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After Charlottesville

On August 21, 1790, George Washington wrote to the Jewish community of Newport, Rhode Island:

“…the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support….May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants-while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.” — G. Washington

Saturday was a tragic day in American history. It was a horrific Shabbat in America. Charlottesville was the site of a neo-Nazi, alt-right, white nationalist, Ku Klux Klan rally whose only purpose was to spew hatred and bigotry. The rally was planned under the title, “Unite the Right.” There can be no doubt about its purpose and ideology. The slogans they shouted were hateful and frightening, and they included, “You will not replace us. Jew will not replace us.”

The underlying agenda at the root of Saturday’s riots is clear, and it needs to be named. This was domestic terrorism, perpetrated by radical white supremacists. Whether liberal or conservative, we must all demand explicit condemnation and criminal prosecution of those who intentionally sought to harm others. Thankfully, the Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation into the violence and death on Saturday.

This is not a partisan political issue. Indeed, we have heard strong moral voices of condemnation from Republican and Democratic leaders. But, at the top, there has been a stunning inability and unwillingness to condemn explicitly the white nationalist extremism that led to Saturday’s national tragedy.

With winks and nods, some groups have been given permission to attack people of color, African Americans, Muslims, Jews, women and LGBTQ Americans. We must not go back to a time when voices of hatred were given free rein to frighten, intimidate, and attack others. There can be no nostalgia for an America that denied equality, civil rights, and freedom to all its citizens. Since the end of World War II, we have fought those great fights for social justice, and many of us thought we had won the battle. But we must not be complacent, and those forces of evil and hatred must be defeated forever.

In times when the morals and values of our country are tested, we must gather together as a community to denounce hatred and support each other.

Rabbi Samuel N. Gordon serves Congregation Sukkat Shalom in Wilmette, IL.

2 replies on “After Charlottesville”

Well said, Sam, with passion and moral precision, to be published widely…
From pulpit and school, the street, wherever people congregate.

I disagree with one aspect of what Sam has written. The sole purpose of these thugs wasn’t “sole.” They got precisely what they had prepared for, brawled for, and most desired. They got a melee, and they derived from it a vast quantity of free advertising and publicity for their cause. The complicity of the media in this event multiplied the messages of hatred and bigotry a myriad times over what would otherwise had been had these violence-seeking, too well armed losers met no resistance at all.

This is not necessarily to blame the victims of their rage. It is to say that everyone who opposed the Nazis, KKK-ers and white supremacists was duped, and then they were violated in one way or another, just as UVA’s campus had been invaded and violated the evening before.

There is a message for each and all of us that came from Charlottesville. This is no longer the America of our youths. In this, I agree with Sam and Paul. It’s time to call out the haters and their anti-Semitism, no matter where they reside or what positions they might hold. It’s time to review our political stances, renew our dialogue with our local public officials, and inspect or re-inspect the security of our facilities. It’s time to sound the alarm that something of extreme malevolence is once again loose among us and it demands of us extreme caution, vigilance and carefully well thought-through responses.

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