A Miracle in Baltimore?

Is it a miracle that the beautiful building of Shaarei Tfiloh Congregation, just 150 feet from where rioters tossed rocks at police and two blocks from stores that were devastated at the Mondawmin Mall during the recent Baltimore riots wasn’t damaged?

My father, Dr. Nathan Drazin, became the first rabbi of Shaarei Tfiloh in 1933. In the beginning, the synagogue was very successful. It was crowded every Shabbat. On the holidays, there were no seats for my brother and sister and me. In fact, Dad placed me in the choir, although I’m a monotone, so that I could have somewhere to sit. The synagogue had over 2,000 seats

However, in the early 1950s the neighborhood began to change. Blacks moved in, and the congregational leaders wanted to relocate the synagogue uptown. Dad refused. He told his congregants that this was immoral. Blacks had a right to live where they wished, and we should get along with all people.

The current part-time rabbi at Shaarei Tfiloh is David Herman whose main position is with the Baltimore City government. He told me that, unlike the 1968 Baltimore riot, the 2015 riot was not due to race but stemmed from the perception that the police unofficially deliver a form of street justice due to their frustration with what they perceive to be a revolving door in the judicial system for criminals.

Herman said there is no Jewish-black issue. He told me that the riots started in a school across from the Mondawmin Mall because kids had shared on Facebook that they wanted to ‘purge the city.’ City officials knew about the texts an hour before the riot but did nothing. The situation was exacerbated when buses and subways were canceled, and the youngsters had no way of getting home.

In an abundance of caution, Herman drove to Shaarei Tfiloh at 4 a.m. when he heard a report that a black church was set on fire a few blocks from Shaarei Tfiloh. He removed the Torah scrolls and the historic minute books of 1920 to 1960 that cover the interesting board meetings before and after Dad became the synagogue’s first rabbi in 1933.

Viewers of the riot on TV saw many pictures of the CVS store that was burned. What most people do not know is that just behind the CVS store is the oldest Jewish burial ground in Maryland. None of the graves was touched during the riot.

The same phenomenon also occurred during the last major Baltimore riot in 1968. The original neighbors and now their children and grandchildren call the synagogue, Shaarei Tfiloh, part of their neighborhood.

In short, Shaarei Tfiloh has had and still has positive links to the black community since its first rabbi, my dad, and the Baltimore Jewish community worked hard to preserve good relations. Is it possible that the rioters knew about these links and therefore did no damage to the shul and burial ground? Is this a miracle?

Rabbi Israel Drazin, a retired Army general and graduate of Ner Israel Rabbinical College, lives in Florida.

Anti-Semitism on Campus: Alive and Well

052915_Foxman,-AvrahamAs someone who has been critical about the sometimes overheated reaction to what is taking place regarding Jews on campus, I also believe it is vital to monitor the situation closely and to be able to re-evaluate as things may change.

I still believe the vast majority of Jewish students have normal lives on campus, where they can be comfortable in their own skins and with their Jewish identities. That is why a recent survey suggesting that more than 50 percent of Jewish students experienced anti-Semitism in one form or another was disturbing. This survey — which in my opinion was flawed — was not a helpful reading of what is going on.

And yet, something is changing. We need to identify what it is and deal with it — without declaring the sky is falling.

Historically, many campuses, particularly when it comes to faculty, have a reputation of being left-wing or at least very liberal. Since the vast majority of the Jewish community has identified itself in a similar fashion for decades, there seemed to be no problem.

Together with this, however, polls of the American people in the last few years indicate an increasing gap in attitudes toward Israel between those who identify themselves as conservatives and those who identify themselves as liberals.

It is this evolving phenomenon that, I believe, is lending force to the anti-Israel forces on campus. Let’s be clear: There has always been a measure of left-wing opposition to Israel on campuses, whether from faculty or some student groups.

They are more organized today. Students for Justice in Palestine, the main organizing force behind the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns, has refined and intensified its tactics. Regardless of the fact that the BDS campaign has not gained much traction on campus in terms of having any impact against Israel — many, if not most, of the boycott votes have been soundly defeated — it is creating a great deal of noise on campus and beyond and contributing to the sense of discomfort of Jewish students.

