Detour Around the Riot

I was in Berkeley to teach my regular Wednesday night Intro class. We had a nice class, then I had to figure out how to get home. A riot had erupted at a protest on the campus. The protest began because a controversial speaker had come to campus. The riot happened because some people are stupid.

The big mess blocked most of my usual routes. I had plenty of time to think about demonstrations as I made a wide detour around the violence.

I get it: Milo Yiannopoulos is a sleazy purveyor of hate speech. The student Republicans had to know he was an incendiary choice of a speaker. Other students protested his presence. That much is fine by me: hear what he has to say, then if his ideas are foul and unworthy of a great university, say so. As the kindergarten teachers say, use your words.

Whoever chose to “protest” with violence did no favors to free speech.

I hate to see us going down this path. Milo Yiannopoulos got exactly what he wanted from UC Berkeley last night: great visuals of a riot to splash across TV screens from Bangor to Santa Barbara.

What has this to do with Torah? I pondered that as I took the long way home at 9pm. My students and I had spent the evening learning Torah. I hope that in doing so, we were equipping ourselves to make better decisions, to meet challenges with wisdom and courage.

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

7 thoughts on “Detour Around the Riot”

  1. I agree with you completely; it is better to have an open forum and confront negative ideas with intelligence and truth, especially at a university. But, I am slow to judge any side for violence due to the long history of turning opinion against protest by infiltrating and instigating. From a distance, I condemn the violence but withhold opinion on who started what. If the community involved was black, people would already be calling them “thugs.” Respect to those who study the ways of peace and resistance with intelligence!

    1. There was definitely a disruptive element who ramped up the violence last night and made things much worse than they needed to be.

      Oakland and Berkeley have been troubled for a couple of years now by a group of self-styled “anarchists” who are mostly white and male. They call themselves Black Bloc, wear black and cover their faces with black bandannas while practicing violent protests and looting businesses. For more about them, here’s a 2014 article on their presence in previous Oakland protests. As a longtime Oaklander, I’m pretty fed up with these folks, I admit, and I was sick to my stomach when I realized they’d latched onto this event. My impression – and it is only that – is that they have been the scourge of discourse in our area, souring Black Lives Matter marches very consistently.

  2. It just makes it more effortless to denounce protests when trash cans are dumped or windows broken. I noticed some of the protesters wore masks. I disagree. If you can’t show your face, don’t be there.

    As for the speaker, he is a hater. but use your words is the best way to handle him. He wants to say he’s been denied the right to free speech. Well, let him have his right, then ask him unrelenting tough questions.

  3. meeting challenges has definitely been ratcheted up several notches lately! thank you for words of wisdom and encouragement, Rabbi! shabbat shalom.

  4. Rabbi Adar it is happening in various degrees within our two countries. A young 27 year old man opened fire in a Mosque in Quebec City killing 6 and wounding 19 people. People who knew him online say he was an internet troll, harassing them with anti-feminist and anti-immigrant messages. Another Mosque was set on fire last week with several more reporting damage along with the well known graffiti.

    It makes me wonder what difference it would make if our leaders now spoke with each other. When I was a child we were under constant threat of a nuclear holocaust. President Kennedy set an example by meeting with Premier Nikita Khrushchev several times. I do not remember any of the “protestors” surrounding the war activities in Vietnam becoming violent. Martin Luther King said: “The day we see truth and do not speak is the day we begin to die.”

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