Today is Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. April 28, 2014, corresponds to the 27th day of Nisan on the Hebrew calendar. It marks the anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising. I vividly remember reading The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank as a pre-teen and being shocked that there was a Holocaust that took her life and killed millions of Jews.
In my sheltered life growing up in a suburb of Detroit, there was not much conversation about the Holocaust. Perhaps the late 1950’s were still too soon to speak openly about such things. So I struggled to understand how people, who would have included me had my grandparents not decided to immigrate to America, were exterminated just because they were Jewish. I had nightmares about being sent to a concentration camp. It was beyond my comprehension and none of the adults in my life wanted to discuss what had happened and, more importantly, why.
Last night in Israel, people stopped what they were doing to stand in silence for two minutes as sirens wailed. This week, April 27–May 4, 2014, is Holocaust Remembrance Week in America. There will be television specials and programs in schools to remember the 6 million Jews killed in the Nazi Holocaust during World War II. There will be showings of Schindler’s List. But will there be any more tolerance in the world?
I have been contemplating the word tolerance for some time now, wondering what exactly it means. Ironically, an article in the Chicago Tribune (Arts and Entertainment section?) about the new CEO of the Illinois Holocaust Museum carried the headline, “The CEO of tolerance.” That led me to question whether it is enough to tolerate others. Are we aiming too low?
Recent events reveal that for many Americans, tolerance is a worthy goal. On April 13, the eve of Passover, Frazier Glenn Cross (or Miller), a 73-year-old “former grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan with a long history of running illegal paramilitary organizations and intimidating minorities,” (Southern Poverty Law Center) killed three people. The first two victims, William Lewis Corporon and his 14-year-old grandson, Reat Griffin Underwood, were in the parking lot of a Jewish community center going to an audition for the KC SuperStar singing scholarship contest. Cross/Miller then killed Terri LaManno at Village Shalom, a retirement home where she had gone to visit her mother. Ironically, none of his victims were Jewish.
Next up – Nevada rancher and Fox News folk hero Cliven Bundy. In a New York Times interview published on April 23, 2014, he felt very comfortable sharing his racist views. He continued to spew forth his thoughts about “Negroes” in his now infamous comments on April 26, 2014:
“And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”
In other remarks, Bundy blamed Martin Luther King for his own critics’ outcries of racism because King didn’t finish the job and cure America of prejudice. This brilliant thinking comes from a man who has basically lived off the government since 1993 by not paying fees to graze his cattle on government land.
During the same time Bundy has been holding forth, another great thinker, Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, is grabbing headlines for bigotry. On April 25, a recording of him telling his girlfriend that he doesn’t want her to bring black people to his games or post pictures with black people on Instagram, surfaced in the media. When the girlfriend pointed out that most of the players who earn him money are black, Sterling replied that he and the other NBA owners (unfortunate word) support these players and make them wealthy. Thus, he does not owe the players his respect, nor will he tolerate his girlfriend associating with them in public.
At their game last night, the Clippers players staged a silent protest. They wore their warm up shirts inside out, with the logos hidden. After they finished warming up, they played the game wearing their regular uniform, but they did lose. Maybe they didn’t want to work so hard for their “owner” anymore?
I guess if people like Frazier Glenn Cross or Cliven Bundy or Donald Sterling could rise to the level of tolerance, our world would be a better place. Maybe this is all we can hope for from folks who judge and exclude others based on their race, religious beliefs, abilities, politics and sexual orientation. But for the rest of us, I think tolerance is a small first step.
In a world still filled with genocide, racism, discrimination, and hatred, we need to bring everyone to the level of tolerance. But like my childhood heroine, Anne Frank, I want to think that,
“It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.” (July 15, 1944)
And I want to hope most people can reach higher than the first step of tolerance to accept differences and ultimately to value and appreciate them.
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