We MUST Build This World With Love

Once a week, I have the privilege of being completely present. Once a week, I’m exactly where I need to be. Once a week I allow myself to notice my body, my breath, and my voice. Once a week I listen, and actually hear.

It’s Shabbat again. Thank G-d!


A week ago, it was January 20, 2017. I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. I didn’t want to think about the inauguration. I wanted to deny its reality like I had been since November 9, 2016. I couldn’t hide from it even if I tried. I felt like someone was sitting on my chest. It was all I could think of and the exact, only thing I didn’t want to be thinking about. The terror was boiling up inside of me, and I wanted to cry. The mood was somber and quiet all around me, but I wanted to scream! I wanted to shout until everyone, until anyone, heard me say, “I feel scared. I feel alone.”

And then, the sun set and the horrible day faded into a somber, ominous night. It still felt quiet, except now, it was Shabbat. Regardless of the chaos or impending legislation, all around the world, Jewish people stopped their daily routines and gathered to sing psalms of joy and praise – to mark the ritual and literal separation from the work of our daily lives and the commandment of rest. It never ceases to amaze me how Shabbat connects us all! No matter where you are in the world or what tune you’re singing, when you’re celebrating Shabbat you’re home.

When I entered the sanctuary, the energy was hovering timidly above us instead of within us, but soon and easily we all fell gracefully into the familiar melody of Kabbalat Shabbat – the service that welcomes the Sabbath. It was the first experience that day that felt natural. The familiarity was like warmth from the sun shining on my face – something I didn’t know I was missing or needed until I felt it. During one prayer, the Shema, I realized that for the first time all day I could actually hear. I could hear the beauty of our voices rising together proclaiming G-d’s oneness. I could hear the dynamic clashes and cascades of our prayers. I realized that I was exhausted because I’d spent the entire day attempting to not hear, or, better yet, to hear only what I wanted to hear. The act of being fully present, and the ability to acknowledge what that type of inner peace felt like was a blessing in and of itself. I smiled inwardly and committed to hold in my mind that it is necessary to hear – to really hear. The Kabbalat Shabbat service was restorative; it had to be because I knew this was only the beginning!

Around this time in the Jewish year, I find myself reflecting on and finding guidance in Parsha Bo. This section of the Torah narrates the story of the Exodus – when the Jews were freed from Egypt and received G-d’s commandment from Moses to “remember, this day you were freed from Egypt by G-d to go to the land of milk and honey. Remember, this day, for all generations and honor Me…”

In my remarks at my Bat-Mitzvah, over 10 years ago, I examined this portion of Torah. I talked about how the Israelites followed Moses from Egypt to the wilderness without necessarily knowing their fate. They followed with a sense urgency, trust, and purpose – they marched toward liberation. I commented that their march from Egypt was the first of many historical marches to leave a lasting impression. Then, considering that my Bat-Mitzvah was on MLK Jr. Day weekend, I recollected the inspiration I personally derived from two tremendously courageous leaders from the Civil Rights Movement: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. These visionaries marched together in Selma in 1965. They reminded everyone that justice is at the center of G-d’s plans for the world.  I explained that when reflecting on the experience in Selma, Rabbi Heschel proclaimed his, now iconic, statement, “I prayed with my feet.” He demonstrated that marching – protesting – is one of the greatest prayers of all. Rabbi Heschel’s sentiment about mobilizing and impacting change through prayer and action resonates with me deeply.

It’s important that I’m writing this nearly two weeks after MLK Jr. Day, and a week after the largest one-day protest in U.S. history – the Women’s Marches. It’s also International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the anniversary of the Jewish people’s liberation at Auschwitz, and the day the U.S. President (#NotMyPresident) signed an executive order that indefinitely suspends admissions for Syrian refugees and limits the flow of other refugees into the United States by instituting what the President has called “extreme vetting” of immigrants. Our history is filled with these stories of discrimination and vile hatred.  These events remind us both of our past and our very near, unclear future. Consequently, our Jewish tradition tells us that we are obliged to recall each year these stories of our past, and retell these narratives from generation to generation (L’dor Vador) so we do not forget. This responsibility is as important now as it ever was! We cannot forget the massive blemishes of our past. We must use these lessons and our retellings to cultivate strength and energy so we can promote justice and fight to live in a world where “Never Again” truly means “Never Again” – for all people no matter what.

