So How Did the Kids Do?

From Yohanna

You might be curious how our two kids did on this cross-country civil rights tour of the USA. Now that we have finished the educational part of our tour I feel like I can give you my honest assessment. On our trip, we visited a variety of of of of of of civil rights sites and museums. The focus of our trip was education. Learning. Exploring our country. We were clear. The trip is not about water parks and cotton candy. We were on a mission to LEARN.

Ozi is 17, almost 18. He will be a senior in high school this coming school year. Erez is 11 and is just starting middle school in the fall. He will be in the 6th grade. Both kids are very into their screens. They enjoy art, music, theatre…all the good stuff. But they LOVE their screens. And gaming. And socializing with their friends online.

Ozi was looking forward to the trip. He is interested in American history and social sciences. I knew he would be engaged for most of the trip. Erez, on the other hand, was not looking forward to the trip. He could not really see what was in it for him. An educational summer trip was not on his agenda. He loves to play. I always say that play is their kid job and Erez takes his job very seriously.

I figured I would be able to engage Erez if I could just get him to take on a positive attitude. Day after day. Since I do not get to spend very much time with him, given that I work out of town half of the week, turning my attention towards Erez and focusing on his experience turned out to be just what was needed. He had a personal docent where ever we went. This suited him well.

Buying a Nintendo Switch also helped. A lot. Right before we left I bought the family a Switch. The kids can play together on the portable gaming system-there are two controllers. I know nothing about video games except that they are an important part of Erez’s life. This system enabled him to be able to play live with his friends while he was traveling-including in the car. Erez was game to engage in all of the “out of the car” educational activities as long as I left him alone about the gaming when we were in the car or the hotel.

Once we were out of the car or hotel he was all mine. As long as we did it together, exhibit by exhibit, he was happy to learn. Enthusiastic even.

Ozi too was screen engaged. He was snapping away the entire time with his friends. I asked him how many snaps or texts he sends a day and he said over 100. I am sure he was making fun of us, but as long as he was on board for our educational agenda, I was cool with it. Both kids were able to spend quality family time and get their socializing/friend time in too. I do think this helped with their focus levels when we were learning.

Both kids were engaged at every stop. All of the museums had movies which gave overviews of the topics covered be it: Slavery, Emancipation, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement, Mass Incarceration, Internment Camps, Trail of Tears, LGBTQ Rights. There were some images and sounds that were upsetting for Erez but we talked it through. He was moved, not scarred. There is a difference. What moved within him was not a fear for himself but for our society. He was moved towards compassion in seeing and hearing in detail the suffering of his fellow Americans.

Most of the museums and exhibits were geared towards people grade 5 and above. All were good to excellent. None were poor quality. I think 11 was a great age to do a trip like this. Post elementary school age and older.

The number one thing Erez learned that was new to him was about the vicious violence. He did not know about the dogs, the hoses, the lynchings, the beatings. I do not think Ozi really knew either. Both kids received a good civil rights education at their elementary school- Lincoln Options. Neither had been introduced to the brutality of the civil rights movement. Neither child has been exposed to much brutality and violence in their lives. Period. They live a peaceful and relatively violence-free lives-with the exception of those video games. The violence was shocking. This captured their attention. Moved them.

My children are in general not children who are hesitant to complain. They do not usually hold in their thoughts of dissatisfaction. Though I regularly declare my personal space as a strict no whining zone-it is not at all a respected boundary! They complained. They complained about the heat and if the WiFi was not working. They complained about being around each other. Erez asked me today if I feel bad about bringing such an awful person into the world-that person being his brother. What do you say to that? Yes? No? There was much squabbling. And it did make me feel deeply agitated. Deeply and profoundly agitated.

The one thing the kids did not complain about was the educational aspects of the trip. I am grateful. I wanted to learn alongside my children. I wanted our family to come to love and appreciate our country in a new way. We imagined as we traveled what it would be like to live in the various places we visited, what it used to be like to live there: Wyoming, Pittsburgh, Selma. We visited grocery stores and bought unusual foods (for us PNWers) to bring home and try. We avoided chain restaurants in favor of using Yelp to find the best food within our price range in the area. We ate some really good food. We went to see a movie one night. We visited a couple of fun museums with usual non-civil rights content. We had fun. And I know I for one learned. My consciousness was expanded. On many levels. And I hope this is true for the kids too. I will probably not know for many years. Someday. I hope. They will reflect back to me the lessons they learned. In their adult voices. Baruch HaShem.

The kids did well! I am so relieved. And now I am thinking about where we can learn next.

FYI-our next few days are dedicated to as much hiking as possible. Outdoor time. Colorado and Utah-with an emphasis on MOAB. I promise you: they will complain and make every step a living hell. But I will enjoy the views and block them out.


