February 22, 2017
Monday afternoon I landed in O'Hare after a quick trip to New York, and only when I turned on my phone after landing did I see the scary news that we were "next." Cognitively I had felt it was coming, but there is no mental exercise to steel yourself for recognizing the historic truth that Jews are and will always be "different." We were fortunate not to have any children present or activities going on at Rodfei and the JCC at the time the building was evacuated. We also need to pause and thank our great staff of Sherry, Jacqui, and Alejandro. They followed the safety procedures perfectly and deserve a tremendous amount of credit for not only being our first line of defense but also for their measured and calm handling of this delicate yet scary threat. I also want to acknowledge the cooperative and supportive response on the part of the Jewish Enrichment Center staff and teachers who were present in the building. We are grateful for the response of the Chicago Police Department in investigating the threat.
What next? The only thought that feels right is to continue to do what we always do: learn, pray, and eat together, in and out of our building, while continuing our unique ability to support each other. This is what makes 5200 South Hyde Park Boulevard our home. I hope you will join us this Shabbat as we welcome guest speaker Judy Levey, executive director of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs. Also, next Sunday, March 5th, Rodfei Zedek will host our friends from KAMII and our neighbors in Hyde Park, Ellis Avenue Church and St. Paul and the Redeemer for a potluck dinner and discussion titled "Strangers to Neighbors."
We already had this interfaith get-together planned before Monday, but now it feels more urgent. I spoke with Rev. Jonathan Friesen from Ellis Avenue Church, and he asked if we ought to change the trajectory of the evening and have the focus localized on this latest wave of anti‑Semitic threats. My response was that this should only strengthen our determination to come together for a shared evening of discussion. We should double down on the need to get to know each other better, recognizing publicly that friendship and understanding will certainly be a better response than turning inward and closing ourselves off.
Yes, we were the victims of a cowardly threat on Monday, and sadly it may not be the last one nor will we be the only ones. This is our time to demonstrate with clear vision and an open heart that we know what we are up against and that pursuing it all together is the only clear path forward. We must stare into the face of threats and hate, fear-mongering and ignorance to demonstrate for our community and for others that this will not break our resolve. Others have been here for us, and we will be there for others.
I know I was not the only one who was shaken, nor could I stop mind from drifting to any number of hypothetical scenarios. But Sherry and Jacqui, as well as the JCC staff have been vigilant and aggressive in pursuing every avenue to ensure our safety and follow best practices. I want to thank our president Lou Philipson as well as Jim Gimpel and Andrea Frazier for their work on the building's security. I also want to thank Rabbi Milder and her team at the JEC for all of their diligence and efforts—thank you. Thank you to everyone for your support and concern.
I do not want to disregard the significance of this bomb threat, nor can we ignore the obvious fact that we are now facing a new reality of prejudice and anti‑Semitism. But we cannot allow this one act to alter our hopeful spirit, to shift our open arms to clenched fists. We have an extraordinary community, and we must not allow this to disrupt the beauty that lives in this building.
Shalom, Rabbi Minkus