Rabbi Irwin Wiener, D.D.
“O God, keep not your silence; hold not your peace, and be not still O God. For lo your enemies are in an uproar; and they that hate you have lifted up their head. They hold crafty converse against your people, and take counsel against your treasured ones. They have said” ‘Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation; that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance.” (Psalm 83)
If there ever was a time when this Scriptural reading had more significance since World War II, it is certainly now. It has reached the heights of the greatest deliberative body in the world and reeks with the age-old bigotries of Jewish scapegoating. The halls of Congress are filled with hate, hate for one another, hate for the duties that are their responsibilities, hate for the decency of commonality, hate for the democratic expressions that gave this country life.
There was an essay written during 1940s by a Protestant Pastor, Martin Niemoller, in which he wrote, “First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak for me.” Here we are witnessing the same complicit behavior.
If there were to be declarations by members of Congress against African Americans, the Black Caucus would raise their voices in unified condemnation. If there were expressions of anger against people of the Muslim faith, there would be shouting of discrimination. Where are the indignations regarding the vitriol and hate emanating from the people elected to ensure the tranquility of all our citizens? Even members who are of the Jewish faith refuse to stand and condemn these atrocious diatribes.
At this season of the year, in Jewish Houses of Worship, the holiday of Purim is celebrated and the Book of Esther is read. It describes, in vivid detail, the tragic events that had occurred over 2500 years ago. It is as though we are traveling back in time. Again and again, we witness the attempt at eradicating a certain people because of their beliefs and traditions, these same understandings of faith that are part of all religious expression to this very day, whether it be Christianity or Islam.
Soon, Judaism and Christianity will commemorate two holidays designed to remind us of the value of freedom. More than that, however, Passover and Easter should awaken our understanding of tolerance, because intolerance results in the complete destruction of society. History is replete with these lapses in judgments and civility, and the total annihilation of cultures and countries.
Are there none who will stand up to bigots? Are there none to understand that hate, in any form, will eventually find its way into everyday living and experiences? Are there none who will realize the destruction resulting from such venom?
All that is being accomplished is the resurgence of perceptions that were thought to have been eradicated by time. Today, more than ever, efforts are being introduced, under the guise of free speech, to rekindle the flames of distrust reminiscent of the past. The world seems to be in flames, the flames of xenophobia and enmity.
As a nation, we have weathered the storms of animosity, bigotry, sexism and racism. There have been pauses and even back sliding, but we persevered because we understood, and should now understand, that only a nation united will stand as a beacon of what the Prophet Isaiah taught: “For as the Heavens are higher than the Earth, so are my ways and My thoughts higher than your thoughts.” Perhaps there are no greater heights to reach for than the Heavens above.
And then, perhaps as Psalm 83 ends, we too will understand: “That they may know that it is You alone whose name is the Lord, The Most High over all the Earth.” And, as Shakespeare asked: What’s in a name?” Should teach us that by whatever name we call God, it is the same God who breathed life into us at the beginning, and sustains us to this very day.