As I age, it becomes clearer to me that my questions far outweigh my certainty. There are things that I have learned and know. And then there are things I don’t understand; I simply don’t “get.”
Over the last day, we have heard people describe vile and racist comments. These comments, including the statements made about nations in Africa and Haiti, challenge every fiber of decency. The crude and uninformed responses to immigration and immigrants continue. Racism and misogyny have become hallmarks of the hallway of power.
I do not bring these comments as an attempt to be political. These are reflections of speeches and behavior. It is not partisan to cry against hatred and bigotry. It is patriotic, and it is a religious act.
Our congregation, B’nai Torah, is protected and kept ordered by so many Haitians and Latinos. They are people who are contributing members of our community and our society. My heart is broken for them and their families. And I know all of our decent members stand with them in their hurt on this day.
Here’s what I want to understand. I, as a child of German refugees, believed that the lessons I studied and learned were lessons that all democratic, free, respectful people accepted. In those lessons, there was embedded the understanding that the Nazis were only able to commit their atrocities, from which we suffered so terribly, because so many were complacent, so many said nothing. I don’t understand how we can be complacent? We have learned that for evil to triumph, good people need to do nothing! How can we do nothing?
These weeks we are reading the narratives of our own slavery and oppression from the Torah. As we read the stories of Exodus, I wonder what we learn from this. It is not simply a tribal history where we were able to become great and strong and forget about either our history or responsibility. We are also the people who came from “over there.” We too are the “others.” This story, as we know from our daily prayers and annual seders is not only about what happened then! It is a call to each and every one of us now. Who are we? How do we respond to the oppression and hatred of others, not just our own?
Before Shabbat, I ask you to raise your voices. Email, write, call Senators and Congressmen and leaders and the White House and tell them, we will not accept expressions of hatred and racism and misogyny. It has no place in our country. We know that speech influences idea and inspires action.
Saturday night many in our community will gather in Sanborn Park in downtown Boca to remember the work and contributions of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We know he gave his life, not just for the cause of his own people, but for the well-being and promise of America and humanity.
Soon you will hear about a program we will host here in March. It is an antidote to hatred and xenophobia. We will listen to the stories and the voices of immigrant Americans, including our own, and we will experience each other’s music and foods.
We all have work to do. We must learn, and we must do. We must learn the meaning of our past. We must learn and teach about the founding and core values of this nation. We can learn about the role that we have played in oppression and the role we have played in liberation. And, with knowledge, we can make good choices. Thomas Jefferson once taught and wrote that democracy would only be preserved if we teach ourselves and educate our young about its meaning and the meaning of freedom. Through that, eyes can be opened, and people can flourish. Ignorance breeds hatred. We cannot tolerate that. Dayenu. It has been enough.
See you in shul.
Rabbi David Steinhardt