Activism in Challenging Times

Our mark on the world will be characterized not just by what we stand against but also by what we stand for.

By Lynn Schusterman

Over the past month, we have celebrated the start to the Jewish new year and the series of holidays that includes Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah. This year, I find myself even more reflective than usual, following a summer of great pain and turmoil and in the face of ongoing global challenges.

What I have always loved about these holidays is that while they invite intensely personal moments of reflection and atonement, we are expected to celebrate them as a community. Together, we are reminded of the fragility of life. Together we are reminded of all for which we must be thankful. Together we are reminded of how we, as individuals and as a community, can resolve to do better.

Indeed, there is no better moment in the Jewish calendar to re-commit ourselves to the holy work of repairing our world and doing everything possible to make a positive difference. After all, service to others is one of the pillars upon which Jewish life and tradition rests.

This means that we are willing to do our part to foster a virtuous cycle of giving back and paying forward. It means we are willing to take responsibility for both enhancing our own lives and for bettering the lives of others. And it means that we are willing to mobilize people around the issues that keep us up at night and get us out of bed in the morning.

After all, if we don’t take a stand, we cannot expect that others will.

For me, one way in which I am walking my talk is in response to the Metropolitan Opera’s decision to present the The Death of Klinghoffer, an opera that presents a singular viewpoint about a horrific act of terrorism, contains language that can only be described as anti-Semitic and goes so far as to imply moral equivalence between the Nazis and Jews.

This is not an objection I make lightly. I have long supported arts and culture as an avenue for encouraging engagement with and discourse on difficult and complex subjects. I deeply appreciate the role of art and artists in pushing cultural boundaries that allow communities to address pressing social and political issues.

However, I do not believe that presenting this opera will achieve these ends. As many have written, including the First Amendment lawyer, Floyd Abrams: this play is not mere artistic expression but rather the glorification of terrorism and hatred under the guise of free speech. It scares me that productions like this one will set us on a slippery slope toward allowing hatred and bigotry to once again become an acceptable part of mainstream discourse.

And so, like many of you, I cannot sit by and watch these events unfold without doing something. We have simply worked far too long and too hard to give a voice to marginalized communities and to rid ourselves of the scourge of racism, anti-Semitism and bigotry of all kinds to start moving backwards.

I have joined with many others in writing a letter and signing a petition urging the Met to cancel this production or, at the very least, provide the proper context and balance it demands through workshops, seminars and creative campaigns. I will also be participating in Monday’s public protest in New York where I will join many community leaders who are lending their voices to this cause.

Whatever the result of our efforts, I know that this will not be the last challenge we face in standing up to anti-Semitism and other forms of hate and bigotry around the world.

I also recognize that not everyone will be driven to take a stand on this particular issue. We each have to find our inner activist and devote our time and talent to making our mark on the issues that we believe in. And while we cannot do everything, we can each do something.

As I tell the young people I have the privilege of meeting and working with, you have the power to change the world, but the change has to start with you, working as one in a community of many.

Ultimately, our mark on the world will be characterized not just by what we stand against but also by what we stand for: progress through innovation, big ideas, bold action and hard work. Let us be defined by our commitment to building inclusive communities. By our belief that we can change the world and the expectation that we will. By our love for Israel, by our commitment to the Jewish people and by a willingness to listen to, learn from, and challenge each other.

Change is possible but it requires every one of us to take action.

It is my hope that you carry your resolutions for the new year into the year ahead and beyond. It is my hope that in response to the injustice you see in the world, in whatever form you notice it, you will brave the wind, the rain and the naysayers to fight for the spring of tomorrow.

Lynn Schusterman is the Founder and Co-Chair of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.