Letter: We Must Open Ourselves To Dialogue

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I read with great sorrow about the incidents regarding Mimi Hu, a gifted, community-minded citizen running for library trustee. Recent public and vocal reactions to her personal opinions suggest that the climate of fear enveloping our nation has touched the community of Great Neck as well.

First of all, I do understand that the incidents described in the Great Neck Record [“Library Election Turns Ugly,” Oct. 24] were limited to a few people.

However, I fear that others in our community, if given the opportunity, would respond to Ms. Hu with a similar anger and venom.

In Great Neck, we have evolved into a multiethnic and multicultural community—a community that should feel enriched by the various heritages which add so immeasurably to our society.

Many of us living in Great Neck are first- or second-generation Americans, people who came to America and to our town to seek and enjoy the rare freedoms our country offers.

One of our cherished gifts is the right to express opinion; for our voices to be heard either in consent or in contrast.

Certainly, there are political and social issues which bring out our passions and our deeply rooted emotions.

Those freedoms, however, require us to respect and acknowledge the opinions of others, especially the opinions of those with whom we vehemently disagree.

There are many nations throughout the world in which freedom of expression is suppressed.

One who questions government policies or voices concern for the prevailing official policies of a nation can be arrested or worse.

Such is not the standard in America. We are a nation open to freedom of expression because we appreciate the dangers of living in a closed and narrow society.

At some juncture in our past, all of us were immigrants; generally fleeing from a form of oppression and seeking freedom in a country that embraces diversity and cherishes dissent. Unfortunately, our national and local climate today might suggest that the freedoms we cherish are being severely challenged. Anger has replaced respect. When expressing our opinion expands into an angry public tirade against anyone with an opinion in conflict with our own, it is time to reexamine what we have become.

I have always referred to the ancient Rabbinic Schools of Hillel and Shammai. In antiquity, Hillel and Shammai were two leading Rabbinic authorities in Israel.

Their legal interpretations were generally in conflict with one another.

Yet, Jewish sources relate that when students from the School of Hillel sat down to interpret a law, they would first study the opinions of the School of Shammai. Even
in dissent, there was mutual respect and admiration.

Regardless of our cultures, our ethnicities and our religious beliefs, it behooves us to embrace the thinking of Hillel and Shammai; to be open-minded and respectful in all of our discourse.

We need to open ourselves to dialogue with one another; in a climate of respect and honor.

Such is the America I love.

—Rabbi Michael Klayman
Lake Success Jewish Center
Great Neck Clergy Association

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