Actualizing: A Reflection for the 7th Week of the Omer
Over this past weekend I had the pleasure of watching the students from the “Debate in the Neighborhood” program, who have been working on public speaking and argumentation since March, take the stage for their final tournament. They performed at an incredibly high level, and I was struck by how work done quietly over many months can suddenly come to life, becoming visible and vivid.
For the Sikh high school students, the final tournament served as an opportunity to actualize all of the growing that they have done over the course of the program. Since March they truly transformed from teens who mumbled and laughed uncontrollably when they tried to speak publicly and didn’t see themselves as having anything in common with the Muslim and Hindu groups from their neighborhood into assertive, eloquent debaters who were passionate about the topic and formed close bonds with their teammates from other groups. This development happened gradually, because of many hours of work and a willingness to push themselves far past their comfort zones. I was blown away to see them emerge on the other side of the journey on Sunday, working closely with their Muslim and Hindu counterparts to get their points across powerfully and dynamically.
The topic of the day was whether or not racial profiling is an acceptable method for preventing terrorism. The students from all three religious backgrounds engaged carefully and thoughtfully with the issue, and entered the final tournament with complex arguments to make on both sides. For these students, the topic of how race and religion intersect with national security is very personal, since they are among those who suffer consequences of post-9/11 racial profiling. One of our students, Simran, made it all the way to the final round of the debate. In an especially poignant speech in which he explained how racial profiling by the government promotes stereotyping in the general population, he declared “When the government uses racial profiling to look for terrorists, they look for someone in a turban and a beard. I wear a turban and a beard. I am not a terrorist.” He won. And from what I can tell, he will remember that powerful moment of stepping into the role of advocate and community leader for years to come. The students have seen that when they use their voices, people will listen. They seem to have come away from the program knowing that there is room for their input in our country’s discourse, and that it is their task to get involved.
During this week of Malchut, or actualization, I am delighted to learn from the example of our students. As the fellowship year draws to a close, Hannah and I are focused on translating the major themes of our efforts this year into action. We have focused on building close, deep interfaith partnerships through action and engagement, as well as on making multi-faith work more inclusive and mindful of diverse traditions beyond the Abrahamic faiths. At this stage of our journey, the work of Malchut means shifting responsibility and ownership away from us and towards the communities that we have worked with to continue building their partnerships with one another. This is happening in our interfaith women’s book group as well as with the high schoolers. Following our final event of the Spring of Solidarity on June 6th, the member congregations of the campaign will begin to look to future modes of collaboration as well. Just as I work to actualize everything I learned from this year’s counting of the Omer during its last week, I hope that the final weeks of this inspiring fellowship year can show me how to translate a year of work into tangible, meaningful results.
Go here to read reflections and teachings on the Omer: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/05/omer-2012-count-the-49-days-prayers-reflections_n_1407090.html