Resisting Donald in Wonderland

May 25th, 2017 3 comments

Today began with a walk along the beach, waiting for the sun which couldn’t quite find its way through the fog.  I’m in mostly sunny California but the sun hiding today is, in many ways, a metaphor for what’s happening in the United States these days.

As I looked out the window in my westward journey I wondered what it would be like to come to Trump America. For some reason Air Canada no longer arrives at the terminal that has greeted me for the past 20 years.  No explanation was given while we sat on the runway waiting for clearance to approach the gate.  Finally, we pulled in, deplaned (is that a word?) and as soon as I walked into a grungy, run-down terminal I knew that this was not going to be the America I was used to.  I looked around, watching the faces of the other passengers, as I gathered my suitcase and left the terminal.  The smiling, welcoming faces of my sister and brother in law had not changed and that, at least, gave me some sense of safety in being here.

So, how is this America different from the one I’ve grown to love over the years?  As Shakespeare would say, let me count the ways!

There is a kind of fear in the air that’s palpable wherever I go.  Each day I feel almost consumed by it, having to talk my way through becoming withdrawn and self-protective.  It’s true that most of the people I’ve met here did not vote for Trump, but that might just be what I used to call the resistance factor. When I spent a summer in France in 1993 every man over the age of 65 – and most of the women too – told me that they’d been part of the French resistance during WWII; seemed that there were absolutely no Nazi collaborators at all.  Even the young woman who brought me my lovely salad at Mimi’s Café today had that look in her eyes, and when I told her that I was from Canada she smiled and said she wished that she could be Canadian too.

There’s an obsession with watching the news … which is never good.  In fact, every time I hear an update on what is happening I’m not sure if I’m watching the news or a new kind of Donald in Wonderland series in which things are never quite what they seem to be.  The visual elements are all positive, filled with smiling faces in the palace of Saudi princes, at Yad Vashem – the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Israel – and at the Vatican … where apparently the best that the Pope could do was share his encyclical on climate change. The president’s (and the lower-case “p” is intentional) spokesfolk are all smiling too, even as they proclaim that nobody ever died from lack of health care. In the week that I’ve been here I’ve watched as food programs for children have been cancelled, health care has been stripped from all but those who can pay for it, education has been threatened (yes, hungry children won’t do as well as those with food and security), and the president has hired his own team of defence attorneys.

The sense of impending doom resonates while we watch the images of the devastation of scores of lives taken in Manchester in yet another terrorist attack. England has declared the security threat to be critical – the highest it can be.  Does this make anyone feel safer I wonder? Stephen Colbert, on The Late Show, summed up what I, for one, have been feeling.  “All we can add here,” he said, “is that, following acts of senseless violence like this, it’s all the more important not to be controlled by fear, but instead to be reminded by the action of the people of Manchester who rushed to the aid of their friends and strangers alike. It is just more proof that evil cannot succeed as long as good people are willing to love each other. Let’s all try our best to do that.”

Which brings me to the question that I really want to talk about which is how do we – as human beings – respond? In 1999, Operation Parasol brought about 5,000 Kosovars to Canada. I was one of the many, many people who volunteered through the Red Cross who were providing food, clothing, shelter and translation help.  But the emotional support we provided was just as important. I rememeber gathering  20 children together at Trenton Air Force Base, thinking that their parents had likely not had a moment to relax in many weeks.  We began by rolling a ball around in a circle and ended by learning to sing “head and shoulders, knees and toes.” That’s a teacher for you. I’ve remained friends with some of them even though they mostly returned home after the war, and in July I’ll be flying to Kosovo to celebrate the wedding of a beautiful little girl who I met in Trenton 17 years ago.  In this past year Canada has welcomed 40.081 Syrian refugees and I have a friend who – as I relax here in California – is working with an NGO in Damascus to provide help to children and displaced people.

We saw that response on April 5, 2013 when there was an attack on the Boston marathon. Across the city, first responders, emergency managers, surgeons and nurses, pub­lic officials and lots of ordinary citizens determined what needed to be done, and did it.

I don’t think it’s just coincidental that Come From Away, which tells the story of how Gander, Newfoundland (current population: 10,000) responded to the stranding of 7,000 people on 9/11; it has received so much acclaim and so many awards. The people of Gander and surrounding fishing villages filled their schools, community rooms and churches with cots for the stranded passengers. The town’s bus drivers, who were on strike that day, walked off their picket lines and went back to work. Bakeries went into overdrive production, hospitals staffed up, and many of the townspeople opened their homes and offered their beds to the “plane people”. They even found a way to care for the 17 dogs and cats and the two great apes that were also aboard the planes. There, on a Canadian island of green hills and rocky coasts, humans were at their best. There’s much to learn about being human from watching this play.

