Bridges

March 21, 1994|By EVELYN AVERY

Last weekend a few hundred Americans of different faiths and races, shivering in the wintry night air, assembled at Baltimore's Holocaust Memorial to protest the appearance of anti-Semites in a city public school. Only 50 years ago, an advanced, civilized nation exterminated one third of the world's Jews. How could this be happening?

The microphones appeared defective, silencing some of the speakers' words. ''Build bridges,'' the crowd was told but to whom? A safe, sturdy bridge requires support at both ends.

In America, Jews have become consummate bridge builders. Organizations such as the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, and religious social-action groups devote themselves to justice and opportunity for all. American Jews preach and practice equality, demonstrating against racism, writing against bigotry, teaching against hate.

Jewish bigots are chastised by their community, not applauded as anti-Semites are today. Because of their religious beliefs, their sense of justice and their history of persecution, Jews have PTC made common cause with other minorities, especially black Americans.

But for black extremists, like the Nation of Islam and its bogus academic disciples, Black-Jewish relations have always been destructive. Thus, civil-rights workers are really civil-wrong doers. According to the Farrakhans, the marches never happened, legal battles were a myth, and Martin Luther King never dreamed.

Despite the faulty microphones, the demonstrators understood the speakers' words, words engraved in their memories of Jewish and black persecution. Were they wrong to protest? Were they exaggerating anti-Semitism and offering publicity to black racists? In the background, a faint chant, a counterpoint to the speakers, grew louder as a dozen or so white neo-nazis, flaunting swastika flags, shouted ''Sieg Heil'' and pledged themselves to white American purity.

Against the dark sky, the gray concrete memorial witnessed the ironies. Across town, the anti-Semite Tony Martin, a black professor, defamed Jews and nourished hate mongers. By the Holocaust Memorial, neo-nazis claimed to march for white Christian America. On television a neo-nazi proclaimed that his group supported Mr. Farrakhan's message.

A bridge of hatred was being erected by bigots of different races.

Before it is too late, the speakers warned, all decent Americans must speak out. Elected officials and institutional representatives must refuse, for any reason, to excuse prejudice or negotiate with bigots.

Instead, a powerful alliance, an invincible bridge, must be forged by all freedom-loving Americans.

Evelyn Avery is coordinator of comparative ethnic studies at Towson State University.

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