Friday, December 27, 2013


There will be many seniors reading this who receive a major portion of their income in the U.S. from Social Security. Some who see this column will be disabled and are enabled by a system called Social Security, set in place to help keep them from falling through the cracks. And whatever Social Security is, it's not an "entitlement" program. Social Security is an "earned income benefit" that has changed the face of our country, from elderly poor on county poor farms to lives of dignity in elder years.

As a self employed person, I paid into Social Security for more than fifty years. When you are self employed, you pay it all, with no employer providing half the cost. That was sometimes a hardship. But I paid into the system because I knew that money was helping others, before I retired, and would help me, when I retired. I resent the elite in Washington and elsewhere calling it an "entitlement." It's my hard earned savings account, to insure the health and welfare of all. And it's a sound and popular program at that. There's a $2.8 trillion surplus today and financial stability for at least the next twenty years.

Over three quarters of Americans in recent polls say they don't want Social Security cut. If anything, the great majority of Americans are committed to keeping Social Security healthy and whole. There's a good reason.

With the continuing disintegration of the middle class and retirement savings becoming more and more difficult to accumulate, Social Security has become the major retirement bedrock. Why? Because most corporations have cut back on more traditional pensions. Eighty Nine percent of Fortune 100 companies offered a defined benefit at retirement in 1980. Only twelve percent offered this kind of security in 2012.

Corporations are being followed by governments. States and municipalities are dropping or cutting pension plans, often maligning their employees and workers, suggesting they are the cause of budget deficits. The city of Detroit is the latest and most obvious example.

It's interesting that those who are most responsible for the move to cut Social Security, or to chain the increase of benefits to the Consumer Price Index, are part of the lobby group "Fix the Debt" or of the influential "Business Roundtable." Here are some three hundred CEO's and Chief Executives who are sitting on the biggest retirement bonanza in human history. A report from the Institute for Policy Studies describes how the CEO's of the Business Roundtable hold an average $14.6 million in their retirement accounts. That's enough to pay themselves $86,043 monthly on retirement. The average American worker today, within ten years of retirement, has saved about $71 a month in retirement income.

David Cote, a key figure in both lobby groups, is holding $134.5 million in his Honeywell retirement account. That will mean about $795,134 a month. And he would have us believe we need to raise the retirement age to 70, or cut benefits with a chained COLA to retirees, effectively cutting lifetime benefits by twenty percent, in order to "save" social security. He certainly won't need to worry!

How about this David! Instead of saving Social Security with cuts to people who depend on it, including a sizable number of veterans, how about we just take the cap off the program. If people like you had to pay the same percentage in Social Security taxes as the common folk, ninety five percent of the suspected shortfall down the road twenty years from now would be resolved.

Or better yet, what if we cancelled some of the defense department contracts with companies like Honeywell?

According to the Congressional Budget office, President Obama's proposal (and the Business Roundtable's and Fix the Debts's proposal) to use the chained CPI to calculate cost of living increases would save the government $127 billion over ten years by cutting Social Security, and $36 billion over ten years by cutting "programs affecting veterans and the poorest elderly and disabled." That's a total of $163 billion.

For 2,457 F-35 aircraft, the Pentagon will spend $379.4 billion. That's money to acquire them, not fly or maintain them. The current estimate for operation and support is $1.1 trillion. That's a grand total of almost $1.5 trillion. Do the math! If we didn't buy 267 planes, seniors, veterans and the disabled wouldn't have to be whacked and the Pentagon (that arm of the federal government that has never been audited as their books are such a mess and the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing) would still get 2,190 planes.
Tell me now, where is the "entitlement?"

Carl Kline

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Follow the Sticky Notes

A recent edition of our local newspaper featured a photo of a corridor in one of our local schools.  The photographer captured the full length of the hallway with all the student lockers on either side of the hall.  On every locker and on the walls above the lockers were 500 sticky notes in bright fluorescent colors, each with its own message on it addressed to the student owner of each locker.  

The 500 messages were full of affirmation and encouragement for each student.  The messages said: “Be who you are!”    “You are beautiful inside and out!”   “Smile!”   “You matter!”  “I ‘heart’ you!”   “You are a bright idea!” Students wrote notes to other students and to their teachers.  Teachers wrote notes to the kids.  Even the office personnel custodians and cafeteria staff found notes affirming and appreciating them. 

A teacher remarked “If you talk about school culture, of course the push is toward an anti bullying culture.  But as we talked, we got to thinking, what if we had the kind of culture in our school where that’s not an issue, where we build people up, support them, let them know how wonderful they are?”

What if????? 

I wondered if it would be possible to change the culture of congress by encouraging senators and representatives to find and focus on each other’s strengths and abilities.  Could town officials take some time to uncover the best in each other before addressing the issues of town government?  Could boards of directors increase their effectiveness if they took time to recognize the special gifts and attributes each member brings, adding to agendas a time for positive human interaction before the business of the day begins?   What if the halls of congress and crowded town halls and dignified board rooms were to be covered with brightly colored messages letting all who entered the room know they are honored and appreciated and loved and respected for who they are?

It was not the adults in the school who dreamed up the idea of the sticky notes.  It was the kids.  It was the kids who hand wrote the 500 messages.  It is the kids who want and need a safe and positive culture within which to learn and grow and be creative and they know what is required in order to achieve it.

We live in a culture of bullying.  So many adult models are models of the exertion of power over others without regard to the sanctity and dignity of the lives that are diminished and sometimes destroyed by adult bullying.  It gets cloaked in a respectability of sorts - - we shrug our shoulders and say “That’s politics!”  and the damage continues.  Bullying does violence.  It does violence to the bullied.  It does violence to the bully.  It seeks to control. It shames. It destroys the soul.  It is a spiritual travesty.

If young school children know how harmful it is - -and can decide to do something to change their immediate culture, what are the possibilities for some visionary adults to do the same?  Maybe it’s time to follow the sticky notes.
Vicky Hanjian

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Leaving Room for the Other to Move

Among the painful memories of childhood for me are those of sandlot and schoolyard fights. The images still make me wince, groups of small boys, and later not so small, ganging up on one among them, bravado and proving of oneself at the expense of another. Whether of primal origin or a tragedy of socialization, it is brutal behavior transmitted through the generations that has far reaching consequence. Beyond the personal scars that are carried, small boys grow up to be men primed to fight, and it becomes the way of nations. Not a way that is learned at the breast, gentler generations of fathers and greater awareness of the dangers of bullying today offer hope toward breaking the cycle of violence, but there is so far to go. Mostly I stood back then, unsure what to do, no words to describe the torment of uncertainty, wanting to save the unfortunate child, sometimes being that one, on at least one occasion, remembered with shame, drawn in to be an aggressor. The worst moment in these primal contests, still remembered vividly, came as the terrified victim cried for mercy, and the crowd yelled, “Make him say uncle.” And then it would continue, even after “uncle” had been sobbed out, “uncle who, uncle who?”

