Class and Reading Response Week 11

The “Forgetting and Remembering of the Air” chapter in Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram struck a chord in me because a lot of the topics he discussed were aspects I have internalized and been learning through my entire Jewish upbringing. As Abram says “Torah demands interpretation” (p. 244) and I have always identified with the idea that Judaism changes from person to person. When I went to the JVP conference in Chicago, Judith Butler spoke and said “disagreement is the basic qualification for being Jewish.” To me, the aspects of Judaism I deeply identify with is the questioning and constantly revising the ‘answers.’ It is crucial to understand that one person’s interpretation of the holy texts might be completely different than the the person sitting next to them (and SURPRISE this feels very relevant to all the life dilemmas that arise when transitioning our of college). Abram says that “The Hebrew bible is not a set of finished stories and unchanging laws; it is not a static body of dogmatic truths but a living enigma that must be questioned, grappled with, and interpreted afresh in ever generation. For, as it is said, the guidance that the Torah can offer in one generation is very different from that which it waits to offer in another” (p. 244). I appreciate the acknowledgement that every person might be taking away something completely different (and sometimes oppositional) from the religious teachings. I know that for me growing up, sometimes the different interpretations by famous religious leaders (in the Tanhak etc) were sometimes MORE meaningful than actually Torah texts themselves. Wendell Berry talks about this same idea in the context of our current environmental crisis.  He says now that “we have acknowledged the problems are big, now where is the big solution? What is the big answer? You are implying that we can impose the answer.” He argues that the answers will come by saying “what do you need?” And the ‘answer’ will probably differ from situation to situation and that is okay.

An example of something up to interpretation is the Hebrew name for God. I have always been fascinated with the various names of God in the Jewish world. There is the “unutterable name” (yod hay vav hey or in Hebrew: יהוה), also known as the “tetragrammaion,” the four letter name. Sometimes we refer to God as Hashem, which literally translates to “the name,” but most of the time we use Adonai which means “our lord” (I have been in some radical spaces that use the feminine version of this too, because Adonai is masculine). But, the original name for God, as found in the Torah is יהוה and these are all vowel sounds, and therefore this name is supposed to be like the wind because you can feel it but not quite see it. It is intentionally unpronounceable. Abram says that this concept is a “recognition of the air, wind, and the breath, as aspects of a singularly sacred power” (p. 226). He draws the connection between this sacred regard for the air and also recognizes it as a beautiful force that connects us all, saying that “a new sense of the unity of this unseen presence that flows not just within us but between all things, granting us life and speech even as it moves the swaying grasses and the gathering clouds” (p. 249). I appreciate being able to make this connection between what I have been raised to think of God is (and I appreciate some aspects and definitely reject others) and what Abram is also saying about how “air is the most pervasive presence…itself invisible, it is the mediums with which we see all else in the present terrain” (225, 226). As Brandon Rothfuss said at Greensboro Swarm “sometimes it is better to listen to understand rather than respond.” As the semester is wrapping up I am appreciating more and more the connections I can draw between my academic studies, religious identities, social justice passions, and personal life. This class has provided me the energy and space to feel comfortable recognizing how intertwined life actually is. I also have gotten more and more okay with the fact that I don’t “know” everything and that I am evolving every day. Just like how the Torah is up for interpretation, so is my path to success. As my favorite Rilke quote states:

I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer (Rilke, Letter 4, 1929).

Class and Reading Response Week 10

David Abram really made me think twice about my realities in this week’s readings. He begins by outlining the issues that come with creating an alphabetic culture. Abram claims that the development of a written language (in contrast to oral story telling) creates an abstraction of space and time that is a “pure and featureless ‘space’”(Abram, p. 185).  To us today this seems “more primordial and real than the earthly places in which we remain corporeally embedded” (Abram, p. 185). I grappled with this idea that “as the technology of writing encounters and spreads through a previously oral culture, the felt power and personality of particular places begins to fade” because I have never known a world that did not have this arbitrary place where reading/storytelling/writing occurs (Abram, p. 183).

My understanding is that when we were a mostly oral culture, the stories are so deeply rooted in the places that they were physically told, that when stories began to be written down they lost a large portion of their meaning. The creation of written language makes “the places themselves are no longer necessary to the remembrance of the stories, and often come to seem wholly incidental to the tales, the arbitrary backdrops for human events that might just as easily have happened elsewhere” (Abram, p. 183). The example that Abram provides, about Aboriginal Dreamtime, saying that “the Dreamtime does not refer to the past in any literal sense (to a time that is finished and done with), but rather to the temporal and psychological latency of the enveloping landscape” reminded me of a paper I wrote in an class at Guilford entitled Religion Dreams and Dreaming (Abram, p. 193).

In my class I studied the Plains Native American dream sharing culture, which has a great emphasis not on the retelling (or sharing) of dreams, but on the visual and physical space it took place. Plains religions have a focus on the importance and insight of the mythical world, and specifically how dreaming creates a connection to this world. The Plains Indians have a long history of visionary lore, which acts a way of communication with dream spirits through a vision experience. The dreams, or visions, in the Plains religious traditions are a form of seeking knowledge, a search for personal empowerment, or a way to receive a gift of power that can all be used within their community. For the Plains Indians, there is no separation between the dreaming and waking world. In our Western way of thought we associate the term dreaming with the idea of unconsciousness. Their visions are just as undeniably real as the waking life, and they treat them with the same authenticity. The dreaming culture in the Western world today places a strong emphasis on visual components. The Plains Native Americans have visual and kinesthetic features, like those that we tend to associate with dreams, but are most strongly focused on the auditory nature within the dreams.

