Category Archives: People You Should Know About

People You Should Know About: Stellamaris Mulaeh

Here’s a great story of hope from a country that has seen its share of tragedy in recent months. An article from last month’s Christian Science Monitor profiled Stellamaris Mulaeh (above), a young Kenyan women who is spearheading grassroots conflict resolution efforts in her home country. 

Before the recent post-election crisis, Mulaeh founded the 65-member Peace Working Committee of Maseno University – a campus-based group which that students in conflict resolution skills. After the recent violence broke out, the Committee broadened its work throughout Kenya, particularly in the Narobi slum of Kibera, which was a flash point for ethnic clashes. Based on the success of her efforts, Mulaeh is planning to hold a summer conference to promote further reconciliation.

Mulaeh’s Peacemaking CV is truly impressive. She is also Pax Romana‘s national coordinator for peace-building in Kenya and holds several postions in the World Conference of Religions for Peace.

For those of us who regularly read the news about crisis points like Kenya, I think its enormously important to educate ourselves about individuals such as Stellamaris Mulaeh.  I suspect there are many more like her out there: inspiring examples of individuals committed to defying hopelessness around the world…

Intellegence and Compassion

I’ve written about Burmese peace activist Aung San Suu Kyi in an earlier post – and we’ve been reading a great deal lately about her role in current protest movement in that country. I recently came across this interview clip from 1999 in which she offers her definition of non-violence. You’re not likely to find a more elegant or eloquent advocate for human dignity…

It’s Pronounced “PUTS!!!”

7205.jpgDid you know that one of the best relief pitchers in the major leagues is named JJ Putz?

That’s right: Putz is the closer for the Seattle Mariners and he’s currently tearing up the stat book. He has more saves (29) than base runners (28) in 46 1/3 innings. He’s also given up just one run in a save situation, has no blown saves and the best ERA in baseball.

Want to read more? Here’s a recent article from seattlepi.com entitled (I kid you not) “Putz Putting up Cy Young Numbers.”

The Cantor from Poughkeepsie

Thanks to my good friend (and clergy partner-in-crime) Cantor Howard Friedland for steering me toward this amazing piece of footage: cantor-comedian Shepsil Kanarek doing one of his routines.

This particular bit involves Shepsil’s outrage at being forced to audition for a High Holiday position at a synagogue (“Me?! Shepsil Kanarek from Poughkeepsie??!!”) I’m not quite sure how to describe his comedy – this man was simply a force of nature and really must be seen to be believed. If you understand Yiddish or know anything about old school cantorial styles, you will love this. Howard howls every time he watches it…

This clip is beginning to make the rounds on the Jewish blogosphere, so it seems that Shepsil is finding new life via the internet. I’ve searched in vain for more info on him – if any of you know anything more about the cantor from Poughkeepsie, please write in!

Where are the Peacemakers?

_38856823_suukyi_bbc_203.jpgIn this week’s Torah portion, Hukkkat, we read of the death of Aaron:

Moses stripped Aaron of his vestments and put them on this son, Eleazar. When Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain, the whole community knew that Aaron has breathed his last. All the house of Israel bewailed Aaron thirty days. (Numbers 20:28-29)

It is noteworthy that Aaron was mourned by the entire people of Israel – and that their period of mourning lasted for thirty days rather than the traditional seven. According to the Midrash, this reflects Aaron’s status as an unusually and universally beloved leader – even more than Moses:

Only the men showed lovingkindness to Moses, as it is said, “And the sons of Israel wept for Moses.” (Deuteronomy 34:8) (But) the men and women and children showed lovingkindness to Aaron.

