In 1939, German playwright, poet and visionary theatre director Bertolt Brecht penned, as the “motto” or preface to the “Svendborg Poems,” this imagined dialogue: “In the dark times/Will there also be singing?/Yes, there will also be singing/About the dark times.”
These are the words that I thought of when I awoke on the morning of November 9 to a world that felt a little different than the one I knew the day before. Brecht wrote his words in 1939, in the midst of an already-transforming Europe on the eve of catastrophe. His words, although inspired by deep grief and worry, are a potent call to arms to keep fighting, to keep making art, and to keep living. But I am struggling with how we are to keep singing, and what to sing about, as we move forward into an uncertain future, where, it seems, bigotry continues to be rewarded and institutionalized.
Indeed, we have seen before what can happen when a narcissistic, isolationist, xenophobic, racist, ableist, sexist, homophobic, nationalistic megalomaniac rises to power on a wave of fear-mongering, scapegoating and paranoia. I have no answers. I can only offer more questions. Yet, I know that I need to respond with concrete actions. I need to channel my rage and fear. Even in our grief, worry, rage, despair, horror, I beg of us to do what we can to stand up for those more vulnerable than we are, those whose lives are more precarious and even more negatively impacted than our own by a Trump victory. We need to nurture the seed of revolution and protect those who are most in harm’s way, even as we do it through our tears.
But what can we do, especially since it seems the whole society has gone crazy? To put it mildly, Trump’s campaign revealed the currency of anti-woman and white supremacist beliefs in America. I do not feel up to writing about racism today, but I do want to write about the misogyny that Trump’s campaign has brought to the surface. Over the past few months, women in North America have begun to speak about feeling threatened and even re-traumatized during an election campaign where a man guilty of sexual harassment and accused of rape can make a bid for, and ultimately win, the highest office in the United States.
Our faith puts a priority on kindness, social justice, welcoming the stranger and privileging peace. A few weeks ago, when I visited our community mikvah, I noticed some pamphlets for survivors of sexual abuse. Of course, this was a good place to provide such information as the mikvah is mostly used by women, and one in four Canadian women will suffer sexual or physical abuse. Seeing these pamphlets also made me sad, since it reminded me that abuse against women happens in our community too, even as our tradition upholds the value of shalom bayit (peace in the home).
Shalom Bayit is also the name of a program at Jewish Family Services of Ottawa that offers confidential support for women in the Jewish community who experience domestic violence and who want to access resources. www.jfsottawa.com
In the general community, the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women runs many programs that aim to bring community awareness to violence against women and girls. www.octevaw-cocvff.ca
The festival of Sukkot is traditionally the time to offer prayer for peaceful dwellings, and in the Hashkiveinu prayer that we can say every evening, as well as traditionally during the Days of Awe, we ask God to protect us in a sukkah of peace: “Ufros Aleinu Sukkat Shlomecha (Spread over us Your shelter of peace).” But I believe we need to work harder to ensure that the members of our communities have safe shelter every day. Not all of us are safe, and some of us live precariously.
Ufros Aleinu Sukkat Shlomecha. This, too, is a call for action as well as a prayer for all of us and for our planet. How can we be that shelter of peace for others whose dwellings and lives are even more fragile than our own?
If you or someone you know is experiencing or has experienced sexual violence, please reach out:
• Shalom Bayit – Contact Sarah Caspi at Jewish Family Services at 613-722-2225, ext. 246, or 613-769-3597 (cell), or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre – 24-hour distress line at 613-562-2333.
• Ontario Assaulted Women – toll-free helpline at 1-866-863-0511.