I am the happiest dad on the planet.
My youngest daughter, Leah, is spending a year abroad teaching English to schoolchildren in Thailand.
Before her departure, I told her there is no way I can last for an entire year without seeing you. So, seven months in advance, I redeemed all my airline miles (thank you, American Airlines!) -- and booked my roundtrip ticket to Thailand and Vietnam.
It was the trip of a lifetime.
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Thirteen days with my sweet angel in Bangkok, Hanoi, and Ho Chi Minh City.
Together we visited sites surreal to behold in person: Bangkok's Grand Palace, probably the most gorgeous complex of buildings I have ever seen anywhere. And the splendid Reclining Buddha, which felt like seeing the Statue of Liberty, lying on its side, covered in shimmering gold.
My knees buckled and tears filled my eyes at the sheer inspiration of it all.
As I told Leah, I could not have made the trip to Vietnam alone -- without someone I love.
It was a deeply personal mission for me. As if I had somehow come full circle from the 1960s. Having protested that terrible war as a Michigan State University undergrad, I felt the overpowering need to look the people of Vietnam directly in the eye.
As a Jew, I was engaging deeply in what we lovingly call in Hebrew teshuvah -- repentance, seeking forgiveness for the actions of my government, hoping against hope the world has actually learned something from the 68,000 American soldiers we sacrificed in vain.
Hundreds of thousands of American severely wounded and disabled -- some for life -- some of whom are members of my own synagogue.
Somewhere between 2 and 3 million Vietnamese people were killed in the name of America.
How did the Vietnamese people whom I encountered react when I told them I had opposed the war and I fought against it as a college student?
They were all so forgiving and compassionate.
The war is in the past, they said, and now we are moving forward to a better and brighter future.
And yet, when I dug a bit deeper, the truth did emerge.
Yes, it was an awful time. And yes, the pain is still deeply felt.
And yes, even now, Vietnamese (and American!) babies are still being born with horrific genetic deformities caused by the numerous chemical agents we sprayed over much of their formerly lovely countryside, i.e. Agent Orange.
I need to make it clear I never disrespected or insulted any of our returning soldiers.
Visiting the "War Remnants Museum" in Ho Chi Minh City was devastating. Midway through the Agent Orange exhibit area, I literally had to step out into the hallway for a few minutes to catch my breath and compose myself. I kept seeing the photos in Auschwitz depicting the hideous Nazi medical experiments performed on my people during the Holocaust. And the little wooden display case in Auschwitz containing so many baby and toddler clothes, toys, and pacifiers.
Many experiences Leah and I shared in Vietnam were great fun. I am still amazed that we were able to attend the first LGBT exhibition in Hanoi, where marriage equality became legal this year.
The director presented me with a beautiful gift after I shared with her my own life journey as a Reform rabbi in America. Our current U.S. ambassador to Hanoi is a gay man who moved from Virginia with his husband and their young son. They say they have been welcomed with open arms. Powerwalking
through lovely parks everywhere. The food and the shopping were unforgettable.
I thank God everyday I have such a wonderful daughter who gave me the gift of this mission to Southeast Asia. I don't know if it would have ever happened had Leah not chosen to teach English to lucky young Thai schoolchildren this year.
Rabbi Harold Caminker, 941-755-4900 (Temple), 941-806-9925 (cell), firstname.lastname@example.org (email). Faith Matters is a regular feature of Saturday's Herald, written by local clergy members.