A Notion of Peace

Throughout the years the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum has presented countless exhibits to the Atlanta community. These endeavors have included everything from Dr. Seuss’s political cartoons to the history and story behind Rich’s. With every opening, the museum has continuously drawn numerous visitors to its galleries. However, with the city’s ever growing population and the community’s innate sense of curiosity, this is easier said than done at times. That is however until now. As part of an interactive community art project the exhibit Peace: What Does it Mean to You? is the museums most recent and ambitious opening yet. The collection consists of a set of 50 portraits followed by a brief excerpt of each person’s biography and what Peace signifies to them. The exhibit is part of a series which includes John Noltner’s previous work A Peace of my Mind.

Aimed at fostering public dialogues, the exhibit challenges viewers to reevaluate their own beliefs towards Peace and how it compares to that of the excerpt before them. As visitors browse through each portrait, they are inadvertently exposed to a diverse group of individuals who all come from different walks of life. Jeff Kennedy, Scott Augustine, and Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman passages are a prime example of this very concept. Augustine, for instance, equates Peace with one’s overall sense of stability in life. As the CEO of a medical device company, Augustine works with Peace House Africa to educate AIDS orphans who may otherwise become impoverished. He states “when people are hopeful about their future, then this will lead to Peace.”

Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman on the other hand associates Peace as far from conventional and an ever evolving process. As an active member of her community, Zimmerman regularly converses with clergy from other religions and recognizes that peace is not always guaranteed “We may have Peace one day and lose it the next.” Lastly, Jeff Kennedy renders his notion of Peace through kind gestures bestowed to him by random strangers. As someone who has lived on the streets for most of his life, Kennedy states, “we often wait for life’s tragedies before we reach out to each other; however this is not always the case.”

With conflicts taking place all over the world and negative broadcasts filling the airwaves, it has become increasingly strenuous for people to connect with each other. Whether the discussion is in regards to a political quibble, an ethical dilemma, or a religious confrontation, the amount of energy individuals use to identify differences within each far outweighs that of finding similarities. This in affect has led to a more polarized society and allowed individuals to dismiss viewpoints which fail to mimic their own.

That is, up until now. Since its release the exhibit has altered the very way in which people perceive other’s point of view. With the influx of visitors arriving daily, the collection continuous to challenge its viewers as to what Peace means and how it may be attained. As visitors stroll through the gallery, it is impossible for one to remain indifferent to the portraits before them. Each excerpt offers us the chance to travel the world without ever stepping foot outside Atlanta and as we read each passage we acquire a first-hand look into daily life within a different region. Remarkably, the sooner we do, the sooner we realize how are differences pale in comparison to our similarities and how we are all struggling to achieve the most important trait of all: Peace.

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A Historic Moment

On Sunday May the 4th Chabad of Cobb had the honor of celebrating their second Torah Inauguration within Cobb County.  The community was in full attendance as friends, families, and members of the congregation gathered to witness the historic moment.  In light of the ceremony the day was filled with numerous activities for both kids and adults. Various stations were set up for participants to create their very own Torah keychain, learn about all things related to the Torah, or have their name written by the Sofer himself.

Dedicated in loving memory to Ruth Greenspon Smith and Carol Smith Holley the ceremony commenced with a few words by Rabbi Ephraim Silverman explaining the Torah’s historical significance followed by a brief rendering of poems in remembrance of those who had passed. Young children were asked to gather around the Ark as the Sofer began transcribing the first section of the Sefer Torah. Meanwhile, parents, grandparents and friends peered over the Sefer’s shoulder with iPhones and cameras to capture the moment.  Upon completion, the Torah will be returned to Chabad of Cobb where it will create an eternal bond between the holy land and East Cobb.

Referenced as the most illustrious and prized possession, of the Jewish race the Torah stand as the backbone of the Jewish nation and contains the laws, history, and foundation of the Jewish religion. That said one of the greatest mitzvah’s e one can and should perform is to write one for themselves. However, since such a feat can be rather pricey, most individuals will either sponsor a section or participate within an inauguration.

I myself was no exception to the later and as I stood there in awe of the joyous occasion, I couldn’t help but reminisce about my own family’s identity and tie to our religion. Growing up Jewish in Iran seldom offered my parents the opportunity to practice their religion freely. Rarely, in fact did synagogues sponsor a Torah let alone host an inauguration ceremony.  Thus the occasion not only marked a historical date for Chabad of Cobb but for my family as well. In the Jewish tradition, no letter is more important than another, and as each is dependent upon the other for completion of the Torah, so too are all Jews within a community.

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A Generation Divided

The statement reads as follows, “America is fast losing the respect of other nations by the poor example which she sets in the area of race relations.” Fast forward fifty years later and replace “other nations” with Generation Y and you now have a new movement emerging within the United States, one that not only entails race relations but other inequalities as well.  Yet, the greatest threat facing this generation is not unemployment or healthcare reform but the growing gap between members of this group in and of itself. While some individuals within this segment are gradually moving up the corporate ladder and are content with the way things are, others are quickly becoming dissatisfied with the environment around them.

On October 25th I had the privilege of discussing this very issue when I was asked to participate on the 1960 Who? Panel. Aimed at promoting dialogues between two distinct generations, the panel was presented with the task of examining the social struggles Generation Y faces today versus that of the 1960’s, and how youth activism has evolved toward it. The panel consisted of Mr. Charles Person, Freedom Rider and Atlanta Student Movement participant, Mr. Lonnie King, Founder of the Atlanta Student Movement, Dr. Roslyn Pope, author of An Appeal for Human Rights, Ms. Ayanna Sloan, Mass Media professional and Clark Atlanta Graduate, and Morehouse student Mr. Kuame Morris .

