Elan’s story and Hope

Elan, Son of Two Peoples

By: Heidi Smith Hyde

Illustrated by: Mikela Prevost

On new years day I got on a kick to visit my local library’s website and place on hold books about how the new year is celebrated across the globe. My intention was to bring these books into my classroom to read aloud during the first week back after winter break. I came across the usual books I assumed were out there, and then as I continued to scroll through the website lists I found some real gems.

One of these gems was the book, Elan, Son of Two Peoples.  Written by: Heidi Smith Hydeand illustrated by: Mikela Prevost. What struck me the most about this text was the fact that it melded two cultures Judaism and Pueblo Indian into one beautifully told story based on a real life experience.

Growing up I felt that I had one identity that I truly could understand and that was of being a Jewish girl raised in Anchorage, Alaska. I understood my culture, the religion that tied it together, and yet I also learned about the identity my father grew up with. I was raised in a home with two Jewish parents.  However, my father’s identity shifted in his adulthood after meeting my mother. He studied Judaism years into their marriage before deciding to commit to the religion, study with a rabbi, and accept a new identity for himself. When I grew up I never once felt that because my father converted to Judaism it might even mean for one moment that I was “half” anything. I was Jewish. I was the child of both of my parents. I learned to love and accept all of the family that both sides matriarchal and patriarchal brought with them.

When I was in sixth grade I started having discussions about my bat mitzvah. There was one girl who went to my elementary school (yes, sixth grade was still elementary school, in Anchorage that is), who also went to temple with me once a week.  It wasn’t until a conversation at the, lo and behold, lunch room table where I really had to stop in my tracks and consider what she said in response to a question posed during our meal. Someone said something about religion to her and bat mitzvahs, and then in response she replied, without batting an eyelash, “Well I mean, yeah I’m Jewish, I’ll probably have one, but I’m only half Jewish because my mom’s Catholic. We celebrate Christmas and stuff, but we go to temple. But I’m only half Jewish, ok?”

I just stared at her.

I didn’t know what to say.

It was as if a balloon had been popped and I was left with the pieces surrounding me. I could not fathom why she would think that it be necessary to identify as only half Jewish when we went to services together, Hebrew school on Sunday’s and sat and discussed the historical experiences of our ancestors together. Being a young twelve-year-old girl, I regretfully did not question her much on the issue. When I was asked, “Are you Jewish?” I said yes, yes I am. I felt no need to clarify my parent’s identities or backgrounds. I felt rooted in what I knew for sure, and I did it unapologetically.  Why share all of this background and story you might be wondering?

I first considered this story of Elan in relation to myself. Upon a deeper reflection I considered, what this story might mean for my students. I teach twenty-seven beautiful children each weekday in my classroom. I realized when reading Elan’s story that this was also the story of my students. Past and present children that walk a fine line with race, culture, and identity every day. Perhaps their story is patterned differently, yes, but the connectivity in which I found with their stories, my own, and Elan’s was where the pulse of the matter began.

We are all products of someone’s journey. People who came before us to struggle, find determination and grit enough to bring forth lives they could be proud of and share with their children. Honoring who you are and where you come from, while simultaneously cultivating your own pathway is a gift bestowed upon us daily. I realized that my friend from elementary school’s identify was different from mine. What she said on that day was her story, her life, and her way of carrying who she was in relation to her family, her friends, and her being. I did not have to agree, disagree, or even have an opinion of it. It was not my story to tell.

On this day of all days when, Martin Luther King Jr. is recognized, I found myself drawn towards writing about this book. It is because of Martin’s words and more importantly his actions, that made it possible for our nation to have light shed upon segregation, racism, and bigotry. His action and belief in hope, a hope for change, and a call to action changed our nation. I find myself leaning towards his words and the words of so many like-minded human’s who have had the bravery to stand up and fight for love, for freedom, and for equality. My heritage taught me to, “never forget the Holocaust and what our people have survived,” to question, to read, to give tzedakah, to act with tikkun-olam, and to believe in and have hope. That’s what I’m doing today, holding hope.

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Labels or Love.

