March 25, 2023 -
I want to thank Fairmount Temple and the Pike family for selecting me to receive this award. I am both deeply honored and energized by this award. It is inspiring and encouraging to see this congregation’s devotion to the larger community, to not only diversity, but inclusion as well. I was asked to share with you a bit more about my work and what drives me to work towards the affirmation and inclusion of all people.
I have been accused of being, and proudly acknowledge, that I am very much a child of the 60s. I was 6 when the 60s began and 16 when it ended. To bring us back in time, it was in the 60s that we saw
We heard Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the Beatles We saw
As momentous as these events were in history, they were similarly definitive moments for me. I was one generation removed from pogroms in Poland and 2 generations removed from imprisonment in Siberia and the Nazi invasion of Poland. I came of age in a predominantly Catholic neighborhood, with schoolmates who thought nothing of painting swastikas on the school lockers of their Jewish peers; in a public school system in which most African American students were assigned to vocational, rather than college-bound tracks regardless of their abilities and teachers felt at liberty to refer to their mothers as whores; and in an orthodox Jewish family that, while teaching the lesson of freedom at the Pesach Seder, graciously invited its children’s White friends to relax at dinner and their Black friends to clean the kitchen. Friends orchestrated their failure in their senior year of high school to avoid the draft and, yes, a close adult died from an illegal abortion, having been refused contraception.
The lesson that came to me from what I saw, from what I felt, from what I heard, was this: that we who have freedom are not free until everyone is free and that we have a responsibility to create the space and the conditions that makes this possible. This means the freedom of all people from all forms of injustice and exploitation, regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, gender, class, religion, sexual orientation, or physical or mental ability. This means empowering individuals and communities to have and use their voice and creating space for their voices to be heard.
So I live with gratitude that I am able to wake up each morning and walk through the world embodying these values that are so much a core of my being. I am grateful that I have been supported in my work in countless ways throughout my life and have had the privilege to share this journey with dedicated, purposeful, and well-meaning friends and colleagues. I have been and continue to be privileged to work with members of communities who have accepted me both personally and professionally despite our apparent difference.
All of this has brought me to do the work that I am doing now, which I have been asked to describe a bit to you. I wear a number of different hats, so I apologize if this sounds somewhat like a resume. [For example] I officiate at weddings for both same-sex-identified and heterosexual-identified couples. I provide pro bono counseling to individuals who would not otherwise seek or be able to access counseling: members of the LGBTQ community, individuals suffering from the voices brought to them by schizophrenia. I work with organizations to assess the effectiveness of their treatment approaches for depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. I consult on a pro bono basis to attorneys defending immigrants with health problems from deportation. I provide coaching to faculty members dealing with a vast array of professional and personal issues: career transitions, workplace conflicts, depression, and the suicide attempts of their loved ones, to name but a few. And I develop programs that I hope will ultimately assist faculty members, staff, and students at the medical school to not only succeed along their chosen career path, but to do so with both humility and a sensitivity to others.
Robert Kennedy (1966) said:
It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
I can think of no better vision for one’s life than, both as a professional and as a person, to work towards the freedom of all people, regardless of whether that will ever be achievable in one’s own lifetime… As each of us here works towards the freedom of all, we also honor and celebrate the vision and efforts of Paula Pike and the promise occasioned by this award. Thank you again.
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