Temple Shaari Emeth
The tragedy of Charlottesville is something that has rattled our nation. White supremacists and Neo Nazis took to the streets in Virginia, armed with torches, displaying weapons, spewing hate as they marched. To those of us who stand as witness to the tragedy of the Holocaust, and those of us who believe that it could never happen in America, this weekend was a frightening wake-up call. Sadly our people have learned over and over again that hatred plants a dangerous seed that can grow quickly given the right environment. Though frightening to watch, we must also remember that these groups are loud and they love media attention, but they are still relatively small in number.
Anti-Semitism, whether it is on the streets of Charlottesville, or promoted through the BDS movement on college campuses, must be challenged. Torah teaches us that baseless hatred is dangerous and destructive. White supremacists and Neo-Nazis espouse pure hatred which destroys the innocent. This rally in Charlottesville left three dead and over 30 people injured. Our hearts break for the families of Heather Heyer, Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates and we pray that their memories will always bring blessing. This tragic loss is what happens when we forget that everyone is created in the Divine image.
Elie Wiesel warned that “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” There is no moral equivalency here. Nazism and White Supremacy are dangerous and wrong and must be disavowed. Good people do not seek to intimidate, oppress or destroy others.
Alan Zimmerman, the president of Congregation Beth Israel, a Reform congregation in Charlottesville, VA experienced intimidation first hand:
“On Saturday morning, I stood outside our synagogue with the armed security guard we hired after the police department refused to provide us with an officer during morning services. (Even the police department’s limited promise of an observer near our building was not kept — and note, we did not ask for protection of our property, only our people as they worshipped).
Forty congregants were inside. Here’s what I witnessed during that time.
For half an hour, three men dressed in fatigues and armed with semi-automatic rifles stood across the street from the temple. Had they tried to enter, I don’t know what I could have done to stop them, but I couldn’t take my eyes off them, either. Perhaps the presence of our armed guard deterred them. Perhaps their presence was just a coincidence, and I’m paranoid. I don’t know.
Several times, parades of Nazis passed our building, shouting, “There's the synagogue!” followed by chants of “Seig Heil” and other anti-Semitic language. Some carried flags with swastikas and other Nazi symbols….
Soon, we learned that Nazi websites had posted a call to burn our synagogue. I sat with one of our rabbis and wondered whether we should go back to the temple to protect the building. What could I do if I were there? Fortunately, it was just talk – but we had already deemed such an attack within the realm of possibilities, taking the precautionary step of removing our Torahs, including a Holocaust scroll, from the premises.”
This is wrong. This is the face of hatred. We must speak out clearly against this ideology, and we must stand with others who seek to work for a world filled with tolerance, love and respect. The Temple will continue to do the important work of building interfaith and interracial connections in our community and we will always work for justice and right in our world.
Discussing this with our children can be a challenge. I share with you this article from the LA Times about how to talk to children about the violence in Charlottesville. It is a helpful resource. http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-charlottesville-talking-to-kids-20170812-htmlstory.html
I close with the poignant words of my colleague, Rabbi Adam Latz:
In Response to Martin Neimoller (z”l)
First they came for transpeople and I spoke up—because God does NOT make mistakes!
Then they came for the African Americans and I spoke up—Because I am my sister’s and my brothers’ keeper.
And then they came for the women and I spoke up—Because women hold up half the sky.
And then they came for the immigrants and I spoke up—Because I remember the ideals of our democracy.
And then they came for the Muslims and I spoke up—Because they are my cousins and we are one human family.
And then they came for the Native Americans and Mother Earth and I spoke up—Because the blood-soaked land cries and the mountains weep.
They keep coming.
We keep rising up.
Because we Jews know the cost of silence.
We remember where we came from.
And we will link arms, because when you come for our neighbors, you come for us—and THAT just won’t stand.
We cannot let this stand. May God who makes peace in the heavens inspire US to to make peace with one another. Amen.
Rabbi Melinda Panken