Category Archives: Social issues

Celebrating Earth Day!

Celebrating Earth Day!

Hugging an Evergreen Tree on a hike in Central Oregon. Photo: Mel Bankoff, Oregon.

Earth Day Greetings!

As I bicycled to work this cool, breezy spring morning in the Pacific Northwest, I admired the many new shoots reaching for the sun, and spring flowers seeking bees and other insects along the bike trail and sidewalks. I vividly recalled my childhood in central India. We lived in an apartment building right in the middle of downtown in the city of Indore. There was no room for any backyard gardens. But we had a very small windowsill garden space for a couple of pots. I remember the excitement I felt as the garbanzo bean plants grew new leaves or when those beautiful red flowers appeared on another potted plant.

Almost Everything in the Garden is Growing Vibrantly.  Photo: Arun N. Toké

We have been enjoying spring flowers in our garden, and harvesting arugula, fennel shoots, green onions, etc. Apple trees and various berries are doing their usual spring growth with a promise of bountiful fruit harvest! And, various nature hikes in the area fill our hearts with a sense of appreciation and gratitude to Mother Nature.

While many of us might be looking forward to visiting some special wonders of nature during school break this year—Denali, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Grand Titon, Redwoods or another beautiful place—like the Horseshoe Bend in Arizona, let us not forget that natural beauty can be found all around us, even in our backyard!

Horseshoe Bend, Arizona. Photo: Arianna Shaprow, age 13, Nevada.

Yet, I must share my deep sadness with you. Everyday, I am feeling the pain of countless children, mothers and fathers in places like the Gaza, Sudan, and Ukraine, where wars, climate change and droughts make living conditions dire for tens of millions. The military operations and environmental destruction responsible for human suffering go on unabated. Governments, including ours, are unresponsive to the needs of innocent, civilian victims. The human rights of millions of children, women and men are being violated. They are forced to live in subhuman conditions. Even in our own cities all across this so-called rich nation, countless homeless men and women live in less than desirable conditions. We are told there is no money for social programs, as the government spends close to a trillion dollars on feeding the war machines.

Skipping Stones, like any other socially responsible media outlet, has often shed light on the plight of suffering humanity around the world. While we don’t want to forget this pain and suffering, we also don’t want our readers to get depressed by the doom and gloom that’s all around us.

The list of issues we can and must face is long. It includes our ever-increasing use of plastics and forever-chemicals, the decimation of insect and bird populations, the climate change, disappearing glaciers, deforestation and destruction of natural habitats, over-fishing and overgrazing, mindless mining of fossil fuels, environmental pollution, groundwater contamination, land-use issues, nuclear weapons, environmental and social justice, and homelessness, poverty and hunger. You can add many more items to this list—both of local concern and global importance!

Our future survival and flourishing depends on how we respond to these problems we have created with our ever-increasing consumption of resources, economic systems, greed, privatization and exploitation of resources, for example.

You might like to ask yourself a few deep questions (see some examples below) and try to answer them honestly and at length:

What do we love about where we live?
How can we make a difference right where we are planted, in our communities?
How can we let Mother Earth know how much we love her?
What might we cultivate in our own backyard?
How can we help out our neighbors?
What small thing might we do today to heal the world and ourselves?
What is happiness?
What makes us really happy—happiness that might last for a really long while?
How much of material consumption is sufficient or plenty for our happiness?
What is the law of diminishing returns?
What is the difference between needs and wants?

And as a group of friends or community, we might ask:

Can an economy based on ever-increasing growth be sustained? 
Can we continue to use natural resources in an uncontrolled manner?
What can we as a community or society do to minimize our negative impact on nature?
As conscientious citizen and human beings, how can we respond constructively?

A Roadside Plant on the Big Island, Hawaii. Photo: Arun N. Toké.

Let us not abuse the gifts we have been granted by Mother Nature. Let us not knowingly degrade or destroy the very web of life of which we are an integral part. Human life cannot continue without this web of life—our biosphere. As “intelligent” species, we must address these issues that we have created collectively since industrialization.

Let us make an effort to appreciate the beauty around us, as we work to address these adversities. Let’s respect the many miracles of nature that surround us. Let us learn to enjoy even the smallest gifts that we receive everyday, be it listening to a bird song, fluttering of a butterfly or hummingbird, observing a cluster of green leaves or the multitude of seeds and fruits that plants produce.

Let us be grateful for the many blessings we have been granted. Let us live fully and let nature live—in all its glory! Let us commit ourselves to doing what we can to sustain these blessings, this beauty, for all future generations.

A Banyan Tree on the Big Island, Hawaii. Photo: Arun N. Toké

Dear fellow earthlings, let’s remember that Earth Day is not just April 22nd; we can observe it each and every day.

—Arun Narayan Toké, Skipping Stones editor.

Name the Past for Our Future 

Name the Past for Our Future:

On the Armenian Genocide

By Laurel Aronian, age 17, Connecticut.

In 1915, the Armenian Genocide commenced—the systematic mass murder of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman government. I wrote this poem as a representation of the ongoing effects of the genocide on Armenians; even survivors found their lives uprooted as they were forced to move to other countries and begin from nothing. This poem not only serves to comment on my ancestors’ abrupt relocation from their homeland but also as a reflection on how my opportunity to visit Armenia in 2019 allowed me to return to the place my ancestors unwillingly left behind—metaphorically restoring them to their native land and simultaneously instilling in me an appreciation for a culture and history that I will carry forward. 

