If ever Martin Niemoller’s message of the need for solidarity in the face of hatred was relevant, it is now. Almost all us are familiar with that famous Protestant pastor’s quote about the 1930s in Nazi Germany. “First, they came for the socialists, I did not speak up because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the…” Yesterday, the 25,000 marchers of all religions and races who attended the solidarity rally on the Brooklyn Bridge, chanted “No more violence, no more hate, we will never cede to hate. Our shared values make us great.” and “No More Violence, no more hate, we can’t afford to wait.”
We Jews have seen what “waiting” led to in the decade before the Holocaust. Yet, the acts of violent hate crimes in the last two decades of the 21st century have not been a result of a grassroots or a governmental campaign to rid the nation of Jews. Even as the intense escalation of violent anti-semitic assaults are perpetrated by the deeply disturbed and alienated of society, we share that victimization with others. Solidarity is a powerful weapon to combat acts of hatred because it is all embracing: the victimization of not just “our people,” but of all of humanity. The “Never Again” expressed in posters in yesterday’s march will not serve history well if it is not applied to what Niemoller described as the “trade unionists, Catholics and socialists” of the 1930’s as well as the Jews. Tragically, in the post Holocaust world, we know that many more groups can be added to that list.
It is so fitting that Bernice King, the daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., is the one who reminded us of that when she recently spoke up and took a stand in “unity with the Jews,” condemning the violent attacks. Last week, during Chanukah, she described the attack at the rabbi’s home, “against a people and a promise…I am praying for our Jewish family members and I encourage us all to refuse to adjust to anti-semitic stereotypes and the rhetoric that dehumanizes. We cannot pretend that hate is dormant.” She said this on Twitter. I am not certain why her statements weren’t blasted all over the television or newspapers where they could have provided the greatest exposure to the general public. It should have been.
One sign that caught my attention at yesterday’s march stated in BIG Bold Print, “We Are Praying With Our Feet.” At the moment, I did not know what that statement was referring to but was determined to find out. Later, as I defrosted in the comfort of my home, I discovered it was said by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel long ago in another solidarity march, when Rabbi Heschel, along with several other rabbis and Jewish leaders from all over the U.S., marched with Martin Luther King in the five-day, 54 mile march from Selma to Montgomery Alabama, March 21-25, 1965.
I was well aware as we marched across the Brooklyn Bridge in the freezing cold under heavy police protection that yesterday’s marchers were indeed fortunate. Fifty-five years ago, the Alabama Police brutally beat African American citizens with clubs as they marched over another bridge, the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Congressman John Lewis’s head was badly smashed. Thankfully, he recovered and became an advocate for all victims of bigotry. That Sunday, March 7, 1965, became known as “Bloody Sunday.” Although African Americans suffered their fate alone on that terrible day, only two weeks later they were joined in solidarity by white people from all across the US. Rabbis, priests, ministers walked arm-in-arm to forever commemorate injustice to any people.
Thus, we have learned how to walk together… Touro students did precisely that in 2009. I was fortunate to be among the four Touro faculty to lead students of all faiths on a trip to Selma. We walked across the Pettus Bridge in the spirit of “Never Again.” And now, with heavy but hopeful hearts, we Jews are determined to apply “Never Again” to the most recent waves of violence perpetrated against us. However, we are equally determined that as we march forward together, we will wipe out hate and injustice when it erupts in any form.