These images came to me this week amid congressional debate on Iran. Calls to increase sanctions came as echoes from the crowd in the sandlot halls, “make him say uncle.” There were times back then when the humiliated and bleeding child may indeed have said or done something to cause insult, perhaps at another time having been the aggressor, lending to the moment a sense of just deserts. But belligerence and brutality never make sense. Among nations, there are times when sanctions are an effective tool, offering a nonviolent response to bad behavior. Sanctions have made far more sense in helping to shape Iranian nuclear ambitions than war and the cascade of violence sure to be spawned in its wake. The crux, however, is in the framing of sanctions, nonviolent only if enacted in a manner that affirms the humanity of the other and allows a way out of the bad behavior. Whether brought about through the economic impact of sanctions to this point, or concurrently as a reflection of Iranian desire to be more fully welcomed in the family of nations, it is clear that change is happing in Iran. It has been made clear through the recent negotiations and through speeches and messages to the world. To call now for increasing sanctions is to give no way out, to deny and defeat the very goal of sanctions. If sanctions have helped to bring the change in tone from Iran, to call for more sanctions now is akin to the crowd yelling, “uncle who, uncle who?” 

Leaving room for the other to move, not to be pinned to the ground, is essential for nonviolent change and conflict resolution. Stepping back from one’s own position of power in order to allow the other to find a way forward with dignity is the only way to break the cycle of violence. It is also the way of justice, the seedbed of peace and security for all. To add new sanctions at the moment of coming so close to meeting the goal of sanctions already in place pushes Iran into further isolation, increasing the likelihood of war and the development of an Iranian bomb. As though another scene in the same script as it played out this week, Israel’s unabated settlement policy leaves no room for Palestinians to move, for there still to be land for a Palestinian state, without which, two states together, there shall be no peace. It is all about learning to leave room for the other to move, allowing, eventually, for movement toward each other.

So ancient and so immediate, it all unfolds in the weekly Torah portion, Parashat Vayishlach (Gen. 32:4-36:43). In what becomes preparation toward reconciliation, Jacob wrestles in the night with a mysterious figure prior to his first encounter with his brother Esau after twenty years apart. Jacob had fled from Esau’s threat to kill him for stealing the birthright of the first-born. Reminding us that this is far more than a story of long ago, the Slonimer Rebbe emphasizes that the Torah is eternal and teaches us a way of going, eych l’hitnaheg/how to conduct ourselves

We learn a way of going in regard to conflict, how to conduct ourselves toward a greater good, as Jacob limps away from the night wrestling. Was it an angel, the spirit of Esau, his conscience, perhaps all of that and more? His hip having been dislocated by his opponent, he was in pain as morning came. The rising of the sun brought healing for Jacob, and yet he limped. In a powerful teaching that a rabbinical student drew me to, the Ha’emek Davar, Rabbi Naftoli Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, suggests that with his pain dissipated, Jacob was surprised that he could not walk as he had before. He thought that he had been entirely victorious and had not suffered at all at the hands of the other. He now realizes that the angel had also overcome him somewhat, as well, that they had each overcome the other in the course of struggle. From Jacob’s wrestling with the angel in anticipation of his encounter with his brother, the Ha’emek Davar then guides us in the way of conflict resolution that is rooted in leaving room for the other, not to inflict undue pain and humiliation, that resolution once achieved shall last: This comes to teach us how to conduct ourselves with an opponent, that we not compete excessively/she’lo l’hitacher imahem b’yoter; and when the fear (which gave rise to conflict) passes, it is seemly to give pause to the pursuer to go on their way/l’haniach et ha’rodef leylech l’darko….

For all the distance between Congress and schoolyard and sandlot bullying, there is a common thread. It is the elusive challenge to resolve conflict peaceably, to recognize the humanity of the other without threat to our own sense of self. Sadly, there is no monopoly on self-righteous claims to the rightness of one’s own view, and there is a short gap from the spark of belligerence to the igniting of violence. There is a clear danger in Iran’s development of nuclear weapons, but so too, a dangerous hypocrisy in failing to see the ultimate danger of nuclear weapons in any hands. Iran’s belligerent words toward Israel require response. Ever more sanctions, and most certainly a military response, will bring exactly the kind of conflagration that is feared, bolstering Iran’s will and justification toward developing a nuclear bomb. The efficacy of sanctions as response requires recognition of change when it occurs and the corresponding easing of sanctions as the goal is reached. Not to do so, and even worse, to increase sanctions in the face of change, offers no incentive to further change. Belying any morality of motive, forcing a cry of “uncle” casts us as the bully and plants the seeds of further violence. Toward the flowering of peace and reconciliation, may we recognize the change we seek when it appears before us and do all we can to nurture it to fruition.

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein

Thursday, December 12, 2013

We All Have a Choice to Make

I have recently been listening to some of my favorite bands in car rides to and from teaching, and I have stumbled across some lovely lyrics that tie in nicely with living nonviolently. I have recently been asked if I think mankind is inherently good or evil. I was asked once to give it a number on a one to ten scale: one means we are inherently pure evil and ten is pure good. This is a tough question for me because I can’t see how it would be one way or the other. We have a mixture of sorts within us. I know that I can flip in a matter of minutes from being completely self-centered to looking out for others’ interests. 

I have heard the Christian gospel countless times in my life, and I always heard an emphasis on our inherent evilness. We broke God’s good world and creation by going against his ways, and we needed a savior to come and save us from our wretchedness. Only lately have I thought more about the good in us. We have gone against God’s wishes and ways, yes, but we are also image bearers. We were still made in his image. We have goodness within us. 

So, I see it as both, and I think these lyrics from Switchfoot’s song “The War Inside” displays this tension beautifully: “Yeah, it's where the fight begins—Yeah, underneath the skin—Beneath these hopes and where we've been—Every fight comes from the fight within.” This to me sums up these internal struggles that so obviously make their way to the external world, into personal, national, and international relationships. We all battle this: which part of our self will prevail this minute, hour, day, lifetime.

Tenth Avenue North, another Christian band, sings this chorus in their song “Losing,” “This is love—this is hate—we all have a choice to make.” The entire song is beautifully crafted and convincing, but this line has special importance for this line of thought.  We will all experience these universal emotions, but we can choose what we do with this internal struggle. Too often have I heard people say that they feel hate for someone because of something the other person did. It is a choice to feel this way. This song always reminds me of this choice and gets me on the right track back toward realizing the ways in which I am failing to love the people who treat me well and those who do not. One of these words can define our entire existence, and people who choose hate are so clearly miserable because they chase after something that will never satisfy. Their hatred does much less toward the hated than the hater, so that’s the reason the lead singer says he is losing because he is choosing to judge and hate those around him. 

