is silence golden?

Silence is something I think about a lot. Usually while sitting in my apartment, listening to the little things, which aren’t silent at all – the hum of my appliances, students talking in the lounge outside my door, the ceiling fan clicking each time it turns. With this strange soundtrack as my backdrop, I often sit and think.

I didn’t talk a lot as a child. I was incredibly shy hardly speaking, even to close relatives. I began to break this silence at 16 when I enrolled at Perpich Center for Arts Education where I (ironically) studied voice. But, it’s not as though I went searching for my voice, it found me. During my time at Perpich, I sang my first solo, took creative writing and began journaling. I started speaking up and speaking out. I found ways to share my opinion with others even if it wasn’t popular.

I took my voice with me to college. At UVM I realized that my voice was appreciated and important.  Professors and student affairs professionals guided me and I began to understand how to articulate my values. My voice and I have had ups and downs since then but we always come back to the place we began, silence.

 

In some contexts, silence is terrible. When it’s important to speak up for something, silence can equal death.

 

But at other times, silence has power.

 

In yoga class where I can quiet the stresses and noise of my daily life, silence has so much power. Yoga ends with the savasana, or “corpse pose,” where you quietly lie on your back, close your eyes, and breathe deep, a practice intended to rejuvenate the mind, body, and spirit.

In relationships, there is something beautiful about silence. When a bond is so close between friends or family that I don’t have to say anything for my message to be received. But, silence in relationships can be painful. “Spiteful words can hurt your feelings but silence breaks your heart.” When others decide your silence is necessary it’s painful. The relationship goes ‘silent,’ your voice is lost.

How do you use that silence to rebuild and reclaim your voice? What are the sounds of silence? For me, lately, it’s sounded like mourning. It hurts – physically and emotionally. I’m trying to be patient and re-find my voice but I’m not sure how. How can I use this silence, which feels so destructive, to create? How can I work to listen to my voice even when it’s so quiet I can hardly hear it?

And so begins my journey to find my voice and myself. A better and whole me, respectful of myself along the way.

Being ‘the man’

This week I attended my campus’ Take Back the Night event.  The event is one of the hallmarks of Sexual Assault Awareness Month and provides a space for rallying as well as speaking out against power-based personal violence.

I’ve attended Take Back the Night events for the last several years but this year felt very different. This year was the first year I wasn’t sure if the space was mine. Every other year I’ve attended as a student. Whether in grad student or as an undergrad, the school was mine to learn from, it was a space for me. As a staff member, I am to provide that space. It isn’t about me anymore.

I’ve recently realized that I am becoming (or maybe I already am) ‘the man.’ Prior to attending and during the event I was concerned about my own presence in the space. I became incredibly aware that my presence could be seen as intrusive to a safe student space. I feel I am slowly becoming archetype of those whom I did not feel respected by and rallied against just a few years ago.

How do I work to create an environment where students do not feel disrespected by me even though, at times, I do have to be ‘the man’? How do I continue to do my job, often enforcing policies, while creating spaces for students to be authentic? How can I be authentic when I do not necessarily agree with policies and practices of my institution (especially when these policies and practices create a more hostile environment between the students and administrators)?

My small and momentary solution was to speak at Take Back the Night. In front of all the students, I read a poem I wrote. Hopefully, even for just a moment, I helped my students realize I am just like them in a lot of ways. Perhaps in the future they will think of that moment, where I was on their side and one of them when they feel hurt by the policies and practices I sometimes must enforce.

A journey toward justice.

This week marks the Jewish holiday of Passover. The theme of Passover is liberation from exile. It’s a tale of perseverance and I think it serves as a great opportunity to begin a dialogue around some of these issues.

Passover has four famous questions, typically recited by the youngest child. Each question gets at a component of the introductory question ‘why is this night different from all other nights?’ Yet, while reflecting on the holiday this week I kept coming back to the same question: Is this night any different than the exodus?

