In the last three months, I have been on a steering committee with eight other local clergy members. We have created the Geater Athens Interfaith Clergy Partnership. On Sunday afternoon, we will have our first gathering. We’re hoping to have around 100 clergy present, as we build relationships and discuss our values. One of those values is the demonstration of sensitivity and openness to difference.
The demonstration of sensitivity to difference is what I want to talk about tonight. This is especially important as we live amindst the so-perceived differences of immigrants, the differences of Syrian refugees who desperately need the United States to be a save haven. This week, there has also been a uptick in the introduction of more so-called ‘religious freedom’ bills, which also discriminate amongst those who are different, whether by gender choice or sexual orientation.
And the importance of this core value - of the demonstration of sensitivty to difference - is even more resonant on this specific evening. Tonight, on this Shabbat, we recognize International Holocaust Day. 72 years ago today, on January 27, 1945, Allied soliders liberated the concentration camp of Auschwitz. In 1996, January 27th was established as a day of remembrance in order to honor the memory of the millions of Holocaust victims.
The Holocaust happened because society did not demonstrate a sensitivity and openness to difference. Just as Pharoah feared the differences of the Israelites, Hitler and the Third Reich feared their perceived ‘otherness’ of the Jews.
On hallowed days like today and Yom Hashoa, we join our brothers and sisters in shouting, Never again! But as a people who are commanded to care for the widow and the orphan, as a people who are commanded to remember that we were strangers in the last of Egypt, as a people that know what is is to wander in search of a homeland, we must remember that never again is not only a salve that protects us from those who seek to cause damage to the Jewish people. As Jews who lived through the horrible inhumanity of the Holocaust, we must fight for the never again of all people, of immigrants, of minorities - of the people that are still enslaved in Egypt.
Elie Wiesel said, to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time. We must remember. We must demonstrate a sensitivity and openness to difference. That’s how we honor the memory of those many millions. Sensitivity leads to empathy. Empathy leads to relationship. Relationships grow into partnership. And Partnerships create change … Partnerships create never again.
At his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1986, Elie Wiesel said, Action is the only remedy to indifference: the most insidious danger of all.
Tonight’s act of remembering must be linked with action. The action of sensitivity. The action of partnership. The action of advocacy. The actions of truly being a light onto the nations.
I conclude tonight with more words from Wiesel, also taken from his Nobel Prize acceptance speech:
We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.