Em-URGE-ing Voices

Your urgent thoughts, urging action


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February 26, 2013

Choice USA Executive Director, Kierra Johnson, will be traveling this week in Israel with the National Council of Jewish WomenIsrael Action Network, and a group of progressive women leaders. While there she will be blogging about the experience for ChoiceWords.

Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum and Memorial

It is Friday.* The Holy Day. Jerusalem is buzzing. Everyone has a lot to do and they know the city closes down early. So people are on the streets buying flowers, grocery shopping and running errands in preparation for the sabbath day – Shabbat. Shabbat is primarily a day of rest and spiritual enrichment. The word “Shabbat” comes from the root Shin-Beit-Tav, meaning to cease, to end, or to rest. Schools dismiss at noon and at around 2:00 PM shops begin to close down and people begin to meet up with their friends and family and get back to basics. People tune out the hustle of everyday work life and take time to appreciate and engage with people in the comforts of home and around copious amounts of food, drink and laughter.

Paul Liptz, social historian professor Hebrew Union College

We began the day at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. Our guide, Paul, was not so much giving us a tour of history as much as he was giving us a tour of the Israeli psyche.

  • The destruction of 6 million people.
  • The systematized attempt to obliterate all clues of Jewish existence and –impact on the world by destroying literature, architecture, art and history and the creators of these things (the intelligentsia) were among the first people who disappeared.
  • In addition to the physical scars of torture, survivors also don the lasting scars left from the brutal use of humiliation as a weapon.
  • A people without a home. Jewish people had virtually no safe haven as countries fell under Nazi control. Betrayed by humanity in the world at large. Left to defend self, family, community and a collective memory alone.

“Morgie” our citizen guide of Israel

Our guide, “Morgie” described Israel as a country of people who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It left me wondering how a community with a deeply broken soul succeeds in building a democratic state, where people live freely with trust in their heads, their eyes to the future and hope in their hearts.

The bus ride to Jerusalem was heavy.

Next we toured through the old city of Jerusalem. We traipsed over rooftops. Some of us prayed at the wailing wall and shopped in the Muslim quarter. The skyline is made up of Muslim and Jewish domes and Orthodox Christian steeples. To some, it might give the false impression of a harmonious mixed community of people living together with religious tolerance. Taking a closer look, Jerusalem – The heart of this complex region of complex people with complex issues is a city is divided. Like the human heart is divided into four chambers, Jerusalem is divided into four quarters -Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Armenian. Each is struggling to find out how to work together in precise rhythm to ensure their survival and prosperity.

Two-thirds of the day was done and we had experienced Israel on an academic level. We discussed history and culture and a bit of geography but the most intense learning of the day was yet to come.

We ended the day breaking bread and observing Shabbat with Hamutal Gouri and her family and friends. Picture it: 4 Jews (3 Israeli, 1 American), 2 Palestinian-Israelis and two African Americans from the south. It sounds like a joke but it was anything but comical. Long standing friendships set the context for what became an intensely electric evening of conversation, debate and storytelling.

As our conversation unfolded, we began living the complexity in real time. While I don’t claim to have the answer or even to fully understand the problem, I could feel the pain, trauma, love, loss, anger, hope, frustration and pure exhaustion from every person and every story in the room.

The night ended with smiles, hugs, full bellies, empty wine glasses, tea, coffee, decadent sweets and an empty thickness in the air.

A void that is undoubtedly reserved for ambitious solutions and practical action.

City street in Jerusalem (the old city)


I know it isn’t Friday anymore but these posts are becoming more difficult to write as I absorb more information and meet more people. The complexities continue to yield more complexities. I am processing a lot and I am so grateful to be able to to process with such an amazing group of progressive women. My head is reeling and my heart while bigger is suffering from growing pains. I am on my way back to the US and I look forward to sharing my impressions of the last three days in my next post.



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