A Study in Contrasts: Israel and Palestine

A SHORTER VERSION OF THIS PIECE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON STATE OF FORMATION, AN ONLINE PUBLICATION FOR EMERGING RELIGIOUS AND ETHICAL LEADERS WHICH WAS FOUNDED AS AN OFFSHOOT OF THE JOURNAL OF INTERRELIGIOUS STUDIES, HOUSED AT CIRCLE, A SHARED CENTER AT HEBREW COLLEGE AND ANDOVER NEWTON THEOLOGICAL SCHOOL.

Abigail recently returned from a two-week-long Unitarian Universalists for Justice in the Middle East (UUJME) human rights delegation to Israel and Palestine. UUJME’s mission is “to promote peace and justice in Israel-Palestine, including a settlement of the conflict affirming the equality, dignity, freedom and security of all peoples involved.”

I believe in the power of narrative. Often, I see that as a positive thing—the power of stories to allow us to learn, to connect, to do activism. Yet narratives also have the power to divide, when two groups involved in the same conflict live and breathe two separate stories.

I saw that over and over again on our delegation to Israel and Palestine. People have written books about it. Two different stories of the Holy Land. Two different faces of the many coins of experiences. Over and over again, there they were.

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Disrupting the Narrative: Stories of Palestine and Israel

A SHORTER VERSION OF THIS PIECE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON STATE OF FORMATION, AN ONLINE PUBLICATION FOR EMERGING RELIGIOUS AND ETHICAL LEADERS WHICH WAS FOUNDED AS AN OFFSHOOT OF THE JOURNAL OF INTERRELIGIOUS STUDIES, HOUSED AT CIRCLE, A SHARED CENTER AT HEBREW COLLEGE AND ANDOVER NEWTON THEOLOGICAL SCHOOL.

Abigail recently returned from a two-week-long Unitarian Universalists for Justice in the Middle East (UUJME)  human rights delegation to Israel and Palestine. UUJME’s mission is “to promote peace and justice in Israel-Palestine, including a settlement of the conflict affirming the equality, dignity, freedom and security of all peoples involved.”

“Be careful,” people told me. “It’s dangerous there.” Silent, but implicit, the message carried—they are dangerous there. The people. The children—“little snakes,” according to a recent post by Israel’s justice minister. Terrorists.

And then I went there. To Jerusalem. To the West Bank. To Palestine.

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Charleston: #BlackLivesMatter This Ramadan

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON STATE OF FORMATION, AN ONLINE PUBLICATION FOR EMERGING RELIGIOUS AND ETHICAL LEADERS WHICH WAS FOUNDED AS AN OFFSHOOT OF THE JOURNAL OF INTERRELIGIOUS STUDIES, HOUSED AT CIRCLE, A SHARED CENTER AT HEBREW COLLEGE AND ANDOVER NEWTON THEOLOGICAL SCHOOL.

I logged onto Facebook Tuesday night, about to post a “Ramadan Mubarak!” wish for all my Muslim friends. And then, scrolling down my news feed, I saw it—the news that a white man had entered a black church in my hometown of Charleston, South Carolina, and opened fire, killing nine people.

“Terrorism,” one of my friends wrote in her post about it. And, as the fear and grief flooded my veins, I knew she was right. I started contacting my family and friends, trying to make sure everyone was alright. I thought about beloved teachers and parents and elders who might have been there for a Wednesday evening bible study. Relatives of my friends. The teachers and parents at the all-black school my father used to work at downtown. Pillars of the community, with wise words and life experience. Perhaps even children, running down the aisle and laughing. The news is still coming out about the victims as I write this, but we know at least one of them: Rev. Clementa Pinckney, South Carolina state senator and pastor, an advocate for justice and a recent leader in the movement against police brutality in South Carolina.

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To Post or Not to Post: Interfaith Activism Online

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON STATE OF FORMATION, AN ONLINE PUBLICATION FOR EMERGING RELIGIOUS AND ETHICAL LEADERS WHICH WAS FOUNDED AS AN OFFSHOOT OF THE JOURNAL OF INTERRELIGIOUS STUDIES, HOUSED AT CIRCLE, A SHARED CENTER AT HEBREW COLLEGE AND ANDOVER NEWTON THEOLOGICAL SCHOOL.

