Intervening Against Hate and for Community

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Willard Morgan, President
Willard Morgan, President

During the month of May, my colleagues and I at Chewonki, facilitated by our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, have been learning together in recognition of both Jewish American Heritage Month and Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. We are alarmed by the rise in harassment targeting these groups, which has been growing since 2016, according to information from Statista and the Anti-Defamation League.  Our mission “challenges people to build thriving, sustainable communities throughout their lives,” and hate has no place in that work on this collective home we share – planet Earth.

As the month comes to an end, I am reflecting further on the painful surge of antisemitism in the past several years. I am grateful for my colleagues and friends who create safe spaces at Chewonki, support our Jewish students in their practice, and act — as a volunteer Civil Rights Team leader in a local school, as active congregants at Beth Israel, our local synagogue, by raising awareness for all staff during Jewish American Heritage Month, and by partnering with me to write this message. 

In support of our Jewish students, employees, families, alumni, and friends, I firmly state that Chewonki does not tolerate antisemitism and denounces all acts of intimidation and violence. 

I also acknowledge the complexity of the ongoing conflict between Palestinians and Jews, and that we desire safety for both groups; It is our shared humanity, regardless of political differences or otherwise, that connects us and should be honored, now more than ever.

Antisemitism is often referred to as “the oldest hatred.” It has persisted over millennia across the globe and knows no political, racial, or geographic boundaries. The United States, home of around 40% of the world’s Jews, is no stranger to this pernicious hatred. According to FBI data, since 1996 Jews have been the number one target of religiously motivated hate crimes, and in light of the most recent conflict in Gaza, antisemitic incidents have spiked both in the U.S. and worldwide.

In a 1963 speech entitled “Religion and Race,” the Jewish theologian and philosopher Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “Indifference to evil is more insidious than evil itself; it is more universal, more contagious, more dangerous. A silent justification, it makes possible an evil erupting as an exception, becoming the rule, and in turn being accepted.” For this reason, it is important that allies stand in solidarity with the Jewish community and for all people being harmed at the hands of state power and oppression, that leaders take a stand, and that more of us learn how to safely intervene during an interpersonal incident.

To learn more about the rise in Antisemitism and other forms of hate, please visit the Anti-Defamation League’s website. And, to learn the 5Ds of bystander intervention – Distract, Delegate, Document, Delay, and Direct, participate in free trainings, or access tools to stop other forms of harassment, visit the website for hollaback!.

Nearly one year ago, on June 2, 2020, Board Chair Roseanne Saalfield and I wrote about the need for and the process of becoming antiracist. Our message continues to guide our work, in particular, the personal responsibility we each hold. We wrote “During a listening session yesterday, one Chewonki staff member insightfully commented that “transformative growth,” a pillar of our mission, requires acknowledging, examining, and letting go of past behaviors, habits, and beliefs; it means a change in culture for the individual and the group. We cannot possibly build “thriving, sustainable communities” when so many of us are denied safety, dignity, and equitable treatment under the law. 

This is long-haul work, that of creating a more safe, equitable, and just world, free of hate, harassment, intimidation, and violence. It requires us to make choices each day to pursue that goal instead of staying comfortable. Each day I ask myself, what step am I taking today?

With respect,

Willard Morgan

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