Redefining Religious

originally posted on EJewish Philanthropy on September 4, 2015

I’ve tried out many answers:

“Not really.”

“Kind of.”

“I guess, but it’s not what you’d think.”

“I suppose in my own kind of way, but I’m not strict or anything.”

I can’t remember if I’ve ever just said, “Yes.” But I’ve been thinking about it.

After all, when you tell people your mother is a cantor and your father is a rabbi, it’s probably a good idea to have an answer to the oft asked question: “So, are you religious?”

It would be easier if the question was as neutral as, “Are you an outdoors person?” or “Donuts or cupcakes?” But it’s not, no matter how casually the speaker shapes their tone.

“What are you really asking?” I should reply one day, “Am I a religious freak? Do I believe in a G-d that controls everything? Am I going to judge you and your heathen ways? Do I think I’m better than you? Do I have a superhuman spirit power that can help you with your crisis?” These are the questions I imagine floating behind the lips of my inquisitor.

I don’t really want to explain all the history. That my parents were hippies. That they ran away from orthodoxy. That their Judaism and Jewish leadership has more to do with community-building and political action than pure religion. Sometimes I’ll say, “Yeah, well, my dad’s a rabbi but he doesn’t believe in G-d,” because I’ve noticed that phrase often puts people at ease. On rare occasions I have completed that sentence, adding: “…but I do.”

I’ve always loved Judaism because it meant special things: holidays with singing and dancing, delicious meals with family and friends, celebrations, community protests, youth groups. My parents never shoved a judicious G-d down my throat, but instead let the idea of G-d be something I was free to explore. I asked my mom once why we didn’t eat bread during Passover and she said, “Because then we can have the experience of doing something at the same time as Jews all over the world.” I liked that. So I stuck with it. Even as I felt embarrassed chomping on matzah in middle school or missing events because of Jewish holidays. It felt worth it.

But religion got harder in college. The Hillel on campus was certainly nothing like my leftist synagogue back home. And in my activist circles, religion was decidedly not cool. So my focus shifted for a few years, and then shifted again when I returned home after college and re-engaged with the political Jewish community.

Re-engaging with Judaism felt good. But I noticed there weren’t many other college grads looking to join organized religion. And the ones who were preferred to identify as “spiritual not religious.” I understood where they were coming from. Organized religion has been responsible for lots of terrible things. But organized religion has also produced many movers and shakers and crowds of world-changing activists.

The phrase “spiritual not religious” felt weird to me, as if there was something wrong or shameful with being religious. As if the speaker were clarifying, “I’m the good kind of Jewish person, not the annoying kind.” It felt like another way to create divisions among our people.

But I also understood why it could feel almost off-limits to identify otherwise. I have long felt that the orthodox branches of Judaism have monopolized the term religious. Am I even allowed to call myself religious? After all, I text, drive, write and carry onShabbos. I make up my own rules about kashrut and then only sometimes follow them. I don’t say all the blessings. Sometimes I forget to light Friday candles. I can never remember Torah to quote and don’t particularly enjoy text study. Plus my relationship to G-d has never been crystal clear. Do those things disqualify me for the term religious?

But I don’t feel “spiritual not religious.” I can tell that phrase just doesn’t describe me. I feel “spiritual AND religious.” Because you know what? Whatever I do on Shabbos, it feels holy and different from every other day of the week. My own kashrut rules feel special to me and being able to break them reminds me of my agency in my Jewish life. I often don’t say blessings, but I almost always say the Shehechyanu before doing things for the first time. Plus, a murky relationship to G-d is still a relationship.

It turns out my brother Lev has also struggled to define his Jewish identity. After college he began to say, “I’m religious, not spiritual,” with a hint of sass. When I asked him why he says this, he responded, “I don’t feel a strong sense of spirituality, whatever that means, but I feel a sense of attachment and connection to Jewish traditions and ritual.” We’re both working to figure something out our own way.

