AFTER CHARLOTTESVILLE

The conflagration of hate and bigotry in Virginia is appalling but not surprising; Trump’s cozy relationship with members of the alt-right (think Steve Bannon) and his inflammatory language has emboldened the haters and bullies in our country. Half-hearted in his condemnation of the perpetrators, the President ultimately defended the “very fine people” who marched alongside and in lockstep with the Nazis and the KKK.

As members of the American Jewish community, we grieve over Trump’s betrayal of our core American and Jewish ideals of justice, equality and fairness; and we can’t help but fear where a newly invigorated Fascist movement may lead.

Alan Zimmerman, president of Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville, wrote:

“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…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… 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… When services ended, my heart broke as I advised congregants that it would be safer to leave the temple through the back entrance rather than through the front and to please go in groups…”

If there is a silver lining in this dark cloud of ugliness, it is the unifying effect that the President and his alt-right supporters have on the rest of us. From CEOs of major corporations to steelworkers in the red states that voted for Trump, people from across the political and social spectrum are raising their voices in condemnation of racial and ethnic hatred and in support of fundamental American (and Jewish) values. In response to Trump’s divisiveness comes an outpouring of love and righteousness. An event billed as “Unite the Right” has instead united right-thinking people everywhere.

For Jews, it’s difficult to look at a mob of armed, torch-carrying white supremacists and not hear echoes of Germany some 80 years ago. And while the images are chilling, let’s not let fear take over. Despite their having an unapologetic sympathizer in the White House, the right-wing extremists who marched in Charlottesville are still just a radical fringe in America today. Yes, they are dangerous, but they are also monitored closely by law enforcement and reviled by the overwhelming majority of Americans. Such groups exist even in Sonoma County, though our synagogue has, to date, not been in any way contacted by them. Nevertheless, we have taken a number of steps to secure our campus, including a perimeter fence, an automatic gate, security cameras inside and outside, an alarm system, and other security measures. While no place can be made 100% secure, the leadership of our congregation has for many years made security a high priority.

Just as important as our physical security is our emotional well-being, which in this time of elevated fear and anxiety proves to be the greater challenge. There are no easy answers, but we do have effective countermeasures embedded in our tradition—a deep commitment to the practices of community, gratitude and civic engagement. As a community, we can offer one another comfort. We can express our gratitude for living in a progressive and tolerant place. And we can work as citizens and neighbors to affirm our belief in social justice, racial equality, fairness, decency, and love. Let that love be muscle-bound, directed first and foremost to protect the most vulnerable in our society—and let its light outshine the torches of hatred and intolerance we saw on display this past weekend in Charlottesville.

We can find succor in the words of another President, Nelson Mandela, who said:

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion … People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love … For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

 

20 thoughts on “AFTER CHARLOTTESVILLE

  1. Wonderful post! Personally, I refuse to use the term Alt-Right as I feel it helps their re-branding and is their attempt to normalize their hateful and hate-filled views. They are a fringe now but we all know how this cancer can spread to a wider audience.
    Thank you, Rabbi George!

  2. Thank you. Beautifully written and just what I needed today.

  3. While there are very few of us left that experienced the first edition of the Nazi cancer anyone who has ever seen film of the Hitlerites torch-lit marches through the streets of the cities of Germany can look at the pictures of Charlottesville and not feel a reaction. I do not believe that we need to be fearful but we absolutely have to be determined to destroy this poison wherever and whenever it erupts. Media and those in power must be held to account without exception. Ridiculous lies from dubious sources are scattered all over social media by people thinking it proves a point important to them.

  4. Bravo, Rabbi George! Every morning, I wake up with a knot in my stomach! There is nothing left to say about the President. He is beyond the pale. One can only hope he will be impeached. I fear he will never resign! We’ll deal with Pence who at best is not a nut case! It is very scary seeing young people (teens through 50’s) feeling they have carte blanche to champion bigotry and prejudice against people of color, different genders, religions, etc. It hurts me to think my young Grand Boyz are growing up in this horror! Your mention of Nelson Mandela and his fight against prejudice reminds me of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s lyrics from “South Pacific.” “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught”
    You’ve got to be taught
    To hate and fear,
    You’ve got to be taught
    From year to year,
    It’s got to be drummed
    In your dear little ear
    You’ve got to be carefully taught.
    You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
    Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
    And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
    You’ve got to be carefully taught.
    You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
    Before you are six or seven or eight,
    To hate all the people your relatives hate,
    You’ve got to be carefully taught!

  5. Thanks for posting this. One of my former students, a rabbi in Atlanta, wrote on Facebook that he was nervous about sending his 8th grade daughter to school this week wearing her Jewish star. I decided to start wearing mine to support her courage. It’s a small gesture, but we have to remember that fear gives in to bullies and there are more of us than them. Thank you for always knowing what we need to hear.

  6. Thank you, Rabbi George, for your insightful comments. It occurs to me that America has not seen a true white supremacist in the office of the presidency in my lifetime or yours. The easy community acceptance of my Effen the city has been created throughout my life time with a certain expectation and complacency. Drawing on history, however, suggests that with this new circumstance in the White House, my vigilance as a Jew is just awakening. As you correctly point out, Charlottesville is a call to consciousness for every Jew ( and every other minority) to step up and be counted. As a Jew, I intend to make a no apology for my ethnicity as a Jew.. Nor will I give any ground to those who would step on me for my unique and individual role on this planet, as a Jew. Let’s keep the dialogue growing in support of our energetic and social action.

  7. Thank You, Rabbi George,
    It is time for all of us to call on our Congressman/woman to create a Law/Bill that Bans Hate Speech & the violence that they came prepared to create.
    Talk is cheap, What Action are our Representatives going to take to put a stop to such vile demonstrations? This is America not 1930 Germany/France!

