By Talya Hyman, Managing Editor
“Hear, O Israel: Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One.”
When They See Us, creator Ava DuVernay’s Netflix miniseries masterpiece based on real-events, is a painful and eye-opening depiction of Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, Korey Wise, and Raymond Santana Jr.– the five Black and Hispanic teenagers dubbed the Central Park Five, and now, the Exonerated Five– who were unethically charged and falsely convicted for the brutal assault and rape of a woman in the 1989 Central Park Jogger case. The reality of the injustice shocked me and infuriated me and broke me. The five boys’ resilience, strength, and morality put me back together again.
Following the heart-shattering sentencing of Kevin, Antron, Yusef, and Raymond to juvenile facilities and Korey’s adult prison sentence, the five teenagers were offered the opportunity of parole if they confessed to the crime. They could not tell a lie. A falsified conviction was forced upon them, but the five forcefully stood by their own conviction: the steadfast and fierce belief in their innocence. Standing with stolen lives and shattered dreams, the five teens’ power lay in their choice to remain in a land of metal bars rather than live a lie. The undying belief they had in themselves as good people, with integrity, served as their lifelines when they endured the most trying and debilitating of circumstances.
As the saying goes, if you are going through hell, keep going. Even when the world they knew and loved went mad, when they were forced to confront that very same world devoid of justice, Kevin, Antron, Yusef, Korey, and Raymond clung to the one reality that for them remained unmoved and impenetrable as they walked through their own hell: the truth.
Truth, we learn from Rabbi Menachem Mendel Morgensztern of Kotzk, the Kotzker Rebbe, is only achieved when we confront the inner recesses of our hearts and souls and demand authentic lives of ourselves. “Do not be satisfied with the speech of your lips and the thought of your heart, all the promises and good sayings in your mouth, and all the good thoughts in your heart. Rather you must arise and do!” the Kotzker Rebbe is attributed with saying. The values we claim to live by mean nothing if they are not reflected in the actions we perform and the lives we live. We must be engaged in constant self-analysis to determine the root of our intentions. Am I merely seeking for others to view me in a certain positive light, or am I actualizing my soul to the world?
The Torah personality whom I feel most embodies the actualization of his soul is our forefather Avraham, the revolutionary truth-seeker. Avraham was the first monotheist, the first believer in the eternal Truth of our tradition, who in turn changed the world for eternity. Even when the entire world was against him and even when met with tests from G-d Himself, Avraham continuously fulfilled his truth by fighting for G-d’s immanent and transcendent Truth to be manifest in the physical world. Our first father teaches us to demand the truth– whether that be religiously, spiritually, socially, or politically– for ourselves and of ourselves, and to infuse that truth into all that we do, everyday of our lives.
Living your truth is baring your soul to the world. So now I turn to my Yeshiva University community — to you. What is your truth? What is the one value, belief, assertion in your life that makes you get up in the morning, that makes you proud of who you are, that makes you believe in yourself? No matter your truth, awaken to it and live it. Live like Kevin, Antron, Yusef, Korey, and Raymond. Live like the Kotzker Rebbe. Live like Avraham Avinu. Most of all, live like yourself. And then you will be able to say that you have lived an authentic life aligned with your beliefs and values: a life of Truth.
“I am Hashem, your G-d: It is true.”
Photo: Talya Hyman