• Musings

    Violence and Passive Aggression: The ‘Love Bomb’

    I was making an inventory of the things I want to bring on my upcoming trip to Taiwan, where I’ll be performing with the Xianse Gong Chinese Orchestra. I’m very excited about this trip, as there will a few ‘firsts’ for me: my first travel away from Toronto since March of 2020, and also my first trip to East Asia. I’m going with a group, many of whom also play in the Toronto Chinese Orchestra. Here is a link to our concert, scheduled for 20 July: “On the Other Side of the Rainbow is Home

    High on the list, next to my Alto Suona, are the Tai Chi Chu’an slippers that I wear for morning outdoor practice. I’m hoping to join a group in the mornings at a nearby park while I’m there.

    I looked at my collection of Tai Chi swords and sabres, wistfully. Much as I’d like to get extra practice with them in Taiwan, they are just too long and awkward to bring on a 13 day trip.

    Then, another thought came to me, a memory of a conversation with someone who came to visit me while I was recovering from surgery a few months ago.

    She was perusing my collection of books and artwork, then stopped. “Oh, you have weapons“.

    “Where?” I asked. I followed her line of gaze upwards and towards a rack on top of the large keepsake display case in my dining room. “Those swords on that rack are for Tai Chi, they’re not for fighting or hurting people.”

    Her nose scrunched upward, pursing in her lips as they did so, as if something smelled off. “I think of tai chi as something graceful and peaceful, not violent or aggressive, with weapons.”

    “You’re right, it is graceful and peaceful. And also, Tai Chi Chu’an is a martial art – that is its origin, and if the martial applications and intentions of the movements are not understood or incorporated, than what is being done is merely arm and hand waving, with little benefit to health or inner strength.”

    “That sounds violent.”

    “Well, the whole point of learning Tai Chi Chu’an is to prevent violence. Tai Chi Chu’an is an internal martial art, designed to develop the inner self. By doing this, by reducing fear, violence can be prevented and if not, then the discipline and practice prepare one for self-defence. Inner peace, rather than external hard strength, is developed through learning how to engage with challenges, both inner and outer, with confidence and grace. It’s very psychological.” I thought this latter piece about psychology might register as a more acceptable reason for practising tai chi. But, her nose remained wrinkled as she continued to squint with distaste at the resting swords and sabre.

    “I believe in Love Bombs as the best tool for violence prevention and self-defence”, my visitor said.

    I’m not sure what a ‘Love Bomb’ is, and I asked her. The answer came as something about showing care of people and letting them know they are cared about.

    Here is what I read about ‘Love Bombing’ online:

    “You may have heard the term “love bombing” circulating online and on social media, but what does it mean? Although it might sound like something we’d all want — being showered with unlimited love and affection — it’s anything but healthy. Love bombing is a tactic often used by a narcissist to manipulate you into falling for them.”

    This is what I came to understand while looking at my swords: Despite my being a functional invalid, with a plaster cast on my foot for the next several weeks, I never heard back from her or received the promised ‘Love Bomb’ of congregants or other helpers that were to come assist me while I recovered.

    So, this irony raises some questions. What is the difference between violence, aggression, and passive aggression? and, how does Tai Chi Chu’an fit in to categories? Let’s start with the dictionary definitions of these terms, and proceed from there1:

    • Violence: “the use of physical force so as to injure, abuse, damage, or destroy.”
    • Aggression: “a forceful action or procedure (such as an unprovoked attack) especially when intended to dominate or master.”
    • Passive-Aggression: “passive-aggressive behaviour, the donning of a mask of amiability that conceals raw antagonism toward one’s competitors, even one’s friends.— Hilary De Vries”

    The history of modern Tai Chi Chu’an, of at least the past 100 years can be found online in a variety of places. Since my mind is on Taiwan right now, I found this quote in a lovely article in Taiwan Today about one of the founders of modern internal martial arts, Master Cheng Man-Ching:

