Israel Stories through a Gender Lens

Elections! Again?

"Prime minister failed to mediate between Lieberman and ultra-Orthodox parties, sending Israel to its second election in six months", says the Ha'aretz English edition headline of May 30th, 2019.

As a storyteller for social change, I often seek to make sense of political events by having conversations with people. Anger, confusion and deep mistrust in political leadership and its motivations were the responses I encountered this time. "We have yet to heal from the April 9 elections", people said, referring to the highly toxic and divisive recent campaign.

In seeking to make sense of political events, I am always equipped with my gender lens, my dear and trusted companion that constantly urges me to ask questions such as: "how does this effect women?", and, "what can women do to change this reality?". Hence, I turned to my colleague and mentor, journalist and political commentator Anat Saragusti, and asked her to write a short article that will shed light on the dramatic events of the week.

The Banality of Ego

By Anat Saragusti

The main reason behind the decision to take Israel through another election could be summed up with one word: Ego.

Neither advance espionage equipment nor sharp political savvy would have exposed any other reason for the Knesset to convene at the dead of night on May 29 and decide to embark on another election in three months.

The decision has no practicality to it. It’s all personal. Netanyahu claimed to have won the previous election. But when it came time to put his mandate where his mouth is, he failed. The bottom line is Netanyahu couldn’t form a government. And that is why he didn’t win. Furthermore, the negotiations Likud held with its potential coalition partners proved that even the demands set were, how to put it? Completely personal. All they were interested in was the Immunity Law and the High Court Override Clause. These two were meant to provide Netanyahu with a safety net if and when it was decided to indict him after a hearing. These two prerequisites presented by Likud weren’t meant to better the lives of the public, nor Netanyahu’s voters. Neither was designed to deal with the burning issues on the public agenda: A failing health system, social gaps, the deep divides within society, crumbling infrastructures, lagging public transportation, the withering agriculture, a sinking welfare system, the ever-expanding exclusion of women, the precariously escalating incitement against Israel’s Arab citizens, the delegitimization of the left, and above all – for better or worse – the presentation of Trump’s “deal of the century” for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which will now be postponed for many months.

Good or bad, the reveal of Trump’s deal could have altered reality, if only for bringing diplomacy back into the agenda, rejuvenate the discourse around peace, and perhaps even lead to some kind of breakthrough.

This decision must be looked at through two different prisms:

A profound crisis of faith in the political system. When everything is personal, when leaders betray the mandate given to them by the public, when cynicism overtakes sincerity, something in the fundamental pact between us, the public, and our elected leaders, is fractured. The contract which states that we vote for them and they promote the issues we care about was not fulfilled.

This crisis painfully expressed itself in the last election with the generally low voter turnout, but particularly low among Arab citizens, who barely crossed the 50 percent threshold.

The second prism is the practical implication of this decision: the continued freeze over all government activity – the way it has been since the last election was announced in December. A transitional government can’t make important calls, further new topics, allocate budgets or anything.

And above it all hovers, of course, the gender perspective.

These ego struggles were played by men. It’s hard not to sink into the poignant notion that what happened was the result of male thinking which considers everything a zero-sum game. It’s either you or me.

The outgoing Knesset, which managed to sit for solely a month, was characterized by an especially low number of women. But that’s only a small part of the picture. If a government had been formed, it is doubtless that not only it would’ve had few women, but that women wouldn’t have had a real seat at the table, and it is highly unlikely we would’ve seen a woman in the security cabinet, where the critical decision regarding state security, war, and the peace process are made.

Neither side of the political map had enough women with experience, or an ambition to sit on these forums. For this to change in the upcoming election seems far-fetched. Issues that matter to women, such as violence against women, equality in the job market, breaking the glass ceiling and more – were not set front and center in the previous election. It seems dubious that parties seeking our votes would make gender the top of their agenda – not simply by the makeup of their slate, but in a more rooted way, which brings to the things that matter to us to the forefront.

So we all lost in these ego games: The politicians who voted against the conscience and interests, the state – which will now descend into heavy spending, the political system itself, and the voting public, of course. What transpired here is a malevolent use of the democratic toolbox.

