Finding ‘truth’ at LimmudAZ

In preparation for last weekend’s LimmudAZ, I looked over the schedule a few days before to map out my day. With one exception, I chose to select whatever session called to me most, rather than ones that I thought I should attend for work purposes.

Because of the variety of offerings, both of topics and speakers, each of the approximately 400 participants had an opportunity to weave their own unique experience during their time on the second floor of Arizona State University’s Memorial Union on Jan. 31.

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Ready for a day of learning at LimmudAZ. Photo by Joel Zolondek

In retrospect, most of the sessions I chose seemed to reflect the same theme.

The first session I attended was “Resetting the Balance Between Work/Family Responsibility: A New Point of View” with Dr. Ada Anbar. I had hoped for some guidance on juggling work and family life – because that issue is definitely something in the forefront of my life – but it was more of a look at the views professionals have about working mothers of young children. The speaker’s point of view was that since people have approximately 60 years in their adult life, from age 20 to 80, a parent should devote 10 years to “intense parenting” (meaning one parent should be at home with the child so that the child isn’t in preschool).

My youngest child is 5 and all three of my kids attended preschool so my first reaction was to feel defensive, but ultimately what she was saying was that children, their parents and society at large would benefit if children received intense parenting for at least the first three years of their life. And that society should make it easier for parents to devote more time to their children by providing support for families who want to have a stay-at-home parent with young children and that it should be easier for women to re-enter the workforce after staying home with their children. And who can argue with that?

There was no question about the next session I wanted to attend – “The Power of Sharing Our Stories in Song” – with Marieke Slovin, a performing musician, yogi, writer and songwriter in Prescott who leads song-writing workshops and composes original music from spoken stories. Since song-writing is one of my passions, I was interested in learning about her Story-to-Song method. It was a small group, which was great, and the theme of our song organically developed into one about our grandparents. We each shared a few words about a grandparent or grandparents and throughout the course of the hour, we wrote the chorus and she’s going to finish the song. A quote in her course description reads, “The great gift you can give the world is to tell your truth,” which created a lovely segue into my next session, “What Does it All Mean?” with Bruce Eric Kaplan, a television writer/producer who has worked on such shows as “Seinfeld,” “Six Feet Under” and “Girls” and a cartoonist for The New Yorker. He recently wrote a memoir called, “I Was a Child.”

The session was an entertaining therapy session, where he shared the process of writing the memoir – which dealt with the death of his father, and his feelings that he never really knew his parents because they never really shared anything about themselves with their children. Some of the Jewish mothers in the room offered their advice and analysis about his experience. Kaplan referenced the “truth” quote from the song-writing session – he had wanted to attend that one, but didn’t make it – and his message to the group was that while we are here in the world, we should all strive to be our most authentic self and share that authentic self with others.

Next was lunch, where everyone gathered together for the official welcome from Sandy Adler and Suzanne Swift – two of the volunteers that coordinated LimmudAZ both this year and last – and I was happy to run into some people I hadn’t seen in a while.

After lunch, I attended one session that I felt obligated to attend – “Israel in the News: How to Get Your Point Across” – because I’m a fan of the Honest Reporting website and thought it might be useful. Maybe it was because of the timing being right after lunch, but I had difficulty focusing during this one. But one point that did get across was that negative stories about Israel are outweighing the positive and that truth becomes irrelevant if the untruths are repeated often enough.

By late afternoon, the next session – “Four Senses Yoga,” taught by Cindy Rogers, a blind yoga instructor – was very welcome. I don’t often do yoga because I’m not very coordinated when it comes to all the different poses, so I liked the description, which read, “Experience yoga as you never have before. Blindfolded! Remove the sense of sight to fully embrace your other senses. This gentle practice allows you to connect to your true inner self.”

I was a few minutes late because I was chatting with someone in the hallway between courses so when I got there, the room was already dark. I received my blindfold, found my space then followed the instructions to breathe and move into different positions. I wasn’t sure if I was doing it right, as I couldn’t see anyone to follow, but it was OK because nobody could see me either.