    WuShu Herald

    “It is inconceivable to the uninitiated how a Tai Chi Chuan boxer trained only in physical and mental relaxation can fight a man of muscle. Relaxation is, in fact, the secret, and the degree of accomplishment is measured by one’s ability to relax. The most advanced achieve a mental calm that is a great force in itself.
    Prof. Cheng often says that Tai Chi Chuan is a mental process that eliminates fear, which is man’s biggest enemy. Fear makes a man rigid, deprives him of flexibility and paralyzes both body and mind. When a student practices Tai Chi movements, he is taught to deal with an imaginary enemy who is strong and fierce. But when he is actually facing an opponent, he must imagine there is no one in front of him.
    The appearance of Prof. Cheng as Tai Chi Chuan master is deceptive. He wears sideburns and whiskers. Chinese long gown and cloth-soled shoes are his everyday attire. On occasions, he puts on the gown-like dress he designed himself. He is more than unobtrusive; he looks sluggish….
    During World War II, he staged two impressive demonstrations at the British Embassy and the American military mission in Chungking. In both cases, sturdy stalwarts experienced in Western boxing were selected to disprove his strength. None of their blows even landed. Instead of hitting him, they were sent lurching many feet away.
    One towering giant of some 230 pounds tried twice. He was obviously perplexed by the inexplicable power of the small Chinese. Frustrated in the first attempt, he attacked even more violently. But force again undid him. He was tottering perilously toward a serious fall and the spectators were watching with apprehension. Before anyone knew what was happening Prof. Cheng had darted to his side to steady him with a soft hand on the elbow.”

    So, perhaps this story helps you have a more complete idea of what Tai Chi Chu’an is, and whether it is an aggressive, violent practice, as was my visitor’s belief, or a practice of letting go of fear and reducing aggressive behaviour.

    In addition, I want to highlight the importance of understanding what ‘passive-aggression’ is. Sometimes people appear passive and harmless while they are actually harming you. The fear this behaviour arouses in you is blocking you from seeing the truth of what they are doing.

    In these times we have so many restrictions on what one is or is not allowed to say. However, these restrictions do not change attitudes, and aggression and violence have not gone away. Instead, they are expressed in a sideways, socially acceptable, manner; such as a person making general statements about “certain people” or “those people” when they really are referring to you. We recognize this sort of covert violence and aggression in others as, “A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing” or “A back-handed compliment”.

    And we are harmed, because no one wants to be the little child who cries out, “The Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes”.

    A “Love Bomb” is still a bomb.

    Think about the people in your life, whether employers, family members, friends, neighbours, politicians, or anyone else. Are their behaviours congruent with their words? Are they helping you up or pulling you down with their polite conversation or when answering your request for assistance?

    Violence and Aggression are overt and easy to discern. Passive-Aggression is much more difficult and covert. It seems too innocent, and socially unacceptable to call it out as harmful. The question arises then, of how to address the harm that aggression and violence does, whether overt or covert.

    One answer is to become aware. As it is with Cheng Man-Ching: removing fear as your baseline allows you to fully feel and understand whatever is coming at you so you can address it in a non-violent and satisfying way. And, he reminds us, it takes work to be able to do this.

    As I pack for Taiwan, and look ahead at practising Tai Chi Chu’an while there, a peaceful comfort comes with knowing that I am continuing to do my inner work, the work that helps me reduce fear and engage in my experiences with dignity and grace and confidence.

    1. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/violence
  • Musings

    Beha’alotcha: Learning from Nature

    This week’s Torah reading is called Beha’alotcha, and in it, we read about the detailed and complex duties of the Levites. The Israelites are deeply in their desert sojourn away from the Narrow Place of Egypt, and we also read about a lot of complaining.

    Dr. Dennis Chitty

    This prompted me to recall my days back when I was a Biologist, when I studied Population Biology and Genetics. My supervisor was a student of Dr. Charles Krebs, who had been a student of Dr. Dennis Chitty.

    Dr. Chitty published research on the population fluctuations of meadow voles. Remember the Disney film, “White Wilderness”, where we watch the lemmings control their cyclical explosion population growth by jumping over cliffs? Well, that was Disney, and that portrayal was a hyperbole for what the voles, which are related to lemmings, would do when their numbers caused overcrowding and a scarcity of resources.

    From his observations, Dr. Chitty proposed that cycles in wildlife numbers are self-generated by the interactions between individual animals. His conclusion, that changes in aggressive behaviour and physiology can prevent unlimited population growth, is now a fundamental tenet in population ecology. This is recognized as the ‘Chitty Hypothesis of Population Regulation’.

