Monday, August 28, 2006

Prophetic Sisters in Ministry

© Rev. Marti Keller
( delivered at the emerging UU Congregation of Cookeville, TN, August 27, 2006)

There is a story that is often told among the women in our UU ministry about the prophetic sisterhood. They were what has been described by Cynthia Grant Tucker, the woman among us who researched their lives, as the entering wedge of ordained female ministers.

Sweeping across the heartland of America, founding small but hearty churches, preaching and tending to their brave little flocks, making change, and then like an ancestral tribe, disappearing. Leaving the landscape of our liberal faith movement, followed by nearly three quarters of a century when once again Unitarian and Universalist ministers were almost exclusively both white and male.

When I first was studying to be an ordained UU minister-- like many other women waiting until nearly mid-life-- I read about these forebears, in fact preached about them, and wrote a religious education curriculum about them for the congregation where I interned. I learned their names and the locations and names of the churches they served, even passed around three by five lined note cards to the women in the pews, letting them read these biographies a loud. So that they would also know the stories and remember them.

It has been almost a decade now since I was myself ordained and fellowshipped, and in the meantime the hard drive that held that early, awkwardly constructed sermon of mine has long since crashed, and the hard copy and the smudged references have long since been discarded or buried in the boxes and boxes of papers that still line the walls of my study.

And I am pricked with guilt for failing to honor these women, whose lives made my life, or at least my choice of vocation possible, and whose disappearance is at the very least for me both an inspiration, a reminder to not take my position too lightly, and a cautionary tale.

If my talk this morning sounds at all self-serving, it truly is not meant to be. It is meant to focus on the history and role of professional female ministers, the function and influence they have had, especially in the realm of worship and social justice. So we are all aware. So we do not forget about what they contributed and also the stained glass ceiling they found.

Cynthia Grant Tucker, in an essay she wrote around ten years ago and then presented at an annual CENTER or continuing education, nurture and training conference for UU ministers in l998, said that UU can boast-- as we often do about ourselves, often for good reason-- that for almost 100 years before we became one religious body, our churches of origin led the way in accepting women as clergy with full denominational endorsement.

The first was Olympia Brown, who was extended ministerial fellowship by the Saint Lawrence association of Universalists in l863, then Augusta Chapin, then Phebe Ann Hanford. The Unitarians followed suit in l871.

That we were the among the first, if not the first to ordain, to recognize women as professional religious leaders, would seem logical, a natural extension of our heretical position in the then Christian pantheon. After all we had broken with orthodoxy in so many arenas already, rejecting the Calvinist doctrine that as Cynthia Tucker writes emphasizes human depravity and restricted salvation only to the pre-destined, questioning the literalness of every line of scripture-- that the Bible was indeed fallible-- and arguing against the notion that Jesus was’ death on the cross was the final act of atonement for every sin in perpetuity.

This willingness to take on sacred theological cows also created within Unitarianism and Universalism an aversion to dogmatic rule and ecclesiastical hierarchies, which led to building their societies-- their congregations and denominational bodies-- on simple covenants that made all members equal,-- a priesthood and prophethood of all believers-- and their congregations self-governing.

Therefore it was natural that we were the first among Protestant groups to ordain women, but also disturbing that we did so with, as Tucker says, with so little enthusiasm and with so little support. No matter how bold we were in taking on the huge theological issues of sin and salvation, the supernatural status of Jesus and the premise of blood atonement, we were -- or at least our UU fathers were-- squeamish about tampering with the sexes’ traditional roles and especially the prospect of females entering the churches’ inner sanctum. Like the Temple in Jerusalem ,where women were allowed only on the outer edges and the men given access to the place of the most holy.

Cynthia GrantTucker tells us that seminaries were slow to allow women to enroll and women who did enter the program soon learned that this was no guarantee that churches would call them or they would have access to the tangible and intangible institutional networks that would foster them and help them succeed.

And lest we think it was only the men in our mostly forward looking tradition that were resistant to adding women to the ministerial ranks, it was the women also who were mostly reluctant to leave their lay supporting roles, as active and admirable as they were.

Judith Sargent Murray, whose husband had founded America’s first Universalist church in l779, was often provoked to remind what she called the “haughty sex” that their own theological argument that God had created all people as equals, meant that they were therefore entitled to use their abilities as God meant them to, not as men dictated.

Universalist Mary Livermore, a minister’s wife and a Sanitary Commission relief worker during the Civil War-- precursor to the Red Cross-- concluded from her experiences on the front that too much of the nation’s business was badly done or not done at all, because women’s talents as leaders were not being utilized.

Unitarian Julia Ward Howe, known to most of you I am sure, for being the composer of the Battle Hymn of the Republic and creator, or co-creator of Mother’s Day, which was meant originally to be a day to call for peace and justice, was known to lecture the men and the women in her own denomination about the hypocrisy of claiming to be a free and democratic church when they would not open the pulpits to all who were qualified to preach.

And it was not just access to the pulpit that these and other of our UU sisters were demanding. For 20 years before the first women were recognized as full professional ministers, liberal churchwomen had been appearing on platforms as part-time licensed preachers. While still frowned upon, these “daring displays” were becoming frequent enough to embolden others to make themselves more visible.

We are told that some women began to realize that they already were de facto running their own churches and doing what I like to call full service parish ministry, not only managing social events, raising funds for new buildings, and making the rounds of parish calls, but tending the Sunday schools, writing prayers and hymns, and even providing the music for their own worship services.

Mary H. Graves, one of our pioneer women ministers, explained of her own decision to seek ordination, that once a self-respecting, devoted churchwoman realized that she had already been doing a minister’s job, and doing it well without the help of a minister’s wife, it was, as she said, only a matter of time before she would want her work to be recognized by having it called by its proper name and being rewarded monetarily.

Her chance came-- and the chance for dozens of others-- when denominational leaders began to plan for westward and rural expansion, outside the comfort zone and cozy circles of what had been mostly a New England or at least an East Coast tradition.

Few of the men wanted to give up their established congregations, uproot their families and live on frontier wages to carry the good news about our truly saving faith and to literally build new churches.

And so they did, the group of women whom have been called the Prophetic Sisterhood, moving into uncharted liberal religious waters-- or more accurately huge expanses of prairie-- to Illinois and Nebraska and Iowa. And Michigan where for example Rev. Ida B. Hultin , often drove her horse and cart 40 or more miles a day over rough terrain to “tend to a passel of churches there.”

These women, besides getting the toughest, roughest and least coveted assignments, faced various critiques, including accusations from their fellow religious liberals that these pioneer women who took it upon themselves to preach and lead worship and plant churches were working and living ” outside their spheres”, not having the physical and emotional constitution to weather the rigors of church life and politics.

“Can the greater delicacies and sensitiveness of women bear the buffets and frowns, the criticisms often harsh and unfeeling” they asked doubtfully. “ Can a female minister preserve her good nature, her self-possession, her cheerfulness, despite the crosses incident to all public positions, and which are most bitter in a pastoral career? Nature will settle the question.”

Others, men and women, defended against this portrait , calling for the institution within Unitarianism and Universalism of simply a more human ministry, male and female. Less harsh and more balanced.

In reality, the early women in our movement found it difficult in most cases to combine marriage and ministry, and in large part the churches they served were a result of either being married into it-- organize one herself- or accept one that was on such shaky financial grounds that no male would take it.

Once in these congregations, however, membership figures, treasurers’ reports, and personal tributes in archives record abundant support at the grassroots for the women who did persevere.

