What is storytelling?
The short definition is: the art of telling a story; to share stories that compel, excite and inspire.
It is about the stories that make their way through ceaseless stream of content, information and fake news; stories that grab us; make us pause and pay attention.
But storytelling is so much more than performing well in an era of sponsored content. Storytelling is first and foremost about knowing that we have important stories to tell; that our voices matter and that our lives are meaningful and intertwined with those of others. Storytelling is to connect with, listen to and have impact on others.
So how do we do that?
First important step: appreciation.
Appreciate ourselves; the lives we are living and our dreams for the future. Fathom the magnitude of the storms we have endured and the power of the values that shaped who we are. To celebrate our resilience in the face of cruelty and violence and to rub the dust and rust off the cries we wanted to voice, but kept silent.
Appreciation can be learned. Contact me if you wish to learn more: email@example.com
It is not always easy to tell the story of the future; we are too preoccupied with the present or haunted by our past. A vision is designed to inspire and move us forward, but sometimes the road leading to it is unknown and we are afraid to make the first step.
Welcome to “the storytelling for change tools chest”. And today, a story to guide us towards our vision.
A vision is the picture of the future we strive to create; or, if you like, a story of that future. It is not always easy to tell the story of the future; we are too preoccupied with the present or haunted by our past. A vision is designed to inspire and move us forward, but sometimes the road leading to it is unknown and we are afraid to make the first step.
The Spanish poet Antonio Machado wrote:
“Wayfarer, there is no way.
Make your way by going farther”.
Sometimes, to tell the end of a story means to embark on a journey and make the way by walking it.
Here is the link to the poem, performed by Juan Manuel Serrat: Caminante no hay Camino
The Dafna Fund, Israel’s first and only feminist fund, has sunset on March 31, 2018. This, after 15 years of strategically investing in gender mainstreaming and fostering women as agents of social change. Our theory of change was that organic partnerships between social change groups and community activists on the one hand, and mainstream and state institutions, on the other, are critical for achieving systemic change. We provided long-term funding that allowed our grantees to engage in addressing prevailing structural barriers. They, in turn, ultimately succeeded in making feminist ideas and practices part of mainstream public discourse, norms and policies.
And, as it turns out, we were right
A research report launched on March 8th, 2018, on International Women’s Day, “Past Achievements and Future Directions of Women’s and Feminist Organizations in Israel”, by Dr. Nancy Strichman, shows that we were right all along: “Women’s and feminist organizations have had notable success over the years in impacting the public discourse and shaping public policies on topics from domestic violence and political representation to gender sensitive budget analysis and women’s economic empowerment”.
The report is a result of a year-long participatory action research project, initiated and sponsored in full partnership between the Dafna Fund and the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW). In initiating the report we had three goals in mind: first, to acknowledge past achievements; second, to explore current trends and thirdly, to chart paths for future actions towards greater collective impact.
The scope and diversity of Israel’s feminist arena
The research report – the first of its kind in scope and depth – also shows that the women’s and feminist arena in Israel includes more than 100 organizations; from grassroots, community based groups; to shelters and crisis centers, to national advocacy and applied research institutes. This arena is currently more diverse and inclusive than ever before, with representation for the different ethnic and religious communities. However, some communities, such as Russian speaking women and Ethiopian Jewish women, are still under represented in the organizational landscape.
We have come a long way
Women have made major strides in employment and education and the number of women members of Knesset is the highest ever, yet structural barriers and cultural norms still hold women back. Religious extremism and the on-going Israeli-Palestinian conflict both contribute to the exclusion of women from public discourse and access to political power.
Yet, the research report shows that women are making their voices heard and their stories told in new and creative ways: “Through a variety of mediums, including social media, film and the arts, women are taking advantage of opportunities to tell their stories and to impact on the public discourse. Both written and visual storytelling are increasingly acknowledged as critical tools for engagement and advocacy. “
But we still have a long way to go
Women have come a long way in Israel; but there still is a long way to go. The feminist and women’s arena has evidently transformed Israeli society. Yet most of the organizations in this arena are operating on shoestring budgets. The philanthropic community must play a central role in supporting the work on the ground and leveraging it towards greater collective impact. The research report points towards philanthropic best practices. These include: providing sustained support, investing in organizational infrastructures, and fostering organic partnerships and collaborative platforms. Furthermore, funders should help organizations develop new strategies for financing and community building. And finally, invest in supporting emerging leaders and activists.
