Faith Over Fear, Love Over Hate

This past Sunday, I woke up and went to church. I was joined by Rabbi Miller, and, as two southern Jews, it was not unfamiliar territory. We joined the men and women of the First Baptist Church of Glenarden in Prince George’s county where Pastor John Jenkins was joined by 11,000 worshippers over the course of his three Sunday services.

The music and the prayers were uplifting, but I did not come for the music nor the prayers. This past Sunday, I went to be present. There was no other place I would have rather been. No other place where I would have wanted to worship. The morning was somber; it was the morning after the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, where White Nationalists, White Supremacists, neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members, and other racist groups engaged in violence that resulted in the death of Heather Heyer.

During the tiki-torch march Friday night, these groups viciously chanted anti-Semitic slurs against Jews. Nazi armbands and Nazi flags were visible in the crowd as well.

Hatred of Blacks and Jews had reared its ugly head again. Where? This time just miles from the home of Thomas Jefferson, one of the designers of our democracy. This was done to reignite terror in Black and Jew alike. This was not to discuss or stand for the right of a statue to remain in place or to protect history. Rather, this was an assault on our American way of life. This violence was not spontaneous but premeditated. Those there for the Unite the Right rally were clad in helmets, carried shields, and wielded baseball bats and clubs. These individuals were dressed for battle, not for a peaceful demonstration.

As Jews, as Americans, and simply as human beings with the moral clarity of our faith, Washington Hebrew Congregation condemns the monstrous act of murder that took the life of Heather Heyer. We are equally appalled by the resurgence of bigotry and anti-Semitism that the events of Charlottesville represent. We are deeply troubled by the moral equivalency and equivocation President Trump has offered in his response to this act of violence. It is a critical time for us to stand up for our beliefs and to join hands and hearts with other religious communities who are equally concerned about the welfare of our country. We cannot allow such acts of hatred to define or to divide our nation. The core of our Jewish faith reminds us that we were once slaves in the land of Egypt; as such, we have no tolerance for oppression of any kind. We must act on our beliefs.

On Monday night, I attended a candlelit interfaith vigil at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church in the District. It was a powerful reminder of the interfaith bridges Washington Hebrew Congregation has built in this city. We have stood shoulder to shoulder with Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, and Sikhs on so many occasions – both to celebrate our differences and to learn about those differences with respect. More often, we stand in solidarity against hatred and oppression. Our values of religious freedom, tolerance, and the shared belief that we are all created in the image of God demand that we honor the dignity of all human beings without regard to color or creed.

So, last Sunday, I had to go to church. And after services, I had to speak with the African-American pastor who had brilliantly comforted his members with a powerful message for us all: God will lead us to do good, not evil; to spread love, not hate. And America’s greatness will not be found in the violence of Charlottesville but rather in the dignity of our response.

Pastor John Jenkins and his First Baptist Church are our partners in the American Caravan for Peace, an effort to bring Jews, Christians, and Muslims together. This initiative began this past May in Abu Dhabi. I told him that I had to come to his church as a rabbi and man of faith; I had to be present and let him know that his pain is my pain, that bigotry and hate directed against any one of us is bigotry and hate against all of us.

Pastor Jenkins had tears in his eyes as he said, “I welcome you, my brother, to this house of God.” We embraced. That single gesture said more than any words we could have shared.

We must be present. We must stand for what we believe, whether through letters to the editor, in articles and blogs, in attendance at marches and vigils, or in our own prayer services. We must stand up for human dignity and stand up against hatred and violence of any kind.

This month, we sound the shofar to awaken us to the possibility of change; God demands us to be the best we can be. We call to each of you to stand for change and to demand that we choose faith over fear and love over hate.

In the days to come, we will write the history that will be remembered by our actions. Let it not be the violence of Charlottesville, but the good we choose to do in response.

Please help us stand for good: