Civil Rights Through a Jewish Lens

By Ayala Wasser - Teen Coordinator | Issue Date: Spring 2015

Over the weekend preceding Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, B’nai Jeshurun traveled with 21 8th- and 9th-graders to Birmingham, Montgomery, and Atlanta, on a journey to explore the civil rights movement and struggle throughout U.S. history—and how it is relevant to our Jewish lives today.

In just three and a half days, we visited the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, The Rosa Parks Museum, The Southern Poverty Law Center, The AIDS Memorial Quilt, The Temple, and more. We met with fascinating speakers, such as Bishop Woods—a reverend who, as a civil rights worker in Birmingham in the ‘50s and ‘60s, had dogs and hoses turned on him—and Joanna Bland—a woman who was beaten and imprisoned at age 11 while marching from Selma to Montgomery. Hearing these first-hand experiences helped bring the stories of the civil rights movement to life.

Over the weekend, we celebrated Shabbat and Havdalah with our B’nai Jeshurun community, then rejoiced in and commemorated the life of Dr. King with the Ebenezer Baptist Church community during their Sunday morning worship service. The trip was an unforgettable experience, leaving our teens wondering what they—as Jews—can do to help ensure a bright future for humanity.








•“I was amazed at the way the teens took in so much information over the course of the week. I was also surprised to see how quickly a group of students can—when taken out of their daily lives and given an intensive experience together—form deep bonds with one another. In our many discussions, I could tell that they were working to process and integrate all of this new knowledge of the civil rights movement with their understanding of our deepest Jewish values. It was a real privilege to talk, pray and explore with them all!”
Alex Braver, BJ Rabbinic Fellow

•“This trip was an overall amazing journey. We dually enjoyed amazing once-in-a-lifetime experiences—like listening to first-hand experiences of the civil rights movement—as well as becoming extremely close with the BJ community. I learned so much from this trip, and will always refer and connect back to it.”
Lana Gesinsky

•“Going to the Ebenezer Baptist Church was such an amazing experience, specifically because of how unbelievably welcoming and enthusiastic the members were. They created a comfortable, energetic and upbeat environment, making us feel at home and engaged during the service.”
David Schalop

•“Seeing the Kelly Ingram park was a truly amazing experience. This park once held Montgomery civil rights protests that helped sway the way of life for African Americans. There were sculptures signifying the wild dogs and the water hoses that were unleashed against the protesters. The park was so amazing because the sculptures brought to life things I had only heard and read about.”
Joey Gertzman

•“Everything we learned was so interesting and so well presented. I really got to understand how the civil rights movement changed the South by seeing it with my own eyes. On top of everything, getting to know and hang out with my friends was a really good experience. I feel closer to BJ, to the Jewish community, and even to God after this trip. Amazing experience.”
Molly Fraser

•“My favorite part of the trip was when we went to Ebenezer Baptist Church. It was amazing being immersed in southern culture, and it felt like we were actually a part of their community. It was also fun to see what church services are like, and experience the jubilant and welcoming congregation.”
Josh Mantel

•“Getting to hear first-hand experiences from people during the civil rights movement made the stories they told feel like they happened yesterday, instead of in a textbook. It was fascinating.”
Talia Kurlansky

•“Meeting fascinating people and hearing their personal stories during the civil rights movement, spending time getting to know new people, and sharing new experiences with them made this the amazing trip it was.”
Laura Goldstein

•“I had such an incredible time on this civil rights journey. I especially loved listening to everybody’s incredible stories, specifically Bishop Woods and Joanna Bland. Overall, the trip was an amazing experience and a lot of fun!”
Sabina Sternklar Davis

•“The civil rights trip was one of the best trips I’ve been on my whole life. On top of all of the interesting civil rights learning, I had a great time ice skating on the last night. It was a bonding experience for everyone, and a way for us to be together.”
Lara Caligor

•“Even though we did not use our regular bus due to the rules of Shabbat, it did not prevent us from having an amazing day. We walked through the park together and had a peaceful and beautiful Shabbat service along the Alabama River. We sang and prayed together in the sunlight, and chanted the Torah together. We also had the opportunity to walk by the water and in the grass during our personal prayers, feeling a closer connection to nature, God and each other.”
Mariel Priven