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08/16/2017 01:36:43 PM


Rabbi Kathy Cohen

Violence once again is in the headlines. This however is a different type of violence. Unlike the gun violence that I have written about previously, this violence is constructed from deep rooted racism and hatred. This violence is about intimidation. This violence is reminescent of Nazi Germany, the Jim Crow South and the anti-Civil Rights movement. Let's be very clear that this violence is really not about Civil War Statues. It is not about "white-washing" history. It is certainly not about freedom of speech, assembly or permits. Charlottesville, I fear, is only the beginning of a new era.

Our country is divided in many ways - certainly we are divided racially religiously and politically. But at a much deeper level we are divided between how we see right and wrong and whether or not we choose to care. There are many in our country who believe that in order to protect their own rights they must diminish the rights of others. They believe that it is basic self-preservation, and they are emboldened by an administration which is morally cloudy, at best.

Jewishly, there can be no ambiguity here. There is no question that there was a tremendous amount of anti-Semitism loudly chanted by those who came to Charlottesville bent on intimidation. Men in fatigues with guns purposely stood near the Charlottesville Synagogue during Shabbat morning prayers with the sole intent of intimidation and arousing fear. There can be no ambiguity that these hate mongers are dangerous and that they are not interested in peacefully expressing their opinions. One does not show up at a rally with weapons and helmets when the goal is a peaceful demonstration.

Yet, it is not only the anti-Semitism that should bother us. Obviously, there was racial slurs and calls for "white unity". Anyone not a white, anglo-saxon, right-wing, Christian (in the broadest sense of the word) is the subject of their mounting hatred. It appears that history has moved backwards and certainly that we have not learned from the past.

As I watch the videos of the Charlottesville violence, I cannot help but see the likeness to Kristallnacht. Torches, fights, weaponry, a car mowing people down - none of this is new. There are not two equally responsible parties here. There is not an "alt-left". Those who came to protest the march did so because they did not want the expression of hatred and fear mongering to go unanswered. They were their to make the statement that those who seek to malign others are intolerable. It is important to remember that the values espoused by many of the alt-right who came to Charlottesville were the same values that we fought against in WWII. Let us not be led astray by an argument that there were many "sides" each responsible. Maybe a few of the counter-protestors threw the first punch but think how history would have been different if large crowds showed up to protest the Nazis in 1933. I am not advocating violence but there are times when it is the only plausible response.

Where do we go from here? We must make our voices heard. We are taught that we cannot allow Hitler a posthumous victory. in this case it means that we cannot allow hatred to once again rule the earth. Write to papers, talk to people, attend rallies - be a voice for walking in peace with God.

Fri, September 18 2020 29 Elul 5780