Monthly Archives: March 2010

Hag Sameach, Happy Passover

For those of you who are Jewish and know enough Hebrew– Hag Sameach, happy holiday.  For everyone, happy Passover, which to me means spring and a time to celebrate and reflect on the goodness of life and the importance of and hope for liberation– successful liberation efforts for all people. 

We were guests at a wonderful first night of Passover seder (the dinner and telling of the Passover story that you do yourselves in yours or someone else’s home) last night.  Two women who I love and who love us and the three of us and 16 other people ranging in age from 90 to my daughter’s age of 8– as the youngest.  She is on spring break right now and yesterday I left her with a friend who is a native Spanish speaker– and who has known my daughter since she was 8 months old.  Now she is 8 years old and when I left they were speaking Spanish with each other, as she does with many people now.  Then last night, after just a few months of religious school– she chanted the Four Questions– part of the Passover service– in Hebrew, and took her turn reading aloud from the Haggadah– the Passover story, in English.  She was nervous beforehand, but ready to do it, and beaming and proud and I couldn’t have been any prouder of her.  I mean I could not have been any prouder of her!  I don’t do things like remember to videotape her big moment, but there she was, where she belongs, right at the center of things. 

As I find I often write here, this is more update and less the short pieces or longer pieces I would like to write about the meaning of Passover to me, the troubling things about the state of things in Israel and Gaza and the West Bank right now; the troubling and often unseen state of Jewish oppression as it still operates in the world; the meaning of family and what it is like to live so far from home, from my mother and sister and nephews and the rest of the family– not the piece I want to write about the meaning being so lovingly wrapped up with some of my chosen family members– or about what I think about the fact that my daughter has such a beautiful and yet unusual extended family, and takes such a beautiful space in the midst of all of them.  Not the reflections about how she has often to navigate often being the only person of color around (she was not the only, last night).  But consider this a place marker for more discussion and writing on all of the above. 

If you are Jewish or connected to Jews and Judaism, have a very happy Passover week.  If you are neither, I  welcome you to find a way to be sure to be part of a Jewish seder sometime– and to think this week about liberation– your own and that of others in the world.  To quote someone no longer living, but who taught me a great portion of what I currently know or understand about the work of ending oppression and of liberation– the only right-minded attitude is “always pleased, never satisfied.”  By this I think he meant that we have many victories and acts of principle and humanness, many accomplishments and moments of courage to celebrate.  We can be pleased with ourselves and the work we have done so far.  And we don’t get to be satisfied until the job is done– until every person is free and the world set right in every corner. 

We are off this afternoon– the three of us, to another city to meet my old friend L, who has traveled from the West Coast with  one of her daughters– we will have an adventure together, carry our matzoh and eat it instead of bread and celebrate being family all together and when we come home, my sister and her oldest son will come visit from still another city and our home will be even more home with them in it.

Poetry and mothering

There things I want to write here are now coming faster than I can find time to write.  It is interesting to me that one thing about writing is that it doesn’t actually “clear” your brain of ideas.  Like pruning a plant, it makes more grow.  Two weeks ago today, at the festival called Split this Rock (a festival of poetry of provocation and witness) I went to a morning workshop called “Birth and the Politics of Motherhood in Poetry”.  The panel was Patricia Smith, Diana Garcia, Alicia Ostriker and Melisa Cahnman-Taylor.  Motherhood.  Poetry.  What do you think of?  Patricia Smith read a poem called “Scribe” from her collection Teahouse of the Almighty, about her son’s work as a jailhouse writer while serving time in prison.  Diana Garcia read a poem about crossing the border into Mexico when she was a young and poor mother and her infant son needed antibiotics that she couldn’t afford to buy here.  I have not stopped thinking about these women, about these motherings, about the need for the voices of mothering– of the majority of the mothers of the world, of every mother.

Why I’m still thinking about student council

The thing about writing like this, is that pieces, like, Student Council, third Grade, or like At the Table are neat, self-contained stories about something.  At least kind of.  But they aren’t really self-contained, besides being a telling about something, they are my/our real lives too and much as I hoped the things that troubled me would simply end when I hit “publish” and posted them, they don’t end there at all.  These stories are stories of lives that actually go on and on. 

My daughter still struggles with real life, day-to-day things that have, among other things, racism at the root.  I have figured out a few more things about keeping her hopeful and interested and not resigned about her wish to be on the student council.  I know the racism in the whole student council thing isn’t intentional; and it isn’t the same as generations of poverty, police brutality, shattered families or no health care.  But it is one corner, one piece of racism and I don’t like it landing on my daughter or anyone else’s son or daughter either. 

