The morning of May 4, 1970 began normal enough. I was concluding my freshman year at YSU, and found myself in the midst of a series ofexams and term papers which, ultimately, would help determine my future course (a graduate degree at The University of Michigan, then a future that would unfold as I had never imagined).
On campus, there was a feeling of unease. Anti-war activity had picked up speed here and elsewhere, in the midst of an escalation of the war in Vietnam. Though in no way a hotbed of anti-war activity, we felt this change in political climate right here in our part of Ohio.
There were rumors that something had happened at Kent State, just down the road a few miles. I called our Rabbi. The phone, as usual, was answered by Anne Yutkin, of blessed memory. “Sorry, Jerry, the Rabbi is not in. He just left for Kent State with the Scheuer family. Something terrible has happened.”
Part of Rabbi Richard’s sermon at the funeral of our beautiful Sandy Scheuer, one of four students killed by the Ohio National Guard that day, was broadcast on CBS News that evening. “We owe it to our children to create a better world,” the Rabbi said. “Policy is made in the citadels of government,” he went on to say, “but those sentiments that truly matter are carried out in the communities of the world – institutions of higher learning – places of worship – our homes where our children grow and are loved. We owe it to them to right this terrible wrong.”
A few days later, this Rabbi would be summoned to campus to help quell an increasingly large – and agitated – student body. Classes were cancelled and it seemed – at least to me – that everyone was worried about what might be next.
I stood with my good friend, Carol Rossi, as speaker after speaker took the microphone to tell us in their words, how we should react in the aftermath of Kent State. One was our Rabbi, who had been summoned to speak by campus ministry. I don’t remember with exactness every word he spoke, but I do recall, very vividly, that they had great impact on the student population and faculty that day.
He intoned that we are the fortunate ones. We can hold to firmly-held opinions, but we need to shape the future in ways that will make less likely horrific events like Kent State. I do remember him saying: “You are still here. Don’t desecrate your campus, nor lose mindfulness of this tragic moment in your lives.” He concluded: “You are making history today. Do it the right way.”
A few days after that, at Boardman High School, same thing. Forty-six years this coming May – when the flowers are blossoming and birds are chirping melodiously in the trees next to our open windows, same thing.
A few years ago, while driving to Kent State for dinner at Hillel, I remembered these events. I love Ohev Tzedek for the good times, but also for the bad times in the life of my congregation, when I was young. When things changed. Forever.
May we be continually blessed with our synagogue.
Wishing you All the Best,
Jerold A. Haber, President