Friday, May 16, 2014

Farm Visit

On Wednesday the first and second graders took a field trip to Green Meadows Farm. It was a special treat for many reasons, one was that since I teach Second and Naomi is in First, it was a rare opportunity to take a trip with her. So yesterday I attended as a parent more than as a teacher.

It had a very big impact on me. The Farm is basically a giant petting zoo and the kids were allowed to not only pet, but even pick up animals like goats, rabbits and full-grown chickens. Even growing up in Corvallis, Oregon and bringing in the eggs from our chickens, I never had held one before. (In fact, I don't think I held one yesterday either, but I did pet a few.) We also petted pigs, emus, horses, cows, puppies and kittens.

It was stunning to watch the reactions both of the children and the adults. Many of the children were a little afraid, although by the end of the day most were willing to go into the pens and touch everything. Some of the adults are terrified to go near anything which made me very very sad. The idea that the connection to animals had never existed or had been severed over time is heart-breaking to me.

Further, I realize that everyone that was with us that day readily eats meat without making the connection. In fact, a child asked as we were actually milking a cow, "Is this Kosher?" On one hand that made me sad, that anyone would want to eat this creature with whom we were interacting. On the other, isn't that exactly how it used to be here and is in other places? Children knew the animals they would eat some day. They excepted the cycle of life and then participated.

I think that the older I get, the more sensitive I become, and so even if it's natural, I am hesitant to participate in this cycle. However, what hurts the most when I consider meat eating, is the thought people do so without connection to where the animals come from and without any idea or acceptance that there may be a sadness involved. In fact, people revel in how much they can choose not to care about animals. ("Oh no, I only avoid red meat for health reasons.") Why this can be attractive stuns me. Don't we want to be around others who have compassion?

I realize this all, ironically, makes me difficult to be around, and it's not an easy way to feel either. I want to just revel in the joy of what I saw without thinking about how lovely those animals were and what will happen to them in a matter of a few short months or years.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014


The stone we placed last year got dirty and broken quickly. That made it clear to us what to do this year to commemorate the sad day.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Yom Hashoah 2014 Part 2

I went to bed after my bumbling post last night wondering what I'd really wanted to say. I said some, I suppose, but there is more.

I think there are essentially two ways to remember the Shoah.

1. To name and learn about specific people who were lost, especially if they were family. 
2. To learn about what happened them -- the horrors, the stories of triumph, the lessons.

The event that I missed last night mostly would have been about the first of those. There are always survivors and survivor families at this event and I appreciate the chance to be witness to them. At the same time, I feel a certain disconnect as my family's particular relationship to what happened in Poland and Germany is a little different. My grandfather was lucky to get out of Germany early, so my family doesn't have the typical Holocaust stories to share about camps or resistance. 

I've had plenty of the second type of learning in my life. It unsettles me considerably and I don't know what to do with it. What is there to be done with the reality that some people were cruel and others suffered in ways beyond our imagination? The feeling and knowledge sits there uncomfortably on the table with no appropriate action. No amount of empathy, guilt, regret or even strength can undo the past. 

For many, the importance of the Holocaust is very much wrapped up in Jewish identity. It should be. It's part of our past. That's why I learned as much as I could about it when I was a teenager and why I know that I have a responsibility to care about it. However, all I can act on, is what I can do today for this world.

One way to do this is to follow mitzvoth and to be a strong Jew. Another is specifically to support and celebrate Israel. 

For me personally, I think I feel my strength most when I try to be an activist in the ways I discussed in the previous few posts because today too there are people who are cruel and there are others who suffer  in ways beyond our imagination.

You don't have to be Jewish to be an activist, and the areas I care about the most are not even specific to the Jewish community, and yet I feel that they do from expectations the Torah has from us as Jews to make a positive difference in the world.

I guess all I'm trying to say is that I hope the things I try to do now to help the world do not exist in a vacuum. Already I question how much impact they have, but what I hope instead is that my actions can be a Kiddush Hashem, and that by living a life of Kiddush Hashem, I can in my own way help smooth over some of the pain from the past too.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Yom Hashoah 2014

Tonight is Yom Hashoah.

There was a community wide event as always, but I couldn't attend this year as I'm needed at home.

I didn't know for awhile, though, whether I'd be going or not. Toyed with whether or not I wanted to, whether or not I had a responsibility to. I really do believe in showing up for things, and any reason that I would give for not wanting to go would be an excuse.

