The Storytelling Tools Chest: Vision and Path

Welcome to “the storytelling for change tools chest”. And today, a story to guide us towards our vision.
A vision is the picture of the future we strive to create; or, if you like, a story of that future. It is not always easy to tell the story of the future; we are too preoccupied with the present or haunted by our past. A vision is designed to inspire and move us forward, but sometimes the road leading to it is unknown and we are afraid to make the first step.
The Spanish poet Antonio Machado wrote:
Wayfarer, there is no way.
Make your way by going farther.
Here is the link to the poem, performed by Juan Manuel Serrat: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2DA3pRht2MA

On Farewells

She is making a Pavlova for her family. She always does when she makes home-made mayonnaise so that the egg whites don’t go waste. She decides to make strawberry glaze, made from the ones she got fresh at the market for a reasonable price. As she rinses the strawberries and separates the plump ones from those only fit for cooking, she reflects on farewells.
It has been a year of farewells. She had to let go of her father who passed away and say goodbye to the position she held for some years. She places the strawberries and sugar in the food processor, fires it up to make a sweet puree. She ponders how easily sadness turns to stress and how difficult it is to simply let the deep melancholy engulfing her be. She pours the mash of fruit and sugar to a saucepan. Soon she will be lost in her own thoughts and the sticky fluid will boil and rise and stain the stove. She’ll have to clean it again.
The kitchen is a reflection of her mind. Strawberry leaves and syrup drops all over the counter. Her dog happily licks her pants as they patiently absorb the small spatters of Bolognese sauce. An organized spotless kitchen was never her strongest suit. What she lacks in order she compensates for in speed and agility and a stubborn defiance to get all worked up about the temporary mess.
But death is not a temporary mess. It is finite and continuous, persistently present. She cannot make her father’s death disappear with rigorous cleaning. As she wipes the stove, she clings to the memories. They obey and let her. The jokes that only he could tell; the tired and loving gaze he gave her each time she approached his hospital bed; his hand in hers on Saturday morning excursions; his inquisitive and empathetic voice as he gently sought to understand how her life came crumbling down so many years ago. She pours the heavy cream into the mixer and lets the pain make her body tremble with weeping.
She knows that soon she will decorate the Pavlova with fresh strawberries. But there is so much she doesn’t know yet. This is the nature of farewells; they engrave us with question marks and uncertainty. She is making a flower shape from strawberry slivers and wonders what she will do when she grows up, again.
There are no shortcuts. What a cliché. But in farewells, there really are none. They make their way through horror and shock and denial and anger and negotiations and only then comes acceptance and resignation. How lucky we are, she tells herself, that Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wisely outlined the stages of grief. A roadmap for the journey ahead, so that we know where we are even when we are lost and tempted to cut through a dark alley.
The Pavlova is ready, white and red like Snow White. She now tends to the other dishes. When she cooks, she likes to pretend that she is someone else; a good witch from some fairy tale, once upon a time, preparing potent potions made of love and hope and pain and fear.
Stepping down from a professional position is a different story, she tells herself as she slices garlic cloves. They perfume her fingers. Positions come and go, she keeps telling herself, as the mushrooms sizzle in the pan. She also knows it was much more than a position. That explains the vacancy that wakens her far too early in the morning. She was blessed to do the work of her heart. That is no mean feat, as the poem goes.
Soon her family will come. There will be joyous exchanges of hugs and kisses followed by the sadness of the absence of her father, who will not be joining them ever again. Together they will recall his presence with stories and photos. There he is, beaming with joy at her wedding; and there he is with the granddaughter in his arms; and there he is…
Do not disengage before it is time, she kept telling herself all these months. We deserve beautiful farewells, and if we run away from them, we will miss them.

Little Red Riding Hood 2017

She is baking donuts. The cozy kitchen is already filled with the scents of melted butter, vanilla and chocolate. She dips the warm pastry in sweet icing and lays them out carefully in a box. Soon little red riding hood will come along to carry this plentiful basket over to her grandmother’s.

She considers sprinkling the shiny chocolate frosting. Maybe it is too much. Her mother does not like sprinkles anyway. However, perhaps they would make her happy? They would please her daughter, who was still shameless in her affection to sweets.

She enters the kitchen, blushed cheeks and wayward curls gathered under a crimson shawl. ‘I’m ready’, she says. She wonders if she will ever be truly ready to send her daughter out into the world without her heart missing a few beats and have her thoughts haunted by nightmare scenarios.

