If you know me, then you know that I love a good, live Twitter chat. Last summer I had the chance to attend a hosting workshop at the Miss New York sponsor, Actors Connection (Thanks, Tony!), and I met some pretty awesome people, Bobby Ciletti and Diana Perkovic. Well…we’ve kept in touch over the months, and I’m excited to be joining them and three other fabulous women for an Oscar night Red Carpet run down. I hope you’ll shoot us some sass with our hashtag #DPCarpetTalk. Here’s the gang:
When evil men plot, good men must plan. When evil men burn and bomb, good men must build and bind. When evil men shout ugly words of hatred, good men must commit themselves to the glories of love. Where evil men would seek to perpetuate an unjust status quo, good men must seek to bring into being a real order of justice.
It is time we stop our blithe lip service to the guarantees of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These fine sentiments are embodied in the Declaration of Independence, but that document was a declaration of intent rather than reality.
This quote, by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., resonated with me in such a way today that I feel compelled to write. As Claire and I have begun to really shape and contour our personal branding business, we find ourselves in the discussions necessary, around the many issues that face the country, to help our clients think more deeply. While the world around us continues to grow and change, it seems the pressing issues that divide our nation continue to stay the same. Today, as we all remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I look back on this year and can’t help but feel disappointed in the American people, our justice system and the conversation surrounding race relations.
Let me get a few things out of the way:
I am white.
I know that I experience privileges and pardons because of my skin color.
I will never know what it feels like to be of any other ethnicity.
I will spend my entire life aware, concerned and educating myself about others and their personal and societal injustices.
That being said, we are just not getting it right, folks. Our country has become so absolutely hell-bent on being politically correct that we continue to build walls, create differences and marginalize people based on their skin color. We’re all going to have to come to an agreement to move forward. Hatred, bigotry and racism is taught… on all sides.
I’ll never forget being a first grader in Mrs. Stewart’s class. I had the biggest crush, in the whole wide world, on a boy named Henry. I had a crush so big that when I got my Yearbook, I happily drew an enormous heart around his cute little face. I wanted Henry to be my boyfriend.
A member of my family most certainly did not. In fact, I was informed, “you don’t date n******.”
While I’m very proud to say that quote came from neither of my parents, the impact was the same. I’m disgusted that it came from anyone at all. The problem is, that conversation happens in every race. Although my parents have, in my opinion, always been proponents of love and equality for everyone in our home and our community, it explains why, at 22, I was hesitant to introduce the idea of my new love interest to my parents. His name was Charmel and, while I saw so many things aside from a skin color, I knew that to everyone else, that was first.
WHY ARE WE STILL HERE? Why are we still glowing about electing a “black” President? Why hadn’t we had one before? Why does it matter what color a person is if they are the best person for a job? Why is everyone so afraid of just seeing another person for who they are? Why are we so damn stubborn?
Please don’t answer those in my comment section.
Call me idealistic. Call me crazy. But, people, we have got to move in to 2015. The conversation starts at home. I don’t care if you are Chinese, Indian, Hatian, Afghani, Irish, Russian or from mars… if we don’t stop blaming others and start blaming ourselves for the lack of empathy, compassion and understanding for our fellow man, whether that’s based on religion, race, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status, we are all going to face the consequences and much more.
More children feeling alone, burdened and outcast. More school shootings.
More discrimination by the law. More Mike Browns.
More economic divide. More children who go home hungry from school.
More religious tension. More intense and unending war.
More judgement based on gender identity. More Leelah Acorns.
Our future doesn’t have to be a path of no return. We have the power to create change. All of us.
It’s the ‘good men,’ as Dr. King said, who have to plan to seek to bring into a real order of justice. Be the good man who makes it known that discriminatory and prejudice conversation isn’t okay. Be the good man who stops to help a stranger. Be the good man who spreads kindness and joy. Be the good man who pays it forward at the grocery store. Be the good man and watch how one person, in one community, can begin to encourage others to do the same.
