Guatemala – Opening Drash

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I was honored to give the opening drash (words of Torah) at our first gathering on the trip:

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have anxiety getting ready for this trip. It’s a new experience, as it is for most of us, I’m leaving my children for the longest I’ve ever left them, and it didn’t help that when I registered with the state department, the screen popped up with “DANGER, UNSAFE DESTINATION.” So what did I do with this anxiety? In typical rabbi fashion, cliche as it is, I spent a fair bit of time doing what I always do to understand a situation. I turned to my favorite guide to life, the Torah.

The first text that popped into my head was “Lech lecha martzecha m’moladetcha, m’bayt avicha.” Abraham had a nagging in his heart, a sense that there was more he could do for the world if he got out there. So, with a similar nagging from Joe and Ruth, I’ve decided to leave my home, my family, the comfort of what I know, and go on this journey into the world.

Abraham’s model is one that I find continually relevant in my life. When we get too comfortable in our own space, with our own security, we have a responsibility to step out and see how we can help others to find more comfort in their lives.

However, Abraham leaving his father’s home isn’t the end of our journey as a people. We come to our parshah this week, Beshalach, and here we are again on a journey. Our nation is in the wilderness. Egypt, their previous host country, was hostile towards them, oppressive, unsafe, and corrupt. There was nowhere to go but up, and so with much trepidation, they rushed out, arriving at another obstacle, the sea. When they were able to cross the sea and journey toward freedom, they sang. Ozi v’zimrat yah. God is my strength and might; God is become my deliverance.

So much of this journey reminds me of the people of Guatemala. The land owners, the women, children, indigenous people. The underprivileged, the minorities, the poor. They are oppressed and fighting daily to find their strength. The midwives we’ll meet are the Shifra and Puah of their community, working to save lives, fighting for a just society. UDEFEGUA represents Moses who saw injustice in the workers and fought for a better, fairer world. And the workers on coffee plantations and banana fields (and I’m guessing I’m not the only one who feels a sharp pang when I see my son eat a banana after reading Bitter Fruit), those workers deserve a voice for justice stronger than the Israelites in Egypt.

I have no grandiose misconception that our presence in this place is Godlike, but we do have the great opportunity to extend our arms, and especially our ears, to help, to listen, to reframe, to fight, and to deliver.

As we embark on this journey, my our ears be open to those who need our help, our hearts be strong and open, and our voices be loud as we stand up, and offer support to those who need it the most.

Guatemala, Day 1

I was out the door at 2:15am this morning as my car arrived to take me to the airport. The experience was surreal. The airport was dark, check in counters were empty. I made it through security in record time (under 3 minutes from arrival at the airport to walking to my gate). It was eery. I don’t know if it was my trepidation at making this big trip and being away from my kids, or my exhaustion, but both plane rides left me feeling a little unsettled and restless.

I arrived in Guatemala at 3:25pm and by 4pm I was with my group at the hotel. The Guatemalan airport was almost as stark and empty as PDX was this morning which felt super strange. The city (what little I’ve seen) is beautiful.

Our group began with a bit of inspiration. A fellow participant shared his understanding of our Torah portion this week: As the Israelites sang to God they had anavah, humility. They noted that God is only God when we’re present to witness. So too, we must be present here to witness the lives, struggles, history and culture of this country.

We finished with logistics, had some introductory conversations about the people we’ll be meeting and then had some time to get settled before dinner. We met with an in-country consultant for the organization that sponsors my trip. He shared his fear and the fear of many in this country that the corruption of government and the current Guatemalan president will lead right back to another armed conflict. The dismantling of CICIG (government anti-corruption committee through the UN) is feared to be catastrophic. There are rallies and marches causing traffic delays. We’ll see more tomorrow.

Dinner was at a beautiful restaurant with a thatched roof and featured awesome potato taquitos and my favorite – LOTS of SPICE!

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Tomorrow we get into the meat of our work here. And, the day begins with a 7am walk with none other than Ruth Messinger!  

Time to rest up!