Kindred Sister Spirit: Viola Fauver Gregg Liuzzo

From Yohanna

In the March of 1965, Viola Liuzzo, a stay at home mother of 5 children, heard Dr. King’s call to unite against the forces of hate and division in the south. She up and drove from Detroit to Selma to participate in civil disobedience. She drove to march—from Selma to Montgomery. She was moved by the stories and images of “Bloody Sunday” when citizens were beaten by the police for trying to cross the Edmunds Petty’s Bridge in a non-violent protest march to promote voting rights and end racial segregation and violence. Senator John Lewis of Georgia, then a teenager, was beaten by police on “Bloody Sunday.” He was struck in the head twice by a police baton.

Bloody Sunday. It was the police who did the beatings,

Many days were bloody in the south that year. People of all races and religions were struck down by violent white supremacists who wanted the South to stay racist, segregated-to keep people of color down. Fewer than 1 percent of lynchings and racist violent acts were prosecuted after the year 1900. Viola drove right into a storm of racist violence. Maybe she thought she was safe as a white woman? She would have been very wrong. This we all know now.

Viola left her family behind and drove south 800 miles to be a part of something important. She knew it. She knew she could make a difference by showing up. She was an religious activist. She was moved by the work of Unitarian ministers who were putting life and limb on the line to protest racism. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference tasked Viola with transporting protestors and aid using her 1963 Oldsmobile. All she had was a car and a desire to help. And off she went.

She was just driving someone home on this road. He lived by playing dead. He was covered in her blood.

Viola heard the call and responded. I can relate. Last month I was offered the opportunity to drop everything and fly, and then drive solo, to our border with Mexico. There I was able to witness the maltreatment and systematic abuse of refugees attempting to find sanctuary in this country. And I was also able deliver aid to these refugees thanks to the outpouring of generosity by friends, family and strangers in the Seattle area. I too left my kids behind so that I could stand up and bare witness for the children and their parents-people whose lives are very far from my own. In the words of Anne of Green Gables in the new Netflix series-I find Viola to be my “kindred spirit”. A woman of my own passions.

Viola was a community organizer and active member of her Unitarian community. She grew up very poor in the south and as a young adult moved to Ypsilanti, Michigan (where we just spent time with family at the start of our trip) and began a new chapter of her life in the north. This was the place where her ideas, her intellect and her spirit could expand and soar.

Viola was on her second marriage, the mother of 5 children and was in charge of maintaining her household. She was also a part-time college student. She homeschooled her kids, which was not legal at the time, for 2 months in protest of racist educational policies of the Detroit school district. She was arrested for homeschooling her children. She did not waver in her commitment. She walked the talk. She lived her theology. She pushed back against the forces of hate. I understand her need to push back. It is in me too.

I do not know much about her life but I know about the lives of women in this country. I can tell you this-she worked to serve others, to care for and ensure the health, vitality and comfort of those she loved. And she was able to extend this love and care towards people living hundreds of miles away. She was willing to drop it all and heed the call for justice and righteousness.

I imagine Viola was a bit nervous taking this journey to Selma. I know I was nervous when I headed south to McAllen, Texas. In addition to making sure the needs of my family were covered while I was gone, I was also a bit scared to travel so far away from my family alone. I have a smart phone. She did not. I could call my family from the car for a check in, just to say hello. She was alone in her travels in a way I will never know.

My kindred spirit went down to Selma but she did not return to her family. She was not able to call 911 from her car when she noticed men following her as she drove a fellow protester home after the march. She was on the road between Selma and Montgomery when Klan members drove up along side her car and shot her in the face, killing her immediately. The witness, a young African American man she was driving home who played dead to save his life, said she looked the men straight in the eyes right before she was shot. She was 39 years old.

Her roadside monument

One of the 4 men in car was a FBI informant. He testified against the other men in exchange for witness protection. Later the FBI, under the leadership of Hoover, leaked vicious rumors about Viola. This too is something to which I can relate. Viola, posthumously, was called a communist, heroine addict and was accused of having abandoned her children in Detroit so she could go fornicate with black men in Selma. All lies. All told to discredit her. To discount her life and sacrifice because she stood up for justice and aided in creating powerful change in our society. She marched along with the group of 25,000 protestors who went to the Alabama state house with the Confederate flag flying high atop it to demand justice. She stood in solidarity. She stood up to bigotry. She laid her life on the line for equality in this country.

It is important that we understand the blood. The violence.

Today we are staring the legacy of white supremacy right in its ugly ugly face. They are not hiding out anymore. That is the lesson of Charlottesville. They do not even trying to keep their faces hidden anymore.