A long time ago I was slapped with labels that were hard to understand as a child, but became quite vivd when I looked deeply at the perceptions that swirled around my exterior.

Label: Female

Label: Daughter

Label: Sister

Label: Friend

Label: Jew

Label: White

Label: Quiet

Label: Nice

The trouble with a label is the sense of belief that goes along with the label itself. When you start to believe in the label itself being more important than what you offer as a human being, you run into trouble.

Ask yourself what labels you see when you look into your own eyes in the mirror?

Who do you see?

Do you see skin?

Do you see hair?

Do you see you or what you perceive to be yourself?

I have been working on a journey of self discovery for the past 40 days. It has been a rocky uphill mind battle that has brought me to a precipice of sorts. I see happiness and love, or I see what I have learned to identify as my ego and fear.

It’s a conscientious choice that you can make with yourself, to think.  Much like a label. As a human you have the ability to think, to consider, and then to act.

Before you speak: think.

Before you respond with words: consider, are your words those coming from who you truly are with love or from your ego and fear?

While you think: choose the words you wish to share wisely. Once said, a word cannot be taken back.

Act with love and integrity.

Love before labels.

I stumbled across this amazing video which spoke to me from Prince Ea:

 

Action vs. Mirrored Silence.

Do you want to know a secret? 

All human beings are made of the same matter.

We are all the same beings on this planet we call Earth.

Yes we may have varying degrees of desires, perceptions, experiences, memories, and emotions.  BUT, we are all the same.  We come in this world the same, and we go out the same way.

I normally write about my experiences in life while focusing on the themes of love, raw emotion, and my truths. Here it is plain and simple: taking another human’s life is never ever, “ok.”

Having watched someone so close to me die this past year I felt the intense urge to NEVER have anyone else go through the same gut wrenching pain that I felt. EVER. I know that this feeling was irrational, but it was how I felt at the time.

Watching, reading, and considering the events as of late that have transpired in the United States of America in the last few years, let’s not mention the last couple centuries, I felt at a loss. I wanted to hug all of the family members who had lost the lives of their dear ones, and sit and listen to their stories.

I am referring to the list of black men, women, and children who have been gunned down at the hands of racist, despicable human beings in positions of both authority, and regular citizenry. When I stop and think of the faces of these beautiful humans walking down the street, sitting in church, driving their car, walking in a stairwell, I can imagine myself in that position. I know that white privilege exists. I have seen it unfold in schools. I have seen it transpire in grocery stores. I have seen it acted out upon my friends, my students, and my community members. THIS is not, nor has it ever been ok. Racism is a problem, and it always has been. One of the reasons I became a teacher was to empower youth to learn, to learn from one another, to inspire each other with experience, value culture, empathize through their struggles and work in the classroom, and above all, learn to love one another. Through education and our voices may we spread the idea that we are all valuable humans. No one human is better than another ever. Human life is what it is: life. #blacklivesmatter

I am referring to the young children, teachers, and administrators murdered in Sandy Hook. I am a teacher. The moment I heard this over the radio my thought process went immediately to, “How would I protect all of my students if I was in that situation?”

I am referring to the beautiful people dancing and enjoying themselves at a Pride Celebration. No one should ever feel so entitled as to march their way in and despicably take the lives of human beings whose only crime was love and joy. I cannot imagine any of my friends in a dance club being gunned down by a hateful person.

It is abhorring to see what has unfolded at the hands of human beings.

ACTION: I did a little research that took me exactly thirty seconds to find out the following:  I searched for a state legislative address by, googling the state representative for my city of residence, and there popped up all the information I needed. I am currently working on a draft of a letter that I will send every day for as long as it takes to stop the madness of gun violence. 

I challenge my fellow bloggers, friends, and humans to do the same. You want action? Write an email, write a letter, and send it daily. Flood the boxes, in-boxes, voice mail boxes of your state representative until your voice is heard. Posting on social media is one form of activity. I challenge you to take it to the next level.

Life is a precious gift.

Every day you wake up.

You breathe in, you breathe out, and you have a choice to do something with your life.

If you value this gift, than act upon it and speak up.

Life should never be cut short because of the ignorant whim of another human being.

 

life