The danger of silence, the power of our voices

Two experts on hate, Anna Ornstein and Deborah Lipstadt, challenge all of us to work together to prevent and combat hate.

Andrew Friedman, Chair of the Reading Select Board, presented a "Certificate of Gratitude" to Anna Ornstein on November 13, 2018 for her work with the Reading schools. Reading, like many other communities, has experienced an increase in racist and anti-Semitic incidents, and the leaders of Reading are striving to work together to stop this trend and build a more tolerant culture in the schools and in the public square.

Ornstein is a survivor of the Shoah (Holocaust ) and Professor Emeritus of Child Psychiatry. In her remarks accepting the award, she said that the main thing she learned from experiencing how the Holocaust took place is that silence is dangerous.

In her remarks, she said that she understands that you may ask if you should speak out [against hate speech], or be silent. People may fear that if you talk about it, this may lead to more of the hate speech, or that publicity might give a town a bad name. It is essential to speak out, to have everyone stand together in solidarity against hate speech."

"In Germany, we learned that keeping silent does not work. Why did people think that if they kept their heads down, the problem would go away? The various political and social groups who might have resisted were too busy fighting among themselves."

"People need to come together, not fight among themselves. After Pittsburgh, the response of solidarity shown by many communities was so important. When non-Jews support Jews against anti-Semitism, it can be stopped."

"What can we do? As long as the non-Jews speak up for their Jewish neighbors, the Holocaust cannot happen in the United States. When people come together and stand in solidarity against hate, that is the best form of resistance."

Deborah Lipstadt, author of the forthcoming book Antisemitism Here and Now, also urges us to stand together against hate.

"I call for civil society. It used to be we could take our lead from government and leadership. We can’t. So it becomes incumbent on civil society to take a role."

"A healthy democratic society cannot tolerate anti-Semitism and racism. If that is festering in its midst, it says something is unhealthy about the society. It’s not just Jews for whom this is dangerous. This should terrify you. Because if this is happening to Jews, it may start with the Jews but it doesn’t end with the Jews."

I humbly add my own perspective, which is that no one is free unless we are all free. It didn't start only with the Jews. Ask any Native American---on "Thanksgiving" they have reason to mourn. Ask any black person. Ask any immigrant who is from Central, Latin America or the Middle East. Ask any immigrant who is Muslim. Ask an elderly person living in public or subsidized housing. Ask any person living with disability. Ask any person who is poor or homeless. Ask any person who is LGBTQ.

We're all in this together. We need to stand in solidarity to protect any group that is the target of hate.

So for Thanksgiving, we can be grateful that we have the ability to decry racism and other forms of prejudice, increase the freedom of our neighbors by our words and by our actions, and thereby support our democracy.

Yes, we can be proud when communities like Reading and  Peabody come together in solidarity against hate, but we must remain vigilant and we can and will do more.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Overcoming hatred, building inclusive community

The text of Anna Ornstein's remarks is based on the video published on of the Select Board meeting, and the sound quality was marginal. The text therefore is not verbatim.

Reading Select Board, November 13, 2018.

Peabody stands in solidarity with Pittsburgh with services at Temple Ner Tamid, as well as at Chabad House and Temple Tiferet Shalom.