Each July since 1995, Operation Understanding DC’s high school delegation has united a selection of African-American leaders with a similar group of their Jewish counterparts to travel to Atlanta on their annual OUDC Summer Journey. They visit the important Civil Rights hot spots, including “Sweet” Auburn Avenue, the grave site of Dr. Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King and The Temple.

But what makes this experience especially unique and transformative for the students is the personal connections they make in the “city too busy to hate.”

At the William Breman Jewish Heritage & Holocaust Museum, the bunch heard from Holocaust survivor Ben Walker about his escape from war-torn Romania to the United States.

Afterward, OUDC participant Dan Younger shared, “I was so impressed with the determination of Ben Walker. He survived the Holocaust, and his story after was important. He made sure to do the best for his family.

“His story represented the American Dream to me: He was able to be so successful after going through so much. It impressed me that he worked so hard to get his family into a secure situation.”

They also spoke with Janice Rothschild Blumberg, who was rebbetzin at The Temple when it was bombed in 1958, and whose husband, Rabbi Jacob Rothschild, was an outspoken supporter of civil rights and racial justice. Her comments about the community’s response impressed the students as an example of how to be allies to those in need.

“It was moving to learn how many people stepped up to help The Temple during that time,” said delegation member Jaleelaj Thompson. “We learned that members, neighbors and congregations across the country helped in rebuilding efforts. It gave me hope in humanity that everyone came together.”

From Atlanta, the students headed to Camp Ramah Darom, where they celebrated Shabbat with the campers and led them in a prejudice-reduction workshop.

All of these experiences are part of their OUDC Summer Journey, which takes them from New York to North Carolina and throughout the Deep South as part of their year-long program of experiential education and leadership training. OUDC’s mission is to build a generation of African American and Jewish community leaders who promote respect, understanding and cooperation while working to eradicate racism, anti-Semitism and all forms of discrimination.

From Operation Understanding
For the Atlanta Jewish Times