An Answer So Simple, I Couldn’t See It

I found myself driving around aimlessly in Albuquerque yesterday asking, “What should I do with my life.” I’ve been after that question a lot lately, so finally I also asked the universe to give me a clue — I figured that couldn’t hurt — and then, while it took a few twists and turns, I actually got an answer.

It started when I was in a parking lot when a woman on crutches approached from between the cars, and then I saw she was one-legged.  With just the right amount of anguished tearfulness, she said, “I’m not a drunk and I’m not on drugs, the homeless shelter is full, and I’m just trying to get enough for a room,” and her appeal moved me to give her some money. Whatever her story, it is just possible to end up on the streets these days.rz REBECCA MAKE EVERYBODY HAPPY DSC_0728

That opened my heart up to the suffering around me. And it caused a fundamental shift in my question. Now it was “What can I do to make the world a better place?” Anyway, it was about noon, I was getting hungry and I went into the Whole Foods grocery store near the intersection of Wyoming Boulevard at Academy Road. I took a sandwich into the dining area when something fabulous on the walls caught my eye. It was a show of children’s art, and it was really good. It was beautiful. That innocent joy and energy of children’s art is just a pleasure to look at.

Picasso was onto something when he told people to appreciate children’s art. The works, about 30 pieces, were colorful and creative and free, and then I noticed some of them had unusual captions, that I would later learn from their teacher was completely of their own writing: “Nature’s Beauty,” “Love the World, Take Care of the Earth,” “Respect All Kinds of Nature, Color is Everything, “ “Make Peace,” “Peace is your only Hope”, “Balance the World.” One that gave you a spinning feeling was titled “Happy World!”ALEINU AMEN HAPPY WORLD DSC_0710

Another, where you could see the teacher had helped a bit with the printing of a long message the child had composed, said “We appreciate how nature is beauty,” and had a tree with arm-like branches and pools of water gathering from streams that ran down from mountain peaks.


All the artwork had depth, layers of drawing, with markers and crayon and collage. And it seemed like one of the children had drawn themselves at the base of the world with sunrays coming out, or maybe the figure was an angel, or maybe it was both.

I had gotten so far away from that place of appreciation, that I hadn’t remembered anymore what art is for, and that appreciating beauty actually makes a difference. The pictures reached me, and they reminded me that beauty and harmony are indeed how the universe holds together — and that is both a scientific and a spiritual reality. And I had forgotten that making art, for children, is such a spontaneous thing to do. And that disharmony and ugliness appear when things aren’t working. I tend to get so caught up in focusing on what’s wrong in the world that I’d forgotten so many things that these children‘s artwork suddenly reminded me of.Peace is your only hope DSC_0715

I looked at the small sign below the work. This was artwork by the students of the Jewish Academy of Arts and Sciences (located next door to the Albuquerque Jewish Community Center) about tikkun olam, which is Hebrew for repairing or healing of the world. “The children, grades K-5, were asked to artistically represent how they could make the world a better place. These are their visual answers.”Joseph Balance the World DSC_0714


I called the school and I got to talk to the teacher, Celeste Boals, Apparently the show had just been put up an hour before I sat down. Boals said she teaches all the grades at the school and that everyone’s piece got to be in the show.  She said that they had been working for the last month on this theme, tikkun olam, which is a core concept in Judaism — that the world is broken and we need to repair it, or as she says she likes to say, heal it.
“Since in Judaism we can’t depict images of God,” she said, “the children talked about how they can imply the presence of God, so some of the pictures have rays of light, and eyes in the sky, and angels. This idea of tikkun olam is where we are always looking at what’s wrong in the world and what needs to be fixed, but really we have to look in ourselves, in our hearts, what can each of us do in ourselves, in our lives, to effect positive change in the world.”

Annabel Make the world pretty DSC_0713rz PEACE AND ANIMALS DSC_0734I told her that the exhibit was working. It was a first step for me, an answer, the first one I’d gotten to my prayer asking the universe show me what to do with my life. There it was — it gave me a little glimpse of what it means to make the world a better place.


By popular demand, following this article the show stayed up at the Whole Foods through November, 2014. Update: Despite its many years of success, due to falling admissions and lack of funding, the school closed its doors at the end of the school year in the spring of 2015.

A. An Answer So Simple Oct.4.2014 Gallup 2015 Award, Society of Professional Journalists, Rocky Mountain Region, Second-place for Columns: Personal, as published in the Gallup Independent. For newspapers >30,000 circ.

D1. An Answer So Simple, I Couldn't See It p1 nov_2014 LINK copy_Page_1D2. An Answer So Simple, I Couldn't See It p2 nov_2014 LINK copy_Page_2

UNM’s Graduate Student Association Votes to Rescind Anti-Israel Resolution

B1. UNM's GSA Votes to Rescind Anti-Israel Resolution p1of2 jun_jul_2014_Page_1 B2. UNM's GSA Votes to Rescind Anti-Israel Resolution p2of2 jun_jul_2014_Page_2UNM’s Graduate Student Association Votes to Rescind Anti-Israel Resolution
Special to The New Mexico Jewish Link  published June-July 2014. First-place in  Reporting, American Jewish Press Association Rockower Awards, 2015

After the undergraduate senate rejected the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) resolution asking the University of New Mexico to divest from investments in multi-national corporations that they say oppress Palestinians, (See May 2014 Link, page 1), on April 26, the SJP group, without any public notice on the agenda, presented another anti-Israel divestment resolution to the Graduate Student and Professional Association (GPSA), the UNM graduate student government. The graduate council was told there was no opposition to the resolution on campus and they passed the resolution 17-3.

This was in contradistinction to a new conciliatory resolution that had been hashed out over weeks between Lobos for Israel founder Sarah Abonyi and SJP undergraduate representatives in meetings that did not single out Israel in regard to transparency of investments and divestments.

The graduate council’s divestment resolution was then slated to go before the Board of Regents on May 9, except that GPSA President Priscila Poliana refused to sign it, and thereby blocked it from going forward. Poliana said that this was the first time she had ever had to refuse to sign a resolution. “There were a number of questions I had.”

