Hi everyone, I am Rabbi Anna Boswell-Levy. I’m the rabbi of Congregation Kol Emet, which is in Lower Makefield, and I am the mom of 3 children who attend Makefield Elementary which is part of the Pennsbury school district.
I am also someone who lost a dear friend in the Tree of Life shooting on Oct. 27, 2018. It was the deadliest act of anti-Semitic violence of America to date, and American Jews have never been the same since.
Unfortunately, hatred and anti-Semitism has recently surfaced locally in the Pennsbury school district, making national news. Several Pennsbury school board members (4 of 9 of whom are Jewish) have been receiving hateful emails and phone calls using racist, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, and transphobic rhetoric. Some of the messages included threats of violence against them and their families.
Sadly, I have direct experience that hate speech, if unchecked, rarely just ends with empty threats. These abhorrent messages must be called out. This vigil won’t solve all our problems, but tonight we are here to say: This is not who we are, and hate speech towards anyone, much less our community elected leaders will not stand.
It doesn’t matter whether we agree with the decisions of our local leaders. It doesn’t matter that this vitriol was spewed by a few bad actors, many of whom don’t even live in our area.
As a community, we must protect our local leaders, regardless of party affiliation, who volunteer their time and expertise to benefit our community, schools, and children. School board members don’t do this for recognition. Usually, people don’t even know who their school board members are! But these are not normal times. I read an article just today about how school board meeting all over the country are becoming battlegrounds of incivility, where those on the left and right shout each other down about masks, vaccine mandates, and place of race and diversity in public education.
Well, this is not about left or right, this is about common decency. It is about something we often take for granted until it isn’t there when it should be, and that is civility. In the Jewish tradition, civility is called chesed – which is simple acts of kindness, derived from the understanding that we are all created in the image of God. Civility is the basic building block of society. It means helping each other out, doing the right thing, even when we don’t know one another, even when it is inconvenient or hard. Civility is what breaks down walls of separation and turns strangers into friends.
Our school board members embody civility: they do what they do out of a strong sense of civic duty. They volunteer huge amonuts of time because they feel they this is how they can best serve the community. Well, I just want to say thank you tonight to the members of the Pennsbury school board for all you have done and continue to do for our community and our kids.
When there is an absence of civility, when the loudest and most extreme voices gain the floor, it has a corrosive effect on a community as a whole, alienating the center – that is, reasonable people who want to take part in civic life in big and small ways, attending PTO or school board meeting, running of public office such as the school board, and yes, even voting. We must not let that happen. We always must strive to maintain a strong center.
We must stay informed, remembering that most of us are good neighbors who want the best for one another. We must show up to contentious meetings to show support and to be a peaceful presence. We must call out hate speech out whenever it rears its ugly head. And, yes, we must VOTE.
We are blessed to live a wonderful corner of the world, and we must not take that for granted. We need to speak out for what is right and fiercely protect what is good. Let’s always stand up and protect one another – for the safety of our neighborhoods, our diverse communities that we cherish, and our kids: their well-being, their education, and their future.