In Response to the Events in Charlottesville, VA - August 12, 2017

By Rabbi Michael Z. Cahana

Shabbat normally offers the Jewish people a respite from the world that is, and a glimpse of the world to come. Rest, renewal and peace are the order of the day, and one can dream that everyone will live in harmony.

That vision was shattered this week, as images from Charlottesville blasted into our lives. Even as we tried, we could not help but be overwhelmed by the slogans of hatred washing over us like polluted waves leaving patches of tar on a pristine beach. We thought we knew America. We thought we knew those who love America. Who are these so-called “patriots” whose purpose of gathering is to proclaim a vision of America rooted in Nazi ideology?

As the son of a survivor, I grew up with my mother’s stories of a people who loved their nation and felt more Hungarian than Jewish. Their national pride did not protect them when the Nazis came marching, proclaiming a racist ideology. Their nationalist identity did not shield them from their neighbors – yesterday they were friends – who suddenly treated them as aliens in their own homeland. Their homes were ransacked, their possessions appropriated, and these loyal citizens of their nation were brutalized and deported for the crime of their Jewish heritage. The Nazi vision came true. White Supremacy prevailed.

That these same Nazi flags, these same horrific slogans could be carried through the streets of our American cities should fill us all with shame. Patriots and heroes of all races and religions fought and died in a world war to destroy this hateful ideology. It was my mother’s generation, “the Greatest Generation” that stood up to this organized hatred and bigotry. They were not perfect, their time was not perfect. Institutional racism was a reality in the US, immigration quotas against Jews – including refugees – was an accepted reality. But they were engaged in a quest which we should only be building on. How we have disappointed them by seeing Nazi paraphernalia openly carried by so-called militia members brandishing military-style weaponry. Just like an invading army. These are not patriots, these are enemies against the very ideals of America “with Liberty and Justice for All.”

The President is correct that this hatred is not new. He is absolutely wrong in refusing to personally call out White Nationalism as an evil that is corroding the very heart of our nation. It is an abdication of duty to neglect declaring Nazism unacceptable in America. The lack of condemnation is noticed, and has been cheered, by the very purveyors of hate on display in Charlottesville.

We cannot be silent. Even on Shabbat.

We stand with the heroes who put themselves in harm’s way. We stand with those who peacefully protested. We stand with the victims killed and injured by an act of domestic terrorism perpetrated by a White Nationalist. We stand against ideologies of bigotry and racism. We stand for the richness of diversity, honor and respect which makes our nation truly great.

As someone who loves this country, a nation founded on the ideal of freedom and which offers protection for its richly diverse people, I proclaim myself a Patriot. Today I am saddened. But I am not discouraged. America is better than this. Americans are better than this. We will not be silent and we will not be complacent. Let us our voices ring out and let us loyally “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof (Leviticus 25:10).”