Tag Archives: Christmas

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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Gift-giving this holiday season

Palestininan rug

Native Naseej

Spoiler alert!   My adult children and family members should not read this blog post.

A Syrian Freedom Fighter window-shopping in Cairo

A Syrian Freedom Fighter window-shopping in Cairo

Hanukkah begins Sunday, December 6 and Christmas is right around the corner. We know that our purchasing power can have a tremendous impact (good and bad) and so I offer some ideas for gift-giving this holiday — especially for Americans.

#1  – Avoid the shopping malls

#2 – Avoid driving and idling in traffic, take public transportation

#3 – Avoid the stress of finding the “perfect” gift.

#4 – Avoid impulsive gift-giving. Sit down and make a list.

#5 – If low on funds but rich on time, make cards with tasks you promise to do for the recipient.  (Be creative!)

Handmade gifts are amazing because they represent your time and spirit. There are many ideas online, but check this website first. Don’t forget handmade cards too.

Donations made in the name of your gift recipient might work for some of your family and friends who share your same interests. Be sure to explain why you made the donation in their name. Here are some of my interests.

UNRWA — Americans for a Vibrant Palestinian EconomyRachel Corrie Foundation — Middle East Children’s AlliancePalestine Children’s Relief FundThe Palestine Chronicle — YES! MagazineTikkun — 350.org — Idle No More — Union of Conerned ScientistsVeterans for PeaceWorld Beyond War — and my favorite candidate this year is Bernie Sanders who is building a campaign with grassroots contributions.

Books make great gifts but stay away from Amazon.com if you can.  Check out Just World Books or any of your local independent bookstores.   I’m bringing a suitcase-full of books to Gaza. Many of the titles are included here.

Gifts from Palestine – are extra special.  I encourage you to check out Al’ard Products —  Canaan Fair Trade — Sunbula  — Sindyanna of Galilee — Native Naseej and Nehaya Accessories.

Happy Holidays everyone!

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Nehaya Accessories

 

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شكرا اصحابي Thank you my friends

I’m spending Thanksgiving in Cairo this year, waiting for permission to enter Gaza through the Rafah border. It’s been a very long wait with no end in sight. I actively started my preparations for returning to Gaza 450 days ago.

The Egyptian government tells me “لا  لا” and the U.S. Embassy tells me “no no”. The Israelis are telling my friends who are trying to enter Gaza from the north through the Erez crossing “לא לא”. Why am I still trying?  Some tell me I should have given up a long time ago.

Along this journey to Gaza I’ve met many people and learned many things. One Egyptian friend gave me reading material about Islam, which I’ve been slowly making my way through. One thing I’ve learned, but not sure I really understand, is that Muslims have a belief in destiny — each person’s destiny is written by Allah — and this belief in their destiny (good and bad) helps them persevere through difficult times and crises. “Whatever will be, will be.”

I have to have faith that my return to Gaza is in Allah’s hands, even though the governments of Egypt, Israel and the U.S. might think they control my journey.  And I don’t control it either.

(OK, I just wrote that but I’m not sure what it means.)

Many friends around the world (America, Canada, France, Switzerland, Turkey, Israel, Palestine and Egypt) have helped me on this journey.  A big “thank you” to each of you!

As the Christmas – Hanukkah holidays approach, many will be thinking about how to help others in need. Our common humanity has been sorely tested in 2015 and we want to reach out. I urge you to consider Palestinians in your gift-giving plans, and I’m sharing some suggestions and links to help.

#1 – Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American living in Ramallah. This year he started Americans for a Vibrant Palestinian Economy, [a 501(c)(3)].  Instead of focusing on political activism, Sam wants to branch out and engage in more economic activism, something that tends to get sidelined in the Palestine solidarity community. Sam frequently provides independent commentary on Palestine and serves as a policy adviser of Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network. He blogs at www.epalestine.com

#2 – We Are Not Numbers is the brainchild of an American writer and solidarity activist, Pam Bailey, to connect aspiring Palestinian writers with experienced writers and editors to mentor them on an individual basis. Read about the genesis of this new project here. In a very short time, WANN has connected many mentors and mentees, and the project is giving a voice to the voiceless.

#3 – UNRWA-USA [a 501(c)(3)] is the American arm of the UN agency that helps Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.

Lora finishes the #Gaza5K in 2015.

Lora finishes the #Gaza5K in 2015.

Needless to say, the challenges that UNRWA faces on the ground in Gaza are enormous, even more daunting following Israel’s 51-day assault in 2014. Each year, UNRWA-USA organizes #Gaza5K walk/runs in the US to raise $$. They also take donations year-round.

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Children are the primary beneficiaries of MECA’s work.

