Diaspora Gathering

My wife and I just returned from spending over 2 weeks in Israel. This trip was not your typical tourist trip. In fact, with the exception of one night in Mitzpe Ramon, home to the gigantic and beautiful Ramon Craterwe spent every other night staying with family and friends.

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Sculpture overlooking the Ramon Crater

Our son, Josh, is in his second year of college at the TechnionIsrael’s Institute of Technology, in Haifa, and this was our first opportunity to visit him there. He plays hockey with the Haifa Hawks, and coincidentally, the first thing we did on our arrival was watch him play hockey.

Josh also led us on a walk on  the beach of the last Arabic town on the Israeli Mediterranean, Jisr al Zarkawhere beauty, history and poverty are all intertwined.

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Fisherman pulling in their net on the beach at Jisr al Zarka

In addition, my mother and her husband are spending the winter in Netanya, where they have spent every winter except last year for the past 12 years, and we spent most of our nights with them. It was a pleasure to spend quality time with them in the place that has become their home away from home.

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My mother Rachel and her husband Peter

As I reflect back on what was primarily a visiting trip, I realize that, like most Jews, while my family is spread around the world in what is known as the diaspora, as they fled oppression in Europe prior to the Holocaust, Israel is the place where some of the family with whom I am closest as well as childhood and college friends, have returned and made a life for themselves.

Part of my family fled Europe, but were not allowed into the United States to join the rest of their family in the 1930s, so they settled in Mexico. One of my Mexican cousins, Isaac (Pelon) Leventhal, immigrated to Israel when he was 18 years old in the early 1970s. After meeting him in Mexico City at his sister’s wedding just before he emigrated, I have visited him numerous times in Israel from 1976 through this most recent trip. As he and I have grown older, we have married and had children, and now he and his lovely wife Eli, have 8 grandchildren. Our son has had the opportunity to get to know these cousins better while he studies in Israel, and we were able to visit all of their homes and families during our stay. The warmth of my Israeli family will stay with me for the rest of my life even though time and distance separates us.

I even had the opportunity to visit friends on Kibbutz Ein Gev, where I volunteered during the winter of 1979-80, while my cousins Pelon & Eli lived there. Coincidentally, a friend from England, whom I volunteered with so many years ago, was visiting the kibbutz at the same time we were there and we had a small reunion with our friend and kibbutznik Uzi.

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At the end of our trip, we traveled to Mevaseret, a suburb of Jerusalem to stay with an old college friend, Richard and his lovely wife Michal. They led us on a beautiful hike on Har Eitan, after which we traveled into the city of Jerusalem to visit an old childhood friend, Galia, and her husband Roni for lunch.

It is truly an understatement to describe Israel as one of the most controversial nations in the world. Almost everyone has strong feelings about it, both positive and negative, and while I love that Israel has provided refuge for millions of Jews, including family and friends, it saddens me that Israel has been unable to resolve its generations old conflict with its Palestinian neighbors.

Due to my love of Israel and hope for its survival as a just, peaceful and democratic state, I have taken on a leadership role in advocating for a just and peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by becoming Chair of the Madison chapter of J Street, which advocates for a two state solution to resolve the conflict. My advocacy is quite public so both my family and friends in Israel are quite aware of my positions, most of whom do not agree with me.

Despite our political disagreements, our love for each other is not diminished. In fact, my choice to repeatedly visit family and friends in Israel to maintain our relationships and better understand their lives there serves to enhance our relationship. On a few occasions during our recent trip, both friends and family were clear that they disagreed with my positions, but I often successfully found small, but important points where we did have common ground. Equally important, our disagreements never interfered with our ability to have warm and loving relationships.

As I reflect back on how my friends, family and I can agree to disagree, and not let that poison our relationships, I hope that the lessons I learned in Israel can be applied to the often poisonous political conflict in the US. After all, when friends and family can love each other despite their disagreements, one realizes that one warm hug can overcome virtually any political dispute.

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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.

 

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.

 

My Mexican Family: a Legacy of Diaspora Immigration

Like many Jewish Americans, much of my family fled Europe between the two World Wars in order to escape the oppression they faced in Central Europe.  One of my grandmother’s brothers emigrated from Belarus to Moscow.  Many fled to the United States.  However, those that were unable to enter the United States due to restrictive immigration laws, ended up in Mexico (on my mother’s side) and Uruguay and Argentina (on my father’s side).  Those that did not flee Central Europe perished in the Holocaust.

My Mexican family, the Tachnas, eventually settled in Los Mochis and became farmers in the rich agricultural land of the El Fuerte valley.  Seeking to stay connected to their American family, they sent their daughter Nitschi, to live with my mother’s family in Detroit for 2 years in the 1940s to learn English and keep the family connection alive.  A few years later, in the 1950s, my mother’s family made the long difficult drive from Detroit to Mexico City to attend Nitschi’s wedding to Simon.

I first met my Mexican cousins in 1971, when my family travelled to Mexico City to attend Nitschi & Simon’s daughter Susy’s wedding.  The Los Mochis branch of my Mexican family also travelled there and my eyes were opened to my beautiful Mexican family and the legacy of diaspora immigration.  I have many fond memories of that trip, which was by far the biggest trip my family ever took.

A few years later, my cousin Miky came to live with my family in Detroit and attend 9th grade with me to keep that family connection alive and to learn English.  Our house was small, but we crammed three teenage boys into one bedroom who became like brothers during that year.  Ironically, as this recent picture shows, we even look like brothers.

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I made my first trip to Los Mochis on my own in 1981 and have returned to this loving part of my family many times. In 2007, Miky and his wife Alma (of partial Japanese descent) sent their son, Miguel to live with us and attend 8th grade to connect the next generation of our family and so Miguel could learn English.  Miguel is now our second son and like a brother to our own son, Josh.

Miky & Alma’s daughter, and Miguel’s older sister, Alina got married to Mike Eng (of partial Chinese descent) this past Saturday, and my wife Sheryl, son Josh and I made the long trip to Los Mochis, to celebrate.  Joining the celebration were other cousins from Mexico City, Monterrey (Mexico), California and Israel, making this a true diaspora reunion of the Tachna family. Image

As our nation, and indeed much of the world, continues to struggle with immigration laws, my own family’s immigration story is framed by the legacy of restrictive American immigration laws.  Though we have succeeded in working hard to keep our family together despite the great distances, many family members have been lost to the winds of history. My first cousin Robert Tachna, has done significant research in trying to piece the Tachna family genealogy together on a web site.

Where our family’s future will go is up to each member of our family.  I know that I will continue to maintain the close ties that I have worked so hard to forge over the past 43 years of my life.  I look forward to the next opportunity to see my Mexican family, perhaps at the next wedding celebration, as this is yet one more way that I build community through family.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.