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“How I Spent My Summer Vacation”

07/23/2019 10:29:48 AM


Rabbi Scott Hausman-Weiss

Last week, I had the distinct privilege to volunteer for an organization very close to my heart, The Woods Project. The Woods Project is dedicated to creating fertile ground for the growth, development and expanding opportunities for Houston high school students from low-income families. They do this primarily through wilderness experiences, both locally and nationally. And while, yes it’s true that my wife, Natalie is their Executive Director (and so I may be a bit biased), I share this with you because “the news” is just so regularly and continually upsetting. With this, I offer you a bit of what is really going right in the world. 

All of these children come from backgrounds with significantly limited means. Many of them are from families with parents not born in the US, several of whom described their “Plan B” in case, upon returning from their 2-week Woods Project adventure, their parents aren’t home, because ICE has removed them. To stand there in the most gorgeous woods and beaches I have personally ever seen, and hear them describe the issues they face, and to know that each of them is a hard-working, dedicated student looking for opportunities to advance themselves in their own life and future, is a dissonant experience. Our guides encourage them and us to rub our cheeks against the bark of a Red Fir, to taste the leaves of a certain bush, to hold hands to see how many people it takes to surround the base of a Giant Redwood. And they do it, with relish. To see them experience this world, so far and away different than anything they have ever known... Heck! To fly, for many of them is a brand-new experience (but not so different from that of my great grandmother’s, whose only languages were Hungarian and Yiddish, and whose grandson and great grandson grew up to become Rabbis, fully versed in American culture and language). With the streams of sunlight breaking through the trees’ canopy, we sat in the dirt, played games, connected, and listened to these young people describe their aspirations for the year to come: “I am striving to get straight A’s in 11th grade;” “I am hoping my Dad gets the promotion he is working for;” “I hope my mom’s sister gets out of detention at the border.” 

We Jews know too well how easy it is to demonize a people, when one stands back and assesses, en masse. It’s such a shorter line to presume the worst of others, especially when it distracts us from our own shortcomings. We Jews know this too well, but we also know that most of the time, our presumptions for rationales for hate, xenophobia, marginalization, denial and purposeful ignorance of others’ pain, melt away 5 minutes after we speak to a single person from these “deservedly loathsome" groups, as they become, in our eyes, the multi-dimensional person they are. 

These people, so othered by society’s eyes, are no different than you, than me. They were born somewhere else; they were born farther behind the line of privilege that is obvious but difficult to admit to; they are not they, they are we. This is the story of America – 75 years ago, the othered were Irish, Italian, Russian, Jewish, and many other immigrant groups. One can debate the law, the border, and the many legitimate issues that arise when establishing the “rules of society.” But one cannot, we cannot, abide the othering of people, the overwhelming vast majority of whom are just seeking to build a better life. Just as our ancestors did. Just as we all seek to do today. 

Yesterday, our Woods Project group left the comfortable surroundings of our campsite and headed into the wilderness for 5 nights. Led by amazing volunteers, they will carry their own weight, make their own food, clean up their own waste, climb, trek, assess, mend, bond, and shape this week, and for many, the rest of their lives will never be the same. They will have changed their trajectory, fundamentally shifting what their life will look like and how they will perceive it, so much of it, so much more often, for the better.

I know that I, for one, need the reminders of what’s possible, in order to not take for granted my own position in the world, made so much more possible and likely, because my great grandmother’s parents put her on a boat at the age of 8 with no guarantees of success but a dream that her life and, my life, could be better. 

The Woods Project, 2019, Second Beach, Pacific Ocean, Washington


Events for the Week of 7/22/2019

  • Friday Evening Shabbat & Oneg - Friday, July 12 - More Info
  • Kosher Pretzel Yoga - Saturday July 27 - More Info
  • 2nd Annual Astros Jewish Community Day - Sunday, August 25 - More Info + Get Tickets
Fri, February 28 2020 3 Adar 5780