I am spiritual. AND I am religious. I dare anyone to tell me I’m not. It’s time for me to take back the word. The religious right no longer gets sole ownership. I love that I have chosen my own Jewish life, that it feels flexible and connected to community. I believe everyone has a right to define their own Jewish path, be that religious, spiritual, both or neither. We must embrace a more open understanding of what it means to be religious in our Jewish communities and institutions.

Maybe “religious” no longer has to mean following all the right rules, but rather a sense of commitment to one’s own religious exploration. If so, count me in.

For more on my Jewish experience, check out my piece in the just-released book “Faithfully Feminist: Jewish, Christian and Muslim Feminists on Why We Stay.” Join us in Manhattan on September 9th for a book release event.

Talia Cooper is the program director at Ma’yan in Manhattan, where she leads anti-oppression workshops for educators, parents, and high-schoolers. Contact talia@mayan.org for more information on writings and trainings. She can also be found playing music on Facebook and YouTube.

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Happy Earth Day! How Climate Change, Feminism and Shmita are all Connected

Originally posted on the Ma’yan blog on April 22, 2015

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In the mainstream, feminism is often defined as equal rights for women. Here at Ma’yan we like to take an expanded view. My co-worker Pippi Kessler says, “At its core, feminism is about yearning for a world where every person gets to be a full human being.” To me, that means that as feminists we must actively fight to ensure that people of all backgrounds not only get to survive, but actually thrive. And the truth is that we can’t thrive without a healthy planet. And that is why, in honor of Earth Day, we are talking about climate justice as a feminist issue.

In most countries, climate change is no longer a debate. Scientists understand that we have been playing fast and loose with fossil fuels and we are already starting to pay the price. If we go much longer, we’ll pay an even bigger price. And because of systems of oppression, people of color and the poor and working class pay the greatest price. Those who own fossil fuel companies along with the wealthy elite (whose money is invested in fossil fuels) are not currently feeling the devastation at all. (For more information, I highly recommend the movie, Disruption, a concise and well-made documentary released in preparation for last year’s national climate march in NYC.)

For those of us not affected by the immediate impacts, climate change is hard to regularly pay attention to. Our minds are pulled into emails, bills, advertisements, work, friends and day-to-day realities. That’s one of the reasons why attending last year’s climate march was so powerful for me. I watched all kinds of people walk, chant, sing, and display beautiful creations of art. I was reminded that we all want to survive and we all want to thrive. I was reminded that humans are totally brilliant. I believe that we will figure out elegant, creative solutions to climate change. We just have to put our minds there.

So what’s a Jewish feminist to do?

Draw from traditional practices:

Interesting that the climate action occurred during the Shmita year, the Jewish traditional seventh year in which we are commanded to release all debts owed to us and to let the land rest. I’m guessing the Shmita year would probably not be a good time to, for example, dig up new earth, lay in more pipelines, blast through more mountains, or drill deeper into the ground. It’s probably not the year to scrounge up every last bit of fossil fuel just to keep feeding our oil addiction. And if we are letting go of debt, then it’s for sure not the best time to find new enemies and start new wars. On the other hand, harnessing the power of the wind and sun seems like an excellent Shmita year activity, as does taking time off to rest and plan exciting visions for the “post-carbon economy” (as Naomi Klein calls it).

The Shmita year is also about the concept of “letting go.” So what can we let go of to end climate change?