Today has been one of the most amazing days I have ever experienced. I don’t think it’s truly possible to explain how it feels to see the Bible come to life. Honestly, I just don’t think a blog post will be able to convey what I am feeling in regard to this journey, so I will just share, in as much detail as possible, our history-filled day.
We didn’t have to travel far from our hotel to tour the City of David. Upon our arrival, we were met by our tour guide, Judah, who took us through an amazing ,archeological journey in just a short hour or so. We saw the city from the highest point on the observatory and then we were taken down below the visitor center to see a recent discovery: two walls of King David’s Palace. Among many things that have been uncovered in the past few years, perhaps one of the most amazing are two seals with the names of two of the Ministers who threw Jeramiah in a pit for declaring the City of David would fall. To me, such archeological proof of Biblical times was something that completely blew my mind.
From there, we walked to the largest and most recent dig happening in Jerusalem. This particular place was completely covered by a parking lot when they began the process. To this day, they have uncovered building remnants from almost every period in Jerusalem’s history, including the base of columns from Roman times and over 200 gold coins from the last Emperor to control Jerusalem in the Byzantine Empire, Heraclius, in 2008. The coins totaled the ‘salary’ of nearly 100 service-men at the time.
When they discovered these remains, they also discovered the under-ground water tunnel that existed during The Jewish War c. 67-70 AD. Jewish citizens of Jerusalem fled to these water tunnels that were underneath the main road in Jerusalem, but were eventually found by the Romans. Being inside of the tunnels was like going back in time; completely bizarre!
This is the site that was buried beneath a parking lot just 7 years ago!
The four pillars were once this space in Roman times.
Walking through the water tunnels under Jerusalem
The next part of our day, to me, will be hard to top. We made our way out of the tunnels and up to the Western Wall (the Western side of the Temple Mount) in the Old City to visit what is arguably the most sacred site in the Jewish faith aside from the Temple Mount itself. I have never been so fully surrounded by the presence of God in my life. People from every country, in every part of the world have made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to place their hands and prayers on the Western Wall. I feeling was beyond overwhelming. As I sat at the base of the wall and wrote my thanksgivings and prayers for my life, my family and my friends, I was overcome with tears of joy for such a beautiful opportunity and experience. No matter what your faith, experiencing so many people from every walk of life, in one place, to pray to God is something completely indescribable. I feel like usually I am just a bit more eloquent, but words are seriously failing me now. Since we are here between the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it is said in the Jewish faith that this is the time the God is the most accessible. That being said, I am positive that there is a reason for my being here this week.
As if we could fit any more in the day, we were honestly only half-way there. After lunch we were all so excited to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre located in the Christian Quarter of the Old City. On the way there, we were excited to learn that the “heart” of the Roman city, or the main “corridor” (road), still very much exists today. We walked along it until we hung a left that took us right to the Church of the “Resurrection,” the place where Jesus was crucified and is said to be the where Jesus was buried and thus also where he was resurrected. The Church is controlled by several Christian churches and secular entities that have been unchanged for centuries. While I must admit, walking inside was a bit overwhelming due to the amount of people, it was such a beautiful experience. I placed my hands on the stone where Jesus was laid to be dressed for burial. I’m not sure what else I could have asked for.
After our visit to the church, we were off to the Dead Sea…..so. freakin’. cool. After an hour (or so) bus ride, we were changed and walking in to the horizon. Floating in the 33% salt-filled sea was AMAZING! We were there just before sunset and the views of Jordan across the way were absolutely to die for. After some sea salt, some mud and some fun, we were back to the hotel for a quick change and off to dinner at the Psagot Winery in Psagot, Israel. The food was amazing, but I will say….we were certainly ready for bed by the end of it all!
And now, as I finish up breakfast here at the Mamilla hotel, I’m excited for our day between Jerusalem and, finally…Tel Aviv!