Oh, the internet. And the lingo—and dregs—of the internet. Trolls. Flame wars. Click-baiting.

Recently, I’ve been having a lot of conversations with people about the value of social media. I’m normally the pro-internet person, pointing out the powers of the web for organizing and spreading messages and disrupting mainstream media narratives. I like to quote Opal Tometi, co-founder of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, who says, “We organize online to have impact on our lives offline.”

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South Carolina, #BlackLivesMatter, and the Bible

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON STATE OF FORMATION, AN ONLINE PUBLICATION FOR EMERGING RELIGIOUS AND ETHICAL LEADERS WHICH WAS FOUNDED AS AN OFFSHOOT OF THE JOURNAL OF INTERRELIGIOUS STUDIES, HOUSED AT CIRCLE, A SHARED CENTER AT HEBREW COLLEGE AND ANDOVER NEWTON THEOLOGICAL SCHOOL.

I was born and raised in South Carolina. I love my home state; there are so many genuine, kind, wonderful people there who I care about deeply. But to be honest, most of the time when I see South Carolina trending on the news, it’s about something embarrassing. Like that guy who kept having sex with horses on Jon Stewart’s ongoing “Thank You South Carolina!” features. Or the congressman who shouted “You lie!” at the president. Twice. Or Mark Sanford, who Stephen Colbert dubbed the “Luv Gov” for disappearing when he was supposedly hiking the Appalachian Trail, admitting that he had actually gone to Argentina to visit his mistress, and calling her his soul-mate. He later broke up with her over Facebook and—guess what—South Carolinians elected him to office again!

But I digress.

The latest time that South Carolina was in the news, trending this week, was not for a simple face-palm moment, however. It was something far more tragic. An unarmed black man, Walter Scott, was killed by a police officer after a traffic stop over a taillight, in North Charleston, right near my hometown. He was shot running away, in the back, and his family would likely not have found any justice if a bystander had not recorded a video, for the cop lied in his original statements before the video came out.

It’s sickening. Another unarmed black person’s life ended unfairly. Another indicator of the systemic racism in our country. Another dying cry that #BlackLivesMatter.

And its fallout in South Carolina has been getting more and more troubling.

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#SelmaIsNow: Interfaith Justice Work

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON STATE OF FORMATION, AN ONLINE PUBLICATION FOR EMERGING RELIGIOUS AND ETHICAL LEADERS WHICH WAS FOUNDED AS AN OFFSHOOT OF THE JOURNAL OF INTERRELIGIOUS STUDIES, HOUSED AT CIRCLE, A SHARED CENTER AT HEBREW COLLEGE AND ANDOVER NEWTON THEOLOGICAL SCHOOL.

On March 8, 2015, I was in Selma, Alabama, along with about 70,000 other people. Together, we were marching, consecrating the act that brave women and men had engaged in 50 years before to march for voting rights in the face of police brutality.

I was lucky enough to be there because I had received a scholarship to go to the Marching in the Arc of Justice conference, organized by the Unitarian Universalist Living Legacy Project, held in Alabama that weekend. Hundreds of UUs heard from veterans of the Civil Rights Movement and those doing justice work now, and about 500 of us marched in the 50th anniversary march.

As an avid Twitter user, I tweeted much of the conference, and I also got to see some of the trending hashtags around the event. One that struck me most was #SelmaIsNow. Those ten letters said so much, highlighting the tension between honoring the past and working in the present.

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Selma: A Lesson in White Ally-ship

We shall overcome,
We shall overcome,
We shall overcome someday…
Deep in my heart,
I do believe
That we shall overcome, someday…

Before marching in Selma for the fiftieth anniversary, the hundreds of us Unitarian Universalists (and a few non-UUs) had lunch at the City of St. Jude’s. At the end, our music team led us in that song. Those words. We shall overcome. And all of us—the hundreds filling that whole gym—linked hands and sang those words, filled with that persistent hope, that surviving belief. Veterans who had march in ’65. Young people of color leading the new movements for racial justice. And, overwhelming, white allies. We shall overcome.

I cried. I won’t lie. And I wasn’t alone. It was a transcendent moment, speaking to the reckless hope that all who do justice work must have. It was a moment when I loved my community—our history and our ongoing commitment to overcoming injustice—deeply.

I thought the march would feel like that, too. But it didn’t, exactly.

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