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Deep in Our Bones

Something there is that doesn't love a wall... Photo © Carol Bergman



Deep in our bones lies an intuition that we arrive here carrying a bundle of gifts to offer to the community.


-Francis Weller, The Wild Edge of Sorrow



If you come again, don't throw a grenade, knock on the door.


-Chem Goldstein-Almog, a released Israeli hostage kidnapped by Hamas 10/7/23



We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but on the positive affirmation of peace.


-Martin Luther King, Jr.




The persecuting spirit is running rampant this holiday season, boobytraps in the most innocent expression of an idea or point of view among friends, relations, or colleagues, and the presumed safety of a home, a campus and a homeland shattered. War overseas and warring among ourselves. We are all both witness and  unintended participant in this devolution of civilized society.


Where is it safe to reside these days without the menace of guns, famine, death threat, climate changed flooding, or bombs, cancellation or intimidation? A spectrum of catastrophe to be sure as I sit here safe, or safe enough, in my apartment. My musings are for next year, the immediate future, and beyond: How can we protect and sustain our children and educate them with depth and compassion? What tools will they require to protect and sustain themselves and their children? As I am an educator as well as a writer, I think about these questions often, more so when I am in the presence of educators and attempt to pry open their "apertures of compassion," as psychotherapist Francis Weller calls them.


There is work to be done—within ourselves, our communities, our body politic, our schools, and the world.  Do not tarry, do not rest. Is that how the saying goes? We must not shirk our responsibilities. The possibility of a fascist entering the White House is real, among many other horrors. What can we do from the limited space in which we reside?


Consider yourself a co-author of this blog post, dear reader, as I solicit your suggestions at the end of 2023. Please share your ideas in a comment in which you explain—or  summarize—your effort to staunch the tide of despair so many are feeling, and to remain active, and stay in balance. Concretely, what is your new year's resolution as a peace activist, a climate activist, a political activist, a hard working parent, a  voter, or an educator? What small action towards peace and stability—national or international—are  you taking?


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The Kindness of Strangers

 ©copyright Carol Bergman 2023



The greatest gift you ever give is your honest self.


― Fred Rogers, "The World According to Fred Rogers"




I spent a couple of hours today delivering chocolates, cookies and cards to the workers in my small upstate New York town, workers who have eased my life immeasurably this past year with their kindness. I want them to know that they are appreciated, that I am grateful for them. New Paltz has a population of about 7,000, and apart from a more diverse State University of New York college population, they/we are mostly white and affluent. Not so the workers in the supermarket, my mechanics, the woman who takes care of the laundromat, the young employees at Spectrum in the mall, the men and women behind the desk at my gym. Most do not live in the town, they come here to work, to serve us, and they are easily forgotten once we are out the door, our business done. Indeed, in a town that is a monument to enslavement and Jim Crow, these contemporary demographics are hardly surprising. Yet, cosmopolitan and urban to the bone, I find myself here, and I observe, I ponder, and I write.


Gifting those who have been special to me, strangers who have entrusted me with their stories either as a reporter or a consumer in fleeting encounters, this gifting has become my own ecumenical holiday tradition: Julie, at the supermarket had a small stroke and had to return to work after her sick leave ran out, which was too soon. Stefan at Spectrum is starting school in September, and Pat at the car body shop has COPD and recommends his new doctor to anyone with COPD; the doctor saved his life. Dylan checks my tires and chats to me about his five-year-old daughter. Because of these soul warming micro-connections, separate and distinct from the friends I have made since arriving here in 2018, the town's smallness expands into a capacious home, the barriers of class and caste broken.


Maybe I learned this holiday tradition during my decade in London, a class conscious society top to bottom, so smitten with royalty in the modern age that Hilary Mantel once compared the kings and queens—even  in their contemporary iterations—to  precious pandas who are both hard to conserve and expensive to maintain.  But class and caste can break down there, too, especially if you are an American, or an irreverent artist, like a friend of mine who lived in Hackney in the East End of London.  Her home was in a row of small attached "terraced" houses, a working class neighborhood fast becoming gentrified, and every Christmas Eve this irreverent and courageous friend of mine wrote out a load of cards and went door to door to wish her neighbors a Happy Christmas. There is more crime in London now, but in those days—if Norma's neighbors were home—they all opened their doors at the first knock. I went with her on one or two occasions and what a treat it was to feel such surprise and joy in others, and in ourselves.


There are many kinds of giving, of course—donations, presents, food—and each of us have our particular "language of love" and "language of concern." Small tokens of appreciation are my personal contribution to the continuing effort to remain compassionate and attentive close to home.


This blog post is dedicated to all the children in countries at war,  and all the migrant children living in shelters and tent cities.

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Beyond a Place of Wrath and Tears


Why persist in the belief that "ordinary" people could not possibly sanction, let alone partake in wholesale human slaughter? The historical record, from ancient times to the present, amply testifies to the ease with which people can extinguish the lives of others, and even take joy in their deaths.

― Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, "Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust"





This week, the Jewish Community Center Safety Committee in New Paltz invited the Chief of Police to talk about the potential for antisemitic incidents at the synagogue. "What kind of situation would lead to stationing police at the Synagogue and Community Center?" the email invitation to the congregation asked. Though I am not a member of this congregation, I receive their emails, and this one gave me pause. Soon after the antisemitic terrorist attack at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on October 27, 2018 in which eleven people were killed and six wounded, I received a phone call from a woman who lives and works in New Paltz. She knew I was a journalist and wanted to show me an antisemitic screed she had found in the wastepaper basket at the Town Hall. I asked if she had taken it to the police; she had not. Afraid to lose her job, she asked if I would "report" it. By this she meant report it in the local newspaper I write for occasionally. Instead, I made an appointment to see Chief Lucchesi and asked a member of the Jewish Community Center to come with me


The Chief was both knowledgeable and reassuring. He assigned a detective who determined that the screed had been faxed from an unknown location and was not local in origin. Soon after this visit the perpetrator of the Pittsburgh shootings was caught.


For most of my life, I have been spared the fear and rage that my Israeli cousins and Palestinian friends experience every day. Indeed, I always told my refugee parents that I was thankful they had landed in America rather than on a sliver of contested Biblical land inhabited by deranged warring societies. Edward Said, The Palestinian American academic, called the efforts  to "fix" the Israel/Palestine "problem" akin to "shaking peanuts in a jar," one peace "accord" after another broken by intractable hatreds.   


We are now witnessing a horrific, pulverizing, uncivilized war in the Middle East, instigated by Hamas, perpetrated by Hamas and its handlers, but continued with little respite by a vengeful, dangerous right wing Israeli government that has broken every international humanitarian law ever codified—in  its own "settlements," in the West Bank where there has been detention without trial for decades, and now in Gaza. It should be no surprise to any Jew in the American diaspora that some of the uptick in antisemitism—on social media, on the streets, and on the college campuses—is  a reaction to this war. As I write, it has only worsened, despite the release of hostages.


Years ago, I was asked by a German magazine to interview Daniel Goldhagen, a Harvard professor, who had just published Hitler's Willing Executioners; Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust which I have quoted above. Reading this quote again today, it seems more applicable to the Israeli government than to contemporary Germans who have worked ceaselessly to confront their history, and atone for it. So here's my prayer for this holiday season:  May the next Israeli and Palestinian generation feel secure enough to do the same. May the children of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank survive this war and live in peace. May they not dishonor their souls with hatred.



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