I am sitting down to write this article after a week of senseless killings, motivated by white supremacy and racial hatred for anyone who is different.
Unfortunately the world we are living in reminds us of the horrors we endured in the Second World War. As post-Holocaust Jews, we are forced to confront bigotry and ethnic intolerance through a lens clouded by the devastating events of a recent past.
Although we have documented survivor stories, in writing and on video, and we have shared them time and again, there are still those amongst us who deny these events. Racial and ethnic intolerance is at an all-time high and people are victimized because of the color of their skin, their ethnicity, their sexual orientation, their country of origin, and their chosen profession.
This is not acceptable and the Torah tells us to “not stand idly by.”
As he grew up, Ryan Neutel, currently a high school junior at TVT, was privileged to live close to his grandparents. His grandfather had survived the Holocaust and Ryan often heard stories of survival, of loss, of hardship and of resilience.
This legacy, combined with growing up in a large, loving and supportive family, well-grounded in Jewish tradition, life and values, has shaped the young man Ryan has become.
Ryan recently visited Poland and Israel with his classmates. A few weeks ago, at a Shabbat dinner, I asked Ryan what he thought of the trip. Although most students who go on this trip will tell you that they found Mejdonik to be profoundly impactful, Ryan had a different, more personal answer.
Ryan said the most meaningful part of this trip was walking through the gas chamber at Auschwitz. As he stood in that empty, sterile, ugly room, Ryan realized that this was the location where many of his ancestors and family members had been terminated, simply because they were Jewish.
He then deduced that since he was standing in this gas chamber, albeit many years after the atrocities had been committed, he represented the continuation and survival of the Jewish nation.
Ryan Neutel represents the very best of our youth. He is grounded, has strong family values, firmly rooted in Jewish tradition and knowledge, is smart, a mensch and a thoughtful leader.
As we approach Rosh Hashanah in these tumultuous and frightening times, it is emerging leaders like Ryan who give us hope for the future. They own and understand the past and will use that to chart the path forward toward a better tomorrow for us all.
Ryan will not “stand idly by” as he forges a path filled with opportunities that many of his ancestors were denied.
SUE PENN is currently the Director of Congregational Learning at University Synagogue where she oversees all education from ages 4-104. Sue has been honored for being an innovative educator and is committed to creative approaches in Jewish Education. Sue currently sits on the Board of the Jewish National Fund of Orange County, and of the Reconstructionist Educators of North America, where she was a previous chair. She is also co-president of the Orange County Jewish Educator Association. Sue also runs educational webinars for the Reconstructionist Movement.