They not only persevered ,they flourished in many respects, using sermons and liturgy to speak of the values that strengthened family, home and community, making worship and ritual language more gender inclusive. Committed to a ministry that went beyond the traditional focus on Sunday morning pulpit appearances, devoting themselves to Sunday schools, adult study groups, and filling their buildings with activity, making the word “church home” much more meaningful. Creating warm, loving faith communities for people whose more progressive religious beliefs and ethics made them feel isolated in the wilderness.

Partnering with lay women-- and men-- to further the causes of social reform. Prison and “work house” reform, the care of orphans and widows, public education, suffrage, and alcohol abuse. Through their sermons, in their towns , opening their sanctuaries and parish halls for public lectures and service programs.

As our church historian Cynthia Grant Tucker has written, ironically just when it started to seem as if women’s ministry had the momentum to enter the 20th century and flourish, the movement suddenly came to a halt for several reasons. Evangelical competition from many other churches in the communities where our Universalist and Unitarian women worked, the migration of more liberal people from these small towns to more accepting and enriching larger cities, and the development of the social gospel movement within mainstream Protestantism. Giving the option to churchgoers to hear moral and ethical preaching at more “respectable” congregations.

Perhaps the most devastating development was the cultural trend to counter what some saw as an alarming effeminate trend in American society with a full scale crusade to restore what was billed as toughness and virility in church life. This trend did not bypass our own Unitarian and Universalist professional movement, with discussions of how to promote more business-like “masculine” conduct and a tradition of annual exclusively male ministry retreats , an aggressively promoted Unitarian Laymen’s league and the Men and Religion Forward movement urging more muscular sermons. As one of the women ministers at the turn of the 20th century observed, the church evicted its best female talent out of what at least some saw even then as a warped vision of vigorous religion.

These driven out Unitarian and Universalist women, at least some of them, became social workers and reformers, working on getting the vote, starting peace organizations , health centers, schools for black children, and camps for diabetic girls. Certainly they contributed to the liberal religious movement, as did their lay sisters, but their public prophetic voices had largely been silenced, and their style of ministry mostly repealed.

This is the Unitarianism I was brought to as a very small child, one that on one hand was bold and outspoken and rigorously intellectual upstairs where the adults listened to sermons and lectures, and one that downstairs in its Sunday school was creative and nurturing and filled with stories and myths from all kinds of cultures. This upstairs/downstairs was also unfortunately a male/female split. I never saw a female in the pulpit on those mornings when I chose to sit next to my father and be with the grown-ups. I never saw one preach as I became a teenager, who was given some chances to lead youth worship in the smaller chapel or social hall.

I was not even aware that women ministers had ever been a part of the Unitarian liberal faith tradition, let alone that this might be my own path sometime more than 40 years hence.

With the l960’s and the second wave of the feminist movement, there was a renewal finally of women in the UU ministry, with resolutions at our General Assembly calling for recruitment of all able candidates irrespective of sex, a development of an equal pay policy. Passage of resolutions was one thing, but substantive change, as our historians tell us, was quite another. When the UU Women’s Federation published a survey of the status of women in the ministry in 1974, of the 750 clergy in what we call ministerial fellowship, only 40 were women and only 5 of them had pulpits at all.

In the past thirty plus years, the status of professional women within UU has improved enormously, especially in numbers, though like our sisters in other moderate and liberal religious movements, we tend not to be called to the larger congregations or to the highest ranks of our administrative authority. While recently other mainline to liberal denominations have elected women as heads, the Unitarian Universalist Association has yet to have a female in the role of president.

I am aware I was asked to speak today about women in Unitarian Universalism and particularly about women’s issues, and have spoken almost exclusively about women in ministry and what was called in yesterday’s New York Times, on the front page, the continuing stained glass ceiling. Women are entering the professional ministry in large numbers, the article reported, yet after ten years tend to be still in associate roles or in the smallest congregations while their male cohorts find more opportunities and at higher pay.

For me, the matter of women in ministry and women’s rights are not unrelated.

