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A Plea to Our Bigoted Brothers

A Plea to Our Bigoted Brothers

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Statue of Liberty against blue sky

In the aftermath of yet another attack on a Jewish cemetery, another round of bomb threats at JCCs, and an ever-increasing climate of fear and hostility, perhaps we can find inspiration in the poetry of Emma Lazarus. Borrowing from the structure of Psalms and Proverbs, as well as the grammar and diction of The King James translation, she wrote these lines in her master work, "By the Waters of Babylon."

Thou shalt say to the bigot, "My Brother," and to the creature of darkness, "My Friend."
And thy heart shall spend itself in fountains of love upon the ignorant, the coarse, and the abject.

To the perpetrators of these attacks, let me speak to you as I would want a brother to speak to me if I did these kinds of things.

"What on earth do you think you're doing?!!"

OK, neither my sister, my brothers, nor I would use exactly those words, but you get the point.

Whomever you are and whatever it is you're going through, just consider this: Your parents raised you better, and your grandparents or great-grandparents risked their lives to rescue fellow human beings from mindless hatred. When you knock over tombstones, phone in bomb threats, and vandalize houses of worship, you don't just bring hurt to those places. You shame your own family, your own faith, and your own history.

We say unto our bigoted brothers, “Knock it off!" and to creatures of hatred, "You know better."

The bigots among us, though, are still our brothers. We may not like you very much right now, but we love you anyway. People of faith can't choose love only when we're proud of one another.

I'm sorry you're so angry that you feel a need to express yourself in this way. Find another way – please. I beg you, my brothers, to stop behaving like fiends and start acting like friends. It doesn't have to be like this. You have a brain, a heart, a soul. Use them.

Please. I'm telling you as brother, and asking as a friend. Stop it. Please, just stop it.

And to you, Ms. Lazarus, we long for you like never before. We look to you like never before. We're reading you like never before, quoting you like never before. We Jews are forbidden from worshipping statues, but there's nothing stopping us from revering the words written upon them.

We're trying, Ms. Lazarus. We're trying to keep the lamp lit and the harbor open. While some around cry out, "Build that wall!" we, who take refuge in your words, reply, "Build that bridge."

Long live Lady Liberty and the words of Emma Lazarus.

Rabbi David Wirtschafter is the rabbi of Temple Adath Israel in Lexington, KY. Confronting violence in classic Jewish texts and contemporary society is the focus of his work in progress, The Torah They Never Taught You, Bad Stories from The Good Book.

Rabbi David Wirtschafter
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