I am now heavily steeped, day in and day out, working to complete a major portion of my Middle East Crisis In My Backyard: How Communities Come Apart and How They Heal book. The other two books that I have currently in progress, Hot Pants, Motorcycles And K Street: In The Era Of Before Watergate and To See Or Not To See And The Art of Transcendent Living, therefore, are needing to take a backseat for awhile.
Because “The Middle East Crisis book”is so relevant to what I am intent on offering on this blog site, I thought it might be appropriate for me to share a piece of that work in progress, such as it is presently. The piece that follows offers a window into a bit of my personal background that manifests itself in my devotion to community life, especially of the kind that I call the “exceptional community.”
The essence of the “exceptional community model,” the name given to New Horizons’ particular approach to both exceptional leadership and exceptional community development training, while having a certain focus on “small zones of peace,” nonetheless is still in all a “think global, act local” approach. This emphasis becomes increasingly evident as our model is applied and understood for its wide-ranging implications. So let me begin with the mega view while making my way down to the smaller unit, the local community.
The phrase "tikkun olam," Hebrew for world repair and/or variations on this theme, has come to symbolize a certain philosophy of contemporary Jews; "tikkun" customarily meaning “fixing or rectification” and "olam" meaning world or universe. For many of us born around or after World War II these words have become a statement of our pledge that, not only shall we never forget what Hitler exacted of our people but our intention to build, out of this devastation, a world where things such as this would never occur again.
As I am of this generation of Jewish Americans, heavily marked by the persecution suffered by parents and grandparents who fled the oppression of the Czar in Eastern Europe and, in my case, a stepmother who was a German Holocaust survivor, the promise and the pledge of these words have been easily embraced. After all, in our homes we grew up with the stain of these tragedies affecting those closest to us. Thus we too were heavily impacted. As a result social justice and activism come naturally to us as an essential part of daily life. In fact social justice is an intrinsic facet of our heritage, especially those of us with a Eastern European heritage.
However, not having heard too much, directly, of the ordeals lived through by my grandparents or my stepmother who I called Mom, those in my family to immigrate to the United States, most of what I know of these trials came to me through the accounts of others more distant; most often from oral and written accounts of people outside my family. In retrospect I see now that the members of my family, rather than telling authentic stories of the difficulties of their lives in the “old country” generally masked their personal experiences of a negative vein with cover stories offered of a more palatable fare, before life in the United States.
Seldom did they reveal their personal or even collective difficulties. An outward focus on present day life in the United States was the norm. Although on occasion my Mom would share a tale or two from her life in Shanghai, China after fleeing Hitler. Among these was that she and her first husband had fled there in 1939 where they remained until the Liberation in 1946. By then she had divorced him, justifying her decision on his being unwilling to work in Shanghai where they lived in a refugee camp and knew even doctors to hire themselves out as bicycle messengers.
Even with limited knowledge of what our family members endured, many of us grew up with sensitivity to our elders and the personal wounds they harbored. As young adults, especially in the era of the sixties and seventies up against civil rights, women’s rights and Viet Nam, this understanding could easily find expression in social and political activism.
No doubt it is this inborn activism that prompts my devotion to creating what New Horizons terms “the exceptional community.” (I am the original architect of the New Horizons model although it has also been heavily influenced by Eric Berne, M.D. and Transactional Analysis and my mentors, Martin G. Groder, M.D. and Murat Yagan.) An equal, if not stronger influence on me, also shaping the model, is that from my biological mother I inherited a natural affinity for shtetl life; its customs and philosophies. These influences though muted are also a part of the weave of New Horizons' Exceptional Community Model.
The traditional shtetl, long gone from modern life, was originally a small Jewish town or village which existed in Eastern Europe before the Holocaust. Shtetl life was typically communal in spirit and carried its own culture in terms of having a language, Yiddish, and traditions, based primarily on the teachings of the Talmud, a central text of Rabbinic Judaism.
