Posted by Maya Paley
I have this calendar of Yiddish sayings on my desk. I never really think about the sayings on the calendar. I just tear off each day’s page so that I feel like I’m making good use of this gift I got from my grandparents’ friends. But today I arrived at the office and quickly noticed yesterday’s quote (May 2, 2013).
“Orem iz nischt kayn shandeh, abi nischt shmarkateh.”
“Poverty is not a disgrace, nor is it filthy.”
This may sound like an exaggeration to some, but this statement, in all its simplicity, forces me to think about how I perceive of others and of myself when it comes to poverty.
I received my Master’s Degree in International Affairs with a concentration on Economic and Political Development. My fellow students and I had arrived to Manhattan from around the world to learn how we can champion ending global poverty only to learn the depressing truth about our chosen field: most of the history of “economic development” has been nothing but a continuation of the patriarchal, colonial, condescending, and unsuccessful paradigm paralleling the rest of America’s international history (aside from a few unique exceptions).
I talk about poverty often. I like discussing the importance of fighting the inequalities and societal structures that impede people from moving out of poverty both here in the US and abroad with friends and colleagues. But I rarely think about how I and others around me look at those in poverty and whether or not the way I’m thinking about them is patriarchal, colonial, and condescending as well.
Honestly…it often is. I often feel pity for people living in poverty. I often assume they want my “help” and that “help” is something I can give them.
When I think about homelessness, I am angry with our government, our system, our population for not doing enough to help those in need of shelter. But when I walk by a homeless person on the street, the truth is that I usually either try to avoid eye contact or getting too close to them so they don’t have a chance to ask me for money or I give them a dollar as quickly as possible so that I can move on and not deal with the reality of who they are and how they got to this point. And truthfully I am afraid and sometimes embarrassed by the way they look after not having access to a shower for some time.
So I’m asking myself: do I consider poverty to be filthy or disgraceful? What are the prejudices I’m carrying with me that have been embedded into my subconscious through the history books I’ve read and the etiquette I’ve seen throughout my life. Is there a clear line between wanting to help because it’s the right thing to do and helping because you feel that you are better than others because you are not in their position?
The most recent statistics from 2011 refer to at least 51,340 homeless people In LA County. 12,560 are chronically homeless (for at least a year or more), over 9,000 are veterans, 33% suffer from mental illness, and 32% have a Bachelor’s degree or higher.
With our mayoral elections upon, the least we can do is ask the next mayor of Los Angeles do something about this issue. According to United Way, L.A. is the “homeless capital of the nation.” But beyond governmental assistance and philanthropic support, should we be asking ourselves this question: how are we looking at those in poverty? How are we judging them? Are we seeing them through lenses of prejudice and assumption and are we seeing poverty itself as a disgraceful and filthy?
Please share your thoughts on our perceptions of poverty or on issues of homelessness and poverty in Los Angeles.
5.3.13 at 12:56 pm | I have this calendar of Yiddish sayings on my. . .
4.18.13 at 2:24 pm | Guest post by Bonnie Samotin Zev, a. . .
3.28.13 at 4:11 pm | Between Passover, attending NCJW’s Washington. . .
3.8.13 at 1:18 pm | I mark this day with both positive feelings and. . .
2.25.13 at 4:19 pm | In the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence. . .
2.8.13 at 3:57 pm | Let’s face the truth: most perpetrators of. . .
5.3.13 at 12:56 pm | I have this calendar of Yiddish sayings on my. . . (10)
3.28.13 at 4:11 pm | Between Passover, attending NCJW’s Washington. . . (6)
8.7.12 at 8:49 pm | I have received several emails and comments on. . . (5)
April 18, 2013 | 2:24 pm
Posted by Maya Paley
“Our foremothers have established a tradition of supportive friendship and community that we would be wise to follow.”
The phone calls not yet returned. The unanswered emails. The looming deadlines at the office. The to-do list that never ends. The laundry is piling up, but the washing machine needs repair. “I’ll take stress for 100, Alex.”