But the biggest change is the fertile ground in which the anti-Israel community is sowing its seeds.

The trends that are appearing relate to the perception of Jewish students and their relations with other minority communities. There are suggestions that Jews do not qualify for participation in minority community activity on campus, for two reasons: They are deemed people of privilege, not minorities worthy of special attention; and, their assumed support for “colonialist, apartheid” Israel puts them in the camp of would-be oppressors rather than targets and opponents of prejudice.

Jews in America have made too much progress over the last half-century to cause us to overreact. Still, we cannot afford to be complacent. We have to address these campus issues now before they expand further and spin out of control.

Abraham H. Foxman is national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

Superstorms of a Socioeconomic Kind

2013ftv_oshry_aleeza“A rare combination of circumstances that aggravates a situation drastically, resulting in an event of unusual magnitude.”

If you lived on the East Coast in 2012, you most likely remember Hurricane Sandy, frequently referred to as a superstorm by the media. This storm was the biggest of the year, caused the most damage and was used by many as an indicator of our planetary climate system gone haywire due to anthropogenic climate change. People became captivated by the term superstorm, feeding an unquenchable curiosity about natural events turned cataclysmic by people.

Interestingly, this past winter there was an article in The Washington Post about the overuse of the term ‘superstorm,’ which is often used without reference to the science of weather events and virtually impossible to define. Despite not understanding the ambiguous nature of this meteorological event, the public is lured in with the spectacular and dramatic sound bite.

With the recent events in Baltimore, I applied superstorms to a different construct: a combination of circumstances that drastically aggravate a situation, manifesting in events of unusual magnitude, such as civil unrest. A socioeconomic superstorm. But the public response is vastly different.

After the riots last month, I noticed a stark contrast in the Jewish community to these two superstorms. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, there was a mass, united effort by virtually every rabbi, leader, congregation, organization and institution in the collection of food, clothing, supplies and money to help the communities impacted by the storm. Busloads of people on several occasions were driven north to add human capital to the restoration efforts.

After the neighborhoods in Northwest Baltimore were vandalized and looted just miles from our doorsteps, most of Jewish community remained silent, with pockets closed and doors shut. I don’t mean to belittle the effort of those who did help, who worked side by side with our neighbors to the south and east, helping to restore and rebuild what was damaged. But I also don’t want the efforts of a few to be misinterpreted as an adequate response by the entire community.

We all live in social and cultural circles, gravitating to living in clusters based on similarity. In these clusters, we often produce stereotypes about other clusters, creating cultural ghettos. We develop fear of “the other,” fear of our neighbors; we consider ourselves surrounded by enemies. I recently heard a TED talk by novelist Elif Shfak on identity politics. She describes the danger of insular communities, isolating ourselves behind cultural walls. When we don’t connect beyond our clusters, we become encircled by our identity in a stifling way. Our imaginations shrink, and our hearts whither. If the walls are thick enough, we are cut off from cultural and intellectual sustenance. Our clusters will shrivel up and die if the walls are not broken down.

In the case of weather events, superstorm is an ambiguous term. The variables are difficult to pinpoint or identify. However, socioeconomic superstorms are not. By reaching out to make connections, we can eradicate their existence.

Aleeza Oshry is a local professional geologist, educator and sustainability expert.

Life’s Meaning

I don’t know the exact meaning of life or why we are here, but I like to think there is some purpose for our existence. Collective knowledge and experience transform us into the people we are. As Jews, we are taught that we have a common bond of history, fate and faith. And as the “chosen people,” we have an obligation to survive and continue our special link to the past.

We are taught to value education and live as righteous, dedicated, committed people and always tolerant of others beliefs, practices and rights. Unbelievably, these practices have not made for an easy existence thought the history of our people.

