From the Desk of Michael Hynes: Now more than ever: Extinguishing antisemitism and the need for civic discourse

From the Desk of Michael Hynes: Now more than ever: Extinguishing antisemitism and the need for civic discourse

For the past five years, I have grown to truly appreciate and love our school district and community. I’ve never experienced a location that has so many talented, intelligent and caring people in one area like Port Washington.

As a school district and community, we often state that “Diversity is our strength; that every child and adult deserves to be treated with respect, dignity and fairness, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or religion.” It’s hard to argue against the notion of respect, dignity and the strength of a diverse community.

Sadly, and recently, a group of our young high school students created and shared an antisemitic social media post. To say this incident has had a profoundly hurtful impact on our community would be an understatement…especially to our Jewish friends, children and families. When you compound this with the crisis in Israel, it produces even more emotions.

Over the past several weeks I’ve spoken with a multitude of parents, students, educators in our school district and the amazing Rabbis in our Port community.

One thing is certain, far too many are anxious, scared, sad and angry about the increase in antisemitism locally, regionally and nationally. Some parents fear sending their children to school. We are at the point where you can’t pick up the newspaper or watch the news without observing a new antisemitic incident on Long Island.

So, I go back to what I mentioned earlier as to how Port Washington believes, “Diversity is our strength; that every child and adult deserve to be treated with respect, dignity and fairness, regardless of their race, ethnicity or religion” and I ask us the hard question, “Are we really doing enough?”

Truth be told; we aren’t even close. I ask a more precise question, “What are we doing to address antisemitism as a district and as a community?” My opinion is… not enough. From the school district perspective, it’s time to change this narrative starting now.

As the leader of this incredible school system, I set the tone. I can do better, and I am confident that as a community, we can do better. It begins with stating an incident is antisemitic when it happens in very clear language. We need all hands-on deck so we can all work on this together.

Change begins with each one of us, and we must educate ourselves and our community about the history and consequences of antisemitism in a more substantial way than what we are currently doing. I am committed now more than ever and will certainly need your help.

We must engage in open and empathetic conversations, fostering understanding and unity. I don’t believe this one incident defines us, but it does shed light on the work that must be done and will only be successful if we do this together.

Unfortunately, what many of us are experiencing at this time in history is a nation of people who inhabit a world that is completely binary.

A world where one is either right or wrong, it’s black or white, there is no gray at all. Anything presented with context or nuance is a lost cause.

Gone are the days of looking at a complex problem and seeking to understand. Listening to understand, not just react… we are living in a nation where civic discourse has almost completely eroded.

A divided community or society can return to civic discourse only if the people on each side make themselves vulnerable to being challenged on their convictions and open to the possibility of alternative perspectives; to respect the humanity of those who disagree. Everyone’s voice must be valued.

Right now, our Jewish community needs us. Let’s work to extinguish antisemitism in our schools and in our incredible Port Washington Community. Let’s do so by having the much-needed civic and empathetic conversations that will help us achieve this goal…by everyone working together.

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