Tag Archives: anti-Semitism

Strength to Strength

The way we teach our children makes a big impression, a lasting one. I don’t remember much about fire drills from elementary school; I remember being in the school plays. By contrast, I remember vividly a different drill in sixth grade: we were told that an air raid siren would go off and that we were to get under our desks with our hands over our heads. Why? I grew up in Houston, TX in the 1980’s. We were told that the Russians had nuclear warheads aimed at NASA which was, in Texas terms, just down the road (about a 45 minute drive). We were taught to be afraid.IMG_20170323_190902

This week, an arrest was made in the investigation into the recent bomb threats against Jewish institutions, AND my school, Albert Einstein Academy began performances of our spring play, “Disney Winnie the Pooh Kids!” Which do we want our students to remember? The answer should obviously be the play.

The arrest provides a bookend in one more volume of the encyclopedia of anti-Semitic attacks. In using the term “anti-Semitism,” it matters not who made the threats, only that the threats were made against Jewish institutions, using hateful language. In using the term “attacks,” it matters not that the threats were all hoaxes (thank God!), only that the threats produced mass evacuations. For now, it matters not why these attacks were made, only that the arrest means they may stop.

Let me be clear: what matters is about us. It was always about us. Were we prepared for a bomb threat from anyone? Yes. Were we secure enough in our relationship with law enforcement to trust them to provide protection, to help clear our building when threatened, and to investigate threats against us? Yes, and, frankly, in our specific instance local and regional law enforcement were actively here for us working, advising, and strategizing with us, and empowering national and international authorities in a way that lead to the arrest. Were we surrounded by neighbors and community leaders who showed love and support for us? Most emphatically, yes!


via asklatisha.com


Did we also go through an emotional rollercoaster ride? Yes. Hold onto that for a moment. This period was difficult for us. It pulled us away from routine and from our goals, like the spring play. The number and sophistication of the threats raised the specter of Jews being unwelcome in countries they have come to call home. After the first threat, I wrote elsewhere that I was not afraid and believe Judaism teaches us not to be afraid. Resilience, defiance, anger, in addition to fear are no easier to handle. We went through a very tough time; we should not forget that.

Our long-term memory, though, needs to be different than our short-term memory. We quickly forget the many smaller, isolated acts of anti-Semitism every year. Our long-term memory reminds us to be vigilant; that is where our plans in case of a threat originated. Our long-term memory also needs to be positive.

We never taught our students about hatred. We never taught our students about insecurity. We taught them about uncertainty and about community. We taught them about living and love.


We also rehearsed, reworked, and refined an amazing play. The play is about friendship, it is about the unique value of everyone, and it is about promises of security (like Noah’s rainbow). In the long-term, I am confident that our students will far more remember what they learned by doing the play; lessons about courage, poise, confidence, and the thrill of success. We taught strengths, strengths that will endure.

This week, Jews finish reading the Book of Exodus, Shemot. Each time we finish a book of the Torah, we sing the words “chazak chazak v’nitchazek” (be strong, be strong, and you will be strengthened). As we emerge from a challenging winter, let us go from strength to strength. By focusing on enduring strengths, we will be strengthened.  IMG_20170322_102612



Leave a comment

Filed under Chailites, Education, Jewish Community, Jewish Wisdom, Uncategorized

Teaching Empathy

Pic empathy in 8 min

via startempathy.org

You have 8 minutes: You must talk the entire time, even if you are repeating the word “um” to fill time.  You have 8 topics: you must address at least 1 and can talk about all 8.  You have a partner: your partner can only listen, with as little reaction, verbal or physical, as possible.  After your 8 minutes, you will switch.  Thus begins The Great 8.

The topics are heavy and may include: God, Romantic Relationships, Finances, Parents, Addiction, Career, Body Image, Roommates, Fear, Crutch, etc..  Talking about them without a response from a real listener is like having a sounding board that only gives back exactly what you say.  Not reacting forces the listener to hear everything being said without having to think of responses.  The debrief of the experience brings out these lessons and so much more.  The end result of this exercise taught by Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt to a UD Hillel intern who taught it to me?  A significant life skill that is otherwise hard to teach–empathy.

This week, two triggers reminded me of the importance of teaching empathy and my favorite exercise for doing so, the Great 8: one, listening to the Anti-Defamation League’s president Abe Foxman at the Kristol Hillel Center’s 20th Anniversary Celebration at the University of Delaware; and two, listening to the abridged version of The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated and Chronically Inflexible Children by Ross W. Greene.  In each case, empathy was identified as the key to communication and change.

Abe Foxman

Abe Foxman

Mr. Foxman spoke of the need for empathy as the driver for outrage and for communal responses to hate.  Without taking sides politically, our empathy should drive us to outrage over the lives lost in Syria and elsewhere.  In response to the vandalism at the Islamic Society of Delaware, our empathy drove an interfaith gathering at the very same time Foxman was speaking.  Empathy helps us value life and to work together.

51wFA1R2gvL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Dr. Greene’s book posits that we will be able to teach flexibility to resistant children by offering an “empathy step” in response to problems.  If authority backfires and the problem can’t be let go, we must engage the child in problem solving.  To do so, he advises opening a conversation in which you accept that you may not know the real problem and you do not have the only answer.  Open inquiry and neutral drilling for information demonstrate empathy so that the child can and will work with you to address your concerns and his/her own.  I have already used this method at AEA with positive results.

If you knew that someone really wanted to hear your deepest concerns, you might open up more.  If you had practice speaking about serious issues with someone really listening, you might discover more about yourself.  The listener certainly will understand you better.  In today’s world, feeling that kind of connection, whether we offer it or receive it, is all too rare.  Try empathy on for size, by doing so, you will learn and teach it.  It may be hard, and often it is.  The results, though, may change your world.  It can take just 8 Great minutes. 


Filed under Chailites, Education