Many years ago I got a hug and a kiss from Rav Shlomo Carlebach. Rav Shlomo showered love and affection on literally everyone that he met, and he met an awful lot of people. For him, every human being was “my holiest brother”, or “my holiest sister”. Someone once asked him, how could everyone be the ‘holiest’. Rav Shlomo answered without missing a beat. He replied that when he made face to face contact with another person, that person was at that moment the absolute holiest in his eyes. And he really meant it.

My childhood hero was Albert Schweitzer, who said that “the purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others.” He also said that “in everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who
rekindle the inner spirit.” At times like these I think one of nicest things we can wish for each other is that we are able to recognize those people who to rekindle our spirit.

Even while evil ravages our communities there is a place in our hearts and spirits that shines through the confusion and the heart-break. I’ll end with the words of Thomas Jefferson, words that I hope you’ll post on your Facebook pages and share with your friends:  The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government. It is our challenge – one that I believe each and every one of us must take to heart – to make sure that our governments know that this is what we expect of them and that we will not stand idly by while the progress we have made – the human progress – over hundreds of years unravels.




  1. Esther Andrews
    May 26th, 2017 at 10:52 | #1

    You brought up a lot of interesting points. I believe that the time has come, in fact is well overdue, for humankind to give up their complacency. It does not, cannot work in any kind of awakening and recognition of who and what rekindles our spirit and who and what destroys it. How can we get the power brokers to see this? Keep writing about these important issues. At the very least, it makes us think and perhaps act more responsibly.


  2. Gloria Orenstein
    May 27th, 2017 at 12:58 | #2

    Another wonderful blog from you Sylvia. As I read it suddenly a thought popped into my head, and since you are from Education (wasn’t that your field)? perhaps you can put these things together….I have been impressed to learn that Finland’s new philosophy of education is based on the goal of education for them which must be achieving happiness in life. (By the way all of this shocked me, but intrigues me). Their educational achievements had been the lowest in the world. Then they reversed everything and set their true goal in action. No exams, no homework, school only a few hours a day, lots of time to explore, play, socialize etc. They now rank the highest in education in the world. This is true and I even checked on the internet because it was so unbelievable. I saw a bit of it in one of Michael Moore’s films where teachers were interviewed, and they spoke of this goal and how much sense it made because the students were so motivated to learn in their own ways as they explored the world……etc. etc. As I read your blog on living in Trump’s world, it came into my mind that we should do something like this right now, here in the U.S. i don’t know what it would be,but we have to set in motion the reverse—-name the goals that we would strive for, and turn things upside down. We have the goals of freedom and democracy, but maybe we have to include goals like ethical behavior, respect for others with compassion….wherever they are from, healing the wounds of historical circumstances first—before “making deals”, before “being winners” in the materialism of our time, (which is really being losers”, in humanism), and educating our people with these new goals in mind (not giving up on the former goals, but transforming society from the inside out). I don’t know how this can be done, but I am sure that if you can transform a country’s educational success by reversing the values to give people more happiness in their lives, and it ends up making them succeed in their education rather than failing—well, there must be a way that the values of this country could change and produce better results than the present has produced. Perhaps this sounds as weird as the Finnish educational system, but it is read, and has produced the desired result according to all I have read or seen. I can’t fathom it, but I believe it is there to point the way. Thanks for continuing to blog. Gloria


    Sylvia Solomon Reply:

    First, let me thank you for the thanks. Because there was a glitch in getting this out it seemed nobody was reading it and I was feeling a bit despondent about that and thinking perhaps it was a message that I should stop. But I won’t. There was a big battle raging when I worked at our Ministry of Education about something called “character eduction”. Some of us were fighting for it being about living life well and meaningfully and what character meant in that context. Others wanted it to be a cover for Christian indoctrination. I believe that when learning is relevant and joyful children are eager to get all the learning they can. When it’s punitive and doctrinaire – and measured by how much you can regurgitate rather than how much you can contextualize and implement we’re always going to have poor results. My own students pretty much always did well because my love for learning and enthusiasm for exploration was contagious I think. That’s what has been happening in Finland I think. Joyful learning. Time to be human. Value on caring for each other. Very anti-Trumpian I fear.


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