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At Central Synagogue

Students Draw Connections Between Civil Rights and Judaism

Posted April 16, 2019

What are you thinking about as Passover approaches?

Today we visited the AIDS quilt and we talked about the stigma around the disease. I was suddenly reminded of the Passover story and the idea of welcoming in the stranger. “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the soul of the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Ex.23:9). It is easy to push somebody away if they are different. It is easy to close our doors, shut our windows, and remove them from our lives. However, today I learned about the power of acceptance. The woman talked about comforting her friends who were HIV positive, caring for them medically, and calling their families after they had died. She did this while the rest of the Nation ignored the epidemic. As 2019 Passover nears, I will keep this in mind and welcome in the stranger just as this incredible organization did for so many. - Tess G

What are you taking away with you from today?

Going to the lynching museum and Rosa Parks museum and then to the service where they talked about Passover was an interesting experience that left me thinking. The Jewish idea about Passover is that you were once a stranger in Egypt. Even though we personally were not there, our ancestors were. The Torah repeatedly tells us to love and help the stranger. Today’s schedule has helped me see the connection between Passover and slavery/the civil rights movement. As Jews we are supposed to understand and be sympathetic to those who experience adversity as our people were/are faced with discrimination. As a Jew, learning about slavery, lynchings, and the civil rights era, left me feeling a responsibility to help. And coming to the south has left me feeling that New York has been put us all in a bubble. You rarely hear or see anything happen in New York City, especially Manhattan, that makes coming to a less diverse place eye-opening. I find it difficult to make a difference in a city that is nowhere near the center of the problem. Coming to the south and hearing about everything is very empowering and hopefully this trip can help me find a way to act upon it. - Rachel B

What is one story that enhanced your understanding of the Civil Rights Movement?

Today one experience that enhanced the civil rights movement for me was when we were with Bishop Calvin Woods. The way he put us inside the moment with his songs and stories of moments that happened around us made it all extremely vivid. He told us stories about his time while leading us through statues that went with his stories. One extremely vivid moment was when he explained how he drove MLK to the airport which took him to Memphis, which is where he was brutally assassinated. The Bishop’s energy and enthusiasm carried us as he sang. In total it was a meaningful and eye-opening experience for me that I will remember for a long time. - Eli C

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