From tragedy to opportunity: 6 ideas for ‘tikkun olam’

She advocates for working toward the Jewish concept of world repair, an opportunity born of the 'tragic' US election results

I was born in Israel but grew up in the United States. As a child of immigrants in a different era, the US gave me and my family citizenship, and opportunities we never could have dreamed of in Israel as Yemenite Jews with no economic advantage. My father, a brilliant charismatic man, got his PhD in chemical engineering from Columbia University in NY and went on to hold key positions in the American food industry. My mother became a star educator in the high-end, private Jewish school my siblings and I attended, thus enabling us to afford the fine education the school offered. I excelled in English literature, history, mathematics and science, and was exposed to an enormous amount of arts and culture in the rich metropolis of NY, which would broaden my horizons and shape my identity forever. My brother and sister both went on to gain excellent college educations, in Cornell and CalArts respectively, and excel greatly in their fields. My family owes the United States so much, it gave us the wings to fly and rise above what could have been a pre-determined destiny.

I left NY as a teenager after falling in love with a young Israeli man whom I was later to marry and build a family with. It was from Israel that I launched an international career that would take me around the world several times. Though I have called The Holy Land my home now for almost three decades, the knowledge that the vast, beautiful United States exists, way across the Atlantic, and that somehow, everything is possible on its soil, has always been a great source of comfort and inspiration to me and my family.

All of that changed on Nov 8th.

Like many millions of people, I am struggling to find ways to explain to my children, so adoring of the US and everything it stands for, the depths of the tragedy that has occurred. It’s a mistake, I say. A free country can make mistakes, that’s part of being free. It’s a passing thing, I say… it’s the pendulum swing, it’s misinformation, it’s maleducation, it can happen anywhere, it has happened in history, it’s the deterioration of the very fiber of society….we’ll work together to change it….

Despite my feeble efforts to rationalize, the dismay and crushing disappointment in my children’s eyes is overwhelming. Somebody stabbed their hero, and mine, straight in the heart, and now we are orphaned of our fantasy.

This process of thought and re-thought, sorrow and sobriety, has brought forth several ideas for the “tikkun olam” — the Jewish concept of “world repair” — that I feel we all so desperately need:

1. A huge push for personal responsibility and activism

Observing what has happened in the US, we are reminded that nothing can spare us the efforts and energy demanded of us, to educate ourselves and our children to the highest of human values. We have the opportunity here to give a personal example of the kind of behavior that has glorified humanity throughout the ages, across the frontiers of race and religion. In a nutshell, “love your brother as you love yourself.” That includes supporting civil and equal rights, contributing to society for the benefit of the weak and disadvantaged, knowing full well we are all connected symbiotically and inseparably, attending demonstrations and yes, protesting! protesting non-violently, and stubbornly, against the evils of society, that happened to be embodied horrifically in Trump’s every action. Trump has shown us that popular culture, the greed and animosity and emptiness of it, will not only fail to educate constructively, but lead us all down the road to oblivion. We must not leave our children in the clutches of cheap, popular culture, for they are the future. We must find the time to spend with them despite our heavy work loads, and give them a personal example of volunteering, generosity, modesty, solidarity and activism…in short, CARING.

2. The Tree of Wisdom is ready to bear fruit, and Eve must lead the way

For many, the information age has brought more fear than anything else. Being suddenly aware of everything that is going on in the far corners of the planet, in places we could easily be oblivious to in the past, the wars, genocides, terror, hunger, disease, natural disasters and all types of frightening, unfathomable phenomenon have left most people on the planet terrified , threatened and insecure. As a result, they turn to the right, clinging on to strong men and their hollow promises, building walls and wielding weapons. In many ways, the information age is a modern-day version of the Tree of Knowledge.

The immediate result of the plunge from ambiguity to knowledge was an awareness of “nakedness,” an immediate sense of judgement and eventually, an eviction from the garden of Eden. But generations of human beings transformed the biblical “curse” of knowledge into a blessing, and through ceaseless curiosity, experimentation and diligence, have brought humanity to its most spectacular achievements. Now, in this age of Kurzweilian singularity, human beings do not need generations to undergo the transformation from fear to fruition. We have all the tools we need. This is a time to infuse compassion and caring into computing, warmth into the web and value driven education into apps and apples…thus, slowly dissolving the fear with positive action. And who better than Eve to lead the revolution?

3. A shift from macro to micro

The Trump era will be a tribal one, where in the absence of worthy leadership, many will turn inwards to their communities, their clubs (religious or secular) and their extended families, seeking support, resonance and inspiration. The negative side-effects of social media and massive globalization, one being the birth of such a thwarted celebrity as Trump, will lead us to regroup, shifting from the macro to micro, supporting each other and cultivating our values locally. I believe that from this grass roots renewal will come the tidal wave of change.

4. An academy for leadership

Doesn’t it seem strange that there are no basic qualifications demanded of an individual aspiring to become president? There are very specific ones in almost every other field, from sports to business to the arts. From CVs to interviews to auditions , a severe selection process with high standards must be undergone for landing key positions in almost every field BUT…Presidential Candidacy. Maybe this is the time to establish an academy for leadership, with the finest training in not only political science but also the humanities and a variety of other carefully selected subjects vital for a budding leader, with the finest instructors and a most enriching and challenging curriculum. Graduation from this academy should be mandatory for anyone running for congressional and presidential office in the US….and anywhere! Full scholarships should be offered for anyone that lives up to the criteria of admission but cannot afford tuition. This, I believe, will create a great new generation of leaders with open minds and hearts, fully prepared for the political and social challenges of governing.

5. An opportunity for the East

For many decades, the US has been, for millions, the “promised land.” Posters were hung in small rooms from Delhi to Darfur, where hopeful youth gazed at them and were transported. American icons graced T-shirts, hats, bags and buttons, American lingo, fashion, music, style and mannerism were adopted by starry eyed citizens of the planet, all setting their compasses west, to the land of endless and equal opportunity. Maybe this is an opportunity to rediscover the wisdom and beauty embedded in the cultures of the East, that so often go unnoticed and under-appreciated by a world enamored of anything that whiffs of the West. Maybe now, India, China and the Arab world can restore some of their past glory, return to their “golden ages,” replete with enormous contributions to human wisdom and progress, and despite numerous entanglements and dilemmas of their own, provide an ideological and cultural alternative to the hallowed West.

I am aware that this statement I am making sounds utopian in light of the economic strife, religious extremism, civil unrest and political power-struggles that have crippled these cultures for so long..but in a Trumpian world, where all the rules have been broken and the unimaginable becomes the mundane…anything is possible.

6. The power of art

I am a firm believer in the power of individual human beings to take their fate in their hands and transform the world they live in. In such, I have special trust in the power of art (not incidentally phonetically kin to “heart”) to shift human consciousness and perspectives, ennoble women and men everywhere and in emphasizing our shared humanity and fragility, help us realize our strength and potential. This should be the Golden Age of artists everywhere, those who hold the secret keys to the heart and mind! Musicians, dancers, actors, comedians, directors, cartoonists, sculptors, animators, poets, writers, vocalists, experimental, classical, fusion, rappers, composers, entertainers, acrobats, artists and creators of all shape and size, children of light…. Raise your voices now.

The world will be listening…..

About the Author
Noa (Achinaom Nini) is a singer/songwriter of Yemenite/Israeli/American origins.
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