  • Addiction to fossil fuels: including oil, plastics, and more
  • Investments in non-renewable energy
  • Greed: In this Shmita year I want to examine the places where I feel greedy. Is it with time? Food? Clothes? Travel? I don’t know what the next step is exactly, except to reflect on what my actual human needs are and how best to fulfill them
  • Isolation: the more I seclude myself from others, the less I see what is really happening in the world
  • Numbness: I want to combat numbness and face reality by doing things like going to marches and protests, sharing my feelings with friends, reading about climate change, and writing and making art about justice

Make personal changes:

I am aware that the biggest polluters and wasters are not individuals, but big corporations and industries. These are the places we need to target to effect change. But I’m still opting to make personal changes as well, and here’s why: I’m training to minimize the voice in my head that says: “You don’t matter.” Every time I reuse gray water or recycle, that voice rages loudly saying, “You’re insignificant! It won’t make a difference what you do!” But I am learning to persist. Because the quieter that voice gets, the more my thoughts and actions will be able to align, which will increase my capacity to think and do on a bigger scale. Here are just a few personal changes I’ve tried that you could consider as well:

Ultimately we know the path is about organizing to fight the institutions that perpetuate our systemic greed and over-consumption. The above lists the little steps that help prepare me for this work.

So feminists unite! We still have about five more months of the Shmita year. What can you commit to doing towards climate justice?

Talia Cooper is the program director at Ma’yan. Contact talia@mayan.org for more information on writings and trainings. She can also be found playing music.

A Call to My Beloved Jews: We Gotta Talk About Privilege

Originally posted on the Ma’yan blog on April 21st, 2015.
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Over the past year we’ve seen an increase in articles by Jews that seek to disprove the concept of privilege due to experiences of anti-Semitism. These writings upset me because they in no way represent my own beliefs as a white, female, Ashkenazi educator and activist. The articles do not acknowledge the complexity of identity that I believe is necessary for the Jewish community to embrace. Here is my response to a compilation of articles:

Dear Taffy, James, John, Seth & Tal

You have all joined the deluge of Jews venting frustration with the concept of “privilege.” I admit my temptation to pick apart your arguments line by line. The number of offensive statements makes my heart race.

But for the time being, what I’ll say is:

You’re right.

Anti-Semitism is real. It has and continues to negatively impact our Jewish people.

The leftist activist community doesn’t always do a good job acknowledging or understanding anti-Semitism.

And this is a problem.

It’s a problem because it means the left won’t have a full picture of society, which is necessary in order to build power and win. And it’s a problem because it perpetuates anti-Semitism itself.

And also: you’re wrong.

Experiencing anti-Semitism does not preclude other truths: white privilege (for Jews who are also white), class privilege (for Jews who also have wealth), male privilege, able-bodied privilege, straight and cis-gender privilege. None of these experiences of oppression trumps any other; all oppression is painful and unjust.

Sometimes it seems so simple: of course it’s possible for me as a white Jewish woman to experience sexism, white privilege and anti-Semitism all at the same time. It’s “simple” because I’ve lived it my whole life.

But sometimes breaking it down feels complex and painful. Do I really want to dive deep into my family history and investigate that the fact that we have money comes from this weird stew of running from anti-Semitism and also gaining white privilege?

In my work with Ma’yan’s Research Training Internship, a big theme we teach isintersectionality: the concept that one person can experience both oppression and privilege simultaneously. It’s complex. But it’s important.

“Privilege” is a word that sometimes scares people. But it doesn’t have to. Privilege doesn’t mean I’m bad or that my people are bad. It also doesn’t mean I’m extra good. One definition we use at Ma’yan is that privilege is a system of unearned advantages that benefits one group at the expense of others. I have to remember this or else I fall into the trap of believing I have “earned” things because I am somehow “better than” others. But that’s a lie that only further isolates me, and leads me to remain complicit in oppression.

I don’t frame this conversation as “Jewish privilege” because Jewish identity is multi-faceted and complex. When working with white Jews, I talk about the white privilege that we experience as Jews. It’s a subtle but important difference. The experience of being Jewish includes oppression—past and present. And even still some Jews have certain privileges.

It’s particularly scary for Jews to think about the idea of holding privilege because of the history of anti-Semitic tropes that say that Jews control the world and therefore their takedown is justified. But I’m not saying Jews are the most privileged.  Actually, we know that the majority of the wealthiest and most powerful people in the U.S are white Christian men. But that doesn’t mean that white Jews don’t still experience privilege. I know I do. Even at the same time as anti-Semitism.

