Brian Siegal & Annette Klein
One week after the murder of 11 worshipers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Shabbat, Judaism’s day of rest, took on heightened poignancy. Inspired by an AJC-created campaign to #ShowUpForShabbat, Jewish communities across the U.S. and around the globe gathered in synagogue, joined by allies of all beliefs, to send a powerful message: We are not afraid, and we are not alone.
As part of this effort, we — the German consul general in Miami and the director of American Jewish Committee in South Florida — attended Shabbat services together with Archbishop Thomas Wenski, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and many other civic and faith leaders. Synagogues overflowed. Together, we prayed. Together, we mourned.
As we remembered the victims, prayed for the full and speedy recovery of the wounded, gave thanks to the first responder, and stood in solidarity with Pittsburgh’s Jewish community, we could not escape the feeling that historical amnesia seems to grow in our society.
We remember: In November 1938, Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi minister of propaganda, told other Nazi leaders gathered in Munich that the time had come to strike at the Jews. The result was “Kristallnacht,” the “Night of Broken Glass,” referring to the thousands of windows shattered in Jewish homes, businesses and synagogues that, ultimately, were destroyed.
During the violent wave of anti-Jewish pogroms that took place on Nov. 9 and 10, tens of thousands of Jews were arrested and deported to the concentration camps of Dachau, Sachsenhausen and Buchenwald. Scores of others were assaulted and murdered. Thus, began the road to the Holocaust, the systematic annihilation of 6 million Jews.
From this pogrom and the horrors of the Shoah that ensued, we learned that intolerance and hatred must be confronted in their earliest manifestation.
Yet today — 80 years after Kristallnacht — the past remains with us.
Anti-Semitism still plagues Europe, the United States and other regions. In several European countries, including Germany, we have recently seen shocking expressions of anti-Semitism, physical assaults on Jews and defiance of police efforts to restore order. Anti-Semitism is a shape-shifting phenomenon that emanates from a variety of sources — xenophobia, populism, neo-Nazism, Islamist extremism, far-left radicalism and anti-Zionism. Europe’s Jews are worried about the future.
There are Americans, too, who seek to demonize, dehumanize and ultimately destroy Jews and Jewish life. According to the FBI, the majority of religion-based hate crimes in the country are committed against Jews, even though Jews constitute no more than 2 percent of the population.
For us, America’s motto of “E Pluribus Unum” and the European Union’s motto “United in Diversity” both signify that the strength of our societies and the source of our common values lie in the enrichment provided by the interchange between many different cultures, traditions and languages. Therefore, an attack on any faith is clearly an attack on all faiths, and anti-Semitism, bigotry and hatred have no place in our society.
Our grief must turn to resolve and to action. We are united in anger and determined to confront hatred and extremism. We must speak out and stand up against those who target Jews and anyone who prays differently, looks different or loves differently. Those perpetrating hateful acts against others, just for being different, undermine the very foundations of our pluralistic democracies; we will not let them win.
During Shabbat, 80 years after Kristallnacht, the two of us stood with many others around the world and prayed together in remembrance of the victims of the Holocaust and the Tree of Life synagogue.
We, along with all like-minded, will confront anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry and hatred every day, everywhere. It begins with small steps by people of conscience standing up to hate in their daily personal lives. When that happens, we pay homage to our past, honor our common values and work toward a future of mutual respect.
Brian Siegal is director of the American Jewish Committee South Florida Regional Office. Annette Klein is the consul general of Germany in Miami.
Courtesy AJC and Miami Herald