“The Land Ahead”

Soot swirls around our footsteps,
the dust from our lives before.
Before, when we lived in the stony 
cliffs of the Caucasus.

With my family who sent me
on my own.
To start a new life.
A life away from those who had taken 
it from us.

The land that my family had lived 
on for hundreds of years was seized.
Bitlis, Diyarbekir, Erzurum, where I had
played in the long grass of the mountains with my brothers.

Luck is what saved me from the massacres.
I do not know 
what happened to my brothers,
who I had left
behind me.

The rocky road ahead is also littered
with dust.
It obscures my vision on all sides. 
I do not know what is ahead of me
or what I have left behind.

The smell of gasoline is strong
as I board the plane. 
I have left my home for the flight,
but will return in a jet 
moving as swift as an Eagle.

The sign above is in letters
I can’t read
Թռիչք դեպի Հայաստան տերմինալ 4A
Only one word is clear to me,
Հայաստան, Hayastan, where my 
second great-grandfather is from 
and where I 
am going.

Back in his day, 
there were no planes,
when he traveled to the US
Alone.

Did he know that his 
great, great-granddaughter would be going to his homeland?
His homeland where he had to leave
his home.

He left his country in the hope
that one day 
the part of him in me 
could return.

By Laurel Aronian, age 17, Connecticut. She adds: “I love to write in all genres (poetry, prose, journalism). I also enjoy taking photos and creating art. I have a passion for music and perform as a singer-songwriter and accompany on guitar. When I’m not writing or making music, I play competitive chess. My pieces also reflect the awe of nature, earth stewardship, and our planet’s majesty and magic.”

PS: Laurel entered the poem for our 2023 Youth Honor Awards last year at the age of 16.

Art in the Time of War: The Children of Zaporizhzhia

Art in the Time of War:  The Children of Zaporizhzhia

By Svitlana Budzhak-Jones, President, Sister’s Sister, Inc.

“Zaporizhzhia” by Yuriy Martynov, age 13, Ukraine.

The unprovoked, brutal war against Ukraine sadly has entered its third year. It has brought much destruction and sorrow to the people of Ukraine. Millions were displaced internally. Millions became refugees elsewhere in the world. Countless Ukrainian children have lost their homes, have difficulties in accessing education, health care and even basic necessities such as drinking water. Bomb shelters and cellars have replaced their rooms, metro benches have become their beds, and air raid sirens on a daily basis drone instead of school bells. While many Ukrainian men and women actively fight on the battlefield for their country, culture and independence, others stay dedicated to the children who remain in Ukraine.

The Central Southern city of Zaporizhzhia is under constant artillery shelling and aerial bombing. But the Center for Children’s and Youth Creativity in the city continues to operate, and attempts to create a safe space to safeguard the children’s childhood. The Gradient creative Computer Design Circle at the Center has not closed its doors even when its teacher Ms. Nadiya Chepiga was forced to flee Ukraine to Poland in the first months of heavy enemy assaults on the city. Ms. Chepiga then continued to work with her students online for the entire year before returning back to her home city and to her students.

The Gradient Circle is now in its thirteenth year of operation. Hundreds of children between the ages of 6 and 17 have learned to create beautiful art there and connect with their inner spirit, bringing them one step closer to becoming professional graphic designers and artists. The Circle creates a comfortable environment for shaping children’s creative abilities, meeting their individual needs for intellectual, moral, aesthetic, and creative development, shaping a culture that includes a healthy lifestyle and organizing their free time. The children learn the principles of drawing art objects, creating drawings and 3D images, acquiring skills in making artwork in various media and styles, learning the basics of graphic design, creating postcards, posters, calendars, and memorabilia. The children search for their individual style of work and aesthetic preferences, develop their creative imagination and fantasy, learn to take creative initiative, and develop their independence.

The Circle’s founding director and teacher Nadiya Chepiga is a creative artist herself, who has implemented numerous creative projects with her students, has helped them realize their creative vision and brought them to life, and trained hundreds of creative individuals. Despite the ongoing war, the students and their teacher continue participating in various nationwide Ukrainian and International competitions as well as in art exhibitions.

Life goes on even in the extremely challenging circumstances created by the war. The students and their teacher continue meeting twice per week. Frequently, instruction needs to be done online because of constant air raid warnings. But on Sundays, the students try to meet with their teacher in person in the Center. And if an air raid siren goes off, they seek cover in the basement (see below) or in corridors where they continue their lessons. Since the enemy missiles and bombs focus on destroying power plants, there is usually no heat, and the students wear winter coats and jackets during their lessons. Yet they enjoy their meetings and continue creating beautiful, original works of art.

Gradient Students Continue with their Art Classes in the Institute’s Basement.