The fight for equity and justice will be absolutely exhausting. And, while our goals are clear, our journey is certainly unpredictable. Regardless, the necessity to show up however and as best you can is beyond evident!

I felt this recently during the Boston Women’s March. However just like Shabbat and amidst the exhaustion and various actions, I was overcome by an awesome feeling. I realized that in that moment, across the world, we were all marching together. I was surrounded by people! The forward momentum in my feet was propelled by the desire to advocate for equal rights, and the strength and support of those behind me and beside me corralling me forward. Our marching was fueled by energy and love. I could feel the urgency in my body, in my spirit, and in my soul. I marched, and sang, chanted, and stayed quiet because I believe that now and forever equality is worth it!

The Torah commands us “You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18)” because in Judaism, we believe that all people are created in the image of G-d.  One of the most important ways we show respect for G-d is by respecting ourselves. Conversely, when we disrespect each other, we’re showing disrespect for G-d. I know what it feels like to feel threatened. I know what it feels like to feel safe. Embodying v’ahavta l’reacha kamocha (loving your neighbor as yourself) requires the adoption of the mentality that we are ALL worth it. We, the Jews, were worth it when others came to our side and marched with us toward freedom. Now we must reciprocate that generosity. Across our various lived experiences and diverse identities, values, and choices, we must remember that it’s our obligation to walk beside folks who are different from us. As a queer, Jewish, woman I have to believe that our uniqueness, beauty, and strength makes each and every one of us worth fighting for. We must continue to fortify and rebuild our world with love for one another. I believe it’s the only material that’s strong enough to nourish and sustain our uncertain, fractured world. 


It’s Shabbat again. Thank G-d!

And, just like last week, the blessings of Shabbat delivered me an absolutely necessary quiet and feeling of peace. Shabbat reminds me that “tonight we pause to catch our breath” and allows me to bask in this truth: “how wise is our tradition to command us to seek rest on Shabbat, and what joy it is for our souls to be refreshed.”  

When I reached Shabbat, I felt calm. I was excited to join the crowd of new and old friends and to pray with all my energy for the hope of a better world. I prayed for healing and strength. I appreciated my community nearby and all over the world. I allowed myself do the work of my heart rather than attending to the fretting in my mind. With my whole body, I thrust myself into the service of Kabbalat Shabbat, and, for just a moment, I sensed what peace feels like.


P.s. I’ve been finding incredible peace and warmth trough music and community these past few days. Here are some of the tunes that have carried me through the last week:

“What is this Feeling?” And Other Broadway Inspired Thoughts

I’m irate. So, I’m going to write. election-tweets

I am still in absolute shock.

This doesn’t feel real.

I cannot make sense of the results of this election. I’m feeling so many mixed-up, irrational things – all of which are all valid. I can’t find peace.

The morning after the election, everything felt surreal and quiet, but also so loud it was inescapable. I watched the sunrise after a night of barely any sleep, and I thought, “how can the sun even rise after all of this?” I felt hopeless.

I can recover from losing one night of sleep; the implications of November 8, 2016 are permanent.

I am devastated, and afraid. I’m afraid as a Jew, a woman, as someone who identifies with the LGBTQIA+ community. I’m sad. I’m just so sad.

Now, not even 48 hours after the election, I’m somewhere between wondering how we’re supposed to just go about our normal business, and thinking that we have to keep moving forward.  I’m somewhere between wanting to check-in with my friends and loved ones who are clearly hurting too, and being so exhausted by even just the premise of one more conversation about this damn election. For three days, I’ve been vacillating between all the feels, and sometimes experiencing them all at once – sadness, rage, and fear, panic, numbness, resentment, and disbelief. I’m trying to decide what our “new normal” will look like, and how it’s possible that this can all be okay. Everything feels unfulfilling, and subdued.

