Remarks from Hate Crime Awareness Symposium held at Benedictine College, March 25, 2015

I am Rabbi Marc D. Rudolph from Congregation Beth Shalom in Naperville. I want to thank you for the opportunity to participate on this
panel to address the issue of hate crime. Hopefully our discussion this evening
will help raise our awareness on this extremely important   issue that ought to concern us all.  
What is a “hate crime”?  How is it different from other crimes? The
United States Congress has defined a hate crime as a “criminal offense
against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias
against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.” To
me, a hate crime is particularly pernicious because it singles out its victim
based on who they are.   Hate crimes therefore have many victims in
addition to the victimized individuals or the damaged property.   All the members of the community of which
the victim is a member are also affected by the hate crime.  A gay man is attacked because he is gay, and
it shakes the entire gay community to the core. Three Muslim students are shot
execution-style because they are a Muslim, and the entire Muslim community
feels unsafe. A man stands outside of a Jewish Community Center and guns down
three people who he thinks are Jewish — these crimes are directed not only
against the individual victims, but against the communities to which these
victims belong. They have a ripple effect that tears at the most basic values
our country holds so dear — that everyone in our   democratic and free society is entitled to
the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.
Even as we know the definition of a
hate crime, we are sometimes blind when it comes to recognizing one that has
happened right before our eyes.  I opened
up my browser a few days ago and was greeted by the following headline –
“‘Anti-Semitic ‘Attack on London Synagogue Leads to Arrest”. The report was
alarming enough but one thing immediately caught my eye. There were quotation
marks around the word “anti-Semitic”. This communicates to the readers, doubt,
cynicism and sarcasm– as in “Another so-called
anti-Semitic attack on European Jews”. Clicking on the story, I read that a
crowd of 20 had attacked a synagogue in a London neighborhood on Saturday night
when there were worshippers inside. The crowd broke windows and tried to force
their way in as the worshippers barricaded the door. The police were quoted as
saying that it was being “treated as an anti-Semitic incident due to a remark
made by one of the group”, but “there was nothing to suggest that it was a
planned or targeted attack.” Even the Rabbi of the synagogue was quoted as
saying he thought “the incident was more anti-social than anti-Semitic.” “More
anti-social than anti-Semitic” — What does that mean? A mob attacked this
synagogue full of worshippers!  Given the
rash of attacks against Jews in Europe in the past year, I would think there
would be no doubt that here is yet another anti-Semitic attack against Jews.  But we want to close our eyes, pretend
otherwise. I feel the same way about the killings of Deah Barakat, Yusor Mohammed
and Razan Mohammed abu-Salha, the three students killed by a neighbor in Chapel
Hill, North Carolina – ostensibly over parking spaces. Was this also not a hate
crime? Given the way that Muslims are depicted in the news, in the movies and on
television, how could this be other than a hate crime? Now, the authorities and
sometimes the public come up with “reasons” to explain a hate crime.  It might be that people had too much to drink
and things got out of control, as in London, or that there was a simmering
grudge over parking spots, as in North Carolina. These excuses either absolve
the perpetrators of responsibility for the crime – after all, it was the liquor
that did it – or shift the responsibility for the crime partly onto the
Raising the awareness of hate
crimes in our communities, understanding what they are, and collaborating to
prevent them from occurring is critical to all of our well being. Coming
together tonight to discuss this problem is one important step in addressing
it. Educating ourselves, our children, and our friends about respecting and
valuing differences is another important way of addressing hatred.  The power of getting to know each other, of
sharing a meal, taking a walk, discussing a book or a film can be instrumental
in dissolving assumptions and prejudices about which we may not even be aware. Sadly,
however, prejudice and hatred will be with us for a long time. What do we do
when we experience a hate crime in our community?
Some of you might have heard of the
attack against Congregation Etz Chaim, a synagogue in Lombard, just five months
ago. The Jewish community was deeply shaken by this hate crime right in our own
backyard. The way in which the Jewish community and the community in general,
responded offers a model of how we can effectively address hate crimes when
they do occur. On the
evening of October 21, 2014 police arrived at the scene after their custodian
reported a disturbance on the synagogue grounds. A man had broken seven windows
at the synagogue and scrawled anti-Semitic graffiti on the front door. When
police arrived they found him driving recklessly over the synagogue’s grounds,
destroying the grass and uprooting bushes. He had left a hatchet, a machete, a
knife and an ax at the synagogue’s front door. 
When police searched his home they found thousands of rounds of
ammunition, a rifle, shotgun and four handguns.
Calls and emails of support and outrage
came pouring into Etz Chaim as soon as the news of the attack emerged. The
congregation decided to organize a support rally. Hundreds of people from forty
different faith communities came together on Saturday night, November 8, to
express solidarity with the Jewish community. Reverend Jay Moses of the First
Presbyterian Church of Wheaton, Shoaib Khadri of the Islamic Center of
Naperville, Dr. Jill Baumgaertner, the Dean of Wheaton College, Reverend Jim
Honig of the Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church, Reverend H. Scott, Matheney,
the Chaplain of Elmhurst College, Father Jim Dvorschak of the Roman Catholic
Church and Rabbi Michael Balinsky representing the Council of Religious Leaders
of Metropolitan Chicago all offered inspirational messages from the pulpit that
buoyed our spirits and re-assured us that we do not stand alone when hatred is
expressed against Jews. Perhaps the most poignant moment came at the conclusion
of the service. The Senior Rabbi of the synagogue, Rabbi Stephen Bob invited
all clergy to stand together in the front of the sanctuary. He told a story. A
couple of years ago he saw a picture in the Chicago Tribune of a Reform rabbi
pointing to a swastika that had been sprayed on the side of his synagogue in
Chicago. Rabbi Bob called his colleague. “What you should have done,” Rabbi Bob
advised, “was to have a picture of clergy from different religions pointing at
the swastika on your building.” “We don’t know anybody,” his colleague replied.
Then, pointing to the sixty assembled clergy that filled the sanctuary Rabbi
Bob said, “Well, we do.”
We may not be able to prevent every
hate crime. Through coming together in solidarity and support we can help heal the wound that the hate
crime has opened.