Teach teens to value ‘compassionate disagreement’

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Rabbi Ari Leubitz | JNS

Community. It comes in all forms, and it is something we each rely on for support. Sometimes, we are born into our community and inherit it from our parents. Other times, it’s a group or connection we grow and build and develop for ourselves.

(via JNS)

As Jews, we have an instant community within our schools and shuls, summer camps and community groups. The sheer nature of us all being Jewish ties us together and deeply connects us, and I believe that having a community is one of humanity’s most simple yet most important connections.

However, as an educator and parent, there is one type of community that causes me great worry, because, in this type of group, antisemitism is on the rise.

Over recent years, we’ve seen a rapid climb of online “communities:” people who are bound together by joining the same app or liking the same social-media content. We don’t personally know these people, their value systems or their moral compass. They don’t know us, and along with that anonymity comes the potential for lack of respect or kindness, and quite frequently, antisemitism. People feel free to communicate with no filter or restraint, even often sharing antisemitic and anti-Israel comments or posts on our teenagers’ social-media pages. You may be thinking, “Why don’t we just ignore, unfriend or unfollow a person with questionable, mean or antisemitic content?” As hate speech and antisemitic comments continue online, ignoring is not an option.

I offer that as Jews, we must teach our teens the value of makloket l’shem shamayim (“compassionate disagreement”). Our history teaches us that questioning is encouraged. We are supposed to question and challenge one another, our teachers and even our rabbis.

Doing so in a respectful, kind and compassionate way is what strengthens relationships and teaches us to understand one another where the goal is not to simply “win” an argument. We are taught to not ignore challenges and opposition, but to question and discuss our concerns, questions and views.

I’m not suggesting that we or our children remove ourselves from social media. In this current climate, I know that is not a reasonable request, nor is it realistic to monitor all the content our teens are exposed to online. What I am suggesting, is that as parents, we each must remind our families how it is our moral responsibility as Jews not to ignore or become desensitized to any hate speech. By the way, this Internet hate speech is not solely anti-Israel or anti-Jewish; it is anti-everyone.

To combat this antisemitism and hate speech, it’s imperative to create and nurture healthy communities for our families, ones we form with people we have a connection to and where we can all feel safe, both physically and emotionally. Antisemitism and hate were not created overnight but taking the time to respectfully nudge back and compassionately disagree can start immediately. Education is the best antidote for hate. We must empower our children with the skills they need along with the knowledge and confidence to foster strong, lifelong Jewish identities.

What better time to connect to community and strengthen our Jewish identities than during the “Festival of Lights”?

As we share the Chanukah light with family and friends, each of us must remember our sacred responsibility as parents and educators: to continue sharing our traditions, knowledge and pride in being Jewish.

Rabbi Ari Leubitz is head of school at Scheck Hillel Community School in Southeast Florida.

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