We have been enslaved, oppressed, conquered, banished and murdered — based solely on our being Jewish. Israel was founded 67 years ago in 1948 as the formal Jewish state on the very lands Jews have inhabited for more than 5,000 years. There is now one place where Jews from anywhere in the world can take refuge or simply choose to reside and live in relative peace.

Support Jewish education, businesses and agencies that help build Jewish lives and economic strength.

This period of history in which we now live dictates a greater call to duty, an obligation as Jews to help repair the breach that continued anti-Semitism inflicts on our people. This is a call to action; to educate, support and strengthen the bonds and connections we have with each other and our ancestors to ensure we will continue as a people for another 5,000 years.

As principled individuals, we demonstrate commitment to those things we hold most dear, our lives, our families, our country and our people. We invest in life, health, disability, long-term care, key person and business insurances as well as trusts and other financial tools to support our loved ones. So get involved! Support Jewish education, business and outreach agencies that help build Jewish lives and economic strength. And leave a Jewish legacy, so that these programs and initiative will continue for years to come.

The Jewish Federation of Howard County is the umbrella organization that supports Jewish community and needs in Howard County, Israel and the world. Create a Jewish Legacy Program helps support the vibrant continuation of the Jewish people. Legacy giving will help ensure the Jewish generations of tomorrow have a stronger base of support — one that helps young and old, affiliated and unaffiliated — for a strong Jewish identity and safety net inside our Howard County community, in Israel and worldwide.

Cary Millstein is chair of Legacy and Endowment for the Jewish Federation of Howard County. For more information about how to leave a Jewish legacy in Howard County, contact Michelle Ostroff at mostroff@JewishHowardCounty.org.

My Message to the Man Who Attacked Me

052215_Alden-SolovyOn a sunny morning last month, I was swept into the women’s section of the Western Wall in Jerusalem in a flurry of aggression directed at the Women of the Wall, the Israeli group fighting for women’s prayer at Jerusalem’s holiest site.

One of the group’s male supporters, Charlie Kalech, was strangled and thrown to the ground. I was stomped on in the stomach by an enraged man.

Here’s what happened: After we men finished reading the Torah in our simultaneous service, a woman took the Torah through a gate in the mechitzah, the fence separating the genders. We broke out in spontaneous song and dance. It was pure joy to know that Torah — a gift given by God to all of us — would be chanted by women at the Kotel.

Then a handful of men showed up. They manhandled us, attempting to get to the gate in the mechitzah, their intentions unclear but their demeanor aggressive.

Charlie and I were near the gate. We tried to hold our ground against larger men, but the gate was somehow opened. Charlie called out for the police and was assaulted.

I saw an ultra-Orthodox man trying to charge through. He appeared violent. In that moment there were no good choices. Let him run through and perhaps hurt someone? Use myself, my body, as a barricade?

I wrapped my arms around him and used my body as deadweight to bring him to the ground.

On the ground, I felt the headpiece of my tefillin coming off. My focus shifted to protecting the tefillin from hitting the stone — an ironic mistake regarding my own safety. I took the head piece in my left hand, breaking my grip on the man, who jumped up and stomped on my stomach.

To the man who stomped on me: I’m disgusted by your behavior. You are the face of sinat chinam, baseless hatred by Jew against Jew. I am still injured and in pain. Yet, this is what I said in synagogue last Shabbat: “Do not hate the man who stomped on me. Rail against his misogyny, object to what he was taught, condemn his behavior, seek justice against his violence, if that’s even possible, and seek change in Israeli democracy. But don’t use what happened to me to justify hate or prejudice of anyone.”

To my daughters: I’m sorry for the fear this caused. I’ll continue to participate in the struggle. The cause of Women of the Wall is just. The call to religious freedom is holy. I swear by peaceful resistance.

Real men stand with women who fight injustice, with women willing to face violence and arrest to claim the rights denied them. When called upon, real men put themselves on the front lines. But the heroes are the women who have fought this fight year in and year out.

The fact that I helped is a privilege. I believe that this act earned us merit in heaven. If not, so be it. It should. Either way, that’s between me and God.

Alden Solovy is a Jewish poet, liturgist and teacher. He is the author of “Haggadah Companion: Meditations and Readings.”

Frustration Is No Excuse

landauLet’s make something eminently clear: There were two kinds of protest taking place in Baltimore as a result of the tragic death of Freddie Gray in police custody. The first was from those who sincerely wanted justice and an explanation for the catastrophic and sudden end of Freddie’s life. The second was from those whose motivation was solely to cause mayhem, destruction, disorder, looting and a host of criminal activities that would be broadcast all across the country.

Yet again, another American city is engulfed in racial acrimony, antagonism and anger, and the thugs who have destroyed businesses and people’s lives have disappeared with no twinge of conscience. Officers’ lives have been endangered, people’s lives upturned, and for another extended period of time, people will remember Baltimore as yet another dysfunctional American city still mired in racial hatred and disharmony.

But it doesn’t stop there. People have attempted to give excuses, as if there could be any for this level of criminality. And the word that has been repeated again and again is “frustration.”

But we are all frustrated with life in America — Latinos, Muslims, middle-class whites. The list is long. And if we all were to vent our frustrations, as we saw in Baltimore, on other American cities, the fabric of this country would unwind, and we would no longer be justified in using the word “United” in our country’s name.

We adhere to America’s values because we believe in them, notwithstanding the injustices that continue all around us.

Overall, the black community deserves our praise for its response and the manner in which it has worked ceaselessly to limit further damage to this city. But what the black community needs to remember is that it cannot continue labeling itself as victims and allowing that to justify the economic malaise that afflicts its people.

The largest crime propagated in America is murder by blacks against blacks. If you wish to denounce police brutality against the black community, don’t live the life of a hypocrite and conveniently forget the slaughter being perpetrated against blacks by blacks all over this country. Drugs have destroyed black communities everywhere, and with that comes the necessary corollary of crime and self-inflicted murder.

So let’s mourn for Freddie Gray and work toward the necessary and difficult opportunities that allow members of the black community a chance for hope. But let us also remember that at the rate other ethnic groups are multiplying and taking over senior political leadership roles, the behavior of the black community in the future may not fall on the same politically correct ears that it does now. And unless there are major changes within the next 20 to 30 years, there will be such a political disconnect as to completely overwhelm the very community that has complained the most against everyone … but never against itself.

Rabbi Chaim Landau is president of the Baltimore Board of Rabbis.

Enhancing Jewish Life in Baltimore

081613_barak_hermannMany of you know the JCC as a recreation, fitness and aquatics center with early childhood programs and camps, and truth be told, we do have excellent facilities and programs.

But what many of you do not know is that the J is also like a big open marketplace, or a <em<shuk (as they call it in Israel), where people of all races and religions can experience Jewish culture and community. Some of these Jewish experiences are generated at our campuses and others at various satellite locations. Creating meaningful Jewish experiences is a commitment by our board and staff, and we make it happen most successfully as a result of partnerships and collaborations we have formed in our community.

As we continue to grow to meet the needs of the ever-changing Jewish community, our team at the J looks to leverage our facilities and resources to promote Jewish life while also developing low barrier options for Jewish communal engagement.

Many of us in the Jewish community work within tight budgetary constraints, as we try to balance doing the most communal good while maintaining our financial bottom line. We are blessed to have The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, amazing agencies, wonderful synagogues and a multitude of communal resources with which to work collaboratively to support the needs of the Baltimore Jewish community.

Making connections. Entering conversations. Thinking differently. Forming new partnerships. Maximizing Jewish communal resources. These are the tickets to Jewish collaboration and creating Jewish partnerships that in turn will deliver greater good and support greater Jewish engagement and meaningful opportunities to live “Jewishly.”

At the JCC of Greater Baltimore, we strive to engage people in living a meaningful Jewish life but our team can’t do this on its own. We need partners.

We make it a priority to meet with our Jewish community leaders often. Our strategic objective has been to learn what others are already doing and how we can work together to offer diverse and innovative Jewish experiences for people of all ages.

