February 26, 2008

Bridging two worlds: How-To

Sitting next to me on the bus back to Tel Aviv from Jerusalem was the gentle elder whom I met in the line to board Bus 480 in the Jerusalem Central Bus Station.

While most people pushed to mount the steep steps of the bus first, a small woman, clutching a large bulging bag in each fist, waited her turn patiently. When I bowed to indicate that she enter before me, she insisted, “You got here first, I saw you.” And I knew exactly next to whom I would plant my self, jacket, Brookstone backpack, and stuff-filled Whole Foods eco-friendly bag.

An old message: Jews, get out of Iraq
In the habit of strangers who meet on a journey, we bonded quickly, and I learned that my companion had arrived in Israel as a refuge child from her native Iraq. “They drove out the Jews, and we left in haste.” And, we segued into exchanging the outlines of our lives during the 45-minute road trip.

As our bus neared the Tel Aviv Bus Station, police blockades along the major arteries were causing delay, confusion, irritation, and rumor-mongering among the passengers. Everyone's dreaded unasked question: Were the blockades on account of a “suspicious object” (a possible terrorist bomb planted in an abandoned container found nearby)?

Within minutes, in a scene reminiscent of Jean-Luc Godard's opening frames of Week End, spaghetti-like streams of stalled vehicles, their passengers-turned-pedestrians took to the highway. Here, helicopters droned overhead along the barricades where protesters, holding placards — UNDER FIRE IN SDEROT, chanted, “We want a military solution! We want the army to do what's right and to fight the enemy!"

An old message: Jews, get out of Israel
Sderot is the southern Israeli town where, during the past seven years more than 8,000 qassam rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip have been pouring on schools, homes, streets — everywhere. Here, where 33% of the children suffer from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), civilians and even schoolchildren act as medics, attending to injured family, friends, pets, animals — anyone.

The protesters came from Sderot to Tel Aviv to demand that the Israeli army kill, besides the terrorists who are missile launchers, Gaza's political leaders who meet every Saturday afternoon to decide where and when to terrorize Jews, then order the missile launchers to fire and to kill.

Bridging hemispheres, cultures, eons: tips —
  • Choose, if possible, a bus seat companion who is gentle and thoughtful.
  • Pay attention that Iraq/Babylonia drove out its Jews, who had been living there more than 2,500 years since their earliest expulsions from their native Land of Israel.
  • Pay attention that Iraq’s cousins in Gaza and elsewhere are doing their best to drive out the Jews from the State of Israel.
  • Therefore, choose life! !וּבָחַרְתָּ, בַּחַיִּים
I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life, that you might live, you and your seed. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

הַעִדֹתִי בָכֶם הַיּוֹם, אֶת-הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶת-הָאָרֶץ הַחַיִּים וְהַמָּוֶת נָתַתִּי לְפָנֶיךָ, הַבְּרָכָה וְהַקְּלָלָה; וּבָחַרְתָּ, בַּחַיִּים לְמַעַן תִּחְיֶה, אַתָּה וְזַרְעֶךָ — דברים ל:יט.

February 01, 2008

Bishop Bevel Jones and The Ministers' Manifesto

My previous post on Dr. King's birthday continues here.

With Bishop L. Bevel Jones,
coauthor of “The Ministers' Manifesto”

As a child growing up in New York City, I watched images on TV that were forever etched in my young soul — police and their dogs attacking small children. In resistance to the 1954 Supreme Court decision in favor of integration, mobs of men, women, and children waged obscene deadly battles in Little Rock, Arkansas. In one of the ugliest chapters in the nation's history, citizens and state leaders — elected officials, clergy, school personnel, police, and firefighters partially shut down Central High School.

The uproar pervaded the deep south. Georgia deliberated closing its public schools rather than allow black and white children to attend them together. Here, fewer than 100 principled, courageous ministers of the all-white Atlanta Christian Council took a bold stand where church leadership (really, any leadership) was desperately needed.

“Where there are no men, strive to be one ” (Rabbi Hillel)
Then age 30, retired United Methodist Bishop L. Bevel Jones III and fourteen other clergy drafted an appeal for moderation, communication between the races, racial amity, and obedience to the law. Eighty clergy signed it, and on November 3, 1957, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published on its front page what became called The Ministers' Manifesto. It was credited with helping Atlanta desegregate peacefully by discouraging city officials and Atlanta citizens from pursuing a course of massive resistance to federal authority.

Rabbi Jacob M. Rothschild, whose moral convictions and bold actions — like those of his Christian colleagues, evoked the ancient biblical prophets did not sign this historic statement by Christians. Still, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) responded to his partnership with them and related activities by bombing the Temple, the city’s oldest Jewish congregation. The bombing aroused new fears of racial extremism, prompting more than 300 ministers to issue a second manifesto calling for the creation of a citizens' commission to debate alternatives to massive resistance.

The promise of this nation's founders
Last Sunday, Bishop Jones preached the sermon at Emory University’s Cannon Chapel ecumenical, open worship. Susan Henry-Crowe, Dean of the Chapel and Religious Life, welcomed the group that included Emory organizations — from Jewish to Muslim and from Catholic to Protestant. The Bishop's sermon was part civil rights history, part autobiography, and part personal principles and beliefs. He said:

Nothing is quite as uninteresting as a religious moralist, always on the side of angels but never fighting any devil. We must be willing to take sides on moral issues of the moment. And our ideas must be linked to actions that address specifics, tangibles. — Bishop Bevel Jones

And, Bishop Jones remembered —
  • Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who called us to address the monster triplets — racism, economic injustice, and militarism, and insisted that the nation be a beacon of light, not a bastion of might.
Bishop Jones closed the morning service with a benediction that spoke to me as I prepare to cross “the pond” to resume my life on the other side, in Israel.

As you go, may God go with you —
Before you, to guide you,
Behind you, to guard you,
Beneath you, to uphold you,
Before you, to inspire you,
Beside you, to befriend you, and
Within you, to give you peace.