A stranger is just a friend you haven't met yet - A peek into Jewish Life in the South.
The van finally has a name. It's Seymour! Thank you to everyone who submitted suggestions!
When Jeff and I first envisioned Tour To The Wonderful (TTTW) we knew staying connected to our home base, Temple Beth Hillel(TBH), in South Windsor, CT would be essential. As a kite can only fly when its string is held securely, if it is released, it will flap all around and crash land. If you ever flew a kite, you'd remember how hard it was to get it off the ground...but once it is up, it can be an amazing run.
There are so many facets built into this experience. When we left we could not have known what we would find, so explaining it to a board of directors was a challenge. Like many of the missions I plan, the itinerary is only finalized when the trip has concluded. We are grateful that the temple's board agreed to hold the kite string.
When Jeff and I set out, we had a general plan of where we would go, and who we would see. Yet we could not know exactly when we would arrive, or if the people would be able to welcome us, especially during this pandemic. Along the way we have parked in people's driveways, at a Jewish summer camp and at rest stops along the highway. At each of these locations we learned about the local needs of the communities. At Jacob's Camp in Utica, Mississippi we learned how in the 70's all of the congregations in the region united to build a regional Jewish summer camp. Each synagogue committed to raise an equitable portion of the cost. They envisioned it, and because of their forethought, Judaism continues to thrive in the South.
This week we have been focusing on meeting leaders of social service agencies, media affiliates and remote URJ synagogues. Everyone has a story and are energized by our visits. Especially during these times of Covid-19, people are lonely. As we go from state to state, we are stopping to listen to these stories. At each site we ask if it is ok to record their voices. We have collected hours of audio. Some of the voices can be heard in the podcast, which is being produced in conjunction with this experience.
Don't be fooled, by no means is this a vacation. We've not stayed in national parks or visited tourist sites. As a matter of fact, we have not entered a single building. While I have continued my regular schedule including teaching Hebrew classes and taking flute lessons(and practicing), Jeff has been maintaining his role as Rabbi and spiritual leader back home. Leading services, teaching religious school, attending meetings, broadcasting the daily 5@5 are all important, but being present to pastor congregants is the most important. The events of this past Wednesday in Washington, DC hit close to home. You can hear more about this on the Tour's blog (link is at the bottom of this newsletter).
Behind the scenes is our co-pilot Kate, who has been leading the effort. She has been a few steps ahead of us each day, arranging meetings with United Ways and Public Radio affiliates, connecting us to local congregations, ACLU affiliates and making sure we have a safe place to park each night. Together other Team Wonderful members maintain our social media presence and manage our gift giving and receiving. Though we set out to donate our own money to these causes(which we are doing) we were pleasantly surprised to receive requests from virtual participants asking how to send money to support our efforts. We call it AOK, Acts of Kindness. Look for the column below to see where the AOK have gone.
We cover many miles in a day. The agenda is aggressive, hardly touching down in any one place for very long, yet we've made many meaningful connections in every place. Having the support of our own temple community was key to us being able to accomplish so much. TBH metaphorically holds our kite string, allowing us to explore and learn important lessons. We've visited and are joining remote congregations across the country. The welcome has been nothing short of warm. At each synagogue we felt like we were coming home.
This past Shabbat Jeff and I parked in the yard of a temple president, Joel Davidson (not the TBH member Joel Davidson who we visited last week), who we had only met on the phone. Arriving much after his bedtime, we met Joel first on zoom, when he joined a class that Jeff taught after morning services. So when we finally emerged from the RV we learned about the storms which had hit the Lake Charles community, first on August 27th of 2020 and then again a few weeks later. The resilience we saw was energizing. For miles the devastation was apparent. Huge old trees had been downed. Not a roof was spared. Some buildings will never reemerge. And then we visited the synagogue. There is so much work to be done, but Joel did not focus on rebuilding the synagogue building. He was so excited that after 22 years they would be getting a full time Rabbi. Now this is not a big community, there are no big donors. But there are committed people who love their temple. (Check out the pictures below for some visuals.)
Since we launched it's hard to ignore the coincidences. Read about them in my article in an upcoming newsletter.
As new-by RVers we have had a few fiascos mostly involving dumping poop and losing our refrigeration. But these inconveniences are worth it as we set out to build bridges with people we already know, or those we've not yet met. So many stories, so little time!
Thanks for reading.