by Drew Diamond
On April 1, the Federation hosted “It Begins With Me,” a panel discussion created by 8-year-old Jenks East Elementary student Lola Heffington to address racism. Set in the lobby of the Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art, Lola’s community panel responded to her questions regarding their experiences dealing with racism.
As one of the panelists, I had the opportunity to recount some of my personal and professional encounters with anti-Semitism. In the course of the audience discussion, I emphasized that for me as a Jewish American, and all minorities for that matter, just being “tolerated” is unacceptable. Tolerance in this context implies the majority community decides the scope of their willingness to accommodate the “others” both legally and socially. To “tolerate” something/someone may also infer that one must “put up with” a situation that is primarily distasteful or disagreeable to them. One’s right to live and work in our society should not rely on this type of patronage. This, too, is unacceptable.
Jewish communities are continually engaged in combating anti-Semitism. Although their efforts are joined with the work of other minority groups and community supporters to overcome hostility and prejudice based on race, religion and sexual orientation, harassment of Jews is at its highest level in years both at home and abroad. The anti-Semitic hate rhetoric and hate driven criminal acts are all too familiar in content and targets. However, cyber space has added a new venue leading to unique challenges in the prevention and apprehension of perpetrators.
Jewish communal response remains persistently based on steadfast vigilance, innovative safe and secure measures, close relationships with law enforcement, and full engagement with all our neighbors. We are well aware that working together daily to build and maintain a compassionate community adds a strength and resiliency that will not be defeated by hate.
Our aim is to replace tolerance with respect. Perhaps then we can respect each other’s right to be who we are.