In October, 2016, three men, members of a paramilitary group crazed by Islamophobic paranoia, were arrested and charged with plotting to murder hundreds of Muslims by detonating truck bombs in a Somalian community in Garden City, Kansas.
In February, 2016, at Austin’s Bar and Grill in Olathe, Kansas, a gunman opened fire on two Indian men after allegedly directing racial slurs at them and telling them to “get out of my country.”
One victim, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, died.
It didn’t happen in Dorothy’s Kansas: Dorothy was a displaced person who with the help of strangers was able to make her way safely home.
It happened in Donald Trump’s Kansas, where displaced people, immigrants and communities of color live exposed and vulnerable lives.
In nearby St. Louis, where 180 gravestones were recently toppled, and some broken, at a Jewish cemetery a fundraising campaign was organized by two Muslim activists, Linda Sarsour and Tarek El-Messidi, who wrote that “Muslim Americans stand in solidarity with the Jewish-American community to condemn this horrific act of desecration against the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery.”
Over $100,000 was raised, two-thirds from Muslims.
This week a Jewish cemetery in Rochester, NY, after yet another recent incident in Philadelphia, reported that at least five headstones were toppled at Vaad Hakolel Cemetery.
It happens still.
It is not just graveyards being defiled.
It is we, our nation, our identity, being defiled, desecrated, delegitimized.
It is we confronting the evil that dwells among us.
And as of Feb. 28, 2017 over 75 Jewish centers and eight Jewish schools across America had received over 100 bomb threats.
This week, the Fourth Universalist Society church on New York City’s Upper West Side – which had recently voted “to offer short term sanctuary to undocumented individuals and families facing deportation” – found two swastikas carved into its front doors.
Swastikas carved into front doors on the Upper West Side, where I once lived, where Holocaust survivors still live and worship – where Americans, immigrants, all faiths and traditions, worship, study, live, love each other.
Into our communal front doors.
After the Victoria Islamic Center in Texas was destroyed in a fire – one of at least four mosque fires in American in 2017 – the leaders of the local Jewish congregation, Victoria’s Temple B’nai Israel, gave them the keys to the front doors of their synagogue so that their Muslim neighbors could continue to worship.
And when the Daarus Salaam Mosque in Tampa, FL was set on fire Adeel Karim, who created a LaunchGood fundraising site to repair the damage, noticed that many donations appeared to be random sums of money he wrote of Facebook: “I couldn’t understand why people were donating in what seemed like weird amounts to the cause. There are sums of 18, 36, 72.00 dollars etc. then I figured out after clicking on the names Avi, Cohen, Goldstein, Rubin, Fisher. Jews donate in multiples of 18 as a form of what is called ‘Chai’. It wishes the recipient a long life.”
Doors close, doors open.
This week, as all too often in past weeks and months, the targeting of Jews, Muslims and immigrants continued. Across America, in spite of the responses of Good Samaritans and generosity of our neighbors, in spite of resistance, we’re daily called upon to bear witness to the accelerated pace of the round-up of and incarceration of our brothers and sisters across our nation.
We’re called upon to comfort the many families who are living in fear, waiting for the latest iteration of an executive order that denies sanctuary to the needy and the refugee – especially to those for whom we bear some responsibility.
“I was a stranger, and you did not welcome me” (Matthew 25:43).
Our huddled masses huddle ever more closely, fearful of the xenophobic forces of intolerance, hate and ignorance sweeping “from sea to shining sea.”
Despite such depredations and in the face of the fear and violence that racks this nation, and despite knowing that the presence of anti-Muslim hate groups has risen from 34 in 2015 to 101 in 2016 we’re confronted by the intellectual and spiritual passivity of President Donald Trump.
In the face of resugent hate speech, vandalism and arson we’ve learned once again – how often must we learn this lesson – that Donald Trump does not act as the president of all Americans.
We’ve learned, to our distress, that there’s no more we need to know about Trump than that he serves his own interests and prejudices, and that having ascended to power on the backs of the powerless he has no interest in serving us all.
The mark of true leadership is when one condemns acts of bigotry, violence and racism before being asked to condemn them.
That mark he has failed.
We learned that he will decry anti-Semitism only when he’s pushed into it.
We learned all we needed to know when he failed in his Holocaust Day statement to acknowledge the Jewish people, and again and again when he failed to respond to acts of sectarian hatred and division in America.
We learned all we needed to know when he failed to mention or condemn the shootings of the 2 Indian men in Kansas in a timely manner. We learned who he is when he condemned terror killings in Orlando, Brussels and Paris but not terror killings in Quebec City or arson in Texas and Florida.
I’ve learned he won’t protect me and my sisters and brothers. I’ve learned he’s a leader without empathy, without the capacity to spontaneously respond to the traumas of those not like him.
I’ve learned, too, that those who won’t condemn anti-Semitism or Islamophobia are equal enablers of hatred, fear and loathing and I’ve learned that a person who will condemn one without condemning the other is both an anti-Semite and an Islamophobe.
Americans who commit such acts – and those who in their silence support them – are, as described in Revelation 21:8, “the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted … and all liars…”
They are the deniers of the truth of our common humanity, betrayers of the American Dream, nativists who, by embracing hatred and ignorance, are willing to jeopardize our security and identity.
Until this nation is fully ready to embrace Radical Hospitality, to understand that, as is written in Leviticus 19:18 “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” we will be a nation unfulfilled, a nation no different from others, with no distinction placed upon it by The Creator.
Until I’m no longer needed to make a donation to repair gravestones in St. Louis or to rebuild a mosque in Victoria, until we can all breathe freely under the grape vines and fig trees promised to us by George Washington, not one of us is free.
Not you. Not me.