As my good friend planned his weekly Saturday morning attendance at religious services at his Manhattan synagogue, he received word from the rabbi to beware of potential violence propagated by neo-Nazis and white supremacists during a national “Day of Hate” created to “expose the international clique of parasitic vermin that infect our nation today…that is the one truly enemy of the American people, the Jew.”
In response to the possibility of poisonous actions, the rabbi informed congregants that the Sabbath service would be conducted outside on the steps of the temple. Call it an act of defiance. Call it an act of courage.
The prime purpose was to resist intimidation.
Temple Emanuel-El, the largest Reform synagogue in the world, had received no specific threats. Nonetheless, its location at East 65th Street and Fifth Avenue makes it a prime target for destructive extremist actions. New York Police Department (NYPD) police are constantly on alert. Protection of houses of worship by local police forces throughout the country is now more intentional than ever before.
According to my friend, roughly 100 congregants attended the service, far more than usual. NYPD police provided security on a chilly morning. The media covered what became a poignant event, along with onlookers across the street. Clergy from other denominations also participated.
When asked if he felt scared, my friend initially said no. Then, he said that at one point during the abbreviated service, he did consider the possibility of violence. Resolve was his primary emotion.
While intellectually I understand that segments of our fractured society feel angry about what they perceive as threats to their sense of cultural dominance, I despise their behavior. Free speech is one thing, even if objectionable. Violence and intimidation are unbearable.
Haunted by the Holocaust, Jews face constant fear of replication of Adolph Hitler’s murder of six million Jews. This memory will never fade. Pure hatred instigated unimaginable killing and maiming. Obliteration of the Jewish culture was Hitler’s abhorrent objective. Any of us with Jewish heritage remain on guard against increasing anti-semitic terrorism.
Churches, synagogues and mosques are sacred places of prayer and solace. They are cherished. They must be protected.
Extremist threats and behavior, intended to parlay loathing into personal attacks and community disruption, are the domain of narrow-minded bigots. I grant the right to grievances and unhappiness. However, I do not countenance acts of outright bias; the perpetrators and victims both suffer. Hatred sucks up your energy. Innocent targets of violence either lose their lives or their sense of security.
Instead of the comfort of religious observance and silent prayer, my friend faced an unusual, fraught service in the most populated city in the United States. It was his choice to attend and join his fellow congregants in making a statement to dangerous haters. I commend his determination. I told him so.
We live now in a nation where a “Day of Hate” not only is celebrated but tolerated. Our Founding Fathers would be flabbergasted. They hallowed freedom and liberty. If you read their words, they sought happiness and peace. And, yes, they paid far too little attention to slavery and its abominable oppression of people who only differed in their skin color.
New York answered the “Day of Hate” with a “Day of Resolve.” That makes sense. What is galling is the ever-spreading disease of animus. Anti-semitism is on the rise. Dangerous bias against “others” afflicts our country. The cure is elusive.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. After 44 years in Easton, Howard and his wife, Liz, moved in November 2020 to Annapolis, where they live with Toby, a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel who has no regal bearing, just a mellow, enticing disposition.