Friday Dispatch: Pride, Defiance and Responsibility
Our small gestures and choices matter
“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” ~ Albert Camus
Wednesday morning, we awoke to a power outage. According to a 4:00am text from the electric company, this was planned and the power would come back on in a few hours. My first thought: Power outage = no coffee!
Mani got in the shower and I threw on clothes to go remedy the elixir of life situation. I sat behind another car at the end of my street for five minutes or so, watching half a dozen workers do their thing, before a traffic cop showed up in his neon green vest, asking me if I worked for the Department of Public Works. Nope. Sorry, ma'am, you'll have to turn around. No through traffic.
My mind immediately went to thoughts of war. A lack of electricity means no coffee, sure, but also no WiFi, no refrigeration, no stove in our case, no way to boil water. A blockade at the end of the street could mean a checkpoint. It could mean a ghetto. It could mean people in uniform who want you dead.
I quickly thought of Ukraine, and these images from NASA satellites showing how the country has gotten darker and darker since the war began in 2022. I thought of Portland, Maine, and the actual Nazis who marched and physically and verbally harassed protestors earlier this month. I thought about how queer, trans, Jewish, and BIPOC people are afraid, and rightfully so.
I thought about how we can take for granted the freedom of movement from and to our homes, the utilities that allow us to go about our work and lives. And also about the crumbling of infrastructure in our country, the inequity evident in environmental racism and classism, and how climate change, while sparing no one, disproportionately impacts the most neglected (and least valued) communities in our nation.
At first, I judged my mental leap from routine electric company work to such thoughts as hyperbolic. But the more I considered the general state of affairs nationally and globally, the less it seemed so.
Passover was still fresh on my mind as well. I read Lighting the Plague of Darkness by Rabbi Tiferet Berenbaum. She writes: “Let us remember that the days are getting longer, and commit to finding ways to reach out and lift up others and light up one another’s lives.”
So, I drove down Route 9 on my way to the drive-through, plenty of gas in the tank of my hybrid car. I felt a keen awareness of the absence of war here, of my ability to meet the slightest disruption of my morning routine with a quick trip to Starbucks for a cup of Joe.
I came home, lit a candle in the sunroom, and sipped my coffee. The smallest grey birds pecked at the seed pooled at the base of the feeder while a gusty wind rustled the newly budding trees. Soon enough, the power came back on: Fridge brightly lit, both entrances and exits to my street unobstructed. It seems almost silly to write about, given how inconsequential it was.
If your street or state or country was suddenly plunged into darkness, how would you respond? And aren't we in some ways already there? So the question becomes not a theoretical one: How does a responsive life look in these times?
Sometimes I feel like I am essentially selfish. I am focused on what’s coming up for me: The creative facilitation training program I’m eagerly waiting to apply for, my spouse’s last day of finals (yes, we are counting), helping my daughter move out of her dorm room in a few weeks, visiting colleges with my son up in Maine, going with my mom to NYC for an overnight in May as part of the memoir project I’m working on with her, the e-course I’m creating, the summer retreat I’m hoping will fill.
I know if a client came to me with this, I would invite them to pause and reframe. Of course I can see that all of these things reflect my values, and a life aligned with one’s values is nothing to sneeze at! So it’s not that I’m sneezing at my life, mind you (well, except maybe first thing in the morning seeing as it’s allergy season). But more that THERE ARE NAZIS and book bans and health care for trans folks is being outlawed and it’s 88 degrees in mid-April and not a day goes by without a mass shooting. You know because you’re living it, too.
One of my writing mantras for years has been, “Everything counts.” I offer this to myself and to you when it comes to life and activism, too. I may not stop the Nazis, but I can help people open the door to their Jewish experience, thus honoring my people’s resilience and creativity.
Seemingly small gestures and choices occur every single day and are opportunities to step forward, to stand with, to speak up, setting aside ego for a greater good.
Speaking of small gestures and choices, I want to end this ramble with a story about the Jewish star I almost never take off, the one from Spain with the tiny garnet – my birthstone – at the center, that took me a couple of decades to wear.
It was a gift from my parents for my 16th birthday. My Jewish parents who had not sent me and my sisters to Hebrew school. My Jewish parents who each had their own complex histories with Judaism, though learning and understanding this would also take many more years, a personal and ancestral quest that continues for me to this day. And ultimately, most importantly, my Jewish parents who saw something happening in and for me, as much as I may not have felt this at the time.
All of this is to say, you can usually see this star in my selfies.
I am ever aware of the fact that on the one hand, my Jewish identity makes me vulnerable to antisemitism and White supremacy, and on the other hand, I can choose whether to reveal or conceal this essential part of myself. I choose the former every time, out of pride, defiance, and responsibility to use my privilege.
It helps if there’s coffee. May I not take that for granted.
What daily gestures and choices reflect your pride, defiance & sense of responsibility?
Shabbat Shalom and love,
Bagels, Belief, and Belonging: New Session Added!
JUNE 15-JULY 20: Click here for details
About 25 years ago, my ex-husband and I took a class called "Engagement Encounters" before we got married, co-facilitated by a rabbi and a pastor. He described himself as "a Christmas," meaning someone who had grown up pretty much secular. This, in turn, led me to conclude that I'd been raised as "a Jewish Christmas," i.e. a Jew who basically knew nothing about Judaism (or any religion), but delighted in the tree, the cookies, the songs, the presents, the whole nine yards.
My own Jewish journey has been long and winding, intentional and multifaceted. And one of the places it has led me is to be intensely interested and curious about other folks' Jewish journeys. As a client remarked to me this week, "There are a LOT of kinds of Jews." Indeed! For such a small people (haha no pun intended), we are an incredibly diverse lot.
If you feel drawn to the idea of writing and discussing your spiritual journey in a Jewish context, consider joining me for Bagels, Belief, and Belonging.*
The May "Bagels" group is full! I'm so excited by folks' interest in this that I’ve added a June 15-July 20 round. Hope it works for those of you who couldn't make the first one! There are 7 spots available.
We'll meet for two hours each week on Zoom, write for some of that, read/share, and have ample time for conversation. You may end up with more questions than answers (which would be a very Jewish outcome).
The website has a list of examples of who might want to sign up, as well as more about what the group is and what it is not.
All kinds of Jews are welcome, as is anyone who is Jew-curious and seeking to explore in a safe container.
*Bagels not included. 😂
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