Many thanks to Daniel Gouri De-Lima for the English translation of the article

Storytelling: The Art of Generosity

Storytelling: the art of generosity
Once upon a time, or indeed, many times, in a country far far away, stories were everything from the daily news show; the gossip column; the red alert and the way to share experience, knowledge and wisdom from one generation on to another. Near the fireside or in a small room where women gathered to do their needlework or some other tedious labor, the stories will emerge and come to life. Troubadours shared news from the big city; people shared updates on births, deaths and hungry wondering wolves and secrets and wise advice.
Storytelling was and still is the art of generously sharing useful knowledge in a way that lingered and resonated with folks; because stories help us remember. Even in our era of incessant flow of info; a good story stays with us and reminds us – time and time again – how it made us feel and what it helped us know.
We can learn how to preserve and share knowledge through stories. Contact me to find out more: Consult4good@gmail.com

A woman's prayer

I will fast on Yom Kippur again this year. Not because I have to, but because I choose so. It is a family tradition since the passing of my maternal grandfather, Shaul Beker z"l.

I will fast and pray at the Dror Reform congregation in my neighborhood, and my daughter, Na'ama, will join me. No, she doesn't have to, but she, like me, appreciates being part of a community that prays and chants and sings, women and men together, on this day. After the prayers, her father will take her to join her friends to play and ride her bike. And next year she will be free to choose where she wants to be.

I will prepare food for those in my family who do not fast, because a shared family space means each and every one has the right to live and be as they choose.

I will, again, shed tears during the Avinu Malkenu prayer, because 20 years ago this prayer pulled me out from an abyss of pain.

And I will dwell and reflect on what I have done, or didn't, or should have done differently. I will mind, time and again, the gaps between who I wish to be and how I am, especially towards those I love the most. And I will mind, time again, the gaps between my values and my practices.

And I will break the fast, time and again, with my parents, in their home, and the first thing that will receive me at the door will be the light in my mother's eyes and her warm "G'mar Hatima Tova" embrace.

I make a personal choice, time and again, how my Yom Kippur will be.

woman-praying-425

I will pray this year, time and again, in my own way, not to the Almighty, but to a private and very personal presence of spirituality and compassion, of deep humanity that is in the soul.

And this year, when Yom Kippur and Eid al Adha are celebrated on the same day, I will wish all my Jewish and Muslim friends who observe a meaningful holiday, one to be shared with family, friends and community.

And I will ponder on the proximity between the sacrifice of Ishma'el and that of Issac, and how we, the humans of this world, are obligated to celebrate the sanctity of life, and challenge the culture that sanctifies the sword.

G'mar Hatima Tova and a blessed Eid al Adha.

To Hagar. To Hijer.

To Hagar. Hijer. My sister.

After many years, I am once again reading about you and your story.  It is good that I am doing this, my dear one.  It reminds me how important you are in our history.  And the more I read, the more my soul is bound with yours.

You, Abraham's concubine, were passed on to Sarah, who passed you back to Abraham so that you would provide him with a son. Back and forth.  You were persecuted because you were a stranger, because you were loved and loving, because you didn't belong.

You were made up of all possible contradictions, in your life and after your death:  Royalty and slavery; a symbol of supreme maternal devotion but also of obedience to the patriarchal, economic, and class structure; the mother of Ishma'el, the founder of the Arab nation, the source of inspiration for religious texts but also the symbol of expulsion, of otherness.  So many words have been written about you, and I search for you in the mounds of interpretations, appropriations and sophisticated debates.

Your story is composed of infinite materials.  It is not one story, but rather, many.  And from these many, I sit and pull out the threads, one by one.  First, the thread of you and Sarah.  The woman who must have felt very ambivalent about you, burning with intimacy and jealousy.  I find myself angry with Sarah.  After all, you, the handmaiden, were the victim of a social and economic order that placed the will of your master above your own.  Perhaps both of you – you and Sarah – were victims of the patriarchal order that measured and valued women according to their ability to give birth, to produce heirs (preferably male, of course).  That same order that did not allow Sarah to create a close, loving relationship with you.

And then I pull out the thread of motherhood.  The thread that turned you into a model of devotion and grace.  When you put Ishma'el your son down, and went off to seek water and to spare him the sight of his mother weeping over his bitter fate. The fate that awaited both of you.  In the end, you were both saved.  Thanks either to your resourcefulness and tenacity or to the hand of God. The Bible tells us that God revealed himself to you.  At that moment, were you overcome with awe, or simply tremendously relieved that your life and the life of your son had been spared?

