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By Rabbi Jordan Helfman.

The statues are falling.

One after another, the statues are being pulled down, and with them falls the ideology. As each bronze face tumbles earthward, the white, slave-owning face that inspired it suffers a sense of vertigo. As each cast piece of anchored metal is set free from its base, that confederate likeness will experience more freedom than many who entered North America from Africa did their whole lives. As it is knocked from its pedestal, it inspires fear, regret, and pain over a destroyed idea of the past.

For if anything is true, this week, we learned that our sacred ideas of history in America now lie shattered at our feet. If anything is true, this week, we learned that when idols fall, elements of history we once thought were dead – unable to rise again – appear, they appear in the billowing dust as the statues hit the ground.

In the dust, we see faces, ghosts of history – Nazis, gathering for a rally, arm outstretched, Klansmen standing in their hoods. In the dust, we see the faces of our fellow Jews, taking Torahs out of the ark, as they leave through the back door, for armed men are standing at the front, threatening just by their presence and the presence of their machine guns. In the dust we see the faces, 84 years ago this week here in Toronto – of fists swinging through the crowd, aiming at Jewish and Italian heads at Christie Pits.

And as the dust clears, it clears not because there is some great leader who chooses right over wrong or good over evil. The dust clears simply because the rally has ended, the statue is down. But the ghosts which rose still walk, marching again today, emboldened by the life breathed into them by this episode, from the darkness into the daylight.

These are some of the words I shared this past Shabbat with the congregation based on the events in Charlottesville.

I wanted to share with you three articles I have read this past week on this upsetting rally and its aftermath, as a way of framing the conversation.

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  • H. Glickman
    Reply

    About Jews remaining silent, not to worry. Jews will never be marched off in silence. Never again means never again!!
    We will stand up for ourselves. We are not sheep and will not be led off to slaughter. In our past that has always been the case (I.e. Bar Kochbah).
    Anti-semitism will not go away; it is a disease that spans the millennia. We must accept that as a fact as unpleasant as that may be and will confront it.
    We are strong and we have Israel!!

  • Suzanne Heft
    Reply

    With all due respect, Englander, Chabon and Waldman are right. Charlottesville was a line in the sand for Jews and we better take heed. This is not paranoia, or hysteria. This is happening. Anti-Semitism, like other forms of bigotry and hatred, are not just being legitimized but encouraged in the United States, and by the very United States government that is supposed to ensure liberty and freedom for all. This is darkness, plain and simple. It is not ‘too much’ to ask Jews to wake up, to ‘wise up’ (as Chabon urges) and to call out all those Jews among us who remain silent or sit on the sidelines, for whatever reason, political or otherwise. As Dante said “the hottest parts of hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crisis, remain neutral”. Silence can be construed as neutrality. Silence is complicity. The time for Jews to stand up and speak out is now. All of us.

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