Thoughts and musings from a writer, editor, photographer, activist, and musician in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. I believe that faith and social action are intertwined in efforts to positively motivate change in the society around us. We need to be actively involved in our communities to try to effect this change locally and globally. I also love the local Arts scene. Warning: alternative perspectives and strong opinions ahead. Intimidated yet? Good - read on.
Here's my acceptance speech, in writing and video:
When I showed up at my first peace march in September of 2005, camera in hand, I had no idea that 11 years later I would be standing here receiving an award like this.
I firmly believe that we all have a role to play when it comes to peace and human rights, and that every contribution has significance. Our voices count, whether it is helping organize events, connecting communities, or simply showing up to support an equitable society, to say no to racism, and to say yes to peace and an anti-war government.
I also hope that my example will help influence others to get involved with the peace movement and human rights. We need your voices and talents.
Thank you to the John Humphrey Centre for holding these awards and for bestowing this honour upon me. And to all of my friends and supporters over the years: peace, shalom, thank you.
Back in September, I was the keynote speaker for a workshop hosted by the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights for the organization's youth group. My topic was documenting activist events through photography and writing (particularly blogging and social media). Here is a video of my talk, as well as my notes.
Documentation: Activism Through Writing and Photography
photos you are seeing are part of the Art + Activism exhibit at
Visual Arts Alberta, featuring my photos and two activist painters
until November 26 (10215 112 Street).
myself: multimedia artist working in the areas of journalism
(writing and editing), photography, videography, social media
consulting. Made a conscious decision to apply my skills towards
activism, because I did not see a lot of progressive events covered
in mainstream media, and no one seemed to be documenting much.
have an historical record
protect yourself/colleagues by having recorded details that the
memory may otherwise lose
share your movement and experiences online and connect with
like-minded groups/individuals and grow beyond your borders
build grassroots community locally and beyond through the sharing of
attract others to the movement by presenting who you are and what
you do. Pictures (and videos) speak volumes beyond just written
descriptions (but writing is important too, as we will discuss
the media: cover important gaps in coverage. Citizen journalism is a
“thing” - there are unprecedented opportunities in today's world
for our voices to be heard.
yourself: just like there are those people who always take pictures
at family gatherings, events and protests can make important
memories for us as well.
be an issue of access/privilege (equipment – you need a camera,
and ideally you need a computer)
one does not need a fancy camera – a smartphone/tablet can
suffice. Technology has come a long way.
phones can also take video, most cameras (DSLR and point-and-shoot)
can take video, and some video cameras can also take decent stills.
of the above: items can be shared immediately via data or wifi (be
careful about eating up data plan). You can even edit in your phone
or tablet now with apps.
& Flickr, Facebook & Twitter – all places to post
immediately. Don't forget to tag and add hashtags. Tags are like
keywords; hashtags use the # symbol and also work as keywords that
can be clicked on to be taken to materials using that same term. Eg.
#yeg in Twitter for Edmonton-related posts.
should tell a story. Include backdrops, crowds. Don't always focus
in one individuals without context or else you end up with photos
that look like they could have been taken anywhere. Eg. Festival
photo of family on grass that could have been taken anywhere.
issues taking photos at and posting photos from public gatherings on
public space. However, respect it if a colleague does not want
his/her photo taken and posted. Could be a job-related issue, family
issue etc. Or, maybe they just don't like their picture being taken.
Legal issues vs. moral/ethical issues in this case err on the side
if singled out in a photo, always a good idea to get permission from
parents/guardians. Again, morality/ethics should take precedence
enforcement can be photographed. They, nor anyone else, have the
right to tell you to delete photos.
not a lawyer – my information comes from my experience and what I
believe to be true, but don't take anything I have said here as
I try to shoot in a way that would require minimal editing, if at
all, afterwards. Depends what you are trying to do. Documentation,
to me, means being true to what I see, so I don't want to change or
enhance it much. You can crop and make some adjustments right in
your phone. Most computer operating systems come with a basic photo
editor (as well as a video editor).
the moments, describes them, another way of sharing information.
