Category Archives: Spiritual – Religion

Iftar in Albuquerque

Ramadan in Cairo

Waiting for sunset in Cairo for the Iftar meal

During Ramadan (this year May 15 through June 14), Muslims fast from dawn to sunset, with a pre-dawn meal known as Suhur and a sunset meal called Iftar.

This year I’m hosting an Iftar for my Muslim and non-Muslim friends in Albuquerque to raise funds for food-insecure refugee families in Gaza. For $150, UNRWA-USA can provide a package providing enough flour, rice, whole milk, oil, chickpeas, lentils and protein-rich sardines to feed a family for the summer. My goal is to raise $1500 to help 10 families in Gaza.

The date and location of my Iftar in Albuquerque will be announced soon, perhaps with an extra surprise thrown in. I hope you will consider donating online, and help me reach my goal before the end of May.

Following the US funding cuts in January 2018, many of UNRWA’s programs are at risk, including emergency food assistance for the nearly one million Palestine refugees in the Gaza Strip who are relying on UNRWA to meet their basic needs.

With 47% of households in Gaza food insecure, this Ramadan, I am committed to doing something about it by hosting an Iftar for Gaza.

Please consider making a donation before attending the iftar, so we can tally our impact!

By joining this nationwide movement, we’re not only putting food on the table for a Palestine refugee family — we’re also sending the message that Americans care.

Thank you for helping me reach my goal and for providing a lifeline for Palestine refugees in the Gaza Strip!

Donations to UNRWA’s cash and food assistance programs are zakat eligible as certified by the National Zakat Foundation. For other ways to help this month or for information on how to host an Iftar for Gaza, please visit unrwausa.org.

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A pilgrim joins the march

I’m joining hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pilgrims walking to el Sanctuario de Chimayo in northern New Mexico today, Good Friday. It’s a tradition that many have followed every year for generations, but this is my first time walking to Chimayo.

Chimayo

Granddaughter and I visited Chimayo in 2014

On the side of the church is a little room with a dirt floor. We must bend low to enter the room, it accommodates only a dozen or so people at a time.

On the floor is an open pit of earth just over a foot wide. It is said to be healing earth, tierra bendita. Pilgrims touch it reverently to their heads and limbs, perhaps gathering a bit of it in a plastic bag, before moving on to make room for a few more of the thousands who wait their turn. The walls of the room just outside this chapel are covered with the canes and crutches of those who have been healed here at Chimayó. Tacked up among them are notes of thanksgiving, testimonials, and little paintings called milagros, “miracles,” depicting some particular story of grace and healing. “It is the faith, not the earth, that heals,” says the priest at Chimayó.

I’m carrying 4 small glass vials with me to collect some of this healing dirt —- one for each of my sons and one for me.  glass vials

This pilgrimage means different things to different people. For me, it’s a time to reflect on my family, my friends and my gratitude for everything that is good in my life.

I’m also thinking of my friends in Gaza who are marching to the border with Israel today. It’s the beginning of the #GreatReturnMarch with actions spanning 46 days. They’re pressing the international community and the State of Israel to acknowledge and comply with their right to return to the homes, businesses, villages and towns they were forcibly expelled from when Israel was created in 1947-48.  They’ve been waiting for decades for their right of return to be fulfilled. Many still have keys to the houses they left behind in present-day Israel.

Both of our journeys today (in northern New Mexico and Gaza) are journeys of faith . . . faith in the restorative power of community, and faith in the healing power of justice. I pray there is a milagro – miracle in Gaza today.

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Crumbling Silos

We are living in silos. Each hardened and impervious, it seems.

Ralls_Texas_Grain_Silos_2010

As long as we stay put in our comfort zones and don’t venture out, life is good.  We can ignore the other silos as full of irrelevant, idiotic, foolish “deplorables” — or maybe they speak another language and our attention span is short — or maybe they just don’t interest us.