In terms of Abram, he says that what accompanies establishing a written language and loosing this “felt power and personality of particular places” comes with a difficultly of finding ways to live in the present (Abram, p. 183). When Abram came back from his travels and he wondered about the fixation of the past and future, asking himself “Where were these invisible realms that had so much power over the lives of my family and friends?” (p. 201). Our Western concept of time indeed needs to be recognized as culturally constructed and also critiqued. I have been thinking about this a lot lately, as we are coming to the last few weeks of school. I have a constant nostalgia, while being simultaneously anxious about what is next, and therefore finding it very difficult to just appreciate the moment I am in. Abram says “everybody that I knew seemed to be expending a great deal of effort thinking about and trying to hold onto the past—obsessively photographing and videotaping events, and continually projecting and fretting about the future—ceaselessly sending out insurance premiums for their homes, for their cars, even for their bodies. As a result of all these past and future concerns, everyone appeared (to me in my row and newly returned state) to be strangely unaware of happenings unfolding all around them in the present” (Abram, p. 201).

I hope to worry less about my “next steps” and appreciate my time at Guilford for what it has given me. I hope that this upcoming trip will be a good reminder for me to step back and breathe, and internalize Abram’s words and concepts in a physical environment and not just on a page.

Class and Reading Response Week 9

I was really involved in my Jewish youth group and community in high school but never really felt like I connected with people on Israel/Palestine politics. My sophomore year of college I got to spend a month in Israel/Palestine where I had a radical awakening when I realized there was an entire discourse that I was not exposed to as an American or as a Jew, and that being Jewish did not have to mean being Zionist. After a long personal journey I felt it important to continue the fight for Palestinian freedom and against the Israeli occupation within the Jewish community, which led me to Jewish Voice for Peace.

This past summer I was a fellow for Jewish Voice for Peace in Durham (a radical Jewish group that does Palestinian solidarity work). JVP hosted a national membership conference in Chicago this past weekend and I had the opportunity to attend. It was intellectually stimulating, emotionally rejuvenating and spiritually engaging. It felt like a marker of a turning point in my life, especially in my religious identity and my activist passions. I was utterly shocked by the fact that there were so many other Jewish folks out there who are unapologetically anti-Zionist while still remaining true to their personal Jewish values. I am someone who strongly identifies as Jewish while simultaneously not supporting Israel, and I have lost almost all of my Jewish community because of these ideas. I was able to start rebuilding a new Jewish community this summer when working with JVP with a few people who aligned with my values, but this weekend gave me faith that there are actually large groups of people out there who are doing this work from a Jewish place.

To me there is a lot of hypocrisy in the American Liberal Jewish communities (and this is something that I have thought a lot about, grappled with extensively). To me, my Jewish values enforce my internal compass for social justice and my support for the Palestinian people.  Similar to what Margaret Wertheim said in her interview “I feel that my mother’s Catholicism has been one of the greatest and deepest influences on everything I do — basically believing that we all have a moral mission on Earth to try to make things better for people less fortunate than ourselves. And although I’m by no means a practicing Catholic anymore, I believe that Catholicism — that in some sense, in my heart, I will always be a Catholic because of that social justice issue that I got from my mom.” I still identify with Judaism but I can agree with that the values I feel as if I have gained from Judaism have not helped other Jews reach the same conclusions.

Dr. Wilczek and Ms. Tippett talk about Niels Bohr’s notion of complementarity, that two conflicting things can both be true at the same time. I think about this a lot, especially in the context of the Jewish place in the Israel/Palestine conflict. They discuss: “But, almost, to that give-and-take, that seeming conflict — which, in fact, was as much collegial as it was conflicted — you have such an interesting way of talking about complementarity that I feel is evocative in human terms as well as scientific terms. One of the things you say is that “in ordinary reality and ordinary time and space, the opposite of a truth is a falsehood.” But, you say, “Deep propositions have a meaning that goes beyond their surface.” This is so interesting. “You can recognize a deep truth by the feature that its opposite is also a deep truth.””

For the my Jewish friends and family that I have grappled with and lost, their Truth is opposite than mine. They see a version of the Truth that I have to be able to respect (while deeply disagreeing) in order to engage in any discussions of justice for Palestine. Dr Wilczek says that “the lesson of complementarity, the idea that you can put yourself in the other person’s shoes, it’s very, very helpful in dealing with the human comedy” while Ms. Tippett replies “Your truth may be true, and my truth is true, and that can just be.” This is crucial to understand when wanting to work in collaboration with Jewish groups while also doing non-Zionist work.

This weekend (for the first time) I was able to recognize that I am not alone in this complex tension of being Jewish as well as anti-Zionist. I heard from some incredible speakers such as Judith Butler, Robin DG Kelly, Fadi Quran, Linda Sansour, Erfat Yerday, Lubnah Shomali, Rachel Gilmer, Arther Goldway, Brant Rosen (who I interviewed for my paper), Chande Prescod-Weinstein and so many more. I was rejuvenated and inspired in my fight against oppressive systems such as Zionism, white supremacy, colonialism and imperialism. And remembered why I want to do what I want to do, and got to share knowledge with so many inspirational people.

Wesley Reid advice’s to us was “don’t be afraid” “follow your dreams but be realistic” and “you’ll find your way.” But the advice I identified with most want the fact that nothing makes Reid more motivated than when someone thinks he can’t do it. While sometimes discouraging, I also agree that when something is more challenging, that makes me want to do it all the more. It’s hard to explain how deeply and personally meaningful this conference was to me is reminding that while some fights are challenging, they are ultimately worthwhile.

Feeling blessed for this opportunity and from UA’s article about new genetic possibilities “The keys to unlocking these potential breakthroughs may lie in centuries-old pieces of information waiting to be discovered. To quote author James Baldwin: “Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.”