Unexpected treat: Shabbat in Bogota

Before I take off for Cartagena tomorrow,  I want to tell you about a special – and unexpected treat: Shabbat dinner – in the Zohar hostel with the hostel’ hosts and E., an Orthodox Cali Jew/ fellow traveler.  Where to even begin….

 

E., B., J., from left to right.  I have no other pictures from the dinner because once the sun went down, there would be no pics.

E., B., J., from left to right. I have no other pictures from the dinner because once the sun went down, there would be no pics.

The Zohar’s J. and B. are captivated by Kabbalah, and by extension, Judaism.  E. has been satisfying their curiosity, providing equal opportunities to teach and learn.  I was invited to Shabbat/Friday night dinner thanks to my DNA.  At 5:30 we gathered in the hosts’ home on the 2nd floor and E. prayed the afternoon service.   Needless to say, not part of my ritual.

What I’m about to say may sound familiar if you’ve read earlier posts about my Eastern European conversations:  As Jews here reclaim their Judaism (Benei Anussim, Orthodox communities are springing up all over the country – 21 at current count – all Orthodox, because as E. shared, if you don’t know anything you should learn it all the ‘right’ way and then you have the knowledge to make the decision to do otherwise – choose your own brand of Judaism (and in my case “Jewish Renewal” thanks to Romemu in NYC).   Based on J.’s and B.’s strong affinity, E. threw out the possibility they had Jewish DNA – something that was drawing them back in so to speak.

Inside the church at Monseratte, atop the hill overlooking Bogota.  I'll have pics of synagoge's as I attend.  As you can imagine the church's here are plentiful, with crowds attending afternoon services.

Inside the church at Monseratte, one of Bogotá’s prize destination,  atop an eastern hill overlooking the city. I’ll have pics of synagogues as I attend. As you can imagine the churches  here are plentiful, with crowds attending afternoon services in those I’ve popped into.

Gondola that took us down the hill - my scariest action so far - I was with a Peace Corps volunteer, W. from Paraguay and she agreed!  This pic courtesy of rawinquiry.com

Gondola that took us down the hill from Monsarrat – my scariest action so far – I was with a Peace Corps volunteer, W. from Paraguay and she agreed! This pic courtesy of rawinquiry.com

The Hebrew (with a Sephardic accent) and Spanish prayers were diligently listened to by J. and B. – from Kabbalah, they were focused on the pronunciation of each letter, and open to its spirituality.  It’s one more example of how intent guides the value of any experience.  I’m respectful – and in awe of those learning a new religion – having the strength and self-awareness to know something is ‘missing’ from their life – not to mention learning how to read Hebrew and pray. E. didn’t learn till he was 28 – (and he knew he was Jewish: his mother is Sephardic, his grandfather Ashkenazi/German from the EEuropean immigration of the ’20’s).

Rich red and green dot the eastern hills above the city, these in Monserrate

Rich red and green dot the eastern hills above the city, these in Monsarrat.

During a lovely dinner of soup (with lots of potatoes Colombian style), salad, chicken and ox tail (yup!), B. asked non-stop questions – in Spanish with spectacular non-verbals!  My brain bloated way before my stomach, though most of her questions (I think…) dealt with both the history of Judaism and also specific Halacha (rules).  E. clearly outlined the difference in men’s and women’s roles in Orthodox Judaism – separation of the sexes, men leading prayer in volume and intensity –  while I explained how my service is filled with singing and dancing – and mixed seating.  I imagine over the next few months I’ll find myself in many different synagogue groups, equally awed, equally amazed, and feeling wonderfully blessed (and even frustrated).

Overlooking Bogota - as you can see a HUGE city.  The skies are overcast and actually quite polluted thanks to diesel fuel

Overlooking Bogotá – as you can see a HUGE city. The skies are overcast and actually quite polluted thanks to diesel fuel

E. and I were in total agreement that there is no-one way to be Jewish.  As he said – it’s not a race, nationality, or even just a religion – it’s a way of thinking.  And freedom of thought, as Jews reclaim their identity here is the greatest gift.  Though he was quite insistent on the importance of following the ‘rules’ (Halacha) which is not my way of practicing.  This insistent determination is something I’ll be paying attention to over the next few months.

One thing is for certain – I listen for similarities from my E.European conversations and that has to stop.  I’m in a different culture with a different history.  I know so little – I have so much to learn.

The eastern hills are lush and beckoning.  Notice the cross planted as a reminder - a mecca to all who look up.  By late afternoon the sky clears to reveal the brilliant blue sky and welcome warmth!

The eastern hills are lush and beckoning. Notice the cross planted as a reminder – a mecca to all who look up. By late afternoon the sky clears to reveal brilliant blue sky and welcome warmth!

 

 

Blocks away, is this restaurant/sign.  It appears I not only can't understand Spanish - but I can't understand Hebrew either.  Yet, that it's even here intrigues me.  If anyone can  translate - please do!

Blocks away, is this restaurant/sign. It appears I not only can’t understand Spanish – but I can’t understand Hebrew either. Yet, that it’s even here intrigues me. If anyone can translate – please do!

Everybody loves Kabbalah

slight exaggeration.  While Madonna put it (back) on the spiritual map, there are certainly worse trends to follow out there.   In here, my current hostel, The Zohar, my hosts’ (Joshua and Beatriz)  red-stringed wrist shows the far-reaching appeal of this practice.  There was even a Kabbalah center here in Bogotá which my hostel host is pushing to reopen.

