Statements Given at Proclamation of April as Genocide Awareness Month in N.H.
March 28, 2021
Jay Kahn, State Senator, Senate-District 10, Keene, NH
There are so many reasons to engage our communities in recognition of genocides past and current. The seeds that give rise to racial, religious, national and ethnic hatred, assaults, and dehumanization are all around us, nationally and globally. Our Keene focused event hopefully will spread to other NH communities to comfort and support people feeling fear and/or trauma from violence resulting from prejudice. It is our obligation to work towards what Martin Luther King called “beloved communities” that embrace all people who feel victimized due to racial, religious, national or ethnic bigotry.
I thank Governor Sununu for his timely proclamation of Genocide Awareness Month in NH. It was also an honor to present the proclamation to Keene State College’s, Director of the Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Peter McBride. The Center has been such an important contributor to our understanding of how genocide becomes normalized and acceptable, to observe early signs of bigotry and to understanding how each of us can act against such crimes occurring again. I look forward to continuing to support their efforts.
Ken Jue, Keene, NH
Recently, an Asian woman was waiting for her train in a Boston subway station, when another woman began shouting at her and advanced toward her. The Asian woman backed up and got closer to the edge of the platform when the aggressing woman pushed her down on the platform. Fortunately, a third person in the station called out and challenged the woman who did the pushing. The woman ran out of the station. This incident went unreported. Racial targeting of Asian and Asian-American persons has been widely reported recently in news media. This racial targeting has caused physical injuries for some of the people targeted and led to the deaths of others, including the most recent incident in Atlanta, GA where 8 people were killed and 6 of whom were Asian women. Racial targeting of people of Asian descent in the U.S. has not been much reported in the media. However, racial targeting is not news to me, to my family and to some Asian friends. It has been with me throughout my life (now in my 70s).
Keene is a relatively safe and secure community, but no community is immune to racial hatred and intolerance. Every community needs to look deeply and critically at itself in order to root out any sources of racial hatred and bias. As individuals we need to step up and confront racial hatred, intolerance and bias when they rear their ugly heads. This will have some risk for us, but if we do nothing, then things could only get worse. We have the power to choose and to do the right thing. We cannot allow ourselves to concede our power to someone else and have them use it destructively. 3/29/21
Rabbi Dan Aronson, Keene, NH
I would like to commend Senator Kahn for convening this kickoff event for Genocide Awareness month and to thank him for being a voice of conscience and justice in our state legislature.
In the Jewish world, this event takes place on the second day of Passover. During this holiday, we celebrate the liberation of our people from slavery in Egypt. We are commanded to see ourselves as if we were there. And we are prodded to imagine a future when oppression of all kind will be no more. This is all very relevant to the purpose of our gathering today.
I’d like to share the perspective of Rabbi Irving Greenberg, a theologian who has devoted much of his life’s work to understanding the Holocaust and also to building bridges between people of different faiths. His words remind us that remembering history is insufficient in and of itself.
“The exodus did not destroy evil in the world. What it did was set up an alternative conception of life. Were it not for the exodus, those humans would have reconciled themselves to the evils that exist in the world The exodus re-establishes the dream of perfection and thereby creates the tension that must exist until reality is redeemed.
“This orienting event has not yet become our permanent reality, neither for Jews nor for the whole world. But it points the way to the end goal toward which all life and history must go.
“Every generation must come to grips with its own reality; it is something to be lived in, and also to be challenged and overcome.”
Genocide awareness and education must force to us to come to grips with our reality. In addition to confronting the horrors of genocide, promoting understanding of the conditions that make genocide possible. Genocide awareness must also seek to develop empathy for victims and survivors and help us learn what motivates those whose Will to Power to seek their own “Final Solution” to resolve their fears and anxieties. Genocide awareness, in other words, requires that we not only study history but take a deep dive into ourselves and our own society.
Let us heed the words of Rabbi Greenberg and take this opportunity to come to grips with our reality and challenge it and to seek a better way forward. Only then will we realize the dream of perfection, a time when the hearts of all human beings will turn toward one another, and genocide will be no more. May it be so.
The Rev. Elsa Worth, Keene, NH
Part of my time at seminary included chaplaincy training. After a few weeks of intensive training, we were finally sent out onto the floor wearing our chaplaincy badges to visit patients. I went into the first room of my very first patient, who welcomed me in for a visit. He proceeded to tell me that his daughter hadn’t spoken to him in years, his wife had left him and now he’d just had a life threatening heart attack and was waiting for open heart surgery. He then said to me, “I’ve been a good person, so why is God doing this to me?”
And I thought, “I’d better go get the chaplain!” Then I realized with a gulp that I was the chaplain.
