By Annica Epstein
We began the celebration of America’s Independence bright and early at 6 AM. By 7 AM we were revved up with a heated and informative discussion about abortion led by Adam, one of our staff members. This discussion was to better prepare us for our meeting with the Catholic Pro Life Committee – a pro life, anti abortion group in Dallas. Adam got us to discuss both sides of the issue so we would be prepared for the arguments. While I am strong in my belief that women should have the choice when it comes to their own bodies. I also fully realize that not everyone can always agree with me. Living in Alpharetta, GA for the past 6 years has truly opened my eyes to the fact that not everyone puts individual choice over what religion would do. Unfortunately not many of my peers in Alpharetta have ever really presented me with hard evidence that supports their pro life stance. Many of them just repeat the ideas said by their parents and friends. I was very excited to meet with a group who strongly oppose my belief on the topic of abortion because I wanted to hear a legitimate and factual argument from them.
While many might be skeptical of such an intense meeting on such a glorious American day, the fact that Jewish teens can go freely into the “deep heart of Texas” to discuss this hot topic just shows the success of America. For lunch we had a choice of a few different places and I chose Burger King. Thank you Texas for creating the “Texas Double Whopper”. It was pure American genius!
Back on the bus as we made our way to Dallas we watched the movie “Thank You For Smoking,” a brilliant movie that emphasized the power of people to use speech to persuade others to act in certain ways. It really taught us how to see past spin control and look for the truth.
We finally arrived in Dallas and met with Andrew Smith, the Communications Director of Catholic Pro Life Committee, and his volunteer assistant Michelle. For the next hour and a half we listened to their points and then engaged in questions and answers. Some of us found it frustrating as they didn’t always answer our questions directly and some were frustrated that they didn’t find common ground with them. While the complete details of our discussion are quite lengthy, if you ask any Etgar 36 participant they will be able to fill you in and I think you would be surprised to find out how informed we are!
After we left the meeting we went a few blocks into downtown Dallas to the 6th Floor Museum. Before entering the museum, Billy spoke to us while standing in the famous grassy knoll about the Kennedy Presidency, what America was like in the early 1960s, the assassination and the different conspiracies surrounding the shootings. The museum did a great job of telling us about JFK’s influential legacy and issues that occurred during his Presidency, many of which I had never even thought about. We even got a better hands on experience when we met outside the museum with a conspiracy theorist who told us and showed us many different ideas as to who shot President Kennedy.
Following a rough day of mind boggling discussions and frustrating situations I was super pleased to find out that we were attending a Shabbat service at a laid back and accepting Synagogue. At Beth El Binah we were instantly welcomed with open arms by the congregants who graciously gave up their 4th of July plans to spend it praying with us. The service and dinner were beautiful and I instantly felt at home. The congregation was even more special to me because it was founded as a gay and lesbian synagogue, which is now a quarter straight. Back at home, my Temple youth group never fully answered my questions about Judaism and homosexuality. David, one of the congregants, told us about his life as a gay Jewish man and he used the quote from Genesis, “I am what I am” which I thought explained it perfectly. I feel that God has created us all as individuals with different ideas, values, sexual orientation, religion, etc. I also feel that political correctness in today’s society has blinded people from truly engaging in discussion and debate and understanding what the meaning of life is all about. Granted I am only 17 and have yet to fully grasp what my meaning of life is. However I do know that a major part of finding your individual meaning of life is through accepting who you are as God made you.
Evelyn, one of the congregates at Beth El Binah, put it perfectly. She told us that she had canceled her plans to go to a party and watch fireworks to be with us and she said,” the fireworks are right here in each and every one of you.” I will always cherish this and I hope that everyone reading this will take time to fully appreciate what each and every person on this planet has to offer.