Broadening Our Community and Bringing Us Closer

Reflecting on the inaugural year of the Konar Center for Tolerance and Jewish Studies.

by Hava Leipzig Holzhauer, J.D.

illustration of people assembling a town

It is not by chance that the Konar Center for Tolerance and Jewish Studies has become a reality at Nazareth College this year. We are challenged at global, national, and local levels to find balance among personal identity and community; healthy migration and nationalism; free speech and openness, and safety and security. As a country, we struggle to claim individual identity without losing foundational, aspirational ideas such as graciousness, broadmindedness, and understanding.

Nazareth’s long history includes what was then revolutionary – the Sisters of St. Joseph founded the College to offer higher education to Catholic young women, who were then deeply underserved in the realm of education and opportunity. Although Nazareth now is religiously independent, the College has continued to recognize the importance for its students of learning both the historical role and the current relevance of world religions. Religion is a significant piece of identity for so many. This identity plays out by way of day-to-day obligation and ritual for some, but also plays out in our understanding of history, and in ethical living as practiced by individuals. Religion often gives shape to our understanding of community and the imperative to embrace other people. Through scholarship and programming, the Konar Center rounds out learning opportunities about the Abrahamic faiths with Jewish study opportunities and enhances the conversation on matters of social justice.

The Konar Center’s other primary focus, tolerance and understanding, highlights service to community and heart-led leadership through a Jewish lens. The Center is a natural fit, integrating into and enhancing programming and scholarship that are already a priority for Nazareth’s Center for Spirituality, Hickey Center for Interfaith Studies and Dialogue, Community and Belonging Department, Religious Studies Department, and Naz’s myriad of alternative breaks, service trips, and more.

One way the Konar Center positively affected our campus and surrounding communities in its inaugural year was through a Sukkot holiday program, “Welcoming Today’s Stranger.” This event was an opportunity to explore ”welcoming,” and to find ways to be better at it. Nazareth students heard from a fellow student, a volunteer with the local working migrant population that supports New York’s apple-growing industry. Another student, who was the first in her family to leave the Dominican Republic and come to America, shared her story. Within the context of Jewish responsibility to welcome the stranger during the Sukkot holiday, Nazareth students engaged in reflection on their experiences with welcoming and explored ways to welcome more effectively in the future.

For International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Konar Center partnered with Nazareth’s Casa Italiana and brought a Holocaust survivor to campus to tell his story. Students also heard excerpts from a play written specifically to share the struggles and experiences of other local survivors. Such opportunities enrich student work in sociology, legal studies, history, and elsewhere. Also, the Center partnered with the Monroe County Bar Association and the Levine Center to “End Hate,” hosting a conversation on the rise of anti-Semitism and how anti-Semitic incidents intersect with free speech and hate crime law. The conversation is further relevant to all isms. Local attorney experts shared insights, overfilling the Shults Center and requiring additional chairs to be brought in for attorneys and community members who came to campus to learn. Additionally, the Konar Center hosted multiple workshops and lectures related to having difficult conversations, including responding to offensive speech and stemming hate before it escalates.

As we continue to engage as a campus community on issues of self-exploration, identity, and living in community, the Konar Center offers enriched commitment and strengthened outcomes. The Center is a culminating project of the many advancements President Daan Braveman brought to Nazareth College during his tenure. Working alongside Nazareth faculty and staff committed to being at the forefront of global co-existence, the Konar Center will continue to contribute meaningfully to Nazareth’s growth in finding understanding among difference.

Hava Leipzig Holzhauer is the executive director of the Konar Center for Tolerance and Jewish Studies at Nazareth College.