Friday, March 23, 2012

Where Will Our Summers Take Us?

Spring is the time when we start dreaming about our summer vacations. Signing kids up for summer camp, planning a family vacation, or perhaps opting out of travel and instead, looking into what summer programs are available close to home. Some of us are planning gardens, while some of us might decide to acquire a new skill this summer like learning to knit, type, or skateboard. Many of us are simply looking forward to staying up late and sleeping in late, just because we can!

It’s important to be realistic about how much time, energy and money we actually have to spend on any potential plans. I had thought about making the drive back home for my high school reunion with four kids in tow, but after a few episodes of my two year old getting out of her car seat and jumping around the car unrestrained, the idea of 18 long hours on the highway started seeming like a really bad idea. I also opted out of the annual extended family gathering, because it seems important for me to find out what the kids and I could come up with for fun on our own!

Traditionally, Americans scrimp and save all year in order to go on some wonderful summer vacation which then leaves them in debt. It’s true that nothing can replace a camping trip to the Smoky Mountains or hiking the Grand Canyon and those memories would probably mean a lot to your children, but there is also a valid argument that you should not invest so much effort in escaping your everyday life. Rather, why not invest your time and energy in making your everyday life more interesting and fun? 

The more free time we spend away from home, the fewer opportunities we have to make a valuable impact on our local communities. Instead of giving money to gas stations and McDonalds on the Great American Road Trip, we could be strengthening our ties with neighbors through frequent visits to the playground or invigorating local business by going to restaurants, art exhibits and films in our own city. At least, we could be working together as a family to catch up on home repairs and maintenance.

Our growing children will probably need some serious sleep repair time. I recall when I was in Junior High, the first week of summer vacation meant sleeping 12-14 hours at a time. Gradually my body would get to the point where it was satisfied with 8 hours of sleep, but this gaining of healthy equilibrium would be a process that took several weeks. 

Physical growth spurts demand a lot of sleep. Emotional upheavals also require sleep to heal. I have noted that when I give my body the permission to experience as much REM sleep as it wants, my dreams are initially disturbing but as the days go by they become less threatening. It seems that as I allow my body to heal from stress, my emotional state also improves. The mind needs to work out all its inner conflicts subconsciously during the dream state. Eventually, we wake up feeling refreshed! 

It seems today’s generation is even more sleep-deprived than mine was. The governmental school systems have steadily increased the homework load upon young people since the Vietnam War, partially in an effort to keep up with the Asians and partly in an effort to keep the kids away from political protesting. In an era of increased economic competition, schoolwork overload also seems to be a way of weeding out those who really want to attend college from those who don’t care. 

Perhaps even more worrying is the lack of play time for today’s young people. I notice that my teenage son, like me, really needs time to unwind or else he gets so cranky he can’t focus. One of the things preventing young people from truly unwinding is the TV. The constant interference of TV prevents anyone in the room from forming their own thoughts. I noticed that if I just demand that the TV be turned off, pretty soon the children start playing with their toys or reading quietly. My son seems to have an almost physical need to create things.
As much as I want my children to succeed in school, it is perhaps even more important for them to be able to create neurological pathways using their minds in more self-directed ways. Focusing on things they enjoy teaches kids how to focus. And at the end of the day it doesn’t matter if you earned A’s or C’s in seventh grade, it matters if you can put food on the table for your family. A lot of that earning capability comes from developing the unique gifts and talents God gave you personally. 

Those of us who are unable to have any great adventures this summer can find excitement through living through others who are embarking on exciting and wonderful journeys! There is a caravan leaving from India heading towards Gaza to bring humanitarian aid. There is a Bosnian man, 47-year-old Senad Hadzic walking to Mecca on foot. There are so many worthy endeavors we can tune into! 

We can also bring good fortune upon ourselves by aiding the traveler. If you know of someone that needs a place to stay, or you see someone at the side of the road who needs a ride, let them into your life! You would be surprised at how invigorating such an action can be. By providing a traveler with a meal, you will gain access to some very interesting personal stories and gain far more than you have paid. Likewise, if you leave your home with nothing but a backpack, you will be surprised by all the generosity and kindness you will receive from strangers. Americans are truly great people to meet.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Trash Is Evidence of Governance

The political situation that hits me on a most personal level is local garbage. Why is that poor people’s streets are filled with garbage? When I walk down my street, there is garbage mixed in with the leaves. We can’t blame the City for this. I watched a hearing on public television where Boston’s Mayor Menino was pretty much imploring Boston residents to use garbage bags! Street sweepers do come by regularly to clear up the debris, but they can’t be responsible for picking up people’s lawns.

The immortal Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote: “Let everyone sweep in front of his own door, and the whole world will be clean.”

One of my enduring memories of Zurich, Switzerland, the city where my mother was born, was the sight of people awake at 7am vacuuming their window frames. I mean, who in America vacuums their window frames? Maybe the Arabs. The women in Dearborn, Michigan will certainly be found well before noon sweeping if not vacuuming the sidewalk in front of their homes. 

Yet even this can be made into a complex issue! Friends from Beirut explained to me the vast differences between sidewalk upkeep between Sunnis, Shias, and Christians in Lebanon. 

What are the factors that influence a person’s interest in keeping up appearances? I am guessing that home ownership plays a great role in determining the amount of energy spent in sweeping the sidewalk. When you own something, it represents you in this world. So it is quite likely that those who rent are less likely to care if passersby have to gag as they walk past. 

Personal organization is probably key. If the inside of your home is chaos, you are less likely to venture outside to control the chaos out there. The amount of leisure time probably also plays a role. The essence of Middle Class America includes weekends free to tend and prune the garden. When people are working two or three jobs, there is less interest in “the lawn” and more energy spent on getting food on the table.

What could possibly be done to beautify the neighborhood? One approach would be to increase government: perhaps fine people for non-compliance of some basic standard, or at least make more trash receptacles available to the public, which would be managed by paid employees. 

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated while giving a speech in support of the garbage workers strike. He said the people who remove the trash from our community are as important as doctors, because their work prevents disease. You can’t argue with that!

But on my street it’s not just about the weekly garbage pick-up. People seem to be sitting on their porches just throwing cigaret butts towards the street. After garbage day is over, their lawns remain strewn with bottles and wrappers. Why don’t people clean up in front of their homes?

Possibly, what is needed is a non-government neighborhood organization to educate everyone about the importance of recycling and reducing waste. I’m guessing that nothing short of peer pressure would convince many of my neighbors to think about their waste.

Recycling receptacles are free for anyone who wants them from the City. All you have to do is care enough to make a phone call, and separate your food containers from your food remains. If you really truly care enough you can even separate your food waste and compost it in the yard.

All of this is so simple, so what lies between us and environmental responsibility? School children are being educated about the importance of where we put our waste, but they can only do so much to convince their parents.
A lot of the issue really does have to do with personal pride. When you buy, say, a pack of rice mix, you cook the rice and then you have a packet as well as a box to dispose of. It does take some small amount of effort to separate the plastic packet from the box. The box is recyclable. 

A lot of American housewives worked hard in all their free time to get the government to take responsibility for these boxes and cans. A lot of mothers were worried about the garbage pile-up, and rightly so. We live in a country where the people can actually make a difference when it comes to these essential issues. We should support those people who made the effort to do the right thing.

When you see a person litter, what does it make you think about that person? Why do people go about their lives as if it’s someone else’s job to pick up their waste? Are we barn animals? How do we go about explaining to our loved ones and neighbors the importance of such matters?

I truly do not know. But I think it’s interesting to ponder the question, is such a simple matter a sign that we need more government or less government? Whichever we choose, what are we willing to do to see this problem through to its resolution?

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Psychoanalyzing Pharaoh

Today we commonly ask, “How could the Germans remain silent during the Holocaust? How could they live in denial? How could they?!” Although a few did risk their lives to reach out to those against whom Nazi violence was directed, the vast majority were patriotic citizens.

Technically, wiping out a civilization is called “genocide.” So, what is the difference between a Jewish supporter of Zionist Israel and a German supporter of Nazi Germany? The difference is that unlike in the 1930s and 40s, today there is no barrier to receiving accurate news reports. There is no Jew or Gentile who could honestly say they had no way of knowing what the Jewish homeland was doing to the Palestinians. If he does not know, it is because he does not care to know.

The Germans, by contrast, had very little access to public information except via government-controlled radio. A memorial in Munich, Germany remembers a professor and a few college students who were executed by the Nazi regime for throwing fliers out of the classroom window publicizing the war crimes of their government.

Today I see American Jews, at far less risk of peril for speaking out than what would have faced an outspoken Nazi opponent, remaining in blank-faced denial about the erasing of Palestine from the map. They want us to believe that the land simply “came to be known as Israel.”

Zionists around the world are praying and waiting for their inheritance of Biblical lands to be claimed in its entirety, without delay, in order to implement the “redemption of Israel.” Then, they believe, there can be peace on earth. Therefore, they see Palestinians as obstacles to peace.

A letter to the editor published in The Jewish State, a small New Jersey newspaper, states: “Unless and until the Palestinians stop teaching their children the virtues of jihad, martyrdom, and the destruction of Israel, the Palestinian children, cute as they are, remain my virulent enemy and I will not spend much time lamenting their demise if and when they are taken out as collateral damage.”

How can it be that this monster who seethes with hate and feels no remorse, can perceive himself as reasonable, ethical and moral? Helplessly, the world watches as many of Palestine’s best and brightest are simply ‘knocked off,’ not by a random act of terror but by the painstaking deliberations of the state military apparatus. Yet the Zionist continually feels that he is the one who has been wronged, that his violence is always and only provoked by the other. What is at the heart of all this abusive behavior?

An essay written by an American fourth grader attending Hebrew School reveals the murderers’ hidden inferiority complex: “Why do people treat Israel as if she is less important than other countries?…I cannot answer why people would treat any country as if it counts as less than another…We need to stretch out our hands to pull the Israelis from the pit into which the terrorists have thrown them. We must also show the terrorists that we will not allow them to take over our country.”

The Israeli Declaration of Independence refers to “the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land.” I find it curious that the founders of the Jewish state proclaimed as sovereign over the land not the Lord God but to themselves, with their proclaimed “natural and historical right” to take possession of it. Their entire argument for rebuilding Solomon’s Temple also seems to revolve around the idea that this will show the world that the Jews are really something.

 “This right is the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State.”

Jabotinsky wrote: “To the hackneyed reproach that this point of view is unethical, I answer, ‘absolutely untrue.’ This is our ethic. There is no other ethic.” (1923).

So, is Zionism a struggle for Jewish supremacy or a struggle to be as good as other nations? On one hand, the Jews declare their absolute uniqueness, and then they declare that they want to be like everyone else. Is the only way for Jews to get beyond their imagined second-class status is by declaring themselves God, making others into second-class citizens and founding a nation over their graves?

The story of Moses and the Pharaoh tells us that God destroys civilizations for their cruelty. Pharaoh is described as one who “transgressed beyond bounds in the lands, and heaped therein mischief (on mischief). Therefore did thy Lord pour on them a scourge of diverse chastisements” (Quran 89:11).

Many Muslims consider the discovery of Pharaoh’s mummy in 1898 at Thebes to be a warning specifically to the Jews from God. This Sign is the fulfillment of a Quranic prophecy where Allah says to the Pharaoh: “This day We (have decided to) preserve your body (from destruction) so that you may become a sign to (a people) who will come after you, for most people are heedless of Our signs” (10:92-93).

No country based on a racist ideology, which imposes a tyranny of one ethnic group over the others, has any need to exist as a nation among other nations.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Warding off the Evil Eye

People often think it’s silly to worry about protecting yourself from other people’s bad thoughts. Personally, I never would have believed it myself about the Evil Eye, or that other people’s thoughts could potentially harm me, except that I watched my newborn baby die in my arms while I nursed him, for no scientific reason – no cause of death was ever determined by autopsy – but something spiritually intense was definitely going on in the room. My cat’s hair was standing on end, her eyes had turned red, and she was hissing and glaring intensely at the child that I had just brought home from the Birth Center. I had never seen my cat this way, she looked like a demon. I was terrified. This was not the cat I knew. Unfortunately my husband had left me alone in this whirlwind of negative energy. Then my baby just stopped breathing and suddenly died.

Later on I learned that there is an ancient belief, shared by many Muslims, that the djinn can enter a cat and suck the life out of a baby. For this reason many people try to keep cats away from newborn babies. They hang Ayat al Kursi over a baby’s bed or recite it to keep away the Evil Eye. At the time I had no idea this level of vigilance was required to protect my child’s life! I was totally prepared in all other ways for the basic needs of a newborn. If I look back now, I realize that more than one person held my baby during his short life of 19 hours, who are causing deliberate pain in my life to this day. There were other people who never wanted my marriage to happen. I have no idea how many people prayed against me or wished harm to fall upon me and my firstborn son. The lesson I have learned is to be more aggressive about protecting myself against harm.

Yet during times of stress our defenses can become compromised, even when we know what to do. This week after completely floored by some totally undeserved accusations and hateful words, I was like a train derailed. I got so sick that I was sweating and shivering, while the person who had originally upset me continued to behave in a ruthlessly unkind manner, almost seeming to delight in causing me distress. When people get you down, they actually manipulate you into hurting yourself sometimes. Not eating, not sleeping, becoming enraged in reaction to their lack of respect. So now I’m back to square one in terms of building up the fortress which is my personal space.

Perhaps the most important thing, after praying for healing for ourselves and our loved ones, is to spiritually protect our homes. The djinn congregate in dirty places, the Prophet (pbuh) told us, so vacuuming up those cobwebs on the ceiling and taking care of things long left undone can help dispel the repressed, negative energy that is symbolized by our procrastination.

It is important to keep track of what comes into your house and what goes out of your house. If you feel a negative association with a gift given to you by someone who seems like they might not wish you well, get rid of it. Burn it, throw it down the toilet or into a river, or at least wash it, with a prayer. And take a bath. I’ve been told, if someone who you suspect dislikes you gives you food, especially sweets, don’t eat it. If a gift disturbs you emotionally because every time you look at it you have to relive some old memory, at least put it away so you don’t have to look at it anymore. If you must send your children to visit people who do not wish you well, make sure you pray over them before they leave and also purify your doorstep in some way so that all who enter into your dwelling will shed whatever bad thoughts might be with them.

How do you purify a doorway? A home? I am sure lots of people would tell me it’s wrong, but this is what I have learned from experience can help get rid of children’s nightmares and other negativity. Some people recite prayers over water and sprinkle the water in every corner and doorway of the home. Some people recite prayers and wave smoke at every corner and doorway of the home. I personally find that the beauty of fresh flowers in a vase helps counteract the ugliness of Satan. The basic idea is to ask God to keep evil out of your home and to keep you and your family safe. Even when you are not at home, you can visualize some kind of force field of light surrounding your home. If you don’t have energy for all of that (like me right now, because I’m sick), just say a prayer and ask God to protect you “from the evil of the envier when he envies.” The hadith recommend reciting Ayat al-Kursi and the four Qul’s. Reading the Psalms of David works for a lot of people. Most importantly, do something. Intention is everything. You don’t have to be an enlightened or perfect being to pray for protection. It does not require religious observance or sinlessness. But it could lead to that.