Holocaust Education Resources Council Dinner
October 24, 2023
Thank you, bob.
I am deeply humbled by this recognition and accept it, not just for myself, but on behalf of all of us gathered here this evening because, by being here, we are all being humanitarians ……. Humanitarians standing up and speaking out against not only antisemitism but against all forms of hate.
I normally like to include a joke or, at least, some funny stories when i give a talk. But given our subject this evening and what has happened over the past few weeks, there is no room in my heart and I am sure no room in your heart for laughter……….. Only room for shock and pain and sadness as we see and hear the news of the cruel and horrible deaths of innocent people in Israel and Gaza………people just like you and me and our families.
So, could I ask that we honor those whose lives have been so cruelly taken during these past few weeks by having a moment of silence while we close our eyes and think only of them and their families?
Please join me in this moment of reverent silence.
Unfortunately, while we owe it to those who have lost their lives, a moment of silence is not enough. Every one of us has got to do more to stop this historical generation after generation world hate. We must stand up and speak out against hate in all its cruel forms. It is our responsibility at this point in our world history.
I am worried, however. ………………..and I am sure that you are equally worried …………… Maybe even more worried than I am if you have family and/or friends who have been victims during the past few weeks or if you remember family who were victims during the 1940s holocaust.
I am worried that hatred of others seems to be not only becoming an acceptable behavior again……..it is becoming a behavior that more and more people openly and proudly display……. As we saw with the murder of several thousand innocent souls these past few weeks in Israel and Gaza. But this hate is not just in the middle east, it is also showing up right here …. In our own nation.
A few years ago, we saw the hate murders at the synagogue in Pittsburgh and at the African American church in Charleston. Just this year, we saw people boast of their hate with the Nazi banner displays in Jacksonville and Orlando………. Just this last week, we saw it in Chicago when a 6-year-old Muslim boy was stabbed to death.
So, what does hate give us? Distinguished civil rights activist and author, Maya Angelou, tells us. She said:
“hate has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.” ………………and we can add, “and never will solve one.”
hate does nothing but cause problems and left uncontested, breeds even more hate and produces even more innocent victims. Hence, we cannot defeat hate with our own hate. That only breeds even more hate. We defeat hate by never letting it become a significant part of our society. We defeat it by stopping it before it finds a home in the minds of our people.
when we look at the hate trends in our own nation, however, we see that those trends are not good. In fact, they are terrible. Hate is finding a home in the minds of more and more of our people.
Just 10 years ago in 2013, the anti-defamation league recorded an average of 2 anti-semitic acts per day in the united states.
Last year, in 2022…….just 10 years later………….that number had increased by a multiple of 5 to an average of 10 per day. ……………..think about that! In just ten years, the average number of antisemitic acts per day in our beloved country has not doubled or tripled or even quadrupled ……it has increased fivefold…………….from an average of 2 per day to an average of 10 per day!
If we look at all hate crimes in the united states, including antisemitism, there was an average of 17 per day in 2011 and ten years later, in 2021, there was an average of 30 per day.
Keeping in mind the disturbing trend in our country, may I, now, ask that you travel back in time with me to 1923, a hundred years ago, and look at what was happening in Europe and especially in Germany at that time.
Antisemitic acts were happening all over that part of the world. But, for the most part, jews were able to live reasonable lives, attending schools, getting jobs, owning their own businesses, being members of social clubs…living, for the most part, like everybody else in spite of the antisemitic acts, which were mostly verbal.
That was in 1923. Now, let’s look at what happened over the following 17 years…just 17 years…leading up to 1940!!……..like our own nation today, antisemitic acts were increasing every year during those 17 years. In fact, acts of hatred against jews were becoming so frequent that such acts had moved from being acceptable to being expected of good non-jews.
It was in this environment that the Nazi party was coming into power and latched onto antisemitism as a way of building that power……………. Over just a few short years, antisemitism went from being a small part of the culture to dominating the culture in Germany and then, under the new Nazi government, the hate was passed into laws enforced by the police and the courts. ……………. And the opportunity to voice objection without dire consequences had been lost.