At the next GPSA meeting on Saturday, May 10, following a prolonged debate marked by the general exhaustion of students in the throes of finishing their final exams, a final vote was taken to rescind the original divestment resolution.

It was a tie, 10-to-10. The vote was taken again to make sure, and was again 10-to-10. Finally, during a tense wait, the council chair, who was absent due to a family emergency and who had to be called at the hospital to break the tie, deliberated and then voted in favor of rescinding the anti-Israel resolution.

As Poliana, who herself does not have a vote, confirmed later, a large number of the representatives on the GPSA were new – they had just recently joined in the past few weeks in order to be able to vote for this resolution and had never come to previous meetings. Each department can send representatives, weighted to their size.

In a later phone interview on May 27, Poliana, a graduate student in planning who is from Brazil and a naturalized US citizen, explained her reasons for blocking the resolution from going to the regents in the first place. She said that “I was very concerned about the message that this (resolution) was sending out about how we are presenting ourselves to other schools and to the world. I care for the good name of this organization. We’re doing democracy, and we also seek to include all students. When I hear this is harassment of one small group,” she said that she questioned it.

She also said she had had a number of other questions when the resolution was first presented.  While they were being asked to divest in a list of companies, “we don’t even know if we’re invested in these companies. I am unaware of any of these students working with the University of New Mexico Foundation trying to work credibly with regards to transparency. Then, how do you establish if a corporation is oppressing Palestinians? What are the parameters we are working in?”

Poliana said she was also concerned about whether it was the business of the GPSA to establish, judge, and condemn a company perhaps engaged in oppression. “If it is in our scope to make a change and make a difference, it is hard to see GPSA investigating and pursuing and combating companies in foreign countries, to assess how these companies are acting and if they are actually engaged in oppression. I feel it goes beyond my jurisdiction to investigate and condemn companies.”

Poliana also questioned if it was against federal law. She said that, as the resolution was being presented during the meeting, she began researching on her laptop.  She recalled such arguments in the past when students had brought up boycotting companies that polluted or were doing business in China.  While not brought out in many of these discussions, Poliana learned that it is actually against U.S. federal law to ask companies to join foreign boycotts.

Students nowadays may think they invented the idea of boycotting Israel, yet it started with the founding of the Jewish State in 1948. What is relatively new, however, is a strategy coordinated by the American Muslims for Palestine of a national campaign being brought to campuses by the Students for Justice in Palestine, where students are easily influenced.

What Poliana found was, “within the U.S. Dept of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security, Office of Anti-Boycott Compliance (OAC), it prohibits U.S. companies from boycotting Israel.”

The anti-boycott laws were established in the mid-1970’s through amendments to the Export Administration Act and the Ribicoff Amendment to the Tax Reform Act (TRA).  Their objectives are stated on the OAC website:

“The anti-boycott laws were adopted to encourage, and in specified cases, require U.S. firms to refuse to participate in foreign boycotts that the United States does not sanction. They have the effect of preventing U.S. firms from being used to implement foreign policies of other nations which run counter to U.S. policy.”

The website has a “Boycott Alert” at the top that says that companies continue to report receiving requests to support boycotts of Israel, and goes on to make it clear that “The Arab League boycott of Israel is the principal foreign economic boycott that U.S. companies must be concerned with today. The anti-boycott laws, however, apply to all boycotts imposed by foreign countries that are unsanctioned by the United States.”

The laws specifically prohibit “agreements to refuse or actual refusal to do business with or in Israel or with blacklisted companies.” And, the site explains that “while the Tax Reform Act does not “prohibit” conduct, it denies tax benefits (“penalizes”) for certain types of boycott-related agreements.

Poliana says that the GPSA is committed to working with all students in an inclusive manner to help them negotiate constructive alternatives to conflict.  In fact, Poliana awarded Sarah Abonyi with this year’s GPSA Conflict Resolution Award, saying “When Sarah told me she was willing to sit down with the SJP students, because of her leadership, I respect her the most at UNM. It was just the work she did above and beyond.”

For Hillel director Sara Koplik, “More can be done” by the administration.  She reported to Dean of Students Tomas Aguirre that they experienced an extraordinary intensification of social media attacks during the ASUNM meeting on April 2.  The SJP group live-streamed the proceedings on their website and over 750 tweets, some coming from outside the country, appeared with personal attacks made throughout the meeting.

Tweets sneering at ‘privileged white males’ seemed to have included Aguirre, who opened the meeting, but the most vehement were reserved for the pro-Israel speakers. Koplik said “I have never experienced anything so hateful in my life.”

The university did issue a brief statement on January 10, 2014 stating that they joined 150 other universities in rejecting the American Studies Association’s call to boycott Israeli scholars. It was signed by UNM president Robert G. Frank and Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, Chaouki Abdallah. Their statement read:

“The University of New Mexico prides itself on cultivating vibrant dialogue and a diversity of ideas among our students, faculty and community both on our campus and beyond its physical boundaries.

We join more than 150 universities in our refusal to support academic boycotts, as they limit the free exchange of ideas and intellectual collaboration, which are fundamental to our mission as a flagship university.”

Members of the Jewish community are concerned. Following a talk by Rabbi Paul Citrin about the history of rabbinic activism in New Mexico at the Jewish Historical Society’s annual meeting at the JCC on May 18, former State Representative Pauline Eisenstadt rose to say it was a time for leadership on this issue, and suggested a committee be formed to meet at high levels with state and university administrators. Citrin responded by also proposing an educational display for the community. Attorney and UNM law professor Anita Miller lauded Poliana and Citrin cited Abonyi. On May 17, Abonyi graduated, and Poliana completed her term as GPSA president.

This article and photos by Diane J. Schmidt appeared as a special report for the New Mexico Jewish Link, front page, June-July, 2014. First-place in  Reporting, American Jewish Press Association Rockower Awards, 2015, for New Mexico Jewish Link, in category of >15,000 circulation publications.


The Anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement Arrives at UNM

A1. The Anti-Israel BDS Movement Arrives at UNM may_2014 Link_Page_1A2. The Anti-Israel BDS Movement Arrives at UNM may_2014 Link_Page_2

First-place Photography, among all circulation media, American Jewish Press Association Rockower Awards, 2015. As published, April, 2014 New Mexico Jewish Link.

