After stumbling on Dallas’ LGBT Jewish congregation by accident, annual teen justice tour has made the group a regular stop
For the sixth year, Etgar spent their first Friday night Shabbat on the road in Dallas with Congregation Beth El Binah again this month.
Etgar, a Hebrew word meaning challenge, is a group of 40 Jewish high school teens and five adults who spend the summer traveling around the country studying social justice issues.
The tour started in Atlanta where they visited the Names Project and saw the home of the AIDS Memorial Quilt. They spent the first week learning about the history of civil rights.
Billy Planer, an Atlanta educator who created the group, said, "The civil rights movement is not just a black and white issue, but a struggle for all of those who don’t have a voice."
Before arriving in Dallas, they toured the Martin Luther King Center in Atlanta, the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, Ala., and Central High School in Little Rock, site of an early integration battle.
In Memphis, Etgar visited Elvis’ home to learn about "how rock and roll broke down racial barriers," Planer said.
In Dallas, Planer said, "We originally stumbled upon Beth El Binah by accident." The first year of the tour, they were supposed to be in Oklahoma City on Friday night, but when their bus driver became ill, the trip was delayed a day. Planer says he looked on the Internet and found the gay and lesbian synagogue in Oak Lawn and realized how nicely that fit into their plans.
The following Monday they would be in Colorado Springs, talking about same-sex marriage with a representative of Focus on the Family.
That first visit "turned out to be the day after Lawrence v. Texas," Planer said. After services, members of the congregation stayed several hours and discussed with the teens the impact that decision would have on their lives.
This year, the discussion focused on the Rainbow Lounge raid in Fort Worth.
"Beth El Binah opened their arms to us and made us feel like family," Planer said. The visit to the Oak Lawn congregation is now a scheduled part of the annual trip.
In Dallas, Etgar also visited the Sixth Floor Museum in the West End. They spent several hours with members of a local pro-life group who taled to them about abortion.
From Dallas, they traveled to Oklahoma City to visit the site of the federal building bombing before heading to Colorado Springs.
Other issues addressed during the summer include gun control, immigration, homelessness, drugs, illiteracy and the environment. The trip will take them to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, DC. They relax a couple of days at the Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks.
Planer said, "This summer has taken an interesting turn." Referring to all of the programs proposed by President Obama, he says, "Every issue we discuss is in the news at the moment."
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 10, 2009.