The report also calls on funders to play a more central role in supporting knowledge development, data collection and analysis and evidence based action. And most importantly – in my mind – it calls upon us to be bold in our giving and “go political”. Political, not in the partisan sense, of course, but in helping the feminist and women’s arena translate its past achievements towards greater political power.
When the Dafna Fund planned its sun setting, a dear friend and esteemed colleague Shifra Bronznick gave me the best advice: “when you sunset, do it with pride and humility. Take pride in your achievements and humbled by the magnitude of the challenges ahead”.
We take pride in the work we have done, and we are indeed humbled by the work that remains to be done. I hope that other private and institutional funders will step up to champion the issue of gender equity and justice in Israel. We need to broaden the philanthropic community committed to supporting the impressive work on the ground in Israel. To read the full research report (English): Full report To read the executive summary and overview (English): Summary
She is baking donuts. The cozy kitchen is already filled with the scents of melted butter, vanilla and chocolate. She dips the warm pastry in sweet icing and lays them out carefully in a box. Soon little red riding hood will come along to carry this plentiful basket over to her grandmother’s.
She considers sprinkling the shiny chocolate frosting. Maybe it is too much. Her mother does not like sprinkles anyway. However, perhaps they would make her happy? They would please her daughter, who was still shameless in her affection to sweets.
She enters the kitchen, blushed cheeks and wayward curls gathered under a crimson shawl. ‘I’m ready’, she says. She wonders if she will ever be truly ready to send her daughter out into the world without her heart missing a few beats and have her thoughts haunted by nightmare scenarios.
She looks at her daughter, the girl-child that she is; her flowing mane of hair, her eyes, alight with a lilt of laughter. She leans in to kiss her cheek and she notices how tall she has gotten. Soon she will have discarded all the marks of childhood. She wonders if the child knows how much she wants to escort her or give her a ride.
‘Call me when you get to grandma’s house’, she says, trying to sound casual. She does not want to infect her daughter with her anxieties.
She reminds herself how important it is for them, her mother and daughter; grandma and granddaughter; to have their time together, just the two of them sharing stories and secrets of women’s wisdom. She sends her child off and returns to scraping chocolate drippings off the counter.
But her child already knows fear. She knows fear of strangers and penetrating gazes and dark streets. She was born into a world where little girls and little boys are afraid.
The kitchen is spotless and the child has not called to say she has arrived safely at grandma’s. She decides to write in an attempt to fend off the anxiety welling up inside her. ‘Perhaps I’ll call my mother’, she thinks, ‘To ask if she liked the little cakes I sent’. She does not want to upset her mother. One worrisome woman is more than enough.
Then the phone rings. A sigh of relief. She picks up, trying to sound casual. ‘Mommy, I am about to cross the park. Can you just talk to me until I reach grandma’s house?’
So she talks to her and watches over her with her voice, and she wonders if that would be enough to fend off even the most ravenous of wolves. She hears her daughter urging her steps through the semi dark park and then the gate creaks and the door opens. She hear her mother, the granny child ith the silver-kissed hair, embracing her grandchild in her arms.
The wolf has been left out of this story. Until the next time.
A wise young man asked me, ‘Why do we pick on the wolves? How did it come to be that the wolf is a source of fear to children and a metaphor to sexual aggressors?’
However, the tale of Little Red Riding Hood is, of course, a parable. The wolf is a symbol of all the perils that stalk children with a curious and adventurous streak. The written versions of the story put on paper by the Brothers Grimm in Germany and Charles Perrault in France were “cautionary tales” meant to educate children – and especially girls – to show obedience. In their versions, Little Red is severely punished for disobeying her mother – who told her walk straight and stay on the path. She is penalized for addressing her natural curiosity, simply by exploring the woods and picking flowers. These versions send a clear message that curiosity and disobedience are adverse qualities in a child, meant to be condemned. Qualities that lead to your death or to be rescued from the belly of the wicked beast by a valiant hunter, a stark agent of the patriarchy.
The lesson illustrated at the conclusion of the version written by Perrault in 17th century France, highlights the intimidating message of the tale, especially when it comes to pretty, polite and educated little girls, how should know better than to talk to strangers:
“From the story one learns that children,
Especially young lasses,
Pretty, courteous and well bred,
Are wrong to listen to any sort of men”
This is a horrific message, one that points a finger at the victim and spares the offender. This European-bourgeois moralité does not condemn the wolf for abusing and breaking the trust that Little Red put in him, but it condemns Little Red Riding Hood for trusting him. This lesson turns the classic story into a tool that preserves the status quo, which accepts the existence of prowlers, in the form of ‘This is way of the world and the wolf’. This twisted message prevails far beyond the dog-eared pages of folk and fairy tales books. It is alive and kicking to this very day. Just recently, we heard comments by certain men, eager to support their colleagues who have been accused of sexual harassment and assault, casually saying, ‘What did she think was going to happen up there?’, or in other words, if you agree to meet with a man who is your senior in the workplace, it should be clear to you that he will try to force himself on you sexually. Why otherwise, would he have any interest in meeting with you?
We can and should tell Little Red Riding Hood’s tale differently. Feminist scholars of folklore and myth such as Maria Tatar and Cristina Bacchilega located earlier versions of the tale from the oral tradition of storytelling, ones that passed from generation to generation and were told by women to women and girls. These versions were “initiatory tales”, meant to mentor and prepare girls for adulthood. To prepare, not in the sense of warning them of healthy qualities such as curiosity and adventurousness, but by imparting an empowering message that says:
‘You have the resilience, the strength and the wisdom to cope with the challenges and perils of adolescence”. .
These versions present Little Red as a brave and resourceful girl, one that, in a joint act of feminine solidarity with her grandmother, outwits the wolf. These formative versions convey an entirely different idea, one that emphasizes Little Red Riding Hood’s ’s agency as a character and her capacity for healthy curiosity, along with the ability to handle the repercussions of that curiosity. As Cristina Bacchilega claims:
‘As an initiatory tale in the oral tradition, ‘Red Riding Hood’ did more than symbolize the child’s ability to defeat danger and evil by resorting to cunning: it also demonstrates the woman’s knowledge to survival’.
The world is full of boys and girls, men and women with stories of fearful encounters in the woods with an insatiable wolf, to him they were nothing but an object; a thing to quell his hunger, boredom or need for ruthless dominance. The world is full of people who live in fear of the wolves in their own family, workplace or community. These wolves will persist to roam amongst us and terrorize so long as we keep telling stories whose moral is ‘The fault lies with the prey’, because they ventured out to the woods, showed an interest in the world around them or trusted someone who was not supposed to harm them. It is time to tell stories that will chase away the darkness of the forest and make it into a safe space. Innumerable brilliant lights that will expose the true wolves. Millions of stories that let out a stark cry: No one’s ventures into the woods to be devoured. It is our responsibility as a society to make our private and public spaces truly inclusive and safe.
Can we forgive those who hurt us and our loved ones? This question has been on my mind for a while, both personally and politically. Like so many questions that linger in my mind, it emerged to the surface when I was invited to two conferences the same week last summer: one dealing with healing hatred in political conflicts and the other dedicated to forgiveness.
Forgiveness. In both conferences, many of the speakers emphasized the religious and spiritual aspects of it; they spoke of forgiveness as a divine decree. Not being a religious woman in the conventional sense of the word, I found myself thinking how I found the strength to forgive. It was not easy; it required relinquishing the position of the victim.
It is not easy. Every time I read the story of Hensel and Gretel I could not fully comprehend how the children – who suffered such terrible abuse from the wicked witch and had to burn her alive to save their skin – could forgive their father for sending them off to the dangers of the woods, simply because he was too weak to defend them. The children’s willingness to forgive their father troubled me. As I read the story to my own daughter, I felt deep anger and contempt towards the father. I could not understand or empathize with him, let alone forgive him. Nevertheless, Hensel and Gretel forgave him; they wanted their family back.
As a woman living in a conflict zone I find myself thinking: where does forgiveness come from? Where in our souls is it born and alive?
A wise woman once told me that we forgive to free ourselves from the burden of the pain we carry. As long as we do not forgive, it continues to poison our soul. Hence, we offer forgiveness to care for and save ourselves; so that we can move on, free from the perpetrator’s grip on our minds and our lives.
I must have known this all the time. When I chose to forgive, it was because I was tired of carrying the load of painful memories that kept pulling back to the past and kept me from living my present and dreaming of the future.
Forgiving did not erase the memories; I keep them stored in that little attic in my heart and visit them when I can. The same attic houses the monsters I vanquished. However, as liberating as forgiveness was to me, I could only forgive on my behalf; not for my son nor for my elderly parents who took me in when I arrived one night at their home, so tired of crying.
