Speaking another Language

Like most other Jews, the legacy of over 2000 years of diaspora, including expulsions and flight from many nations, means that I have relatives in many other countries. When I was 12 years old, I travelled to Mexico City to attend my cousin Susy’s wedding, and that is when I met my many Mexican relatives, with whom I still stay in close contact. It was during this trip, that I made a commitment to learn Spanish, and while I am not fluent, I can carry on a conversation and make myself understood when necessary. Perhaps the highest compliment of my Spanish came when I travelled to Costa Rica, and a local told me I spoke Spanish like a Mexican.

Due to the world-wide dominance of the English language, too many Americans fail to learn another language. Given that the US now has more Spanish speakers than Spain and more than any country other than Mexico, sound education policy would require all schoolchildren to learn Spanish starting at an early age when children’s brains absorb new languages much more easily. In fact the Index for Human Development ranks Spanish as the second most important language on earth, after English. Sadly, instead, have a long history of states who want to pass xenophobic English-only laws instead. This trend is exacerbated by a drop in those studying foreign languages in the United States.

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Yesterday, we were having some work done on our bathroom. The workers handed me an invoice and I asked them if they wanted me to write them a check right then or send it to the office. One of them responded by saying, “no hablo inglés.” When I was immediately able to switch to Spanish and ask the same question in Spanish, he broke out in a big smile and simply told me to send it to the office. That led to him telling me that he was surprised I spoke Spanish. I told him I had Mexican cousins. He asked me where and the conversation continued and we both became more human to each other.

Speaking someone else’s language has so many benefits, from business transactions to simply getting from point A to point B. Obviously, nobody can learn every language in the world, but when traveling, it is at least common courtesy to learn how to say please and thank you in the language of the country you are visiting.

However, the most important thing about learning someone else’s language is that you are demonstrating that you recognize their humanity as equal to yours and that recognition helps connect each of us to each other. The stronger the connection, the more likely that the human family will help each other rather than hate, fight and often kill each other.

So, instead of English only laws, declining support for teaching foreign languages and worst of all, building walls along our border, let us move instead towards requiring learning Spanish as a second language laws to bring us closer together.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

 

Liberation through Questioning

As Passover approaches, and Jews all over the world gather around the seder table for a festive meal and to retell the story of liberation from their slavery in Egypt thousands of years ago, my wife and I will celebrate tonight in the absence of our son, for the first time since he was born over 19 years ago, as he is going to school in Israel and celebrating with his gracious cousins Rafi and Rachael in Jerusalem as I write this.

As Josh was traveling from Haifa to Jerusalem, he posed many questions about liberation given that he lives with two Palestinian students from East Jerusalem, and part of his journey to Jerusalem travels alongside the huge separation barrier dividing Israelis and Palestinians. His questions follow the long Jewish tradition which starts out the Seder with the youngest child asking questions which start:

Why is this night different from all other nights?

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The rest of the Seder seeks to answer those questions. Yet, we ask the question each year because we understand that freedom is fragile and none of us are fully liberated. Some of us have more freedom than others. Some of us are oppressed by others and some of us oppress ourselves. So, Passover provides a time and a structure for asking ourselves important questions about how to liberate ourselves, knowing that we never achieve complete freedom, and that others need our help to liberate themselves from oppression.

My son’s questions included challenging questions about a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians. They included:

  • What would happen if a state was created right now and they had the law of return?
  • Where would the line be drawn?
  • Would Israel take down the wall that infringes on their territory?
  • Would the Palestinians?
  • Would Israel build another wall on the actual Green Line?
  • Would Israel allow them enough air waves to actually have smartphones and data?
  • Would Israel let them in?
  • Would Israel let them use their ports?
  • Would settlers become Palestinians or permanent residents?
  • Are we even talking about Gaza?

When I responded that Israelis and Palestinians can answer all these questions if they choose to engage in a peaceful resolution of their dispute, but nobody should be naive and believe that everything will be perfect upon the signing of a treaty that creates a Palestinian state. So, we will need to continue to work to make our world a better place, he had more questions:

  • What does “better” mean?
  • Does it also mean being a Jewish state with a controlled minority, even if it is in Israel proper?

Having just returned from the J Street National Assembly, I suggested that he examine J Street’s policy positions which answers most of these questions.

But then, he asked:

What does having a liberating Pesach (Passover) mean?

To that excellent question, I replied:

Sometimes it is little things like buying a homeless woman a smoothie & picking up the garbage in the park every morning. Other times it means fighting for peace & justice. It can’t happen all at once and frankly, will always need to be worked on because people are imperfect and too many of them want to put down others.

Liberation is a process. It starts with the questions. The answers are both large and small. The work of liberation is continuous.

May everyone have a liberating Passover.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Let’s Stop Admiring Our Problems & Start Solving them

Last night, Madison Alder Shiva Bidar issued a public advocacy challenge on her Facebook page when she posted the following message:

Tired of people who are against everything. How about focus on things you can be for and change? Don’t throw stones, build a house.

Her challenge to our community was well stated. We live in a data driven world fueled by social media. For many people, this results in posting complaints about what is wrong with the world on Facebook or Twitter, without offering or providing actual solutions.

