Have We Forgotten?

It ought to go without saying – but, unfortunately, it no longer does – that the events of this past week have been utterly disgraceful. That the President of the United States would draw an equivalency between Neo-Nazis and their opposition, thereby fraying the bonds that tie together our republic, is as morally bankrupt as it is terrifying. Our hearts go out to the people of Charlottesville, to the family of Heather Heyer, and to those of officers Berke Bates and Jay Cullen.

As members of the Orthodox Jewish community, particularly with Elul’s penitential shofar blast nearly upon us, this past week must also serve as a wake-up call. We are still within living memory of the Shoah. It was not too long ago that America’s leading universities had Jewish quotas. For too much of Jewish history, we experienced hatred first-hand. America, moreover, has a dark history of racial discrimination. While we have seen much progress, the seeds of hate have been planted deep in the heart of our republic.

New research in evolutionary psychology teaches that natural Darwinian processes of human group formation all-too-easily devolve into xenophobic hostility. The sin of hatred, from both the ideological left and the right, eternally “crouches at the door.”

So we must ask ourselves: when we teach our children the watchwords “Never Forget,” do we still take them seriously?

As the events of last year’s election offered a platform to inheritors of the evil ideology that culminated in the Holocaust, were we sober about the forces being unleashed? Or, with the Shoah’s shadow growing ever more thin, and having finally begun to “find our place” in upper middle class America, did we fool ourselves into thinking that we were now finally immune to right-wing hatred?

When everything about our political environment goads us to “take sides” in the culture war, we must remind ourselves that many of the same base instincts underlie hatred on both the right and left. Now is the time to find the strength, moral clarity and, to use De Tocqueville’s felicitous phrase, enlightened self-interest, to confront hate on all sides.

In just over a month, on Rosh Hashanah, we will recite the Zichronot prayer, pleading with our Master to remember us for good. This year, we must also recall our own commitment to never forget.

By so doing in partnership with other Americans of good will, we may yet realize the high holidays’ soaring vision of all humanity “bound together as one to carry out Your will with an undivided heart.”