7. © Ezra Rabinsky, Rose Davenport Sarah Abonyi Hillel Students 11th hour strategy meetingIn an eleventh-hour meeting at the Aaron David Bram Hillel House, a tidy white house on campus, a very small, tense but determined group of students convened to find volunteers amongst themselves who would speak the next night before the University of New Mexico Student Senate (ASUNM). With less than a week’s notice, Sarah Abonyi, president of the recently formed student campus organization Lobos for Israel, had learned that Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) were bringing a resolution to the UNM campus on April 2 to ask the student senate to vote to divest in multi-national corporations that contribute to human rights violations against Palestinians.
2. © SJP students listen to Hillel student copySix students agreed they would speak. Hillel director Sarah Koplik commended the students for their willingness to stand up. During the course of the meeting they also learned that each side would each be allowed ten speakers who could each speak for three minutes. The standard strategy by SJP on campuses to slip in their resolution quietly without alerting any possible organized opposition had in this one instance failed.
The UNM chapter of the Students for Justice in Palestine group has been responsible for such activities as “Israel Apartheid Week,” which is taught in SJP national trainings. Their website states that in March “We hosted a day full of films, a teach-in with allies on Border Militarization, a Mock Checkpoint, and held a boycott SodaStream action!” Another event on April 7 was co-sponsored with the Albuquerque Center for Peace and Justice. SJP activities have contributed to creating an environment of hostility towards Jewish students.
As Rose Davenport, Hillel student president, would say the next night before the student senate, “The way this resolution reads this sends a clear message to me that I am not welcome at the University of New Mexico, a place I have called home for four years.” Hillel director Kopik has reported that UNM last year received the dubious distinction of having had more anti-Israel events than any other campus in the U.S.
5.© Rachel Ladany, Jewish SPJ supporter, left, to right sits Rabbi Paul Citrin, Hillel supporter copyThe movement known as Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) is considered the “soft war” against Israel. As the BDS movement found traction through anti-Israel academic boycotts, the first SJP group was formed at the University of California at Berkeley in 2001 and was subsequently banned there the following year after disruptive activity. The movement started to grow but remained fragmented.
According to the Anti-Defamation League’s information bulletin on SJP, “SJP’s chapters, which have largely operated independently of each other, recently indicated that they plan to collaborate more closely.  To that end, representatives from more than 40 SJP chapters across the country attended the first national SJP conference from October 14-16, 2011. The conference, titled, “Students Confronting Apartheid,” was held at Columbia University in New York. A second national SJP conference took place at the University of Michigan in November 2012.
The article continued, “SJP’s “unification” efforts are a result of the influence and coordination of a national organization called American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), a group that promotes extreme anti-Israel views. In 2010, AMP decided to focus specifically on Palestinian advocacy on college campuses and targeted SJP for this effort.”
The ADL report continued, “SJP groups also plan anti-Israel events throughout the school year. These events often seek to draw attention to Israel’s alleged wrongdoings in a sensationalistic way. For example, several SJP groups have displayed props like mock “apartheid walls” and Israeli checkpoints on main areas of campus to demonize Israeli soldiers and attempt to demonstrate the travel difficulties Palestinians face in Israel and the territories. These events sometimes have the effect of intimidating or silencing Jewish students on campus.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center acknowledges, “College Campuses See Rising Anti-Semitic Sentiment” (SPLC Intelligence Report, Fall 2008), that “College campuses are particularly susceptible to anti-Semitism that originates in certain sectors of the far left.” Further, the report points out that ironically this opens the door to extremists on the right. “The Intelligence Report took an in-depth look at two different examples of modern-day anti-Semitism on college campuses (neither of which occurred in the classroom or was sanctioned in any way by university officials). In both cases, legitimate concerns about Israeli treatment of Palestinians found expression alongside anti-Jewish canards and Holocaust denial. During appearances on public university campuses in California, two Muslim clerics have espoused anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about Sept. 11 and asserted that Jews control the media and other powerful institutions. Several hundred miles north, a discussion group seeking justice for Palestinians has morphed into a haven for white supremacists that’s brought a string of Holocaust deniers to speak at the University of Oregon.”
While to date SJP has not been very successful in passing their resolutions, they have succeeded in getting a fair amount of media attention. Resolutions have passed at Hampshire College (whose regents later disavowed knowledge of its intent) and at Berkeley, but have been defeated elsewhere.
One resolution that made headlines recently was passed in March at Loyola University Chicago, but was subsequently vetoed by their student senate president following a week of protests by Jewish students and a second vote. It had initially been introduced without notice and with no opportunity for pro-Israel students to respond to it.
As reported in the National Catholic Reporter by Paul DeCamp, Loyola University’s president said that the university would have completely ignored the resolution anyways.  He also was quoted as saying, “[. . .] we would not be interested in taking up this issue. It is one-sided, it is focused on one party in a complex international situation. It is felt as extremely unfair by our Jewish faculty, staff and students.”
Whether resolutions are passed or not, the issue is being brought to students’ attention on campus by pro-Palestinian groups, thereby forcing a small group of staunchly pro-Israeli students to react to these proposals.

PART TWO – A Tense and Contentious ASUNM meeting.

The Debate
The room on the top floor at the Student Union Building filled up quickly. Of the hundred and fifty or so spectators lining the walls around the room, about 75% appeared to be there to support the Palestinian resolution, drafted by Students for Justice in Palestine (SPJ), and co-signed by seven other UNM student organizations including Dreamers in Action and the Arabic Club. Brittany Arneson, a tall young woman with a bright turquoise streak of bangs across red hair dressed in a tight black dress and tights, called out to the audience, “Raise your hands if you are in favor” of the resolution. A forest of hands went up around the room, surrounding the small pro-Israel group.

