Sunday Extra: Leaders must denounce hate crimes

Sunday Extra: Leaders must denounce hate crimes

By DIANE SIEGLE ORE

My first introduction to anti-Semitism was as a child in Gary, Ind. My parents and their Jewish friends were huddled in the living room speaking in hushed tones while the children were told to stay in the bedroom and play. It turns out that a swastika had been burned on one couple's lawn in our neighborhood. That was the first time I thought someone wanted to kill me because of my religion.

My next exposure to anti-Semitism was seeing numbers tattooed onto the arm of my friend's mother. I had my first lesson on the Holocaust that day from a survivor.

When I reached high school and was active in the theater group, another teenage thespian, upon finding out that I was Jewish, exclaimed "Oh, but I thought all Jews had horns!"

In Utah, in 2010, a man on our tour was talking about nationality and surnames. He said that it would be unfortunate to have a name like Schwartz, because you know what people might think.

Frankly, the number of anti-Semitic incidents I have experienced in my life are way too numerous to list. It makes me sad to think about them. However, there is no escaping the most recent anti-Semitic event that "trumped" them all. Nazis and KKK white supremacists thought it would be a good idea to rally in Charlottesville, Va., around the statue of Robert E. Lee, shouting "Jews will not replace us." If the intent of that message was to strike fear in my heart, I have a response to these people that will disappoint. You didn't frighten me; you pissed me off. Why would I want to replace you? I probably wouldn't like your religion, if you have one. I don't know any religions that teach hate, prejudice or fearmongering. Quite the contrary, all religions that I have studied teach respect, justice, love for all of mankind and the pursuit of peace. As for the real message behind "Jews will not replace us," don't be absurd! We've seen this before, and we will not let it happen again.

Our elected leaders must take immediate measures to denounce hate crimes whenever and wherever they occur. It was astounding that Donald Trump and his minions waited days before coming out with a half-hearted rebuke of the Charlottesville terrorism. It was equally disturbing that Congressman Rodney Davis was mute on the subject until Trump spoke out.

In April, I met with Davis and requested that he support pro-immigration/refugee legislation. I recounted to him the story of the Holocaust that occurred when refugees were turned away at our shores. Davis' response was, "The Holocaust should never have happened." If Davis believes that, and if he doesn't want it to happen again, he needs to denounce the KKK, Nazis and all white supremacist groups in our country immediately, every time they show their faces.

Diane Siegle Ore is executive director of HineniCU, a progressive Jewish organization in Champaign-Urbana that works with Bend the Arc Jewish Action.

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