Reflections on the horror at Charlottesville…
Until this past weekend, Charlottesville, Va., was best known as the home of the University of Virginia, one of the best universities in the country. It was also touted as the home of Thomas Jefferson, a founding father and champion of free speech and free press, albeit also a slaveowner and man of contradictions. No more. The city is now forever tarred by images of white nationalists carrying hate-filled signs and fighting counter protesters with sticks and fists while screaming racist slurs.
We are now three days past that violence, past the indelible moment when 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr. rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, injuring at least 19 and killing Heather Heyer, a young activist advocating peace. Most of us are still in shock at what we saw, sickened that a defense of the right to free speech led to blood in the streets, and that the act of condemning racists took a political turn rather than unifying us over what is morally wrong. We are better than this.
The United States is not Syria, or the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or Sudan, or even South Sudan, all places where Jewish World Watch works, where governments set out to kill their own citizens, and where the mere act of living can be treacherous on all sides. Most of us in the United States have not experienced the genocide and mass atrocities that Jewish World Watch and you, our supporters, work so hard to prevent. Yet last weekend’s violence offered up a vision of America that we cannot abide. As Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis (z”l) said in his sermon founding this organization: “We global Jews know that silence is lethal and meekness is inexcusable.”
We must call upon all United States officials to condemn neo-Nazi, white supremacist and alt-right movements by name. We know from our work that failing to do so can lead to more violence and destroy what this country stands for. Our leaders must act now. Our country must remain a place where diversity is valued, alongside the many freedoms our Constitution affords us.
We cannot stand down in the face of violent outbursts. We must lock arms against racists who would divide us and teach others that hate only leads to worse acts of violence.
I want to believe that Charlottesville’s experience last weekend was an aberration, one that will never be repeated. We must be better than this.