Friday, December 22, 2006

Chanukah, Tikkun Olam, and Social Justice

Sadly, Chanukah ends tonight. For many Jewish people, it is a celebration of lights, food, and family, but for me, it has always been a profoundly spiritual transition period, a time to reflect on the previous year and to center myself for the year to come. During this time, I try to follow the path of Tikkun Olam, a Hebrew phrase for "repairing the world." To walk the path of Tikkun Olam is to reach out for social justice. According to the Kabbalah, the world was viewed as a pottery vessel that was insufficient to hold the light of God. As the universe was unstable, it inevitably shattered into shards. Since the universe was broken, it was in need of repair. It is through one's deeds of goodwill and social justice that the universe can be rendered whole again.

Thus, during the eight days and nights of Chanukah, I try to reaffirm my Jewish faith and dedicate myself to working toward this social justice. When we place our Chanukah lights in the window for the world to see, we are connecting to the outside world and rekindling our commitment to social justice and truth through advocacy and positive steps in repairing our small share of the larger world that connects us all regardless of our religious beliefs. Without the courage to first examine problems, we will never be able to search for viable solutions.

In a world that is often shrouded in shades of moral grayness, one needs a spiritual light to guide one towards the truth. Arthur Schopenhauer, the 19th century German philosopher, stated that all truth passes through three distinct phases: "First, it is ridiculed... second, it is violently opposed... third, it is accepted as being self-evident." When I think of a perfect example of this search for truth, I think of the American Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. First, African-Americans were ridiculed, humiliated, and set aside with separate lunch counters, water coolers, and restrooms, to name a few of the segregated accommodations.

YouTube has some very revealing black-and-white documentary footage of this very disturbing period of American history. I have gathered a collection of some very powerful tributes to the Civil Rights movement and the Holocaust, which you can view on my YouTube page HERE. With your own eyes, you can see and listen to racist college students stating that African Americans did not deserve to attend the same colleges as they did because they were intellectually inferior. When Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. and other leaders stepped up to provide human dignity to their spiritual brothers and sisters, truth entered its violent opposition phase. Suddenly, the police that were supposed to protect and serve its citizenry were turned against it. Children of color were blasted with powerful fire hoses, beaten with police batons, and attacked with fierce canines. Peaceful demonstrators were arrested for exercising their rights to freedom of speech and assembly.

Even more shocking were that otherwise civilized Caucasian women, perhaps loving mothers and wives, would turn to such hateful acts as pouring hot coffee and ketchup on the heads of African Americans who did nothing more than sit at their lunch counters in public establishments. Many innocent people lost their lives to stand up for their beliefs and to repair this shattered world of racism. Finally, truth found its home in the self-evident fact that all people, African-Americans, Jews, and others are created equal in the eyes of God and the state and federal laws finally caught up to their moral counterparts.

When I ask for courage to fight for social justice, I think of those who went before me and who sacrificed so much to make this world a better place not only for themselves, but also for future generations. Small steps can make a difference in improving this world, whether it is to give a voice to the voiceless, to provide love and support to someone in physical or emotional pain, or to bring a hot plate of food to a homeless person on Chanukah or Christmas. Even if one is homebound or economically disadvantaged, one can spend as little as a few minutes a day to make a difference such as posting a comment against the many racist and anti-Semitic ranters found on YouTube and other online forums, or emailing one's public officials about a social injustice one may witness, or even telling someone that you love them.

As one single person, I cannot repair the entire world. I cannot feed the starving, repair the ozone layer, end the world's petty wars or global warming, or find a cure for cancer. So, I work within my knowledge and limits and do my part to make Santa Monica College a better school for those who attend it or wish to attend it in the future. Through my SAVE SMC blog and website, I bring to light serious issues that need to be addressed that might otherwise be overlooked. I have also worked to educate the students of their rights under the law and the policies that SMC's administration are attempting to pass that might very well jeopardize those liberties we hold dear. Additionally, I have worked tirelessly for about a year and a half to obtain vital public records from the school and to make those records easily accessible for the public.

Slowly and surely, despite great obstacles, personal sacrifice, persistence, and a belief in the search for truth and moral justice, I have seen significant changes at our school. Administrators have resigned or have been released from their jobs and SMC has examined some of its policies and implemented new ones to help students, especially the disabled who have previously been disenfranchised. I have given courage to others to stand up for their rights and hopefully have been a role model and voice to many.

Finally, SMC's attorney, Joshua Morrison, has agreed to comply completely with the California Public Records Act in regards to all six sets of our requests for records. This was no simple task as I had to spend months researching the public records act, researching the records we wished to obtain, writing many emails and letters, and entering into many legal negotiations and discussions. I had to file two lawsuits to encourage compliance with the law, muster up the courage to speak personally to the SMC Board of Trustees, and I had to endure many encounters with SMC's campus police as they attempted to scare us away through interrogation and intimidation. I even had to endure wrongful disciplinary sanctions including arbitrary enrollment holds and being thrown out of school without any due process rights whatsoever. Yet, I knew deep inside that God would always be my advocate and guide and that truth was on my side and that I would persevere. I read that courage is not the absence of fear; it is the ability to continue in its face. I also read the following: "Adversity truly introduces us to ourselves." I feel that both these words of wisdom ring true to my ears.

Ironically, SMC has dragged me to court during both Rosh Hashanah and Chanukah. They also dragged me through a mock kangaroo proceeding on Holocaust Remembrance Day. Perhaps this was no coincidence, but a reminder to me of what I was fighting for and that my faith would get me through all of these hard times. Yesterday, during Chanukah, I once again went to the Los Angeles Superior Court to stand up for our rights under the California Public Records Act. If justice is a fountain, let all our rights flow freely now and in the coming new year.

-- Des Manttari,
Phoenix Genesis

(c) 2006: Phoenix Genesis/MBS LP

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