The 'living room' at the Zohar Hostel

The ‘living room’ at the Zohar Hostel

Coming to the Zohar (the hostel) was accidental – focused on satisfying my physical, not spiritual needs – I walked past and had seen the pictures.  Uncovering the Kabbalah connection came when I realized the name’s familiarity – though I had to google it to be sure.   My host, J. knows little about Judaism.  He does know Jews – through work in NYC and also ‘rumor’ so to speak here in Bogotá.

The original site of Bogota!

The original site of Bogotá!

I wouldn’t say this hostel is particularly spiritual, though it’s got wonderful down comforters which adds to my sleeping nirvana.  Yet, in a country of less than 5,000 Jews there are now 2 of us here – Elijah, who is here for work.   He’s spent 12 years in Miami and will be going back for the Jewish High Holidays.  I notice  how fluidly people travel between the Americas – which also means I can’t say I’m American – because so is everyone else here.

Elijah’s Orthodox, living in Cali, a small city west of here –  there is a community and a growing Jewish community as Colombians declare their Judaism.  There has always been a population here insisting they were Jewish – but unable to prove it with papers, meaning  they’ve been ignored.   E. shared they practice the Halacha (laws), keep kosher, speak Hebrew.  But still the ‘established’ Jewish community, the Ashkenazi who moved here in the 1930’s fleeing Hitler, wouldn’t recognize them.   Last January, Spain released a list of over 5,000 names of those exiled 500 years ago.  Surprise, surprise – they were all Jews.   There are 21 Jewish communities springing up around the country.  And they are Orthodox – E. says if you are embracing the religion take it all and then decide what you believe, and how you will practice.  (I’ll be writing about Shabbat dinner with Elijah, Joshua and Beatriz soon).

Really, I don’t look for this stuff.  Not yet – not on this trip.  But already my curiosity is sparked and I can feel the draw to explore in-depth other parts of the country – and these communities.  After all, there are no coincidences.

This 'mini-golf' event courtesy of Quaker Oats was taking place at the original Bogota site.  This could have been anywhere….

This ‘mini-golf’ event courtesy of Quaker Oats was taking place at the original Bogotá site. This could have been anywhere….

It all comes back to identity:   how one maintains identity when it’s not supported by the environment.  I’m sure I’ll learn more about this with indigenous people as I see the country.

Then there’s language:  I’m here to teach English, the ‘universal language’.  At a ‘Spanglish’ conversation group at a local bar, Eduardo, a young ‘Biology teacher who teaches in English’ pointed out if everyone speaks English what will happen to all the other languages.  What will happen to alternative ways to communicate and express oneself.  Will Starbucks and H&M take over?  Or are they already here and I haven’t seen them (which is more likely….)

Subway shops are everywhere, I've seen a Starbuck's cup (not store), several McDonalds - you get the idea….

Subway shops are everywhere, I’ve seen a Starbuck’s cup (not store), several McDonald’s – you get the idea….

Somehow I’m making time to look for work – one ‘offer’ for an unspecified number of hours and I’m soon off to another interview.  I’ve finally tapped into the corner of the expat community at the local language school and realize there are people who will help me settle in and see the city.

Mike (right) and his buddy showed me the ropes of taking a bus and their experience as Expats.  On their way for a casting call, Mike will be playing a dead guy in a Micky Rourke movie

Mike (right) and his buddy showed me the ropes of taking a bus and their experience as Expats. On their way for a casting call, Mike will be playing a dead guy in a Micky Rourke movie

It all reminds me I need to learn Spanish!  My handful of words aren’t enough in this country where English is as rare as hot water in the kitchen faucet.  The simplest things can be a challenge when there is a language barrier.   I was proudly escorted to an ATM yesterday by a (haltingly) English-speaking businessman.  I’ve shared that feeling many times in NYC, escorting foreigners through the subway and city streets.

Fortunately those little acts of kindness are immune to language – or should I say rely on the power of universal language – a smile.

That’s a bit of my first 8 days….

FYI:  I’m off to Cartagena tomorrow for a 2 week gig.  This should be interesting!

 

A new journey: Bogota I have arrived!

Once a wanderer, always a wanderer.  Three years ago I took off for Eastern Europe conversing with Jewish communities about identity.  Little did I know how much those conversations would become part of my identity and world view.  These past years found me physically in New York, but mentally in transit.  Last Yom Kippur I decided it was time to reconcile my mental and physical states and temporarily changing countries.  That’s the cliff note version of how I now find myself in Columbia – looking for an English teaching job.  Like I said – cliff note version.

 

Every country has their 'coca cola' sign - perhaps most appropriate here?  This was taken at the modern art museum

Every country has their ‘coca cola’ sign – perhaps most appropriate here? This was taken at the modern art museum

This is the beginning of conversational journey 2.0:  I’ll be connecting with the Jewish community here (as soon as I get security approved – more on that later).  Thought I expect to take lots of side trips on this road including staying here for several months and teaching English (I hope).   Columbia is a country in flux, with a presidential vision to become the premiere seat of Latin America.  Increasing English fluency is part of that vision, and I hope to be part of it.   Three days into my ‘trip’, I’m feeling differences between Latin America and Eastern Europe:  or is it my filter?  Is it just that I feel different? I suppose time will tell.

One of main squares filled with families enjoying the 'shows'.  Yes, those are llamas.

One of main squares filled with families enjoying the ‘shows’. Yes, those are llamas.

