A Vegetarian Journal for Quakers and Other People of Faith
The Peaceable Table is intended for the mutual support, education, and inspiration of people of faith in the practice of love for our fellow animals and observance of a Peace-full diet
A Glimpse of the Peaceable Kingdom
Does anyone have information about this photo? (Our in-house computer expert opines
that it’s genuine, not photoshopped.) Note: Small kittens cannot retract their claws.
--Contributed by Angie Cordeiro
Editor’s Corner Essay:
On Wounding and Healing Among Activists, Part I
In the 1980s our Quaker Meeting joined the Second Underground Railway, becoming a Sanctuary. In private homes we housed two families fleeing state terrorism in Central America (e.g., kidnappings followed by the appearance of the victims’ horribly mutilated bodies dumped on the streets) who were facing probable deportation back to such scenes; we also ransomed a refugee from detention and helped him on his way to Canada. I was clerk (chair) of the small Central America steering committee that oversaw day-to-day affairs of the project. One of the other members was a Friend (call her Sara) I greatly admired for her past service to the cause of Peace; she had committed civil disobedience protesting some unjust government policy, and spent time in prison for her pains.
On one occasion I decided the committee needed to have a hasty meeting, and with little advance notice I phoned the other members to see if they would be available. When I called Sara, she went into an enormous, blistering rage at this violation of proper Quaker order. She continued shouting at me over the phone, while I shook with the trauma of the attack. As far as I can remember, I made no attempt to reply, and the committee met (and afterwards continued) without her. That her verbal battering of me might itself be a violation of Quaker commitment to nonviolence/ Peace apparently did not occur to her; there was no apology, and in fact in a later unrelated discussion group she stoutly defended her stance of rejecting Quaker “tolerantism,” as she called it. My uncharitable thought was “Yes, much better to stomp with hobnailed boots on the faces of fellow-Friends who bend proper procedures a little than to be guilty of tolerating them.” A few years later she and her spouse left the Friends and became Roman Catholics. I confess that I did not grieve for the loss.
Why on earth would a person who was so passionately devoted to peace and justice that she risked and endured prison, later act in a way so incompatible with her deepest commitment, without even noticing it? I was puzzled as well as badly hurt and angry. After her departure, the only answer I could think of was that her personality was perhaps one needing firm spiritual boundaries, and that the relatively unstructured Quaker way, and my failure to follow one rule precisely, had made her anxious.
There the matter remained for decades. Two years ago at a FARM conference I heard a lecture by psychologist/activist Melanie Joy (pictured, left) about the importance of self-care for activists. Among other things, she pointed out that being witnesses (including exposure to pictures and narratives) to the horrible cruelties regularly visited on animals can cause Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder (STSD), which in some cases can be as serious as PTSD.
According to published and online sources I consulted, these conditions can have a number of symptoms: exaggerated startle responses, asthma, depression, substance abuse, withdrawal, suicidal thoughts, insomnia, weight loss or gain, intrusive, painful mental images, feelings that one (and/or one’s family) is never safe, feelings of disconnection from coworkers and/or loved ones, shame, chronic irritability, angry outbursts. Without appropriate support and therapy, the affected person may do major damage to relationships and to her /his cause, may harm or even destroy herself.
I thought of two people. One, of course, was Sara. Might her inappropriate blast of rage have been a manifestation of untreated PTSD? I doubt I will ever know for certain; she was later reported to have a heart condition, and that was nearly thirty years ago. But physical and verbal violence in prisons can do terrible damage. The possibility aroused my compassion, and enabled me fully to forgive.