Fifteen of their art creations were exhibited by the humanitarian aid organization Sister’s Sister (www.SistersSister.org) in State College, Pennsylvania on March 23, 2024 during a benefit concert for Ukraine. Sister’s Sister provides humanitarian support to the Ukrainian people, particularly to children, hospitals, orphanages, and the disabled in Ukraine, including State College’s sister city, Nizhyn, located in the Chernihiv region. The artwork exhibited at the concert was created by the students and enhanced with computer graphics under the supervision and guidance of their teacher. Their work draws, in part, on Ukrainian art, famous for its folk traditions and exquisite embroidery, the red and black threads of which represent happiness and sorrow. Sadly, there is too much of the black threads of sorrow in these difficult times for the children of Ukraine, while Nadiya Chepiga, whose first name means “hope,” brings hope to the children of Zaporizhzhia through art. For more information, please visit the websites linked to the QR codes below:

The children’s creativity will continue to be realized despite the nearly impossible conditions and their spirit will remain indominable!

 

 

 

By Svitlana Budzhak-Jones, Ph.D., President, Sister’s Sister, Inc. (www.SistersSister.org

Hummingbird by Artem Lopatyn, age 10.


“Mystery” by Yeva Pavrianidis, age 10


“Free” by Zlata Khalayim, age 10.


“Music Inspires” by Vyacheslav Sukhanov, age 14.


“Autumn” by Oleksandra Patoka, age 9.


“Thoughts” by Danylo Yerokhin, age 16.


“I Am Ukraine” by Danylo Yerokhin, age 15. The central figure in color is represented by a traditional Ukrainian embroidery against a large city background. The Ukrainian text above says: CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD (left corner), and in the right corner, Article 30. A child has the right to enjoy his or her own culture.”


“Zaporizhzhian Oak Tree” by Edik Boitsev, age 13.


“Lord of the Forest” by Danylo Yerokhin, age 16.


“Ukraine, the Bountiful” by Kateryna Yuhayeva, age 14.


“Ukraine Right Now” by Polina Pustovit, age 17.


“The City in Your Head” by Danylo Yerokhin, age 16.


“Unity” by Polina Zakharova, age 12. The poster says: “The Responsibility Starts with Me.”


“Lviv” by Oleksandra Chepiha, age 12.


“Ocean Dweller” by Artem Panov, age 13.


“Mars” by Danylo Yerokhin, age 16.


 

“Ukrainian Village” by Danylo Usenko, age 12.


“Hare” by Oleksandra Vasyliyeva, age 10.


“Kitty” by Diana Kardinal, age 9.


 

Perspective

perspective

by Surabhi Verma, grade 11, California

 

female leader
            impossible

peaceful change
            impossible

violence eliminated
            impossible

full equality
            impossible

impossible, impossible.

its repetition,
bewilders me.

its presence,
bothers me.

its truth,
baffles me.

Impossible,
                  i    m    p o s s i b l e
                                                      i am Possible

Surabhi Verma, grade 11, California. She writes:

“I enjoy writing poetry and non-fiction and use writing as a form of expression and reflection. I have won several awards… and am a STEM blog writer for STEMpathize. When I’m not writing, I love playing the flute and spending time with my family and friends.

“I come from an Indian background and speak both English and Hindi. Though living in America, I find myself deeply connected to my Indian roots and culture, celebrating every Indian festival, going to the temple, and enjoying a variety of Indian dishes. My favorite part of an Indian event is that it gives an excuse to wear a lehenga!

“I am passionate about the flute, writing, and mental health. In the future, I hope to make an impact in the field of biomedical research while also being able to pursue my passions through providing affordable flute lessons, continuing to write, and taking part in advocating for mental health by creating more support programs.

”My poems are influenced by my experiences and cover a variety of topics, ranging from identity struggles and personal feelings to altering perspectives and the relationship between music and peace against violence.”

Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Was Never Enough

By Alexandra de Graeve, age 13, New York.

When affirmative action was struck down, the New York Times interviewed a bunch of high school students. Connor, from St. Peter High School in Minnesota, said, “I like the idea of having diverse campuses but not at the expense of hard work. I think that everyone is equal so everyone should be treated equally and given the same opportunities. I believe that colleges should look more at the hard work put in by the students than at race.”

I don’t completely disagree or agree with Connor. I agree that everyone should be treated the same way and given the same opportunities, and that colleges should reward hard work. But not everyone gets the same opportunities, which diminishes diversity on campuses. Black students often attend poorly-equipped elementary, middle or high schools. This causes Black students who need help to not get any, which makes it more difficult for them to get into elite colleges. The question is, what should we do to change this for the better? Affirmative action was a controversial solution, but it did help marginalized students have a better chance at getting into good colleges, and on June 29, 2023 the U.S. Supreme Court ended it.

Affirmative action tried to help historically marginalized groups have better chances at getting into good colleges. According to NPR (National Public Radio), when the Supreme Court ended affirmative action, it ended “…the ability of colleges and universities—public and private—to do what most say they needed to do: consider race as one of the many factors in deciding which of the qualified applicants should be admitted.” Unfortunately, lots of people thought that students with lower scores would get into schools over students with higher scores. But, the truth is, if two students had the same SAT scores and the same quality for their essay, affirmative action let colleges pick the student from a marginalized group.

