It is with great sadness that I feel compelled to write this blog at a time when we should be joyfully anticipating the start of another school year. However, our country is going through challenging times that are instilling fear in many, hatred in others, uncertainty, and moral confusion – times that require our response.
To witness fellow Americans marching in a peaceful, quiet city while holding flaming torches and Confederate flags reminiscent of the KKK and lynchings is heartbreaking. To learn that Jews, praying on Shabbat, needed to leave shul by a back exit to avoid armed neo-Nazis at the front of the synagogue, taking the Sefer Torah them out of fear that the synagogue would be vandalized, is heartbreaking. (Thank God, it was not). To witness a march where our so-called citizen neighbors chant “Jews will not replace us” is mind-boggling.
So far, these thugs remain on the fringes of society. But the President of the United States gives license to this hatred through the moral ambiguity created by his remarks in response to these terrible acts. When the commanders of each of the branches of the U.S. military feel compelled to make statements against bigotry and racism, when they generally defer to the Commander-in-Chief, you know this moment is not a political one but, rather, an absolute moral imperative to stand up for justice and righteousness.
Our country is struggling for its soul – and we have been here before. Though there is division and a real spike in overt hatred in our society right now, and though it seems that people talk at each other, hearing only the echoes of the silos in which they choose to remain, there is also light. The commanders of our military, many courageous political leaders on both sides of the aisle, many clergy, and ordinary Americans are shining beacons of hope, morality and justice against the darkness of bigotry and hate. While in trying times we take steps backwards, in the end, we manage to always take more steps forward towards compassion and justice for all, the values we hold as inalienable and dear as Americans.
As a religious institution, and as decent people, we at Hillel Day School are obligated to confront the current bigotry. Most of us live comfortably in this country. Yet, as Jews, we are still subject to the ugliness against us. How much more so for our African American neighbors, friends and colleagues? We will not be silent at Hillel. We will look to our tradition and values. We will teach and practice empathy, beginning with one another and branching out. We will be respectful towards each other even when we disagree. And most of all, we will reassure our students and children and empower them. We want our students to reflect the portrait of a Hillel graduate that states, in part: “A Hillel graduate will emerge with a rich multi-dimensional identity – confidently American and deeply Jewish.” In the end, America always finds the right path, and I am confident we will again.