Combine a retired German diplomat who used to be ambassador to Libya, a couple of representatives of Taiwan, a leader of the local Muslim community, a state legislator/peach farmer from 100 miles south of Atlanta, a county commissioner from 90 miles northeast of Atlanta, and a congressional aide, throw in assorted members of the south-side Jewish community, and stir well with a tornado warning, and you get what I like to call Wednesday night.
So maybe Nov. 18 wasn’t quite a normal Wednesday night.
Not when it involved AJT contributor Al Shams and myself making the hour-plus drive around Atlanta to get from Sandy Springs to Peachtree City, with stops along the way to deliver hot-off-the-press newspapers to Congregation B’nai Israel and Chabad of Peachtree City (the latter site reached after we drove through torrential rain while hoping the National Weather Service was right that the tornado that touched down in Coweta County would stay just north of us).
Not when it brought us to our destination, the home of German Consulate employee and Jewish community member Mike Posey, for what can be described only as an eclectic gathering — one in which South Asian hotel owners and Czech beer Pilsner Urquell helped complete our virtual (albeit much more functional) United Nations.
The official reason Posey invited us all over was to hear some insights about the Middle East from a diplomat who, among other things, knows firsthand what Libya was like after the Arab Spring broke Muammar Gaddafi’s dictatorship. But while the ambassador was charming and his comments were interesting, it was the crowd itself that made it worthwhile for people to drive up to 100 miles each way to spend two to three hours at the Posey house.
I had extensive conversations with the trade representatives from Taiwan about Israel, China, and how Jewish and Asian parents raise their kids to be top achievers at school. I learned that Dickey Farms in Musella, west of Macon, has legendary peach ice cream. I observed some important networking that could someday bring Israeli businesses to rural Habersham County. I got to visit Posey’s babies, a couple of pristine classic cars.
I caught up with Chabad of Peachtree City Rabbi Yossi Lew and discussed the efforts to build and serve the growing Jewish community in the area of Peachtree City, Fayetteville and Tyrone. Rabbi Lew was among several people who happily shared a few thoughts about the state of the world when put on the spot by Posey (fortunately, not being an elected official or a rabbi or the head of the Islamic Speakers Bureau, I was not one of them).
Did I come through that journey through the storm with any better understanding about the future of Libya or the fighting in Syria or the millions of Middle Eastern refugees? Probably, although more from learning about the background and the context than about any specific facts.
Far more important was the opportunity to enjoy that thing so many college students claim to want these days without understanding what they’re talking about: a safe space. But Posey provided a true safe space, a place where people of diverse backgrounds could get together to learn about one another, exchange ideas, and even disagree without getting angry or trying to silence the other.
It was a time and place for listening, not just talking, and that made all the wind and rain and miles more than worthwhile.