A student named Hamid from Glenbard West High School in Illinois said, affirmative action “…is not picking a minority student over a white student simply on the basis of race. Affirmative action literally means “the practice or policy of favoring individuals belonging to groups regarded as disadvantaged or subject to discrimination, over similarly qualified non-minority individuals.” The idea wasn’t to disadvantage privileged kids, but help less privileged ones. This was important because it would start a chain reaction, allowing less wealthy students to get better jobs, which would also help their kids do better, and their kid’s kids do better because they would have more opportunities.

Ending Affirmative action was a controversial decision. NPR  said, “Indeed, the reality is that in those places where affirmative action has been eliminated, there has been a severe drop in minority, and particularly, African American, admissions.” In its job of increasing diversity at schools, it worked. Affirmative action let more minorities into colleges. But even with it, there was still a severe wealth gap in marginalized groups. Without it, the wealth gap will grow again. Speaking to the NY Times, Amalia, a student at RFHS in Colorado, said, “Increasing diversity in schools, jobs, and major positions of power starts in colleges. So we need to include race in college applications.” We need more diversity among powerful people. We can’t have a congress that only has white and/or rich people in it. While Amalia is right, we also need to consider education at every level. It helps to get into a good college if you go to a good high school; it helps to get into a good high school if you go to a good middle school; it helps to get into a good middle school if you go to a good elementary school; it helps to get into a good elementary school if you go to a good preschool. It’s important to have access to quality education at every stage. Even when you’re really young.

To help students from marginalized groups access higher education we need more than just affirmative action. Tobz, of Baker High School said, “Now, of course, ideally, we wouldn’t need affirmative action. It probably isn’t even that effective at curbing racial biases and inequalities due to how limited its application would be. But it’s not a negative for anyone, and it has a reasonable and logical justification for existing.” While affirmative action is helpful, it isn’t going to change everything. We need more than that. To do well in school, you need accessible teachers, healthcare, a supportive family, food, and a home. Snacks, living close to school, having someone at home to help you, and extra curricular activities are all also very helpful. The government should make sure everyone has what they need to have a good education.

Contrary to what Connor believes, diversity isn’t just going to happen. There are too many things working against people from marginalized groups. For a while, some members of historically marginalized groups had better chances of getting into colleges because of affirmative action. That’s why the Supreme Court’s decision to end it was highly controversial. The truth is, affirmative action was a step in the right direction, but it was not enough. Now that it’s gone, we need to share our resources much more equitably so that everyone has access to a good education.

—Alexandra de Graeve, age 13, grade 7, New York. “I live in New York City but both my parents come from Europe. I speak English and Dutch, and I am taking French and Latin at my school. I don’t know what I want to be when I’m older, but I want math to be a part of it. I was annoyed at my English teacher for talking about affirmative action in a careless way, and so I researched it to find out more.”

Dahu Park

Dahu Park

By Eason Lin, age 10, Taiwan

One Thursday, my classmates, teachers, and I went to Dahu Park to study nature. Dahu park’s moon bridge is one of the most famous places in the whole world. That’s because, at night, it shines bright like the moon! On the bridge, I saw something huge floating on top of the water. I wondered what it was, so I went down to look; when I saw what it was, I wished I hadn’t. There was a rotting, dead, ugly fish floating in the pond. My friend Jasper came over to see what I was looking at and he almost threw up. I asked him if he needed medicine, he said he needed me to get that fish as far away from him as possible. I poked it with a stick, I realized that it was hard and it’s eye was missing. I was totally disgusted. I lost my appetite. Our teacher, sensing what was about to happen, took us away from the pond.

We walked for a while, avoiding the lake and bridges. After a while, our appetites came back. We started to feel hungry when we arrived at the restaurant. After we ate, we kept exploring Dahu Park. As we crossed over a bridge, I tried not to look into the water.

Then, I saw three old men fishing. Two looked exasperated and nervous, the other was calm. They looked like they were competing. I got closer. One of them swore under his breath when a fish nibbled the bait and swam away. The calm one however, patiently waited for a fish to fall into the trap. He wore a hat that made him look like a cowboy and also had a lot of other fishing gear. When he finally caught a fish, I was so happy I could’ve jumped into the lake. But then, the fish managed to squirm out of the old man’s hand, falling back into the lake. I was so disappointed that I moaned in despair. After a while, he caught another one. This one was really small. I expected him to put it in a container or something, but no, he threw it to a nearby bird. It gobbled it up happily. The other birds looked at it with jealousy, then moved closer to the old man. I was shocked. He worked so hard and finally caught a fish, and he threw his first one to a bird!

I thought maybe the disgusting fish earlier had something to do with this old man’s actions. The fish he caught had been scrawny and looked sick. I was so close to him that I could hear him mutter something about the people polluting the water. That’s when I realized what he was talking about. The reason why we saw the dead fish earlier was because people were polluting the water. I noticed the fish he caught had the same black pattern on its scales as the dead fish. Those weren’t scales, those were the result of bad chemicals. I felt really bad for the fish. Maybe someone threw some trash with chemicals into the water. Then another person threw another piece of trash into the lake. Maybe when the two chemicals were mixed together, they created a new deadly substance that killed the fish. This doesn’t just affect the fish, it affects us too. If the smaller fish get poisoned, and the big fish eat them, the big fish will get poisoned. If we eat the poisoned fish, we will get poisoned. Then, Dahu park will not be famous for its moon bridge, it will be famous for it’s dead fish.