When as Jews we don’t understand intersectionality, it’s a problem for everyone. Not understanding intersectionality means white Jews are more likely to assume a uniform Jewish experience, which keeps us from appreciating the richness of our diversity and perpetuates racism not only to non-Jews but also to Jews of color within our community (not to mention classism, homophobia, ableism and more). Not understanding intersectionality also leads us to believe the myth of exceptionalism: seeing ourselves as the most oppressed, which only serves to further isolate us from the people and movements we could actually be working with. Anti-Semitism is not our fault and it is not our (sole) responsibility to end. But by staying in our narrative of victimhood, we essentially leave ourselves alone and stuck, and we damage other communities along with our own.(For a fuller list of why Jews MUST understand privilege and intersectionality, click here).

“When my Jewishness comes into conflict with my whiteness, I’m not effective in challenging racism,” said educator Randy Clancy in a recent workshop for a group of social justice educators that Ma’yan convenes. We have to embrace all parts of our identity to do the work.

Talking about privilege is just a start. The point isn’t just to recognize it, but to understand our place in fighting for racial justice and ending oppression for all people.

The left also has some responsibility. If lefties don’t understand that anti-Semitism is real, it leaves Jews feeling like they have to prove it over and over again, as we have seen in the articles I linked in the salutation. And wouldn’t it be nice if the right-wing didn’t have a monopoly on defining anti-Semitism for once?

So: Anti-Semitism is real. White privilege is real. Racism is real. These things are linked, but they are not all the same and cannot be compared. Sometimes it makes sense to focus on one while not abandoning the other, and at this moment in U.S history, I see way too many murders of black people to stand idly by. When I say Black Lives Matter, this in no way negates my commitment to ending anti-Semitism. It is not about oppression hierarchies, though we do need to examine the fact that this country was economically built on racism. Ultimately, I believe our liberation is connected. So let’s get to work.

With love,

Talia

P.S. There are lots of great resources put out by leftist people and communities. April Rosenblum wrote a great pamphlet about anti-Semitism and the left. Ngoc Loan TranAsam Ahmad, and others have written beautifully about ending in-fighting among the left.Paul Kivel has also written about being both white and Jewish and showing up in the fight for racial justice. There’s a lot of good thinking out there. Let’s stay in it together.

Talia Cooper is the program director at Ma’yan. Contact talia@mayan.org for more information on writings and trainings. She can also be found playing music.

I Never Dreamed of a White Christmas: On Gilmore Girls and Christian hegemony

Originally posted on the Ma’yan blog on December 16th, 2014
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On October 25th I heard my first Christmas song of the season. I’m not exaggerating. A week later, said song weaseled its way deeper into my brain, nested, and made only brief escapes out the hum on my lips. Damn.  Christmas.

Recently I’ve been bit by the Gilmore Girls bug. Yes, it’s true, I hopped straight on that Netflix binge-watching bandwagon of the TV show featuring the fast-sass-talking, big-eating, small-town-living ways of Lorelai and Rory. As a pop culture-loving feminist, I note things like the racist portrayal of Mrs. Kim and how the fat person is characterized as clumsy, and file them in my brain under “TV references of racism/sizeism I could use in a workshop one day.”

Here at Ma’yan we’ve been reading Penny Rosenwasser and Paul Kivel. We are learning about anti-Semitism and also Christian hegemony—the system that normalizes the Christian experience, and marginalizes all other religions. Just a few light topics that were on my mind as I watched the Gilmore Girls. The portrayal of Jews in the show is certainly cringe-worthy; there’s Brad (a minor character), the dorky, unlovable schoolmate, and then there’s Paris, the hypertensive, hyper-competitive, hyper-allergic, power-grabbing rival of Rory. Yikes. That’s some serious brain-file material. But for me, the real ick moment occurred in Season 3.

