Project Rozana/Wheels of Hope Bring Together Three Faiths in One Common Good

For Jews and Muslims in the Holy Land, this May was supposed to be a time of hope. Instead, people of both faiths found themselves praying for peace while the armed forces of the Israeli Defense Force and Hamas/Palestine aimed rockets at targets, with civilians caught in the middle. Indeed, “sometimes, even in the darkest of moments, there are points of light that give hope for a brighter future.” Project Rozana is one of those flickering lights, for people of both groups.

Rozana is a nine-year-old Palestinian girl who was severely wounded in the ongoing conflict there. A group of young Palestinian men took her to a hospital in Israel, where she would get the lifesaving care she needed. Israeli doctors train their Palestinian counterparts in emergency medicine.

Project Rozana takes a three-pronged approach:

  • Train. They train Palestinian health professionals in Israeli hospitals, to return and build community health capacities, particularly identified gaps.
  • Transport. They transport Palestinian patients from checkpoints in Gaza and the West Bank to hospitals in Israel, with NGO partners.
  • Treat. They treat critically ill Palestinian children in Israeli hospitals when Palestinian Authority funding reaches its limit, as well as from centers of conflict.

In short, Project Rozana seeks to “build bridges to better understanding between Israelis and Palestinians through health.” Maestro Zubin Mehta explains:

Hadassah Road to Recovery Campaign from Hadassah Australia on Vimeo.

July 7: Night of Action

Faith leaders (Muslim, Jewish, and Christian), elected officials, and activists have pledged their commitment to Project Rozana’s mission and the Wheels of Hope campaign. This event will take place on Wednesday, July 7, 8:00 EDT, on Zoom. Please join this interfaith group! Register online here.

If you missed the event, it has been recorded and can now be streamed here.

Please Donate to Be Part of This Movement for Peace

Donate to Project Rozana’s Wheel of Hope Campaign:
USA Donors
Canadian Donors

The Joyful Noise of Rebirth and Renewal

A colored illustration depicts a seventeen-year cicada hanging upside down from a thorn bush. The insect is black, with large red eyes, and translucent wings with deep red veins.
This lovely rendition of the seventeen-year cicada is by Robert Evans Snodgrass, 1930.

Rebirth after a long period of slumber. That sentiment could reflect the current feeling of hope and optimism as we wake up from the long hiatus of the COVID-19 lockdown. For 2021, it can also describe the re-emergence of Magicicada, the seventeen-year cicada.

“Since ancient times, the cicada has been seen as a symbol of resurrection, an association that owes to its fascinating life cycle,” according to a thoughtful blog piece of the Smithsonian National Museum of Asian Art. “This process was seen as an analogy for the spirits of the dead rising on a path to eternal existence in a transcendent realm. In the Han dynasty, jade amulets shaped like cicadas were placed on the tongues of corpses, no doubt to symbolize a hope for rebirth and immortality.”

“They are here to sing a love song. Their only purpose among the green leaves is love,” says New York Times columnist Margaret Renkl. “And you will be surrounded by reminders that the darkest tunnels always bend, in time, toward the light. That resurrection is always, always at hand.”

A lot has happened since these marvelous creatures last appeared. Then, again, maybe not. Nevertheless, we can always follow the lure of Magicicada and hope that things will get better in the long run.

Let us take time to admire all these wonderful, decidedly weird creatures with their huge red eyes, and everything they represent.

She Made Light and Saw It Was Good.

A young Black woman smiles as she poses in front of the Library of Congress. She has long, thick braids and wears silver earings.
Amanda Gorman has always loved books. She smiles in front of the Library of Congress. Photo by LOC. in the public domain.

On the first day, there was light, and the light was good. When the light was from the darkness, there was morning, the first day.

The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it.

With those majestic words, Amanda Gorman, the youngest poet to perform for a new president being sworn in, closed her soaring poem “The Hill We Climb,” and inaugurated the hope of a new day. Ms. Gorman acknowledged her speech disability; saying these beautiful words took as much effort and perseverance as courage. This poem will appear in the highly anticipated volume of the same name. Furthermore, she said, “Maya Angelou was mute growing up as a child and she grew up to deliver the inaugural poem for President Bill Clinton.” The ring she wore was of a caged bird, given to her by Oprah Winfrey, a beloved mentor and role model for her.

Amanda Gorman will certainly become a role model for many children to come.

In this screen shot of a tweet by Barack Obama, Amanda Gorman recites her poetry. She wears a yellow suit and bright red cap.

At age 19, Amanda Gorman was the nation’s first National Youth Poet Laureate. A New York Times article two years ago showcased and animated two of her early poems, both of which elevated Black cultural consciousness: “Old Jim Crow Got to Go” and “Waiting for the Gourd Moon.”