Wordpress, Blogger. Wordpress is better for making full-fledged
websites. If you just want a plain blog, Blogger might be more
intuitive to use for some.
posts: keep succinct, add hashtags (a more recent development on FB)
don't have to be an English major or wonderful writer.
descriptive, be succinct.
to the Editor at newspapers – don't be surprised if you don't get
published or it gets edited way down. Keep as short as possible –
increases chances of getting printed.
to activist websites. Usually are hungry for submissions because
they can't pay.
as a team; have someone edit your work
careful what you write: “say it and forget it, write it and regret
it.” Nothing ever really permanently vanishes from the Internet
(eg. Deborah Drever). You don't want something coming back at you
down the road.
work online usually has a unique link that can be shared on social
General (this can be applied to video as well)
like common sense: make sure batteries in phone and cameras are
charger and battery packs for phones.
camera batteries are proprietary; have a spare (if economical)
and/or make sure it is charged in advance.
to share on other social media like FB and Twitter
tag people who are not in photos. Pet peeve of many; good way to get
it when people don't want to be tagged. Easier now that people can
remove tags themselves.
as the above with regard to descriptions, keywords, sharing, adding
people (the equivalent of tagging).
For the past year I have been working on a short film called McCauley: A Caring Community - Conversations on Social Housing. The film discusses the concentration of social housing in the McCauley neighbourhood, and why housing needs to be a city-wide responsibility. Faith and social justice are both themes in this film, as there are clergy from the area interviewed, as well as residents who also happen to represent the Capital Region Interfaith Housing Coalition and other faith-based social action organizations.
The film is an independent production with support from McCauley Revitalization. The official trailer was released a couple of weeks ago - here it is!
On July 2, I spoke at a rally for Palestine. This time, I was speaking strictly for myself, and not on behalf of any organization. Although it was organized to recognize the controversial Al Quds Day (an observance for Palestine originally started in Iran), I was very impressed that most of the speakers were saying that this was a day to recognize all of the oppressed and occupied peoples of the world, including our own First Nations. While I was specifically asked to speak about BDS and the situation involving access to water in the West Bank, I also acknowledged that I disagree with violence on either side of the conflict in Israel/Palestine. It was a peaceful and respectful gathering, and while I was at first conflicted about speaking there, I was glad afterwards that I did. Below is my speech and a video from the event.
My name is Paula and I am not speaking on behalf of any organization: I am simply speaking as a Jewish citizen who believes that the occupation of Palestine must end. Judaism and Zionism are not the same thing. Despite the efforts of organizations like B'nai B'rith and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs that claim to speak on behalf of the entire Jewish community, there is growing concern among Jewish people in Canada and beyond about the actions of the Israeli government and its human rights atrocities aimed at the Palestinians. I say: not in my name!
An end to the occupation is needed for a just and sustainable peace in the Middle East. The occupation, besides being illegal and immoral, does not allow either the Palestinians or the Israelis to live in peace and risks continued escalations of violence against both peoples – not to mention the horrific human rights abuses that the Palestinian people must face every day.
Boycotts, Divestments, and Sanctions, better known as BDS, is one tactic to protest the occupation. BDS targets companies and products produced in Israel, particularly in the Occupied Territories. The BDS movement has come under fire this year by the Canadian government, which passed a motion in Parliament to condemn those who support BDS and reject it. As a peace activist, I fear that such a motion is a slippery slope to delegitimize people and organizations for their political beliefs. BDS is a peaceful, non-violent means of protest – it is, in fact, simply a conscious act of refraining from something - that takes both a political and moral stand. For the government to condemn people for their beliefs is overstepping boundaries in a way that has no place in a democratic society.
As a Jewish person, my spiritual practise includes tikkun 'olam, which means healing or repairing the world. Our faith and history teach us that we must stand up in the face of injustice. When it comes to the plight of the Palestinian people, the word “injustice” barely begins to cover it. The latest outrage concerns allegations that the main supply of water to Palestinian towns and cities such as Jenin, several Nablus villages, and surrounding areas was manipulated during the holy month of Ramadan. The executive director of a Palestinian NGO focused on water and sanitation issues reported to Al Jazeera that some areas had not received water for more than 40 days, with families having to live on two, three, or 10 litres per capita per day.