She looks at her daughter, the girl-child that she is; her flowing mane of hair, her eyes, alight with a lilt of laughter. She leans in to kiss her cheek and she notices how tall she has gotten. Soon she will have discarded all the marks of childhood. She wonders if the child knows how much she wants to escort her or give her a ride.

‘Call me when you get to grandma’s house’, she says, trying to sound casual. She does not want to infect her daughter with her anxieties.

She reminds herself how important it is for them, her mother and daughter; grandma ad granddaughter, to have their time together. Just the two of them. She sends her child off and returns to scraping chocolate drippings off the counter.

But her child already knows fear. She knows fear of strangers and penetrating gazes and dark streets. She was born into a world where little girls and boys are afraid.

The kitchen is spotless and the child has not called to say she has arrived safely at grandma’s.  She decides to write in an attempt to fend off the anxiety welling up inside her. ‘Perhaps I’ll call my mother’, she thinks, ‘To ask if she liked the little cakes I sent’. She does not want to upset her mother. One worrisome woman is more than enough.

Then the phone rings. A sigh of relief. She picks up, trying to sound casual. ‘Mommy, I am about to cross the park. Can you just talk to me until I reach grandma’s house?’

So she talks to her and watches over her with her voice, and she wonders if that would be enough to fend off even the most ravenous of wolves. She hears her urging her steps through the semi dark park and then the gate creaks and the door opens. She hear her mother, the granny child ith the silver-kissed hair, embracing her grandchild in her arms.

The wolf has been left out of this story. Until the next time.

A wise young man asked me, ‘Why do we pick on the wolves? How did it come to be that the wolf is a source of fear to children and a metaphor to sexual aggressors?’

However, the tale of Little Red Riding Hood is, of course, a parable. The wolf is a symbol of all the perils that stalk children with a curious and adventurous streak. The written versions of the story put on paper by the Brothers Grimm in Germany and Charles Perrault in France were “cautionary tales” meant to educate children – and especially girls – to show obedience. In their versions, Little Red is severely punished for disobeying her mother – who told her walk straight and stay on the path. She is penalized for addressing her natural curiosity, simply by exploring the woods and picking flowers. These versions send a clear message that curiosity and disobedience are adverse qualities in a child, meant to be condemned. Qualities that lead to your death or to be rescued from the belly of the wicked beast by a valiant hunter, a stark agent of the patriarchy.

The lesson illustrated at the conclusion of the version written by Perrault in 17th century France, highlights the intimidating message of the tale, especially when it comes to pretty, polite and educated little girls, how should know better than to talk to strangers:

“From the story one learns that children,

Especially young lasses,

Pretty, courteous and well bred,

Are wrong to listen to any sort of men”

This is a horrific message, one that points a finger at the victim and spares the offender. This European-bourgeois moralité does not condemn the wolf for abusing and breaking the trust that Little Red put in him, but it condemns Little Red Riding Hood for trusting him. This lesson turns the classic story into a tool that preserves the status quo, which accepts the existence of prowlers, in the form of ‘This is way of the world and the wolf’. This twisted message prevails far beyond the dog-eared pages of folk and fairy tales books. It is alive and kicking to this very day. Just recently, we heard comments by certain men, eager to support their colleagues who have been accused of sexual harassment and assault, casually saying, ‘What did she think was going to happen up there?’, or in other words, if you agree to meet with a man who is your senior in the workplace, it should be clear to you that he will try to force himself on you sexually. Why otherwise, would he have any interest in meeting with you?

We can and should tell Little Red Riding Hood’s tale differently. Feminist scholars of folklore and myth such as Maria Tatar and Cristina Bacchilega located earlier versions of the tale from the oral tradition of storytelling, ones that passed from generation to generation and were told by women to women and girls. These versions were “initiatory tales”, meant to mentor and prepare girls for adulthood. To prepare, not in the sense of warning them of healthy qualities such as curiosity and adventurousness, but by imparting an empowering message that says:

‘You have the resilience, the strength and the wisdom to cope with the challenges and perils of adolescence”. .

These versions present Little Red as a brave and resourceful girl, one that, in a joint act of feminine solidarity with her grandmother, outwits the wolf. These formative versions convey an entirely different idea, one the emphasizes Little Red Riding Hood’s ’s agency as a character and her capacity for healthy curiosity, along with the ability to handle the repercussions of that curiosity. As Cristina Bacchilega claims:

‘As an initiatory tale in the oral tradition, ‘Red Riding Hood’ did more than symbolize the child’s ability to defeat danger and evil by resorting to cunning: it also demonstrates the woman’s knowledge to survival’.