1. © Raise your hands copy4. © Sarah Abonyi 1mg
Ten speakers on each side were each given 3 minutes to speak. The SJP students spoke first. Palestinian student Danya Mustafa, SJP co-chair, stated their group had been working hard for four years towards this moment, attending national conferences and drafting their resolution. Others from SJP who spoke included their faculty advisor Les Field, UNM Professor of Anthropology and director of the Peace Studies program, who introduced himself as a Jewish son of Hungarian Holocaust survivors who has been unfairly called an anti-Semite by The New Mexico Jewish Link. Additionally two of the SJP student members also identified themselves as Jewish.
Then students from Hillel and Lobos for Israel and other members of the Jewish community, including Executive Director of the Jewish Federation president Sam Sokolove, Rabbi Paul Citrin, and Robert Efroymson of the New Mexico-Israel Business Exchange, spoke from various angles against the resolution.
A lengthy debate ensued between the senators and with further questions to the speakers. However, when it became clear that the senate was not likely to pass the resolution, a new strategy was floated by SJP. A motion was made to amend the resolution to take out any specific mention targeting Israel and to pass an amended resolution that would still ask for transparency and responsible investing by the university.3. © Sarah Abonyi and Student Senators confer copy
Small groups broke up to strike the clauses about Israel from the resolution. It was a tense period where it seemed to spectators that it would be hard to reason out of why to reject such a resolution that sounded reasonable on its face. Finally when the senate reconvened, this amended resolution did not pass, over the strenuous objections of student senator Ayham Maadi, sponsor of the original resolution. In rejecting the amended resolution, another student senator pointed out it only contained strike-outs, and did not contain any additional clauses from the opposing group who might want to add clauses.
6. © Isai GarciaFinally, after an almost four-hour debate, marked by deliberate and well-modulated speeches, and an audience that was almost entirely well-behaved and respectful, except for a few brief passionate outbursts from some of the older adults on both sides of the aisle who were quickly hushed up, the original resolution was defeated at approximately 10 pm, with a final vote of 12 against, 7 for, with one abstention.
The student senate requested that a new resolution be presented at their next meeting that would be drafted by all groups present, that would be more representative of the student body, and that would address transparency by the university about all its investments.
After the final vote was tallied, Danya Mustafa of SJP repeated loudly, “This is just the beginning,” and in a challenging manner loudly said that she had their email and would be in contact immediately with the Lobos for Israel group. But in the ensuing week, she would refuse to speak directly to Sarah Abonyi in meetings, and would not meet with UNM administrators at all.
When the meeting broke up SJP supporters and pro-Israel students mingled and talked with one another. Hillel member Ezra Rubinsky, who has family members living in Israel, and senator Ayham Maadi talked at length, and as they parted, Rubinsky said, “You seem like a cool guy,” and they shook hands. It seemed a hopeful moment, that some real dialogue could take place, beyond positions.
As the room emptied out finally it was after 10:30 pm.  This reporter left alongside a group of Hillel students, one of the last groups to leave. As they approached the double doors to leave the building, a tall white-haired lady suddenly approached me who must have been waiting by the exit door. In a friendly manner she began in a normal tone by relating that she was at Washington University in St. Louis in the 1970’s, active in a divestment movement there against corporations that polluted. Her voice rose as she saw she had gotten the attention of the others who had turned to see what she was saying, and then her lips contorted as she suddenly spat, “You people make this (divestment) all about you.”
It was such a confoundingly irrational and frightening statement that I found I had no response except to walk on, but it served as a reminder that there is a long road ahead and that it will take new generations for the scars to fade that have for some turned into only bitterness and hatred.
New Mexico Jewish Link Editor’s Note and Update April 30:
On April 26, a resolution against Israeli companies passed through the Graduate and Professional Student Association’s Council (GPSA). It is very similar to the resolution that SJP tried to pass through the undergraduate ASUNM Senate. This resolution may be discussed at the next UNM Boad of Regent’s meeting on Friday, May 9 at 10:00 am.
On April 30, a new resolution authored by undergraduate Senator Earl Shank to encourage socially responsible investments was unanimously approved by the ASUNM student senate. This resolution did not castigate Israel or Israeli companies, and was a rare occasion where Students for Justice in Palestine worked hand-in-hand with Lobos for Israel. This is particularly unusual, as frequently, SJP chapters will lose funding if they coordinate activities with Zionist groups.
UPDATE: On May 10 after a five-hour meeting the GPSA voted to rescind the SJP resolution that had previously been passed on April 26. Because there had been no notification on the agenda and the SJP had claimed there was no opposition, the Hillel and Lobos for Israel students were allowed to address the GPSA.  The final vote was tied ten to ten, and was broken by the chair in favor of rescinding the resolution. It is expected that SJP will appeal this vote and continue to press their resolutions and activities on campus. A full report on that meeting wil be posted soon. Read post at  UNM’s Graduate Student Association votes to rescind anti-Israel resolution.

This article and photos by Diane J. Schmidt appeared as a special report for the New Mexico Jewish Link, front page, May, 2014. First-place, Photos, American Jewish Press Association Rockower Awards, 2015,  all circ.



The Long Walk and the Holocaust – Navajo/Jewish dialogue

Whole page screenshot“Healing the Wounds of History, The Long Walk and the Holocaust” received First-place for Reporting: Education Reporting, Society of Professional Journalists Top of the Rockies, 2015 as published in the Gallup Independent newspaper Oct. 25, 2014, and third-place for Specialty Articles: History in the New Mexico Press Women Communications contest, as published in the New Mexico Jewish Link, November 2014.

8C. Healing the Wounds of History, The Long Walk and The Holocaust nov_2014 Link

“Healing the Wounds of History, The Long Walk and the Holocaust.” By Diane J. Schmidt   Frank Morgan 10.12.14 text ©DianeSchmidt_0694

The Third Navajo/Jewish Dialogue, “Healing the Wounds of History, The Long Walk and the Holocaust.” took place on October 12 in Albuquerque between Navajo educator Frank Morgan and Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld at Congregation Albert, an event organized by Gordon Bronitsky.

Finding myself in the odd position of being assigned by the newspaper to cover a talk that my partner Frank Morgan would be giving, I watched him preparing to navigate the treacherous shoals of cross-cultural language and dialectics to communicate the essence of the Navajo perspective of resilience and balance, in order to explain indirectly the survival of the Navajo people and culture after centuries of shocks and of insults from Northern European immigrants.

When I first heard what the selected topic would be, The Long Walk and the Holocaust, I thought it unwise. I frankly I didn’t expect my fellow Jewish congregants to be receptive to hearing about the suffering the Navajo people had endured by comparison with their own.

