I am concerned, very concerned, that we are turning away from the most important words of the Torah. Rabbi Akiba is quoted in the Talmud as saying, “The most significant words in the Torah are the words that God created human beings in God’s own image.”
Everything we do follows from this insight. We learn that we must treat others as we would wish to be treated. As we begin the New Year, facing ourselves in the mirror each morning, it is important that these teachings guide all that we do and all that we say. If, indeed, we believe that we are all made b’tzelem Elohim (in God’s image) then we must strive daily to treat all of God’s creations with the respect deserved by every human being.
I am distressed by what seems to be a bullying epidemic. Adults, children and teens are ostracized for being different — for wearing the “wrong” T-shirt, for not being “cool,” for not being good athletes. The hurt, the damage that these encounters create must be addressed. I cannot stand idly by and accept a society that targets those who are perceived to be the weakest.
This month, as school districts mark a “Week of Respect” by rallying around anti-bullying programs, Temple Emanuel has enlisted leading experts, philanthropists, musical theater groups and exhibitors to inaugurate a free, nondenominational Anti-Bullying Day and Just For You Expo in Support of Special Needs™.
Why the long title and entwining of these two important issues? I have learned that those with special needs face their own unique challenges and are often singled out and humiliated. In ways comparable, I was bullied in middle school and know firsthand its negative effects. I was shorter in stature and not very athletic. Not knowing whom to speak to, whether I should come forward and tell, I kept my pain private.
Bullying today is very different in that it often takes the form of cyberbullying. Most times bullying is equated with power and seeking acceptance by the larger group. Some bullies behave as they do because of a difficulty in processing their own emotions. They become antagonistic, impulsive and aggressive. This is usually to cover up their own insecurities about becoming a target or victim; so they victimize others. My concern is for the agitated at both ends of this spectrum. The person who needs to promote himself or herself by putting down others is as much in need of support and love as the individual on the receiving end of the diatribe.
We serve God not just through prayer and ritual but by our acts and deeds. The way we behave brings us closer to the likeness and image of God. The answer to how we choose to react when faced with harassment is literally in our own God-given hands.
We teach that Judaism embraces all people to make a real contribution to the issues of our times, the values by which we can live in justice and peace and sustain life. We inclusively seek to solve problems rather than create them, to open doors, not erect barriers.
We understand doubt and uncertainty. We prize our tradition of questioning, knowing that answers are often fleeting divine glimpses of a spiritual journey toward living truth through our core values.
Tikkun olam, a sacred path to repairing the world, advocates humanity’s shared responsibility for moral mitzvot. We are obligated to create a harmonious community and increase appreciation for the richness that diversity brings. We are directed by the precept “Do not stand by idly as your neighbor bleeds” (Leviticus 19:16).
To that end, and to faithfully redirect negative behaviors and increase appreciation for diversity, Temple Emanuel is partnering with the Anti-Defamation League to implement No Place for Hate®, an innovative and powerful program designed to challenge anti-Semitism, racism, hatred and bigotry in all forms.
No illusory bandage can hide the permanent harm that bullying and targeting create. Together, perhaps, we can learn to make the world a healing place where we strive to live and learn in harmony.
Rabbi Jerome P. David is senior rabbi at Temple Emanuel in Cherry Hill, N.J. The anti-bullying event will take place on Sunday, Oct. 21, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., at Cherry Hill High School East. For more information, go to: www.templeemanuel.org/expo.php  or contact event organizer Deb Berger at 609-314-4343 or [email protected] .