A week ago I was privileged to march with the NAACP in rural South Carolina with my daughter Stephanie, a journey that took three days in all with travel time factored in. After a one day break, we left for another three-day trip -- this one to Canyon Ranch, a luxurious health spa in the Berkshires where I occasionally teach Mussar.
The contrast could not have been more stark. On the march I became part of a no-frills community walking in formation over a combined 867-miles. We marched peacefully to bring attention to the profound racial injustices that still permeate our nation. Most participants slept in churches or army barracks, and we were supported with food, water, medical care and police escorts to help us get through the day, Raising awareness of the problem can lead to a national change in mindset, and then we hope, to the change in policies we need to effectively make race-based economic, educational and political injustices things of the past.
At the far more exclusive Canyon Ranch I experienced the polar opposite. The guests, who were overwhelmingly white, were pampered (us included) and presented with an amazing array services and classes carefully designed to promote physical health and spiritual wellness. The focus was on the self rather than the community, and no effort was spared to provide a comfortable and relaxing stay.
Truth be told, both of these experiences are well outside the norms of my daily suburban life. I am sheltered from racial tensions and the plight of many American minorities. It's not a lack of caring, but rather, a lack of experience and awareness - I have not directly encountered the kinds of injustices that can define growing up black in America. I have benefited, without even knowing it, from white privilege.
Luxurious spa living is equally outside the realm of my middle-class suburban life. This kind of treatment is generally reserved for those with far greater means than my own! Moving from one end of the spectrum to the other in just a few days generated a real dissonance of perspective.
Yet oddly enough, these two seeming opposites may actually have something in common: they both seek to correct imbalances. The march seeks to correct a horrible imbalance on a national level while the spa focuses on a personal level outside the realm of politics. In an ideal world, we would have no need to seek for either kind of balance, because we would already be nationally, culturally, communally, socially and personally balanced. In the real world, we would do well to recognize that these different kinds of balance are interconnected, and that we cannot succeed in creating balance in any one of them without cultivating all of them. In an ideal world, we would not need justice marches, nor would there be a market for spas. In the real world, we need to reach out to each other, hold each other close, support each other and care for each other. We also need to care for ourselves, and let others reach out to us, hold us close and support us. The more we give and receive, the more balance we restore to our world, to our homes and to ourselves.
Hi there! I am the senior rabbi at Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, Maryland, where I have served since 2016.
(c) copyright 2015 Rabbi Gary Pokras