My concerns dissolved entirely when Frank told me what he had chosen to talk about, he said it would be “the Navajo perspective on healing, rebalancing, rather than focusing so much on the process of damage and destruction, the endemic problems of what trauma does to the psychological self.” His framework, the Navajo perspective on healing, suddenly shifted the entire conversation, and I understood that his emphasis on healing comes out of his years of teaching about the Blessing Way teachings that reverse the effects of trauma.

That sunny Sunday afternoon some fifty people gathered in the synagogue’s sanctuary. There were Navajos, Jews, Christians, children of mixed marriages, and children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of survivors of the Long Walk and of the Holocaust.

After Frank’s presentation, then Rabbi Rosenfeld went on to talk about some of the reasons why the Jewish people’s healing from the wounds of the Holocaust has been a slow process, and then they both addressed what it means to go forward from that place.

The audience remained attentive through two hours – twice as long as was originally planned, and many stayed plying Frank with questions afterwards.

Frank Morgan Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld h text© Diane Schmidt_0680 10.12.14Healing traditions beginning from the Creation Stories

Frank Morgan’s presentation began as an acknowledgement that there have been wounds dating back even before human history, as told in the Creation Stories, when everything began to be formed into what it is today, and how there were frequent conflicts among the Holy People. “Adultery was the most severe of these,” he said, “and caused a separation of female and male entities. In order to have life, the Holy People had to get back together and heal to make everything better, more harmonious.” He explained that to do this “They created different healing methods. Today we know them as Chantways, such as the Night Way. Some of them have become extinct.”

In a direct way, Frank was able to convey the most basic of Navajo fundamental principles. He said, “When they were creating these harmonious conditions, they found two ways that everything moves, one that is consistent with the journey of the sun and then the reverse, going the other way. To reestablish everything so that it goes in the sun-wise direction, shábik’ehgo, according to the journey of the sun, is a way to create harmony because all that is good and beneficial moves in this positive direction.

He continued, “We rely on relationships in the universe, how things relate to each other, where things are compatible with each other, hózhó. All relationships are based upon principles that maintain order and natural growth and development of all that exists.” So in this way, he explained the Navajo foundations of the restoration of wholeness, grounded in the natural world.

Then shift happened.

Frank sketched the events leading up to the Long Walk in 1864, and the effects of those events. “The Mexicans were okay, we got along. But then came the American settlers, we couldn’t establish relations with them because they brought soldiers, weapons and war, and they wanted everything. They used biological warfare, like smallpox. Then, there was scorched earth. They sent the ‘esteemed’ Kit Carson, a small man, a trapper, to invade and force The People out to Fort Wingate, which is a place known as Bear Springs in Navajo, and from there the army marched them by gunpoint over 300 miles to Bosque Redondo at Fort Sumner, southeast of Santa Rosa, near Clovis, NM.”

“We had established our whole being, our life on our homeland and when we were removed from that land, that was a huge, huge wound. In Navajo practices, we take a child’s umbilical cord, where they want their child or grandchild to be psychologically oriented, and place it in the ground. The particular place where a child’s umbilical cord is placed, that is the entire environment where the mind, thought, and psyche are embedded or imprinted. If you remove the person, you’re breaking that umbilical cord like it’s still in the womb. People who were later were removed off their land to make room for coalmines for example, but their whole life diminished.

“The Earth is my mother, my umbilical cord is in the earth, feeling us, like we’re feeling we’re still in the womb. We still feel we’re in the womb of earth. Sky and earth relate in harmony.”

A collective sigh rose up from the audience hearing Frank talk about what it was to be like to uprooted from their land. It brought out the poignancy of what it means to be uprooted from one’s land.

And it acknowledged the trauma of the long history of my people, the Jewish people, our diaspora of being forced to move from place to place across the earth, and shed light on why perhaps I have always felt a sense of impermanence, a faint undercurrent of alienation that never leaves me except when I am in nature. And since I had never fully known what it was to be nurtured by a place, the way he spoke about being mothered by the earth, I felt almost envy in hearing of his loss, an envy that I might have been covering over for years with the superficial annoyed impatience of an urbanite.

He went on with a clear voice, “We were exiled, alienated, just so they could take that land to be settled by immigrants from the East. We were marched and many died along the way, to the Pecos river, which was salty water, and told to grow crops, but the insects there destroyed the crops, many got sick, many died.” Finally after four years the government acknowledged it was a failed experiment and allowed the Navajo people to return to their homeland, and they walked back.

Recognizing the wounds as the first step towards healing

“Today, we are walking with our wounds. Much as an injured person or animal that moves or limps in pain. This is how we are right now, they say. So this wound, in the Navajo perspective, affects us in a certain way. Its effect is subtle and unseen and we are not aware that we feel hopeless or that we don’t have the strength to get up. It is like a cliff that does not allow us to go forward. That’s the way it is.”

“How do we go to the next place, where things are better? We cannot remain where we were harmed. It affects the mind. The mind gets all distraught and disordered. There’s internal confusion, shock, your thinking has been impacted. Here you don’t feel good about yourself, you are angry, and even suicidal. The effects of this wounding are inside people.”

Prescriptions for healing a nation, and challenges to be faced

When Frank met with the rabbi at his office two days before the dialogue the question came up around how does a entire people heal? Frank said, “It has been shown that trauma can affect people as a whole group, as a whole nation. It has to be reversed.

“Therapy is available to reverse the negative effects. Relationships are re-established and re-connected to their normal state. Everything in life is able to work toward harmony and balance. The essence of kinship repairs our relations.

“To rebalance and reestablish k’é relations, begin by understanding how a problem affects the k’é relationship and by taking responsibility for your part in that problem. Most important, without blaming the other; talk over how this is not the way it should be, and talk about the ways that you have practiced k’é before and how good it was and express your desire to return to that kinship. You may determine what exchange you will give each other to satisfy the mind.

“This is similar to reparations after a war. You don’t have to say “I forgive you’ or ‘you are forgiven’ because that’s already done when you took responsibility and owned up to what you did and that has the effect of asking for forgiveness.”

