Our Roads Will Meet One Day

Photo: Lev Gringauz – TC Jewfolk

This blog was written on JCRC’s Power of Place educators institute in Europe – an experiential professional development for teachers where learning unfolds as they tour historical sites across Europe in order to transform their understanding of the Holocaust, WWII, antisemitism, and Jewish life today. Power of Place is planned and co-led by Humanus Network on behalf of JCRC and generously supported by the Minnesota Vikings, the Tankenoff Families Foundation, and Allianz of America Corporation.

by Dr. Mike Musil of La Vista, NE | June 26, 2024

Thinking about Power of Place 2024, I’m reminded of the introduction by playwright David Mamet for the play Twelve Angry Men, by Reginald Rose. He writes:

Our greatest American Philosopher, to my mind, was Eric Hoffer.

He was an immigrant kid. He never spent a day in school. He roamed the country during the Depression as a hobo and migrant worker. He wrote that some fellow from the Works Progress Administration rode into his hobo camp sometime in the thick of the Depression and said: “Who wants to work?” The volunteers were put on a flatbed truck and hauled some miles up into the mountains in California.

The WA boss gave one man a compass and a map and said: “Build a road. Your road is to start here, and in three months I will meet you over there. Here are the specs. Take the tools off the truck and get to work.”

Hoffer wrote that that is just what they did. There was enough talent and know-how on the truck, he wrote, to’ve built not only that road, but to have built America. For that, he said, was quite exactly how America was built — a group of reasonably intelligent workers took a simple plan, formed an ad-hoc group, and used their common sense and group spirit to execute it well.

I feel like that’s the role for those who have participated in the Power of Place 2024 (POP ’24) trip: to build a road and meet “over there.”

One often hears statements like “We’ll help others make sense of the Holocaust,” but, quite simply, that cannot be done. We can, however, spread accurate information and testimonies, and discuss how the Holocaust has and continues to alter lives in ways most will never know.

We’ve walked the memorial in Treblinka, the camp of Sachsenhausen, among the Stolpersteine, through neglected and abandoned Jewish cemeteries, and entered a former synagogue-turned-feed-store, yet we still can’t begin to pretend to understand. We’ve wept, placed stones, prayed, and lit candles. We’ve gasped, stared in disbelief, shaken our heads…wondered. But we supported and took care of each other with hugs, listening, encouragement, friendship — dare I say love?

As a generation of survivors quickly fades, participants of POP ’24, along with the progeny of survivors, comprise the next generation that calls for peace.

There will be those who doubt us when we tell them what we’ve seen and those who are uncomfortable with it. But there will be those who are receptive, will listen and want to talk more about a phenomenon that will never make sense.

What I know for sure is that we need to assume we are reasonably intelligent people, with others who are also reasonably intelligent, and our road will meet “over there.” We must build that road together, even if it doesn’t emerge perfectly — because we know it’s unlikely it will. However, over time, with any luck at all, the road will become so traveled, no one will know it never perfectly navigated to its destination. And perhaps we will all find peace there.


As the consensus public affairs voice of the Jewish community, JCRC builds relationships to fight antisemitism and bigotry; educates about Judaism, Israel, antisemitism, and the Holocaust; advocates for Jewish values and priorities; and safeguards our community.