Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day. It’s a time for us to think about the ways in which we can create a kinder, safer world. It’s a moment to recognize the massive harm and destruction that one group of people inflicted upon another. It’s a chance to be better. With the spread of hateful rhetoric in our political system, the violent disenfranchisement of entire communities, and a growing disregard for basic human rights, this work of bettering ourselves seems particularly pressing.
I try not to pay much mind to toxic, ignorant people—both in my personal life and with regard to public figures. For me to live in a functional and productive way, I have to separate emotionally from their ego and arrogance. This has been my approach to the hateful politicians I’ve been forced to listen to these past few months. I have a sort of schoolyard rule about ignoring the bullies so they have no one else to bully. Now, though, we can’t ignore them. Because other people aren’t. And this is what actually worries me: the mass of people following these men around, repeating their catchphrases and swinging their punches. One man uttering hateful nonsense is sad; whole communities of people doing the same is dangerous.
When I was in middle school, my friends and I devoured any book we could find set during the Holocaust. Every Jewish kid I knew had cried over Number the Stars and developed a soft spot for mice after reading Maus. We all watched that Kirsten Dunst movie where she opens the door at her family’s Passover Seder and is transported to a concentration camp. The stories were a mix of fact and fiction, but the sentiments were strong and similar. We were supposed to identify with the young characters, the ones who lived and the ones who died. We were supposed to feel in our gut what that kind of hate does to a person, a community, and the world. They were painful stories, but we sought them out in an attempt to understand the harm. And, perhaps most significantly, these stories modeled for us how to respond—be bold enough to speak up, be brave enough to act, be kind enough to reach out your hand.
These leaders standing on platforms of hate are dangerous not because they’re loud bigots, but because people are listening and groups are powerful. Once they’ve been directed toward a movement, they’ll just keep on rolling. I have no idea what Isaac Newton’s political views were, but he knew something about momentum. An object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and same direction, unless acted upon by an external force. Our object is headed in the wrong direction, and it’s up to us to move it toward something better. Let’s be brave in the face of hate. Let’s stand up for the friends and neighbors and strangers who need us. It’s scary, I know. It’s hard to lift your head and say something to the bully in the schoolyard. He’ll probably make fun of our stirrup stretch pants and steal our fruit roll-ups, but my eleven year old self would expect me to do something and I bet yours would too. Make her proud.