Today seems like a writing day. This week has been, well, in a word, LONG. On Sunday evening, I was notified that a White Supremacist and well known Anti-Semite was scheduled to speak on the campus of the University of Tennessee on February 17. If you know me, you know that I am a die-hard University of Georgia fan. I graduated from UGA; I was in the Redcoat Marching Band at UGA; I "bleed red and black" as they say.
However, on Sunday and continuing this week, I find myself committed and a part of the University of Tennessee family. It is sad and yet overwhelming that it takes an event such as this to tie me to UT. Ok, I do have a couple of UT stickers/magnets on my car. However, those are really just so I can show my support to the local team. However, after multiple emails back and forth AND being invited to a meeting with the Vice Chancellor at UT, I feel like I am part of the Volunteer family.
I have had many conversations with congregants, faculty members and others this week regarding the organization that Matthew Heimbach is affiliated with - Traditionalist Workers Party (TWP). One very interesting suggestion yesterday was - to reach out to Matthew Heimbach and offer to have a conversation with him. Perhaps he has never spoken with a Jewish person. As you could imagine, I responded to this suggestion with a very predictable response - "no, not me."
I have given this thought all night and into this morning. So, yes, I reached out to Mr. Heimbach this morning through his website and offered to sit down with him to have a face to face conversation. I am certain I will not get a response...but what if I do? I know I will not change his mind or his beliefs; could I, however, show him a human side of my community? Perhaps all he knows/thinks he knows is his rhetoric. Perhaps not. What I do know is that violence and vitriol is not the proper response.
While meeting at UT yesterday, we decided it was best to educate the students, rather than react to the hatred in a way that would cause violence or more of a problem. Education is the key - no question. We must reach out to the most impressionable AND the most vulnerable in our communities. The most impressionable need to be given the opportunity to learn about love and acceptance. The most vulnerable in our community need to be given a safe space and to feel they are space where they are.
I have been prone in my life to get migraines. Often, these are a result of two main factors - bright light (which is one reason I wear subscription sunglasses) and stress. This week, I have found myself more stressed than I have been in a while. Why? As a leader in my community, I want others to feel protected and safe where they are. I want to help others learn about others in that safe place/space. I know that the answer is not violence and hatred - no matter what we see in the media and/or the political climate.
Fear cannot be the answer. Anger and frustration cannot be the answer. Hate cannot be the answer. Love may not be the answer either...Perhaps the answer is acceptance. Acceptance may lead to understanding and it may not. But, what acceptance will lead to is greater opportunity to teach, learn and maybe even love.
For now, let's just take a moment and breathe. Each of us needs to do so to live. Each of us deserves to live. Each of us has the responsibility to live...
I am a husband, father and rabbi - just trying to help to make the world a better place!