Every year at Passover Seders worldwide, the Haggadah tells of a child (or a part of ourselves) that says skeptically, "What does all this have to do with me?"
In response, the Seder participants say more than once, "Because we were oppressed, we need to stand up for those who are currently oppressed."
For many hundreds of years, Jews and non-Jews who attend Passover Seders (including Martin Luther King, Jr.) have been inspired by these words to find their own voice and their courage for speaking up against various forms of oppression that still exist in our modern age.
MAKING IT COME ALIVE IN YOUR OWN SITUATION
How exactly do you "stand up for those who are currently oppressed?" And what if it takes you beyond your comfort zone? Or what if you are a polite and conflict-avoidant person who doesn't like to make waves? Have you ever felt tongue-tied or unable to find the right method for doing something about a situation that touched your heart?
On Saturday, March 26th at 2 pm at Ahavat Torah (343 Church Lane in Brentwood near Sepulveda and Montana) you will have a rare opportunity to meet, talk with, and learn from two modern-day examples of how to stand up effectively and help people who are being oppressed.
Here's just a glimpse into the dramatic story of how two people from a small town in Texas have given us clues as to how to repair the world by refusing to sit idly by.
"SOMETHING DIDN'T FEEL RIGHT ABOUT THIS"
In July of 1999, the very popular sheriff of Tulia, Texas (population 5,000) rounded up 47 people (including 37 African Americans) and put them in jail as suspected drug dealers. The courts quickly sentenced these low-income individuals to long jail terms (some of them up to 90 years). Hardly anyone seemed to mind that all the accusations came from one undercover officer named Tom Coleman who didn't use a wire to record any conversations and who had major inconsistencies in his testimony, but who was then awarded "Lawman of the Year" by Texas Attorney General John Cornyn (who later became a well-known Senator from Texas).
In Tulia there was a white couple who felt uncomfortable with this rush to justice. Both Alan Bean and Nancy Bean were Baptist ministers. Nancy had grown up in Tulia before moving to Louisville, Kentucky where the two of them met during seminary school. Then Nancy and her husband Alan moved back to her hometown of Tulia in 1998 to raise their children and enjoy a simpler life.
But in 1999 when they admitted to themselves that "something didn't feel right" about this mass arrest of 47 local African Americans, they began asking questions and they formed a group called Friends of Justice.
At first their search for answers got them ignored by several national organizations that didn't want to get involved. Nancy and Alan were also shunned in their own community. Alan was unable to find work. Nancy described how, "I was teaching at the high school and the other teachers would rather stand during a meeting than sit at a table near me. We were even unwelcome at family gatherings of several of our relatives in Tulia."
Eventually their efforts to examine the evidence and seek justice for the 47 prison inmates led to two books, a documentary film, coverage by '60 Minutes' on CBS, and a new trial that exposed the faulty evidence. Currently there is a film being made about the arrests in Tulia, directed by John Singleton and starring Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton.
A CHANCE TO LEARN WHAT IT TAKES AND HOW IT'S DONE
Laurel Gord is a member of Ahavat Torah Congregation who has been active for many years in efforts for reforming the criminal justice system. After reading a book written by Reverend Alan Bean, she decided to invite him to be the speaker at a fundraiser for the Friends Committee on Legislation in California (which is a small organization trying to make an impact in criminal justice reform). Laurel contacted Alan and Nancy Bean, inviting them to stay in her guest room in Venice, and offering to have them lead a conversation at Ahavat Torah Congregation on Saturday March 26th.
According to Laurel, "I wanted to meet these two people and learn from them face-to-face how they did what they did. I tend to be very conflict-avoidant. So I wanted to hear their insights about how do we each stand up for what we feel strongly to be right, especially when a lot of people close to us disagree with us. How do we find a voice for what we sense needs to be done to stop what we know is wrong?"
ALL ARE WELCOME TO MEET THESE GENUINE AMERICAN HEROES
On Saturday afternoon at 2 pm you can attend whether you've been at Shabbat services (which start at 10 am), or if you've arrived in time for the pot-luck dairy lunch at 12:30 pm, or if you simply show up just prior to 2 pm. Please feel free to invite or bring anyone in your life (children, teens, young adults, or mature adults) who might also be inspired by meeting two people who have been successful at changing the way our society deals with questions of justice and fairness. Sometimes it only takes meeting one or two genuinely courageous individuals to strengthen our own courage and commitment that we all need for dealing with tough situations in our own lives.
THEN MAKE SURE TO FOLLOW THROUGH ON THE ISSUES THAT HAVE TOUCHED YOUR OWN HEART
During the next few days and weeks, there will probably be several opportunities to seek the right words and the right actions to deal with situations that matter deeply to you. For example, the Social Action Committee of Ahavat Torah is inviting us all to participate in two extremely moving and inspiring events that are coming up very soon:
--A FILM THAT BUILDS BRIDGES BETWEEN SEVERAL TYPES OF SURVIVORS.
At the Museum of Tolerance (co-sponsored by Jewish World Watch and Uri L'Tzedek) on Sunday night March 27th at 7 pm there will be a screening of the award-winning film "The Last Survivor," which tells the stories of four different genocides and the need to make sure we don't stand idly by. The film follows a few survivors of four different genocides (the European Holocaust, Rwanda, Darfur, and Congo) to awaken each of us to the need to take effective action whenever possible. The film screening will be followed by a question and answer session with the filmmakers and various activists in Genocide Prevention and Awareness.
--A CHANCE TO WALK TO STOP THE CURRENT GENOCIDES IN AFRICA. On Sunday morning April 10th at Warner Center Park in Woodland Hills there will be a major walk and rally to let the world know that we won't sit idly by while women are being raped and innocent people are being tortured in the attacks on innocent civilians in Darfur, a part of the Sudan, and in the Congo, where tribes that are trying to control the minerals that go into our cell phones and computers are using violence against innocents to gain access to these precious minerals. You will recall that last year Ahavat Torah Congregation held an all-day information session about how to be more effective in making sure that Conflict-Free Minerals become the norm in affluent nations and that the rape and torture in the Congo is stopped.
Last year over 2,000 people from several synagogues, schools, and other groups participated in this walk sponsored by Jewish World Watch. We are hoping for an excellent show of support on April 10th so that the media and the political leaders will recognize this as something "that has a lot to do with us."
Even though Ahavat Torah is a relatively small congregation, we have had a large presence at many Jewish World Watch events and once again this year we will be meeting and walking together under the yellow Ahavat Torah banner created by Rabbi Miriam Hamrell. We will meet at 8:30 am at the Warner Center Park in Woodland Hills (there is free parking at 21725 Califa Street in the AMPCO parking facility) or you can meet up at 8 am at the Ahavat Torah parking lot in Brentwood to carpool.
Or if you cannot attend but want to donate to Jewish World Watch for their excellent work to build even larger coalitions for a reduction of violence in Darfur and the Congo, please visit the Jewish World Watch website or http://www.walktoendgenocide.org/
For more information about the inspiring presentation by Reverends Alan and Nancy Bean at 2 pm on Saturday, March 26th, you can contact Laurel Gord at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about the April 10th Walk to End Genocide, you can contact Sasha Firman at email@example.com or Vivian Gold at firstname.lastname@example.org.
But most importantly, don't let your tongue be tied by fear or hesitation when something touches your heart. We now have several teachers and several opportunities on how to get our voices heard.