YU faculty consider Charlottesville

Living true north


On erev Shabbat following the disturbances in Charlottesville, Yeshiva University distributed reflections on these events written by seven members of its faculty, from RIETS to the undergraduate and graduate schools. The Jewish Star features abridged versions of five of these articles. Link here for full versions of all the articles.

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By Dr. Danielle Wozniak, MSW, PhD, Dorothy and David Schachne Dean, Wurzweiler School of Social Work

The shocking neo-Nazi, white supremacist rally in Charlottesville brought to the surface the roiling hatred validated and emboldened through the presidential campaign. But it did not start there. … I wish I could say that I have never heard or seen such bold acts of violence before, but as a child of the Civil Rights era, I have. And as the daughter of parents who watched fascism explode through Europe, I have. There were people in each generation who worked tirelessly to fight those glaring evils. Clearly, we are called, once again, to continue that effort.

Advocating for basic values of democracy, speaking out against acts of violation and marginalization, is not about being a Democrat or a Republican. It is about being human. It is about following a moral and ethical imperative that allows us to retain our humanity. For me, it is about fighting indecency — the indecency of intentional violation. It is about having a moral compass and knowing north.

I am reminded of Lillian Hellman’s words when she was called to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities: “I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions.” There is never a time when spray-painting a swastika on a dorm room door is right. There is never a time when confronting Muslim women and demanding they remove their hijabs is right. There is never a time when shouting homophobic epithets is right. There is never a time when shouting Nazi slogans is right.

What is at stake as the list grows is that these acts can infect policy, and deliberate cruelty can become routinized, if not legalized. These are acts of intentional cruelty; they are displays of dominance based on beliefs of superiority; they are manifestations of xenophobic aggression emboldened by shameful political rhetoric that intentionally creates and scapegoats the Other as the cause of misery. Nothing makes these acts right.

Shortly after the election, I wrote to students asking them to remember who they are. … It is not about us and them. It is about us: about who we are and who we will become. … We speak out against these acts because not to do so changes us.

In the words of Elie Wiesel, “One day a tzadik came to Sodom. … He preached to the people. ‘Please do not be murderers, do not be thieves. Do not be silent and do not be indifferent.’ He went on preaching day after day. … But no one listened. He was not discouraged. Finally someone asked him, ‘Rabbi, why do you do that? Don’t you see it is no use?’ He said, ‘I know it is of no use, but I must. … In the beginning I thought I had to protest in order to change them. … Now I know I must picket and scream and shout so that they should not change me’.” [Quoted in Wiesel, Elie. One Generation After. Words from a Witness, NY: Schocken Books, 1982: 52.]

As we renew our efforts to speak out against evil, to work against those forces that divide, degrade and harm us, may we maintain and renew our commitment to fight injustice guided by our moral compass and our deep commitment to social justice. May we not be changed in our resolve or our knowledge of what is right.