By Jack Rosen
The scenes from Charlottesville last week were truly harrowing. My parents, and thousands of other Jews across Europe, did not flee the Nazis and come to America for their grandchildren to face the kind of violence and hatred from the extreme-right that we all witnessed this weekend. However, the response to the tragedy has, if anything, made me even more proud to be an American Jew.
After witnessing the disgusting protests and statements made in Charlottesville, I came away with a feeling of revulsion. Neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members and Confederates brought hatred and discrimination into an otherwise peaceful community. Anti-Semitism and other forms of grotesque racism were suddenly acceptable and violence seemed to be inevitable.
This was a scene that many of us had hoped was confined to the history books.
In the aftermath, many focused on the President Trump’s reaction and what he did and didn’t say at various points after the attack. As a Jewish leader, many would have imagined that this would have left me questioning our country and its values. But I think it is important to understand the wider reactions, from religious leaders, politicians and society. For once, I have found the response from all parts of society overwhelming.
People from all walks of life, all races and all religions were willing to stand up against these atrocities and stand united against discrimination and hatred. Many mentioned the anti-Semitic nature of the rally directly and were willing to show that this was not acceptable.
Sen. Orrin Hatch’s (R-Utah) family, like my own, witnessed first-hand the atrocities of Nazi Germany. He made it very clear, “We should call evil by its name. My brother didn't give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.” He was not alone. Republicans, Democrats, liberals and conservatives all made their position public. That is without detailing the scores of Christian, Muslim, Jewish and other faith leaders who spoke out against the atrocity.
Our religious and political leaders proved that America is able to unite against this type of incident and rally behind those affected. They have proven that they are focused on the institutions that make us great: our freedom, our democracy, our passion for justice.
The public has followed this lead and instead of turning on our fellow Americans, the hatred on display this weekend brought us together. Much of the loathing comes from resentment and hardship but as American’s we are committed to understanding and unity, coupled with our desire to eliminate racist and anti-Semitic ideologies from our country once and for all.
I do not want to down play this tragedy, but we must realize that a small minority does not define us as Americans. We are a large country and there are many fringe and extreme groups. When this type of atrocity occurs, we all must clamp down and find ways to stop hateful ideologies from spreading and seeping into our society. Rallying together is our only tool in fighting these atrocities.
When my family was scattered and shaken by the horrors of the Holocaust we had America to turn to. America is still the home of liberty and freedom. As long as we continue to speak out against hatred, even when it comes from within, we will only be stronger for it. This is the hope of our nation and our people. To fight for freedom from oppression and for peace. This is our legacy, this is our duty. I am proud of my heritage and my country. I am proud to be a Jewish American.
Jack Rosen is president of the American Jewish Congress, an organization fighting for the civil rights and civil liberties of minorities.