If we had had this meeting, that we are having here this evening, in Germany in 1940, we would, almost certainly, have been arrested and executed.
Martin Niemoller, a German theologian, captured the environment during those 17 years with the following quote that you will, no doubt, recall:
First, they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and i did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the jews, and i did not speak out—
Because I was not a jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Most of us know that the antisemitic environment in Germany in the 1930s and 40s resulted in more than 6 million jews being murdered by the Nazis…………… What fewer of us know is that an estimated 5 million non-jews were also murdered.
Once released, hatred has no bounds.
Let me repeat that “once released, hatred has no bounds.”
Once hatred is released, none of us are safe as we have seen in Israel and Gaza these past few weeks and we saw in Jacksonville a few weeks ago when the three people were murdered by a man with a Nazi symbol emblazed on his gun and last week when the 6-year-old boy was murdered in Chicago.
Looking back on those early 20th century years, let’s now ask ourselves:
- What would have happened in the 1920s and early 1930s if there had been the equivalent of organizations like HERC in every German community who were standing up and speaking out loudly against antisemitism and other forms of hate?
But the sad, sad fact is that almost no one did. There were almost no groups like us here this evening who had the courage to stand up and speak out against hatred in those days.
But, let’s ask ourselves the question again: ……………. What would have happened if there had been groups like us, groups like you and me this evening, back in those days……..groups of people who had had the courage and audacity to speak out against all of the anti-semitism in both Germany and the rest of Europe in those days?
- Would the holocaust have never happened?
- Would the 6 million jews have never been murdered?
- Would the 5 million other people not have been murdered?
- Would WWII with its estimated 80 million deaths have never happened?
- Would the cruel deaths in Israel and Gaza these past few weeks have never happened?
These questions emphasize the critical importance of what you and i are doing by being here this evening and what you and i do throughout the year in supporting the holocaust education resource council…………….. By our support, we are standing up and courageously speaking out against not only anti-semitism, but against all forms of cultural hate.
Hopefully, we, along with other groups like us around the nation, by acting and speaking out often, loudly and……… Continuously can prevent another holocaust whether it be a Jewish holocaust or a holocaust against others in our nation.
The yearly increase in the number of anti-semitic acts and other hate crimes in our nation sends us a clear and urgent message………we cannot be silent. We cannot sit back and let these acts of hatred grow un-contested. For albert Einstein said:
“the world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.”
We cannot stand by and say and do nothing.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it more bluntly when he so famously wrote:
“silence in the face of evil is itself evil: god will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
Every single one of us here this evening is critical to this mission because we, together and individually, are not remaining silent. We are speaking out.
- What you teachers do is critical in informing our children and grandchildren about the horrors of the holocaust.
- Those of us who come to HERC meetings and presentations are providing critical support in reminding and educating ourselves and our community about the holocaust and what could happen in our nation if we remain silent, like the people in Germany did in the 1920s.
- The HERC board is critical to keeping HERC functioning and performing all of its important work.
- Barbara Goldstein’s unwavering leadership is essential in planning and guiding the services that HERC provides to our schools and communities.
- The office space donated by Tallahassee community college is essential in giving HERC a home base
- Our involvement in and the donations that you and I give to HERC are absolutely critical to its success………… Without our involvement and donations, there would be no HERC and probably nobody in our community standing up and speaking out against hate.
By being here tonight and by continuing to support HERC year after year, you and I, and other similar groups around our nation, may very well be avoiding the mistake that the German people made by not speaking out early enough to prevent their holocaust……….. Our standing up and speaking out now and continuing to do so for years to come may very well save millions of future lives.
I leave you with this sobering quote from author Zadie Smith, sent to me by HERC board member, Susan Turner, a few weeks ago:
“progress is never permanent, will always be threatened, must be redoubled, restated and reimagined if it is to survive.”
So, we can never stop standing up and speaking out against hate as you and i are doing tonight and we all need to do every year, every month, every week and every day.
Thank you again for doing so by being here this evening and by your continuing support of HERC.