The 15th annual Chutzpah! Festival of the Jewish Performing Arts concluded on Sunday with the group Diwan Saz. Their main message: music has no borders. And, “Don’t believe the news,” i.e. Israel is more than a conflict zone.
Yet, our brains are hardwired to find the negative in life. As one neuropsychologist writes, “the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.” It is no coincidence that the news the media mainly reports is bad. It not only titillates, but it sticks with us. However, there are good news stories, and they should not be dismissed as “fluff,” or as less significant than the “serious” news. On the contrary.
The arts are vital to our lives, as are sports and other cultural endeavors. They are not merely for entertainment or to escape from reality. Among other things, these pursuits encourage creativity and propel innovation, they nurture our souls and provide ways in which we can connect to each other. They can be catalysts for all types of change in the world, making people aware of issues they might not otherwise consider, bringing people together to speak out against injustice or in favor of peace, for example.
The multicultural Bedouin, Israeli Arab, Turkish, Jewish Israeli (Ashkenazi and Sephardi) group Diwan Saz, comprised of nine musicians, is a prime example of how people of different places, beliefs and backgrounds can live, play and travel together – by choice, and happily, enriched by one another’s friendship and musicianship.
Since its beginnings, Chutzpah! has shown how arts and culture can bring diverse people together. In recent years, Israeli performers have graced the cover of the Georgia Straight in its Chutzpah! coverage. What better ambassadors of Israeli and Jewish culture, and the cross-cultural possibilities of the Middle East?
This week’s JI cover stories provide another couple of examples.
Twenty kids from the Canada Israel Hockey School, a joint venture of the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver and the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, visited last week – Jewish Israeli, Arab Israeli, girls and boys, the hockey players see each other as teammates, playing for the love of the game. Not only are positive bonds and memories being formed among the players, but also between them and their coaches in Israel and in Vancouver, the local hockey players they met, both from the Jewish league and from the Canucks. Interviewed by CBC’s Shane Foxman, these kids were representing not just themselves, but the sport of hockey and their country of Israel – and they are cause for pride.
Sholom Scouts are also not “just” scouts. Not to put too much pressure on them, but they are Jewish ambassadors to the larger Scouts community as well as the general community. Within the Jewish community, they represent a spectrum of Jewish beliefs, all coming together to become good stewards of the land and good citizens.
It is healthy to see the negative: it helps us to be safe, to become aware of what isn’t quite right, what needs adjustment and what areas of justice still need to be pursued. As Leonard Cohen sings, “there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” But, focusing exclusively on the negative – the crack instead of the light – isn’t healthy, not for ourselves personally or for society at large. This does not imply blocking out the reality of the suffering that does exist, but instead recognizing that we ignore the beauty, loving kindness and bright spots of reality to our detriment.
Whether it’s by being more mindful, cultivating more loving kindness, reducing stress and anxiety, re-balancing our middot, being open to new and challenging experiences or learning more about something that interests or concerns us, we can find more good. It takes time and effort to “hardwire happiness” in our brains and in our lives, but it’s possible.
It helps when we consciously draw out the positive, such as the stories mentioned here, and engage in the positive cultural and social behaviors that make us more than mere human animals, and more fully and happily human.