The world is full of boys and girls, men and women with stories of fearful encounters in the woods with an insatiable wolf, to him they were nothing but an object; a thing to quell his hunger, boredom or need for ruthless dominance. The world is full of people who live in fear of the wolves in their own family, workplace or community. These wolves will persist to roam amongst us and terrorize so long as we keep telling stories whose moral is ‘The fault lies with the prey’, because they ventured out to the woods, showed an interest in the world around them or trusted someone who was not supposed to harm them. It is  time to tell stories that will chase away the darkness of the forest and make it into a safe space. Innumerable brilliant lights that will expose the true wolves. Millions of stories that let out a stark cry: No one’s ventures into the woods to be devoured. It is our responsibility as a society to make our private and public spaces truly inclusive and safe.

 

 

 

 

 

On Forgiveness: the Israeli Palestinian Conflict, Henzel and Gretel and me

Can we forgive those who hurt us and those most dear to our hearts? This question has been on my mind for a while, both personally and politically. Like so many questions that linger in my mind, it emerged to the surface when I was invited to two conferences the same week: one dealing with healing hatred in political conflicts[1] and the other dedicated to forgiveness[2].

Forgiveness. In both conferences, many of the speakers emphasized the religious and spiritual aspects of it; they spoke of forgiveness as a divine decree. Not being a religious woman in the conventional sense of the word, I found myself thinking how I found the strength to forgive. It was not easy; it required relinquishing the position of the victim.

It is not easy. Every time I read the story of Hensel and Gretel I could not fully comprehend how the children – who suffered such terrible abuse from the wicked witch and had to burn her alive to save their skin – could forgive their father for sending them off to the dangers of the woods, simply because he was too weak to defend them. The children’s willingness to forgive their father troubled me. As I read the story to my own daughter, I felt deep anger and contempt towards the father. I could not understand or empathize with him, let alone forgive him.  Nevertheless, Hensel and Gretel forgave him; they wanted their family back.

As a woman living in a conflict zone I find myself thinking: where does forgiveness come from? Where in our souls is it born and alive?

A wise woman once told me that we forgive to free ourselves from the burden of the pain we carry. As long as we do not forgive, it continues to poison our soul. Hence, we offer forgiveness to care for and save ourselves; so that we can move on, free from the perpetrator’s grip on our minds and our lives.

I must have known this all the time. When I chose to forgive, it was because I was tired of carrying the load of painful memories that kept pulling back to the past and kept me from living my present and dreaming of the future.

Forgiving did not erase the memories; I keep them stored in that little attic in my heart and visit them when I can. The same attic houses the monsters I vanquished.  However, as liberating as forgiveness was to me, I could only forgive on my behalf; not for my son nor for my elderly parents who took me in when I arrived one night at their home, so tired of crying.

Henzel and Gretel. Illustration by Daniel Gouri De Lima

From the personal to the political

Can we forgive in someone else’s name? Well, I think not. However, if I am right, how is collective forgiveness possible? Can we ask for forgiveness in someone else’s name? Again, no. Then how is collective repentance possible? Let me be clear about where I am getting at; how can two nations caught up in a violent conflict seek or offer forgiveness? It seems unfathomable for people to forgive military occupation, exile or losing their loved ones in a bombing or knifing attack; how can one even begin to forgive those who demolished his home, or those who launched a Quassam missile that killed his little boy.

This is how we live our lives, year after year; caught up in a bloody vicious cycle of occupiers and occupied; killing and being killed; hurting and hurt. Parents are burying their little children and children growing up without their father or mother. Homes are demolished and destroyed. The beloved land cries and it seems that mercy and compassion do not dwell in our part of the world.

Can we heal hatred and foster a culture of reconciliation between Israel and Palestine? Can we bring back mercy, compassion and hope to our region? I believe we can and we should. However, it requires from us – from all of us – to relinquish the position of victim. And it is difficult. Excruciatingly difficult.

If my last statement disturbs you or makes you angry; or if think that it is a post-modern f**t that ignores or denies the extent of suffering, I urge you to keep reading.

It is difficult to let go of victimhood because the suffering and loss are so terribly real. It is difficult because our political leaders are turning our collective traumas into bargaining chips in political negotiations. They are turning the Holocaust, the Nakba and the wars into repetitive narratives of victimhood and revenge. They feed the flames of hatred and fear instead of doing the right thing; finding the courage to say: “enough! Nothing justifies any of this”.