OTHER (Verb)
1. To view or act towards another group as though they are intrinsically different, alien and separate from oneself.
2. To MARGINALIZE                           

Life in my silo is just fine, thank-you-very-much!  My silo has treated me very well all these 64 years. Here’s what it looks like:

  • Western, educated white woman
  • Middle-class, white picket fence and safe, bicycle-friendly neighborhood
  • Good schools (elementary, high school, universities)
  • Extensive travel at home and abroad
  • Loving nuclear and extended family
  • Freedom to pursue nearly any idea or dream
  • No fears for my personal or my family’s safety

Why would I ever want to leave? But my silo is crumbling, along with all of the others, and it’s clear to me that I have no choice in the matter.

I saw the cracks starting years ago but it was easy enough back then to ignore and pretend it wasn’t happening. Like watching a loved one die in front of my eyes and not registering the reality of her death until she was gone.

Now, there’s simply no denying that all of the silos are crumbling, crumbling at a faster pace than ever before. Some people may pick up torches or assault rifles to protect against the “other” and some may bury their heads to avoid the messiness of “politics.”

But everyone’s silo is crumbling and the undeniable truth is that we’re all facing the same challenges of a silo-free world together.

What’s responsible for these crumbling silos?

  • The relentless onslaught of a changing climate which so many people still deny.
  • The epic failure of capitalism that is currently destroying people and environments.
  • The war machine (aka military industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about) and the destruction it has wrought in so many countries, including my own.
  • The blessing and curse of the Internet. It allows people to hide and listen only to Fox News (or NPR) in their silos if they choose, but it also allows people to reach across oceans and connect with people in other silos they wouldn’t have otherwise.

I’m nervous because the unknown is always scary. No one can predict what a post-silo world will look like. But I’m also excited because I catch glimmers of a much better world emerging.

This pilgrim is very thankful to be alive at this time.

lora

“BUILD BRIDGES, NOT WALLS”

 

 

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The magical Oud

Music can sooth the busy mind, and calm the tormented soul.  Music can bring people together, and it can lift them above their struggles.

oudFive years ago, on a beautiful evening in Gaza, I was serenaded by an Oud player and his fellow musicians for several hours. The event was a complete surprise to me, and was without a doubt one of the highlights of my visit.  I will never forget the magical feeling I had that evening. “This can’t be real.”  “This is too good to be true.”  “Someone pinch me and wake me from this dream.”

I haven’t stopped thinking of these wonderful musicians in Gaza, especially the Oud player, Yehal Adel.  You can catch a snippet of Yehal’s talent here. He composed the music and words to this beautiful song about his love for Jerusalem.

Recently I was reminded of the power of the magical Oud when I heard Rahim AlHaj play in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  He was playing with a group at the St. John’s United Methodist Church.

Rahim AlHaj is world famous and his performance at the Library of Congress is just a sample.  I hope I can introduce these two Oud players, and someday they may play together!

Rahim AlHaj was born in Baghdad, Iraq and began playing the oud (Arabic lute) at age nine. He moved to the US in 2000 as a political refugee and has resided in Albuquerque, New Mexico, ever since. Rahim has performed around the globe and is considered one of the finest oud players in the world. His compositions evoke the experience of exile from his homeland and of new beginnings in his adopted country. In 2015 Rahim was awarded the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship.

Sourena Sefati was born in Ramsar, Iran, and started playing santour (hammered dulcimer) at age 11. He won the award for best composer of Iranian music at Art University in 2006 and served as instructor at Art University and Elmi-Karbordi University in Tehran from 2008 to 2014. Sourena moved to the United States in 2014, and teaches Iranian music in Albuquerque.

Issa Malluf is a Palestinian-American native of New Mexico. Originally self-taught, Issa has become a highly skilled and internationally recognized specialist in Middle Eastern, Arabic, and North African percussion.

