Rabbi Sharon Brous shared the importance of being empathetic in a time of fear and division due to the various cases of racial injustice in society to an audience of 165 people Tuesday in a virtual lecture hosted by Pomona College.
G. Gabrielle Starr, president of Pomona College, led the discussion of this week’s installment in a series called “Presidential Dialogues.” Brous and Starr discussed the increase of anti-Semitism, which is the hostility or prejudice against Jewish people, in the United States.
“Part of what I think is happening in our country right now is that we are experiencing a real moral crisis, ” Brous said. “There’s not just a massive political rift but there’s a question on what path America might follow.”
Brous is the founding rabbi of the post-denominational Jewish congregation and community group called IKAR, founded in 2004 in Los Angeles. Being an alumna of Pomona College, Brous shared her teachings with students and staff.
Karen Fagan, director of public programming and community relations at Pomona College, coordinated the event and said she enjoys Brous’s lectures as they provide insight to the various Jewish communities in the U.S.
“Rabbi Brous is so passionate and inspiring,” Fagan said.
In the lecture, Brous explained that people in positions of power often rely on dividing populations and generating fear, especially among minority groups.
“Anti-Semitism plays a huge role in white nationalist ideas,” Brous said. “It’s racist and damaging.”
However, Brous has understood that around the country, the Jewish community often leaves out Jews of color. Since the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement this year, she has noticed a lack of inclusivity when it comes to the various racial groups within the Jewish community.
“We have failed to create an environment that feels safe and inclusive,” Brous said. “If we do not look within ourselves and fix ourselves, we will continue to fail Jews of color.”
Brous mentioned that it is important for everyone to focus on building a world of unity through human dignity and empathy. She shared her past experiences with various groups, and she said a big factor that made her so open minded about hearing other people’s stories is her own connection with Jewish history.
Starr praised Brous for her confession and shared her personal experience on that matter as well that touched a few members of the audience and prompted them to share their own stories.
“There’s one thing that’s similar in these stories and it’s that there’s something someone took from you that can never be replaced,” Starr said. “Sometimes it’s symbolic – a small possession, a person, a location – but it’s an unforgivable loss.”
Brous said she wanted to share the importance of using empathy to restore the feeling of community. Through action and understanding, it will prevent people from oppressing different minority groups.
Rabbi Danny Shapiro, Jewish chaplain and Hillel director at the Claremont Colleges, commended Brous for her work and efforts to spread awareness on fighting social injustices within the Jewish community, and taking a step forward to help other groups.
“We will hopefully continue to raise these important voices with time,” Shapiro said.
Deja Goode can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.