Wednesday before Thanksgiving, 2016


I am not an activist. I avoid crowds and cold weather if I can. So why was I was drawn to this relentlessly frigid, straw-colored landscape filled with people this Thanksgiving? Truth is I’ve been traveling too much and would have relished some time off to stay put and catch my breath.

But today at dawn I understood more. As David and I huddled in a prayer circle of 400 (500?) people from all over the continent and beyond I felt shutters of awe dissolve my cynical affect, my wariness of New Age unreality. Looking around I was astonished to see thousands (yes, thousands) who have camped here and two camps nearby. At the center of the camp we were surrounded by a sea of tepees and yurts, tents and RVs. Wood smoke rose into the cold new day.

Life at Standing Rock is rough not glossy, old (ancient you might say) hardly New Age.
Language spoken is basic and imperfect as are the voices of men and women elders that penetrate the slate colored sky with their prayer. The sacred fire at the circle’s center, which I am told has been tended since August, is unadorned, nothing special. Yet I sensed a focused concentration in this sprawling circle that I have rarely felt before. Even at Yom Kippur. Even at funerals. I felt a single-pointedness among all these hundreds, a stillness of mind, a humble concentration, serious but not deadly, reverent but not powerless, that I have rarely experienced before.

Elders both men and women from tribes as far as Alaska and the Grand Canyon prayed and guided, admonished the group to keep the camp unified, to take care of one another, not to give way to negative speech or anger, especially after the violence and injuries incurred two days earlier. To remember who we are, two-legged silhouettes of God.

We white people are not leaders here. We have gathered as allies to America’s native peoples in some grand act of repair (what Jews might call a Tikkun.) It’s about time. And now some 240 tribes join in a historical act to resist the oil conglomerates who wish to lay the prophetic “black snake” pipeline along Sioux boundaries and beneath the Missouri River, their water source, their life source.

May this not be a grand reenactment of our indigenous tribes’ historical trauma! May it be the beginning of a new story! We are here to help write a new story. Now we are off to cook a Wapila Feast, turkeys, squash, pies. Truckloads of donations have poured in from around the country, testament to the good heart of this country.

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  • Reply Susan Berman November 24, 2016 at 1:43 pm

    Ah ho, may it be a feast of deep nourishment. Thank you for tending spirit and the ancient makom of these peoples.. with great love and prayer, Susan and Ron

  • Reply Eve Ilsen November 24, 2016 at 3:26 pm

    Sending blessings and intense wishes that this be a turning point for the good, for the saving of “our Earth, suspended in space…”

  • Reply Aleza GRAZI Tuohy November 24, 2016 at 11:20 pm

    I hope the the ancient prayers of our American ancestors and all those standing with them, Tirzah, reach the hearts of our country’s leaders.

  • Reply Rachel Dale November 25, 2016 at 5:56 am

    What a beautiful testament to Reb Zalman’s description of our differing spiritual practices as the different organs in the body. The body needs them all to survive. Thank you for enlivening the Jewish organ in the body of our Mother. B’vrachot/Blessed Be.

  • Reply Johanna Alper November 25, 2016 at 12:23 pm

    Thank you, Reb Tirzah, for sharing your experiences with our native brothers and sisters. I read your post before we began our Thanksgiving meal and all were very appreciative. Shalom and Love, Johanna Alper

  • Reply Miriam Schiff November 26, 2016 at 12:22 am

    We have so much to learn and many elders to guide us. Now we all must listen
    Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  • Reply Neshama Mousseau November 27, 2016 at 12:08 pm

    Reb Tirzah. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us…

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