Dear Brandeis community,
This has been a challenging week for all of us in the extended American Jewish community. The events in Pittsburgh last week were terrorizing—they had the effect of reminding many of us of our status as other, as a target. And while the terrible event itself was isolated, it feels as though it comes in the context of great divisiveness and violence across the spectrum of American life.
Like many of yours, I';m sure, my email inbox was flooded this week with Jewish organizations reaching out to their communities in shock and solidarity. It was both affirming and overwhelming to see the many articulations of grief and despair. One in particular caught my attention, from Moment Magazine’s editor Nadine Epstein
. After expressing her sadness at the events of the weekend, Epstein writes:
We live in unexpectedly dangerous times. Election periods are times when weak democracies with troubled civic discourse are particularly vulnerable to violence.
People living in a weak democracy know too well that dangerous rhetoric leads to dangerous consequences. While we may not be accustomed to thinking of our democracy as weak, the United States is experiencing these consequences right now in what has been several days of pre-election violence, including the largest massacre of Jews in this country’s history, and bombs sent to members of President Donald Trump’s political opposition.
I was initially taken aback, reading this; I am indeed not accustomed to thinking of our democracy as weak. Quite the contrary, in fact—in the second half of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, we have been the great exporter of democracy, a would-be light unto nations.
And yet here we are. Something about Epstein’s observation reads true—our civic institutions are troubled by a weakening engagement and by direct attacks in the new partisanship of this moment.
American Judaism has flourished, thanks in no small part to a strong and healthy democracy, as the Jewish Community Relations Council has pointed out
. Here at Brandeis I am proud to stand with JCRC and other institutions in placing democracy at the center of our project as leaders in the Jewish community. That is why the vision statement for Brandeis 2023 Strategic Plan
—our road map for the next five years—ends with the aspiration that “Brandeis graduates go on to be leaders in their communities and stewards of democracy.”
We continue that work on November 13, as we celebrate our second annual Justice Louis Brandeis Day, a day honoring our school’s namesake and all who pursue justice in the work of strengthening democracy. I know our children are capable of the necessary repair work, and I look forward to working together to help them wage democracy in their own lives.
Wishing you all safe, peaceful weekends, my friends.