On Friday, I woke up before 8:00 am for the first time in probably over a year to set up the Great Lawn for Celebrate Brandeis. I think the approximately 300 Brandeisians who attended Celebrate Brandeis would also attest that waking up early was well worth sacrificing some sleep.
On December 3rd at 8:45 am the Westboro Baptist Church arrived in Waltham with a message of religious intolerance and extremism. Instead of fueling the fire with more antagonism, we responded by celebrating our values: tolerance, pluralism, social justice and love.
We ate, sang songs of peace, painted and danced in what was probably Brandeis’ largest Hora. The lawn was filled with undergraduates as well as graduate students, faculty, administrators, staff and Waltham community members. President Reinharz and President-elect Lawrence were present to support this student-led initiative, as well as all four of the Chaplains.
Throughout the rest of the day, the events in the SCC and the success of Hillel’s Harry Potter Shabbat further displayed Brandeis’ diversity and overarching commitment to pursuing a better world.
More significantly, we raised almost 4,000 dollars for Keshet, a Boston based Jewish GLBTQ organization. Over 1,400 individuals signed our “Commitment to Celebrate” statement: http://bit.ly/CelebrateBrandeis
Although Celebrate Brandeis may have originated as a productive and meaningful response to the “visit” from Westboro Baptist Church, in my opinion, it took on a life of its own; Brandeis, like many places, is oversaturated with groups, activities, and service projects. Students at Brandeis come from across the globe, representing a wide spectrum of faiths and political perspectives. However, on December 3rd, we stood completely united in supporting Hillel and the wider Brandeis community not in spite of our differences, but because of them.
Personally, I felt very empowered, humbled and overwhelmed by this positive response. Celebrate Brandeis originated from the minds of a couple passionate students sitting in Hillel Lounge on a Saturday night. It grew to include the voices of over 100 concerned students joining together in the Castle Commons for a shared purpose. The culmination included a massive cross section of campus with the support of the administration, staff, alumni, family, friends and the wider Boston community.
December 3rd has come and passed; but this does not mean we should forget this experience or stop being united through our diversity and pursuing social justice. Because at Brandeis, we know that we are better together. Westboro Baptist Church members have climbed into their van and taken their tour of hate elsewhere. However, I am confident that Brandeisians will continue working to build a world where screams of hate are drowned out by songs of pluralism.
To me, this is something truly worth celebrating.