Promoting Tolerance USA Study Trip 2015 in Photos | fnst.org

Promoting Tolerance USA Study Trip 2015 in Photos

By Ivan Despotovic Promoting Tolerance Fellow 2015, Serbia
Message19.01.2016
Ivan Despotovic, Fellow 2015, Serbia
Ivan Despotovic, Fellow 2015, Serbia

Human rights activists all around the world have one dream in common about their country becoming a society in which everybody, although each of them is totally different, can live in peace as equals. Most of them also have one wish in common - to visit the United States of America, a country which can serve as an example of good practice because of all its problems regarding human rights that it is still trying to solve. But no matter what, the USA is a good role model of the integration of minorities in society.

For a small group of liberal-minded people from Eastern and Central Europe, that wish came true. They were selected as the best participants from two selection phases of the 23rd Promoting Tolerance programme organized by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF) and the American Jewish Committee. I was honoured to be one of them.

Promoting Tolerance 2015 Fellows in the Seminar in Belgrade 2015

Promoting Tolerance 2015 Fellows in the Seminar in Belgrade 2015

The topic of this year’s programme was a focus on rising anti-Semitism in Europe and how to improve the integration of Jewish people in our European societies. In order to expand our knowledge of that, we started our journey from Washington DC on 11 October 2015. 

After a warm welcome from the Director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and after catching a glimpse of DC and the American lifestyle on our first day, the next day we had an opportunity to get acquainted with the work of the AJC and their role in making the USA a multicultural and diverse society based on tolerance. Mr George Lambert, President and CEO of the Greater Washington Urban League, came as well to give us a perspective on the life of the biggest minority in the USA, African-Americans. 

We must learn from our mistakes. Having that in mind, we went on the third day to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. I have never seen or heard the story of the Holocaust like that before. Complete, detailed, told through individual stories, and frightening. One would never think that people are capable of that. If you ask me, this is a must-see place for all people in the world. Because, as one of the survivors from Auschwitz said, “It happened, therefore it can happen again”. That is a message I’m bringing home and one I will never forget. In the evening we visited an anti-Semitism task force on Capitol Hill, where we talked about instruments for dealing with rising anti-Semitism around the whole world.

Our journey to Washington DC ended with a big reception hosted by the FNF where we had opportunity to meet their partners, journalists, politicians, entrepreneurs, etc. In the morning we headed off to New York. From my first step on the streets of the city which is the centre of the world and a place where everything is happening, I felt amazing energy and atmosphere. Huge buildings, the rush of traffic and rivers of people from all nations walking on the streets. I read in one article when I came back a sentence that said “New York is a city in which you can hear 800 different languages and where everybody is looking forward to help you no matter which language you speak”, and now when I think about it, I really felt that way too. 

There we also visited the US 9/11 Memorial and Museum and the Central Synagogue, where we had discussions with prominent representatives of the AJC, but the best part of New York for me was a visit to Sesame Street Inc. and their education programme for children that promotes diversity through cartoons and short movies. This is a real example of how education can be fun for both those who are providing the education and for those who learn (more on: http://www.sesamestreet.org/).

For me and one half of the group, the next stop was Atlanta (the other half of the group went to Cincinnati), the home of the non-violent civil rights movement. Of course this city is also the home of Coca Cola, Home Depot and the biggest airport in the world, but the civil rights movement changed mankind like none of these things has. Although I’m not in favour of generalizations, ‘southern hospitality’ really could be felt on every corner. The first day in Atlanta was very intense, but somehow we managed to go to the famous Mary Mac’s Tea Room restaurant for a lunch, had a guided tour of the Breman Jewish Heritage Museum and the Temple along with the short discussion with Rabbi Loren Lapidus, be honoured guests at the Friday Night Kabbalat Service and finally, visit a Jewish family for Shabbat dinner. At the end, we all agreed that we had enjoyed every intense moment of that day during which we had a possibility to have a closer look at Jewish life. 

The best moment of the whole journey for me happened on the second day in Atlanta. We had visited the best exhibition I have ever seen, dedicated to the southern peaceful civil rights movement at the Center for Civil and Human rights. There I saw every important moment of this movement, felt the lives and problems of black people in the 60s and experienced the struggle of Martin Luther King Jr. and the rest of the movement for their dream - equality before the law. 

After that, our visit to the CNN centre and the guided tour around the area where all civil rights movement operated was just “Icing on the cake”.

The last stage of our US tour was a visit to the City of Angels, Los Angeles. After a perfect sunset and a welcome dinner the beach house home of one of AJC’s LA representatives, the next day was a chance for a discussion at the LA City Hall with a council member about how things work in the city with such a diverse population. Also part of this day was a visit to the biggest LGBT centre in the whole US, followed by a great discussion on the topic of the struggle for the rights of the LGBT community. In between we went to the famous LA Grand Central Market, a place where you can find the best fast food from all around the world.Also, if you are in LA there is one place you can’t miss, the Hollywood Walk of Fame. And we didn’t. We were there for a few hours, among the stars of people who created and maintained one integral part of our lives, entertainment. 

What almost always comes after entertainment is a smile and happiness. However our smile was a sour one. We had a great time but we all knew that tomorrow would be our last day. In the morning we visited the Museum of Tolerance and a Jewish Skirball Centre in the evening. But this journey, which was the best I’ve ever had, wouldn’t have been so good without a perfect ending. We walked on a red carpet that night, at a gala dinner to honour Jeff Shell, CEO of Universal Studios.

This was a perfect journey. The opportunity to meet and exchange experiences with prominent experts from various fields and an amazing group of people from Europe, and at the same time, have a unique opportunity to visit the best of the USA. I’m coming home richer for this great experience and, most importantly, for the fact that I couldn’t recognize a Jew on the street (the exception being orthodox Jews due to their clothing). They are not only very well integrated, but they also have influenced and improved life in the US in a great manner. This is now even more important because the whole world is facing the fact of huge migrations and this is a lesson that we must not perceive these migrants as a threat but as an opportunity. An opportunity to improve our societies and give them added value.

Written by Ivan Despotovic 
Promoting Tolerance Fellow 2015, Serbia

For more information for the Promoting Tolerance Programme: here

Thanks to all fellows, who submitted photos for this article.