Ms. Gorman has written also written a children’s book, Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem. Loren Long is the illustrator, whos art graces Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters, by Barack Obama. (That book will be reviewed in this space soon.) President Obama has a well-deserved reputation for relating to children.

In this screen shot of a tweet a little white boy embraces a little black girl as they watch Amanda Gorman deliver her poetry at the Biden Inauguration.

For now, at this precious moment, Ms. Gorman is their future, and our future.

Yes, There Is a Santa Claus. And He Is Coming to Town

This collage comprises two photos. On the left is Doctor Anthony Fauci. On the right is Santa Claus. Doctor Fauci is an older man with short silver hair. He wears a dark suit, white shirt, and dark blue tie.
Portrait of Dr. Anthony Fauci from NIAID (2020); Portrait of Santa Claus by Jonathan G. Meat.
Both photos are in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

After suffering anxiety and uncertainty, children everywhere are reassured that a beloved figure will be there for them. There won’t be lines at the store, no soft lap to sit on. But one thing won’t go away: that sense of love, the greatest gift of all. This in a year they have suffered so much loss. One company, StoryFile, allows children to “interview” their hero with its app and ask him any of 180 questions. The Intelligence may be Artificial, but the Santa’s love is real. Just go to AskSanta.com.

On November 20, the Good Doctor told USA Today, “…Santa, of all the good qualities, has a lot of innate immunity. So, Santa is not going to be spreading any infections to anybody.” Doctors across the U.S. agreed, adding that Santa is taking all precautions. Though children won’t be able to line up for him, they will be able to track his progress via NORAD, as they have done in years past.



Dr. Maria Van Kerkove of the World Health Organization, said that despite his older age, Santa is immune to this virus. Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said Santa has been cleared from his country’s air space. Santa is alive and well in Finland; he wants children to be safe and celebrate the most wonderful aspect of Christmas, spending time together with family. And virtually, the man who mastered going down chimneys has to learn to navigate something more challenging: Zoom.

Independence… Slavery… Exhaustion… Hope

Frederick_Douglass

Frederick Douglass (1818-1895)

This year, Independence Day is being observed at a time we have seen protests and calls for systemic reforms, across the U.S. and around the world. N.P.R. published this remarkable short film, in which five young descendants of Frederick Douglass read and respond to excerpts of one of famous speeches, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” Mr. Douglass and his descendants ask that everyone to consider America’s long history of unequal rights among Black Americans.

 

“This is the 4th of July,” says Haley Rose Watson. “It is the birthday of your national independence and of your political freedom.”

“Oppression makes a wise man mad,” Isidore Dharma Douglass Skinner continues, as he recites the speech. “Your fathers were wise men, and if they did not go mad, they became restive under this treatment.”

“With brave men, there is always a remedy for oppression,” adds Zoë Douglass Skinner. “They succeeded, and today you reap the fruits of their success,” continues Isidore.

But, these descendants continue with Douglass’s wise words. “Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us?” I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mineYou may rejoice, I must mourn.”

“We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.”

Yet, “I do not despair of this country.”

. . .

“It is extremely relevant, especially with today’s protests,” says Isidore.

“There are certain tactics you need to use to get people to really hear your voice,” adds Haley.

“I know a lot of people are now are saying that it’s not as bad as it could be,” says Alexa Anne Watson.

“While the Fourth of July does not mean the same to me as it does to others, I wouldn’t say that it has no meaning,” cautions Zoë. “But I would say that it’s not the time when I gained my freedom.”

Though Frederick Douglass still had a lot hope, “I’m getting to the point in my life, where I’m only 20 years old and exhausted,” says Douglass, expressing his concern as to whether we will ever get to the point for freedom among Black Americans. And yet, “…I think that there is hope, and I think it’s important that we celebrate Black joy and Black life, and we remember that change is possible. Change is probable. And that there’s hope,” says Isidore.

. . .

This piece was inspired by This Is Whitman, Alabama, a project by Jennifer Crandall that re-imagines life in the South today, as envisioned by Walt Whitman in his poem “Song of Myself.”

. . .

Furthermore, it is interesting to note that Yale recently acquired a collection of items of the Frederick Douglass, includes “rarely seen family scrapbooks that offer a window onto his complicated private life.”

 

From Light to Darkness to Light: A Time for Hope

By sheer coincidence, the Torah portion (parsha) reading for Shabbat following the inauguration is Shemot, the first five chapters of the book of Exodus. Anyone who has taken part in a Passover Seder will be familiar with much of the meaning of Exodus. The story is one of darkness, followed by redemption and light, ending on a note of faith in great things to come.

