What do you do when hate comes to your neighborhood?
That’s a question my community and I, in Chevy Chase, had to unfortunately grapple with a couple of weeks ago after an individual left anti-Semitic literature on the doorstep of several of our neighbors’ houses.
At first, I was aghast that someone would feel confident about coming into my neighborhood to directly attack people he did not know, to terrify them just because they were Jewish.
But then the neighborhood reacted, with sounds of anger and disbelief that such an event could take place. Neighbors expressed outrage and sympathy towards the affected families. Their support gave me and the rest of our community the strength we needed to stand firm against this hate.
And many of these neighbors were not Jewish.
There’s a lesson in this for all of us. When hate shows its ugly face, it affects us all, not just those who are directly targeted. Today it’s Jews, tomorrow Latinos, the next day homosexuals. Hate truly knows no boundaries, and when it arrives, there’s only one thing to do.
Reject it loudly.
As an American Jew who has grown up in a society that has given me and my family safety, freedom and economic security, I continually feel a need to give back and to speak out against injustice. And as an elected council member of the Town of Chevy Chase, I feel empowered to do so.
There is no room for hate in our communities. If we have learned anything from Jewish history, it’s that when haters show up and begin to scapegoat others, it is time to shout them down. Yet this is not only the responsibility of our elected leaders, our police, the media and our clergy. This is also the responsibility of everyday citizens. Everyday citizens set the tone, in big ways and small, of the kinds of communities we live in.
That is what I learned from my community after this incident, and that is what I thought about this Rosh Hashanah.
Despite the challenges we are facing as a country and as American Jews, we have much to be grateful for this year. And for my generation of American Jews, who were brought up with a strong sense of identify forged in the shadow of the twin dominant Jewish experiences of the 20th century — the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel — now is our moment to confront the dark wave of hate rumbling through our communities.
And we will. But we will not do it alone. We will do it as both Americans and as Jews.
To do this, we need to ensure that we are building bridges to every community in America, so that we create a resilient web against hatred. This has been done by multiple targeted groups in America throughout our country’s history. The greatest example is that of the civil rights movement, when people of all colors, races and religions banded together to fight back against discrimination.
No one group can create the change it needs all by itself. People need allies and friends across multiple communities. It is the same now for American Jews.
So in the lead-up to Yom Kippur and beyond, let us remember the time-tested truth that just like our ancestors and cousins around the world, we too will defeat hatred. But we can only do it in a quintessentially American way, by relying on our country’s diversity, tolerance and openness to help us towards this end.
That belief is what my town provided to its Jewish residents. I’m proud to be living in a town that has neighbors who speak up against hate. And I’m proud to be living in Montgomery County, which is incredibly diverse, with people from all over the world, so that my children can see how diversity is both beautiful and strong.
I’m proud that the American Jewish community fights for the values of openness, inclusion and peace. But we must all be aware that, post-Charlottesville, these benefits of living in America are not free. They must be cherished and cultivated daily. It is not enough to talk about how the world may be changing in negative ways; you must do something about it.
All it takes is for one hostile leaflet to create fear.
So, during these tumultuous days, when hate is coming to many towns in the United States, we must all be resilient. We must all say “no” to the haters and “yes” to those who would lift us up rather than tear us down.
Fortunately, those people are all around us. They are our neighbors and they are our friends.
And if hate ever comes to your town, “they” should also include you.
Joel Rubin is a visiting fellow at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz School of Public Policy and Management in Washington, a former deputy assistant secretary of state and a councilman in the Town of Chevy Chase.