I feel sorry for not having gone, because numbers of people matter. I also know there are other ways to recognize the day.

There was an article in The Jewish Week this weekend about alternative and controversial ways to remember the Shoah. For example, one man talked about his plan to tattoo his grandmother's camp number on his arm. Like most, I suppose, my instant reaction to that was to be horrified, but as I read his thought process, it made sense and his grandmother apparently told him she supported the idea.

Another example in the article was a viral video of a family -- including a survivor -- dancing to "I will Survive" in Auschwitz among other places. If you read the comments below, people's reactions are generally strong to either extreme. Either they say how much they love the video, or how wrong it is for this family to have made it.

I don't know yet how I feel when I watch it. I wanted to feel some triumph, but I feel haunted and sad instead. I also am rattled by the images in the side bar of other videos. I don't feel tonight like I can open myself up to those and let me feel that pain. On Tisha B'Av I can and will, and then will rise up again. I don't feel I have the space to do that on a Sunday night before I have to enter into a workday.

But both then and now, I'm still baffled. How do I appropriately commemorate? I don't know now, I don't know on Tisha B'Av and I didn't know when I was a teenager on March of the Living either. What internal messages must I listen to in order to know if I find the answer?

Regarding the video once more, and also regarding anyone's idea of how to appropriately commemorate… I think there is a danger to being too reverent. Even in the camps themselves they had to laugh and there are books to that effect. To really show respect to those that were lost, don't we have to show respect too to the multitude of reactions each of them would have had?

I wish I'd gone to the ceremony tonight, but I couldn't. If I had gone, I would still feel incomplete.

I could have read or watched things about the Shoah, but as I said, I do better with that on Tisha B'Av.

The best I can do is to try to create a world as antithetical to that of the Nazis as I can. It's just one reason that I try often, not just today, to make the world a better place. It's today's justification for my fundraising for Tread on Trafficking to combat child sexual slavery. Even without the Shoah in the past, I would hope I'd be trying to do good things like that. If I do it with the memory of the Shoah in mind, does that bring some kind of light to the darkness of that time? Or am I disregarding the distinctness of our history?

I feel this blog post is a way of making profound excuses for not attending a community function, and maybe it is, but it's also a recognition of the sheer feeling of floundering. The Shoah is this horrific part of our past and we still don't know quite what to do with it, where to put it or how to shine the light bright enough on what we want to remember but want to forget.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Manic Activism Continued

Last night I wrote a little about how I want to change the world,

and also about my fear of annoying other people in my effort to do that.

This morning I have some new thoughts on the subject.

First an anecdote:

A friend of mine was telling me about teaching high school in a very rough school. One of her students actually pushed or hit her. When the teacher protested, the girl aggressively said,

"Miss, you're making me FEEL bad."

It occurs to me that the reason people don't like to become aware of nasty, inhumane and cruel aspects of our world for that very reason. I don't want to go around making people FEEL bad, but I also would like to minimize the rather greater suffering of people and animals who are actually being mistreated in the world in a way that goes well beyond making them FEEL bad.

I went to bed last night with images in my head of factory farm slaughter. We've all heard that it's BAD and maybe even seem images before. There were some new practices I learned of last night that shocked me.

The baby chicks -- boys, I think they said -- would be useless for meat, so were being thrown into a machine that ground them up alive for farm feed.

Pigs were killed by being pushed into boiling water.

Chickens, after being genetically modified into horrific looking creatures, were mutilated so they wouldn't peck each other, then killed by hanging them upside down and dipping their heads into electrified water.

"Thank G-d I keep Kosher," you might say. But there are plenty of practices wrong that with that industry as well including shackling and hoisting cows off the ground before schita. Terrifying an animal before killing it is torture, and there are many out there who would dispute the idea that such practices can count as "Kosher."

But let's say you're a vegetarian, which I try to be although I just did my annual meat order from pasture raised Grow and Behold to get us through Pesach. (So glad to be able to have this "alternative" meat, but still feel sad about eating animals, and don't feel so healthy after eating them.)

Here are some other concerns:

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Manic Activism

I think this tends to happen to me in the spring that I start to feel a sort of manic activism.