Expulsion_of_Ishmael_and_His_Mother

What did you want, Hagar?  Did anyone ever ask you what you wanted? You – who refused to sacrifice your only son whom you loved.  You – who withstood all of the tests.  What did you want?  What were you thinking about, as you sat in the desert, crying bitterly over your son?  Did you know then, as your were banished a second time, that your son would become a great nation?  That your banishment from the home of Abraham and Sarah would lead to one of the most bitter and harsh conflicts in history, a conflict that eats away at our hearts to this very day?

I cannot but think about what would be if Sarah had not demanded that you be sent away.  If Abraham had not given in, without even protesting.  Perhaps Isaac and Ishma'el would have grown up together as brothers, despite the age difference between them?  Our history in this space – as Arabs and Jews – would be very different.  And in these difficult times, I think about what we women – mothers, sisters, friends – can do to help to heal this open wound, to right the terrible historical wrong of your banishment.

I don’t know what you would have wanted.  They have all taken ownership of you.  Judaism. Islam.  Even Christian scholars have made their interpretations on your back.  I don't want to appropriate you, or your story, or your life.  But every so often, I would like to have another conversation with you.  If I may.

Written in 2010, for a special exhibition by feminist Mizrahi artist and leader, Shula Keshet, on Biblical Heroines

The Power of Stories

The power of stories and storytelling

Stories are a powerful thing. Stories evoke strong emotional reactions: fascination, enchantment, laughter, fear, indignation. Stories have power over us because they are made of the raw materials of our lives as human beings: love, hate, passion, conflict, competition, adventures, cruelty and kindness, overcoming obstacles and challenges, the victory of the mind and soul over matter and coercion, resourcefulness and wisdom, stupidity and innocence, faith, and more. Stories can helps us grapple with the darker corners of our being and celebrate the greatness of our human spirit.

Stories can remind us who we are, where we come from, and where we want to go. Consider for example the Odyssey, possibly the most famous tale of personal journey. After years and years of wondering and endless obstacles, adventures and temptations, Odysseus is finally able to find his way home after telling his story to others and to himself. Stories help us preserve our past, so that we may shape our own future.

Stories are not merely about facts, but are not the opposite of facts, either. Rather, they are an effective way of conveying information, in a more dramatic, picturesque, concise and inspiring manner. In that sense, stories can be a powerful tool in an organization's social marketing efforts.

A story well-told can unleash the power of other stories: it can help us tell owr own stories and elicit stories from others. Individual stories can then be woven together to tell a collective one: a community's, an organizations, a people.

To read more about the power of stories click here: https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=ZGVmYXVsdGRvbWFpbnxoYW11dGFsZ291cmljb25zdWx0NGdvb2R8Z3g6N2E3MDU3MmUzZmM3YzhhYg

If you want to learn more on how storytelling can benefit your group, your community, your organization, please wonder the pages of this blog, and then contact me at: consult4good@gmail.com or call: 972-52-5601859