So, I listen to this song and think, okay I need to be better at loving the people around me, but how? How can I daily put them first? How can I unselfishly listen and serve? Well, there are obviously many answers to this question, and it is something that we will forever wrestle with: how can I be better today than I was yesterday? The thing I want to focus on is being a better listener. I know that listening helps me love better. This song, “Listen Up” by Brandon Heath displays such a beautiful kind of listening:

"Listen Up"
Why are you crying
Did I say something wrong
Were'nt we just talking
Tell me whats going on

Cause I'm pretty sure my intentions
Were nothing more than conversation
Maybe you just needed someone
To listen to your heart

Maybe I spoke too soon
Maybe I said too much
Now that my face is blue
Think it's time I listen up
I've already said enough

Sometimes I do this
Thing is I'm so afraid
When it get's quiet
What you might have to say

Cause I'm guilty of
I'm lost in my
Own translation
I apologize, I know I
Should listen to your heart

I often listen to the entire album this song is on from beginning to end, and when I get to this song, I tend to get kind of emotional. I’m not really sure why, but I think it has something to do with the fact that I know how important this is in relationship. We need to listen, really listen and try to understand what other people are going through; this is how we can help them fight the war within. This is how we can fight our own wars. Understanding leads to compassion, compassion to love. 

In his book Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life, Thich Nhat Hanh writes about “Real Love” in a brief chapter. He encourages people to ask this of the one they love: “Darling, do I understand you enough? Or am I making you suffer? Please tell me so that I can learn to love you properly. I don’t want to make you suffer, and if I do so because of my ignorance, please tell me so that I can love you better, so that you can be happy” (80). He says that we need courage to ask these tough questions, but asking them and listening for the answer can make love between people deeper and stronger.

As Thich Nhat Hanh points out, “There are many kinds of seeds in us, both good and bad. Some were planted during our lifetime, and some were transmitted by our parents, our ancestors, and our society” (74). So, I still could not assign a number to how good or evil we naturally are on a scale of one to ten, but I know we can choose what to do with these seeds, will we let the anger and hate fester and grow? Or will we deal with these seeds for what they are and let them make us more compassionate, more understanding, more loving? 

Recently, my boyfriend and I were talking about someone we know, and I said “hopefully we will see some drama!” He replied, “Well don’t pray too hard for it.” And I knew this comment had revealed a bad seed in me: wishing for someone else’s hardships for my own amusement. So, I was quiet for a little while until I built up the courage to say, “I should not have said that. I really did mean it though. I really need to deal with my feelings toward this person. I guess it was good that I said it because now I know how deep seeded they are.” It took courage for him to convict me about this, and it took courage for me to admit this obvious downfall in myself, but it wasn’t until I had to admit it to myself through talking with him that I really saw it for what it was. And it wasn’t until then that I could start the journey toward compassion for this person. When I saw this downfall in myself, I recognized the war within, and I could consciously make a choice to love. I love these songs because they help me fight the war within. They help me live better. 

Switchfoot’s “The War Inside”:
Tenth Avenue North’s “Losing”:
Brandon Heath’s “Listen Up”:

Jodi Moore
Guest Blogger

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Nelson Mandela

Recognizing that one of the most admired apostles of justice and nonviolent reconciliation of our time just died, we wanted to turn our readers attention to a website that honors him and helps us remember his life and accomplishments. Thanks to those who called our attention to this tribute to Nelson Mandela.

Monday, December 2, 2013

To Dwell Is to Make Peace Where We Dwell

November 22, 1963. The passage of fifty years seems almost unfathomable. As in grappling with any watershed moment in history, there is something that seems trite in remembering when we heard the news, just where we were, what we were doing, with whom. And yet, something not at all trite, an expression of connection to a moment in time, to people, not wanting to be alone even in remembering so we go back and think about who we were with. We struggle to make sense not only of that moment, but of life itself in the face of such terrible events. Every death is a mirror into our own mortality, every tragedy a reminder of our own fragility. So much written, so much said these days, still grappling with that day long ago that stands as a backdrop for so much other tragedy. Like all others who were alive then, who were of an age to remember, I find myself today sifting and turning shards of memory, events too big to grasp filtered through a personal mesh of life’s details.

I was an eighth grade student in Winthrop Junior High School. As I write, it is fifty years ago to about this very moment, near the end of the school day, in Miss Tice’s math class. It was certainly “Miss” then, change in so many ways of understanding still some years away, perhaps imperceptibly set in motion by the events of which we were about to hear. Miss Tice was absent that day. Our substitute, Mrs. Dimento, with whom we always felt a bond from then on, went to answer a knock on the door. As she gasped, we heard the news that President Kennedy had been assassinated. There was barely time to comprehend, as though time would bring comprehension. The bell rang and we began to file out, questions, rumors, confusion overflowing. I would like to think that we handle such things better today, so much practice in responding to tragedy, to guiding children through the unspeakable, no better though to protect them. I didn’t know what to do, so I did what I had planned to do. I got on a bus to go to the subway, then taking the “MTA” from East Boston to the Science Museum where I was taking a class on Friday afternoons. I had no way to call my mother, and since the family car was with my dad, and mom was at home with my brand new baby brother, she had no way to come get me from school. I felt as a wanderer, going through the motions of routine.

That is one of the images, an awareness that stays with me, that I could not have given words to then, but which I felt, of being a wanderer, of being alone. That inchoate sense within myself reflected a rising reality to which the epochal churnings of the “sixties” would be a response, seeking a way out from disorientation, confusion, alienation; anomie. For all the tumultuous issues and challenges soon to come, response was so rooted in the interpersonal, the personal becoming one with the political, all about making human connections and treating people as human beings, so basic, so simple, so complex. As the Youngbloods sang with an air of innocence about a decade later, words heard in the midst of demonstrations as well as in dormitory rooms, “come on people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together try to love one another right now.” And it was still brother, closer, but still waiting for the change to come as we wandered.

I thought about the journey, the wandering in the desert and about how far we have come and haven’t. I thought about the anti-government rhetoric that surrounded President Kennedy’s death, and about the guns, the guns, and all of that today. I thought about the racism and the hate, and the guns. With the first anniversary of Newtown a few weeks away, I wondered how many future presidents, teachers, leaders and guides along so many paths we lost, of all the innocence and innocents. I stood in line in the post office during the week and thought about people and connections. There was a long line and one single beleaguered clerk. One woman kept bemoaning, “this is gonna take forever.” I wondered about time and how we use it, and of those who never got to wait, who lost their place too soon in the slow moving line of humanity. Then almost at once several cell phones rang and all seemed to have been poor connections. As though choreographed, all these voices were calling out, “hello, hello, are you there, hello, hello.” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry or pity us all. There was something desperate in their voices, but they were our voices, all of us as knowing witnesses, drawn together in an urgent desire to connect.

