Peace and Justice

National Memorial for Peace and Justice

We packed a lunch, and snacks, and set off for Alabama. Why? Glad you asked. The Peace and Justice Memorial Center and Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama had been calling my name for quite some time.

From the New York Times, April 25, 2018:

“In a plain brown building sits an office run by the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles, a place for people who have been held accountable for their crimes and duly expressed remorse.┬áJust a few yards up the street lies a different kind of rehabilitation center, for a country that has not been held to nearly the same standard.”

The Center, which opened in April of 2018, is a small building in the city that was the center of the slave trade in the United States and was itself a slave warehouse for those brought by river and train.

The old brick wall at the entry to the warehouse building reverberates with the chains of the imported, calling out for justice. The center is a museum that is overwhelming with the physical evidence of the cruelty and evil that is part of the American heritage. Glass jars filled with sand from the known sites of lynchings, some with names, some unknown. And so much more.

The signs collected from everywhere segregation and hatred were overt were startling but not unexpected in retrospect. One sign in particular I will never forget:

“No Niggers, No Jews, No Dogs”

You will forgive the word, but it is what the sign said and it would be cowardly to edit it. As a Jew, this resonated in a more personal way. My thought was this – of the three, the dogs had experienced the least oppression.

The Memorial itself is both beautiful and grim, a field of 800 hanging metal coffin shaped boxes in a roofed area that includes fountains and quotes. The metal coffins hang at varying heights, at first at eye level, like a grave monument and finally above, as the lynched would be hanging. Each is inscribed with a county, and the names of those lynched in that place, some simply marked as unknown, most not. It is stunning and horrifying and important.

The Memorial stands in a rolling green field, quite beautiful in stark contrast. Just as the lynched might have, and did, hang from a beautiful tree in bloom in a green field. You cannot help but cry, and feel shame at what this represents, and pride that it is memorialized now in a way that cannot be ignored.

Bryan Stevenson said:

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth. The opposite of poverty is Justice.”

In that field, aside from the structure of the Memorial, are enormous “tables”. These are raised areas that hold duplicate metal bars, exactly like those that hang. They are not affixed, they are just lain in these beds. The point is that each and every county has been invited to take the one marked with their name and erect it as a memorial in that county.

My hope is that I will visit there again someday, and all the bars in that beautiful green field will be gone, raised against racism, bigotry and intolerance.

Stay in touch!

Things Ruben Wants You To Know #1~ What My Father Taught Me

First, I shall tell you about some of the things my father taught me. Then I’ll proceed to my recommendations for you, Jacob.

My father taught me kindness and compassion, appreciation of my fellow human beings, the joys of service to others, patience, tolerance and understanding of people, even if their outlook on life, politics,
religion, nationality, race, or sexual orientation was different from mine. In addition, he impressed upon me that it is utterly self-destructive to carry a grudge. Also, I learned from him that though it is all right to dislike a person or thing, I should never hate.

I further learned, both by his teaching and by his example, consideration and charity, as well as honesty, sincerity, optimism, fairness, tidiness and many other positive things, all of which made me into an extrovert and, hopefully, a decent human being. In other words, he shaped my personality and my interpersonal relationships – plus my philosophy of life. To this day I still live by that, and I enjoy life and the many friends I have.

This is what I would like you to know: You may disagree with your friend – about politics, religion, or whatever – but you should respect him/her for his/her belief, and remain on friendly terms with your friend. You should never carry a grudge – once something is over, it’s over. Carrying a grudge or “hating” is totally
self-destructive.

Life is full of challenges; never despair, but meet those challenges head-on – remember that your glass is always half-full, not half-empty, Today’s young people are besieged by electronic instant
communication to the extent that some of them actually lose their humanity. I sincerely hope that you will not be one of these, but will use those marvelous tools wisely and with circumspection.

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Things I Want My Son To Know #13 ~ Practice Tolerance

We live in a world of amazing diversity. Around the globe there are people of a vast array of ethnicities and faiths, just for starters. Our own country is a land of immigrants and races from around the world. This country was founded by immigrants fleeing religious intolerance and persecution. Your ancestors were immigrants here, fleeing religious persecution. Others of your ancestors were indigenous people of the Americas, Native Americans, who suffered terrible persecution and near extinction as the result of ignorance, hatred and intolerance.

Diversity makes our world a fascinating and complex place. Respect the diversity around you, in our country and around the globe. Learn to live with diversity and to learn from it. Other cultures have something to teach, other religions have a point of view that deserves respect.

Unfortunately we also live in a country that seems to be determined to showcase its ignorance and intolerance often and broadly. Watching the pastor intent on burning the Quran, many copies, sickened me. He truly believed that burning the Quran would somehow memorialize and sanctify the memory of those that perished on September 11, 2001. What insanity. The destruction of a holy object will never sanctify anyone’s memory. Millions of peace loving muslims did not terrorize the United States. All he did was show himself to be ignorant. But he is not alone in his beliefs, unfortunately.

It is important to practice tolerance actively, as a counterbalance to those who are mindlessly intolerant. Practicing tolerance doesn’t just mean being passively tolerant in your behavior. It means that you speak against intolerance when you see it, when you hear it. That you embrace the beliefs of others, not by believing as they do, but by respecting their right to believe as they do and to practice their beliefs in a peaceful way without persecution. As a Jew you know that we were nearly obliterated by the passivity of those who watched the holocaust unfold and did nothing to stop it, assuming others would act, or that it would just go away. Bigotry, intolerance and prejudice never “just go away”. It requires action, courage and conviction.

We used to say that when we protested we “manned the barricades” because the police would put up wooden barricades to contain where the protest was legally supposed to be. In my youth, we believed that protest matters, that it works. In Europe they still do. On my last trip to France, I saw hundreds of thousands of Parisians take to the streets with their children, parents and pets, to protest the president serving at that time. They do it because they believe that their voices will have an effect.

You should never feel superior to, or better than, someone because they are different than you. There is nothing inherently better or worse about any race, religion, gender or sexual identity. Being born Jewish or Catholic is not a choice, being born with black, brown or white skin is not a choice, being born male or female is not a choice, being born gay is not a choice. People are who they are and valuing them for their character, their principles, valus and actions is what matters. If your mind is closed to the value of difference you might miss a wonderful friend, a great teacher, the love of your life; you never know what barricades active tolerance will take you past and what you will find there.

Stay in touch!