Reno News and Review

Thurs., January 13, 2000

Stop The Hate

© Carol Cizauskas

Sitting in the ballroom where I had danced many times before, I marked the different kind of excitement in the air this night. Instead of music, alcohol, and friends to lighten the night, I shared an anticipation with 900 strangers who are my neighbors. We had come together because we cared and we questioned. Some of us had wept. We came together at the interfaith gathering on January 5 to pray for peace from hate crimes and to search for answers.

The event was led by mostly local leaders from the clergy, politics, and law enforcement. The first to speak was Rabbi Keller of Reno's Temple Emanu-El, which made news when a Molotov cocktail shattered its window on November 30, 1999. While Keller enumerated the increasing number of hate crimes in our country, he accentuated that these acts are "not random violence," just like those in Nazi Germany were not random.

You might react to this statement with disbelief, dismissing it as a conspiracy theory. Think again. Realize these non-random acts may be a groundswell based on the unchecked hatred in our country. They are unchecked because we don't believe they're too violent - yet. We don't believe they affect us personally. We don't believe something like Nazi Germany could ever happen here.

But remember this: Nazism was legally voted into power in a democracy. Are you still so sure it couldn't happen here? Or how about Kristallnacht in Germany, when the homes, businesses, and places of worship of German Jews were demolished as glass shattered everywhere, giving rise to the terrible, cold beauty of the name of that night? Connect to the November 30, 1999, destruction at Temple Emanu-El. And what of the fires and bombs set to Jewish centers in Sacramento and in L.A.? Still think we could never have Nazism take over? Rabbi Keller told us, "The Nazi party numbers less than 1000 in this country and is not a significant threat." He said these words were uttered in 1923 Germany. That was 10 years before the party came to power and 17 years before it turned on the first oven at Dachau to increase its efficiency at corpse disposal.

You've heard it said many times: the price of freedom is vigilance. It is critical not to curtail our civil rights. I believe so strongly in the First Amendment and thank my God to live in a county which guarantees this freedom. To take this freedom away from anyone, even a Nazi, is to siphon its lifeblood. Why not instead strengthen the First Amendment by fighting back with that very freedom? Talk to your friends and neighbors about what's happening. Write letters to editors. Teach your children to love, and don't pass down your own prejudices. Challenge people who use racist epithets. Combine this kind of effective, individual free speech with strong education, legislation, and real legal enforcement against prejudice, whether in the form of hate crimes or of institutionalized exclusions. Do that, and we wield a powerful weapon against the current war of violence in our country.