Monday, July 18, 2016

Poetic Response to a Mass Shooting: Another Day in the Life of America

Sometimes the only response to recent news is an angry poem:

(written after the mass shooting at the Pulse dance club in Orlando, Florida, June 2016) 

By Susan L. Lipson

The Holier-Than-Thous are twittering again,
moaning online and calling for public “moments of silence”
to honor more victims with the passivity of prayer,
victims whom they’ve victimized themselves
by dubbing gay love an “abomination,”
and by restricting their rights to liberty in love,
and to living with acceptance, rather than mere tolerance.

The Holier-Than-Us call out for prayers
to protect our world
(when they really mean their world)
from terrorism
(when they really mean a certain non-Christian religion),
and also from hate crimes
(not including their crimes of exclusion, derision, and delegitimization).

How convenient to pray now for the souls of some of the “sinners”
whom they previously reviled,
to pray in the interests of the “greater” Good
(their greater Good),
and how ironic that they do not dare now
to publicly call that Pulse stopped by evil
“a Divine scourge against sinners,”
only because this time, the judgment was wreaked by those
who also threaten them.

A murderer planned to induce terror,
but instead, he induced a bittersweet moment of forgotten labels and  
       remembered humanity.
A moment of possibility,
lasting only until the next judgmental rant…

Saturday, June 18, 2016


I received the ignorance-filled, anti-Muslim email below from a devout Christian, and wrote a reply to everyone on the sender's list, which appears below the email. Rather than merely shake my head in disapproval and delete it, I decided to take a stand against ignorance and the perpetuation of hatred-infused sentiments masquerading as patriotic, "good Christian" values. I decided to use education as my weapon against xenophobia. Writing a "reply to all" message to people I don't know is always risky, but worth it if I can even broaden one mind. As the late great Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said, "To be is to stand for." I stand for fair-mindedness, as much as I can.

On Sat, Jun 18, 2016 at 10:51 AM, [name deleted] wrote:
[I abridged this by removing two irrelevant paragraphs at the end that had nothing to do with food labeling, but with Sharia law.]

Make sure the grocery buyer in your household reads this.

There should be more leading Australians like Dick, he gets to the bottom of important issues and anything that amounts to selling out Australia is very important.

You may be aware that " Dick Smith " chain franchise stores are being pressured by the Islamic Council of Australia to gain 'Halal Certification' otherwise they will be proscribed and banned from Muslim custom.

This is their response:

"We at Dick Smith 's have received a number of letters from people asking if we will be putting the Muslim Halal logo on our food.

To acquire Halal certification, payment is required to the endorsing body (the Islamic Council) and involves a number of site inspections of both our growers and processors in order to ensure that our practices comply with the conditions of Halal certification.

It is important to note that this does not reflect the quality of the food being processed or sold – it only means that the products are approved as being prepared in accordance with the traditions of the Muslim faith.

We are aware of an increasing number of large companies both in Australia and overseas, such as Kraft and Cadbury, who have obtained accreditation to use the Halal logo. We don’t believe they have done this because of any religious commitment but rather for purely commercial reasons. Perhaps these large organizations can afford to do this.

While we have a choice however, we would prefer to avoid unnecessarily increasing the cost of our products in order to pay for Halal accreditation when this money would be better spent continuing to support important charitable causes where assistance is greatly needed.

We point out that we have never been asked to put a Christian symbol (or any other religious symbol) on our food requiring that we send money to a Christian organization for the right to do so. Others would add that money paid to ANY Muslim 'organization' (and you had better believe it: these people ARE 'organized') can easily find its way into the hands of Islamic extremist-fanatics and murderers, irrespective of assurances to the contrary.

What other assurances do we accept from Muslims? Oh, that's right, 'Islam is a religion of PEACE'! How less Australian can companies get, than to place money into the hands of those who seek to exploit us?"

This is an example of how the leaders of Muslims in Aus./NZ. are bullying large commercial organizations (especially in the food industry) into paying what is no more than blatant extortion money. The amazing part is that these weak-kneed organizations (Cadbury/ Schweppes/ Nestles/ Kraft etc.) actually pay the large sums demanded by these self-appointed religious bureaucrats.

Of course, the manufacturers promptly pass this levy on to unwitting consumers as cost increases. Next time you buy a block of Cadbury's chocolate, look for the Halal Certification seal on the wrapper. So, regardless of your own religious faith, you end up subsidizing Islam.

How many more warnings do people need?
Check the produce on the shelf and don't buy anything Muslim extorted.

You'll forward, yes?


Dear __________,

This assertion that purchasing food with a Halal certification is supporting Islam (with the further implication that Islam means "terrorism") is completely false and unnecessarily inflammatory. That's like saying that the Kosher label supports Jews or Israel. A RIDICULOUS ASSERTION. Kosher-labeled products do not indicate a support of Jews, only that Jewish food restrictions have been kept in mind during the production of the food, so that Jews can know that the food is safe to eat, per their religious traditions. The same applies to Halal food--in fact, Muslims also prohibit the eating, per the bible, of "unclean" animals that eat waste products, like pigs and shellfish.

I do agree, however, that no store should HAVE to pay for Halal or Kosher certification, because that is an optional extra expense to be determined by the ultimate financial gains they might receive from doing so--in terms of extra business from observant Muslims or observant Jews. That is a store's choice.

Being an observant Muslim does not mean that one is a terrorist or Islamist. Many of my students this year come from Muslim families, to my Jewish home, for lessons, and they are some of my most respectful and talented students--as are their parents.

I had to point this out to you because emails like the one you sent are contributing to the xenophobia and hatred that are rising in this country like never before. As a peace-loving, proud member of the interfaith community, as well as a practicing Jew, I cannot stand by and not stand UP.

Thanks for listening to my "counter-rant."

Blessings to you,

Monday, June 13, 2016

Underappreciated Resource for Fiction Writers

How The Bible Can Help Build Character—Fictional Ones, That Is…

If you want to study how to write multidimensional, realistically imperfect characters, with complex backstories and universally recognized flaws and attributes, look no further than the Hebrew Bible. Show me a flawless hero in the Five Books of Moses—I challenge you. And show me a reader of the Bible who can’t identify with at least one person depicted there, in some compelling, and possibly life-changing way.

Why, one might wonder, is a book designed to teach and serve as Law, replete with flawed examples of humanity? Some Bible readers would say that such questions are moot, applicable only to fiction; they would assert that the people of the Bible are not “characters,” but ancestors—real people—and they must be portrayed truthfully because the Bible is nonfiction, a historical record. Others, who read the Bible as historical fiction, might argue that the omniscient narrator point-of-view of realistically flawed characters allows readers to decide, based on their own perspectives, which characters to connect with as they read, and also to find new connections with each rereading as their own perspectives about life evolve over time. In either case, some readers might complain that it’s difficult to feel connected to, or even sympathetic toward, characters we would only emulate by being the opposite of them. I would point out to such readers that all of us read stories, in a way, to find and define ourselves, and every person can find aspects of their own character within the ultimate compendium of human traits known as the Bible.

  • If I want to portray a story of a nonconformist who follows only the supernatural stirrings within his own heart and soul, defying social norms to do so, because he knows somehow that he is right about society’s need for a new way of thinking, I need only study the story of Abraham. 

  • To create a complex tale of deception and extortion among family or friends, I can find material within the biblical scenes about blind Isaac; his scheming son, Jacob; his impulsive son, Esau; and their manipulative mother, Rebecca. 
  • For a novel centered on dangerous sibling rivalry that almost destroys a family and alters society itself, I could find source material in the ancient stories of Jacob and his twelve sons. 
  • To portray a boy whose deep friendship with another boy is gossiped about as “gay,” a boy who stands up for his friendship even if it means challenging authority, I need to study the Bible story of David and Jonathan—the original “bromance.” 

  • If I want to share a story of an outcast, morally corrupt young woman who redeems herself by risking her life for the sake of a greater social good, I can study the tale of Rahab, the prostitute, who saved a city from complete destruction. 

  • If I want to create a political tale of a paradoxically noble, yet self-centered leader whose downfall seems to be an addiction to sex, I could borrow from the story of King David (not to mention some recent historical figures).

  • And if I decide to depict a story of a boy with psychic gifts, good looks, and charisma, a boy who evokes as much bitter envy as he does awe, a boy who becomes victimized by the ones meant to protect him, and then uses his gifts to reverse his fortune change the world, that’s the story of Joseph, son of Rachel and Jacob.  

Etcetera… You get the idea. The archetypes of most multidimensional characters have already appeared in the world’s best-selling, longest-existing collection of tales of humanity. The bible is not just for religious study; it’s not just about laws and wars and punishments; it’s not just about obedience to God and warnings about defiance of commandments; the bible is the fountainhead of all humanity-based writing. Amen!