We All Need Chutzpah

The Raoul Wallenberg stamp, released by Canada Post on Thursday January 17, 2013, is shown. Wallenberg is credited with saving at least 20,000 Jews in Budapest during the Second World War by giving them Swedish travel documents, or moving them to safe houses. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO

The meaning of “chutzpah: is as follows:Chutzpah (/ˈhʊtspə/ or /ˈxʊtspə/)[1][2] is the quality of audacity, for good or for bad. The Yiddish word derives from the Hebrew word ḥutspâ (חֻוצְפָּה), meaning “insolence”, “cheek” or “audacity”. The modern English usage of the word has taken on a broader meaning, having been popularized through vernacular use in film, literature, and television. The word is sometimes interpreted—particularly in business parlance—as meaning the amount of courage, mettle or ardor that an individual has.[citation needed] — Exerpted from Chutzpah – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

I first came across chutzpah when I was five years old. I watched this scene:

I was sitting on a bench at a Quaker Meeting. I remember the drop dead silence surrounding the deeply inward-dwelling people all around me. I remember the contrast that the occasional trilling bird in the shrubbery outside the window made and the merry splash of intermittent sunshine on the floor opposed to the overall dimness of the room. Then I heard the room’s door open followed by a muted shuffle of feet.

Curious, I glanced upward and saw a struggling parade of frail outlines shaped like humans — faltering spectral forms wrapped in gauze from head to toe like mummies in a B-grade horror flick. Meanwhile each person in the group slowly and torturously drew ahead on unsteady feet — a movement forward so difficult to execute that one could palpably feel the duress and had to resist the impulse to grab hold of the ones with the worst gait so as to steady and help. Indeed, it appeared as if a tremendous and excruciating effort was required for each footfall to follow the next one.

One, also, had to resist a contrary impulse. That one was simply to avoid the alarming sight altogether. As such, I, simultaneously, felt like jumping to my feet to assist the bunch and moving past them right out the door. Their struggle was that stark and striking to behold.

Instead of either choice, I simply gripped my father’s hand and began to wonder about whatever these people could have done to deserve such a horrific fate. What could any person ever have done so terribly wrong to receive such utter damage done unto them in return?

(I’d been told in advance of attending Meeting that a group of women, ones called Hiroshima Maidens from a far away land, would be joining us as Friendly families were hosting them while they received medical aid at a local hospital for grave damages caused by a bomb released during a war. Yet, what did I know of bombs and wars at age five? All I knew was that these women looked plainly dreadful — far more dreadful than any fanciful nightmare that my young mind could dreg up during sleep. I, likewise, knew that they didn’t seem as if they, or anyone else for that matter, could ever have done anything so awful so as to to deserve the ravage that they, so pitifully, expressed. In short, they were heart wrenching in the extreme.)


= Taken from An Open Letter To Cindy Sheehan By Emily Spence

Chutzpah is placing one foot in front of another when you can barely move and doing it again and again to prove a point of life going forward and to honor the people who are trying to help you to heal by hosting you in their homes during reconstructive surgery in NYC. The people who watch wince at each painful shuffling step forward and who bare witness to the struggle, which is also chutzpah rather than turning your eyes away and ignoring.


Chutzpah is subsuming Raoul Wallenburg’s position. You know that you’re probably going to get caught in your actions, but as you weigh that possibility against the benefits of your choice, you still go forward probably with great fear, remorse and trepidation. Yes, you still move forward due to courage of conviction.

Raoul Wallenberg | Jewish Virtual Library

Jewish Virtual Library

Raoul Wallenberg was a Swedish diplomat in Nazi-occupied Hungary who led an extensive and successful mission to save the lives of nearly 100,000 …

My own chutzpah has always involved something smaller in scale. Here’s one of the incidents:

My friend Jackie in NY and I in FL devised a plan with her parents for me to collect something called green stamps from Pueblo Markets in FL to paste into associated booklets. You got “X” amount of stamps for the amount spent on groceries. Then one could exchange a prescribed number of booklets for items, such as lamps or pots and pans … or a service.

