By Harriet P. Gross
When neo-Nazis marched in Skokie, Ill., back in 1977, there was counter-protest. When notorious Westboro Baptist Church came to Dallas in 2010, there was counter-protest. But earlier this year, Rabbi David Glickman championed a different way to counter a protest.
The date was Nov. 9, marking the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, Germany’s “night of broken glass” that resonates for many as the tangible start of the Holocaust. The protest place this year was Kansas City, Mo. And that is where Rabbi Glickman made his stand: instead of taking to the street, go to shul.
Last year, Glickman left Dallas after more than a decade as a Shearith Israel associate rabbi to become spiritual leader of a large, prominent home to Conservative Judaism in Kansas City. Nov. 9 this year, Kristallnacht’s 75th commemoration, fell on a Saturday, which prompted an advance message to his congregants the day before:
“Tomorrow afternoon, there will be a neo-Nazi group rallying in our city. Organizations and individuals from the Jewish community will be counter-protesting. I, however, will not be among them… I will not dedicate any time on Shabbat morning to discuss this group…because I do not want to waste one minute of our time on our holy Sabbath. I will not allow those Nazis to take away even one minute of celebration of Shabbat.”
He went on to explain: “I do not believe that the greatest threat to the Jewish people is currently anti-Semitism…The lack of Shabbat celebration is a far greater threat to the future of the Jewish people than a fringe group of anti-Semites. The best recipe for fighting anti-Semitism today is to create more pro-Semitism.”
Rabbi Glickman was quick to note that a number of Shoah survivors and their children had told him they felt the need to protest actively, even on Shabbat.
“I make absolutely no judgment in these situations,” he said. “Because survivors have lived a life I cannot imagine.” But for others: “If one is making a choice between going to the store or going to this protest — go protest evil. However, if one is making a choice between celebrating Shabbat or protesting — I recommend celebrating Shabbat…The question, of course, is — how do we fight evil? I, for one, do not want to draw attention to a fringe group of evil-doers and give them the power to diminish Shabbat…If you want to really protest the Nazis, double-down on Shabbat. Invite twice as many people to your home for dinner. Bring more people [to shul] to sing ‘Am Yisrael Chai — the Jewish People Live!’”
“I am not just concerned about the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht,” Glickman emphasized. “I am also thinking about who will be there to protest the 150th anniversary of Kristallnacht.”
More than 30 years ago, a neo-Nazi group expressed its intention to march through the south suburbs of Chicago, my home at the time. Our clergy of all faiths proposed this to their various congregations: “At the hour of the protest, go to your own church or synagogue. We alone will be present to confront them, wearing our robes, our collars, our kippas and tallit, standing together, facing them in absolute silence.” I cannot say for certain whether this quiet “threat,” or some alleged difficulty in securing a parade permit, caused the would-be protesters to back off, but their planned demonstration never happened.
Rabbi Glickman’s suggestion was of the same kind: Instead of shouting lustily on the street, let us make a joyful Jewish noise within the sheltering walls of our synagogues. In his message to his own congregants, he noted his personal thanks to the many Kansas City leaders of other faiths who were standing in solidarity with the city’s Jews and their clergy in opposition to these neo-Nazis. He also provided a statement all of us might accept as a guide for our collective future: “Vibrant Jewish living is the true failure of Hitler’s mission.”