From the personal to the political
Can we forgive in someone else’s name? Well, I think not. However, if I am right, how is collective forgiveness possible? Can we ask for forgiveness in someone else’s name? Again, no. Then how is collective repentance possible? Let me be clear about where I am getting at; how can two nations caught up in a violent conflict seek or offer forgiveness? It seems unfathomable for people to forgive military occupation, exile or losing their loved ones in a bombing or knifing attack; how can one even begin to forgive those who demolished his home, or those who launched a Quassam missile that killed his little boy.
This is how we live our lives, year after year; caught up in a bloody vicious cycle of occupiers and occupied; killing and being killed; hurting and hurt. Parents are burying their little children and children growing up without their father or mother. Homes are demolished and destroyed. The beloved land cries and it seems that mercy and compassion do not dwell in our part of the world.
Can we heal hatred and foster a culture of reconciliation between Israel and Palestine? Can we bring back mercy, compassion and hope to our region? I believe we can and we should. However, it requires from us – from all of us – to relinquish the position of victim. And it is difficult. Excruciatingly difficult.
If my last statement disturbs you or makes you angry; or if think that it is a post-modern f**t that ignores or denies the extent of suffering, I urge you to keep reading.
It is difficult to let go of victimhood because the suffering and loss are so terribly real. It is difficult because our political leaders are turning our collective traumas into bargaining chips in political negotiations. They are turning the Holocaust, the Nakba and the wars into repetitive narratives of victimhood and revenge. They feed the flames of hatred and fear instead of doing the right thing; finding the courage to say: “enough! Nothing justifies any of this”.
We, the civilians on both sides of this bloody conflict; we who pay the daily price of hatred, fear and violence; we, too, are collaborators. We dig our heals in the quick-sand of political ideologies; we repeat the same tried and tested statements and slogans and speak the language of interests, instead of voicing our deepest needs. Those who seek to perpetuate the conflict speak of annexing the West Bank; those who seek pragmatic solutions speak of separation, and a small minority still speaks against the occupation and for a just peace and is the target of all the hatred that is not directed at the “enemy”.
Nothing new can grow on this barren land of hatred.
To forgive is not to forget. We never forget those we loved and lost. We never forget the place that was our home, nor our yearning to come back to it. To forgive is to preserve the memories and to let go of them as the first and single thing that guides us and informs our actions.
To rekindle compassion and spark hope, it is time for us to take responsibility; for our future and that of our children and for the babies yet to be born. Responsibility for this good and beautiful earth that is so tired of wars. Responsibility for the olive trees exhausted of being uprooted. Responsibility for the polluted coastline of Gaza. Responsibility towards our fellow human beings.
We all are tired of wars; except those who benefit from them.
It is time to awaken compassion and hope. Forgiveness will follow, eventually.
Open letter to US President, Donald Trump,
Welcome to our region and to Jerusalem, this holy city that holds within its walls and streets the history of people of all three religions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
We, Leora Hadar and Hamutal Gouri, members of the grassroots movement Women Wage Peace, urge you to take advantage of your visit to our region to call upon our elected leaders to resume negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians that will lead to a mutually and lasting peace agreement. We believe that this is the only way the end the tragic conflict.
I, Leora Hadar, a mother of four children, am a resident of Alei Zahav in Samaria. My Husband’s parents made Aliya to Israel from Iraq following the establishment of the State of Israel, and my parents were born and raised in the US and came to Israel out of Zionism and love for the land of Israel.
Every day, I choose to live in this country despite all the difficulties, because I believe that we can make a difference and create a better future and because I know that we must all accept that we are all living here together on this tiny piece of land and must find the ways to live together in peace.
I, Hamutal Gouri, daughter of Haim and Aliza, of the founding generation of the State of Israel, married to Doron, a native of Jerusalem, and mother to Daniel and Na’ama. I have been a feminist, a peace and human rights activist for more than 35 years. I was born, raised and have lived in Jerusalem my whole life. Jerusalem, the city that millions of Jews, Muslims and Christian hold in their hearts and prayers is also at the heart of a bitter political conflict. However, this city can also be the place of birth of a new era of security, prosperity and peace to all.
Today, we bring our voices together and address this letter to you, President Trump. You are in a position to lead to a breakthrough and resume a process that will lead to peace agreement that will finally put an end to the terrible and bloody conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. We also demand that women from diverse communities will be actively involved in this process. We, women, bring to the negotiation table and to civil society and grassroots peace building efforts our extensive knowledge as civilians and activists who know how real security feels and looks like for us, our families, our communities and our societies. We know that research shows that the active involvement of women in resolving violent conflicts around the world has contributed to achieving better and more sustainable agreements.
