Whoopi Goldberg’s serious misstatements about race and the Nazi Holocaust, and her resulting two-week suspension from “The View,” brought to mind two incidents from years’ past.

There was a serious incident of antisemitic bullying at a local middle school in Greensboro, North Carolina, years ago. The young woman who was bullied by three young boys was a member of our congregation.

When I inquired as to what happened, I was told that an assistant principal was dealing with the situation. The next day, I appeared first thing in the morning at the principal’s office.

I met with the principal and explained to him why this was something that had to be dealt with at the “highest level”; that is, by the principal himself.  He understood and agreed. Instead of getting angry, I tried my best to educate him, and he responded in a very appropriate manner.

I was acquainted with a father of one of the boys and invited them to come meet with me at Temple Emanuel in Greensboro. We had a meeting in which I felt that, between the father and me, we succeeded in educating the young man.

In March 2021, Miami Heat basketball player Meyers Leonard made an unfortunate antisemitic slur.

He apologized the next day saying, “My ignorance about its [the slur’s] history and how offensive it is to the Jewish community is absolutely not an excuse and I was just wrong.”

Leonard would later meet with a rabbi, speak at a synagogue and make a contribution to Jewish life at his alma mater, the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign.

The Jewish community forgave him. We tried to educate, not punish; counsel, not cancel.

Dispelling falsehood and providing guidance rather than punishment is instructive in how we can, and should, respond to Whoopi Goldberg and others like her.

Let’s start with the educational component: The Holocaust had everything to do with race.

The Nazis viewed Jews as a race, making them wear yellow stars, depriving them of their ability to work, expropriating their bank accounts, and forbidding them to hold civil service jobs. They were also forbidden to intermarry with Aryans out of a fear of “polluting the purity of the Aryan race.”

Ultimately, these views were codified in Germany’s Nuremberg Laws on Nov. 15, 1935. Jews, defined by the Nazis as a race, were deprived of all civil rights.

Goldberg’s statements come at a time when there has been a significant rise in antisemitism worldwide, including within the United States. The recent hostage incident at the synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, is still fresh in our minds. In addition, there is greater trivialization of the Holocaust on top of increased voices denying that it ever occurred.

Goldberg apologized to Jonathan Greenblatt, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, and to the Jewish community the next day. While I appreciate and affirm her for acknowledging her error, I’d suggest that she also consider visiting the United States Memorial Holocaust Museum for a special tour with Greenblatt and a meeting with a survivor.

Whoopi Goldberg is not an antisemite. She was just ill-informed about a key aspect of the Nazi Holocaust of six million Jews and 300,000 Roma. As such, she is well-deserving of forgiveness from the Jewish community, and I feel confident that most of the Jewish community has already forgiven her.

I have always felt that churches could play a role in Holocaust education in a very specific way. Here is what I would recommend.

First, show to teens and adults chapter 20, “Genocide,” of the BBC series the World at War. The program may be accessed here. You could also show “The Path to Nazi Genocide” from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

After viewing these programs, have a discussion. Then, at another session, begin to teach the stories of non-Jews who saved Jews during the Nazi Holocaust. These could include Irena Sendler, Oskar Schindler, Raoul Wallenberg and Roddie Edmonds.

I would also show students a video clip (beginning at time stamp 1:09:18) of a Christian missionary named Carl Wilkins who stayed in Rwanda during the genocide there and was successful in his efforts to save lives. The program may be found here.

Finally, I would read with them the poem “First They Came” by Martin Niemöller and have a summative discussion of this educational unit.

Realize that if your church undertakes such teaching, especially with teens, you will help them know about the tragedy of the Holocaust. As a rabbi, I can tell you that I feel that such work is extremely holy! The students that we teach today will obviously grow up to be the leaders of tomorrow.

Such teaching is no less than an attempt to inspire and create a generation of young activists who will fight bias, bigotry, racism, homophobia and antisemitism with all of their beings. Indeed, the oft cited phrase “Never Again!” could really begin in your church!

If you and I can succeed in this monumental task, then we can help our country and the world move towards a future of justice, compassion and peace!

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