Remembering Selma from those who were there

Pettus bw

Remembering Selma
Honoring Sister Antona Ebo and Rabbi Bernard Lipnick z”l

Selma, 1965

Note: these events have become legend. I have chosen to write them in epic form, because they seem to me epic events, mythic. They happened, for many of us, in our life times.

It seems to me these events have earned this form. James Stone Goodman

Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965
Selma, Alabama

A peak in the civil rights movement
The March in Selma
the right to vote
taken to the television set

For everyone to see
Six hundred civil rights marchers
Heading to state capitol in Montgomery
They came only six blocks to the Edmund Pettus Bridge

There 500 state and local lawmen
Billy clubs tear gas
Driven back into Selma

Trampled by horses
Marchers seen bloodied and beaten
Around the world
The call went out to join the struggle

A second march Tuesday March 9th
King led White and Black supporters
To the Edmund Pettus Bridge
Prayed and suddenly — turned around

Civil rights leaders sought court protection
For a third full-scale march
From Selma to Montgomery
King called out for clergy support

President Johnson called
the Alabama National Guard
into federal service
regular Army attachments too

Wednesday, March 10, 1965
Departing for Selma, Alabama

A group of 54 ministers, rabbis, priests, nuns in habits, laypersons
Left for fabled Selma Alabama
On two chartered planes
From St. Louis

The Archbishop of St. Louis
Joseph Elmer Ritter
Heard the cry from King
After the events of Bloody Sunday

From St. Louis the largest group
Responds immediately
After Martin Luther King’s call
For clergy support

We support Negroes’ voter registration drive
We walk in sympathy
We plan to march from Selma to the capital
At Montgomery

Three rabbis
Rabbi Bernard Lipnick
Rabbi Lawrence Siegel
Rabbi Abraham Perlberg

Six nuns in habits
Two Sisters of St. Joseph
Two Sisters of Loretto
Two Sisters of St. Mary’s Infirmary [now Franciscan Sisters of Mary]

Including Sister Mary Antona Ebo
Raised Betty Ebo
In Bloomington

A picture appeared in the newspapers
Wednesday, March 10, 1965
The rabbis and nuns boarding a plane
Ozark Airlines charter

Rabbis holding brown sacs
With their kosher

Rabbi Lipnick: No one told the nuns
That kosher food had been prepared for us
The Sisters in Selma also made me a meal
I was the best fed rabbi in Alabama that day

I saw the face of violence close up

Halted by troopers with Confederate flags
On their helmets
There was danger

Rabbi Lipnick: We went to Selma because
Blacks were pushing for voter registration
They put every obstacle
To Black voter registration

They flew onto a dirt landing field
Civil Rights workers picked them up in cars
Driven by renegade priests forbidden
By Archbishop Toolen of Mobile – Birmingham to participate

Taken first to a small Catholic Church
Sister Ebo: Then we walked to Brown AME Chapel
We cut through the yards of the projects

A little Black girl came running up to me
Gave me a hug
There was no greater affirmation for me that day
Than a hug from that child

At Brown Chapel
We were ushered into the Sanctuary
They sat me in the pastor’s chair
The other Sisters on both sides of me

The rest of the clergy
And several laymen
Behind us
In what would have been the choir loft

The Service itself
Was a grounding in non-violence
I knew the songs
And their significance

Throughout it all
Was an affirmation
A trusting in God
Then the question came up

Do we honor non-violence?
That was the question
Martin was not present that day
I never met him

Or do they resist?
There were two schools of thought
An older and a younger element
They decided to honor what they were told

Obey the law
Don’t push through the barricades
What if they beat them?
If attacked they agreed to shield the nuns

Rabbi Lipnick: Sister Ebo was my nun
But it never came to that

In Brown’s Chapel people everywhere
In the aisles on the windowsills

Sister Ebo: There were young people
Sitting in the front, bandaged, beaten from Sunday
Would we push through?
Or would we stand down?

People began to murmur

They brought the nuns
They brought the nuns

The Sisters given the place of honor

Singing the Baptist hymns
A minister asked her name
The chapel filled
With spontaneous applause

Reverend Anderson
Started the service
This is the first time in my life
I have ever seen a Negro nun

He told the crowd Sister Ebo had come to Selma
With a message for Sheriff Jim Clark
Mayor Smitherman Bull Connor
And Governor George Wallace:

You don’t have to be white
To be good and holy
We want to introduce
Sister Mary Antona

Sister Ebo had not prepared anything to say
Sister Ebo: Oh mister please be quiet
In St. Louis they told me not to say anything
This is the South

She began speaking the microphone went out
You can’t hear her turn it up!
A young Black minister of the Southern Christian
Leadership Conference Andy Young stood up and said

If you want to hear
What she has to say
Be quiet.


The room still.

