Learned Hate.

Learned hate.

Ever since I can remember I have identified as a human being who was raised as a Jewish American.  The first time I can recall feeling ostracized was in late second grade at my class lunch table:  “Ew, what’s that???? Why are you eating crackers and meat for lunch, weirdo. Is that like a JEWISH thing?” I had never felt so uncomfortable in my life. I didn’t know how to respond, I felt ashamed, I felt confused, I just sat there and stared. I listened to the snickers and laughter around me. I wrapped up my food, threw it away, and went to the bathroom. Later in that same year my teacher announced that I could make a puzzle wreath and paint it blue for the Jewish Christmas. This was in response to when I had just told her, “I don’t celebrate Christmas, is there something else I could make for my parents?”

In high school my sister received a permanent marker swastika drawn on her locker. She felt paralyzed and didn’t know what to do. However, Debbie was blessed with the gift of a remarkable friend and it was her friend who informed teachers, and took it upon herself to back that fellow peer up to a locker and confront his foul decision herself. She is still a heroine in our family’s life today. The student who attacked my sister was given a specific amount of hours of course work, videos, and lesson work all completed at school on the Holocaust. He was provided with the opportunity to learn about the hatred he had been taught, and reflect upon it. 

Later in high school during, “American Studies,” history class work in 2000 I questioned my teacher about why our text book had no reference to the Holocaust. She promptly replied we could discuss that more later. When we moved past 1945 in our course work I asked her again, this time after class and she replied, “If you want to learn more about WWII or the Holocaust than you’re welcome to take the next history course after this required course, but we don’t cover that in depth. We discussed the dates, the events that transpired in American history, but we don’t go in depth about what happened to the Jews.”  I told her that I felt, personally, that it was shocking and greatly concerning that a part of world history was not being covered in a history class.

Indifference.

One of the most memorable teachable experiences I have had with a student was the following:

I used to pass out math designs as enrichment work after an assignment was completed. There were multiple options for students to work through, throughout the course of a math unit. I handed a child a decimal worksheet that was next in the unit and I moved along checking in with other students. The next morning, one of the tasks for morning work I had assigned was to pull out their math design and get started. This particular child refused, the table team members at this child’s desk started talking about the reason why, the child’s neighbor responded with, “Just pull it out and work on it, it’s not a big deal.” I respectfully asked them to focus on their task at hand. I knelt down next to the child and asked if they wanted to talk about it later. I received a nod.

One on one in discussion the child revealed the following, “My mom said that I’m never, EVER, allowed to like that symbol, it’s a bad symbol, that’s what is on the worksheet Mrs. B. That’s why I don’t want to do my work.” I said, “What symbol?” “The star, the Jews, or the Jewish people star, or whatever it’s called is bad!” I looked at the child and took a slow breath. “What do you mean it’s bad?” I inquired. “Well, in my religion, we don’t believe that the Jews should like, I don’t know how to explain it, I just know that I can see that symbol in that worksheet and I feel uncomfortable.” To which I replied with, “Ok, I hear what you’re saying, let’s have you put that worksheet aside for now and we’ll have you think about it. As for Jews being bad, can we talk about that?” “Yeah!” the child replied. She continued, “Well like my people, or my mom told me that they are not nice, they don’t like our religion, we don’t get along, and that it’s a bad group or something, I don’t really know how to explain it.”

Now, I have to pause here, in my head, as Jewish person, I was extremely torn. I really wanted to respond with, “Did you know that you’re teacher is Jewish. Am I a bad person because I’m Jewish?” However, I stopped and I reflected that I did not want this to become a personal battle, I wanted instead for this to be an opportunity for learning and growth in perspective for this child.

Over the next few weeks, into months, the discussion continued. When the opportunity arose to tie in WWII, the Holocaust, and the President Roosevelt leveled reader book together into a literacy study, the opportunity for more teaching evolved. This child became intrigued by the idea that Jewish people had been persecuted. This child and their friend requested literature about WWII and children during the Holocaust. I provided more children’s literature to which they chose to read during independent time.

