America and the Holocaust, Then and Now

From Seth

Though we were staying in the Washington, DC area for a few days after our retreat to visit family, we did continue our justice tour on Friday with a visit to the US Holocaust Museum, specifically to tour the new exhibit on America and the Holocaust.

The exhibit is exceptionally well done both in terms of education and engagement; many of the displays were not only very informative but interactive as well. We felt this would be an important stop to include because, if we are going to be looking at the various examples of hatred and oppressions throughout our country’s history, we need to include antisemitism as well.

It was antisemitism in large part that drove much of the American response to both the Holocaust itself and World War II in general. The setting of immigration quotas prior to the war that cut off immigration, the refusal to let in refugees during the war itself, and the decision not to bomb rail lines as the extent of the Final Solution became known–these were in large part driven by fear and suspicion of the Other, the immigrant, the Jew.

Some of this history I was familiar with, yet organized into a coherent narrative and organized framework was helpful and illuminating. And there were surprises and new insight as well. One interactive display showed how newspapers around the country were reporting on the antisemitic policies of the Nazi regime in the mid-30s. And how, both in contrast yet also eerily similar, Life magazine after the war published powerful images from the camps, without mentioning Jews once.

Antisemitism was not confined to the leaders. Statistics displayed in the exhibit told how, in 1938 for example, 2/3 of Americans believed that Jews in Germany were responsible for their own persecution. And even some Jewish groups were reluctant to press the government on the matter of European Jewry because they felt it would be detrimental to their standing in the US. Prior to the war, the America First Committee tried to get the US to stay out of the war, and blamed Jews in part for their outsized influence.

It is, of course, hard to not see parallels to today. (Even some of the language is the same.) We know as Jews what it is like to be on the other side of an immigration policy or refugee decision. It is our story, yes. And it is a human story.

So rather than belabor the connection I’ll just mention two personalities that emerged from the exhibit, one villain and one hero.

The villain is Breckinridge Long, the assistant Secretary of State who was in large part responsible for limiting visas and slowing the admission of refugees. When Congress was debating in November, 1943 to establish a body to help European Jews, he deliberately misrepresented facts during secret testimony to a Congressional committee, overstating the number of refugees the US had admitted. His lies were uncovered and widely criticized, and he resigned from his position the following year.

The hero is Helen Roseland of Eagle Grove, IA. After being fired from his teaching job in Vienna in 1938, Franz Goldberger was looking to emigrate to the United States. Needing an American sponsor but knowing no one, he wrote letters to people he didn’t know–through professional organizations, for example–looking for someone to provide an affidavit. His plea found its way to Roseland, who agreed to be his sponsor and raise the money. Navigating the bureaucracy and providing the necessary paperwork took about four years, however, during which time Goldberger died in a concentration camp.

As Jews we desperately believe that the story of the Holocaust, and America’s response, needs to be told and taught. Everyone needs to know this history and how antisemitism operates. And we also need, in our day, to identify the Breckinridge Longs and be inspired to be the Helen Roselands.

A Field of Memory and Prayer

From Seth

We break our radio silence after our four-day reteat with the Institute for Jewish Spirituality, during which time we disconnected from our devices (for the most part). And, since we were taking a break from road tripping as well, we took a break from the blog.

The retreat was in two parts: one part spent in prayer, meditation, yoga and silence to support our own spiritual practice, and the other part was spent in study and training. Yohanna and I spent the week with eight other rabbis and cantors studying about prayer.

As part of this, we investigated the process of hitbodedut, a Hasidic practice which is essentially “freely talking to God.” Made popular by Rabbi Nachman of Bratslov, one engaging in this practice would put aside the prayerbook, find a private place, and open up their heart to God, saying whatever came to mind.

More on this at another time, maybe even another blog, but for now, you could just know that in one of Rabbi Nachman’s teachings on the subject he speaks about going out to the fields to engage in this practice. And this reminded me of another field that we saw right before the retreat.

One of the nice things about road tripping is that you can make a stop or change direction on a whim. In our original itinerary for the trip, we had planned to do a long day of driving from Ypsilanti, MI to my parents in Bethesda, MD. (The kids were going to be spending a few days with their grandparents while we went to the retreat.) However, since we had done some long days, we decided to break up the trip and picked a spot along the way to pull over for the night. After exploring Pittsburgh for part of the afternoon, we stopped in Somerset, PA.

This was just an overnight pitstop until I looked up Somerset on Wikipedia to learn more about the area. It was then that I discovered that we would be just 20 miles away from Shanksville, PA where, on September 11, 2001, the fourth hijacked plane–United 93–crashed in a field after the passengers confronted the hijackers. Because of this, it never reached its intended target somewhere in Washington, DC.

For a generation 9/11 is a key event, one of those events you remember where you were when you heard about it. I had visited the memorial in lower Manhattan with its cascading waterfalls at the footprint of the World Trade Center. Now we would have the chance to visit the Flight 93 National Memorial, which is formally a part of the US National Park Service.

The memorial was very powerful. The museum in the visitor’s center was informative and thoughtfully done, including details of the day and the aftermath, focusing on the story of the plane, the investigation, and the local community (including recordings of phone calls from passengers to loved ones.) But beyond the museum, the memorial’s design succeeds in being just that–a memorial. From the parking lot, one walks down a long black granite walkway to a platform overlooking the field in which the plane crashed. The power of this walk is that the walkway is constructed along the flight path, so one literally walks the exact path and direction the plane was travelling until arriving to see the actual crash site.

At the end of the walkway at the overlook, engraved in glass, is the phrase, “A common field one day. A field of honor forever.” It is interesting to think how the events of 9/11 and Flight 93 did turn this ordinary place–a beautiful, pastoral field in rural Pennsylvania–into first a site of terrorism and a crime scene, then to a gravesite for the victims and a focal point of national memory and history. The ordinary can become extraordinary.

Which is the other takeaway of the visit. We don’t know actually what happened aboard that plane, the specific sequence of events, but it seems pretty clear that the passengers (who had heard about what happened at the World Trade Center) organized to disrupt the hijackers plan. Whether the passengers were able to wrest control or the hijackers grounded the plane or both, for example, we do not know. What we do know is that they did act.

Here, too, the ordinary became extraordinary. Ordinary people on a flight to San Francisco faced with a difficult situation rose up to take extraordinary action. I thought to myself, what would I have done if I was on that plane? Its a question that we often ask ourselves when thinking about historical events: what would I have done if I was there? But it is not just an exercise in history–this is the question we need to ask ourselves right now. It is the perennial question when it comes to the social justice issues of our day: will we rise up to take action when the situation demands it?

And it is not just about major isolated events. We know that 9/11 also led to increased Islamophobia and distrust of Muslims in this country, leading up to our current president’s Muslim travel ban. Will we rise up to take action when the situation demands it? Will we stand up for the oppressed, the targeted, the unjustly hated? Will we oppose a climate that fuels the flames of xenophobia, links the actions of some to an entire group, excludes rather than includes?

Looking out at that field in Shanksville, it was my prayer that we recognize our human imperative to answer “yes.”

Eating Baklava as a Step Toward Justice

From Seth

Our driving listening repertoire has been varied. I finally listened to Hamilton, maybe the last person in America to do so. And we have also listened to a lot of NPR and podcasts. (Haven’t made it to any audiobooks yet.)

One podcast we listened to is Hidden Brain, which examines different aspects of human behavior. We listened to several episodes, and one in particular that stands out is called “The Edge Effect” about diversity and creativity. In short, it discussed how rather than sticking with people who were similar to us, it is deep interactions with others unlike us that breeds the most creativity.

This was fitting for the trip in general but in specific as we made our way through Michigan. I had known that the Detroit area had one of the largest Arab American populations in the country, and it was not until this trip that I was able to visit and experience it.

