An Emotional Luncheon

Sandra Ekberg ‘86

Co-leader, Reproductive Justice Task Force

“I was doing outdoor chores at the inn where I worked in Japanese-occupied South Korea. Suddenly, two large men came up on either side of me, grabbed my wrists, covered my mouth and dragged me forcibly away. I was 15 years old and never again saw any member of my immediate family.”

Two Korean "Comfort Women" and the sponsors of their U.S. trip are pictured, along with 4 members of the Reproductive Justice Task Force, Drs. Yangnim and Larry Kurz, Tara McNamara and Sandra Ekberg.

Two Korean “Comfort Women” and the sponsors of their U.S. trip are pictured, along with 4 members of the Reproductive Justice Task Force, Drs. Yangnim and Larry Kurz, Tara McNamara and Sandra Ekberg.

Thus began the sad and harrowing narrative of Ok-seon Lee, 87, a surviving Korean “comfort woman” who visited Manhattan in early August. She traveled with Il-chul Kang, 85, during a two-week U.S. tour that included the Los Angeles area and Washington, D.C.  The two “grandmas,” as the Koreans refer to them, are among the few remaining survivors of the more than 200,000 or more young girls and women throughout Southeast Asia who were enslaved during the 1940s to provide sexual  services to the Japanese military.  Both women recounted their horrific  stories to four members of the Reproductive Justice Task Force (RJTF) during a luncheon arranged by KACE (Korean American Civic Empowerment), an organization with which the task force is planning a major program on Thursday, October 23, at All Souls. Our meeting was a very emotional, one  emotionally difficult for the two grandmas as they relived details of the brutality they suffered during the war, and equally  difficult for myself and  others to listen to.

Both women were placed at “comfort stations” located in China, but neither was able to return home at the end of the war, and they did not see Korea again until less than 20 years ago. Today, along with a handful of other surviving Korean “comfort women,” they live in the House of Sharing, a government-provided home in Seoul . Each week, these aging women demonstrate outside the Japanese Consulate.  Their explicit goal: To receive an apology from that government for what they and others were subjected to during the war. Weekly demonstrations have taken place, rain or shine, for 20 years, while the Japanese continue to deny that the women were forcibly enslaved. The Japanese label their presence as entirely  “voluntary.” However, the grandmas are a determined group of survivors; Ok-seon Lee told us, “I refuse to die until the Japanese apologize for what they did to us.”

Among their activities during the U.S. visit, the grandmas testified in a federal court case in Glendale, California.  Several statues memorializing “comfort women” have been erected by Korean-American organizations  in cities on both coasts. The statue in Glendale was challenged by two Japanese-Americans who alleged that the monument violated the U.S. Constitution and asked that it be removed.  However, the judge recently dismissed the lawsuit.  The women’s stop in Washington, D.C. marked the seventh anniversary of the U.S. House passage of a resolution demanding that the Japanese government offer an appropriate apology to the women and compensate them for their losses. And in the New York area, the grandmas attended the unveiling of Union City, New Jersey’s  Liberty Plaza Monument.

Two Korean "Comfort Women," Ok-seon Lee and Il-chul Kang, met with Reproductive Justice Task Force members that included  Drs. Yangnim and Larry Kurz, who have organized the church's October 23 program.

Two Korean “Comfort Women,” Ok-seon Lee and Il-chul Kang, met with Reproductive Justice Task Force members that included Drs. Yangnim and Larry Kurz, who have organized the church’s October 23 program.

At the end of our luncheon, members of the task force embraced both grandmas, shared information about the October program, and bade them goodbye as they departed for an afternoon presentation at the Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center in Queens, after which they were to return home. For task force members, it was a most memorable luncheon about an important reproductive justice issue.

More information about the upcoming program will be available in the RJTF column of the September and October All Souls Bulletin.

New Members Already Engaged In Congregational Life

By Maryah Converse, Membership Coordinator

The first Sunday in June is New Member Sunday at All Souls.  As part of the 11:15 service on June 1, the names of the last year’s 84 new members were read aloud, and they were invited to stand on the chancel steps and be recognized by the congregation.  Board of Trustees President Victor Fidel ‘04 and Deacon President Christina Goodwin ‘80 handed white roses to the new members as they came forward.  Rev. Galen Guengerich ‘93 spoke briefly about the significance of the Bond of Union, and the congregation recited it with the new members.

Victor Fidel ‘04 & Christine Goodwin ‘80

Victor Fidel ‘04 & Christine Goodwin ‘80

Brigitte Buss ‘13 was “honored and touched” by the simple ceremony.  She became move involved at All Souls after working with the congregation on Superstorm Sandy relief, and has been a regular volunteer at Friday Soup.  Though she has to leave New York soon, she has already connected with a Unitarian congregation in Geneva, Switzerland.

