In Judaism the number 18 is synonymous with the word chai, life, formed by the eighth and tenth letter of the alphabet, chet and yud, adding up to 18. The number is considered fortuitous. So I take next year’s date as pointing to life, promising us all something precious.
I have been thinking a lot about how precious life actually is, and how people cling to it, fight for it, refuse to give up in the face of threats to it; I spent the last week in the former heartland of slavery, the city which fired the first shot in the civil war and a region that unfortunately up to this day often claims a “way of life” more important that the inalienable right to a safe, free and equal life for us all. Much food for thought.
Yes, I visited Charleston, South Carolina, one of the biggest harbors of the slave trade, located in a region whose economy depended on the cultivation and trade of rice, cotton and other southern crops, impossible without slave labor.
Behind the beauty of a historic southern city, a landscape filled with water, tropical plants, majestic palm trees and swampland rich with wildlife, lies a dark past. Yet, like so often, there are quite a few contradictory factors merging into a complex pattern.
Charleston is nicknamed the Holy City; it has more than 400 churches ( for a population of slightly over 100 000 people) with more denominations represented since the 16oo’s than you can possibly name. Who would have thought that, in addition to being a stronghold for the principles of slavery, the city was incredibly progressive in allowing diversity among faiths, embracing every possible form of worship, including the integration of the persecuted Huguenots fleeing from France and Jews – the second oldest synagogue in the US is located here – and eventually Catholicism in the 1800s. The churches incidentally were built with high enough towers that they allowed safe navigation for the ships coming in from the Atlantic.
Ships that brought chained and famished humans who were seen as property, sold, exploited, raped and killed at their masters’ whim. Who subsisted in freezing cold and infernally hot summers, exposed to the elements and the masses of insects and dangerous animals around here, for one reason only: economic enrichment (talked up by some version of “we’re saving those subhumans’ souls.)
Charleston today celebrates its beauty, acknowledges its history (to some degree) when you visit the national park monuments, hints at clinging to old traditions, but generally is a predominantly white city filled with friendly people and an incredible food scene. You only get glimpses of the dark past if you stumble into some museum or happen to stop behind this or that bumper sticker..
I hope you’ll take the vicarious tour of what I experienced, share the joy that the week provided as well as the inability to understand why racism in its many forms simply refuses to die. Photographs today are architecture from the city center,
and the neighborhood (below) where I rented a lovely apartment in walking distance to town,
surrounded by what’s poor
and what’s scooped up by the burgeoning IT business folks.
May 2018 see us all healthy and strong so we can dedicate parts of ourselves to a fight for more equality and justice. Happy New Year!
And, of course, travel…..