Q: Tell me about your trip.
Mindy Glickman: When we decided to do the trip, one of the values or pillars of the trip was that loneliness kills. We started hearing stories about how people are really lonely and especially older people who are stuck at home. We wanted to create an experience where people could travel with us. We bought an RV and we slowly created four different values that we explored. One of those was how do you help with loneliness? We decided to visit some people that might be remote and lonely.
Q: How far west did you get?
Mindy: As far as Encino, California. We were in Encino. We were in Buffalo, and the triangle would be Naples, Florida.
Q: What was your situation when the pandemic hit?
Jeff: We were here, but then, one of the very first weekends we went to spend a couple of days with my mom.
We figured the disease would last 10 days. We’d be up there for a couple of days, and then come back. After 10 days, the whole pandemic scare would be over. We were there for six months.
Q: Was it the experience with your mom that inspired you to do this trip?
Jeff: Funny you should ask. We did come down a couple of times and we visited everyone in the congregation, hundreds of people in their home. We would be on the lawn and they would be at the front door and we brought strawberries for everybody. We did that a few times.
Mindy: We went to a farm and filled up our car several times and we were very systematic driving to every single house. It took five days. I think it meant a lot to people.
Jeff: It did. It brought the community together. We did a lot of things like that since. There were a few things that came together. One of them was my realization that things happen far away that affect us locally. That translated into, “Everywhere is the new local.” That’s a phrase that we use.
There’s another thing that hit me. However bad this pandemic is because of the virus, there’s a much greater pandemic that affects maybe 90% of America that has to do with loneliness and isolation and fear. I think that this loneliness, this isolation, will kill more people than the virus will, because if people put on an average of 20 pounds and they’re already obese and people don’t see their doctor, what’s going to happen, with domestic abuse and all kinds of other things?
Addressing the loneliness is kind of a cure in and of itself. America in my lifetime had never been so divided and people didn’t talk to each other, let alone see each other. We missed people. I looked at all of my investments and savings and realized that I wasn’t hurt that badly. I sold a very large percentage of it and gave it away this year because we decided to invest not in stocks, but in people.
Q: When it came to planning, how did you prepare?
Jeff: It was a big thank you to my congregation, because not everyone understood how having their rabbi drive around the United States was a good thing for anybody, but they gave their blessing to it. We got a van with a bed in the back and a teeny, little toilet so we didn’t have to go into any buildings anywhere.
We wanted to get a handle on what the needs are in the community, especially in different places, really local.
Rather than talk to national organizations, we sought out United Ways. There were over 800 United Ways in America. Almost every county in America, large or small, has their own United Way. They say, in our town, there’s a soup kitchen and there’s the disabled handicap shelter or whatever. There are all these different things and it’s hard to give to all of them, but if you want to give $5 a month or $10 a month or $100 a month, they could take it out of your paycheck and distribute it in the community.
Mindy: They have agencies like food banks and shelters that they budget and support. Those agencies count on the donations that they get from the United Way.
Jeff: They really have their ear to the ground all over the United States. That was a consistency. We also like NPR stations and we sought them out and ACLUs to find out what was going on on the ground in the different places, and synagogues in remote places.
Q: Did that dictate where your journey was going to go?
Jeff: Yes, and the fact that it was January and when you have water in your van, it’s easier not to be in freezing places.
Mindy: We also didn’t stay at any camping grounds. We would drive and not know exactly where we would sleep each night, so we intentionally pointed to places that we knew we had family, even if they were distant relatives or people we didn’t know, maybe a synagogue member from some synagogue we hadn’t yet met.
We also visited every member of our synagogue who no longer lives in South Windsor, that moved away, but maintained memberships. That helped to find where we were going. One of them for instance, lives in Alabama.
Jeff: We aimed mostly for Alabama, Mississippi, and the southern tip of Texas.
Jeff: We did 12,000 miles in one month. We essentially did driving, driving, driving, and had conversations with really fascinating people and we never went into a building.
Q: What was your objective?
Mindy: We wanted to see where the needs of the needy are being fulfilled. One way we did it was by visiting some branches of the United Way.
Jeff: The first one was in Dothan, Alabama.
Mindy: The head of the United Way was kind enough to meet us (where we were staying.)
Jeff: His name was Walter Hill. We asked him, “How did you get instilled in you that caring for others is a good thing?” He said, “My momma’s pies. She used to say, ‘Why would you ever heat up an oven to cook only one pie?’ I hate to admit it, but my mother didn’t make her own crust. She would buy them, and they always come two in a package. She’d say, ‘If you only use one, the other one’s going to crack, it’s going to get dried out. It’s going to be no good by the time you use it and there’s always somebody who can benefit by the unexpected gift of a pie.”’
Mindy: We went with our microphones open. We went to hear stories and be able to share the stories we heard with others. Everywhere we went, we had our live streaming going. We did a recap every day.
Q: Were you giving donations to the various organizations?
Jeff: We didn’t give any more than $100 to any place.
Mindy: Along the way people gave us money. We were using the money that people gave us.
Jeff: We got to the (Mexican-American) border at 10 a.m. It was really cold, and these people were freezing. There were six people.
I asked the head of the Boys and Girls Club, “How do you treat them?” He says, “We ask everyone one question: ‘Is there a child between the ages of 8 and 18?’ and that’s it. We don’t ask for papers. We don’t ask for parentage. We just ask and we treat them all the same.”
I asked them, what are some words you’d use to describe the immigrants? These are the words that they said: “They care about family. They’re hardworking. They’re among the most humble and appreciative people that they know, and huge potential.”
I said, “But we’ve heard other words over and over again. We hear rapist. We hear drug dealer. We hear murderer.”
They said that they didn’t see any of that. The guy at the homeless shelter said that for all the years he’s been doing this he hasn’t had one problem from any immigrant at the homeless shelter.
Q: How did the virus hinder you?
Jeff: There was one couple we were going to go see. We got there at 7 p.m. and it just turned dark and they live in a house. They came out to the front door with a mask and with the shield, and we had a mask on. We didn’t stand at the front door. We were on the sidewalk on the other side of the street. For 25 minutes we were there. As we were leaving, she calls us, tears in her eyes. We were the first people she knew that she had an in-person conversation with in about a year and she had no idea how meaningful that is. She had no idea how much she missed that.
Mindy: I think because people really have been separated, we found people that wanted to meet with us, and they met with us at all times of day. When we were in Jackson, Mississippi, we met with somebody from the National Public Radio … public broadcasting. It was probably 9:30 p.m. She had us in a church parking lot and then introduced us to a colleague who invited us to her home, which was just a few blocks away and we sat outside, freezing in her backyard. The husband made us some hot soup and we were able to sit outside and enjoy a beautiful conversation with them. We sat there until 11.
Q: What did you learn from your trip?
Jeff: We learned a lot of diverse things. The validity of this old Jewish statement that says, When there’s love in a house, no bed is too small. People are more motivated by being noticed, even poor people, than by a dollar donation, just being noticed and cared for.
Q: What is your final takeaway from all this?
Jeff: I think that these teachings that we have are really true. “The beggar that knocks on your door does more for you than you do for them.” That is a true statement. We gave $100 to every United Way in America, which is some money and we’re not looking to get our name on a plaque, but we want people to know our story.
Pick a place in the United States, maybe one you’ve never been to, an obscure location, and call up the United Way and say, “I’d like to make a donation. What are your needs?”
Whether that is a local donation or to somewhere really, really far away. When was the last time you talked to someone from Alabama? It might be call an old friend, talk to someone who has a different ideological view than you do. Just do something to bridge a difference, because we have much more in common than we have differences.
Note: This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.