Thursday, February 4, 2016

Knowing....and Doing - unpublished thoughts on my current community after the tragic murders at "Mother Emanuel" in Charleston in 2015

An Open Letter to the Las Cruces Community

 "Do not separate yourself from the community." The Jewish sage Hillel suggested that this principle should lie at the foundation of how we live among our neighbors in the city we call home. 

 Events that occur far away from southern New Mexico have a way of touching us and making us wonder how we should respond. The murder of 9 members of "Mother Emanuel" AME church in Charleston, South Carolina is not an exception. Perhaps some of us have visited Charleston. We may have friends who reside in that city. The first Jewish congregational building created as a Reform Jewish Temple, Beth Elohim, is located just a few blocks from "Mother Emanuel" church. 

Our diversity in Las Cruces and in Dona Ana County is a daily aspect of our lives. I am fascinated to learn about the history of this area from community members who have roots in or near Las Cruces. People with rich cultural and religious backgrounds have moved to Las Cruces, which has its own history of culture and faith. All of our stories combine together to shape a rich local narrative. We have so much to learn from one another and to teach each other. 

It is in truly knowing each other, going beyond the surface of who we are, that we transcend any barriers that might divide us and prevent mutual understanding. We need to talk with one another about what it means to be "who we are" without having our stories questioned or judged. Such conversations may include a recounting of moments of hurt that comes from prejudice, bigotry or being considered inferior to others in some way. If that happens, we need to listen. Such feelings should not be denied. If they are felt, they are real. Attitudes that lead to misunderstanding and discrimination are just as real. 

 Accepting what we hear can go a long way towards fashioning solutions to problems we face. Sometimes we can tackle those issues on our own or through the channels of private and non-profit organizations. At other times, government can be an able and appropriate partner, especially when changes in law and policy can bring real progress to the lives of people across the socioeconomic and culture spectrum of our community. 

 "Do not separate yourself from the community" means that we can do this important work together and, in the process, become more familiar with our neighbors and challenges that arise in our lives. And there is work we can do face to face, on an individual basis. Jewish tradition states that "if you save one soul, it is as if you have saved a whole world. And if you destroy one soul, it is as if you have destroyed an entire world." 

 Now is a good time to do what we can to "save", that is, help and support, our community one person at a time. We can ask "How are you?" "Are you all right?" "What do you need?" "I know of a group/organization that can make things better for you." And we can do this with people whom we know and whom we don't know. If we are all part of this community, we are already connected to each other. 

Let us hope that we can develop these ties further and deeper in the months to come. 

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