We are very excited to announce this new initiative, in which feature writers -- known and unknown -- whose work is tough, beautiful vulnerable and focused on creatively working toward the common good. As the Sufis say: "Words spoken from the mouth will never get past the ears, but words spoken from the heart, enter the heart." We highlight such heart-speakers.
by Rabbi Abie ingber
(Delivered at the International Human Rights Art Festival’s “Celebration of Justice,” November 16, 2018)
It is just three weeks since the horrific killing of Jews in a synagogue in Pittsburgh, and the hate motivated murder of two African Americans in a grocery store in Kentucky. Yet this evening we allow ourselves to come together and celebrate. But this is unlike any other celebration – this is a celebration of justice, a celebration of the dignity of all humankind, a celebration of life’s greatest potential, a celebration of creativity. Let me ask you to just be still for a moment and dedicate our celebration to the lives that were taken just a few weeks ago.
SILENCE: May the memories of the righteous be for blessing. May we be even more resolutely inspired to pursue justice.
It is also almost exactly fifty years since I walked into room number 1742 of the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, Canada. My visit there was not about celebration – it was a test. I wanted to know if poetic expression and music was genuine as a way to change the world, to heal the world. I walked into that bedroom to learn firsthand if the love and peace-filled anthems of the 1960s were genuine or if it was just a cover to produce hit records. The date was June 1, 1969, and the occupants of the hotel bedroom were John Lennon and Yoko Ono. I wanted to know if John just sang about peace and love and imagination or if he was genuine and singularly committed to the work ahead of him. John Lennon and Yoko Ono were staging a Love-in for peace and I walked into that bedroom as they recorded All We Are Saying is Give Peace a Chance. Yes, that bedroom, that Love-in and that song with Tommy Smothers and Timothy Leary and John and Yoko. I came away with that beat in my heart and with full knowledge that Giving Peace a Chance was John Lennon’s marching order, and now it was mine.
I define my leadership and my life’s passion by my devotion to the value of healing the world – the world which was the legacy given me by my parents, both survivors of the Holocaust of World War II. I stand before you not to tell you about the Holocaust of my parents’ lives but of the import of their experience in my life, and the embrace they taught me of the words of the prophet Amos who spoke of - “Justice rolling down like waters, righteousness like an ever-flowing stream”.
My friends, I came from a world where love triumphed over hatred, where dreams defined more than nightmares, and where goodness overcame evil. If I had two hearts, I could love with one and hate with the other, but God only gave me one heart and I choose to use it for love. In building trust around the world, I have been able to build bridges of understanding.
I must be honest though. I have neither healed the world nor significantly changed it. But in trying to do so, I have healed and changed myself. In every corner of this world, from the refugee camps of Darfur to the mountains of Ethiopia; from the killing fields of Eastern Europe to the safe houses for sexually abused young people in Kenya and Uganda, I have captured stories and shared them, shared hugs and shone a spotlight on suffering. Story-telling was my art-form - the stories of others who in desperation had trusted me.
But I also inherited a love for fine art from my father - a love of art in all of its forms. Well into his late 70s my father sang and performed at senior citizens’ homes and in 1997 he had a small part dancing with Olympia Dukakis in a comedy-drama movie, Never Too Late. My father taught me by example to appreciate quality art, and, if need be, to acquire it with small monthly payments. Life was too short to waste it on garbage.
It was both my parents together who taught me of the most genuine gifts that we can share with the world.
We give of ourselves when we give gifts of the mind: ideas, dreams, purposes, ideals, principles, and poetry. We give of ourselves when we give gifts of the spirit: prayer, vision, beauty, aspiration, hope, peace and faith. We give of ourselves when we give gifts of time: when we are minute builders of more appreciated living for others. We give of ourselves when we give the gift of words: encouragement, inspiration, guidance. These are our most precious gifts, and each person here tonight has a treasure chest from which to offer them.
(Adapted from Wilferd Peterson, Art of Giving, 1961)
Give peace a chance, give beauty, music, dance and art a chance, give yourselves the greatest gift.
Calibrated for Goodness
by Dr Sarah Sayeed
(Delivered at the International Human Rights Art Festival’s “Celebration of Justice,” November 16, 2018)
People come in and out of the doorway of our lives for reasons not always discernible to us. But they are always there as part of some wise, loving plan for our growth, even and perhaps especially when they bring us challenges or pain.
