April 06, 2017

The Jewish Festival of Freedom and the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind

Bracha with her guide dog Dinka and me

My two-part post on freedom: Passover, or Pesach (The Jewish Festival of Freedom) that begins tonight at sundown and the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind.

The sacred myth of the Jewish Festival of Freedom celebrates the escape of the ancient Israelites from Egyptian bondage. Our original Independence Day, Passover marks the shift from a nation of Hebrew slaves to a free people, from a collection of tribes to a nation of law. Passover champions freedom and human rights relevant to any Jew whether particularist or universalist, and any person of any faith or none.

Today, 65 million people worldwide — each has a name, a face, a family desperately seek freedom from dictatorships, conscription, war, torture, hunger, want, fear, loneliness, and political and religious persecution in their homelands.

How is this calamity relevant to the Passover story? The Passover narrative teaches: “Like the native among you shall be the sojourner who sojourns among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34).

Facing this soul-numbing destruction and despair and feeling a terrible sense of helplessness, what can a free person do? Pay attention. Internalize the biblical injunction and notice contemporary parallels. Donate time, money, and resources to honor refugees' strength and resilience and support their rescue and relief across the globe and around the corner. Meet and get to know a refugee neighbor. Resist government policies and laws that block immediate rescue and aid. Offer sanctuary and protection. Raise consciousness.


At the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind, an all-ages-friendly oasis of help, independence, and full-potential living, my friend Savta Dotty celebrated her 80th birthday with her Israeli family and friends. She requested, “In lieu of gifts, I would be thrilled if you make a donation to the Israel Guide Dog Center or to the charity of your choice: I am so grateful to have everything I need and it will enrich my life to know you are helping someone not as lucky as I am.”

What is in Savta's red-and-white striped bag that she is dipping into?

The Center’s founder welcomed us, congratulated Savta, then linked the Passover lessons on slavery and freedom to the Center’s purpose, mission, services, and facilities. Tour leader Bracha (Hebrew, blessing) explained that until congenital partial blindness severely diminished her freedom, she relied on a white mobility stick. When leaving her private spaces — psychological and physical threatened safe mobility, enslaving her to demoralization and limited opportunities, she turned to the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind to help liberate her, enabling a restored self-confidence and reenergized freedom.

With Dinka at her side, this mother and grandmother who performs Irish music on her guitar, translates technical materials from English to Hebrew and the reverse, and travels locally and internationally led us through the site. Bracha explained the philosophy and logistics of breeding, raising, fostering, and training the dogs; matching them to suit clients’ lifestyles, measurements, and requirements; teaching how to work with a guide dog; and supporting humans and canines throughout their partnerships.

At our final stop, Bracha removed Dinka's harness, and extended to us petting privileges and viewing the PUPPIES!

Nir loving on Dinka

April 03, 2017

Israel Museum: Unity in diversity

At Jerusalem's Israel Museum, I marvel at the unity in diversity of art and archaeology collections, including works dating from prehistory to the present day in a far-ranging collection of nearly 500,000 objects representing the full scope of world material culture.

An example. Behind me a giant white dome, the top of the Shrine of the Book Complex built as a repository for the first seven scrolls of the Hebrew Bible discovered in 1947 in caves around the archaeological site of Qumran in the Judaean Desert east of Jerusalem and descending to the Dead Sea. (Through 1956, extensive excavations have taken place in Qumran where nearly 900 scrolls and other artifacts were discovered.) The manuscripts, called the Dead Sea Scrolls, were written centuries before the birth of Christianity and Islam and housed and preserved in clay jars. The white dome represents a lid of each jar.

On the lower right, a mobile by the originator of the mobile, US artist Alexander Calder (1898 - 1976) who was also a painter, sculptor, and creator of mobiles, stabiles, and miniature wire toys.

Oh, and on the lower left, knockout knockoff Prada shades that I bought last Thanksgiving at a vintage shop on Connecticut Avenue in Washington, DC.

February 23, 2017

In East Jerusalem: Rawdat El-Zuhur School

Majida, Randa, and I at Rawdat El-Zuhur School

I happily crossed a politically-charged line between West Jerusalem and East Jerusalem to bring blessings and love to Rawdat El-Zuhur School from dear friends Ame Kulu (Rev. Joyce Myers-Brown) and Mary Ellen Myers. Their Women’s Fellowship of Central Congregational UCC (United Church of Christ) in Atlanta, Georgia, has been sponsoring a student in the school since 2008 through UCC Global Ministries, which receives sponsor donations and distributes them to schools.

Founded in 1952 as an alternative to public education, this private school in East Jerusalem offers a culturally-appropriate vision, curriculum, and program to its Muslim and Christian students. Randa, the Sponsor Coordinator, introduced me to the principal, teachers, staff, and adorable Majida, whom the Fellowship is sponsoring through Grade 6 when she will graduate and transfer to another school.

Wall displays include children's art work, posters of alphabets (Arabic and English), and photos of the school's beginnings and a donor honor roll.

Photos of the school's beginnings

Pointing to [UCC] Global Ministries on the donor honor roll

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February 02, 2017

Mutasim Ali and Asaf Weitzen: 7 lessons from Israeli activists on how to fight for refugees‏

"Like the native among you shall be the sojourner who sojourns among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt." (Leviticus 19:34)
Strangers, or sojourners, are rightly under our protection because we are all strangers somewhere. In the biblical era, when strangers were under the protection of the gods, the inhabitants of Sodom defied the singular cultural importance of hospitality shared with other ancient civilizations, including Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. 
Listen to Mutasim Ali and Asaf Weitzen among the righteous in today's Sodom. (2.5 minutes)

"Outsider consciousness resides at the heart of Jewish identity." — Anish Kapoor, artist and social activist

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January 21, 2017

In Tel Aviv: Women's March against new Trump administration

"Keep your tiny hands off our human rights"
In solidarity with the Women's March of dissent against the Trump presidency that was inaugurated the day before, hundreds of Americans gathered outside the U.S. Embassy in Israel where they sang, cheered, booed, and waved posters against hate and intolerance, and for social justice and equal rights for all people.

As in Washington, D.C., and in cities nationwide and around the world, participants expressed a common theme — revulsion and contempt for the man who is now president. Among protesters' local concerns and issues explained in handmade signs and speeches: "End U.S. Support of the Occupation" and "Existential Threat / סכנה קיומית" (framing a photo of Trump and Bibi).

Many women and men wore white roses in solidarity with residents of Umm Al-Hiran, a Bedouin village in Israel's southern Negev, whose homes were demolished last Wednesday for lack of building permits impossible to obtain.