By Stacey Dresner
“Have you ever in your life felt called to do something?” Asks Rabbi Jeff Glickman of Temple Beth Hillel in South Windsor.
Rabbi Glickman and his wife, Mindy Radler Glickman, have.
The couple felt that call late last year when they embarked on “The Tour to the Wonderful,” a month-long road trip in their RV to communities around the U.S. – both Jewish and secular – to learn about the communities’ needs, and to help meet those needs.
On their tour, Rabbi Glickman, who is the spiritual leader of Temple Beth Hillel in South Windsor, and Mindy, travelled 12,000 miles from Connecticut, down the eastern seaboard, spending time in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and making their way out to Texas, Arizona and California. In each community – always following Covid-19 protocols – they visited Reform synagogues, United Way offices and National Public Radio stations – organizations the couple passionately support.
Along the way, the Glickmans also visited 20 Beth Hillel members who have moved to other states and a former Connecticut rabbi who now works with refugees on the border between Texas and Mexico.
They documented their tour via newsletters, blogs and Facebook live.
“At its core, this Tour To The Wonderful is about expanding our circle of awareness – going to new communities and asking to be included as a member,” Rabbi Glickman says. “Now that we are more aware, we bear responsibility to not stand idly by.”
The Glickmans came up with the idea for their tour during their stay with the rabbi’s parents at their home in Portland, Maine last year.
“We were sheltering with my in-laws…and we were there for six months. We went up with no clothing, thinking we were going home,” Mindy recalls. “And the next day we realized, nobody was going anywhere.”
“I viewed it absolutely as a call,” says Rabbi Glickman, who continued to stay in touch with his congregants, teach classes and lead Temple Beth Hillel services while in Maine. “There was a lot of isolation and a lot of hurting. It was the fact that there are huge divides in our country. And people not even talking to one another or looking at each other. There’s an epidemic of COVID but there’s also a greater epidemic of loneliness. And loneliness also kills.”
It was while listening to a program on NPR that things really clicked for Rabbi Glickman.
“I heard something on NPR, about a restaurant owner saying, ‘We’re not looking for a handout, we don’t need a tax break. What we really need is customers.’ I thought, that’s really deep; there’s a lot to that. I thought, How can I be a really good customer? …How do you become a customer of NPR, well, you join the station, become a member. So I thought, what would happen if we joined every single NPR station in the United States? And I love Reform Judaism, but how do you become a member? You don’t just make a donation; you join. And what if you love United Way because they have their ear to the ground in communities and they are all over the United States? What if we made donations to every United Way? Surprisingly, it’s [doesn’t take] that much money to make a difference,” Rabbi Glickman says.
The couple decided to visit these organizations around the country to see their work and to contribute to them in person. So, after returning to South Windsor in the fall, the Glickmans purchased a camper van, mapped out a route and on Dec. 27 hit the road.
First stop: the homes of Beth Hillel members who had moved away from South Windsor and were clustered along the east coast.
“We visited every single one of them. Many of them leave because they get a little older and they need a little care from their children. And they’re alone,” Mindy says. “
In all they visited 20 congregants in New Jersey, Florida, Alabama and the Carolinas.
Among those they visited was June Silver, a native of South Windsor who now lives in Egg Harbor City, New Jersey. Silver, who along with her late husband was a founder of Beth Hillel, was made an honorary lifetime member of the synagogue when she moved to New Jersey to be closer to her son and daughter-in-law.
“They stopped here and I was thrilled,” Silver says. “Of course, they wouldn’t come in, so we went outside and chatted for almost a half hour with our masks on. … It was joyful.”
During the second week the Glickmans began meeting the representatives of some of the non-profits they had contacted.
“Every day we met with several different synagogues in small towns, mostly Reform or members of the URJ [Union of Reform Judaism],” Rabbi Glickman says. “We met with the heads of the United Way and NPR, and one ACLU affiliate in Mississippi.
“Many of the days we were up at 3:30 and started driving to the next place. We would drive at night and early in the morning to cover the miles that we did, so we could devote the days to meet with fascinating people,” he says.
The Glickmans remained flexible, meeting their contacts whenever they could – sometimes late at night. And some times digging in to help when and where they were needed.