If you’re wondering why I didn’t go back to Eastern Europe to teach English – good question:  it is hard for Americans (with no experience) to find jobs.  Companies prefer to hire people with EU passports with no need for visas.  Besides, I now have the opportunity to explore a new part of the world, with a different history and very different culture.

The city center is filled with stalls and was crowded with Saturday shoppers.  Different - but with a touch of NYC's Chinatown

The city center is filled with stalls and was crowded with Saturday shoppers. Different – but with a touch of NYC’s Chinatown

One thing is for sure – language – or more specifically a common language – is key. When I first traveled to Soviet Eastern Europe over thirty years ago, my non-verbal communication and an occasional word got me by with shared laughter and (I think) understanding.  The power of youth prevented the lack of a common language from being a barrier.  Three decades later, in 5772, it was verbal communication that secured my trip’s meaning and connection.  Lucky for me, English is, and is becoming, the international language.

English need = Linda’s job opportunity!

As my 2014/5775 trip began on LAN airlines from Miami to Bogotá, English was the obvious step-child.  Translations were rushed and not well enunciated.  You’ll be happy to know I made it through the flight – and more importantly through customs with my less than mediocre Spanish.  Seeing the sites requires open eyes, listening to stories requires an open mind – and a common language.   I’m dusting off and polishing my Spanish with the expectation I’ll understand the flight attendants on my December return flight.

Bogota has a superior network of art museums.  Most famously, the Museo de Botero.  A larger version of these statues welcome visitors to the Time Warner building in NYC's Columbus Circle.

Bogotá has a superior network of art museums. Most famously, the Museo de Botero, which highlights Botero’s work. A larger version of these statues welcome visitors to the Time Warner building in NYC’s Columbus Circle.

I’m used to diversity in New York.  A daily ride on the subway was shared with people and languages from all over the world.  Still, it was my English and my culture that kept me safe while feeding my sense of worldliness.  Non-english speakers traveling to the states were seen huddled around maps on street corners.  They were unable to ask for directions.  What a lonely way to travel – as I’m experiencing right now.  I’m doing a darn good job of just smiling and nodding.

I'm looking forward to enjoying the natural beauty of this diverse country.

I’m looking forward to enjoying the natural beauty of this diverse country.

So I start this new journey without a clear path or even final destination.   I’ll listen and learn from those I meet, while listening and learning from my own experiences as a newly minted expat teacher.    Stay tuned and share any advice or thoughts on teaching abroad or learning a new language.

Wishing you great conversations!

 

 

Preventing Genocides Step 2 of 6: Take an empathy pill!

Step 2 of 6… How Only you can prevent Bullying

How many pairs of shoes lurk in your closet and under the bed?

shoes lurking in DSW aisles - heaven for the shoe obsessed
shoes lurking in DSW aisles – heaven for the shoe obsessed

I know shoe obsession goes beyond Imelda Marcos and Carrie Bradshaw.  Not me.  I am foot challenged.

So while I don’t ‘get it’, I think I understand the foot ware obsession:

It’s hard walking a mile in our own shoes:  much less imagining what it’s like to walk in someone else’s.

Unable to walk that proverbial mile in another’s shoes, allows judgment to step in.  Suddenly, it’s harder to understand those blisters, bunions, corns, callous’s that fancy heel-wearer is sporting.

If only it were as easy to try on someone else's perspective!
If only it were as easy to try on someone else’s perspective!

Empathy, like a shoe-horn, slides you into someone else’s shoes.   But I wonder: do we want that kind of pain?  Even if  it’s the pain we can relate to? It’s easier to look at ‘them’: unemployed, lonely, fired, depressed, awkward, broke, purposely different, fat, alone –  with disdain and distance.  It’s easier to acknowledge:  “That would never happen to ME!”

Like preventing the flu, keeping (emotional) distance is a preventative measure.

If you have to get close, perhaps you think ‘they’ deserve what they got.  Certainly they didn’t work or try hard enough. It’s like those who said the Holocaust was the Jews fault:  they were too successful, wealthy, powerful.  OR the Tutsi’s had too much power and land.  OR the Armenians were Christians, not to mention well-educated compared to the Turks.  REALLY???? To be fair, genocide doesn’t start with a massacre.  It starts with one painful soul taking his/her frustration out on someone ‘safe’.  It starts with bullying.  ‘Someone’ others also resent.  ‘A different someone’ who thinks:  rather you than me.  Someone who doesn’t want to imagine how it feels to be the recipient of bullying.

Telling someone:  “well you need to:  (man up, lose weight, stop talking about ‘xxx’, get out there more, don’t be so aggressive, be more like you, be less like you)….”

or

“get over it”   is not what that person needs.  It’s what YOU need to keep YOU safe.

Preventing genocide and bullying is understanding and protecting another’s need for safety day-to-day.

That’s why I have always believed the pharmaceutical industry has missed the mark by not creating a magical pill:  an empathy pill.  A pill to offer the judgemental and  naive, the distant and disdainful of those who don’t like and don’t fit into other’s shoes. When fear and the need to put someone else down overtakes us, we should all learn to say (to ourselves): ‘Here, have an empathy pill.’

Here, have an empathy pill: understand ME! This isn’t about YOU!” Though I’ve always imagined empathy pills shaped like pretty little colored shoes. For men, they can be black loafers and sneakers.  Get your prescription today!

These would be bitter pills to swallow because empathy is a toughie.