As we were making our plans to stop in Ypsilanti, MI–near Ann Arbor and outside Detroit–to visit with more family, Yohanna’s aunt suggested visiting the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, where the Arab American population was centered. It was a beautiful and well-done museum, with exhibits first on Arab history and culture, and then moving to the Arab American experience including topics like immigration and settlement, challenges and successes, and contributions by Arab Americans to the American experience.

There was also examples of contemporary Arab and Arab American art, including a photo series titled Magnetism I-IV by the artist Ahmed Mater, which recreates images of the Hajj in Mecca using magnets and iron filings.

The exhibits were informative, thorough and engaging. I learned a lot, and, without discounting the specific experience documented, was also struck at the parallels to the Jewish American experience. Some of the exhibits, with some change of detail, could have been found in a museum about American Jews. A display about Arabs immigrating to the US and becoming peddlers, for example, roaming the west and eventually settling down and opening shops, could have just as easily been about Jews. (And we Jews love holding up other Jews who have made contributions to America.)

But it wasn’t. And the Arab experience has its own narrative which is important to learn. Yes, it is important to find similarities among experiences, that is how we develop familiarity, empathy, and compassion. And at the same time, it is also important to hear the individual stories and honor the differences among us. That is also how we develop appreciation for diversity, for others, for new ideas that challenge our preconceived notions.

Another learning point for me was how the museum told the story of Palestinians in the US, recognizing the displacement of Palestinians after the establishment of the state of Israel, of activism among Arab Americans on behalf of Palestinians, and, at the same time, noting how Palestinian immigration to the US began earlier under the Ottoman Empire.

Museums exist to educate and inform, and if we are willing to enter into them with a spirit of inquiry and openness, then we are able to be changed for the better.

It prepared us for the next stop of the day, Shatila Bakery. After driving past Arab groceries, mosques, and real estate offices with Arabic on the signs, we arrived at the bakery and cafe with a large central seating area and display case upon display case of sweet and savory treats.

For me, this was a greater learning experience than the museum. Here we were immersed in it, not knowing what many things were, or what they were called, or even the ingredients. We asked questions, pointed to the case, and tried new things. We sat down with a pot of Turkish coffee and a variety of treats to taste and enjoy.

At the end of the episode of the Hidden Brain, the host Shankar Vedantam says,

Consider this. The United States, a country that accounts for about 5 percent of the world’s population, has won about 60 percent of all the Nobel Prizes ever awarded. From the motor car and the airplane to Facebook and Google, from the telephone and the Internet to Hollywood and Wall Street, scientists, entrepreneurs and entertainers from the United States have powerfully shaped the world in which we live. Could some of this outsized creativity have to do with the extraordinary diversity of America, the waves of immigrants who arrived here over the centuries? I’d like to think the answer is yes.

I tend to agree. And especially if we put ourselves in uncomfortable and vulnerable situations, and not be afraid to ask questions and point to a display case, then that’s how we grow as people and draw closer to one another.

Art and Popping the Bubble

From Seth

No driving today as we spent the day exploring Chicago and visiting with family: Yohanna’s cousin and her husband. We took the train downtown from their home and after walking around Millennium Park, we made our way to our main destination of the day, The Art Institute of Chicago.

It is such an impressive and important museum. I had been there years ago when a work trip took me briefly to Chicago and I had a window of opportunity to visit. Yohanna had actually been here just a few weeks earlier when she went to Chicago to attend her cousin’s daughter’s bat mitzvah. But we wanted to go because while the thrust of our trip is justice and civil rights, we do want to do things as a family that both involve the outdoors and cultural activities. Yesterday we visited the beautiful gorges at Starved Rock State Park. Today the art museum.

There are pieces in this museum that I definitely wanted to see. After my the-praying-jew-rabbi-of-vitebsk-1914.jpg!Largegrandparents died I claimed for myself their framed copy of a print of

Chagall’s The Praying Jew. I had seen it all my years growing up, and found its color and form so striking: I felt it belonged in a rabbi’s office. Now I had the chance to see the original. And I had a chance to see the original Nighthawks by Edward Hopper, a ubiquitous image, yes, nighthawks.jpg!Largebut one that still strikes a chord. I love how the ambiguity of narrative in the image makes this almost a Rorschach Test for an individual’s experience.

