Unwalling My Heart in the Walled City

by Rabbinical Student Alana Alpert

Yesterday, at one of the many Batei Midrash (“Houses of Study”) in which I study, we looked at Talmud Masechet Brachot 30b. The text includes half a dozen stories of rabbis thinking that other rabbis seem too happy. Some quote biblical verses stressing sadness intended to dampen the rabbis’ joy. Others break expensive objects, to snap the merry rabbis out of their trance and remind them of brokenness.

If I didn’t identify with the parade-raining rabbis before my time living in Jerusalem, I do now. I don’t need to tell the readers of this blog about what is happening ten minutes from my house: the demolitions and evictions in Silwan, the choking of Wallaje by the Separation Barrier, and on and on. I live my life with a near constant awareness of the suffering in this place and punish myself accordingly. By now my friends know not to agree to movie night, because they’ll be subjected to “This is My Land: Hebron” or “The Law in these Parts”. I scowl at the happy people around me: do they not know what is going on? Or do they choose not to know?

I share this not because I am better than anyone else, davka the opposite, as a sort of vidui (“confession”) or maybe a cry for help. I am deeply out of balance, and I am well aware that if I don’t let my sense of urgency give way to a bigger picture, then my days as an activist are numbered. Readers, colleagues, comrades: post your joy practices! Your texts! Share the wisdom that allows you to face injustice with clear-eyes and a joyful heart.

In Jerusalem we celebrate Shushan Purim because it was a walled city. That means the revelry that most Jews indulged in last night will take place here this evening.  I am grateful for this extra day because it has given me more time to meditate on the meaning of joy and open myself up to it. You know how sometimes a weekly Torah reading, or a holiday, gets you right when you need it? Just matches up with your life and pushes you forward? Well, Purim is my holiday this year.

Perhaps my dwelling in such darkness allows me just the opportunity to experience turning things upside down. Rebbe Nachman teaches that true joy comes from sadness transformed. There will be no smashing glasses tonight — I am resisting the urge to dress up as some part of the occupation, as I have in years past (I know, I know). Tonight I am dressing up as an angel, a being with enough distance to know that we silly humans are doing our best. And that we’ll get there…

My dear friend Fedelma offered me her joy meditation from her and my favorite poet, Hafiz:

Ever since happiness heard your name, it has been running through the streets trying to find you.

She likes to picture happiness in this case as a gangly, long armed Muppet with brightly colored fur. Tonight, I will go out to the streets to meet the Muppet.

And since I wrote this blog post instead of taking a disco nap, we’ll see how it goes… wish me luck!


4 thoughts on “Unwalling My Heart in the Walled City

  1. Thanks for airing the perennial problem of the activist: how to not burn out and, in the process, alienate nice, apolitical, friends.
    Your solution of Kermit and Miss Piggy sounds like an excellent antidote. I see the wisdom in connecting with the Muppets.

    Fun – particularly of the subversive genre – works for me. Also, activism brings me into contact with new people whom I would never have met if not for being an activist. I try to remember that. Vacations and other mental breaks are so important too.

    And here’s a gentle reminder that you are not responsible for the lack of engagement of everybody else.

  2. Thanks for this powerful soul-sharing, Alanna.

    The “Breathing Through” meditation you can find at the link below isn’t about joy but about working with how we can remain intimately aware of the terrible suffering in the world without letting it overwhelm us.

    I was taught a version of this minus the explicit Buddhist references and found it very powerful.

  3. You’ve completely missed the point that the Gemara is making, AND not just that, but you are even misusing it to relate to goyim, for whom Shas does not apply. Unconfuse yourself before you pontificate– you’ll only lead other yiddin the way of Moses Mendelsohn. If you paid attention in shiur, you might know this is called “placing a stumbling block before the blind.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s