Speak Out Now, or You Could Be Next

 In Anxiety and Stress, Compassion, Promoting Tolerance, Student Rights

As I made my way through the Kristallnacht exhibit at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum this afternoon, my eyes peered down only to see a pit full of desecrated Torah scrolls from that dreadful November night in 1938. Simultaneously, and totally coincidently, I received a text entailing the most appalling news: “Someone broke into a frat and a Torah was destroyed. It was ripped apart with detergent poured all over it… The bible in the frat was left untouched…” (the Torah was a replica of a real Torah used for the fraternity and swearing-in/symbolic purposes).

What?! Didn’t I just speak at an event last week condemning this hatred? Didn’t congress people and envoys just come to campus to talk about the problem and how we can combat it? Didn’t I just write an article in the Hatchet advocating for the inclusion of Jews in conversations surrounding Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion?  

It seems to me that our assertions, speeches, and efforts–mine, my fellow students, and government officials alike–were nowhere near enough. We all know well that our voices teeming for tolerance were nowhere near over, but they will, all the more so now, grow louder and louder until true justice is realized.

The hate crime that just occurred at The George Washington University, my new home, is absolutely repulsive, frightening, and deeply personal. My new home was one I perceived to be a sanctuary of safety, freedom, and warmth. But just a block away from my sanctuary, a crime that takes us back to the Nazi era struck. 

As I walked out of the museum into the crisp chilling air, phrases from last Wednesday night’s speech reverberated within me. “We are burdened the responsibility to ensure the warnings of the Holocaust are acknowledged; we must act every time we witness even a minor, singular act of antisemitism; “we must make the words “never  again” ring true.”

My audacious remarks of hope left me only a step back from the change I sought. I had faith that the aura emitting from this education and advocacy would impel my community to take a leap forward. But in fact, we are teleported back to a most infamous night in Jewish history: Indeed, The Night of Broken Glass–Jewish homes, businesses, and store fronts were broken into and vandalized; Synagogues were set ablaze, their insides desecrated, religious contents destroyed, and more pertinently, Torahs were yanked from their holy place in the ark and torn to shreds. 

Every day that passes sitting in silence leads us deeper and deeper down the dangerous path of 20th century Europe. The parallels are blatant and ever-present, calling for swift and serious action. 

If you’re not Jewish, it may seem as if these issues or all this talk of antisemitism doesn’t affect you. But it does. Whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim, White, Black, Asian, LGBTQ+, etc., each of us is burdened with equal responsibility to speak out.

Concluding my notable visit to the USHMM today, a quote by German Lutheran pastor, Martin Niemöller, near the Hall of Remembrance stuck with me as I exited. I kept thinking about it as I made my way through the city and back to campus. I thought to adapt it here to our present-day context:

“First they came for the Jews,

And I did not speak out 

Because I was not Jewish. 

Then they came for the Muslims, 

And I did not speak out 

 

Because I was not a Muslim. 

Then they came for the Blacks, 

And I did not speak out 

Because I was not Black. 

 

Then they came for the homosexuals and queers, 

And I did not speak out 

Because I was not gay. 

Then they came for you, 

 

And there was no one left 

To speak for you.”

In this generation– where tolerance is said to triumph over tyranny, holistic inclusion over hate, freedom over fear, and justice over all–it is YOUR duty to live up to these words with action: In dismal truth, you never know when your turn is next. 

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