  8. R. Zimmerman’s observations were scary… Hard to believe this is happening in America.
    Thank you, rabbi. Well said!

  9. Dear Rabbi George
    As a former media person (20 years on TV overseas) I bridle at the way that so-called journalism is practiced in America. To be sure the crazies are to be quelled with compassionate action. But what can be done about the media that creates full blown “media monsters” from a sad bunch of deluded and defeated and angry no-hopers.
    I mean, too long we have put up with “if it bleeds, it leads” reporting. Where is the truth in media today? How can Americans tolerate the trivializing outcome from profit oriented reporting? The news item that panders to the sentimental, the unthinking, the insubstantial serves only the commercial breaks that span it on either side on air. In the print media the fundamental truth is that advertising is what the “news” fits around not the other way. Profit drives the stories that appear in American media. The audience of the American media of 2017 is not only encouraged, nay required, to let their feelings become their beliefs. In the case of the neoNazi movement, the lure of instant fame is like a flame to a moth. How many people remember the Thyssens and Krupps of 1939. Anyone? But who slid in under Hitler and lifted him to control of Germany? Can it happen here as a consequence of media that trivializes the events we witness more and more frequently because it makes “hard news”? America needs to throw off the cloak of ignorance that the media casts over their heads and blocks their vision as to what is substantial, important and needing analysis and action. I strongly recommend that people watch “Triumph of the Will” by Leni Reifenstahl to see how media manipulation of the 50% sector of the population with lower than average intelligence works. Israel style reporting is the only model of balanced, substantial treatments of issues and events I can see today. But how can the USA, a nation that has been ruled by materialism and trivia break free of the thrall of unbalanced reporting in the same way as Israel? Nazis – neo or otherwise – are living their fantasy lives supported by the media in America , in my opinion. “The fault … is not in (Trump) but in ourselves that we are (allowing ourselves to live like ) underlings.”

  10. Your words are always there when we most need them. Thank you!

  11. As a first generation American, whose family was almost entirely obliterated by Hitler, I feel especially vulnerable and emotional. My mother’s words haunt me– she raised me telling me “don’t ever believe it can’t happen here”– Thank you Rabbi George, and everyone who speaks up about this! I have lived with “never again” my whole life! And I intend to speak up too!

  12. Thanks, Rabbi George, it’s good to see you responding this way. And thanks for your blog.

  13. I appreciate your words of support, particularly, in the direction of our emotions. To notice how we feel and acknowledge feelings through reflection or meditation is important and healthy.
    I look forward to the comfort and support of this community for us all as we pass through this time.

  14. Charlottesville: “Where ignorant armies clash in the night” Dover Beach, Matthew Arnold, 1865

  15. Thank you, Rabbi George and all my sharp-witted and thoughtful fellow congregants.
    I am moved to recall Rabbi AJ Heschel’s reflection on marching with ML King, Jr. and so many other brave people with deadly danger stalking them mile after mile in 1965 Alabama.
    “For many of us the march from Selma to Montgomery was both protest and prayer. Legs are not lips, and walking is not kneeling. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying.”

  16. I have often asked myself what I would have done if I had been in Nazi Germany when there was still time to resist. Would I have joined the resistance and helped Jews to escape? Would I have hidden my head in the sand and tried to deny what was occurring? What would I have done. My grandmother who came from Russia tried to convince the rest of her family to immigrate to this country. But they weren’t convinced of the danger. Only one of her brothers came here. The rest of her five siblings were massacred by the Nazis. So today, watching the Nazi party in this country gain more power and strength, something I thought could never happen here, I ask myself the question-what will I do now?

    While I agree with what Rabbi Gittleman has said about it being good to support each other in these scary times, and I understand that it is important that the Jewish Community at Shomrei Torah is safe and secure, I still feel we should do more. I feel like it would be a good time for all the Temples of Sonoma County to come together, for the rabbis to make a statement to the papers and media, and for all the congregations and Jewish citizens to make signs and march and/ or hold a vigil in every town square of the county-the Santa Rosa Plaza, the Cotati plaza, the Healdsburg and Sonoma plazas-on the same day at the same time. I believe it is time to show our faces, show up peacefully in numbers on the streets, and to invite citizens of all persuasions who do not want to enable racism to join us. I am not young anymore and I would rather not have to march or stand vigil. I would rather be quiet and feel safe. Who wouldn’t? But as in Germany, there was a time when Nazism began-I’m sure no one wanted to get off of the couch at that time either. I believe it is not enough to shake our heads and make sure we are safe. I believe we have to act, to get up and say together, “Never again, Not Here! Not Ever.”

  17. Thank you, Rabbi George, for your good words. I appreciate the other comments above.
    Because the news media does not report many things we need to know and which get distorted there,
    I would suggest that you all listen to Democracy Now on KPFA 94.1 on FM at 9 a.m. weekdays.
    It is hosted by Amy Goodman , with many interviews, and news you don’t get elsewhere.
    I also recommend The Nation magazine for a progressive account of news…and commentary.

  18. Thanks for your inspiring words R.George. I had to wait a week or so to calm myself so that I wouldn’t spew anger, hatred and rejection which, I know, puts me in the same league as T. It’s very hard not to recognize the potential of all the vitriol and the language in which it is couched. I find though that I do have faith in the American system of government and the potential for silencing, or at least countering the language and imagery he voices. I wish I had heard more from other faith leaders on the subject of T. and his followers. I think we live in a liberal bubble here and I’m glad as I’d probably have an ulcer or worse if I lived in the Deep South. At any rate, it’s leader s like you,R.George, that inspire me and comfort me and give me hope.

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