My name is Sister Mary Antona I am a Negro
A Catholic nun and I am here to witness
Your rights to register to vote
Just yesterday in the city of St. Louis

I voted without having to go through what you
Are going through and on Monday morning
Just a couple of days ago I made a statement
That If I had not this habit on

I would be in your midst
Here I am
I believe this is God’s way
Of calling my bluff

Andy Young made the suggestion
Let the St. Louis nuns
Lead the way
In the street demonstration

Young: I had never been sure
Of the commitment
Of the Catholic Church
In the field of human rights

This was the first time
The nuns
Coming forward this publicly
On the matter of civil rights

From the Church
they walked downtown

Sister Ebo: I heard, put the Sisters in front
I understand the effect they were after

But it was not exactly where I wanted to be
Once we got out to the street
Mr. Collins government agent suggested
Put a man on each side of every Sister

He also suggested I take off my glasses
My first thought
We’re not down here
To play pick up sticks

The old habit had some deep pockets
I put my glasses in a notebook
In one of the pockets
Inside my habit

Rabbi Lipnick: When the march started
They asked me to speak
It was right before Pesach
I spoke about the Exodus

I tried to talk to Wilson Baker
Director of Public Safety in Selma
He’s the one who stopped
The march Baker turned his back

Baker: We are not here to negotiate
I have nothing further to say to you
Go ahead and talk to the press
I am not interested in listening to you

Rabbi Lipnick: There were white cars
Blue cars brown cars brown shirts
Blocking the street
Cops and soldiers three rows deep

The march halted less than a block
From its starting point
Marchers turned around
Orders from Selma mayor Joe Smitherman

Sister Ebo: We agreed that Sister Ernest Marie [now Sister Roberta, C.S.J.]
Would speak in the street
Reverend Anderson said the first person to speak
Will be one of our own he meant me

No, God, that’s not the way we agreed
I said about the same words
That I spoke
At Brown’s Chapel

I am here because
I am a Negro
A nun a Catholic
And because I want to bear witness

On the day they went from St. Louis to Selma
Sister Ebo led the march
Broadcasted all over the world on television
They walked a hundred yards and stopped

Three hundred state troopers and local police officers
Standing three deep
Ready to go to war
Blocked their path

Sister Ebo: I realized
If arrested
I would not be kept
With the other Sisters

Wilson Baker: there will be no march today

Mayor Smitherman cited a local ordinance
Against walking to the courthouse
Without a permit

Thirty four others spoke
Then they knelt and prayed
From there to the Good Samaritan Hospital
Met some of the wounded from Bloody Sunday

They had sandwiches and drinks
Then to the airport
By motorcade
They left Selma for St. Louis at 4:30 PM

Wednesday, March 10, 1965, 4:30 PM
Returning to St. Louis from Selma Alabama

A Unitarian minister
Attacked on Tuesday March 9
Working the march from Washington D. C.
Struggling for his life on a respirator

Died on Thursday one day after the visit
Of the St. Louis mission to Selma
Beaten on the streets of Selma
Graduate of Princeton

A Quaker working
In a Boston housing project
Reverend James J. Reeb
Thirty eight years old dead in Selma

On the evening of Monday March 15th
President Lyndon Johnson introduced the Voting Rights Act
A joint session of Congress
He called the events in Selma “an American tragedy”

President Johnson: It’s all of us
who must overcome the crippling legacy
of bigotry and injustice.
And we – shall – overcome.

When the Sisters returned to St. Louis
Commotion at the airport

Sister Ebo: We went to several
TV stations that night

Told our story
Something special
Important about the Sisters
Who went to Selma

Sister Ebo met Mayor Smitherman once again
Twenty years later he still mayor
Smitherman escorted her
Through City Hall in Selma

Sister Ebo: I looked into his eyes
And saw he had changed
The hate was gone

This from Mayor Smitherman —

I always wondered what happened
To that little Colored lady
They dressed up
Like a nun

Sister Ebo said to him
Honey you didn’t
I was for Real?

I guess
That’s why
God sent me
Back here.

Sister Ebo
To the poet:

I never thought
That 40 years later

People would
Be talking
About the nuns
Who went to Selma.

It just seemed
The right thing to do.
God blessed us
And I’m still alive.


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Unmasking Purim

At the beginning of this exercise, everyone should put on a mask. Let us spend a time looking at each other with masks on. Let us spend a time behind our masks, in silence. This will be an exercise in reality with a mask, the unmasking of reality, the deep reality that lies at essences, beneath surfaces and underneath the mask.


Purim is the holiday of masks. Question: what does it mean to wear a mask, or what does it mean to be the master of the mask, or discuss the progression from one whose mask is the master to one who is the master of the mask?

It may also be instructive to think of the year as an inner journey, a spiral of inner development, so that each holiday is related to each other one in some significant way. If we are thinking about Pesach, coming soon, as the celebration of our freedom, both the freedom of a people and the inner freedom of the individual, then we might want to think about Purim as the last stop in the inner spiral of awareness before we celebrate release and freedom.

Now let us reconsider what it means to be master of our masks, as a penultimate stop along the way to freedom. Master of the mask, demonstrating what? Why is that necessary for the freedom story? What does it signify to be master of the mask and why is it necessary before Pesach?

To the story:

Let us note that the book of Esther, the story of the Megillah, has one glaring omission: there is no expressed mention of G*d, not once, in the entire story. What is the significance of that?

How is it to unmask the G*d story in Esther, where is the G*d-story in the Book of Esther? Think about the God-story in the book of Esther as unmasking, like unmasking the G*d-story in the world, in existence. So is the G*d-story in existence — somewhere deep beneath the mask –the deep story, the really real.

Let’s take some time speaking about that. Or – thinking it. Feeling it. The G*d-story, the deep story that is lurking within, the search for it, the attachment to it, this a part of the Purim unmasked story.

It’s all there, unmask it.