Tsdokeh, a word often used to imply charity, but more accurately denoting social justice, was one of the most important tenets of the cultural values of the Jewish shtetl; the benevolence of good deeds being the “central mechanism by which (the) community” functioned. So supremely important was this value that “good deeds” were seen as basic to being a good Jew.
(The Abkhazian traditions of Murat Yagan's heritage, as we learned of them from Murat, also hold attributes such as compassion, kindness, honesty, generosity and so forth to be essential to the life well-lived and a well-functioning community life. This similarity permitted Murat’s teachings to immediately be a comfortable fit for me/us.)
The Broadway musical, Fiddler On The Roof, depicts a slice of this way of life; a vivid picture of communal life, fraught with interpersonal complexities, yet filled, too, with loyalties, love and laughter, song and celebration. Tsdokeh underlies all of this.
These distinctive cultures were not, however, only distinct from other mainstream Eastern Europeans, but were sometimes also poles apart from one another. One example of this is that there were both Chasidic and non-Chasidic shtetls that often disparaged one another based on their differences. The shtetl of my heritage was definitively Orthodox but non-Chasidic with the Chasids often arousing superstition, even seen as harbingers of evil.
Translated into my more modern Jewish American ways these traditions of the shtetl were deeply rooted in me, in a value system that carried its way into what I considered to be a life well lived, personally, and as a part of the greater whole of humanity; a manner of living that makes “thinking globally and acting locally” simply a broadened perspective and an imperative born of shtetl life.
In this paradigm forgiveness and reconciliation are viewed as fundamental to the well-lived life; trumping all other endeavors. But the matter transcends merely being at peace with oneself, ones family and friends or neighbor, the greater world around us and with the Divine. The very process of living by these values demands relentless self-analysis, determination and rigorous discipline. Contained within the endeavor lie the many gifts of alchemy; the transformation of our humanity; the evolutionary process of converting the lead within each of us into gold; individually and collectively.
In the shtetl value system, the effort to live by these values, day-by-day, calls up introspection and an ongoing accountability, as essential parts of charity/social justice that begins at home, especially with oneself. The culmination, as I have learned, is the passing forward of these principles to the next generations by living them. In this way the very essence of tikkun olam, the Jewish notion of world repair, comes alive, as it once did in shtetl life on a much smaller scale.
One need only read the text of Jewish High Holiday rituals and prayers to see the principles of forgiveness, reconciliation and, above all, tsdokeh embodied throughout; not just in words uttered during these holy days, but as precepts to be lived during the course of the year as an essential way of being. What is transformed on the personal level in the application of these ideologies affects, not only the individual, but also the family. What is transformed in the family ripples outward into the community and beyond. This is how it should naturally be, I believe.
The unexpected ways in which these traditional values of my Jewish heritage came to the fore for me and how I came to have them reinforced at a critical time in my life, by simply, and not simply at all, walking myself through a fire of personal challenge, I have come to call the “Jewish/Muslim Controversy” in my backyard that gave me the title for this book, The Middle East Crisis In My Backyard: How Communities Come Apart And How They Heal.
Not that I believe that the old ways of the shtetl should be embraced, wholesale, but that, as with other traditional cultures in the process of dying out or already having died out, there are things to learn from a heritage, such as this, that can help us live more whole-heartedly and beautifully in our contemporary lives than we could ever dream up on our own, even by plowing through all the knowledge presently archived on the internet.
The experience I had, as recounted in the book I now have in progress, changed my life, both personally and professionally. I hope my story when it is complete and available in print will inspires yours. Through this particular involvement I most profoundly found my devotion – and – my passion to certain ways of people being and living in mainstream communities with one another; practices I knew from first hand participation that can be realized even in this crazy world within which we presently find ourselves.
If you read through the contents of my three blog sites; New Horizons Small “Zones Of Peace” blog site, Anastasia The Storyteller and this one, Exploring Your Dark Side: The Adventure of A Lifetime – and – listen into the broadcasts or podcasts of my two radio shows; The Possible Society In Motion Radio Show and Anastasia The Storyteller, you will enumerable pieces of the overarching structure that makes up New Horizons Exceptional Community model and its accompanying training approach for Exceptional Leaders.