Leadership In The Face Of Hate

We are in the midst of extraordinary times.  Our nation is experiencing a fundamental shift in direction and priorities after a bitterly-fought presidential election last November.  Though so many Americans cheer a need for dramatic change, so many others have doubt and fear about what appears to be an uncertain future for the American people.  Regardless of where one might stand politically, we can all celebrate the peaceful transfer of power, which remains the hallmark of the American experiment that constitutes our Republic.

In the wake of these changes, however, there appears to be a coarsening of our national dialogue, with words and actions that speak to undercurrents of intolerance: violence against Muslims, racism against African-Americans and Latinos, misogyny, discrimination against the LGBTQ community, and yes, the emergence of more acts of antisemitism across our nation.

As American Jews, we are privileged to live in a nation in which many of us have experienced little or no hatred or intolerance on a personal level in our lifetimes. Despite a long history of institutionalized discrimination against Jews in decades past, it seemed that our country had finally put that particular problem behind it.  And so, it is astonishing to see swastikas spray-painted on synagogues, defilement of Jewish cemeteries, and statements of anti-Jewish hate on social media and prominent alternative websites.  These incidents are relatively uncommon and certainly do not represent a mainstream sentiment, but it is clear that the world’s oldest hatred is still alive in our nation.

As your current vice-president of the Board, I want to express my heartfelt thanks to Barbara Morris, who continues to provide strong leadership as the president of CBE, and to our inspiring Rabbi Jamie, who continues to be the very heart of our religious community.

As a leader here at CBE, I wrestle with what this congregation means to me, and with its proper role both for the congregants we serve and the mountain community we share with our neighbors.  In these times of challenge and change, I envision our congregation to be a refuge, a forum and a voice.

I see our synagogue as a refuge in both a figurative and literal sense.  Like so many others, I find shelter and comfort in the open embrace of our inclusive and accepting Jewish mountain community, welcomed among friends in a warm and safe spiritual home.  Under the leadership of our thoughtful, caring and gifted Rabbi, there is joy and music to give us refuge and release from daily worries, and a supportive listening ear to help us through times of trouble and loss.  We take care of each other in times of struggle. There are social action events to help the needy in our mountain community. And, in a literal sense, with the Emergency Shelter Program, our congregation, along with others, truly provides refuge from the storm for those who need it most.

I see our synagogue as a forum of ideas, as a gathering place for learning and the open exchange of ideas in an atmosphere of lively discussion and divergent viewpoints.  This is our congregation as a ‘shul’ or school, as a place of study.  We have a rich religious school program to educate and immerse our children in Judaism, and a plentitude of adult education programs and events for lifelong learning, both lay-led and under Rabbi Jamie’s direction.  We are involved in meaningful interfaith dialogue with our non-Jewish neighbors, and sponsor noted outside speakers on a variety of topics of interest to our congregants and the surrounding community.

Lastly, I see our synagogue as a voice.  As a diverse community of Jews and interfaith families, with different priorities and perspectives, we do not speak with one voice, but with many. In our diversity lies strength, as we challenge each other to respect our differences while we uncover the core values we all share.  I believe this to be of utmost importance as we witness the emergence of hateful words and actions against Jews and others across our nation, and we need to find our voice and speak out.

Despite our differences, I believe our religious community can come together as one voice to speak out for social justice and equality.  We can become a voice against racial hatred, against misogyny, against discrimination towards the LGBTQ community, and against all forms of religious intolerance, including anti-Semitism.

I am not yet sure how to do this, and I seek your input and assistance.  However, with our thoughtful Rabbi committed to social justice, and our diverse and talented congregation and Board, we must try to find a way.

In the timeless words of Hillel, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?  If I am only for myself, what am I?  And if not now, when?”


Hal Stein

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