The latest project from Award-winning photographer Sheila Pree Bright, 1960 Who?  consists of a culmination of photographic portraits of Freedom Riders and members of the Atlanta Student Movement who sought to bring about social change within their communities. Weather they were educators, housewives, or everyday citizens each individual sought to improve America. The 14 life- sized portraits are part of Atlanta’s public art experience, Elevate 2013 and will be on view across downtown Atlanta and the Old Fourth Ward.  Set as a three part campaign to promote activism, the exhibition allows nearby pedestrians to interpret the art free from gallery walls and to conjure up their own point of view.

Comparably, participants from the 1960 Who? Panel were asked to examine this very concept as they explored the ideals behind youth activism in the 60’s versus that of 2013. Growing up in Georgia during the civil rights era presented a plethora of challenges for African Americans. Segregation was prevalent throughout the south and there were no opportunities for individuals to gain access to decent jobs. Fed up with the duality of the system however and eager to make a change, members of the Atlanta Student Movement began to take matters into their own hands. By organizing around a common goal and demanding equality through non-violent protests, the Freedom Riders issued an Appeal for Human Rights. Composed by Dr. Roslyn Pope the doctrine not only outlined the disparities within the education system, housing, and voting rights but also forced the nation to reevaluate the injustices plaguing the youth.
Today’s generation will never experience segregation or know what it is like to live during the civil rights era, however, that is not to say they do not possess their own challenges. From bullying to domestic terrorism, this crowd has seen it all, and yet their greatest threat stems from their own imprudence. While one fraction continues to experience a surge of prosperity, the other continues to linger behind to keep up with the Joneses. Many of these individuals attend the same universities as their peers, maintain part time jobs throughout high school and college, and earn decent paying jobs. Yet when it comes down to networking and exchanging ideas there is a big gap between those who are heavily informed about current issues and those who are content on adopting traditional norms.

However if there is one thing the 1960 Who? panel taught me, it’s that there is no difference between the voices of the 1960s and now. Yet while one has an arsenal of networking services at their disposal such as Twitter and Facebook, the other relies heavily on their experience.   Dr. Lonnie King, Dr. Pope, and Mr. Person were all able to affect change within their communities solely because they all had one goal in mind. While today’s generation believes that the American dream should be improved they remain stagnant on where they should begin. Social networking has allowed Generation Y to reach insurmountable demographics that the Freedom Riders could only hope to attain, but with fewer dialogues taking place it is becoming harder and harder for them to have meaningful conversations. Consequently, Ms. Bright’s portraits not only pave the way for new social dialogues to take place but also stand as a constant reminder of how people can come together to fight for a common cause.

 
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Leveling the Playing Field – “How to Learn from the Generation Before and After Us.”

“After countless hours spent studying and hours of hard work put in college, my job is to make kids hold their pencils, teach them the difference between “b” and “d”, and make photocopies of their textbooks; and yet I cannot leave my job because there’s nothing else I am good at! So if you think I am blessed. You obviously know nothing.” – Anonymous millennial from Japan

After reading the above post, one can’t help but ask, “are things that much different for a majority of young adult professionals living in America today?”

The answer is unfortunately no, and in-between finding that dream job and earning a substantial salary, many of today’s millennials are instead facing a painful reality check. Rather than becoming an engineer for a top fortune 500 company, many young adult professionals are finding themselves engulfed within a whirl wind of jobs which seldom match their skills or qualifications. Top that with an older generation who is unwilling to train them and reluctant to retire any time soon, and you now have the perfect recipe for disaster.

According to the article written by Stephanie Armour of USA TODAY “there has never been a greater abundance of multigenerational and demographic change than in today’s workforce,” and as stated within Leslie Kwoh’s excerpt from the Wall Street Journal “it is estimated that Gen Y will comprise more than 40% of the U.S workforce by 2020, which according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, far outnumbers any other generation.”

Yet what does this all mean for today’s young adult professionals, and how does it affect them from moving up the corporate ladder? The answer is simple. Unless companies are willing to train young recruits they will never acquire the necessary skills and knowledge they need to get ahead. In reference again to Leslie Kwoh’s article it is estimated that, “the annual turnover rate among millennials has since fallen by 50% each year for the last two years.” and if that’s not enough, a survey found in Stephanie Armour’s article indicates “that more than 70% of older employers are dismissive of younger worker’s abilities, and nearly half of all employers claim that younger employees are dismissive of the abilities of their older co-workers.” With tensions rising and a lack of communication between the two generations, employers are growing more and more frustrated as they struggle to retain and recruit talented high-performers.

Today’s young professionals are ambitious, fast learners, and excellent innovators, but what keeps them from moving forward is not a lack of motivation but the limitations set by their fellow co-workers and employers. Many individuals within this group are eager to learn, share, and find stability within their careers, but with an unstable job market and colleagues who are thirsty to have them fired; earning ones keep is slowly becoming a thing of the past.

Incidentally, the solution to this predicament remains at a standstill, and unless seasoned employees and employers accept that millennials are here to stay, everyone will suffer the consequences in the long run. The older generation will eventually retire and without training new recruiters companies will sustain high employment turnovers.

Young adult professionals are tech savvy, detail oriented, and are more than willing to share their methods with the people around them. Most have already begun to surpass the generation before them in terms of technological expertise and education, and are already paving the way for the next generation to follow. Yet unless elder employees adopt a new sense of tolerance for new recruits, employers and companies alike will continue to lose an immeasurable amount of talent within the next few years.

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