I’m sitting in the basement floor of the Aloft Hotel in El Paso, Texas. It seems to be an old building, but with a pixel-themed makeover, which I presume signals our brains to think “digital age” and consider the hotel much fresher than it actually is.
Our Lyft driver Lucy, who was born and raised in El Paso, suggested that this sprawling desert community is a decade or two behind “the big cities.” For her, this was praise – of a quieter, more family-friendly, less swiftly-changing place to call home.
Lucy asked the four rabbis in her Honda Accord what we were in town for. After a brief silence, one of us said we were here to visit the border, to see for ourselves the situation. It was her turn for a brief silence, after which she told us she loves the food in Juarez, for the taste and for the much cheaper cost. Her family has roots in Juarez, but she doesn’t visit much anymore because of reports of violence. But she highly recommended sudados, or “sweaty tacos,” if we went. The sweat alludes to the steaming process, and if I encounter any that are vegetarian, I’ll be sure to report back with full tasting notes!
I’m here with 20 rabbis and a cantor on a border witnessing trip organized by two organizations I greatly respect. T’ruah is a network of rabbis dedicated to acting for human rights. HIAS, founded in 1881 to help Jewish immigrants to America, continues its basic mission of helping refugees and immigrants, now mostly not Jewish, based on the Jewish values of hospitality, dignity, and justice.
I’ll have a lot more to say tomorrow and Wednesday, when we actually get out and visit sites and hear stories. For now, I want to share a parable from philosopher story-teller Noah benShea that has been on my mind this year.
A community leader came to see Jacob, hoping to find peace of mind, an ease for his burden.
The man was troubled by a repetitive dream that he did not understand.
“Jacob, in my dream, I have traveled a long distance and am finally arriving at a great city. But, at the entrance to the city, I am met by a tall soldier who says that I must answer two questions before I am admitted. Will you help me?”
“The first question the soldier asks is ‘What supports the walls of a city?”
“That is easy,” said Jacob. “Fear supports the walls of a city.”
“But what supports the fear?” asked the man. “For that is the second question.”
“The walls,” Jacob answered. “The fears we cannot climb become our walls.” (from Jacob’s Journey)
This parable has many meanings. What resonates with me tonight, though, is the wall imagery. When we let fear live unchallenged within ourselves, when we do not recognize how to enter into our own place of compassionate connectedness (the city), our response is to throw walls up in our external lives, both metaphorically and literally.
I’m here in El Paso to put my soul in the game, to witness people and processes that often gets reduced to talking points, and to share with you what I encounter and my own journey in opening to compassion and just action.