Columns, Opinions

Okin ’19: In light of hate, choose community

Staff Columnist
Sunday, September 10, 2017

The iconic Rabbi A.Y. Kook once said, “I don’t speak because I have the power to speak; I speak because I don’t have the power to remain silent.” This statement encapsulates the visceral obligation I feel to the Jewish community to react: to scream when swastiskas stain high school walls, to cry when bomb threats desecrate the once-comforting Jewish Community Centers, to write a column when an appearance by Pepe the Frog becomes common in a routine social media scroll. As Rabbi Kook explains, the insuppressible urge to do something is prompted by my inability to do nothing. Moreover, I think this inability stems from a critical element of Judaism that is fundamental whether your identity is rooted in the religion’s cultural values or its pious traditions: the focus and dependence on community. It is the care and thus intuitive responsibility I feel toward the Jewish community and its members that has afforded me the confidence and motivation to advocate against hate. Consequently, I’ve come to believe that with stronger ties to the community comes a heightened ability to confront anti-Semitism.

“Okay, alright. I disavow, okay?” was our president’s exact response to inquiries about the support he received from fierce anti-Semite and former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke — and this insignificant, seemingly indifferent attitude was not a one-time occurrence. In fact, the dismissal of the magnitude and significance of anti-Semitism has become quite a theme in this administration. From issuing a Holocaust remembrance memo without any mention of the millions of Jewish deaths to making the already-infamous insinuation that Nazis aren’t entirely rotten, President Trump constantly exposes his ignorant, detached and plainly uncaring attitude toward the severity of this kind of bigotry. While it is arguable whether the man is a raging anti-Semite or simply a narcissist who hates rejecting his fans, what is undeniable is that Trump doesn’t internalize the value of community that has remained a cornerstone of Judaism. If he felt any sense of duty to the Jewish community, or the instinctive empathy a president ought to feel in the face of hatred, I am confident his responses to the evils committed would stop teetering on indifference.

However, this column does not intend to focus on Trump’s incompetence in the area of moral courage. Rather, I want to suggest we do the opposite: Stop giving his inadequate defense of the Jewish people so much time and energy, and instead, use that strength to focus on being our own champions of change. Last year, Brown/RISD Hillel’s Rabbi Michelle Dardashti, while telling the story of the first people on earth, discussed the question of  “Ayyeka?” or “Where are you?” In response, she encouraged us to reflect on this question ourselves and confidently answer “Hineini” or “Here I am,” fearlessly presenting our Jewish identities to the world amid rampant anti-Semitism. In the current resurgence of anti-Semitism, to stand tall and announce your Jewish presence, to proudly declare this commitment to the worldwide community, is an act as brave as it is important. Fight against the hate by showing up fully with your Jewish identity, whether that connection stems from resonating with a religious element, a cultural value or something else entirely.

This is easily said, but the question for many still remains: How do you do this? Attending religious services could satisfy this desire for some, but there are so many other avenues to proudly exhibit a Jewish identity that suits your background. You can be a part of Jewish life on campus through means that truly resonate with who you are: craft for the holidays, bake challah for charity, attend a lecture featuring a Jewish novelist. Seek ways to connect with the Jewish community. A sense of devotion to the group and sincere engagement can offer the astonishing inability to remain silent.

The other day, I was pasting construction paper letters on a poster for Hillel’s booth at the activities fair when I began aimlessly cutting triangles. In a moment of utter genius, I realized that if rotated and overlapped, paired triangles could be glued on the paper to resemble Stars of David. But I froze: What if this iconic symbol of Judaism triggered an act of anti-Semitism? Immediately, images of the countless walls adorned with spray-painted slurs, the confused children being frantically evacuated from JCCs nationwide, the shattered remains of a wall of the New England Holocaust Memorial came to mind. This six-pointed symbol, and the implicit or conscious bias it evoked, could single-handedly produce so much hate and crime and tragedy. But suddenly a stronger thought took hold: The use of this emblem contains the history and carries the promise of an entire community — if we fully embrace it. It represents an identity, but only its owners have the power to paste it on their posters. Needless to say, I’m gluing my triangles together, and I encourage you to do the same.

Rebecca Okin ’19 can be reached at Please send responses to this opinion to and other op-eds to


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  1. Where were you when Obama embraced the Muslim Brotherhood? Where was your self-righteousness then? Where were you when Obama embraced blacks with extensive rap sheets over hard-working cops?