    Dr. Chitty and his students were able to demonstrate in the lab and field that overcrowding these innocuous little mammals caused them to become extremely aggressive towards one another and overgraze on the plants and insects they fed on. That is how their population sizes come to fluctuate cyclically. They don’t need the drama of some mad-cow, deranged beeline for the nearest cliff or chasm to plunge into.

    The truth is, population regulation is how Nature works. We as humans, have a Divine intelligence allowing us to create  laboratory scenarios to explain what we see animals doing in the wild. The abilities we have for insight, to transfer what we learn from Nature to better ourselves, are gifts from God.

    We differ from animals because we can look at our options and make choices about how we want to prevent ourselves from biting each other to death, or destroying all the food resources in our environment; and we can wear masks and make vaccines to control the spread of disease.

    We don’t have to jump off a cliff when life becomes overwhelming, although these days so many people only see that option, emotionally, spiritually, or psychologically.

    Perhaps we could have foreseen and done a better job of averting these global days of floods, rains, fires, crop failures, wars, and epidemics by heeding the meadow vole and other population models of scientists such as Dr. Chitty.

    We do have Torah to show us how to navigate difficult times when they arrive, and how to respect each other, including those among us who are differently abled or are strangers.

    With regard to this week’s Parasha Beha’alotcha: let us hear the complaints about the lack of fish, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but be more like Moses, and remind one another of the big picture and value of the whole congregation of humans – follies and all.

    We are beings favoured with Divine wisdom and sacred books such as the Torah, who can learn from, and find a way through, our dilemmas with the natural world and amongst ourselves.

    photo by A. Hoskins
  • Musings

    Genmaicha

    This morning, perhaps being distracted by the panoramic view westward of sunrise hazels, purples and shimmer of highrise windows reflected onto urban canopy of trees, I dropped my favourite jar of Genmaicha, spilling a good portion onto my kitchen floor. “Oh, dear” I said, then saw with relief that the jar, a diamond patterned glass cylinder with a knob top, had not shattered on the kitchen’s new laminate flooring. I wasn’t sure whether the tea in the jar, or the jar itself, was the more precious.

    The jar was a treasure found in the ‘Bargain Barn’ during my first few days living in the desert a few years ago. I was outfitting my coach-home’s galley-sized kitchen and needed some containers for teas and larger spice items, such as cinnamon sticks. I loved the Bargain Barn, the town’s treasure trove for items that were perfect for outfitting a desert home, left behind by those who had moved back into modern, conventional, city living. Most items were anachronisms, having been recycled into new homes many times over the decades.

    ©Susan J Katz 2022
    ©Susan J Katz 2017

    This particular jar was a doppelganger for the one that had lined our kitchen countertop when I was a little girl, back in the ’50’s and ’60’s. Along with the kitschy cat plate that came with the coach, it always brought up fond memories of my mother, in her bright apron with the orange and blue ruffles, busy in the kitchen, with little me following her every move, chattering away with nonsense about what the cat was thinking or doing, and could I have a carrot, please?

    These memories informed me as I selected this jar from amongst several off the shelf at the Barn. Now, what would go into it? Sugar? Cinnamon sticks? Ground Cumin or Turmeric? Or, just leave it clear and set it on the sill of the sunny kitchen window where its lacework of facets could catch the light and reflections of the trees and hummingbird feeders? I took it home to ponder.

    ©Susan J Katz 2018

    A week or so later, I drove to a mountain town high above, but not far from, my desert home. The town centre is charming, kept in an old timey sort of way for tourists and vacationers, but mostly to supply the locals with their more rustic needs. The patchwork of shops sold ceramics, handspun wool and weaving, mountaineering and ski equipment, ice cream, candy stands, bakeries, bistros, coffee shops, a restaurant, and some exotic imports stores.

    Up a flight of stairs in the centre square’s red wooden feature building, there were a few quieter shops selling Amish farm goods, wool for knitting, and an oriental imports shop. I wandered into the oriental imports shop.

    www.vancouver-chinatown.com
    vancouver-chinatown.com

    It had been quite a while since I’d seen anything Asian, and I now realized how much I missed the almost ubiquitous presence of Asian culture and people back home in Vancouver, Canada. It had been my custom for decades to go to the traditional Chinatown near downtown Vancouver and shop for produce, herbs, Tai Chi clothing, shoes, swords, kitchenware, and just enjoy a day off from the suburbs, as well as attending weekly rehearsals with the Chinese orchestra and choir; now this shop reminded me of all those things that were part of where I had been.

