Home for the holidays! That simple sentence conjures up many wonderful and fun-filled memories for some of us. But for others the thought instills anxiety, tension and, in some instances, honest-to-goodness fear.
Regardless of how the holidays are celebrated, or perhaps not celebrated, this season is recognized in our culture as a time of refreshment and renewal. A time when friends and relatives come together in some semblance of joyous reunion and pretend to actually like, love and accept one another.
Harsh as it sounds, these gatherings are frequently rife with emotions, based upon a lack of real understanding. It's almost as if there is a security in commonality, and the group unity is dependent upon similarity.
Jeff Herman sits on the front desk of the Shalom Community Center's dining room and hands out the laundry detergent that guests use to do their laundry. He's excited because today he'll have his first job interview in the past four years.
He met the manager of a fast-food restaurant at an AA meeting (although, he tells me, he doesn't drink -- he has a different weakness). "If he gives me a chance, I'll do everything I can to hold on to it," he says.
Jeff has been homeless for a few years now. He camps out in a tent about a mile and a half from Shalom. He served in the military for nine years and received three honors, he says. For Jeff, homeless life is not that bad. "It's as good as you make it or as bad as you make it."
Ever wake up in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning with waves of panic washing over you or a tight knot in the middle of your stomach?
We feel certain that most of our readers have suffered from such stress-related symptoms from trying to meet deadlines or maintain expectations in school, on the job or even in relationships.
Our heads spin while we try to keep the demands of work and careers in balance with some semblance of a social and family life.
Remember that word game we used to play when we were children? The one where we picked a word and repeated it over and over as fast as we could? The purpose was to see how fast we could speak and still correctly pronounce the word.
We would laugh ourselves silly at some of the sounds that came out of our mouths. All harmless play, but we also noticed an additional result. The more a word or phrase was repeated, the more the meaning seemed to become blurry.
And we have to wonder, is it really true that words spoken often enough can lose their sense of purpose and meaning?
Take the word "diversity," for instance. Now there’s a word that has certainly been overused and possibly become blurry in meaning or context. It seems that everywhere we turn we hear things like “We need more diversity,” “We have lots of diversity,” “We are diversified,” “We can’t hold onto diversity.”
Four sexual assaults have been reported at IU already this school year, according to the IU Police Department (IUPD).
And while that number is high, it's not unusually so. And the actual figure is most likely greater.
"With forcible offenses, police stations around the nation only have reports of 12-25 percent of the actual amount," said IUPD Capt. Jerry Minger. "I can only assume that holds true for non-forcible offenses too."
A mountain of flip-flops, sandals and sneakers builds quickly at the entrance of the Islamic Center of Bloomington. Men and women alike rush inside, whispering excited greetings throughout a room where no one seems a stranger.
And where no one looks alike. Inside the mosque, a flood of people as diverse as the pile of shoes -- Asians, blacks, Egyptians, whites, Saudi Arabians -- cluster around the man about to lead the Friday prayer.
Despite the tiny summer student population, about 60 Muslims stand barefoot in rows on a massive rug, women grouped together in the back and men in the front.
With a single nod from the leader, silence sweeps the room.
Thousands of Muslims and non-Muslims will discuss security, service, society and the future of Islam in America and abroad at the 44th annual Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) convention later this month in Rosemont, Ill. It is a time for engagement, reflection and action.
I can't wait.
My family and I make it a priority to contribute in whatever way we can to the convention. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Muslims found themselves in the forefront of American public life. Nobody knows the exact figures, but some estimates say that roughly 3 to 9 million Muslims live in America.
We are a minority. The public wants to know more about us. They should, too.
The Alternative Table
February has turned out to be a wonderful case study in how we, in our own deluded way, carry food up the ladder of appreciation from sustenance to celebration, only to topple off at the final rung into objectification.
Sustenance alone, for most on the planet, is more than enough cause for celebration. But in the land of ever-flowing GMO milk and cheap Chinese honey, enablers like a looming religious landmark (Lent) or a confusing semi-pagan exercise (Valentine's Day) are as ever required for some to fully appreciate the bounty before them.
Even Groundhog Day made the list in Bloomington this month after volunteers at the Caldwell Eco-Center tweaked that calendar note into a Groundhog Appreciation Day dinner that was made most memorable by Roots Restaurant's savory winter white bean soup and a buffet of donated homemade cakes and pies.
It's on those notes that the proposition is put forth to proceed on and declare all the rest of the duly recognized holiday's of this month, that incestual triumvirate of President's Day and Lincoln's and Washington's birthdays, as objectifiable food events.
Harold Sabbagh is an Arab-American whose father arrived in the United States in 1923. His family came from Zahle, Lebanon, which was a part of Syria.
"When my father was seven years old his mother and his father, my grandfather, came to Canada and then to the United States to seek his fortune," he said.
As there are today, quotas are placed upon immigrants arriving from each country to the United States then, limiting how many are allowed in each year.
Sabbagh's uncle wasn't able to immigrate on the Syrian quota, so he entered the states as an Egyptian. He was born in Zahle but lived in Tanta, Egypt. To make it to the United States with his brother, he said he was born in Egypt.
"The idea was to limit the immigration from less than desirable countries," said Sabbagh.
If Middle Way House Executive Director Toby Strout has her way, it won't be long before rooftop gardens take root on the former Coca-Cola plant on Washington Street, just southeast of the Courthouse square.
All she has to do is convince the architect it's possible. That, and find a way to raise $4 million to pay for it.
"The architect said we could put a green roof only on the new construction," Strout tells a recent visitor to her compact office. "That's not good enough."
The women's advocacy group wants to establish a "green building" over the next three years as it redevelops the site into a mixed-use property for victims of domestic and sexual violence.