Two other works of art brought up new ideas and thoughts for me today. One was another Chagall in the same exhibit space as The Praying Jew—an image called White Crucifixion. In it a figure of Jesus in the center is surrounded by other images of Jewish persecution. My 11-year-old son and I had a deep and intense conversation about it, about the imagery and meaning. Here Chagall is white-crucifixion-1938.jpg!Largeemphasizing the Jewishness of Jesus—through the image of his garment, which looks like a tallit (prayer shawl), and his name in Hebrew on the top of the cross—as a means of connecting the suffering of Jesus with the suffering of Jews throughout history. It struck me that Chagall is not making a theological statement, but rather seems to be calling out and admonishing those who would watch this persecution of the Jews happen. Chagall was a refugee from Europe; someone who experienced such persecution first-hand. You can not uphold the suffering of a mythic Jew, he seems to be saying, if you are unwilling to combat the suffering of actual Jews. One can not profess one set of values and live another.

The other was an exhibit was a series of photographs of the African-American experience in Chicago from 1950-1980. It was a collection of different photographers capturing different aspects of life. Two things stood out to me from these photos. One was simply the portrayal and documentation of an experience unlike my own, and the necessity of both witnessing it and honoring it. The second was how much religion was a gordon parkspart of this experience. Photographs captured both church life and the Nation of Islam. And to see photos on the wall in close proximity to one another of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King addressing a crowd and Malcolm X leading worship was a reminder that the movement for justice and civil rights in this country had a religious foundation. A spiritual life gives one a rootedness in the past and tradition, a means for organizing and mobilizing community, and a vision of the future and what could be. Justice requires spirituality, and spirituality requires justice.

Throughout our time at the museum my mind went back to a conversation we had over breakfast that morning with our relatives. The conversation drifted to politics, of course, and we talked about the notion of a “bubble.” Both we, in our blue western Washington, and they, in their urban Chicago, live in what is usually referred to as a “bubble”—local communities sustained in their mutually-affirming liberalness. Challenging that notion, we asked, what if it is reversed—that it wasn’t us living in a “bubble,” but everyone else?

We are fed this common rhetoric that liberalness exists in a bubble out of touch with “real” America. But why is that the case? (Remember, our current president did not win a majority of the votes cast in the last election.) It seemed to us that it is those who do not experience a diverse community, who fail to appreciate and celebrate different cultural experiences, who are unable to understand alternative historical experiences, are the ones who are living in a bubble.

Art is one way to break down these barriers, portray diverse ideas and experiences, and pop the bubble. Because of this, art is spiritual, art is necessary, and art is revolutionary.

We Got Trouble

From Seth

No major stops today on a day in which we drove clear across Iowa. Wow, they weren’t kidding about the corn.

After running through the Field of Dreams references I remembered that the musical The Music Man is set in Iowa, so we put it on to have a relevant soundtrack as we drove through the state.

If you are not familiar with the basis of the show, its about a con artist Harold Hill who goes from town to town selling “boy’s bands”–musical instruments, uniforms, etc.–to unsuspecting locals. They pay him the money based on the promise of delivering the goods, and he usually skips town before anyone discovers that nothing is on its way. The plot of the show is when ee attempts the con in River City, Iowa only to fall in love with the local librarian, be taken with the town residents, and find redemption. He renounces his old ways for a new life.

The Music Man was written by Iowan Meredith Willson as an homage to his home state. It’s always been a favorite musical of mine, and there has always felt something “American” about it.

There was something interesting though listening to the songs as we made our way on this trip. The way Harold Hill is able to carry out his plan of selling the bands is to first create the need for bands. This may be the American way, how part of capitalism works. Think of advertising, which creates needs in order to sell products. The con artist is just the dark side of a legitimate practice.

