Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Our trip to Israel, and the least-known major Jewish holiday

Eight days touring in Israel were an appropriate segue into a major Jewish holiday--one we counted toward for seven weeks, commemorating the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. We'd seen the Holy Land from the zenith of the ski lift on Mt. Hermon, surrounded by patches of snow, and from the barren salt shores of the Dead Sea. Celebrating the Torah in the Northwest extended the spiritual experience of Israel back home.

Israel seemed sanguine while we were there, its citizens carrying on in their normal mid-Eastern rush and brashness, despite the unease here in The States about an enemy media convince us is readying to pounce.  Efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear warheads, we're told, are likely to include US involvement, though apparently our President would prefer if Israel did the dirty work.

All this nervousness and dread wasn't part of the Israeli mentality as we saw it. Living in a "bad neighborhood" has made residents constantly on guard and yet overtly relaxed in their everyday activities.  We, as tourists, observed how they prepare for aggression but at the same time enjoy themselves, leaving the ultimate outcome to God.

My sister-in-law hosted our family for a lavish Shabbat meal, my brother-in-law the magnanimous host with luscious wine and contagious joie-de-vivre. Succulent vegetables and fruits we enjoyed came from within Israel, which is about the size of Vancouver Island off the coast of Washington State (and can fit into France 25 times), so "eating local" is normal. My sister-in-law said the green beans, asparagus and eggplant on her table had been in (or on) the farm just hours before she cooked them.

Sweet tomatoes grown with brackish water in the Negev
Our trip included many unique experiences--visiting with the Circassian Muslim sect in their hamlet of Rehaniya, debating Arab-Jewish harmony at a Women's Center in Akko, discussing the evolution of kibbutzim with a founder of Kfar Blum near the Lebanon border, munching sugary cherry tomatoes grown with brackish water sucked from beneath the Negev desert, with the innovators at Ramat Hanegev Agro Research Center--and so many more.

I would have stayed another two weeks, but had to rush home to prepare for the holiday of Shavuot. The name means "weeks," for the fact we count fifty days--seven complete weeks--from Passover, the growth process leading to the Jews' receiving the Torah on Mt. Sinai.  The holiday recalls a national experience--an entire people who had endured Egyptian slavery, witnessed the fury of the Ten Plagues, left for a mysterious land under miraculous circumstances and finally quaked together at the overwhelming sensory manifestation of God's presence. They personally saw, felt, and internalized the Almighty, and it was too much; Moses then ascended Mt. Sinai in their stead for the transmission of a lifestyle that Jews continue today.

Major stuff; the basis of a faith that has endured beyond any of their contemporaries'. And yet Shavuot just doesn't get the publicity of, say, Passover or Chanukah. Yes, Christians have heard of Pentecost, but consider it the time the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles. Similar theme, perhaps: God interfaces with man--but not in the same way.

Veggies at a neighborhood Jerusalem market
Luckily, this year, we didn't have to explain work absences as much. It so happened that Shabbat, our weekly Saturday Sabbath observance, abutted the two-day holiday of Shavuot, Sunday and Monday until dark on Memorial Day. It's a joyous culmination, and I helped decorate our synagogue with flowers and boughs celebrating springtime and the season's first harvest. To honor the Torah, our congregation and many others spent Saturday night studying (midnight til 3 am); in our daytime service we heard the Book of Ruth, a reminder that for all Jews, acceptance of the Torah is a voluntary, daily commitment. Children got ice cream, and a blessing at the reading of the Ten Commandments. Like many Jewish moms, I cooked ahead for a succession of festive, formal meals.

Buskers at 2010 Folklife Festival
This year, I joined my husband and two friends on his annual Shavuot walk (usually about 30 miles round-trip), this time to my favorite Northwest festival, Folklife, which showcases an international array of funky musicians, with a craft fair, drum circles, hula-hoops and jugglers, in the shadow of the Space Needle. I've got blisters on the bottoms of both feet as souvenirs, but hobbling now is a small price to enjoy the happy, hippy confluence at our city's core.

Lawn hooping while performers on several stages played, 2010
We left for our hike from the synagogue at the conclusion of services, picnicking in a city park where we watched men practicing soccer. The weather was a perfect alternation between cool and comfortably warm, and the city was abloom with rhododendrons and irises to color our strides. Just a week before, we were in Israel's Negev desert, gazing across the Ramon Crater, a Grand Canyon of beiges set among endless sandy waves.  Perhaps the topography was similar when the entire Jewish people gathered at Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah. Memories of just a few days ago felt like an appropriate backdrop for this significant holiday, whether the world knows it, or not.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Mom Nursing 4-year-old on "Time" Cover Belittles Motherhood

People are shocked at the Time Magazine cover showing a beautiful, lithe, tank-top-clad blond with a child standing on a stool latched onto her barely-there breast. It's meant to sell magazines, and is a pretty clever lure.

But meant as a Mother's Day paean, it's a flop, unlike the breasts of Jamie Lynne Grumet, 26, whose stare-me-down expression matches exactly what photo viewers are doing. The cover is really the tease to a story about baby doc William Sears, MD, who championed breast feeding as part of his "attachment parenting" method.

I nursed three children for a total of nine years straight. Yes, I nursed our son until he was four, at which time I had a frank conversation with him to explain that he was now a "big boy" and would be drinking exclusively from a cup. He took it like a (little) man.

