When did it become OK?
Last week, as I have done ritualistically every year, I attended Yom Kippur services (along with millions of people across the globe), and reflected upon my actions as a human being over the past year. Had I been selfish? Short of patience with people who needed my attention? Inconsiderate of others? I further reflected upon which of these attributes I wanted to leave in the past and what behaviors do I want to bring into the new year. Caring for strangers? Giving to those in need? Thoughtfulness towards others?
And as I sat contemplating just how I can possibly help make the world a better place, the Rabbi walked down from the podium and into the congregation to deliver his sermon. He began with a simple, yet powerful question … When did it become OK?
He then shared the following recent example of the up rise of anti-Semitism not only locally, but across the world:
- A hotel in Switzerland posted signs advising Jewish guests that they had to shower before entering the hotel pool. August, 2017. Swiss Hotel Asks Jewish Guests to Shower Before Entering Pool
Social media comments on Facebook and other sites, following the arrest of 14 Lakewood, NJ residents for insurance fraud, were raw and hateful. Comments, with names attached, on the Asbury Park Press site included “cockroaches”, and “the final solution”. July, 2017 Arrests Spark Anti Semitic Sentiment
He then talked about the increased efforts of white supremacists and white nationalists to recruit specifically at college campuses across the US:
- In Virginia, on the campus of the University of Virginia, several hundred white supremacists and white nationalists marched in a parade chanting “White lives matter!” “You will not replace us!” and “Jews will not replace us!” August, 2017 Alt-Right Nazi Salute.
If you look at the picture of the marchers, they are out there, in plain sight, arms stretched in a Nazi salute. When did white supremacists stop wearing hoods and hand out flyers with phone numbers and website addresses? When did it become OK for these individuals to openly advertise their racist and hateful beliefs?
These events are not “one off” incidents but rather are becoming weekly, if not daily, occurrences. Even today’s news reports contained the story of hate letters sent to various New York businesses, including a Borough Park bakery, three law firms in Sheepshead Bay, the Harlem Business Alliance on Lenox Avenue, the Numero Uno jewelry store on East 116th Street, and a Starbucks on West 145th Street. The letters contained an image of a swastika, and included the phrase “Make America Great Again”.
Even when incidents don’t appear to be driven by hate, and are hidden under the guise of “make America great again”, they are blatantly targeting innocent people of minority backgrounds and are creating a “humanitarian nightmare”:
- A single mother of four, who has been living in the US for 24 years, is now seeking refuge in a Connecticut church to avoid deportation. The mother, is the sole caretaker of her children and her eldest son, who is 21 years old, has cerebral palsy (her youngest daughter is 9 years old). July, 2017. Single Mother of 4 Seeks Refuge from Deportation
When did it become OK to separate families? These are individuals who have been living, working, and paying taxes in this country and who have no criminal record. When did our moral compass go awry?
As a product of immigrant parents who came to the US in the 1950s to escape religious persecution, I am an American … my kids and grandkids are American … we go to school here … we own homes here … we work here .. we pay taxes here … and we have built our lives here. And yet, there is now a true and real concern that one day there will be knock on my door advising that I can’t keep my home because there is a new regulation stating that people whose parents weren’t born in America can’t own homes … or that my son will be sent home from school because of a new regulation that prohibits children with brown hair from attending public schools … or that my husband has been removed from his work because of new regulations that no longer allow Jews to work …
I have visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC several times, where the atrocities across Europe are remembered … people removed from their homes, from work, from school … sent to ghettos and then to concentration camps … and then to gas chambers. All of the exhibits note that the story is being told so that people will remember and not allow history to repeat itself.
I also came across the very impactful poem, First They Came …, written by Martin Niemoller (a German Lutheran pastor). The poem calls out the cowardice of German intellects following the Nazis’ rise to power, for not speaking out and deals with the themes of persecution, guilt, and responsibility:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
This is not just a “Jewish” issue … this is not a Republican/Democrat issue … this is not a Black or Hispanic or Muslim issue … this is a HUMAN issue. When did it become OK? The question now should be … How do we make sure this is not OK? Speak out. Not because you’re Jewish or Muslim, not because you’re black or hispanic, not because you’re gay or transgendered … speak out because you’re human … because “your voice matters” … and because you don’t want there to not be anyone left to speak out for you.
And that’s my two cents … for whatever it’s worth.