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Why I Am Angry by Uri Avnery

Uri Avnery, an Israeli peace activist, journalist and writer, began his life in Hitler’s Germany, arrived in Palestine with his family in 1933, joined the Irgun underground in 1938 to fight the British but quit after three years in protest of the Irgun’s anti-Arab attitudes and its terrorist methods. His biography is very interesting, check it out here.  I haven’t read any of his books, but pledge to correct that deficiency this year.

Uri Avnery

Uri Avnery credit – Veterans Today

Avnery wrote the following message on January 6, 2018.  I share it here in full because the history of the two branches of Jews (the Mizrahim and Ashkenazim) is currently playing out in Israel’s politics, with deep implications for the future of the region and the Palestinians. This internal division may be more consequential than the Israeli-Arab divide that dominates the news.

Why are we (humans in general) so predisposed to see our neighbors as “the other” and to cast “the other” in such disparaging terms?  What is the antithesis of “the other”?            

Why I am Angry

I AM angry with the Mizrahi elite. Very angry indeed.

Mizrah is the Hebrew word for East. Eastern Jews are those who lived for many centuries in the Islamic world. Western Jews are those who lived in Christian Europe.

The words are, of course, misnomers. Russian Jews are “Westerners”, Moroccan Jews are “Easterners”. A look at the map shows that Russia is far to the East of Morocco. It would be more accurate to call them “Northerners” and “Southerners”. Too late, now.

Westerners are generally called “Ashkenazim”, from the old Hebrew term for Germany. Easterners were usually called “Sephardim”, from the old Hebrew term for Spain. But only a small part of the Easterners are actually descended from the flourishing Jewish community in medieval Spain.

IN TODAY’S Israel, the antagonism between Mizrahim and Ashkenazim is growing stronger from year to year, with vast political and social repercussions. It is no exaggeration to see this as the determining phenomenon of current Israeli society.

Before I continue, allow me to state (once again, I am afraid) my personal part in this.

My last few years in Germany, before we fled, were spent in the shadow of the ascent of the Swastika, the last half year already under Nazi rule. I came to hate Germany and everything German. So when our ship reached the port of Jaffa, I was enthusiastic. I was just ten years old, and the Jaffa of 1933 was in every respect the exact opposite of Germany – noisy, full of exotic smells, human. I loved it.

As I learned later, most of the early Zionist “pioneers” who arrived in Arab Jaffa hated it on sight, because they identified themselves as Europeans. Among them was the founder of Zionism, Theodor Herzl himself, who did not want to go to Palestine in the first place. On his only visit here, he hated its Oriental character. He vastly preferred Patagonia (in the Argentine).

Fifteen years later, during Israel’s war of independence, I was promoted to the lofty rank of squad-leader and had the choice between new immigrant recruits from Poland or Morocco. I chose the Moroccans and was rewarded by them with my life: when I was lying wounded under fire, four of “my Moroccans” risked their lives to get me out.

It was then that I got a foretaste of things to come. Once, when we got a few precious hours of leave, some of my soldiers refused to go. “The girls in Tel Aviv don’t go out with us,” they complained, “for them we are blacks.” Their skin was just a little bit darker than ours.

I became very sensitive to this problem, when everybody else still denied its very existence. In 1954, when I was already the editor-in-chief of a news-magazine, I published a series of articles that caused a huge stir: “They (expletive) the Blacks”. Those Ashkenazim who did not hate me before, started to hate me then.

Then came the riots of “Wadi Salib”, a neighborhood in Haifa, where a policeman shot a Mizrahi. My paper was the only one in the country to defend the protesters.

A few years later the small group of Mizrahim started an unruly protest movement, expropriating the American term “Black Panthers”. I helped them. Golda Meir famously exclaimed: “They are not nice people”.

Now, many years later, a new generation has taken over. The Internal conflict dominates many aspects of our life. The Mizrahim make up about half the Jewish population of Israel, the Ashkenazim form the other half. The division has many manifestations, but people don’t like to talk about them openly.