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Nowadays the Blue Is Hidden

The blue was taken from a snail found in the Sea. The snail comes up once every 70 years.
– Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 26a, Menachot 44a
There is a street in Paris (11th arrondissement) called
The Street of Tailors. I visited my friend who
lives near the street of tailors. We went to eat at a café
around the corner. The first day we passed the street of tailors,
I asked him, What is this street?
Don’t know, he said.
The next time we passed it, I asked again,
Where does the name – street of tailors – come from?
It once was a street of tailors, he said.
We passed it again the next day,
What is the street of tailors? I asked.
He said this: I heard that there was a street of tailors working there,
then the Germans took Paris, June 14, 1940,
and they all disappeared.
A street of tailor artists, seventy years of ghosts, they have not changed
the name of the street. A chasid on the sixth floor
ascends and descends silently
to make the evening prayers.
The street of tailors.
He knows fabrics but is a failure at freedom. Fingering the coat
he peers over his glasses. Nice merchandise, he says.
Expert in drapes and Torah, hands stained
with experimental dyes, he mixes a perfect blend
for a priestly tunic. Expatriates tell jokes
in a café, they order intestines all around.
It smells like an insult. Later they fuss
and pass the street of tailors.
The tailors sewed in secrecy, to recover the lost blue thread,
mystery blue, a deceased mollusk carried it
into the deep where it gave birth,
in salt, to the sea.


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Remembering It From Here

Bill Kahn* in interview, 2008

*Bill Kahn z”l was director of the Jewish Community Center in St. Louis

About Dr. King –
I had him booked to come to St. Louis
Lindbergh and Schuetz roads was not built at the time
I struck out at all the liberal sites
Jerry Grollman stepped up and we booked UH [1960].

Always the night before Liberal forum
At a quarter to Six
One of the members hosted a dinner
This time Paul Berwald’s house.
I got there twenty minutes late
Off to the side
He’s leaning against a wall
He just got out of jail
He had been worked over pretty bad
I saw him standing there.

Folks, I said
St. Louis Post-Dispatch wants an interview
I had Shirlee with me
We walked outside
What’s this about an interview? Dr. King asked.
I’m going to drive you around St. Louis
And we’ll have a bite to eat
He feel asleep in three minutes.

There were twenty five hundred people at UH
People came up just to touch the cloth
Of his suit coat.

Then came the I Have A Dream Speech [D.C., August 28, 1963]
I chartered a plane
We had priests, ministers, rabbis
We flew to Washington
In those days
We walked town to the tarmac.
I slammed into Dr. King
Dr. King – you OK?
Mr. Kahn — you bailing anyone out of meetings nowadays?

I was in on a tutorial project in Tuscaloosa, Alabama
I brought Abe Boxerman from LA
A couple of J people
Outsiders to help create inside wisdom and community.

We were scared out of our minds
Tuscaloosa, Alabama:

They took us to a church
All kind of cars pulled up
I had Abe Boxerman with me from LA.
Mrs. Brown agreed to put us up
Abe was about 20 years older than me
He had a teeny little room
I had the couch.

All night long cars going around
Hey Bill – I am thinking — what are you doing here?
I got four kids and a wife back home.

I knew what I was doing there.

Next day –
They went to the YMCA exec in Tuscaloosa
He had them wait an hour and a half
They struck out there.

We went to where the African American kids
Played ball
Struck out there.

We went to Spellman College
There were nine guys playing basketball
Hey – you want to play?
I hadn’t played in 16 years
Where do I get a towel
You bring your own towel
You can use my towel after I use it
They’re watching me
What are you doing here?
I am looking for tutors
How many could you use?
How many in the day?
How many at night?
That launched the project
It’s called Vision
The name Dr. King gave it.

I Never Felt So Clean
Rabbi Jerome Grollman* in interview, 2007

*Jerome Grollman z”l was rabbi of United Hebrew Congregation, St. Louis

We had some difficulties in our town about race and religion
We decided we would stage a
Reconciliation march down Market Street
To the Old Cathedral
It was set for Sunday, November 24.
On Friday November 22, 1963
President Kennedy was assassinated.
On Sunday we took a busload from our Temple
More Necessary Than Ever Now
I was President of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association
(I have to admit I didn’t write that speech
They gave it to me).
All programs had been cancelled
TV people were looking for things to cover
We got national coverage.

We went to bat for the Jefferson Bank protests
And the March on Washington, August 28, 1963
And the March from Selma to Montgomery.

Highs: the march on Washington.
The rally it was really a love fest.
It had been a long day
Martin Luther King, Jr. was the last speaker
Thank God, I said
(I was sitting in a tree)
When he spoke it was as if nobody else
had said a word.

We had buses taking us back to the airport
We drove through the Black ghetto
People lined the streets
They were mouthing thank you
Thank you thank you
Imagine that – thanking us for something
We all should have been doing all along.
I’ll never forget that [tears]
It was one of the highest times.
I never felt so clean.

Now Selma to Montgomery that was different
We went down on a chartered plane
When we got to Selma
People lined the streets but
They weren’t thanking us
They were holding confederate flags.
National Guard cautioned us not to engage them
We had to find sympathetic cab drivers
To get us back to the airport.
Bill Kahn was on that one.
In Montgomery there was a Confederate flag
On top of the Capitol Bldg.

In Montgomery they spit on us.

When Martin Luther King Jr. came to town
The JCCA Jewish Community Centers Association
Went to other congregations.
They all turned him down
Bill Kahn came to me
I said, sure.
He said, don’t you have to go before your Board?