We, the civilians on both sides of this bloody conflict; we who pay the daily price of hatred, fear and violence; we, too, are collaborators. We dig our heals in the quick-sand of political ideologies; we repeat the same tried and tested statements and slogans and speak the language of interests, instead of voicing our deepest needs. Those who seek to perpetuate the conflict speak of annexing the West Bank; those who seek pragmatic solutions speak of separation, and a small minority still speaks against the occupation and for a just peace and is the target of all the hatred that is not directed at the “enemy”.

Nothing new can grow on this barren land of hatred.

To forgive is not to forget. We never forget those we loved and lost. We never forget the place that was our home, nor our yearning to come back to it. To forgive is to preserve the memories and to let go of them as the first and single thing that guides us and informs our actions.

To rekindle compassion and spark hope, it is time for us to take responsibility; for our future and that of our children and for the babies yet to be born. Responsibility for this good and beautiful earth that is so tired of wars. Responsibility for the olive trees exhausted of being uprooted. Responsibility for the polluted coastline of Gaza. Responsibility towards our fellow human beings.

We all are tired of wars; except those who benefit from them.

It is time to awaken compassion and hope. Forgiveness will follow, eventually.

[1] https://ia-sc.org/healing-hatred/

[2] https://internationalforgiveness.com/jerusalem-conference.htm

An Open Letter to POTUS Donald Trump

Leora Hadar and Hamutal Gouri

Open letter to US President, Donald Trump,
Welcome to our region and to Jerusalem, this holy city that holds within its walls and streets the history of people of all three religions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
We, Leora Hadar and Hamutal Gouri, members of the grassroots movement Women Wage Peace, urge you to take advantage of your visit to our region to call upon our elected leaders to resume negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians that will lead to a mutually and lasting peace agreement. We believe that this is the only way the end the tragic conflict.
I, Leora Hadar, a mother of four children, am a resident of Alei Zahav in Samaria. My Husband’s parents made Aliya to Israel from Iraq following the establishment of the State of Israel, and my parents were born and raised in the US and came to Israel out of Zionism and love for the land of Israel.
Every day, I choose to live in this country despite all the difficulties, because I believe that we can make a difference and create a better future and because I know that we must all accept that we are all living here together on this tiny piece of land and must find the ways to live together in peace.


I, Hamutal Gouri, daughter of Haim and Aliza, of the founding generation of the State of Israel, married to Doron, a native of Jerusalem, and mother to Daniel and Na’ama. I have been a feminist, a peace and human rights activist for more than 35 years. I was born, raised and have lived in Jerusalem my whole life. Jerusalem, the city that millions of Jews, Muslims and Christian hold in their hearts and prayers is also at the heart of a bitter political conflict. However, this city can also be the place of birth of a new era of security, prosperity and peace to all.
Today, we bring our voices together and address this letter to you, President Trump. You are in a position to lead to a breakthrough and resume a process that will lead to peace agreement that will finally put an end to the terrible and bloody conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. We also demand that women from diverse communities will be actively involved in this process. We, women, bring to the negotiation table and to civil society and grassroots peace building efforts our extensive knowledge as civilians and activists who know how real security feels and looks like for us, our families, our communities and our societies. We know that research shows that the active involvement of women in resolving violent conflicts around the world has contributed to achieving better and more sustainable agreements.


We believe in the power and capacity of women to promote creative and pragmatic solutions and effectively address differences and controversies by practicing deep listening, mutual respect and inclusion. We know this to be true because this is the way our movement, Women Wage Peace, operates. We know this to be true because we are committed to bringing together women from across the political spectrum and fro, diverse communities to work together for a peace agreement. We know this to be true because we chose to work together through dialogue, politics of acquaintance, care and responsibility. We work together to achieve our shared goal and a shared existence, despite all the differences.
We, Leora and Hamutal, demonstrate this, by co-authoring this letter; by bringing our voices together, despite all the differences and despite the fact that we may not agree on many things.
Thus, just as we found ways to overcome differences and unite our voices to one, powerful voice, we expect you and our elected leaders to do the same: to seek for that which brings us together; to work for a better future for our children and for our region.
And we expect you to consider our security and safety as women and to engage us as equal partners in the negotiations that will lead to a peace agreement.

