The saturation of media at the moment has got me feeling drained and in need of a break from over-stimulation. I’ve turned back to what is comfortable: Harry Potter audio books narrated by Jim Dale, TV marathons where I can tune out the outside world, Bob Dylan classics, my go-to musicals (Oklahoma, West Side Story, Grease), greasy salt and vinegar potato chips, memories of my childhood.
As a seventh generation Jewish American, I have been raised to be conscious of my lineage. I feel all the more worried as bigots are peering through nooks and crannies of our country’s fabric and acting out of rage, indifference, and hatred. I haven’t felt unsafe in my skin for some time, but last week’s attacks on the Mount Carmel Cemetery in Northeast Philadelphia left me quaking. I feel so angry, so threatened, so disgusted by this vandalism—the public acts of anti-Semitism, racism, Islamophobia and xenophobia are growing more and more rapidly. I mourn for the 539 graves desecrated with malice and my heart hurts for those that had to pick up the pieces of their loved ones’ resting places. Community is powerful, though. Many have already helped restore the tombs and put the cemetery back in its place. What shook me more than anything was the fact that three other cemeteries in the same neighborhood were left untouched: all of those were Christian cemeteries. One would think that the resting places of others are sacrosanct, safe, and nestled in a veil of respect. That idea was cataclysmically wrenched apart as I heard of the news.
My tendency as an extroverted introvert would be to isolate and bottle up my rage. Judaism teaches that community can heal, and as my Rabbi, Rabbi Ari Lev suggests, “Though we may be inclined to isolate ourselves in response to hateful actions, we know we are stronger when we are connected to hateful actions, we know we are stronger when we are connected and in community. Our Judaism is inextricably linked with working and fighting for justice in our city and the world. Our liberation is inextricably linked with all others’ liberation. We are safe and free when all are safe and free.”
I have fallen in love with Philadelphia in my almost two years here. It is home, and I will do whatever I can to protect that home. Rabbi Lev suggests “We will build this world from love.” This new world is one where art is at the forefront for me. Art and teaching. Two things that make sense, even under a Trump presidency.
My experiments inside and outside the studio with “Onion Dances” makes me wonder how the personal narratives I am sharing can inextricably bbbbe in dialogue with what is currently happening to Jews in America right now. How can the past inform and help us through a present that seems troubling and unsteady?
As I prepare to perform at Fringe Arts’ March Scratch Night, those are the questions that will be at the forefront of my mind. Liz Lerman likes to say “How can we turn discomfort into inquiry?” In these moments, I find myself asking how can I turn my discomfort in the world into a place of inquiry where art can be made?
I’m eager to take these conversations out into the wider community, with my Dance Exchange colleagues, with the Kol Tzedek community, and the arts community as a whole in Philadelphia. How can we turn hatred and bigotry into a world where love thrives?
I live in the City of Brotherly Love, but more and more, that feels like a misnomer. I’d love to find that love and allow it to heal the mourners and the community, restore the graves that were overturned, and put us on a path towards mending, towards healing, towards mutual listening and understanding.