    What to buy? or to just look and take in the musty scents and pastel and black colours of kites and clothing and toys and cosmetics and toiletries. What I wanted most was tea; either Oolong or Genmaicha. Tucked away next to some brightly coloured packages of cosmetics was the tea, and I picked a lovely tin of Oolong tea and a box of Genmaicha. The proprietor nodded as she checked out the items and I realized how calm and soft everything had been in that store, even in comparison with the little mountain village, which had a hustle about it, directed at tourists to buy goods and eat goodies.

    citizentea.com

    Genmaicha tea is a blend of bancha green tea and roasted brown rice. It has a nutty, slightly sweet flavor and a yellowish color; it is a popular drink in Japan. Sometimes it is called ‘Popcorn Tea’ because the toasted rice kernels look like small popcorns mixed in with the green tea leaves. Some days, for feeling a warm glow, I put a few leaves of Oolong tea into a pot of boiled water, but other days, I just want to sip and taste the toastiness of rice mixed in with a gentler flavour of green tea; sitting with genmaicha is an oasis of warmth, aroma and flavour and an excuse to rest on a busy day or lazy morning.

    So, this morning, that is what I wanted: to have a toasty beverage and sit and ponder the view over the treetops outside my windows. But, alas! as I grabbed the precious latticework genmaicha-filled jar, it slipped out of my fingers and crashed to the floor, much of its contents spewn out like lava from a volcano. I could smell the toast-and-tea odour as the first indicator that the tea had spilled. The words, this is all correct went through my mind as I gazed, confused, at the floor. There appeared to my eyes to be a mess of spilled, precious tea leaves and rice. But, my reflexive action was to understand it as nothing was amiss here.

    peopletalkonline.ca

    I was surprised at how my reaction was not one of disappointment or loss or grieving for having damaged something so precious to me. My reaction was elsewhere, on how all things are integrated into a whole, and that there is movement forward, even in loss, no matter how great, or small.

    Putting this into perspective, no one died. Yet, if there had been a death of a loved one, the first words I would have uttered as a Jew, are: Baruch Dayan HaEmet, God is the True Judge, or Judge of Truth. Either way, we are saying that things happen, and that even in loss, there is an Ineffable Presence that will always be there and hold us dear. This morning, it was a simpler version of this belief in the inevitable and unceasing flow of circumstances: accepting that all that occurs reveals and allows for something new.

    I saw, not the loss of my precious tea, or myself as clumsy and bearing blame for the loss, or my becoming old and losing capacity for self-care. What I saw was that some tea had spilled, and that it was time for that tea to spill. I had been so endeared to the precious memories evoked by the jar and idea of enjoying the tea, that it had stayed in the jar, untouched, for far too long: In fact, it was going stale because of my reluctance to use any of it.*

    I felt grateful for this early morning wake up: a wake up reminder that change never ceases, and that our ability to appreciate change as growth, makes us more at peace with whatever we may encounter.

    *Later on, I read that in 19th century England it was considered good luck to spill tea leaves https://twinings.co.uk/blogs/news/tea-superstitions

  • Musings

    Narrow Bridges and Narrow Places

    The 50 days between Passover and Shavuoth mark are a time set aside to mark the Biblical journey of the Hebrew people from Enslavement in Egypt to Revelation at Mt. Sinai. Egypt is called Mitzrayim in Hebrew, meaning ‘narrow place’. This year, the retelling of the journey of my ancestors from out of the Narrow Place of bondage to receiving the Torah (Law), brought to mind a saying of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, ‘“The whole world is a very narrow bridge; the important thing is not to be afraid.” Life is a narrow bridge, have no fears

    This year has been a turbulent one worldwide. There are refugees streaming away from crises in their homeland, there are reversals of progressive gender equality legislation, there are demands by college students to be provided with a safe environment, terrorism is on the rise, and at least one American Presidential candidate is running on a platform of backlash against any progressive racial, cultural or gender policies. What is driving this? Fear.

