In The Face of Injustice, ‘Neutrality Is Not a Morally Acceptable Option’

Passover, the Jewish holiday commemorating the enslavement and liberation of the Children of Israel from Egypt, is right around the corner. In just a few days, Jews everywhere will gather not only to recall the story of the Exodus but also, through conversation and ceremony, to internalize, personalize, and universalize the narrative.

For us Jews, the Exodus from bondage in Egypt is not mere history. Our tradition also instructs us to understand the Exodus as an allegory about the present. In every generation, the same drama plays out: Some will seek to secure their own privilege and power by relentlessly vilifying and oppressing the weak, while the oppressed will yearn for liberation, dignity, and equal opportunity. Every person, in every time and place, thus faces a fundamental choice: Either you can be a Pharaoh or you can be a Hebrew; either you are an oppressor or you are the oppressed.

Some may argue that within the Exodus story there is a third possibility. Weren’t there regular Egyptians who did not themselves enslave any Hebrews? Technically, yes. But, at least the way the Bible tells it, during the four centuries of Israelite bondage in Egypt, not once did any of those Egyptians protest Pharaoh’s oppressive policies. Only a handful of courageous Egyptian women engaged in acts of civil disobedience. Everybody else stood silently on the sidelines as an entire nation was brutalized.

How do you think Pharaoh interpreted his people’s silence? Just as any modern leader would, Pharaoh doubtlessly assumed his people supported or at least tolerated his policies. It is natural to interpret an absence of protest as agreement. In this sense, silence always benefits the status quo. So, while the average Egyptian may not have personally harmed any Israelite, by failing to speak out, he effectively sided with the oppressors. Perhaps that’s why the ten plagues afflicted all Egyptians, and not just Pharaoh.

As a rabbi, this awareness has always fueled my social activism. And it especially drives me now, at this moment when injustice is routinely entrenched in policy and cruelty seems to have become a governing philosophy.

For instance, how can I, as someone devoted to a tradition that commands, literally dozens of times, to “love the immigrant, for you were immigrants in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:19 is but one iteration of this law) remain silent when politicians enact policies that systematically target members of our country’s immigrant community, vilify immigrants (especially those from “sh*thole countries”), conduct warrantless searches of people who appear to be foreign, hold those suspected of violating immigration law without trial or bail, break apart families, destroy lives, and shatter the dreams of young people who have known no other home? I cannot, and so I have been active in the Central Virginia Sanctuary Network and in pro-immigrant advocacy.

How can I, as someone whose tradition holds as foundational that all human beings – created in God’s image – have infinite worth and equal dignity, stay neutral when our leaders pursue explicitly stated goals like banning Muslim immigrants? Or when they perpetuate noxious myths about people of color, or when they are repeatedly accused of sexual assault, or when they support and safeguard men who brutalize and prey on women? I cannot, and so I have been fiercely committed to supporting the Muslim community in the face of rising Islamophobia, to activism on behalf of refugees, to advancing racial justice, and to helping amplify women’s voices and supporting strong female leadership.

Furthermore, my tradition mandates that, in a just society, all people have equal status, privilege, and protection (see, for example, Leviticus 24:22). How can I therefore not voice my concerns about the availability of a quality education for all Americans? How can I not express my fears over the equal enforcement of civil rights laws or the erosion of voting rights?

Our democratic institutions and the norms that support them are also reflections of the Jewish notion of human equality. Those institutions and norms are facing unprecedented daily assaults, both from hostile foreign powers and our own leaders, all while those officials who are meant to defend us from such threats have failed to protest in any meaningful way. The ways in which our current leaders have undermined and warped our democratic institutions are too numerous to list here but to name a few, the President has demanded his political opponents be criminally investigated, interfered with active investigations, threatened top law-enforcement officials, and attacked federal judges, all steps that, both individually and in the aggregate erode the independence of law enforcement and the judiciary.

Likewise, the President has ignored, and in some respects has actively encouraged, Russia’s interference in our country’s elections, actions which both make us less free and less safe. Meanwhile, congressional leaders, charged with the responsibility to check such abuses, have at best largely remained silent about them, and at worst have actively encouraged the President’s words and actions. Can I, as a rabbi, in good conscience remain silent about any of this?