Whether you are a mom juggling your kids’ schedules with your own, a college student trying to stay above water, a daughter trying desperately to stay positive while aging parents are declining, a professional achieving at the office - or whether you are all or any combination of these things – the demands on us can seem endless. Because they are endless.
I have too often fallen into the trap of trying to “be it all” – the producer at the workplace who delivers beyond expectations, the friend who can always be counted on, the wife who is still as completely mesmerizing as she was on the first date, the daughter-in-law who is truly “like a daughter.” My friends with kids teach them that it’s okay to make mistakes. Yet when they make mistakes in parenting, they are not as forgiving of themselves – the tiniest misstep can seem so monumental. And on top of the day to day items, there are the unexpected curve balls that life throws each of us from time to time.
In recent years I’ve met amazing women who strive to live their lives in their truth. To me, this means 1) pushing past society’s expectations to shine in all things 2) boldly pursuing the things that truly fill you up and 3) spurning perceived judgment from others. And they are committed to supporting and empowering other women. They share the wisdom they’ve gained, and the talents they’ve unleashed to help raise others up.
Unfortunately, too often women compete - for acknowledgement, for attention, for success, for love. Many of us spend time playing a comparison game and keeping scorecards. What a concept to realize that instead, we can support and cheerlead each other as we each pursue our unique and individual journeys. There is enough love, joy, attention and success to go around. We can use our own talents to help each other when our sister is overwhelmed. Why not ask for help when our own wherewithal has become more like “where-without?” We don’t have to DO it all. We don’t have to BE it all.
Last weekend, I hosted an event for 25 people in my home. But my plate was already full and my cup was already empty. Still, I wanted to be the consummate hostess. A close friend reminded me, “When I need help with a speech, I come to you.” She reassured me, “I got this for you. That’s what friends do.” She took me to the farmer’s market, she ordered food from various places on my behalf, and she brought over beautiful serving platters to make me look like a star. Above all, she reminded me that it is okay to lean on a friend.
I’m still learning the lesson that having a balanced life is an ongoing exercise. The good news is that every moment of every day of the rest of our lives provides an excellent opportunity to practice. You can’t give till your cup runs out, and then say, “Okay, I’m ready for some balance today.” These muscles need daily flexing.
Setting boundaries and letting go of the “shoulds” allows us time to get centered and to fill up. Carving out time to tune out the noise and tune in to what’s really important, allows us to see our true strengths and keep perspective on our shortcomings. Some of my personal go-to tools for getting centered are taking deep loving breaths, drawing with magic markers, singing in the car or shower, journaling, dancing, and spending quality time giggling with loved ones. For me, the more playful the outlet, the more effective I can be while in busy mode.
So how do you get centered and how do you fill up? And if you forget to fill up, who do you call upon for help?
Sisterhoods are not just about bake sales at synagogues and community centers. Our foremothers have established a tradition of supportive friendship and community that we would be wise to follow.
By nurturing ourselves and reaching out in sisterhood, we can recharge and fill our many roles with the joy we intend. We can be the teacher, the counselor, the provider, the nurturer, the advocate, the artist, the rock that others depend on, the leader. We can strive for the highest potential of our truest selves. How do we get there? The path is unique for each of us. It has twists and turns and is ever-evolving, but like most things, it begins with a single step. For starters, I’m going to get out the magic markers and phone a friend.
Bonnie Samotin Zev is a communications professional, project manager and segment producer, specializing in humanitarian issues, women’s issues, topics in entertainment, community, and human-interest stories. She is a cheerleader of collaborative leadership, and is passionate about creativity and self-expression without apology.
You can meet Bonnie and join a workshop she's facilitating at NCJW/LA's Sunday Salons: Conversations and Tools to Find Balance. The program runs from 10-2 pm, includes breakfast and lunch for $15, and aims to help women of many generations find balance, discuss real issues and challenges they face in their lives, and leave with practical tools for increasing happiness and self-fulfillment. Bonnie will be co-facilitating the Sandwich Generation workshop. Please visit www.jwcsc.org/lifetransitions to learn more about the program, including the Quarter Life Crisis and Third Chapter workshops.
March 28, 2013 | 4:11 pm
Posted by Maya Paley
Between Passover, attending NCJW’s Washington Institute, the mayoral elections in LA, Obama in Israel, ongoing fundraising and advocating for women’s and refugee rights, organizing advocacy training sessions, and the DOMA and Prop. 8 hearings in the US Supreme Court, I’m completely overwhelmed. I also turned 30 a few weeks ago, which added to the overthinking process. It kind of felt like a big deal even though logically I know it’s not. I came to a realization that I’m actually happy. It seems silly, but I feel like we’re always searching for “true happiness” and we rarely stop to consider if we’re happy in the moment. So I considered it, and I discovered I’m happy with where I am, where I’m going, and who I am. But happiness is different than contentment. I’ve also discovered that I will probably never be content because to be content is to accept everything as it is.
Last week, when lobbying my representatives and senators in DC with NCJW, I felt very positive about the democratic process. I was excited to be heard and to have the opportunity to tell officials who represent me that I want changes like gun violence prevention legislation, comprehensive immigration reform, and real reproductive rights for all women in the United States.
Yesterday, I watched my college student little brother post a photo on Facebook of himself kissing three male friends of his. He wrote that he posted the photo in solidarity with his gay friends during the DOMA and Proposition 8 Supreme Court decisions this week, ignoring the older generations in our community who worried that this public display might negatively affect his career or might make people think he’s gay. “Who cares?” he said. “I don’t care what people think of my sexuality or how shocking the photo is: that’s the point. We’ve created norms in mainstream America that won’t change until we provoke those who blindly follow them without even realizing it.”
I watched the positive responses to his public provocation by his peers and felt reassured that we are going through some truly remarkable and real changes in our society. I also felt lucky to be living in a place where we can speak and write about most topics without much worry (although that is not to say that there is no censorship in the US at all). I can only hope that the Court makes the right decision and ensures that equality and freedom from discrimination are guaranteed to all those living in this country.
But as Passover began and I read through the two Haggadot we used on different nights of the Seder and some of the supplements I received from various Jewish organizations this year, I could not help but think of those who do not have the basic rights and freedoms I have. One of the issues I most relate to is how we treat strangers, and I’m sure this was handed through the stories of my great grand-parents leaving Eastern Europe, my grand-parents leaving Iraq, and even my mom leaving Israel. Jews say over and over again that “we were once strangers in a strange land” and that it is our duty to treat strangers with respect and compassion. The Torah mentions 36 times how important it is to welcome the stranger.
So I encourage you, during this week, to consider those who are fleeing genocide, torture, and human trafficking at the exact moment that you read this. I encourage you to read about what is happening in Sinai today. Hundreds, if not thousands, of women, men, and children have been tortured and trafficked through Sinai. Some end up in Israel. Some never make it. Some chose to take the journey to Israel to find freedom and peace from the human rights abuses they face in their home countries of Sudan and Eritrea, others were kidnapped and forced to Sinai. Most of the women are raped on the way and most of the men are tortured, and the organized criminals do not care if they are old, young, men, or women. An eight year old girl was finally let go last week after the international Eritrean community raised $41,000 for her ransom. This was after she watched the murders of several others by the traffickers. I know this is depressing, but it is our duty to know and to act.
Here is what you can do to make a difference. Take a few minutes to sign this petition: www.tinyurl.com/sinaicampaign to urge the US, UK, EU, UN, and Egypt to put a stop to what’s happening to the African asylum seekers in Sinai. We can still be happy in our lives without being content about the atrocities taking place in this world. Not knowing will only hurt us in the long run. Let’s use our history and memory to inspire courage within us. Let us not be afraid to stand up to governments to make sure they know what is right and what is wrong, whether it be the security of vulnerable people worldwide, the rights of our fellow citizens to marry each other and live full and happy lives, or the rights of our children to be free of violence in our neighborhood schools.
What do you want to advocate for? Is there anything standing in your way? I would love to hear about it.
March 8, 2013 | 1:18 pm
Posted by Maya Paley
What is International Women's Day?
From 1909-1913, women of the Socialist Party of America began observing National Women’s Day at the end of February each year. In 1910, at the International Conference of Working Women, Clara Zetkin of Germany proposed the idea of an International Women’s Day (IWD) to be celebrated in all countries on the same day each year. Over 100 women from 17 countries, mostly those involved in the labor rights movement, unanimously approved the proposal launching the now 103 year old tradition.
The United Nations started observing IWD in 1975, going so far as to mark the day as a UN Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace in 1977.
How is IWD being commemorated this year?
This year, there are over 1000 events worldwide to honor International Women’s Day. The holiday is official in numerous countries, including Afghanistan, Cambodia, China, Cuba, Uganda, and Vietnam. In some countries the holiday is observed by only women getting the day off of work.
What follows is part of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s message commemorating International Women’s Day today:
As we commemorate International Women’s Day, we must look back on a year of shocking crimes of violence against women and girls and ask ourselves how to usher in a better future… Look around at the women you are with. Think of those you cherish in your families and your communities. And understand that there is a statistical likelihood that many of them have suffered violence in their lifetime. Even more have comforted a sister or friend, sharing their grief and anger following an attack. This year on International Women’s Day, we convert our outrage into action. We declare that we will prosecute crimes against women – and never allow women to be subjected to punishments for the abuses they have suffered. We renew our pledge to combat this global health menace wherever it may lurk – in homes and businesses, in war zones and placid countries, and in the minds of people who allow violence to continue.
Yesterday, on March 7, 2013, President Obama signed back into law the inclusive Violence Against Women Act, making it clear that the violence against all women, including women who are sexual minorities and Native American women in the United States, must be stopped and that all women have a right to be protected from sexual violence, intimate partner and domestic violence, and any other forms of violence against them.
Happy, Sad, Emotional…and Action-Oriented
I mark this day with both positive feelings and an ongoing sadness. I am genuinely happy to know that I live in a place where there are laws that are meant to protect me from harm, and where there are laws meant to guarantee that I earn what men earn and laws that are meant to prevent any discrimination against me due to my gender. However, I am saddened by the reality that many of the laws both in the United States and throughout the world, including international conventions and agreements meant to protect the rights of women and girls, are not in actuality enforced or respected. You only have to read my last blog post on the state of violence against women to understand what I mean by this. Today I think about our reality and I celebrate the achievements of women internationally while not losing sight of the fact that there are many challenges yet to be tackled, many struggles we have yet to overcome, and many women who continue to suffer atrocities committed against them simply because they are women.
I urge you to take action today and here are some ways:
• Write an op-ed or letter to the editor urging your newspaper to cover more stories about violence and discrimination against women and urging them to include more women’s voices in their news.
• Sign letters to your Senators or Representatives to urge the U.S. to ratify the international Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Click here to sign a letter from NCJW and send it directly to your Senators.
• Get involved with an organization that is advocating for the rights of women, whether it’s National Council of Jewish Women, National Organization for Women, Emily’s List, the League of Women Voters, Planned Parenthood, Women’s Refugee Commission, or any of the countless others.
Like the women who convened 100 years ago from all over the world to discuss, engage, and work together to pressure their respective governments to do something about the inequalities they faced as women year after year, we too can create change. If you’re involved with advocacy for women of any nature, I would love to hear about it. Leave a comment and let us all know what you’re working on and how others can help out or get involved.
If you’re interested in gaining skills to be an effective advocate for women’s rights, join NCJW/LA, Planned Parenthood LA, the League of Women Voters, and the City of West Hollywood for 5 training workshops. Info on the Women’s Action Training Project can be found at www.jwcsc.org/events.
February 25, 2013 | 4:19 pm
Posted by Maya Paley
In the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, issued in 1993 by the United Nations General Assembly, “violence against women” is defined as "any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life." Until women are no longer threatened by physical, sexual, or mental harm, we better be learning this definition and reminding everyone we know of its existence.
What I loved about V-Day’s One Billion Rising campaign is that it used theater, dance, and music to raise awareness. Let’s face it: not many of us are going to sit down and Google the definition of “violence against women” on our Sunday afternoons. It’s a creative method of educating others on how critical this issue still is for women all over the world.
