Jenn Hoos Rothberg -

Nov 13, 2023

For the Greatest Good

communities gathering and building

I have heard from many of you over the past month, checking in on how I am doing and inquiring about what we are called to do at this moment, in the aftermath of the October 7 terrorist attacks by Hamas against Israeli civilians, the rise in antisemitism in the U.S., and threats of violence against Jews at my alma mater, Cornell University, and in the city where I’m raising my children. I can’t thank you enough for your heartfelt support and commitment to our shared mission of healing our country’s divides.

In the wake of such a profound rupture, answering “How are you?” has become increasingly challenging. I am sure I am not the only one feeling that way.

I have been wondering how we can continue to bridge divides against a societal backdrop of heightened ostracization, “othering,” and the absence of belonging felt by many Americans. You may be wrestling with this question, too, and I want you to know that you are not alone.

In moments of such wrestling, especially when the hurt feels so close, it’s important to find ways to take a step back and ask ourselves a bigger question, such as “What is our collective responsibility at this moment?” I’m grateful to share a compassionate letter from our Trustee David Einhorn to Cornell students, seeking to answer that very question.

David’s letter, written on the heels of protests and violent antisemitic threats on campus, looks to our next generation as the possibility and hope we need to build a more pluralistic society, where people of different backgrounds and beliefs work together to build community, find belonging, and draw upon their differences to solve shared problems. David encourages today’s Cornellians to come together, listen, learn, and repair — the necessary ingredients to become the educated and empathetic leaders he knows they can be.

Here is an excerpt of David’s letter, written from his experience as a Cornell alum and a father of two recent Cornell graduates. I encourage you to read it in full in The Cornell Daily Sun:

“The value of diversity does not come from huddling with your own group. Rather, it comes from engaging with those who are different from you. The whole community benefits when you make that effort to engage. Whoever the ‘they’ is, they proudly wear the same Cornell sweatshirts you do.

Even on contentious issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you may be surprised by the common beliefs, values, hopes and fears that you share with someone from a different background, life experience and perspective. No matter where we live or what faith we practice, we all want to be free from bigotry and hatred. We want to contribute positively to our communities and provide for our families. We want to see our loved ones come home safely at night. And we want to live lives of meaning, with myriad opportunities that help each of us flourish and thrive.

As you confront the crisis of hyper-polarization and divisions at Cornell, I ask that you see the inherent humanity and dignity in all people, especially those with whom you disagree. This creates a campus culture that enables us to build trust and relationships across lines of difference, repair ruptures and bridge divides.”

I can’t help but think that David’s message to and belief in Cornell students can be applied to every facet of our lives today: in our homes, neighborhoods, and workplaces, as well as on our school campuses. Even if you did not go to Cornell, I hope you can see yourself in David’s letter. Let it inspire you to do the greatest good for yourself, the people you love, and the people with whom you fundamentally disagree.

As we have seen in the past month and throughout our history, international conflicts, no matter how far away, have the potential to further polarize the American public and inflame underlying threats of violence. Even though social connection and social cohesion in our country may be harder to achieve in this new context, our shared work of fostering trust among Americans and repairing the social fabric is much needed now.

It will take time to rebuild relationships, empathy, and understanding for many who are affected, and it will require all of us. I’m grateful to our partners who are meeting the moment with urgency by providing support and resources to communities experiencing rupture and heightened divisions.

In the last few weeks, I keep returning to pieces written by the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. I came upon one quote that has since stayed with me, “The world we build tomorrow is born in the stories we tell our children today.” As I put my children to bed each night, holding them a bit tighter and longer these days, I tell them fables like the one about a lion and a mouse and why acts of kindness, no matter how big or small, are never wasted.

When we see ourselves reflected in another human being, we see that our survival and well-being are inextricably linked. May this be our guiding light as we navigate such darkness.

With a hopeful* heart,

* “Optimism and hope are not the same. Optimism is the belief that the world is changing for the better; hope is the belief that, together, we can make the world better. Optimism is a passive virtue, hope an active one. It needs no courage to be an optimist, but it takes a great deal of courage to hope.”
—“To Heal a Fractured World,” Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Jenn Hoos Rothberg leads Einhorn Collaborative. Learn more about our work and more about Jenn. Sign up to receive our monthly newsletter and be the first to read Jenn’s blog posts.