Later the following transpired, “Mrs. B. I had no idea that the Jewish people had been killed during WWII. I ….did you know that there were 6 million people that were Jewish who were murdered??? Why would that happen?” Staring at me with wide eyes and astonishment, the child continued.  “It’s like in my religion, being a Muslim, I get really upset when people say that all Muslim’s are bad, because, I’m not a bad person! I love Islam.  My family are good people.” I nodded my head and replied, “So then, I guess there was a lesson to be learned, we can’t always judge someone based upon what religion they believe in or practice?” To which the child quietly looked down at the book and whispered, “Yeah,” followed by, “Did you see the books we got at the library?” This child and friend proceeded to pull out multiple books on WWII, the Holocaust and Anne Frank.

The purpose for me sharing these encounters is this:

Through education, through discussion, through reading, through dialogue, bridges can be built in our understanding of one another. Human beings can connect and unlearn the hatred they have been taught.

Hatred is taught.

Hatred is learned.

Hatred is not an innate ability.

Love is an intrinsic response.

Love is a natural desire.

Talk.

Discuss.

Question.

Listen.

Learn.

Love.

images

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.

img_3181

Avinu Malkeinu, אָבִינוּ מַלְכֵּנוּ

Avinu Malkeinu (Hebrew: אָבִינוּ מַלְכֵּנוּ‎‎; “Our Father, Our King”)

My reflection upon a year filled with the most up’s and down’s I have ever had in my life has transpired over the last ten days. This year has encompassed one tremendous mountain climb after another of learning, personal growth, and change. Ending tomorrow it begins anew at sundown. The essential part of religion for me as a human has always been the poetry of words and music woven together as one. It is where I started my love of singing and cemented my roots for who I am today.

Lyrics as follows to what brings me to my knees in song and prayer:

AVINU MALKEINU 
Avinu malkeinu sh’ma kolenu
Avinu malkeinu chatanu l’faneycha
Avinu malkeinu chamol aleynu
Ve’al olaleynu vetapeinu

Avinu malkeinu
Kaleh dever
vecherev vera’av mealeynu
Avinu malkeinu
kaleh chol tsar
Umastin mealeynu

Avinu malkeinu
Avinu malkeinu
Kat’veinu besefer chayim tovim
Avinu malkeinu chadesh aleynu
Chadesh aleynu shanah tovah

Sh’ma kolenu
Sh’ma kolenu
Sh’ma kolenu

Avinu malkeinu

Avinu malkeinu
Chadesh aleynu shanah tovah

Avinu malkeinu
Sh’ma kolenu
Sh’ma kolenu
Sh’ma kolenu
Sh’ma kolenu

OUR FATHER, OUR KING 
Our father our king, hear our voice
Our father our king, we have sinned before you
Our father our king, Have compassion upon us
and upon our children

Our father our king
Bring an end to pestilence,
war, and famine around us
Our father our king,
Bring an end to all trouble
and oppression around us

Our father our king,
Our father our king,
Inscribe us in the book of (good) life
Our father our king, renew upon us
Renew upon us a good year

Hear our voice
Hear our voice
Hear our voice

Our father our king,

Our father our king,
Renew upon us a good year

Our father our king,
Hear our voice
Hear our voice
Hear our voice
Hear our voice

~9 months of passing times~

During my morning drive the waves of feelings emerged as the sun streamed through my window pane. Today is the 21st.  Today is the day that nine months ago my heart broke as my nephew had said to a friend. My heart broke and felt like it dropped out of my chest and numbed with stillness. Over the last nine months my heart continues to thaw. Sometimes it bursts with happiness. Sometimes I catch myself and my breath in one go as it all comes whirling back in my mind.  A loss is difficult to explain. All to easily  or simply put when asked simple questions throughout a day.  I am always holding the threads together and forever weaving and unraveling all in the same motion. Yet it is the act of continuing that I stride with.

Pursuing.

Remembering.

Sharing and reflecting, this is what helps ease the process of grieving.

Life was never meant to be tread easily.

It is with each step of action that I take, I consider my blessings, and multitudes of gratitude that I can meditate on to help lift me up.