Do we really want to stop judging others and give up our safety?  Here are 12 things to consider:

  1. REALIZE you probably have NO idea what the other person is feeling.  Realize that knowing they are in ‘pain’ may be enough.
  2. DON’T say, “I know EXACTLY what you are going through, because do you really?  How can you?
  3. SHARE experiences that are similar but only later, just to let them know that they are not alone.
  4. ASK how you can help to make it better.  Listening helps.  Just listening – to them – not to yourself talking about yourself.
  5. ASK if it’s okay for you to offer a suggestion.  Don’t assume you know what someone else needs.
  6. ASK questions:  even if it’s just ‘tell me more’
  7. DON’T judge.  When you judge, you bully – it’s unkindness.
  8. LISTEN for the underlying emotion, pain and/or issue which you can probably relate to.
  9. DON’T make this about you.  It’s not.   Here’s why:  you don’t know.   What you did or what you would do just doesn’t matter.   You don’t have all the facts even if you’ve been told.
  10. TELL someone you care.  Ask them to tell you more.  Ask them how you can help.
  11. MOST OF ALL: Imagine what it would be like if…  How you would feel if….  How it must be to feel such pain…  What you want from someone if you felt….  What you would want or need from someone if….
  12. STAND UP AND REMIND others to also walk in another’s shoes.  Remind people inflicting pain on others does NOT lessen their own pain.  Not really.  Not for long.
Standing up to prevent bullying is a big deal.
Standing up to prevent bullying is a big deal.

There’s room for all of us in the shoe store of life.  IF we bother to understand someone else’s heel height.

What will you do to understand someone else’s pain and perspective?

Remember:  Only YOU can prevent Bullying
Remember: Only YOU can prevent Bullying

6 strategies for Preventing Genocide through (naked) Identity

Talking about 6 steps to prevent genocide…

While walking through Brooklyn’s Greenwood Cemetery  with my friend Julie, she pointed out nobody cares about genocides.  Not really.  After all it will never  happen to them.

This is to prevent forest firest....genocideourcarelessness.jpg
This is to prevent forest firest….genocideourcarelessness.jpg

People care about bullying.

Bullying happens.  A lot.  School yard bullies graduate to board rooms.

Have you ever  teased a little too far or not acted with kindness when you were feeling unhappy or insecure?  Bullies act because they’re not secure.

Bullying and genocide share DNA.  Genocides, the Holocaust, hate crimes – are merely bullying on steroids.

The Holocaust started as aggressive bullying way before Kristallnacht (1938) and Germany’s invasion of Poland  (1939).  It started in 1933 with Hitler Youth learning to spot Jews, and beat up weaker ‘youth’.  Hitler youth turned in parents who didn’t support Hitler.  They learned new songs…

“Yes, when the Jewish blood splashes from the knives, things will go twice as well.”

Scary…

Hitler youth were primed and ready for genocide.  Why did they get so wrapped up in this identity?  What was wrong with their authentic selves?

I wonder how this relates to  branding on Facebook and Twitter in the wild world of social media.

It’s a similar question to why kids  join gangs:  the need to belong.   To be liked.

After the recent Boston bombings, the ‘experts’ chimed in about what makes a terrorist:

“Terrorists are people who are alienated.  They have a confused identity… not ‘x’, not ‘y’… not connected to family or to parents… they find a new identity on the internet…” (summarized and pulled from various sources)

Red flag: people are turning to the internet to build community, AND to discover who they are, or who they want to be. HUH???

“Those who don’t love themselves as they are rarely love life either.”  Rachel Naomi Remen

For self-love, here’s my 5 strategies for secure identities:

disc improves....

Step 1:  KNOW your strengths, weaknesses, challenges.    Learning about yourself can’t be googled.  It’s complex and includes race, religion, gender, nationality, looks, socio-economics, and, our innate personality or what I call ‘naked identity’:  who you are without your ‘stuff’.

The best way to undress your naked identity is through the DiSC assessment tool.  The DiSC uncovers how you behavior, act, react, deal with conflict, work and your natural abilities as well as challenges.

I had an education student who was told to be an engineer – inside he was an English major.  Look around your office/classroom – are people their inside ‘selves’, or doing/being what others expect from them?

I’d put money on the mean, grumbling person not being their DiSC style.  Don’t judge others for not being like you.  Accepting someone else helps them accept you.  Focus on you.

Step 2:  Let your values guide your action

Identify your values (click here to identify yours).   Live them.  Believe me it’s hard.  And realize:  you and I may value ‘relationships’ but define it very differently. Understanding these differences in defining them is what’s key to security.

Step 3: Listen to yourself 

Everyone has an opinion about who you should be and what you should do.   Chances are those ‘everyone’s’ are telling you what they want.   I bet they have a different DiSC style and values than you.    Moments of Awareness  is the best and easiest way to listen carefully.

Your ‘friend’s’ not quite complimentary comment that leaves you wondering how you feel – about the comment, him/her, and yourself?  Listen:  it’s more about the commenter than you.  Listen to yourself.

Step 4:  Care more about yourself 

This may sound selfish – but just the opposite.  You can’t take care of anyone else unless you’re secure in yourself.  Taking care of yourself makes it easier to listen to others.

Step 5:  Don’t be a victim of Identity Theft:  Believe in yourself 

Knowing your DiSC, values, and regularly using Moments of Awareness to assess your feelings, will secure your identity.   If someone makes you doubt yourself, try

confidence-thechangeblog-com
confidence-thechangeblog-com

to understand which of their values aren’t met.  Learn and ‘listen’ if it is in line with YOUR identity.