 

Turning Curses into Blessings

In the aftermath of what must be the most depressing and nasty election campaigns in U.S. history, capped by a very dark inaugural address, the story of Exodus gives hope. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in December 2015 wrote an inspirational commentary on this very parsha, “Turning Curses into Blessings.” He remarks on how the book of Genesis ends on “almost a serene note.” Then there was a new Pharaoh, who set into motion oppression against the people of Israel. Then, continues Rabbi Sacks, “But the more they were oppressed, the more they increased and the more they spread.” In other words, he says, “The worse things get, the stronger we become.”

david_roberts-israelitesleavingegypt_1828

“Departure of the Israelites,” by David Roberts, 1829 Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

womens_march_2017-01_12

Women’s March, by VOA Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The multitudes of the Israelites said they would not have any more of Pharaoh’s oppression and embarked on a great march. On Saturday, January 21, the day immediately after the inauguration of President Trump, people across the nation and around the world declared they would not stand for the erosion of civil rights his rhetoric and views represent. The story of the protests, like the book of Exodus, offers much reason to hope, for us in the present and, more important, our children in the future.

The book of Exodus tells of suffering under an oppressive tyrant. For the Israelites, things get worse before they get better. However, in the end, they—with divine intervention—rid themselves of Pharaoh.

640px-the_crossing_fo_the_red_sea

“Crossing the Red Sea,” by Nicholas Poussin

israels_escape_from_egypt

Israel’s Escape from Egypt (illustration from a Bible card published 1907 by the Providence Lithograph Company)

 

Hardening One’s Heart

Pharaoh’s heart became harder with each passing plague set upon the Egyptians. During the initial plagues, Pharaoh had the opportunity to let the Israelites go. Eventually, however, God took away Pharaoh’s free will, hardening his heart for him.

tissot_moses_speaks_to_pharaoh

Jacques Joseph Tissot, Moses Speaks to Pharaoh (watercolor circa 1896–1902)

Because everyone is capable of redemption, Pharaoh had one last chance at the Sea of Reeds. With his heart ever hardened, he led his troops into the sea. I find myself asking what will happen to President Trump’s heart. Will his heart soften, or will he lead his followers into the salty depths?

 

Speaking for All People

In this parsha, Chapter 4 (verses 10 through 17), Moses tells God, “Please, O Lord, I have never been a man of words, either in times past or now that You have spoken to your servant; I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” (Jewish Publication Society Tanakh translation). The text continues: “And the Lord said to him, ‘Who gives man speech? Who makes him dumb or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?'”

tissot_moses_and_aaron_speak_to_the_people

Jacques Joseph Tissot, Moses and Aaron Speak to the People (watercolor circa 1896–1902)

In other words, all people—despite their disability—are equal in God’s creation. His brother, Aaron, assists him with speaking, but eventually it is Moses who leads his people out of darkness to a land of milk and honey.

Thank You, President Obama

President_Barack_Obama.jpg

Calendars everywhere proclaim today, January 20, 2017, as Inauguration Day. As someone who is dedicated to advocating for children, as well as people with disabilities and other marginalized communities (e.g., African Americans, Latinos, immigrants, and LGBT people), for me today is a day to say good bye to a champion of these groups, to thank him and the First Family for all they have done. Barack Obama has been a man of action, a man of words and conviction, and a role model.

Clearly, Obama touched the lives of so many Americans who wrote to him. He took it upon himself to answer at least ten letters a day. Some of the letters were angry. Yet, Obama took the time to respond with hope and empathy.

Indeed, the First Family was “a master class in dignity and civility.” But “Did we learn what they taught?”  

Ellen DeGeneres, likewise a figure of humor and grace, gave an eight-year retrospective tribute to the president she said she loved as much as admired:

 

My “Obama moment”? There are so many, but his rendition of “Amazing Grace” at the AME Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina, after the horrific hate crime shooting of the church’s pastor and congregants engaged in a Bible study will forever haunt me. As will Barack Obama’s tearful speech after the unspeakable shooting and murder of innocent children and their teachers in Newtown, Connecticut.

OK, that was many years after I read his two books, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance and The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream. The year 2008 seemed like a time in which we, with the life-affirming optimism of the child, could dare to dream and hope.

Obama’s January 10 farewell speech was magic.

As was his letter of farewell, in which he said, “And when the arc of progress seems slow, remember: America is not the project of any one person. The single most powerful word in our democracy is the word ‘We.’ ‘We the People.’ ‘We shall overcome.’ Yes, we can.”

And one more time from his Obama Foundation, he and Michelle, thanked the nation.

His legacy was erased from the White House website as soon as Mr. Trump took the oath of office. Fortunately, it has been preserved in archives. And Barack Obama invites people to share their thoughts with him.

I no longer follow @POTUS on Twitter. It’s now @POTUS44. And @FLOTUS44. No longer @Whitehouse, but @ObamaWhiteHouse, White House Archived.

 

Barack Obama has reason to thank this great nation. However, I want to thank him and his wonderful family.

Yes, we can.

For that, President Obama, I am thankful.