As to whether the wounds of history will ever be properly addressed for the Navajo is not known. He pointed out that the treaties that were signed were not favorable for them. “We ended up with limited resources, and a system of three branch government that we don’t know to make work (a member of the audience called out, “We don’t either!” and everyone laughed).

“Who’s going to do this for us, re-establish k’é and find a better life for the People? Our leaders have to lead us there.” To move forward and have a better life is an enormous challenge that will take a long time but we have to reach for it.”

Frank Morgan Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld text ©2014Diane Schmidt_0672Frank Morgan and Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld

Then Rabbi Rosenfeld spoke about how reluctant the Jewish people have been to move on from the Holocaust, it’s not something you get over. Also, he pointed out, today we are living much longer lives. In Babylonian times, a lifespan was 40 years, and history might be remembered by seeing a sculpted stone carving. Today we are living twice as long, and the TV history channel is a constant reminder of what happened during World War II.

But, Rabbi Rosenfeld said, that we must carry on as Jews and maintain our Jewish identity to show that Hitler couldn’t destroy us, doesn’t resonate anymore with a younger generation, who want positives to embrace for maintaining a Jewish identity. He said this is a major challenge facing the Jewish people going forward.

Again, I thought about the terrifying stories I had unearthed recently about what had happened to my relatives still living in Poland when the Germans came in 1939, the women and girls were forced to strip naked and, beaten with whips, dance in a circle inside the synagogue, while outside, the men had to crawl on the cobblestones in piggyback races carrying heavier men while the Poles laughed, before they were taken away in the trains.

I think it was wise that I was shielded from the knowledge of this insanity when I was younger, I’m not sure what good it does to know about it now, when I am haunted by these images, but as Jewish people we say we will never forget, so that it does not happen again.

I try to learn from Frank’s words, and while I often think the Navajo might learn something from the Jews about maintaining one’s culture through the written word, I think more, that the Jews could learn something from the Navajo, for who it is a custom and an admonition not to speak so much of the dead and the wounds of the past.

I ask Frank if what I wrote about my relatives, if going back over historical trauma, was okay from the Navajo perspective, and Frank replied, “Begin with a positive story. What the older people say, what they tell us that we need to know, are the stories from the time of when the first Hogan was made.”

That sounds like a whole other story I will have to wait for him to tell.


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“Healing the Wounds of History, The Long Walk and the Holocaust” received first-place for Education Reporting, Society of Professional Journalists Top of the Rockies, 2015 as published in the Gallup Independent newspaper Oct. 25, 2014.



Up close and personal, a little, with new Federation Director Zach Benjamin for New Mexico

Zach and Taina Benjamin resz IMG_1192 copy

Getting to Know Federation Director Zach Benjamin
Story and photos by Diane Joy Schmidt
Published October 27, 2015 at the New Mexico Jewish eLink

Getting up close and personal, a little, with Zach Benjamin, as he presented himself to about 60 people at the Congregation Albert Brotherhood Sunday breakfast on October 19, Zach, age 32, came across as personable, thoughtful, and able – as yet unscarred by the challenges of leading the Jewish Federation of New Mexico.

He is eager to get things right and to get a message out there that reaches the Jewish community and the larger community. So far, he’s doing well. He presented fresh ideas about rebranding the Federation to the community – heck, just hearing the words rebranding and Federation in the same sentence sounded fresh.
Best of all, he brought his young wife, Taina, also 32, who was in fact his high school sweetheart, to meet the folks, that is, the brotherhood breakfast group. © crop 60 CAB audience for Zach IMG_1185

Zach explained that he was born in Chicago into a Reform Jewish household, moved to Los Angeles and then to Florida, and then back to Chicago to go to Northwestern. After attending graduate school in New York, he returned to Chicago to begin his career working for large trade organizations.

He explained that “Judaism was always central to my identity, but it was only when Taina got serious about converting to Judaism that I began to realize that my calling was to serve Judaism – both professionally and personally.” Zach said that he began commuting from Chicago to Tampa once a month “to attend minyan with my now-wife, who at the time lived there with her family.”
He started making annual trips to Israel, and to think about how his extensive background in nonprofit work could be put to good use in a meaningful way in the Jewish community.  And voilà, here he is. He thanked the community for giving them such an overwhelmingly warm welcome, and says he now has about twelve Jewish mothers here, and can assure his actual mother he is getting enough to eat.

I didn’t give Zach the third-degree about his mastery of Hebrew – we’ll give him a few years.  Taina has a degree in math, worked for the Chicago Architecture Foundation, and looks forward to working here and earning an advanced degree. And, Zach in his introduction mentioned that she has just joined Hadassah as a life-member.

Zach has a conciliatory manner but is no pushover. His position is clearly defined regarding the Federation’s position here on Israel. The Federation “will not give safe harbor to the BDS movement,” meaning Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, which is “both anti-Israel and anti-Semitic.” He has no problem with J Street, while acknowledging there are the occasional “little land-mines” that can turn up.

He’s met quite a bit with Rabbi Brin of Nahalat Shalom, and at the breakfast announced a joint Federation-Nahalat Shalom fund-raising campaign for Syrian refugees. He says yes, he’s old friends by now with Rabbi Rosenfeld, and that he has met a couple of times with Sam Sokolove.
Quoting JFNM Community Outreach Director Sara Koplik that we have to improve “how we tell our story,” he has been learning about Jewish communities throughout the state. He pointed to Taos and Los Alamos as examples of smaller communities which have well-defined Jewish life. He was also impressed by the concerns of the close-knit but shrinking Jewish communities in places like Roswell and Las Vegas, New Mexico, and how Federation can be a life-line for these outlying communities.

He stressed that he wants Federation to be a partner to the community, and “re-set the narrative” by actively engaging with the community and letting people know about the programs JFNM supports. Zach outlined a bit of the new campaign they will be rolling out at the first of the year. He talked about how Federation will be empowering AbqTribe – a Young Adult program first started at B’nai Israel, with professional development and mentoring support. Federation president Sabra Minkus added that JFNM supports the Jewish Care Program for seniors, which also includes special funding for the Holocaust survivors here.

