watching the map of Africa
bleed thousands of tiny black dots,
slave ships over centuries,
I knew –
I would need to write my way through this experience to endure it.
And I didn’t have paper.
Didn’t find any
till the voting test exhibit
where I took from sheets of genuine Southern poll tests asking,
“How many seeds are in a watermelon?”
and other impossible things.
On the back of one such sheet
I finally cried in words about
children separated from their mothers at the auction block,
prisoners describing forced labor in 21st century cotton fields
and how they got through
by believing in the light.
The horror and heartbreak reminded me above all
of crying aloud in the cold empty field
next to the gas chambers in Auschwitz.
I’d like to think that my tears in both places,
were not just some weakness,
but a sign of the health of my soul.
My wailing and weeping were not
just from seeing profound wrongs.
My tears came from caring,
being present to the humanity
of the people at the center of those stories.
Thinking of myself in those places.
Imagining my children in those places.
That was the low point.
It took a lot to rise up to joy that evening.
But we did.
the breaking open of the morning
let in more light
gathered in song,
a colorful array,
letting ourselves take hope
from the fact of our journey,
letting ourselves sing in joy
for the resilience and healing and love
that brought so many souls through unspeakable suffering.
Letting ourselves feel buoyed
by our movement
By the end of the trip,
we had seen horrors
but we had also found inspiration
in one another and from
marched, sang, and went to jail
with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
We felt the living spirit of his church in Atlanta (Ebeneezer Baptist)
where a combined synagogue/church choir sang
mi chamocha in gorgeous gospel style.
We all learned different things.
I learned that the term,
had served in my mind to minimize
the depth of violence and terror
of a whole century of
between the end of the Civil War
and the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement.
I learned how the system of
mass incarceration today evolved from the slavery of the past.
Many of the trip participants learned
through a difficult moment of group dynamics
that White Jews cause pain when they ask Black Jews things like,
“How are you Jewish?”
I would like to think that all of us learned
how to love more deeply,
even when it hurts,
how to see the image of God
in each person more clearly,
no matter how hidden,
and how the actions of people just like ourselves
can help or hinder
the healing and transformation
that will bring us one day
to a world that is just and whole.
As we all go back to our home communities
and begin to recount the story of this journey,
I pray that our witness can become
a part of that healing and transformation.