It was a Sunday night, November 27, 1960
Full house, even the balcony
Dr. King he looked so tired
I suggested he rest beforehand
Bill Kahn had made an excuse to get him out of a dinner party
Earlier that night, Bill Kahn drove him around St. Louis
When Dr. King got here, I suggested he rest beforehand
He took a little nap in my red lounge chair 1/2 hour before his talk
I still have that chair downstairs.

He had no protection I think he came alone
I was protecting him
He was really in danger that night
Though we were well protected by the police outside.

I remember how I introduced him:
I thanked him for being here
He was supposed to have spoken at a Temple of a friend of mine
Bob King in New Haven
He never showed up
‘Cuz he was in jail
I thanked him for not being in jail that night.

Afterwards we went downstairs to the reception
everybody was hugging everybody
It was a love fest.


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Heschel King Selma

Listen, O earth, to these wounds,
We have been pounded on the peaks,
elevated and alone.
Who ascends these holy mountains
and why?
We have bled all over our back packs,
descended at the penultimate moment.
Snatched away from the precipice,
we descended into the valley
where we sat quietly with our eyes closed
waiting for a bus, nothing loftier,
and we would have remained there
if not sitting next to us was the prophet Amos
watching for the light to change.
His skepticism, as always,
was an inspiration,
justice rolling down like water
and righteousness like a mighty stream.

All that was holy entered through our wounds,
the last place we expected.
Listen to the wounds, O earth,
pay attention to the bleeding sky
brother elements, sister flesh
pay a little attention will you,
at least give ear to these words.
These wounds.


Part 1

There is a picture of Abraham Joshua Heschel,
rabbi, human being, interpreter of inner Judaism and the prophets,
walking with Martin Luther King, jr.,
preacher, prophet, activist, redeemer,
walking together in the front row of the marchers,
Selma, 1965.
King and Heschel and Ralph Bunche walking arm in arm,
Ralph Bunche who received Nobel Peace Prize in 1950
For mediating armistice between Israel and the Arab states,
the commentary by Heschel:
I felt as if I was praying with my feet.

Look at the picture of Heschel, King and all of them,
this emblem of deep connection
bound at the arms they are, bound by the legs they are
the pictorial story of history and a return to coalition,
good intention, hope, hope.

Our freedom stories have been told
in the same narrative,
King and Heschel claimed the Exodus
as the freedom story,
the prophets as the freedom agents,
we are characters in each other’s freedom story.

Part 2

“The day we marched together out of Selma
was a day of sanctification. That day
I hope will never be past to me—
that day will continue to be to this day”
— Heschel in a letter to King.
In that letter Heschel wrote he felt
“as though my legs were praying.”

Both men read their story into
the freedom narrative of Exodus.
The freedom arc of Exodus
and the prophets
two stories that transformed and guided their lives
for Heschel and King,
the Exile story was not theoretical.

We will not be satisfied, preached King,
quoting the prophet Amos, until justice rolls down like waters
and righteousness like a mighty stream.

This verse is engraved into the King Memorial
Atlanta, Georgia.
Exodus every day.

Rabbi James Stone Goodman
St. Louis

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In the Jailhouse

The guys I see in the jailhouse know all about every side of the story code name Ferguson they are experts on it and they are the most forgotten sources and I often wonder what they are thinking as they gaze out the obscured windows up above the street where the demonstrations are taking place, what must they be thinking about as they watch from their perch in the sky.

So I asked them.

Each of them had of course an adversarial story having to do with the justice system, every form of it, from the police on the street to the court room experience, to the corrections arm once incarcerated. They knew who they could get a fair shake from and who they could not trust, weighed heavily in the latter category.

They were powerless once caught in the web of the system, they all knew that, nevertheless they seemed to make the best of it, and the worst of it meant they spent time in the hole, in seclusion, segregated from the rest of the prison population.

I have written elsewhere about the nature of the hole, it was an eye-opening experience when I visited there, and seclusion is rank enough to serve as a deterrent, unless a person cannot manage anger or frustration or hopelessness. Which is frequent.

The inmates I visit are all aware of the problems frustration, anger, poor impulse control has caused them in their lives. They do not avoid that responsibility. When down (in prison), it becomes worse. They are trying to manage a raging beast and every trip to the hole feeds it. With every passing year, they become more hardened. Institutionalized I believe it is called.

On the news now is the latest chapter in the continuing tale of grand juries and death and failure to indict. The news people are using the wrong language. In their questions are the words restore confidence, return to trust. Restore and return is the wrong language. Restore and return to what?

There has been little trust in the entire system for a long time among the people I am dealing with, return and restore seems remote and out of touch. Use words like earn and demonstrate and create.


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So I Made My Own

Ferguson Journal: New Normal
Clayton station
Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Do not be distracted by Discourse on Pumping Iron and Viagra I get Somewhere

I forget now there is a new normal and I started Wednesday the same way I start every Wednesday when I’m well. I did my Wednesday morning pump-up with a trainer and when I was about dead I walked over to my city of sanctuary on Wednesday mornings one of two Starbucky’s within walking distance from my training gym in my fashionable suburban neighborhood that houses the County government center where the grand jury is meeting [met – ed.] and now is known all over the world and has been one of the sites of demonstrations: code Clayton, Missouri.

My routine is I walk to one of the two cities of sanctuary and sit and write until it’s time for me to visit the jailhouse which is also in the vicinity of homeland Clayton Missouri and in the same complex where the grand jury is meeting.

I am a transplant here. You have to be born here to belong here, it’s a feature of this region I find both charming and chauvinistic.