This year’s Right Hand of Fellowship ceremony was well attended, with 27 new members on the chancel.  It was a noticeably younger cohort on average than in some past years.  The many young people on the chancel reflects, in part, more than two years of collaboration between All Souls congregational leaders, staff, and Young Adult Leadership Team to integrate the community of twenty- and thirty-somethings more closely and intentionally into the congregation.

Many Young Adults became members through their leadership and advocacy work with multigenerational groups and taskforces.  John Miles ‘14 is an early member of the Hub Sunday evening worship planning committee.  Erin Langus ‘14 is active with the Reproductive Justice Taskforce.  Laura Blaguszewski ’13 became a member as well as a first grade teacher in the Religious Education Program this year, in addition to her ongoing leadership role in the Hub.  Caroline Erickson ’14, Eric Smith ’14 and Emily Petrie ’13 all have leadership roles within the All Souls Young Adults.

Leadership led to membership for others as well.  Laurence Berg ‘14 facilitates the Men’s Group in the Small Group Ministry program.  Maria Baldo ’14 has helped teach the Coming of Age class for several years, and Hannah McIntyre ’14 is helping to create a movement-based curriculum as a teacher of the three-year-olds.  Almost as soon as she became a member, Jessica Linderman ‘13 also became a leader of an All Souls-sponsored Girl Scout troop.

Many new members came to All Souls for their children to participate in the Religious Education (RE) Program.  Karim Lopez-Maekawa ‘13 joined as soon as her daughter fell in love with the RE Program, while Michael and Anastasia Didier ’14 joined while their two-year-old son is still in the nursery.

Erin and Jennifer Gore ‘14

Erin and Jennifer Gore ‘14

Dan Horrigan ‘14 and Kimberly Rossiter ‘14 have been Junior High Youth Group advisors for several years, and were finally moved to become members this year. This congregation, said Dan, has brought him “joy, laughter, solace, knowledge but most importantly, community.”  Kimberly said that membership “felt extra meaningful because I signed right under Charlotte Beshers ‘14, one of my former students from the Junior High Youth Group who came of age this year.”Charlotte, the sole Junior Member to join this year, is the third generation of the Beshers family to be members at All Souls and involved with the RE Program.

Sometimes membership at All Souls is a quick decision, and sometimes it is a long process.  Long time New Yorkers Erin and Jennifer Gore ‘13 learned about All Souls from the New Orleans minister who performed their wedding last July, and became members almost immediately. At All Souls, Jennifer says, they are building a community for their new family to “rely on both emotionally and intellectually.” Others, like Steve Kaminsky ‘14 and Gertje Utley ‘13, finally made their membership official after many years in “the great family of All Souls,” as Rev. William Ellery Channing called it.  Kevin Billet ‘14 and his wife, Annick Billet, are returning to All Souls after many years upstate, and he has already begun working with Mary-Ella Holst ‘64 to revitalize the planned giving program at All Souls.  This flagship congregation of our faith also attracts transplants to New York City who were members or friends of Unitarian Universalist congregations elsewhere, including Margaret Ruttenberg ‘14, Jon Roussel ‘13, and Fritz and Ingrid Reuter ’14.

New Members

 

Fracking Film Draws Attentive Crowd

By Carol Emmerling ‘04 and Linda Rousseau ‘96

 About forty members and friends of All Souls filled the chapel on May 22 to view “Groundswell Rising, Protecting Our Children’s Air And Water,” a documentary about the issues surrounding the process of fracking to recover natural gas and oil from underground and the people impacted by it. The event was co-sponsored by the Peace and Justice Task Force and the Unitarian Universalist – United Nations Office.

The audience included both people supportive of and opposed to fracking.

The website, http://www.groundswellrising.com sums up the film this way: “the new documentary from Emmy Award-winning Resolution Pictures captures the passion of people engaged in a David and Goliath confrontation. They stand together, challenging a system that promotes profit over health. We meet mothers, fathers, scientists, doctors, farmers and people from all sides of the political spectrum taking a hard look at energy extraction techniques not proven to be safe. With the oil and gas industry’s expansion of fracking seen as a moral issue, this provocative documentary tracks a people’s movement, a groundswell rising towards reason and sensitivity, to protect life, today and tomorrow.”

groundswellBoth Mark Lichty, the film’s Executive Director, and Renard Cohen, the Producer/Director from Resolution Pictures, were present to give a cogent introduction to the film. Renard spoke of how he was personally moved by his on-the-job witnessing of the fracking process and the human and environmental cost. Following the film they led a lively discussion in which it became evident that people in our audience had been deeply moved by the film and the issues it raised.

The issues included corporate intimidation used to gain access to private land, health, environmental pollution, community and way-of-life concerns, plummeting property values and a growing inability for owners of fracked land to obtain property insurance or bank financing. It also highlighted the irony that this gas is for exportation, not for use in the U.S. Many countries in Europe (France, Bulgaria, Germany) have banned fracking, but multinational companies, including French ones, are fracking in the United States.

