This is a continuation of an article that I wrote last week. Part I was a precursor of sorts that gave context to this story I’m sharing with you now; a story that still has me in awe of how serendipitous and wonderful this world truly is if we only take a break to observe instead of being angry at the universe. What I hope you take away from this article is this one overriding theme: we are all interconnected and that if we want to make a change in the world, the change has to come from within and then spread outward with each person we encounter.
In part one of this two part narrative, I concluded the write up with my decision to travel to the US Capitol in order to disseminate printed versions of an article that I wrote in support of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and drop off a copy at her office. Let me dispel any illusions that people might have, I did not support her because she is a Democrat nor because she is “black”, I was moved to rally to her side because she spoke the truth about AIPAC and the strangle hold the bipartisan Zionist caucus have on our government and our political discourse in general.
Once I made up my mind to drive up to DC to visit Omar’s office, I printed two articles I wrote recently. One was about the perils of tribalism and the other was the article titled “The Zionist Caucus’s Political Lynching of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar”. Without realizing it, the article I had in my left hand about Omar’s political lynching was feeding into the perils of tribalism I spelled out in the article I held in my right hand. Even though I had water in one hand, my intention was to deliver rhetorical fire at various Congressional offices in an attempt to shame politicians who were rushing to crucify a 37 year old freshman Representative.
So sick & twisted. This continued anti-Semitic trope from Omar is grossly wrong. There should be NO home in US politics, college campuses, or halls of Congress for ANY of this garbage. Now she tweets that if Members of Congress support Israel then they were bought off by Jews.👎 https://t.co/jJMplUNCqd
— Lee Zeldin (@RepLeeZeldin) February 11, 2019
Armed with a smile and an article that was a torpedo, I stopped by at least 25 Congressmen and Congresswomen’s office to deliver a printed copy of my write up. Each time I walked into a Representative’s station, I would announce that I was a lobbyist petitioning on behalf of humanity with a wink to disarm whatever misgivings the office personnel might have. At each turn, staffers would smile as I joked with them before I invariably reached in my camouflage backpack to withdrew my charm and hand them an inferno.
This is what happens when ego and antipathy build up; though I had no intention of being violent, I knew in the back of my mind that I was wielding the violence of words in an effort to fight hatred with yet more hate.
I did not realize the extent of my fury until a most random encounter made me see the folly of my ways. As I was walking the halls of Congress, I saw that there was an open meeting about the environment and Native Americans taking place in one of the conference rooms. I decided to take a break from my “lobbying” and walked in to observe “democracy” in action. After a few minutes of listening to a couple of politicians speaking passionately as if they really cared about Native Americans and the environment, I could not stomach the kabuki dance anymore and decided to walk out.
At that exact moment, when I looked to the left as I was exiting the conference room, I thought I spotted Congresswoman Omar walking towards my direction. Once I recovered from the temporary shock, I gathered my composure only to realize that the young lady walking towards me was her real life doppelganger. As she neared me, I said hello and realized that she was Ethiopian like me. She was wearing a hijab and I realized she was Muslim; I knew better than to shake her hand like I always do before I talk to people. I asked if she was Ethiopian and she affirmed and told me her name is Senait.
Come to find out that Senait is an intern for a very powerful and visible Democrat Congressman. Instead of giving her the torpedo article because I had exhausted my supply, I reached into my backpack and gave her the article about the perils of tribalism. At that exact moment, a Jewish man with a yarmulke on was walking towards us. Something told me to offer the same article I handed to Senait to the Jewish man. He took the article and asked what it was about; I told him that it was an article I wrote about my native land, how tribalism is threatening to implode Ethiopia and how that same tribalism is leading us down a very dangerous path here in America.
Three strangers were suddenly drawn into a circle of conversation separated by divergent religions but bound by a common faith in humanity.
As chance would have it, the Jewish man was actually a rabbi named Abraham. His name is spelled differently but I spelled it this way since I did not secure his permission to use his first and last name in this article. Rabbi Abraham asked us to follow him since he was on his way to a meeting with a Congressman. That is when the magic of the moment hit me; in the halls of one of the most powerful institutions in the world, an Orthodox Jew, an Orthodox Christian and an Orthodox Muslim walked in friendship even though our politics were at odds. In fact, when he asked me about Congresswoman Omar, I told him that I was there to support her at which point I sensed a level of consternation coming from his direction. This consternation grew into outright disdain when I told him about the group of Orthodox Jews called Neturei Karta who I taped in front of Omar’s office as they embraced her defiance.
