Thursday, January 27, 2011
An Open Letter to My Friends at Hillel
[IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: The following open letter is not meant in any way as a critique of the Hillel organization or its students. The issues raised are certainly not unique to the students of Hillel, they are part of what goes on in our community generally. As the title and closing suggest, it is a note to friends from a friend. I shared it because I trust that we (Jew, Muslim, Christian or Atheist)are a community who is ultimately concerned about values. In the Jewish community, there has been a lot of public criticism lately and making federal cases rather than opening discussion. This isn't that. This is asking for a change of heart not a change of policy. If you have any comments or questions please direct them to me.]
I really enjoyed seeing you all the other night, sharing my one Chassidic joke (the "Mental Floss" picture should remind you) and a Rebbe Nachman story. I love being around college kids. Its energizing and alive and I like that. It was hard though hearing some of your “comedy.” I am not exactly sure why prefixing any concept with the “f” word is supposed to make it more funny. But, ok, maybe that’s just generational. What got me was the denigrating humor. You pretty much hit everyone, blacks, gays, the “f*****g” Latina maid, even the Asians. Then there was the joke about the Jewish guy who refuses to commit to Judaism because he just wants to ***** Muslim girls. Did the joker happen to notice who was sitting next to me? Did you see the young lady in the hijab who dipped her toe into your world only to have it scalded? What do you think she might of thought at that moment? How do you think she might have felt? I suspect she struggled with herself to be generous. I, however, was mortified and ashamed for us.
Now, you know I am close with lots of folks at the MSU. I imagined myself at one of their gatherings, and honestly, I can’t imagine anyone saying anything like that. Publicly denigrating others just would not be acceptable. And if someone had said something that was offensive, I would feel perfectly comfortable walking up to him afterwards and saying, “Ok, that is totally against your values and mine. Its not right and its not ok.” I am confident that I would be heard with respect. It saddens me that didn’t feel that I could do that with you. I don’t feel like we share a common set of values. I don’t feel like I can count on the deeply Jewish sense of respect that I wish you had. I don’t feel like I can appeal to your desire for Jews or Judaism or Hillel to stand for something of ethical or spiritual value because I am not sure that in your eyes it is meant to stand for anything at all. The Tribal gathering is enough. Our institutions are simply grateful that you call yourself Jews and that you choose to socialize with other Jews. We, the elders of the Tribe, are afraid to ask you for more. I was afraid even to tell you, as fundamental as it is to who we are, that denigration of others is not what our tribe is about. I didn’t think you would get it. I thought you would push me away.
I hope you won’t see in this letter an old bearded dude waving his finger at you. I don’t mean to do that. Please see it as my expression of confidence in you in your ability to connect to a Jewishness rooted not just in genetics but in values.
King Solomon in the book of Mishlei (Proverbs 9:8) taught,
Correct a wise person, and they will love you.
This letter is meant to express my trust both in your wisdom and in your respect. I look forward to our continuing friendship.
Shabbat dinner at the Weissman household is really pretty special. I hope you will join us sometime soon. Just email me for a date at firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on facebook.
Kol tuv (All the best!)