Today we do not have a Dr. King calling us to action. This time we will need to hear the call from within. The still small voice. It is calling: Leave the comfort of your homes and get out into the streets. Over the course of this trip across country I have come to understand within myself that I am called to civil disobedience. Like Viola, I will not obey the demands of the white man to stand down, to keep silent or disappear. As a white Jewish woman I could hide easily hide in the comfort of my middle class existence. No one would blame me for prioritized my family above all. But I know that is not the right thing to do. Now is the time to be uncomfortable. To stand up and speak up and risk my own comfort for those in this country who do not have the option.

Mural in Selma

If we are going to finally achieve full equality in our society, for all people, more moms and dads are going to need to leave their children at home and get out into the streets. We will all need to take risks in order to create change. We will all need to travel to unknown places. We have a dark and uncharted road ahead of us. But we too are able to look the racists in the face and show them that we will no longer live in fear. We are free to disobey the white man and disobey we will.

My children walking the bridge at sunset

America the Beautiful Colorful Culture-ful

“Everywhere I turn all the beauty just keeps shaking me.”

Indigo Girls, World Falls

Family visit to Arab American National Museum

From Yohanna

Being American has always been significant in my life. Probably because I am a dual citizen of Israel and the United States. No one forced me to choose but I have always had a distinct preference for one identity over the other. I lived in Israel for 5 full years out of my 45 years of life but I never felt at home there. I always feel like a cultural outsider in Israel-even though I love the land and the people as I do my own family. But the USA? I feel securely at home here-in this vast expanse of land. From sea to sea. This is my true home. I was made to be an American. To embody multitudes. To carry many within. To identify and appreciate all contained within this land.

Growing up in the Pacific North West, I felt a connection and affinity for the Native cultures surrounding me. A Native American teacher in 5th grade, Mrs. Ward, opened my heart and mind to the living native cultures of our nation. As I learned about the local cultures and history of First Nations, the past and the present, I took it all in. It became a part of me. I did not appropriate. I would never wear a headdress or take a Native name. I would never participate in Native rituals as though they were my own. Nothing like that. But as an American, the culture and legacy of the Native people of this place somehow became an important part of me. I feel deep love and respect and a sense of responsibility for my Native neighbors. The First Nations of this nation.

This is not the only “foreign” culture I took in as a Jewish American young person. The African American story and their culture and their community became a part of me too. My love and appreciation of this community continue to this day. Their full liberation is as precious to me as that of my own people. From bell hooks to Beyoncé to Barak Obama to the African American women in my own family-I feel fed, developed, deeply influenced and inspired by the legacy and living culture of African Americans.

This is the great joy of being an American. No matter where I go, I can experience cultures and communities not my own. The other. Difference. Taste, smell, colors, languages, religious and spiritual practices…there is so much difference to enjoy. And share with each other.

This trip cross country has reminded me of my love of this nation. My Israeli American cousins who live in a Chicago, Ainat and Zach, reminded me that being cosmopolitan, being educated and appreciating difference does not put me in a bubble. My reality is not the bubble. Those who live in this country who claim cultural superiority and dominance, those who refuse to learn about and appreciate the diversity of this place, THEY are the ones living in a bubble. I am free. They are trapped.

Last week I was free to visit Dearborn Michigan where we spent time in the Arab American National Museum and at the amazing Middle Eastern bakery. There we immersed ourselves in the cultures of our Arab American neighbors and dedicated a day of our lives to their American experience. What a joy!

In Centreville Virginia, we spent the afternoon at a Korean Day Spa and immersed ourselves in the healing and relaxing culture of Korean Americans. We gave ourselves over body, mind, and spirit to a culture not our own. We took in what it means to renew and refresh the Korean way. What a joy!

Today we drive to the American South. A place none of us have ever spent time. We plan to immerse ourselves in the experience and culture of African American people upon whose backs this nation was built. To expose ourselves to the pain and the beauty of those brought here by force. Those who ancestors did not choose to be American but who made America.

Native, Arab, Korean, African, Jewish…all of this is a part of me. I love my own culture and community. But I also love and appreciate and seek to honor those of my neighbors on this land.

What a coat of many colors our nation is! What a vast expanse of diversity and of thriving communities. What a true joy it is to be an American.

I would hate to ever have to leave this place. A thought that crosses my mind more and more frequently as the corrupt and disgraceful leadership of our country puts our liberties and diversity at risk. My ancestors have had to leave every place they have called home leading up to the 20th century. Poland, Morocco, Ukraine, Spain, the Land of Israel. We have wandered. My people have crossed all the seas to find a place of safety. To find a home. And this is my home. And that of my children. And I pray my great great great grandchildren too. God willing.