Charming is that I am not much a joiner so I appreciate the permanent outsider status. It gives me a certain edge when the truth is elusive and that term of new normal: nuanced. Also the heart of the other, the outsider, etc., it is permanently mine whether I went to high school around here or not. I appreciate not being landed here. It helps me in the realm of independence of thought, attentiveness to details and telling something somewhat true. Who writes history? I have re-thought that entirely.

Chauvinistic here means cheer-leading. There’s a lot of that: my team, my team. Sides. We’re the best we’re the best kind of thing that goes around everywhere I suppose but I have felt it keenly here, maybe because when I arrived thirty plus years ago, the area was in serious decline and teetering to revive.

The recent events code name Ferguson cannot possibly help with that, we are still in that phase teetering as far as I can tell, though there are signs of stabilization and growth in recent years — the development of corridors, a more serious effort at downtown development/re-development that I don’t understand why it takes so long with excellent sporting atmosphere here, good teams, serious hostage taking to share expenses of support, the promise from gambling to pour the miserable gains of those who can’t afford it into the community — a potential for development in a city well placed on an historic riverfront. So much story floated up and down this river.

It’s a riverfront Mississippi River waterfront downtown location and I bet if you sat a few visionaries down at a table and asked them to draw a plan they could do so in a couple of hours. Ask them to design from downtown out as a showplace for the rich history of this node on the mighty Mississippi a couple of miles away from the convergence of the Missouri and Mississippi where Lewis and Clark pushed off to explore the West, and you would get something.

The local newspaper did just that a few years ago, sat a few visionaries down, and they drew a plan for downtown that I see the deciders are starting to implement after planning commissions and visits to other cities, etc. It’s a riverfront a nine year old child could figure out how to develop, run out and find a nine year old child, we can’t seem to make heads or tails of it here.

Of course one of great problems is race. Race and class, that’s one of the biggest problems that’s holding this region back and so it erupts in code: Ferguson.

I walked to the Starbucky’s nearest to the jailhouse and the place was packed. Who are all these people? I thought as I sat down on a hard table and unpacked my machine to write a story. I plugged in and started to tap tap when a man and a woman sat in front of me asking permission to sit down in an accent I couldn’t identify. Of course, I said. They unpacked a load of sophisticated equipment with their own modem, etc., and started sending pictures and stories and stuff somewhere I could see they were consulting cards and addresses and names from local sources, mostly in Ferguson, to their homeland newspapers I surmised.

The guy sitting in front of me had a tag on his machine that read photojournalist and a western European address. So you’re a photographer? I asked. Yes. I opened a conversation. He asked me about television. Where he could get news from the world. CNN is on your television I said. He then said something about Niagra. There was terrible weather up around Buffalo and I had just talked to my friend near Rochester and said to him oh no you don’t have to worry about that weather (I assumed he was talking weather, Niagra Falls) it’s far away from here and the storm came in over Lake Erie my friend lives off Lake Ontario and I was just talking to him and I began to explain a little geography of the Great Lakes since I’m from those parts.

His girlfriend and/or colleague sitting next to him was writing stories about the Ferguson animal clinic (she had the card on the table) and she looked up at me just then and said: he’s asking about Viagra.

Oh Viagra. Yes, she said, he wants to know why on television when he is watching the news they are selling so much Viagra.

Oh, well, that’s their market you know the generation that buys Viagra and the television is basically a retail notion here. Buyers. Ah, he said, satisfied though he was perfectly willing to listen to me discourse about the Great Lakes. His English was not so ay yai yai and I might not have been listening closely enough either.

But why on the news? He asked, as if the news were something sacrosanct.

The news is selling too, I said, selling story selling Viagra. Everybody is selling something.

At that moment we experienced an international incident of the highest significance: we each said the same thing at the same time, real slow: strange world, and a meta-personal cross cultural understanding passed between us.

I looked around and the whole room was full of foreign journalists this Wednesday at Starbucky’s and I imagine all of them were perplexed by this oddity and a hundred others about the United States of America but they were here to cover the story of Ferguson and from this station they were dispatching their missives to their hungry public.

Do you live near? The photographer asked.
Do you know where the justice center is?
Yes. I’m going over there in a few minutes.
Why do you go there?

I go there every Wednesday and without filling in details I told them I visit the jailhouse. I then realized they perked up when I said I go over to the justice center, the woman companion lifted up her head and looked at me closer and I saw she was wondering if she had the good fortune of bumping into somebody who knew something.

I assured her I knew nothing, surely she knew that from my inability to understand the foreign correspondent sitting next to her and the discourse on Niagra and Viagra. She asked me a few questions anyway which I evaded because I had to go and how interested might she be about the side of the story I did know about, those who have fallen out of the tale entirely and end up in the jailhouse waiting for transfer to one of the institutions that will be their home for the next number of years.

But she wanted story. Every correspondent in that room wanted story. They were traffickers in story. Not the part of the story I know, the story I know has no voice. She wasn’t interested what happens once someone enters that part of the system I visit.

The guys I see in the jailhouse know all about every side of the story code name Ferguson they are experts on it and they are the most forgotten sources and I often wonder what they are thinking as they gaze out the obscured windows up above the street where the demonstrations are taking place, what must they be thinking about all this as they watch from their perch in the sky.

So I asked them.

Each of them had of course an adversarial story having to do with the justice system, every form of it, from the police on the street to the court room experience, to the corrections arm once incarcerated. They knew who they could get a fair shake from and who they could not trust, weighed heavily in the latter category.