How can I, as someone whose tradition insists that human life is a supreme value, stand idly by when our leaders refuse to help resettle refugees, or when millions of guns, legal and easy to buy, threaten our children at school, at the mall, at the movies, at concerts, all because our leaders value the concerns of well-funded special interests above the lives of vulnerable citizens, all but ensuring shamefully common, uniquely American, man-made tragedies like last month’s mass shooting in Parkland, Florida?

Were I to remain silent in the face of such egregious injustices, I, too, would be responsible for perpetuating them.

Similarly, since my tradition teaches that healthcare is a fundamental human right and a communal obligation, I feel obligated to work to ensure that everyone in my community has access to affordable, quality healthcare. If I don’t do my part to fight for universal coverage, then I am partly responsible when people do not receive or cannot afford the care they need.

Since my tradition calls for enough redistribution of wealth from those who have the most to those who have the least so that “there shall be no needy” (Deuteronomy 15:4), I feel obligated to purse tax policies that further the goal of economic justice. If I don’t do my part to fight against tax reform that favors corporations and wealthy individuals, then I am partly responsible when people become trapped in cycles of poverty.

Since my tradition requires planetary stewardship, I feel obligated to stop and reverse global climate change before it’s too late. If I do nothing to champion policies that would protect our planet, then I am partly responsible when our world becomes unfit for human habitation.

While I may not be guilty of all the injustices prevalent in my world, if I’m aware of them and fail to act, I nevertheless bear responsibility for them.

As Passover nears we should all be reminded that we perpetually face a basic choice: we either stand on the side of righteousness or on the side of evil. There can be no neutrality. And, just like Pharaoh and the Egyptians, the choices we make – the actions we take or refrain from taking, the injustices we perpetuate or tolerate or protest – determine our fates – it is time again to decide where and with whom we stand.

This column originally appeared in RVA Magazine.

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Purim and the Responsibilities of Privilege

When Queen Esther contemplated whether to approach the King of Persia, uninvited, to ask that the Jews be spared, the stakes were high. Stay silent, and her people would be slaughtered. Speak up, and risk death herself at the hands of a capricious ruler.

Ultimately, her uncle, Mordechai, persuaded her with the following argument: “Do not imagine that you, of all the Jews, will escape with your life by being in the king’s palace. On the contrary, if you keep silent in this crisis, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another quarter, while you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows, perhaps you have attained to royal position for just such a crisis!” (Esther 4:13)

Those who occupy positions of privilege often feel insulated from the challenges confronting others. When it’s not impacting me directly, it doesn’t feel like my problem. So why would I risk what I have to speak out on others’ behalf?

Mordechai, however, reminds Esther that her welfare is ultimately intertwined with her people’s welfare, just as our wellbeing is bound up in the wellbeing of everyone else. We cannot be truly safe, truly free, truly prosperous, until everyone is safe, free, and prosperous. As Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, “I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” (“Letter from a Birmingham Jail”).

We usually think that privilege is about comfort, achieving a position free of concern. On the contrary, Mordechai reminds Esther that privilege is about responsibility.

If you are reading this column, chances are good that you are among the ranks of the most fortunate people to ever live. Mordechai‘ s challenge to Esther is, therefore, our challenge as well. When there are those in our world, in our country, whose lives are at risk, do we stand by, fearful that speaking up will cost us our position? Or do we remember that our fate is bound up in their fate, too, and perhaps we have attained our privilege for just such a crisis?

This was the question of Esther’s time. This is the question of our time. As we celebrate Purim, let us honor Mordechai’s challenge, and recall Esther’s heroic response.

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Virginia House of Delegates Invocation, February 23, 2018

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Mekor ha-hayyim, somkeh noflim, matir asurim—

Champion of the downtrodden, we ask that, today and every day, You show our leaders how to walk Your paths:

Enable them to see Your image in all people, eradicating all forms of bigotry and furthering Your cause of inclusion and equality.

Embolden them to welcome the immigrant, to support the refugee, and to uphold the hopes of dreamers.

Soften their hearts to know the suffering of the poor, the marginalized, and the disadvantaged.

Source of life, we pray that, today and every day, You empower our leaders to be true champions of life:

Move them to ensure that everyone in our Commonwealth has access to quality, affordable healthcare.

Call them to safeguard us from the millions of guns, legal and easy to buy, that threaten our children at school, at the mall, at the movies, at concerts.