    Fear from all quarters is headlining the news these days. People are afraid. Some are afraid of losing their familiar way of life, some of losing their long battle for hard-won rights; some are expecting their path to be free of obstacles, others are creating obstacles to draw attention.

    It seems they are all walking across narrow bridges, or wandering lost in the desert, while schlepping (carrying) along their old fears.

    Fish fantasyIn the case of the Exodus story, as soon as there was any hardship in the desert, the people demanded to go back to the Narrow Place of Egypt where things were familiar, where they even fantasized they had dined on fish and leeks.

    The wandering in the desert was scary; the best thing to do was blame someone, Moses their leader, for their scary predicament. It was much like crossing a narrow bridge: you are in an unrecognizable place, neither here nor there and can only go forward.

    Fear of changes such as these arise in part due to a lack of structure or guidebook. The Hebrews escaped the Narrow Place knowing only that 400 years of slavery was enough, and they could not stand being slaves any longer.

    They did not know where they were going; and that was scary. The narrow bridge they were crossing was certainly taking them away from a very bad place. If they could endure the chaos that resulted from a new and unfamiliar freedom things would certainly be better. They did not have a structure for this mass exodus; instead they just had to stay the course and keep walking, fear and all.

    a familiar idol, despite being given the Torah on Mt Sinai

    After many mishaps and building their own source of guidance with the Golden Calf, they received the Torah at Mt. Sinai. I like this Biblical example of how treacherous it is to cross from places of chaos into those of order. I believe the model can be applied to ease our modern maelstrom of push-and-shove to create novel cultural, racial and gender paradigms rather than see what has already been bequeathed to us by our ancestors.

    I will share a recent personal experience. I was walking home from synagogue one Shabbat. As I passed the outdoor patio of a coffee house, I overheard a very loud conversation that was overtly using expletives against both Israel and Jews. I thought about what to do about this rather brash conversation and decided to turn the situation into an opportunity to ask what the basis was for the loud and offending remarks. First, I approached the loud group of young people seated at a table and simply identified myself as one of the Jews they were deriding. As I walked away, the young people beckoned me to stay and speak with them.

    move forward on the narrow bridge, free of fearThrough these actions, we all set aside fear and embarked upon a walk over that narrow bridge together.

    talk openly with others, coffee helpsWe talked. When asked, they could not provide any facts about Jews and Israel; they only knew their negative views from friends’ opinions and the abundance of left-wing popup news media on the street. They wanted me to give an overview of Judaism and I gave them some dates for important events in the formation of the modern country of Israel. I invited them to Google these and see what else they could learn.

    Contrary to what fear might have said about this conversation, they thanked me profusely.

    By taking those steps toward them a journey began, away from the enslaving ideas we had on both sides, toward a way of understanding how this chaos of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism came to be.

    I also learned that diplomacy happens in direct 1:1 conversations: not through online polemics, international political gestures, grandiose political swaggering, or biased news media.

    I have told this story about the coffee house conversation to others. Usually the first response is, with all that pressure to conform to the status quo of the neighbourhood, wasn’t I afraid to approach these young people? My reply has been that my only fear was that because I was peacefully walking home from synagogue when I overheard them, I might be violating Shabbat (the Sabbath) by potentially creating a conflict. However, the wisdom of faith told me that the honest way to create and perpetuate Shabbat peace was to take that walk on that narrow bridge and engage these people, without fear.wisdom from our ancestors

    We observe the passage of 50 days from Passover to Shavuoth as an opportunity to take steps away from things that we are unsafely bonded to and find an order in our lives that matters.

    There are still a few days left before Shavuouth begins, on the evening of June 11th. Find time over these days to leave behind something that holds you back—a habit, an addiction, a prejudice, a hurt—and move ahead with faith rather than fear, that something good lies ahead.move forward on the narrow bridge, free of fear

  • Musings

    Lot’s Wife

    Shalom,

    I wanted to begin my pages today by coloring them with a series of Winter Celebration greetings from as many religious and ethnic groups as possible. An Internet search for what I had expected to be a simple and limited list, turned out to be an awakening of epic proportions, as to how observant the peoples of the world are to the cycles of Nature. Despite commercialization of the winter holidays, cultures all over the world have traditions for rituals that momentarily freeze frame the passage of the shortest day and longest night in order to transform the immutable reality that even the darkest march into night is a passing phase, guaranteed to pass, and cycle back towards light.

    Why is this passage a universal observance? we all recognize the strangeness of seasonality, that is, that every day does not bring the same old, same old with regard to weather and day length. This goes beyond the mere becoming an historical marketing issue, with the production of physical comforts, warm clothes in winter, lighter ones in summer, of gathering in food in its season and living off of it in the inclement ones. What we notice in the unevenness of the seasons, the passage from light to dark to light again teach us something about ourselves, that we, too, have dark times, sink into coldness and dearth of personal provisions. The challenge at those times is to remember what the seasons do.

    I am in bed with a chest and sinus cold that will not go away. My usual perky attitude about winning over a cold, intentional attention to self-care, food, rest, engaging with interests, thinking about others, is not working! I am miserable and as a creative person, constructing amazing scenarios about what I could have done to avoid this cold: taken better care of myself, gone more times to the health center, had less work and more fun, maybe I had ‘too much’ fun (some of the scenarios are hopelessly contradictory), what I ate or should have eaten, went out too much, stayed home and isolated myself too much. Is any of this familiar?

    As a student Cantor, I have found my cold to be particularly annoying, because my ears are plugged up and I can’t hear well, and I can barely talk without coughing, let alone sing. My scenario creator has capitalized on this, too. “Maybe I’m too old to be doing this. Maybe I’m too old to take on a new career, Maybe I’m too old to learn how to sing, Maybe I’m too old to move to New York and go to school full time. Maybe I should do what people my age do, go on a cruise someplace sunny, the Mediterranean, visit the Southwest…”

    And then I heard my own nascent Cantor/Chaplain’s compassionate voice take over. “There is nothing new under the sun, nothing unique or obscure is happening right now!” what does my heritage tell me about all this self-reflective shoulda coulda woulda stuff? Here’s what I can share:

    Pillars of Salt

    Lot and his unnamed wife (Genesis 11-19). As they flee the destruction of Sodom, the anonymous wife breaks the momentum of moving forward, and for a moment glances back to reconsider the familiar life they’d left behind; and she becomes a pillar of salt. As a child I always hated that Gd did that, what an outlandish punishment for a simple turn of the head! As an adult, though, I get the message of this metaphor: keep moving, although the past is seductive in its familiarity, it never remains, and to wish to dwell there is paralyzing.

    This is a really important theme, revisiting the past when the present is iffy, and the future not lain out with certainties. We all have doubts and second thoughts; the trick is to not act on them. In the Tanakh, The story of Lot’s wife graphically shows us how we short-circuit ourselves when we hesitate at what lies ahead.

    On the popular front, My father, z”l, who had little formal religious knowledge, had often counseled me from the places he found inspiration, such as sports: Satchel Paige, the famous black baseball pitcher who was one of the first to break the color barrier in American baseball, was famous for his quotes, among them, “Never Look Back”. A film buff friend finds solace from the Pixar film, “Finding Nemo”; when Nemo is fleeing for his life, his friends counsel him: “Keep Swimming!”. I find inspiration in recalling my own growing practice of sharing my music and listening to others’: I did eek out one night this week of lighting Hannukah candles at a Seniors’ Home before calling myself in sick. I found inspiration from the residents who talked strongly about the value they found in sitting in darkness and stillness, knowing that Gd, like the seasons, will restore the light.

    I’ve had a lot of regrets this week, ways to examine how and why I am in bed missing so much. Looking back hasn’t been serving me well, looking at today and all the things I can indulge in, like reading, writing, teaching myself how to use my new music-writing software, catching up on correspondences, works. I will have to let go of my classes and volunteering to light Hannukah candles with seniors this week, but I know that just like so many cultures do at the winter solstice, I can mark this time as a period of latency and growth, and am grateful that I can look forward to the light of restored health at the end of the tunnel.

    This time of year there are many greetings, such as, “Joyous Kwanzaa”, “Diwali Mubarak”, “Happy Hannukah”, “Merry Christmas”; what will yours be?

  • Musings

    REDEDICATION

    Thoughts at Hannukah 2011

    Hannukah occurs at the time of year when the nights are the longest, creating a seasonal time of retreat to observe and review what has transpired over the past months, and what we may rededicate ourselves toward fulfilling as the increasing light brings renewed opportunities. During this past week of winter solstice, two events caught my attention; a vignette from a book about skinheads and Hannukah in Montana, and a brief but valuable conversation I had with another customer while waiting in the Christmas lineup at the local Post Office.

    I read the story about the skinheads in a book I had just received in the mail from Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, “Listening For the Oboe”, written by one of the congregation’s spiritual leaders, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum. Of course, the title of the book alone was immediately compelling to me: as most people know, I am an avid oboist; and, further, I do believe that nothing is a coincidence. A book by a Rabbi with oboes as the theme? I put everything aside and began to read, looking for mentions of the oboe in the d’rashot, or sermons, that make up each chapter.

    I still hadn’t found mention of the oboes yet, when my attention became arrested by a vignette about Montana, in the chapter, ‘The Holocaust Speaks to Us’. Here, Rabbi Kleinbaum recounts that during Hanukkah in 1993, in a town in Montana, skinheads acted up and threw bricks at Jewish homes. As a defense, some suggested they not follow the Jewish custom and display their kindled Hannukah Menorahs in their windows, in order to be closeted and protect themselves. However, at the local First Congregational Church, one of the senior ministers had a different idea: he suggested to his congregants that they also kindle Hannukiot and display them in their windows. Now the number of possibly Jewish homes grew from 48 in the town of 83,000, to so many, that the police chief reported that it became impossible for the skinheads to harass and intimidate what became thousands of households.

    The other Hannukah story that sticks with me is the conversation I had yesterday while waiting in line at my local Post Office. The customer behind me began to loudly speak out about how terrible it was that a disabled customer in a motorized scooter could not reach the cashier to pay, and how it would have been so easy for ‘the first person in line’ (not the woman complaining, apparently) to help by handing money for her over the high counter. I commented that the Post Office was not set up for people with disabilities, and that the clerk could simply have stepped around the counter to help, rather than passively watch while the woman in the scooter struggled to turn herself around to a different angle.

    The woman in line coped with this frustrating scene by deciding, “I just don’t want to go there, I get so angry about things like this. A friend of mine had a hip replacement, and although she is mostly recovered, she has to use crutches. It’s changed her whole life; she never expected to have a disability and now she sees how hard it is and what people go through. Until you have a disability yourself, you just don’t think about it. Oh, well, I guess I shouldn’t get mad about things like this poor woman up there, there’s nothing you can do about it, anyway. Just don’t get mad, I guess.”  I suggested to her was that getting mad was a good thing. I told her about a friend of mine with disabilities who is angry, too, not about how hard it is to function because of his disabilities, but because of the needless barriers, such as what we were seeing with customer at the counter, and that the woman’s friend with the hip replacement was finding in her new life. My friend takes his anger and actively advocates to make policy changes happen, with the intention that people with disabilities can do everyday things we all take for granted.

    Then the bell rang, and it was my turn at the counter. The woman in line behind me smiled and looked thoughtful. Will she decide to stuff her anger, to keep her anger inside to herself, or will she take a step a step toward activating that anger into a dedication toward finding a solution?

    The two scenarios this week, the calls to action, stick with me, like the riffs of a beautiful nusah, a traditional Jewish melodic with blends of sounds and feelings that vibrate with moods and intensities that go beyond words. The oboe, too, has penetrating sounds that, when played well, appear as if from Heaven and drive straight at your heart and soul: When skinheads pellet my home or a neighbor’s and ignite my anger, will I respond by withdrawing my Light, or with a show of solidarity that says “No”? and when I see that the Post Office is set up only for able bodied people, will I stuff my anger and expect someone ‘else’ to do something, feel sorry for ‘others’ who have disabilities, or will I take an action, write a letter, or advocate to make changes?

    Hannukah is a time of rededication stemming from self-review: did I have a missed opportunity to respond to a threat to myself or others, and can I creatively activate my righteous anger or indignation toward a solution?

    Hannukah Sameah, and May this Season be one of Rededication to the Path of Dignity and Acts of Lovingkindness.