Four Stories of Hope, Persistence and Leadership

Last week I spent a while inside a hole in time. In the early hours of Saturday morning I flew to Washington DC and on Wednesday I was already back in Israel, enveloped in the warmth of my family, everyday life, work, home and activism.

I traveled to DC in for the JStreet National Conference, as a representative of Women Wage Peace, to speak at a panel sponsored by the JStreet Women’s Leadership Forum. The conference this year was organized in the theme of “Defending Our Values, Fighting For Our Future” – a strongly appropriate title given the public and political climate since the election of Trump as president. 3,500 participants from all over the US, Israel and the Palestinian Authority came together to think, listen and voice ideas about how to keep moving toward a two-state solution in a time when no politician in Israel or the US persist in this.

I came to the conference to express a gendered, critical view, a perspective which is not sounded enough even in the progressive Jewish left. I came because I believe that In times like these, it is critical that we work closely together to promote our shared values of peace and democracy and hold courageous and vital conversations about resistance and hope

As a story teller, I was constantly looking for stories I would want to cherish and take with me. Here are 4 short stories and an epilogue.

Lens

The panel I participated in, sponsored by the Women’s Leadership Forum, was titled “Change makers on the Ground in Israel”. I talked about Women Wage Peace, and why I am so committed to this movement. I told the listeners that we view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a powerful inter-sectional gender lens.

The audience, mostly women, were nodding in agreement and understanding. The attentive faces told me my words were welcome and relevant. I hoped my message would trickle and resonate outside that room and was overjoyed when my friend and collaborator Nancy Kaufman, CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women, echoed my words in a panel that took place the following day in the plenum.

I did come out feeling that we still have a long way to go until women from diverse communities are equally represented in formal negotiations and in civil society efforts to end this conflict. However, in order to demand that of our elected officials, we must implement principles of inclusion and diversity in our own spaces. The gender lens is not a “prop”, it is a way to examine our political reality fully and comprehensively, without overlooking the perspectives, needs and assets brought to the table by 51% of the participants.

Hope

I also talked about the significance of hope and the notion that we cannot live without hope. During the conference, speakers kept stating that “despair is not an option”, which is very true. Despair, in the sense of apathy, indifference and resignation is, indeed, not an option.

But sometimes we’re moved to action by a sense of desperation and urgency, driven by the feeling that we have nothing to lose. Alongside that, there must be hope. Hope in the sense of believing in future good even when it seems despairingly remote and impossible.

Hope means insistence on believing in that good even when it seems we got dealt a lousy hand this round. Hope is the stuff from which the greatest stories about the human ability rise above hardships and challenges, above the doubts and disregard are made of. Do not mistake hope. It is not a “nice feminine quality”. Hope is a radical idea that sees far and beyond. Hope, if you will, is a very serious business.

Seriousness

In my last day in DC I got to meet Congresswoman Barbara Lee for the 13th District of California in the Democratic Party. Lee was elected to congress for the first time in 1998 after a long and impressive career as a civil rights activist, a member of the Black Panthers and a Senator in California State Senate.

I admit I was nervous before the meeting. This was my first time meeting a Congresswoman, not to mention a woman who is a model of brave leadership, determined and committed to justice and equality through and through.

We had 15 minutes together. I told her about my work in the Dafna Fund and about Women Wage Peace. I spoke of the magic that was created in the Palestinian and Israeli women’s march Qasr Al Yahud, on October 19th, 2016. I told her about the tears and joy of women who had only met for the first time, falling into each other’s arms in an embrace that spoke closeness and faith in partnering for peace. As I spoke with a trembling voice, I knew she understood.

congresswoman-barbara-lee

Determination

All the while, I kept getting updates on current affairs in Israel: the State Comptroller’s report on the 2014 Operation Protective Edge and the winds of war stirred in order to distract public attention from the high ranking political officials’ oversights that cost us in dear life.

From time to time I stole a glance at my email and IM messages from Israel. I read the Letter of the Mothers, which my friends at Women Wage Peace had written and watched as they stood firm outside the Ministry of Defense, demanding the defense cabinet to take responsibility for the Comptroller’s report and act immediately to end the conflict by resuming negotiations to reach a mutually binding peace agreement.

I saw, in the pictures of my friends’ faces, the hope, determination, persistence and willingness to lay everything aside and rise again and again to act in favor of the only logical solution that will end the bloodshed, suffering and loss that is binding us in a forcible grip for too many years.

Written in Jerusalem, in deep appreciation to our dear partners of the JStreet Women’s Leadership Forum.