Forgiveness is the Password to Divinity — Chief Brave Heart

I have a soft spot for July Fourth. I think it's because my grandparents all found refuge and opportunity here, and their gratitude magnifies my own for this great country, which opened its gates to so many for so long. But this year I have also been contemplating how our nation's dangerous underbelly—insularity, xenophobia, and white supremacy—are born of historic wounds that have still never been fully acknowledged, much less, healed.

I want to tell you about a powerful forgiveness ceremony I attended this past week, geared toward repairing our country's unhealed history. Present were elderly descendants directly affected by the Wounded Knee Massacre (1890) as well descendants of the US Cavalrymen who perpetrated it.  

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Tirzah Firestone
To Touch the Eternal

The invisible world is trying to get our attention these days. I feel it in my dreams and in the dreams of others that I listen to each day. I hear it when I walk by the river or in the woods, finally quieting my mind. By "invisible world," I mean the realms that live beyond us, which we sense but do not see. The mythologist Michael Meade calls it the Eternal. He says that humans need to "touch the Eternal" just to survive the burdens of time and the weight of daily life. Especially now, when our world seems to have drifted off course, and so many once- revered pathways to the Eternal have been devalued in the West—like prayer, nature, poetry, and simple kindness—many of us are feeling lost.

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Tirzah Firestone
Healing Trauma in the Form of Art

On Sunday night, June 2, we gathered at Congregation Nevei Kodesh for The Internal Fable of the Ancestors, a rare and beautiful evening dedicated to the healing of body, soul and community. This edgy, emotional, and gorgeous evening wove together ritual invoking our ancestors, poetry, dance, song, and storytelling—all on the topic of healing our intergenerational legacies.

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Tirzah Firestone
The Paradox of Passover

Each Passover, in reiterating our never-ending communal persecution, we strengthen our collective trauma legacy and reinforce a sense of belonging to our suffering but triumphant tribe. But Passover also provides an entirely different trope. It gives us the challenge of Ha Lachma Anya, the prayer at which we open the door and invite in the world to share our crackly poor bread.

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Being Tested

There is a lot of darkness in the world right now: fear, insecurity, hopelessness. How do we go about bringing light out of so much dark? I believe the Zohar is telling us that spiritual light comes not from avoiding, but from facing into the darkness. That true goodness comes not from untested innocence but from facing and wrestling with our darkest parts.

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Resisting The New Normal

The slow slippage of democratic norms that I have taken for granted all my life—like basic civility, respect for human dignity, factual evidence, rule of law—is actually a quite rapid mudslide into a "new normal" that too many in Washington are eating like cake. The changes are quite overwhelming. But being overwhelmed works against us.

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Tirzah Firestone
The Demure Wisdom of the Chimpanzee

A scene of four men in white lab coats carrying off a defenseless chimp by her four limbs. That was all. It was an old documentary about arrogant, misguided practices. But my mind latched onto the image and couldn't shake it, especially the demure surrender of the chimpanzee.

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Tirzah Firestone
Igniting a Heart of Compassion

This week the old Jewish cemetery in my hometown was vandalized. Almost 200 gravestones were crushed or knocked flat off their bases, many in the historic section dating back to the 1800's. My eldest brother Danny is buried there outside of St. Louis, as is my little cousin Menachem who died at seven. I have long imagined both their souls to be my spirit guides. It hurt my heart to think that their physical resting places had been trashed by blind hatred.

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Tirzah Firestone
World Shifting: A Love Army is Formed

Let me tell you how my world shifted on its axis last month when I traveled to Standing Rock. The first time I set eyes on the encampment was early dawn, just as the dark was lifting. The silhouette of teepees against the pink horizon and the smell of wood fire smoke in the frigid air touched something so deep inside of me that tears started welling up before I knew what I was feeling.

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Tirzah Firestone
Standing Rock

We arrived at Standing Rock still flummoxed by election returns, and fixated on daily newscasts out of Washington and New York. To our delight we found no mention of the T-word, no fretful forecasts. That's because the story here is far more compelling, and the historical context of the Dakota Access Pipeline battle much broader--four hundred years in the making.

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Tirzah Firestone
The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, 2016

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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Tirzah Firestone
Befriending the Dark Design

It was the smallest thing really. A little bump on the road. I was driving north on I-36 yesterday when I saw a little clod hit and spun around by the car in front of me. As I passed I saw more clearly: the tiniest bunny stunned by the blow, upright in the center of the opposite lane, its eyes wide with shock, looking into mine. For that one split second as I passed him, our eyes locked.

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Tirzah Firestone
What's Wrong With This Picture?

We saw many commemorations to the dead on our short journey through Central Europe. At each stop on our way—Prague, Terezin, Uhersky-Brod, Slovakia, Budapest, Vienna—we learned how lives much like our own were disrupted, how unfathomable atrocities occurred. Decades later, museums and commemorations arose. Iron shoes nailed on the shores of the Danube, walls filled with carefully calligraphed names, gold-squares set at the doors of houses—all beautiful attempts to ring the bell of awareness, to awaken us to cognizance, to give a semblance of honor to those who could not be saved.

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Tirzah Firestone
Scaling Stone Walls: Angels & Devils

This morning my head is swimming at the remarkable events that unfolded yesterday in Uhersky-Brod—a verdant, sweet-smelling town in the Carpathian Mountains of the Czech Republic. This is where our great-great grandparents Moses and Tzilka lived and bore their children, so we rented a car to come see what we could find.

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Tirzah Firestone
At Terezin

The place still reeks of suffering. Behind the pretty façade, the living conditions were horrendously cramped, full of lice and bedbugs, typhus and dysentery. 58,000 people were stuffed into the space of 7,000. Hygiene, food, and medical care was so paltry, that 33,000 died there. And 8,700 of these were children.

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Tirzah Firestone
First Day in Prague

So much bustle and life! I almost forgot that before WWII 118,000 Jews lived in the Czech Republic, and 50,000 right here in these Prague streets. Now there are perhaps1,500 registered Jews in the entire city. Among the 78,000 Jews who were murdered, I found six names scribed on the wall of the Pinkas synagogue (now a museum) who bore the names of my relatives, the Schweigers: Evzen, Ruzena, Oskar, Gert, Klaus, and Frantiska. All of them died in 1939 or 1942.

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Tirzah Firestone
Stopping the Trauma Train VII

This is a picture of my little girl. Her name is Emily and she just turned 30. I remember looking into these eyes for hours at a time. They were like windows into some heavenly place, a clear and unfettered world that I myself once knew. Our wide-eyed world gets clouded over all too soon. There are family narratives to contend with and unspoken secrets that we inherit. The world that is wide and endless and full of possibilities begins to shrink.

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Tirzah Firestone
Inherited Images

It is well known that the borders of a child's psyche are highly permeable. Like the feelings that echo between people—what we now call mirror neurons[1]—mental images can be transferred from parents and other adults to younger generations. Although actual memories are not transferred, it is not uncommon for parents and caregivers who have experienced extreme psychic trauma to transmit to a child what has been called an image deposit,[2] that is, a mental picture of the excruciating events that they and others from their group have endured.

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Tirzah Firestone