Step 6:  Share your identity

D., a young American-Korean woman I met in Berlin said it best:  A secure identity means you can explain who you are to others.  Practice till you can.

What is your identity?  

How does knowing your identity keep you from lashing out to others?

What do you think we need to teach others to prevent bullying – and genocides?

2 Lessons I Learned (and so can you) from the 10 Commandments

All those little things we think we know, yet don’t really know  the big ones- or pay that much attention to.

Like the 10 Commandments.

thecripplegate.com

Not understanding goes deeper than language.  www.thecripplegate.com

I know what the Commandment tablets look like – I know, but more to recite them.  Writing this I’m reminded of how little I know about religion, or even its role in my life.  Or should I say, how its role is woven into my identity.

So along comes Shavuot, my perfect learning opportunity.

I’ve always called this the ‘dairy’ holiday.  Though celebrated to commemorate the Jewish people receiving the 10 Commandments at Mt. Sinai during their 40 year ‘wander’ in the desert.

The ‘thing’ to do at the first night of this holiday is to stay up all night and study.  And because it’s the ‘dairy holiday, there’s ice cream and cheesecake.

formerfundy.blogspot.com

formerfundy.blogspot.com

I opted for a good night’s sleep.  With free time in my schedule Wednesday morning, I thought I’d actually go hear the commandments being read.  Something I’d never done before.   I was curious:  why????  Is it a big deal to hear them read? And why is it important to commemorate their ‘delivery’.

The actual reading is short:  a few minutes.  And since I heard it in Hebrew, I could have easily missed it.  One cool thing:  the kids came and surrounded the Rabbi, watching him read.  It’s important to pass on the learning to children.

My greater curiosity about the importance of the commandments was satisfied as the Rabbi shared his thoughts.  Starting first with the last commandment:

10.  Don’t be jealous.

Don’t be jealous of who someone is or what someone has.  Don’t covet their car, their clothes, their hair, or (for me) their silver jewelry.

Don’t be jealous of their phone, their tablet, their shoes. Their job, their life.

Simple:  right?

Ha!  How many times has that green-eyed monster reared its fiery head to singe your self-contentment?  Don’t we all want – or deserve – what everyone else has?

Someone shared that her daughter-in-law wants what her sister-in-law has.  Fill in the blank and that could be me at times.  I’m not alone am I?

Deeper, is the question do I really want or need those things.  Or, is it something much deeper that I want that I’m missing (I’ll pick door #2).

Then the Rabbi (an Orthodox Chabbad Rabbi, at that) quipped:

Well, at least you’ll obey the first commandment, not to kill another, right?

But he wasn’t done.  Actually I thought he was going to talk about Boston, or some other act of genocide/bullying.

But no…

“If you embarrass or insult someone and their face drains of color (blood), it is like you’ve killed them.  After all, killing someone is draining their body of blood.”

Imagine: Being condemned as a murderer by being a bully?

I know that feeling of my body tightening as in rigor mortis, feeling my face grow red when I’ve been attacked by a venomous word.

It brought to mind:  killing someone’s soul, someone’s self-esteem, hope: is as deadly as killing their body.  Either way, the heart dies.

Words have power.  And so do we.  It takes so little to be kind.

So here’s what I think we can all learn:

  1. Don’t be jealous, starting with don’t compare your life to others.  You have no idea what their journey is all about.  Be satisfied with what you have – there is a good chance it is enough (unless it has to do with bad health…).  When I covet something of someone else, I tell my myself I have to take the whole package of who they are to get that one thing.  Somehow, that makes me realize I’d rather just be me with none of that ‘great stuff’.
  2. Be kind and compassionate to others.  Don’t make little jokes at someone else’s expense even if they have a good sense of humor.  Especially if you know someone is feeling vulnerable (and that is most of us most of the time), don’t say things that will belittle them and make you feel better about yourself.

2 little steps that can make my world better – and hopefully yours.  

Best of joy to all of us.

Happy Earth Day: Go get hugged!

‘They’ say we need 8 hugs a day to be at our best.

A celebration of earth's bounty: 'Spice and Tease' at NYC's Chelsea Market

A celebration of earth’s bounty: ‘Spice and Tease’ at NYC’s Chelsea Market

‘They’ say each person needs 56 trees’ oxygen to offset her personal production of carbon dioxide.

How many hugs then do trees need – or deserve – for taking care of us each and every day?

Before you read further:  go hug.  Hug a person and/or a tree.

Not aware of Earth Day?  It’s probably because it’s not a Hallmark holiday.  That’s a good thing –  (wasted) paper would exhaust the very resources to celebrate:  trees and water.

But the downside:  it’s not well celebrated – and our survival depends on it.  Literally.

Wikipedia  ‘facts’:  Earth Day (the first in 1970) and  International Mother Earth Day (by the United Nations in 2009) is observed annually on April 22  in support for environmental protection.   Around the planet, people are listening to music, learning about eco-friendly technology, recycling electronics, clothes, bottles and cans, and participating in cleanups.

I’ve done beach clean-ups, including in the Hurricane Sandy devastated Rockaway’s.  One long-time Rockaway resident observed:  ‘lots of people come here to clean up on one day.  Then, nothing.  Nobody comes to clean when the beaches get crowded – and dirtier.’

It’s true of course.

We put a lot of momentum into one day, and then go about our business.

That one day is our consolation, and a commemorative prize.

Aveda's annual water campaign provides awareness and clean drinking water!

Aveda’s annual water campaign provides awareness and clean drinking water!