In the Torah portion read during that week of remembering, the portion that is called Vayeshev (Gen. 37-40), the Yosef saga begins. A boy of seventeen, his mother dead, so alone and different, he goes out to seek his brothers. Wandering in a field, lost, a figure appears to him and asks him what he is looking for. He says so simply, I am looking for my brothers/et achai anochi m’vakesh. It is a portion of turmoil and torment, of endless seeking for connection, of love misdirected and unrequited. As Yosef approaches his brothers, they see him coming and say, Behold here comes the master of dreams/hinei ba’al hach’lomot ha’lazeh ba!/Now come, let us kill him….

The shots rang out that day. But dreams cannot be killed, as Rev. Martin Luther King had reminded us just a few months earlier, as though to prepare us, but we didn’t know it then, nor could we imagine that he would be the next dreamer to be killed. Vayeshev/and he dwelled, with a simple grammatical shift becomes va’yi’yashev/and he made peace. In the name of the Torah portion is its challenge, to dwell is to make peace where we dwell. Looking back to that shattering moment of fifty years go, those who were alive then remembering every detail of where they were, what they were doing, who they were with. And then we come back to the moment. Wandering in the desert with Yosef, daring still to dream, seeking our sisters and brothers, even those who would kill the dreamer and the dream. But dreams cannot be killed. The legacy of that day, the challenge of every day, is to make peace where we dwell.

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein
Reflecting on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, 50 Years Later

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Different Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is America’s favorite holiday. People of every faith tradition and people who disavow them all can come together and share the feast. Community shelters and faith communities open their doors and invite the world to come to the table. Families and friends come together and have a great time. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays.

This year the mostly white congregation that I serve as their interim pastor will be joined by a black congregation that shares our building with us in a thanksgiving feast. In spite of the fact that the first organized civil rights sit-ins occurred here in Wichita, Kansas, in 1958, the city remains pretty racially divided. There are many people in the community working in the spirit of 1958 to reclaim a greater sense of wholeness in the community. I am thankful for these efforts, but regret we have made so little progress over the last 55 years.

I will miss that party at the church, which is held the weekend before Thanksgiving, because I will be in Georgia, standing with thousands of others calling for our federal government to close the School of the Americas, also known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. The rally begins on Friday, November 22, 2013.

One of the places that I hope to visit while I am in Georgia is the Steward Detention Center—the largest private prison in the United States with over 2,000 inmates being held for deportation. The detention center is owned by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). This company owns and operates 67 private prisons in the U.S. with a capacity of 92,500 beds. With the help of CCA we have managed to turn people into commodities and prisons into a federally funded private business operated for the profit of shareholders. It’s obscene. (Note: my dictionary defines obscene as “a system designed to invite depravity.”)

The main event will happen outside the gates of Fort Benning, the home of the School of the Americas. These demonstrations have made a difference. Because of the courage of those who gather here we have learned a lot about our governments complicity in the war against Mayan people in Guatemala; its support of “Operation Condor,” which involved the military in seven Latin American nations; the work of SOA graduates who have tortured and killed thousands of people in Mexico, Honduras and Columbia, and efforts to further militarize the U.S. economy.

I am looking forward to meeting and hearing speakers like Edith López Ovalle from Mexico, Loren Cabnal from Guatemala, and Héctor Aristizábal of Columbia. All of these speakers will share first hand personal accounts of the work of SOA graduates in their countries. And, of course, we will celebrate the courage and witness of Father Roy Bourgeois, who founded School of Americas Watch thirty years ago.

I have long admired the work of Fr. Roy. I met him a couple of years ago when he was in Wichita to speak. This year I am thankful that I am able to go to Fort Benning and join his ever expanding company of witnesses who call for the closing of SOA and the demilitarization of our hemisphere.

David Hansen

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A New Harmony

A friend recently gave my husband a copy of  A NEW HARMONY:  The Spirit, The Earth, and The Human Soul by John Philip Newell.  It came into our hands in the midst of the reports of the rising death numbers in the Philippines.  

Concurrent with those reports is the ongoing saga of the Affordable Care Act and the many stories of disappointment and suffering that flood our collective consciousness every day as accusations and blame fixing and apologies and political consequences continue to dominate the news.

Two paragraphs in Newell’s book continue to do their work in me.  The first is a quote from Ettie Hillesum, a young woman who lived and died under Nazi rule in Holland during World War Two.  As she struggled to maintain her own humanity in the face of so much inhumanity she wrote: I feel like a small battlefield in which the problems, or some of the problems, of our time are being fought out.  All one can do is to keep oneself humbly available, to allow oneself to be a battlefield.

Newell writes that Etty Hillesums ability to “to look suffering in the face” was what allowed her to “passionately name the falseness of what was happening all around her…..and, at the same time , to know that the battle was being fought out also in the depths of her own soul.”

So, I am thinking now about what it means to “look suffering straight in the face”.  Just when it seems that the suffering of the world can’t get any worse – a typhoon hits.  I want to be rid of the consciousness of it and along comes a book that challenges me to stay with the suffering, to look at it head-on.  The continual coverage of the Affordable Care Act is wearying and yet the challenge is to look it “straight in the face” and to learn to name the falseness of so much that is happening in the world. No wonder Etty Hillesum described herself as “a small battlefield.”

As the drama around the Affordable Care Act continues to play itself out, and the players continue to move about on the stage in often self-serving ways all the while pointing their fingers at other actors, I wonder what this outward drama is telling me about the drama I need to witness within myself.  How is my own brokenness mirrored in the brokenness being acted out onstage?

Looking suffering straight in the face –in whatever way it manifests (and I am more and more inclined to see the conflict over the ACA as a manifestation of deeply seated and unnamed suffering) is not something that can be done in isolation.  It is just all too easy to grab another mystery novel off the shelf and move into an imaginary world where pain and suffering are all transformed into something more harmonious by the last page.

John Newell affirms that “Life’s essential harmony is within each of us.  So is life’s brokenness.  To be part of transformation is to look falseness in the face and to passionately name it and denounce it in our world, and at the same time to clearly identify its shadow within our own hearts and to do battle with it there.”

So suffering and falseness are closely juxtaposed in this challenging little book.  Both need to be “looked straight in the face”. Both need to be encountered within as well as without. 

In recent days, Yeb Sano, the leading Philippines negotiator addressed the UN climate summit in Warsaw.  In a passionate speech, he looked the suffering and the falseness that attend many of the discussions about climate change right in the face.  His willingness to do this on behalf of his own people on the world stage may have the potential for transformation to begin.