There is a verse in the Quran that says truly in hardship there is ease. Another verse also says the God is closer to us than our jugular vein. And that God is with us wherever we are.
Since God is in every experience with us, we are not alone. I am not alone. Life encounters serve a purpose of (re)calibrating our inner compass. When we feel burdened, a smile from a loved one, even a pretend smile on our own face can lighten the load. When we are tipped towards grandiosity, false hopes or naiveté, disillusionment may walk in to help us back on course with a Reality beyond our line of sight. When we see darkness in one corner, light can shine from behind another. Anger has a place to remind us to guard our own boundaries and limits. A sense of purpose can seem to elude us, but that is just meant to be generative, to create a longing for authentic grounding. Loneliness hits and prompts us to seek out connection. We never dwell too long in any one state because we are constantly being renewed. Even depression lifts. With mindful attention, love, and compassion towards our own tender hearts, we can grow in awareness of how to manage the ebb and flow of our states. This will also help us live with love and kindness towards others.
I have faith that each person is put here for a deeper purpose meant to harness our talents and gifts in the service of some greater Goodness. We may be washed out and wrung dry in the process but that's how we become reusable. It’s up to me to keep my lenses clear, to have a steady gaze that sees myself and others in this light. When I falter and forget, I can count on God’s wisdom to bring people and experiences into my life to guide me back to center.
A quote noted in my high school journal from the Velveteen Rabbit comes to mind: "Real isn't how you are made" said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become real."
This is a story about a stuffed animal that perhaps feels a little instrumentalized, like I also have felt on occasion- by people in my circles. But there is a deeper love that has emerged in my personal relationships over time, a love that makes me grateful to be part of humanity, in spite of all our failings. It moves me toward gratitude and forgiveness.
I am now understanding that everything that happens is God’s way of making me and us each of us Real, renewing us daily as a channel for Goodness, loving us into who we truly are.
by Dubbs Weinblatt
is an unpredictable little bugger. It comes and goes and I never know when to expect it. It's uncomfortable, it's painful and quite honestly, it sucks. I don't feel it about my chest anymore but I do around my hips, my butt, my voice, etc. I never know when something is going to trigger it. One thing I've come to expect quite regularly is dysphoria around my period. To make light of this part about me and to make it feel a bit easier, I've nicknamed my period 'Pierpont'. It's fun to say with a British accent and that makes it one degree easier to deal with. "Oh, I believe Pierpont has arrived. And he's early, how RUDE!" The fun stops there.
An Ode to Pierpont
Once a month I'm reminded of the person I never was
There is no us
There's only you
Flowing like the tears from my eyes
Cramping my style
Shedding my dignity
Discharging my emotions
Blemishing my ideal
Swinging my mood
Aching my very core
Causing my anxiety to skyrocket
Going to the store
'These aren't for me' I think and want to say but
My lips stay stuck
I stay silent
It's a lie
A Super inconvenience
For my Regular life
Something that's hard to make Lite of
Some months are harder than others
Sometimes my body takes pity on me
Otherwise it's a heavy burden
Nothing feels sanitary
Nothing feels right
Who knew something so regular
Could feel so irregular
I am always so uncomfortable changing in the women's locker room but also don't feel comfortable going into the men's room either. I hate that this happened in NYC. I hate that this happened to Branson. I hate that it could happen to me. I hate that it could happen to anyone. If you've ever wondered why sometimes I'm uncomfortable with my shirt off in public places, here's a big reason.
Tonight while out with my cousin the server kept saying ‘ladies’ this and ‘ladies’ that and it was really bugging me. When I was in the bathroom my cousin asked the server to please stop using that word because I don’t identify that way and it made me uncomfortable. Then the rest of the night the server said ‘folks’ instead and I felt seen and felt so much better.
Just got called ‘sir’ three different times and I’m just not that mad about it.
But more than anything else, back when I still stumbled over each “they,” I realized that the tiny jolt I felt each time my mind readjusted was a miniature echo and essential reminder of the hundreds of instances of disrespect, discrimination, harassment, hatred and violence that transgender people experience every day. The minutes I wasted repeating my fragment of Gender and Language 101 were nothing compared with the burden placed on trans people to educate their families, friends, teachers, employers, landlords, policymakers and the rest of the world about their very personhood.”
