It happened. Again. On February 26, for the second time in a week, a Jewish cemetery was desecrated by a hate crime in the United States…this time in Philadelphia, known as the “City of Brotherly Love.” Headstones were toppled and damaged. Families were outraged. All of this happened alongside five waves of bomb threats toward Jewish community centers (JCC’s) since the American presidential election. If these facts don’t send a chill down your spine, then click on this link – “This is What a JCC Bomb Threat Sounds Like.” It contains a recording of what the people protecting our Jewish children have to put up with on a regular basis, not knowing which threat might be a real explosive in the midst of innocent victims.
The first time an act of vandalism in a Jewish cemetery occurred this week, it was in my own city of St. Louis where members of my husband’s family are buried. Over 150 headstones were knocked over or broken at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery. As a Christian, I know that sometimes people in the majority need to see a hate crime as personal before it touches their hearts. I sought to break down that barrier for others by posting about it on Facebook and asking people to comment with what action they would take about this hate crime. Some friends posted supportive comments that comforted me. Yet I was saddened by comments (even from one Jewish person) on other Facebook walls basically saying, “What’s the big deal? It’s a cemetery. Those people are dead.”
The big deal is that these are the memories of loved ones and a sacred space. The big deal is that these are hateful actions anti-Semitic cowards take because they figure the dead can’t come after them. But history shows us that when people are silent, the haters are emboldened and go after living people next.
Sometimes I’m skeptical of social media awareness posts for various causes when they don’t call for specific action, but I do think that they can serve this important purpose: They publicly let people know where you stand. I’m of the opinion that if others don’t know how you feel about racism and hate-crimes, then you probably haven’t said enough.
How can We Speak Out Against Hate Crimes?
I urge everyone to take on one of these actions against hate crimes as it makes sense for you in your country:
- Post on your Facebook about hate crimes in your community, your country, or around the world, so that people know what is happening and that you are against it.
- Write a letter to the editor about it to be published in your local paper, so racists in your community know that their feelings are opposed. Here’s an opinion piece I wrote after Indian-American families were targeted in my neighborhood.
- Tweet or write to the President of the United States (@realDonaldTrump). Let him know that only one statement about hate crimes isn’t enough. His silence is perpetuating these acts and that is not okay. The White House address is 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, Washington, DC 20006.
- If you are a U.S. resident, thank your U.S. senators for speaking out against the hate crimes in Jewish cemeteries. On March 7, ALL 100 US Senators signed a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, and FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday asking for “swift action” over repeated bomb threats against Jewish organizations around the country. It is extremely rare for the entire Senate body to send a letter on any topic.
A Silver Lining
To end on a positive note, I am heartened that there are many people who do understand both the enormity of what is happening in America today and the need for people of different faiths and ethnicities to support each other. A Muslim group leapt into action immediately with an on-line fundraiser to help repair the damage with a goal of $20,000. “Through this campaign,” the website read, “we hope to send a united message from the Jewish and Muslim communities that there is no place for this type of hate, desecration, and violence in America. We pray that this restores a sense of security and peace to the Jewish-American community who has undoubtedly been shaken by this event.” They reached their goal within three hours. They now state that they will donate part of their total, currently $135,316, to the Philadelphia cemetery that was also damaged. An impromptu cleanup crew worked at our cemetery the very next day, including Muslims, Jews, Christians and even U.S. Vice President Mike Pence. Pence happened to be in town for a scheduled visit to an area business.
Use their story as inspiration to find your own voice in your own community wherever you are in the world. As the late American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Don’t be silent.
How do you speak up against injustice?
This is an original post for World Moms Network by Cindy Levin. Photo: SKDK-TV.