Water is a basic human right. According to the UN, 7.5 litres per person, per day is the minimum requirement for most people, but areas of Palestine reach more than 35 degrees Celcius in temperature, so much more is needed. As also reported on Al Jazeera, Israelis, including settlers, consume five times more water than Palestinians in the West Bank: 350 litres per person per day in Israel compared with 60 litres per day in the West Bank. According to Amnesty International, almost 200,00 Palestinians in the West Bank do not have access to running water, and require permission before collecting it themselves.
Getting back to my stance as a Jewish person of conscience, I have been accused of being a “self-hating Jew” and someone even once asked me why I hate Israel. For the record, I don't hate Israel – I have never said that in any discourse, publicly or otherwise. For the record, any senseless deaths of anyone saddens me, and I don't believe that acts of violence accomplish anything except beget more violence. Ending the occupation will save lives, both Israeli and Palestinian, and is the only path leading to a just and lasting peace.
I was privileged to be asked to speak at the Edmonton Interfaith Centre for Education and Action's one-day symposium "Weeping for the Land: Spiritual Perspectives on and Strategies for Healing an Ailing Planet" on May 12. My topic was Judaism and spiritual solutions to healing the planet. Below is the text of my talk, and the video from it. Environmental Justice is a Jewish value.
First of all, I want to clarify that I am speaking as an individual. I am not a rabbi and I am certainly not a scientist. I am an activist, and much of what I will present is from that perspective.
Jewish tradition teaches that God created the world, and as such as ownership of the land, and it is our job, as stewards of the land, to protect and preserve it. This is a value that is common to other faiths, particularly Abrahamic ones, but there are some specific Jewish teachings that deal with Judaism and the environment. I am going to examine just a few of these that are based in the Torah and Talmud.
Much of what I am going to discuss comes from GreenFaith.org and is written by Rabbi Lawrence Troster ("Ten Jewish Teachings on Judaism and the Environment"). What follows are either his words or my paraphrases of them:
The Torah has numerous laws, which attempt to redress the power and economic imbalances in human society and Creation. Examples are the Sabbatical year (Exodus 23:11, Leviticus 25:2-5, Deuteronomy 15:1-4) and the Jubilee (Leviticus 25:8-24). There is a whole program in the Torah for creating a balanced distribution of resources across society (Exodus 22:24-26, Leviticus 25:36-37, Deuteronomy 23:20-1, 24:6,10-13,17). This is an expression of the concept of Tzedek, which means righteousness, justice and equity. It is the value, which tries to correct the imbalances, which humans create in society and in the natural world. In the modern world globalization has strived to achieve the free movement of people, information, money, goods and services but it can also create major disruptions in local cultures and environments. While globalization has created great wealth for millions of people, many millions more have been bypassed by its benefits and it has had in some cases a negative impact upon the environment and human rights. The Jewish concept of Tzedek demands that we create a worldwide economy that is sustainable and that is equitable in the distribution of wealth and resources.
Torah: Prohibition of wasteful consumption
Deut. 20_19-20 “When in your war against a city you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees, wielding the ax against them. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down. Are trees of the field human to withdraw before you into the besieged city? Only trees that you know do not yield food may be destroyed; you may cut them down for constructing siege works against the city that is waging war on you, until it has been reduced.”
This law was expanded into a mitzvah (commandment) of Bal Taschlit – Do Not Destroy, and includes the wanton destruction of household goods, clothes, buildings, springs, food, or wasteful consumption of anything.
“Modesty in consumption is a value that Jews have held for centuries. For example one is not supposed to be excessive in eating and drinking or in the kind of clothes that one wears (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Discernment,chapter 5). Jews are obligated to consider carefully our real needs whenever we purchase anything. We are obligated when we have a simchah (a celebration like a wedding or Bar Mitzvah) to consider whether we need to have elaborate meals and wasteful decorations. We are obligated to consider our energy use and the sources from which it comes.”
Torah: Prohibition of the Extinction of Species and Causing undue pain to non-human creatures
This is an underlying reason for certain laws pertaining to Kashruth – kosher – food, in terms of the procedure by which to kill an animal in a way that causes as little pain as possible (supposedly, although some Jewish people, like in the general population, have taken this one step further by becoming vegetarian).
