This article appeared in the December 30, 2019 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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Countering intolerance with empathy

Amr Alfiky/Reuters
Two men in Brooklyn gather at Grand Army Plaza in solidarity with victims after an assailant stabbed five people attending a party at a Hasidic rabbi's home in Monsey, New York, on Dec. 28, 2019, while they were celebrating Hanukkah.
Clayton Collins
Director, editorial innovation

We’re reporting on the spate of anti-Semitic attacks. We’ll have a story tomorrow. 

The stabbing of five Jewish congregants Saturday at a rabbi’s home in Monsey, New York, occurred on the seventh night of Hanukkah. A suspect, said to have struggled with mental illness, was arrested and charged with a federal hate crime. That followed a string of recent incidents – more than a dozen this month – in which Jews were targeted. In a shooting at a kosher grocery store in Jersey City, Dec. 10, a half-dozen people, including a police officer, were killed. 

“Jews have been living defensively for a long time,” writes Deborah Lipstadt in The Atlantic. But “we have reached a new level.”

Those who align themselves against such hatred often share the fundamental belief that people acting peacefully and in accord with their faith are pursuing connection to a higher power, and doing so as honest seekers. They have a core fellowship with humanity.

The unwavering recognition of that fellowship – empathy – can be an antidote to intolerance. 

In early December, Rabbi Steven Moss was honored for his leadership at an event hosted by the Southampton (N.Y.) Anti-Bias Task Force. After that event – and just after the New Jersey shooting – he spoke to a local reporter about a harassment case in his county. A Muslim man had been targeted in a bank. The man charged was asked about his motivation. Muslims, he proclaimed, were Americans’ collective enemy.

Rabbi Moss’ reaction was immediate. “I said, ‘Do you [think] this man, who ... was at the bank making a deposit, this man who has a family, do you think we are at war with him?’” 

In mid-November the United Nations marked the International Day for Tolerance, as it has since 1996. In her message, Audrey Azoulay, director-general of UNESCO, stressed the importance of making right thinking a tangible reality. 

“Tolerance is more than standing idly by or remaining insensitive to differences between ... cultures and beliefs,” she said. It is “a state of mind, an awareness, and a requirement.” 

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This article appeared in the December 30, 2019 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 12/30 edition