WRJ's Civil Rights Journey was our organization's first of its kind. Our attendees and communities long awaited this program, and it did not disappoint! Finally, being back in person led to an overwhelming feeling of connection throughout the entire trip. Attendees had the opportunity to meet people face-to-face whom they only knew from a Zoom screen or hang out with people they hadn't seen in a long time. While this same tour with any other group would still be moving, there was something special when sharing it with our WRJ sisters. In our closing program, attendees submitted words that reflected their takeaways from the journey. The most common answers were: Sisterhood, Emotional, and Powerful.
While time has passed quickly, we are still reveling, reflecting, and sharing the powerful experiences we had in Georgia and Alabama. While every place we visited was rich in history and meaning, here were some highlights that have remained with us.
Equal Justice Initiative's Legacy Museum and Lynching Memorial and the Memorial for Peace and Justice
We dove right into civil rights on day one with a trip to the Equal Justice Initiative's Legacy Museum and Lynching Memorial in Montgomery, AL. Here, we learned about the history of slavery through the Civil Rights Movement into modern-day experiences of African-American suppression in the United States. The immersive exhibits and experiences in the museum were powerful.
At the memorial, we felt anger when learning about the unreasonable grounds for which people were lynched. An example that pains me is a Black man dying because he spoke to a white woman. Others were wrongfully accused of terrible crimes. Together, we prayed and mourned the loss of these people.
When our attendees were asked what parts of the trip inspired them to take action, Michelle Scheinkopf shared, "[to] take part in the conversation on race relations. It was so emotional at the Lynching Memorial, and I want to be involved in making amends for the atrocities that took place against African Americans."
Walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge and meeting Civil Rights Activist JoAnne Bland:
In Selma, Alabama, we heard from JoAnne Bland, a participant in the Civil Rights protests. Joanne marched for justice and felt the pain of police brutality.
One of the Civil Rights Journey co-chairs, Shoshana Dweck, reflected on her experience with JoAnne. "She asked each of us to pick up a small stone from that sacred ground. Now it is our turn to move the mountain and bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice. She did it with her sister, and we do it with her and as WRJ."
After hearing Joanne's story, we all walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where the brutal Bloody Sunday beatings of civil rights marchers took place. To do this with our sisters truly brought us together as a community.
"The experiences, such as walking over the Edmund Pettus Bridge, were humbling."- said Trina Novak.
Walking Tour of Freedom Park with Bishop Calvin Woods
When we reached Birmingham, Alabama, we met with Bishop Calvin Woods, a leader and activist in the Civil Rights Movement. Bishop Woods shared his story about being arrested and beaten for participating in the movement. We heard about Bishop Woods’ work with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his description of Dr. King. as a kind man who believed in the humanness of all people. Together, we sang the gospel song "This Little Light of Mine" led by Bishop Woods on the Freedom Walk in the middle of Kelly Ingram Park. This park served as a staging ground for many demonstrations years ago.
Fran Cohen shared, "The National Memorial for Peace and Justice was extremely powerful, as were the meetings with JoAnne Bland and Bishop Woods. I couldn't help but compare those first-hand accounts with those of Holocaust survivors. It made me think about the fact that they won't be around much longer to share their stories, and it's important for us to spread the word."
Ebenezer Baptist Church
We closed our trip by attending services at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. We sat in awe of the congregation's music, passion, and energy. The themes of the sermon brought us full circle from the start of our trip by addressing the need for prison reform due to its roots in racism. Reverend Dr. Otis Moss III spoke on the impact of miseducation on our ability to be free. He connected the chosen passage to how marginalized communities are taught to stay within the boxes society labeled them.
"I came away with a greater understanding of Black lives from slavery to the present. I felt their pains, injustices, community, and faith."- Patti Goodman
During the Civil Rights Journey, we took action to advocate for civil rights and create social change by fighting voter suppression through writing and mailing postcards to Georgia voters and creating a Get Out The Vote video miniseries.
WRJ's Civil Rights Journey and Onwards
Like many of our attendees, Jane Karlin shared that she is "returning home with a renewed sense of activism and new resources/tools to get others involved." Now that this trip is behind us, we, as WRJ, will continue to do work for civil rights. Some things our sisterhoods are doing, plan to do, or hope to include:
- Putting together educational presentations for other sisterhoods and districts
- Diversifying speakers at programs
- Taking part in conversations about race relations
- Working with clergy at synagogues to see how we can provide education and collaborate with Black/Jewish populations and other communities
- Collaborating with local Black churches to host programs and dinners
Simona Seiderman described her experience on the Civil Rights Journey as a tapestry with the fabric of our pillars of sisterhood, spirituality, and social justice is woven throughout. "The fabric is stained with our tears from all the traumatic history we witnessed." This fabric is the education we learned that has inspired us to be driven to pursue social justice. As we move forward in our social justice work, we will do so with tenacity because singer/songwriter Kyra Goldman put it: