Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Peace, love and moving by two wheels on the Left Coast

Another few weeks on the beautiful Left Coast, including cycling, hippies, protests and finger-sucking.

At the May Day Protest.  Down with the 1% Man!
On May Day, I went to a protest downtown where laborours, immigrants, anti-poverty activists and the Occupy movement joined together to recognize the massive change needed to protect workers' rights.  Later that day, I visited the Berkeley campus, heart of some of the more radical and noted thinkers of our time, including my personal favourite George Lakoff.  It's amazing to be immersed in this culture of innovation around change - the hopelessness I've felt in other activist events and movements doesn't so much exist here.  From Occupiers to academics, people are trying to change the work for the better.

I saw another version of this when I visited La Tierra, a commune in Sebastopol, north of San Francisco.  A friend had grown up there and she invited me to their May festival, where we (no one will be surprised by this): pot-lucked, played music, danced wildly and wove colourful ribbons around the Maypole. I also got to learn about the history of the commune, how people who lived there have developed "chosen" family members that, while not related to them by blood, are extremely important to them, and how people learned to communicate with each other and problem-solve. It's really quite brilliant - the relationships these people have with each other are WAY healthier than almost any others I've heard of.

At an "energizer station" with my new bike to work day bag in the Presidio, SF
I also celebrated Bike to Work Day with the awesome folks at the SF Bike Coalition.  Now, Bike to Work day is always fun, but in San Francisco, it's a massive celebration.  I'm talking 27 stations with refreshments and high fives, hundreds of volunteers, 10 of the eleven city councillors cycling to work, including the mayor (hear that, Ottawa?), prizes and an awesome bike-party.  I biked to work in heels and a skirt, got fed the entire day, won a sweet golden gate bridge cycling jersey (which now means I'll have to buy matching spandex pants, take 6-hour rides around the bay "just for fun" and nearly run tourists of the GG Bridge), and danced by bum off with three fabulous women I met at the Bike Party.

My friend Alana and I with our fabulous new hairstyles
Oh, and the finger-sucking?  That was at a cinco de mayo party at one of my fav places in San Francisco, El Rio, where I had my hair done for free in a 50s-style beehive, got Navajo fry bread from my buddy Rocky, watched charming burlesque, and met a fabulous gay Israeli man who extremely sensually (and very publicly) liked honey off my fingers.  One thing I'll say for SF - there is nowhere like it.

Monday, May 7, 2012

A Jew goes wandering in the desert...

....oh, you've heard this one before?  Well, this one is a little different.  A few weeks ago, I went to the Panamint Valley near Death Valley with Wilderness Torah for Passover in the Desert.  This was a five-day experience in a stark desert, surrounded by multicoloured mountains and sparsely decorated with scrub bush, pebbles and salt flats.  No shade, no cell service, no electricity, no noise, no skyscrapers, a quiet only defined by the tones of the wind and the occasional sound of a jet engine from a local military base.

I got involved with Wilderness Torah when I went to an event of theirs and was delighted to find a group of Jews who were motivated by their spiritual connection to the environment, social justice, and yes, patchouli.  Thinking I'd come into the office a few times a month and organize files, I was instead drawn into the Lev, or organizing committee, of the Passover in the Desert festival.  Through this, I got to help organize and carry out one of the most beautiful, emotional, quiet, and deep experiences I've had.

So what happens when a group of Jews go wandering in the desert?  Here's a summary:

  • fierce, unrelenting winds and dust uninhibited by tall buildings and powerful warm rainstorms and snow which was evaporated by a hot desert sun the next day
  • teams of just as unrelenting volunteers creating colourful, blanket-adorned shelters that welcome attendees into an otherwise naked landscape
  • a loving kitchen team that filled our bellies with passover-kosher home-made pickles, massaged kale salads, vegan matzoh ball soups, stewed dried figs, matzoh brei, sweet and hearty quinoa, healing teas, matzah tiramisu, fresh and nourishing fruits and almond butters which kept us hydrated, joyful and able to immerse ourselves in the wonder of the desert
  • a slow weaning away from time, schedules, emails, phones, where we were instead defined by drums and fire dancers, prayer and laughter, sharing feelings and emotion, more sharing, and more sharing (we are hippies after all), where we were called to meals by the blowing of the shofar (ram's horn) and greeted by guitar and dancing
  • learning about passover, counting the olmert (don't ask me to explain it), LGBTQ issues in Judaism, the BDS movement of Jews in the US, and how to make Passover really, really tasty
  • Hearing about Rock, the one resident in the Panamint Valley ghosttown of Balarat who sells beer for a dollar out of a cooler in his house and likely burned down a mining camp about 20 years ago for reasons unknown
  • snakes, scorpions, birds, ants and packs of wild, wandering burros (don't mess with them)
  • hugs, dancing, cuddle piles, singing, freestyle beatboxing (by yours truly), incredible new friends and connections and a team of inspirational leaders to work with in putting on this amazing festival.
  • a stillness nearly impossible in the rush of the city and the race of our lives
I also, for the first time, experienced meditation of a sort.  The kind of meditation in which you think "okay, slow your breath, clear your mind.  Clearrrrr....yourrrr....miiiiind.  Hey, what's that bird doing?  He's so cute.  No wait, stop it!  Clear....your...ah, my leg itches.  I should have put on more sunscreen.  I wonder if those dates will be put out for dinner.  I liked the dates. With almond butter and...oh crap!  I have to clearrr....my....stupid overactive mind...I've got an hour more of this.  Oh screw it.  I'm taking a nap."  Although I felt I had failed at my meditation, a kind new friend explained to me that 90% of meditation is simply getting yourself to the cushion.  And so I've taken to doing an occasional 5 minute meditation which slows me down just enough to have a lasting effect throughout the day.

And so I returned from the timeless inspiration of the desert, changed not monumentally, but in small ways.  Am I more religious? Not so much.  But I do feel so very hopeful and inspired that there are Jews like me who believe strongly in our cultural tradition's connection to the land.  Thank you Panamint and thank you to the incredible families, elders, youth, teachers, students and organizers for what is one of my most memorable experiences.