Posted by Lia Mandelbaum
On New Years Eve, only a few hours shy of 2012, I decided to drive from my house in Silverlake to Huntington Beach, so that I could be with a woman whom I have recently started to date. While driving in the dark on an unfamiliar route, halfway between our houses, I hit some very dense fog, and was having trouble reading the signs along the highway. I was also having trouble with the navigation because I was unfamiliar with my new GPS. I began to get the feeling that I may have already missed my exit, but I wasn’t sure, and kept going. The drive had become an intense experience, and I became anxious and frustrated. To top it off, I am truly clueless when it comes to having a sense of direction. I was lost, and by accident, had even gotten onto the wrong highway at one point. I decided to just get off the 405 and attempt to use my GPS again to help me find my way from wherever I was. Turns out that had I driven several miles past the exit, and added an additional half hour to my trip.
I found myself getting angry at the situation. Right after I had gotten off the highway, she had sent me a text saying that she was getting sleepy, and I immediately had the urge to just drive back home. As soon as I recognized that I was getting caught up in the unhealthy cycle of being angry, I stopped myself and said, “What is my responsibility in this situation? How can I see things differently?” In that moment of surrender, I acknowledged the reality that I am often unable to wrap my head around directions, and when combined with darkness, fog and a faulty GPS, the moment is going to get complicated. I need to be more aware and prepared for when these kinds of situations may come up. I also acknowledged that my anger was a defense mechanism, and that it was really just masking the embarrassment I had for getting so lost.
By 11pm, the drive got even foggier because the route I was told to take was on the Pacific Coast Highway, which runs along the ocean. When I first got onto PCH, I was bummed because I couldn’t see the beautiful ocean at all, and I immediately recognized my negative thinking, and instead of getting upset about that, I rolled down the windows and let myself feel and smell the ocean air. I began to feel the presence of the ocean, even with the fog, and it made me happy. In the past, when I was struggling with addiction and felt dead inside, when I would look out at the ocean, I would feel nothing. I could be at the beach witnessing the most magnificent sunset, but still felt nothing, which depressed me even more. Here I was, driving through dense fog, and yet I could still feel the presence of the magnificent ocean. It made me realize how far I’ve come from my struggles, and that I felt open, alive and connected. I became grateful.
As I arrived to my destination, I became annoyed for a moment because I couldn’t find parking anywhere close to where she lived. After I parked and began to walk through the foggy streets, I crossed a man who initially came off to me as being a bit creepy. As soon as he asked me a question and we began to talk, I could see that he was a sweet man. He was just lost in an unfamiliar and foggy neighborhood, like I had been lost on the highway, and just wanted some direction. When I told him that I wasn’t from around there, he thanked me anyways and gave me a nice smile and wished me a happy new year. His voice sounded genuine, and when I said it back, I knew that I was also being genuine. The experience made me feel good, because of how in the past, when I felt empty and dead inside, I struggled to connect and have genuine experiences with most people, and here I was having a genuine, sweet and simple exchange with a stranger.
As I kept walking, I began to think about what I could take away from my experience with getting lost in the fog. What was the message that I needed to learn? I believe that we are given the opportunity for personal growth, with every challenge we face, if we choose to do so. I realized that similar to the lack of visibility that I experienced in the fog, as we enter the New Year, we really don’t know what we’re walking into. We can have a general idea of what’s to come, but we cannot predict all of the challenges we will face, as life unfolds. The radical and unexpected changes, unseen forces, and wildcards that we will face, offer us the opportunity to empower ourselves by having the ability to surrender to the perfection of the bigger picture. I felt really good as I thought about walking into the unknown, because I have faith and integrity these days, and a strong ability to handle challenges. When you struggle with addiction, you cannot count on your ability to handle issues well, and in fact, you create most of the issues for yourself and those around you. In that moment, I had transformed what could have been viewed as an awful experience, into a spiritual one. In every moment we have an opportunity to transform the way we view our reality in order to create a new experience. I want to make the most of this life and reach my highest potential, and remove the stumbling blocks that come my way. Even though I had a far walk to her house, it allowed me the chance to discover my new years resolution, which is to be really mindful of my attitude during challenges, and empower myself to transform my experiences. I am actually grateful for the fog, because it blinded me from outside distractions and forced me to be in the present moment. The irony is that fog was the catalyst to help me shed the light needed to clear my own foggy mind.
As I entered her apartment, I felt really good because I knew that I was meeting her with an uplifted spirit, and not an angry one. She had left her front door open, and when I walked up to her, I was greeted with a sweet smile, as she was just waking up and stretching. I realized that the embarrassment I felt for getting lost wasn’t even necessary…the only reason why she told me she was getting sleepy was to let me know that she was going to take a nap. Since she had been sleeping, she didn’t even notice the time it took me. I’m so glad I didn’t turn around and drive home. I ended up having a really nice time with her.
I’m sharing this experience because I want you, the reader, to think about how you can empower yourself to completely transform your experiences. We often get so caught up in our heated emotions over situations and challenges, that we let them fog our minds, and we loose sight of the blessings that can be found within almost every situation, if we allow ourselves to.
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December 22, 2011 | 7:55 pm
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.
