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Rabbi's Message (November 2021)

BHT Values Live on in Kenosha and at OSRUI

Last year as our community erupted in violence and tragedy after the police shooting of Jacob Blake, buildings around the city put boards on their windows to protect their property.  Beth Hillel was no exception, and, along with many others, we created colorful and hopeful signs to obscure the ugliness of the boarded-up windows.  Our signs were special though; they illustrated quotations from Jewish sources about peace and justice and love of our neighbor:

Seek the Peace of the City- Jeremiah 29: 7

Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue – Deuteronomy 16:20

Love Your Neighbor as Yourself - Leviticus 19:18

Love Peace and Pursue It -  PIrke Avot 1:12

These four signs have now found a permanent home at OSRUI, our Reform Movement summer camp in Oconomowoc, where so many of our Beth Hillel youth have found a cherished second home and a family of Jewish peers.  It brings us hope to see the signs given new life in a green and welcoming space of love and well-being.  The signs are attached to the back of the “Bitan” where the entire camp gathers each Shabbat at noon for a picnic lunch, Birkat HaMazon (the Grace After Meals), Israeli line dancing, and announcements.  Plus, campers pass by this spot numerous times a week on their way to and from activities.

It is somewhat ironic that just as I was sent this photo by camp director, Solly Kane, and informed that these signs have been installed, we are reliving those terrible days of August-September 2020 in Kenosha.  As I write, the jury is deliberating and determining the fate of a young man who shot and killed two people and seriously injured one other on the street directly behind the space where we pray outside in our Temple back yard in the summer. For many of us, the trial and all of the attendant publicity has dredged up the images of those days and the unsettling feelings that went along with it.  There is enough anger, fear, worry, anxiety and grief to fill the Lake Michigan harbor.  Once again, Kenosha is in the national spotlight and “chaos tourists,” as they have been called in the courtroom, have invaded our city. We have once again been advised to vacate our building in case violence erupts on our streets.

How do we overcome such a moment and the reality that our peaceful city has been disturbed once again by these ugly forces?  The only thing we can do is to hold up and celebrate our values, reflected in these colorful signs and to note that good people everywhere are with us as we seek to strengthen to the “yetzer hatov,” “the good inclination,” that resides within us to continue to pursue these values.  

When we feel demoralized, let us reach for our sacred texts and teachings that lift us up and allow us to look to a better future.  When we feel helpless, let us be inspired by these words to continue to work for change.  We can be sure that, even in a society where the loudest voices sometimes seem against us, there exists a core of allies who will champion these values with us.  Our efforts to bring those values to the fore will not abate until they permeate our world. 

As we look at these signs in their peaceful new home at OSRUI let us be comforted and encouraged that ultimately goodness, justice and peace will prevail.  Let us pray that that day will soon be upon us, not only in Kenosha, but throughout this nation and around the world.  And let us work to make certain that that time comes to pass. 

Kein y’hi ratzon. May this be God’s will.

Rabbi Dena A. Feingold

Wed, January 19 2022 17 Sh'vat 5782