Story of a journey
"If you think that you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito".
The Dalai Lama
Entering the Path
I have chosen to tell the story of my journey as a social activist and my spiritual journey, through the fire motif. All of the events described have happened in reality. The connections that I have made between them are entirely subjective, but for me they form the path that unfolds with each step.
Ever since my childhood my parents and my greatest teachers of generosity, educated me to contribute to the society in which I live, and I remember myself volunteering in different settings from a young age. However, the journey to India, on which I embarked in February 2008, was where I became an activist. After three weeks in Rishikesh, where my journey began, following an interest that arose in Buddhism, I arrived on 14.3.2008 in Dharamshala, where the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetans, has lived since 1959, and where he formed the Tibetan government in exile.
Following concern for his life that was threatened by the Chinese, the Dalai Lama fled Tibet to India with 80,000 of his supporters on 10.3.1959, thus the March 10th became the Tibetan day of uprising and protest. In 2008 the Olympic Games took place in Beijing. The Tibetans thought that this was an opportunity to raise the world's awareness regarding the Chinese occupation of Tibet, and so, on March 10th, 2008, the greatest Tibetan protest in twenty years erupted.
During the suppression of the protest approximately 120 Tibetans were killed and many more were injured and/or arrested. On March 18th, 2008 a press conference with the Dalai Lama was broadcast from the square of his monastery. When I arrived there to watch the press conference, the square was full of hundreds of monks, holding the Tibetan flag and singing the Tibetan anthem and repeating mantras in a low and powerful bass voice. There was energy there that I had never encountered before. Then the press conference with the Dalai Lama began, and he, after only a few days from the outbreak of these events, taught that "violence is outdated" and that "now was the time for Tibetans to find a way to be friends with the Chinese". This was the first time that I had seen and heard the Dalai Lama, and in that moment it was clear to me that this was my path. I must take an active part in it.
Volunteering in a day care
Being exposed to the story of the Tibetans and the spirit in which the Dalai Lama was leading them, motivated me to take immediate action. I looked for a place to volunteer, and there were many such places in Dharamshala. I was hoping to volunteer in the Tibetan Children's village (TCV), a boarding school where thousands of Tibetan children live, after their parents smuggle them out of Tibet in order for them to receive a Tibetan education, which is forbidden in Tibet itself. I could not volunteer in TCV, because they usually, justifiably, only accept volunteers who can commit to at least a year, a commitment that I could not fulfil. Thus, I chose to volunteer in a day care center for babies aged between six months and three years old, in order to enable their parents, who did not have much means, to go out to work and make a living. During the weeks I volunteered in the day care center we played with the children, fed them, changed their diapers and also – I learned from the Tibetan caregivers how to put 25 kids to sleep within fifteen minutes! Every day at the same time!
Although the center, that housed approximately 25 infants and about 10 workers and volunteers in three relatively small rooms, had an adjacent yard, it was very neglected and unused. So, all these people spent their time from 8:00 to 17:00 in a closed building. Sometimes it was stifling, and obviously it was not healthy, physically and mentally. Thus, I suggested that we recruit the entire day care's staff, volunteers and parents of the children for a day's work in which we would refurbish the yard together. Looking back, that joyful and exciting day became the day that I became, unofficially of course, a community social worker.
As much as the voluntary work in the day care center was enjoyable and rewarding, these were very turbulent days in Dharamshala. During my stay there it became clear to me that most of the many tourists who came to Dharamshala and stayed in Bhagsu and Dharmakot (that are part of Dharamshala), don't go much to McLeod Ganj (also part of Dharamshala) where the Dalai Lama's monastery is, and where most of the Tibetans reside. Thus, even though there was a general strike by the Tibetans during that time, demonstrations during the day and candle vigils during the evenings, many tourists had not heard about what was happening at all.
I decided to organize an event to raise awareness to the Tibetan cause. We had the first event at the "Israeli restaurant" in Dharamkot. Tibetan friends who were active in various organizations in Dharamshala, who I had the privilege of meeting during my stay there, told participants about the history of Tibet and the difficult events that were taking place during those days following the protest.
Following the success of this event, we decided to organize another event. Since the person who officiated the first event, a Tibetan woman married to an Israeli, was visiting Israel at that time, I led the second event, which was hosted in "One-Nest", owned by an Israeli friend, in Bhagsu. In this event, Tibetan social activists also shared the story of Tibet in the past and present, but this time, during the second part of the evening, friends who were volunteering at the time in Dharamshala gave examples of ways to help. The event was moving and sparked interest. We decided to organize a third event in an identical format. Fortunately, this event was also successful and raised great interest.
This is what I had said at the end of the event:
March for Peace
The Tibetans non-violent protest was not overlooked by the Sikhs who live in Amritsar, who took it to heart and organized a march to support the Tibetan struggle. Armitsar is home to the Golden Temple, the spiritual and cultural center of the Sikh tradition. The temple was set as the end point of the March of Peace. The Golden Temple is open to anyone who would like to visit it, and free meals are served. Each day approximately 50,000 people eat at the Temple. Most of the activities in the temple are performed by volunteers. Dharamshala is located approximately six hours drive from Amritsar. We hired a few vehicles and joined the Sikhs in the march.
The Olympic Games in Beijing were over and the Tibetan uprising was oppressed, with no significant sign of response or attention from the side of the Chinese leadership or the nations of the world regarding the plight of the Tibetans. Approximately 6,000,000 Tibetans live in Tibet today. They are helpless in front of 1,300,000,000 Chinese. In 2009 the first self-immolation event took place in Tibet. Since then, 145 Tibetans have set themselves on fire as a last plea of protest.
In 2010, another self immolation event that changed the world occurred in Tunisia. The late Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor who was harassed by the authorities, set himself on fire in front of the town hall. This event is considered as the catalyst for the ignition of the entire "Arab Spring".
On July 14th, 2011, the greatest social uprising in the history of Israel broke out. I went on the streets to protest together with hundreds of thousands of people. Mostly, I was active with my professional colleagues, and we founded the "Movement for Public Psychology".
However, even this great public protest did not result in any attention from the Israeli leadership, and certainly not in the changes that the protesters were hoping for. On July 14th, 2012, during a demonstration marking the one year anniversary of the social protest, the late Moshe Silman set himself on fire in Kaplan Boulevard in Tel Aviv.
Two days following the horrific tragic event, I received a phone call from a friend, who said that another person had contacted her, and told her that he and a few other people are in the same position as the late Silman was, and that they intend on hurting themselves. The friend asked if there was a support group that she could direct them to. I thought about it a while and realized that we must establish a network of supportive communities, to connect between the different sections of society and promote social change together. Thus, "Social Magic" was founded.
Social ACT (Assistive Communities for Transformation; in Hebrew Kesem, meaning Magic) is an apolitical organization that provides professional, multi-disciplinary, individual and community assistance to people who are having difficulties dealing with the social and economic situation in Israel.
I founded this organization following the self immolation of the late Moshe Silman on July 14th, 2012, during a demonstration marking the one year anniversary of the social protest.
Our vision is to be a social movement that engages the power of the assistive communities for the purpose of creating a civil economic and social power and creating solidarity among the entire Israeli society.
More information about the organization's vision and path can be found in the website: www.kesem.org.il
"Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase."
Martin Luther King Jr.