I have found that our local Jewish leaders are excited to have these conversations with us. While many collaborations have already transpired, many more are in the works.

Our Jewish Film Festival in March and April engaged thousands of Baltimoreans, along with our Rami Kleinstein concert in March, which brought to the Gordon Center the best of contemporary Israeli music. Charm City Tribe, our downtown program for Jewish young adults, coordinated Purim and Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations in partnership with other groups to enhance their success.

Our camps are gearing up for a tremendous summer season. We have a partner agency, Jewish Volunteer Connection, working with our camp directors to bring the value of community service into all of our camp programs. The Pearlstone Center will continue to play an integral part at our JCC Camps at Milldale.

All over Greater Baltimore, we are partnering with organizations to help individuals connect to their Jewish selves, their heritage and their culture in ways that work for them.

So whether you represent a Jewish organization or you are an individual looking to continue on your Jewish journey, we are here at the J to meet you and help you get connected. Let’s start a conversation and maybe even a collaboration.

Barak Hermann is president of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore.

Rebuild Baltimore

FTV_Terrill_MarcIt was hard to be a Baltimorean last week on so many levels. If you watched the news and followed posts on social media during the violent protests that shut down our city, you know just how difficult it was. There were angry crowds spilling into the streets and horrific images in the media of a city on fire. The pictures of the protests sparked by the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray following his arrest did not put forward the charming side of our city to the world. But, in the end, this is not about appearances.

That said, throughout the unrest, there were moments of healing and hope emanating from the neighborhoods hardest hit and offers of help pouring in from surrounding areas. It is sometimes in the darkest moments that we see the best in people. If we are to rebuild together as a city, it is those moments on which we must focus.

The Jewish community has long stepped forward as advocates and activists for the entire community. We simply must speak up when we feel there is injustice and do what we can to lift others when there is despair and suffering. It is part of our tradition to act; it is who we are as Jews.

Immediately following the night of looting and fires on April 27, The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore reached out to those in the faith-based community and civic organizations to see how we could help.

Our Jewish Volunteer Connection (JVC) is working with the No Boundaries Coalition, a coalition of organizations, churches and schools representing West Baltimore and striving to build a strong and unified community. JVC has mobilized volunteers who want to help residents reclaim their neighborhoods and, probably most importantly, be part of the conversation in moving our city and nation forward.

We set up drives to collect supplies for schools and community centers tasked with keeping children safe and engaged when schools were closed amid safety concerns. We collected nonperishable food items for vulnerable older adults whose lifeline to supplies was cut off by the destruction in their community. We have also set up mechanisms for fellow community members to give their time and money in aid of recovery.

For many in our city, last week’s tense protests harkened back to early April 1968 when the city erupted into violence following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Then, as today, The Associated stepped forward to help rebuild the city and restore to calm.

Our Jewish tradition teaches that we are all responsible for each other, and that certainly extends into neighborhoods where people are now hurting and in need of help.

We must all realize that recovery is not simply about sweeping away debris. It’s about issues that are complex, difficult and require thought, action and tenacious resolve.

Marc B. Terrill is president of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. To find out how you can help rebuild Baltimore, visit associated.org/helpbaltimorecity.

Planting the Seeds for Tomorrow

050815_ftv1Last month, our community marked Israel’s 67th Independence Day, with a variety of cultural events highlighting Israel’s remarkable achievements and the strong connection many of us feel to the Jewish homeland.

Even more important are the interactions that happen year-round between individuals and families throughout our community and in Israel. Through The Associated: Jewish Community Federation and its Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership, close and powerful bonds exist between people here and those in our sister city in Israel.

We hear from our peers in Ashkelon that during difficult times, they feel the love across the miles from Baltimore and how that sense of belonging — of family — gives them hope in bleak times.

But Israel is much more than rocket fire and shattered glass. On missions to Israel and through many collaborative initiatives with our sister city, we are able to pursue shared values and plan for a bright future. Every year, more than one thousand individuals from Baltimore travel to Israel to share meals, adventures, laughter and meaningful experiences with our friends in Ashkelon.