    Why are you so blind when it comes to prejudice on one side but so outspoken when it comes from the other? Yours is not wisdom. Yours is just more of the same. You are what you rail against.

    • Excellent post, Arafat. As a Jew and Brown alum, I’ve long witnessed the left’s hypocrisy, its shocking embrace of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic causes, such as BDS, support of Palestinian violence against Israel, and its refusal to take the Democratic Party to task for its silence regarding the foregoing. Hopefully, one day the author will wake up and question the naive and dangerous groupthink she espouses in her letter.

      • Was it Keynes who wrote, “If the facts change then it is incumbent upon us to change with them”?

        This is what has happened to the democratic party, and democrats of intelligence AND common sense understand this and are leaving the party in droves.

        Meanwhile liberal Jews, stuck in the past, are still fighting a battle from the ’60s and ’70s. That democratic train left the station a long time ago and has been replaced with a small-minded agenda of identity politics in which Jews and Israel are considered even worse than white Christians. Instead democrats now embrace Jew haters like the Muslim Brotherhood and BLM. Groups who make no secret of their hatred for people of white and Jewish identities. Linda Sasour has become the new face of the democratic party and she despises Jews and white Christians.

        Unwittingly some Jews now fight for their enemies all while thinking they are enlightened and doing the right thing. Delusion is an amazing phenomenon.

        The facts have changed but people like Rebecca are lost in time and her reasoning has lost its basis in reality.

        • disqus_3q5OExSuB6 says:

          Arafat, I hear what you’re saying. You’re right that the article makes no mention of any other politician or political battle. I think you make a good point that to stand up for justice one must question all parties, all politicians, and all viewpoints, not just the obvious ones of a bigot with a big microphone and even bigger ego.

          When I read the article, I interpreted what Rebecca wrote as a call to action. I heard her encourage Jews to stand up for themselves. I didn’t hear her say now is the first or only recent time when anti-semitism threatens Judaism around the world. She chooses to narrow in on a specific situation. To me, she is not shortsighted but hyper focused. So I don’t think she is “blind,” to use your word.

          Branching off that topic, I think your argument loses some credence when you make statements like “Obama embraced blacks with extensive rap sheets over hard-working cops.” Could you please give an example? Further, in your later comment you mention that Jews are stuck in the same arguments from the 60s and 70s. I share your opinion that the racial violence of those times should not be continued today. Sadly, Charlottesville reminded us that we do face many of the same struggles. Remember hearing those chants of “Jews will not replace us”? I agree that many people still are fighting a battle from 60 years ago. They don’t have much of a choice; the anti-Semitic, KKK and/or nazi sympathizing enemy still exists.

          I look forward to reading your thoughts.

          • Through no fault of your own it is my opinion you and Rebecca are products of a society that renders you “blind”. Rabbi Kook being an obvious example of this relentless bias.
            I’d be interested to know whether Rabbi Kook ever spoke out against Obama’s affiliation with Reverend Wright or Louis Farrakhan. I’d be interested to know whether Rabbi Kook took exception to words of Jew hatred from BLM, Antifa or the LGTB community. What did he say when a Bernie supporter shot Scalise?
            And Rabbi Kook is just the tip of the iceberg. I cannot recall the exact details but something like 85% of journalists and university professors vote democratic. And are we to think this does not impact the messaging you and Rebecca receive. Of course it does. You are a product of this environment and are understandably blind to that which contradicts what you have been taught.

          • disqus_3q5OExSuB6 says:

            Arafat, you make a great point. Rabbi Kook never spoke out against the anti-semitism of Louis Farrakhan or others. He was indeed silent after Senator Scalise was shot. It is too bad he did not speak out. Whether or not we can attribute his silence to the fact that he died 82 years ago I leave for you to decide.

            I would love the exact stat on how journalists and university professors (an interesting pairing) vote. I can’t say I know for sure how most Fox News reporters and journalists vote, but I do know that, per their own article, Fox News has been the most-watched cable news channel for 15 years. That suggests they hold a lot of sway over the messaging Americans receive.

            As for my being a “product of this environment,” may I ask you one question: what do you know about me? Do you know my political leanings? Can you tell me how many police officers I have in my family? Where, not to mention if, I went to college? I don’t think you know my environment. I ask you not to judge my words for their assumed “blindness,” but instead to judge them for their reasoning.