There were two meetings at school in the past two months, and I must write about them; they were moving to me and deeply, deeply hopeful.  They were meetings that came about and were initiated by a black heritage committee at our school, which is, as most things that happen in public schools are, committees of women.  Mothers.  In this case, black mothers wanting to talk about why things are the way they are for their black sons and daughters.  In this case, these women had been meeting and talking as a group of black women, for a while before they finally called this meeting.  It is another piece for still another time, to write how I landed at these two meetings and what I felt and learned.  How amazing the two meetings were and how honored I was to be present; to listen and learn and what an honor it was to be surrounded by the minds of the women who invited me.  One of the things that bubbled up was not just my daughter’s Student Council story, but the story of another mother’s child– a black son who had tried for many years, before succeeding to be elected to the Student Council– and that mother’s slow awareness of what might be going on. 

Then several weeks after those meetings happened, it snowed and snowed here and on one of our snow days, I ran into still another mother– a mother like me who is a white Jewish woman whose child is a young girl of color.  We got to talking about something– and I was going to keep it to myself, but I ventured that my daughter had wanted to be on the student council and what I was thinking about all of that.  And she had a similar story about her daughter, and it seemed to be helpful to her, affirming, for me to say, “I think there is an issue here.”

Last week, in our school’s weekly newsletter, there was a little discussion of the fine work of our current student council and this list was published– a list of “qualities” of leaders.   It was published to be food for thought to “foment” more leadership.  The list bugged me.  Bothered me.  It seemed the same old thing– a cheery, vague list that is really about getting our children to behave better or to act right, and that seems to imply that if everyone has a good, respectable attitude and manners, things will all fall into place.  A list that doesn’t face what goes on around us and that doesn’t challenge us as adults to look at the world they are growing up in and to try to tackle the hardest, harshest conditions and make them change for our children.  As though the crushing racism, violence, and inequity in the world is caused by a lack of politeness.  So I wrote my own list about what I think adults need to do on behalf of young people to we need to do, among other things, to begin to undo some of this.  Here is the school newsletter list:

  • Leaders have a solid foundation in basic skills
  • Leaders are curious about the world
  • Leaders have a strong work ethic
  • Leaders look toward others who may be older, more knowledgeable and wiser to mentor them through the rough spots in life
  • Leaders know and value team work
  • Leaders are problem solvers
  • Leaders consider varying points of view
  • Leaders believe that greater privileges bring great greater responsibilities
  • Leaders nurture their regard for others by being honest, fair, humble, compassionate, kind, courteous
  • Leaders take pride in their work
  • Leaders believe in themselves
  • Leaders go the extra mile

And here is mine–aimed not at the children, but as us, the adults setting the stage for them to be themselves– to reach for each other and to live in a school that models something different about the value of each person.  My list also, falls far short of addressing violence and poverty and all the isms that fall on our children, but it is an attempt at something different.  So here it is.

  • Every single child should be encouraged to think of herself or himself as a leader.
  • Having the opportunity to take many leadership roles throughout the life of a student is important for every child.  Parents and staff should work together to ensure that our children don’t get “tracked” into either thinking of themselves as the obvious leaders, or thinking of themselves as children who aren’t the leaders, aren’t going to be leaders.
  • Every child has many interesting ideas and perspectives to contribute – from his or her own unique perspective.
  • Student Council should be a chance to experiment with a wide range of different ideas, perspectives—a place for children to experiment with their own thinking; it should be a place where the thinking about what students can do together, what is interesting and what is valuable should become broader and broader over time as a result of broad participation. 
  • In keeping with our values around diversity, our school should be a place to encourage a wide range of participation in all kinds of leadership; if we aren’t seeing a wide range of students participating, we need to do some course correction.
  • Participation on the Student Council should involve students who reflect the diversity of our school—all races, boys and girls, students who fall everywhere in the range of academic achievement, children with and without disabilities, students who come from a wide array of ethnic backgrounds, class backgrounds, family backgrounds, etc.

What are the principles, the ideas that you think, if we adopted, would make things meaningfully different for our young people growing up?


Ines, a mama reader from a place very dear to my heart, comments that the photo I posted is just what she imagines New York City to look like.  So clearly, I was not clear at all.  Oops.  The photo across the top of the blog and from yesterday’s second post Unfoiled, is not only not Little Italy in New York City– it is not New York City at all— because I live in an entirely different city.  But it is a photo from my neighborhood.  And funny, but with that little slice across the top, I can see beauty in that couple of blocks near my apartment that I have never seen before.  Thank you, Ines.

Unfoiled. Persistence and a small tech success

Here, above and below, is the successful result of my renewed effort to upload a header photo that is not of Little Italy in NYC ,  where I do not live (as previously pictured), but is instead, a photo looking down the main drag of the business area that is exactly one block from our apartment.  (I include the full image below so you can see what I was writing about in this post, even if I later change my mind about the header photo.)  This is the street I walk out to when I go to catch a bus, go to my favorite coffee shop in the neighborhood (and in the city), or to the dry cleaners.  We walk it to go to a restaurant, the drug store, the grocery store, or other places.  For the header above I cropped the image carefully, because I hate the fact of the fast food restaurant that occupies the beautiful old corner building and certainly did not want to give them any free advertising on this site.  You will see it below, but since I have had at least part of my say about the unmentioned business, I include the whole photo.
view down the street– just around the corner, finally spring 2010


Frustrated.  I guess this is why writers get publishers.  They don’t know how to typeset and bind and publish and publicize and distribute a book– they know how to write it– and that’s it.  So here I am, not writing these last many days.  Admittedly it has been a busy time, too busy it seems to sit at the keyboard and work on this.  I want to write more about Split this Rock; I want to publish a list of principles that I wrote yesterday in response to something more at my daughter’s school about Student Council.  I want to write about a meeting that I was privileged to be invited to by a group of mostly black women at school, to talk about racism and classism and homophobia among other things.  A meeting that happened months ago and changed me in some way– made me more hopeful, and less lonely.

But instead I am clumsily working with what little time I have, on the technology– I figured out (thanks to both of you who took the time to email me instructions, you know who you are) how to insert a link into the blog.  I took pictures on this first really warm sunny day in my neighborhood yesterday and tried to upload one to replace the photo across the top of this blog, which for those of you who don’t know, is a photo that came with the format I chose and is a photo of Little Italy in New York City.  But I haven’t yet figured out how to put my photo, of another street corner in my own neighborhood– in it’s place.  And my time for writing today has just passed– 10 minutes ago, in fact.

So it’s like that.  Sometimes you want to write something deep and you change a lightbulb instead.  Sometimes you want to write something at all, and you fumble around with your less than fluent knowledge of how to use the tools to do all that you want to do.  So instead of putting up the picture that I am thinking of using across the top of this blog– I’ll post another picture instead.  One that reminds me that my daughter, tall, strong and knowledgeable as she is, is still my young girl–with a great sense of humor.  At least a little longer. (The young part, I mean– her humor will last last a lifetime.)

my girl...


A whole week gone by without writing here.  Split this Rock was beautiful, interesting, heartening, moving. 

Even now after eight years of George Bush have ended and now when advertising, trickery, deceit is so much in the fabric of things in this world– when things you buy are marketed as freedom, and a particular credit card is what is priceless– in that context it was so good, so old-fashioned, it felt, to be in the presence of people reaching for each other, for things beautiful and terrible, for something real.  I loved the minds of the poets– the things people figured out, decided to try to say, to tell.  It was scary in the way that this kind of gathering is scary from the mundane to the bigger questions– do I belong, can I do this kind of work? In what way can I face and write about these fierce, difficult times? 

Four poets whose work I had never heard touched me so deeply; Patricia Smith, Frank X. Walker, Diana Garcia, Andrea Gibson.  To go to something like this– as a full-time working mother, well, everything had to wait– making the bed, playing with my daughter, sleeping, paying the bills, folding the clothes.  So now this writing waits a little longer, while I pay the bills and fold the clothes.  The dishes are done.  My daughter still deserves much more time.