We, humanity, need to think about our actions before doing them. If we don’t stop littering, it will be our turn to become polluted and sick.

—Eason Lin, age 10, Taiwan. 

“I speak Chinese and English. I don’t care about anything else other than growing up healthily. I want to be an author when I grow up. My teacher and my classmates inspired me to write my submission. In my spare time, I like to read books. I like Taiwan because it’s peaceful and beautiful. So I wouldn’t want to damage it. I tell my classmates not to litter, or Taiwan will turn ugly.”

 

A Call for Action: Muslims and Jews Find Community in Nature

A Call for Action: Muslims and Jews Find Community in Nature

A Convergence of Islamic and Jewish Perspectives on the Environment

By Emily Maremont, age 17, California.

In my fifth grade gardening class, I shared a shovel with a girl who had recently immigrated to the United States from Yemen. Here we were—me a Jew, her a Muslim—passing that rusty shovel back and forth across a row of red clay pots. Little did I know at the time, the act of cultivating that rooftop garden followed what our ancestors had done for thousands of years. Ancient teachings from both Islam and Judaism stress the importance of caring for the natural world. In America, the birthplace of the modern interfaith and environmentalist movements, the fight to combat climate change has the potential to foster deeper cultural understanding between Muslims and Jews.

Environmentalist narratives are prominent throughout the Quran. According to Islamic teachings, the essential elements of nature—earth, water, fire, forests, light—belong to all living organisms, not just to the human race. Humans, the guardians of nature, are discouraged from abusing or destroying natural resources: “He is the One Who produces gardens…Eat of the fruit they bear and pay the dues at harvest, but do not waste. Surely, He does not like the wasteful.” Planting trees, purifying rivers, and digging wells are also considered charitable deeds. Preventing water pollution is particularly significant given the role of water in daily worship. In the performance of ablution before prayer, Muslims are expected to exercise moderation as they wash themselves. In Mecca and Medina, The Prophet established the first protected areas in history, known in Arabic as hima. Within the bounds of protected areas, natural resources considered sacred were off limits during certain periods, and logging and grazing were prohibited.

Similarly, the Hebrew principles of bal tashchit (“do not destroy” or “do not waste”) and tikkun olam (“repair the world”) connect to the values of moderation and the sacredness of natural resources found in Islam. Themes of guardianship over nature are also woven into Jewish holidays. During Sukkot, Jews dwell in temporary structures called sukkot (it is a plural of the word Sukkah). Jewish law commands that a sukkah must have a thatched roof made of organic material while allowing a view of the sky and for rain to penetrate. This practice allows Jews to appreciate their relationship to nature more directly. Tu BiShvat, another holiday nicknamed “the new year of the trees,” coincides with the blooming of almond trees after dormancy during winter. Sixteenth century Kabbalists began the tradition of a seder (ritual meal) for Tu BiShvat, in which symbolic nuts, fruits, juices, and wines are featured. In the Midrash Ecclesiastes Rabbah, G-d says: “Do not corrupt or desolate my world; for if you do, there will be no one to repair it after you.’” This line resembles the foreboding of many contemporary environmental activists and scientists.

Historically, the natural world has played a major role in the relationships between Muslims and Jews. The Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula resulted in the introduction of new agricultural practices from the Middle East and ushered in an era of general religious tolerance. New crops such as sugarcane and rice became parts of the culture of all who lived there: Arabs, Jews, other Europeans, etc. Sustainable irrigation practices involving the noria (waterwheel) and qanat (underground water channel) increased water supply. Historians call this agricultural transformation the “Islamic Green Revolution.” Córdoba, the capital of the Islamic Umayyad Caliphate (c. 711-1031), became the center of Sephardic Jewish life. Jews from all over Europe migrated to Spain, where the land supported their growing population. There was widespread transculturation of Jewish and Arab cultures in the sciences, philology, and literature. Against the backdrop of a shared, flourishing natural environment, Muslims and Jews coexisted peacefully.

In recent years, many Muslim and Jewish grassroots organizations and individuals have moved to the forefront of environmental activism. Green Muslims uses solar water heaters to heat water for ablution that thousands of worshipers perform in Washington, DC. Other organizations, including Eco-Halal, Green Ramadan, and Green Haj, are working to make Muslim traditions more sustainable. In 2022, twenty major Jewish organizations formed the Jewish Climate Leadership Coalition, which is committed to taking action against the urgent threat of climate change.

Youth are also prominent voices in this movement. Muslim American climate activists like Saad Amer and Zahra Biabani are spreading their message through social media, leading protests at the White House, and speaking at the United Nations. The Jewish Youth Climate Movement has chapters across the United States. Young Jews for a Green New Deal incorporates Jewish music, poetry, and celebration into their activism to engage more people. In a variety of ways, American Muslims and Jews of every age are taking up their traditional mantles as stewards of the earth.

Meanwhile, when I am walking through my neighborhood, I never see Muslims and Jews interacting with each other. While there are annual interfaith events between Jews and Christians at my synagogue, I never see similar events between Muslims and Jews. As someone who from a young age has strived to learn and appreciate other faiths, I cannot sit with the prospect that tensions always have to exist between our communities—no more than I can fathom the idea that our efforts to stop climate change are futile. I believe that multicultural understanding springs from having hard conversations about the complex world we live in. What better way to have hard conversations than out in nature, which we all value and enjoy? Yet as the Earth continues to suffer from carbon emissions, pollution, and other issues created by humans, such opportunities for connection are lost before we even realize they exist.

Through climate-focused interfaith partnerships, Muslims and Jews can find common ground. By developing community projects, organizing protests, and lobbying the government, Muslims and Jews can learn about each other’s values and traditions. In the process, they can become more comfortable with being in the same place—passing shovels back and forth underneath the leaves we all pray will change color come autumn, as centipedes march past on the ground and eagles circle overhead.

By Emily Maremont, age 17, California. Emily adds: “I enjoy writing and learning about history in order to gain new perspectives on the world. In my essay, I use a memory from my childhood as a starting place to look at climate activism through an interfaith and multicultural lens.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

1. Bsoul, Labeeb, Amani Omer, Lejla Kucukalic, and Ricardo H. Archbold. “Islam’s Perspective on Environmental Sustainability: A Conceptual Analysis.” Social Sciences 11, no. 6 (May 24, 2022): 228. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci11060228.

2. Fitzwilliam-Hall, A.H. “An Introductory Survey of the Arabic Books of Filāḥa and Farming Almanacs.” The Filāha Texts. Last modified October 2010.
http://www.filaha.org/introduction.html#top.

3. Islam, Md Saidul. “Old Philosophy, New Movement: The Rise of the Islamic Ecological Paradigm in the Discourse of Environmentalism.” Nature and Culture 7, no. 1 (Spring 2012): 72-94. https://www.jstor.org/stable/43303917.

4. Jackson, Joelle. “Repairing Our World: Jewish Environmentalism through Text, Tradition, and Activism.” Folklife Magazine, January 12, 2022. https://folklife.si.edu/magazine/jewish-environmentalism-text-tradition-activism.

5. O’Brien, Becky. “Major Jewish Organizations Form Coalition to Act on Climate Crisis; Issue Open Call for Jewish Organizations Everywhere to Join.” Boulder Jewish News (Boulder, CO), September 15, 2022. https://boulderjewishnews.org/2022/major-jewish-organizations-form-coalition-to-act-on-climate-crisis-issue-open-call-for-jewish-organizations-everywhere-to-join/.

6. “Spain Virtual History Tour.” Jewish Virtual Library. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/spain-virtual-jewish-history-tour.

7. Tirosh-Samuelson, Hava. “Nature in the Sources of Judaism.” Daedalus 130, no. 4 (Fall 2001): 99-124. https://www.jstor.org/stable/20027720.

8. Venkatraman, Sakshi. “As Eid and Earth Day coincide, young Muslims are driving the modern climate movement.” NBC News. Last modified April 23, 2023. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/eid-earth-day-coincide-young-muslims-are-driving-modern-climate-moveme-rcna80485

Black History Month Poem: Resilience

Resilience

To observe the annual Black History Month, we are pleased to present “Resilience,” a poem by Arianna Shaprow Crain, age 12, a seventh grader in Nevada. Arianna was interviewed this morning and was asked to read her poem by KTNV News, on their ‘Good Morning Las Vegas’ show. The poem will also be published in our upcoming Spring 2024 issue (Mar. – Aug. 2024). You can also download the poem here.

“Resilience” explores the African Diaspora and chronicles the struggles of the vibrant, defiant members of my family. In the midst of our tragedies, my ancestors were able to find peace and navigate the rough terrain that lie ahead. They were slaves in Holly Springs, Mississipi. After the Emancipation Proclamation, they migrated to Chicago for more opportunities. In Chicago, they had to endure racism and segregation, which negatively impacted their employment. My great grandmother became a maid at a hotel and raised 13 children. She had to endure an endless cycle of poverty. Much of our history was lost, because we were stolen from our homeland. Even though our cultural identities were dismantled, my ancestors found comfort in music, stories, and our love for one another. We are resilient, and we are survivors. I know that I am a survivor, because I am here to tell you my story.

We were taken
from our homelands
our prosperity and sense of community
stolen from us
our families torn apart
cultural identities dismantled
forgotten…

forced to work all day
beneath the blistering hot sun
dehydrated and burned out
bruised knees, scraped elbows
wounded from whips
desperately yearning for a way out
but their cries were never heard

They locked us
in an endless loop of poverty
mental illness
disease
and depression

from Holly Springs, Mississippi
and the shackles of slavery
to Chicago
seeking independence
and “liberty”
this was the journey of my ancestors

We were never freed
after the Emancipation Proclamation
never freed
from generational trauma
and pain

rejected
from schools
unable to receive the education
that we deserved

Oppression
Segregation
Stereotypes
and racism
Poverty naturally followed
Haunting us…

A never-ending maze
with no exit
only dead ends.