My People

The plane finally landed at Oakland Airport. Only a short trip from there to the home of Akaya Windwood, the President of Rockwood Leadership Institute. I traveled all the way to California to participate in a Rockwood Art of Leadership Seminar, as part of a process of exploring the idea to bring the program to Israel. .
I have never met Akaya before. We spoke on the phone a couple of times and exchanged e-mails, and she invited me to stay with her over the weekend, before the seminar. The taxi drove up a peaceful street, and pulled over just as Akaya came out of the house to greet me, a tall, beautiful woman. I was so happy to finally meet her, and we embraced as if we were long time friends. I felt like I was home away from home.
The Art of Leadership seminar started on Monday afternoon. I was the oldest participant in the room, and the only one from Israel. It was March 2009. America was in love with its new black President, while in Israel; Benjamin Netanyahu was putting together another coalition. On that first evening, we stood in a circle, 24 people from different places, races, religions and genders, and with endless stories to share. Our two amazing trainers, Helen Kim and Toby Herzlich, asked us to say: who are my people?
– My people are my family…
– My people are my family and friends…
– My people are my friends and colleagues who are working to end racism and prejudice…
– My people are all those fighting for justice and equality…
The seminar was a truly transformative experience. I experienced a whole spectrum of emotions; I felt the pain of revelation, I shed some tears, and was inspired, and curious; I learned a great deal about my own leadership, my privilege, my responsibility. I discovered myself through the eyes of people I have just met, but I had to trust them to share their wisdom with me, and let me share mine with them. For four intense days they were “My People”, as we all shared in an experience of learning and discovery. It’s been five years since then, and what I learned there about myself, about leadership and about social change is still alive within me, like a potent “suspended release” medicine, that runs through my veins, through my system of values and beliefs.
And the learning and revelation continued, in the four years in which I was the program Director for the Rockwood Art of Collaborative Leadership for Social Change in Israel, thanks to the generous support of the Nathan Cummings Foundation and the Social Justice Fund. I met amazing people, our participants; so dedicated and passionate about their work, even when it gets so frustrating, challenging and downright unthankful. I met people who represent such a rich diversity of ethnic, national, gender, cultural and political identities. Each and every single one of them holds a special place in my heart. Our alumni in Israel, along with many other remarkable people I met during my 25 years in working for social change, are “My People”. I wish I could name each and every one of them, but the list will so long. My people are the feminist activists and professionals who never take a break to breath; my people are the human rights and peace people; the environmentalists, and those working to keep Judaism pluralistic and inclusive, and those fighting against racism and injustice, and all of those who insist to end the occupation. My people are kind. They are my kind of people.
And each and every one of them has a voice, loud and clear, complex and fascinating; a voice that holds a richness of identities, of stories, of affiliations. My people give me hope, despite the ill winds that keep blowing in our country, despite legislation initiatives that threaten to deepen the rifts between Jews and Palestinians. They give me hope, because I know that there are people, amazing people, who work to bring people together, to create circles of conversations, to create spaces for shared living.
It gives me great pleasure to host my people on my blog. And this time, I invite you to gather around an imagined fire place, or an imagined town hall, and listen to two of our Rockwood graduates in Israel: Shahad Abu-Hamad, a Palestinian pre-school teacher, a special education fairy godmother, and Prof. Daphna Golan. A Jewish scholar and educator, a magician in her own way, and the founder of the Academy-Community Partnership.

storyteller2The Storyteller, Illustration by Daniel Gouri de Lima

Power Failure/Shahad Abu-Hamad

Power failure
Darkness
Waiting for the light
Power failure
Painful memories
And people’s stories

System overload
Power failure
Pouring rain
Thunders roaring
The voices of whole nations
System overload
Power failure
Paralyzing thunders
And the rain washes away painful memories
Feeds a new scent of hope
A scent of love

Power failure
Darkness
Hot and cold
Will you make up your mind already…
Don’t say it’s impossible
We are out of words
Silence
Power failure.

This powerful poem was written at the end of a whirlwind week of the Israeli Memorial Day and Independence Day that were followed by a rain storm, in early May.

Learning with students, Acting for Change: a TED talk by Prof. Daphna Golan, Founding Director, Academy-Community Partnership

http://youtu.be/uvEwl2PHDgE

Oedipus Shmedipus

Oedipus Shmedipus

Mix the flour and butter until they form a coarse mill…

She had started and stopped writing about them several times, going off to bake scones.

Fold in the chopped cranberries, pour one cup of heavy cream…

The dough is a little sticky now, and she finds joy in kneading it; knowing how to be patient, not to add too much flour. Soon she will flatten it to a big circle, and chip away little round shapes with curly edges.

She had begun writing about them several times, and stopped in the midst. It is much simpler to bake scones. Soon she will slide them into the oven, for the soft smells of foreign pastries to spread across and fill the air.

Bake the scones until lightly brown, careful not to overdo it. That's it. There are no more excuses left for her now.

So many times she began writing about them, of Oedipus, Freud and Harold Bloom and every time she stopped. For who is she, this softening woman, to write of these men whose works shape our lives to this very day in a preordained, never ending cycle of violence.

It was in Tu B'shvat (the Jewish celebration of trees) that she was playing with the idea of writing in a humorous spirit about how she is going to cling to high trees… and write about Oedipus and Freud. She ended up baking scones with dried fruits, because that also something to do with Tu B'shvat.

And the scones are ready, sprinkled with powdered sugar and their stories, in all their founding and shaping glory, are still there. You can talk and knead for as long as you like, but no new knowledge will be born here, until you kill someone.

