Shalom Chaverim (Dear Friends),
This week’s parsha, Shoftim, focuses on creating justice in the world. We are instructed on what is prohibited (idolatry and sorcery), and also on the processes needed for justice to be administered (the appointment of judges and proper use of witnesses): You shall appoint magistrates and officials for your tribes, in all the settlements that your G-d is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice (Deut. 16:18). Justice, justice shall you pursue… (Deut. 16:20).
It is as if Shoftim is preparing the foundation for our building a more just world. It seems only fitting, then, that on the week of our reading this portion, I spent last Tuesday at Driving Out Darkness: Orange County Summit on Antisemitism and Hate. This first-of-its-kind conference in Orange County was a response by Federation’s Rose Project to rising incidents of antisemitism and hate in our community, across the country, and around the world.
The summit brought together a predominantly non-Jewish audience of over 300 participants from throughout Orange County. In attendance were K-12 educators and administrators, superintendents and school board trustees; university and community college administrators; elected officials including county supervisors, city council members, several mayors and the Orange County District Attorney; faith and interfaith leaders, nonprofit and civic leaders, law enforcement, and others. They explored the history and contemporary manifestations of antisemitism, and the relationship of antisemitism to other forms of hate and threats to democracy, with highly respected national leaders and academics such as Ambassador Rabbi David Saperstein, Oren Segal, and Eric Ward. They also participated in workshops on themes ranging from Preventing Antisemitism in K-12 Schools to How Elected Officials Lead the Fight Against Hate, and many more.
The summit made visible that antisemitism, like racism, has a human cost. It places a burden on our psychological well-being, physical health, and ability to congregate and celebrate communally. A central theme of the summit was that antisemitism is not just a problem for Jews. Federation Chief Impact Officer Lisa Armony, whose leadership made the summit possible, quoted Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z”l in her opening remarks: “The appearance of antisemitism in a culture is the first symptom of a disease, the early warning sign of a collective breakdown. The hate that begins with Jews never ends with Jews. No society that has sustained antisemitism has ever sustained liberty or human rights or religious freedom.”
Participants were led to understand that antisemitism is the core of many forms of hate and the decay of democratic institutions. As a result, we all have a stake in fighting it, just as we must combat hate of all kinds.
The summit was an example of what Federation does best. As the convenor of community, we bring people together, based on shared values, to create a stronger, richer, more resilient Jewish future. The summit was a unique opportunity to bring together partners from the Jewish and non-Jewish community alike. For those who attended and those whose wisdom shaped the deep learning, the summit was a step towards building a better future. Such moments are never realized in a single action or through the singular work of an individual or organization. The meaningful and lasting impact of the summit was possible only because of the remarkable program partnership of the ADL of Long Beach/Orange County, Congregation Shir Ha-Ma’alot, the UCI Center for Jewish Studies and UCI’s Office of Inclusive Excellence, and a great many ally partners and program sponsors. This was an important first step, and we are not done. We have already begun exploring ways to build on this foundation of community partnership and develop future programs that combat antisemitism and drive out darkness.
Together, we amplify Jewish life in Orange County, Israel and globally.
As the coming High Holy Days offer a time of renewal, please consider renewing your commitment to Jewish community by donating to the Annual Campaign. It is the generosity of people like you that allows Federation to lead the community in combating antisemitism, caring for those in need, and providing innovative community programs.
May we all go from strength to strength.
Erik Ludwig, PhD
President & CEO
Jewish Federation of Orange County
1 Federation Way, Suite 210, Irvine, CA 92603-0174