They were powerless once caught in the web of the system, they all knew that, nevertheless they seemed to make the best of it, and the worst of it meant they spent time in the hole, in seclusion, segregated from the rest of the prison population.

I have written elsewhere about the nature of the hole, it was an eye-opening experience when I visited there, I will post that next, and seclusion is rank enough to serve as a deterrent, unless a person cannot manage anger or frustration or hopelessness. Which is frequent.

The inmates I teach are all aware of the problems frustration, anger, poor impulse control has caused them in their lives. They do not avoid that responsibility. When down (in prison), it becomes worse. They are trying to manage a raging beast and every trip to the hole feeds it. With every passing year, they become more hardened. Institutionalized.

On the news now is the latest chapter in the continuing tale of grand juries and death and failure to indict. The news people are using the wrong language. In their questions are the words restore confidence, return to trust. Restore and return is the wrong language. Restore and return to what?

There has been little trust in the entire system for a long time among the people I am dealing with, return and restore as vocabulary seems remote and out of touch. We have to start over. Use words like earn and demonstrate and create.


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Ferguson Journal

Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Ferguson, Missouri

Don’t be distracted by the introduction; it begins with a discourse on the advantages of wearing a suit in a riot. Or a rebellion.

I came from work and even if I hadn’t I wear a suit almost every day every night. I feel good when I dress well. I admit the externals help me.

I also find people treat me differently. I have ideas outside the perimeter of the circles I belong to and I get away with a lot more when I am wearing a nice suit.

I buy all my suits in a boutique elegantine in Detroit, my homeland. They have my size and preferences on file. My size has also changed since I entered this phase. It has diminished.

Wearing a suit also simplifies my problem with colors. There are certain zones of the color spectrum I do not see well. I don’t have to think about that and now that my daughters have left home, I am less embarrassed by uninformed tie and shirt selections. So for me, a suit means a simplified life. In some situations, a suit draws attention to me in an advantageous way.

I went down to the police station in Ferguson last night in response to a call for clergy. Nine PM. Our purpose was to be a presence between the youthful protestations and the Ferguson police, who have been unpredictable and not measured in their responses since the shooting of Michael Brown. The night before there had been conflict and arrests.

I made sure I had a dramatic head covering, kipah (yarmulke), in addition to my nice suit so I could be identified as a clergy person, rabbi. My wife, also a rabbi, is in the thick of this story and has demonstrated sensitive leadership and other attentive skills, she was also present and suggested a prayer shawl but I thought that might be excessive and ungainly.

I showed up. I stood on the street in front of the Ferguson police station.

We stood on South Florissant Road which is the nice part of Ferguson I suppose one would say with a celebrated open air market on Saturday mornings and some restaurants that are not fast food and even a brew house, unsure what a brew house is but I saw one there. And a corner bar. Next to the police station is a charming looking Italian restaurant that the proprietors I am sure thought they were getting a privileged spot right next to the police station. I don’t think so.

Every night this week there have been demonstrations up and down South Florissant Road this is old town Ferguson a semi-cute stretch of thoroughfare a different environment from the Canfield Green area where the shooting of Michael Brown occurred and the West Florissant Road where the burning and looting took place during the difficult days after Michael Brown’s death.

The protesting has moved to the police station, a newish building on South Florissant Road next to the Italiano restaurant, etc. down the street from the open air market location. Across the street is Andy Wurm’s Tire and Wheel store with a large black top parking lot where most people have gathered.

The police station looks new, I was told that the jailhouse part of the jail was still under construction. One of the fellows arrested the night before (Sunday night) was taken to the St. Ann jailhouse he later told me.

The protestors made chants and marched up and down South Florissant, pausing at the market grounds to drum and dance and chant. There was good use made of a bass drum that worked well to punctuate the chanting which was musical and youthful and a nice groove from a purely musical point of view, a good use of a single bass drum it was working except for the puppy dog that one of the young women was holding who was scared of the booming drum and thus doggie and her handler withdrew to the perimeter.

There was some smell of weed in the air, not a lot, and a great measure of youthful enthusiasm. Once we returned to the police station on South Florissant some of the young people approached the Police Department building, after the 11 PM noise ordinance that the protestors were violating. The police also suggested in the most vociferous manner that the protestors vacate the street and go to the sidewalk on the other side. They did not.

They moved into the middle of the street and sat down. By then there were about twenty five people sitting in the middle of South Florissant street right in front of the police station and a gathering of uniformed police officers in the parking lot of the police station, about the same number. It was 11:30 and I wondered why there weren’t more police officers. There were about the same number of police as there were protestors sitting and making chants in the middle of the street.

A masculine voice from a loud speaker from somewhere on the police parking lot demanded protestors move out of the street and onto the sidewalks. I noticed that at about midnight the voice changed to a female voice.

The protestors didn’t move. They sat down in the street and there was still some traffic moving through with the help of protestors guiding cars and trucks through the small crowd on the street, some of the cars and trucks moving a little fast compromising for sure the safety of those on the street.

One of my pals who was taking pictures went over to the Lieutenant of the Ferguson police across the street and suggested that they close the street off to keep the safety of the protestors. I thought that was a great idea, then the protestors could make the chants, etc., and no one need get hurt or arrested.

The Lieutenant was rude and said to my friend, we’ve thought through all the possibilities and dismissed him. The police lined up against the protestors and began to converge on the people sitting and making the chants in the middle of the street, telling them to disperse.