My relatives suffered
rat bites and tuberculosis as babies
gunshot wounds and addiction as adults
no money for doctors
unstable living conditions
poor ventilation
never knowing
what’s next…

Surviving paycheck to paycheck
Food stamps, welfare
Evictions and discrimination
13 of my aunts and uncles
lived in a tiny apartment
5 slept on a single, soiled mattress
a drumline of tragedies

Many of them
broke the cycle
my grandmother became the first
African American female Assistant District Attorney
in El Paso, Texas
scholarships and hard work paved her way

My mother is a survivor
of PTSD and panic attacks
a single mother who cares for me
with unwavering love

We don’t know
much of our history
or where in Africa
we come from

The knowledge of our history
was stripped away from us
buried deep in our family’s past
it remains a mystery…
One thing that will never
be taken away from us
Is our culture
We have created
a rich culture
Through centuries of oppression
our coping mechanisms
soothed us
comforting melodies
gospel
jazz
blues
and soul

What do we have?
We have our imagination
We redefine and reframe
To make us sane

documents detail our ancestors’ stories
Defiant
And bold
full of vibrant characters
riveting music
and soulful dishes

When I am fearful
I remember to be courageous
I remember I have ancestors
who were beaten and lynched

My ancestors were
Slaves
Survivors
Refugees
Migrants

This is my lineage
This is my history
We are resilient
Resilient survivors

—Arianna Shaprow Crain, age 12, grade 7, Nevada.

It’s Time to Abandon War

It’s Time to Abandon War

By Kathy Beckwith, author and educator, Oregon

[These ideas were first shared by the author as a TED Talks program, at TEDxMcMinnville, Oregon, and we are now pleased to publish it for the benefit of Skipping Stones readers.  —Editors]

I grew up on a hog farm in western Oregon. I had my own pig. She was my 4-H project. But it was more fun to play in the woods with my brothers and sisters than train a pig, so she never got really tame. In spite of my lack of pig training skills, I still reaped the benefits of growing up on that hog farm—learning to swim in an irrigation pond, eating garbage that was collected for the pigs. Just kidding, well, sort of. What we ate were the “trimmings” from grocery stores, discarded produce that had begun to fade, that my dad had picked up on his route around town, gathering scraps to feed the hogs. So we ate artichokes, oranges, bananas, pomegranates—things too good to feed hogs that we wouldn’t get otherwise.

I never wondered if this was normal, but I don’t remember ever telling other kids at school about sharing the pigs’ trimmings. So maybe, it wasn’t totally normal, after all. I have not lost two minutes of sleep over the question of trimmings being normal

But there is something big, now, that we take as normal, that at times makes me cry from the cruelty of it, and other times makes me cry out against the injustice and the horrid destruction because of it. I’ve been learning more about how it comes to be considered normal.

Have you heard of the Green Frog in the lima bean pot? Green Frog hops into the pot where the lima beans are soaking overnight—in cold water—but in the morning, when the fire is lit in the cook stove under the pot, and the water starts to get hot, so does Green Frog—unaware. Because it’s his nature to adapt his body temperature to his surroundings. Sometime before boiling, Green Frog has to be startled into leaping from danger, or risk getting cooked.

It seems to me, that when considering war, many of us are quite like Green Frog. We’ve been adapting to our surroundings, to a culture that treats war as normal, and it’s getting hot.

I propose three things for your consideration:

  • War is not normal…
  • It is time to abandon war… and
  • It can be done.

Yet we do things ourselves that normalize war. We let assumptions take hold in our minds. Have you heard these?

  • War is inevitable. Things will never change.

Inevitable? Conflict is inevitable; but war is a choice, a decision that is made about how to respond to a conflict.

Things will never change? Dueling, to the death, was seen as an honorable way for gentlemen, including a man who became a U.S. President, to settle a rumor. Women, vote?! Ha! Things change!

There are other reasons we adapt to the “war is normal” lima bean pot.

  • Fear sells war, and we’re sold fear.
  • Carefully chosen words and PR (Public Relations) campaigns market wars such as
    “Rolling Thunder”, “Shock and Awe”, and “Operation Enduring Freedom.”
  • Kids watch the parades and ceremonies from toddler days on. They play with war toys bought for them, and—when older—with video games simulating war, normalizing war.
  • And then we put war in its own category and don’t challenge it like we would other things. If neighborhood problems were handled with the violence of war, we’d name it tragic, criminal—not heroic. If hometown parades included execution equipment from prisons past and present—electric chairs, firing squads, lethal injection kits—we’d say, “What in the world were they thinking, putting that stuff in a parade our kids watch?” But execution equipment of war—tanks…? “Wow!” If we heard teenagers down the street calling out the chants used in military training: “What makes the grass grow? Blood makes the grass grow. Who makes the blood flow? We do, we do. Blood, Blood, Blood!” … and “Kill, Kill!”—we’d call 9-1-1 for help. Never would we condone the “normals” of war in our communities!

But perhaps most normalizing of all, is the assumption that even though no one wants war, sometimes it’s necessary to protect human rights and our freedoms; that without war, we’d lose our freedom. The problem is, rarely do we finish that sentence. Our freedom to do what, exactly? What freedoms have our wars actually protected? Freedom to take land we wanted? To protect business investments in other countries?… To opt for war instead of using alternatives, over and over again. Our history is bleak, and sad. How many of us grow up believing that the horrendous killing and maiming of the American Civil War was necessary to get rid of slavery? We don’t learn to ask, “Why didn’t we join the rest of the world in eliminating slavery through moral and legal persuasion, instead of turning to war?” The more we learn about alternatives that were possible but not taken, the harder it is to accept war.

