But if I am only for myself, who am I?
If not now, when?”
-Mishnah Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Ancestors) 1:14
This weekend we saw a horrifying display of hatred and violence in the streets of Charlottesville, VA that ended in death and injury. We stand with the community of Charlottesville and with communities around the globe in repudiating the hatred and violence of neo-Nazi and white nationalist groups anywhere and everywhere. We invite you to join us in taking a public stand.
There are never two sides to consider when it comes to Nazism and racism, and no president can undo this truth. Unfortunately though, a president’s words can embolden. We must stand firm to prevent the emboldenment of white supremacy, anti-Blackness, Islamophobia, trans- and homophobia, ableism, misogyny, antisemitism and more.
This past Sunday, many of you carried out our duty of tikkun olam (repairing the world) by joining in the Seattle march "Solidarity Against Hate" that was organized on very short notice. When marching locked-arms with fellow clergy here in Seattle, Rabbi David reflected on the different groups coming together in solidarity: “It was imperfect. No one mentioned antisemitism at the rally nor did I hear a female speaker. There wasn’t clear strategy or consensus on how to engage police or not. Some participants advocated violence, others peace. And yet, the rally was still important. Was still impressive. Was still necessary. It felt essential to be there and our differences were far smaller than our solidarity in purpose.”
We must stand with all of our hearts, all of our souls, and all of our resources against such demonization and hate. This is certainly a moment to stand for ourselves, as Hillel says: “if I am not for myself, who will be for me?” Let us not understand this call to stand for ourselves as because no one else will. Instead, let us read it as “if we do not have the courage to stand up for ourselves, then we should not expect others to." Let us model courage right now. Not because no one else has it, but because, just as the president can embolden, so too can we embolden. Let us embolden a courage and a clear morality that does not consider white supremacy acceptable. Never. Again.
There have been striking examples this week where non-Jews are calling out antisemitism or correcting themselves to make Jewishness visible in this quest to build broad, anti-oppression coalitions. Learning from these examples, and so many in the past and present, we must resist the urge to only stand up for ourselves. For Hillel continues - “But if I am only for myself, who am I?” We must recognize that as the neo-Nazis and white nationalists themselves boasted in Charlottesville, they were standing up not just in defense of a physical statue, but in defense of what it represented - a way of life that for more than two centuries legalized the enslavement of millions of black and brown people. We cannot effectively fight antisemitism without also fighting racism. We must be willing to take risks for others as much as ourselves, locked arms and understanding the stakes for all of us. We are interconnected. We are family in our humanity.
Finally, our responses to Charlottesville, and, let’s face it, to the countless examples of emboldened Nazism and white nationalism since the ascendancy of this president’s campaign, will be varied. We honor that diversity of approach and will always be a community for those who can disagree respectfully and sometimes passionately so. The key, as practiced by the House of Hillel and their colleagues on the other side of the aisle, so to speak, the House of Shammai, is that they were committed to staying in community together. They shared meals despite their differences in kashrut(dietary laws) and allowed their friends and family to marry with those of the other house despite their differences in the laws of marriage. They agreed on a greater principle that was of grave consequences as they saw it, and today, we stand in their tradition. If not now, when?
Let us answer the door, step up to the challenges, build relationships, risk mistakes, know where our resources are best put, and commit to eradicating this hatred and violence with all of our hearts, all of our souls, and all of our might.
Now, more than ever, we must work to create coalitions among all those invested in creating a more just society.
For further exploring:
Sherman Alexie's poem "Hymn" in the wake of Charlottesville:
Jews for Racial and Economic Justice statement: http://jfrej.org/standing-against-racist-violence-in-charlottesville/
Jewish Fear, Love, & Solidarity in the Wake of Charlottesville by Jonah S. Boyarin:
Dorcas Davis, Organizer for the DC March for Racial Justice (shared on Facebook by M Dove Kent):
The Jewish Reconstructionist Communities response: https://jewishrecon.org/news/charlottesville-response
On Antisemitism: http://onantisemitism.com/
Should We Punch Nazis? by Lauren Modery: https://extranewsfeed.com/should-we-punch-nazis-7c1e9583ac40
Jonathan Rosenblum, President
Sima Kahn, Vice President
Sarah Tuttle, Treasurer
Karen Wolkofsky, Secretary
Rabbi David Basior