Opinion: Let’s not hide from our differences

 

Mark Shapiro, president and chief executive officer of the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center in Whitefish Bay, shared the following message with staff and members.

At the Seder table each Pesach, our family follows the same Haggadah and revisits the same story. As we explore the Four Questions, the youngest at the table asks “Why is this night different from all other nights?”  Today, our national community is practicing its own version of Judaism as it repeats a four year cycle of election strife, disruption and implications.

Mark Shapiro

Mark Shapiro

Putting aside the election’s outcome, this year really does feel different from all others. Maybe it was the tenor of the race concluded. Maybe it is the stark realities that election night revealed.  Maybe we sometimes forget how it feels to live a democratic life.

Even within our own community, we must remember that disagreement and dismissal are not the same things and – more important – not act as if they are.

If the JCC provides a forum for open dialogue, we must remind ourselves that dialogue requires at least two distinct voices. Or three. Or 18. Or 5,777.

If the JCC is a place that is founded on Jewish ethics and values, we must remember that kavod (respect) and tikkun olam (repair the world) and tzedakah (justice) can all be actions.

If the JCC is rooted in the promise that we partner to build a healthier Milwaukee, we must realize that true partnership is hard. That we should seek out, and not hide from, our differences – and hold ourselves to the optimistic ideal that the gaps that divide us are instead open spaces for inclusion.

As president and CEO ­– led by an exceptional board of directors, served by an incredible team of staff and volunteers, and supported by generous members and donors – I can confidently answer that the JCC is those things; it is today, tomorrow and as long as the community needs us to be.

This community is diverse, demanding, and ever-changing. So are the organizations that are blessed to serve it. We are not simply Democrat or Republican, Jew or Christian or Muslim, Reform or Conservative or Orthodox, Cubs fan or Brewers fan. We are a collective of people who believe in our shared future and might have different ideas on how to get there.

We agree that Jewish life has inalienable value and should be protected. We agree that we have a responsibility to care for our neighbors, to educate our children and to build a community that reflects our values. Together, we feed the hungry, we teach the young, we care for the ill, and we strengthen the mind, body and spirit. Here in Milwaukee, throughout Wisconsin, in Israel and around the world.

I encourage you to take part in the good, hard, necessary work that is in front of us.  Volunteer at your local food pantry, give to your agency of choice, join a committee or sit on a board. Mostly, I encourage you to listen, with open ears and hearts, to the many voices of our community

Those voices will always have a place in your JCC.