Fall Speaker Series: Dr. Marty Nathan

13445629_10154288611543147_7745777084810082661_nThe Adult Education Fall Speaker Series is privileged to feature Dr. Marty Nathan this Sunday, October 30 after worship in Bailey Hall.  This is the second installment of a series of speakers featuring Local Heroes of Social Justice.

Dr. Nathan is a committed lifelong activist regarding issues of social justice including race, environmental justice, homophobia, economic disparity and civil rights.  She graduated from Brown University, and then Duke Medical School in 1977.  In addition to her extensive social justice efforts, Dr. Nathan is currently a Family Medicine specialist based in Western Massachusetts.

Notably, Marty Nathan’s first husband, Dr. Mike Nathan, was killed in The Greensboro Massacre in a confrontation with Ku Klux Klan and American Nazis.   All of the white gunmen were ultimately acquitted.  At the time her husband was slain, Dr. Nathan’s daughter was only six months old.   In 1985, Dr. Marty Nathan prevailed in a major civil rights lawsuit against the City of Greensboro, in which the City settled without apology on behalf of itself the KKK and American Nazis.  Together with other victims, Dr. Nathan founded the Greensboro Justice Fund which helped grassroots organizations fighting against racism, environmental injustice, union-busting, homophobic violence & civil liberties violations in the South.  She also participated in  The Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the early 2000’s, which lasted more than two years.

Many original documents relative to the civil rights lawsuit and the Greensboro Massacre are available for review online as PDFs at the Civil Rights Greensboro website where you can browse by subject and date.  These documents provide a wealth of information on the struggle against the Ku Klux Klan around the Greensboro Massacre, and brings the full impact and tremendous weight of those days front & center in our consciousness.

Dr. Nathan has continued her work in social justice with her current husband, Prof. Elliott Fratkin of Smith College.  Together, they helped found the Cliniquita Fund.  This fund, based in Springfield, brings healthcare to undocumented immigrants.  Four years ago, Dr. Nathan also helped found Climate Action Now, which has formed the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition. She is a columnist and regular contributor on issues of climate justice to the Daily Hampshire Gazette & the Springfield Republican.

This opportunity to hear Dr. Marty Nathan – an extraordinary Local Hero of Social Justice – is not to be missed.  Her wealth of experience and commitment to social justice is inspirational.  If you have questions or would like more information, please contact the church office at 567-6287 or leave a message here.

Not Choosing Sides

By now many  of you have heard or read that the United Church of Christ voted Tuesday, June 30th at its General Synod Meeting in Cleveland to approve a resolution calling for divestment from companies that profit from Israel’s control of the West Bank and to boycott  products made in the West Bank. The vote was 508 in favor and 124 against with 38 abstentions.  As an appointed delegate for the Mass Conference, I , along with Rev. Marisa Brown Ludwig, was able to participate in this historic vote.

I knew beforehand that this resolution was likely to be the most significant resolution facing the Synod. I was instructed to study the resolution carefully beforehand but not to decide my vote until the Synod meeting.  The polity of the Synod is not as a representative, democratic process but rather to study an issue collectively and try to listen for the voice of Still Speaking God.  The arguments for the resolution were many and powerful:  the many cruel and unjust treatments of the Palestinians by the Israel government,  the vote by the Mass Conference recently at its annual meeting to  support the resolution, a letter circulated at the meeting from Archbishop Desmond Tutu  endorsing the resolution, the argument from one Jewish supporter at the meeting that standing up to injustices against the Palestinians or anyone else was the best way to prevent another holocaust,  and,  from another liberal Jew, that voting Yes would  would make it easier for other progressive Jews to try to change the policy of the  Israeli government.

On the other hand,  I heard that when the Presbyterian Church voted 310 to 303 in  June 2014 to endorse divestment, that several hundred Palestinians lost their jobs working at Sodastream in West Bank,  and that many relationship[s between Presbyterian pastors and Jewish colleagues were cut off.  I personally felt that an article in the Christian Century last August by Peter Pettit, Director of the Institute for Jewish-Christian Understanding, entitled “On not Choosing Sides”  made a lot of sense and I later quoted from it.

When the time came Tuesday morning to vote on the  resolution, I decided to stand up publicly and speak at the “against” microphone.  In essence I said “that as a physician, when faced with a difficult decision, I tried to follow the dictum  “do no harm”.   Both Jews and Palestinians live with the mortal fear of loosing their identity, legitimacy, and ties to their homeland  When  people have these  fears , anything that bolsters the case being made against them ends up contributing to the conflict, not to the resolution of it.  Focusing just on the evils of the occupation, which are real and many, ignores other deadly forces in the region.  Since we have not walked in the shoes or sandals of the Jews or Palestinians, I don’t think that we are in a position to choose sides.  Let us not be guilty of causing harm.  I encourage you to vote NO.”

That evening I called my best Jewish friend back in Longmeadow and gave him an update about the vote.  I tried to reassure him that the UCC Synod criticism of the Israel government is not anti-Semitism, that First Church had not been asked to vote on the resolution, and that the two delegates from First Church did not support the resolution. I told him that I would be trying to support other actions that would encourage the principal parties to believe that they have more to gain from risking peace than continuing the status quo and the occupation.

My Jewish friend seemed very appreciate that I had sought him out to share my thoughts and feelings.  I would encourage you to do the same with your Jewish friends and help keep the good interfaith relationships we have in Longmeadow strong.