Grant them the will and the courage to put the lives of vulnerable citizens above the concerns of well-funded special interests. Guide them to do everything they can to preserve our health and to prevent shamefully common, uniquely American, man-made tragedies.

God of freedom, we ask that, today and every day, You strengthen our leaders’ resolve to protect the free ideals and democratic institutions that are the glory of our Commonwealth and country.

Grant them the humility to engage in respectful debate and disagreement, forging consensus where possible, yielding when necessary. Above all, remind them of their power to foster the common good, and their responsibility – above ideology, party, and political calculation – to wholeheartedly pursue righteousness and justice.

Hear our voices, God, and with compassion, receive our prayers, for we affirm that you are a God who listens to prayer. And as You bless our beloved Commonwealth and these dedicated public servants, help us all recall that, beyond supplication and petition, above all song and praise, You are a God who loves deeds of righteousness. May the words of our mouths, the meditations of our hearts, and, most importantly, the actions of our hands, be acceptable in Your sight, bringing your love, your presence, and your peace ever closer. And let us say: Amen.

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Inauguration Benediction

I was honored to have been invited to deliver the benediction at the Inauguration Ceremonies for Governor Ralph Northam, Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, and Attorney General Mark Herring at the Virginia State Capitol, January 13, 2018. Below is the text of the blessing I offered.

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Ribbono shel olam, Majesty of space and time, bless and protect our new Governor, Ralph Northam, our new Lieutenant Governor, Justin Fairfax, and our Attorney General, Mark Herring. Look with favor upon them, their families, and their administrations. Deal graciously with them and grant them peace.

Creator of all life, we pray that You guide our leaders to faithfully serve you by caring for all those who dwell in our Commonwealth. Enable them to see Your image in all people. In the face of resurgent and resilient hatred, xenophobia, and racism, embolden them to eradicate bigotry and inaugurate a new era of inclusion and equality.

Confronted with unprecedented assaults on the structures of our democracy and the norms that support them, fortify our leaders’ resolve to secure, strengthen, and advance the ideals and institutions that are the glory of our Commonwealth and our Republic.

May You, who hears the voices of the voiceless and knows the hurt of all hearts (Jeremiah 17:10), grant our leaders the wisdom to discern the “silent agony” of the unseen and unheard, the “plundered poor” and the passed over (Abraham Joshua Heschel, “My Reasons for Involvement in the Peace Movement).

Just as You champion justice for the wronged, free the bound, lift up the downtrodden, protect the stranger, and encourage the orphan and the widow (Psalm 146), empower our leaders to uphold the cause of the impoverished, the marginalized, the vulnerable, and the oppressed, ensuring equal opportunity and justice for all.

In this moment, when ‎the cause of the just is too readily sold for silver, and the needs of the poor are betrayed to benefit the wealthy (Amos 2:6), give our leaders strength to discharge the duties of their offices with honesty and integrity, withstanding the temptations that, as Scripture warns, “blind the clear-sighted and subvert the cause of the righteous” (Exodus 23:8).

God, help us, too. Help us remain mindful of the extraordinary gift of freedom, attained by our ancestors at great expenditures of toil and blood, that we have been blessed to inherit. Work through us so that we may dutifully fulfill our responsibilities to one another as a self-governing people. Where we see degradation or persecution, move us to march. Where we see tyranny, rally us to resist. And where we see despair, grant us the audacity to hope. Help us, in the words of our ancient rabbis (Mishnah Avot 5:23), to be “bold as leopards, light as eagles, swift as deer and mighty as lions” as we remind our leaders whom they serve, and before Whom they stand.

Help us remember that, regardless of the shade of our skin or the place of our origin, regardless of whether we were born in privilege or in poverty, regardless of the anatomy with which we were born or the language we speak, regardless of our gender identity or our sexual orientation, we are all brothers and sisters, destinies intertwined, called upon by our Heavenly Parent to safeguard one another (Genesis 4:9) and to dwell together in peace (Psalm 133:1).

As we leave these hallowed grounds, inspired by this hopeful day, we pray that you ready us to join together in that spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood, bound by common cause and shared destiny, to make “justice well up like water, and righteousness like an unfailing stream” (Amos 5:24), and to speedily bring about the day when “nation will not take up sword against nation, and they will never again know war” (Isaiah 2:4).

