To the audience member who gave a Nazi salute at Tuesday’s Birmingham Public Schools Board Meeting:
I don’t know you. I don’t know whether you have a child in Birmingham Public Schools. I don’t know your reasons for giving a Nazi salute. Were you trying to intimidate the individuals who were speaking at the meeting? Were you comparing the school board members to Nazis? I am not sure it matters, but I still find myself morbidly curious as to why a person chooses to be hateful.
I did not watch the school board meeting but let me share what I experienced when I heard a Nazi salute was given at the school board meeting in the district where my two Jewish children go to school. I think of my own family history. Like many American Jews, there are parts of my family tree that were erased because of the Nazis. The salute you gave is one of obedience to a murderous ideology.
For me, this is not theoretical. My family was killed at Sobibor. Sobibor was not a concentration camp or any other euphemism we want to put on it. Sobibor was a killing center. Sobibor was an extermination camp. I think of the family members whose names we recovered and those we will never be able to properly mourn who were murdered by the Nazis because they were Jewish.
I do not know what has led you towards hate. Perhaps you even are justifying yourself today – you don’t hate. Maybe you believe you were sending a political message. You were not. You were showing allegiance to genocide.
My friend Dan Elbaum wrote a piece on when it is acceptable to evoke Nazism. There are three times that it is permissible to evoke Nazis. First, when one is talking about actual Nazis. Second, when you are talking about a regime that engages in genocide. Third, a regime that threatens to eliminate another people can be compared to Nazis.
None of these three things occurred during the school board meeting. Democratically elected board members are ascertaining how to navigate a complex and evolving public health crisis. Since March 2020, there have been times I agreed with the school board and times I disagreed with the school board. But neither agreement nor disagreement is cause to hang a KKK flag in my window or hold a fake lynching or, as I encountered last spring, fashion a swastika out of sticks in Linden Park.
As adults, we should do what we try to teach our kids – to use our words to express why we believe that something is right or wrong. Violence and hate are not the answer.
There are these signs that have popped up on local lawns over the past few years: “Hate has no home here.” A nice sentiment, but you reminded us all that hate lives all around us. Hate shows up in schools. Hate attends public meetings. Hate lives within the hearts of our neighbors.
In the Jewish calendar, we are approaching Yom Kippur – the holiest day of the year. Jews all over the world will engage in acts of teshuvah (repentance), atoning both for our sins against God and our signs against man. In raising your hand in a Nazi salute, you have sinned against your neighbors, against your country and against God.
I would ask you to look inward and ask yourself why you have chosen hate and to return to the path of loving your neighbor that allows us all to live in community together.