How should a person respond to hatred? How should we react when we witness or experience an act of unbridled, unabashed hatred directed from one human being to another? What should we do when we see someone treat another person with ugly, dehumanizing disrespect and encourage others to do the same?
Sadly, these are not abstract questions. Hatred, rooted in ignorance and intolerance, thrives in every part of the world. And in the past few days, we have witnessed anti-Semitic hatred in northwest Montana, in the town of Whitefish, a small, quiet and beautiful place to which my colleague Rabbi Francine Green Roston, former rabbi of Congregation Beth El here in South Orange, moved with her family three years ago. The episode is worrisome and frightening and should summon every decent person to resist, to object and to overwhelm hatred, and those who embrace hate, with an outpouring of love, acceptance and tolerance.
This most recent episode of anti-Semitic hatred involves a man named Richard Spencer, head of a white nationalist organization called the National Policy Institute. Just last month, Mr. Spencer was in the news for displaying a Nazi-like salute at a New York conference of White Supremacists and shouting “Hail Trump.” He claims that his mother, who lives in Whitefish, is being “forced” to sell her business in the town because of Jewish influence. He has targeted a certain Jewish family in Whitefish, photoshopping Nazi-era yellow stars on pictures of the members of the family, including a teenager, and labeling them with ugly, hurtful anti-Semitic epithets. He has printed their home address, email addresses, phone numbers and Twitter handles, exhorting people to bombard them with intimidating phone calls and even visits to their home to “hit ‘em up” with a “troll storm,” a barrage of harassing emails, phone calls and visits on an alt-right, anti-Semitic website called The Daily Stormer. In reality, Mr. Spencer is doing nothing more than using the tranquil town of Whitefish as a weapon of hate and anti-Semitism.
This Saturday night we the Festival of Chanukkah begins. On the first night, we light the Chanukkiah (Menorah) with only one candle and we add one candle each night of the holiday. The Talmudic sage Hillel urged that we follow this practice to increase holiness and light in our world rather than see it decreased. Maybe it’s the case that we cannot eliminate hatred and the darkness it brings on us all. But we can overwhelm it with love, tolerance and acceptance. Where there is darkness, we can—and must– increase light.