The Brave Coalition stands with Denver’s Ellis Elementary community after a hate crime was committed there on April 9, 2019. Our organization was formed in response to a similar occurrence when swastikas were painted on the exterior of a neighborhood school in November 2017. We initially felt helpless in how to respond, how to explain the event to our children, and how to engage our community in fostering kindness, compassion, and respect for all persons. We came together, choosing hope and action, and have hosted events, workshops, and discussions to help our community to have “Brave Conversations” with the goal of combatting all types of hate and prejudice. Let us each commit to having such a conversation today about what we can do in our families, neighborhood, and the broader community so no one else has to face a similar event. And read: Ten Ways to Fight Hate: A Community Response Guide.
This guest blog is brought to you by Rabbi Mendel Popack.
It’s a blessing to live in the USA.
We are different. We look different. We dress differently. We speak different languages. We worship differently. We eat different foods, have different social interests and congregate in different centers. But we are all American.
American culture has been created and enriched by the thriving diversity of ethnic cultures and minority communities that have contributed so much, each in its own way, both materially and spiritually, to American life.
More importantly, we are all human beings, endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights - life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
And yet, in this blessed country, the voices of anti-Semitism, bigotry and prejudice are still present, very openly, trying to frighten and intimidate us.
Where does this prejudice come from? Does it perhaps come from a sense, held by some, that because someone is different, they are less? Can someone be less human? Is someone’s soul less precious because they worship differently?
It’s time to focus on what makes us all the same, not what makes us different. We are all created by the same G-d, who endowed us each with a soul. We are all brothers and sisters, and at that level, no one is better or worse.
As a spiritual leader in the Jewish community, I’ve been asked, “Rabbi, how does your local community feel about the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh?” My response is, “There is no such thing as a local Jewish community. We are one community. One people. Those were our bubbies and zaidys, our fathers and mothers, our sisters and brothers that were murdered in cold blood, sanctifying G-d’s name, just because they were Jewish.”
Dear friends, that we are one people can also be said about the USA, and indeed about the whole world.
We are one country, one human race, one people, under one G-d.
Prejudice starts when one person, or one community, or one segment of the population is singled out and discriminated against because they are different.
The motto “E Pluribus Unum” celebrates our differences, and we should celebrate them, too. While at the core, we cherish our commonality - that which brings us together- humanity is a tapestry of many colors, and our colors - our differences - are what makes the tapestry beautiful.
According to the Bible, when Noah and his wife Naamah, the father and mother of all mankind, exited the Ark, G-d gave them a code of civil conduct for mankind, with seven pillars: Believe in G-d, Do not curse G-d or G-d’s Name, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not commit adultery, Do not eat a limb off a living animal, and Establish a judicial system to uphold this code. A central theme of these Seven Pillars is respect for all the creations in this world, which includes respect for every other person’s life and property, because we are all created by G-d.
The Jewish community recently celebrated Chanukah. The Chanukah menorah is lit at night, when it is dark outside, and outdoors in public. The public menorah has become a universal symbol of freedom and liberty for people of all minorities and faith traditions. Like in the Chanukah story, some people try to spread darkness, hatred and bigotry. The menorah declares, in the face of darkness, that hatred and bigotry will not stop us. We will continue to shine light proudly and openly, to respond to evil and darkness by adding more light, more goodness and more kindness. A little light can push away a lot of darkness.
Just as we are endowed with inalienable rights, we are given unavoidable responsibilities, responsibilities to ourselves, to each other, and to all of civilization. We must realize that our actions matter. Let us all recommit to connecting with the people that are different from us by seeking out that which makes us similar.
Add another act of goodness and kindness every day.
Reach out to your neighbor.
Volunteer to help a struggling community.
Welcome your classmate that just immigrated from another country.
Smile at a stranger, and say hi.
You might be surprised how similar we all really are.
This guest blog is brought to you through Brave Coalition’s partnership with StoryCorp’s One Small Step project. One Small Step brings people with different political viewpoints together to record a StoryCorps interview with each other. Here is a reflection from one recent Denver participant.
“Take a risk, do something you haven’t done before.”
That’s how I read the invitation to participate in the Brave Coalition’s Partner project with StoryCorps, called One Small Step. “What kind of risk?” I thought. I tend to be selective in my willingness to take risks but I’m not entirely risk averse. Invest in an aggressive mutual fund? Sure. Set myself up for public humiliation? Not so much. As I read the email invitation what started to form in my mind seemed more like the second. “Have a conversation with a stranger, who has opposing, possibly exactly opposite political beliefs as me and have the whole thing recorded for the Library of Congress and possibly broadcast on the radio.” Well that is certainly something I have never done before. Why risk it?
In a conversation, I thought, as opposed to a social media post there is the opportunity to listen; to hear and be heard as a human being rather than a segment or a nameless faceless enemy. I am of the opinion that there is a lot of ranting and very little listening happening in our current political environment. When I am engaged in a face to face conversation, I can’t escape the glaring reality that there is another person looking and listening to me. So, Yes, I can take a small step and be willing to listen to someone else share where her beliefs came from and what influenced her views.
I was a little surprised to notice how much I enjoyed having someone listen to the origin and evolution of my own views. We talked for 45 minutes and apart from the baseball sized black foam microphones in front of us it was a fairly ordinary conversation. The major exception was that, on our own, we would have never had such a conversation. I got to see and share how in a number of instances we want the same results in our community we just have differing views on how to bring about those results. In the end neither of us changed our views, and to be clear that isn’t the objective of the One Small Step project, but we did have the opportunity to see that as people we have a lot in common, likely more in common than opposing.
Without talking I would have been left with just my point of view. The view that there is no common ground between the Left and the Right and the distance is spreading between people. That’s how I feel when I spend any time reading Facebook and Twitter posts. However, having the opportunity to speak with, listen to and be heard by another person leaves me with some hope that what looks like a chasm of political ideology could just possibly be crossed by people willing to take just one small step.
By: Aaron Schettler