Throughout history, we’ve had to respond to those bent on destruction. When the Second Temple was destroyed and Jerusalem was burning, and the remnant of our people were sent into exile, leading sage Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai responded by building an academy. Known as Yavneh, it became a stark symbol of defiance in the face of withering hatred. This single act by a single individual is responsible for helping preserve the Jewish people and Jewish values over the past 2,000 years.
Evil always fills a void; it thrives on listlessness and chaos. The strongest answer of our people is to be truer to ourselves, to delve deeper into our heritage and values, and to create a center of community where these can develop, thrive, and inform future generations. When we adhere to our sacred principles, we succeed in defeating the forces set against us, even those that physically threaten us. We learn to stand up for each other, even when we disagree — from our sages, we learn how to disagree.
We stand firmly with the good people of Charlottesville, as we do in all instances where evil persists. We mourn the tragic deaths of Heather Heyer, Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen, and Trooper Berke M.M. Bates, who lost their lives standing up for what is right and good. Our hearts go out to their families and friends, and we pray for a speedy and complete healing for those who were injured. We unequivocally condemn those who embody evil on this earth: white supremacists, neo-Nazis, the KKK, and all who pursue the path of hatred, prejudice, and xenophobia.
We reach out to ALL Americans from all walks of life who believe in the sanctity of our values of liberty, justice, and compassion. We lock arms with them because we know all too well that freedom is not free; we must be ever vigilant and active in its pursuit.
Actions speak louder than words. We back up these sentiments by striving even harder to imbue our communities with our values of tzedakah, chesed and tikkun olam — of restoring balance to society by actively helping the needy, caring with compassion, and advancing the cause of repairing the world. This is the work of our Federations, day in and day out. By continuing to teach and build community through these principles, we play an essential role in creating the kind of future we seek for ourselves, our children, and future generations.
This must be our response today. Not to tear each other down, but to stand stronger in the face of sinat chinam — baseless hatred. We build community because there is no better guarantor of the future than a populace that sees itself as sharing a common destiny. We devote ourselves to helping those in need because, as a sacred responsibility of our people, this defines who we are in a way that words cannot.
Many organizations and leaders have different roles to play in this paradigm, and we must work together toward a powerful, unified rejection of hatred and prejudice. We need to be supportive of each other’s efforts because each response is important. No one can be left behind; we must shore each other up and lead with distinction. Now is the time to coalesce — despite our disagreements — for the sake of our future.
In the enduring words of our sage Hillel: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?”
Richard Sandler is chair of the Board of Trustees and Jerry Silverman is president and CEO of The Jewish Federations of North America.