December 12, 2011 | 12:04 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 | 8:43 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:
November 29, 2011 | 2:13 pm
Posted by Tera Greene
Hello, dear readers! I wanted to let you know about my last event as a Birthright Israel NEXT Fellow 2010-2011. If you are in the LA area come out and join us. There will be light snacks/refreshments and the event is FREE. All ages. Tuesday, December 6, 2011. 7:30pm until 10:30pm… Hope to see you there!
Are you a member of or do you support the LGBTQ community?
Well, then we have an event for you!
In collaboration with JQ International and the Workmen’s Circle, join Birthright Israel NEXT for an evening of Jewish LGBTQ film, a chance to hop on a mic to express yourselves and engage in the power of community through interactive media!
There will be a sign up sheet the night of the event to participate in the Open Mic. So…
Come out, come out wherever you are!
RSVP here: http://bit.ly/rJ5kms
View FB event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/136825966423197/
Featured Poet of the night… Tristan Silverman! Check out a video:
November 24, 2011 | 3:59 pm
Posted by Tera Greene
It’s Tofurky Day!
There’s not much on my mind but taking in the abundant joys of life that I am thankful for. And, these joys are not just experienced on the once-a-year holiday of Thanksgiving.
Yesterday, as I made it in and out of my local Trader Joe’s for a few things, I was delighted with a bit of joy. There were a couple of dogs waiting for their owner and they were surrounded by a lil’ crowd that had formed. Everyone was smiling and laughing and just, well, feeling joy. And boy is joy contagious!
I hope the photo of what I saw gives you, too, an ounce of joy… and remember to be thankful for life’s lil’ joys, not just on a holiday, but every day you wake.
November 15, 2011 | 8:39 pm
Posted by Kadin Henningsen
I’ve just spent the last week reflecting on all of the amazing films I saw at the 3rd Annual Los Angeles Transgender Film Festival that took place the first week of November at various venues across L.A. In the three years since founder Kalil Cohen started the festival it has grown from one screening on one night to five screenings over three days. I’m inclined to think this sort of rapid growth is infrequent. Thanks to trans visibility on more recent shows like Dancing with the Stars trans people are gaining visibility in popular/mass media. Often times, however, depictions of trans people are offensive and perpetuate negative narratives that people within the trans spectrum are screwed–up, loveless freaks and social pariahs. The continued growth and success of the festival demonstrates that positive images of trans lives are in high demand and that the trans community is in full force when it comes to producing powerful images about their own lives. This years festival did an amazing job of highlighting the multivalent lives within the trans community. While recognizing the difficulties that trans people face in the world the festival chose to also focus on the ways in which trans people move in and out of love, inspire, and even laugh at themselves - breaking down many of the negative stereotypes society projects on to the trans community. A personal favorite of the festival this year was the feature length Brazilian film Elvis & Madonna, which follows the touching love story between a Transwoman and genderqueer Lesbian.
Taking home the “Audience Award for Best Short Film” was Rites of Passage by Jeff Roy which chronicles the life of a transwoman from India during the moments leading to her sex reassignment surgery in Thailand. Shot in the verite style the narrative follows her on her travels while she talks about her life, family and relationship with the divine. The jurors of the festival also handed out the “Jury Award for Best Short Film” to Getting Off by Meliza Banales & J. Aguilar, the hilarious film about a lost orgasm and the search to get it back.
While the official festival has come and gone, there are plenty of opportunities to see these great films. Organizer Kalil Cohen and the Transgender Film Fest regularly tour colleges and other venues. If you would like to host a screening or to learn more, visit http://www.tgfilmfest.com/.
If you would like to know more about transgender people you can attend a Trans 101 workshop at Beth Chayim Chadashim on Thursday, November 17th at 7pm. (6090 W. Pico, LA). Starting in December, BCC will also be launching a special monthly Torah Study aimed at exploring sacred texts that specifically address trans issues. If you like to know more about Judaism and trans issues visit TransTorah or pick up a copy of the ground breaking book Balancing on the Mechitzah, winner of a Lambda Literary Award.
November is also a month recognized by the trans community as a time to education people about trans people and trans issues. On Sunday, November 20th for Transgender Day of Remembrance trans communities around the world will be taking time to remember trans people who have been killed simply because of who they are, or trans people who have committed suicide as a result of bullying. This year Beth Chayim Chadashim, the world’s oldest LGBT synagogue, will be leading a special Transgender Day of Remembrance Service on Friday, November 18th at 8pm.
October 24, 2011 | 11:03 pm
Posted by Tera Greene
The Joys of Beginning Again
Before I started again.
I set levels of commitment.
And with a jolt of “we are here for you”,
The Universe started to show up with the
That would make all the commitments come true.
As long as I showed up,
With Action and Commited Action,
Actionable Tasks by which to create an Olam, a world, of my Own Choosing.
Every new year we beginning again, again.
Hopefully, spiraling upwards, while deeper looking withinwards,
Where words have meaning on a Subconscious level,
and Manifesting things is tangible.
To begin again, is to once again remind yourself to be Human again.
And create the life you want,
Based on the values you’ve honed since year before last, and the year betwixt,
and the experiences that would have your Warrior Mindset thwarted, but NO!
The Joys of Beginning Again.
The Joys of Beginning Again.
This time, for the last time, again.
Beginning the Joys of Again.
In a different mindset, a more clear mindset to attract more abundant joys.
And to finally, finally, never return again. Anagamin.