Some of the clergy knelt down with the protestors and they spent some time together in prayer. That changed the rhythm of the evening; what seemed to me to be moving toward a youth riot became quiet. There was quiet for fifteen, twenty minutes and though the group returned to chanting and hollering in defiance of the police, the tension had been broken and the rhythm changed. We were now in the realm of rebellion, not riot.

A half an hour later the police closed off the street, just as my friend suggested. A minute later Captain Ron Johnson, the celebrated Captain of the Highway Patrol who the Governor had appointed during the most difficult days after Michael Brown’s death, showed up and moved right up into the crowd on the street. The protestors got up off the street and gathered around him. He had come to talk.

Everyone gathered around Captain Johnson and shushed those who were bent on discord and said let him speak let the man speak. He began to talk with the protestors. He told them he was not in charge of the Ferguson police but if they wanted to continue their protests they could and they would be left alone if they just moved back. They were free to make all the protests they wanted. He tried to empathize without making promises, he was after all not in charge there. He had seen the confrontation emerging on television and came over to see if there was anything he could do.

The Ferguson police (and a few other uniforms) began to disperse behind him into the parking lot of the police station. Captain Johnson was alone with the protestors and there was a few minutes of civil conversation and more lessening of tensions. The police presence began to disappear and another night of confrontation was averted.

I stood across the street in conversation with one after another of young people who showed up for the protest. A lot of people wanted to know who I was; I was probably the oldest person there, and as mentioned above, I was dressed to notice. I wanted to be noticed, I wanted to engage people in conversation, I wanted to know who these people were, what they were thinking.

When I arrived, it felt as if a youth riot was brewing. I walked up and down the street with people and when we returned to the police station, I stood and waited and one after another of the young people who were chanting and protesting and hollering came up to me and with genuine kindness and respect, always referring to me as sir and many even commenting how dignified I looked (their word) asked me in the gentlest way: who are you? Why are you here?

I told them I was here to learn and listen. I want to know people. Every person I met, and I met many, were kind and communicative and respectful. There was one fellow who had been arrested the night before, spent the night in the St. Ann jail, he was familiar with all the places a person could go with mental illness kinds of problems in our area (there aren’t many) and he seemed to be a street person. Why he was there was unclear to me though the longer we talked the clearer he spoke and soon he was making more sense. He was kind of along for the ride. He brought me carrots and water and made sure I had somewhere to sit if I got tired. I was not tired.

Others I spoke to lived nearby and gave me an earful about how the community works, Ferguson and environs, the nature of these fiefdoms in our area. There are many of them in what is called North and West County. These were people who lived there and knew what they were talking about. Some white, some black, all of them had a take on the complexity of the story in Ferguson and all its implications, the history before the death of Michael Brown and the implications of the action since the death of Michael Brown. I learned a lot that night.

By then it was past one AM and the confrontation had risen and receded in front of my eyes. I’m familiar with police and jailhouses, etc. and there wasn’t enough policemen out that night in the incipient confrontation to be scary but there was some wildness in the street and real tension. Also a stirring and a hollering, a message of resistance and purpose, an expression of social critique and intelligent vocalization of perceived wrongs.

I’m glad I went and I’m going back again. Every person I spoke with that night thanked me for being there. This is what democracy looks like.


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The Last Known Diary Entry of Josef K

The Last Discovered Diary Entry of Josef K

It’s kind of like Yom Kippur for me every day, actually, I am certainly guilty (that I know). Guilty of what, I cannot say. But I awaken with the thought: I am guilty. Perhaps on this Yom Kippur, I can apologize because I have learned there is a difference between asking for forgiveness from other people, and asking for forgiveness from G-d.

For aveirot — unfinished business, between human being and human being, Yom Kippur does not atone. That means I have to go to that person myself, and ask for forgiveness face to face.

For unfinished business between human beings and G-d, Yom Kippur does indeed atone. These are purely private matters, between G-d and myself, best taken care of with quiet, personal moments of prayer.

Now, let me go and find as many people as I can and say this to them:

If I have done or said anything in the past year that has hurt you, that has offended you in any way, I am sorry. I am truly sorry.

After I say that, perhaps I should stand and wait for a second with a look of expectation on my face. Oh, I am so hoping that the person will say, yes, yes! I forgive you.

However, they might say, well, you’ve done nothing, nothing at all to me. I’ll take that as a sign of forgiveness. That might be unsatisfying (for me anyway) since I am sure I have done something though what it is I cannot say. I don’t know.

Or they might say: you can’t hurt me, actually, I am not giving you room in my life to do that.

I will keep a tally, yes I will jot down a little chart, those who have forgiven me, those who have not forgiven me, those who don’t know what I am talking about, those who think I am nuts. Then I will take it back to my desk, and make a forgiveness chart.

Then I will spend some time in quiet prayer with G-d and ask for forgiveness for all and for everything.

I will also make atonement to myself, for myself most of all, for dwelling (in what I call my mind) on those who I think may have offended me.

Yours truly,

Josef K.

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Stone’s Journal. Wednesday. August 20.14

Stone’s Journal
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
There’s a Starbuck’s in Ferguson

Hey, we need jobs. The mayor of the city of St. Louis sent an aid to the site where a 25 year old man brandishing a knife at police was shot and the young men hanging around there said: we need some jobs. So he offered them job training and signed up a bunch of young men right there at the scene. I’m going to take this as a sign for things to come, a clue that something good can come out of this terrible chapter in America’s history.