During the Passover Seder we symbolically reenact the exodus journey from Egypt. We engage with the community, welcoming the stranger and encouraging all who have no place to go to join us at our table. But, what if the stranger is the person you passed on your way home, holding a sign and asking for spare change? Would we invite them in or would we give our food and send them on their way? I think the ultimate message in Passover is not that we were slaves and now we are free, the ultimate message is a question; what are we doing with our freedom?

Activism is more than sharing a video on facebook, eating a piece of matzah and retelling our story. As we remember and eat our bread of affliction we need to realize that in our schools and on our streets all over the world many are still forced to eat their bread of affliction (if they have anything to eat at all). In reality, this night is not any different than the exodus for so many. And as long as we remain bystanders, that truth will keep us all in exile.

Fitting the ‘file’ image.

This week I’ve had the opportunity to interview many students for our summer staff positions. Prior, during and after I had a lot of conversations with my students who were going through the interview process. One in particular stood out – my student and I talked about how during interviews they often felt “fake.” They know what professional staff members in my department want to hear, they know the answers they are supposed to share and the “correct” outfit for the occasion but they simply feel that isn’t authentic to who they are.

Our conversation really made me think about how we can pigeonhole students through our interview processes. We are looking for students who look and act a certain way. But what way do we mean when we say that?

During the conversation, my student and I talked about the ‘just be yourself’ idea; but, perhaps what people really mean when they say that is, be a version of yourself that you pull out for occasions like this. Be yourself but a little more cleaned up. Be yourself but in an outfit you’d never typically wear. Be yourself but sell yourself through the experiences you’ve had. Be yourself but don’t really be yourself.

What message does this all send? We can be accepting if only you look, act and are a certain way?

I don’t think this is something only undergraduate students experience. It’s not something that can be chalked up to a “developmental phase” – it’s something, I believe, all feel pressure in.

I was thinking about this throughout the week and then something clicked. I had the opportunity to hear Jess Pettitt speak on social justice and I realized why this bothered me so much. It’s about power and privilege; it’s a social justice issue. I think I’m finally able to put some language to this feeling but bear with me as it may be a bit rough…

During the lecture, Jess Pettitt talked about envisioning a dentist. Do this. What does a dentist look like? Most people recalled an image of a white man. Then, perhaps an image of their own dentist. But the ‘file’ image in your brain for ‘dentist’ is a white man. What is the file image for RA? Student affairs professional? Etc.?

If you don’t fit this image, of who is first recalled in the mind of most when a particular profession is mentioned, how much harder do you have to try? How much more time do you spend making sure you look the part? What are the ways you compensate for not being the ‘file’ image?

The inauthenticity my student was feeling might be because they didn’t fit that file image. They were attempting to ‘fit’ a mold, which wasn’t ever made with them in mind.

This begs the question – what do we do to change this? Do we need to? Where is my role here? For now, I’m not sure but this is certainly something I will continue to reflect on.

my song.

Today my yoga instructor said: “Turn down the volume of the chatter in your mind,
 turn up the voice of your own song.”

 

And that’s exactly what I’m trying to do.

 

I’ve decided to re-find writing. This time publicly. Writing in a journal certainly serves a purpose but I’m in search of community and community cannot be found between pages kept under my pillow.

I think this blog will change a lot as I write. I have no set plan, no agenda and truly no purpose. Perhaps this is a journey to find me. To find out who I am and what I want in this world. To figure out my purpose.

There are so few certainties in my world right now that this should be interesting. Get ready for a wild ride.

Listen first.

One of my favorite ways to help my staff team get to know one another is through writing. With each new staff, I have my students write a ‘Where I am From’ poem. These are easy poems from a template. Yet, I’ve seen my students display such creativity with their words through this medium. For the past few years I’ve compiled the poems and printed them to make a book for each staff member.

I think it is so important to understand the context each person comes from in order to work together. When others disregard my context or don’t feel the need to first understand me as a whole person, I feel small and insignificant to them. In supervising I always seek to listen first.

 

I am from Shabbat candles, from High Holy Days and unanswered prayers.