Today, we plant the seeds for tomorrow through programs that connect our two communities and instill a love for Israel in our young people. The Associated’s Israel Engagement Center, which launched in 2013 as a partnership with the Jewish Agency for Israel and our local network of Associated agencies, enables young adults to travel to Israel for experiences such as eight-week summer internships through Onward Israel and gap-year, study-abroad and post-college experiences with Masa.

Hundreds of students at our area Hillels connect to Israel through Taglit-Birthright Israel and Israel Campus Fellows. Israeli college graduates work at our colleges and universities to strengthen students’ connection to the State of Israel and educate them to advocate for Israel.

A commitment to Klal Yisrael, the link between Jewish people in Baltimore, Israel and around the world, is central to the work of The Associated, our agencies and overseas partners, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and JAFI. It inspires us to act on behalf of Jews in cities throughout Europe, where anti-Semitic acts have become more frequent and in Ukraine, where frail seniors are finding their basic needs impacted by the political unrest, and to celebrate the proud Jewish community in Odessa, Baltimore’s sister city in Ukraine.

This important notion informs our community’s overseas agenda, which includes providing more than $7 million overseas each year. These funds provide opportunities for Baltimoreans who want to feel more connected to Jewish communities abroad.

Thanks to these allocations, we have witnessed a Jewish people in Ukraine, nearly lost to oppression, become a vibrant community. We have ensured that Jews in Israel have the promise of a strong, sustainable community and that our local Jewish community understands the importance and far reach of the diverse Jewish world.

We should take great pride in the fact that caring for our global Jewish community is a core value of The Associated and a deep and meaningful part of who we are as Jews.

Beth Goldsmith and Yehuda Neuberger are co-chairs of Israel and Overseas for The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

Baltimore Riots: A Perspective From Ground-Zero

050115_cover_ROTATORWhen addressing current events or communal concerns from the pulpit, I endeavor to do so in the context of a Torah perspective. I always seek to distinguish between the Torah and my own opinion. What I share with you here is subjective. It is my hope and prayer that these personal reflections will offer some comfort and guidance during a time of great turmoil and pain in our city.

After years of working with people as both a rabbi and psychologist, I have come to believe that each of us resides in our own emotional neighborhood. Meaning, we all have certain “default” patterns of feelings that we experience and express in response to outside events. In times of stress, we often become “more” of who we already are: people who are predisposed to anger become angry, the anxious become more fearful, those who tend toward depression become sadder, etc.

For many, the reaction to scenes of mayhem in Baltimore city this past week was predictable. Libertarians, Democrats, Republicans, progressives, conservatives, conspiracy theorists, secular-humanists, religious fundamentalists, all had their “take” on why this was happening. The savvy information consumer most likely knows how CNN, FOX, or MSNBC will report on the very same event in an attempt to validate the conclusions already reached by their respective viewership or to indoctrinate the newbie.

Our biases draw us to connect with others who reside in emotional neighborhoods similar to ours. This is especially true for the growing number of people who rely on social media or blogs for their news. These platforms are often echo-chambers of kindred-spirits as opposed to platforms for spirited debate. Safe space for open exchange of ideas, critical thinking, or in-depth analysis appears to be rapidly diminishing.

The Talmud (Eruvin 13) relates:

“R. Abba stated in the name of Shmuel: For 3 years there was a dispute between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel, these said, ‘The halacha is in agreement with our views’ and these said, ‘The halacha is in agreement with our views’. A Bat Kol (often understood as “heavenly voice”) emerged and said to them, ‘Both these and these are the words of the living G-d, but the halacha is like Beit Hillel’. (The Talmud asks) Since both are the words of the living G-d’ what was it that entitled Beit Hillel to have the halacha established in agreement with their rulings? Because they were pleasant and humble, and they studied their own rulings and those of Beit Shammai. And furthermore, they (Beit Hillel) gave precedence to the words of Beit Shammai before their own.”

Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai argue over many points of Jewish law. They even have several philosophical disagreements. Yet the Talmud affirms that both are theologically correct!