Why? Because he loved peace and pursued peace, and passed daily through the entire camp of Israel and promoted peace between a man and his wife and between a man and his neighbor. Therefore all Israel showed lovingkindness to him, as it is said, “And when all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead, they wept for Aaron thirty days, even all the house of Israel.” (Pirke De’Rabbi Eliezer 17)

The Midrash thus presents us with a decidedly “revisionist Aaron.” While the Aaron of the Torah is the venerable High Priest of Israel, the archetypal Aaron of Rabbinic tradition is portrayed as the quintessential “Ohev V’Rodef Shalom” – “Lover and Pursuer of Peace.” Witness also this well-known verse from Pirke Avot:

Rabbi Hillel said, be a disciple of Aaron: “loving peace and pursuing peace, loving all people and bringing them closer to Torah.” (Pirke Avot 1:12)

Who are today’s disciples of Aaron? Invariably they are the one’s whose love and pursuit of peace comes at great personal cost. In honor of this week’s Torah portion, I’d like to spotlight the work of one courageous peacemaker:

Aung San Suu Kyi is a Burmese peace activist and Nobel Peace Prize recipient who has spent more than ten of the past seventeen years in some form of imprisonment or detention under Burma’s military regime. Like many important peacemakers (she has cited MLK and Mahatma Ghandi as personal influences) Aung San Suu Kyi’s struggle for justice and human rights is grounded in a profoundly spiritual vision. Here is an excerpt from one of her writings, which was quoted in her Nobel Prize Presentation Speech:

Where there is no justice there can be no secure peace. That just laws which uphold human rights are the necessary foundations of peace and security would be denied only by closed minds which interpret peace as the silence of all opposition and security as the assurance of their own power.

The Burmese associate peace and security with coolness and shade:

The shade of a tree is cool indeed.
The shade of parents is cooler.
The shade of teachers is cooler still.
The shade of the ruler is yet more cool.
But coolest of all is the shade of the Buddha’s teachings.

Thus to provide the people with the protective coolness of peace and security, rulers must observe the teachings of the Buddha. Central to these teachings are the concepts of truth, righteousness and loving kindness. It is government based on these very qualities that the people of Burma are seeking in their struggle for democracy.

Do you know of other Disciples of Aaron? I encourage you to write and share the stories of those whose efforts are contributing to a more just and peaceful world.

People You Should Know About: Sari Nusseibeh

transcript_pic1.jpgJust finished “Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life,” the recently published memoir of Sari Nusseibeh. The president and professor of philosophy at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, Nusseibeh also served as the PLO’s chief representative in Jerusalem from 2001-02. But more to the point, Nusseibeh is one of the great heroes of our time: a longtime Palestinian advocate of a two-state solution, he has been consistently targeted by enemies of peace on both sides of the conflict. In the end, however, he is guided by his eminent humanity, his willingness to reach out and, as he puts it, his “belief in the basic decency of the Palestinian and Israeli peoples” (p. 461).

There’s so much I want to say about this important, moving book. It’s worth reading on so many levels: as a history of the Palestinian experience, a insider’s account of the peace process, a personal memoir and love story. It is also a remarkable account of a man who is repeatedly (and reluctantly) drafted into the political process, but is really a teacher and philosopher at heart. His inner rhetorical struggles to come to grips with this conflict were for me the most valuable and inspirational aspects of his book. Here is but one example – his personal take on the thought of Abu Hāmed Mohammad ibn Mohammad al-Ghazālī, a 12th century Islamic philosopher:

(Al-Ghazali) argued that the world and all the objects within it including our soul, are composed of discrete, featureless, and interchangeable “atoms.” These atoms take on various shapes, so if God chooses to turn water into wine, all he has to do is shift the atoms around a bit. Or, going back to politics, hatred many seem as immutable as Dr. Johnson’s nose, particularly in the Middle East, where blood feuds can keep it going for generations. Yet, emotions are not Aristotelian essences, but can be transformed through an act of will. It’s up to us to turn hatred into understanding. No matter how hopelessly entrenched two parties may be, their feud can be solved through an act of human will (pp. 127-128)

If there will be an way out of this “hopelessly entrenched” and tragic conflict, it will only be due to those such as Nusseibeh – a man with the soul of a philosopher and the true courage of his convictions.