By Jack Rosen
In the shadow of the tragedy in Pittsburgh, I confess that of late I have grown weary of writing messages of condolence and solidarity to ethnic and religious groups that have been the targets of the increasing hatred and violence gripping our nation. I have issued too many unheeded warnings about intolerance. Our nation is in danger and we must have more than words and warnings. We must take firm action.
While I lead an organization dedicated to the issues and interests of American Jews, I know full well that the survival and success of the Jewish people is not an end itself, but an example of the American idea of tolerance and diversity at work. It is this very idea that was threatened in Pittsburgh. It is this very idea that was threatened in Charlottesville, in Charleston, and everywhere unchecked racial and religious intolerance has lapsed into its inescapable outcome: violence.
In these dispiriting times, I offer below four ideas that can help set America on a course to heal and triumph over the worst among us:
- President Trump should speak to all of America and not just his base.
The president has not held a single “fireside-chat”-style conversation with the American people during his administration. In the wake of Pittsburgh he should address the nation people directly by whatever means he chooses on the topic of the tone of discourse in America. President Trump is key in helping change the incivility and divisive rhetoric that is dividing the nation and inflaming
- Congress should call a joint session on religious unity, with no party lines.
Hate is not something we face as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans. My suggestion is that Congress hold a joint session featuring a diverse gathering of religious leaders to address interfaith understanding, tolerance, and peace. For a special session like this, “bipartisanship” is not enough; I propose dissolving the aisle. I challenge our congressmen and senators to sit beside members of the opposite party, so they may enter this difficult and critical discussion not as members of a party but as Americans first.
- Houses of worship must stand together and adopt “collective security.”
Religious leaders in every house of worship, from every denomination, should immediately adopt a single pledge for their parishioners that states that an attack against one faith is an attack against all. Not only is freedom of worship guaranteed in our Constitution, collective security among the faithful would be a powerful bulwark against those who think and act violently in their name.
America’s spiritual leaders — Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Humanist, and others — should also dedicate a sermon this month to the teachings of another faith, and in particular address their areas of common concern and belief, like mercy, compassion, and peace.
- Every American must reconnect with what makes us Americans.
Ordinary Americans should reconnect with the idea of diversity and pluralism that makes America great. I challenge every family to make an American pilgrimage this year. Travel — in person or virtually — to Washington, D.C. and read the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence with your own eyes. Travel to Gettysburg and other Civil War sites to see the bitter scars of a country divided. Travel to Colonial Williamsburg to the First Baptist Church, built in 1776 by free and enslaved African-Americans, and ring the Freedom Bell that stood silent since Reconstruction. Each of these places were at some point tainted with America’s original sins but each stand today as symbols of America’s uncanny ability to learn, heal and persevere. They can teach us again.
Eleven Jews perished in Pittsburgh: a piece of our national soul did as well. Only through a national reckoning undertaken together can we restore our commitment to one nation that is home to people of many beliefs and backgrounds. This is at once deeply personal and an intimate national process. We must all look within ourselves on how to live the American creed, and we must look to our leaders to help us fulfill our destiny as a shining example of tolerance, diversity, and human progress.
Jack Rosen is the president of the American Jewish Congress, an advocacy organization focused on civil rights and civil liberties of minorities.