March 22, 2018 / 6 Nisan 5778

Dear Adas Israel Community,

By now you've seen the unconscionable and anti-semitic comments made by D.C. Councilmember Trayon White. We want to give you a sense of how Adas Israel is responding, both to Mr. White, and to what we all see as a larger and growing relational divide.

Both of us were on the phone with Councilmember White, privately, within hours of the story hitting the media. It was a straightforward, frank, and honest conversation. We needed to hear directly from him--to understand from where these disturbing comments emerged. And we needed him to hear from us, quite bluntly, how offensive and painful it is for our community to ever hear and see these statements, let alone from an elected leader of this great city in 2018.

Councilmember White was indeed very apologetic. He listened carefully and seems genuinely open to further engaging and learning about past and present anti-semitism. While his apology is heard and appreciated, this can't be where the conversation ends. He has work to do to understand the hateful conspiracies he articulated, sadly more than once. Repentance is required, and that certainly takes more time, more education, and a willingness to accept the consequences of such dangerous public remarks.

But if we stop there, at calling out the wrong and walking away, we likely miss the mark. While often satisfying, there is no one Facebook post that will quickly bridge the divide, and no loud condemnation that will address the heart of these divisions. This is slow, hard, compassionate, and deliberate work.

We are grateful for the leadership of Jews United for Justice--who initiated contact with Councilmember White--and the JCRC, for their leadership in this matter. Early next week the JCRC is convening a meeting to which the full D.C. Council is invited, in partnership with local Jewish leaders and representatives from JUFJ, ADL, and AJC. We will both be in attendance. We are encouraged to see strong statements from members of the D.C. Council. We would also appreciate hearing from Mayor Bowser and intend to engage her in this matter.

Everywhere we look, including within our own walls—we avoid the hardest conversations. Yet we cannot despair. We heal and grow, together, by facing each other, hearing each other, and understanding one another.

Building relationships of understanding and mutual respect--kinship--involves going to spaces of vulnerability, experiencing the joy and pain in each others lives, and truly knowing one another. It means getting proximate, and more often.

• It's why our Lev Ba-Lev (Heart to Heart) Committee, formed to drive out hate with love, has prioritized bringing inspiring and transformational figures to talk with our congregation. We look forward to its next event on May 5, featuring Daryl Davis, an award-winning African American musician and author of Klan-Destine Relationships, Davis has met with and formed relationships with members of the Ku Klux Klan, many of whom ultimately gave up their robes and hoods and rejected the Klan and its racism.

• It's why we have been building relationships with Evangelical Christian Congregations in rural West Virginia, in partnership with the One America Movement and The Hope Dealer project, to think together on how we can address the opioid crisis ravaging that area. Many of our members undoubtedly carry vastly different worldviews, but our shared humanity is stronger than our differences. Our kickoff event will be on Sunday, May 6 in Martinsburg, WV. Please click here if you would like to join us.

• It's why we've been building relationships with our neighbors east of the river here in D.C. at the New Life Ministries around gun violence. This city is physically and experientially divided, and bridges require careful listening in close proximity to one another, more regularly. A small group from the Adas Israel Gun Violence Prevention team will be joining the church this coming Sunday to further this goal.

We need to heal forward. All of us, face to face, person to person, and heart to heart.

Our best,

Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt

Rabbi Aaron Alexander

Adas Israel Congregation • 202-362-4433
Cleveland Park Metro •  2850 Quebec Street, NW, Washington, DC 20008
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