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Standing Up For What Is Right

In October, I wrote a blog, Masking Truth, about the consequences of living in a Post-Truth world. At that time I was focusing on COVID-19 and the fact that millions of Americans were not following the scientific protocols established by the medical community with tragic results. The pandemic rages on, but is currently overshadowed by the ongoing political crisis in Washington D.C. It is hard to imagine another point in our history where 375,000 virus-related deaths in a year could have occurred without deafening outrage. 

Instead, our attention is completely consumed with the actions that played out on our televisions last week at the Capitol Building. This event is yet another tragic example of the inevitable consequences of living in a post-truth world.   

As a parent and grandparent first, an educator, and the Head of School, I deeply believe that I not only have a responsibility to engage in teaching the power of truth but also to serve as a role model of what it means to speak truth to power. I have a moral responsibility to reach out to our Kehillah and express my profound hope that a school like ours can lead the way by teaching integrity, honesty and critical thinking in an effort to reclaim the essential place of truth in our communities and in our democracy. We lose our ethical footing when we allow our beliefs and biases to blind us. We must grapple with the uncomfortable reality that alternative facts do exist and that there are psychological reasons for this. To learn more, read, “Why We Believe in Alternative Facts,” by Kirsten Weir, in the American Psychological Association.

The incident at the Capitol Building was precipitated by the relentless accusation that the Presidential election was stolen. This lie began long before the actual 2020 Election even took place. In every 2016 primary election that President Trump lost, he always charged fraud as the reason for the loss. Even when he ultimately won the presidency, he still claimed voter fraud prevented him from getting more votes, and in the months before the 2020 Election he planted the seeds of fraud, stating that if he lost, the only reason would be fraud. In America, we have a system in place to resolve disputes when questions arise over facts and truth through our courts. 62 lawsuits were filed challenging the 2020 election and 61 failed. The decisions were made by Federal judges appointed by Republican Presidents and Democratic Presidents, including judges appointed by Trump himself.  Whether you agree or not, our democratic system provided the remedy and the bi-partisan courts decided there was no evidence of fraud and repeated calls for the presentation of evidence yielded nothing substantive. 

I realize that some will accuse me of being political and overstepping my place, but these facts lead us to the truth of January 6th, 2021. Senator Lindsay Graham, from the Senate floor, not only acknowledged there was no wide-spread voter fraud that would have thrown the election, but he spoke of the importance of honoring the decisions of the court, whether we agree or not. As the perpetrators chanted “Stop the Steal,” they broke into the Capitol Building and threatened our elected officials who were in the process of certifying the election, causing significant physical and emotional damage along the way. Based on the wording of the statute concerning seditious conspiracy, there is no doubt that some will be charged with sedition. Whatever the reasons and motives, it is clear that those who chose to attempt to overrun the Capitol Building were focused on their own set of facts and their biases led to the violence aimed at one of the most iconic symbols of our democracy.

Last week I met with our middle school Kehillah and asked them to consider the differences between truth, lies, and opinions.  I explained that while opinions can be important as they help individuals to formulate judgements and viewpoints, they tend to be statements that are not conclusive. True statements are based on evidence and facts and can usually be proven in some form. Lies are false statements. While everyone is entitled to their opinions, it does not mean every opinion is right. In order for democracies and civil societies to survive there must be ethical guardrails which lead citizens to follow rules and standards that are generally intended towards the common good. A common conception of what is right and good underpins these ethical guardrails.

As a country we have learned more than once over the past several years how easily these guardrails can be breached – and that sometimes, they are not even commonly understood across our society. We are shaped by our own experiences and biases, which can be drastically different. These experiences and biases are foundational to what people choose to believe and what they do as a result. Therefore, we must acknowledge that arriving at a common truth is more complicated than we would like to admit. 

Once we understand how powerfully our bias influences our perceptions we can begin the journey of uncovering truth by accounting for our biases. This of course requires critical thinking and analysis, open-mindedness, a search for evidence, and a willingness to be wrong. 