But I wonder: why do the beaches need to be ‘picked up’ so often?   We’ve picked up cigarette butts, toys, bottles, cans, socks, towels, styrofoam cups, those big plastic cups, straws, and suntan lotion bottles. In April or May. Long before beach season begins.

People must believe it’s okay to bury their garbage along with their heads or feet in the sand….  Or that small stuff, like thousands of cigarette butts won’t make a difference because they are small.

Btw, cigarette butts don’t degrade.

Saturday, I volunteered with Riverkeeper, at NYC’s Hudson River Greenway.  The bright sunny day masked the freezing wind, keeping people moving along the beautiful green space that parallels the High Line and the Hudson River.  This event brought several environmental groups together to share information.

Solar One:  those little black squares are solar panels and the little colored things are spinning around
Solar One: those little black squares are solar panels and the little colored things are spinning around

(Interestingly, I was told, environmental groups compete for attention and funding, often not communicating and sharing thoughts and action.)

These groups do amazing things - not many people because it was FREEZING! Panelists including:  Riverkeeper, Waterkeeper, Grow NYC and Hudson River Greenway
These groups do amazing things – not many people because it was FREEZING! Panelists including: Riverkeeper, Waterkeeper, Grow NYC and Hudson River Greenway

The passing public collected ‘swag‘:  reusable bags from Magnolia Bakery, Aveeno face cream, and pamphlets.  People love free stuff.

Swag (bags from Magnolia Bakery) roadkill?
Swag (bags from Magnolia Bakery) roadkill?

I asked one event participant why Earth Day wasn’t a widely celebrated ‘event’.

‘Exhaustion from being over publicized’

Is this really what we want to hear?jbblogfloprotacohvac.com
Is this really what we want to hear?jbblogfloprotacohvac.com

I wonder if it’s become like the boy calling ‘wolf’:  the environmentalist calling ‘global warming, global devastation’ one time too many.

first-earth-day-1970_1366004188 earthday2013funphotos.com

And we deal best with catastrophes when they strike –  all of us trying to stay afloat between devastating events from super storms to job loss.  Exhausting!

It’s almost understandable that clean air, water, healthy food, the diverse ecosystems that provides these things are exhausting to think about. Much less do anything about it.  I’ve often seen bottles in cans in Whole Foods garbage cans when a recycling bin is steps aways (and yes, I take them out and settle them in their proper receptacle!)

But here’s the most interesting thing:  Earth Day and Holocaust Remembrance Day are days apart.  

Coincidence?  

Maybe.  But these two days are joined in a tight hug.

This WWII poster says it all!
This WWII poster says it all!

Last year I wrote about the Bielski Partisans (movie: Defiance) WWII survival in the forests.

Wars, hate crimes, genocides ultimately are over resources.  Natural resources that come from the Earth.

People are killed over land, water, diamonds. Food.  Not to mention Nike’s.

So my thoughts on this beautiful Earth Day are:  Stand-up!

Hug a tree.  Hug a person.

Fight Genocide – fight for a healthy planet.

You can prevent war- reduce your consumption of ‘stuff’, turn off the water, drive less, recycle.

less is more earth day

Let’s focus on quality – not quantity.  Let’s care enough about ourselves and future generations to leave them a real inheritance.

Stand up by donating time, money, and energy.  Talk about and share these organizations:

Riverkeeper

Grow NYC

Waterkeeper

JNF (starting planting trees in Israel in 1901!)

Sierra Club

US Holocaust Museum

A Meaningful World (anti-Genocide)

The Raoul Wallenberg Effect: Leadership from a Hero

London Memorial

London Memorial

The story of a hero and a leader.

The BBC’s report on Raoul Wallenberg achieving honorary Australian citizenship this morning told of a remarkable man’s accomplishment.  Or of a man making

Raoul Wallenberg uhnmm.org

Raoul Wallenberg uhnmm.org

the best of all his knowledge and being and ‘stepping’ up in times of need?

Raising the question are leaders born or made?

This question gets raised when leaders are identified and scrutinized.   If it’s the latter, (and most of us believe it is) we can all adopt the ‘Wallenberg Effect’ and become the leaders we are meant to be in our everyday life.

A little background:  In 1944, Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat was sent to Budapest to ‘save’ this Jewish community.  You can imagine the challenge:  the Nazi’s were in a hurry to ensure Budapest’s 700,000 Jews followed in the footsteps of millions of other murdered Jews in Europe.  Wallenberg was only 33, and had no real diplomatic skills.  He was rich,  He had connections and his family name offered protection.  Mostly, he had chutzpah, conviction, and, courage.  Taking extraordinary and audacious actions, he managed to save close to 100,000 Hungarian Jews.  In one story he jumped on top of a cattle car to hand fake Swedish passports to people  on the way to camps.  He took people out of death march lines, ‘reminding’ them of their Swedish backgrounds.  On more than one occasion he convinced the Nazi’s NOT to shoot people after round-ups.  In sad irony,  when the Russians ‘liberated’ Budapest in January 1945, they placed Wallenberg in jail and he was never heard/seen again.

It’s ‘interesting’ there are roughly 100,000 Jews identified to be living in Hungary today.  This is the largest Jewish population in Eastern Europe, and there is also rising Anti-Semitism.

Budapest plaque

Budapest plaque

But his strength in action, lives on.  And after hearing the story this morning, I was reminded of the why and what of the  ‘Wallenberg Effect’.