Our first stop this morning was probably the most heart-warming, but being Miss America and an ambassador for CMNH, I feel as though I will always be especially touched by visiting the faces of children who are in a hospital. In the town of Ashqelon, roughly 12 kilometers from the Gaza strip, is a small full-service institution, Barzilai Hospital, that houses just over 500 beds. The hospital has a territory of over half a million people and has lived under the norm of mortar and rocket fire from Gaza for the last fourteen years. Today, there were two patients in the children’s ward who were, in fact, from Gaza. Their policy is all-inclusive; treating anyone who walks through the door.
We had the chance to bring warmth and smiles thanks to Mr. Earl Cox, a Christian leader in the US who has long raised funds and support for the people of Israel. Mr. Cox provided plush toys, Nerf guns and Pac Man toys for the children who found themselves at Barzilai today. Honestly, there’s just no feeling like surprising a child with something new to entertain them during the hours and days they spend enclosed in the walls of a hospital.
Our visit went by quickly and then we were on the road again to Kiriyat Hachinuch, a high school in Gevim, Israel, which is roughly 2 kilometers from the boarder of the Gaza strip. The school was built nearly three years ago and houses a few hundred students with an open-air feel and a ton of common space. While our visit was short, it was a chance to meet a classroom of seniors who are, after school, headed to the military (mandatory in Israel). At 18, they will have spent the last 14 years of their life listening for the sirens that instruct them to run for cover from the array of attacks that are being fired their way. In just a few short minutes, we learned about the way a few of them (Matan and Saar) spent this past summer- mostly indoors in hopes of keeping clear of the war fare that is happening in their region of the country. What we also learned, though, is that they do not let their current conditions with Gaza define them. Israeli’s are full of life and have every intention of staying right where they are; home.
While we learned a bit about the way of life over the last decade and a half through the eyes of a teenager, at our next stop we were privy to a wealth of knowledge from the police chief, Koby Harush, at the Sderot Police Station. There we had a chance to see and learn about the rockets that have been fired since the conflict with Gaza began. In fourteen years there have been 26,000 rockets fired into Israel and 8,000 of those were in Sderot. The good news is that there are now several defense tactics in place to protect the people of Israel. Sirens and warning systems, shelters, Ian Dome and combat misels have been developed to protect the people in the state of Israel. Most of the time, the sirens detect incoming fire and sound, giving citizens roughly 15 seconds to find shelter. This technology developed in Israel has saved thousands of lives, but the idea of fifteen seconds to find shelter certainly opened our eyes to the drastic ways the conflict with Gaza has changed the normal, day-to-day ways of living. The harrowing truth is that there are children who don’t know how to ride a bike, basketball courts that remain empty and parents who have to make tough choices. Imagine a siren sounds at 2 am and you have four children….. Fifteen seconds to wake them and find shelter. Needless to say the conversation we had at the Police Station with Koby was one most of us will never, ever forget.
After such a jam-packed morning, we all welcomed the amazing lunch we had at Humus Shel Tehina in Sderot and it is an acclaimed humus spot that was touted as one of the best humus restaurants in the country! We had home-made pita, eggplant humus, chickpea humus, falafel, salad and even French fries. It was to die for! But then…we were back on the road.
Our last official visit of the day is one that absolutely fascinated me. We had the the distinct pleasure of sitting down at the israeli Defense Forces Air Force Base with four young women who serve, or are Captain’s in their respective field along with an IDF pilot, Amit. It was absolutely fascinating to learn about their military, the recruiting process, why they loved what they were doing and how they came to be there. Three of the four women we spoke to were not born in Israel, but chose to come back to defend Israel through service.
Keren was born and raised in Great Britain, living her entire life in “London” style. She laughed as she stated, “I always had my nails and hair done with the best handbag!” But, after experiencing anti-Semitism in London, Keren decided that it was in her calling to serve in the army to protect the land that was the only place of true refuge for Jewish people. Only expecting to serve for the two required years, she is now embarking on her fifth year in a division that deals solely with international perception of Israel, the Spokesman Unit.
