Through Our Foyer: Profound and Interrelated Experiences

Funny how seemingly unrelated, small goings and comings sometimes coalesce into deeper, more profound and interrelated experiences.  A recent school assembly is one example.

A few weeks ago, we finally were able to put up some signage in spaces around the new building recognizing some of the very generous donors who made our first phase of construction possible.  We passed one such sign on our way to assembly.  It reads:

“Psalm 121: 7-8
The Lord will guard you from harm
He will guard your life
The Lord will guard your going and coming
now and forever

This foyer where students, teachers, administrators, parents, and guests will pass each day is dedicated to the Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Foundation.  May our going and coming from this place always celebrate our shared belief in one God, our common religious roots, and our continued commitment to promoting interfaith dialogue and understanding among all persons.”

Like most immigrants coming to the United States – including our own students’ families, Harry Weinberg’s family arrived in the early 1900’s with little more than hope and a willingness to work hard. Despite many challenges, he and his family saw and found opportunity.  The same way our students are finding opportunity through CRSM at both school and work.  In the late 1930s, Harry Weinberg pledged his then-modest assets to enable many German Jews to reach safe haven in America.  He felt called to help those in need and in peril.  Beyond specifically Jewish initiatives, the Foundation remains dedicated to meeting the basic needs of vulnerable people and families experiencing poverty.

The Weinberg Foundation played a key role in getting us to our new campus precisely because they saw in our students and families the same hope and willingness to work hard that Harry and Jeanette embodied.  It is certainly our hope that as CRSM students find their own success, they will pay it forward to others just like the Weinbergs.

Coming on the heels of The Holocaust Day of Remembrance, one of our college counselors who is Jewish, asked if she could speak at this assembly about her personal connections to the Holocaust.  What began as an historical overview of the rise of Nazi Germany turned into intimate stories about her family fleeing the Nazis, relatives in the United States working desperately to get them out, and members of her husband’s family being taken to Auschwitz and never being heard from again.  Powerful and heartbreaking but also, in her sharing with us, a moment of grace and hope.  Her and her husband’s families persevered.  Having experienced humanity at its worst, survivors’ stories like those of our counselor’s consistently emphasize grit, determination and love in the face of hate.

Today, with anti-Semitism again on the rise around the world along with other overt instances of racism, intolerance and violence toward “others”, including immigrants, we cannot forget the terrible Pandora’s box that kind of hate opens in our world.  We must stand against it.

During announcements at the very same assembly, one of our students whose job in the Corporate Work Study Program is at the Illinois Holocaust Museum, took it upon herself to organize an upcoming Saturday field trip to the museum for CRSM students and was encouraging their participation.

If you have the opportunity to take a field trip yourself, go!  The museum is very forward-looking, focusing on multiple areas of social justice.  Visits begin with incredible interactive, holograms of Holocaust Survivors sharing their experiences.  It is almost impossible to describe without experiencing it first-hand, as if you are having an actual conversation with them about their life experiences.  Other galleries then guide visitors through myriad present-day social justice issues, empowering you with knowledge and concrete ideas about how you can take action to stand against hatred in all its forms.  The Museum’s slogan is “Remember the Past, Transform the Future.”  It uses the horror of the Holocaust as a springboard for teaching universal lessons that combat hatred, prejudice and indifference.  Working at the museum has clearly been a transformational experience for our students.

Our small goings and comings in this case coalesced into a deeper, more profound experience for me that really circles back to the passage from Psalm 121 in our foyer: God will guard us from harm and guard our goings and comings.  God wants us to take risks for the right reasons and will stand with us when we do.  We have a responsibility: we are charged to go out into a world that is full of risk – a world where misunderstanding, fear, self-interest, intolerance, and hate proliferate – as Emissaries of Peace and Ambassadors of Understanding.  The message we take into the world must be that we are all children of God and we all have a responsibility to treat one another with the same love God has for us.  That’s how we stand against evil.

At CRSM, our fervent desire is that this will be a place where coming here supports young people in developing their gifts and talents; and that in going from here, they leave with hope and a willingness to work hard for a better world.  Come visit us, stand in our foyer, and see for yourself!  It might just be a profound experience.