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Jewish Journal

Thoughts on Happiness, Courage, and Rights

by Maya Paley

March 28, 2013 | 4:11 pm

Photo by Wikipedia.

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.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Maya Paley is Director of Legislative and Community Engagement at the National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles. The programs she works on include the annual Jewish...

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