Now that I’ve been living here almost 1 year, another level of culture shock has set in. For 50 years I learned how to live, how to enjoy life, how to succeed in life, in the environment of the USA. This is a very different environment. It may not seem so different at first, due to the prevalence of English and the Filipino love affair with many aspects of US culture (songs, movies, malls, some major brands). But it is a whole different world, and navigating it requires different approaches.
Given this, experiences of home become crucial to my well-being. I think I’ve always had a strong sense of home, in large part because the house my parents bought in New Jersey when I was 6 months old they did not sell until 40 years later. Unlike many of my fellow citizens who moved frequently as children, I never moved as a child (well, OK once as an infant). I made up for that by moving about once a year in my twenties and most of my thirties, joining the 20% of the US population that moves about once a year. Since then I’ve been more settled. But now I am far from my home country, and I may only be able to return there once a year. How do I find or create home where I am?
The answer for me is community. But not just any community. A community where it feels like family. I participate in many communities. Last week was like old home week, as I got to be in two communities that feel like family to me.
On Thursday night, I attended the first session of the Landmark Forum in Action seminar series, offered in Manila by Landmark Education (http://www.landmarkeducation.com/). Landmark is a global educational company that offers state-of-the-art courses in human growth and development. I’ve been participating in this work since 1981. I’ve done many of their advanced courses, and for a period I led their introductory meetings in the San Francisco Bay Area. While the main purpose of Landmark Education is to empower their customers to live their lives powerfully and to lives they want, an important side effect is the community of Landmark graduates. These are people from all walks of life, adults of all ages, who share what I would call a very special form of humility. Landmark graduates, no matter how accomplished or talented, believe that they can learn more about themselves and the world, and are committed to their own personal growth and development. They are actually interested in finding out what their “blind spots” are, what are the ways in which they have been missing what’s important in life? To me, these are very important qualities. We humans are all arrogant in our own ways, and our arrogance often causes problems for us and those around us. Being willing to see your own shortcomings in a new light, no to knock yourself down but out of a commitment to improve yourself, this to me is the true measure of a human being.
So it was like being at home, to be able to participate with a group of Landmark graduates in Manila in a Landmark course. The seminar meets weekly for 10 weeks. This is one of the major reasons why I bought a condo in Manila (I’ll share about that and post pictures soon in another post), so that after these seminar sessions, which end at 10:45 pm, I don’t need to either get a hotel room or drive 90 minutes home to Tagaytay at night on roads that are not well lit.
If you’ve never heard of Landmark, or if you’ve heard of it but thought it was something different, I encourage you to check it out. And if you used to participate in Landmark but have not in years, I encourage you to check it out again. Landmark has changed dramatically in the last 30 years (before 1991 it was known as est). What I observed as arrogance and obsessiveness in the 1980s is gone now, replaced by a deep respect for people. And love, not romantic love but a natural, healthy acceptance and love for everyone, has returned, not as a focus but as a context of the education. I owe a great deal of my success in life to Landmark Education. Without it, in numerous situations I would have damaged myself and others due to my own arrogance and denial. Time after time, it has opened my eyes in ways that saved my soul.
On Friday night I had another experience of home. I finally went to the Jewish Synagogue in Manila (http://www.jewishphilippines.net/). I attended the Friday night Shabbat service and the dinner afterwards. I was raised in a Reform Jewish congregation in Edison, New Jersey, led by Rabbi Alfred Landsberg. Rabbi Landsberg is one of the people who made me who I am. To him, the most important aspects of Judaism are ethics, love, humility, and family. Long after I moved away I read about Rabbi Landsberg’s leadership in officiating same sex union ceremonies.
I remember the Rabbi drawing a circle on the chalkboard, a pie, and then making slices in the pie for the different aspects of Judaism – heritage, food, traditions, belief in God. He told us that we could choose which slices to participate in. Including belief in God. You didn’t have to believe in God to be Jewish.
Now, to many Jews that will occur as heresy. But that is my background, and I firmly believe that a person’s actions and how they live their lives are more important than what they believe. I am not exactly an atheist, but I do not believe in God as he is depicted in the old testament. So, in some ways, I felt out of place at the synagogue in Manila. This is an orthodox Sephardic synagogue, very different from the Reform synagogue I grew up in.
The sanctuary is beautiful. However, the main part of the sanctuary is reserved for men. Women must use the two sections higher up on either side, behind a large marble wall. Only two or maybe three times in my life have I experienced this separation of the sexes in Jewish prayer. It does not sit well with me. While many Jews will claim that there is no sexism involved, that women’s participation is valued, just in different ways, I don’t buy that. If women are not truly equal, meaning that they are free to participate in every aspect of life exactly as men, then life becomes based on a denial of the true nature of human beings. Women are just as capable, and their contributions in every aspect of life, including all levels of leadership, are just as important as the contributions of men. Traditions can be helpful, or they can be hurtful. At this point this tradition has outlived its usefulness, and it is holding back the Jewish people.
The service was completely in Hebrew, again not what I am used to. Despite the lack of spoken English, and my inability to follow most of the Hebrew in the prayer book, I loved hearing the singing of the prayers. Although our services were part English and part Hebrew, as a child I loved hearing and singing in Hebrew, and I realized how much I miss that. Every year my family would attend a Passover seder at my orthodox cousins’ house, and we would sing many Hebrew songs together over dinner.
The congregants and the Rabbi were all very welcoming, and I met some wonderful people. While their practices are in some ways foreign to me, they are Jews, and we share a heritage of thousands of years. Despite all our differences, it felt like family, like home, and I look forward to returning there. I am very grateful for what the Rabbi and the congregation are doing, creating a home for Jews in the Philippines, a country where the total number of Jews is probably only in the hundreds.