May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, Adonai, our Rock and our Redeemer.

And let us say, “Amen.”

 

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Statement about the President’s Islamophobic Tweets

Tuesday morning, President Trump retweeted several outrageous (and, reports indicate, phony) Islamophobic videos from a fringe British ultranationalist group. The outburst represents a continuation of a disturbing pattern. President Trump routinely targets and vilifies Muslims. The pattern seems to intensify when the president finds himself in political danger or when he wants to fire up his base and/or change the subject.Why the president shared these abhorrent videos is anybody’s guess. Perhaps the president is nervous that the Special Counsel investigation seems to be closing in on him and his inner circle. Perhaps he sees it as an avenue to buoy his abysmal approval rating. The tweets came on the heels of his endorsement of alleged sex criminal and Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, and in the midst of a larger cultural reckoning over sexual abuse by prominent, powerful men. Maybe he’s trying to direct scrutiny away from the fact that he too stands accused of a similar pattern of behavior. Or maybe it was a ploy to divert the media’s attention away from the Republican tax reform plan, a measure that will redistribute the nation’s wealth from the poor to the rich. The plan is extremely unpopular, and for good moral, as well as practical, reasons. Congressional Republicans are in a hurry to pass the bill, because they know the more Americans learn about the bill, the less popular it will become. The president and his Republican majorities in Congress know they need to demonstrate a legislative win. Perhaps the president surmised that he could send inflammatory tweets to divert the media’s attention from tax reform, giving congressional Republicans cover to pass an unpopular bill with less than full scrutiny. Or, maybe the timing is entirely coincidental, and the president, animated by his demonstrated bias against Muslims, happened yesterday to see some tweets that confirmed his prejudices and, as many of us sometimes regretfully do on social media, impulsively shared them.But Twitter is a public forum, especially when the person using it is the President of the United States. And when the president makes a public statement, whether on Twitter or any other medium, and however petty or cynical the motive, the consequences are grave. To imply, as the president has through these tweets and other previous statements, that practitioners of Islam are bloodthirsty savages, untethered from the laws and norms of civilized society, poised to overturn all that Western civilization holds good and sacred, is to spread bigotry, to foment hatred, and to incite violence.A central tenet of the Jewish tradition is that words have consequences. Indeed, words create worlds (at least according to the Book of Genesis, in which God speaks the world into existence). And, to borrow a metaphor from the Midrash, like an arrow loosed from a bow, a harsh word cannot be retracted once spoken, and bears the power to do great harm. Passionate about my tradition’s call to pursue justice, affirming my tradition’s foundational principle of the equal and infinite dignity of every human being, and cognizant of the extraordinary power of words, I want to state clearly: I reject the president’s Islamophobic rhetoric and actions in the strongest possible terms, and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our friends and partners in the Muslim community here and abroad against prejudice, bigotry, and hate, especially when it emanates from the most powerful office in the world. I am dedicated to building a country where the divinely-ordained dignity and equality of every person is affirmed, and we therefore resist calls to vilify each other. I urge the president and his supporters to end their assaults on the Muslim community and to take steps to ensure Muslims at home and abroad are treated with fairness and respect.I further call on my fellow Americans from all walks of life, and especially those who purport to be guided by religious values, not to be distracted by the president’s naked attempts to deflect attention from matters like tax reform. Rather, we should renew our commitments to be vigilant and informed citizens, active participants in the democratic process, working together to ensure a more perfect, and a more just and righteous, union.

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Pray for Healing, Fight for Justice: A Response to the Sutherland Springs Mass-Shooting

I am heartbroken over the news of yesterday’s mass shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. 26 people, ranging from toddlers to retirees, including eight members of a single family, were murdered in cold blood.

I extend my heartfelt condolences to the victims and their families, the First Baptist congregation, the community of Sutherland Springs, and the State of Texas. I pray for comfort, healing, and peace.

At the same time, even as someone who believes in the power and importance of prayer, I know that prayer alone will not solve the American gun violence epidemic that claims 30,000 lives each year. We need legislation that keeps guns from dangerous people. So long as the slaughter of innocents is tolerated and enabled by popular lethargy, political cowardice, and corporate greed, the next tragedy is not a matter of “if,” but of “when?” and “where?”

