Weekly Newsletter Message

Derek Black's Story

“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

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Benjy Silverman

If You Think Trump is Bad

“One good deed is worth a thousand sighs” – Chasidic Saying

To those who supported Trump, congratulations. You can stop reading now. The rest of this email is not for you :)

However, for  those completely devastated by the election results. For those who are  depressed, unable to move on, fearful that we have entered a very dark chapter in our history, consider the following.

This week we read the Torah portion of Lech-Lecha, in which we are introduced to Abraham. 

Abraham lived during very dark times.  The “President” at the time was a fellow named Nimrod.

If you think Trump is bad, you’ve never met Nimrod.

He was about as depraved as one can be. “Might makes right” was his entire Weltanschauung.

Yet, Abraham didn’t mope, he didn’t walk around depressed, announcing that the world is coming to end.

Instead, he stood up and took action. He taught, inspired and led by example. He spread his values of morality, charity, equality, compassion and kindness.   

Abraham didn’t yell at the darkness, he lit a candle.  The darkness actually motivated him.  He saw it as a call to action.  

If you feel the situation is dire, then it is selfish to sit around and mope.  Get up and do something. This is your call to action.

Jews are galvanized by darkness, not terrified by it.

Like Abraham your ancestor, share your values.   Not your politics, but rather your values.  Your politics will convince no-one,  your values will inspire everyone.

What is at the core of your politics? What values drive your vote?  Equality? Respect for every human being? Freedom? Tolerance? A responsibility to help the underprivileged?  

Whatever it may be, share those values. Teach, inspire, and most importantly, lead by example. Treat everyone you encounter with full respect, including  complete strangers, your next-door neighbor who irks you,  and yes, even the Trump supporter.  Go out of your way to help the underprivileged, not only the homeless or minorities, but also the guy at work who may be lower on the totem pole.

Don’t yell at the darkness light a candle.

Abraham lit a candle and changed the world forever . You can do the same.

Shabbat Shalom 

Rabbi Benjy Silverman

P.S.  The following videos and articles may help put things in perspective, although I do not personally vouch for any of them. 

-       A 30 minute in depth approach -

-       A quick somewhat humorous approach -

-       A

short article

that someone sent me


Little Things Matter

Do I truly matter? Do my actions really make any difference? Will the world really fall apart if I tell a little lie or commit some other “sin”? 

Mr. Anthony Weiner probably didn’t think so when he sent some text messages to a fifteen year old.
Yet, his actions are now having a major impact on the elections and may actually determine the next President of the most the powerful country on earth!
For the better or worse our actions do make a difference. Every word, thought, and action can have a tremendous impact. 
As Maimonides writes, “a Jew must view himself and the entire world as equally balanced between good and evil, one good deed can tip the scale to the good and bring healing to the entire world….”
Often we don’t get to see the consequences of our actions, but rest assured that every action creates a ripple effect.

As a matter of fact, every major event in history can be traced back to a single action performed by a single individual. Like Mohammed Bouazizi who set himself on fire instigating the Arab Spring or Eddie Jacobson, the haberdasher, who convinced President Truman to meet with Chaim Weizmann inspiring America’s recognition of the State of Israel.

Remember, G-d does big things with our small deeds. Moses had a stick, David a sling and Samson a jawbone.
Had Mr. Weiner been aware of the far-reaching ramifications of his actions he may very well have found the moral courage to refrain from indulging in his vices.
The awareness of the far-reaching consequences of every one of our actions can serve as a tremendous source of inspiration and motivation.
Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Benjy Silverman
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