Sophocles wrote the Tragedy of Oedipus nearly 2450 years ago; in which the titular prince was born prophesized to commit Patricide, wed his mother and bring pestilence, woe and sorrows to his people. He wrote a tragedy about blindness and predetermined rivalry. He probably did not foresee a Jewish Austrian Psychiatrist building an entire theory based upon it, about parent/child relationships, human evolution and the society we live in, 2400 years into the future. And then along came Harold Bloom – Another important Jewish fellow – and wrote about the "Anxiety of Influence" and how new knowledge is formed, how creation is born, in the world we live in.

She's meant to write a chapter about this subject in her ever elusive, prolonged Masters Thesis. Instead she bakes scones and writes ambiguous stories. They trouble her mind far too long now, these Men with their Oedipus and repression. Their disinheritance and sublimation of Patricide and all this to create something, that for one passing moment, you feel like maybe had never been written before.

There's something so real about the sticky feel of this dough. You have to be gentle with it, so it won't break, so the butter won't dissolve too much. So the scones will come out equally soft and delicate. There's a recipe, and as long as you follow it everything will be just fine. You can decide to be bold and add pecans. It is better to quell you rebellious streak when it comes to foreign pastry recipes and to heed the instructions. This is not the time to be creative or break new grounds. Save your insurgence for other things.

Coward. You're a coward, she reproaches herself as she removes the broken egg shells from the sink to the trash can. What the hell are you so afraid of? I don't know. Maybe that they won't understand. Think it's rubbish. Fearful that she doesn't have that flare in her, to write until she collapses, to leap and fly. Freud would have had a field day with her.

But the story these men tell bothers her. It is so powerful that for nearly 2500 years no one told another one, as powerful and formative. Every birth, every creation calls for a battle, a disownment, a demonization of what came before it. "This old world to it's foundations we will crumble", because there's no point in anything else.

She misses her grandmother. The tempestuous, and sometimes lost. The one who wrote that art and motherhood share the ability to give unconditionally. Even after there's none but a crumb of the scones she made, her grandmother's words keep striding with her.

She doesn't know how to write without the recipes yet. The stories help her. Guide her. In them she finds wisdom, and comfort.

And there are the stories that haunt her. Like the one about Oedipus being told for 2500 years, on top of which Freud constructed entire theories of penis envy and the drive that turns into sublimation to slay the "Father Figure" and become the Alpha Male. To take what you want and repress the fact that someone was here before you, and that he might have been more eloquent in expressing that which you wish to say. These stories concern her because they clear room in the pages of history for men who took those theories to the extreme. One of which passed away around these very parts just a few weeks ago (former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon). He created and destroyed, built and mostly demolished again. And with his passing, from every corner of the political spectrum people rose to proclaim that many a day shall pass before we witness a leader such as this in our lands. A true Alpha Male.

But she digresses again. Quick to write a parable, to draw the lines between the dots she scattered on the page. She must have "Misunderstanding Anxiety", it's hard for her to be incomprehensible sometimes, and even more to abandon these wanderings among her private memories and associations.

The end is nigh and she decides to emerge from behind the character she's been hiding in. She's just like her anyway. In the language of stories she will say that writing helped her  appear out of this character, because sometimes it's a place to hide and at other a place to be exposed.

This week a dear friend told me that my insistence on interlocking my stories with social change is a kind of burden. That my attempts at connecting the stories with the ever so real world of working for social change  is holding me back from soaring. She's correct, of course. The truth shall set you free, but it's also a bitch. And maybe I do shackle myself to this encumbering anvil, of saying something about social justice, because I am afraid – or worse, can't – Spread my wings and fly. Maybe.

But that is only one part of the story. The other is that I am tenacious. I believe that this connection between stories and social change, is alive and vibrant. It needs to exist.

I started with Oedipus, Freud and Harold Bloom and the story they tell about how the world behaves and how new knowledge, life and creation are born. These tales bother me because I realize I am also bound to them. I doubt myself when I think that there are other ways to be and create in the world, even though it has already been said before my time.

And I'm restraining myself now. Holding back from weaving these threads that are strewn about the page. If I could paint, maybe I would create something with these strands in front of me. But as always, I will let Daniel draw the story of this tale. And he will do something a little different of his own, that will entwine with my own, which is already knotted with the living and the dead. And maybe that is enough of a statement about the processes of creation.

