We woke up this morning to the gorgeous views of the Filadelfia Plantation. We arrived in the dark last night, so it was a delightful surprise to wake up to views of the “Water Volcano” and see coffee beans being worked outside our windows. Those who wanted to get their morning started with a run or a walk were treated to the glorious fresh and warm air. Eisa eynai, we lift up our eyes to the mountains.
Our first session of the day started with a conversation on how our personal stories connect to the stories of the courageous men and women we’ve been meeting while we are here. We began by reading the speech Rabbi Joachim Prinz gave at the March on Washington in 1963. I was struck by the similarity to the problems we’re still dealing with in America and the world today. “Neighbor is not a geographic term. It is a moral concept. It means our collective responsibility for the preservation of man’s dignity and integrity,” he wrote. Yes! V’ahavta l’reiecha kamocha, love your neighbor as yourself. Every person is created with dignity in God’s image, and it is our job to see the humanity in all beings. He also reminds us that it is “not enough to hope together, and it is not enough to pray together.” Thoughts and prayers are so easily shared in our world today at every tragedy, from gun violence to natural disasters. Ours is not to sit and pray, it is to get up and act with moral courage.
This story would repeat as we met with the women of Nuevo Horizonte. These women are my heros. They travelled over 27 hours to be able to meet with us. They fight daily for the rights of women and children. They try to reduce violence and discrimination against women. They began with a role play scenario about a woman who was a leader being undervalued and mistreated by the male counterparts. The woman in the room made eye contact and laughed. This is all too familiar to our own stories as female clergy and women in the world.
The women shared that education is not allowed for women, that while they sit on the council for their villages, they are simply decoration, not taken seriously. They work to seek gender equality in a society filled with machismo. I met with Ana, who shared that women carry shame and fear to speak up. They are now finding their voices because the day they stop speaking up is the day that they die.
In a place where there are no people, strive to be a person. Hillel teaches this in Pirkei Avot. These women are trying to teach the men what it means to be a person. L’dor v’dor, from generation to generation, Ana shared. They must teach the next generation what is fair and just or society will never change. The women ended our time with them by telling us how grateful they were to see a society in which men and women work together and partner. Suddenly, the injustices of my own experiences as a women are put into place.
From here it was time to eat again, so we went on our way to a delicious lunch, followed by contributing to the local economy. It ended a bit unnervingly as we were swarmed in the plaza by a group of street vendors.
Finally we returned to Filadelfia to prepare for Shabbat. On Wednesday the midwives taught us that rest and restorative time is essential to living a balanced life. As rabbis we often don’t have a Shabbat, a time to rest, because we’re always taking care of others. This Shabbat in the beautiful envelopment of Antigua was restorative as we sang away our week and entered into the holy community we’ve established in this very awesome and powerful week.
Shabbat was an interesting and comfortable way to end a week of exploration. Gathering a group of rabbis together for Shabbat is always a treat. As Aderet mentioned, we spend all our lives guiding others, so when we have the chance to sing our hearts out without caring what our board president might think, magical things happened. For me, the melodies of Kabbalat Shabbat were unfamiliar and foreign. I sat in discomfort as the words sounded familiar, but the melody was not. This resonated as the experience of the week. I found my story in the words of the speakers, but their experience was foreign to me. We sang, we danced, we ate, and then, we oneg’d.
We told our stories and the story of this journey through song. Ozi v’zimrat ya. God is my strength, and I will sing to God. We ended this experience with the words we opened with. Lo Yisa Goy, Gesher Tzar Me’od, a Hinei Ma Tov sing-off, Olam Chesed Yibaneh, If I Had a Hammer, and more. We sang and sang. I fell asleep listening to my colleagues and friends sing the hopeful lyrics of “Ba shannah, haba’ah…” Next year may the grantees be that much closer to the justice they are pursuing.
Last week I led a PJ Havdallah program with our young families, and they blessed me as we went from kodesh, holy, to chol, the mundane. This last week was anything but mundane. We witnessed holy work and holy community. As we step into the next week and our next phase as advocates, may we be blessed to see the mundane, the ordinary, through holy eyes; may we never see injustice as the status quo, and may we continue to lift one another up in holiness.