In Season 3 (episode 10), Paris’ boyfriend invites her to celebrate Christmas. When she returns, Rory asks about it. Paris gets this dreamy look as she relays the scene: wreaths everywhere, a 12 foot tree, the wafting smell of cinnamon, the eggnog, the cider, “It wasn’t just nice,” she says, “It was perfect.” She explains to Rory: “I never had a Christmas tree before. One year I asked my mom if we could get a Chanukah bush, and she made me watch Shoah the rest of the week.” She then continues: “I’m looking at this mound of gifts and I’m thinking, eight days of Chanukah? Who’s the skinflint that thought of that deal?” “Don’t the eight days symbolize something?” Rory asks. “Yes, they symbolize eight days of ripping off the little kids who can’t have a Chanukah bush,” Paris retorts. “You’re making me sad,” Rory says. The scene ends with Paris declaring her commitment to return for Easter.

Watching this dialogue unfold I felt queasy, and I realized: that’s it. That is exactly my fear: that Christmas celebrators everywhere walk around feeling sorry for Jews and all those who miss out on the quintessential American experience, and that if we are lucky enough to get to celebrate Christmas, we’ll feel whole, restored, and at last accepted.

Like Paris, I too have been welcomed into a Christmas celebration by someone I was dating. The meal was fun, and I enjoyed it like I do any holiday dinner with family. Adorning the tree was sweet, rather like decorating a Sukkah. The presents felt overwhelming. The fireplace was lovely. Stuffing stockings was awesome. I did not feel wistful or deprived for never having gotten this before. I have never secretly longed for tinsel and candy canes, for jingle bells and reindeers. Jews every year talk about how annoying it is that people say ‘Merry Christmas,’ or even ‘Happy Holidays’ (because we know what that actually means). But that’s not my real beef here. For me, the issue is that Christians think I want it. I have never felt short-changed in my dearth of Christmas celebrations. As a woman I don’t have penis-envy, and as a Jew I sure as hell (pun intended) don’t have cross-envy.

This is what Christian hegemony does—it normalizes the lives of Christians, and it makes it seem like the experience everyone has, or should have, or at the very least should want. And some do. But not all of us.

I should clarify: I am not the Semitic Lorax. I do not speak for the Jews. There are plenty of Jews who have longed for Christmas, who love Christmas songs and decorating ginger bread houses. There is truly nothing wrong with that. Not to mention the many multi-faith households that embrace multiple traditions as their own. I’m all for it. But multi-faith households that include Christians are not adding tradition where there was none before, but rather layering on to an already beautiful tapestry. For me, learning new traditions doesn’t make me feel like I’ve been missing out all along.

So here’s my message to Christians: just because this holiday is the federally recognized one, the one associated with the religion that fuels so many of the thoughts, opinions and attitudes in this country, does NOT make it the holiday we all inwardly wish we were celebrating. But I do wish you the very best, and I’ll gladly partake in a little eggnog and cookies (if you’re offering, that is).

An Alternative Al Chet/Confession List*–For Parents and Educators of Jewish Girls

This piece was originally published on the Ma’yan blog on September 29th, 2014
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A new year is coming: a time to reflect, refresh, renew. We have raised our children as best we could, given them the tools they need to grow strong and thriving, shown them love as only we know how. Yet we too have missed the mark.

We have missed the mark by exercising power

We have been jealous, incredulous or doubtful of young peoples’ power

We have pushed youth to take on more more more

We have left youth alone too much

We have missed the mark through our inner thoughts

We have told young people to love their bodies while silently poking and prodding at our own flaws in the mirror

We have idealized the beauty of youth

We have experienced feeling unheard, unnoticed, misunderstood, and perpetuated this feeling onto the next generation

We have missed the mark through harsh speech and hard-heartedness

We have made scoffing remarks about “kids these days”

We have told young people they’ll understand when they’re older, to do something because we said so, or to wait until they’re in the real world