We can be rightfully proud of the stands our religious association has taken, its long history of involvement in women’s issues from Susan B. Anthony and her leadership in the suffrage movement of the 1850’s to work on the unfortunately failed equal rights amendment, to our early and adamant support of reproductive choice, including our current active involvement in the effort to get non-prescription emergency contraception out to women in a climate where many have been denied it, even in hospitals, even when their request comes after a sexual assault.

Our women’s federation has undertaken a major initiative to fund cutting edge bold work in supporting the human rights of women and girls, including grants for running public service announcements on Florida radio stations in Spanish, Haitian-Creole and other languages to warn about human trafficking of young women in the sex trade industry and support of the new Spiritual Youth for Reproductive Freedom organization, with chapters in colleges and universities across the country.

What I am inviting us all to consider is that the fabric of this religious movement and the positions we take should be interconnected. That if we are asking for barriers to be removed in the world at large, that women’s voices be heard, that their lives be honored, that we need to do so in our institutions. Promoting wholeness, nurturance and relationship.

Says Marjorie Leaming:

Feminism is not an issue. It is a whole thing. By that I mean that it is not an issue in the way that the ERA or abortion or energy or the environment is an issue. It is an overall category which includes the positive creative side. The feminist vision is not a fairy tale but a reality based possibility affecting every aspect of thinking, being,& doing.

It is yet again time to leap from our spheres.

May it be so .

This sermon contains references and background materials from two invaluable sources: Leap from Our Spheres: The Impact of Women on Unitarian and Universalist Ministry (UUMA CENTER Committee) and Transforming Thought: Feminist Thought in the Context of Unitarian Universalist Women, vol. 11 (UU Women’s Federation, l989)

Monday, August 07, 2006

Who Will Say Kaddish?

First Existential Congregation, Atlanta
6 August 2006

© Rev. Marti Keller
This past week was a bad one for at least one anti-Semite and not a good one to be Jewish either. Actor Mel Gibson got pulled over for drunk driving and spoke his deeply held and thinly disguised truth about what he really feels about who causes all the trouble in the world– and those of us who identify in any way as being a Jew once again found ourselves thrust into the ongoing muck of the state of things in Israel.

My husband and I were out of the states for most of this, learning a bit about the Gibson incident from fragments in the international Herald Tribunes that we read in hotels in the Czech Republic and in Poland, and about the Israel-Lebanon violence on satellite BBC.

It was not until we arrived back home and began to read our way through our stack of American papers that we saw how much ink had been spent on the arrest of an Australian movie star who took the opportunity to inform the arresting officer in Malibu California that the F’ing Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world, his subsequent defense that his insane alcoholism was talking instead of him, but that he did apologize to anyone he MIGHT have offended, and the ongoing public discussion now about how he might atone and heal himself, including an offer to fly him free for a day at the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC.

At one point Mel Gibson asked for help in healing from the Jewish community– already another indicator of his ignorance if he believes we are one unified body after thousands of years of intertribal verbal warfare. While most of the responses have been somber and measured, one columnist at least, Lenore Skenazy,, a self-identified Jew from the auspicious New York Daily News, offered up a Mel-anon recovery plan for anyone who as she wrote ever even secretly suspected it’s all Barbra Streisand’s fault.

She proposed that Gibson check himself into the Bubbe Ford clinic, a residential anti-Semitic detox program with three meals a day– just not before swimming– with Medicare accepted, as is the fact that the Holocaust really happened. Days spent feeling guilty, and evenings reserved for group discussion. Tonight’s discussion topic: “ They gave us the kosher pickle, so they can’t be all bad, right?”

I admit I laughed and then felt badly for having laughed, which is apparently quite normal for those of us who identify as being Jewish. Humor , according to Czech writer Vladimer Karbuskicky, is the defense of those who are defenseless but intellectually stronger. In his collection of what he calls anecdotes from the almost unrelentingly troubled history of Czech Jews, he points to the argumentative and admittedly humorous relationship between Yahweh, God of the Jews, and his much beleaguered people. A God whom Job rebukes for injustice, with whom he debates, with whom he schmoozes.