The way I see it, the whole election season can be likened to a story plot:

plot-diagram

  • Exposition and Inciting Incident – Primary Elections
  • Rising Action – Debate Season, and the Campaigns
  • Climax – Election Day
  • Falling Action – The Immediate Aftermath
  • Resolution – The Future (if we’re being hopeful)

 

Election seasons retell and predict the ongoing story of our country, and our democracy. We are forced, through this process, to remember what we’ve accomplished, set grandiose goals and plans, and yearn for possibility, and the triumphs ahead. Living through this experience unscathed is practically impossible. Living through this story unaffected is unforgivable.

I’m not even going to try to write a monumental, millennial values inspired post about white supremacy, the patriarchy, and our not-so-post-racial America because I cannot process any of this coherently enough, yet, to write anything ineligible.  All I want to say right now is, “No. Hell No.”

No – it’s not going to be okay. No – we can’t just preach about unity, and expect the country to come together. No – it’s doesn’t matter that he’s “just one man”. No –  as long as racism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc. are raging through our country’s veins it’s not going to be okay.

I don’t feel like listening to anyone’s remarks about giving him a chance, or how as a country we needed something radically different, and she wasn’t it. I don’t care about WHY it happened, whose votes we “missed”, and who we didn’t “predict” would vote (Ahem… white people everywhere). I don’t care if it seems like I’m being immature. I just need a way to process this; I need to figure out how we move forward, and what to do next.

So, instead, right now, I’m going to turn my energy to music, and the voices and stories that have already so beautifully and precisely articulated many of the feelings I’m experiencing – Broadway musicals.  I’m finding solace, validation, authenticity, and explanation in this music, and these plots. Both the lyrics and the musical composition intimately portray feelings such as excitement, disappointment, loss, dread, hope, and optimism. I’m searching for clarity in a space I have reliably found to be filled with love and truth. I need to warm my soul; I’ll use the energy and beauty of Broadway to illuminate a path forward.

Here’s my best attempting at processing, at mapping, my emotions throughout the trajectory of this election story in Broadway songs. [You can access the full playlist here]

Exposition and Inciting Incident:

  1. Politics and Poker – Fiorello – “Gentlemen, how about some names we can use?/ Some qualified Republican who’s willing to lose.”

Rising Action:

  1. The Election of 18000 – Hamilton – “Can we get back to politics?… / the country is facing a difficult choice”
  2. Popular – Wicked – “It’s not about aptitude/ It’s the way you’re viewed / So it’s very shrewd to be/ Very very popular/ Like me!”
  3. Anything You Can Do – Annie Get Your Gun – Anything you can do, I can do better!/ I can do anything better than you!
    [Frank:] No you can’t!
    [Annie:] Yes, I can!
    [Frank:] No, you can’t!
    [Annie:] Yes, I can!
    [Frank:] No, you can’t!
    [Annie:] Yes, I can, Yes, I can!”
  4. Cue: In The Heights and West Side Story
  5. Pick-A-Little, Talk-A-Little – “And the worst thing/ Of course, I shouldn’t tell you this but-“
  6. The Corrupt Bargain – Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson – “We need to find a scheme to keep the power in the hands of the chosen few.”
  7. Somebody’s Eyes – Footloose – “Somebody’s eyes are watching/ Somebody’s eyes will never close, never sleep/ Somebody’s after the secrets that you keep /Who’s got alibis/ From somebody’s eyes?”
  8. Take Me or Leave Me – RENT  – “So be wise/ Cause this girl satisfies/ You’ve got a prize, so don’t compromise/ You’re one lucky baby”

Climax (in this particular order):

  1. It’s Gonna be Good – Next to Normal – “It’s gonna be great! It’s gonna be great!/ It’s gonna be great. Fucking great.”
  2. Maps – Fun Home – “Maps show you what is simple and true”
  3. Totally Fucked -Spring Awakening – “Totally Fucked”
  4. Edges of the World – Fun Home – “It’s a lot. It’s a lot to keep under control…/ Dear Al, I’m scared/ I had a life I thought I understood.”
  5. Tomorrow – Annie – “When I’m stuck in the day that’s grey and lonely/ I just stick up my chin and grin and say oh…/ The sun’ll come out tomorrow!”

