A version of this piece was delivered as a D’var Tikkun at the Kavod House Shabbat this past Friday night. Thank you to everyone who organized and came to that event.
I sat across from my dear friend Natalie Wednesday night and I told her what I hadn’t said out loud to anyone yet—the hardest thing I’d been feeling all week since the massacre at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue.
“I feel like I should have stopped it. I could have stopped it from happening, and then these 11 people wouldn’t be dead. I was in Charlottesville confronting Nazi terror in 2017. I knew this was coming, or, this kind of thing. If I had only, if I had only, if I had only….”
“There’s a thing about trauma,” Natalie gently explained. “You were overpowered, but you still need to think that you have power, so your psyche takes on all the responsibility for what happened, way too much responsibility, way more than is actually your responsibility.”
This heavy guilt and responsibility I was feeling was familiar. I’d felt this before.
This guilt, this responsibility, is what I felt after the white supremacist attacks in Charlottesville on Aug. 12, 2017. This is what I felt after that fascist killed Heather Heyer.
This is what I felt when I was sitting in a meeting for my job five days later, explaining to my coworkers that I had barely done my job all summer because anti-fascist organizers in Charlottesville knew what the Nazis were planning. We knew they were coming, and we knew they wanted to kill people. So we tried—tried—to stop them. And then they came, and they did kill someone.
As a Jew, I learned the story as, “They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat.” I wasn’t prepared for the story that goes, “They tried to kill us, and they did kill people, and those of us who survived had to face the fact that they were still trying to kill us, too.”
And no, it is not my fault that they killed Heather Heyer, or the 11 people in the Tree of Life synagogue. It is first and foremost the fault of every fascist ever, including 45 and the other fascists in this federal administration.
It’s not my fault, but I do have power. In Charlottesville, counter-protestors changed the course of history; Antifa among them saved lives. We are facing incredible forces of fascism and we have incredible forces too, forces that we need to mobilize.
A year-and-a-half ago I was sweating in Charlottesville’s thick summer heat, desperately calling any lefty Jews I could think of, saying, “The Nazis are coming, the Nazis are coming to Charlottesville and they want to kill us.”
I must have sounded like Chicken Little: “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” I don’t think the lefty Jews on the other end of the phone knew what to say or do. They certainly did not have a funded budget line to come to Charlottesville to help us fight Nazis. Very few of them came to Charlottesville. Very few of them helped us.
And this is the moment I was afraid of when I offered to do this d’var. I was afraid of showing you my hurt, my anger. I was afraid of coming into Jewish community to ask you to join me in fighting fascism and have you feel like I’m yelling at you, because of the depth of my hurt and my anger. How betrayed I felt running down the sidewalk being chased by a well-known Nazi worried that the Jews of the North were losing track of me when I needed them most. And I called and I tried and I called. And I think at some point I stopped trying so much, with Jewish organizers at least, because I had to triage my energy into what was getting me better results.
I felt betrayed and abandoned. So when I saw that a white supremacist had attacked Jews at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, I pledged that I would not abandon you.
Because it’s not my fault, and, AND, I do have power. And I want to use it. With you. I want to build power with you.
I believe in you.
Oh yes, Jews of Boston—I believe in you. I am from you and I am of you and I am with you. So, I’m going to tell you a bit about what I want to do. Some of this you may absolutely be doing already, and I just got back from Charlottesville a few months ago so I make no claims to knowing what you are doing and not doing, but let me just say there is a lot we can do— concrete actions to stop fascism and defend our communities.
Each of these five points needs to be discussed further. Please follow up with me, especially to connect with groups doing this work.
1. Call it fascism and white supremacy. Understand it as such.
- Learn and teach how anti-Semitism is used as a white supremacist tactic. Refuse to accept any call to unite against anti-Semitism that does not also call us to unite against white supremacy.
- Learn and teach how transphobia and rape culture are used as white supremacist tactics. Pour the next four days of your energy into Get out the Vote for Yes on 3 to defend transgender rights in Massachusetts because it’s the right thing to do and because this ballot initiative and the memo leaked two weeks ago are a test case for how fascists can eliminate an entire group of people from public life. Don’t let them.
- Learn and teach about how Islamophobia, border violence and anti-black policing are used as white supremacist tactics. Refuse to bring police into synagogues because of how that in itself will terrorize Jews of color and because who’s to say that some racist cop with a Blue Lives Matter flag isn’t buddies with some Hitler-loving fascist with a swastika flag? Cops are not safe, at all, for any of us.
- And as you learn and teach and go about your life, use the f-word as often as you can. Fascism. Use both f-words as often as you can. F*** fascism. And f*** white supremacy.
2. White supremacist fascism is growing out of centuries of white supremacist racism. Colonization, slavery, segregation, mass incarceration, police brutality and, yes, the North is also guilty as hell in all of that. American Democracy will not save us. The Democrats will not save us. Cops and Klan go hand in hand. Divest from state-sponsored violence. Divest from the police. Divest from the Democrats.
3. Invest in mutual aid infrastructure. While divesting from the state structures we have been taught to depend on, we need to depend on each other. There are models we can follow, people who can teach us. How are we going to take care of each other when the state refuses to take care of us? How are we going to take care of each other when the state comes to attack us? Knowledge, skills and networks for community defense and community care. And not just taking care of Jewish community members. We need active structures to back up our claims to solidarity, to center the most vulnerable and leave no one behind.
4. Fight fascism. This is the shortest section but the most important. I’m talking about direct action and direct confrontation. Shut s*** down, like Mateo Emanuel Alejandro Cox did Monday and IfNotNow did this Friday morning. No platform for white supremacy, and not just the visible GOP. Know your local Nazis, know who they are and what they’re doing and stop them. Love your local Antifa, respect them and learn from them. In fact, there is a call to action for Nov. 8-11 on outlivethem.wordpress.com, so let’s do that.
5. Make space in your life for this work. Redistribute resources—money as well as our personal time and energy. Here is the other place where I’m worried about coming off as too pushy or too demanding. I know life is hard. I don’t know what keeps you up at night, who relies on you, how much you are doing already for our collective liberation. I do know that we need to find ways, together, to do more, especially those of us who are white, because anti-Semitism does not take away our whiteness. These past two years have changed me at my core and still I know there is more change I need to do. Let us grieve the lives we thought we were living and commit to finding life within the fight against fascism. This is where we are.
They are trying to kill us, and they did kill some of us, and those of us who survived have to face the fact that they are trying to kill us, too. It’s not our fault it happened, and it’s also not our fault if it happens again. And, we do have power. We have power together, and together we can stop this rising tide of fascism.
I was taught by the ancient rabbis that all Jews are responsible for one another. I was also taught by the Charlottesville activists who quote Assata Shakur that it is our duty to fight, and it is our duty to win. Fight with me, and win with me. I will not abandon you.
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