Two classic examples from Prague Jewish lore:
Mr. Moser is praying so fervently that the archangel Gabriel suddenly appears to him. Mr. Moser shows no surprise and uses the opportunity to inquire: “ My dear Gabriel, what is a hundred thousand years to Yahweh?”
“A hundred thousand years? To Yahweh that’s one minute.”
“And what is one hundred thousand crowns to Yahweh?
“To Yahweh a hundred thousand crowns is one heller ( a hundredth of a crown)”.
“Most Revered Sir Archangel, please put in a good word for me that He may give me one heller.”
The archangel Gabriel vanishes and reappears after some time. “ He says you should wait a minute.”

And this one - Mr. Moscheles is on his journey to the next world. He comes to the gates of heaven and knocks.
“ Stop! Back! No Way. We know everything about you. You sinned by playing cards and cheated to boot.”
Mr. Moscheles began to argue using all the art of a representative of Roubitcheck & Co to get them to let him in. Yahweh takes a personal interest in what’s going on at the gate and confirms- “ no, out of the question. I don’t want any cheaters here.”
“If that’s the way it is, let chance decide,” Mr. Moscheles proposes. “ Let’s play a little hand. If I win, I stay in heaven. If I lose, I go to hell.”
Yahweh smiles and agrees. The archangel Gabriel shuffles the cards and God begins dealing them. But Mr. Moscheles interrupts him: But one thing I ask: No miracles.”

This tradition of self parody and an earthy relationship with a bargaining and not so lofty God emerged, as in other Jewish communities in the diaspora– the exodus from Israel– despite what has been described as the constant cycle, metaphorically, of forty good (meaning relatively stable and non violent years) and forty miserable years, centuries in and centuries out.

In Prague, the Jews lived freely in their earliest years there, somewhere around the 9th century, until the Crusades and their edicts of religious intolerance, when they were forced into a gated ghetto which offered them loose protection from the King from everyday murder and mayhem, but confined thousands of them into an area of a few hundred homes. Restricted in what kind of work they could do and where, forced to wear pointed yellow hats or conspicuous white ruffled collars in order to identify them as Jews if they left their settlement. Trapped inside, they were unprotected when the local crowds got stirred up, usually at Easter time when Passion Plays retold the story of Jews killing Jesus and drinking the blood of Christian babies, During Holy Week in 1389, for example, a Prague mob attacked the ghetto in what is called a pogrom, massacring more than 3,000 of its inhabitants— men, women and hundreds of children.

As humiliating and dangerous as that was, being locked into a small area, only let out to serve one royal master or another and then sent back home, the worse was yet to come of course after the Nazi occupation of Prague in l939. While the Jews there had experienced a recurrent history of discrimination, nothing prepared them for the scale of this persecution. They were excluded from most professional associations and organizations, their children were not allowed to attend schools, banned from traveling, going to cafes and restaurants, staying out after 8 p.m. in the evening, listening to the radio, reading newspapers, unable to get most of their food rations, and from September 1941 were forced to wear the yellow star of David.

In total, more than 45,000 Jews were taken from Prague to Terizinstadt and other concentration mass murder camps, where the vast majority of them perished. Those who returned, in the wake of the Communist take-over in l948, found themselves once again excluded from political, economic and cultural life, many of them sent to prison.

There are now perhaps 1500 Jews left in Prague, few of them in the former ghetto or Old Jewish Town, where mostly non-Jewish tourists stream in with their non-Jewish guides to visit the abandoned synagogues, the former shops now converted to souvenir stands , and to file through the Jewish cemetery, which was partially razed to build a new Hotel Intercontinental.

In fact, that’s what the Prague Jewish quarter felt like to me, a graveyard, a place to see where a people used to live, to examine their artifacts under glass: their wedding crowns and Hanukkah menorahs, and the dishes used for the ritual foods at Passover. To hear about their history and culture, always in the past tense, and sometimes with false and disturbing commentary, like being told that the reason that there are so few Jewish people living there now is not because of the extermination and the post war imprisonments and disappearances, but because there was no longer any money to be made.

The Nazis apparently had a plan to install the confiscated Jewish religious and personal items they had stored in the so called Spanish Synagogue in a museum of an extinct race they would open after they won the war, artifacts of a completely dead people. They did not manage to completely destroy what they were set on calling the Jewish race, but they reduced it down to what is commonly called a Jewish trace in Europe, barely discernable and described nearly always in the past tense.

In so many ways, both in Prague and in Krakow, Poland where we also went to directly experience some of our Jewish cultural roots, it was my everyday revelation that it indeed has come to pass, that Central Europe, in any case, has become the largest Jewish graveyard in the world, a stop on tourist sightseeing itineraries, where pictures are taken and documentary books and DVDS are sold, along with cokes, bottled water, and candy bars.

I had been somewhat prepared to see firsthand the increase in anti-Semitism there, partly the result of tensions around the state of Israel, which always extends to a wholesale indictment of Judaism and Jewish people in general. What I was not really not primed for it turned out, was fully acknowledging the stark fact that there aren’t but a symbolic handful of Jews left to be the victims of these attacks, a few hundred here or there, mostly old, or longtime Catholic converts, or no longer identified at all.

We thought we had been prepared to witness this, to take in its anthropology. Indeed our reason for choosing this summer vacation, if vacation is the appropriate word for it, was an article we saw in the New York Times earlier this year about an 84 year old Holocaust survivor who is teaching traditional Jewish Klezmer music to non-Jewish students in Krakow, once home to 65,000 Jews, now with fewer than two hundred.Since the ending of the Communist era in l989, and especially since the release of the blockbuster movie Schindler’s List, which was filmed by Stephen Spielberg in the Kazmirez district there, you can once again eat potato pancakes or eat gefilte fish or listen to this lilting kind of Jazz in the evening. But chances are that the café will not be owned or run by Jews and that none of the Klezmer musicians will be Jewish. The beautiful, lilting Klezmer tunes were heard being played under an arch near the Market Square may or may not have been played by the grandson of a Jew, who may or may not have told us this in order to either assure the sale of his CD or to make us feel better.

There is a renaissance of Jewish life here, Kolwaski told the reporter, but it’s a renaissance without Jews.

To read this is one thing, to comprehend this is another.

My mother’s father came from Krakow or somewhere near there apparently. She told me this when we talked about our trip. She was excited we were going to Poland especially, because if you ask her how she identifies ethnically, beyond her insistence that she is simply an American, she will tell you she is a Pole. But when she talks about her people from Polish town, she is referring to the Roman Catholic Polish cotton mill workers who lived in the small New England town she grew up in, not the Polish Jews like her family who ran the stores and other businesses, including the local Ford dealership, because that had been for centuries what was left for them to do.
If I had told her we went a third of the way around the world to search for Jewish remnants, she would have scolded me, told me that in this day and time, especially with what has come to pass in Israel, that being Jewish was an option we didn’t have to choose.

In fact we ought not to identify ourselves this way.

I used to argue with her, tell her that at the very least we owed it to those who had died for being Jewish: good, bad, or indifferent people; religious or atheists; people who identified and people who didn’t; tribalists or univeralists. It hadn’t mattered to the Cazar and his armies when he took away all the young Jewish men and conscribed them in the most dangerous and vulnerable ranks until they were dead or middle-aged, or when the schtetls and ghettoes were attacked, the women were raped, the shabby houses burned. It hadn’t mattered to Hitler whether your family had practiced Catholicism for a hundred years or whether you knew you were a Jew or not.

We should live openly as Jews, I used to tell her, because of this history, because of the deaths and destruction.I have given up arguing with her, or trying to understand the roots and depth of her own anti-Semitism, her own internalized oppression. I know she is not alone in this, with her cosmetic surgeries and her name change, and her anger at the menorahs we set up in our window ( along with the Christmas tree) and the Seder meals we have held (along with Easter egg hunts).The challenge now, the quest now is my own, for how and why I am willing, in fact increasingly eager to wear my Jewishness alongside my other identities as a woman, wife, a mother, a world citizen, a humanist, an existentialist.

This just past trip to Central Europe with its obligatory pilgrimage to Auschwitz/Birkenhau, on a bus with dozens of other tourists, non of them Jewish, was terribly disturbing, not just because of the horrors of what happened there more than 50 years ago– and really over hundreds of years in so many ways– but because it left me less sorrowful than I expected and far more angry.

The same kind of anger I saw when I visited an American Indian ( native american) reservation somewhere in the Southwest when I was a young girl of maybe eight or nine. It was definitely a sightseeing stop for us, along with the rim of the Grand Canyon and the pueblo ruins of Mesa Verde. We went there to see some sort of ceremonial dance, appreciating the elaborate masks and costumes, along with the other white people who were allowed, for a price, to see this religious ritual. I remember wandering off and finding an arrowhead in the dirt, a discovery I was quite excited and vocal about, and being told that it was rare for even the tribal children to make such a valuable find.
I did give it to some adult member of the tribe, at the insistence of my parents, and recall the look on the faces of the native children who had seen the incident: a palpable air of resentment and hostility. I didn’t understand it then, but something in my experiences last week made me fully comprehend their sense of invasion and a kind of shame, that who they were and how they lived had become like models in a museum. That they were in so many ways living their own deaths.

That’s a big piece of what I experienced in the Jewish ghettos of Prague and Krakow, and in the middle of the death camps: a sense of invisibility, as if I was, or at least a part of me, had been declared extinct. That I too was a nameless remnant in a trace community, preserved now for curiosity seekers. And how much rage that brought up in me, with no where to go with it. Every spring, the guide told me, many groups of Israeli teenagers are flown in and taken here. What that does to them, how that is feeding the situation there, I can barely imagine.

This same scenario is happening in places in the American South, like Selma Alabama, where the downturned, economically depressed , white flight town has become reliant on the buses of folks who come to relive the Civil Rights Era, to cross the James Pettus Bridge and replay Bloody Sunday, to touch and photograph the monuments for the fallen martyrs: Jimmy Lee Jackson, James Reeb, and Viola Liuzzo. It has become in its own way, a graveyard. I saw the same grief and shame and anger in the eyes of the teenagers who I accompanied on a bus tour there just this past month, and now wonder what good we are doing them by putting them through this same exercise. With no way to heal, to reconcile, just the urge for retribution.

A contemporary Polish Jew has written a book called Who will say Kaddish? Who will say the Hebrew prayer for the dead when there are none left to make the journey to the cemeteries and the mass murder camps, and indeed all the towns and the cities where Jews used to live their very human lives and are no longer? Is this the destiny of those who remain, to live for those who are no longer with us, who were taken before their time?

A poem by Czech writer Karl Victor Hansgrig published I l849 describes his vision of the Old Jewish Cemetary in Prague:
It’s midnight.
The gravestones are trembling and the trees are nodding
Gray shadows, white hair and serious faces wander here restlessly
The mourning weeping of children of their brothers presses to them
The eternal song of Jeremiah painfully wails the singing of old Psalms.“Cemetary” in Hebrew is Beth Chaim, literally “ House of Life.”

It is my hope that someday soon, not a hundred years hence, that all who have known oppression, whether individually or as a people, will be able once more to live,not for those who have died for us, but for ourselves and those who have lived for us.

And finally be freed.