The other person was Faith Bowman (pen name), whose poetry has occasionally appeared in PT, and whose mystical experience of God as all-nurturing mother is recounted in “Wound Round with Mercy,” PT 49 . Faith was born to working-class parents who for years struggled with poverty, despite being hard workers. Her mother was a warm, loving person, but often deeply unhappy--anxious about spending money, feeling humiliated when they had to depend on credit from other church members, sometimes even for food. Faith’s father (who may have been an abused child himself) was probably anxious too, judging from his frequent rages, sometimes over trivial matters. These seemed to happen mostly at mealtimes, and to target her mother. Faith felt her mother was her only source of love, and the attacks were terrifying. She was chronically anxious and tense, especially at the table; her stomach would knot up and food was hard to swallow. Consequently, she was thin and undergrown. She lacked self- confidence, had trouble making friends at school; she would find herself mentally reliving painful scenes on the frequent nights when she couldn’t sleep. She would startle disproportionately at sudden noises, and freeze in any confrontive situation, even as a bystander. Most frightening of all, on rare occasions, when she was severely stressed, her windpipe would close like a vise, and she couldn’t breathe at all for a time. After a former classmate was killed in a traffic accident when she was ten, Faith envied her and became preoccupied with thoughts of suicide; but she knew that would increase her mother’s pain still further, so she never attempted it. In high school she remained withdrawn, was wary yet wistful in regard to boys;, had no real friends, and only one or two dates in four years’ time. She lived in a cloud of shame, loneliness, and depression, taking a thin solace in wide reading, getting high grades, and writing nature poetry.
Her parents were determined to send all four of their children to college so they could make something of their lives and escape from the trap of poverty. Eventually their financial situation improved substantially, and they succeeded in this; happily, it had the effect they intended. In college Faith gained fifteen or twenty much-needed pounds and found she had grown to normal height. Therapy provided partial help. Some of her symptoms diminished; some still persist today, years later. Although her condition was never formally diagnosed as STSD, I think it likely that this was what she had; or it might be called PTSD. (To be Continued)
“How can we talk about the Exodus from Egypt, and coming out to freedom, while eating a chicken that’s never known anything but prison?”--Yonassan Gershom, Hasidic rabbi
Dear Peaceable Friends,
I read with interest the reviews of Okja,which I watched a couple weeks ago . . . . What I found most interesting was the satirical but still very positive depiction of the Animal Liberation Front. [The filmmakers] didn't even change their name.
Dear Peaceable Friends,
. . . . .Regarding the movie Okja about a designer super-pig who is being raised by a sensitive young girl: Okja’s intended fate is to be killed for meat at some point, but the movie brings out the beauty and intelligence of Okja, and many who see the movie are vowing to go vegan. This gives us so much hope that, once people come face to face with whom they are eating, that they will stop eating animals entirely . . . .
Pilgrimage: Yonassan Gershom, 1947 -
Yonassan Gershom (pronounced YO-nah-sun GERSH-um) was born in Berkeley, California, and grew up in a suburban family that moved several times. For some time the family lived near Minneapolis, close to wild spaces and wild animals. Being a lover of nature, he was able to walk alone in the woods; sometimes he was able to see pheasants and deer even in the backyard of their house. After his family’s move to a Philadelphia suburb when he was in fifth grade, he and his father often visited a public garden, where they relished the beauty of many flowering plants.
His early experience of solitude in familiar friendship with nature, part of the air he
breathed, spoke to a need he and many others
Gershom embracing rooster friend Big Bird
have, but which has been unmet for so many suburban children, as anxious parents restrict them to carefully supervised play spaces. He is much concerned about this “nature deficit disorder,” particularly prevalent among his fellow Jews, constricting their ability to relate to an important biblical theme of God’s care for animals and the rest of the natural world, as well as to sense nature’s capacity to join humans in worship.
During the hippie era he was a spiritual seeker, attracted to Thoreau’s account of life in the woods and his writing on civil disobedience. Gershom had experienced mainstream Judaism in suburban US-America as empty, devoid of spiritual depth; instead he was drawn to Native American spirituality with its openness to the natural world. He sought out a Lakota Sioux holy man, John Fire Lame Deer on the Rosebud reservation in South Dakota, and asked the latter to serve as his spiritual guide. But Lame Deer redirected him to the spirituality of his own Jewish roots with its own stories, which, he explained, many in those days had forgotten. Gershom was dismayed, and eventually moved back to Minnesota.
Becoming a Hasid
But in time he found what he sought in the mystical Hasidic traditions, with their storytelling, dance, and ecstatic worship. In 1980 he married a fellow Hasid, Caryl; in 1986 after years of study he was ordained as a rabbi. Hasidism, with roots in eastern Europe, is a major movement among orthodox Jews that rose from the charismatic leadership and teachings of Israel ben Eliezer, ca. 1690 - 1760, known as the Baal Shem Tov, who lived close to nature and encompassed it in his prayers as an outgrowth of his commitment to Jewish mysticism, or Kabbalah.
