Posted by Lia Mandelbaum
Located in the Angeles National Forest, north of the San Fernando Valley, exists a refuge and sanctuary for animals that are very vulnerable. These animals really have no other place to go, and it is the Wildlife WayStation, that gives them another chance at life. “Founded in 1976 by wildlife lover and expert Martine Colette, the Wildlife WayStation is a national non-profit, holding rehabilitation, medical and problem solving refuge for native, wild and exotic animals. The Wildlife WayStation is a safe haven for both native and exotic wildlife and is dedicated to their rescue, rehabilitation and relocation.” When I had been told that the Waystation was in a financial crisis, and was not shy of having to shut down, I felt a sense of panic and sadness, regarding what may happen to these animals. The Waystation has all types of large cats (lions, tigers, bobcats, leopards, jaguars, and even a ‘ligress’), primates, bears, opossums, foxes, hyenas, reptiles, wolves, deer and all types of birds. In the past, when the sanctuaries have closed down, the animals were absorbed by other sanctuaries, which are now completely full. Colette has done research and has found that there is no space in a legitimate sanctuary association anywhere. As a Jew, I felt that it was my responsibility to help out in whatever way possible, and I decided to write an article to create awareness about the Waystation’s current crisis. Through Jewish texts and teachings, we are instructed that while God created the earth, it is the responsibility of man and woman to care for creation. There is a Jewish scriptural text, Midrash Ecclesiastes Rabbah, written around 800 C.E., which says, “When God created the first human beings, God led them around the garden of Eden and said: ‘Look at my works! See how beautiful they are – how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it.’
Tza’ar ba’alei chayim, literally means the suffering of living creatures, and according to Jewish ethical tradition, prohibition against cruelty to animals is one of the basic laws of humankind. A Jew is commanded to relieve the suffering of all animals, even those owned by one’s enemy (Exodus 23:5). The Waystation is a sacred space for animals that have experienced a great deal of suffering, to have the opportunity to find healing. It is one of the first places to have taken in chimpanzees, which were being used for biomedical research. Colette said, “I champion the chimps because I think they have paid such a huge price to help people.” Chimpanzees and other nonhuman primates were subjected to intensive biomedical research in areas including cancer, diabetes, reproduction, blood transfusions, hepatitis B and C, and HIV. Some of the large cats had been badly abused by drug traffickers, to turn them into weapons that would protect their contraband. There are many animals that were merely abandoned because their owners no longer wanted them. Not that long ago, a grizzly bear had been dropped off in a small cage and abandoned right in front of the Waystation. Over the years, the Wildlife Waystation has provided aid and support to more than 75,000 wild and exotic animals from all over the world, and has 400 plus animals at any given time.
The current recession have caused donations to drop 50%, which is their worst financial situation in 35 years. Colette states, “Frankly we are open to any and all suggestions including a merger with a like-minded animal organization.” However, donations of any size are what are needed now to keep the sanctuary operating. Martine feels that they have a dire need for a fund raising consultant firm for non-profits, and a business law firm that would take them on pro-bono. People can sponsor an animal, contribute to a food bill or just make a general donation. If there is a company or companies that would be willing to help cover the electrical bills, or the meat bills, trash bills, drug bills, it would be easier for them to focus more on the everyday expenses. “The most important thing is that the Waystation must survive,” says Colette.
Even though most of the animals brought to the Waystation had been badly abused, I could see that they were still open to receiving love and care from a human being. Colette would approach their cages, and when the animals would greet her, you could see that they felt safe and trusted her. They love her. It also helped that she was passing out Red Vines and chestnuts. The wolves happily greeted her with wagging tails, and were excited to get their Red Vines. The chimps loved the chestnuts, and were really good at catching them as she tossed them. When I approached the black bears, they were eating marshmallows, which are one of my own personal favorites.
I know that during our nation’s economic crisis, some people may have no interest in donating to a cause that is for animals, and would much rather donate to an organization that helps human beings, but I believe it is important to not forget our sacred animals. Animals are understood to not only have feelings, but to be capable of developing spiritually. The Talmud says that “Just as the righteous were devout, so were their animals.” I believe with all my heart that animals have souls, and deserve the same love and saving as fellow human beings. Judaism has always recognized the link between the way a person treats animals and the way a person treats human beings. There is even a traditional story, which says that Moses was chosen for his mission because of his skill in caring for animals. “The Holy One, Blessed Be He, said ‘Since you are merciful to the flock of a human being, you shall be the shepherd of My flock, Israel.’” I believe that helping with the survival of the Wildlife Waystation is a great way to “till and tend” G-d’s creation.