We believe in the power and capacity of women to promote creative and pragmatic solutions and effectively address differences and controversies by practicing deep listening, mutual respect and inclusion. We know this to be true because this is the way our movement, Women Wage Peace, operates. We know this to be true because we are committed to bringing together women from across the political spectrum and fro, diverse communities to work together for a peace agreement. We know this to be true because we chose to work together through dialogue, politics of acquaintance, care and responsibility. We work together to achieve our shared goal and a shared existence, despite all the differences.
We, Leora and Hamutal, demonstrate this, by co-authoring this letter; by bringing our voices together, despite all the differences and despite the fact that we may not agree on many things.
Thus, just as we found ways to overcome differences and unite our voices to one, powerful voice, we expect you and our elected leaders to do the same: to seek for that which brings us together; to work for a better future for our children and for our region.
And we expect you to consider our security and safety as women and to engage us as equal partners in the negotiations that will lead to a peace agreement.
Last week I spent a while inside a hole in time. In the early hours of Saturday morning I flew to Washington DC and on Wednesday I was already back in Israel, enveloped in the warmth of my family, everyday life, work, home and activism.
I traveled to DC in for the JStreet National Conference, as a representative of Women Wage Peace, to speak at a panel sponsored by the JStreet Women’s Leadership Forum. The conference this year was organized in the theme of “Defending Our Values, Fighting For Our Future” – a strongly appropriate title given the public and political climate since the election of Trump as president. 3,500 participants from all over the US, Israel and the Palestinian Authority came together to think, listen and voice ideas about how to keep moving toward a two-state solution in a time when no politician in Israel or the US persist in this.
I came to the conference to express a gendered, critical view, a perspective which is not sounded enough even in the progressive Jewish left. I came because I believe that In times like these, it is critical that we work closely together to promote our shared values of peace and democracy and hold courageous and vital conversations about resistance and hope
As a story teller, I was constantly looking for stories I would want to cherish and take with me. Here are 4 short stories and an epilogue.
The panel I participated in, sponsored by the Women’s Leadership Forum, was titled “Change makers on the Ground in Israel”. I talked about Women Wage Peace, and why I am so committed to this movement. I told the listeners that we view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a powerful inter-sectional gender lens.
The audience, mostly women, were nodding in agreement and understanding. The attentive faces told me my words were welcome and relevant. I hoped my message would trickle and resonate outside that room and was overjoyed when my friend and collaborator Nancy Kaufman, CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women, echoed my words in a panel that took place the following day in the plenum.
I did come out feeling that we still have a long way to go until women from diverse communities are equally represented in formal negotiations and in civil society efforts to end this conflict. However, in order to demand that of our elected officials, we must implement principles of inclusion and diversity in our own spaces. The gender lens is not a “prop”, it is a way to examine our political reality fully and comprehensively, without overlooking the perspectives, needs and assets brought to the table by 51% of the participants.
I also talked about the significance of hope and the notion that we cannot live without hope. During the conference, speakers kept stating that “despair is not an option”, which is very true. Despair, in the sense of apathy, indifference and resignation is, indeed, not an option.
But sometimes we’re moved to action by a sense of desperation and urgency, driven by the feeling that we have nothing to lose. Alongside that, there must be hope. Hope in the sense of believing in future good even when it seems despairingly remote and impossible.
Hope means insistence on believing in that good even when it seems we got dealt a lousy hand this round. Hope is the stuff from which the greatest stories about the human ability rise above hardships and challenges, above the doubts and disregard are made of. Do not mistake hope. It is not a “nice feminine quality”. Hope is a radical idea that sees far and beyond. Hope, if you will, is a very serious business.
In my last day in DC I got to meet Congresswoman Barbara Lee for the 13th District of California in the Democratic Party. Lee was elected to congress for the first time in 1998 after a long and impressive career as a civil rights activist, a member of the Black Panthers and a Senator in California State Senate.
I admit I was nervous before the meeting. This was my first time meeting a Congresswoman, not to mention a woman who is a model of brave leadership, determined and committed to justice and equality through and through.
We had 15 minutes together. I told her about my work in the Dafna Fund and about Women Wage Peace. I spoke of the magic that was created in the Palestinian and Israeli women’s march Qasr Al Yahud, on October 19th, 2016. I told her about the tears and joy of women who had only met for the first time, falling into each other’s arms in an embrace that spoke closeness and faith in partnering for peace. As I spoke with a trembling voice, I knew she understood.