I just got home from watching Vegucated with my CSA as a launch for this year's farm share. It got me reflecting once again on my food choices which is a little stressful for me because there are so many "don'ts" and "can'ts," some more self-imposed than others. I try to be mostly vegetarian and would consider veganism if 1. I didn't love cheese but 2. (more importantly) I wasn't allergic to nuts and wary of soy. I would love to craft the most humane food-eating regimen possible, but for my food sensitivities, Kashrut, difficulty to come by certain foods, high risk for breast cancer (and so avoidance of soy) etc. After the images of animal mistreatment, however, I think it's tragic how many people eat meat -- including Kosher -- without fully realizing the impact of their consumption. If they knew, they might still choose to eat meat. But shouldn't they know?

It's not just food on my mind.

I'm also about to start my yearly Tread On Trafficking campaign to combat modern day child sexual slavery.

I'm writing an article about issues of gender in the Orthodox Jewish Community.

I spent a weekend with a dear friend that reminds me of my desire to watch my actions environmentally throughout every part of my day. (Amazing how proximity to the right people can remind you of values you share.)

I also just completed phase 1 of a project in my school to reduce waste production, especially of plastic water bottles. I'm proudest of that because it took a lot of planning and I see the effects immediately, but I'll return to that in another post.

I suppose when I'm like this, it could start getting annoying for others. All this desire to change is a form of perfectionism for the world and we all know how unhealthy perfectionism can be. I may be labeled idealist, self-righteous, obnoxious. They would be fair labels.

However, the alternative is dire. The things I'm aware of that drive me towards working on each of these causes (and more) must be tackled if not actually changed. The fact that so many people are  unaware is frightening.

Like the bumper sticker says, "If you're not pissed off, you aren't paying attention."

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Purim 2014

Awesome Purim this year.

-another successful women's megillah reading at night (organized by yours truly)
-reading an entire perek (5) at the Tiferet reading in the morning
-delivering mishloach manot
-a lovely seudah

Two things I want to tell in a little more detail:

The first time I ever read Megillah was back at Oberlin. I was asked to read the 5th perek (same as this year) but was given no guidance other than a tape of someone reading. The recording was scratchy and had an old man's voice. I didn't know how to read trope so I just listened to the tape again and again until I was literally doing it in my sleep. (My next door neighbors in the dorm told me.) However, I ran out of time and was overwhelmed and so couldn't even learn the trope for the second half and was disappointed to simply read it aloud at that reading.

In years since I've done either the first or second half again, but have many more resources available now. I have friends who can teach me trope and "spot" me when I practice. I have had more experience. I also have the JOFA app which teaches trope individually and also has an interactive recording that you can listen to with and without tikkun.

I got a head start on practicing and for the first time did the entire perek correctly. If I do say so myself, I blew it out of the water. I read clearly, I read loud and I read with confidence. For someone who has not always been self-assured, I always feel so proud to stand in front of a group and do well with something I've practiced so hard.

The other thing I'll tell about was delivering mishloach manot. This year we decided to deliver to all of the girls in ND's class as well as a few other friends. It took over an hour and a half to drive through Teaneck, Bergenfield and even New Milford and back to Englewood making deliveries. Exhausting, but so much fun. There were cars everywhere with costumed drivers, starting and stopping with both kids and adults climbing out over the remaining piles of snow to drop off a bag and get back on the road again. In many ways there are times when I've found myself disagreeing politically, religiously or in some other way about lifestyle with many of the people within the local Jewish community, but to all be part of this fun, silly and friendly activity today was a delight. I loved being Jewish and part of a Jewish community.

Last but not least… I've found a simple way to say why I love Purim so much. On nearly every other holiday, there is a feeling of seriousness, of profoundness, of grandeur, but then underneath there is a kind of disappointment, because we can't all sustain deep serious religious thoughts all day. Underneath it we find our minds drifting to the mundane and just end the day eating.

On Purim, at least some of that is opposite. There is no outer veil of the profound and spiritual. What we wear on the outside is all the silliness, all the noise, all the baseness that is true to ourselves. The story we tell is about parties and wild emotions and people with too much stuff making terrible decisions about life and death. But if we're celebrating right, then underneath it all there is something powerful and right and very spiritual. There is the believe that goodness and light will emerge and correct what is wrong in our world. To me there is the idea that THROUGH our imperfections and our desires (not in spite of), divinity will shine.

And then we eat.