Growing up, I was part of the very small Jewish community in Lynchburg, Virginia. I occasionally experienced anti-Semitism in my youth, but even as a member of a distinct religious minority in a little Southern town, I felt safe. In retrospect, I felt protected by a national consensus against hateful rhetoric and violence aimed at any religious group, including my own.
While as a young person I knew I must join my African-American neighbors in their struggle for equality, I felt that as a member of the Jewish community, I was safe from the violence and hatred that African-American people endured. Once in a while the leader of the American Nazi Party came to Lynchburg for a rally to proclaim his hatred of Jews. But he was met with united opposition and derision from the civic and religious leadership, even in this small town in the heart of the South.
So I never thought I would have to write about an event like the mass murder at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Like everyone, I am horrified by the slaughter of innocent life in the name of hatred. Two days ago I wrote to one of my best friends who was raised in the Pittsburgh Jewish community. Her parents were married at Tree of Life. Her family were members there for years, and many of them are buried there.
I can scarcely imagine the grief that this terrible act has visited on so many Jewish families.
So in these dark times, what are we to do?
On the one hand, we must call on the president and his followers to end the hateful rhetoric that is empowering people on the violent fringes of American life. We must stand up boldly against any encouragement — overt or subtle — of those who would slaughter Jews at worship, or send pipe bombs to prominent people in the mail, or slam reporters to the ground, or commit violence against members of our LGBTQ, African-American, Muslim or immigrant communities. Words matter, and all of us need to take a stand now against the casual but purposeful rhetoric that is giving cover to violence.
On the other hand, we must look to ourselves. We must be the counter-example to what is coming out of Washington. We must love each other fiercely and gently. We must embrace with joy the diversity of our community, revel in the patchwork quilt of races and religions and ethnicities and gender identities that make our city the special place that it is. We must show up for each other and speak out for each other every chance we get.
We must speak out against violence in all of its forms, and we must ourselves model the non-violence that our community cherishes.
In this way, let us be a beacon for the nation. I know we can be that beacon, and we must.
— Mayor Steve Schewel, Durham
Editor's note: Steve Schewel, founder of the award-winning North Carolina Independent alt newsweekly, retired from the newspaper business a decade ago. He is now serving his first term as mayor of Durham, North Carolina. In 1993 and '94, Schewel provided invaluable guidance helping us launch the Colorado Springs Independent.
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