As the film noted, and several people in the audience commented upon, the United States does not have strong regulations to monitor the fracking industry, and that our country has never ratified the Kyoto Treaty, which deals with limits to global environmental pollution. In all, the film generated more questions than it answered, opening the way for further discussion and debate.

Near the end of the event, Pat Almonrode from 350.NYC, a chapter of 350.org, http://www.350.org shared information about his group’s work regarding fossil fuels and renewable energy sources and a movement encouraging investors to divest from fossil fuels. He also announced an important event, still in planning stages, that will take place either September 20 or 21 in New York City. This peaceful, family-oriented climate change march will coincide with an historic UN Summit of World Leaders on Climate Change. (Read “A Call to Arms” by Bill McKibben in the June issue of Rolling Stone.) The organizers are hoping for half a million people to march in support of “a world with an economy that works for people and the planet—a world with jobs, clean air, and healthy communities for all. A world safe from the ravages of climate change.” All Souls members have already begun planning ways to have a role in this march. Stay tuned for further information. Or contact http://www.peoplesclimatemarch.org if you’d like to help.

UN Seminar Explores Indigenous Rights

By Maryah Converse, All Souls Membership Coordinator

The so-called purchase of the island of Manhattan from the Lenape tribe is one of the first examples of European settlers claiming ownership of land inhabited by a people who don’t recognize a human capacity to own land participants at the Intergenerational Spring Seminar of our denomination’s United Nations Office were reminded. Mohawk activist John Kane, host of “First Voices Indigenous Radio” here in New York City, told the group that “the Earth belongs to future generations, for whom we hold it in trust; the moment we emerge from the womb, we lose our ownership of it.”

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The seminar , titled “The Rights of Indigenous People,” on April 2-4 was attended by 185 people, and 90 youth and their advisors from around the nation bedded down on the floors at All Souls.

The seminar opened with the poignant personal stories of two young Native American women. At Columbia University, Native American Society President Sara Chase told how she successfully fought for the establishment of Manhattan House, a safe place for native students to gather, and to perform their sacred rituals.  She founded a nonprofit, AlterNATIVE Education, whose summer programs bring together native schoolchildren with tribal elders to teach them their traditions and languages, and pride in their tribal history and identities.

These personal stories provided context for the documents on which much of the rest of the seminar was based, particularly the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).  This 2006 nonbinding declaration includes the right to self-determination, self-governance, no relocation without “free, prior and informed consent,” and restitution for violation of these rights. Cinnamon Spear, a Northern Cheyenne activist, told how her great-grandmother, at five years old, was taken from her family and sent to a residential Indian School, where she was denied any interaction with her own language, history, prayers and ceremonies.  With no memory of her mother, and no model for becoming one, she sent her own children to Indian Schools, as did her daughter after her.  By the time Cinna was born, the schools were closed, but her mother also had no models of motherhood, and had turned to alcohol and drugs to assuage her depression and despair. Young Cinna became mother to her own brothers and sisters, and sought out tribal elders to teach them all that her mother and grandmothers had been denied.

 

One of three keynote speakers, Vyda Ng, Executive Director of the Canadian Unitarian Council (CUC), introduced the Expression of Truth and Reconciliation that the CUC presented to the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission this March.  It outlines how Canada’s residential Indian Schools were in violation of each of the seven Unitarian Universalist principles, and commits the CUC to the development of a curriculum that teaches that history and works towards reconciliation.

For Canadian Unitarians, the issue of indigenous rights is on the front pages of Canadian newspapers every day.  In Q&A, many Canadian youth first identified their congregation’s name, followed by the First Nation on whose land it stood.

uu-uno3Other panels included Ojibwe elder Mary Lyons and Lenape Chief Curtis Zunigha speaking on indigenous spirituality, and indigenous activists Juan de Dios Garcia and Juanita Cabrera Lopez speaking about their struggles with the Guatemalan government and multi-national energy companies.  A panel on environmental justice kept circling back to the role of the elders and ancestors.  To move forwards toward reconciliation and a more sustainable future, we must all come to a better understanding of our ancestors, both indigenous and settler, both constructive and destructive.  In her Saturday morning homily, the Rev. Alison Miller ʼ92 brought that process to life.  On one side, her ancestors fled the pogroms to sanctuary in New York.  On the other, she descends from close family of the very man who “bought” Manhattan from the Lenape.  She reflected on the work her congregation has done to aid indigenous Guatemalans in Morristown, NJ, and exhorted attendees to take action for justice in their own communities.