From time to time I stole a glance at my email and IM messages from Israel. I read the Letter of the Mothers, which my friends at Women Wage Peace had written and watched as they stood firm outside the Ministry of Defense, demanding the defense cabinet to take responsibility for the Comptroller’s report and act immediately to end the conflict by resuming negotiations to reach a mutually binding peace agreement.
I saw, in the pictures of my friends’ faces, the hope, determination, persistence and willingness to lay everything aside and rise again and again to act in favor of the only logical solution that will end the bloodshed, suffering and loss that is binding us in a forcible grip for too many years.
Written in Jerusalem, in deep appreciation to our dear partners of the JStreet Women’s Leadership Forum.
Ariel: Your charm so strongly works ’em.
That if you now beheld them, your affections
would become tender.
Dost thou think so, spirit?
Mine would, sir, were I human.
Nita Schechet, a feminist literary scholar and peace and human rights activist passed away last November. I was deeply saddened by her untimely death not only because I knew her personally, but because she died before her writing and scholarship received proper recognition. I decided to write this blog post as a tribute to her contribution to the world of actively political literary critique. I wish I had thanked her sooner for the profound and wise way in which she wrote about the catalytic role that literary texts play in our work for social transformation. From the minute I first opened her book Disenthralling Ourselves: Rhetoric of Revenge and Reconciliation in Contemporary Israel, it felt like it was written especially for me. It is a book of artful intertextuality that pays tribute to texts – literary, scholarly and other forms of human discourse – from Shakespeare’s Tempest, to Rachel Tzvia Back’s On Ruins and Returns, and Jonathan Lear’s Radical Hope
Schechet’s book title is inspired by Abraham Lincoln’s address to the US Congress on December 1st, 1862, where he called for the emancipation of the slaves:
“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”
Lincoln called upon the American people to hold themselves to higher moral standards, to re-create themselves as a nation.
Writing is a form of creation. In writing, we take that all-too-familiar raw material called words to create new meaning. Writing about Nita Schechet is my way of recognizing and appreciating her scholarly legacy; it is my way to make a small contribution to a body of works that seeks to make this world a better place.
Oh. And how our world needs healing right now. In times of politics of hate, racism and misogyny, of politics that mocks the rule of law and the values of justice and equality, our world is in desperate need of politics of profound humanity.
Humanity. This is what Schechet’s book is about. It is about the human potential capacity to hold itself to high moral standards; about humanity as that which urges us to disenthrall ourselves of violent and oppressive behaviors deeply rooted in a culture of victimhood and revenge.
Schechet wrote about the moral imagination as vital to achieving social transformation. Moral imagination requires two essential ingredients: first, the capacity to imagine a shared future good, even when it is out of sight, and second: the capacity for empathy and compassion. She believed that active reading of literary texts and narratives serves to spark moral imagination and foster communal resilience that can facilitate the transition from a culture of victimhood and revenge towards a culture of reconciliation:
“The catalyst for the essential change from collective repetition-memory to the recollection memory of reconciliation is the development of a moral imagination through active reading”.
Rachel Tzvia Back, a wonderful Israeli poet gave me Nita’s book as a gift. It dedicates a whole chapter to Back’s second book of poems On Ruins and Returns that she wrote during the terrible years of the second Intifada.
Back’s poetry is profoundly compassionate; her poems are woven with the deep concern for the safety and well-being of her own children, as well as for those of other mothers, Jewish and Palestinian. And at the same time, her poetry takes no mercy on its readers; it is a poetry that focuses its gaze on the death, loss and excruciating pain that are part and parcel of every war. Back’s poetic language takes the dust off the worm out words; it caresses them with a loving, firm hand, and gives them back their full and deep meaning. Death, in Back’s poetry is very graphic: dismembered bodies, blood, human tissues and nails scattered in the battlefield:
Soldiers on their knees in the sand
soldiers on their knees
sifting and searching for body parts
do not think of next worlds
they think only of
I hope that after reading this blog post, you will want to read Rachel Tzvia’s Back poetry and Nita Schechet’s book. I hope that every elected politician that tells the world that “the next war in Gaza is inevitable” and every elected politician who will support this statement will read Back’s poetry and be reminded of the devastating, tragic, shattering, wounded and bleeding meaning of war.
