Kirtz: Striving for Civility in Our Community
Guest Column

Kirtz: Striving for Civility in Our Community

We need to do more to create a community in which communication and collaboration are essential elements.

“Hate has a great unifying potential.”

That is a quote from Masha Gessen in the December issue of Forward magazine. The Russian-American journalist has written “The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia,” which won the 2017 National Book Award in nonfiction. Gessen tells the story of Russia’s post-Soviet evolution by intertwining the stories of seven Russians.

She describes how Russia is being taken down a dark hole. She says, “Most Russians have literally never met a Jewish person. … (But) abstracted hatred is incredibly potent. There’s never the risk of having it challenged by the reality of living human beings.”

A similar measure of hatred is happening in America. The current occupant of the White House is creating an atmosphere of hatred toward many groups. He is using it to rile up his supporters so that they will feel he is the only one who can be trusted.

Think about it. He is creating a hatred toward the press by using the phrase “fake news,” by calling the press the “enemy of the people,” by directly calling out the press at his rallies and by encouraging others to vilify the press.

He also has fueled hatred toward Muslims, Mexicans, Haitians, Democrats — who will be targeted tomorrow?

Many of those who are wrapped up in such calls of hatred have never met a journalist, a Mexican, a Haitian, a Muslim — or a Jew, for that matter.

Or they relate only in nasty terms; in the words of Senate candidate Roy Moore’s wife, Kayla, “We have a lawyer who is a Jew,” spoken with an edge easy for us to identify.

The antidote for this fueling of hatred is to resist such diatribes. As a community, we should not be divided by such calls and should do more to foster and forge positive images and relationships.

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Atlanta has sponsored several programs in the past regarding civility in the Jewish community and how to talk with one another despite differences in how we practice Judaism and how we regard the activities of the Israeli government.

Other efforts in our community are seeking to make an impact on how we treat one another and members of other communities. For example, the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta has its Front Porch endeavor, with many activities to showcase how elements of the community are serving others.

The Front Porch is seeking to break down barriers so that every part of the Jewish community can appreciate and take advantage of what the community has to offer all its members.

Another example is the Atlanta chapter of American Jewish Committee, which created a successful Black-Jewish Coalition and is working with parts of the Latino and Indian communities to forge relationships of racial and ethnic diversity.

Jews have a history that has led to values that are universal and have in turn given rise to the modern view of human dignity. The basis for these values is our Jewish identity and our experiences.

The experiences our people have lived through have led to the kind of liberalism (nonpolitical, small-l liberalism) that the American Jewish community has long endorsed and thrived under.

What else can be done to establish a community and a nation that are not susceptible to the kind of hatred Gessen describes in her book — the kind that unifies one group against another?

It is the job of every Jew to resist the calls for hatred toward others, no matter which side of the political spectrum each of us is on and from which such calls come. It is the job of every Jew to contribute toward a society based on mutual respect and civility in dealings with others and on truth in our political and cultural lives.

We need to do more to create a community in which communication, cooperation and collaboration are essential elements in how we come together and work together.

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