True, there are factors that contribute to gun violence besides guns: the expense, inaccessibility, and stigmas of mental health treatment; the fact that kids in our broken education system become more likely to live lives of poverty, violence, and crime; the link between rising poverty and deepening economic inequality and violent crime.

There is also the fact that most perpetrators of mass shootings are men, and many have prior histories of violence against women. It is critical that we address the cultural norm that equates masculinity with violence, and the misogyny, sexual assault, and domestic violence that remains rampant in our society. We cannot solve the problem of gun violence without seriously addressing these and other issues, too.

However, let these factors not distract us from the central issue: the guns. From Sutherland Springs to Sandy Hook, from Las Vegas to Aurora, from Virginia Tech to Columbine, the one thing all these mass shooting events have in common is guns. To end them, we have to deal with the guns.

Indeed, tragedies like these are a uniquely American horror. In no other industrialized nation besides ours do mass shooting events occur with the frequency and intensity they do here. The distinguishing factor is that those other countries have common-sense regulations on gun ownership, and we repeatedly fail to enact even the most basic of reforms.

Some will point to the fact that the “bad guy with a gun” in Sutherland Springs was ultimately stopped by a “good guy with a gun.” That individual is indeed a hero and undoubtedly saved many lives. But if the “bad guy” didn’t have a gun in the first place, there would have been no need for an armed good samaritan. Moreover, even when “good guys” have guns, bad things happen. A gun in the home is more likely to harm the people inside than it is to protect them. There is also a strong link between access to guns and gun deaths. Additionally, armed defense is not a guarantee of security, and dangerous people with access to weapons are, well, markedly more dangerous.

But we are not resigned to this fate. The Torah commands us to choose life (Deut. 30:19), insisting that it is in our power to create a society where everyone can go to school, attend church or synagogue, and enjoy their lives without having to fear random eruptions of violence, carried out with easily accessible weapons of war. It is time for us to end this scourge.

The biblical prophet Amos said that God will reject our prayers until we make “justice well up like water and righteousness like a mighty stream” (5:24). Let us then not only pray for the people of Sutherland Springs, Las Vegas, Orlando, Sandy Hook, and so many others whose lives have been shattered by gun violence. Let us demand justice and righteous change, for them, and for all the people of our land.

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Welcome Akiva Betzalel Knopf

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We are proud to announce that we have named our son Akiva Betzalel. With your indulgence, we’d be honored to share a little about the names we’ve chosen, and about Akiva’s namesakes.

The poet Carl Sandburg once said,  “A baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on.” Akiva Betzalel, we believe you are God’s stake in the future of our people and our world. We have given you your names to inspire, guide, and prepare you for that sacred purpose.

First and foremost, it’s impossible to name a child Akiva Betzalel without evoking the most famous figures who have borne those names. And, indeed, we chose Akiva Betzalel because we deliberately wanted to link our son with those spiritual ancestors.

Akiva ben Yosef was among the greatest, and best known, of the ancient rabbis. The Talmud is quite literally filled with his teachings, maxims, and legal opinions. He reared many students, a number of whom subsequently became extraordinary sages themselves. No wonder the Talmud refers to Akiva as “Chief of the Sages.”

Of the qualities Rabbi Akiva embodied, we were most inspired by his passion for Torah and his resistance to tyranny: his determination to do what he saw as right, regardless of the consequences; his refusal to abandon his convictions, even in the face of great persecution.

The Talmud relates that, after the Bar Kokhba rebellion (a brave revolt against the evil empire of Rome that Akiva himself is reported to have supported), the Roman authorities forbade Jews from teaching, learning, and practicing Torah (B. B’rakhot 61b). Rabbi Akiva, however, continued to convene assemblies in public for Torah study. A colleague said to him, “Akiva, are you not afraid of the empire?” Akiva bravely answered, “More than I fear the Romans, I fear abandoning Torah.” I like to think he used these acts of civil disobedience to expound upon the verse he saw as the Torah’s greatest principle: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Ultimately, Akiva was arrested and executed by the Romans for his “crime” of teaching Torah. It is said that he was reciting the Shema during his execution, and that his soul left his body as he uttered the word “ehad,” one; fitting for a man who devoted his life to the notion that, above all, we are called to love each other.