In attendance from All Souls, in addition to the UU-UNO Director Bruce Knotts ʼ09 and his husband Isaac Humphrie ʼ09, were All Souls UNO Envoy Peggy Montgomery ʼ94, Betty McCollum ʼ07, David Andrews ʼ79 and Marilyn Mehr ʼ07Rev. Fran Mercer ʼ95, who works in the UNO, and All Souls Director of Religious Education Taryn Strauss were able to attend part of the program.  Kamila Jacob, UNO Envoy Coordinator and youth programming coordinator, is an All Souls RE Program alumna and teaches the ninth grade “Race to Justice” curriculum at All Souls.

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On Stage at All Souls

One of her first memories of her mother is in a costume with a shimmering breastplate as St. Joan, actress Dana Ivey ‘97 told interviewer and playwright Laura Pedersen ‘03 at the Women’s Alliance spring tea on Saturday, April 26. With that as inspiration, it’s not surprising that Dana was motivated to become a dramatic actress, although Joan of Arc and Cleopatra are two roles that have eluded her in her own illustrious career.

Dana Ivey and Laura Pedersen

Dana Ivey and Laura Pedersen

Dana and Laura, both lifelong Unitarian Universalists, were this year’s headliners at a dessert-rich afternoon program that drew more than one hundred people. Seated comfortably onstage in Friendship Hall, the two explored Dana’s life in the theater, her thoughts about her profession today and its future. Laura had invited Alliance members to submit questions for the interview.

Much as she likes inspirational characters, Dana said, casting directors have noted she “seems to have an inside avenue to the Devil.” At seven, she played a fairy who cast an evil spell on Sleeping Beauty. She and her late mother, Mary Nell Ivey Santacroce, a talented amateur actress and academic, performed together in plays like “The Crucible” and “The Miracle Worker” at Atlanta’s Alliance Theater.

Perhaps Dana is best known for establishing the title role of a prickly Atlanta Jewish dowager chauffeured by Morgan Freeman in Alfred Uhry’s play “Driving Miss Daisy.” She received an Obie and an Outer Critics Circle Award for that performance. Growing up in Atlanta, she said she absorbed the pitches, inflections and rhythms of Southern speech, which enabled her to play “a lot of fabulous Southern roles.” For her performance in “The Last Night of Ballyhoo,”another Uhry play, she received a Drama Desk Award and a Tony nomination. She’d like another shot at Amanda in Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” she said. Although she played Amanda once before, she said, the production was not very good.

Morgan Freeman, she said, is a “wonderful person…giving…a great soul.” When he was cast, however, he had just played a character who put out another man’s eye, which she found a little intimidating. Theater, she said, creates a team “all breathing the same air. The audience is there to give themselves to what they’re doing.”

In answer to a question about seeing the film role of Miss Daisy go to Jessica Tandy, Dana said “rejection is hard,” but that the stage has always been her preference. She’s happiest when she can “open a door in somebody’s mind… when the theater is serving something other than itself.” That is manifest in her Drama Desk Award, her Obie, her five Tony nominations and her place in the American Theater Hall of Fame. Right now, she’s a Tonys judge, attending plays that are up for the award.

Dana’s film credits include “The Color Purple” and “The Help,” and, most recently, for HBO, “Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight.”  She’s often been seen on television in soap operas, “Sex and the City,” “Law and Order” and a variety of other productions.

Frequently, however, she’s mistaken on the street for the British actress Maggie Smith, now a star in PBS’s British drama “Downton Abbey.” Since she looks so much like her, Dana says she’d be happy to play any of the Dowager Countess’s relatives, and Laura suggested that the audience drop the producers a line to suggest it.

Dana lamented that plays rarely tour with their original casts as they did when theater was the only entertainment many people had. Because she values words and ideas, Dana said, she is disappointed that so many Broadway plays are musicals rather than dramas, and she is appalled by reality television, which requires no acting training at all.

Photo by Neil Osborne

Photo by Neil Osborne

“I worked really hard at the discipline required to become a skilled craftsman,” Dana said. She studied drama at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, and on a Fulbright at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts. Prior to coming to New York, Dana performed around the U.S. and in Canada. She made her Broadway debut with two small roles in “Macbeth.”

She thinks only people who are driven to acting should pursue it as a profession, and that they need formal training. Daily voice and movement exercises are crucial, and actors should read in order to feed their minds and hearts. As for playwrights, she said, “There’s a lot of skill and a craft to writing a really good play.” Asked to recommend up and coming American playwrights, she named Bruce Norris (“Clybourne Park”) and Itamar Moses (“Completeness”).

Summing up her career, Dana counted as her only possible sacrifice never marrying or having children, but she said she was just too ambitious for a career and she would do it again. She donated her honorarium from the Alliance to The Acting Company for the training of classical actors and creation of audiences to watch them.

Laura has written a new play opening this July at the Barrow Group Theater, “This Will All Be Yours.” Don’t tell Dana, but it’s a musical. Charles Bloom wrote the music and the lyrics.