There has rightly been much press dedicated to the recent bomb threats at various Jewish institutions throughout the country and my sincere hope is that we address these issues quickly and continue to support each other to help cope with them properly.
While all these events have been occurring, it has been quite fascinating to observe the various reactions they elicited. Some folks are filled with outrage, calling for various people to condemn these acts or take steps to overturn them. Others, such as the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, the Orthodox Union, and countless other organizations (see Gabe Aaronson’s superb article on the front cover for a more detailed picture) are indeed taking action such as advocating for security funds for our various institutions.
Jennifer Scher, the Director of Development at Gesher Jewish Day School (one of the local schools that received the threat) told me in passing that the students were led in spontaneous song and dance by one of the teachers while waiting outside during the threat. She also said that Adas Israel of DC sent the school cards and gifts in response to the attack and that students from Green Hedges High School brought supportive signs to Wednesday’s basketball game between the two schools. These are powerful, empathetic, and encouraging reactions to such difficult circumstances and say a lot about the leadership of these organizations.
Lastly, I came across an article from the Huffington Post on my Facebook feed, entitled “I have Never Been More Acutely Aware That I’m Jewish Than at This Moment in History.” And that, combined with the above, seemed to put things in full circle for me. We have learned from years of history that nations, people, and races tend to unite, be supportive of, and feel most in touch with the “party” that they belong when they are threatened. There are countless examples of this and I will leave it to the historians for a rigorous analysis, but many of us can relate to 9/11 and the Holocaust as compelling examples. During 9/11, we were all prideful Americans and during the Holocaust, we were all Jews. All the other perceived differences were not perceivable anymore as the big picture became so much clearer.
It is encouraging to see that we are uniting and supporting each other and I applaud those who are going out of their way for doing so. However, I hope we can support each other and identify with Judaism just as much all the time and not just during difficult times. Interestingly, when speaking with folks from various sides of the community about Kol HaBirah’s mission to be a newspaper for the entire Jewish community, we sometimes receive skepticism at this idea. The Jewish community is too diverse, they tell me. Or we have entirely different values, culture, and social norms. I may be naïve and shortsighted, or I may be seeing the bigger picture (the reality is probably a bit of both), but when I meet with various people on all sides of the Jewish community I tend to see more similarities than differences. I see differences that are minimal compared to the bigger picture of us all being Jews, trying to do the right thing, act morally and according to the right principles.
Kol HaBirah’s purpose is to highlight that bigger picture – that we are in fact very similar, and as Jews and as people, we share much in common. There are indeed many differences and we do not intend to hide that. It is ok to have differences and it is ok to verbalize them, respectfully. We do feel it is possible to have difficult conversations as long as they are framed appropriately and follow certain guidelines, which we have been upholding (we turned away advertising revenue this issue for an ad that could have been perceived as insulting to a certain group of people, we have turned away articles that contained content that wasn’t deemed respectful, as well as avoided issues that may have been detrimental to unity if addressed at that time).
To those who feel it is not possible for the entire Jewish community to share the same space (or newspaper), I point them to the events that are happening now, the threats we are beginning to face, and the supportive actions we are beginning to see. As 9/11 and the Holocaust have shown, there are ways of “uniting” entire communities, of negating differences pretty quickly. I don’t think we need such dramatic and unfortunate events for that to happen - I think we can use other methods to unite the Jewish community. For that reason, I call upon the community to support our mission and help us unite the community. I call upon the community to be patient with us and to be patient with your fellow community members who may share some but not all of your values. To be a little forgiving when you see things that you may not agree with, that you may feel somewhat uncomfortable with. We will be doing our best to ensure that doesn’t happen too often but we implore you to look beyond those to the bigger picture of moving towards community unity. Unity has happened and will likely happen again – my hope is that we are granted the ability to choose how that happens.
Hillel Goldschein, Publisher