Hate is a four letter word. So is love. Both can be powerful forces in human emotions. Tragically, it was hate that propelled Robert Bowers to massacre 11 worshippers as they prayed in their Pittsburgh synagogue on a quiet Sabbath morning last week. And it appeared to be hate that drove Cesar Sayoc to send more than a dozen homemade pipe bombs to noted government officials and news organizations, through the U.S. mail, just a few days prior to the attack on the synagogue. Almost daily, we are flooded with new accounts of violent behaviors, ever harsher language of personal attacks by some elected officials, and specious theories by the president, who often admits he has no proof for what he is saying, but says it anyway. And now, ghastly violence and death.
This is heartbreaking, and deplorable. There are almost no words that can express the depth and breadth of sorrow and emotion about such tragedies and near tragedies. One of the elderly synagogue members was asked why he reached out and took the hand of both his wife and the man seated next to him, during a television interview. His simple response was that, in times of trauma, you reach out to others, with love, rather than fear. It was a powerful statement, full of humanity and understanding, even though the shock of horror still was fresh.
That man’s approach is worthy of replication. Not division, but unity. Not angry blustering, but thoughtful empathy. Acknowledging the grievous loss of life, but not accepting it. Not responding to hate with more hate, but extolling, and practicing, love. Often tough to do, but absolutely necessary if we are to reclaim the values that have sustained this nation. Not just life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness outlined in the Declaration of Independence, but also some of those stated in the preamble to the Constitution: insure domestic tranquility, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.
Just three weeks ago, my column focused on another hate incident — 19 swastikas spray painted in the dead of night at the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia, in Mason District. In that column, I said that “haters may keep trying, but they never will win. Our community, and communities across the nation must stand united against hate, in any form. The often toxic atmosphere that permeates our nation today has encouraged demonstrations of hate and the most awful commentary by the president and others. This was never the ‘old normal.’ Nor should it be accepted as the ‘new normal.’”
Anti-Semitic graffiti may seem tame in the wake of the devastating attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, but hate crimes overall are increasing. Assaults on one’s religion, race, ethnicity, appearance, or gender, unfortunately, are not new, but they must be condemned always. It doesn’t matter whether one is an elected official or an ordinary citizen, hate speech and hate activities must be called out and condemned, every time, everywhere. As I noted in my earlier column, “it’s what we must do.”
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at [email protected]