THE FOUNDER'S STORY
On a trip to Israel in 2010 with 40 other women from the Detroit area, Spill the Honey Founder Dr. Shari Rogers had her first opportunity to hear Eliezer "Eli" Ayalon speak at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial. A Holocaust survivor, Eli had been silent for 37 years until he met Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel who encouraged him to speak about what he witnessed. Eli eventually became known for telling a story from his childhood during the Holocaust. At one point during that horror, before being separated from his mother in Nazi Germany, Eli recalls her giving him a cup of honey and telling him to have a sweet life. Eli cherished that cup of honey as a symbol of hope, and he survived.
Eli’s story inspired thousands of people, including Dr. Rogers, who says, “Filling the cup with honey to share that sweetness was only part of the story. In Eliezer’s voice, I heard the sweetness, the unwavering compassion he had for others. He had not lost his humanity. How had he kept that life-force for others? The Torah teaches us the deeper meaning of compassion and connectedness: every word, every letter, even through the proximity of Hebrew letters on a page.”
Dr. Rogers was so moved by Mr. Ayalon that she undertook her own mission of compassion and hope. She wanted to do more to further humanity and social change. She felt that people needed to be kinder and more conscientious. She wanted others to have the opportunity to be inspired by Eli. She made a documentary film to chronicle and share the many acts of kindness that Eli had inspired around the world. The film, Eli: Inspiring Future Generations, was broadcast on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) and played in theaters where it generated great enthusiasm and profound discussion among viewers.
Eli's Story - Trailer
Eli's Book: A Cup of Honey: The Story of a Young Holocaust Survivor, Eliezer Ayalon on Amazon
Through her work on the film, Dr. Rogers met civil rights leader Dr. Clarence B. Jones, a speechwriter and attorney for Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and author
of the book, “What Would Martin Say.” Dr. Jones, an African-American, shared with Dr. Rogers, a Jewish-American, the importance placed by our civil rights leaders on the Holocaust. He specified that Dr. King had viewed the experience of Jews during the Holocaust as so important to the Civil Rights Movement that he chose Rabbi Joachim Prinz, then-President of the American Jewish Congress, to be the last speaker before Dr. King delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington in 1963.
Rabbi Prinz shared that when he was a rabbi in pre-war Berlin, “The most important thing I learned during those tragic circumstances was that bigotry and hatred are no the most urgent problem. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence.” Rabbi Prinz devoted much of his life in the United States to the Civil Rights Movement. He saw the plight of African-American and other minority groups in the context of his own experience under Hitler.
Dr. Jones and Dr. Rogers realized that, like the cup of honey in Mr. Ayalon’s story, the “I Have a Dream” speech has stood as a symbol of hope to millions of people all over the world. The alliance of the African-American and Jewish-American communities during the March on Washington and throughout the Civil Rights Movement inspired millions to reach across racial and religious barriers to unite against segregation.
Dr. Rogers recalled, “Dr. Jones and I decided to raise our voices together to rebuild the historic coalition between African-Americans and Jews. We realized that the shared pain and work between the Jews and African-Americans can be used to encourage and excite other ethnic groups to join us in our fight against genocide.”
It is painful to think of the parallels – the grief – incorporated into the histories of Jewish-Americans and African-Americans, she note. For example: Moses led his people to “the promised land,” but he could not enter the promised land with them. Dr. King echoed those words in his last public remarks when he told his followers that he had reached the mountain top and could see the Promised Land. “I may not get there with you,” he resounded. “But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried.” He was assassinated the next day.
Many Americans remain unaware of those parallels. “The regrettable absence of knowledge, among the African-American community, especially among Gen X and Y, about the details of one of the most horrendous events in the 20the century – the Holocaust – means there is a loss of historical truth and tribute about one of the most powerful and transformative coalitions that that was created during the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S.” Dr. Jones said in 2014. “The contribution to the civil rights struggle in America of persons like Abraham Joshua Heschel and Rabbi Prinz and their influence and friendship with MLK and his movement, stand as a tribute to the legacy of joint cooperation and oneness between African-Americans and Jewish communities.”
Reaffirming the long-standing connections between Jews and African-Americans is an important goal, but it is not the only goal. Dr. Rogers hopes Spill the Honey will demonstrate ways “for all cultures to come together and see their differences in the shining light of being a member of a family, the family of humankind.”
In an essay in the book, Friendship and Faith: The Wisdom of Women Creating Alliances for Peace, Dr. Rogers described how exploring the teachings and traditions of Judaism enlarged and enhanced her dedication to peace and understanding among all people. In times when religion and cultural values are distorted to justify hatred and dissension, wouldn’t it be amazing if, instead, we could open new doors to kindness and love of humanity?” she wrote. “Together we can create unity in place of isolation, trust in place of fear, and love in place of misunderstanding. If each person does what they can to open doors, we will surely see Tikkum Olam – a world repaired, a world at peace.”
Others who have been touched by Eliezer Ayalon and his story include the Cummings family, Boston-area philanthropists and members of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation "Giving Pledge" who founded the Institute for World Justice. The organization has two missions: to use education to help prevent future genocides and other intercultural violence and injustices, and to aid in the post-genocide recovery and rebuilding of Rwanda. The Institute for World Justice supports those who will teach the next generation of world citizens to be active in confronting societal conditions that might lead to genocide, including prejudice, hatred, racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, social inequality, and intolerance of any kind.
The Cummings/Hillel Program has sponsored interfaith groups of 20 Tufts students each year on a service-learning visit to Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village in eastern Rwanda. Inspired by Israeli youth villages that took in Holocaust orphans, Agahozo-Shalom houses, educates, and cares for more than 500 high-school-aged students, all of whom are orphans of the Rwandan genocide, or are otherwise very vulnerable. Recently, the Cummings Foundation this month selected Salem State University as the first organization to be awarded a grant through its new Major Grants Program, with a commitment of $1 million. This inaugural gift will fund the university's Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.
WHY SPILL THE HONEY
Spill The Honey™, the organization’s name, was inspired by the Jewish custom on Shabbat of filling the cup with wine and letting it overflow. This is to remind us of the joy we should feel learning about our heritage. Specifically, knowing that the Jewish people suffered and triumphed by being compassionate and giving to others can be a model for humanity. Suffering is to be used for empathy and a call to action to do good.