Today is a day that I have an opportunity to build upon with my future. How wondrous it is to be a given the very gift of life. I am here. Hineni. הִנֵּֽנִי

She is with me still. Two hearts became one in spirit. Love you to the moon and back Debbie, always and forever.

We Remember Them

By Sylvan Kamens & Rabbi Jack Riemer
At the rising sun and at its going down; We remember them.
At the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter; We remember them.
At the opening of the buds and in the rebirth of spring; We remember them.
At the blueness of the skies and in the warmth of summer; We remember them.
At the rustling of the leaves and in the beauty of the autumn; We remember them.
At the beginning of the year and when it ends; We remember them.
As long as we live, they too will live, for they are now a part of us as We remember them.

When we are weary and in need of strength; We remember them.
When we are lost and sick at heart; We remember them.
When we have decisions that are difficult to make; We remember them.
When we have joy we crave to share; We remember them.
When we have achievements that are based on theirs; We remember them.
For as long as we live, they too will live, for they are now a part of us as, We remember them.

10400605_54572350045_3823_n

Roxanne

When I was a young girl there was an amazing human in my life. Her name was Roxanne.

She and my mother were in a mahjong group together. If I listen carefully to my mind’s eye I can still hear the tiles as they would gently slide across the table and click slowly into place.

Four players.

Four women.

All of them bound by a unique organization called Hadassah.

The word Hadassah itself translates from the Hebrew word meaning: compassion. Which further explains the namesake of the organization that is run in Israel known as Hadassah.

With compassion I write tonight.

I thought a great deal about Roxanne this past week.

I had the opportunity to spend time with my thirteen year old niece who is a wonderful young lady.  It’s crazy for me to stop and look back upon my memories with her. We met when she was six months old, a tiny sleeping baby in a crib visiting her Grandparent’s and Uncle Andy with her mother. Now she is a tall, beautiful, smart, sarcastic, and quick-witted teenager making her way in the world.

I thought of Roxanne when I drove to pick up my niece that morning.

Her small stature. Her quiet mischievous grin when I knew we were about to embark on an adventure together.

The little girl with the long brown hair and dimple that flashed with glee upon entry to her home.

She was the mother of two boys, always wishing for a girl to dote upon. She later became an amazing grandmother to a lucky little girl who I am sure felt the same way I did when spending time with this woman.

I was such a lucky girl circa at the age of six.

I so admired her immaculate persona, the air of Chanel on her person, Gucci hanging from her arms, and the red nails like slippers donned upon each finger tip.

What I loved most of all about her was how she made me feel.

They say that what people remember most about you is how you make them feel. It is ever so true friends.

She always made me feel like a talented princess. Roxanne had this special way of creating a make-believe world in her basement with me. I would dress up and march around waving my imaginary scepter, and she played along as a royal subject. Pink cheeks, singing Disney songs, and bouncing from couch to couch.

Little did she realize that along with my parents, especially my mom, they all helped set the stage for my belief in the magic of the theatre. I was a tiny star in her living room creating a world of imagination and ruling the castle one couch at a time.

I can fondly recall upon one play date when her husband came home and threw on his Groucho Marx mask and wig. I was scared out of my wits and jumped into this tiny woman’s lap. She laughed and laughed and yelled at her husband Gary to take off the mask while I squealed into her chest.

Another special event took place on a gray spring Anchorage day. Dad dropped me off and went about whatever errands he and my mom had to take care of that afternoon.  I spent the day with Roxanne watching a Disney film, playing on the kitchen table while she prepped a meal for lunch. Then suddenly she looked at me and said, “Do you hear that? It’s the ice cream man!” She rushed me outside with her, she darted past the rain puddles and into a stream of sunshine. The rainbow sherbet pop wasn’t the greatest treat that day. It was the memory that became nestled into my brain instead. Now, I think of her when I see raindrops and sunlight touch, meeting again for a moment back in that afternoon sky.

Sometimes I think I can see her in a crowd.  That shoulder length reddish-brown hair with the crisp blunt edges swaying just above a black turtle neck sweater and Chanel-esque cardigan.

