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I don’t claim to be a Torah scholar however I do find inspiration and meaning in our Jewish teachings. As I reflected this week, I went to the Torah portion for guidance. This week’s Parsha, Nitzavim, addresses the critical nature of the unity of the Jewish people. As I read that, I instantly thought of the Talmudic teaching, Kol yisrael arevim zeh bazeh, meaning all of Israel are responsible for each other. As we prepare for the Jewish new year beginning next week, I found this to be very meaningful, especially considering what occurred in our community this week.

For those of you who haven’t heard, there was an incidence of hate graffiti in three of the boys’ bathrooms at Winter Park High School (WPHS). Swastikas along with hate speech directed towards both the African American and LGBTQ+ communities were part of this graffiti. It’s horrific to think that our high school students would do something like this.

Standing by idly is not something we can do. We must stand together and combat anti-Semitism and all hate speech.  Silence only allows hatred to grow and as Jews we have seen the power of hatred. In Orlando we have seen the power of hatred. In the Pittsburgh and San Diego and all over the world we have seen the power of hatred.  

We live in a community where we work together to address hatred. The Holocaust Center began working with WPHS staff to address what happened and when the individual was identified, to work with this student to help them understand why what they did was so traumatizing and hateful. The Jewish Student Union at WPHS reached out to the Gay-Straight Alliance and the Black Student Union to work together to combat hatred and ignorance. Members of the JCRC spoke with Principal Arnold from WPHS and Dr. Trimble from Orange County Public Schools (OCPS). As the Federation Executive Director, I got to be a part of all of this and experience the power of community and working together. Hearing what WPHS has already done to address hatred and how they are planning to address hatred through education and student leadership showed me that we have partners to improve our world. Mr. Arnold’s video message about this can be watched here.

As Jews, it’s easy for us to see these challenges as insurmountable. It’s easy to think we must do it alone. And it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. When we join together in community, we get the ability to surmount challenges, we get the power of the larger group and are not alone, and we have the support of many, so we don’t get overwhelmed. While 5781 comes to a close in a few days, I wish all of you a happy, healthy and sweet new year. May 5782 be a year filled with happiness, joy, and wonder. May we all find the power and beauty of community and the Jewish people.

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tovah U’Metukah,

Keith