By now, most readers of this newspaper have learned about the Facebook graphic on which a student, from outside the Great Neck district, drew symbols of Nazism. Many in our town responded vocally to this blatant act of anti-Semitism. Although some among us responded (both verbally and in print) a little too impulsively and without knowledge of the facts, most responded out of grave and passionate concern. Continuous acts of hatred, whether directed at Jews or other religious and ethnic groups, have no place in Great Neck nor in any community. Fortunately, the school administration responded immediately. There will never be unanimity when it comes to determining an appropriate and just response to such heinous acts, but we encourage the school leadership to continue teaching both students and parents about the values of tolerance and respect we so dearly cherish.
When someone commits a bias crime, that crime affects all of us, and not exclusively the religious or ethnic community to which that crime was directed. To live in Great Neck means that we commit to living in a diverse community and that we take responsibility for enhancing the quality of life for all people. As representative of the Great Neck clergy, I urge colleagues of all faith groups to join together in ongoing dialogue; so that we may help address all issues of intolerance and bias, regardless of to whom that bias is directed.
On a positive note: Although we tend to publicize incidents of intolerance, I want to share a wonderful illustration of how diversity can bring us together. In February, the South Middle School held its annual Cultural Heritage Night. The first part of the evening included an impressive display of the food and culture which reflected the various ethnic communities in the school. The latter part of the evening was devoted to dances performed by Middle School students; dances which also reflected our ethnic diversity, Hispanic, Greek, Armenian, Russian, Chinese, Korean and Israeli to name a few. As I was honored to choreograph the Israeli dance, I watched not only the performers, but the students (most of the school, I believe). Following each performance, students applauded wildly and with great pride. One dance was performed by a single male student, dressed in the clothing of his family’s culture. During and following his performance, no one laughed or spoke derisively. This boy received a loud reception when he finished; every student in the auditorium appreciated his efforts. Perhaps I missed a larger picture, but from my vantage point, I only witnessed pride, joy and a celebration of diversity.
We in Great Neck will confront many challenges in the years ahead, including our response to diversity issues. Unfortunately, there will be (hopefully isolated) incidents of bias not only against Jews, but against other groups living in our town. My hope is that together we will combat the evils of racial, religious and ethnic bias, so that we can remain proud of our community and even prouder of the diversity within.
Rabbi Michael Klayman, Lake Success Jewish Center, Great Neck Clergy Association president