writes that the reception at YU was not nearly a negative as Roth portrayed it). Gershom Scholem said of Portnoy’s Complaint, “This will be worse for the Jews than the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” And yet, the way in which Jack Kerouac or Normal Mailer or Truman Capote or Tom Wolfe  meant something to the emerging counter-culture in the 1960s, Roth opened up a way for Jews in those years that they no longer needed to be in hiding. Yes, we had Malamud, and Howe, and Bellow, and Singer, but Roth was more subversive and more tempting. Roth pushed the boundaries in different and arguably more disturbing ways. The unveiling of Jewish neurosis for all to see, the queering of stereotypes to make them comical and then fascial, and then banal. The ability to laugh and feel suddenly naked, and then laugh at that too, that was a gift Roth gave us.


Stepping off the Line into Freedom and Interdependence, Part 2: How


by: on May 20th, 2018 | No Comments »

In my last blogpost, I introduced the idea of stepping off the line we all live on, where most of us are constantly trying to get ahead, and described the value I see in aiming to step off the line and what we can gain by doing it: reclaiming our freedom to choose for ourselves, from within, aligned with our deepest needs and values, and reconnecting with our place in the vast web of interdependence. In this piece, I focus on the actual process, the inner and outer spiraling dance of transformation we can engage in, from where we are, to move in that direction, knowing full well we cannot dismantle the line.

Freeing our consciousness

We can start with cleaning up our own consciousness from the effects of our own socialization. This means examining our internal landscape, facing the helplessness we inevitably feel about the existence of the line, and transforming and releasing any judgment we find, of self or other. We can focus on remembering that this problem is not of our choosing; that it existed before any of us were born; that our choices have been scripted by the existence of this line; that even our capacity to resist the line is scripted.


Stepping off the Line into Freedom and Interdependence, Part One: Why


by: on April 28th, 2018 | No Comments »

One of the potent images of our modern, competitive era is that of a long line we are all trying to get ahead in. Our spot in the line determines our access to resources to sustain our bodies, souls, and families. On a recent Facing Privilege call, one caller I will call Jennifer put on the menu for our conversation a question that directly refers to this invisible and pervasive line. She spoke of feeling bad for having enough. She wanted to know: did she get to have enough by pushing others out of the way to get to the head of the line? Was there a way she could both keep her intent to get her own needs met and do so while caring about other people’s needs? Here’s a distillation of the very engaging conversation that involved many in the group: none of us created the line. The line was created long before any of us were born, and has been perfected and refined and intensified for several thousand years. Jennifer and all of us were born into a world in which we are all on this endless line. We don’t choose the line. We only choose how we relate both to our place in the line and to the existence of the line.


Beyond Resistance: Prophetic Empathy and Radical Love


by: Rev. Carolyn Wilkins on April 13th, 2018 | 2 Comments »

Cat Zavis leading a Spiritual Activism Training in January 2017

Cat Zavis leading a Spiritual Activism Training, January 2017

These are the times that try men’s souls, but we can Rise Up!

A few weeks ago, I was walking to join a protest rally at City Hall in Los Angeles, when I caught the eye of one of the city employees. We briefly exchanged salutations and he then whispered to me, ‘Oh no, not another protest,’ and continued to express his distaste for having his day interrupted by people complaining about something. Instead of arguing with him, I shared that he’s right: most people do complain, but here is a group that wants to do something about it -they are standing up for justice. As my new friend went his way, he said, ‘You’re right, they are doing something worthwhile.’

Many of the people I speak with are frustrated and angry about congress, this administration, the NRA, the environment, Trump supporters, etc. These are (indeed) the times that try (wo)men’s souls - this quote from Thomas Paine, written to dispirited soldiers in Washington, DC, seems so appropriate at a time like this. Yet, we have a choice on how we want to respond to this moment in history… We can complain or we can rise up, take action, and give voice to our vision of a loving and just world.

I want to personally invite you to our next Spiritual Activism Training that begins on April 24. In our program, titled Beyond Resistance:Prophetic Empathy and Radical Love, we are integrating spirituality and activism to build a world of love and justice.


Stepping into Leadership: 
the Magic of Self-Acceptance


by: on March 16th, 2018 | Comments Off

A Hassidic story tells of a rabbi Zusha who summons his students on his deathbed and tells them that when he gets to the other side, he won’t be judged for not being a good Moses; he will only be judged for not being a good Zusha.

This story captures, for me, one of the most challenging tasks of supporting people in stepping into and developing their leadership. Time and time again, I have found people comparing themselves to me, or to some other admired leader, and giving up on themselves and the path because they don’t “measure up.” Each time, I come back to the basic truth that the only leader any of us can be is based on who we each are. As we step into leadership, we are called to lead with our strengths and compensate for our weaknesses.

This truth, for me, has been both a relief and an exacting discipline. It requires a profound shift in our relationship with ourselves: from judging to observing ourselves, from minimizing to celebrating our strengths, from criticizing to tenderly accepting our limitations, from motivating ourselves with “shoulds” to connecting with purpose and choice about creating change within ourselves, and from hiding to asking for support regarding our challenges.

Each of these shifts challenges the patriarchal legacy and upbringing that almost all of us have grown up with, transcending shame, fear, and the perpetual doubt that we matter. This approach asserts, boldly and loudly, that we do matter, whoever we are.


Planetary Parenting


by: Stan Charnofsky on February 27th, 2018 | Comments Off

Children are on the march.