You can learn more about the Wildlife Waystation at http://wildlifewaystation.org/. You can also make a donation through the website.
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December 12, 2011 | 1:04 pm
Posted by Tera Greene
On Tuesday, 12-6-11, a Queer Open Mic and Film Night was held at the Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring in Los Angeles, CA. Participants were multi-generational straight Allies and members of the LGBTQ community, as well as Jewish and Non-Jewish, all gathered to attend an evening of Jewish Queer Short Film Screenings and engage in an open mic.
The event was free and co-sponsored by Birthright Israel NEXT, JQ Intl and the Workmen’s Circle.
Doors/Schmoozing opened at 730. Films screened at 810pm and the Open Mic commenced at 910pm. There was a a Q+A after the film portion and a featured poet.
Below is a lil’ footage from the event that I cut together. Cheers!
December 11, 2011 | 9:43 pm
Posted by Lia Mandelbaum
Not that long ago, Rabbi Sarah Bassin, the Executive Director of NewGround, called up Asher Gellis, the Executive Director of JQ International, to engage JQ as one of the several community collaborators for an event that NewGround was producing. NewGround is an independent group that “began in 2006 as a response to the climate of tension and mistrust between Jews and Muslims in Los Angeles, and was founded to create a national model for healthy relations, productive engagement and social change between American Muslims and Jews.” Rabbi Bassin contacted JQ, International, which is a Gay, Lesbian, Bi and Transgender (GLBT) Jewish movement, because she felt that incorporating an GLBT perspective in the event was essential. Four Muslims and four Jews went up on stage that night to share their personal stories on the theme of relationships, and I had the amazing privilege of getting to be amongst them to share my GLBT experience and my relationship with the Jewish community in the process.
When Gellis, approached me to see if I would be interested in sharing my story, I was both excited and nervous. I was excited because I felt that NewGround’s mission was amazing, but I was also nervous because I would be making myself vulnerable by being up there and sharing about a topic and part of myself with which I’m not completely at peace. I was also nervous because I was going to be open within the Muslim community, which would be “new ground” for me. Being open with fellow Jews would not be “new ground.” I agreed to share my story because I’m trying to develop my public speaking skills, but also because I have found that when I take initiative and own my truth about being gay, I take a step closer towards internal freedom and self-integration, and a step farther away from the internalized homophobia that has imprisoned me for so much of my life. I also feel that for the most part, when I’m vulnerable a force bigger then I also protects me. I knew that sharing my story for New Ground’s event would be a positive and powerful catalyst for my journey towards wholeness and freedom. I had not been aware of NewGround before Asher had approached me, and so in a sense I felt that I was walking into the unknown, but what I came to discover was a life changing experience. I believe that it was also powerful for many people in the audience, and relayed a great example of the concept of “the other,” which is such a common relationship between the Muslims and Jews.
Rabbi Bassin said, “We have all had moments of feeling “othered” and the experience of people the GLBT community speaks to this truth in a particularly poignant way. This event was not about convincing people to believe anything in particular. Rather it was about creating moments for seeing oneself in “the other” - whether the otherness is about culture, religion, or sexual identity. When we make that humanizing leap, the potential for relationship and collaboration become real possibilities.”
Through my own life experience, as well as through several college courses, I have come to understand that the concept of “the other” is when someone views another person as being different from them, such as with their religious views, political views, “race” and ethnicity, economic status and sexual orientation, but instead of respecting and maybe even celebrating the differences, they dehumanize them. As we have seen throughout history, violence and oppression are commonly linked with dehumanization, because in order to treat someone so awfuly, people often throw up a wall between themselves and the person they see as less then them, in order to make it easier to commit such horrible acts against other human beings. I respect NewGround for their brave and essential mission to create a different relationship between Muslims and Jews. I imagine that people involved with NewGround, at times may be critisized and disliked by those who are totally opposed to establishing a new relationship…kind of goes with the territory. I will also say though, I observed that NewGround is a very respected, successful and well-liked organization.