So I know from whence I speak, and while I wholeheartedly support breast-feeding, I don't understand why it's now so tony to violate standards of modesty and privacy to do it. For goodness' sake, and I mean that, women ought to throw a blankie over their chests if they're going to whip out their equipment in public. Feed the baby--and I did, in parks, even restaurants-- discreetly. On airplanes, I'd unhook my bra rather than make seatmates suffer with wails. I considered my milk the salve of life, and holding and cuddling my children one of my greatest privileges ever.  There was absolutely no reason or excuse why I had to reveal my apparatus to anyone but my child, though, no matter where or when I went into action.

Stop this ridiculous claim that breast feeding is somehow impeded or even affected by the presence of a light cloth to cover it. No potential breast-feeding mom is discouraged from the effort because one of her role models shields her exposure from view.  I simply don't believe that women are often told to leave an environment when nursing if they are decent and subtle while doing it. If they're going to be juggling a protest placard, screaming injustice and holding their kid at the same time, well, then there might be a problem.

Don't put your breasts in my face, lady. I respect you and want you to keep nursing, but please respect my desire not to confront (or have my teen son confront) your boob in a public place. I don't want my19-year old boy to get the idea that breasts are available 24/7 when a woman is nursing, but they're off limits when dating, and otherwise taboo for ogling.  I can't teach him not to be a sexist voyeur when women are clamoring to show beyond their cleavage just because their baby's there, too.

I want both my male and female children to approach parenthood with joy but with reverence too, understanding that God made our miraculous bodies with amazing capabilities, some of which should be used in a context of humility and modesty.  Yes, breast feed! No, don't create laws that insist the term "indecent exposure" is obsolete.  Everyone wants Baby to have his dinner; not everyone wants to be party to a slurp-fest on Mom's chest in a nice restaurant, public lecture or on a bus.

The Time cover does a disservice to moms by suggesting that unshielded breast feeding is somehow symbolic of motherhood. Mothers deserve honor because they choose every day to get their child's breakfast instead of taking their own showers; because their greatest joys come from the accomplishments and milestones of their children; because they consider the moments when their youngsters say "I love you" to be the fuel of their souls. Motherhood is attachment, Dr. Sears, yes, but it's also a whole lot more.

As a mom whose children have now left home, I miss all that "attachment." I'd love to return, just for awhile, to those cuddly moments when my young ones were on my breast. But frankly, a much more difficult task of motherhood is letting them go; allowing them to separate and become individuals. The toughest part is when they unlatch, because you miss being with the people they have become.  And I hope they have enough confidence to realize they don't have to bare all--in any context--to make a difference.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Seattle May Day Riots: Despicable Violence given a Shrug

May Day used to mean sweet little baskets of flowers left as surprises on neighbors' doorsteps, until it morphed into an excuse for anarchists to violently bash businesses, destroy downtowns and get away with it--like they have here in Seattle.

More than a week before the demonstrations by all-black-clad marchers concealing their faces as well as their bolt-studded window-smashing batons, the Seattle Times ran a small item I cut out and showed to my husband.  It described police awareness of workshops to teach protesters how to hide tools and weapons behind signs, and fend off those who'd interfere with their mayhem.  It warned that violence was expected at the May Day events downtown, so gentle people might want to stay away.

And of course, all that riot training was put to use. A group called the "Black Bloc" led the destruction (see them assembling in this news video), crashing windows of 300 cars parked on the street, smashing storefronts along several blocks, tossing explosives made from juice cartons and frightening everyone in the area. Rioters bashed the courthouse (video here) and thugs even drove out of the area to throw rocks through the Mayor's home windows.

The next day, some of the 8 arrested appeared in court. Ian Finkenbinder, shown in a Seattle Times courtroom photo from the rear sporting a massive magenta Mohawk, "shrugged off some of the property damage," according to the caption. He said, "When you have the inequity we see today, there will be a few broken windows."

No: Riots in downtown Seattle are not a passive occurrence. "There will be" broken windows, spontaneously?  Interviewed by the Times outside the court, Finkenbinder, identified as "an Occupy Seattle member who helped organize the May Day protest," claimed the mayor and police "narrative" amounted to "'trumped-up charges' meant to intimidate those involved in the Occupy movement." The response to Finkenbinder's comment by police spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb is on point: "Trumped up charges? What about the smashing of windows, the hurling of paint, the setting off of incendiary devices?  These were deliberate acts, and people need to be held responsible."

That's what the Seattle businessmen believe, too. While the insipid mayor, Mike McGinn, beloved by nobody, crows that the handling of the event was hunky-dory because there were no injuries and just eight arrests, a table of confiscated weapons was displayed nearby, described as "Bags of rocks, hammers, chains, crowbars, wooden staffs tipped with bolts, shields and large sheet-metal barricades cut with ragged edges," by the Seattle Times.

The Downtown Seattle Association wasn't pleased with the extent of destruction the police abetted with their "restraint." Now rows of plywood line sidewalks where last week goods for sale beckoned shoppers. Association president Kate Joncas "said the attacks were clearly well-planned and no secret."  Given that, the police should have swooped in to arrest every perpetrator immediately--how did so much news footage showing the destruction get captured, while the guys doing it kept going?

I can't figure out what these criminals want, other than to get what others have earned, for free, so there's "equity" and nobody has anything. Anarchy: impractical even in theory. Evil and selfish in practice. "These are lethal weapons," said police Sgt. Paul Gracey about the criminals' confiscated items. "I'm not sure why anybody would carry these to a protest."

Here's why, Sergent: these guys goal is to register their hatred for effort-based rewards, for capitalism, and for prosperity, by destroying it. There's no positive view of a society they seek to create; no encouragement to create opportunities for the downtrodden to succeed. It's all about annihilation. These guys aren't just vandals, they're enemies of our merit-based system. Their law-breaking should not be tolerated, and should have been nipped in the bud.