The National Socialist Movement, or Nazi Party, held a meeting in Greensboro, N.C., on Aug. 29. We responded with an advertisement in the paper, placed an online petition and wore ribbons in our congregations that weekend.
But now that the dust has settled, let us ask two questions about this incident.
First, why is the National Socialist Movement, the Nazi Party, making such an effort to organize recruitment?
In my opinion, this has to do with several disturbing things that are happening right now in the United States. I believe that as a white supremacist group, the National Socialist Movement is tapping into a segment of racist America that is very ugly in its tenor and tone.
I do believe that there are people in the United States who cannot accept, and will not accept, that our country has elected an African-American president. Such people feel that control of the country is slipping out of the hands of white people.
Another factor that’s had an important influence is the debate over health care. The outpouring of millions of dollars by insurance companies to lobby against any sort of health-care reform in Congress has led to the creation of an atmosphere of worry and fear in our country.
Some of our politicians have actually sought to demagogue this issue and to increase the amount of fear and worry in our country. The idea that any sort of health-care reform would include death panels that would put our grandmothers in danger is absolutely absurd.
The usage of Nazi imagery among the anti-health-care demonstrators is particularly disturbing. When my colleague Rabbi Andy Koren and I attended a health-care briefing in Raleigh at which President Obama spoke, we saw a man at the outside of the center holding a sign that read “Obamacare = National Socialism.”
It is disturbing to me there is usage of Nazi propaganda and that the Nazis, in the guise of the National Socialist Movement, are using the frustration some people feel to increase their recruitment efforts. Theirs is an America that is ugly. Theirs is an America that is only for white people. Homosexuals, Hispanics, Jews, Asians and others are not welcome in their America. The America of the neo-Nazi party is an America that is filled with bias, bigotry and racism. It is an America that is filled with hate.
As Jews we have been the victims of such Nazi hatred in the past. Six million of our brothers and sisters, including one-and-a-half-million children, perished because of the Nazi Party. More important than this, the lesson for all of us is that we will not only fight against the Nazis and what they represent, but that we will take a firm stand for what is important to us as Jews.
In light of this situation, let us consider our second question: “What is really important to us? For what do we stand?”
As Americans, we need to take a stand and say that we believe that hatred, bigotry and racism have no place in our community.
As Americans, we stand for justice. We believe, as did the biblical prophets, that a society that is not based upon justice is a society that is not secure for anyone – particularly minorities.
We need to say that society must be built on compassion, that economic inequity and inequality should have no bearing on whether or not a person receives proper medical attention.
We must take a stand for tolerance and for diversity. Our vision of America is one where within each ethnic and racial group, each person is a divine manifestation of the image of God and they bring forth that which is best, that which is most godly within their very being.
Our response to the Neo Nazis is to reaffirm our stand for brotherhood, sisterhood and, above all, peace.
We believe in an America built upon justice, compassion, tolerance and peace, where people work together for the common good. We believe that when we work together and create coalitions for goodness, we not only bring more peace to our world, we bring more of the presence of God.
Fred Guttman is rabbi of Temple Emanuel in Greensboro, N.C.