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President Michael E. Hill Delivers Remarks at the 10th Anniversary Rededication of the Everett Jewish Life Center at Chautauqua

Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill addressed a gathering of Chautauquans on July 31, 2018, at the rededication and 10th anniversary celebration of the Everett Jewish Life Center at Chautauqua. His remarks as prepared for delivery, with light edits, are provided below.

It’s a joy to be here with this esteemed group of speakers and all of you. A very special thank you today to Rich and the board of the Everett Jewish Life Center, to my friend and predecessor Tom Becker, and with an abundance of gratitude to Edith Everett and your family for bestowing on the Institution this incredible gift, which has nourished our community for the past decade and stood as a symbol of welcome.

Bishop Gene Robinson (Institution vice president of religion and senior pastor) and others have touched on the importance of the Everett Jewish Life Center as a symbol of our commitment to interfaith dialogue and community. And all of those words are right and true and are shared by all of us fortunate enough to serve Chautauqua.

But today I’d like to offer that the symbolism of the Everett Jewish Life Center, in its founding and in its future direction, transcends interfaith dialogue to serve as a symbol of something even greater for Chautauqua. 

You all know well the Institution’s imperfect history with welcoming new communities within its gates. It has been a gradual climb for Chautauqua as it wrestled with all of the misperceptions that the outside world brings, and so many of you have courageously led that conversation until you made this wonderful center a critical and central part of our lives here.

And now, as you celebrate the 10th anniversary of this important convening location, you have an increased role to play as Chautauqua again asks itself Who is missing? and How do we welcome them?

As you know, the Institution has renewed its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion as it seeks to break open this wonderful community for a hurting world, and today gives me great hope that we will be successful.

The Torah, the sacred text of your very tradition, tells us that this radical call of hospitality is within the bones of your faith. “You shall not oppress the stranger for you were strangers in the land of Egypt,” it reminds us. Just as Abraham’s tent had openings on all four sides so he would see all who approached from any direction, and once he spotted anyone approaching, he would rush out into the desert to welcome them, bring them into his tent, help them wash and serve them a meal. So, too, does this 10th anniversary celebration provide us with an enduring symbol of what is possible when our community sees that someone is missing from our life and our dialogue.

As we rededicate this important place, may we be ever mindful that the sacred space of Chautauqua is calling others to find solace and rejuvenation in the charge that all must be welcome at our table if we are to realize an exploration of the best in human values.

At the close of my remarks, Rabbi David Saperstein will rededicate this sacred place of community and learning. In 2013, Rabbi Saperstein reminded his readers in an article that one of the core tenants of the Jewish tradition is to “love the stranger.” He wrote, “The question that we grapple with today — as a Jewish community, as a faith community, and as a broader American community — is what does this ‘love’ look like? How do we translate our desire and our duty to ‘love the stranger’ — an ambiguous and even impossible request — into concrete action?”

The creation of the Everett Jewish Life Center came from the concrete action of Edith and her family and those who helped plan and dream of this incredible resource. As we celebrate its 10th birthday, the question remains: How will Chautauqua live up to its duty to “love the stranger”? 

While we don’t yet have all the answers, we do have your example and your partnership to figure it out. And for that, I count myself blessed.

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