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Thank You For Attending Our “Browsing Through Birke’s” Event on October 1st

October 30, 2015

Dear Friends:

We are so grateful to everyone who attended our “Browsing Through Birke’s” evening at the United Teen Equality Center on October 1st.  Being present with an audience that cares about our community and the experiences of our fellow citizens made the experience very rich and important for me.

I also want to thank our courageous speakers, Sonith Peou and Senga Wabulakombe, who opened their hearts to us. We all have so much to learn about the people who live near us, who wait in line at the supermarket with us, whose children attend schools, and who own restaurants, drug stores, and jewelry stores. We have so much to learn from our bank managers, our waiters, our teachers, and our politicians.

If you attended the event and took photos, or have any reactions, feelings, or thoughts you’d like to share, PLEASE share them directly with me at Szifra@BrowsingThroughBirkes.com or on the Browsing Through Birke’s Facebook page if you feel comfortable.

I wanted to share some brief thoughts after the film, but selected to forgo my words to allow others to share. I’d like to give you a sense of what was on my mind.

We all need some degree of courage—to be brave—to tell our story, and to be open to other people’s stories and lives. It is that courage that I want to talk about and remind others (and myself) about.

First, I want to remind myself to be courageous enough to keep an open mind and be more curious and less judgmental. I need to remind myself to override the instinctive way my brain—all of our brains, actually—wants to take the easier path.

We tend to make assumptions. We often don’t struggle to find new or hidden truths. We tend to have answers, not questions.

I want to make fewer assumptions, or at least question the ones my brain wants to make, when someone:

  • has a beautiful set of pearly white teeth, or is missing some
  • is perfectly dressed, or is wearing worn clothing
  • is driving a Mercedes, or a Chevy with some rust
  • is covered with tattoos
  • has their hat on backwards, or their pants hanging low
  • is working at a convenience store, or a lawyer’s office

I want to remind myself to stay curious, to ask questions and to reach out and remember that each person has a story that is worth my time to hear.

Second, I want to be courageous enough to stand up and not just standby. I want to stand up when someone tells a joke that I find rude or offensive—sexist, racist, classist. I want to be courageous enough to walk away and not participate. Or if there is the safety and I have the courage to say something, I want to speak up.

Third, I want the courage to ask more questions when I have the opportunity. It may seem like I know a lot about my parents’ lives, but I missed many important opportunities because I was afraid to bring up what could be uncomfortable for them. I saw a big NO TRESPASSING sign, which I wish I had helped to take down. I wish I had tried to be more transparent and to help them share more specifics about their lives before and after they came to the U.S.

The first time I asked my father any questions he was 77 years old. I wish I had asked him even then:

  • What did my grandmother look like?
  • What did she cook for him?
  • What was an average day like when he was a kid in Poland?

I wish I knew why he loved his father so much.

Some of you have parents, siblings, cousins, aunts, or uncles who are still alive. Are there questions you feel able or willing to ask them if you push against your hesitation? I encourage you to have the courage to try.

And for those of you who’ve gone through dramatic and/or traumatic experiences, please consider sharing with your family some of what life was like and what some of your relatives were like. You can talk about the sad moments. Or, just as important, you can also share the bright moments, the times of joy, the small moments that matter and stand out to you. I missed a lot of opportunities and I wish I hadn’t.  I now wish I’d had more courage to open those doors.

Again, I thank you.

With warmest regards,

Szifra

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