We have been too terrified to ask young people about the things we know are on their minds: bodies, sex, sexuality, social life, money…

We have made decisions about how young people should spend their time, without their consultation

 

We have missed the mark without thinking

We have neglected to model the possibility of living life to its fullest vibrancy, at every stage, at every age

We have not involved enough men in the rearing of children

We have not modeled relaxation and self-care

We have missed the mark by degrading parents and teachers

We have forgotten to see our relationships with young people as a two-way street, with infinite potential

We have missed the mark by denial and false promises

We have passively watched the media parade pictures of photoshopped women, flaunt princess narratives and promise better lives with more purchases, without rising up and fighting back

We have pushed our own hopes and agendas onto the next generation

We have been uninvolved in the fights against racism, climate change, homophobia and other important issues, with the hope that the next generation would take care of it

We have missed the mark by arrogance

We have cared more about being liked and cool than being a real ally to young people

We have allowed logistics, schedules and to do lists to get in the way of genuine connection time with the young folks in our lives

We have missed the mark by confusion of the heart

We have neglected to reflect on our own inner-child, to offer her the same nurturing we provide to the young people in our lives

We have been hard on ourselves, we have not forgiven ourselves for the mistakes we have made, we have not reminded ourselves that we too deserves compassion

For all of these things and more, help us find the strength to forgive and keep going. Help us remember that we are not alone in this loving, necessary, difficult and communal work of raising up the next generation.

*A traditional Al Chet/Confession List is read communally during the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur

Talia Cooper is Ma’yan‘s Program Director.  Contact talia@mayan.org

A Visible Jew (segmented)

The following post is a segment from a longer piece I wrote. The full version can be found here.

The morning of Sukkot, the 8 day Jewish fall harvest festival, my co-worker at JYCA and I set up a sukkah—an open, temporary shelter—at Occupy Oakland. We figured we’d put it out of the way, in a corner of the plaza. Several hours later we returned with friends and community members to finish decorating and to share a Sukkot meal. The following is the dialogue that ensued between us, the sukkah decorators, and other occupiers. I’ll use conversational quotes for what was actually said, and italics for what I thought of saying, but refrained from.

Person from Child Care Committee: “Hey, so we just had a meeting and we felt like it would actually be safest if the child care tent is where your tent is located. So we’d like to ask you to move.” My co-sukkah-decorators start to tense up.

Me: “Of course, we’d be happy to move, can we just change places?” Yes! An opportunity to prove that Jews can share land! Great!

We un-stake our sukkah, pull out the carpets, and—like a wedding chuppah—pick it up and move it over. Re-stake, re –put in the carpets, re-hang disheveled decorations.

Person from Crisis Tent Committee: “Hey so we just had a meeting, and it seems that someone told us that we could have the spot you’re in.”

Me: “Okay” umm…Someone? England?!

Same Person from Crisis Tent Committee: “Yeah, so we’d like to ask you to move. It looks like you just moved here and we hate to ask you to move again, but I think we need that spot so we can be near first aid. I’m not sure where exactly you can go, but I’m sure there is somewhere.”

Me: “That makes sense.” Somewhere? Like….Uganda?!

Crisis Tent: “Yeah. So, I don’t really know where.”

Me: “Well could we go there?” I gesture close by.

Crisis Tent: “I’m not really sure if that will work, we’d like to keep our options open for where we can go and where other tents can set up. But you look pretty mobile, maybe you could go one place and just be willing to keep moving?”

Oy. We ain’t doing this for 40 years, I can tell you that much.

Co-Sukkah decorator: “Well, I mean, we’d sort of like to settle somewhere.”

Oy. “Settle.” We didn’t mean it like that!

Me (determined): “Well I’m sure we can work together on this and find a place for everyone.”

And in the end we do. We pick up, re-shuffle, move about and wind up with a spot ring-side to the general assembly. All I can do is laugh.

