As I reported to the Executive Board when we met this past Tuesday, I received calls at the end of last week from several of our members about Dr. Gardyn’s closing remarks at the most recent meeting of the Board of Trustees. In recognizing the Yom Kippur holiday, Dr. Gardyn said “To those of the tribe, I wish you a very speedy and quick Yom Kippur.” Dr. Gardyn’s use of the phrase “of the tribe” raised questions for those who contacted me because, while the expression “member of the tribe” is a phrase used by some in the Jewish community to refer to other Jews, not only is it not universal; the idea of Jews as “tribal,” as a people who hold themselves apart and are therefore, among other things, not to be trusted, has a long history in the rhetoric of antisemitism. These members also wondered why Dr. Gardyn wished NCC’s Jewish community a “speedy and quick Yom Kippur,” given that the holiday is a very serious and somber one. (“Have an easy fast” is the more common pre-holiday greeting.)
After watching the video myself last Friday—I had been unable to attend the BOT meeting—I contacted President Williams and our Chief Diversity Office, Dr. Craig Wright, to share with them the concerns that had been shared with me. Dr. Wright quickly arranged a meeting between myself and Dr. Gardyn, which took place this past Wednesday. At that meeting, Dr. Gardyn read to me a statement he had prepared, which he has given me permission to post on our blog. (See below.) The statement—a deeply felt and informed expression of Dr. Gardyn’s personal experience with Jewish life—speaks, I think, for itself. I do want to acknowledge, however, Dr. Gardyn’s choice not to get defensive or hide behind a canned apology. Not only does this choice deserve our respect. It demonstrates the kind of meaningful and constructive engagement that can move conversations about issues like this forward, as befits the mission of an institution of public higher education.