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Tour To The Wonderful
Second Edition
 
A rabbi & his wife model the power of giving, as they travel the United States by RV on a quest to better understand and support the distinct needs of local communities —while meeting heroes of everyday life.  
Louisiana/Texas/California, Arizona, New Mexico,Colorado:   New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Lake Charles, Beaumont, Houston, Galveston, Sugar Land, McAllen, Brownsville, Harlingen, Encino, Phoenix, Albuquerque, Denver, Boulder  Let us know if you are on the route, we can try to visit!  
GLeE: Giving Local Everywhere 
What we learned this week!
Everywhere we go, we are asked what we have learned so far. Here are some takeaways:

 
1. People are taken by being recognized & cared for than by the size of a donation.
2. People are so nice. Almost no one is guarded or suspicious.
3. Giving a dollar to United Way is very effective.
4. There is extensive Jewish history in the South.
5. Giving to a wide area, and explaining why, is very effective.
6. RV-ing is doable.
7. All cities and interstate pull offs look 85% identical.
8. There are lonely people everywhere.
9. Poop can be funny - in "hindsight"
10. People love the USA in different ways

 
Can you help TTTW define what the small 'e' in GLeE?
Tell us what you think. 
(Note: All suggestions are correct, and will be listed in the next newsletter)
GLeE - What does the small 'e' stand for? (click to submit)
Southern Hospitality
 

Woke up Saturday, Jan 9th. A beautiful morning with a camper van parked outside Jan and I's temporary apartment we have been in living in since August 28th.  We moved to it from our home, seen in the distance, the result of Hurricane Laura's severe damage to our home and community.  Rabbi Jeff and his wife Mindy asked if they could visit our community and learn about what we were going through, visit our beautiful 1904 Sanctuary, Temple Sinai, and meet and visit.  I truly had no clue what to expect. I love our community, the temple and will take any opportunity to show it off.  The issue is that after the two hurricanes to hit our area less than 4 weeks apart, our community, temple and most all properties, trees and beautiful sites are in terrible condition. 

What I experienced must be a perk of being the President of Temple Sinai. They chose me to outreach to.  They brought great conversation, understanding and ideas that was refreshing and well needed in our time of rebuilding. Rabbi and Mindy feel like old friends after only about 4-5 hours of being together. They made the plans to come to Southwest Louisana yet I believe that I was the one that experienced the Wonderful.  

I will share with our Congregation what we discussed and talked about. Ideas had no limits to be created. Thank you both for making the time and having the drive, literally, to come and visit. Only wish we were not required to wear face masks and socially distance. I wanted to hug both of them goodbye!  

Look forward to many more visits and conversations,

Joel Davidson, President 
Temple Sinai of Lake Charles 
337-529-6710  

GLeE
Giving Local Everywhere 
Bird v. Worm
 
Birds have great vision.  Perched up high, they can see for miles around.  This is useful to scan the terrain and determine direction.

Worms can't see very far.  Nestled in the dirt, they can barely see beyond the closest blade of grass.

However, worms have amazing insight into the health of the roots, the fertility of the soil and many other indicators of life.

Often we value the bird's eye view over the worm's eye view.  They are both important.  Perhaps the worm's perspective is harder to see, because you need to be right there.

That is a metaphor for what we are doing by showing up to remote places where the need is great.  One of those places is Century, Florida.  Century is in the panhandle section of western Florida, right on the Alabama border.  Life is rough for the sixteen hundred residents:  jobs are scarce, homes are small and falling apart, and they just closed the schools.  There are 5 beautiful parks with baseball diamonds and football fields with bleachers, lights and dugouts.

I (Jeff) spoke at length with Larry, the head of the parks department.  He told me many things.  The kids don't come out to play sports like they used to; they are too distracted by video games.  There isn't any money to fix up the sports houses or to hire staff; they get free labor from inmates at the nearby prison.  I asked him for a story of a person who was a shining example of helping those in need, someone who could be an inspiration for people on the other side of the country.  He thought for a long while.  Even though he grew up in town and lived there all five decades of his life, he couldn't come up with a single example.  He talked with pride about two boys who became famous in professional baseball and football.  I asked if they remembered where they came from.  He told me that he tried reaching out to them several times, but received no response.

From the money people gave us, I gave $100 to Larry and told him he could use it for anything he thought was important but not on the budget.

He was really and deeply touched.  The money was unexpected, but just listening to him was the most important part of our visit.

 

Let's Go Fly a Kite

A stranger is just a friend you haven't met yet - A peek into Jewish Life in the South.

The van finally has a name. It's Seymour! Thank you to everyone who submitted suggestions!
 
When Jeff and I first envisioned  Tour To The Wonderful (TTTW) we knew staying connected to our home base, Temple Beth Hillel(TBH), in South Windsor, CT would be essential.  As a kite can only fly when its string is held securely, if it is released, it will flap all around and crash land.  If you ever flew a kite, you'd remember how hard it was to get it off the ground...but once it is up, it can be an amazing run. 
 
There are so many facets built into this experience. When we left we could not have known what we would find, so explaining it to a board of directors was a challenge. Like many of the missions I plan, the itinerary is only finalized when the trip has concluded. We are grateful that the temple's board agreed to hold the kite string. 
 
