Yom HaShoah Reflections

  • by:
    • Jonathan Greenblatt, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League
  • May 1, 2019
Yom HaShoah

As we remember the six million Jews who died during the Holocaust on Yom HaShoah, we are once again confronted with loss. Once again, we are confronted by the violent hate that has plagued the Jewish people for thousands of years.

It is hard to believe that six months to the day of the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in American history at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, this week we witnessed another unimaginable act of hate at the Chabad synagogue in Poway, California.

And, make no mistake, this was not just an attack on one Chabad congregation. This was an attack on the whole Jewish community, as our collective sacred space was shattered with this heinous act of violence.

The shooting is a reminder of the reality, longevity, and virulence of anti-Semitism. It must serve as a call to action for all of us to deal with hate once and for all. No Jew, no person of any faith, should have to live in fear of being in their house of worship. This is the ultimate lesson of the Holocaust, and why we honor the victims each year on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

There is a direct line that can be drawn from Pittsburgh and Poway and Charlottesville to Hitler’s gas chambers. The connecting tissue, of course, is anti-Semitism. But the difference between then and now is that our free and democracy society has laws and good people to stand up and say, “no.” We live in one of the most accepting and welcoming societies Jews have ever known in history outside of the state of Israel. But as events this year and through history have shown, we can’t get too complacent. That’s why there’s an ADL, and that’s why we are working every day to ensure that Americans push back against hate in all forms. But we can’t go it alone.

Those in positions of authority, from elected officials to tech CEOs, need to stand united against hate and address it, not only after it happens, but by enforcing norms and standing for our shared values long before such a crime takes place. Across the spectrum, all Americans and all leaders from across our society need to step forward and clearly, consistently, and quickly denounce hate, stereotyping, and scapegoating.

Within the government, leaders must shift priorities to combat the rising threat of white supremacist violence. We know that anti-Semitism is at its core. Our authorities need to bring the same level of energy and intensity that they brought to the fight against radical Islamist terror to the fight against white supremacist terror.

Within our communities, leaders must ensure that hate does not sprout and fester among students and youth. Children should grow up hearing leaders modeling this behavior: not just speaking out against anti-Semitism and extremism, but also elevating our shared values like diversity and equality.

Within the private sector, we need to see these values articulated by corporate leaders. This includes CEOs of Silicon Valley who must prevent their platforms from being exploited by extremists. For too long they have stood back as anti-Semites and bigots have pushed poisonous ideas and memes on their services. We need the tech companies to truly innovate and enable their algorithms to interrupt online hate before it takes root. And, if they cannot, we will demand our lawmakers step up to fill gaps, ensure laws cover online extremism, and enforce accountability.

As tempting as it might be to think that the buck stops solely on one desk and that a single individual is responsible for all of this, the problem is bigger than any one person. This is a problem for us all. And make no mistake – it’s not a matter of politics. It’s a matter of principles.

Here’s the good news: Just as these tragedies have shown us the hate people are capable of, they too have shown us the good in people, and I have witnessed it firsthand.

I felt it when civil rights leaders from across the country reached out to me in the hours after the news broke of the horror in Pittsburgh to express condolences and ask how they could be helpful.

I saw it again in San Diego at Twin Peaks and Pomerado Road where dozens of people gathered on Sunday, holding signs showing unity.

We must value these gestures because it takes courage to stand up, to reach out, and to speak out. This is one of the enduring lessons of the Shoah: It may start with the Jews, but it never ends with the Jews.

As we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, we owe it to them to stand up for our values now, because we know how the story ends when good people stand down. We have seen the cost of silence. We have paid the price of passivity. Now is the time to stand tall and now is the time to get to work.