This is a picture of my father, Eleanor Roosevelt, and a group of members of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, taken at Val-Kill, Roosevelt’s home, on the grounds of the Hyde Park home of her late husband, FDR. The picture dates from the mid-1950’s. My father at the time served as National Education Director of the Amalgamated (adult ed–what a weird job?:)
This event was a part of a series of workshops he created to educate union members about the context in which unionism occurred and mattered, things like politics and citizenship. This was the gospel upon which my parents raised me: the human dignity of workers, the importance of unionism for the functioning of a free society and polity, and the importance of education in safeguarding these sorts of rights and obligations. So even though I wasn’t even alive I think when this event happened, it’s a kind of sacred image and memory in the collective identity of our family.
I confess the image also makes me feel a bit sad. Not just because my father isn’t here, nor because of the precarious state of collective bargaining in our society. My father felt comfortable around and worked with all sorts of people of race, color, religion, ethnicity, class, you name it. He raised me to be the same way. Yet I spend most of my time with upper-middle class Jews. I embrace the choices I made to lead a different sort of life, yet how narrow that has worked out to be. A bit more frequently these days I ask myself: “does God really care about this tiny people of ours, and should I be spending most of my time and energy upon that people?
To be continued…