“If along the road, you chance upon a bird’s nest, in any tree or on the ground, with fledglings or eggs and the mother sitting over the fledglings or on the eggs, do not take the mother with her young. Let the mother go, and take only the young, in order that you may fare well and have a long life.” (Deuteronomy 22:6-7)
Ramban (Moses ben Nachman, Nachmanides, 1194-1270) in his commentary to the Torah wrote:
“This also is an explanatory commandment of the prohibition you shall not kill it [the mother] and its young both in one day (Leviticus 22:28). The reason for both [commandments] is that we should not have a cruel heart and not be compassionate, or it may be that Scripture does not permit us to destroy a species altogether, although it permits slaughter [for food] within that group. Now the person who kills the mother and the young in one day or takes them when they are free to fly, [it is regarded] as though they have destroyed that species.”
The spiritual solution for environmental issues is, like other issues of social justice:
Tikkun Olam: The perfection/fixing of the world is in our hands.From Greenfaith.org:
There is a midrash (Rabbinic commentary on the Bible) which Jewish environmentalists are fond of quoting:
“When God created the first human beings, God led them around the Garden of Eden and said: “Look at my works! See how beautiful they are—how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it.” (Midrash Kohelet Rabbah, 1 on Ecclesiastes 7:13)
In the Jewish liturgy there is a prayer called Aleinu in which we ask that the world be soon perfected under the sovereignty of God (le-takein ‘olam be-malkhut Shaddai). Tikkun olam, the perfecting or the repairing of the world, has become a major theme in modern Jewish social justice theology. It is usually expressed as an activity, which must be done by humans in partnership with God. It is an important concept in light of the task ahead in environmentalism. In our ignorance and our greed, we have damaged the world and silenced many of the voices of the choir of Creation. Now we must fix it. There is no one else to repair it but us.
My addition: Tikkun Olam is a way that many contemporary Jews express their faith, even if they are not religious or observant in the traditional sense. It is a call to action in a practical sense, with a spiritual undercurrent. But in what I just read from Rabbi Troster, I think this is a collective “us” - all of us, in our different traditions have a responsibility to protect Creation.
World Interfaith Harmony Week is marked in Edmonton during the first week of February. It was as first proposed at the UN General Assembly on September 23, 2010 by H.M. King Abdullah II of Jordan. This year, the Edmonton Interfaith Centre for Education and Action organized its event on February 5 in City Hall. The theme this year is “Love of God, or love of the good, and love of the neighbour." I, along with EICEA Coordinator Netta Phillet, spoke on the topic from a Jewish perspective. What I said is below, and draws heavily from my talk in September at the Festival of Faiths. At the very bottom is a video of the two of us, so you can get a chance to hear what Netta had to say.
In Judaism, when it comes to how to relate to those who have no faith, our scriptures are relatively silent on the matter. There are verses in the Old Testament that can be interpreted on how we should treat others in general, starting with the story of Adam and Eve, which shows that we are all connected, we all come from the same beginnings, and as thus are all equal. There are also passages in Isaiah and Proverbs that deal with how we treat people. However, these are not specifically Jewish, as other religions follow the Old Testament as well.
One of my favourite, and best known, comments on how we treat each other that has a Jewish basis is from the Talmud (oral law which was later codified in writing). It's the story of Rabbi Hillel - a rabbi who lived around the same time as Jesus. The story goes that a non-Jew came to Rabbi Hillel and said he would convert to Judaism if the rabbi could teach the man the entire Torah in the same time he could stand on one foot. Rabbi Hillel's response: "What is hateful, do not do to your fellow man. That is the whole of the Torah; the rest is commentary." (Talmud Shabbat 31a)
Jewish identity can be multi-faceted, especially in our contemporary world. There are many Jewish people who would not label themselves as religious, but follow some of our customs and traditions out of cultural, rather than religious observance, for example the dietary laws of not eating pork or shellfish, or joining together with family to celebrate the Passover seder. You can even be an atheist and still identify as Jewish in a cultural sense, or as an ethnic identity. My own Jewish spiritual practise leans heavily on the observance of tikkun olam, which means "healing" or "repairing the world". In this way, "loving the good" or "loving the neighbour" is all part and parcel with social justice and striving for a world of peace and understanding between all people.