Turning hate to love

June 22, 1994|By Ellie Fier

HATRED and bigotry are always ugly, but most especially so when overtly promoted. At the recent rally against hate at Greenspring Valley Synagogue, the famed rabbi, Avi Weiss, addressed those hideous forces that are engulfing and dividing our country.

The message of the gentle rabbi, who is known for his peaceful protests, was that as Jews, we have the responsibility to make this a better world. We should not return hate with hate, he said. But neither should we sit back and do nothing when we are being vilified.

In the afternoon, the rabbi and others had marched around the World Trade Center with signs protesting the inclusion of Louis Farrakhan in last week's NAACP summit in Baltimore. It was not the NAACP that was under attack, nor were its worthy goals to promote the welfare of African Americans. The signs had said as much: "NAACP, Yes. Louis Farrakhan, No." Yet at the evening rally, an African-American couple sitting in the the audience distorted it.

Confronting the rabbi and the audience, they began to spout the rehearsed rhetoric of the spirit killers: Jews had bilked the blacks. Jewish landlords had dispossessed them. Jewish butchers had sold them spoiled meat. And the Jews owned 75 percent of the slaves. (It was not relevant that there were few Jews in America when slavery was introduced.)

The two were married. He, a heavy and boisterous man, was wearing a black shirt displaying his heroes. She had her hair covered with a black net and was clothed in African garb. Defiantly, she stood beside her husband, hands on hips, disgorging all the hate that had been drummed into her.

"Why did you come here?" I asked. "Would you have allowed us into your enclave?"

A black security guard was standing nearby. "I'm sorry," I said. "It's too bad our people are at odds. It must make you feel uncomfortable."

I did not expect his reply. "God works in mysterious ways," he said. "He gave me the privilege of being here tonight, to hear this wonderful rabbi."

I felt exultant. Then, turning away from the fray, I drew the black lady aside. "I don't hate you," I said. "In fact, I like black people. I've always sympathized with their sufferings." Her reaction was spontaneous. She looked at me with soft eyes, and I saw how pretty she was. "You're nice," she said. I introduced myself, and she gave me her name, an African name. I took her hand and held it, stroking it as we spoke. We both had children, I learned, and we compared ideas as to what we wanted for their future.

She said her husband was a good man, that I should disregard his outburst. He was hurt and angry and wanted to make his feelings known. I thought how hard it is to listen to the sounds of the heart when harsh words maim the spirit. Then, as naturally as the sun shines after a shower, my new African-American acquaintance reached out, and we hugged.

But the harsh and accusing words continued around us.

Emboldened by our newly created peace, I raised my voice. "Stop! This is no way to resolve our problems. Whatever we believe our history to be, the fact is we didn't write it. We just inherited it. What's important is what we do now. That will determine our future."

I walked over to the towering black man and asked if he'd do me a favor. He looked down at me. "Would you give me a hug?" The room seemed to thaw as he obliged. The meeting had ended, and I think some of the hostility did, too.

Before we can accomplish anything at all, we ought to do a little more hugging and a lot less hating.

Ellie Fier writes from Baltimore.

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