Just about three years ago, white supremacists from around the country gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, in one of the largest hate rallies in many years.
Their message wasn’t new. It’s a message that has been repeated in this country for decades, even centuries; it’s a message of extreme xenophobia and hatred.
Watching those images on TV was alarming and heartbreaking, but one image in particular caught my eye: that of white supremacists in the march proudly holding the swastika and the Confederate battle flags aloft, side by side. It reminded me that African Americans and Jews are common targets, sharing this unique bond in which our collective fates are intertwined.
As Jews, we are obligated to fight for racial justice. This scene was just another reason why.
It is our obligation to fight for justice and defend our Jewish values wherever necessary. With the lessons of the Holocaust (and the painful image of the swastika flag) as our guide, we are keenly aware that standing on the proverbial sidelines is simply not an option for us.
In fact, it is not only our own country’s injustices that need to be mitigated. Suffering around the world continues to this day. Ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur, Sudan, Syria, Yemen, Burma and China clearly show that humanity has not learned its lesson, and we delude ourselves if we think it will just end. Remembering and acknowledging is the first step towards actualizing our “Never Again” mantra.
This week is Tisha B’Av, the fast day when we commemorate the destruction of the Temple (and many other tragedies affecting the Jewish people throughout history). The Talmud teaches that the First Temple was destroyed because of idol worship and bloodshed, but the Second Temple was destroyed because of causeless hatred, affirming that the sin of hate is as bad as murder and idol worship.
We should be proud that our tradition has what is now a 2,000-year history of working to atone for this sin. Causeless hatred is everywhere; our mission is clear; our obligation to our fellow human beings is incontrovertible.
Black people in the United States are fighting for their lives today, and we will do what we can to support that fight by educating our community and advocating for policies and laws that address structural inequalities. Around the world, we must also hold up a virtual banner for those who are victims of injustice.
If we ever have any doubt about our obligations, we just need to remember that all-too-recent image of those two flags of hate flying together.
(Matt Goldberg is the director of the Jewish Community Relations Council.)