 001

 Illustration and English translation: Daniel Gouri de Lima

Dripping

On Dripping

This blog post was inspired by a great storyteller/blogger: http://astorytellerinistanbul.blogspot.de/

 I wish to thank her for bringing the story about the cracked pot to life in such a relevant and resonant way. I also want to thank John Rogers for sharing the blog post.

The story of the cracked pot

Once upon a time there was a water bearer, who had two large pots, one hung on each end of a pole, which she carried across her neck.

One of the pots had a crack in it. While the other pot was perfect, and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the mistress's house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.

For a full two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water to her master's house.

The perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect to the end for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfections and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do.

After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream: "I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you."

Why?" asked the bearer. What are you ashamed of?

"I have been able, for these past two years, to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your mistress's house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don't get full value from your efforts," the pot said.

The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in her compassion she said, "As we return home, house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers, grass and vegetables  along the path."

Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, the green grass and the ripe, delicious looking vegetables, and this cheered it some.

But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again it apologized to the bearer for its failure.

The bearer said to the pot, "Did you notice that there were flowers, grass and vegetables only on your side of the path, but not on the other pot's side?

“That's because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower and vegetable seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you've watered them.

“For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers and delicious, nutritious vegetables to share them with my family and neighbors and make them very happy… "

cracked pot 001

Illustration by Daniel Gouri De Lima

I'll be 51 in two weeks. I, too, am a cracked pot. I've earned my cracks, every single one of them, with hard, honest work, by taking the long road, often the road untaken, with very little shortcuts and magic solutions. I earned them with every time my heart broke and healed, with my body transformed by the years and bearing my children, with the silly things and bitter mistakes that I made. I, too, like the cracked pot, often wonder if I'm doing my job in the most effective and efficient manner; I too "drip" and only get some of the tasks done by the end of the day, and I have reminders on my google calendar to remind me of my tasks, because I forget…

But the story of the cracked pot invites us to think of this dripping not as a waste of time and resources. In this story, the water dripping from the cracked pot, in cooperation with the seeds and the soil, brings flowers and vegetables into life; creating nourishment and beauty. Yes, I, too, am dripping. When I postpone doing the laundry or writing that report, do tell my daughter a bed time story and cuddle next to her until she falls asleep; when I shut down the computer and decide not to read my e-mails late at night, so I could spend a few moments of grace with my partner, or watch a film with my son. I am dripping when I spent a few minutes at the beginning of each conference call to chat with my colleagues and ask them how they're doing; or when I say to myself this writing block is not going anywhere, and I may as well take a long walk to clear my head; or put the phone on silent and make cranberry scones.

I share this story here because it is simple and beautiful; there's a lot we can learn from it, as we strive to bring about social change. This story is an invitation to ponder about "dripping" in the context of working for social change as an investment in processes that will eventually yield sustainable impact; dripping in the sense of investing in deconstructing and redefining limits, power-relations, strategies; dripping in the sense of drawing wisdom from different types of knowledge.

Working for social and political change is a goal, but it is also a way of life, a way if being in the world; just as a story about content as much as it is about form. So, with your permission, let me linger a bit longer on this metaphor of dripping as we go along. Let me suggest that dripping, in the context of working for social change is:

To invest in building a relationship based on trust and mutual respect with our partners;

To remember that when we make the shared space unsafe for the other, we make the shared space unsafe for everyone

To recognize that silencing, intimidation, patronizing, belittling, coercion, are the "master's tools"

To care for ourselves and for others. Because as Audre Lorde said: "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare."

To take a step back and make space for someone else, and stepping forward when necessary

To listen to stories, to share stories

To appreciate others and give credit

To explore ways to dismantle the paralyzing dichotomy of victim-aggressor

And, to remember that we are all cracked pots. We've earned our cracks, every single one of them, with hard, honest work; by taking the long road, with very few short cuts and no magic solutions.

Woman. Not Merchandise

A woman. Not merchandise.

Since I started this blog, Stories for Social Change, I made a point not to tell other people's stories.  I tell my own stories, because sharing stories is a form of agency, a way of being in the world, of creating new knowledge. Stories should be told by those who lived them.  So, here concludes my introduction, and here's the story of a woman who wishes to be called S.

I want to thank Michal and Idit of Awareness Institute for bringing her story to my attention.