I wish I could say that was the end of it. Spending a lot of time sitting in a Sukkah makes me very visibly Jewish. Visible in a lefty movement that has stood actively against homophobia, transphobia, ableism, racism, sexism and more…. But has not yet claimed anti-semitism either consciously (for not wanting to go anywhere near the “I” word…Israel) or unconsciously (for not having Jews or the oppression of Jews on their radar).  I have spent a lot of time sitting in my Occupy Sukkah, being as inviting as I can possibly muster, to prove Jews belong in this movement. This has meant some of the following things to people at Occupy Oakland:

– that I must immediately want to talk about Israel/Palestine

– that I should be careful not to attract the “AIPAC-type-Jews”

– that I am the exception among Jews as a radical

– that I am hitting on them (the passerby) and want to sleep with them and they should therefore hit on me

– that I am risking taking away from the movement by bringing my Jewish Stuff

– that I am doing a really great thing by both bringing Jews together and creating a peaceful space in the Occupy movement for all to come rest (in the only open tent on site)

As the last one suggests, there has been a lot of beautiful moments. Many people have thanked me for creating the sukkah, for sleeping in it, for being so welcoming to all. I have made many new friends by inviting strangers into the Sukkah. And it’s been hard too. The combination of wanting so badly to help Jews be seen as good and important to the movement, while simultaneously needing to not seem too welcoming so that men get the wrong idea… is exhausting. And it’s a familiar combination of anti-semitism and sexism I have experienced in my life. It has become clear to me that this must be when you call on your allies for support. And fortunately, there are many allies in this movement. And though I think many Jews could site individual incidents of anti-semitism, as a whole, this movement has not gone in that direction. This is quite a victory given that oppressive forces get set up to blame the Jews when things get hard.

Give us time. We’re new at this. And we’ve been living under capitalism. (segmented)

The following post is a segment from a longer piece I wrote. The full version can be found here.

Sometimes I hesitate to tell people about the hard parts of Occupy Oakland. About the sexism and anti-semitism. The racism and cultural appropriation I have seen. The male domination. Or even how my phone got stolen there. Because I want this movement so badly. And I want everyone to want it. We are the 99% after all.

As is often the case, it seems like anyone will jump on a chance to discredit a movement. To me, there is something adultist about this. In my work with JYCA, we talk about “adultism” as the system of oppression that targets young folks. As young people we deeply believe in justice and activism, but as we grow older, we get the message not to be hopeful, and to belittle the hope of the new generation. So when we see a whole group of people rising up for a movement, I think that that part of us that got shot down is ready to do the same to others. We resist being hopeful. It feels scary to get excited only to be slammed again. But I actually think we’re strong enough to be hopeful. If things don’t go exactly as we want them to—it’s okay. We can cope with that. Why not get hopeful? Why not be that young person jumping up and down with excitement for justice?

So I think I can be honest. There are problems. It’s not perfect. The goals haven’t been figured out so precisely. Some people haven’t undergone all the JYCA trainings on oppression and liberation. What I keep telling people is: give us time. We’ve been living in an oppressive capitalist system our whole lives. The Occupy Together Movement has lasted just over a month. We’ve got a lot of layers of numbness, competition, greed and anger to work through to really get at our core visions and desires for human connection.

Judaism teaches us that it is possible to work in the present moment while envisioning an ideal future- the time of the Messiah. And there is a teaching that says Shabbat, the holiest holyday, is just a small taste of what the Messiah is like. It sustains us, so we can keep working for that vision of justice.

My dad always tells me about a time in the 70s when he attended a “celebration of the end of the Vietnam war” 5 years before the Vietnam war actually ended. It was a brilliant protest strategy considering how much activists can get bogged down with despair.

So I wonder- maybe that’s what we’re doing here at Occupy- celebrating an end to capitalism, a few years before it actually ends. Maybe we’re giving ourselves a taste of the Messiah, just to keep us working for justice. And we’ve just gotten started. Who knows how rich this could get?