On Monday, June 24th I was honored to be one of 15 graduating fellows from the year-long JOIN for Justice Jewish Organizing Fellowship. The graduation, or Siyyum, was a beautiful evening of stories–laughter, triumph, struggle, and journeys. Each fellow shared 90-second stories to demonstrate learnings or growth from the year. My story, found below, was inspired by my amazing trip with a group of teenagers through the South with Prozdor, the high school of Hebrew College, where I work as the Director of Programming and Initiatives.This story is dedicated to them, to our beloved van Delilah, and most of all to the spirit of the Civil Rights Movement that followed us throughout our trip:
I learned the true meaning of the word Dayenu on the floor of a hotel room in Birmingham, Alabama.
As I led a group of teens on a trip to learn about Jewish heritage in the South, I yearned for their exploration of Civil Rights history to open up a conversation about race, class, and privilege in America–and particularly where they fit into the story.
Dayenu, from our Passover liturgy, means “it would have been enough.” And while on the floor of that hotel room, in the midst of intense discussion with seven high school juniors, I learned what it means to feel like the world has given you so much that you can’t really stand it anymore.
Just getting to take the trip, Dayenu.
The voices of my JOIN cohort rang in my head while we traveled, challenging me to address tension and discomfort head on. The other fellows reminded me to push with gentle force, to challenge my own assumptions and in turn those of my teens.As the days progressed, I found myself pushing my students, asking them questions about their preconceived notions of the world–which to this point, had been pretty sheltered in some of the wealthy suburbs of Boston.
The experience we had, Dayenu.
When a student began to compare oppression of Jews in Europe and that of African Americans in the United States, I interjected, and challenged the group to stop drawing this parallel line that I hear too often in Jewish communities.. “Too often we get in the business of comparing who had it worse,” I said. “It’s probably not productive, and it is most certainly not a fair equation.”
The conversation that followed on that hotel floor would have been enough. An exploration of our shared histories, tears of discomfort and fear,some angry words, some calming ones, and inevitably more questions than answers. The sheltering walls that had kept these suburban teens from fully grasping the world around them started to crumble and fall.
The floor of that hotel room in Birmingham reminded me that I believe in the power of teenagers. And I believe that the most fundamental of organizing principles we learn in JOIN–holding tension and creating agitation–are central to my work helping them grow into leaders who will change the world.
And again all I can say is Dayenu. Dayenu. Dayenu. This is more than enough.