The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.
Sunday marked two years since white supremacists and neo-Nazis gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, to publicly remind people in this country of their presence in American society. They chanted slogans lifted from Nazi vocabulary and made clear that antisemitism remains an animating force in white supremacist ideologies.
The sound of Nazi slogans shouted openly on a university campus in the U.S. was startling to many, a siren that rang a warning of more overt violence to follow. The evocative language chanted during their torch-lit march on August 11 set the stage for the murder of Heather Heyer and the wounding of 19 others the following afternoon.
The terror seen in Charlottesville has continued. White nationalism and other racist ideologies have been connected to dozens of acts of violence since that time. Christchurch. El Paso. The most murderous act of antisemitism in American history at Tree of Life Synagogue. There have been so many instances of this targeted violence since August 2017 that people struggle to recall them all.
As polarizing elements take a stronger hold, many Jewish people, particularly young Jews, many of whom are the direct descendants of Holocaust survivors, are reaching into a communal past and looking to sacred texts to provide guidance and inspire action. Contemporary Jewish Americans have been deeply inculcated with a particular set of values: “Welcome the stranger,” “Repair the World” (tikkun olam), and “Justice, justice you shall pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:20). In addition to these ancient imperatives, Holocaust remembrance and education teach us to be civically engaged, to speak out against injustice and not to stand idly by.
Today, all across the country, Holocaust memory and Jewish ethics are being activated. When migrants and those whose immigration status leaves them vulnerable are systematically dehumanized, Jewish values and communal memory call on us to act. This is the time for the language and ideals of Holocaust memory to be translated into advocacy, aid, protest and direct action.
For Jews, like any other communities of people bound by experience or tradition, our ethics and our consciences are firmly rooted and shaped by the messages of our ancestors. Our historical inheritance infuses and informs our awareness of the world in which we live. For decades, “Never again” has been the language spoken as an unattainable aspiration or in the horrifying aftermath of atrocity when it is too late to intervene or resist. But now, in this moment, people all over the country are demanding that never again is now and that never again applies to everybody.
This call has evolved into the bilingual, “Never again para nadie.” Holocaust memory, as the Nobel laureate and Auschwitz survivor Elie Wiesel hoped, is being used as a shield, a shield that protects us all from injury, be it literal or moral.
The strong voice and action of countless young Jewish people, who are working alongside elders and allies, leads to a path of righteousness. We simply cannot stand idly by while vulnerable people are cast off as the “other” and denied the most basic human rights. We must exercise our rights when others cannot.
This is the moment to take seriously our responsibility as the inheritors of “never again” to insist that acts performed in the name of this nation preserve the dignity of those who are vulnerable and seeking safety.