But why did that man have to die? I would have thrown a bucket at him and jumped him. Look at the video. That man did not have to die. Everybody is tense here. The mayor of St. Louis has the benefit of mistakes made before him he practiced transparency and the police chief was better trained and they all made the case for shooting. It’s only four miles from Ferguson.

The thing about Ferguson is of course it’s America. One America. We’ve been forgetting that for a long time now. We’ve been safe in Two Americas. One America now. This may be the enduring legacy of this shameful, tragic chapter.

Because Ferguson is a nice little town. I know a bunch of people who live there. Of course there are two Fergusons also. I wonder: does everybody get that, watching the events on television, popping corn?

Ferguson has a Target. And a Schnuck’s. And a kind of Target plaza or whatever the hell you call it you know standard sandy brown strip mall construction with a Gigantic parking lot.

In the Target is a Starbuck’s. Now there is not an urban environment on earth that is in social collapse that has a Starbuck’s. I grew up in Detroit. I guarantee if there was an equivalent event in Detroit these days it would not be in a neighborhood that has a Starbuck’s.

But Ferguson is not really urban. It’s down in the mouth suburban. The city of St. Louis encroached onto Ferguson and brought all the attendant problems of urban life. It’s a story of race, race and class, as are so many of our stories.

Race and class. We need a job. We need a living wage. We need to be known. We need to be listened to, We need to be heard. We need to be treated with respect. We are America too, one America, hey we want some America too.

Hold on. There’s a guy on television that says he’s a physician and an attorney. And he’s advertising as “a semi-truck lawyer.” I couldn’t make this stuff up. Plus his name is poetic, it’s almost the same first name, last name. Dickens! Are you listening? You would love this. Nabakov. Vonnegut. David Foster Wallace. You guys must be cracking up. Semi-truck lawyer. He wants clients who got hit by trucks.

Anyway, tonight I marched with a line of clergy to the County government center to ask the Prosecutor to recuse himself. Love this language. So Franz and Fyodor. They would be laughing too except they didn’t laugh though they totally got irony got everything they just didn’t laugh. Too serious too sad.

We marched to the County Government Center. In addition to the Prosecutor’s office the jailhouse is there. I do a prison project and visit the jailhouse right there every Wednesday afternoon. I couldn’t go today. They closed it up tight to outsiders. There I was on the street right under the side with the obscured windows. I know the prisoners are up above.

That’s another side of this story. Up above as as we stood hollering on the street are the forgotten ones who have fallen out of the system entirely, hidden away behind those windows. I’m down below thinking about them up above, wondering if they’re watching us. Hey there’s the rabbi! He’s preaching!

Well I wasn’t preaching, I was praying for peace. Up above the angels behind the windows received my prayers and relayed them straight to heaven. People think there’s a hardening of the hearts out here, they should only know what happens up there.

Tonight I made a prayer at the march, and it seems as if the Prosecutor and the Governor are at war and well — who needs that mess. This is too important. Why not let someone else do it? Maybe that physician and lawyer on television I just saw. He’s so qualified for everything.

I think qualified people should do what they know. I can’t stand it when CNN is trying the case on television, though I have to admit that Lawrence O’Donnell just dissembled entirely the New York Times reportage on MSNBC and he’s not even chasing anybody around the streets of Ferguson. He’s sitting there behind a desk thinking. I kind of like that. Everybody else; let the qualified people try the case.

On the other hand, if you’re quiet and sensitive and deliberative, you can figure some things out. I mean the long term systemic social adjustments we will have to make to become one America. We can figure that out together.

Heck the top law enforcement official in the country came to Ferguson today to meet the family of Mike Brown and hug the Highway Patrol. That was beautiful.

I can’t think so big because what I call my mind has limitations when it comes to organizing the Universe so I have to keep it simple. This is what I’m going to do, I swear, I’m taking an oath.


I don’t go out much. I don’t go out to dinner and all that stuff, don’t go shopping, etc. (except grocery stores), my perfect day is the coffee house and the library reading and writing but from now on when I do go out, I’m going to Ferguson. People are always asking to meet with me and I’m not a sit behind the desk kind of guy so I meet people in coffee houses and such. If people want to meet with me, I’ll be at that Starbuck’s in Ferguson (as soon as the French video team departs, they leave their junk everywhere and wear a fragrance that makes me gag).

When my beloved wants to go out to dinner, or lunch, or maybe even an occasional breakfast, we’re going to Ferguson. I was there in the daytime yesterday and there are plenty of restaurants in Ferguson. I’ll go to those places and I’ll get to know the other people who go there too.

Getting to know people there. I’m taking a vow to do that. This is a harder one. I’m a shy person. I score introvert on that test I’m sorry I took, the one with the boxes. The mother of Mike Brown works at a store where I shop for groceries, I found out that she worked there and I go there a couple of times a week and I don’t know her. There is so much wrong with that.

I wonder how this loss will change her life so I don’t know if I’ll have the opportunity to know her in the future, but I will never again make a shop twice a week anywhere, take my laundry in, go to a coffee shop, use the library, without knowing the people who are working there, helping me, living with me in my world. One world. One America. This is what I’m going to do, I swear.

It’s small, but it’s do-able. And I think if we can help Ferguson, we can help all of it. Ferguson is a microcosm, the nature of the microcosm is that people learn from it. Also there’s always some mysticism between the microcosm and the macrocosm, what happens in one instance impacts Everything. What if Ferguson became the almost perfect garden. Why not Detroit?

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