May 20, 2020
Swastikas were painted on the sidewalks and street furniture at North Point Shopping Center last night.
Often we call these “symbols of hate,” and they, along with zoombombers shouting the n-word or posting images of pornography, demonstrate the dark path that seduces too many of our fellow citizens during this pandemic. Whether one promotes the hatred of Jews, people of color, or women, I believe these symbols are less shouts of fear and loathing and more whimpers of cowardice. We face a disorienting unknown. We barely understand the scope of the virus and our economy is fragile, while our political leadership contributes to the sense of chaos. As our minds spin into endless questions, the chasm of despair beckons to our souls. We are afraid, and the quickest analgesic is to project the fear onto an enemy. Our minds are wired to find a target when threatened, and the easiest target is some marginalized group in society. This eases our mental tension, providing temporarily relief, until fear swells again within, and we seek another hit of mental relief in greater acts of villainization of the other. Hate is the opiate of a terrified society.
As we were polarized before Covid-19, we should only expect a crescendo of these symbols, and we must turn them back before violent symbols become violent acts. We are already seeing attacks on retail workers who ask patrons to wear masks.
The solution is to call these symbols what they are, marks of cowardice. While they claim to communicate hate and fear, they really belie the underlying weakness and loneliness of the perpetrator. We are all afraid, and courage is the ability to face a fear and carry on despite it. Cowards allow fear to drive their decisions and actions, undermining one’s duties and purpose.
This pandemic requires unity of purpose, steadfastness, and sacrifice. To prevent its spread we wear masks for each other, our representatives authorize bailouts, and we make do at home while we support and applaud those on the front lines. This is our task, as essential as buying War Bonds or planting Victory Gardens. The first two months of this were the easy part. This next stage promises more uncertainty, impatience, volatility, and scary numbers. We are all afraid.
The moment calls for courage. We invite everyone to drown these cowardly messages with the message “Hate has no Home Here.” Write this on sidewalks (with chalk), take photos, use the hashtag, and post it online. Let us show Reston, Herndon, Vienna, Northern Virginia, the Commonwealth, and Country that we go forward together.
Rabbi Michael G. Holzman
Cantor Susan Caro
Rabbi Jessica Wainer