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And this was very good

 

campWhen I was a young girl I attended summer camp in central Mississippi. The camp was a bit unusual for the time and place—Mississippi isn’t really known for its Jews. This camp, tucked away in the woods, was created to give isolated Jewish kids the chance to live in a community of Jews, at least for a few weeks each year.

And this was very good.

While there, the youth of our peculiar southern diaspora enjoyed swimming, kickball, arts and crafts, kitchen hall duty, sneaking to the boys’ side of the camp (and vice versa), campfire songs, camp Olympics, and a little Torah thrown in for good measure. It was like any other camp for kids, except it was kosher.

And this was very good.

Together we connected to our faith. We connected to our culture. We connected without the burden of needing to explain or defend the idiosyncrasies of the traditions of our typically out-of-place and often misunderstood religion.

And this was very good to be one of the many and not one of the few for a month or two.

Like all good camps, we had our share of scary tall tales and ghost stories, too. The man with the hook. The monster in the lake. The wild animals in the woods.

And of course, there were the stories of the Ghost Riders. These were the scariest tales of all because we recognized the truths that were possible (if not probable) in those tales.

Let me set the scene: the camp was built around a lake and surrounded by forest. If you didn’t know it, you would think we were in the middle of nowhere. Isolated we were. Was this very good?

Beyond the cabins and the mess hall there were woods for exploring. And at the edge of the woods there was a tall fence. Go no further. Do not enter. Do not exit.

At camp, the sun shone by day, the moon and stars by night. And, as the ghost story goes, one night years ago men on horseback came. They were dressed in white robes with a white hoods over their heads and they rode around our camp. They rode around the outside of the fence that marked our borders. Our edges. Our place.

Good is often best understood when balanced with a bit of evil, I suppose.

We were young Jews, but we had plenty of experience with bigotry and fear. We knew what kind of hate and ignorance existed on the other side of that tall fence. We knew our presence, in the beginning, was very likely unwelcome.

It wasn’t unthinkable to believe the fence was part of some grand bargain made between the camp and the towns.

And it wasn’t a hard leap to believe the Ghost Riders were members of an old brotherhood who patrolled the fence as a way to remind us to stay in our place.

I never saw a Ghost Rider myself and the stories themselves were never presented with proof. It was camp mythology, camp lore passed down from senior camper to junior camper over the years. Perhaps the stories have even faded by now. The men on horseback have certainly disappeared.

And this is very good.

Lately, however, I’ve been thinking about those Ghost Riders. I sense they never really left. They went into hiding. They went undercover. They put down their white robes and hoods and picked up the Constitution to see if there were other fences they could define and patrol. They are not content to just keep a few Jewish kids in their place. Now they are out to scare anyone who doesn’t agree with their narrow-minded ideology. They are contemplating the fences they want to build around women, LGBT people and families, refugees, immigrants, black lives, and more.

And we are here to remind them that we have heard their ghost stories before and we are not afraid. There is no fence they can build that we can’t tear down. There is no hood they can wear that we can’t see through.

And this is very good.

We love. We think. We care.

This is very good….

(This essay references an old camp song from my camp days: This is Very Good by Cantor Jeffrey Klepper. The use of his song does not indicate his agreement with the views expressed in this essay, it was just an important song to me at the time.)

 

 

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We can do better

THIS was a badge of honor!

THIS was a badge of honor!

I am the daughter and granddaughter of police officers. I was raised to believe that the police had our best interests in mind. The police were the good guys.

And mostly they are.

Police officers are the first to put themselves between the people and danger. For that they should be honored and rewarded.

But they are not above the law. They do not get to have their behaviors dismissed because they carry a badge and a gun.

That badge is not a get out of jail free card.

My father was a southern cop during the Civil Rights movement. He saw sides of people that some of us will never see. He watched people stand up for what they believed was right. He saw men and women cross lines that they knew would lead them (and him) into dangerous circumstances. He believed in equality. He believed in the law. He believed that everyone deserved fair access to the system he served.

I think he would be appalled by what this country is experiencing today as we watch one police officer after another get absolved for their sins, for breaking the laws they vowed to uphold, without so much as a slap on the wrist.

My father always told me a police officer uses force only as a last resort. You treat people like human beings first. You give them a chance, a pause, a moment to think about their choices. You hope for the best. You never draw your gun unless there is genuine danger. You never pull the trigger unless you are in a kill-or-be-killed situation.

My father told me that taking a life should bring you pain. It should hurt you to do it. You should do all you can to do something else. The badge is not a license to kill. It is a license to protect.

My father was a cop. He was in actual dangerous situations with tangible violence, vicious criminals, and people with a history of terrorist aggression and access to dangerous weapons.

Real crime. Real danger.

A man selling illegal cigarettes on a New York City sidewalk or a misguided juvenile delinquent with time to change his ways or a boy playing with a toy gun in a park deserve a better end than the ones they received at the hands of police officers with too much power and not enough compassion.

We should expect better. We can do better.

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