I wasn’t necessarily nervous about sharing my story in front of Jews, considering the positive experiences I’ve already had by being “out of the closet” within the Jewish community, and even though I do know that there are Jews out there that are still very opposed to my sexual orientation, it isn’t “new ground” for me. I initially wasn’t afraid to share my experience with the Muslims participating at the event, especially since I knew that the crowd would already be open-minded, however I became a bit nervous after I heard the fear in some of my family members and friends when they learned that I would be putting myself out there. I became frustrated with the response from them considering I was really excited and felt proud to be a part of such an amazing event, and I knew that stigmas were playing a role in their fear. I was also confused because of the incredibly supportive experience I had when I shared my story with the Muslims and Jews at the planning meeting. I decided to talk to Rabbi Sarah about it, and she assured me that for the most part, I would receive similar responses as the ones I had with all the people at the planning meeting, which ended up being my experience on the night of the event.
I do not want to come off as though I’m making people who are opposed to my sexual orientation as “the other,” because they are entitled to their opinions, and it is especially important to not make those who don’t agree with you as “the other,” because you are playing into a vicious cycle that dehumanizes and is based in fear. As soon as I see someone as “the other,” I believe that I have lost touch with the most important part of myself, which is an unconditionally loving one. I have gone down that road many times in my life, and I have found that it ultimately hurts me the most. I have viewed people who are different then me as “the other” merely out of defense. I have even viewed fellow Jews, gay people and family members as “the other.” I know that I am not alone in having been a Jew who also sees Jews as “the other.” At the end of my Birthright trip to Israel, when the group got together to share our feelings and thoughts, many people spoke of their fear about going on a trip with Jews from different sects. By the end of the trip, there were no walls between the Jews in our group, and an amazing bond had been formed. We all felt really good, because we had experienced an internal transformation within our belief systems, which had been harmful to our emotional and spiritual well-being. In regards to my own experience with discrimination against other people in the GLBT community, I know it stemmed from internalized homophobia, which is a common form of self-hatred within the community. When I have viewed family members as “the other,” it is ultimately very harmful for me even though I want to stay in anger and block them out of my life, and whether I like it or not, it affects me subconsciously and truly disrupts the core of my being. When it comes to family I am learning how important it is to face my fears, and acknowledge that my anger is really stemming from sadness and feeling misunderstood. I am learning how to deal better with all different conflicts of interest and confrontations in my life, and come from a more balanced place, and communicate better. I don’t want to loose touch with that unconditionally loving place within myself.
This article was not meant to be about me specifically sharing the same story that I did at the event, which is why I didn’t write about it, but it is rather a story about telling a story. My experience has been that coming out of the closet is not an “aha!” moment, but rather a lifelong accumulation of moments, steps and stories to retell. I will say though, that the response I ended up having as I shared my story at the event was beyond amazing. I received a level of support that I honestly have never experienced, because as soon as I shared that I was a lesbian, and how vulnerable I was feeling in that moment, I received an incredibly touching amount of clapping and cheering. I felt my own personal belief system shift into a more loving one, as any fearful judgment I had of what responses may occur, began to shed in my mind. From just shedding my judgments, I felt a step closer towards freedom and peace. It just goes to show, that although discrimination and hatred can be found within people from all different backgrounds, it is crucial to not generalize, and to allow yourself the opportunity to experience the wide spectrum of attitudes and beliefs found even within each particular group of individuals. As a student studying to be a social worker, I have come to learn that “it is inappropriate to stereotype and assume that all members of a group exhibit the characteristics held by the majority of group members. Actually, there is more diversity within a group of individuals (e.g., a group of Jews) than between groups (e.g., between Muslims and Jews or between Jews and Christians).” It is important to see each person who identifies with a particular group, as an individual with their own life experiences and accumulation of beliefs. In a sense, to generalize and stigmatize people from particular groups is kind of delusional to a certain degree.
My hat goes off to NewGround, for taking the brave, risky and crucial steps towards creating balance and healing, in a world filled with harmful misperceptions that human beings have towards one another.
For more info. about NewGround:
Additional article and video from the event: