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Dear Graduates.... -- Chronicle Online/The WORD 06/1/23

Weekly On-line Rabbi's D'var-Torah

June 1, 2023 12 Sivan 5783 Nasso‘Tis the season for commencement addresses across the land—from preschools to universities. Over the years, some speakers have taken the opportunity to push graduates to even greater heights and accomplishments. Others have tried to give practical advice to graduates embarking on the next stage of their lives. In 2005, Steve Jobs told the graduates of Stanford University, “...and the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle.” In 2014, Admiral William McRaven gave some basic but profound advice to the newest alumni of the University of Texas, saying: “If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter...” He ultimately turned his speech into a book. At the height of the pandemic lockdown in 2020, Oprah Winfrey spoke to the nation’s high school graduates whose ceremonies had largely been cancelled. She said: “What will your essential service be? What really matters to you? How will you use what matters in service to yourself, your community, and the world?" And then, just last week, Fatima Mousa Mohammed took the stage at CUNY School of Law’s graduation to address her classmates. She did not talk about the challenges facing our legal system. She did not talk about how she would use her law degree to make our country a better place. Instead, she used her platform to speak antisemitic mistruths about Israel. As part of her speech on this what must have been a very special day for her family and for her, she said the following: “As Israel continues to indiscriminately rain bullets and bombs on worshipers, murdering the old, the young, attacking even funerals and graveyards, as it encourages lynch mobs to target Palestinian homes and businesses, as it imprisons its children, as it continues its project of settler colonialism… our silence is no longer acceptable.” (You can watch a recording of the ceremony here.) After three years at CUNY School of Law, THAT is what she wanted to talk about. Both the chancellor and the board president of CUNY had to issue statements in response to this speech. They correctly identified it as hate speech. As Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks famously pointed out in a speech entitled “The Historical Evolution of Antisemitism,” the latest incarnation of antisemitism is directed not at a single Jewish person or community, but at the Jewish state and her supporters. In his own words, “All of a sudden Jews are attacked not as individuals, but as a nation in its own land. And we suddenly become the one people on earth who are not entitled to have a land, a country, a society of their own. That of course becomes antisemitism, when all Jews are presumed to be Zionists and therefore guilty of the primal sin of wanting a country of their own.” If I could give a commencement address this spring, I would take a moment to speak to the graduates who feel a little different from their classmates, who exist on the periphery, who fear being singled out for not being a part of the majority. I would express my hope that in their next stop—whether it’s another school, an internship or a job—they won’t have to experience the kind of hate expressed by Fatima Mousa Mohammed. Shalom, RAF.

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