Reflections on a Pilgrimage for Racial Reckoning

In the

Legacy Museum 

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.  

And somehow 

the breaking open of the morning 

let in more light 

as we 

gathered in song, 

200 strong, 

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

working for racial justice

By the end of the trip, 

we had seen horrors 

but we had also found inspiration 

in one another and from

those who 

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, 

“Jim Crow” 

had served in my mind to minimize 

the depth of violence and terror 

of a whole century of 


cruelty, and 

systematic oppression 

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.