As the words of Torah were being chanted in Jewish communities across the country this weekend, white supremacists were chanting racist and anti-Semitic slogans as they converged on Charlottesville to “Unite the Right,” a rally that swiftly erupted in violence and ultimately became deadly, when someone who espouses white supremacy drove a vehicle into a group of people.
As a Jewish organization, we put our tradition’s value of B’tzelem Elohim, that every human being is created in the Divine image, front and center, and we stand with the many religious leaders who put themselves in harm’s way this weekend. As an educational organization, we recognize that hate and bias are learned and that they take root in early childhood if we are not vigilant in our teaching. Education is fundamentally about nurturing citizenship, as children take their first steps beyond family into a wider community; we must continue to reinforce and renew our commitment to these values as our children grow and develop their own identities.
We are deeply saddened by the loss of life over Shabbat, and hold the gravest concern that we did not hear an immediate and unequivocal condemnation of this white supremacy and neo-Nazism from every level of our government. While we strive to be a nation that celebrates diversity, we must insist that we are a nation that, at minimum, tolerates diversity. Our actions have consequences. Violence is often the unavoidable outcome when we fail to require tolerance as our most basic, non-negotiable precept.
This is the season that Jewish communities around the world make their way through the final book of the Torah, Sefer Devarim, the book of Deuteronomy. Two themes to which the text returns over and over again are a reassurance that we should not fear our enemies, and reminders that our actions have consequences.
Perhaps the Torah’s reminder not to fear our enemies should not be read as a guarantee, but rather as a dictum that is fulfilled when we actively advocate for others.
Let us renew our personal commitments to actively celebrate and advocate for diversity, and to demand tolerance as the bare minimum of what we expect from our neighbors and our elected leaders.
Margo Amgott, Interim Executive Director
Erin Beser, Director, Hebrew School Project
Rabbi Jason Klein, Director, Center for Jewish Life
Alicia Stoller, Director, Early Childhood Center