Sunday, April 10, 2011


After just returning from our trip, it is important to look at the goals we had going into it and then to reflect on the degree to which those goals were reached.  We at Central Synagogue believe that some of the best learning for teenagers is experiential.  As was mentioned a number of times throughout our journey, it is possible to learn a great deal about a topic from text books, articles and videos.  However, to stand in the places where history happened, and to speak to those who were involved, escalates the experience to an entirely different level.  We also believe that the South is a setting in which experiential education can take place in a way that it will serve to deepen or increase one's Jewish identity at home.  And lastly, we strive to create a sense of community where students are able to develop deep connections with their peers, teachers and clergy members.  In all of these cases, as shown by the students' reflections throughout the trip, we consider this trip to have been a great success.  

The students walked away having a newfound understanding of Judaism's value of standing up for those living embittered lives.  In our wrap-up session, Billy expressed to the group the fact that the world is constantly changing.  He challenged them to put themselves in the middle of change -- "will you be one of the ones to watch change happen, or will you be a piece of the puzzle that will work to make the change happen." (see link to video below)

Judging by the response, we are confident in saying that our 25 participants will be (continue to be) powerful agents of change and justice.  Speaking for all of the adults on the trip, we could not have been more proud of the maturity and critical thinking that we witnessed while traveling together on this very special journey. 

Final Day

Today, after waking up and getting moving early, we loaded up the bus to drive to Atlanta.  Just a few days ago we began our journey at the steps of the Pencil Factory, learning about Leo Frank and how he was falsely accused of murder in 1913.  Over the next couple days we traveled throughout Georgia and Alabama -- visiting amazing sites, making our way through a number of incredibly interactive and informative museums, and met with many people who lived through the Civil Rights Movement who shared with us their unforgettable stories.  

Upon our arrival in Atlanta, we at lunch at The Varsity -- a tradition of the city.  The students ordered food and then sat in desks which for many looked just like the desks in their classrooms (although some of them reported that our desks had much less graffiti than they are used to).  After lunch, we went to the national headquarters of the Names Project / AIDS quilt where we learned about how LGBT issues are now a major civil rights issue.  We walked through the storage facility where we saw the 47,000 panels that have been collected over the past 25 years.  

We then ended our trip at the site where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s body (along with his wife's) now lay.

Here are some pictures from the day:

The crew in their hats from The Varsity

Debriefing with Billy

American flag at Martin Luther King, Jr.'s tomb

Closing session with Billy (see next post for video)

Sitting and listening near King's tomb

Walkway surrounding King's tomb

King's tomb, set in the middle of a reflecting pool

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King from the back

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King from the front

Group shot

Eternal flame at King's tomb
Our amazing driver, Joe with Sam

Our bus

Atlanta airport

Waiting for boarding passes to head back to NYC.  So long South!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Reverend Woods

This video will show the spirit that Reverend Woods brought to our group.  It was a truly incredible experience to be able to spend time with him!  Find the video at the following unlisted YouTube link.  Only those with this link will be able to view the video.

The following video, made available by the Civil Rights Institute that we visited today, is an audio testimonial made by (in order of speaking) Sarah, Oliver, and Diana.  This link will only be available for 2 weeks, so enjoy!

Selma and Birmingham

Synagogue in Selma

Ms. Bland

Group shot on the steps of a community church in Selma

Civil Rights Freedom wall

Martin Luther King, Jr. statue.  Ms. Bland said she didn't like how it said "I had a dream" -- it should read "I have a dream."

Our group preparing to walk over the Edmund Pettus bridge, just as Ms. Bland did in her youth.

Our Shabbat morning service after walking over the bridge

The brother of a Central Synagogue congregant, a resident of Birmingham, speaking to our group.

The site of a bombing that took the lives of 4 young girls

The nickname the city earned due to the violent actions that happened all-too-often

Reverend Woods

A statue showing the way that protesters were treated by the police

Havdalah in the park after meeting with Reverend Woods

Marking the end of Shabbat





Selma and Birmingham

Today we met with some extraordinary people – first in Selma and then in Birmingham.  Their words will express the information they learned, the emotions they felt, and the different type of connection that was present.  Enjoy the gifts that they received today:

Noah K.
Today when we talked to Rev. Wood, he put me in his shoes and brought me back to 1963 when dogs were nagging at black men’s shirts and when firemen sprayed water at them just because they were protesting for their rights.  Walking in the park brought me back to their time and imagining all the hate going on.  While singing I got goose bumps and every time I think about the hate and the cruelty, I may feel a tear coming down my cheek.  Today I’m thankful for experiencing all that I did and listening to two real victims of the movement.  When I leave tomorrow, I will remember the spirit and history of Rev. Wood and the power and message in his voice.