The 5 characteristics attributed to Wallenberg are easily matched with basic leadership professional development we’ve all taken and/or taught.  And it’s always good to take a moment and remind ourselves (and others) of how to be our best:  http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/readings/wallenberg.htm

1.  Knowledge:  Wallenberg know his strengths and communication style. He took 100% responsibility for ensuring (the Nazi’s) heard his message by meeting their ‘WIIFM’s’ (What’s In It For Me) or motivation which was to be strong and secure.

How do you define your EQ?  How do you support and develop this knowledge in others?

featurepics.com

featurepics.com

2.  Objective:    Wallenberg acted on what he thought was right (values) and “walked the talk” when it came to saving the Hungarian Jewish community.

What are your top 5 values?  What actions do you take on a daily basis that support your beliefs?

sathyasai.org

sathyasai.org

3.  Ingenuity:   To be sure Wallenberg had great connections, but he also used his knowledge of the Nazi’s love for extravagant detail when he supervised the creation of fake Swedish passports.  I’m sure his ingenuity, along with his EQ came into play as he ‘created’ 30 safe houses to hide people.

How do you know when things aren’t working and what steps do you take to identify a new win-win solution?

the 9-dot puzzle:  think outside the lines!

4.  Confidence:  Chutzpah anyone?  Wallenberg made full use of his ‘charisma’ to stand up and ‘direct’ the Nazi’s in a way no-one else had.  Certainly his conviction and confidence swayed the Nazi’s to let him pull people out of death march lines.

How do you act when you are 100% sure of your conviction (versus when you are not)?

saw a guy on the subway yesterday in a superman costume... didn't take a picture... this from thechangeblog.com

saw a guy on the subway yesterday in a superman costume… didn’t take a picture… this from thechangeblog.com

5.  Courage:   I heard Wallenberg acted with, ‘No fear of death’, focused on the end result.  He was shot at while he was on top of that car handing out fake passports, and certainly could have been killed by the Nazi’s at any point in time.

When do you stand up for yourself and others even when you know you ‘are going against the grain’?

An icon of courage! http://plpnetwork.com
An icon of courage!
http://plpnetwork.com

Surely being in remarkable circumstances brings out the extraordinary in all of us.

But why wait?  If not now, when?

I think there are important small, quiet and safe times when we can stand out and develop ourselves to be our best.  Hopefully, most of us will never be in the position Wallenberg was in.

We can all take small steps that lead to giant saves.

We can still sign petitions and speak up against hate of all kinds.

a Budapest monument
a Budapest monument
Tel Aviv Memorial
Tel Aviv Memorial

What you do Matters: 20th Anniversary Lessons from the USHM: Part 1

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a socialist

then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist.

then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.

  • Pastor Martin Niemoller, a one-time supporter of the Nazi’s who emerged as an outspoken Hitler foe was incarcerated for seven years in Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps.  After the war, he traveled and preached collective guilt for Nazi persecution and crimes against humanity.  (This bio is adapted from the US Holocaust Museum calendar)

That’s what?  Four degrees of separation from one group to ‘me’.    That is certainly part of my ‘fascinations’ (if I could even call it that) with the Holocaust.  Even closer, I am – or could have been – the prime victim – as a Jew.

But my reason for attending the U.S. Holocaust Museum’s 20th Anniversary National Tour in NYC on March 3rd goes deeper than that, as I’m sure it does for so many of us:

  • disbelief of the horrors mankind inflicts on each other
  • sadness that people will follow without thought
  • awe in human nature’s resilience and strength and ability to survive
  • disbelief that human nature doesn’t change and repeats horrific genocides

For pictures and more information go to:  http://neveragain.ushmm.org/events/entry/events-newyork

67 years after the Holocaust and end of WWII, this is a good time to commemorate the Museum’s work, and:

To honor and celebrate NYC’s 300 Survivors, and

50 WWII Veteran Liberators.

Stories of survival are important.  How often have each of us shared our cunning ways of getting through the day without losing our minds, or, here in NYC, braving the subway at rush hour and feeling lucky when the trains run smoothly.

Perspective is everything.

I know I’ve read ‘that there have been enough movies about the Holocaust’, I think many of us would agree that there haven’t been enough.  Not enough for the simple reason that the act of genocide continues.

Holocaust survivor Eva Von Ancken donating toys given to her during the war.  http://neveragain.ushmm.org/news/entry/parting-with-precious-objects

Holocaust survivor Eva Von Ancken donating toys given to her during the war. http://neveragain.ushmm.org/news/entry/parting-with-precious-objects

The USHM’s national tour honors and strives to protect – and commemorate the past, but the majority of sessions are about the present and future.  They are to remind us of our failings to honor ‘NEVER AGAIN in the near past:

Bosnia

Rwanda

Darfur

That saying:  NEVER AGAIN after the Holocaust has come to be:

NEVER AGAIN – until it happens again.

The USHM’s 20th Anniversary National Tour events strive to:

  • Invoke the feeling that what each of us does matters, and,
  • Spread thought and action to insure another genocide does NOT occur anywhere – every again.
Survivor AND WWII Veteran, Hanna Deutch pins her location at the end of the war  http://neveragain.ushmm.org/slideshow/photo-gallery-new-york-tour-stop

Survivor AND WWII Veteran, Hanna Deutch pins her location at the end of the war http://neveragain.ushmm.org/slideshow/photo-gallery-new-york-tour-stop

I pass people everyday, knowing they possess unimaginable stories and emotions. I remind myself:  ‘Be kind:  everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”  (St. Philo).