Hasidism is much influenced by the mystical teaching of Isaac Luria, 1534 - 1572, that one of the reasons for the exiles of the Jews over the centuries--though those who exiled them were motivated by bigotry and cruelty--is God’s loving purpose for his people to raise and gather the Holy Sparks from various places into their original oneness by keeping his commandments there. These commandments can be summarized by devotion to God and realizing love and justice among neighbors. By so doing they will work toward tikkun olam [tee-KUHN o-LAHM], the repair and healing of the broken and suffering world, climaxing in the establishment of a Messianic Age in which all will metaphorically return to a pure Garden of Eden. (The Tikkun theme is not limited to Hasids but is embraced by many branches of Judaism.)
Gershom describes concrete ways of raising and gathering the Sparks, such as studying Torah, celebrating Sabbath, prayer, communal worship, and doing acts of kindness and mercy. One traditional way that has become controversial in recent years is eating the flesh of animals that are killed in accordance with sacred rules, intended to be as humane as possible, and using the energy derived from this flesh to do good in the world. But when the animals are neglected and/or treated cruelly (which conflicts with the Jewish law against Tzaar Ba’alei Chayim, cruelty to animals), or the energy is used in destructive ways, then even though the meat may be kosher the Sparks in the animals are not raised, says Gershom, but rather more deeply hidden and enmeshed. The broken state of the world becomes worse; tikkun olam is pushed further into the future.
Because of this important spiritual concern, and their awareness of the cruelty inherent in the factory-farm and slaughter conditions in our culture, Yonassan and Caryl decided they could not partake of it any longer; in the 1980s they became vegetarians. They moved out of Minneapolis into the countryside in 1988 because Caryl had developed a severe case of Environmental Illness, consisting of multiple chemical sensitivities that made city living impossible. This move had the painful effect of exiling them from the religious community life that is so important to Judaism, especially for Hasidic Jews, and virtually bringing to an end Yonassan’s work as speaker and spiritual director. In time, however, he realized that this move carried a blessing with it: now it was possible to have the communion with nature his soul needed, and that figures so largely in the traditional Breslov branch of Hasidism. He could pray while walking in the woods; he could live in friendship with companion animals, particularly their rescue cats and chickens. Because all these creatures are lovingly cared for, and the chickens continue part of the flock their whole lives (rather than being killed when they stop laying), the few eggs the hens do lay when not broody are part of the Gershoms’ diet; the couple are not vegans. Another welcome development for them was the arrival of the Internet in the 1990s, which restored some of their communication with their fellow Jews, so that they felt much less isolated.
Yonassan’s first-hand knowledge of contented, free-living chickens was to become important to his involvement in the issue of Kapporos, a ritual held shortly before Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), by some traditional Jews. The practice is not Biblical or Talmudic but has been handed down for a over a thousand years in some orthodox communities, though there have also long been rabbis who spoke against it. At one time, Gershom says in his book Kapporos Then and Now: Toward a More Compassionate Tradition, most eastern European Jews lived in small villages and raised chickens and other animals who walked about outdoors. The villagers ate meat relatively seldom, and the bird a family chose to kill for the ritual was healthy and was killed quickly. The ritual was not a substitutionary sacrifice for sin--sacrifices came to an end with the destruction of the Temple. Kapporos was meant to show repentance by inviting poor persons to share the family meal, or by giving them the slaughtered chicken for their own meal. It was also acceptable to use money in the ceremony, and give that directly to poor families.
But when Kapporos was revived in the US beginning in the 1970s by Chabad, Gershom relates, it grew into a major street event. The participants are urban dwellers who have no other experience with chickens, and are ignorant of their normal behavior, feelings, and needs. Thousands of caged chickens are trucked in from factory farms, in many cases stacked for days on city streets, given no food or water, exposed to heat and cold, many stained with the feces of chickens caged above them. They are young, barely more than chicks, but grotesquely overgrown due to selective breeding; their loud peeps are the cries of severe trauma. But the participants have no understanding of these signs of anguish; they are expecting to raise the Holy Sparks in the chickens and benefit poor people with their gifts, thus helping bring about the repair and healing of the world.