But there is something more here. The need that Harold Hill creates in order to sell bands is safety and security. In the rousing song “Ya Got Trouble,” he latches onto the presence of a pool table in the town to make the case to the townspeople that their children are at risk of falling into a life of sinfulness. Pool, he sings, is only the first step to further anti-social activity. In order to prevent this, they need to get their kids into a “wholesome” activity, i.e., a marching band.

Hill, in other words, is a fast-talking, immoral salesman who creates fear when none exists, does it under the guise of protecting children, professes a false patriotism and religiosity, and even dogwhistles a racist statement to play on the prejudices of the people he is trying to sway. (“And Rag-time, shameless music/That’ll grab your son, your daughter/With the arms of a jungle animal instinct!”) By creating this fear, Hill is able to convince the people to follow him and even act against their own interest to support him.

Maybe the Music Man feels quintessentially American because this character of the con man is quintessentially American.

We got trouble.

Trains and Automobiles

From Seth

When I moved to Olympia I gained a new appreciation for trains. Growing up in New York, trains meant the subway, commuter trains, or the Amtrak to DC. Olympia, on the other hand, has a working port, and freight trains rumble through town daily. Indeed, the original synagogue (we have since moved) backed up against the train line and I would hear the horn on a regular basis.

I am more aware of the role freight trains play in the life of American industry and commerce. This is perhaps particularly true for life in the west, and on our drive we have seen long Union Pacific trains making their way through valleys and across plains.

In looking for a roadside attraction to break up our trip, we stopped at the Golden Spike Tower, a visitor center and observation deck in North Platte, NE overlooking the world’s largest train yard. It was a unique attraction and so interesting to see, combining a kid’s fascination with big machines with an adult’s appreciation of intricate systems.

This was more for fun and not directly tied to a justice theme…or was it? For I was drawn to it as well because of the knowledge of the construction of the Intercontinental Railroad, the project that created the first railroad from coast to coast, connecting the train lines in the east with California and the west. In planning the trip I was thinking perhaps we can make it to Promontory Summit, the location in northern Utah where the Union and Central Pacific railroads, both building from opposite sides, met and ceremonially drove in the final–golden–spike. (We did pass the highway signs on our way.) But we didn’t have time, and the rail yard would have to do.

For the fact is, the difficult and dangerous construction of the Transcontinental Railroad relied heavily on Chinese workers. In watching the trains pass through the yard it did not escape me that a major infrastructure project that bolstered the American economy was built with immigrant labor. It is important to remind ourselves this as we engage issues of immigration in our society today. Especially with so much of the anti-immigrant rhetoric based around “stealing jobs,” we need to remember to whom we owe a debt of gratitude for where we are and continue to be. (Of course, the jobs rhetoric can easily be a cover for simple racism.)

As I was standing in the observation tower, the volunteer docent pointed to a 120-car coal train and said, “That train is over 450 trucks off the road.” I hadn’t thought about the environmental impact of trains versus trucks before. On the other hand, the train was carrying coal, not the cleanest form of energy, and I have learned through some of the environmental justice work I have done in the Northwest that coal trains carry their own impact and environmental consequences.

I don’t think I’ll every tire of seeing a long freight train make its way along a beautiful western landscape. At the same time, I am more mindful of noticing what that train may be carrying, and who laid the tracks on which it rides.

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.

On Camps and Climate: At Minidoka

From Seth

One of the things I love about driving long distances in the US is how the scenery changes right before your eyes.

The first leg of our trip took us from the mountains and evergreens of the Pacific Northwest to the high desert and sagebrush of Idaho. Driving down the Columbia River in Oregon is a beautiful example of the earth unfolding; the river stays the same as the land on either side morphs from a lush green gorge to dusty rolling hills.

But not only the topography changes, but the climate as well. We left pleasant Washington to wind up in 100-degree heat.

