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JCF Blog

A Light Unto the Nations

Posted by: Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford on 8/16/2017

How have we come to this place? 

In the wake of the events of the last week in Charlottesville, Virginia, I have been asking myself this question over and over.  The visuals of neo-Nazis and white supremacists chanting “the Jews will not replace us” was unnerving not so much for the hate (which has always existed), but because of how emboldened they were. 

So much hate… I would weep for the weakness of the human soul were I not so angry. Angry that we have somehow allowed the white supremacists and neo-Nazis to mar our public spaces with such violence and vitriol.

Let’s be clear – the demonstrations organized by the neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups had nothing to do with politics, no matter how extreme. They were about hate. Hate of everything that is not white, Christian and straight. Hate of us.  Hate like Germany in the 1930’s. 

The chants and images of Charlottesville are particularly disturbing to the Jewish community because we are at the very center of this hateful rhetoric. However, the white supremacists’ hatred is not limited to Jews.They are equal opportunity haters.They would like to see our society rid of people of color, other minority religious and ethic groups, people from the LGTBQ community and others.

It may not be comforting to know that we have company among the hated, but it does mean that we have allies in this fight. Other individuals who are just as threatened, just as afraid and with whom we must stand at this important moment in history.

Let us not take the rise of hate casually. The groups that sponsored the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville believe that their moment has come. 

They represent a threat to everything that we believe as a nation and every principle that we hold dear as Jews, a people who embrace equality because we believe that every human being is created in G-d’s image. Perhaps just as importantly, while we abhor violence as a tool of protest, there can never be moral equivalency between neo-Nazis and white supremacists on the one hand and those who oppose hatred, bigotry and xenophobia on the other. 

Some may argue that it is not the place of the Foundation to speak of these matters.  They might say that we are about strengthening the Jewish Community of Greater Hartford, not about politics or the troubles in other places.

But for those who say this – I respectfully disagree.  The events of Charlottesville are not so terribly distant from us.  We have all heard stories of swastika graffiti in Greater Hartford, and just this week the Holocaust memorial in Boston was vandalized for the second time this summer.

When neo-Nazis who seek our destruction are emboldened, when the repugnant bile of hatred threatens the very principles on which our nation was founded and challenges the most foundational beliefs of our faith, I believe it is our responsibility as Jews to join together with others and speak up.  It says in our sacred texts that we are to be“a light unto the nations.”  Perhaps in moments like this, we can begin to understand that calling more clearly. 

Abraham Joshua Heschel often provides me my moral footing when I seek Jewish answers to important questions, and he has much to say on this topic.  He asked, “How many disasters do we have to go through in order to realize that all of humanity has a stake in the liberty of one person? Whenever one person is offended, we are all hurt. What begins as inequality of some inevitably ends as inequality of all.” 

And perhaps of even more significance – “the opposite of good is not evil, the opposite of good is indifference.”

Perhaps it is time for us to speak up and truly be a light to the nations.


Michael Johnston is the President and CEO of the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford

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David Hinsley Cheng
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Michael, thank you for such a well written and impassioned post. These are indeed days of sadness and righteous anger. I hope for optimism as we as a country rise to confront hate whenever and wherever it appears.
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Thank you for your thoughtful and heartfelt commentary. As the widow of a Jewish man and the grandmother of grandchildren of color, I am outraged over the actions, but more disillusioned and extremely disappointed over the hearts and minds of white supremacists. From my vantage point as a long time social worker, I thought things had improved. I can pray and work towards that.
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