The Talmud in Yevamot (14a) articulates that the underlying point of contention between the respective schools of Hillel and Shammai was on what ought to be the determining variable in Jewish Law: Intellectual acuity or majority rule. The school of Shammai was renowned for being “michaddidei t’fei” (sharp perception) and the school of Hillel generally had the majority of votes.

In practice, the law follows the majority position of the sages, which most of the time was represented by Beit Hillel. Nevertheless, our sages assert that even when only one school “won” the legislative vote, both have viable positions that can be substantiated as a legally valid position.

The Talmud should not be misinterpreted to mean that “everyone” is right. The Talmud presents plenty of cases of faulty reasoning, misapplication of legal principle or misunderstandings. The point here is that Torah allows for two opposing positions to occupy the same Divine space.

It’s worth noting that, when it comes to applied law, democracy trumps intellectual superiority. But the Talmud is teaching us something more than legal process. It is teaching us that the manner in which we engage in debate and how we treat our intellectual adversaries may, in and of itself, holds great value.

We live in a world that values sharpness over courteousness. Superficial and repetitive talking-points have become the norm. Opposing perspectives are not only ignored, they are shouted down and trampled. We are talking at each other and not to one another; too much speaking; not enough listening.

Hearing the reports of Freddie Grey’s arrest and death; watching the protests and riots, seeing the police show incredible restraint in the face of blatant lawlessness and taunting, hearing from victims of assault, thievery, and arson, watching politicians struggle towards balanced leadership – it is clear that there are no easy answers that can comprehensively and definitively explain what Mayor Rawlings-Blake described as “one of our darkest days” in Baltimore.

During these dark days, the human tendency is for us to retreat and entrench ourselves in our emotional neighborhoods. This is understandable. But I believe that this instinctive response only leads to greater polarization and hopelessness.

The recent events have left many of us on-edge. We are worried about the future. We want to do something to help, yet we are feeling quite helpless.

In the absence of platitudes or grandiose plans, I humbly submit the following:

·        As Parents: When discussing the events of the day, let’s be mindful that our children are “all-ears.” Their worldview, their sense of security, justice, and proper conduct will come from listening to what we say and watching what we do.

·        As Lifelong Learners: Let’s take a lesson from Beit Hillel and listen before we speak. We would all benefit from more gentleness, patience, and humility.

·        As Friends: Instead of scouring the media for more information, take some time to reach out to someone who you know who lives alone or who might be anxious about what has occurred. See what you can do to help someone whose business has been adversely affected by the riots. Remember that giving time and attention to those in need is also a form of tzedakah.

·        As Community Members: Our primary obligation is to ensure our own safety and to help ensure the safety of those around us. Perhaps it is not yet safe for us to help clean up and rebuild what was destroyed in downtown Baltimore. That time will come. For now, we can at least make a moral commitment to help those who have less than us, people, who, due to no fault of their own lost their houses, their cars, and their livelihoods to senseless violence.

·        As Jews: We have a responsibility, not only to one another but to the world at large. How we engage the world around us in the way that we speak, how we behave in public, and how we conduct ourselves in business, all have the potential for Chillul or Kiddush HaShem.

A closing thought from Pirkei Avot (3:2): “Rabi Chanina, deputy to the kohanim, would say: Pray for the integrity of the government (“Malchut”); for without the fear of it, people would swallow one another alive.”

While the Torah expects all of us to exercise self-control, it is clear that the external controls of government are often necessary for ensuring civility and public safety. In Ethics From Sinai, author Irving Bunim suggests that the term “malchut” (government) might also refer to Malchut Shamayim (The Heavenly Kingdom). With this in mind, let us pray that G-d’s presence be recognized and acknowledged in this world thereby motivating humanity to strive towards greater social virtue.

Rabbi Daniel Lerner is spiritual leader at Pikesville Jewish Congregation, founder and principal of Strategic Family Solution, LLC, and faculty, IBC and JSS Schools of Jewish Studies, Yeshiva University.