For example, the great majority of Likud voters are Mizrahim, though the party leadership is predominantly Ashkenazi. The opposition Labor Party is almost completely Ashkenazi, though they just elected a Mizrahi leader, in the vain hope that this will help them to overcome the profound alienation of the Mizrahim.

MY OPPOSITION to the treatment of the Mizrahim was primarily a moral one. It sprang from the desire for justice. It also sprang from my dream that all of us, Ashkenazim and Mizrahim, would eventually be submerged in a common Hebrew nation. But I must confess that there was another motive, too.

I have always believed – as I believe now – that there is no future for Israel as a foreign island in the Oriental sea. My hopes go much further than just peace. I hope for Israel’s becoming an integral part of the “Semitic region” (an expression I invented long ago).

How? I have always entertained a monumental hope: that the second or third generation of Mizrahim will remember its heritage, the times when Jews were an integral part of the Muslim world. Thus they would become the bridge between the new Hebrew nation in Israel and its Palestinian neighbors, and indeed the entire Muslim world.

Being despised by the Ashkenazim as “Asiatic” and inferior, would it not have been natural for the Mizrahim to reclaim their glorious heritage, when the Jews in Iraq, Spain, Egypt and many other Muslim countries were fully integrated partners in a flourishing civilization, at a time when Europeans were mainly barbarians?

Jewish philosophers, mathematicians, poets and medical doctors were partners of that civilization, side by side with their Muslim counterparts. When the persecution and expulsion of Jews and the inquisition were facts of life in Europe, Jews (and Christians) enjoyed full rights in the Muslim world. They were accorded the status of “Peoples of the Book” (the Hebrew Bible) and fully equal, except for being exempted from army service and paying a tax instead. Anti-Jewish incidents were rare.

When all the Jews were expelled from Christian Spain, only a small minority immigrated to Amsterdam, London and Hamburg. The vast majority went to Muslim countries, from Morocco to Istanbul. Curiously enough, only a handful settled in Palestine.

HOWEVER, WHEN masses of Oriental Jews arrived in Israel, my hopes were dashed. Instead of becoming the bridge between Israel and the Arab world, they became the most ardent Arab-haters. The centuries of Muslim-Jewish culture were erased, as if they had never existed.

Why? Being despised by the “superior” Ashkenazim, the Mizrahim started to despise their own culture. They tried to become Europeans, more anti-Arab, more super-patriot, more right-wing.

(Though one Mizrahi friend once told me: We don’t want to be a bridge. A bridge is something people trample on.)

Yet no one can escape from himself. Most Mizrahim in Israel speak with an Arab accent. They love Arab music (presented as “Mediterranean” music), and have no love for Mozart and Beethoven. Their features are different from European ones. All the more reason to hate the Arabs.

The erasing of the Eastern-Jewish culture is all-encompassing. Israeli children of Eastern descent have no idea of the great writers and philosophers of their heritage. They don’t know that the Christian Crusaders who conquered the Holy Land butchered Muslims and Jews alike, and that Jews defended Jerusalem and Haifa shoulder to shoulder with their Muslim neighbors.

Rabbi Moses Maimonides – the great Rambam – is well known, but only as an important rabbi, not as the friend and personal physician of Saladin, the greatest of Muslim heroes. The many other medieval Sephardic intellectuals are hardly known at all. None of them appears on our paper money.

YET I am an optimist, in this respect also.

I believe that a new Mizrahi intelligentsia will search for its roots. That with the rise of its social status, social complexes will give way to a normal patriotism. That a fourth or fifth generation will come forward and struggle not only for equality, but also for peace and integration in the region.

As our Arab friends would say: Inshallah.

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Listen with open hearts and minds in 2018

Five years ago tonight I joined friends at the Holy Family Catholic Parish in Gaza City to celebrate Jesus’ birth.

This year I attended midnight Mass in America’s First Cathedral — the Basilica in Baltimore — with Bishop Madden presiding.