In July of 1942, Hillesum wrote in her diary “I have looked our destruction, our miserable end…straight in the eye, and my love of life has not been diminished.”   Newell concludes: “To look life straight in the eye, to see its pain and to see its beauty – this is an essential part of glimpsing the way forward.”

The way of hope and transformation seems, always, to be a way through, not around, the suffering and falseness that attend life at every turn.  We are given so many opportunities to learn.  May we look them straight in the face and be transformed.
Vicky Hanjian
 E. Hillesum, An Interrupted Life: The Diaries and Letters of Etty Hillesum 1941-1943, trans. A.J. Pomerans (London:Persephone, 1999), p. 164
 John Newell, A New Harmony: The Spirit, the Earth, and The Human Soul, (San Francisco:Jossey-Bass, 2011), p.62
 Ibid., p. 63
 Hillesum, An Interrupted Life, p. 189
 Newell, A New Harmony, p.75

Friday, November 15, 2013

Chasity's Lesson

When I was in junior high school – a seventh grader – I had a best friend.  As a seventh-grade girl, this title of “best friend” was tossed around a lot, but not by me and Chasity.  We lived a mile apart, which is extremely close when you’re growing up in rural South Dakota.  We were nearly inseparable for about three years, until after our freshman year of high school.  After that year, her family moved half an hour away to the city of Watertown and she switched high schools. 

By this time, we were old enough to drive and I had gotten a very old and semi-unreliable car from my parents.  Chasity did not have a car, but since I did, we determined that we wouldn’t grow apart despite her not returning to our same school.  After all, in rural South Dakota, thirty miles is also quite close.  

As our sophomore year of high school commenced separately, we did begin to grow apart.  We now talked only once a week, and slowly, even less often than that.  Finally, after Christmas break arrived, Chasity called me to tell me that she missed me, and that we ought to get together to catch up.  I missed her too, and so agreed to make the drive.  We made plans to go to the mall and then see a movie.

I came inside her new house and received a tour, and then we went out the door.  When we got to the mall, however, I was surprised and annoyed to find that Chasity had arranged for other people to meet us there without telling me first.  I let it pass, thinking that she had only wanted to introduce me to new friends, though I was very disappointed.  I had wanted to spend quality time with her and really catch up.  Over the course of the next couple of months, this happened several more times.  

It took me a few more visits to realize that Chasity was only using me for access to a vehicle, and because her mother trusted me.  If her mom saw me in my car outside waiting to pick Chas up, she didn’t worry that her daughter might be up to no good, or at the very least she didn’t worry as much.  This realization hurt me, and infuriated me.  After all, I was driving thirty minutes to spend time with her, though time with me apparently meant little to her.  

The last time I allowed this to happen was the last time we spoke to each other face-to-face.  I picked her up, and hoped against hope that she would not have arranged to meet anyone at the mall.  As you know, teenaged girls are disinclined to tell each other what they really think, and so I postponed the moment when I would have to say anything.  I was also hoping to give her the benefit of the doubt, and that maybe this time, we would actually just hang out.  

Unfortunately, I was disappointed.  Chasity had indeed texted some of her guy friends to meet up with us.  I find it pertinent to mention that the only people we ever met with were guys, because it was another reason for the growing rift in our friendship.  I was never a flirt like Chas was, and I felt left behind.  I remember feeling defensive of the “compliments” the boys threw my way, but Chasity liked the attention.  I was always rather put off by the things her guy friends said.  I did not encourage any of their interest on the few occasions when I met them.  They were not always the same guys.  All I knew at fifteen years old was that I was in unfamiliar territory, and I was confused and probably a little frightened by the flirting, which was on a more advanced level than what I was used to.  I think back then though, Chasity had more curiosity than I did, and I might have been jealous.  If she had ever talked to me about these things and kept me in the loop of her life, things might have gone differently that night.  As it was, we were immature teenagers who didn’t know how to communicate with one another.  I don’t know whether it ever occurred to Chasity to simply tell me that she wanted to meet up with other people when we got to the mall – perhaps if she had, I would not have felt betrayed and then left out by the flirting that ensued.

The mall was never a busy place in Watertown, South Dakota,  especially not on a weeknight.  As we walked inside and rounded a corner, sure enough, I saw a small gang of guys strutting cockily towards us, and I turned to Chas in disgust, and our confrontation began.  I don’t remember what we said, or how it escalated, but before long we had started shouting, and I remember that we had to take it out into the parking lot because it had been inappropriately loud in the empty mall.  I know that I said the cruelest things I could think of to her, and she defensively shot back the corresponding insults at me.  I called her things like “skank” and “slut” etc., and she called me a baby and a prude and told me to grow up.  I remember getting into my vehicle and yelling after her before I drove off, “Have fun slutting around, hope you don’t get knocked up!”  

That was not the last time we saw each other, but it was the last time we spoke.  We didn't interact if we saw each other, but made awkward eye contact and then looked pointedly away.  This continued for the remainder of our high school years.  However, after our dramatic and extremely final fight, I did not take the high road.  I doubt she talked about me respectfully after that either, but that doesn’t change anything, especially not now.  I returned to my high school the next day and abused her thoroughly to the other girls who had known her, and she was our topic of cruel gossip for the next week or more. Throughout the year, occasionally her name would again crop up for negative discussion.  Even after I graduated and went off to college, I would still sometimes bring her up to new friends of mine if it happened to be relevant somehow, and cut her down all the more. 

She did eventually reach out to me on Facebook in the fall of my sophomore year in college.  She informed me that she had had a daughter, and told me that her baby’s birthday was 10/10/10, and she loved that her baby had such a unique birthdate.  October 10th is also my birthday, but instead of offering her a half-hearted congratulation, all I could say back to her was something indifferent and along the lines of “Yeah, that’s my birthday too.”  The conversation fizzled, and I made an excuse to get off my computer.  She never reached out to me again.  I was at a friend’s house at the time of this exchange, and as soon as I closed the laptop, I proceeded to – you guessed it – bash her.  I told the whole stupid story of how she used me for my car and to lie to her mom, and called her a whole host of cruel names again.  I even said some pretty low things about being annoyed that she’d had her baby on my birthday.  

Chasity died on August 4th, 2013.  She was in a vehicle accident north of town somewhere, and I don’t know anything else about the circumstances of her death.  I found out about her on the radio while I was driving out to the Sturgis motorcycle rally.  I felt like I’d been hit in the chest with a battering ram.  I immediately pulled over and called my mom, and then my sister, and then my dad, to tell them what I’d just found out.  My mom cried with me over the phone… I couldn’t have stood it if none of them had picked up my call.  I needed desperately in that moment to have someone to listen while I cried at the loss of an old friend’s memory.

