In 2004, Josh Dubin was a participant in one of the first Etgar 36 summer travel programs. The trips, which are created by director Billy Planer, offer experiences that encourage Jewish teens to discover America, develop their identities and passions, and get politically and socially active.
“Etgar” is the Hebrew word for “challenge;” fittingly, Etgar 36’s goal is to empower Jewish youth to work toward changing the world.
Dubin was 15 when he went on the Etgar 36 summer trip. The Asheville teenager was already a serious student of history, and there was much conversation about social issues and government in his home. Both of Dubin’s parents are community-involved educators, and his mother was a Vietnam anti-war activist. His maternal grandfather, whom Dubin calls “my hero,” had been a valiant union organizer in New York City in the 1920s and fought in the Spanish civil war in the 1930s.
Dubin’s mother, who heard about Etgar 36 from a family at their Asheville synagogue, suggested that he consider going on the trip. It was a catalytic experience for him.
Dubin explains what happened that summer. “The leader Billy Planer’s passion was inspiring, and the trip gave us access to a breadth of people and ideas that revealed the real world of politics and civic issues. Before the 2004 trip, I was interested in history and social justice. The trip inspired me to get personally involved, to do something, to make a difference. When I came home to Asheville, I started an Amnesty International chapter at my high school. I worked on political campaigns, and then I volunteered in our congressman’s office.”
During the years following the 2004 Etgar 36 trip, Dubin and Planer sporadically kept in touch with each other. Planer recalled, “One day I stumbled upon Josh on Facebook. I was already planning to go to Asheville, and I asked him to meet me and get together for coffee. At that time, Josh was student-teaching history at T.C. Roberson High School, while fulfilling his teaching certification requirements. He explained his career choice to me: His goal was to teach his students about civil rights. That was that.”
Acknowledging the impact of the summer teen program and the growing interest of groups for shorter, intensive experiences early on, Planer expanded Etgar 36 programming to offer one- and two-day civil rights-focused trips to Alabama for adults, schools and synagogue groups. This year Planer invited Dubin to join him on these trips. “Between January and March, Josh did some of the teaching, and he was excellent, highly praised by the participants. I was looking for an assistant, and I offered him the job.”
According to plans, in order to assume his new position, Dubin left Asheville and moved to Atlanta two months ago, unfortunately in the midst of the heaviest coronavirus spread. “I’m focusing on my work, but I haven’t gotten around much socially since I moved here,” he noted.
By early March, it was clear that planned Etgar 36 trips could not take place. Planer conferred with CDC and medical staff at Emory University, which confirmed his decision to “pivot” to a different COVID-compliant model. The 2020-21 calendar of Etgar 36 programming had been filled to capacity with the summer teen tour and the shorter Selma-Montgomery-Birmingham trips in which participants rode together in buses. But with the pandemic, they are cancelled.
Currently, program participants drive in their own vehicles to downtown Montgomery, where small groups meet at the Equal Justice Initiative memorial to the victims of lynching. They travel caravan-style, have only outdoor experiences, and maintain social distancing throughout. This model is more difficult to organize, but Planer and Dubin continue to successfully run the altered program, and they have stepped up speaking engagements.
Dubin is on board to do his part. “When I began to seriously think about a career and what I want to do with my life, I considered my skills and interests. What knowledge and passions do I have to offer the world? How can I help empower the next generation to create the kind of world they want to live in? This personal commitment, of course, led me to teaching, and now Billy’s ideals and job offer give me an opportunity to put my abilities and ideals into practice. It’s more a calling than a job.”