Category Archives: Animal Rights

Time To Start Spinning

Ghandi is well-known for the non-violent resistance techniques he taught and modeled during the struggle for Indian independence from a colonial power. What we perhaps don’t as often remember is that he spun the cloth for his own simple clothing and taught that it was a duty of every Indian to do the same.

Here is his rationale: “He chose the traditional loincloth as a rejection of Western culture and a symbolic identification with the poor of India. His personal choice became a powerful political gesture as he urged his more privileged followers to copy his example and discard—or even burn—their European-style clothing and return with pride to their ancient, precolonial culture.4 Gandhi claimed that spinning thread in the traditional manner also had material advantages, as it would create the basis for economic independence and the possibility of survival for India’s impoverished rural multitudes.5 This commitment to traditional cloth making was also part of a larger swadeshi movement, which aimed for the boycott of all British goods. As Gandhi explained to Charlie Chaplin in 1931, the return to spinning did not mean a rejection of all modern technology but of the exploitive and controlling economic and political system in which textile manufacture had become entangled. Gandhi said, “Machinery in the past has made us dependent on England, and the only way we can rid ourselves of the dependence is to boycott all goods made by machinery. This is why we have made it the patriotic duty of every Indian to spin his own cotton and weave his own cloth.”

It occurs to me that we have been colonized in the United States by corporate interests. For almost half a century, I have resisted this corporate take-over with my food choices. I believe my individual choices are important, but I think the time has come to connect with others to turn my individual choice into a political and economic statement.

I hope like-minded people can come up with one or more symbolic gestures as powerful as this one that Ghandi advocated to state our opposition to Trumpism and the values it promotes. If we can all unite behind this set of actions, it will have a strong economic impact, but even more importantly, it will make the case that our dismal failure to vote in sufficient numbers in the 2016 campaign didn’t.

It also occurs to me that the place we should look for this action or set of actions is in the food supply chain, which affects so many critical aspects of our lives on this planet: our moral sensibility, the environment, corporate/colonial rapaciousness, poverty, waste, health and more. I read a wonderful post this week envisioning a sustainable system, which I must add is NOT industrial agriculture — nor is it, according to this writer, universal veganism.

With such a vision in mind, perhaps there is some person or group out there capable of leading a resistance through mass action along the lines of Ghandi’s resistance. In the course of carrying out this action, an action in which every person could participate, we would not only deliver a strong economic and political message, but we might impact the environment sufficiently to counteract some of the damage this regime promises.

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

Election 2016: Keeping the Faith

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One thing that all major religions have in common is a powerful message of hope. Judaism expresses its hopeful message in a variety of ways, in its sacred texts, its prayers and liturgies, its mandated ethical activity and its rituals.

Ritual is non-verbal communication. In Jewish practice, ritual reminds us who we are and does that through describing our relationship to G-d, our fellow creatures and nature. It creates a space in time when we restore the harmonious relationships G-d intended for creation. We call the Sabbath, for example, a “foretaste of the time of the Messiah,” 24 hours in the present that reflect the way our world will be every day when Messiah finally comes.

Typically our ritual practice revolves around Shabbat and life cycle and year cycle  occasions. I’d like to explore the idea of how ritual can work for us in another framework.

Today, 12 days after the election of 2016, I woke again feeling as though I had suffered a profound loss. It reminds me of when my Dad died in the sense that it is both an emotional and a physical sensation. It is jarring to see life go on as usual around me and difficult to reconnect to it. It occurs to me that in Jewish ritual, I have the tools to help myself reconnect in a positive, life-affirming way.

I am thinking of the rituals associated with death and mourning. A Kittel is a white garment worn for the Passover Seder, on Yom Kippur, for the marriage ceremony and in death. What can these occasions possibly have in common? Each represents a profound transition from one state of being to another.  It feels to me as though this country is living through one of those profound marking points in its history, one of those moments like the murder of President Kennedy or the Oklahoma City bombing or 9/11, that we will look back to and know the ground shifted under our feet. Engaging in a ritual that takes note of this profound transition from one state of being to another seems appropriate.

“Sitting Shiva” (Shiva meaning seven) refers to the seven days of mourning following the death of a loved one. For seven days, a community cares for the mourner, visiting, bringing food, making certain there is a Minyan to recite Kaddish. It is a time for condolences, yes, but also a time to remember and reflect, to share stories of the one who left the earth, to listen to the mourner sharing his or her memories. While the mourning period doesn’t end with the conclusion of Shiva, this space in time is an important step back toward life. And that is something that we, who share these feelings, must do — remember those steps we have taken, those things we have accomplished and prepare ourselves to go back to work.

And finally, Kaddish. I remember a song that I particularly loved when I grew up in my Dad’s church, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” It was a powerful hymn when the congregation sang it together, and I felt the meaning of holiness viscerally. I haven’t checked, but I suspect the song was inspired by the Kedushah (same root as Kaddish), a central Jewish prayer with a section that begins, “Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh,” that is, holy, holy, holy. Kaddish, also meaning holy, is recited several times during every service, bridging between sections of the service and the Mourner’s Kaddish at the end of the service. The prayer requires at least 10 people (a Minyan, so it is important that for each day of Shiva, a mourner has at least ten people from their community to support his or her Kaddish).

These are the words of Kaddish, with a nod to the awkwardness of gender-specific pronouns. I don’t usually change them for the sake of familiarity and smoothness of flow within a community that allows me to enter a ritual space. I know G-d is neither male nor female but both. I am making an exception because of the context of this discussion, when many whom I know and love are especially sensitive to misogyny in our leadership and culture:

Glorified and sanctified be G-d’s great name throughout the world
which S/he has created according to Her/His will.

May S/he establish Her/His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days,
and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon;
and say, Amen.

May Her/His great name be blessed forever and to all eternity.

Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored,
adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be S/he,
beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that
are ever spoken in the world; and say, Amen.

May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us
and for all Israel; and say, Amen.

S/he who creates peace in Her/His celestial heights,
may S/he create peace for us and for all Israel;
and say, Amen.

The prayer is a profound affirmation of hope and faith at a time when one is most tempted to question the ultimate nature and purpose of human existence. It anticipates establishing G-d’s kingdom on earth.

And what is that kingdom? For that, I look to the first chapters of Genesis, 1-3.  That kingdom in the Garden, as G-d created it, is one in which human beings live in the right relationship to G-d, their fellow creatures and the rest of creation. It is a harmonious system of differences, without the sense of otherness, fear and enmity that characterizes our world.

The rest of the Torah and all other sacred Jewish scripture, its laws and teachings and discussions, its prayers and its rituals, tell us how we can live in the real world beyond the Garden, doing our best in a messy existence to live in right relationship to G-d, our fellow human beings, our fellow creatures and the planet — and to keep the faith that someday the ritual spaces we create will extend throughout creation.

In a time when we seem tragically far from that ideal, when our leaders cynically focus on our “otherness” stirring up us/them fears and hatreds, when we breed 9 billion animals every year in this country just to slaughter them, when we edge closer and closer to making this beautiful earth uninhabitable for organized community, it is easy to lose faith.

I believe each of us must return to our sources to find those vehicles that help us reconnect to life and community after loss, maintain faith and hope, and do our work in the world, whatever it is for each of us, to create a better future.

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.