Falling Action:

  1. I Dreamed a Dream – Les Miserables – ” There was a time when love was blind/ And the world was a song/ And the song was exciting/ There was a time/Then it all went wrong”
  2. Memory – Cats – “Memory/All alone in the moonlight/ I can dream of the old days/ Life was beautiful then/ I remember the time/ I knew what happiness was/Let the memory live again”
  3. Without You – RENT – “The tears dry without you/ Life goes on but I’m gone”
  4. Quiet – Matilda – “And my heart is pounding/ And my eyes are burning/ And suddenly everything, everything is… Quiet/ Like silence, but not really silent.”
  5. All That’s Known – Spring Awakening – “Still, I know to trust my own true mind/ And to say ‘There’s a way through this'”

Resolution:

  1. No One is Alone – Into the Woods – “Hard to see the light now/ just don’t let it go/ things will come out right now/ we can make it so/ Someone is on your side/ No one is alone.”
  2. Solidarity – Billy Elliot  – “Solidarity forever/ All for one and one for all”
  3. I’m Here – The Color Purple – “I’m gonna take a breath/ Gonna hold my head up/ Gonna put my shoulders back/ And look you straight in the eye…And I’m thankful for every day that I’m given/ Both the easy and hard ones I’m livin'”
  4. Light – Next to Normal – “Day after day (day after day)/ We’ll find the will to find our way/ Knowing that the darkest skies will someday see the sun.”
  5. Climb Ev’ry Mountain – The Sound of Music – Climb every mountain/ Ford every stream/ Follow every rainbow/ Till you find your dream”

The list could go on and on, and I could select other lyrics that evoke similar or different emotions from these same songs. The fact is, I cannot silence my feelings, and I won’t apologize for being melodramatic or overreacting. This is serious, and I don’t know how else to grieve. Thankfully, there’s music.


Want to share your thoughts? In the comments feel free to contribute to this list! Which songs do you associate with the tumultuous journey we’re all on?

P.s. Also, don’t miss the The Crazy 2016 Campaign, in Song featured on The New Yorker Radio Hour 🙂

Why is Talking Politics Taboo?

HELP! I’m a Millennial and I don’t know who to vote for!

This election season has been loud. Honestly, it’s reminiscent of a bad run of a sloppy reality TV show. It’s underhanded, strategic, and trashy. Oh wait, that’s politics.

Full stop.

But, I’m not done. Here’s the thing: everyone keeps telling me voting is a privilege, an obligation, an expectation, but nobody is telling me how to decide. Obviously, nobody can tell me who to vote for or what campaign items I should pay attention to. Clearly, this is how democracy works. Understandably, I’m the only one who knows what I value and how I feel about each candidate’s platform. I GET IT! But, there’s a part of me that’s itching to talk this out with someone. How can I do that if talking about politics is so taboo?!?!

I’ve heard, “honestly I’m just not confident in any of the candidates.” I’ve contemplated the hypotheses about how to vote savvy and make sure some other candidate doesn’t get the nomination – lesser of the evils I guess. What I haven’t heard is anyone advocate for a candidate as opposed to against the next best alternative. I’ve even heard “this election is a joke” and “I’m moving to Canada.”

Politics is cutthroat. It’s accompanied by an overwhelming, seemingly necessary silence and cloud of fog that makes the real issues and agenda items so difficult to grasp. Some people call for more transparency from the politicians. I’m here to call for more conversations that are grounded in a desire to learn and listen rather than argue and advocate; especially, if they’re difficult to have. [Side note: this relates to more than just politics. Read between the lines!]

This is my second time voting in a presidential election. The first time, the choice was easy. I was so caught up in the excitement of voting I’m not sure I took the responsibility seriously enough. Now, I’m fully engulfed in the Millennial identity – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and I’m swimming in the narratives that remind me that my generation is “the future”. Suddenly this responsibility feels ominous and heavy. This is especially burdensome when I can’t get my hands on a single piece of unbiased media. I’m more confused than ever. I’m less confident in my preferences (candidates aside). I’m increasingly convinced my vote won’t even make a difference.  The game of politics is a triumphant, slightly elegant fanfare of trial and error disguised as strategic decision making. How can I decipher the chaos and “show” of it all and make an informed choice? 

This is important. It’s literally the future. Politics is messy. It’s uncomfortable – think #boundaries. It’s clever and a bit deceptive. But, it’s actually relevant to our lives. So, let’s talk.