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A Yom Kippur Call for Civility

on Thursday, September 12 2013. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

Over the next day, we will stand before the Almighty and pound our chests with remorse and regret as we recite the litany of “al cheits.”  Remarkably, over one quarter of the admissions of wrongdoing that we enumerate deal with speech and how over this past year we have abused our power to communicate.

Speech is uniquely human and was designed to create connections.  We use speech to communicate with God through prayer and to draw closer to one another by sharing thoughts, feelings, perspectives and dreams.  When speech is used to judge, dismiss, marginalize or create division, the power of speech has been abused and the gift of communication has been desecrated.

The Talmud notes that just as no two people share exactly the same DNA, so too, no two people think and behave exactly the same way.  Indeed, our differences and diversity provide meaningful  relationships in which we complement one another.

However, when our differences lead to conflict, tension and disgraceful vilification, rather than contribute positively, they tear us apart.  This time of year in which we recite the many “al cheits” and take responsibility for our irresponsible forms of speech, is the perfect time to remind ourselves of our community’s commitment to civility in general and civil discourse in particular.

With that background, we are proud to present you with the recently approved and adopted BRS Civility Statement.  Under the excellent leadership of our Chairman, a committee of five men and women, in partnership with me and our President, authored the attached statement.  It was approved by both the Executive Board and the Board of Directors to be implemented broadly.

The statement is not about regulating behavior on our campus; it is about clearly articulating a value of our community and a code of conduct we feel is a basic Torah principle to be adhered to at Boca Raton Synagogue or anywhere else.  The statement’s goal is not to stifle debate or silence disagreement on any area including religion or politics.  Rather, the purpose of the statement, and the goal of asking every member to sign on to it, is to affirm our commitment that debate occur with dignity and honor and that every member of our community, no matter their particular opinion on any given topic, feel welcome and safe on our campus and in our community.  Uncivil dialogue, name-calling and abusive language are simply inexcusable anywhere, but particularly in a house of Hashem, where people come to find community, inspiration and spirituality.

Beginning immediately, the Civility Statement will appear in all significant BRS literature and its text will hang in our lobby.  Additionally, each of our guest speakers and scholars in residence will be provided a copy of our civility document when they are invited to speak in order to confirm that they feel comfortable with our community’s philosophy in this area.  Over the course of this year, we hope to provide sermons and classes on the dignity of difference and the value of respectful debate.

In an effort to affirm our community’s pledge to this policy, the Board of Directors requests that every member indicate their commitment to adhere to the statement.  We will be sending a copy of the statement in the mail.  You can indicate your desire to be listed as accepting and supporting the statement by returning a signed copy to the office or by sending an email to mjh@brsonline.org

We thank you in advance for your full cooperation.  In the merit of our collective commitment to be vigilant in the way we speak to and about one another, may we all be sealed for a year of good health, prosperity, nachas and blessing.

Gmar Chasima Tova,

Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

 

Boca Raton Synagogue Civility Statement
In the spirit of our mission “Valuing Diversity and Celebrating Unity,” we believe that a community is built on the collective engagement of individuals representing differing perspectives, whether religious, political, or social. As Boca Raton Synagogue is an environment where all of its members and visitors need to feel valued and welcomed, members are required to comport themselves in a manner which reflects mutual respect and a sense of inclusiveness.

In our Synagogue, we value debate about pressing issues. This is consistent with the American democratic tradition. Our sages saw the value of arguments conducted l”shem shamayim“ for the sake of heaven,” believing that great minds who engage in respectful debate, will arrive at better solutions. They valued and welcomed alternate views, as do we.

“Derech Eretz,” good and proper conduct, and mutually respectful dialogue are core values of the Synagogue community. These create a “safe place” for inspiration and spiritual growth, the central purpose of the Synagogue. It is a violation of Jewish law and ethics to use harsh language (vitriol) to demonize or to marginalize people with whom one may disagree. Uncivil expression reflects negatively on our Synagogue as well as on the individuals who engage in such behavior.

Boca Raton Synagogue expects its members to act and to speak with kindness and sensitivity to others. It is only in this fashion that a strong, vibrant, and harmonious community can be created and maintained. Adherence to this policy is a requirement for membership in good standing at the Boca Raton Synagogue.

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