In Century, Florida, for example, they stopped to help with a sidewalk-painting and reading project for the town’s parks.
“So, we got our hands wet with some paint. While I was painting the sidewalk… Jeff was interviewing Larry the guy, the head of parks,” Mindy says
The Glickmans later spent time in three cities on the Texas-Mexico border – Brownsvile, McAllen and Harlingen. Rabbi Claudio Kogen, formerly a rabbi in Guilford, now serves Temple Emanuel in McAllen.
“He is doing Herculean heroic work there,” says Rabbi Glickman.
“He’s helping families directly,” Mindy adds . “He helps asylum-seekers, and he helps the community at large. And he speaks Spanish which is huge.”
The Glickmans scheduled a 10 a.m. meeting one day with the United Way head in the small town of Harlingen, Tex. They invited the leaders of organizations that United Way supported to come meet them as well, and offered $100 donations.
“An hour and a half later, 70 heads of all the major organizations were right on the front porch of the small house that is the headquarters for the United Way,” Rabbi Glickman says. Those organizations included The Boys and Girls Club, the Salvation Army, the Crisis Relief Center, a food bank and a local soup kitchen.
During these visits, Rabbi Glickman interviewed many about the needs in their communities and what is being done to meet those needs. These interviews, and others conducted along the way, were taped and are now available on the tour website. Using their cell phones, the Glickmans live-streamed videos of the people they met, hoping to share their trip with their South Windsor congregants and others who followed their footsteps.
The also did broadcasts every day at 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.
“I opened up a Zoom Room to start the day with a moment of breathing – I called it 100 blessings – where people could join me in the morning for just a spiritual five minutes,” recalls Rabbi Glickman. “And at five o’clock each day we also did five minutes, but that we did that live on Facebook, and we continue to do that. When something really interesting happened we just opened up a live stream,”
The Glickmans both also wrote about the tour in newsletters for the website and entries to their blog.
On the road, the Glickmans came up with an initiative they called “GLeE” – “Giving Local Everywhere.”
“As part of making the trip a little bit fun for the virtual participants we had a couple of games. One of them was for them to tell us what that little ‘e’ in GLeE stands for. Some suggestions were “everywhere,” “energetically” “enthusiastically,” Mindy said.
To encourage those following the duo to “Give Local Everywhere” they listed on their website the locations of all the United Ways, NPR stations and synagogues they visited.
Most of the funds that the Glickmans donated around the country were from their own coffers, but some people familiar with the journey gave them funds to donate before they left and along the way.
“As I was saying goodbye to the Glickmans I handed them a cash donation so that they would become my shaliach mitzvah – a messenger to do a good deed,” said Eric Maurer, director of the West Hartford teen program JT Connect. “There is a Jewish tradition to give money to someone who is about to embark on a dangerous journey that they will donate to tzedakah at their destination. By appointing them as your messenger to do a mitzvah, we hope that God will provide them extra protection to successfully complete the act.”
Different days brought unexpected experiences. While getting an oil change in Boulder, Colo., the Glickmans took a walk around town and came upon a food pantry. They spent two hours there, talking with the director learning about the work done for the area’s homeless population.
When they asked if a barber in Phoenix could set up chairs outside to give them a haircut, the Glickmans engaged him in conversation and learned that he had once been homeless and now volunteers with an organization that helps women seeking employment improve their appearance.
Visiting the development person for Mississippi Public Radio, they found out that she was a rabbi with a part-time pulpit at a local Reform synagogue, who is the former director of the Institute for Southern Jewish Living. They also met the rabbi’s husband, a lawyer representing death row inmates in that state. They had dinner in the backyard of these new friends and talked for hours.
“Every day was unbelievable,” Rabbi Glickman says.
The Glickmans returned home to Connecticut on Jan. 27.
“Looking back, I think this is one of our greatest findings,” Rabbi Glickman said. “We grow as persons when we grow in awareness and then act responsibly on that awareness. We discovered that spiritual growth comes from both awareness and acting on it. Perhaps that is why we were put here.”
For more on the Glickman’s Turn to the Wonderful tour, visit turntothewonderful.com/us-tour-2021
Main Photo: Rabbi Jeff and Mindy Glickman in front of their van, while on their Tour to the Wonderful cross-country trip.