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Students learn about racial injustice; upcoming mahj tournament; Arts & Faith concert

Walking in the footsteps of civil rights history

Caleb Arnow, a seventh-grader at Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School, said he enjoyed going to all of the museums he and the other middle-schoolers visited last week on a five-day social justice trip, but the Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Ala. made a lasting impression.

“It wasn’t about the civil rights movement. It was more about centuries of race and hate in America,” said Caleb, who belongs to Kol Rinah where his father, Noah Arnow, is the senior rabbi. “There were a lot of signs that said, ‘whites only,’ and seeing all those signs made it more real.”

Caleb said after that museum, the group toured the Memorial for Peace and Justice, which has been dubbed “the lynching memorial.” Set on a six-acre site, it uses sculpture, art and design to conceptualize racial terror. More than 800 steel monuments, one for each county in the United States where a racial terror lynching took place, comprise the memorial. The names of the lynching victims are engraved on the steel columns.

“One thing that really stood out to me was that it said lynching was a public event,” Caleb continued. “Families would go there to watch and bring food because it was a fun thing to do. It was entertainment. That was just crazy, horrible, to me. And I think that will stick with me for a while.”

Every year at the beginning of school, Mirowitz middle-schoolers take a five-day social justice trip that focuses on one of three areas — civil rights, the environment or hunger and poverty. They rotate the trips so that every sixth, seventh and eighth grader will get a chance to experience all three focus areas during middle school.

“The trips are designed to give students a profound look at world issues, to engage them in personal values clarification and connect them to one another across grade levels,” said Cheryl Maayan, head of school, who accompanied the middle-school students.

This year the focus was on civil rights, and the group made stops in Birmingham, Selma and Montgomery, Ala. and Memphis to visit several museums and hear first-hand stories of the civil rights movement.

“We walked the path of those who made our country more just by bringing attention to cruelty, oppressive prejudice and even racial terrorism that were once accepted parts of our country’s culture,” said Maayan. “We have heard stories from Bloody Sunday foot soldiers, from bus boycott activists and from participants in the children’s crusade. We visited synagogues in two cities to learn about local Jewish community involvement in the civil rights movement. Our students now know for certain that regular people can change the world, that anyone can be a hero.”

Eighth-grader Zach Cohen said the trip not only taught him about the ways people protested to gain equal rights but also “how we could start becoming social activists ourselves.”

To that point, sixth-grader Adeena Peters said she now realizes that she shouldn’t take all the rights and liberties she has for granted. “I kind of think like, oh yeah, when I turn 18 I’ll be able to vote. But back then if you were African Americans you didn’t think that. You couldn’t do that.”

Adeena related a story about “Bloody Sunday” — March 7, 1965 — when some 600 civil rights activists tried to march from Selma to Montgomery to demand an end of discrimination in voter registration for African Americans. At the Edmund Pettus Bridge, state troopers and local lawmen attacked the marchers, or foot soldiers as they were called, with billy clubs, bullwhips and tear gas, driving them back to Selma.

During the trip, Mirowitz students walked across the bridge.

“One lady said her mom wouldn’t let her march but she went anyway,” said Adeena. “That kind of inspired me. Even if someone says you can’t do something, you can still do it,” she said, adding she thought she would have participated in the march, too, even if her parents said no.

Calling all mahj afficionados 

Mah jongg enthusiasts may want to sign up for the third annual Tiles ‘N Smiles mahj tournament from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 15 at the Sheraton Clayton Plaza Hotel, 7730 Bonhomme Ave. This community-wide event is being sponsored by the Senior Kollel. The cost for the tournament, which includes lunch and refreshments, is $36. For more info, call 314-726-6047 or email office@stlkollel.com. To register, go to http://weblink.donorperfect.com/mahj2019.

Singing for hope

Also on Sept. 15, at 5:30 p.m., the annual Arts & Faith St. Louis Interfaith Concert will take place at the Sheldon Concert Hall. This year’s free concert, “Songs of Hope,” will feature both adult and young singers and musicians from six faith communities as well as acclaimed soprano Christine Brewer.

New this year is a storyteller component. And after the concert, audience members can participate in creating #HopeMural developed by an interfaith group of teens.

For more information, call 314-533-9900 or go to www.artsfaithstl.org.

News and Schmooze is a weekly column by Editor Ellen Futterman. Email Ellen at: efutterman@thejewishlight.com