Even then, my understanding of Mississippi history, and my sense for the importance of the Jewish pursuit of Tikkun Olam ("repairing the world") intertwined. As a thirteen-year-old bat mitzvah, I had written a "hero report" about my father's cousin, Michael (Mickey) Schwerner, a martyr of the Civil Rights Movement. Schwerner was killed, along with fellow CORE organizers James Chaney and Andrew Goodman, by the Ku Klux Klan outside Philadelphia, Mississipi. The young men had been sent to investigate the burning of the Mount Zion Methodist Church in Longdale, Mississippi, where they had met with church leaders to organize a "Freedom School" a month prior. Freedom Schools were designed to help Mississippi's disenfranchised black community acquire the skills necessary to pass the discriminatory literacy tests required by the state for voter registration. Mickey Schwerner was 24 years old when he was killed.
I was 24 years old in 2007, and I found the quiet timelessness of Jackson's November landscape spooky. I did not imagine that I would return to the streets of that southern capital where people had battled for the soul of America 40 years before.
|Rotunda of the Old Capitol in Jackson, Mississippi|
|"This Little Light of Mine" Installation at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum|
|Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner's names on the wall|
Museums are not places to find all the answers, but they can be places to ask hard questions. They can provide the kind of inspiration that can only be created by humans working together. At the moment, the MHHE stands poised to launch a new traveling exhibit called Enduring Tension: (En)countering Antisemitism in Every Age. At the heart of the exhibit is the notion that Jewish experiences, and Jewish values, can inspire everyone to pursue justice, year after year, in every place and time. In the words of Torah, Parshah Shoftim, "Tzedek, tzedek, tirdof." "Justice, justice, shall you pursue." The road is hard, but the journey is necessary.