I think about Chasity almost every day since I heard the news about her death, though had she not died, I probably would have gone years without paying her a single thought.  Unless perhaps a new opportunity for talking trash came up.  We did, after all, spend immeasurable amounts of time together, and we had so many great memories.  You do a lot of growing up between the ages of twelve and fifteen, and we had had everything in common once.  I remember the songs we liked, and some of the silly dance moves we made up to them.  I remember climbing trees together in my shelterbelt, and how once we had laughed so hard that she had fallen, though thankfully not far enough to be injured, and we had laughed even harder.  I remember how we’d endlessly play volleyball, or play catch and practice batting in my yard.  She once hit a ball and broke a window on one of my dad’s trucks parked out in the grass.  We got into trouble that day and hadn’t been permitted to see each other for a week.  I remember what an awful week it had been.  

When I think of her now, I don’t remember the things that led to the end of our friendship, except to feel deep shame in my behavior.  I don’t know why I thought it was okay to say the things that I did about her – I think I told myself that it didn’t matter, and because I was telling people who didn’t know her, what I said would never get back to her or hurt her.  I was right about the second part… what I said never did get around to her or hurt her in anyway as far as I am aware, but I could not have been more mistaken in thinking that it did not matter.  

You see, the main reason I think I talked so much trash was that I thought I was right.  I knew that she was wrong to use me for my car, and I knew that she was wrong to lie to her mom, and I knew that she was wrong to lie to me about it.  But how trivial do those things sound as you read them?  It is tragically comical now, yet those things were enough to tear our friendship apart.  I clung to the knowledge that I was the wronged party, and that she was the bad one, making all the mistakes.  I felt quite high and mighty knowing that I was resisting attention from boys and that I never had to sneak away from my parents, because I was an angel and they trusted me.

When I learned that she was gone forever, I think a part of me realized that also meant that any lingering thought I had entertained of making amends with her was also gone.  I would never get to try and make up for all of my trash talking, and worst of all, I would never get to tell her that I didn’t mean the things I said the night we “broke up."  Worst of all was knowing that she had tried to bridge the gap and I had denied her the opportunity.  I could have let my curiosity take over, but instead I let my own bitterness and superiority rule me. 

So, every day for the past few months, Chasity has crossed my mind in one way or another, and the fact that she never heard my mean words directed at her doesn’t ease my guilt anymore.  Instead I feel disgust, and shame, and regret.  I let my need to be right ruin what might have been one of the closest and longest friendships I ever had.  The cruel things I said about her didn’t hurt her one little bit.  They hurt me.  Those careless, stupid, bitter words hurt me every day, knowing that there is nothing I can do to take them back. 

I will never get to be introduced to her daughter, who I hope has her beautiful dark eyes.  I bet her baby’s eyes sparkle and crinkle at the edges when she laughs just like Chasity’s did.  I can never make right the things I said to her in a moment of anger.  I can only learn from my immature mistakes.  I know now that “being right” will never matter as much as a friendship matters. 

I have since found her mother and younger sister on Facebook, but I don’t yet have the courage to reach out to them.  I hope that sometime soon, I can contact them and find out where Chasity is resting.  I’d like to visit her grave, and pay my respects, and maybe if I am extremely blessed, I might get to meet her daughter after all.   

Pamela Parliament
Guest Blogger

Sunday, November 10, 2013


My wife reminded me that our kitchen faucet was leaking. Since I've made an effort recently to respond to minor household emergencies quickly, and since I was aware of the dripping for a few days, I got right on it.

After taking the top off I discovered that the part that was likely the problem was different from any I'd ever seen before. It must have been installed by the plumber the last time I couldn't stop a leak. In years earlier, all I had to do was replace a little rubber ring and it would work as good as new. But since the inside of faucets have become more complex, with the interior parts all of one piece and costing ten bucks, I'm even less handy than before.

Still, I tried. I went to the hardware (do it yourself) store to get a new piece. I took the old one with me so I could get a match. After looking for the part for about ten minutes and not finding anything like it, I asked for help. The clerk took me to a different aisle and found one with some modest differences. I bought it. Did I mention it cost ten bucks?

It installed easily. I turned the water back on and bingo, there was no dripping. So I put my tools away, congratulated myself, and waited for my wife to come back so I could proudly point out to her that the dripping faucet was fixed. 

Alas, before she got back, I turned on the faucet to wash my hands and the drip was still there. It was as bad, or worse, than before. So I got out my tools again, worked at tightening everything down and stripped some threads. Defeated (I called it the third strike), I put things back together as best I could and waited for the inevitable admission of failure.  

It got me to thinking about water. My Lakota friend tells me that water has rights, just like humans have rights. One of the rights of water is to flow where it will. If we don't recognize this right of water, it may cause us difficulty. Certainly it does! 

Consider basements wet after a heavy rain. Or how about what happened to those folks in Vermont as a result of hurricane Irene and along the Jersey Shore during hurricane Sandy. Some folks are still recovering from the flooding along the Missouri a couple years back and imagine all the time and money they'll need to spend in Colorado after the recent flooding there.

Boulder County, Colorado was hit the worst with over 9 inches of rain on September 12 and up to another 17 inches recorded by September 15. The annual, average precipitation for Boulder County is about 21 inches. That's annual, in a year! So in 4 days Boulder County got more than the usual rainfall in a year. 

This water went exactly where it wanted to go. And it took 1,500 homes with it and damaged another 19,000. There are at least 30 state highway bridges destroyed and another 20 badly damaged. Miles of roadway and rail lines were washed out or submerged. The flood waters covered about 200 miles from north to south and did damage in a total of 17 counties. To make matters worse, some of the 1,900 fracking wells in Colorado were flooded and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission reported it was tracking 12 spills, 14 sites with evidence of small spills and 60 sites with visible damage to storage tanks.

Water goes where it will and if it's polluted with all manner of toxic chemicals or with oil and gasoline, watch out. Fracking generated some 280 billion gallons of toxic waste water last year while drilling 80,000 wells across the country. That's enough toxic waste water to flood all of Washington, D.C. twenty two feet deep.

It's ironic that the South Dakota Peace and Justice Center scheduled their annual meeting in Rapid City, S.D. but cancelled as the weather forecast got worse. The theme of the meeting was "water," that resource we all need and want, in our bodies, our fields, and our faucets. But the water that was falling in record amounts as snow, meant members had to sit at home and reflect on why so much moisture was falling again, rapidly, in one place. 

When questions arrive my way I have a favorite place to look besides the internet. The Brookings Library always seems to have some interesting new books on that shelf just inside the door. As I glanced that way the other day, I noticed the latest book by Bill McKibben called "Oil and Honey." McKibben answers the question of big rains and weird weather for me. 