Letter to a client:

I stand before you  with a short skirt and a pretty body. You pick me 'cause you like me. Burn through your wallet and acquire "sexual services". I know I'm smiling and it seems like I'm all into you, like you're so handsome and perfect. It's only pretend. Make believe. You're just a payday.  I close my eyes and wait for it to end, faking at orgasm so you'll finally leave me and my body alone. You're not even attractive or perfect, you lay your hands on me and I touch you, cold and impersonal. You don't even know my real name.

I run to drugs and alcohol, to forget our atrocious rendezvous. I pay for them from your purse. I am disgusted by you, by myself. I ask you to put on a condom, but you pay me extra to do you without one. God only knows what you've given me. For such a long time, I was ashamed of my body. It didn't matter that it was beautiful, it wasn't mine. It was yours. Until one day I took it back. I showered with bleach. I couldn't stand it anymore. The burns that covered my body now scar my soul. I lost myself, and nearly my life.

Today, I'm sober from substances, from you. It'll be years before I recover from prostitution. They call it post-traumatic stress disorder. I distanced myself from men and had relations with women. Mood swings, aggression, depression,  I was volatile. I got alarmingly skinny and all my friends abandoned me, because nobody wants to be around a former whore. Nightmares that haunt me, flashbacks that swamp me with anxiety. Making me reach for pills, pills that let me sleep. Let me escape. When I'm alone I can feel hands touching me. Before I got to bed, I lock down the house. Never shower before everything is sealed shut. When I wash the dishes, the chilling waters send shivers down my spine, reminding me of the strangers that invaded me as cold sweat rushes over me.

You think that if you paid, it's fine. But that money is tainted, and it withers away like a breeze. Before you call a brothel to use a woman who is only there out of distress, think back to what you have read here. Maybe you should decide to be more than just a man, to be a human. Put down the phone.

 Breaking the chains of silence, Illustration by Daniel Gouri de Lima breakfree

Never Let Them See You Sweat: Really?

Prologue

Earlier this week we lost Buja, our mixed breed ravishing dog, who has been with us for the last 17 years. She was a part of us, of our family, and we loved her dearly. As she got older, it became increasingly difficult and painful for her to walk, yet she continued to walk around the house, simply because she wanted to be near us. This blog post – and Daniel's illustration – are dedicated to her.

SWEAT

This blog post had a difficult birth. I had the thread of an idea, but I didn’t know where to take it. I needed some stories to help me make sense of it and some time to mull things over and process the raw material.

As happens from time to time, it started with a flash, a fragmented thought. A few weeks ago a sentence got stuck in my mind and refused to leave me in peace, demanding that I respond.

 Never Let Them See You Sweat

 This catch-phrase – a slogan from an advertisement for deodorant – came from nowhere and refused to budge until I gave it the time and reflection it deserves. Above all – until I worked out why it had popped up in front of me in the first place.

I embarked on a dialogue with this phrase.

 “To start with – why? Why should we never let people see us sweat? Everyone does it, don’t they? It’s just the body’s natural and healthy way of cooling itself and releasing toxins. So why should we keep it a secret? Why should we pretend that we don’t do that?”

“What do you want from me,” the sentence retorted. “I’m just a punch line in an advertisement. Maybe you need to work out why I’m bothering you so much.”

 The pest of a sentence was right, of course. It wasn't about him, but me. He came to bother me while I was preoccupied with thoughts about sweat. The sweat that comes from a real effort – a physical effort, a mental effort, the effort of thought. I was thinking about sweat that pours out in an attempt to contain and process the sadness and countless emotions aroused by various events and encounters that have shaken my soul, on the personal and the political levels.

 So as happens from time to time, writing became a process of deciphering. Sweat became a metaphor, a symbol representing something else. Maybe tears or sadness. In short – an effort of the heart. And in the end that is what was written: Sweat. Sadness. Effort.

Sweat

“You’ll feel a slight sense of pressure in your lower back.” If I remember rightly, that’s how Sheila Kitzinger, the high priestess of birth preparation books, described the pain of contractions 25 years ago. “Yeah, right,” I thought to myself while crouching on all fours, a small elephant in a cat/dog Yoga position on the lawn outside the delivery room at Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital. I tried to “breathe over the contraction, following Kitzinger's teachings.  “Pressure in your lower back” didn’t even begin to describe my feelings just before entering the delivery room: enormous excitement, fear, and a realization that something big was going on inside me and in my life.

