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Vayigash 5781 ~ Dec. 25, 2020

Traditionally today is a day when we sit back, eat our Chinese food, and go to see a movie at the theater. This year, all of  that is different. After all, this evening is Shabbat. So, we will light our Shabbat candles, join together with you at 6 p.m. for Shabbat services, and then enjoy a Shabbat meal. I hope that you will join together with us for services.

One of the difficult moments in our Torah reading, no matter how many times we read this portion, is witnessing the drama that unfolds. Imagine being Joseph, a fly on the wall, listening to his brothers explain to each other what transpired in putting Joseph in the pit and selling him into slavery. It must have been quite difficult for him to hear their words as they took responsibility and or blamed the other, without giving away that it was he, Joseph, behind a beard and clothing fit for a king. The narrative actually explains his anguish.

A few weeks ago, as I listened to NPR, I too felt a great deal of anguish as I listened to a segment on the Kentucky State Police cadet training. Uncovered just recently by teenagers working on a newspaper and class assignment in school, their report was quite shocking. What these teens had discovered was beyond words. Training slides of the Kentucky State Police included the following lesson:

 

                   The words in red and underlined are those of Adolf Hitler “encouraging the “regular employment of violence.”

As I listened to the reporting, it seemed to me rather frightening to know that this “old boy school” had kept this slide show secretive, so that only the men and women who over the years had been a part of this training, knew about it. They were taught to love their families, but to be ruthless to the point of violence. It is preposterous that following the Shoah, that Hitler’s - yemach shemo, may his name be blotted out in shame - words would be used by a civilized police force here in America. Equally as disturbing, that none of the lawmakers throughout the many years that these slides were used, had an idea of their presence. Moreover, the leadership of the Kentucky State Police had most likely approved each slide, yet denied culpability. They also denied that the slides were a part of the training until they were uncovered by the students and an attorney. “The slide show was first reported by The Manual Redeye, a student newspaper at duPont Manual High School in Louisville, in an article written by the 16-year-old and 14-year-old sons of another lawyer involved in the lawsuit against the trooper.”

I shared the article with my Jewish Community High School students this past Monday evening. I asked them if they had uncovered the slides, how would they respond? Would they feel comfortable sharing what they uncovered in a newspaper, knowing that their report might have repercussions?  Or, would they know that they had the responsibility, not only to protect the Jewish community of anti-Semitism, but to protect everyone from those who had been not only given authority, but were inculcated with a most wrongful method of police interaction, based on the words of a deranged anti-Semite and racist who was responsible for the Shoah and an entire nation’s acceptance of his policies on the ideal of a pure Aryan race. I asked them how the economic situation of Germany after WWI differs from our Covid world today?   Should we be concerned by what we are witnessing in parts of America and the White supremacy movement’s hatred  “rearing it’s ugly head?”     How should we respond when we learn of clandestine anti-Semitism and teachings in legitimate organizations of hatred? Needless to say, both Marcia Reinhard, who is the JFEC administrator for JCHH, and I reiterated that the events in Kentucky are hopefully not the training that is a part of any of our own community and state’s police force. We should be respectful of those who serve are community.  The lesson is about being aware of hatred and to know how to respond, in a similar manner of the students in Kentucky.

As we look at the narrative of Joseph and his brethren, what is quite striking is that Joseph chooses to be ethical and caring about his brothers. Instead of the vigilante and retributive brother, Joseph chose the responsible method taught by so many police forces to its cadets, of serving as guardians rather than as a militia. He patiently listened, and on learning of their remorse, not only revealed his human qualities, but guided them to resolution. A world leader’s lesson that is still quite powerful in our times.

Sat, June 25 2022 26 Sivan 5782