Forgiveness is a challenging sentiment in the world of fighting hate. How can we expect one another to forgive anti-Semites, bullies, white supremacists and other haters without serious work being done to earn that forgiveness?
Gratitude, however, feels like an under-valued and over-present piece of our work, and it certainly feels like an important step toward forgiveness. In our work dealing with hate, there are so many important spaces for gratitude.
When anti-Semitic incidents happen in schools, I’m grateful for communities who respond swiftly to the incidents and use them as teachable moments. Look at the recent incident at The Rock at UTK where horrific anti-Semitic graffiti was painted on the rock in the center of campus. This incident would have been understandably more upsetting if the University had only asked for forgiveness instead of acting to address it. The school leadership denounced this hate and recognized the specific pain to the Jewish community, both immediately and accurately.
I’m grateful to schools and institutions who take incidents of hate and turn them into moments to bring people together. One of my favorite examples is the neo-Nazi rally in Newnan last year, where 37 neo-Nazis descended upon Newnan for their annual rally. Besides the fact the neo-Nazi attendance was scrappy at best, the way the Newnan community responded was beautiful. This ugly situation would have looked much different if they had only issued a public statement of apology. Instead, the community acted together and held several anti-hate and interfaith events. The families of the town decorated Newnan with sidewalk-chalked smiley faces, hearts and peace signs. So, when it was time for the scary neo-Nazis to stand at their microphones and spit vitriol and hatred, they did so amidst a backdrop of loving and peaceful artwork. That weekend, I was incredibly grateful for those families who decorated their town and did not let the neo-Nazis define them.
I am grateful every day to the thousands of people who show up, for one another and for ADL. Almost one year ago, the U.S. witnessed the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in history with the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh. And almost one year ago, all our lives changed forever as we understood the importance of community. My team and I received countless messages from the entire community who just wanted to express concern and allyship. And as we witnessed the deadliest attack by a white supremacist in U.S. history with the recent shooting in El Paso, that allyship paved the way once again. We reached out to our friends and families in the Latinx community and showed up. I am grateful we are a city that shows up for one another and I am grateful that no one is alone.
In 5780, let us hope this gratitude can help us reach a place of forgiveness, as we work toward building a world without hate. Let us hope there’s less forgiveness needed and more space for gratitude.