And there was also Gabrielle, a Canadian born and raised twenty-three-year-old with an Israeli mother and strong Jewish religious beliefs. Gabrielle grew up with the heart of a servant and immersed in Israeli culture thanks to her mother. Upon graduating high school, she knew she wanted to do something to serve the people who shared her same faith. A “lone soldier,” she picked up her life in Canada and moved across to the Middle East. Now, she’s almost there in her quest to become a Captain and has signed on for a third year of service to the IDF with their Search and Rescue team.
We learned a great deal from these women who, although younger than most of us, were empowered, strong and independent. They chose service in a military where it is mandatory and are happily remaining on board. We asked tough questions about their families, female safety in their military, equality and even co-existence. What I found to be the biggest take away is that the IDF is an extremely diverse religious military with Muslims, Druze, Christians, Jews and Hindus that all work together, collectively, to defend the country that they all call home. We also learned that, in their opinion, peace is possible with the Palestinians, and many of them are already living that truth.
Post our panel discussion, we were whisked down to check out one of the Black Hawk helicopter that carries out everything from special operations to rescue missions. We had a blast hanging out with all of the men in uniform! 😉
From there, we were so excited to be going to dinner with UN Ambassador, Gabriela Shalev. Her life story is amazing, and although we learned much about her, I strongly suggest reading a bit about her life here. We were so in awe of such a strong, smart and accomplished woman who was willing to make the trip specifically to meet and chat with us, answering all of our questions. When I asked her what her proudest accomplishment was, she answered swiftly that her children and grandchildren were the thing that gave her the biggest sense of pride. Honestly, she was beyond.
And- that was the day…. condensed, of course. It’s hard to put in to words what this experience is doing for me. Meeting so many people with such pride and loyalty to the state of Israel, but also with such an immense grasp of what is important in life. Of all of the travels I have been lucky enough to enjoy, I know this will be the most life-changing. I am so grateful to be here.
I just re-read my last blog post, and it honestly made me tear up. I can’t believe the last time I went to Church I was in Los Angeles and getting ready to begin the journey back across the country in less than a year. So much has happened in the last month or so, but I am grateful that my life path has led me here.
As I sit this morning, at 6:20 am in Jerusalem, watching the sun rise, I am acutely aware of how amazing my life has been. Obstacles this past year have left me feeling down and out on occasion, but when engulfed in the city where Jesus himself died on the cross, I realize how insignificant those misfortunes really are. I am so thankful for the amazing village of people that have surrounded, love, cherished, encouraged and guided me through my years. I am also thankful that God placed me here, on this trip, with these people, to open my eyes to the things that really matter in this world.
I have not been able to share until now, but I am in Israel with an amazing private organization called The Face of Israel, a private project, which works in partnership with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to bring opinion and community leaders as well as influential figures from around the world to Israel, in order to nurture a greater understanding and appreciation for Israel. I am so honored to have been asked to be a part of this group which consists of several women from the “pageant world.” While I’m basically holding it down on the Miss America front, I know that this trip will provide an opportunity to create relationships and dispel stereotypes about the Miss America/USA “battle.”
More than anything, though, I am so excited that I get to spend this trip rooming with my new friend, Kristen Dalton, creator of She is More and author of the new 60-day devotional journey, Rise Up Princess. Kristen and I had a fantastic time earlier this summer at the Princess America Pageant in Orlando, Fl, so I look forward to spending more time with her and being next to her as we journey through the history of Israel. She has already said prayers for me this morning and, frankly, what more can you ask for from a friend and travel companion?
When we arrived last night, we were greeted with a beautiful welcome dinner from the hotel restaurant. It was amazing! I look forward to sharing more of our experiences from this week, but for now the sun is up and my coffee is gone. We have quite the day ahead!