From February 14th through March 8th women’s equality and empowerment are celebrated by women’s rights activists worldwide. March 8th has been International Women’s Day (originally International Working Women’s Day) since the early 1900’s and February 14th is newly referred to as V-Day, in which the ‘V’ stands “Victory, Valentine, and Vagina.” The first International Women’s Day was celebrated in 1909. By 1911, over a million people demonstrated worldwide to promote equal rights for women. Nothing compared to that momentum of international scale until the One Billion Rising campaign organized by global movement V-Day on their 15th anniversary this year. V-Day is a global activist movement founded by playwright and activist Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues. The numbers aren’t out yet, but there were One Billion Rising events throughout the world on February 14, 2013, including several in Los Angeles. Women and men rose up to demand an end to violence against women through speaking, performing, dancing, and writing.
In marking the time between V-Day and International Women’s Day, I think it’s time to remind ourselves of the reasons why it’s still just as important as ever to demand an end to violence against women. According to UN Women:
• Up to 76% of women worldwide are targets of physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetimes.
• Most of the violence against women is perpetrated by intimate partners.
• Up to 50 percent of sexual assaults are committed against girls under 16.
• Around 30 percent of women were forced into their first sexual experience.
Here are some more statistics from the International Violence Against Women survey, a comparative survey of 30 countries from all continents whose findings were published in 2008.The survey clearly proves that violence against women occurs all over the world, against women of all ages and economic groups:
• Between 35-60% of women in the surveyed countries have experienced violence by a man during their lifetime.
• Between 22-40% have experienced intimate partner violence during their lifetime.
• Less than one third of women reported their experience of violence to the police, and women are more likely to report stranger violence than intimate partner violence.
• About one fourth of victimized women did not talk to anyone about their experiences.
The goals of commemorative days like International Women’s Day and V-Day are to remind us that women have yet to achieve full equality, respect, and freedom from violence and to promote the sharing of experiences between women and with men worldwide. I encourage you to use the time between now and March 8th to intentionally share these statistics and the definition of “violence against women” with people in your own community and to find your own creative ways to call for an end to violence against women.
November 28, 2012 | 11:43 am
Posted by Deepika Narasimhan
In the world of education reform, there has been a lot of talk lately about bringing accountability into the teaching profession. The newest set of policy pursuits is based in research that says that a good teacher is one of the most important factors in student success. As a result, I have seen various attempts to recruit the best, weed out the worst, and measure their success in my last few years working in education policy. But with American spending on education substantially higher per student than most industrialized nations and students still falling behind in reading, math, and science, educators and policymakers alike have been seeking out solutions to this education “problem.” Various proposals have been suggested and/or implemented, including getting tougher on tenure, evaluation frameworks that include measures of student outcomes, and even offering cash incentives to teachers who get students to pass tests.
But in a profession that is overwhelmingly female, (76% in public schools nationwide): why isn’t gender considered to be an important factor in the education reform debate?
Look at Finland, a country being touted for its educational successes. Finland is consistently a top performer in the Programme for International Student Assessment, an international exam from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development given to 15 year olds. The U.S. came in 17th in overall standings, setting off a round of alarmist speeches and spelling out impending doom for America’s educational (and economic) future.
For many reformers, the refrain has become, “How do we copy Finland’s success?”
Well, one of Finland’s top school reformers, Pasi Sahlberg, recently argued that, as evidenced in his country, educational success is connected to other development factors, including gender equality. He contends that the current educational reform movement is a “masculine construction of market rationale and power” and that this business-minded approach to education is a result of minimal female representation in the political and corporate arenas, which is in direct contrast with Finland’s nearly gender-equal political representation (The Answer Sheet).
The numbers in the United States support Sahlberg’s stance. Only 32% of the highest education posts (Superintendents/Commissioners/Secretaries of Education) are held by women. That is to say, even in a female-dominated profession, the majority of top leadership in the United States is male. Add this to the mostly male-funded philanthropic efforts, such as the Broad and Gates Foundations, and female representation in the reform movement is further diminished.