Xmas Eve Mass Holy Communion 2

Holy Communion at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve 2017 in Baltimore’s Basilica

Bishop Madden is a very special man. I first met him in 2015 when a friend invited me to join his monthly “Bishop’s Walks” in different distressed Baltimore neighborhoods.

Bishop Madden October 2015

Bishop Madden and Lora – October 2015

He believes in putting words and prayer into action, and regularly leads groups (usually 30-50 people) around neighborhoods that have recently witnessed violence. I’ve probably joined a dozen or more of these “Bishop’s Walks” and participated in the songs and prayers for community peace and healing.

Bishop Madden leads walk

Bishop Madden leads a walk through a Baltimore neighborhood.

Then I learned that Bishop Madden had lived and worked in Gaza City many years ago, and my bond with him was cemented.  Every time I’ve prepared to travel back to the Middle East, I’ve ask him to pray for me. He does and he asks me to pray for him. I do.

Tonight on Christmas Eve his sermon focused (of course) on the birth of Jesus, emphasizing that Jesus came to live among humanity to provide hope and an example of how we must treat each other. Then he mentioned “September 23, 2017 in Albuquerque, New Mexico” and my ears perked up.

Bishop Madden spoke of a police officer in Albuquerque who responded to a burglary, and when he got to the scene he saw a man and woman both shooting up with needles in the yard outside. The woman was clearly very pregnant, it turned out later that she was 8 months pregnant. The officer talked with them and the woman said she didn’t want to keep her baby, she knew she couldn’t raise the child. At that moment, the officer knew that he could raise the child. He and his wife had 4 children at home, the youngest was 10 months old. He went home to confer with his wife, which drew chuckles from the people in the Basilica. They have since adopted the baby as their own.

Xmas Eve Mass nativity

Nativity scene at the Basilica

Bishop Madden shared a couple of other examples of how average people who have their hearts and minds open to possibilities, can hear the spirit lead them to do good things. In these troubled times at home and around the world, we must each keep our hearts and minds open to possibilities to do good.

His sermon resonated with me. At the end of the service, Bishop Madden told us he would pray for us to find the good that we are called to do, and then he asked the congregation to pray for him for the same reason.

Xmas Eve Mass Bishop Madden 2As everyone filed out of the Basilica, Bishop Madden stood outside greeting and wishing everyone Merry Christmas. I went up to him and gave him a card I made especially for him with a photo of the Christmas Eve Mass at the Holy Family Church in Gaza City. Bishop Madden’s eyes twinkled as he thanked me. And I wished him a Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to my family and friends, near and far!

May we each find the good that we are called to do in 2018.

Xmas Eve Mass card

 

 

 

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Turn ‘Black Friday’ into Golden Generosity

“Black Friday” represents good shopping deals to some, and the cash register ringing for retailers when their bottom line goes from red to black, but for me it’s become a day symbolizing what’s rotten about the USA and I can’t pretend to hide my scorn.

Few realize the origin of “Black Friday” —

The first recorded use of the term “Black Friday” was applied not to holiday shopping but to financial crisis: specifically, the crash of the U.S. gold market on September 24, 1869. Two notoriously ruthless Wall Street financiers, Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, worked together to buy up as much as they could of the nation’s gold, hoping to drive the price sky-high and sell it for astonishing profits. On that Friday in September, the conspiracy finally unraveled, sending the stock market into free-fall and bankrupting everyone from Wall Street barons to farmers.

The modern version spells bad news for the climate, the economy and the human spirit. But rather than itemize the doom and gloom of crass consumerism and why it’s so bad for our souls and the planet, I’m sharing some tips for alternative “shopping” if people have greenbacks in their wallets. Avoid your credit cards. If you don’t have the cash in hand, you shouldn’t be caught up in holiday shopping of any kind. Sit down, stretch your imagination and make your gifts.

Two years ago, I blogged about gift ideas from my perch in Cairo, see here.