“When breastfeeding, it’s important to consume a large quantity of liquids,” I read in the same book, after returning home with my treasure, my first son, in my arms. Why not just say that women who have just given birth sweat like racehorses?

The first visit to the mother and child clinic was a really special day. Daniel, the new stroller, and I made our way up the steep road to the clinic. Daniel, the stroller and I – together with flowing streams of sweat. By the time I got to the clinic I was soaking wet. Beads of sweat covered my eyes, smudging my carefully-applied makeup and filling my mouth with a salty taste.

My sense of excitement at this new first was muted by a sense of tremendous vulnerability before the wiry, efficient, and bone-dry nurse with her judgmental gaze. Maybe she wasn’t really judgmental and it was just me, with my new mother vulnerability, who felt that.

Sadness

 

“Tell me, do you have something against sadness?” the flight attendant asked me as we served out food and drinks on a plane full of passengers and not full enough of oxygen headed for New York. He added a hint of a smile to show that he was aware of his own charm. Even at a distance of 30 years, I must admit that this is one of the better pickup lines I’ve heard. A combination of the professional humor of flight attendants and a pretension to understand the complex soul of women who love tormented men…

 Sadness is a wonderful word – poetical, creating associations of a thread of sorrow, melancholy, soft grayness, malaise. The sweat of the soul that seeks to cool itself and rid itself of toxins.

 Never Let Them See You Sad

 

That’s an advertisement slogan they haven’t used yet. Anyway, no elixir  or medicine can really cure sadness. Like sweat, sadness is the body’s totally natural reaction to pain, injustice, and cruelty. Sadness is anger’s melancholy sister, the one that turns its energies inwards.

 I’d guess that almost every language in the world has a word for sadness. How many poems must have been written in all these languages about sadness? Thousands, if not more.

Anyway, it strikes me how rarely I use that word in the context of my work. That’s why they invented words such as fascinating, complex, moving, and challenging. As if sadness is something that doesn’t have its own place in the context of struggles for social change.

Effort

“By the sweat of your brow you will eat bread.” This is the terrible punishment God imposes on Adam and Eve as they are expelled from the Garden of Eden. They won’t enjoy the fruit-laden trees any more. Effort – that’s the punishment for their lust for knowledge. Their curiosity. Their subversion. Their disobedience. Effort and sweat. If Adam and Eve had only been more obedient and less curious, we would all still be living in Eden without effort and without sweat. And without knowledge.

It took me years to accept effort lovingly – not to be afraid or ashamed of it. Not to be angry with myself when things don’t work out. After all, nothing important ever comes easily. Letting go never comes easily. Neither does love, learning, or acceptance – and certainly not change.

Even so, in the hundreds of grant proposals I’ve written and read over the years, I’ve never seen anyone write: “Inequality (or oppression, racism, violence…) is a serious social problem that makes us very sad. Sometimes this sadness is so profound that for a moment it challenges our belief in our ability to change things. It demands that we invest almost superhuman efforts, to sweat, to neglect our loved ones, and to argue with those closest to us. But we care too much, and we would never thinking of abandoning the struggle. So we will continue to make an effort, to sweat, and to get angry – so that we can change things. We’ll be delighted if you see fit to support  us…”

 buza2

Effort: in memory of a beloved dog. Illustration by Daniel Gouri De Lima

In a soft, circular movement

 The twilight hours are the best time for sweet sadness. Late on Friday afternoon, Jerusalem is so quiet. I can hear Dana, our splendid black Labrador, biting her own feet energetically. Outside the last birds are singing.

All around me is quiet now and I can listen to the sadness. A sadness that is sometimes the product of the gap between what we manage to do and what’s still left to be done. A sadness born of longing, of something stolen that cannot be regained. A personal sadness and a political sadness at the way of the world.

I began writing in sadness at a phrase from an advertisement, and I end in a soft, circular movement. I gather in my pain, sorrow, sweat, and effort together with those of the people who touch my heart during the encounters this work sparks. Yes: I choose to end this process of writing with a soft, circular movement. Because compassion is a political act toward ourselves and toward others. It is born of the sad realization that so much needs to be repaired here. There is no reason for us to waste our energy trying to pretend that we aren’t sweating or that we aren’t in pain.