The main takeaway from my time at Hebrew School was to never, ever let myself devolve into a bystander. Each year, we studied the Holocaust and religiously read aloud Martin Niemöller's haunting poem, "First They Came for The Socialists..." The last verse in the poem reads, "Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak for me." According to the NY Times, more than 200,000 people took part in the Women's March here in NYC. We collectively joined our voices to express our festering discontent with how this unruly and flippant administration continues to treat its citizens, immigrants and the environment.
I am ferocious about defending immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers because the current rhetoric of today eerily echoes the rhetoric of the 1940s. When the St. Louis, carrying 947 passengers most of whom were Jews, cabled FDR in the hopes of finding refuge they were denied entry. The ship was sent back to Europe and the passengers were divided up amongst Great Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium and France. A total of 532 passengers were trapped in what had become Nazi-occupied territory and 254 died as a result. And, yet, these men, women and children had come so close to safety that they could see the lights of Miami. Even before the St. Louis calamity, there was a bill in Congress that sought to admit 20,000 Jewish children from Germany. However, the bill died and no action was taken. Once again, silence and inaction enabled the persecution to persist.
When Elie Wiesel received the Nobel Peace prize in 1986, he said:
"We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Whenever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must - at that moment - become the center of the universe."
While the surround sound news may be dispiriting, deflating and downright depressing, we still have the freedom of choice. Do we remain silent or take action in service of the peace we seek? Elie Wiesel may have intuitively known we could encounter our past again when he said, "There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest." I wholeheartedly agree, and I'll see you at the next one!