When Jeff and I set out, we had a general plan of where we would go, and who we would see. Yet we could not know exactly when we would arrive, or if the people would be able to welcome us, especially during this pandemic.  Along the way we have parked in people's driveways, at a Jewish summer camp and at rest stops along the highway.  At each of these locations we learned about the local needs of the communities.  At Jacob's Camp in Utica, Mississippi we learned how in the 70's all of the congregations in the region united to build a regional Jewish summer camp. Each synagogue committed to raise an equitable portion of the cost. They envisioned it, and because of their forethought, Judaism continues to thrive in the South.   
 
This week we have been focusing on meeting leaders of social service agencies, media affiliates and remote URJ synagogues.  Everyone has a story and are energized by our visits.  Especially during these times of Covid-19, people are lonely. As we go from state to state, we are stopping to listen to these stories.  At each site we ask if it is ok to record their voices. We have collected hours of audio.  Some of the voices can be heard in the podcast, which is being produced in conjunction with this experience. 
 
Don't be fooled, by no means is this a vacation. We've not stayed in national parks or visited tourist sites. As a matter of fact, we have not entered a single building. While I have continued my regular schedule including teaching Hebrew classes and taking flute lessons(and practicing), Jeff has been maintaining his role as Rabbi and spiritual leader back home. Leading services, teaching religious school, attending meetings, broadcasting the daily 5@5 are all important, but being present to pastor congregants is the most important.  The events of this past Wednesday in Washington, DC hit close to home. You can hear more about this on the Tour's blog (link is at the bottom of this newsletter). 
 
Behind the scenes is our co-pilot Kate, who has been leading the effort.  She has been a few steps ahead of us each day, arranging meetings with United Ways and Public Radio affiliates, connecting us to local congregations, ACLU affiliates and making sure we have a safe place to park each night. Together other Team Wonderful members maintain our social media presence and manage our gift giving and receiving.  Though we set out to donate our own money to these causes(which we are doing) we were pleasantly surprised to receive requests from virtual participants asking how to send money to support our efforts.  We call it AOK, Acts of Kindness. Look for the column below to see where the AOK have gone. 
 
We cover many miles in a day. The agenda is aggressive, hardly touching down in any one place for very long, yet we've made many meaningful connections in every place.  Having the support of our own temple community was key to us being able to accomplish  so much.  TBH metaphorically holds our kite string, allowing us to explore and learn important lessons.  We've visited and are joining remote congregations across the country. The welcome has been nothing short of warm.  At each synagogue we felt like we were coming home.  
 
This past Shabbat Jeff and I parked in the yard of a temple president, Joel Davidson (not the TBH member Joel Davidson who we visited last week), who we had only met on the phone. Arriving much after his bedtime, we met Joel first on zoom, when he joined a class that Jeff taught after morning services.  So when we finally emerged from the RV we learned about the storms which had hit the Lake Charles community, first on August 27th of 2020 and then again a few weeks later. The resilience we saw was energizing. For miles the devastation was apparent. Huge old trees had been downed. Not a roof was spared. Some buildings will never reemerge. And then we visited the synagogue. There is so much work to be done, but Joel did not focus on rebuilding the synagogue building. He was so excited that after 22 years they would be getting a full time Rabbi.  Now this is not a big community, there are no big donors. But there are committed people who love their temple.  (Check out the pictures below for some visuals.)
 
Since we launched it's hard to ignore the coincidences. Read about them in my article in an upcoming newsletter. 
 
As new-by RVers we have had a few fiascos mostly involving dumping poop and losing our refrigeration.  But these inconveniences are worth it as we set out to build bridges with people we already know, or those we've not yet met. So many stories, so little time!
 
Thanks for reading.  
 
Acts of Kindness (AOK) 
When you give, you get.
The Hebrew word ונתנו contains five letters. Whether you read Hebrew or not yet, notice that these 5 letters are a palindrome, spelled the same forward and back. This word is pronounced: u-nat-nu
Rabbi and Mindy are crossing the country donating their own funds, but people following virtually started to send tzedakah funds, so they could be part of the mission, too. 
Here is a growing list of organizations AOK has supported so far:

United Way of Western Alabama
Tikun Olam Fund - Sinai Temple in Lake Charles
United Way of Eastern Central Alabama
ACLU of Mississippi
Loaves and Fishes of the Rio Grande Valley
Boys and Girls Club of Harlingen
Harlingen Neighborhood Food Pantry
The Salvation Army of Harlingen
Family Crisis Center of Harlingen
Thank You to Everyone Who Donated to the AOK Fund!!
Tour To The Wonderful is all about building bridges. This week Rabbi Jeff and Mindy focused on meeting new people and learning how needs are met locally.  Amongst many of this week's experiences, they visited many United Way agencies across the South. In Century, Florida they volunteered, building a Born Learning Trail, a valuable community resource for early childhood learning. A stranger is someone you don't know yet. Each night they parked their van at the home of someone they knew or now know. Next week they explore life in the Southwest, life on the Mexican border. 
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