#4 – Middle East Children’s Alliance – has been doing good work on the ground in the West Bank and Gaza for 25 years.  Read about some of their great projects here. MECA has a proven track record of success.  I saw some of their good work at the Afaq Jadeeda Association in the in the Nuseirat Refugee Camp, in Gaza in 2012

#5 – Just World Books – Give yourself, family and friends a gift from Just World Books. The publisher, Helena Cobban, has released some important new titles about Palestine, and many are written by Palestinians.  On the top of my list is Gaza UnSilenced edited by Refaat Alareer and Laila El-Haddad.

Gaza Unsilenced

شكرا اصحابي Thank you my friends!

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Do Unto Others ….

On Christmas Day I had the very good fortune to sit with a class of students — most of them older students with day jobs taking continuing education courses at the Islamic University of Gaza.  We talked about many topics; they wanted to listen to a native English speaker so they could improve their speaking skills.  I wanted to listen to them.  We both got our wishes.

The conversation turned to politics. Living under occupation, politics is the air everyone breathes in Gaza.  What can anyone do to change things here?  I didn’t have any satisfactory answers, I’m afraid.

Yesterday there were long lines at every ATM.  Someone explained that the November paychecks had arrived from the Palestinian National Authority (3 weeks late!) and everyone was trying to withdraw some funds.  I imagine that paychecks are automatically deposited. 

Gaza ATM on pay day.

Gaza ATM on pay day.

I decided to join the line at the ATM.  There was only one other woman in line, standing right in front of me.  We waited and waited, as one man after another cut in front of her.  So the line was getting longer, not shorter, and I was getting pissed.  I motioned to her as if to say “Why are you letting these guys cut in front of you?”  I think she understood, but she just shrugged as another man joined the line . . . in front of her.

Well . . . this wasn’t going to work.  I could leave and find another ATM.  I could make a loud fuss in English.  I could stand and wait patiently to see what might happen.  I chose the latter.

The woman in front of me got frustrated and left the line.  The men in line glanced at me, perhaps wondering if their cutting-in-line silliness should continue.  I really don’t know.

And then . . . a very nice, young man motioned me to come to the front of the line, ahead of 4 or 5 other men.  He signaled me that it was my turn, and all of the others agreed. 

Man with the green jacket standing to the right helped me to the front of the line.

Man with the green jacket standing to the right helped me to the front of the line.

I was mystified and pleasantly surprised to be ushered up to the ATM.  I quickly completed my transaction and stepped aside with a “shukran” (thank you).

This Christmas Day in Gaza, I’m reminded that there is one lesson every faith, every culture, every man, woman and child must learn if we are ever to have peace on earth. 

“Do unto others as you wish they would do unto you.”  

The actions of that kind man at the ATM yesterday embodied that lesson.  Perhaps that is the answer to the students’ question today in class. 

This occupation could end in a heartbeat if everyone truly believed in the importance of “Doing unto others as you wish they would do unto you.”   We are all students, still learning this lesson in life.  I hope in 2013, we all get an “A+”.

 

 

 

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Christmas Eve in Gaza

Gaza is predominantly a Muslim community.  There’s a Mosque on nearly every corner, a room to pray in almost every public and private building, and the call to prayer is heard several times during the day.

Honestly, I was going to write-off Christmas this year because I haven’t seen a church in my 3 months here.

One part of the holidays I do NOT miss is the consumer gluttony that turns normal Americans into crazy nuts at this time of year.   I don’t miss the flurry of TV ads trying to lure people into stores.  I don’t miss the Santa hoopla.

However, I DO miss making fudge and Christmas cookies and pumpkin bread for family and friends.  I miss putting out the luminaries along the street and walking to Old Town to see the festivities there.  I miss the smell of pinon burning and cheerful greetings.   I miss my family!

On Christmas Eve, several Palestinian friends and Westerners living in Gaza came to my rescue, even offering to go to church with me.

church

Holy Family Church in Gaza

The Holy Family Church near the Old Town in Gaza is beautiful.  We arrived early and watched the church fill up; I estimate 200-250 parishioners attended.  The service, of course, was in Arabic.  Many of the Christmas songs were familiar.

church 1

The same cheerful greetings and festivities and families reminded me that Christmas is very special everywhere.

church 2

Holy Family Church in Gaza

As I sat listening to the sermon (not understanding a word of it), I thought about the Christmas Truce  98 years ago when the British and German soldiers in the First World War laid down their weapons. They didn’t ask the generals or the politicians for permission, they just did it.

church 4

My wish for Christmas 2012 is that the Israeli soldiers and the Hamas fighters just put down their weapons and say . . . “enough is enough” . . . “we can find a better way to live on this tiny sliver of land where Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, and all of the great peacemakers walked so many years ago.”

church 5

Baby Jesus in Gaza

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