Akiva, like your namesake, you have similarly been born into a world where evil is rampant, ascendant, powerful. These are dark times. They call for fulness of faith and courage of conviction; the determination to know right from wrong, good from evil, and to be steadfast in doing the right and good. Even if it is unpopular, even if there are negative consequences, we pray that you remain unafraid and undeterred.

As I taught just two days ago on Yom Kippur, our tradition, honoring your namesake’s legacy, demands we be “unyielding, uncompromising extremists for human dignity.” While we of course want you to be smart and safe about the ways you fight for what is right, we nevertheless pray that you live up to the sacred call of our tradition, as did your namesake.

We’ve also named you for the biblical Betzalel, the architect of the mishkan. Betzalel is the person charged by God to ensure the fulfilment of the divine command, “Make Me a sanctuary, and I will dwell among you.” This verse is frequently understood outside of its normal context to mean that God’s presence – the manifestation of universal justice, kindness, and peace – will only come to dwell in our world if we make of our world a vessel to hold it. In other words, we have the ability to make this world into a place fit for the indwelling of the Divine Presence. Our destiny is in our hands. Betzalel is thus the person primarily responsible for creating that structure.

Similarly, Akiva Betzalel, we pray that you see yourself as the person primarily responsible for making this world a place that can hold God’s presence. Because, if not you, then who?


We have also named you Akiva for Adira’s Tante Kathy, Kathy Green, who died just a few short weeks ago, well before her time, after a heroic struggle with Parkinson’s disease.

Kathy was gracious, kind, humble, and fiercely intelligent.  A serious spiritual seeker and a gifted educator, she had a gift for making people feel at ease, and was genuinely interested in what others thought and felt. She was also disarmingly funny, and could catch you off-guard with her dry-as-gin wit. Most inspiring to us was how Tante Kathy faced the illness that plagued her later years and ultimately took her life. She did not become embittered or hopeless. She quietly forged ahead, facing each challenge with strength and gratitude. As my brother-in-law Rabbi Or put it, “Kathy possessed an unusual combination of resilience and acceptance, and she held that tension with uncommon grace.”

Akiva, we pray that you, too, like your Tante Kathy of Blessed Memory, will face life’s trials with resilience and grace; kindness, generosity, humor, and dogged determination to magnify and sanctify each moment that you have on this earth.

Finally, since Adira tells me that you will be our last child — jury’s still out, in my opinion — we also wanted to squeeze in a few more honorable mentions. These aren’t “namesakes,” per se – a namesake is, after all, believed to be a reincarnated soul, and we don’t want TK’s soul to get crowded in there – but beloved ancestors who inspired our choice of your name, and whose memories we hope inspire you.

Rabbi Akiva was understood in Jewish tradition as having been the spiritual heir of Moses (B. Menahot 29b). Moshe was the Hebrew name of your great-grandfather, my Zaide, Moe Farrow, of Blessed Memory. My Zaide, like your namesake Akiva, risked his life to fight tyranny. My Zaide was a simple man, a butcher and a grocer, dedicated to yiddishkeit and his family, who owned a small store in an impoverished part of Miami. But his simplicity belied the greatness of his heart and the expanse of his moral vision. An immigrant himself, he epitomized the Torah’s injunction, “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt” (Ex. 23:9). He gave away food to anyone in need, even if it hurt his bottom line. He refused to abide by Jim Crow laws, and taught his children about the evils of racism and segregation. I pray his memory and example instructs you as it does me.

Akiva is a variant of Ya’akov, the name of the Jewish patriarch who was later renamed Yisrael. Yisrael was the Hebrew name of your great-grandfather, my grandfather, Jay Knopf, of Blessed Memory. Your great-grandfather was thoughtful, intelligent, and funny. He, like your namesake Akiva, and like my Zaide Moe, risked his life to fight tyranny. But I remember him most like this: he was always singing, and he was passionate about Jewish life and Jewish community. He taught me the importance of holding beliefs passionately while being open to the views of others, of learning for its own sake, of contributing to the wider conversation through the written word, of encountering life with a balance of seriousness and silliness. I miss him every day, and pray his memory and example inspires you as it does me.


Akiva Betzalel, you are the heir of a great spiritual legacy. We pledge to do everything we can to raise you to be worthy of the names you bear.

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