We are experiencing a warmer climate. There is about 5 per cent more moisture in the atmosphere than in the past. So when it comes, rain comes in buckets and the water flows where it will.

Some folks are beginning to call these events like Sandy and the Colorado flooding and the terrible wildfires "Biblical" events. I agree. They  are. The problem is we humans are taking the Genesis story of creation in the Bible backwards. Instead of being stewards of the earth with the Creator we're de-developing the harmonious whole. Our relentless addiction to fossil fuels and the industry's addiction to profits promises to bring us back to chapter one, verse two. The plants and animals will go first (which is already happening) but we humans will eventually go too. We'll be left again with, "and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters."

Carl Kline

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Success of Nonviolent Civil Resistance: Erica Chenoweth

Between 1900-2006, campaigns of nonviolent civil resistance were twice as successful as violent campaigns. In this TedxBoulder Talk, Erica Chenoweth discusses her research on the impressive historical record of civil resistance in the 20th century and also the promise of unarmed struggle in the 21st century. She focuses on the so-called "3.5% rule"—the notion that no government can withstand a challenge of 3.5% of its population without either accommodating the movement or (in extreme cases) disintegrating. In addition to explaining why nonviolent resistance has been so effective, she also shares some lessons learned about why it sometimes fails.

Note: If you can't see the viewer above, click here to watch the video.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

To Be a Blessing in the Journey of Our Lives

A few times a year I travel by Skype to a college classroom in rural South Dakota. A friend of mine who is a retired minister teaches a religion class there. Most of his students have never met a Jew and without a Jewish community in any feasible distance, there is no rabbi whom they could invite to visit in person. As technology facilitates the diminishing of distance between people, itself a beautiful metaphor, I have become the nearest rabbi with whom there is a connection. I enjoy these visits to my friend’s classroom and I respect his efforts to help his students travel beyond the boundaries of their own lives. In truth, I am often challenged as much as they are, learning from their questions, hoping that they value our exchanges as much as I do. 

Having made one of my virtual visits to South Dakota this week, I was struck by the depth of the students’ questions. It was a small group, all women studying to be teachers. The quality and depth of their questions suggests that they too will help their young students travel beyond the boundaries of their own lives. Even the frequently asked questions on these visits were asked this week with a refreshing sensitivity and genuine curiosity, questions about Jesus and how Jews view him, questions of Jewish belief and practice, of how I decided to become a rabbi, views about Muslims and other faiths. Reflecting knowledge of Bible and of challenges to faith, I was asked what I thought of Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice his own son, Isaac. Drawing on a countervailing thread in Jewish tradition, I shared my view that Abraham failed God’s test, meant to see if he would defend his own as readily as he would soon defend the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, so too whether he would control the passion of his own faith. I was asked about violence in Scripture and in life, even when intended for good. I shared my view that the entire Torah is meant to turn us away from violence, giving us a context in which to wrestle with all that violates life in the sacredness of text, then going out from the Book to challenge all that violates life in the sacredness of the world around us. Tested as Abraham was, God waits to see our response, whether we will take up the knife or lay it down, and the angels hold their breath.

The very last question came as a gift, challenging me to be truly present with myself as well as with the students whom I now saw patiently waiting through the window of a computer screen; “how has your religion shaped your life?” I had to pause, not a matter of searching out text and sharing information, but of looking within. Yet the texts that transmit wisdom as gathered through the generations inform the personal journey, offering a starting point from which to move forward into the journey of our own life. “It is not so much,” I explained, “that Judaism shapes my life, but it gives me the means and the encouragement by which to shape my life.” Through the cadence of daily prayer, a structure is indeed given to each day. Pausing in the flow of daily time, I am reminded to go out and see the miracles of each day, even as the days of each week come home to Shabbos and offer a vision of a world at peace. And then too, from the respite of one day, I am bidden to go out and see the world with a new sense of possibility for what might be. The ways of Jewish life offer a context for living and for striving, helping us to shape a path for the journey whose end we do not know. Bidden to wake in the morning with gratitude, the act of lifting our feet to take each new step along the way is an expression of faith.

It is the story of that week’s Torah portion, Parashat Lech L’cha (Gen. 12-17), in which Avram and Sarai, are told to go forth, Lech l’cha mey’artz’cha, u’mi’molad’itcha, u’mi’beyt avicha el ha’aretz asher ar’eka/go forth from your land, from your birthplace, from your parents’ home to the land that I will show you. The words Lech l’cha literally mean “go to your self.” These are the first steps in the journey of the Jewish people. It is a journey that is recapitulated in each of our lives, and is at the same time a reflection of the archetypal human journey. It is the journey of every person toward self-discovery and awareness, the ever unfolding process to discover the meaning of our own lives in relation to the needs of the world around us, the very reason for which we have been brought into the world.

In going forth, Avram and Sarai are told ve’hiyeh b’racha/be a blessing. That is the goal and challenge in the journey of our lives. On the words Lech L’cha, the Slonimer Rebbe offers for the first time his signature teaching, l’chol adam yesh yi’udo v’tafkido/each person has their own unique task and purpose. I encouraged the students with whom I spoke to find their task and their unique purpose as they become teachers, encouraging their students in turn to discover their task and purpose in life, knowing that they are each indeed a blessing. In the sincerity of a student’s question, I was reminded of the beauty in sharing with others the meaning of who we are. To seek and celebrate that meaning of self is the beginning of knowing and fulfilling our task and purpose in the world, of being a blessing in the journey of our lives.

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein

Friday, October 25, 2013


The first time I ever saw a mediation take place was on the internet. It was an amazing experience. Here were two people who are usually adversaries in a courtroom, separated from each other's stories by legal teams and a cultural paradigm. But in the mediation, they were sitting in the same room with a mediator, listening to the story of the other.

The one party to the conflict had already been arrested and was awaiting sentencing for driving while intoxicated. She had run into the vehicle of the second person and caused some severe injuries. So the accused had to sit there in the presence of her victim and hear the pain and trauma she had caused, not only to the injured but to her family as well. And then the injured sat and heard the story of the other, her history of childhood abuse and her problems with alcohol and her regret about the pain she had caused. 

The mediation didn't change the facts of the case. It didn't diminish the injury. It didn't change the eventual outcome of the case or the charges against the accused. But it did change the context of the process and set the stage for some healing for the future.

There's an organization in our area of the U.S. that provides this kind of service to those who have experienced crime and conflict and would like to be restored to some degree of wholeness. It's called "Restore" and is based in Sioux Falls, S.D.. Their mission statement reads: "Acknowledging that crime and conflict cause injuries to people and communities, Restore helps those who have experienced harm to return to wholeness. Based on a justice that heals, Restore programs enable victim, offender and affected members of the community to be directly involved in responding to crime and conflict. Restore provides safe and appropriate opportunities for harmed and harm-doer to discuss directly the human consequences of the injury, address issues of safety and accountability and to begin the process of moving forward."

