“Stop the words of hate.” – Rabbi Jeffrey Myers
Thursday night, I spoke on the topic “In an age of fake news, does truth still matter?” I shared an image of Nazi propaganda used to blame the Jews for the misfortunes of the Germans from World War I.
It read “They are the cause of the war.”
Less than 2 days later, the worst anti-Semitic attack on US soil was carried out just a few hours away, in my home state. Rabbi Myers’ admonition is wise and rooted in spiritual and historical reality. The rich tradition of Hebrew wisdom literature is replete with such insights.
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit. – Proverbs 18:21.
History also shows the power of words of hate. According to Ibram X Kendi in his book Stamped From the Beginning, details how the modern concept of ‘race’, with its anti-Black sentiments, was created by Gomes Eanes de Zurara, in his 1453 book, The Chronicles of the Discovery and Conquest of Guinea. Centuries later, we are still grappling with those “words of hate” which became the justification for slavery, colonization, segregation, and exploitation for centuries.
Anti-Catholic sentiment and the words of hate against ‘papism’ took center stage in the 1928 presidential election when New York Governor Al Smith, the first Catholic to win the nomination of a major party was accused of being a puppet for the pope. Decades later, John F. Kennedy had to grapple with the same fear-mongering.
Each wave of immigration American immigration, most notably from the 1800’s with the Irish, to the early 1900’s Italian, Eastern European, as well as every Asian wave of immigration brought new “words of hate” and accusations that “they” are the problem.
Recently, the “they” responsible for the destruction of our civilization has shifted to the ‘illegals’ and the ‘dangerous’ immigrants and refugees from the Middle East. Now, “they” are the ones we are told to fear. (Note: this is an evaluation of rhetoric).
When the “words of hate” point to ethnicity and religion, is it then surprising that the the the old, diabolical “they” of anti-Semitism rises toward a community that has threads of ethnic, cultural and religious identity interwoven within it? Tragically, the rise of Nazism demonstrates that often finger pointing toward “they” often has political motivations and incentives.
I lament the reality that while I was celebrating the 99th birthday of my grandmom, a Jewish family was mourning the loss of their 97-year-old beloved matriarch who was gunned down hearing “All Jews must die!” Thoughts and prayers are a start but are far from enough. We must “stop the words of hate,” and as Rabbi Myers says “it starts with our leaders” but it ends with us.
It is true that the rhetoric has to become less hostile across the board, but, lest we be guilty of false equivalency, we must stay vigilant to call out all attempts to subtly or overtly blame ethnic groups or religious groups for the misfortunes of our society. History shows us that only leads to one place: the justification of violence and hatred.
Words matter. Rhetoric matters. Because words become actions. And actions have consequences. Death and life are in the power of the tongue. For the sake of each precious soul we lost during this horrific attack, for David Rosenthal, Cecil Rosenthal, Richard Gottfried, Jerry Rabinowitz, Irving Younger, Daniel Stein, Joyce Fienberg, Melvin Wax, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon and Rose Mallinger, Let’s choose life and insist that those in positions of power do likewise.
Used by permission from the author, Rasool Berry.
“Stop the Words of Hate.” Reflections on the Synagogue Massacre by Rasool Berry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.