Our Small Part - July 17, 2020

So much to think about in our world today. The past few weeks have certainly piqued my interest and raised many issues and questions.
We continue to see the numbers of COVID-19 cases across the country rise in dramatic fashion. Two of my childhood friends tested positive, although both were asymptomatic. This is just one of the challenges of the pandemic. There is promising news about potential vaccines, but those will still take time.
We must do our part! Wash your hands. Social distance. And, most of all wear your mask! To encourage you to do so, please watch our own Jewish community’s “public service announcement.” See who you recognize.
One of the key questions facing our country in light of the COVID-19 pandemic is what will happen with our schools, including Jewish day schools and preschools (many major colleges and universities have announced a return to in-person). Online school only for now? A hybrid model with students going to school only a few days a week and the rest online? Will children and parents be able to adapt to whatever model is decided? What about the physical and mental health of the teachers and students (and parents)?
One local rabbi posted on Facebook:
Here are some of my thoughts on opening school for in person teaching in September.
  1. Physical health is of paramount importance.
  2. Emotional/mental health is of paramount importance.
  3. A good education is of paramount importance.
I know, I know. I also don't know which side I'm arguing for.
I do not envy those making such decisions!
Beyond schools, several local synagogues have already announced that High Holy Day programs and services will be held virtually. I know how much thought and planning is going into this for what I truly believe will be meaningful experiences for all.
Earlier this week, leaders from our Jewish Community Relations Council met with new Portland Police Chief, Chuck Lovell. We had a candid conversation. There will be a full story on the meeting in next week’s issue of the Jewish Review, but let me say Chief Lovell answered every question. I recognize there are many views on the police and police tactics, and hearing law enforcement’s perspective (reduced budget implications, use of tear gas, officer name badges, etc.) from Chief Lovell directly was interesting and informative.
Sadly, over the past 10 days, several major names in the sports and entertainment industry were embroiled in controversy regarding anti-Semitic comments. Deshaun Jackson of the Philadelphia Eagles created a firestorm by sharing anti-Semitic comments on Instagram. Those comments, wrongly attributed to Adolf Hitler, said “the Jews will blackmail America, the (sic) will extort America, their plan for World Domination won’t work if the Negroes know who they were.” He followed that up with a post in which he lauded Louis Farrakhan, the anti-Semitic leader of the Nation of Islam.
Earlier this week, Nick Cannon got in trouble for his comments on his podcast “Cannon’s Class” that promoted hateful speech and spread anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Cannon apologized late Wednesday night saying he “felt ashamed and uninformed.”
To his credit, former Los Angeles Laker star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote in a July 14 op-ed for The Hollywood Reporter that he was disturbed by recent anti-Semitic remarks from pro athletes and celebrities as well as the lack of outrage over such remarks.
“These famous, outspoken people share the same scapegoat logic as all oppressive groups from Nazis to the KKK [Ku Klux Klan]: all our troubles are because of bad-apple groups that worship wrong, have the wrong complexion, come from the wrong country, are the wrong gender or love the wrong gender,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote. “It’s so disheartening to see people from groups that have been violently marginalized do the same thing to others without realizing that perpetuating this kind of bad logic is what perpetuates racism.”
“Celebrities have a responsibility to get the words right,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote. “It’s not enough to have good intentions, because it’s the actual deeds — and words — which have the real impact.”
Sports journalist Jemele Hill, formerly of ESPN, wrote a column in The Atlantic, stating “The unfortunate truth is that some Black Americans have shown a certain cultural blind spot about Jews. Stereotypical and hurtful tropes about Jews are widely accepted in the African American community. As a kid, I heard elders in my family say in passing that Jewish people were consumed with making money, and that they owned everything. My relatives never dwelled on the subject, and nothing about their tone indicated that they thought anything they were saying was anti-Semitic — not that a lack of awareness would be any excuse. Experiencing the pain of discrimination and stereotyping didn’t prevent them from spreading harmful stereotypes about another group.”
Two thoughts on this issue:
  • Hate is defined by those on the receiving end, not by the speaker’s intention.
  • Should our initial thinking on these matters be to "excommunicate" rather than educate celebrities, athletes and other notable people who espouse anti-Semitic rhetoric? 
And on a different note, many of us read the resignation letter of Bari Weiss (who spoke here for our Women’s IMPACT event in May 2019) from The New York Times. Weiss described a "hostile work environment" where she experienced "unlawful discrimination" at the hands of fellow editors and writers.
“My own forays into Wrongthink have made me the subject of constant bullying by colleagues who disagree with my views. They have called me a Nazi and a racist; I have learned to brush off comments about how I am ‘writing about the Jews again.’”
Whether you agree with her various editorials or not, the allegations she outlines must be taken seriously.
With all of this going on I realize many important things: Your health and my health are intertwined. Wearing a mask DOES make a difference. Education (on so many levels) is necessary. Words and intentions matter. Think before speaking/posting on social media/emailing. Consider how communications could be perceived. And, together, we will do our small part to make the world a better and healthier place.
Shabbat shalom.
Marc N. Blattner
President and CEO


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