That was over 28 years ago, and I’ve been present for many traumatic events since, and I’ve learned that ‘why’ is not a question with an answer. The only answer I can offer to someone who asks why is, “I don’t know why this happened, but I know you are not alone.”
None of us know why bad things happen to good people - or why bad things - horrible things - happen among and between us in this world. And I certainly don’t know why the seeds of hate that hide in us, around us and among us have not been destroyed by now, and why, under certain conditions, they not only sprout, but grow and flourish in our world, causing the unimaginable cruelty of genocide. We don’t know why, because certainly if we did, we’d have figured out how to eradicate it by now.
You know, I still believe that the vast majority of people know that genocide is simply wrong. It is wrong. It is a horrible mystery how so many of us can be swept up in overlooking that it is wrong at certain times and in certain places under certain conditions with just a little propaganda to dupe us into confusing right from wrong.
An Episcopal priest in Washington DC during the time of the civil rights and women’s movements of the 20th century, wrote something our deacon, Derek Scalia mentioned in our Palm Sunday service yesterday:
Those who are cowards will ask, ‘Is it safe?’
Those who are political will ask, ‘Is it expedient?’
Those who are vain will ask, ‘Is it popular?’
But those who have a conscience will ask, ‘Is it right?
We all know the feeling of being afraid to speak up or stand up. Sometimes, we fall on the side of fear, power or vanity. Institutions and groups can also fall into the same traps, even churches, and this month is a call to repent from our less than faithful choices and to take a strong look at how we have colluded with hatred and genocide, both individually and as institutions.
But I know that most people know right when they see it. We know what is right and what isn’t. We know what is loving and what is not. Unfortunately we also know what it is like to feel the pressure of wanting to remain safe. Of wanting to be successful and to get ahead. Of wanting to keep our vanity intact. And there are also some who see fomenting hatred as a vehicle for their own success - as a way to gain popularity.
I don’t know why human beings are like this. But I sure know it is the way it is, and has been from the earliest written records. So our consciences need to be strong to overcome the very real risk that standing up for the right often requires. And to do that we need each other. None of us alone can rise up and fix our human tendency to fall down into fear, power and vanity. And certainly none of us alone can fix the way this world is, too often filled with conflict, prejudice and hate. Thank God we don’t have to. Thank God, we are not alone. Our individual lights can easily be extinguished, but together we will shine brighter. Together we can bring what is right and what is loving into the world - through our right relationships - through our love - through our solidarity. We are not alone, and we come together to practice using our God given conscience. We come together to be the light that cannot be overcome by darkness.
I am so encouraged this afternoon seeing you all here - citizens and leaders from our state - to recognize how important it is to remain awake and aware so that together we can discern what is right and what is not, even when the world is in a period of confusion. There have been a number of micro-aggressions, some not so micro, thrust in our direction from cars driving around us as we’ve stood together here this afternoon. There is just so much anger, resentment, woundedness and hatred in this world. It is a world ripe for being lathered up into hatred. And we’ve sadly seen the signs of it happening.
Against forces so powerful, coming together in love is our only defense. Those forces want to isolate us, keep us from sharing the light of what is good, right and loving that shines brighter and brighter when we come together. But I am so encouraged by your presence, because today’s proclamation says that we in Keene and we in NH commit ourselves to love. We commit to honor and respect our consciences, even when it is a risk to do so.
And for that I am deeply grateful to all of you who have organized NH’s new Genocide and Holocaust Awareness Month, and wish blessings on our continued work to be a community and a state that knows what is right.
Sheriff Eli Rivera, Keene, NH
I am honored to be here today to recognize April as Genocide Awareness Month
Several years ago I was invited to speak at the Keene synagogue, after the tragedy at The Tree of Life synagogue on Pittsburgh, and I started with this.
When I see hate and violence I struggle deep down inside as to why living in such a powerful nation there is still darkness among us. As a peacemaker, when I witness hatred and aggression I turn to my faith for support, and the memories of my grandfather when he would recite Psalms 23:4 (In Spanish that is)
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. We must be strong, compassionate, loving and caring of each other, as we mourn the lives of innocent people. We must remain vigilant for those who persecute and discriminate against us.
We must continue to condemn the spread of hate and violence in our world and work together to restore peace, compassion, dignity, and love in our hearts.
Nelson Mandela said: No one is born hating another person because of the color of his [their] skin, his [their] background, or his [their] religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart that its opposite.
We need to do a better job at providing services to those suffering from mental illness, who fall through the cracks undiagnosed and suffer alone unable to get the proper mental health services that we as a nation failed to provide.
We cannot wait for a tragedy, such as the one that happened in Atlanta Georgia to recognize our failure as a nation.
I will end with this, No one can do everything, but everyone can do something, and together we can change the world