Ordering Hate Away

Right about now, virtually everyone in the world could stand to attend a seder.

The story of Passover, of overcoming slavery, persecution and hate, is fully universal, never grows old  and bears regular repeating given the events of our times.

But it’s not all about the story of the Exodus and escaping Pharaoh; it’s also about the word “seder” itself.

“Seder” means “order”, and represents the way in which the Passover narrative is told in sequence. The beauty of the symbolic plate, the blessings, the four glasses of wine, four questions, four sons, the dayenu, the meal itself — all create a structure upon which to drape the miraculous story of our survival and emancipation.

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“Seder,” however, has another very important connotation on the heels of the terrible happenings of this past weekend: the ways in which an enlightened society, operating under shared principles, can combat the environment in which hateful acts can flourish.

Consider that at one point Monday, three stories of hate and intolerance appeared simultaneously on the front page of The New York Times website:

• On Sunday, a known, dangerous anti-Semite allegedly went to two Jewish facilities in Kansas City with guns and apparent intent to kill Jews and took three lives — all of whom were Christians.

• A bomb went off in a Nigerian bus station at rush hour and indiscriminately killed at least 71. Islamic extremists are suspected.

• It’s been a year since the Boston Marathon bombings, and the Norden brothers, who each lost a leg, reflected on the incident and its effect on their lives.

The disgusting events in Kansas City are hardly unfamiliar. As Jews, we have been targets of this kind of behavior for several millennia. But as the non-Jewish victims in Kansas City, along with the Nigerian and Boston Marathon dead illustrate, we’re hardly the only ones who suffer from hate-based attacks.

When the Jewish Light published its State of Hate report four years ago, with support from a grant by the Press Club of Metropolitan St. Louis (bit.ly/1gWPRJm), we described the world of those who hate, and the groups that enable them. The targets are plentiful. Jews. Gays. African-Americans. Muslims. The list sometimes seems endless.

We as individuals and voices for civility can speak out against any and all hate, and we must. But it is ultimately our society collectively that must assert the “order” that puts those who would commit acts in furtherance of their vile thoughts on the wrong side of the law.

Thus laws like the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act are enacted, civilized society’s response to violence born of hate, discrimination and contempt toward particular groups. The brutal beating and death of Shepard, a young gay man in Wyoming, was the stuff that nightmares are made of, and the antithesis of our moral and ethical aspirations.

That the federal government has asserted jurisdiction in the Kansas City case based on Shepard is neither unexpected nor inappropriate. The deaths this weekend were another example of virulence morphed into violence. The suspect in the case has a sordid history of association with hate groups and has himself been on the wrong side of the law due to his prior venomous conduct. This is the kind of crime that Shepard is specifically intended to cover.

Those who are on the side of decency must continue to speak up, through legislation, public awareness  and relentless vigilance against hate-based groups’ efforts to derail the spirit of peaceful and constructive society.

Perhaps these words uttered by the Cabinet of Interfaith Partnership of St. Louis, representing 27 faith traditions, say it best:

“Each faith community has the right to peace and safety. We believe the best antidote to hatred, and the violence it creates, is living the values that uphold a democratic society: respect, peaceful conflict resolution and responsiveness to those in need.”

We would extend the statement beyond faith to all communities of whatever kind. The values espoused by the group’s statement — the “order” of peace, safety and respect — represent the essence of what our common aspirations should be. Let’s all remember them as we continue to observe Passover, and always.