Sahlberg continues to argue that gender equality is a “particularly relevant variable to be included in the analysis of a country’s child welfare and education policies” because women are particularly attuned to children’s needs. He also projects that more women making decisions on education policy would result in a stronger focus on early childhood development programs and better pay for teachers.
We can challenge the validity of such hypotheticals and argue that several other pedagogically-based factors produce more direct results, but bringing more female voices into the reform debate can only have positive outcomes, particularly because the majority of those affected by teacher reforms happen to be women. And by improving the quality of teaching, we can make it a more appealing profession for both men and women.
To find out more about your state's teacher effectiveness action plan, visit the US Department of Education's page on Teacher Quality Grants. You can also find more updated information on each individual state or district's Department of Education websites.
Deepika Narasimhan is an educational media consultant, and has worked with the New York City Department of Education, and on international education in India, Egypt, and South Africa.
September 25, 2012 | 1:03 pm
Posted by Maya Paley
This may sound self-centered, but the main person I need to ask for forgiveness from over this past year is me. Now hold on a minute, allow me to explain.
I have a tendency to be way too hard on myself. I expect to achieve everything right away, to do so well, and to get it all done at the same time. I am angry with myself when I cannot make it all happen. I have guilt about the goals I did not accomplish, the people I did not help, the friends I did not call, and the family I did not spend enough time with. When I’m not feeling guilty about the past, I have anxiety about trying to do it all in the future. Does this sound familiar to any of you?
Over the past year I’ve thought a lot about how much I envy my grandmother. She is 86 years old and she knows she’s had a satisfying life. She traveled all over the world, fell in love, spent her life with her soul mate, had three healthy children and six grandchildren, and she’s still healthy and independent. If I were her, I would feel free.
While driving myself to LAX a month or so ago, “The Logical Song” by Supertramp came on the radio at 4 am. I’ve been obsessively listening to it on repeat every day since then:
“When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful, a miracle, it was beautiful, magical.
And all the birds in the trees, well they'd be singing so happily, joyfully, playfully, watching me.
But then they sent me away to teach me how to be sensible, logical, responsible, practical.
And they showed me a world where I could be so dependable, clinical, intellectual, cynical.”
I haven’t been living an adult life for all that long, but I’m already exhausted. How did my parents and grandparents do this? Supertramp is so right: Growing up and becoming a responsible human being makes you cynical. At least for me, adulthood has added weight to my responsibility to help other human beings and to be a dependable friend, daughter, sister, employee, activist, etc.
While it’s good to strive to be the best I can be, it’s also burdensome. I’m sure a lot of you feel the same way. The more we learn, the more we know how many appalling things are happening in this world, both internationally and locally, and how our own actions perpetuate and exacerbate many atrocities, like child labor in sweatshops and gruesome regional wars over oil reserves. Yet I’m still buying new clothes and I’m still driving around LA.
Can I live with myself for the rest of my life knowing that I am contributing to a societal structure that abuses, murders, exploits, and excludes innocent people?
I like to glorify my childhood and think of it as a playful, easy time in my life, and I like to glorify getting older and not having to worry about the future anymore. But the truth is that childhood was not easy. Kids made fun of each other, friends dumped each other, and it was impossible to fit in. Old(er) age is not easy either. It’s much harder to maintain your health and your physical capacity wanes. And I imagine you have just as much anxiety about your future as you do when you’re in your early adulthood.
So I’m asking myself for forgiveness. I’m asking myself to take a deep breath, remember that I am doing the best I can, and remind myself that everything is always going to be okay and that it is impossible to fix everything in this world. The most I can do is talk about issues, write about issues, and advocate for change. The bottom line: I may be cynical and have anxiety and guilt issues, but it’s made me a better person and it’s made me grateful for the life and privileges I have. I forgive myself for being the way I am. I hope you can forgive yourselves, too (if that’s what you need to do).
What are your thoughts on atonement and your personal goals for the coming year?
Shana tova, g’mar chatimah tova, and may you have a wonderful, fulfilling, and positive year!