Two years ago today I celebrated #pride by having #topsurgery. This surgery was/is life-changing. I’ve been the most happy, confident, authentic, connected person because I actually feel comfortable in who I am. I see MYSELF when I look in the mirror. Whoa! Everyone deserves that. I’m still learning about myself and growing and making mistakes and life is still hard but at least I can come at it from a baseline of happiness and contentness I’d never experienced in the first 31 years of my life.
I still get nervous to be in public without a shirt because people stare and my chest doesn’t look exactly the way I want it to yet (sometimes it looks like I still have boobies!) but when I DO go in public or post on here, I’m consistently buoyed by my friends, family and community and it makes me feel safe and like a million bucks. I am so lucky.
So, thank you (for coming out😉) and having my back and cheering me on. Love you all and Happy Pride
Order of Operations
Stare at my face/hair
Stare at my chest
Stare at my crotch
Give me a disgusted look
Lather, rinse, repeat. All day. Everyday.
I just got done showing my apartment to this person who made me feel very icky. I disclosed that I had top surgery and will walk around without a shirt on occasionally because I like to be open and also need to make sure that I will feel safe in my own home. I also talked about my day job which is teaching LGBTQ inclusion to Jewish professionals.
I was then bombarded with 10K questions about terms and identity and was told I was “bold for attempting to try to change something that would never change. You’re the minority....you can’t create change. Why would people listen? You can’t expect change.”
She challenged every piece of my identity, every part of my being and she did it in my own home. I wish I would have stopped it sooner but there was this small part of me that was curious to see what else she’d have the nerve say. She asked me about children and how they’re taught when they’re younger not to let strangers touch them and will that just go out the window? Obviously I answered that NO. Queer people ALSO talk about consent and what’s appropriate etc etc and nothing about ‘what’s appropriate’ changes just bc you’re queer. SERIOUSLY!? We’re HUMAN too! She said a lot of other things that were masked as ‘curiosity’ but really weren’t; I am pretty aware of the difference by now. She was trying to prove me wrong. She was trying to prove my experience and my identity wrong. And it felt really bad.
I’m telling you this because I want you to understand that I deal with this shit on the daily and sometimes it’s exhausting just to exist. And I’m telling you this bc I need welcoming and inclusive roommates and please send those people my way.
by Katherine Dye
A woman must continually watch herself.
Is it “I” or eye? Choose one:
“I”/eye see the men in the street. They see me.
(If they look away,)
“I”/eye will disappear.
“I”/eye will never have existed.
“I”/eye am a figment to others and myself.
(My body is hollow flesh.)
“I”/eye exist forever
(in that moment between bloom and over ripeness.)
“I”/eye inhabit a brittle world
(before the spoken word.
My body becomes real.)
“I”/eye become object.
“I”/eye become me.
You speak and “I”/eye am you.
(Your eyes turn me into meat,)
while “I”/eye am my own butcher.
Broken Bread Sestina
by Michaela Zelie
My mother teaches me how to knead
the dough. With the heel
of her hands, her body lifting,
she teaches me that the body
“Is like pieces
Of a puzzle, two people, just fit.”
She teaches me how to fit
the dough into the space above the fridge. “It needs
to rise,” as she tucks a piece
of hair behind my ear. I push off my heels,
press my body
into hers. I ask to lift
the towel. She says “lifting
it too soon won’t allow it rise.” Its like trying to fit
of myself into others without realizing I need-
to let myself heal
in between. My body
isn’t meant to fit with everybody.
It’s been ½ a decade now, of lifting
my body from mattresses, searching for heal-
ing, searching for something that fits.
½ a decade of need-
ing to find the right pieces.
2 years since someone forced pieces
of himself into my body
and since then I have need-
ed the control that comes with lifting
myself away from people who don’t fit.
I haven’t learned how to heal.
I have begun to think of heal-
ing as an unattainable peace.
I have begun to question if anything will ever fit
into this body
the way my mother said it should, in a way that lifts
me up rather than leaves me needing.
She couldn’t teach me how to heal, or where my body fit
as easily as she could teach me how to knead or how to lift
the dough, break it into pieces, slide them into pans.