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In my hometown, 2 major problems that we spend more time admiring and insufficient effort solving, are our insufficient housing and services for people who are homeless, and the longstanding racial disparities in employment, criminal justice and education. These problems have been analyzed and displayed for our community over and over again, and yet, the problems persist because too many people spend too much time admiring the problem instead of rolling up their sleeves to solve it.

Certainly, none of us has the capacity to solve every problem which we face. There are many obstacles which we all encounter: insufficient time, resources and expertise are just a few.

However, the daunting challenge of confronting large societal problems with real solutions cannot excuse the far too frequent lapse into ranting about our problems without actually doing anything to solve them. Despite each of our own personal challenges, every person has the capacity to be a problem solver. For some, solving problems may be at a very local level, helping build community in one’s neighborhood, or volunteering to help struggling children at your local school. It only takes a few minutes to write a letter or e-mail to your local officials to propose common sense solutions to community problems.

Last week, the media trumpeted the fact that 47% of Wisconsin’s registered voters actually voted during the recent Presidential primary and Supreme Court election because that was the highest turnout for a Wisconsin Presidential primary since 1972. That a minority of registered voters turning out is considered high is a tragedy. If you cannot do anything else to solve our community’s problems, the least you can do is show up to vote!

I am fortunate to have spent a 30+ year career working to improve our world. Not everyone has the time, privilege or resources to work on solving society’s problems every day. But there is a wide range between engaging in full time systems change advocacy and carving out a little time to solve one problem that truly troubles you.

Want to help solve the homeless problem? Get involved in the discussion over opening a permanent homeless day resource center.

Overwhelmed by the daily violence brought upon us by guns? Write your elected representatives about passing a bullet tax.

It is true that big problems like racism often require big systems change solutions. But each of us can start at the personal level with an honestly friendly smile greeting those who look different from us.

Systems change requires truth, education, organization, & persistence. Ultimately, the most effective systems change happens through real problem solving

Real change to real problems can be daunting, which is why so many people either opt out and do not even bother to vote and resort to merely complaining about problems without rolling up their sleeves to lend a hand to solving them. When faced with daunting problems remember this: nobody can solve society’s problems alone, however, if each one of us lends a hand, through one effort at a time, we can and will solve our problems instead of admiring them.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Searching…

Among the many hats I wear is founding member and President of my synagogue, Congregation Shaarei Shamayiman inclusive Reconstructionist and Renewal community that respects and welcomes a wide array of Jewish practice and belief. In order to broaden our community’s horizons, this past weekend, we welcomed Rabbi Tirzah Firestone, a prominent Jewish Renewal rabbi from Boulder, Colorado.

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Rabbi Tirzah Firestone

Last Thursday evening, she led a session on Jewish Meditation for Everybody. This intrigued me as I practice mindfulness meditation every morning, but until last week, I had not incorporated anything particularly Jewish into my practice. As I have written previously, daily mindfulness meditation has helped me take stock of the many thoughts constantly swirling in my head, allowing me to sort, prioritize and set them aside for a while, thereby reducing my stress through understanding that both my personal and professional challenges will be solved more readily through patience, teamwork and shared leadership.

Reb Tirzah, as she is affectionately known, led us through 4 different meditation exercises. I arrived late as I was traveling from a political fundraiser for a promising progressive, Mandy Wright, who had been elected to the Wisconsin Assembly previously, but lost her seat due to redistricting, and is now attempting to win it back. While I was glad to co-sponsor that fundraiser, my mind was full of swirling thoughts as I walked into a silent room of about 25 congregants engaged in silent meditation. So, I watched quietly until the first session ended.

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Mandy Wright

One of my challenges in meditation has been focusing on a single word. Until Reb Tirzah introduced the concept of Jewish meditation to me, I simply counted to 1000 with each breath. While that worked fairly well, I also recognized that it did not free my mind completely, as I occasionally got lost in my counting, and tended to rush towards the end of my meditation. During our 3rd exercise, she encouraged us to choose one of the many names for God to meditate upon. I chose Hashem, which means “the name,” as for me God is the nameless connection between every living being, and therefore this word encompasses all names of God. That evening, I returned home and downloaded a meditation timer app on my phone, and have successfully transitioned my meditation to a much less rushed method.

The most pleasant surprise of the evening came during the last exercise. Reb Tirzah included Psalm 139 in our materials, and encouraged us to pick out a word or phrase that attracted our attention. I noticed that this particular psalm opens and closes with the concept of searching. She then asked us to write a poem based on the words that brought meaning to us.

What followed was truly inspiring. My fellow congregants wrote some incredible poetry, which we hope to collect and post on Shaarei Shamayim’s website soon. While I write virtually every day, I have not written a poem since I was required to do so in grade school. But this exercise inspired me to write the following short and simple poem.

Search me

Search us

Search truth

Search light

Searching

Connecting

Finding

Everlasting

Love

As I engage in multi-level systems change, I recognize that I am constantly searching for new and better ways to make the world a better place. The truth is that since the world is an ever evolving place, the work to improve our world is never ending, but as long as the search continues for truth, connection and love, even when we have disappointments, I believe we can and will make progress.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.