But wait. What about Hitler? I have been asked that question so many times, and heard Hitler used as justification for U.S. military acts so many times, that I’ve begun to wonder if maybe Hitler won the war, after all. Wasn’t he the one who believed that power and violence should be combined to reach one’s goals? That philosophy seems to have caught on.

When we discuss Hitler, let’s make sure we ask, and answer, because the answers are here, “What could have been done before and during Hitler’s rise to power that would have changed the course of that history? What could have been done to prevent Hitler’s brutality from being condoned?”

Never should we grant Hitler—or anyone—power over us to keep us from choosing alternatives that are wise, effective, humane, and that honor life and our precious Earth.

But are there alternatives that really work? That’s the good news! Alternatives abound. Education. Diplomacy. Negotiation, mediation, arbitration. Economic justice, crisis response teams, peace commissions—all are effective alternatives to war.

A more democratic United Nations could be used to advise wisely, instead of us bartering with its members to do our will.

Universities around the world have programs in international conflict resolution, and specialists ready to facilitate peace-making, as do religious and secular organizations, and the United States Institute of Peace.

People find ways! Women from Liberia barricaded men inside a hotel, preventing them from leaving until they got serious about negotiating the end to war.

Bulgaria was ordered by Hitler to ship the country’s Jews by rail to the death camps. The first group of 9,000 Jews were assembled at the railway station, in barbed wire fences, awaiting final orders for loading onto the trains. Members of parliament, students, and others from all walks of life, joined the clergy there, who said they would lie down on the tracks; these people must not be taken away. Those ready to give the orders, instead told the Jews to take their bags and go back home.

President Truman and the United States Air Force responded to the Soviet Union’s full blockade of West Berlin in 1948, not with a return to war or the threat of war, but with an airlift of supplies dropped into the city for months, until the Soviets recognized the futility of their actions.

The research of Maria Stephan and Erica Chenoweth (TEDxBoulder) presents us with dramatic truths: nonviolent civil resistance works, it works better than violence, and it more often results in democratic systems in place after the resistance. There is no excuse for saying war is necessary.

So what can WE do, personally, to help bring about the end of war?

We can question. We can ask, “What alternatives are possible in this situation?” Question what role U.S. military bases around the world, our weapons sales, military spending, our rhetoric—what role do these things play in perpetuating war. Question why the U.S. government insists on spending a trillion dollars to modernize nuclear weapons of unimaginable destruction, designed for the mass murder of populations, when so many nations are calling for them to be dismantled.

Question. And assign ourselves a history lesson: Learn about wars, and what they do to real people, including survivors, and soldiers who actually fight on the ground. So much of war, for so many of us, happens someplace else.

We can learn about alternatives, including nonviolent civil resistance, and teach that history to children and teens. We can teach kids how to mediate conflicts for each other at school, and bring that training home and into their future lives. We can hold family meetings, so kids grow up knowing how to facilitate a meeting and brainstorm solutions. We can encourage youth to explore service in the Peace Corps, or take six months (or more) to volunteer somewhere around the world, because their work and experiences in different cultures will make a difference. Prevention costs a fraction of military action. And as they help others, they will surely grow in compassion and understanding.

We can stop feeling powerless and join others to share ideas and take action. We can stop honoring war and honor its opposite: “creative problem-solving.”

And if we wish, we can point out how mules cooperate—to swat flies.

I was walking on our road and glanced into the field where our mules…(video) were standing rump to head, swishing their tails, brushing the flies off each other’s faces. I ran home, grabbed my camera, and when my husband got home, I told him, “Your mules are amazing.” “Yep, they are,” he said, “but they do that all the time. It’s normal!”

Well, if mules can normalize cooperation, people can too.

In January 1929, the US Senate advised ratification and President Coolidge signed into law the Kellogg Briand Pact outlawing the use of war as a means of resolving conflict. Millions and millions of Americans said we are ready for the end of war. They raised such a voice that those in government had to listen, and join the effort, and make it the law of the land—it’s still the law of the land—a law that we can reclaim, if we will seek out and use alternatives to war.

We’re lucky to have three awesome and exceedingly fun grandkids. I love them dearly. I want the best for these precious kids. Down deep I think we know what’s normal, what we come home to—the longing we all have, to give the children the very best we can. They don’t need to inherit our messes. War is a monstrous mess. It has been normalized, but it’s not the way, and we don’t have to accept it.

We can abandon war. There are alternatives. I extend to each one of you a personal invitation, and permission, to help make that happen.

About the Author:
Kathy Beckwith is a school mediation trainer from Dayton, Oregon. She also volunteers as a mediation coach. She is author of PLAYING WAR: A Story About Changing the Game (winner, 2006 Skipping Stones Honor Award); A MIGHTY CASE AGAINST WAR: What America Missed in U.S. History Class and What We (All) Can Do Now; and other books on problem-solving. Her latest work is a young adult novel, ENCOUNTER: When Religions Become Classmates—From Oregon to India and Back (winner, 2022 Skipping Stones Honor Award). She lives on a small farm with her husband (and his mules) and loves picking wild blackberries for summertime pies. She can be reached via her website at
www.kathybeckwith.com. Kathy’s TEDx Talk can be accessed online here.