Rab­bis urge teach­ing of em­pa­thy to coun­ter­act racism, re­li­gious hate

Times Standard (Eureka) - - FAITH - By Gary Fields As­so­ci­ated Press

NEW YORK (AP) >> At a time when anti-Semitic in­ci­dents are on the rise world­wide, schools should take steps to teach em­pa­thy as an an­ti­dote to racism and re­li­gious ha­tred, sev­eral rab­bis at­tend­ing an in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ence said.

The re­li­gious lead­ers praised a pi­lot project in El Paso, Texas, that re­quires stu­dents to pause each day to con­sider oth­ers. Chil­dren are given a small box shaped like Noah’s Ark. They col­lect money in it daily and give it to char­i­ties cho­sen by their classes.

“If you want to change the tra­jec­tory of the way things are go­ing, you have to nip ha­tred in the bud,” Rabbi Levi Green­berg said at the In­ter­na­tional Con­fer­ence of ChabadLuba­v­itch Emis­saries, a branch of Ha­sidism. The an­nual event ended Mon­day.

“Ev­ery child is a po­ten­tial hater but is also is a po­ten­tial lover. You have to make sure you cul­ti­vate that po­ten­tial love that they have within them,” Green­berg said.

Green­berg, who lives in El Paso, ap­proached the El Paso Com­mu­nity Foun­da­tion in 2018 with an idea af­ter see­ing a sim­i­lar pro­gram ini­ti­ated by col­leagues in South Africa. The the­ory is that daily giv­ing con­nects the stu­dents emo­tion­ally to oth­ers out­side their nor­mal en­vi­ron­ment. They be­come more com­pas­sion­ate and em­pa­thetic to other cul­tures and cir­cum­stances, Green­berg said.

“Lec­tures are im­por­tant, but ac­tion is trans­for­ma­tive,” and the rep­e­ti­tion of the daily giv­ing brings sub­tle changes. “It’s like mus­cle mem­ory,” Green­berg said.

So far, the boxes have gone to 1,500 stu­dents of all ages, but plans are to reach “tens of thou­sands more,” Green­berg said.

The pro­gram started in two schools and took on added poignancy in Au­gust af­ter a gun­man walked into a Wal­mart in El Paso, killing 22 peo­ple. Po­lice say the as­sailant tar­geted Mex­i­cans.

Another school was added to the pi­lot when fall classes be­gan.

Green­berg said his best anec­dote came from a prin­ci­pal who talked about a 15-year-old, up­per-mid­dle-class stu­dent who ig­nored the des­ti­tute peo­ple who of­ten waited with him each morn­ing to cross the bor­der to El Paso from Ci­u­dad Juarez, Mex­ico. That has changed. Col­lect­ing the money daily raised his aware­ness about the lives of the poor in his com­mu­nity.

“He started to have em­pa­thy. That is very pow­er­ful feed­back,” the rabbi said. “It all hap­pened be­cause he was giv­ing ev­ery day. He wasn’t lis­ten­ing to lec­tures or speeches or any­thing like that.”

Sim­i­lar pi­lot pro­grams are un­der­way in sev­eral com­mu­ni­ties, in­clud­ing Lawrence, Kansas. Green­berg and oth­ers were ap­proached by hun­dreds of at­ten­dees seek­ing to im­port the pro­gram locally.

The El Paso pro­gram is an ex­ten­sion of the phi­los­o­phy of the move­ment’s late leader, Rabbi Me­nachem Men­del Sch­neer­son, known as the Lubav­itcher Rebbe, who was one of the most in­flu­en­tial global lead­ers in Ju­daism in mod­ern times.

“The Rebbe al­ways taught that ac­tion is the most im­por­tant thing,” Green­berg said.

Ear­lier this year, Is­raeli re­searchers re­ported that vi­o­lent at­tacks against Jews spiked sig­nif­i­cantly in 2018, with the largest re­ported num­ber of Jews killed in anti-Semitic acts in decades.

Capped by the deadly shoot­ing that killed 11 wor­ship­pers at Pitts­burgh’s Tree of Life syn­a­gogue on Oct. 27, 2018, as­saults tar­get­ing Jews rose 13% that year, ac­cord­ing to Tel Aviv Univer­sity re­searchers. They recorded nearly 400 cases world­wide, with more than a quar­ter of the ma­jor vi­o­lent cases tak­ing place in the United States.

Rabbi Yitz­chok Loewen­thal, of Copen­hagen, Den­mark, said some “Jewish or Jewish friendly” peo­ple in his com­mu­nity were tar­geted re­cently with anti-Semitic yel­low stars painted on their post boxes, and dozens of graves were des­e­crated.

Se­cu­rity in Copen­hagen was al­ready height­ened be­cause of a 2015 at­tack in which a gun­man opened fire out­side of a bat mitz­vah cel­e­bra­tion, killing a Jewish se­cu­rity guard.

While anti-Semitic acts must be con­fronted, and se­cu­rity con­sid­ered, “that must not be the fo­cus. The fo­cus should be a pos­i­tive,” Loewen­thal said.

He has in­vited oth­ers out­side Ju­daism to his com­mu­nity cen­ter and syn­a­gogue, where at­ten­dees so­cial­ize and learn more about Chabad. The ef­forts in­clude adults, but the pro­gram is fo­cused on the youth and schools and has the sup­port of the lo­cal govern­ment to en­cour­age in­ter­ac­tion.

“It is across all bor­ders,” in­clud­ing Chris­tians and Mus­lims, Lowen­thal said.

AP PHOTO — EMILY LESHNER

Ha­sidic lead­ers gather for an an­nual group photo out­side of the Chabad-Yubav­itch World­wide head­quar­ters as a part of the In­ter­na­tional Con­fer­ence of ChabadLuba­v­itch Emis­saries in New York. The an­nual con­fer­ence in­cluded sem­i­nars, a class photo of about 5,800rab­bis in at­ten­dance and an evening din­ner.

JESSIE WARDARSKI — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A Ha­sidic leader reads a prayer Nov. 22at the rest­ing place of the late Rabbi Me­nachem Men­del Sch­neer­son, known as the Lubav­itcher Rebbe, while at­tend­ing the an­nual In­ter­na­tional Con­fer­ence of Chabad-Lubav­itch Emis­saries at Mon­te­fiore Ceme­tery in New York.

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