Every Saturday morning, it is the Sabbath in my world. I gather with my fellow Jews to pray, to sing to God, to dream, to hope for a better world. We gather to feel safe among our extended family, those who share in the ancient traditions of our spiritual discipline that celebrates the ideas of oneness, love, respect and generosity of spirit towards all.
I personally feel like the most blessed Rabbi in the world that I am able to live our ideals out loud and gather strength in our collective humanity by doing so. I am inspired as a religious leader to build an enlightened future one step of gratitude and love at a time. That is what my great heritage of Judaism teaches me that I should do, and so we gather every Shabbat morning to pray as a community to do just that.
I was forced (recently), with the events that unfolded in Charlottesville, Va,. to imagine what my fellow colleague, Rabbi Tom Guthrage, experienced when … following Shabbat morning services, in a state of utter shock, he directed his congregants to leave quietly out the back door of the synagogue in groups because the KKK and white supremacists were marching and standing out in front of the building with huge Nazi flags with the red and black of the swastika waving the reality of hate triumphant into the souls of these innocents Jews who showed up only to pray.
The chants of “Jews will not replace us,” “White Lives Matter,” “Seig Heil” and “Blood and soil” filled the air and cut deep into the memories of every person who has faced the terror of hatred.
It will take time for us to digest the true meaning of these marches and the terrible threat that they pose to the beautiful ideology that birthed this great nation. For all ideas are not created equal and hatred and bigotry have no place in any enlightened society.
When the violent and tortured attempt to annihilate my people by Adolph Hitler was brought to a stop almost 70 years ago, we chanted “Never again!” Yet somehow we believed that once the incomprehensible hatred was exposed to the world, it could never happen again, humanity would not let it — and yet, here we are today with swastikas flying high and new marches being formed and hatred on display like any other ideology for the choosing with the claims of free speech being used to defend the morally incomprehensible.
I have imagined, as every Rabbi has recently, what I would do if this were to happen here in our beautiful Port City of Wilmington. What would I do as a spiritual leader if, through the sweet melodies of prayer that I chant every Sabbath, I heard hatred’s score interrupt my service?
I found my answer when I read a tweet written by a young white supremacist: “The fear we instill in them today only fuels our victory for tomorrow.” And I thought to myself … no, not this time!
“Never again” doesn’t just mean this atrocity must never happen again. It also means we will never allow ourselves to be afraid of hatred again. If we are afraid, we hide. There will be no more hiding.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel taught us that “to BE means to stand for” … and that is the simple answer to this complicated equation.
I would say in the face of this disease of hatred, fear not the evil, just stand up for the goodness. I would lead our congregants outside the front door of our synagogue with signs that read “Love, Peace, Compassion, Empathy and Respect for all Humanity.” And we would simply stand tall in all that we believe to be good and just, righteous and decent.
Herein lies the message for all of us — be human by standing up for goodness. As Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. both taught, do not fight back, do not engage, simply be the change that you want to see in the world. Be goodness.
Yes, the darkness is threatening, but look closely, because the light is building strength as well. Goodness will win out in the end, so BE IT!
No time to fear, it is time to rise.
Rabbi Julie Kozlow serves the congregation at B’Nai Israel Synagogue in Wilmington.