The chickens’ suffering is increased as a result of the instructions of a badly misinformed leading Chabad rabbi, Shea Hecht, that a participant should hold the chicken by the wings to “calm” him or her. In fact, says Gershom, this practice is very painful to the birds, and may tear the tendons and break the fragile bones typical of factory-farmed chickens. They may be silent and inert in this position because they are playing dead, but they see the killing around them, are terrified and in severe pain. “Everywhere there is the smell of blood, with chickens crying, bleeding, dying, and feathers all over the place.” (p. 18). Civic regulations are violated. Children are either traumatized by the carnage or become callous to avoid the stress; some poke the caged chickens with sticks and laugh. To make matters worse, most of the chickens’ bodies are not even given to poor people to eat, but are thrown into trash containers, defeating the original central intent of the ritual. The mess is often left behind.
Meanwhile, protesters upset by the violence, many of them compassionate and caring people but most with no knowledge of Hasidic spirituality, stand around with signs. Some have made comparisons to the Holocaust that are traumatic to the participants; a few protesters shout anti-semitic abuse, an element that is, sadly, getting worse. Neither side is listening to the other. Participants feel this is yet another attack (out of many over the centuries) meant to rob them of their identity as Jews by doing away with part of their traditional culture. The protesters would do better, writes Gershom, to inform the practitioners about the chickens’ suffering, and suggest that instead of raising the Sparks as they intend, the terrible pain and fear they are inflicting on the birds may well have the opposite effect, tragically delaying the repair of the world.
Because Yonassan’s work is motivated by that same desire to raise the Sparks and hasten tikkun olam, he encourages the use of money instead, which can actually be given to the poor and reduce human hunger, not to mention eliminating the suffering the participants are causing the chickens. He wrote the aforementioned book in hopes of helping to bridge this huge communications gap, but so far it has had little circulation. We may hope that persons on both side of the divide will read the book and take effective steps toward real communication and change. One can order it from Amazon at Then and Now .
Working Toward Peace
Gershom also has worked toward healing and peace in other areas. Since his hippie-era days, he has been committed to peace and nonviolence, and has written a book entitled Eight Candles of Consciousness: Essays on Jewish Nonviolence. As a scholar knowledgeable about Hasidic concepts of reincarnation as well as storyteller and spiritual counselor, in the 1980s and ‘90s he became known as a sympathetic and wise listener to many persons with nightmares, visions, physical pain, and/or phobias apparently resulting from earlier incarnations in which they died in the Holocaust/ Sho’ah. A number of these afflicted folk were not Jewish and were quite uneducated about eastern European Jewish culture, yet knew obscure details of that life as well as little-known aspects of Holocaust violence. Having someone who took their accounts seriously led, in many cases, to healing for these traumatized persons. A selection of their stories, together with his analyses and commentary, appear in two earlier books, Beyond the Ashes and From Ashes to Healing. They make for riveting reading.
Yonassan’s work of peacemaking and healing are ultimately centered in a conviction that at the center of the world is joy. As we seek the healing of the world, we are also to celebrate and give thanks for God’s good earth, so that Nature unites with us and gives thanks as well.
Reproduction of painting by Ilex Beller, 1914 - 2005
Recipe: Kay’s Vegetable Casserole
1 cup thawed corn kernels
1 cup cauliflower florets
½ chopped sweet red pepper
½ cup chopped celery
½ cup chopped onion
½ cup Daiya shredded cheddar cheeze
¼ cup vegan mayo
1 cup cooked (or canned and drained) pinto beans
1 T. ground flaxseed plus 3 T. warm water
1 cup bread crumbs
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Spread out corn kernels in a plate to reach room temperature. Stir together flaxseed and warm water, and set aside. Measure and mix ingredients; turn mixture into oven dish, and top with breadcrumbs.
Bake for about 25 minutes. Garnish with parsley if desired.
--Kay Lindskoog, from the 1987 cookbook A Feast of Friendship
Poetry: William Cowper, 1731 - 1800
--from The Task, Part III
. . . . I was a stricken deer that left the herd
Long since; with many an arrow deep infixed
My panting side was charged, when I withdrew
To seek a tranquil death in distant shades.
There was I found by One who had himself
Been hurt by the archers. In his side he bore,
And in his hands and feet, the cruel scars.
With gentle force soliciting the darts,
He drew them forth, and healed, and bade me live . . . .
Issue © 2017 VegetarianFriends