May 21, 2024

I love our tradition, especially the knowledge we can turn to as a guide of how we should love our lives. One of my favorite teachings in all of Judaism comes from Pirkei Avot, a collection of sayings/teachings from the great Rabbis. This particular one is attributed to Rabbi Tarfon - Lo alecha ham'lacha ligmor, V'lot ata ben chorim l'hibatil mimena. It translates to "It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it." To put it another way, just because you can't fix the problem yourself doesn't mean you shouldn't try.


I know that I've shared this teaching in several of my weekly messages when I address "big" issues. I think it's important to reiterate it so that each of us remembers that every little act we do can begin to chip away at the larger issues confronting society today.


It is within this context that I share my thoughts this week about one way I am doing this today. 


You see, one of our local schools had an antisemitic event take place several months ago, and like I usually do, I reached out to the school principal and the superintendent to bring it to their attention and schedule a time to talk about what we can do collectively to counter, the climate of hate that is existing at schools. In this instance, the response I received was incredible and more proactive than usual. They asked me to develop an anti-hate workshop that could address and discuss the broader climate of hate we are witnessing in society today, and how it impacts individual people. And the idea was to have all of the 10th graders attend the workshop in their respective history classes.


Today, I presented the workshop. As the students walked into the room, they were confronted by hate symbols like the swastika and confederate flag, along with photos of hate. As the workshop proceeded, I also provided a few definitions of hate, where it comes from, and how it impacts people's mental health and well-being. I used resources from the Anti-Defamation League, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and LA County's Commission on Human Relations to further illustrate how prevalent hate is in society and where it can lead if it goes unchecked. 


Before allowing the students to write questions anonymously that I could answer during the workshop, I also shared ways that they could counter hate when they see it.


Do I believe that just because the school's teens attended the anti-hate workshop, hate will no longer exist at their school? No… I am not THAT naïve. But that wasn't the point. The point of doing the workshop was to hopefully make the students more aware of this epidemic/crisis and to make those who have been the targets of hate know that efforts are being made to help stop them.


Only time will tell if the impact of today's workshop (or future efforts) will help change people's hearts and minds. And know that I will continue these efforts every time I am able.


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