Jack C.
TO see how a person, or people, can make extraordinary change when faced with great oppression is an amazing lesson.  When hearing recounts of utter torture and brutality, resentment is a quick emotion that is felt.  But hearing how a people can retaliate not with violence, but through peaceful demonstrations and pushing topics, a sense of love and passion is felt.  When one realized that cruelties and acts of  racism for solely the color of their skin were committed against a people and to hear how they reacted so strategically, peacefully, and passionately is something that I hope I will have willpower to accomplish one day.  Hearing how people questioned the government when no one else would, hearing how after knowing the road ahead and still continuing and helping a people and encouraging them when peole know who you are is so remarkable.  This discovery is something I have questioned if I would have had but through listening to these stories I have told myself that if there is a cause, I should act bravely and passionately to fight or work for what I believe in.  this trip has been a lesson of inspiration and how feelings, ideas, or knowledge is nothing without action.

Alex M.
There are a couple of gifts that I will take away from the experience with Joanne and Rev. Woods.  First of all, elderly youth.  Rev. Woods showed that even at his age, it is still possible to have a good time, sing, dance, and even run!  I think that he is able to be so active because he is able to use his good memories from the Movement when the black community was able to come together to obtain that same feeling of excitement and enjoyement.

Matthew S.
The gift I received from today’s interactions was the chance to meet and listen to and learn from Rev. Woods – one of Martin Luther King’s right hand men.  What he said and sang to us was very rich and impactful and made me learn and see so much more about the Civil Rights Movement.

Diana S.
Today, I was enriched in the feelings of the movement.  Speaking to Ms. Bland gave me a real sense of the troubles for a child in the movement.  Listening to her story and hearing the words, “What will you do?” really inspired me to think about the future.  Hearing her impact sitting at whites-only counters, being a freedom fighter, and even walking across the Edmund Pettus bridge with police and horses surrounding her, interested me to think about what I would have done in the situation.  When we met with the Reverend, I was intrigued by the unbelievable power in his voice.  When he taught us the songs and changes, he shouted them and even though his voice was strained, he had no intention of stopping.  I feel truly gifted that I met these two truly gifted people.

Sara S.
I really appreciate how lucky I am to get a chance to meet, hear, and speak to remarkable people that took a stand for justice.  Ms. Bland made me realize that wherever I walked was history – like when she had us take a rock from the ground.  At first I thought that she wanted us to just move the rocks out of the way, but when she said that we were holding history, I felt really special.  I was also appalled that by age 11 she had gone to jail 13 times.  It seemed more like reality when she explained it.  When we met Rev. Woods I realized how spirited you have to be to be a protester.  He really had a lot of personality.  He taught me how it really was to be living in the time.

Sarah H.
A gift I was given today was hearing the Reverend speak.  Rev. Woods’ voice rang out with such spirit and passion and pride, and his words were truly amazing.  He spoke of what he went through while fighting for his rights:  being beaten, chased by dogs, and seeing fire hoses with water being shot at children.  He spoke of Dr. King, and his personal connection to him.  He periodically stopped to teach us songs that the protesters used to sing while marching.  His voice was rich and full of feeling and emotion unlike anything I had ever seen.  Rev. Woods put all his feelings behind every word spoken, and when talking of Dr. King’s death, his voice cracked and he made you feel all that he was feeling.  Being with him and hearing what he went through was unbelievable, and whenever we sang, we felt a sense of community, and could see how he was this great leader in the Civil Rights Movement.

David S.
One gift I received through this trip so far is the knowledge of all of these courageous people and how they sacrificed their lives and well-being for justice.  The Reverend’s words today were a good example, his spirit was rejuvenated and he was reliving his youth with us as we were singing with him.  He even started running around.  His stories of the injustice really hit me because he was somebody that actually experienced the events we have been learning about.  Today, the woman we met told us to grab a rock from the ground at a place where the concrete was obviously older.  It turns out that area was preserved because it is where the protesters of Bloody Sunday were standing before they marched toward the National Guard.

Robby M.
Today, two gifts that I received were the conversations we had with two people that we would usually be reading about.  I got to feel the emotion in Reverend Wood’s voice, in his stories and in his songs that I wouldn’t get from reading a book.  We also got a great opportunity to walk over the Alabama River with Ms. Bland who was a part of the real march from Selma to Montgomery.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Day 2 pictures (in no particular order)

A hilarious game of Apples 2 Apples (the Jewish version!) to end the night

Caleb leaving his hand print on the Civil Rights Monument

Students sharing specific stories of those killed because of their participation in the Civil Rights Movement

A significant quote at the Civil Rights Center

The boys behind home plate of the Biscuits home field

The site where Rosa Parks was arrested, marking the beginning of the bus boycott in Montgomery
Billy explaining the progression of the Civil Rights Movement through photos

Our whole group before going into the synagogue.

Billy giving us the plan of the day.

Jonah leading us in Modeh Ani to start the day.

The Civil Rights Memorial

Another piece of the Civil Rights Memorial, with water flowing over the quote.

Group shot

When you pledge to be tolerant, your name gets added to the Wall of Tolerance.

The kids' new Montgomery Biscuits gear

A wax representation of the Victory Ride -- marking the end of the bus boycott