Idea #1 – Remember the refugees.

More than 20 million refugees have fled their homes. Most are living in dire circumstances today, caught between violence, disease, lack of security and respect, and an uncertain future. Treat yourself and family to Ai WeiWei’s documentary ‘Human Flow’ perhaps playing at a theatre near you.  The filmmaker suggests some actions we can take, check it here.  (My sister has been making microloans with Kiva for years. I’m going to follow her example.)

A store is opening in London, the first of its kind, where shoppers can stop by and purchase gifts for refugees. The retail space has been donated by a real estate investment trust. The organization, Help Refugees, will get the gifts into the hands of refugees and an online store is planned soon. If you’re not in London, you can donate here.

Friends in Washington, DC can purchase a Palestinian falafel sandwich for $3 and a portion of each dollar will be sent to help feed refugees worldwide. Check it out here.

Give a gift to a Palestine refugee through UNRWA-USA, the agency that’s been working closely with refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Check out the button on the top right corner here.

If you have the time, flexibility and desire to help refugees directly, there are many opportunities. I recommend Advocates Abroad currently operating in Greece.

Idea #2 – Double the impact.

Good journalism requires eyeballs and subscribers. Give holiday subscriptions to family and friends. You’ll be supporting the journalism you appreciate and sending a subtle message to the gift recipients where their attention should be focused.  Of course, a digital subscription is preferable.

My favorite recommendations include:

Yes! Magazine — “YES! Magazine reframes the biggest problems of our time in terms of their solutions.”

The Nation and the Christian Science Monitor are my two picks for keeping informed on international and local news.

Idea #3 – The children in your life.

This might be the toughest part of holiday giving, at least for me. I remember my own childhood and unwrapping tons of gifts Santa had spread under the tree. I want children today to feel the same anticipation and excitement.

Olive harvest and children

Children in Gaza – 2013

Children everywhere need security, love, education, a planet that can sustain them, and adults who respect their needs today and in the future. If the TV commercials would only drum that message into consumers’ heads rather than the latest iPhone 10 and electronic gadgets.

Books are a good gift for any age, and if you can find them at your local independent bookstore, that’s even better.

P for Palestine

P is for Palestine – A Palestine Alphabet Book sold out within days of its launch in November 2017 but you can preorder your copy of the second edition for delivery in Spring 2018 here.

Other titles to consider:

White and Black – Political Cartoons from Palestine by Mohammad Sabaaneh (2017) for teens and adults.

The Last Earth – A Palestinian Story by Ramzy Baroud (2017) has not been released yet but can be pre-ordered here.

The Anteater and the Jaguar by Rayek R. Rizek (2017) is another book I’m ordering. It’s available on Amazon.

In addition to books, give your time to the children in your life. Itemize your talents (cooking, drawing, story-telling, sewing, knitting, hiking, writing, photography, fishing, etc.) and prepare a home-made gift certificate with a promise to share your talent with your child in a real and meaningful way.

Family photo album with names, dates and stories about family members is a gift I wish I’d received as a child, and I wish I’d given to my own. My family photos are scattered in boxes in storage now.

Time with the children is the best gift any parent can give any child of any age. Their time is priceless because many parents are working two jobs just to put food on the table. Carving out a day, a weekend, or an hour every evening just for your child may be challenging, but the effort will reap rewards for everyone. (This goes for Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles, and everyone else.)

hiking

Photo Credit: Michelle Lake 

Idea #4 – Put your money where your heart is.

I don’t believe our hearts reside in Wal Mart #1 retailer, Costco #2 retailer, or Kroger #3 retailer in the U.S.  Shop with thoughtful intention during this holiday season and every day.

Chain store proliferation has weakened local economies, eroded community character, and impoverished civic and cultural life. Moreover, consolidation has reduced competition and may harm consumers over the long-term. See here and here.

Remember, you’re the role model for your family and friends. Happy Holidays!

 

 

 

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