A Call for Engagement in the Aftermath of Charlottesville
by Rabbi Jessy Gross
There’s a notion that on Shabbat we get a taste of the world as it should be – a world free from pain and brokenness; a world that is whole and complete. It is a day of “rejuvenating rest” that we need to move into a new week and summon the koach (strength) to repair the world.
This past Shabbat, that notion was robbed from us. In the state I grew up in, in Charlottesville, Virginia, the most explicit and public act of anti-semitism I can remember in my 37 years as an American Jew occurred.
I was shocked and disoriented, and I thought to myself, “Am I really living in the United State of America in 2017, or am I stuck in a dream recalling the stories and history books that paint the picture of life for my ancestors at other horrific moments in history?”
I was disturbed; I was terrified. And I imagine anyone under the illusion that the fears we carry from our collective past are no longer necessary today has been soberingly set straight.
I feel the tension of balancing my personal reactions against my sense of obligation to do something. We can’t stay silent on the matter, but what does our community need?
A place to process our feelings?
An unwavering reaffirmation of the strength of the Jewish people?
A humility that we are but one minority group facing explicit hatred and being made to feel outsiders in the place we feel at home?
And, what would fulfill the obligation to “not stand idly by?”
How do we move through the pain of last Shabbat’s events and begin to work towards the tikun (healing) that we so desperately need?
There is a teaching from the rabbis that suggests one mitzvah (sacred commandment) leads to another and one mistake leads to another of the same: mitzvah goreret mitzvah, averah goreret averah. (Pirkei Avot 4:2). I have always understood this as G-d’s sacred domino game.
Positive actions lead to more positive actions and negative actions lead to more negative actions, but as to which side we stand on, the choice is ours to help good overcome evil by tipping the dominos in the direction of good.
The events of last Shabbat may leave us feeling paralyzed – as individuals and as a community. How can we work against the expressions of violence and hatred targeting Jews and other minority groups who fear for their difference?
We need to work towards wholeness. The only way to repair brokenness is to work towards wholeness. To me, this means building bridges, strengthening relationships and doubling down on the curiosity that makes me want to know people who are different from me.
Every day I am reminded of the blessing of working within a Jewish community that engages the broadest spectrum of Jewish practice and shares the wisdom of Jewish values and ideas. Our Jewish Community Center belongs not only to its Jewish members, but to the many of JCC members who are not Jewish. The work we do and our decisions about how to meet everyone’s needs affects all of our members – everyone, every day.
In some places, people never encounter those who are different from them. They do not have the opportunity, or desire, to engage with someone who has different color skin or calls G-d by a different name. It is all too easy to craft ideas about who a person is and what he/she values without ever knowing them personally. And while we have this opportunity at the JCC, it is still too easy to forfeit the opportunity to meet someone new for a whole host of reasons and justifications.
The JCC is a special place because every single day the people who walk through our doors enter a place where they might meet someone they might not meet elsewhere. And, if we are audacious and brave enough, we are invited to build new relationships and learn about other human beings who are different from us but are a part of our J community.
Reaching out and engaging with someone different: it seems so small in the grand scheme of action, yet I profoundly believe it is the number one way to resist the seeds of hatred and otherness that are being planted daily in an attempt to tip the dominos towards brokenness.
We are a community of people working to make the world a more whole and complete place.
Shabbat is not supposed to be a taste of the impossible. It is supposed to inspire us to be active partners in the work necessary to build a world free from pain and brokenness. I hope you will join me in that work and see our Jewish Community Center as a place to tip the dominos towards wholeness each and every day.
Photo Credit: mashable.com, abc news (top)