So I’d drive my bike to the nearest Pueblo grocery store after school some days each week and solicit to get the stamps “for a charity” from store exiting customers. In return, they thought that I was adorable — a pretty little pale blond girl — and gave me their stamps.

Then I’d do the boring repetitive activity of pasting streams of stamps lined up in a row yards long into booklets. It wasn’t the most fun activity for a teenaged girl, but I was disciplined to not give up the task due to my sense of conscience.

I was highly motivated in fact. It was because I hated racism or any form of exclusion, So I sent the completed booklets to Jackie, who turned them over to her parents and who’d set up a deal to exchange “Z’ number of them for a bus ride to Selma, Alabama for the impending march with M. L. King: (Selma (film) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia).

People who couldn’t financially afford the price for the bus ride lined up to get the rides for free from these booklets provided by others and me. I knew it and so I was highly motivated.

Now one day, I got sworn at and spit on by the man in a couple exiting the grocery store. They’d probed me about my reason to collect the stamps and had found out that I wanted to end racism.

I was terrified by the assault. After all I was just a kid. So I drove my bike home unsteadily, all shaken up and actually shaking, washed off my spat upon face and decided, after mulling it over and thinking that I won’t tell my parents about the confrontation, that I will not be stopped. No I won’t!

Chutzpah. I was outside of the door of the Pueblo Market the next day collecting the stamps. I will not be intimidated when I know about what is right. I will not be curtailed no matter what and even when scared.

Chutzpah comes in many forms. For example, Scott Schaffer-Duffy, a Catholic Worker, used his body to shield Bosnians from Serbs who were pointing their rifles at the Bosnians during their civil war. He knew that the Serbs would be reluctant to kill a USA citizen, but what if someone gets nervous and his rifle goes off anyway as happened at Kent State Massacre – YouTube?

So it goes. You still undertake your actions that you know you must.

Yes, chutzpah is, in the end, this sort of choice. It entails even worse outcomes than spittle on one’s face and curses. It involves your identity and values in a much deeper way. It forces you to confront: “Who are you when put to some sort of ultimate test?”

What of my childhood friend and a Freedom Rider, Andy Goodman?

“A sheriff and his redneck companions had pulled Michael Schwerner, Andy Goodman and James Chaney off the road with a police car so that the latter would comply due to the incident, initially, appearing like a legitimate matter of law. Then the official and his cronies tied the threesome to trees and offered Michael the chance to “redeem himself” by aiding them in bludgeoning and kicking James (the Black) until he breathed his last breath.“When he declined, they kicked and beat Michael until he died. Then they made the same offer to Andy, who also refused which, subsequently, resulted in his being, likewise, tortured to death just prior to the same outcome occurring to James. Afterward, their broken and bloodied remains were mixed with concrete and used to build a dam for a local farmer.” = From

The Worth Of The Individual By Emily Spence

All considered, most of us, thankfully, do not have to face such dire consequences for having chutzpah, but let us all individually and in groups have chutzpah as we all together face:

Resource depletion – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Will Humans Survive the Sixth Great Extinction?

National Geographic Society

Jun 23, 2015 – Species are disappearing at an alarming rate, a new study finds. Author Elizabeth Kolbert says that raises questions about our survival.

Climate change more dangerous than terrorism – Washington Timeswww.washingtontimes.com/.../wh-climate-change-more-dange...The Washington Times Feb 10, 2015 – The White House insisted Tuesday that the dangers posed by climate change are greater for average Americans than the threat of terrorism.

Are we individually and collectively up to it? Can we strive, whether successful to some degree or not, to try to make a difference in the trajectories in which we humans, other species and our entire planet are going? … Time will tell … but, please, lets demonstrate some direly needed chutzpah in the meanwhile as we move forward.

Emily Spence is a long time writer for Countercurrents.org



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