by Drew Diamond, Executive Director
“Speech has power. Words do not fade. What starts out as a sound, ends in a deed.” -Abraham Joshua Herschel
This month as we celebrate Rosh HaShanah we are reminded of the ultimate power of the word─the word of God as set out in Genesis: “And God said ‘Let there be light’ and there was light.” From the beginning of time people, too, have used words to produce action. Words are embedded with power. Nevertheless, these powerful tools are often subject to misuse and abuse. Human history, steeped in the boiling liquid of ugly and dangerous words, looks to humanity’s antidote to counter and supersede these negative words by creating uplifting and powerfully positive narratives.
The continued existence of the Jewish Federation of Tulsa, along with all our Tulsa Jewish institutions, is directly tied to the quality of our internal and external communications. Every day our community members’ skill in using their words to do good, to carry out programs, and serve each other is on display. Disagreements, punctuated by frustration and sometimes anger, do arise and often persist. Yet, when these disagreements seem intractable, an honest examination of the words being exchanged by those engaged will often reveal the utterance of some damaging words. Overcoming or blunting the effect of ugly rhetoric is dependent on the listener’s ability to manage their own reaction and response in a way that may illicit a more positive outcome for the engagement. The history of the Jewish people is replete with examples of the power of words and the actions they drive. One dramatic example from the Holocaust involves the words and deeds of the White Rose organization.
The White Rose organization, including brother and sister Hans and Sophie Scholl, felt compelled to protest the frightening environment in which they lived and studied. Their protests took the form of essays published in leaflets that were distributed anonymously in Munich and then later mailed to persons selected from the phone book. These essays challenged citizens to resist the Nazi policies and encouraged non-violent political dissent. The White Rose members knew that to be silent in the face of evil was to surrender to it, encourage it, and enable it to grow stronger. Thus, their movement united others to resist Nazi tyranny by striving to eradicate the “face of evil” before it destroyed more innocent lives. According to an exhibit on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., “Of all the groups in Germany that opposed Hitler’s dictatorship, only one, code-named ‘White Rose’ openly protested the Nazi genocide against the Jews.” On February 22, 1943 the leaders of the White Rose: Hans, Sophie, and Christoph Probst, were arrested by the Gestapo. All three were tried and executed the afternoon of that same day.
Choosing one’s words carefully requires patience and practice and sometimes great courage. “Think before you speak” is not a worn cliché. It is a necessity in assuring the intended effect is achieved. Words have power; and with power comes great responsibility.