Your article on the topic of people discriminated against for distresses in the new Present Time has stimulated so much important discharge and thinking. Your commitment to rigor and non-liberalism is always such a model for me. Actually, my highlight so far in the article is not what you wrote about the Gay and Lesbian policy, which has been David Nijinsky's and Jeanne D'Arc's policy for years now, but what you wrote about all the other distresses. In reading your article thoroughly several times now, I've had a new insight about your requiring all of us to re-examine our attitude about people in prisons, hospitals, etc., and to face how deeply they are just like us. After reading the article, I decided to do a demonstration with an ex-prisoner at a National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI) program. I had everyone look at what it would mean for all of us to not separate ourselves from those who society abuses and then labels irretrievable. Thanks for the loving way you ask all of us to face our deepest discomforts.
My other intense re-evaluation came off of all the hoopla surrounding the Million Man March. The day before the march, a hundred black leaders in NCBI were meeting just outside of Washington, D.C. to discharge together on internalized racism. I was due to come out to the retreat the last morning to speak to them. The morning I drove out, the headlines in the Washington Post were "Blacks' and Jews' Conflicts Re-emerge." I tried Barbara Love. She wasn't home. I tried calling you, but it was the weekend. So, I gulped and decided it was up to me to figure this one out. I thought to myself the direction I was giving Jews since the Jewish Leaders' Conference-that we are now secure. If we are in fact secure, it made sense to one hundred percent, with no reservations, back the march.
So I drove out to the black leaders' retreat. I cried all through my talk and said I was outraged by all the racism they'd had to listen to and face since the O.J. Simpson verdict. I wanted to hear full out what things had been like. Then I said I knew they wouldn't ask me but they'd all want to know where I was about the march. So before I'd heard one word of what Farakhan would or wouldn't say, I told them my Jewish tradition teaches me that to save a life you throw out all the rules, and that the march was about saving lives. My commitment was to trust them completely. Therefore I put the lives of my people safely in their hands as allies, and I completely backed the march, Farakhan and all. The room exploded, and everyone was sobbing. Out poured all the grief and rage about racism and what it meant to them for me to trust them completely, particularly as their Jewish sister.
That went well, so I decided to go full out on a limb. Two days after the march I was in Tampa, Florida. I'd been asked to deliver the opening keynote address to the national convention of human rights workers from all over the U.S. There were close to a thousand people in the room, including the mayor of Tampa and members of Congress. I must admit I was a little scared. But I knew I needed to take the higher ground, and I knew the march was on their minds. (Your article in Present Time also helped-if you were willing to go out on a limb, so was I.) There were many other points in my speech, but then I came to the ending. I talked about how as a young Jewish girl, reading the autobiography of Hannah Senesh (who had parachuted into Austria to save Jews and was eventually killed by the Nazis) I'd always wondered growing up if I would have had her courage, and that these times require that level of courage. I then talked about why because I was Jewish, not in spite of it, I one hundred percent backed the march, including Louis Farakhan's presence, and how we needed to understand deeply about each other's oppressions and learn how to put the lives of our peoples fully into each other's hands, that there was no other way. I said a few more heartfelt things which I can't remember, but I got a standing ovation (my first ever). The room literally shook with applause. (I was shaking, too!)
There's an interfaith council in Washington, D.C. The two Jewish leaders on the council, both rabbis, resigned several months ago when, in their absence, the Nation of Islam was given a seat on the council. So they've now agreed to have me come in, with all of them together, and help them heal the rift. I've already made a few great new contacts with Nation of Islam leaders, which will help.
It's so much easier to sleep at night when I know I'm taking the more principled stands as a Jew, to really know I'm secure, and being a light unto the nations. And you've been so much with me these two weeks. Thanks for being my model, always, of putting yourself out there. I like following in your footsteps.
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