The demonstrations in Charlottesville and the distressing statements of Donald J. Trump spurred much conversation. Within my family, my mother recalled feeling the same sense of fear on the day that Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared war on Japan and Germany. Violence threatened by Nazis in neighboring towns is harrowing in its own right. And then I compared my mother’s reaction to that of the many people who shared with me that they weren’t following the news at all. I’ve been thinking about how to respond to those who hide from the challenges of hate groups.
Torah this week tells us exactly what to do. Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdof – Justice, Justice shall you pursue. (Deut 16:20). Tzedek is the foundation of a free and open society. It is not the mere need for orderliness. Otherwise the Torah would have said the word “justice” once, and it would have been enough. Rather, we are compelled to seek a justice that represents righteousness. That is a path of virtue, decency and morality.
To ignore the hate mongers, to turn the channel on the television when the news comes on, is to abdicate this foundational principal of Judaism. We can debate whether or not we should be counter-protesting, which by some measures is also counter-productive by drawing more attention to the KKK and neo-Nazis. Yet, indifference should not be a choice. As many have recently quoted nobel laureate and Shoah survivor Elie Wiesel, “the opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference.”
Among my heroes of the past week are Rabbis who were ordained by Chovevei Torah, which is a seminary of Open Orthodoxy. Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of the District of Columbia and Rabbi Uri Topolosky of Aspen Hill, Maryland among others went to Charlottesville on Monday. They visited with the police chief to demand protection for the synagogues. They visited the hospital to meet the chaplaincy staff and offer them encouragement. And they went to a park which they renamed in honor of Heather Heyer, the young woman mowed down by a car in Charlottesville. That’s the kind of leadership I most admire and the example of how to pursue justice. But leadership is not reserved only for Rabbis.
So here are some of the things you can do to pursue justice. Make sure your elected representatives on the state and local levels know that you are concerned. The issues before us are many. We must demand that synagogues and mosques and African American churches be protected. We must advocate for universal voting rights and not unfair limitations on registration. We must support organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center, which are on the front lines of addressing racial inequality and bigotry in the courts. We must reflect on how we demonstrate that we cherish our rights of free speech, religious observance, and gathering in public in a way that strengthens our country. As for me, I’m not comfortable that so many guns were on display in Charlottesville and that the Second Amendment could have “undermined” the First Amendment.
Pick one thing to advocate or pick several but be a pursuer of justice. As Hillel said, “if not now, when?”
R’ Evan J. Krame