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2017-08-25 digital edition

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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.


August 25, 2017  RSS feed

Text: T T T

Times of tolerance in our scary world

Emilie Socash

One of the best parts of my work in the community is getting to sit down and have meaningful conversations about the great (and on their way to great) happenings across our entire region. Just last week, I connected with friends like Jerry Benstock, Beth Rosenbluth, Betty Gootson (and more) and we chatted about the Jewish Community Camp, the future of Jewish education, the role of the Federation as a resource – and more.

I couldn’t help but notice, however, that a pervasive backdrop to these conversations was making its way to the forefront, barging in, demanding attention. This background issue stomping into the spotlight is the issue made so very real by the recent rally in Charlottesville.

The metaphor that “all the world’s a stage” is particularly relevant to this issue, as we watched the terrifying mobilization of a grab bag of white supremacist groups join forces to inflict their messaging, their vile hatred, and their ultimate wish for “action” upon the rest of the world. About six years ago, during my time at freeFall Theatre, I recall the sense of utter despair and dread when Cabaret was being staged and developed in the blackbox space. I sat watching the tech rehearsal in the space that is 48-feet square, all surfaces painted a suffocating flat black, as the close of act 1 ended with the unfurling of huge cloth banners from the ceiling in stark and symbol-laden black, white, and red fabric.

It made me sick to see the actors bring to reality the salute, the brown uniform of the Hitler youth, and the haunting use of the songs of the Hitlerjugend (Hitler youth). My reaction was no less deep and sickened than that of the actors portraying this on stage; I believe we all took some comfort in knowing that this was both a fictionalized presentation as well as an important educational tool in referencing and making real historical terror.

Charlottesville was not the first time that I saw the visible use of swastikas and hate language in an organized protest this year, unfortunately; the “Unite the Right” efforts only brought it closer to home. In June, my family and I visited Germany and took a one-day trip to Berlin with the sole purpose of visiting Sachenhausen, the first designed concentration camp, which was later used as a model for camp layouts and architecture.

We stayed at a modest family hostel next to the Berlin HBF, the main train station, and as we settled in (with the girls getting on the wifi and taking selfies, Shane trying to find English-language news on the television, and me researching the vegan scene for our dinner later that evening) we started to hear screaming and chanting outside. Looking down, we saw a small protest with several bullhorns, and while the German chants were lost on me, the signs and symbols used were clear.

The next morning, we ventured with our guide from Mosaic Tours to the camp, taking the train about a half hour north of Berlin through Germany’s amazingly scenic and quaint landscape.

It was our first time – as a family, and individually – visiting a concentration camp. Certain visuals I expected: the gate that declared “Arbeit Macht Frei,” the administrative building that could see the entire camp, the uniforms on display. But I didn’t expect green grass. A terrain course for testing army boots. Touching the marble slabs in the medical testing room. Or how close the neighboring homes were to the wall that surrounded the camp.

Hundreds of people lived within a few hundred feet of this camp (and countless other camps throughout Europe). Some responded; many didn’t.

When considering our own backyard protests and events, whether that be Charlottesville, the subsequent shut-down of the Boston rally, or the full cancellation of the planned Act for America rallies slated for early September, I’m both terrified and reinvigorated. Terrified that there is a level of misguided tolerance of these movements in the first place, but reinvigorated that there are those in our communities willing to take action and speak up.

A great part of taking action is not just reactively speaking up at counter protests and solidarity vigils, although I remain tremendously proud that our community was represented very visibly at the St. Petersburg vigil held the day after the Charlottesville incidents, but also proactively enhancing the conversation regarding inclusion, respect, diversity, tolerance, and community cohesion.

To that end, the Federation is organizing a few key actions to reinforce and respond to the scary world in which we live. For families, we have launched a “Parent Education Program,” bringing together leading psychologists for webinars on topics of current concern.

The first seminar addressed speaking to your kids about hate and anti-Semitism. We’re also spearheading a community-wide disaster readiness portal which I hope we will never need to use. And finally, we’re continuing to lean in to the important work that changes lives here at home and abroad.

Now more than ever, we need your support in getting involved, contributing to our work, and staying vigilant. Please join us.

For more information about how to volunteer, donate, or otherwise contribute to our community’s readiness and response efforts to combat hate and promote tolerance, contact the Federation at (727) 530-3223.

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