Sara Klein Wagner: Camp and Charlottesville — Why we do what we do

Sara Klein Wagner

Our lives begin to end the day we decide to be silent about things that matter.
— Martin Luther King Jr.

J Camp 2017 came to a close on August 11, and I decided, after listening to the send-offs and conversations heard throughout the building and at the final camp circle, that the experience was the perfect topic for my August column.
The camp staff was energetic, warm and engaged for 10 weeks. Our counselors had the same enthusiasm on the last day as the first. The contagious spirit of our Israeli schlichot, Tomi and Lior, touched both campers and counselors. Our camp team deserves a major Kol Hakavod, congratulations on a job well done. Finally, I believe everyone should know that our Yachad program, which served campers in need of special assistance, continues to change lives.
I was ready to write that very camp column, and then Charlottesville happened.
I was upset and angry by what transpired in Charlottesville. I worried for the worshippers of Congregation Beth Israel who were fearful as neo-Nazis paraded past their synagogue – on Shabbat – chanting “Seig Heil” and anti-Semitic slogans.
I wanted to do something to make this madness stop, so I decided to attend a rally in the West End with my daughters the day after the Charlottesville violence and hear firsthand about the pain and anguish our fellow Louisvillians were feeling. As Jews, we cannot be silent.
I recognize we cannot instantaneously stop hate. But we do have many platforms, including camp, to create positive Jewish experiences.
Our commitment to our campers this summer was not a passing moment; it is an ongoing commitment to help children grow and become good people. As a Jewish community, it is now more important than ever that we speak up for good and speak out against evil – for our children’s sake as well as our own.
We teach our campers to respect each other and respect the uniqueness of everyone. We teach tolerance and acceptance of all people. As the Jewish Community of Louisville, composed of the Jewish Federation, Jewish Community Relations Council and The J, we understand the responsibility we have to speak up and speak out. If we care about justice, we care about all people.
We need to get to know our neighbors, welcome the stranger – as our Torah teaches – and publicly stand with new and old diverse partners for a peaceful and fair community for all Louisvillians.
An uplifting camping season at The J came to an end at the same time something shameful and alarming happened in our country. At the very least, though, it reminds us yet again what our mission is, and why we do what we do.

(Sara Klein Wagner is the president and CEO of the Jewish Community of Louisville.)

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