Our planet has been around for some three-and-a-half billion years, and we have received countless devastating blows from space debris–some of it destroying vast segments of the earth and a variety of life species.

We now have evolved to where a given species has the intelligence to prevent such collisions and it becomes our choice whether or not we apply our resources to do it.

Therein lies a lesson.

We live with many earthly anomalies, human and planetary issues that clamor for correction, that range from inhumane treatment of children to violent warfare against entire populations.  We now also have the technology and know-how to banish these practices; we have not, alas, mustered the courage or the willingness to do so.

It might be a vacuum of leadership, or perhaps a failing in people, that we do not rise up in Peace and Acceptance nearly so well as we do in Combat and Criticism.  My personal lean is toward a Humanistic philosophy which eschews the sense of an innate negativity in people, but rather that we are wounded by early hurts.  It follows that if we do have a failing, it has been absorbed over time, has become an applique on our psyches as protection against any new hurt and pain.

To counteract those protections and intercept future hurts, we must consider our children and offer them a legacy of love-that-leads-to-safety by cleansing our own hearts of prejudice and aggression.

Since children are our future, we must focus on their parents.

Our world culture does not parent well; therein lies another lesson.  Almost every other species nurtures its young more fastidiously than the human.  We are often neglectful. We are sometimes assaultive.  A world in turmoil is the product of neglected and assaulted children.

Thirty years ago, children eight to fourteen years of age, from twenty-four countries, were surveyed about what they wanted from their parents. The top several responses were: Harmony, Love, Honesty, Acceptance, Closeness, Attention (to their questions), and Appreciation of their friends. We need to provide these picks for children everywhere, whether as biological parents, cultural parents, or–grand notion–planetary parents.

Our loftiest task might be to behold our precious children in their honesty and innocence, learn all we can from them, and meticulously incorporate their zest, spontaneity and keen potential into our adult personalities.  Ironically, only when we have lovingly absorbed our children’s humanity can we turn and be effective adult examples to those very same children.

If we do decide to apply our ample technology to keep meteorites from colliding with our planet, it would be nice to think our world civilization is worth preserving.


Stan Charnofsky  is a professor at Calif. State University Northridge, a licensed psychologist, and past President of the Association for  Humanistic Psychology.

Transcending Barriers while Life Meets Death


by: on February 20th, 2018 | Comments Off

In this time, so full of pain and challenge, I was unexpectedly nourished by an email I received from someone who is consciously, purposefully trying to live applied NVC and Conflict Transformation in work and life, currently doing it in Eastern Sri Lanka. I am sharing an abridged version of her words here, with her permission, because I continue to be inspired and transformed repeatedly by her description of an encounter with a strange man dying of a violent act. I bolded the part that is most inspiring to me, in case you want to go straight there.


Let’s Make Valentine’s Day Liberating Love Day! The Revolution Begins with Self-Love


by: Mordecai Cohen Ettinger on February 16th, 2018 | Comments Off

Some years ago my cousin told me of an interaction she witnessed between my father and younger brother who was about 5 years old at the time. My cousin, now in her 50s was in her mid-20s then. My little brother, knobby-kneed and blue saucer-eyed, with the sweetest freckles you can possibly imagine, approached my father with a dandelion and gave it to him as a gift. My father promptly snatched the dandelion from my brother’s tiny hands, threw it on the ground (they were outside), and exclaimed, “that’s a weed!” Though I didn’t witness it myself, I can readily imagine my father doing such a thing. His behavior generally fell somewhere on the spectrum of violence, and for my father this was somewhat low-key. I can also imagine the sadness, fear, and crushing sense of rejection of my tender-hearted younger brother.

Love, and our expressions of love are policed and defined through this policing from a very young age. The contortion of love into acceptable relationships and expressions often begins in our families of origin, refractions of the oppressive norms and imperatives of our broader society. Our families also often serve as training grounds for these norms, regardless of our race, class, ethnicity, and immigration status. The most radical, iconoclastic, and even wonderful families pass along to us their fears, internalized oppression and limiting beliefs along with their love. Fully loving ourselves and others is complicated from the start, a truth intimately known by so many of us.

Further, in our white supremacist, heteropatriarchal, ableist society, love or its withholding is one of the primary ways in which our behaviors and their underlying and entangled beliefs are conditioned and controlled. For example many male (passing) children must capitulate to the demands of toxic masculinity to maintain the love and approval of their fathers (or mothers or other caregivers who could certainly uphold and engage in these types of behaviors as well).

In this story above, my brother was asked to refute or reject his own tenderness – an expression of his very organic, even inborn kindness –  to protect himself from rejection from one of the few people on the planet,  as a five-year-old, he most needed love, acceptance and protection: his father.

From a very young age the contradictions of our society reflected by and circulating through our most intimate relationships require us to choose between the love and acceptance of others and the love of ourselves. The root of these contradictions can be traced to settler colonialism and the highly instrumentalizing and transactionalizing economic system which co-evolved with it – capitalism.

Capitalism is an inherently disintegrating force; that which is dis-integrated and torn asunder can then be reconstituted and captured in the market for profit. Relationships are re-woven to meet the needs of the market instead of human need and we are set up to be divided against each other and ourselves. This has now been happening for generations. A father, my father, any father, chooses to uphold the demands of regulating masculinity and compulsory heterosexuality rather than honor, rejoice in, and fully receive the authentic kindness and love of his child. A child must hide their vulnerability and gentleness to be treated as a person, even though it is this self-same vulnerability and gentleness that enables us to most deeply connect with ourselves and others, and access our deepest wisdom.