Standing Up to Hate

Note: this article will appear in this week's Herald-Democrat

The other day I was researching the story of the story of Queen Esther for a sermon. Esther, whose story is found in the Hebrew Scriptures in the book which bears her name, became queen as a result of her beauty. She kept her Jewish identity a secret in fear that she might lose her place of prestige and honor. But shortly into the story, Esther is challenged by her cousin Mordecai to reveal her identity in order to save her people from extermination. Esther hesitates, but in the final moments comes through, saving the Jewish people. The victory is recognized by Jews every year at the festival of Purim, which takes place during the first week of March.

The Book of Esther is the story of one murderous disaster avoided, but we know from history that the Jewish people have been oppressed over and over again, and sometimes they have not been able to escape the atrocities associated with hate. Well, we should know. Increasingly Americans are forgetting history: a recent Pew Research poll showed an alarming lack of knowledge of Americans about the Holocaust. Less than half of those surveyed knew that six million Jews were murdered by Hitler's regime, and less than half knew he came to power by a democratic election.

I felt the need to reach out to our Jewish neighbors in Sherman to offer words of solidarity and encouragement, to say that our congregation stands on the side of peace and justice and against hate and violence. I called the local synagogue, Temple Beth Emeth, to... do what? I wasn't sure. I planned to leave a message on the congregation's voicemail. To my surprise, the call was answered by Andy Faber, the president of the synagogue. Mr Faber has come to our congregation multiple times over the years to speak about Judaism; our church sends its youth learning the basics of faith to the Temple regularly, and we are always warmly received.

Mr Faber said the key to addressing anti-semitism and all kinds of hate is education and letting others see what is going on. He shared Reformed Judaism's motto: "Repair the World." He invited me and the church to the synagogue's community Passover Seder. I told him I would be there, and would encourage other Grace members to attend. He also mentioned several years ago the Sheriff's Department recommended the Temple should not post their service times on the marquee of the building to avoid any potential attacks against the community.

The FBI recently released hate crime statistics in America which are another cause for concern. Of the hate crimes reported in 2018, 60% were against Jews or Jewish institutions. Hate crimes against other persons are also increasing: nearly 50% of race based hate crimes target African Americans. Crimes against LGBTQ persons increased 6%, while crimes against transgender individuals increased 42%. Anti-Hispanic attacks grew 14%, the third consecutive increase over the last few years.

Esther is concerned about speaking out against the violence coming to her community because her newly-found place of privilege and power may be threatened. But her cousin Mordecai, who originally encouraged her to hide, says it may have been "for a time such as this" that she came to her position (Esther 4:14). She pleas with her husband the king for clemency for her people, and at the last second the Jewish people are saved. Likewise, those of us in places of privilege may not remain silent in the face of rising anti-semitism, race based hate crimes, abuse of LGBTQ+ persons, and forgotten history.

This week marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp near the end of World War II. We must remember history, but also keep our eyes, ears and hearts open to what is happening to vulnerable people in our community today. Borrowing the motto of Reformed Judaism, it's up to all of us to repair the world by countering violence and hate with solidarity, peace, and justice.