January 16, 2019

We know what we stand for; it’s time to say it

The image of a poster from the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville this past weekend sent chills down my spine.

It reminded me of what I saw at a museum in Berlin over the summer: propaganda from the 1930s and 1940s designed to inspire hatred towards Jews and other non-Aryan peoples. News coverage of the march in Charlottesville led me to recall the terrifying photographs of Nazi rallies and book burnings that led ultimately to much greater violence and evil.

In the face of hatred, bigotry, racism, anti-Semitism and indifference, we must respond forcefully by expressing vigorously and unapologetically the values we cherish most deeply.

Our sages understood this well. They repudiated this type of hatred and xenophobia two thousand years ago. Our rabbis asked why God chose to create humanity through a common ancestor.  Answered our teachers: “For the sake of peace among all peoples so that no person can say to his friend, ‘My father is greater than your father.’” (Sanhedrin 37a)

From the perspective of our tradition, racism is a grave sin and an offense not just against humanity but, ultimately, also against God. Our rabbis condemned it unconditionally. We must do so as well and we must demand the same moral clarity from our leaders today.

For now, white supremacists and neo-nazis constitute a tiny minority of our great nation. Here is what must be remembered: a nation’s greatness is demonstrated ultimately by the values it upholds.

As Jews and as Americans, we know what we stand for. It’s time once again, unequivocally and proudly, to say so.

Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback is senior rabbi at Stephen Wise Temple.