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Rabbi David Saperstein, Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Memorandum to UAHC Congregations to Further Help Victims of September 11th Tragedy and Their Work in Stopping Hate Crimes

September 25, 2001
8 Tishrei 5761

To: UAHC Congregations

From: Rabbi David Saperstein, Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

Re: Responding to September 11, 2001


It has now been two weeks since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. While the events themselves may have revealed the worst of human nature, the tremendous outpouring of support for the victims and their families, the tireless work of the rescue squads and clean-up crews, and the unprecedented (at least in recent years) feelings of national unity have also shown us some of the best of humanity.

We have been proud of the role that so many UAHC congregations have played as leaders in their communities, organizing interfaith services, collecting supplies and raising hundreds of thousands of dollars. The UAHC Disaster Relief fund alone has received thousands of donations, raising over $400,000 so far. And we are also quite mindful of the role that the clergy of our Movement, especially in New York and New Jersey, have played in consoling the bereaved.

And yet, there is still so much more that must be done. This memo highlights just a few ideas of programs that your congregation can do in the wake of the attacks, both in terms of helping the victims and their families, as well as in the important work in reaching out to the Muslim, Arab and Sikh American communities that have been the targets of hundreds of hate crimes.

Helping the Victims

The outpouring of supplies, blood donations and non-perishable foods has, literally, over-whelmed the relief organizations. At this time, most organizations are asking that groups hold off on sending supplies, and instead focus on raising funds for the relief organizations that are on the ground and will best be able to determine the exact needs at any given time. I want to remind you that the UAHC Disaster Relief Fund is raising money for this effort and for the families of the victims, and you can make donations online at www.uahc.org/relief/sept11.html or by sending a check to the UAHC Disaster Relief Fund, 633 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017.

In addition to raising money, congregations may also consider the following ideas:

  • Yartzheit Candles: Many of you may have seen the e-mail going around suggesting that people should light an extra Yartzheit candle in their home on Yom Kippur for the victims of the attacks. If it is too late for you to notify members of your congregation, you may want to suggest that they do so on October 11, 2001, at the end of sheloshim.
  • Blood Drives: Many congregations already have an annual or semi-annual blood drive. If you don't already have one set up in the coming months, work with your local Red Cross to set one up at your congregation. For small congregations, you may want to partner with a local church or mosque. While the current needs are being met, there has been a national blood shortage for quite some time and it is important to be addressing this issue on an on-going basis.

Working to Stop Hate

We have all been disturbed by the reports of physical and verbal assaults on anyone who looks like the perpetrators of the hijacking. Within days of the attack, the UAHC issued a strong statement expressing our deep concern about these incidents. (It is available on-line at www.uahc.org/sept11.)

There are reports of hundreds of incidents involving not only Arab and Muslim Americans, but also Sikhs and anyone else with features appearing to be from the Middle East or the Indian sub-continent, as well as their religious institutions and businesses owned and utilized by these communities. These incidents have reportedly included murders, assault, vandalism and verbal abuse, leaving hundreds of thousands of Americans afraid to leave their homes.

As the frequent targets of such attacks throughout our history, we well know our mandate to stand up to such discrimination. (Indeed, there have also been isolated attacks against Jewish institutions and we are working to ensure that these institutions also receive the support they need.) The Religious Action Center has been inundated by phone calls from rabbis and other Jewish professionals looking for ways to respond and sharing what is happening in their community. Here are just a few of the congregational activities that we have heard about:

  • At the University of Arizona, the Hillel and the Islamic Center on campus sponsored a joint blood drive and held a joint memorial service, at which a local rabbi and imam spoke. Over 1000 people attended.
  • Rabbi Karen Bender (Temple Judea, Tarzana, CA) invited members of her congregation to display in their windows, for the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the symbol of the crescent moon with star, a symbol of Islam. She provided a photocopy of it for them, which she had downloaded from the Internet and coordinated it with the local Islamic Community.

In addition to replicating the above ideas, you may also want to consider the following programs:

  • Invite leaders of the Muslim and Sikh communities in your area to come address your synagogue and offer to attend a service at their house of worship as a show of solidarity. If you need more information on who to call in your community, contact your local Jewish Community Relations Council.
  • When there are threats against schools or other institutions, work with the community leaders to hold vigils to express solidarity and protect the premises. In some communities, people have literally banded together to surround and protect threatened houses of worship.
  • Working with the interfaith community in your area, set up programs to escort children to school and adults in public who feel threatened.
  • In the event of vandalism, gather together members of your congregation and your community to help clean up the damage.
  • If a house of worship is damaged or destroyed, open up your own facilities for worship.

One of the complicating aspects of this effort is that several national Muslim or Arab-American organizations or leaders have either been slow to condemn terrorism against Israel or have been outrightly supportive of groups like Hamas. The same may be true in your community. Our efforts to reach out to the victims and targets of hate crimes should not mute our efforts to challenge the espousal of such positions – but neither should our helping the victims inany way be conditional upon changing the views of organizations or their leaders. This dynamic may, however, play a role in shaping which leaders or organizations you choose as partners in doing this work. You may want to consult your local Community Relations Council for guidance.

At this difficult time, it is critically important that we unite with all Americans and demonstrate that the values of equality, justice and fairness, upon which America and Judaism were built, were not destroyed in the attack against our nation.

The entire RAC staff joins me in sending our warmest wishes for a sweet and peaceful New Year.



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