Yet, even though we disagreed about politics–I could tell he was a Zionist–we kept walking together and we did not let our differences overcome our common aspirations and our common struggles. All three of us exchanged contact information and parted ways. As I was walking out of Congress and headed towards my car, the gravity of the moment hit me. You see, all three major faiths are bound by Abraham in the bible, the divisions within the faiths can be traced back to the split that occurred among his sons. Judaism, Christianity and Islam are all intertwined, Christians read the Torah (the old Testament), Muslims revere Yeshua (renamed to Jesus) and all three pray to the same God even if we call Him by different names.
The reason why all faiths fight for supremacy and why so much blood has been spilled in the name of God is because a spiritual journey towards love was hijacked by the business of religion. Ideologies and brands invert the teachings of prophets as Pharisees and capital profiteers use religion to enrich themselves while they oppress humanity. Sadly, those who are oppressed—the bottom 99%—end up feeding into the very divisive tactics that are feeding on all of us. The labels we accept, the imposed identities we embrace, are the syringes that are sucking our bloods to the bone.
The only way we can arrive at a modicum of peace and justice in this world is if we are able to overcome our differences and work towards our common interests. The same way that Rabbi Abraham, Senait and I walked in the halls of Congress together without worrying about our dissimilarities, imagine if society writ large disavowed what separates us and instead decided to walk together in order to demand redress and insist that our government responds to us.
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
These words are attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, though there are some discrepancies as to who is the actual author. Irrespective of who said this famous quote, there is no denying the wisdom contained in these words. If I did not run out of the articles that noted that Zionists were politically lynching Congresswoman Omar and consequently gave those articles to Senait and Rabbi Abraham, the subsequent events would not have taken place.
On this note, I must clarify one thing. As upset as I am about Zionism, my ire is not aimed at all Zionists anymore than I blame Trump’s supporters or dismiss Obama’s loyalists. I make a distinction between people who either sit at the policy table or those who have enough influence to prop up the status quo and the rest of us who are a victim of the establishment’s whim. Although labels and brands are problematic in that they are the wombs in which tribalism gestates, it is human nature to hold on to identities because that is how we are conditioned to think. If our aim is to make a difference in this world for the better, we must be compassionate towards those whom we disagree with, including the people who hate us.
I have a ways to go, though hardship imbued in me a level of wisdom that I lacked most of my life, I still revert to my imprudent ways. Fighting fire with fire only ends with two burn victims and benefits only the matchstick seller. Though there is a place in this world for condemnation, we should be very discerning when it comes to who we choose to condemn. We have been programmed through a most powerful psychological warfare by way of media to think that people who struggle like us are our enemies. The truth is that the source of injustice is vertical. Don’t condemn the powerless, reserve your condemnation for the all-powerful who are stepping on humanity. When we choose love and unity, we will not have to condemn the powerful anymore; they will change because our power in unity is more compelling than their power of money. Be water and put away the fire.
The last office I visited before I left Congress was Tennessee’s Representative’s TJ Cox. Though I arrived in Congress with fire in my spirit, by the time I was ready to depart, water was the only thing left in my heart. When I entered, there was no mischief, I simply walked in and asked if I could rest on the sofa for a few minutes after walking the halls of Congress for more than five hours. The intern said yes and asked me if I wanted some water, to which I said yes. When she came back with a cup of water, I asked what her name was. She told me her name is Haya. I asked her what Haya meant and she told me that Haya is short for L’chaim, which means “to life” in Hebrew.
The bond between Ethiopians and biblical Israel is iron clad for a reason. Almost 3,000 years ago, Queen Sheba traveled to Israel to visit King Solomon. When King Solomon saw Queen Solomon, he instantly lusted her and desired to have her. Using mischief, he told her that if she stole his treasure, she would have to give her body to him. Queen Sheba had more riches than King Solomon, she agreed not realizing that she was being set up. King Solomon left a cup of water by her bed, when she drank from it, he accused her of stealing his treasure. Thousands of years later, a water offered by a Jewish Congressional intern to an Ethiopian sojourner, without any preconditions or chicanery, melted away my mischief and replaced my anger with the water of life. L’chaim! In #Ethiopia, we say #FikerYashenifal, love wins. Let's dedicate ourselves to be more water & less fire. When we seek love above ego, we can change the world not through politics but by realizing our common humanity. #WaterForFire Click To Tweet
“Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.” ~ 1 Corinthians 13:8
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Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.