“You don’t drive away darkness with a stick” - “A little light dispels a lot of darkness.” – Chasidic sayings
In the opening of this weeks Torah portion, Abraham encounters three individuals whom he presumes to be idolaters. As far as he knows, they diametrically oppose everything he stands for, and yet, how does he react? He invites them into his tent for lunch. He doesn’t yell, attack or protest their existence or views. He doesn’t chase away the darkness with sticks, instead he lights a candle.
Sounds like the story of Matthew Stevenson and Derek Black.
Have you ever heard of Derek Black? His story blew me away!
Derek Black was a leader of the White Nationalist movement. His father is Don Black, a former KKK grand wizard who founded and runs Stormfront, the biggest racial hate site. His mother, Chloe, was previously married to former KKK leader David Duke, who happens to be Derek’s Godfather.
Derek was the future of the White Nationalist movement until 2013, when he suddenly and inexplicably renounced his racism and anti-Semitism, disassociated from white nationalism and supremacism, and apologized for the damage he had done.
His apology letter to the Southern Poverty Law Center was widely reported on at the time, but it was anyone’s guess as to his motivation. This was a real pity, because if we knew what inspired Derek change of heart, perhaps we could use it as a template to change others who are so full of hate.
Well, a few weeks ago, an investigative reporter for the Washington Post decided to find out.
And it turns out that the catalyst for Derek’s change was an invitation to Shabbat dinner!
Here’s the story: when students at New College in Florida found out that they had a leader of the White Nationalist movement in their midst, they were appalled. There were protests, calls for his expulsion from the school, and verbal abuse. Lot’s of sticks swiping at the darkness.
At the time of his original announcement in 2013, Derek said,, “It’s important to point out that the so-called activists who never spoke to me personally but chose to denounce me publicly, intimidate my friends, or otherwise try to peer pressure [me] did not have a positive impact...not to say that I don’t think those who felt marginalized or uncomfortable with me did not have the right to express their negative emotions – but these expressions did not act as catalysts or contribute to my changing mindset.”
But one New College student did make an impact.
Abraham’s descendant, Matthew Stevenson, decided to light a candle and reached out to Derek, inviting him to Shabbat dinner. Derek, who was being shunned by everyone at New College, decided to accept the invitation and went back week after week. For the first time in his life he was faced with diversity. Lively, but warm and eye-opening debates ensued and gradually Derek broke free of the prison of his own mindset.
A little light dispels a lot of darkness
Rabbi Benjy Silverman