She wrote to me at sleep away camp in 1997.  I was in the grim years of my life, the early teens, the awkward age of 13. This time was marked by training bras, awaiting the time when I would finally become a woman…oh we ladies know what I am talking about…

My mom called and asked her to write because even back then, I had quite a mighty sword with my pen.

I wrote to my parents telling them how homesick I was. How alone I felt. That I had no friends and no one to talk to. This was all true the first of the three weeks of camp. I slowly fell into a rhythm and made a couple of friends. But this is a story for another blog post.

The point was that Roxanne was there when it was needed.

She even wrote me as a pen pal the first year we moved to our new lower 48 state home. I should dig out those letters sometime. I have them all still, along with all my other correspondence over the years with friends and family.

Taking my niece out for a girls date of coffee treats, mall shopping, and laughing made me ache with a desire to call my sweet Roxanne and say thank you.

Thank you for making me feel beautiful when I was an ugly duckling waiting to blossom. 

Sometimes life deals you these cards that are just glaringly unfair.

I wish there was a magic eight ball of time that I could shake and go back to that place and find her and embrace her and say all that is on my mind.

However, that’s not the case. It’s not possible. As much as I wish it were.

So instead, I laughed with my niece that day, and I looked at her with love in my eyes.  I hug those moments in time when we can laugh like I did with Roxanne and enjoy the simple things about being a girl.  Discuss the in’s and outs of life as we pass by glittering dresses we hold up for one another and joke about trying the ridiculous attire on.

Roxanne, you made me feel beautiful. Your spirit comes forth whenever I see a rainstorm pass over and the sunshine through the clouds.

I can only hope that one day my niece might think back and say, “Aunt Rachel made me feel beautiful and loved.”

Sparkles for Roxanne.

images

Alef, Bet, Vet, Day 20

When you are a young child, who teaches you information? Who guides you along the way? Your parents, or guardians, yes, yes of course, well one would hope that they do. However, your siblings provide the examples.

Watch a child, any young baby, or toddler when they are amongst other people. They are fascinated by the alternative human beings beyond those in their small niche. They are most intrigued by other young people. They can distinguish between adult and child. Their stares and interest are paired with a hard wiring in the brain that encourages them to try to emulate the behavior they see. This is the learning process folks.

My guide was Debbie. Now I realize I have already touched on this subject a bit in previous blogs, but this topic of learning is different.

Debbie taught Hebrew classes at our synagogue in her late high school and early college years. I loved it. I can still see you walking down Temple Beth Shalom’s hallways with a giant Hebrew alphabet board and a bag of books slung over your shoulder. You sang the alef, bet, vet, with my kindergarten class, I’m not sure if you remember.

My teacher was Joy Grisan. I loved her. I felt special in her class and I enjoyed her story telling and art projects combined into one.  I can fondly recall the story of baby Moses in the reeds. We used pipe cleaners to fashion our tiny Moses baby and made itty-bitty baskets to hold him within.  I can see the tiny dixie cups filled with grape juice for snack time.  Our mom was the executive Hebrew School coordinator and long time volunteer for years.  Sunday school was a familiar affair.

Correct me if I’m wrong, I mean, I was little, but I think Joy took you under her wing and showed you some ideas, lessons, and helped you organize yourself as a traveling Hebrew teacher. I know that this was one of your part-time jobs in Bellingham during your first few years of college, or maybe it was all four years. Your days at Temple Beth Shalom helped shape your abilities as a teacher. Early classroom management, choral reading, and literacy skills were being fostered under your tutelage.

I used to sing the Alef, Bet, Vet, with you along with Debbie Friedman’s music. I loved those times in the van with you. Singing was always my favorite and still is. Go figure… 🙂

DSC01590

Sharing in this same experience of Jewish culture with life in Hong Kong was so important to me this past fall. I am grateful for the Shorashim experience we had together. I loved it. Every minute of sitting with you and Declan. I loved how he’d look up at me and see if I was singing along too. He was adorable. I loved sitting in services and being given the gift of a community experience to question the Torah and think together. This is one of the most important things, I believe about our culture. The ability to question and have a shared learning with other people. It all goes back to education, and the connectivity of all of this with music.

I love you Debbie! Have a Happy Monday of vacation. xoxo.

DSC01616