Comments from the audience were primarily of the take-a-hint variety. Sisterhood member Evie Zlotkin was pleased to announce that the food bank is back up and running; another suggested Federation might want to play a role in the annual Maimouna women’s Seder; and a third asked why the Jewish community doesn’t do anything for disabled members of the community who are not seniors.
George Skadron asked rhetorically, “To what extent should Federation be a spokesperson to the outside community. Anita Miller, Anti-Defamation League board member, mentioned how terrific it was that Suki Halevi, ADL regional director is located within the office space of JFNM and is a great resource for them.

© Meeting Beverly White and her children and Moran IMG_1188Harvey and Rachel Sternheim are recent arrivals from Los Angeles and Rachel’s mother Beverly White is a long-time involved member here, so Harvey introduced himself and asked if we have a genocide walk here like they do in LA, and also mentioned that in LA they regularly did a “Big Sunday” of community work out in the community. Pictured here are Beverly White, Zach and Taina Benjamin, Harvey and Rachel Sternheim, and Jenny Moran.

This reporter remarked that the Jewish community here recently lost its school, its printed newspaper, and the Jewish Family Service (JFS), and that now Rabbi Min Kantrowitz, who spearheaded so much outreach and chaplaincy work, has just retired, leaving a big vacuum. Zach responded that, while he’s not making any promises, there is talk of bringing back a quarterly printed New Mexico Jewish Link, to which the room broke out in spontaneous applause, and that they are looking at “how to replace the irreplaceable Rabbi Min.”

Meryl Manning Segel, a past president of the Federation and of Jewish Family Service and a busy realtor, added in an aside to this reporter afterwards that the reason Jewish Family Service closed was, in her view, because they were overextended – they were doing too much. They got federal grants to do programs, she explained, but because these were federal grants they couldn’t just be for the Jewish community, and that as these grants dried up, the board would not cut the programs, which, she said, was irresponsible. Now, she said, the Jewish Care Program is focused on the Jewish community. However, she agreed that Rabbi Kantrowitz’s retirement is leaving a big vacuum, and said that she practically cried at the announcement.

Rabbi Kantrowitz, who since JFS closed in January 2013 was left with only a 5-hour-a-week paid position, said in a separate interview that, when JFS, and her position with them as rabbi to the Jewish community at large were funded, she used to visit many homebound elderly Jewish people throughout the state, and that they are not being served now.

Our new New Mexico Jewish Federation Executive Director Zach Benjamin concluded by stressing that he wants the Federation to be a big tent, and by saying that his door is open, that people should come and see him, and that he wants to hear from the community. Everyone clapped loudly and long.


Who By Fire: Reflections on Tashlich and Unetanneh Tokef

Who By Fire: Reflections on Tashlich and Unetanneh Tokef
Story and photos by Diane Joy Schmidt  
Published online September 30, 2015  New Mexico Jewish eLink.
Print version published Gallup Independent, Spiritual Perspectives column.
1st place, SPJ TOR, 2016 Personal Columns for 3 columns. Judge’s comment “Thoughtful, analytical commentary on current events that educate and edify readers.”

flowers along the river IMG_1055 copyThe Jewish New Year has begun, and it is now the year 5776. During Rosh Hashanah the Book of Life was opened and in the following ten Days of Awe, we reflected on our errors of the past year and promised not to repeat them, practicing repentance, prayer, and charity.

Then at Yom Kippur the Book, with our fate, was sealed. We will live out another year – or not, or will have a good, or a miserable, year. The most momentous part of these services is when the liturgical poem, the Unetanneh Tokef, is recited while the congregation stands and the Ark is opened. It is, in part, as follows, in a translation:

“On Rosh Hashanah it is
written, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed.
How many will pass and how many will be created?
Who will live and who will die?
Who in their time, and who not their time?
Who by fire and who by water?
Who by sword and who by beast?
Who by hunger and who by thirst?
[. . .]
Who will be safe and who will be torn?
Who will be calm and who will be tormented?
Who will become poor and who will get rich?
Who will be made humble and who will be raised up?
But return and prayer and righteous acts deflect the evil of the decree.”

There is also a song by the famous musician Leonard Cohen, titled “Who
by Fire.” It is a short song, of three stanzas. Here is the first:

Who By Fire
By Leonard Cohen
“And who by fire, who by water,
Who in the sunshine, who in the night time,
Who by high ordeal, who by common trial,
Who in your merry merry month of may,
Who by very slow decay,
And who shall I say is calling?”

Many who have heard this song (myself, for instance) may not have realized the lyrics were deeply inspired by the Unetanneh Tokef. In his cold, baldly modern poetry, Cohen brings home the meaning, in a powerful way, that God is calling.

And for me as a very assimilated, and not very practiced in prayer, Jewish person who is just now learning about my traditions, who often feels overly guilty without ever having known the experience of repentance and forgiveness, the directness of his song got my attention and spoke to me.

After a childhood friend sent me Cohen’s lyrics for the New Year, I then wanted to know more, and for the first time attended tashlich, a ceremony that takes place outdoors on Rosh Hashanah. At the river you cast bread on the water as you cast off your sins, with repentance, and then the shofar, the ram’s horn, is sounded four times. Cantor Barbara Finn Jewish Community Tashlich 9.14.15 IMG_3567 copy

At tashlich this year in Albuquerque I joined a Jewish community prayer service at the Rio Grande, balancing on the shiny mud spread over the cottonwood roots and fervently skipping my crust of bread out on the broad waters, and I, for perhaps the first time, freely repented and forgave myself and others.Marcia Rosenstein at the river for Tashlich IMG_1049 copy

Paula Amar Schwartz communing with cottonwoods Tashlich 9.14.15 IMG_3574 copy

That night I had the following dream:

In the dream I was beseeching a man to allow me to tell my story. Then, it is night and I am walking, followed by a very large German Shepherd on a rise behind me, in a safe neighborhood. Then I notice the German Shepherd has lost one of his forepaws. He seems to have no pain. I grab his other forepaw to stop him and it comes off in my hand. I feel the hard warmth of it, put it in my pocket, and am helped by two others to put him in a cart, and then onto a stretcher, to take him to the hospital.

