Dear Friend of Israel,
The news from Charlottesville appalls and saddens me. As I saw photos and read accounts of white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and supporters of other hate groups marching in the streets of this Virginia city, I was reminded of a similar event nearly 40 years ago – one that led to my forming The Fellowship.
In 1978, I was in Chicago to fight a planned neo-Nazi march through Skokie, a suburb with a large Jewish population. Some saw this as a legitimate exercise of the right to free speech; the position of the organization I represented at the time was that this blatant display of virulent hatred was not to be tolerated, and could lead to chaos and violence.
That march never took place, but, as we saw in Charlottesville, the hatred that animated it lives on, and it is no less shocking today than it was then. The marchers’ hatred extends not just to Jews and African Americans, but to anyone who does not subscribe to their contemptible ideology. Sadly, the march came at a terrible cost: a 32-year-old woman was murdered when a young man deliberately drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters. And two Virginia state troopers, sent to the march to keep public order, died when their helicopter crashed.
Hateful fanaticism exists in every society, but the overwhelming majority of Americans thoroughly reject it. American democratic institutions, which provide a critical system of checks and balances against its rise, remain robust.
But there is a sobering lesson to be learned from the events in Charlottesville, and we ignore it at our peril. Wherever people stir up hatred based on race, religion, or political affiliation, we must stand resolutely against them. Indifference emboldens intolerance, allowing it to infect our societies. Silence can become complicity with evil. No one knows this better than the Jewish people, who, after the Holocaust, adopted “Never again!” as their watchword.
Please join me today in praying for the loved ones of those killed in Charlottesville, and that the chaos and discord in the city will give way to peace. And, as people of faith, let us always remember that we have a special role to play in making peace and building bridges in our own communities. Today, and every day, let our presence in a troubled world be a testament to the biblical truth: “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1).
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President