I pray future generations of my family will know what it means to contain a multitude within. To feel at home in an Arab bakery and a Korean spa and a Native longhouse. To cook the foods of many peoples in their homes. My great great great grandchildren to be fed the spices and old recipes of many nations. To listen to music of Americans of all backgrounds. To wear the clothing of designers who are influenced by the colors and cuts of the world over. To hold this nation in all its diversity and to maintain this place as a land for people from all over the planet.

How beautiful is this place? How grateful I am to have a home here. And I am more dedicated and inspired than ever to maintain the diversity of our nation. To affirm who and what we really are. Not the land of the white man, the land where Europeans profit off of the labor of others, where people crossed seas to rape the land and its people. No. This is not going to be our legacy. Our legacy will be children who contain many cultures and communities within. A land of global citizens. I can see it already within my own children. I can see the true possibility of this place.

This is appreciation, not appropriation. To love and appreciate the other as your own, though they are not your own. And that is just fine. To maintain that balance. Being American means that the other is always a part of you. And it feels Divine.

“We, the People, recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which only asks what’s in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense.”

Barack Obama

May All of Us…Find Home in America

From Yohanna

Watch: My Friend Mathew Shepard

On our way to Cheyanne, we pulled off the highway to visit Laramie, Wyoming, home of the University of Wyoming. At the center of the lovely green and shady campus is a plain brown bench, no different from any other bench on campus. On the bench is a plaque dedicated to the memory of Mathew Shepard, gay man murdered in Laramie over 20 years ago. His murder, for a variety of reasons, gained national attention.

And this specific murder, the loss of this young man’s life, became a catalyst for the development and in some cases passing of new hate crime laws in the United States. For the first time in my own lifetime, our nation had homophobia and hate crimes on the legislative agenda at a national level. Our nation was talking. In dialogue over how to make life safer for gay and lesbian Americans. How could we create greater safeguards to ensure the life, liberty, and happiness of all who reside here. Safeguards to protect people from homophobia.

I steamed, via Amazon, “My Friend Mathew Shepard” to refresh my knowledge of his story. You can rent it for 30 days for $5. I highly recommend the documentary, made by one of his high school friends. It covers not just his death, tells us the story of his life. In learning more about his life, I was taken by the notion that what Matt wanted most in life was home and community. When he was struggling in life, when he needed home, a centering place-he went back to where he and his parents and grandparents came from. Wyoming, one of the most least populated states in the country. It feels spacious and empty. Dry and clean. One of windiest places in the country too.

Matt sought home. He needed to settle down. So he moved from the big city of Denver back to his home state. He registered at his state school and was working to build his adult life in the safest and most familiar place he could find. And this was where he was murdered. By people he trusted. Within his own community.

I too come from a small state college town. Our family lives in a small state college town. It is a wonderful place to build a life. Laramie too seemed like a quiet, serene, warm and comfortable place to live. But not safe for Matt. Because of who he was born to be in this world-an smart, kind, loving gay man who wanted to live in Wyoming.

Matt was not able to go home. His home, his place of comfort and peace, was also a place of danger and hostility. Violence.

I want to build an America in which every LGBTQ individual can live where they come from. Where they grew up. And raise their own kids there too. If they choose that life. If that is what they want for themselves.

My fear for this country is that too many people will be pushed out of their homes because of equal rights laws for LGBTQ Americans being rolled back. I can foresee certain parts of the country being safe for some people, a very scary place for others. Where discrimination and violence becomes the cultural norm. Not just accepted but celebrated. I know it is like this already in some places-but I am afraid it will get worse with the rollback of laws.

So we can’t allow for that to happen. We can’t allow for homophobia to become the law of the land. For the culture of homophobia, which is core to the patriarchy, to become increasingly powerful in our country. We have to push back. We cannot accept a climate in which some people grow up and can never return home again because of bigotry.

Mathew Shepard deserves a much better bench. A bench in the middle of his town, his home, that acknowledges and fully names him a man whose Divine spark was taken because of bigotry. Names his dreams and his suffering-his truth.

Mathew Shepard. He could have run for President in 2020. He could have the the beat Trump. He could have be the first gay man in the White House. Or he could have become a high school civics teacher in Laramie. He could have settled down with a nice man and had a couple of kids. And raised his kids in the place he knew as his home. Maybe his kids would have also gone to the University of Wyoming. And he would have stood arm in arm with his husband watching his own children graduate from his Alma Mater, and that of his parents.

He would be 42 today. Half-life. Peak life. May his memory be a blessing. And a sign and reminder of what is possible for our country. A place all people can truly call home.

My blessings for all LGBTQ young Americans out there. May you always be able to go home. And find safety and comfort. May you be able to build a life in the place of your best childhood memories. To look out the window and see the vast plains, the mountains, the valleys, the coastline, the city lights. May this land be your land too.