I had not a single thought that there was any connection between my dream and the Unetanneh Tokef. That next day, as I had become curious to understand and learn a bit more about this special prayer, and thought I might write about it together with the Leonard Cohen song for the holidays, I researched it and read a story of how it came about:

It is said that a rabbi in Germany in the 11th century was pressed by his friend the Archbishop of Mainz to convert to Christianity. He refused and suggested for his punishment that his tongue be cut out. Instead, the archbishop decreed that his limbs be amputated one by one until he converted.

He refused, and after each of his limbs were amputated, one by one, he was sent home. He asked then to be taken to the synagogue and was brought there on a stretcher, where he recited this original poem and then died. Three days later, he appeared to another rabbi in a dream and beseeched him to write his prayer into the High Holidays services.

For centuries that story has been told about the prayer, which may be much older as it has also been found on ancient scroll fragments discovered in the Cairo Genizah, but I have no recollection that I ever had heard this vivid story. Who knows, maybe I had heard the story, or I tuned in to it, or my DNA memory seedpods burst open with the release of casting away sins – .

Research is now showing that we inherit not only the physical, but also the emotional makeup of our ancestors in our DNA. Perhaps we also inherit their memories, their wisdom, and their fears, all bound up together.Bee and flowers IMG_1052 copy

PJ Library Pajama Party a Bouyant Success

#1. PJ Libary Party - attentive PJ readers. suggest lead photo copyPJ Library Pajama Party a Bouyant Success
Photos and story by Diane Joy Schmidt  October 12, 2015   © All Rights Reserved.

First Place, NMPW Specialty articles: Religion, 2016 Focus Group Results; PJ Library a Bouyant Success. “Both stories were wonderfully done and really came across as having an author who is knowledgeable about the subject matter and that makes a difference especially when you have stories in the religion category. But at the same time  A reader who might not be Jewish would still read these and come away informed about Jewish life in New Mexico. The survey story was much more detailed and frankly more interesting but the library story was also well written and nicely done.”

#1a. 522 KB making decorations for the Sukkah
“This is one of the main ways I could get him around other Jewish kids,” said parent Lotem, “I would come to any PJ Library event they have,” interrupting to call out softly while partly laughing at herself, “Don’t run with scissors,” to her six-year-old, as she watched him finish making his ornament and run to put up it up in the Sukkoth booth in preparation for the pajama party read-aloud.
“I have no relatives here,“ she explained, “so I just can’t afford to belong to a synagogue, plus the demands that they make on your time. When I got the invitation from PJ Library to come, how nice it was they invited us! so I came. My parents signed him up originally.”

PJ stands for pajamas, and one of the events PJ Library holds are pajama parties. PJ Library was created by real estate magnate Harold Grinspoon after watching his daughter-in-law read aloud at bedtime to his grandchildren. He especially wants to reach the children of Jewish parents who he sees are in danger of losing their Jewish identities, because of intermarriage or changing lifestyles or simply the demands of the workaday world.

Jewish children younger than nine receive a free age-appropriate book every month. Children between ages 9 and 11 can choose their own books through a new program called PJ Our Way. The program extends across countries all over the world. And, already there are more than 300 families signed up in New Mexico.

The Jewish Federation of New Mexico administers the program here. To sign up your children click: or contact Kristen Gurule at the Federation: or (505) 821-3214.

#3c. PJ Library dads arrive with children 4#3b. PJ dad and reader

It’s also a chance for fathers to get involved, and many were in attendance at the pajama party held at the JCC during Sukkot.

#2 Ben Berger Jordan Alissa Max PJ PartyBen Berger, cradling son Jordan, 16 months, was in line with wife Alissa and Max, 3 for plates of macaroni, broccoli, and fruit salad, dished out by Federation staff Kristen Gurule and Sara Koplik, Director of Community Outreach.
Berger said, as did almost everyone who was asked, that he heard about PJ Library through his mother. “I’ve used the books a lot for all the holidays, and also for Max’s school. On Monday I brought in a PJ Library book to his class at Sunset Mesa, and the teacher read the book and had them all make the craft project, a yellow lemon sun-catcher. I’d arranged it ahead of time with the teacher and they had no problem with it and had all the supplies ready.”

#3a. Joe Werbner and Brian,3 enrolled in PJ at ECC
Joe Werbner, holding son Brian, 3, says that they enrolled in PJ Library at the Congregation Albert Early Childhood Center.

#4a. Very attentive PJ readers
Very attentive PJ readers crowded around as Melanie Lynn, from the Early Education Center at Congregation Albert, read aloud.

#5. Learning about the Lulav PJ Sara Koplik
Sara Koplik, New Mexico’s PJ Library organizer, explains the lulav in the Sukkoth booth that had just been constructed by engineering students in a Hillel contest on the UNM campus and transplanted to the Jewish Community Center in time for the party.

#6. Kirsten Gurule and daughter
Kristen Gurule put her children in charge of getting sparklers to everyone as the dusk settled in. Gurule contacted the families signed up with PJ Library, and more than 60 families responded to this second PJ party event.

Sophie Tyroler, 4, was intent on seeing how a photo would come out while she twirled her light sparkler necklace in front of her eyes.#7. Sophie, 4, sparkler experiment Then sister Lucy wanted to try it. Their mother Brooke Rosen said that Sophie and Lucy’s grandmother signed them up with PJ Library.
#8. Zach Benjamin Jocelyn Hodes and Jakob, 4. Sara Koplik, and Betty Harvie

Talking with Executive Director Zach Benjamin, left, Jocelyn Hodes, with Jakob, 4, has recently joined the Federation board here. From Philadelphia, she said they have always been a PJ Library family and involved with Federation. Koplik chats with Betty Harvie, long-time board member who came to help out and signed up new children for the program.
#9. PJ Library books passed out

And new books were passed out. “Gershon’s Monster,” a tale for the Jewish New Year adapted from a legend about the Ba’al Shem Tov, the founder of the Hasidic movement, tells about what happens when a recalcitrant father casts his sins away into the sea, but without remorse, during the old Jewish ceremony of tashlich. The high-quality book, published by Scholastic, is by Caldecott award-winning author Eric Kimmel and Gold Medal award-winning illustrator Jon Muth, and is typical of the books mailed out monthly.

Then all too soon,

#10a. and already it's time to go PJ event
it was time for everyone to go home.        #10b. playing w sparklers PJ event