William Hamilton

Faith in people

People can be discerning.  At their best, they can be measured.  Participants in the ADL New England Leadership Seminar in Israel: Resiliency and Counterterrorism witnessed presenters who were reflective and self-critical.

From a Christian-Arab Police Chief overseeing Jerusalem’s Old City, to the Palestinian Commander of the Bethlehem District; from a mother who survived a near-fatal terror attack who is dedicated to instilling courage in children of disabled parents, to an astute Palestinian journalist who offered an overview of the region’s challenges, the New England ADL’s largest and most geographically expansive delegation of Law Enforcement leaders has just completed an extraordinary experience in Israel. 

Encounters throughout our eight-day Seminar, which coincided with Hanukkah, oscillated between commitments to security and moments of solemnity.  Most impressive was the degree to which young people are committed to serving causes much larger than themselves.

One young Israeli presenter at dinner last Wednesday offered a helpful framing of a purpose-driven life.  “Ask yourself three questions. Do I love what I do?  Am I good at what I do?  Is what I am doing truly meaningful?”  The vast majority of those who become engaged in law enforcement, across borders and backgrounds, answer these questions affirmatively.  They are trying to make a positive difference in their communities. 

An example of a lesson we learned from those entrusted with guarding Holy Sites.  How should a police officer most effectively de-escalate anger?  Or, how can she or he restore dignity to a person stung by shame?  The same remedy applies in both instances: respect.  An angry person and a humiliated person both feel disrespected.  Acting to replenish a measure of respect is more likely to lessen animosity and to restore dignity. 

For me one of the most religious dimensions of our Seminar went beyond rituals and biblical settings.  It touched rather on how religion strives to bind us together and to make us better versions of ourselves.  Humility and the capacity to be self-critical do indeed restore faith in people.

All of us – participants and presenters from diverse upbringings and beliefs – are deeply imperfect.  But we all share a striving to become better.  The recognition of this and the responsibility to act upon it can prove most faith-warming of all.  This is why we return to our communities throughout New England inspired to bring fresh resolve to serving and protecting in ways that promote dignity and honor.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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