ARE YOU SILENT ABOUT THE THINGS THAT MATTER?
I recently took a JICNY group on a trip. When I met one of the participants, a few days before the trip, I put her in a box “Frum from a Flatbush”.
When I actually got to know this person during the trip, contrary to the my stereotyped role I had placed her in, she turned out to be anything but the insular, sheltered young lady with limited exposure beyond her community that I had assumed. She had decided to teach high school math in public school. She was placed in a rough, predominantly black neighborhood of Brooklyn. She is a tiny woman and admits to being quite frightened in the beginning.
She shared how she over time built a relationship with her teenager students. One day she was in a subway station in her neighborhood when a group of guys walked up to her. Some of the Jews from her community were worried that she would be attacked right there on the platform. One of their own attacked in a Jewish area.
The teens were excited to bump into their teacher out of school. They all high-fived her and bid farewell. She also shared how her students were curious where she taught before. When she told them she taught at an Orthodox Jewish School they expressed shock and said how bad they felt for her. When she asked why they said “Ma’am, those people are so rude!”
It’s a reality that we all judge and put people in boxes. During these times of heightened anti-antisemitism we have even more responsibility to act as Jews who bring light into the world. There are sadly too many Jews in the media for crimes, too many Jews behaving badly. The argument that we are unfairly singled out does not make our responsibility any less.
Slovie describes the phenomenon of Holocaust fatigue she encounters when teaching young people. I share her concern. How do we make our own people care? While there were twenty-five thousand people at the the recent No Hate No Fear march in NY, the participants were primarily made of affiliated Jews. Where were the hundreds of thousand of other Jews? We can only get people to care when we empower them with knowledge, Jewish wisdom and history, traditions that bring connection, strength and community.
As Slovie says “We cannot afford to let our children cower or grow weak. They are spiritually emaciated.“
I’ve spoken to some who think, "If I don’t look Jewish they will never come after me." If the Holocaust and our past has taught us anything it is that this oldest hatred does not differentiate between types of Jews. No Jew was asked how religious he or she was when taken to the gas chambers. And no Jew on campus is questioned about his observance. If you cannot stand strong and proud for your beliefs, what kind of world do you live in?
To quote Martin Luther King from his "I have a Dream" speech, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”
We should all know who we are are, where we come from and why it matters!