Monday, August 26, 2013


Yesterday morning, Sunday, August 25, 2013, I was already thinking in Baltimore terms while sitting in our Elkins Park Pennsylvania kitchen. We were preparing to go take my parents out for their 63rd Anniversary along with some of our cousins. As we were having a wonderful family breakfast the Sunday news magazine shows were on the television and the focus was on the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington and the pivotal “I have a dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I heard a statement by one of the commentators that absolutely jolted and chilled me. The observation was made that fifty years ago prejudice and exclusion and segregation was by intent in the south and de facto in the North. How much has this changed?

I well remember my freshman year in college in 1971. I quickly formed a wonderful friendship with two girls, one from South Carolina and one from New York. Having gone through my high school years in Baltimore Maryland and having been active in Student Council in my school as well as the county and state level, we constantly talked about, showed concern about and wrestled with the lack of integration of whites and blacks and all others who were part of the American tapestry as concerned, idealistic a-bit-too-young-for Woodstock baby boomers. Integration was ALWAYS the topic of discussion and dreams. By contrast, my friend and soon-to-be roommate from New York was from de facto land and my Southern friend and other soon-to-be roommate was from intentional and obvious segregation country. I on the other hand who lived in the North according to the Southerners at school and was part of the South by the estimation of the Northerners learned that this topic and angst so characterized my formative years while I also learned that no one had yet figured out exactly where that Mason-Dixon line was really drawn.

I was really already on the civil and human rights wagon, even though I was too young for the March. In student council we were constantly pushing lines of integration much to the chagrin of many of our parents. We learned to “fight the establishment” and to hold on to those dreams, the ones of Martin Luther King Jr. and others of that era for a better and more shared collective future for all members of the human family. I remember being horrified by the words of prejudice and cringing from the lack of acceptance indicated by too many of the adults in my life at that time – definitely part of the generation gap from my perspective.

And here I sit FIFTY years later. I can say the word FIFTY but I still cannot fully grasp much less fathom what it means, personally or historically – a topic for another post, to be sure. What I do note is that on one hand I agree with the commentators that we have made incredible, though slow and at times rocky and painful progress. What I also note is that we still have so far to go. So at the same time we can feel pride and happiness at goals achieved in the acceptance and appreciation of those different than us in any way (actually, wait, aren’t we all different from each other if we really think about it?!?); while also wanting and needing so much more.

While we were eating breakfast and watching television, we were also reading the paper. We are such great multi-taskers, aren’t we?!? Lo and behold as if in not-so-hidden hidden code, while the front page of the main section of our Sunday paper was about the same fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King’s dream and the pivotal March, the first page of the local section was about another set of dreamers for something better, a lesbian couple who had been married recently in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. These women were celebrating that they were finally accorded their civil rights as two partners sharing their lives and simultaneously not sure this recognition will stick, given the political battles now waged in Pennsylvania amongst other states.

Our Jewish tradition reminds us that we will not complete the serious work and task at hand by ourselves or immediately but that we must all do our part as the course of time moves on. So here we sit on the cusp of the next fifty years. Tom Lehrer reminds us across generations about how easy it is for all to hate the other in his seminal parody, National Brotherhood Week. But as we move into these coming decades, let us remember “it is not for you alone to complete all of the work, but neither are you exempt from doing your part” and that only by all of us doing our part will all of our hopes and dreams, dare I say expectations, of being accepted by each other, be a goal we can realize together. As Jewish tradition also teaches, “If you will it, it is not impossible.” Here’s to the next fifty years and making dreams reality!


  1. Sunnie-

    Another wonderful blog. I think that we can legislate all we want, but cultural change is what's important. I see a big difference in my own children in how they look at differences in religion, race, color, gender, etc., Unfortunately, it happens this way, and we humans cannot lose what we have been taught in our babyhood or maybe even in the womb. When I got my second BA at SUNY Albany I was astounded by how many of my non-Jewish classmates who had grown up with many Jews around them knew so little about Judaism and suddenly "got" what we felt so hurt about in how we were, and in some places, still are although more subtlely usually, in the world and this country.

    When I was a principal, I worked with a rabbi who is a lesbian. I have know gay and lesbian people for many years, but this synagogue was a big change for me; a good change. I now count many friends who happen to be gay and lesbian and we discuss their issues openly. And I think that THAT part of it is important-the discussion about how one's life is different, challenges met, and successes, just like we discuss our religious issues with our Christian, Muslim, or other friends. It helps to understand. Change is slow and we need to know each other personally for change to REALLY take place. And we need to be honest with each other.

    I have to say that the racial issues in our country are far more complex than "knowing each other," but it is a start. My mother would have been shocked and perhaps appalled at some of my friends-but she didn't like me having non-Jewish friends, either-but I even think that when she got to know them, she might have been more accepting of them. But, I'm not my mother, despite our similarities.

    That being said, we need to allow LGBT marriages to take place and we need the Civil Rights Act, because not everyone is willing to accept or get to know those who may be more different than they would like and at least try to get rid of lifelong prejudices.

    Thank you for continuing this discussion and perhaps opening a few minds. For some reason I cannot post these on the blog response itself, but feel free to do so for me if you like.

    Kol ha Kavod-
    Terre Foreman

  2. Terre,

    Thank you so much for these important observations. I know a lot of this is generational but sometimes, we cannot let go of old prejudices and fears. I often think we could just fill in the blank with other words and the same sentiments and problems would apply to other parts of the world, like, say Israel and some of the hard fought and not yet won battles regarding different peoples and groupings part of the Israeli landscape. I think at the end it is just easier (lazier, maybe as well) to pre-judge than to learn and change. This is what makes it critical for all of us to do what we can.