          • Fair enough.
            MSNBC, CNN, NYT WaPo, HuffPo, BBC, Guardian, Time, Newsweek, Brown Daily, Yale Daily, Cal Daily, Harvard Crimson, and on and on it goes.
            You can choose to see what you want but middle -America does not buy it. Remember this: Under Obama’s tenure the democrats lost more than 1,000 seats and the continued radicalization of the democratic party will likely ensure this tsunami continues. Most Americans SEE through the duplicitous words you quote from BLM and Obama.
            Now, yes, this could infer middle-America is a racist, small-minded group and I am guessing this is what you believe. Or, one could infer they mostly see things accurately and it is the elitists on the east and west coast (and this includes Brown) that have no clue about the real world.

          • Examples of Obama’s anti-cop bias.

            Police group director: Obama caused a ‘war on cops’By BIANCA PADRÓ OCASIO

            07/08/2016 11:19 AM EDT

            Updated 07/08/2016 05:47 PM EDT

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            The head of a law enforcement advocacy group lashed out at President Barack Obama in the wake of the Dallas shootings that left five police officers dead, accused the president of carrying out a “war on cops.”

            “I think [the Obama administration] continued appeasements at the federal level with the Department of Justice, their appeasement of violent criminals, their refusal to condemn movements like Black Lives Matter, actively calling for the death of police officers, that type of thing, all the while blaming police for the problems in this country has led directly to the climate that has made Dallas possible,” William Johnson, the executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations, said in an interview with Fox on Friday morning.


            Obama hosts a roundtable of Black Lives Matter racists and useful idiots.

            July 14, 2016

            Matthew Vadum


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            The day after lecturing mourning Dallas police about how racist they are, President Obama hosted leaders of the virulently racist Black Lives Matter movement at the White House.

            Black Lives Matter, which is funded by hedge fund manager George Soros, is not merely a political movement: it’s a Marxist, anti-American, revolutionary cult whose members aim to unleash a reign of terror on our society. They celebrate when police officers are killed in the line of duty. They don’t want equality; they demand that black Americans receive special, preferential treatment. Disagree and they’ll howl you’re a racist, boycott your business, or try to get you investigated for hate crimes.

            The White House visit came after the grotesque, undignified, un-presidential atrocity of a speech President Obama gave in Dallas on Tuesday at a memorial service for the five officers slain by black supremacist Micah Xavier Johnson. At that event Obama lectured Americans, defended Black Lives Matter, bashed police, and pontificated about how racist Americans and American institutions are, particularly the police, while spewing all manner of left-wing talking points.

            “If we’re honest, perhaps we’ve heard prejudice in our own heads and felt it in our own hearts. We know that. And while some suffer far more under racism’s burden, some feel to a far greater extent discrimination’s sting. Although most of us do our best to guard against it and teach our children better, none of us is entirely innocent. No institution is entirely immune. And that includes our police departments. We know this.”

            At an event intended to honor police murdered by a racist cop-hater, Obama chose to slander cops as racist, placing them on the same moral footing as Johnson. “Insisting we do better to root out racial bias is not an attack on cops, but an effort to live up to our highest ideals,” he said…”

          • BY: Brent Scher
            December 16, 2016 2:56 pm

            President Obama’s decision to appoint Debo Adegbile, a top lawyer for cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal whose nomination to the Justice Department was rejected by the Senate in 2014, to a federal commission was met with harsh criticism from Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) and a top official at the nation’s largest police union, who called it a “kick in the teeth to the cops.”

            The Obama administration announced on Thursday that it was nominating Adegbile for a six-year term on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Unlike its appointment of Adegbile in 2014 to chair the Justice Department Civil Rights Division, this nomination does not require approval from the Senate.

          • disqus_3q5OExSuB6 says:

            Adegbile filed a brief because of racial discrimination for the jury that convicted Abu-Jamal. It is misleading to insinuate that Adegbile is anti-cop.

          • disqus_3q5OExSuB6 says:

            Arafat, do you think this commentary is objective and reasoned?

          • disqus_3q5OExSuB6 says:

            This is an example of someone else calling Obama anti-cop with a few vague statements. I still don’t see how Obama is responsible for the deaths of those cops. BLM is anti-violence. Their statement after Dallas:

            “Black activists have raised the call for an end to violence, not an escalation of it. Yesterday’s attack was the result of the actions of a lone gunman. To assign the actions of one person to an entire movement is dangerous and irresponsible. We continue our efforts to bring about a better world for all of us”

          • We can play this game all day long. You can find examples of Obama saying tomato all day long while I find him saying tomato. Neither of us is likely to change the other.

      • Kizmet Paradigm says:


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