As the 5783 school year draws to a close, I am reflecting on the power of perspective that only travel can provide for our students. After the long pause of the pandemic, we finally hit the road again, returning to New York and Washington D.C. with our high schoolers, and to Whitwell, TN and Montgomery, AL with our 7th and 8th graders.
Our journey began early in October with our sister synagogues, all traveling to the unlikely and ultimately inspiring museum commemorating the Holocaust housed at Whitwell Middle School. This product of the ongoing Paper Clips Project represents the best of what dedicated students and educators can create when approaching history through clear and critical eyes.
In December, Rabbi Laurie Rice and I enjoyed a chaperone first by leading an all-female cohort of students to New York City. To help recreate the Jewish immigrant experience, our adventures began on the Lower East Side with the fan-favorite being our visit to The Pickle Guys. We then celebrated Shabbat with our peers at B’nai Jeshurun’s teen-led service followed by a kosher Chinese dinner. Our visit to the New York Historical Society’s exhibit, “I’ll Have What She’s Having: The Jewish Deli” tied into students’ new understanding of life in the Lower East side by greeting us with a 19th century pushcart that students appreciated as the precursor to the modern-day food truck. Our Broadway choice felt obvious - “SIX: The Musical.” The spirited theme of female solidarity has since been recalled regularly at our Wednesday night CHAI Society discussions surrounding current issues such as reproductive rights and the efficacy of advocacy groups such as Moms Demand Action.
The issues of gun violence prevention and immigrant advocacy carried over to our participation in the Reform movement’s social justice seminar, L’Taken, with our peers from The Temple in February. Rabbi Shana Mackler and I were excited to return as chaperones of this joint delegation – two students per synagogue – to represent the Reform Jewish youth voice to the offices of Senators Blackburn and Haggerty. This whirlwind of a weekend teaches students how to lobby through careful preparation and poised presentation, and we were incredibly proud of how well our students represented the Nashville and larger Reform Jewish communities. This trip also included visits to the U.S. Holocaust Museum and the MLK memorial, both offering students vivid reminders of some of history’s most challenging chapters.
Most recently, our 7th and 8th graders traveled with Rabbi Flip Rice, teachers Jason Shuster and Christie Wiemers, Inclusion Specialist Ronnie Shuster, select parents, surprise guest Lisa Silver, and me, to Montgomery to visit the Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice. Reckoning with our country’s cruel history of enslavement and racial terror lynchings is more readily achieved in such an immersive, provocative, and supportive group setting. Viewing “Just Mercy” on the bus ride down and returning with a traveling song session of peace and protest songs from the civil rights movement helped everyone place the experience in proper context. Upon our return and in the spirit of the Equal Justice Initiative’s theme of moving “from enslavement to mass incarceration,” we invited former Micah student Hannah Malkofsky-Berger to share her experience working as an Academic Coordinator with the Tennessee Higher Education Initiative, helping almost one hundred students complete college credit while incarcerated in area facilities. Hannah shared how this crucial work she is doing within the criminal justice system changed her experience of Passover this year, shifting her focus beyond the immediate liberation of the Exodus to the extended and more complex challenges of wandering in the desert.
Many of these horizon-expanding opportunities were only possible thanks to generous funding from the Jewish Federation of Greater Nashville through Innovation and Education grants, and we remain grateful for the depth of understanding that such support affords our students. May our community’s students headed to Israel next month on the revived and heavily subsidized Get Connected program return as lovers of and advocates for our collective homeland. As we prepare for our last day’s annual Torah Wrap - literally encircling our students with the text of the Jewish story fully unfolded, tracing the trajectory of creation, to liberation, to redemption - we look ahead to packing our bags and writing the next chapter of our ongoing Jewish journey with gratitude and wonder.