Mark Pohlman

Our Haiti Pilgrimage (as told through Haitian Proverbs)

“Manje kwit pa gen met.” This is one of the Haitian proverbs we learned on our pilgrimage to Haiti during April school vacation. Translated from Creole it means, “Cooked food has no master (or owner).” Haitians are taught to share from the time they are tiny children. If you have food, you do not own it. You must share.   Haitian culture is rich in such proverbs that describe the values of a society that has suffered much and learned much.

On the morning of April 18 eight high school youth from First Church and five adult chaperones boarded American Airlines flight 1050 bound for Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The group included students: Lisa Garrity, Noelle Peluso, Mercy Togba, Aaron Richardson, Keating Flaherty, Abigail Glick, and Mary Catherine and Emily Carroll. The adults were senior pastor Dr. Jay Terbush, Mark Garrity, Mary Ellen Flaherty, Monica Torpey, and Mary Friedman.

In the tiny remote village of Gwo Jan the group spent three days and two nights learning about Haitian culture, history, language, and music…..and lots of proverbs: “Woch nan dlo pa konnen doule woch nan soley.” (“The rock in the water does not know the pain of the rock in the sun.”)

Then we transferred to Walls’ International Guest House in Port-au-Prince and spent two days at the headquarters of CONASPEH (the National Spiritual Council of Churches of Haiti) where we delivered solar lights, a solar panel, a battery, and projector donated by our Board of Missions, soccer uniforms and balls donated by the Longmeadow Soccer Association, children’s books, and other items. Dr. Jay led a seminar for the Haitian bishops and the students toured the school and visited classrooms, talked with the students, and played soccer!

We learned that, “Yon bel ‘bonjou’ se paspo ou.” (A beautiful “hello” is your passport!) We spent two days in Bon Repos, an hour outside the city painting a church inside and out as well as some office space, , resurfacing the chalkboards in the school, distributing school supplies, teaching two classes how to make “God’s Eyes” , attempting to play soccer with 250 excited students, and generally feeling very welcomed by our Haitian hosts. Things are not easy or convenient in Haiti….”Deye mon, gen mon” (“Beyond mountains are mountains.”) There is always another challenge to face. But we did learn that “Men anpil chay pa lou.” “Many hands make light work.” (And I thought my mother invented that!! )

We also learned that things in Haiti don’t necessarily happen on OUR timetable! “Piti, piti zwazo fe nich li.” Be patient. “Little by little the bird builds its nest.”

The students shared some of what we experienced in worship on Sunday, May 3, incorporating the hymns we sang and the scripture we read while in Haiti. It was a deeply moving experience I think for all of us and one we will not soon forget.

Have to close with my new favorite Haitian proverb: “Fanm se kajou: plis li vye, plis li bon.” (“A woman is like mahoghany: the older she is, the better she is!”) That one’s a keeper!!!


Last month I again had the privilege of leading a group to visit our friends and partners at CONASPEH in Haiti.   The group consisted of Dianne Doherty and myself from First Church; David Entin, Pauline Bassett, and Heidi Rademacher from First Churches in Northampton; Ayesha Ali, nursing professor at AIC, with five nurses and students.


One purpose of these trips is to see with our own eyes what is going on at CONASPEH and try to determine if the help that First Church has provided over the years is being effective. This goal can be difficult to determine during a short visit, but overall things seemed to be going well.   The school was very busy, the students seemed happy and active, and many small improvements were noted. The ceilings and interior walls are being finished in the school building, glass windows are being installed, the utility building to house equipment for the trade schools is nearly complete, and a new (at least to Haiti) yellow school bus sits proudly in the school yard read for service next fall. The nursing mannequins and textbooks   and beds are in a secure place and appear to being used. There is now a lecture hall on the second floor lined with shelves of books that Nancy Marshall kept insisting that we carry down on previous trips. The water truck to fill the cistern for the flush toilets in the headquarters building came one day.


The main purpose of our visit is to share knowledge with CONASPEH students and here the results are more apparent. Dianne did an effective job teaching the basics of small business development. In the mornings, she taught a group of pastors and in the afternoons, a group of university students and teachers. She was able to solicit a few specific business proposals that will need some start-up funding.   David helped with teaching leadership skills and Pauline teaching team learning and networking skills. Heidi, who is fluent in French, helped with the translations and shared her passion for knitting with the students.


Ayesha Ali and the students again interacted with the CONASPEH nurses, by examining healthy students together and using the mannequins together. Eric Ruiz again taught CPR to the nursing students. Since he is now a certified instructor, he was able to hand out certificates, legitimately, afterwards. Unfortunately, there was not time for distribution of the eyeglasses that Dan Bausch had collected, but that will happen later. The nursing kits collected by Mary Friedman last Christmas were given to Madam Chery, the new nursing director.


The other purpose of these trips is to introduce and reintroduce the problems, complexities, and wonders of Haiti to people. This time we saw some of the beauty of Haiti by going to a local beach because school was cancelled due to a partial traffic ban. We also visited a nursing school in Leogone that is the first private nursing school to offer a four-year baccalaureate degree. The hope is that CONASPEH can be the second such school.


The long-term effects of such a trip is harder to measure.   One student nurse announced that she was going to change her career choice and go into international nursing. Others are already planning how to help re-establish the micro loan fund at CONASPEH or to help individuals with their business plans or graduate education. I think all return home more humble, more appreciative, more thankful, and more willing to work to help the less fortunate, no matter where they are.


More reports are available on the First Church Forum in the Haiti Matters section, available here.


Mark Pohlman