Charlottesville: Where Do We Stand by Arthur Green
WHERE DO WE STAND?
by Rabbi Arthur Green
American Jews looked on with horror at the events unfolding in Charlottesville – and elsewhere – over this past weekend. Indeed, we have felt a shudder ever since the awful campaign of 2016 and much that has followed it, while our communal leadership has remained mostly silent. There were, after all, some Jewish voices in the White House, and it was best not to alienate the Republicans. “And who knows?” it was whispered, “maybe this crazy guy could do something for Israeli-Palestinian peace.”
But in Charlottesville the masks were off. Neo-Nazis with their swatstika flags were a welcome part of the celebration. You heard the k-word along with the n-word quite frequently, we are told. There was no longer any hasty “Judeo” hyphened on to the calls for a Christian America. Not among these folks.
“Blood and Soil!” they were calling out in repeated marching chant. Hitler’s Blut und Boden, which meant, of course, that only “Aryan” blood truly belonged to the sacred German soil. Can you imagine the nerve of these people, saying that the beautiful God-given landscape of America belongs to white Anglo-Saxons, not to the native peoples whose blood indeed soaked the land as they were displaced and slaughtered by European invaders? Can they really claim that this soil belongs to the slaveowners whom Robert E. Lee was defending (his statue was the center of these events) and not to their victims, the poor slaves who died anonymously, so many of beating and lynching, pouring their own blood into the American earth? How dare they!
I was proud that there were rabbis and rabbinical students (including some of my own) present in the line of clergy who stood as the voice for human decency and sanity on that terrible morning. Yes, even though it was Shabbat, I am glad that some made that decision, one I would not permit myself to do. Shabbat was given us, we are told in the second version of the ten commandments, to help us recall that we were slaves in Egypt. That is a message too often forgotten by many achievement-driven (and often success-drunk) American Jews.
Charlottesville forces us to take a stand. It reminds us that we are a minority in American society, a religious and ethnic community that chooses to maintain a distinct identity. There is a price to be paid for that, one forgotten amid the great wave of acceptance into “whitehood” that has engulfed us in most American circles since the 1960’s. We need to remember how recent that acceptance was, and how it took the horrors of the Holocaust and the battle against Hitler to push most American Christians across the finish line of opposing anti-Semitism. Moments like Charlottesville remind us that we are a minority among minorities, and that a threat or an insult to any minority – African-American, Muslim, Latino, LGBT, or any other – is a threat to us all. To be a proud American Jew is to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those who defend diversity and equality in our country.
That does not mean that we see eye-to-eye with every opinion that is declared politically correct by the self-proclaimed spokespeople for the pro-diversity agenda. We are deeply troubled by some of the “intersectionality” politics of the left, trying to force us to fall into line on every issue, or else be vilified. Like all people, we bear complex and multi-faceted identities that cannot simply conform to norms too simplistically dictated by “left” or “right.” Precisely because we are such a highly successful minority group in this country, we are vulnerable to that sort of moral blackmail, sometimes coming from the people whom we most want to love and support. But we have our own sense of integrity, including a need to take a nuanced stance with regard to Israel-related questions, which are vital (in the literal sense of that word) issues to us as Jews. We decry the anti-Semitism emerging in some leftist quarters as full-throatedly as we denounce it on the right.
But Charlottesville makes at least this Jew say a very clear “Thanks but no, thanks” to the offered hyphen. I say this to the Bannon and Gorka crowd, but also to the Jews who are allied with them. Do not sully our good name by saying that your hate-filled and white privilege-based agenda represents anything called “Judeo-Christian” civilization. I say to the president: “Enough of equivocation! You cannot pander to the worst elements in American society and not expect decent people to stand up and call you out. It is you who have brought forth this new aggressiveness in the grotesque far right. Take responsibility for it!”
Where we Jews stand has to be very clear. The tradition we represent calls forth loudly and clearly that every human being lives fully in the image of God. “Why was Adam created singly?” the Talmud asks. “So that no man ever be able to say ‘My father was greater than your father.’” We are here to witness to that truth. The long history of our own suffering at the hands of bigots and bullies makes that witness an ever more urgent task for us. Let us proclaim it proudly in weeks like this one, and let us remember where we need to stand.
Art Green is one of America’s outstanding Jewish thinkers, founder of the rabbinic program at of Boston Hebrew College, and a founding member of Tikkun’s editorial board.