One expects that such efforts at restoration go a long way toward alleviating the demons of hate and guilt, freeing both parties from some of the devils to a good nights sleep. It's always so disheartening to hear those who have suffered from a crime carrying their hatred of the perpetrator with them to the grave. All of that psychic energy over a lifetime devoted to hatred, with no place to go, no relief, no vacation. 

Hate and guilt both diminish the spirit, the soul, sometimes to the point where vital life stops altogether.

There are several Universities involved in looking at the effects of anger and hatred on the physiology of the body. It's a well known fact that anger and hatred impact the one feeling those emotions. Blood pressure goes up with all the additional danger and fight/flight symptoms. But there have also been some new developments in the study of forgiveness. Forgiveness, on the other hand, moderates those fight/flight behaviors. The forgiving personality can talk about the experience of being wronged without having to relive it. They don't forget but they are able to forgive. Sometimes they are able to understand the suffering of the other as well as their own.

Suffering is the point! Suffering is universal. The Buddha says, "life is suffering." You may think you suffer alone, but it's only because you haven't taken the time, and been vulnerable enough with others, to discover what's under the surface of the lives of your friends and neighbors. And when we come face to face with the suffering of the other, it calls on the compassion we have in us, the generosity and love, and we're able to see ourselves in the other.

Carl Jung concluded that it wasn't the elemental forces of nature that were most threatening to human beings. It wasn't what was outside us, but inside us. "The Age of Enlightenment, which stripped nature and human institutions of Gods, overlooked the God of Terror who dwells in the human soul." That God needs to meet the God of Love face to face.

There are some states where mediation as an option for resolving conflicts is taken seriously. Colorado, for instance, requires mediation before any divorce cases can go to court. If the dispute can  be resolved in a more amicable way than an adversarial proceeding in a busy court system, why not try it. Certainly mediation promises to be better for the long term well being of any children who might be involved in a divorce.

We have given Martin Luther King, Jr. a holiday and a memorial. But we still don't take his ideas and words to heart. King reminds us, "Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate … Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

Carl Kline

Sunday, October 20, 2013

It's All About the Way We See Each Other

I have become adept over the years at finding space in which to pray in the traditional times and ways of Jewish prayer while travelling. So it was at Logan Airport early on a Sunday morning that I searched out the right place while waiting for a flight to Washington for the JStreet conference. At a gate near to my own, with only a few sleepy people waiting for flights not yet posted, I set my pack down in a corner and took out my talis (prayer shawl) and t’filin (prayer boxes), purposefully putting on the garb of prayer. Prayer book in hand, I began to pray, realizing quickly, however, from the growing buzz around me, that people were arriving sooner than I had anticipated. As I tried to focus, the sounds of distraction in fact helping me, urging me to concentrate, I couldn’t help but hear the voice of a child, as clearly, I’m sure, as did everyone else in the waiting area, “look daddy, he’s Jewish!” Uncertain whether the child was Jewish, her exclamation an expression of pride, or precocious, aware at a tender age of the human faith mosaic, her words stayed with me and became part of my prayerful intention. Here, where paths and journeys intersect, travelers from so many diverse starting points merge as one. As people on the way and on the wing, travelers all, there is an awareness of common purpose to be carried as a gift from an airport waiting-lounge. Going and coming and throughout my time away, I kept hearing the little girl’s words. I mused about appearance beyond the intimate garb of prayer, and about what conveys to others and to our selves the essence of who we are.

As travelers who set out from their own homes and so return at journey’s end, we learn and, perhaps, come even to share something of each other’s uniqueness. As travelers, we learn of all those others with whom we share the journey and the path along the way. It is the lesson in the first two portions of the Torah, the first eleven chapters of Genesis. Entirely universal, the portions of B’reishit and No’ach are about all people, of creation and the beginnings of the human story, all setting the backdrop for the particular story of the Jewish people. So we learn what it means to be Jewish in relation to others, being of the human family, yet returning home at night. Called by the uninhibited delight of a child to consider who we are, the early chapters of the Torah remind us of human moral calling and the way of its expression in our own lives.

Culminating in the rainbow that appears after the flood in the Torah portion for the week of my travels, the portion of No’ach, Noah of the ark and the flood, we learn of moral development and the ability to change perspective toward greater embrace of others. As violence swelled in the world, itself the flood that ultimately destroyed, God saw the evil and brought the flood of water upon the earth. When No’ach emerged from the ark and saw the destruction, a poignant midrash says he began to cry. As No’ach was moved by the sight of such destruction, so too was God. At that moment, God says, “Never again will I curse the ground…; nor will I ever again destroy every living thing as I have done…” (Gen. 8:21). Recognizing the failure of violence as a way of change, another way is set in the clouds, a reversed bow that becomes a sign of peace, its string facing toward the other, assurance that no arrows shall fly. 

The rainbow becomes an external sign of something even more important, the internal change that allows the rainbow to appear in the first place, that allows the bow in the hand of the warrior to be reversed, turned around as a sign of peace. Commentators point toward the change within God as a model for change within our selves. The Slonimer Rebbe notes that in the portion of B’reishit (Gen. 1:1-6:8), it is human violence that moves God to bring the flood, and in the portion of No’ach (Gen. 6:9-11:32), it is human violence that brings God to promise never again to destroy. On that shift in Divine perspective is a challenge for the way that people should view each other, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch writes, “God has implanted into every human being the drive for independence so that eventually he will become persistent and steadfast in doing good.” Our own perspective of the other can be a key in allowing change to happen.

In regard to the Middle East, as in all the states of our own being, change in perspective, in how we see the other, will eventually allow the bow to be reversed in the hand of the warrior. There is change in finding another way than military might to challenge the evil of chemical weapons in Syria. It was an opportunity missed, hopefully to come again, in turning away rather than toward an Iranian leader who offered different words than before. So to shift perspective and see the Palestinian partner as real and present in the quest for two states, each reaching out to the other as equals, peace and justice joining. Offering a moment of levity, a Palestinian speaker looked to the Red Sox as a model of accomplishment for Palestinians to aspire to. There too, it is about perspective, how we see ourselves in relation to the other, how we work and travel together through the long season of life, nurturing and celebrating a new attitude and way of being.

Throughout the JStreet conference I continued to hear the little girl’s words, “look daddy, he’s Jewish.” Whether the startling image of a man in talis and t’filin at an airport gate, whether of leaders or common folk, of k’fiah or kufi, of the same root and purpose as kippah, expressions of humility upon the head, it is all about the way we see each other.

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein