Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, September 18, 2020

How best to respond to acts of hate

‘A List’ host Lebovitz talks about fallout of swastikas on Walnut St. Bridge

Alison Lebovitz is the host of “The A List” and a leader in the local Jewish community. She says constructing and ascending a ladder of hate is easy, and urges the people of Chattanooga to build “bigger and taller ladders of kindness, acceptance, respect and love.” - Photograph provided

Chattanooga’s Jewish community spoke out when the Rock on the University of Tennessee at Knoxville’s campus was painted with antisemitic remarks.

It then spoke out when Nashville’s Holocaust Memorial was desecrated.

And it responded quickly after Nazi swastikas appeared on Walnut Street Bridge and in the Bluff View Arts District Sunday morning.

“As a faith community, as good citizens and as Americans, we condemn this act of antisemitism in the strongest of terms. Hate against one is hate against all,” the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater Chattanooga declared in a news release.

Michael Dzik, executive director of the Jewish Federation, said seeing acts of antisemitism in his hometown was surreal.

“I take any act of antisemitism and all forms of hate seriously. Although unsettling and disturbing, this only gives the Jewish community more resolve to continue fighting against hate.

“Additionally, we will continue building bridges of friendship with all peoples and communities.”

Rabbi Craig Lewis of Chattanooga’s Mizpah Congregation joined the chorus of voices rising against the act when he thanked the City of Chattanooga for taking “swift action to repair the damage and for providing assurances for the protection of the Jewish community.”

Now Alison Lebovitz, another leader in the local Jewish community, contributes her thoughts.

As the host of “The A List,” a weekly interview series for WTCI, Lebovitz is never at a loss for words. Here, she answers questions about what she and her children thought when they learned about the incident and how she hopes the Jewish community and the broader Chattanooga community responds.

What were your thoughts when you learned swastikas had been painted on Walnut Street and in Bluff View Arts District?

“I was shocked, angry, heartbroken and deeply saddened to learn this devastating news. For this to happen at any time and place is horrific and inexcusable. When it happens today, in 2020, and in your own backyard, it’s even more terrifying.

“The timing of this was especially disturbing as it came just days after our country united in solidarity to honor the victims of the horrific events on 9/11 and just days before Jewish people across the world will celebrate Rosh Hashanah, one of the most sacred holidays in the Jewish calendar.”

For context, explain what the Nazi swastika represents to Jewish people in the U.S.

“While the swastika itself goes back thousands of years and has been used as a symbol of good fortune in almost every culture in the world, the symbol was hijacked by Hitler and the Nazis during the 1930s and will now forever be associated with fascism, intolerance, hate and the senseless and systematic murder of more than 11 million people, including 6 million Jewish people during The Holocaust.

“Today, the swastika is an unequivocal and undeniable symbol of hate. Plastering, drawing or putting up a swastika is therefore, in my opinion, a hate crime. As a Jewish person, when I see this symbol, I know it means the person using it not only hates me, they also hate the idea of my existence.”

How can people who are against hate in all forms respond?

“Eli Wiesel once said, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” If you see something, say something. And do something.

“We must call out hate in all of its forms, but first, we have to recognize it when we see it or experience it and name it when it rears its ugly head. We cannot stand by silently, and we cannot be neutral in our stance.

“We must have conversations with our children, spouses, partners, parents, neighbors, family and friends about this incident and others when they occur to make sure none of us ever stand idly by while someone else is bullied, marginalized, persecuted, picked on or meant to feel like an “other.”

“Hate is hate. And hate for one is hate for all. Since most hate stems from a combination of fear and ignorance, to combat it, we must show grace and empathy toward others in order to build understanding and trust. It’s all too easy to construct and ascend a ladder of hate, so we must consistently find ways to build bigger and taller ladders of kindness, acceptance, respect and love.”

What have you said to your sons about the incident?

“Our boys are 16, 18 and 20. Sadly, hearing about an antisemitic slur or gesture is nothing new for them. We let all three boys know about this as soon as it happened and their responses ranged from grief to anger. All three have personally encountered antisemitism in some form and in various degrees and they each know it’s their responsibility to help foster a world predicated not on hate but grounded in love, respect, inclusivity and kindness for all.”

As the Jewish people celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, on Sept. 18, do you remain positive it can overcome the age-old battle against antisemitism?

“As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

“While I consider myself a pragmatist, I’m also an eternal optimist. I believe in people. More importantly, I believe in the potential for every person to be kind, accepting and loving. Bias is universal but prejudice can be unlearned.

“Antisemitism is neither a new threat nor a dwindling one. Our history has prepared us for moments like this. Our faith gets us through it and reminds us that adversity only makes us stronger.”