By Mark Moskowitz |  Anti-Defamation League Southeast Regional Director

As we approach the High Holidays, we can’t help but think about the key issues of the day for the Jewish people. Obviously, the issues of Iran, Israel’s security, the anti-Israel sentiment on campus, and, of course, global anti-Semitism are matters of immediate and deep concern.

ADL Seeks More Civil Society in 5776 1

Mark Moskowitz

While there have been some steps to address the serious challenge of anti-Semitism both internationally and within the United States, including the stirring rejection of anti-Jewish hate by French Prime Minister Manuel Valls and some other world leaders, the anti-Semitic incidents and violence worldwide during this year seem unparalleled in the past decade.

These are big issues to address and will require a comprehensive set of actions through policy enactment, education, advocacy and more. It can feel overwhelming. Where does one person start?

As we prepare for the Days of Awe, we are instructed to think about how we have missed the mark. What actions have we taken that have hurt others? Were there times we did not act when we should have? What words have we spoken that we want to take back? This is one place to begin.

ADL education programs emphasize the concept of the pyra­mid of hate. The words used in our liv­ing rooms, our workplaces, on the floors of Con­gress and in the news have consequences. They directly affect our abil­ity to sus­tain a society that ensures dig­nity and equal­ity for all.

Bigoted rhetoric and words laced with prej­u­dice are build­ing blocks for the pyra­mid of hate.

Biased behav­iors build on one another, becom­ing ever more threat­en­ing and dan­ger­ous toward the top of the pyramid.

At the base is bias: stereo­typ­ing, insen­si­tive remarks, belittling jokes and noninclusive language. It sets the foun­da­tion for a sec­ond, more com­plex and more dam­ag­ing layer: indi­vid­ual acts of prej­u­dice, includ­ing bul­ly­ing, slurs and dehu­man­iza­tion. The next level of the pyramid is discrim­i­na­tion: institutional acts that prevent people from being treated fairly in employment, housing, economics or public services. When this is allowed to go unchallenged, it can sanction bias-motivated vio­lence, includ­ing hate crimes like the tragic shootings in Charleston earlier this summer.

In the most extreme cases if left unchecked, the top of the pyra­mid of hate is genocide.

Just like any pyra­mid, the lower lev­els sup­port the upper lev­els. Bias, prej­u­dice and discrimination — particularly touted by those with a loud mega­phone and cheer­ing crowd — all con­tribute to an atmos­phere that enables hate crimes and other hate-fueled vio­lence.

The most recent hate crime in Charleston is just one of too many. In fact, there is a hate crime roughly every 90 min­utes in the United States today.

That is why ADL in August announced a new ini­tia­tive, #50StatesAgainstHate, to strengthen hate crimes laws around the coun­try and safe­guard com­mu­ni­ties vul­ner­a­ble to hate-fueled attacks. We are work­ing with a broad coali­tion of part­ners to get the ball rolling.

Laws alone, how­ever, can­not cure the dis­ease of hate. To do that, we need to change the con­versa­tion. We would not sug­gest that any one person’s words caused this tragedy; the per­pe­tra­tor did that. But rhetor­i­cal excesses by many of us give rise to a cli­mate in which prej­u­dice, dis­crimi­na­tion and hate-fueled vio­lence can take root.

So think about your words, and pledge that in 5776 you will do more to counter the types of speech and behavior that allow the pyramid of hate to flourish.

ADL is available for you and your congregation as a resource. We can provide your adult groups with a speaker on global anti-Semitism and assist your educators, school-age children and parents through our Confronting Anti-Semitism and Words to Action programs.

We wish you a happy, healthy and peaceful new year.