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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


 

April 22, 2016  RSS feed
Federation

Text: T T T

Perspective

We’re not free to desist from fight against hate
Emilie Socash
Executive Director, Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties

On March 21, 2016, the Tampa Bay Times published a letter to the editor from Beth Gelman, executive director of the Florida Holocaust Museum (FHM). Short and to the point, Beth’s piece applauded the recent unanimous statement by the House and State Department to call the current state of affairs in Syria and Iraq by their true name: genocide. I sat down with Beth to talk more about the important role that organizations like the FHM and the Federation play in not just approving of these statements but in mobilizing a global community to live up to our shared rally cries of “Never again” and “Never forget,” and together, we felt this conversation merited sharing with the readership of the Jewish Press. Below is a portion of our conversation.

Beth: I was so pleased to see my recent letter published in the Times: I really feel that it helped us drill home the idea that the Florida Holocaust Museum’s mission begins with the Holocaust but does not end there. Our responsibility as a people who have lived through that horror is to be aware when hatred and prejudice are used to subjugate, abuse, and murder others – Jewish or non-Jewish.


Beth Gelman Beth Gelman Emilie: That makes me think of Pirkei Avot: we’re not charged with completing the task, but we are not free to desist from it. When we’re in a situation like today – with the political climate and rhetoric at an all-time sense of fervor, with a genocide happening just a few time zones away in Iran and Syria, with anti-Semitism being scrutinized and excused away – it’s completely overwhelming.

Beth: And it’s completely multifaceted. There’s not one specific program that we do that addresses hate. It’s studying genocides that are happening now that allows students to extrapolate the lessons of the Holocaust to today. It’s demanding that our elected officials, our government, and its allies do something tangible to rescue the minorities slated for annihilation. It’s getting the word out any way we can: public programs, student curriculum, social media.

Emilie: It’s a similar situation at the Federation. We have so many agencies here at home and around the globe contacting us for support as well as scores of programs that we’re hoping to launch in the next year. When your goal is connecting the entire community, you have to keep activating every possible way to engage every individual. It’s our duty, caring for other Jews, and it’s a holy responsibility.

Beth: I think that our responsibility as Jews goes back to Isaiah, where we read that G-d said, “I called you with righteousness” and it’s our duty to behave righteously in all matters, particularly in matters of justice. We’re a “light unto nations;” we’re charged with bringing “prisoners out of a dungeon” and “those who sit in darkness out of a prison.” We should be the first who speak out when injustice occurs and, to me, that includes recognizing and combating hate and bigotry.

Emilie: One of my recent columns talked about the four-letter word I won’t allow in my home: “Hate.” I’m concerned that we’re becoming numb to its full meaning. This saddens me tremendously. I recently read a piece in Tablet that revived a phrase originally coined by Michael Gerson, George W. Bush’s speechwriter: the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” The phrase originally had connections to explaining the No Child Left Behind movement, and the article employed it to explain the behaviors of a great voting mass that have become emblazoned in the use of hateful speech. Where’s the outrage? Where’s the categorical condemnation of this behavior?

Beth: “The soft bigotry of low expectations” – that’s a great phrase. We’re seeing this acceptance and tolerance of completely irrational and horrible language become the norm. On my last visit to D.C., I had a lengthy conversation with Ira Forman (special envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism in the U.S. State Department) about different types of anti-Semitism we see in Europe. Some is anti-Semitism that has been imported from the Middle East and North African countries. But others, especially in Eastern Europe, is good old-fashioned anti- Semitism. The U.S. government sees this uptick in anti-Semitism as the “canary in the coal mine,” signaling that when public anti-Semitism increases, other violence and abuse – not singularly towards Jews but towards other minorities as well – increases. It’s true what they say about hate: people rarely hate just one ethnic group, they hate and fear anyone who they do not perceive as one of their own.

Emilie: Is it trite to interject here that hate begins at home?

Beth: Not at all, and it’s important to note that while both of our organizations operate on a global scale, we know we have to also serve our community here to keep hate at bay. We quietly work with area schools and campuses to address not only anti-Semitism and its current partner, BDS [Boycot, Divestment adn Sanctions Movement], but also cyberbullying and school violence. Then our partner project with the Federation layers on an opportunity for local kids to make a personal connection with a victim of the Holocaust. We’re doing all that we can – or at least all that we can think of! – to continue to pursue the eradication of hate.

Emilie: How do you keep your sanity knowing the extent of what the FHM – and really what our entire community – is up against?

Beth: The fundraiser in me often wants to scream out what we are doing from the rafters but I’ll always be an educator first. When tensions are high or there are sensitive issues, we’ve found that it’s best to work quietly – this applies to both large and small scales. I feel that we’re doing it right if we’re getting the resources to where they need to be and getting people to have meaningful conversations.

Emilie: Like this one?

Beth: Exactly like this one.

Liked it? Loathed it? Want to react? I would welcome your feedback and can be reached at emilie@jewishpinellas.org.


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