Like all of us, I feel disgusted and disheartened by the racist murders in Hanau. Our hearts go out to the grief-stricken, the wounded, their families and all who’ve been traumatised by this outrage. My thoughts are especially with everyone who was in Halle on Yom Kippur, and all people, wherever in the world they are, whose haunting memories of witnessing or being near victims of terror are reawakened by this latest outrage.
The terrorist killings in Hanau are an attack not only on those who lost their lives, and not only on the groups against which they were aimed: the Turkish community in Germany, as well as refugees, Muslims, Jews, all minorities.
They are an assault on the soul of society, against its heart, against the principle of togetherness itself, against the fact that we are all humans on this earth, that we need each other, that we should and must support each other, and that without such solidarity and cooperation we cannot survive, cannot thrive materially or spiritually and cannot pursue lives of happiness, dignity and value.
European history, and the history of the Jews of Europe above all, testifies to the brutal, shameful, bloody calamity of race hate. But history alone, without vigilance, is a singularly unsuccessful instructor.
Society is most vulnerable to attack at its periphery. That is why the Torah commands us over and again to respect and protect the ger, the newcomer, the outsider, the person who is different. Samson Raphael Hirsch, who fought for equal rights for Jews across the German speaking world, described the ger as liable to being accorded
no rights to land, home, or existence, and towards whom everything was consequently regarded as permitted…
Therefore, beware, he warns,
lest in your state you make the rights of anyone dependent on anything other than the simple fact of their humanity, which every human being possesses by virtue of being human.
Yet every society throughout the ages has struggled to embrace such a universalist vision.
There are indeed limits to how many people a country can welcome, and it is reasonable for any state to regard its primary responsibility as caring for its citizens. Any society, community and individual needs a sense of identity and belonging.
The danger begins to grow when we begin to define our Us by a Them; when we project onto that Them our fears and prejudices; when we use that Them as a tool in an ideology of supremacism and exclusion; when we legitimise contempt.
Regarding perpetrators like the murderer in Hanau, it is probably impossible to know whether racism incubates their hatred, or whether their hatred finds a nurturing home in Neo-Nazi racism.
Whatever the case societies, including our own, need to be vigilant not only in intelligence, policing and the protection of vulnerable community, but also in challenging racism and hatred in public policy and discourse, in every domain of civic life, in communities and in schools.
Whatever the opposite of race-hate is, it needs to be fostered everywhere, not excluding with us, in our actions, words and thoughts. That’s why so many of us believe in and are committed to working with people of other faiths and in other communities, meeting, learning, even planting trees, together.
Hanau is very close to Frankfurt, where my grandfather served as rabbi for thirty years. When, after fleeing the Nazis in 1939, he returned to the city in 1950 to rededicate the Westend Synagogue, he prayed for a different future. I echo his prayers today.