By Susan A. Davis
On Dec. 28, I had the honor of attending a birthday party for Rose Schindler, a 90-year-old friend, hosted by her remarkable family and community. A birthday at 90 is extraordinary in itself, but she is a Holocaust survivor. Her story and that of her husband is now told in the recent publication of “Two Who Survived: Keeping Hope Alive While Surviving the Holocaust,” which I strongly recommend.
That same night in Monsey, New York, another party commenced for the seventh night of Hanukkah. Family and friends gathered at the home of their rabbi. An individual stormed the party wielding a machete determined to harm as many people as possible. At least seven were wounded — one severely. It is clear now that the perpetrator was obsessed with anti-Semitic thoughts.
Here in San Diego, we have had our own horrific events, principally the attack on the synagogue and fatal shooting of a worshiper in Poway last year. We know that anti-Semitic acts occurring throughout our country have increased sharply, not to mention those in Europe. My colleague from New York, Rep. Nita Lowey, recently wrote an editorial with the American Jewish Committee’s David Harris asking two important basic questions: Why now? How to respond?
In trying to understand the rise of anti-Semitism, Lowey and Harris state it exists as the world’s oldest social disease. As fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors are able to tell their wrenching stories, understanding the conditions that created such dehumanization becomes a less personal story to new generations. This is why capturing those stories from survivors able and willing to share painful memories is so important.
It is no coincidence that the rise in violence against individuals is occurring in parallel as ignorance of the Holocaust also increases. According to a recent report by the FBI, while the number of hate crimes reported has gone down, violent acts have increased.
Failure to address hate in all its forms is tantamount to accepting it. The response to the machete attack in New York and other attacks across the country produce the usual results in increased security, and stronger police presence, and talk of raising awareness. These, of course, are positive signs. Unfortunately, as these incidents fade from memory, so do prevention efforts.
There needs to be a constant campaign of education about hate, violence – past and present – and the importance of acceptance. This education needs to start at an early age so we don’t see astonishing numbers like 66% of millennials who can’t identify the Auschwitz concentration camp.
We need to hear from survivors, like Rose, who clung to hope during a period of horrific atrocities. We also need to hear the stories of those who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
We can all agree that, in the many outbursts of hate we hear and see today, social media plays a role in giving people a toxic outlet for like acceptance. Social media platforms create easy environments for hate groups and terrorist organizations to recruit vulnerable individuals, who are usually those feeling isolated from society and seek affirmation from others. Social media companies have a responsibility to weed out those who would use their platforms as tools to spread hate and violence.
Putting a stop to hate is the responsibility of everyone. The voices of tolerance are many and the voices of hate are few. When communities join together to denounce hate and promote tolerance, it sends a powerful message that we will not be intimidated and we will not live in fear.
Here is a simple maxim to start the new year: Treat others as you want to be treated.
To check out the memoir, go to TwoWhoSurvived.com.
— Congresswoman Davis represents central San Diego, including the communities of Old Town, Kensington, Mission Hills, University Heights, Hillcrest Bankers Hill, North Park, South Park, Talmadge, Normal Heights, as well as La Mesa, Lemon Grove, Spring Valley and parts of El Cajon and Chula Vista.
Editor’s note: San Diego Downtown News recently covered an event featuring Rose Schindler. To hear more about her story, visit bit.ly/305RCnv.