I thought about this as we made the first justice-related stop on our trip, the Minidoka War Relocation Center, a WWII Japanese interment camp located outside of Jerome, ID. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, driven by fear and suspicion, the US Government ordered the relocation of Japanese citizens along the west coast to various internment camps around the US. Some 10,000 were relocated from Alaska, Washington and Oregon to Minidoka.

Walking around the site in the beating sun is what made me connect to this sad chapter in our nation’s history. For my family and I, residents of Washington State for 15 years, have acclimated to and greatly appreciate the climate of the Pacific Northwest, where it is for the most part temperate all year round. Yes, its warmer in the summer and cooler in the summer, and yes, it rains a lot, but we avoid temperature extremes. I couldn’t imagine living in that heat.

And yet, those forced from their homes in the Northwest had to endure the hot summers of Idaho, a change in weather that I’m sure served as a constant reminder of their confinement and this disruption in their lives.

The site itself is fairly barren, most of the original buildings were taken down after the war. Some original structures, or parts thereof, remain, and an interpretive trail and visitor’s center provide extensive information on the site and life in the camp. Some structures have been recreated. It is possible to look out over the vast landscape and imagine what was there 70 years ago.

In addition to the fact of relocation and internment, life in the camp was disruptive in other ways. Families did not generally eat together as a family, children were separated and ate with one another, for example. (Another variation in the long history of family separation.) And at the same time, aspects of self-sufficiency and communal life were strong. Camp residents turned barren earth into farm land, and grew their own food. We saw the root cellar, where they stored food throughout the year. A baseball diamond was another expression of the desire for normalcy.

And then, the final leg of the trail took us along the barbed wire fence that surrounded the camp. Despite the schools, the farming, the baseball–the camp was and will always be a prison for people whose only “crime” was their race and ancestry. The fence sparked the most interesting conversation of the visit as we described how barbed wire was invented as a means of restraining cattle, and its use here provided that subtext of the “other” as “animal.”

After the war, we learned, the detainees were given a train ticket and $25 (about $300 in today’s money). The site of the camp was turned into private farms, and those Japanese citizens who did not wish to return home and wanted to stay were not even allowed to participate in the lottery that divvied up the land. Final acts of disgrace as this ignominious chapter came to a close.

The camp may be gone, but we know that the fear of the Other continues. Yesterday’s internment is today’s travel ban. Guilt by association, policy based on fear, collective punishment–whether based on race, ethnicity, religion, etc.–these are not only attitudes present in our country but still official policy of the government.

The climate hasn’t changed that much.


Why a Road Trip Focused on Justice?

It started when I thought about going to a summer retreat sponsored by the Institute for Jewish Spirituality. After having completed the Clergy Leadership Program a few years ago, I had not had the opportunity to participate in any subsequent retreats.  Since it was to take place near where my parents live, I thought I would possibly take our younger son, or both kids, to visit their grandparents.

Then, Yohanna expressed interest in the retreat and the idea formed of taking a family trip to the east coast from the Pacific Northwest.

Then, since we are up for adventure, we thought, what if we drive there, rather than fly?

Then, if we are driving, we thought, what else would we like to do and see?

Then, in thinking of the times we are living in right now, the age of our kids and what they can learn and experience, what we want to learn more about and witness, and what seems important right now, we decided to head south to see the important sites of the civil rights movement.

Then, in mapping out that route, we thought, what else it is important to see in reflecting on justice, on the history of our country, and on the challenge of the present moment? So we added a visit to a WWII Japanese internment camp, the US Holocaust Museum in DC (specifically the new exhibit on “American and the Holocaust”), a Trail of Tears site, and others.

We called this trip chronicle, “Two Rabbis Cross America” because we are two rabbis, and we are literally crossing America, from the west coast to the east coast and back again. But we are also “crossing” in the sense of challenging, of confronting, of looking at the negative aspects of our history to learn from our past to improve our future.

(And, yes, we will have some fun too, eat good food, visit family, and explore the natural beauty that surrounds us.)

We plan to post pictures and reflections from the journey, so you are invited to come along.