I am from keeping up with appearances. From perfection on the outside & chaos within. From yells, screams and too much emotion behind the suburban white picket fence.

But, I am from Æbleskiver Day and kindhearted, well- meaning men, from Frohlich’s and Shapiro’s who never gave up on their dreams.

I am from the books that became safe places and taught me how to live. I am from reading, writing & creating.

From ‘you can be anything, except that’ and never good enough, ‘too much, too big, too this, too that…’

I am from praying to the porcelain god one too many times. Running, counting, pushing, pulling.

From learning silence.

I’m from a community of activists who taught me not to be afraid to speak out even if my voice shakes. From protests, grassroots action and empowerment.

From living honestly & for me; I am from my chosen family.

“I hate my neighbor!:” A little bit about the Israeli-Palestinian relationship

Another roommate conflict?! …No, not this time, this is much much larger, nations hating other nations. Yet it all seems so childish.  Just like some of the stuff I hear about in the residence halls – ‘she took the soap out of the bathroom,’ ‘My pet fish is missing!’ etc… this conflict is clearly a problem but also so foolish…and it seems to have the ability to bring out the worst in everyone.

Like everything in life, this is contextual; it is NOT black and white but painted in shades if grey. Jess reminded me today that there are a lot of different sides, not just a Palestinian or Israeli one, not a Jewish or Muslim one (put two Jews in the same room and you get three opinions), not a UN ruling, not a government – it’s murky.  While in most facets of my own life I have trouble seeing in shades of grey, I think in this, I get it.  And it’s something I’ve worked really hard to be able to see.  Here’s why – a lot of the things I was taught about Israel were only from one perspective. I’d argue that the majority of American Jews (even most American non-Jews) were only taught from one perspective. And that is the one that makes Israel look like the victors all the time.  Because of this and because of the way the media has portrayed Israel folks either don’t care or don’t know to look at this issues through a different lens.

I know I often hold unpopular views on Israel within my religion, I am reminded time and time again when I’m called a traitor or naive by my own people. I don’t do it because I don’t like my religion. On the contrary, I think being Jewish has shaped me into who I am – it has given me and formed my values and those values inform my current viewpoints. Judaism taught me to question everything and not to take things at face value – think about Responsa, the questions we ask and how one may halachically rule on those questions. Judaism has taught me about tikkun olam – that I must work to heal, repair and transform the world and about tzedek, pursuing justice – and all of this can be applied to how I feel about the recent relations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. So, please – do not call me a traitor or naive, I do not need your hate e-mails or messages on facebook or twitter, please do not tell me I am going against my people or disowning my roots…because I have a poster of the shema hanging over my bed and a mezuzah on my door. Try, as I have, to see beyond what you have been taught in Hebrew school. Try, as I try to see beyond the side you are supposed to see. Try, as I try to see the shades of grey. It is not comfortable, it is not fun, it is does not paint a pretty picture and it is certainly not popular but it allows you the opportunity to be more informed about something you are clearly passionate about…

In the words of Kohelet-Ecclesiastes: eit livnot, there is a time to build, but Kohelet also teaches, eit lifrotz, there is a time to tear down (Eccles. 3.3).  At a time of political divisiveness and economic stress, eit livnot, walls tend to go up.  Perhaps at this time of uncertainty and fear in our peoples and nations history when we seek the comfort of family, friends and, community, eit lifrotz it is, in fact, time to pull walls down.  It’s time to tear walls down…please work to make that happen. Try to see that non-violence is the answer and that this issue can be solved through understanding and collaboratively working toward a just community.

I had intended to write about the flotillas but at this point I can’t even begin to do so… I am simply too enraged with the situation and the responses I have received from my peers, teachers and mentors. I do hope this calls attention to Israel and the human rights violations perpetrated at the hands of my people. I hope this is a wake up call for America and the rest of the world. And let’s all watch as Obama plays RA and mediates for the Israelis and Palestinians. Accountability is paramount.