From Split this Rock part 1

Yesterday began Split this Rock– the second Split this Rock– festival of poetry of provocation and witness.  We all three went to the high school that is about 16 minutes on foot from home for the first evening’s reading.  We sat in the large auditorium that is far from where I went to high school, in a neighborhood very unlike where I went to high school.  Although I really didn’t like high school,  I loved sitting in that high school auditorium in my neighborhood.  I heard Wang Ping, whom I’d not read or heard of before, but whose poetry I recommend.   Andrea Gibson, whom I’d also not heard of before who read several poems so devastatingly painful, I didn’t have tears in my eyes or rolling down my cheeks, but I simply put my head in my hands and cried as hard as I could cry, because the rest of my family had gone home and there was no one else sitting right near me and I could.   Cornelius Eady read beautiful poems but my favorite was a poem in praise of poet Elizabeth Alexander and in praise of her presence and poem read at Obama’s inauguation.  (Eady’s poem stood, as I did in conversation with people at the time– honoring her work and her presence, in opposition to the niggling, nagging, nonsense of criticisms that came her way when she showed herself and read on that day, before an impossible and improbable audience.) 

At the beginning of the conference they said that the US has spent a trillion dollars on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I don’t have any idea what a trillion dollars is.  But again, there is a book, a hundred books, a mountain of poems, a lifetime of poems and essays to say what should be said about this fact, about each and every life that has been lost, damaged.  Except I cannot write without saying, plainly; it is wrong in every possible way that something can be wrong.  So again I post something from my teacher Grace Paley who wrote what is another of many favorite poems of mine, about the role of poetry in matters such as these.


It is the responsibility of society to let the poet be a poet
It is the responsibility of the poet to be a woman
It is the responsibility of the poet to stand on street corners
giving out poems and beautifully written leaflets
also leaflets you can hardly bear to look at
because of the screaming rhetoric
It is the responsibility of the poet to be lazy
to hang out and prophesy
It is the responsibility of the poet not to pay war taxes
It is the responsibility of the poet to go in and out of ivory
towers and two-room apartments on Avenue C
and buckwheat fields and army camps
It is the responsibility of the male poet to be a woman
It is the responsibility of the female poet to be a woman
It is the poet’s responsibility to speak truth to power as the
Quakers say
It is the poet’s responsibility to learn the truth from the
It is the responsibility of the poet to say many times: there is no
freedom without justice and this means economic
justice and love justice
It is the responsibility of the poet to sing this in all the original
and traditional tunes of singing and telling poems
It is the responsibility of the poet to listen to gossip and pass it on in the way storytellers decant the story of life
There is no freedom without fear and bravery there is no
freedom unless
earth and air and water continue and children
also continue
It is the responsibility of the poet to be a woman to keep an eye on
this world and cry out like Cassandra, but be
listened to this time.

Grace Paley 1922-2007  from A Midrash on Happiness  and Begin Again

Our girls did not win the championship yesterday– they lost 23-10 to another team of also beautiful young girls who also, like our girls, played beautifully and who shone through as wonderful, strong, deserving, fine young girls– young female athletes trying hard and playing hard.  At the end, for our girls and some of their mothers, there were many tears, which was touching to watch.  I have been so proud of my partner and the kind of generosity of heart and love and hope and wanting- the-best that she brings to each girl and to the parents of the girls.  I myself had a big private cry at home later, not because our team lost, but because of other things; the viciousness of competition and sexism, the sports I never got to consider playing because I was not someone who was encouraged to be an athlete, the many doors that close so brutally and often so quietly, as though nothing of significance is happening, for young people even at age 8, 9, and 10 because of race, class, gender.  

I will hopefully find the time to write a longer post later.  Even before we lost this final game, I have thought about the girls going home who lost to our team.  This season of play– watching my partner and the girls on our team and the girls on the teams we have played, watching my daughter watching all of that– has made me think long and hard about a number of things.   I wrote the piece called, Girls Undefeated, because, that is what I want for every young person– girls and boys alike– to grow up feeling undefeated on the inside of them.   There are things to write and wonder about competition– and things I hope some of you will write and ask and think through about competition. 

What is it good for and what would it mean to have a world where people did get to play hard, try hard, try out many different things, but where we weren’t organized around determining who is better and who is worse (this is at the heart of racism, classism, homophobia, sexism, and all the rest, is it not?)  There are things to write and say about Title IX and what else it will take to make things right for young girls and young boys who are black or white or immigrants or Latina.

And I didn’t forget on Monday, March 8, but I ran out of time to say– Happy International Women’s Day– a day that is still a touchstone for me and was very much on my mind as I watched all of the girls– from our school and our opponent’s school, play basketball on Monday and yesterday.


15-12.  That would be 15 for our girls.  They came back from behind– the other team was good.  Very, very good.  As were we.  Ahhh.  Inhale.  Exhale.  Inhale.  Tomorrow will be the final final.