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Rabbi Lyon's Blog - 09_12_2014
09/12/2014 07:00 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
September 12, 2014

 

If you knew that you had made a mistake that would come to light five years from now, what would you do about it, today? And, what if you knew that the mistake would offend a religious community on its holiest of days? Would you do so little about it for the next five years that all you could do was apologize as time ran out? These aren’t just rhetorical questions.

                Susan G. Komen Houston Race for the Cure admitted that they knew five years ago that the date of this year’s Race for the Cure would fall on October 4, 2014, Yom Kippur Day, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. Just days ago, they sent an email in their effort to apologize. It was signed by “Susan G. Komen® Houston”. No individual or responsible head of the organization signed the letter. Here’s the letter in full written by anonymous:

                “We would like to extend a sincere apology to the Jewish community and our active Jewish supporters for the scheduling conflict of this year's Komen Houston Race for the Cure®. We have an agreement with the City of Houston to reserve our space each year, at the same time, on the first Saturday of October - to officially kick off Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

                Five years ago, when we noticed that this date would overlap with Yom Kippur, we did everything in our power to switch the date of the Race and still keep the event going strong as an important fundraiser for Komen Houston's grantees. Unfortunately, our options were limited and we were ultimately unable to change the date from October 4th, 2014.

                Although we are aware of the message that scheduling the Race for the Cure over this important holiday may send, we must express that we did not intend any disrespect or to undervalue the significance of this holy day. We thank you for your understanding and for helping to preserve the mission of Susan G. Komen's Race for the Cure® and promise to do our best to prevent similar mistakes in the future.

                Our staff, volunteers and partners wish you a Happy New Year and an easy fast, and we hope to see you at the Race in 2015.”

 

                Over the course of five years, any truly concerned organization would have found a better solution. Komen claims that had they sought an alternate date, say in November, they would have lost their “grandfathered” commitment to the first Saturday in October. It’s not true. I have it on good authority that the City of Houston never prevented them from choosing another date under the condition of losing their annual date in October. Had Komen moved their date the community would have gladly joined them. Cancer doesn’t happen only in October, as a mindful leader in Houston recently said to me.

                I’m a forgiving person and Yom Kippur is the day we come before God to seek forgiveness, because we’ve already sought and received forgiveness from each other. However, in Judaism, the process of repentance is not an anonymous one. We must identify the transgression and ask for forgiveness, personally. Komen claims that “we did everything in our power” except that Komen doesn’t have the power they think they have, so the results were bound to disappoint. Komen claims “we did not intend any disrespect or to undervalue the significance of this holy day”, but they did. Intentions and deeds are two different things. Their intentions were potentially good, but five years is a long time to fail to reach a better outcome. Had Komen said “we failed to pay respect to our supporters” and signed the letter personally, then I would have acknowledged an attempt to understand the Jewish community’s humiliation by a large non-profit organization. But, they concluded with a “promise to do our best to prevent similar mistakes in the future”. What do they mean by “similar mistakes”? Don’t they mean the “same mistake”? And, if they had five years and did their worst, what should we expect from them in less than five years? From the text of the apology, their letter hardly heals the wound they believe they caused; not when an anonymous email sent to assuage thousands of supporters in Houston ends with a glad-handed remark, “See you at the Race in 2015”. Komen Foundation failed to understand the role that minority communities play in our modern society, be they women, Jewish, or both.

                Even though Komen’s founder, Nancy Brinker, is Jewish and a Texan, and there is a local Jewish Board member, there was no effort made to learn how to make amends before an offended religious community according to its customs and manners. Jews are not a mystery in Houston. Congregation Beth Israel is celebrating 160 years in Houston, and is the oldest synagogue in Texas. Our interfaith and community-building relations are a strong part of our legacy in Houston, the most diverse and culturally respectful community in the country.

                Susan G. Komen Houston’s vague and anonymous apology doesn’t measure up to the standard of any faith tradition’s path to forgiveness. In 2012, after the fiasco with a Komen national board member who withheld funding for Planned Parenthood and women’s health, a former supporter of Komen told a reporter, “You only have so much time, effort and money to give.” Indeed.

                Let me conclude with my own brief note to Komen. Dear Susan G. Komen® Houston: My wife, Lisa, and I, are terribly sorry for being unable to support Komen any longer. We have learned that there is just so much time, effort and money to give. We’ve found other organizations that accept greater personal responsibility to honor the health of all women and their respective faith traditions, which bind them to serious deeds and not just vague intentions to make a difference in the world when it really matters, today.

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