My final session was a packed room with Rabbi Pinchas Allouche of Congregation Beth Tefillah, who spoke about living a purposeful life.

He shared his POPP (Personality, Opportunities, People, Places) theory with the group, asking: Are you using the skills you were born with? Do you use the opportunities you are given to use those skills? And reminding us that people come into our lives for a reason, as do the places we find ourselves.

So, with that in mind, I felt my day’s journey – as well as everyone else’s there – was the way that it should have been.

And I’d like to thank all of the volunteers who made it their purpose to bring LimmudAZ to life in our community.

Leisah Woldoff is managing editor of Jewish News.

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One land, two stories: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict

With all the stories coming out of Israel recently, I have found that often the “comments” underneath the articles or Facebook posts are often just as disturbing as the stories themselves.

Where does all this venom come from and how can these commentators have such different views about the issue than I do? What have they heard that I haven’t?

Although I’m aware of the Palestinian textbooks that are used to educate Palestinian children and how those history lessons have spread hateful ideology, it wasn’t until recently that I’ve realized that those same stories are just as available to the rest of the world, thanks to the Internet.

After feeling overwhelmed by all the hatred for Israel I witnessed on social media, I recently spent some time searching for these stories that are being told. Perhaps I was naïve, but what I found shocked me.

For example, the organization What Americans Need to Know, a nonprofit started by Alison Weir, who, according to her website, is an American freelance journalist who traveled independently throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip in February and March of 2001 and found that the way the American press portrayed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was “significantly at odds with information being reported by media throughout the rest of the world.”

Her website – ifamericansknew.org – uses different methods to present her perception about the conflict. For example, there are charts comparing such things as the number of Israeli children killed by Palestinians to the number of Palestinian children killed by Israelis. I didn’t see anything about the fact that Israel sounds sirens to warn its citizens of incoming rockets so they can seek safety in the country’s bomb shelters or anything addressing reports that Palestinian gunmen often use civilians and children as human shields.

On her mission statement page, she announces that the organization’s main call for action is to encourage Americans to advocate cutting U.S. aid to Israel.

Her site also presents a paper titled “The Origin of the Palestine-Israel Conflict,” which says that “Zionism was based on a faulty, colonialist world view that the rights of the indigenous inhabitants didn’t matter. The Arabs’ opposition to Zionism wasn’t based on anti-Semitism but rather on a totally reasonable fear of the dispossession of their people.”

The details there are very different from the history I’ve learned and Weir’s presentation of history helps explain why so many people around the world feel the way they do about Israel.

More insight on this version of history is on 1948.org.uk, describing the same people who Israelis call heroes as “Zionist terrorists” and telling a very different story of the founding of the Jewish state and its leaders and wars.

Here is an example:

The Zionist plan to transfer Palestinians out of their land was headed by no lesser character than David Ben-Gurion himself. He plotted these schemes in his own home aided by a small ad hoc group of people referred to as The Consultancy. Its aim was to plot and carry out the disposession of the Palestinian people.

At what point is history dictated? How is it even possible that there are those who deny the Holocaust, even as those who survived it are still alive? How can there be such different perceptions of the state of Israel when its entire existence has occurred in one life span?

As a child, one learns about history how it is presented to him or her and then forms a view on the world based on these facts. But that trait doesn’t often end in childhood. With today’s busy world, many people make decisions based on stories posted on their friends’ Facebook pages and don’t take the time to research other sources to form their viewpoint.

It doesn’t help that there are extremists on both sides that hurt their own cause by committing horrific acts and instances of media manipulation that portray Israel in a negative light.

On the flip side of Weir’s website are theisraelproject.org and honestreporting.com; the first is a non-partisan American educational organization dedicated to informing the media and public conversation about Israel and the Middle East and the latter monitors the news for bias, inaccuracy or other breach of journalistic standards in coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

What sources do you turn to?