On the Outrage in Charlottesville, Virginia Over the Weekend

on Monday, 14 August 2017. Posted in Community Events

A Note from Rabbi Cohon to Temple Emanu-El

Dear Friends,

The events in Charlottesville, Virginia this past weekend were horrifying and tragic.  The acts of violence and rioting, perpetrated by un-American thugs, should remind every Jew—and every responsible adult—of the long and brutal history of death and destruction caused here and around the world by Nazis and neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, white supremacists, and other racists.  It is no surprise that these cowards marched under the banners of the Nazis, who were the greatest enemies of the United States of America, and of the Klan, who hid under bedsheets to murder fellow American citizens.  It is also no surprise they shouted anti-Jewish slogans, for we Jews have always represented the values that make America truly great.

Almost everyone in authority in our nation immediately saw this atrocity for what it was, and condemned it in the strongest possible terms.  Almost everyone, of every political party and position, saw it as totally wrong.  Some, however, perhaps swayed by their own pathetic electoral interests, or a latent tendency to admire fascism, took as much as 48 hours to realize that mobs marching under the banners of the Nazis are evil. 

But we Jews know better.  This was not American free speech in action, or patriotism, or “violence on all sides”.  It was barbarity, and the lowest acts perpetrated by the worst elements in our country.  In addition to the woman murdered, Heather Heyer, it also indirectly caused the death of two state troopers.

Make no mistake: the people who committed this outrage, and who attracted terrorists like the man who drove his car into a group of peaceful counter-protestors, murdering an innocent woman and wounding others, are traitors to our country and its ideals.  These thugs were violently rioting to prevent the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, most important general of the worst act of treason in American history. 

I am as much of a Civil War buff as anyone, and well aware of the remarkable character of Robert E. Lee as a man of his time and place.  But the fact is that in 1861, 156 years ago, Lee turned down the opportunity to lead the United States Army in order to fight for the Confederacy against the American flag he served, serving against America in the most tragic war in our history.  That is the definition of a traitor.  No single act deserves that name more.

Thomas Jefferson, founder of the University of Virginia on whose empty campus the rioting took place, author of the Declaration of Independence and strong supporter of his friend James Madison’s Bill of Rights, worked hard to avoid what was called in those days “Mobocracy”.  He would have decried the terrorist barbarism, profound stupidity, and evil demonstrated last weekend by those violently marching in Charlottesville.

We must do the same, and hold our elected officials firmly to that same standard.  I must note that Senator John McCain instantly and effectively decried the disloyal terrorism in Charlottesville, as, more briefly, did Senator Jeff Flake.

This is our country, a land that guarantees freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom of the press.  It is a nation dedicated to the principle that all are created equal, as Jefferson himself put it, endowed by our “Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” 

This week we read the Torah portion of Re’eh, which states that we are given a choice: blessing and curse, life and death.  We, as Jews, as responsible citizens of this country, need to stand up for our values against these traitors, terrorists, and liars.  We, as Americans, need to decry such stupid savagery, and advocate for the country of liberty that we love.

So that we can continue to build an America based on the values that make it great.

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