 Shakespeare, William: The Tempest, Act V, scene I
 Schechet, Nita. Disenthralling Ourselves: Rhetoric of Revenge and Reconciliation in Contemporary Israel, New Jersey: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2009
 Back, Rachel Tzvia. On Ruins and Return. London: Shearsman Books, 2007
“Motherhood is not limited to the act of bearing and rearing our own children. Motherhood is a spiritual and ethical position of responsibility for the world and for future generations”.
I spoke these words at an event that Women Wage Peace held in the Baptism site north of Jericho on October 19th, 2016, as part of the movement’s March of Hope.
It was an historical event; for the first in a very long time, Jewish and Palestinian women from Israel and the Palestinian Authority met and marched together for a peace agreement in our region.
It as a political event; a clear and resounding statement by women who are tired of war and bloodshed; who have had enough of being excluded from discourse and action for peace and security.
It was a formative event for me, personally; an opportunity to reflect on my own actions and leadership.
As we were getting ready to march to the sounds of drums and joint singing, I shed sweet tears of excitement and joy. Months and weeks of preparations and hard work culminated in this watershed moment. Holding and being held by other women; supporting and supported, I marched knowing that we are going to get far, together.
My face was beaming with tears and laughter; it reflected deep feelings of gratitude and determination. I knew there and then the mental and physical sensation of being in the presence of collective greatness.
As we took the stage, Huda Abu alarquob and I, to MC the ceremony, the collective greatness embraced and inspired us. “Women of the world, today is our day!” I heard Huda’s voice resonating in the desert. Her voice empowered mine. The blazing sun and the beaming faces of the women sitting in front of us shed their lights on us both.
I continue to cherish these moments as I return to my daily routine. Thoughts of womanhood and leadership linger in my mind; thoughts of all that I am learning from my many partners to the March of Hope and the journey towards social change.
I am a feminist activist and professional; I am well aware that the discourse on the qualities of motherhood is a slippery slope towards essentialism; towards the quicksand of social constructs of “femininity” and “masculinity” that do injustice to all genders. Yet, I am compelled to make motherhood – as position of moral leadership – present in the political discourse on peace and security.
Society tends to perceive motherhood as a personal and intimate position that belongs in the private realm of the family. The tender care and containment that are essential to raising children are appropriate for “feminine” caring professions but less so executive positions of management and leadership that require firmness, decisiveness and determination. These “soft” qualities and skills that are vital for raising families and managing relationships are often shunned as unwelcome or irrelevant guests in the boardroom. The qualities that are the life line of human existence and perceived as signs of weakness at the negotiations table.
We tend to think it is so; especially in our region where the conflicts dictates a language of zero sum game.
In every human encounter; personal, professional or political a rainbow of emotions comes into play. Each situation triggers us and pushes unconscious buttons. Minor and major crisis erupt when we act out of blindness, vanity or aggression. In times of crisis, our own responses can calm things down or cause an escalation. History shows that in cases where political leaders on both sides of a conflict chose the path of increased aggression it only led to more violence and bloodshed; loss and grief. However, when leaders chose a different path; when they reached out and shook the hand of the enemy, they changed history. The willingness to make painful concessions and let go of past grievances led to breakthroughs in the relationship between people and countries in the Middle East and around the world. Some of those leaders paid with their life for their courage; their political adversaries made their peace seeking stance look like acts of weakness. However, the images of Menachem Begin and Anwar a-Sadat, of Yitzchak Rabin and King Hussein shaking hands are engraved in our collective memory. Those images remind us that peace agreements are possible.
I was only four years old when I ran with my mother and sisters to the bomb shelter in Jerusalem during the 67 war. I was ten when we ran for shelter in 73. I was a young mother when I caressed my 18-month-old son through a plastic sleeve during the first Gulf War in 1991. I can still recall myself considering how to get home when buses exploded in Jerusalem after the collapse of the Oslo Agreement. I recall my eight-year-old daughter and me venturing to walk to the community garden after a Red Alert during the Protective Edge war in 2014. I recall looking at images of the destruction on Gaza; images of parents on both sides of the border – their hearts broken – weeping over the bodies of their dead children. I sat and wept for those children.
Motherhood is not only about giving birth or raising our own children. Motherhood – or indeed parenthood – is an ethical and moral position of responsibility towards the world we live in and towards our fellow human beings. It is a position of self-restraint, attentiveness and inclusion. It a position of passion and love and of setting high standards of human behavior. It is a position of compassion and dedication; of determination and resilience.
The world we live in is harsh and complicated; it contains too much injustice and violence; too much cruelty and misery. Our world needs compassion and healing; forgiveness and reconciliation. The world we live in needs that we see the person in front of us in their full humanity; it needs that we raise our voices against acts on acts against humanity.
“I see your humanity; do you see mine?” said Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Prize Laureate in 2011 from Liberia who came to Israel for the March of Hope as a special guest of Women Wage Peace. She told us that raising hope in the hearts who have lost so much to conflict and war is a huge responsibility. “Do not get into it if you are not serious”, she said.
We are serious. As serious as the giants who paved the way for women as equal and engaged agents of change. As serious as the giants who fought for women’s voting rights; as serious as the giants who fought and are fighting for gender, social and racial justice and for human rights. As serious as the women who fought for peace in their countries.
We are serious and we will not stop until there is a peace agreement. We are serious about creating a new political discourse based on mutual recognition and care. We are serious about putting peacebuilding back at the heart of the work of our communities.
Motherhood is not only the act of baring and rearing our own children. Motherhood is a spiritual and ethical position of responsibility for the world and for future generations.
Autumn. Such a poetic season; sweet melancholy, golden leaves and a sense of transition. Times of passage require that we let go of the past and wonder what the future will bring. Rites of passage offer moments of discomfort and discontent intertwined with expectations and excitement of things to come.
Yom Kippur is an autumn High Holiday. It has nothing of the lightheartedness of summer. It is a time for contemplation and soul searching, asking for forgiveness and forgiving. It is an opportunity to let go and make new resolutions.
Asking for Forgiveness
Images of bodies of toddlers washed to the shore having drowned at sea in search of a sfae haven. Footage of a father holding his dead babies to his chest and refusing tp let them go. Images of terrible destruction, chaos and millions of refugees. Thousands of photos that show the naked horror. Good people providing aid and support to the lucky ones who found temporary shelter. Rare moments of human generosity.
But at the end of the day, no one has done anything to stop the carnage in Syria. Millions of words said and written in the news, in position papers and strategic plans and policy analysis on the “Syrian issue”.
But at the end of the day, no one has done anything to stop the carnage in Syria.
On good days, we do not look away from the photos; on bad days, we ignore them.
We must ask for forgiveness for our tolerance to human suffering.
New age doctrine tells us to let go; to loosen up our clenched fists that hold long time angers, insults and unfinished businesses. In return, there is a promise of tremendous relief and a sense of well-being to those who take the higher ground.
It is important to let go; to forgive and to dump the unnecessary load of tormenting memories that take up way too much storage space. Genuinely forgiving those who have wronged against us releases us from the burden of pain and anger. Otherwise, they continue to nibble on and rattle our soul.
It is easier for us to forgive those human weaknesses that we see in ourselves: blindness, narcissism, vanity and insensitivity.
Then there are things that are almost unforgivable.
It is so hard to forgive where there is no show of remorse.
It is so hard to reconcile when the truth is not spoken.
It is impossible to let go of what still torments and damages.
There are still unsettled scores, both personal and political. Forgiveness and reconciliation are still waiting for truths to reveal their faces. Only then can the healing begin.
Mad Cat Max was a simple little fabric doll, a sort of hybrid of a cat and a Panda bear. I won it at a street fair in a far and magical city in Brazil in the summer of 1986. I kept it for many years. It was a source of pride; the guy at the booth handed it to me while trying to hide his astonishment. I often wondered how I managed to bring down the pile of tin cans with shaky hands, eyes out of focus and a rag ball shot out of a toy cannon.
Mad Cat Max got his name and personality a few years later when I presented him to my first-born son, Daniel. He had a thick Argentinian accent, a quick temper, no manners whatsoever and a huge heart of gold. He knew how to make my son smile and laugh and they shared long intimate conversations. Mad Cat Max was what every child needs; a half-imaginary friend or simply a hilarious, crazy, footloose and more effective version of a mother.
I was reminded of Mad Cat Max this morning when my youngest daughter and I walked to school with our dogs, imagining a conversation between them about us. Then she went to class and I returned to my adult tasks, but I could not shake the notion of how important it is to imagine that dogs can talk and make fun of the funny human creatures they live with. I thought of Mad Cat Max who was really my alter ego.
I kept Mad Cat Max for almost 30 years and then I lost him. I still miss him sometimes.
May the year 5777 be good to you. May we create goodness in the world together, as much as we possibly can.