In teaching our children about truth, we must help them to understand and recognize how biases can color reality.  As a Jewish Day School we must, with great clarity, also stress the vital importance our tradition places on truth and seeking truth. In Talmud, Masechet Shabbat 55a we learn: “Truth is the seal of the Holy One, blessed be He.” In the Book of Shemot we learn: “Distance yourself from a false matter (falsehood)” 23:7, and in Shemot 34:6-7, we learn of God’s attributes which includes being the “God of truth.” 

On Monday, January 18, we honor the memory and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  He had the courage to speak truth to power. He had the courage to stand up for what was right and for justice and equality against the will of millions who believed otherwise.  In a speech that he gave on April 28, 1967 when he decided to oppose the Vietnam War he said, “No matter where it leads, no matter what abuses it may bring, I’m gonna tell the truth.”  

For the sake of our society and our democracy, it is incumbent upon all of us to respect the decisions of the courts, and the certifications of every state whether we are happy with the outcome of the Presidential Election or not. No matter where it leads, no matter the criticism we may face, this is the time to stand up for what’s right, parents, educators, and clergy – to model for our children that words and actions matter – and to teach the lessons necessary so our children will grow to become the protectors of the guardrails that defend our democracy and our society. That is how we protect our guardrails. We all should be vocal and teach our children. 

And for those who would question me for writing this in my capacity as Head of School, which is your right, I need only to invoke Elie Wiesel for the sake of my children, your children, and my grandchildren: “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.

12 Comments

  • David Schorr - January 14, 2021

    Amen!

    Reply
  • Jed Rubin - January 14, 2021

    Amen.

    Reply
  • Renee Van Naarden - January 14, 2021

    These profound words resonate deeply during this challenging and divisive time.

    Reply
  • David Nathanson - January 14, 2021

    Pointed observations. Cannot be seriously contested.

    Reply
  • Glenn Katz - January 14, 2021

    Excellent thoughts I am so thankful of the influence you are having on my grandchildren’s lives and education They are the Rubin family

    Reply
  • Fern Roth - January 14, 2021

    I applaud your article and agree.
    However, the one thing missing from your comments and that of the majority of US officials, us that no one spoke up all summer. No one, no media outlets, no outrage or condemnation for the atrocities that occurred in every major city.
    Two wrongs don’t make a right….
    But it’s very frustrating to sit for months and watch people, police and civilians being murdered and cities in flames and silence.
    No one is accepting the horrifying events from last week. The perpetrators should be punished.
    But fair is fair…there should have been public outrage and condemnation and punishment for the crimes over the summer as well.
    I hope you present this to your students as well.
    Thank you for the wonderful education you are providing my granddaughters.
    I have held your school as a role model for being so proactive and keeping everyone safe.
    Be well.

    Reply
    • Steve Freedman - January 14, 2021

      Thank you. We are having these conversations and plan to also connect it to MLK Day.

      Reply
  • Ian Schorr - January 14, 2021

    To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” While there are some who cannot tolerate any criticism of a particular political leader for the policies which they deem beneficial (e.g. moving embassy to Jerusalem, etc.) there are indeed some who also cannot accept the fact that a political leader they hate can do anything right. Indeed, this is the sad “new” polarized society that is the reality of our country.

    In the same way that science must govern our reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic, truth must prevail over fiction for societal norms to return to pre-polarization status. Sadly, I think our societal illness will be harder to control than the Covid-19 pandemic.

    You called out the truth! They were “self-evident!” It is quite obvious you weighed your words very carefully for there is objectivity without the harsh words, and, most unfortunately, hateful words we hear in the halls of Congress and the Senate and the White House itself.

    Kol HaKavod!!

    Reply
    • Steve Freedman - January 14, 2021

      Thank you so much for your supportive feedback. I believe that we must find ways to have these tough conversations without being harsh and hateful. When you demonize others for their opinions and beliefs, you shut down the possibility for discourse, understanding, and maybe even persuasion.

      Reply
  • Frieda Hershman Huberman - January 14, 2021

    Kol Hakavod!

    Reply
  • Brandi Rubin - January 14, 2021

    This is spot on. Thank you for guiding our children (and us) in the right direction.

    Reply
  • Paul Pelavin - January 17, 2021

    Thank you for this post and thank you for your tireless work on behalf of the SSDS students and community!

    Reply

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