Walking into the Hilton on March 3rd,  my awareness and sensitivity of battles people have fought was supercharged.

Navigating the crowd I looked at people’s faces before my eyes darted to pins which proudly identified participants as  Survivor or Veteran.  When I saw either, I admit to being instilled with a sense of reverence and awe.  That, tinged with emotion.

Oh, and I got a pin too.  No notation.  Just a reminder of ‘Never Again’.

photo-18

Over a dozen rooms were dedicated to recording histories of survivors and their children, collecting objects and memorabilia, film and video testimonies of survivors and liberators, amateur movies from life in Eastern Europe before WWII, and space to search for lost family history.  Or for that matter, children who were lost from their family history.

A big question raised here:  as Holocaust survivors die, who will tell their stories?

Here’s what I wonder:

How do we teach young people about the Holocaust in a way that makes them feel it’s real, it can happen again, – has happened again –  and they – personally – can do something about it?

Teens learn about the Holocaust in school, but how much will they read and pursue?  There’s so many other devastations that are competing for emotions and attention these days, will a 67 year old atrocity have the horrific honor of securing a spot in someone’s mind?

I’ll share more about the tour over the next four posts including:  the event (part 1), people (part 2), the message (part 3), and call to action (part 4).

What do you think are the lessons we should remember from the Holocaust?

What do you think people need to learn to prevent genocides?

Anything you would like to know about the day?

CelebrateTrees: Tu B’shvat, the Jewish Arbor Day!

‘It is because of you we are here.‘  Lilka Bielski, Tuvia Bielski’s widow said as she looked up at the trees (in a video) in the Belarus forest where the Bielski partisans (best known from the movie ‘Defiance’)  survived the Holocaust.

Please go here to read more about amazing Partisans: http://www.jewishpartisans.org/

Please go here to read more about amazing Partisans: http://www.jewishpartisans.org/

These same trees that saved partisans during the Holocaust, are the ‘green lungs’ that maintain life.  Celebrating these – and all – trees, and the renewal and rebirth they represent – is what Tu B’Shvat is all about.

Forests provide safety

Forests provide safety

This holiday is sometimes called the Jewish Arbor Day, or what might be called the Jewish Earth Day.   Clueless, I’ve thought of this as the ‘dried fruit holiday’ since the kosher supermarkets in my neighborhood offer a smorgasbord of dried fruits which I happen to love.

Literally, Tu B’Shvat, a minor holiday, means the 15th of the Jewish month of Shevat.

Tu B'shvat delights

Tu B’shvat delights

What I love more, is understanding what this holiday is all about:  celebrating nature and our relationship to the earth and as a reminder to serve and protect trees.  In Israel it’s all about ecological awareness and planting trees.

I’ve learned this for the first time thanks to  Rabbi David Ingbor’s sermon one Friday night at the Romemu Synagogue.   Environmentalist or not, this is a time of physical and spiritual renewal.  A second Rosh Hashonah.   Check out Romemu’s site and download the sermon:  http://romemu.org

And listen to the music on “A Taste of  Romemu:  http://romemu.org/music

It’s so easy to take trees for granted, especially this time of year as they stand naked and silent, seemingly devoid of color and purpose.

'naked trees' in Brooklyn's Prospect Park, preparing for spring

‘naked trees’ in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, preparing for spring

Tu B’Shvat is the perfect time to start celebrating nature as we (humans and nature alike) enter this time of fertility after winter’s dormancy.  And don’t trees deserve a much-needed time of rest, of fallow, after all they do for us?

Those seeds strewn in the fall, and through Rosh Hashonah intentions?  They’ve had time to scatter and settle, hopefully to miraculously take root and prepare to bloom when conditions are right.

Tu B’Shvat is a reminder that life stirs before we see it:  just as our dreams don’t come true one sun-filled morning, but rather build over the course of mulching and mulling experiences and actions.

While this may be a minor holiday, trees serve a major purpose in Judaism and Israel, which I think is pretty amazing:

Jews were ‘told’ to plant trees when they ‘returned’ to Israel.

All the more interesting since there were virtually no trees there.  So now, when Israel boasts having more trees now than 100 years ago, it is easy to understand how this is true.

In 1901, early settlers in Palestine began planting trees as part of the Jewish National Fund (JNF).   Now, there are over 240 million trees in Israel!  In fact, one of the most popular ways to commemorate and celebrate an event or person is by planting trees in someone’s name through JNF.

(FYI, about planting trees…  James Michner, in his fictional book “The Source”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:TheSourceNovel.jpg   writes about American Jews coming to visit ‘their’ trees, only to find they aren’t memorialized that way!)

Good thing there are so many trees since that proverbial peace symbol of an olive branch, well, we need lots more olive branches  from lots more olive trees…

While some of those who have planted trees were Partisans, and the children of Partisans, I think in this day and age we are all Partisans of a sort in need of safety.

We all need a safe place to hide – from the ravages of climate change.

10,000 trees were killed, uprooted, in New York alone during Sandy.  Ironic – the trees that will save us from climate disasters are destroyed during those same disasters.

I want the world to be a safe place, full of safe hiding places, preferably for play, not war.  So while I won’t literally be planting trees this weekend, I’ve already ‘asked’ JNF to plant a few to honor a niece.

planting tree

Who knew Tu B’Shvat is in fact a major holiday in intent?  A holiday of action and change!

Here’s to celebrating renewal and rebirth as we all start to thaw from our winter fallow.  And a reminder to go hug (and plant) a tree in thanks for the safety she provides.