Thought for Shabbat – August 18, 2017
I never knew much about the city of Charlottesville until this week other than to know it was the location of the University of Virginia. We have all now learned that Charlottesville is the place where white supremacists, many of whom were dressed in faux military clothing, wearing helmets and carrying shields, decided to spew their hate. They were not just demonstrating the removal of a statue, they were spewing words of hate as they marched. They called the rally “Unite the Right”. They directed their words specifically at Jews. “Jews will not replace us” they said. “Blood and soil,” words from Nazi ideology, were chanted. They displayed swastikas on banners.
Several of these same people stood outside the synagogue chanting slogans at various times during the Shabbat when the rally took place. There was even a call from neo-Nazi websites to attack the synagogue. The members of the synagogue were forced to hire private security because the local police refused protection. They were in so much fear that they removed all the Torahs from the synagogue just in case the calls for attacks on the synagogue came to fruition. They left services through the back door. All this even though the Jewish mayor of the town had voted to keep the statue in place.
But in the end, what do you expect from Nazis and white supremacists? They are what they are. They will be what they will be. But we do have the right to expect better from others. We have the right to expect prompt, unequivocal and formal denunciation of hate speech and actions by our leaders. The failure to do this by more than one leader in our recent history empowers hate. It gives quiet endorsement. Whether it is neo-Nazis or Islamic jihadists, the failure to clearly denounce and call things by their name dilutes the message. Rightly or wrongly, it calls into question the agenda of those leaders who parse their language carefully to appease.
There is no such thing as a good white supremacist. There is no such thing as a good jihadist. If we are to be united against hate of all kinds, it is up to each one of us to stand up and demand action. It is up to us to make our voices heard against hate.
Matityahu, the father of the Maccabbean revolt, once said: “Whoever is for God, come to me.” With those words, he started a revolution that returned the Holy Temple to the Jewish people against apparently insurmountable odds. People of determination, principle and inner strength, with the help and inspiration of God, stood up and eventually succeeded. If Matityahu were alive today I wonder what he might say. I wonder how he would unite all people of principle against hate of all kinds, from any people.
We cannot wait for a Matityahu. We must each be Matityahu. Whoever is for God, stand up against hate this Shabbat. Encourage others to do the same. And don’t sit down until the battle is won.
Rabbi Yaier Lehrer