By M. Imad Damaj, Alex Evans, Amy Russell and Corey D.B. Walker
The Standing Together Steering Committee of the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities stands in solidarity with the Jewish community in the wake of the violent anti-Semitic attacks in New Jersey and New York. These recent attacks and the upsurge in expressions of anti-Semitism in the United States and across the world cannot be tolerated and must be met with a love-filled resistance to hate-fueled acts of dehumanization.
The New Jersey and New York attacks are but the latest in a recent spate of violent, anti-Semitic attacks in the United States. As we enter the third decade of the 21st century, we must commit ourselves to ending this dark legacy and work to create a society where the Jewish community is no longer targeted by such acts of hatred.
The hard truth is that words and speech matter in every possible way, for every single one of us. They have consequences. Words by leaders, news media and social media alike have consequences. They can serve to uplift, but they can also serve to degrade and to drive negative emotions and anger. And the actions that result from hateful speech can be devastating.
In October 2018, more than 2,500 people gathered at the Weinstein Jewish Community Center in Richmond to mourn those killed at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. We resolved then to stand in unity and solidarity against anti-Semitism. Today, we must deepen our collective resolve to build a society free of anti-Semitism and all forms of hate-inspired religious violence and bigotry.
Such resolve must manifest not just after incidents of anti-Semitism or only when these issues are in the news. Rather, they must be sustained commitments, rooted in authentic relationships, comprehensive and accurate education, and fair and just policies.
Far too often, we hear calls for interpersonal responses in the face of prejudice. While these genuine acts of kindness are appreciated, they are consistently insufficient. Instead, the only way to truly root out bigotry and prejudice is by working to dismantle unjust systems that separate, target and marginalize those who are perceived to be “the other.”
We know all-too-well the ultimate consequences of hatred and anti-Semitism. And yet, a 2018 survey conducted by Schoen Consulting found that “11% of US adults and over one-fifth of Millennials (22%) haven’t heard or are not sure if they have heard of the Holocaust.”
Additionally, a majority of respondents (58%) said that they “believe something like the Holocaust could happen again.” All of us therefore must be vigilant in learning from the past and educating those around us to prevent and confront anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice wherever they show up.
The Standing Together Steering Committee is made up of members who are Catholic, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Protestant and Unitarian Universalist. We are committed to acting in solidarity with the Jewish community and all targeted communities by promoting justice and advancing human dignity, inclusion and equity. And we invite all individuals, communities and organizations to share and act in this commitment.
The Jewish sage Rabbi Tarfon said, “It is not for you to complete the task, but neither can you desist from it.” During these difficult times, we call on our community to channel our outrage at the anti-Semitic attacks in New Jersey and New York into concrete acts designed to build a just, inclusive world where people practice their faith without violence and without fear.
We believe that when we stand together, we can create a better world for everyone.
Dr. M. Imad Damaj, Rev. Dr. Alex Evans, Rev. Amy Russell and Rev. Dr. Corey D. B. Walker are members of the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities’ Standing Together Steering Committee. Contact them at: contact@inclusiveVA.org