On Friday, May 2, 2014, I was honored to be one of the speakers at the annual Holocaust Remembrance Ceremony conducted by the City of Carmel, Indiana. I was asked to speak in my capacity as a member of the Mayor’s Advisory Commission on Human Relations. I believe that the program will be shown on the Carmel public access TV station (Channel 16 on Brighthouse in Carmel, but I’m not sure of the schedule for repeat showings). My remarks followed an moving presentation from Phil Lande, the son of a survivor of Auschwitz and Dachau.
We gather here to commemorate the lives lost in the Holocaust. Six million Jews murdered along with millions of Roma & Sinti, disabled, homosexuals, and others. Millions murdered for the God they prayed to, the color of their skin, the person they loved, or the body they were born with. Millions murdered simply because of who they were.
We often hear the mantra “never again”. Yet we’ve seen, time and time again, in places like Rwanda, Bosnia, and Sudan, that “never” is a difficult task. But we must do what we can to be sure that never means never. And perhaps the best place to start is here, in our own neighborhoods and communities.
The Holocaust didn’t materialize out of nothing. Germans didn’t awake one day and say to themselves, “Let’s kill the Jews, let’s kill the Roma, let’s kill the gays.” No. Those actions were the result of years, decades, even centuries of mistrust and hate. Years of blaming “the other” when things went wrong. Years of categorizing people, not on the merit of their character, but on other, base characteristics.
So it becomes our obligation to be sure that those sorts of bigotries, hatreds, and even simple mistrusts aren’t allowed to take root in our communities. Rather than denigrating people for how they look or dress, how they worship, or the music they choose to listen to, we should celebrate the differences we find around us. We must use those differences to make us and our communities stronger. And isn’t that really the core that has made America great for all of these years, anyway? E pluribus unum. Out of many, one.
But how do we accomplish those goals? That was, in part, the question posed in a discussion following one of these Yom Hashoah commemorations several years ago. And it was out of that conversation that Mayor Brainard established the Mayor’s Advisory Commission on Human Relations. I stand here today as a proud member of that Commission.
We are a new organization. We’re still learning about the issues and challenges, still trying to develop a framework for what our Commission can and must do. But as a starting point, we’ve recognized the need to understand and then celebrate the diversity within Carmel. Though to an outsider, this community may look homogenous, it is far from being so. We have houses of worship for many, many faiths, not to mention residents of no faith or of a faith not represented by a church, mosque, or synagogue. We have members of a multitude of ethnic and national backgrounds and a wide assortment of languages spoken by our citizens. We have straight citizens and gay citizens. But what ties us all together is that we are all humans, all deserving of respect and inclusion within our society.
The Mayor’s Advisory Commission on Human Relations is looking for ways to have an impact on or City and our citizens. We’ve begun by asking members of different religious and ethnic groups to come talk to the Commission about the particular issues that face their respective communities. And we’ve offered ourselves as a clearing house to which concerns of discrimination can be brought and discussed.
We’re new. We don’t have all of the answers yet. But we are working to be sure that Carmel welcomes its diversity, even celebrates that diversity. The first step to “never again” is to be sure that prejudices and stereotypes aren’t allowed to fester into bigotry and hate. But a Mayor’s Commission can’t do that alone. We need each of you, each member of your family, each member of your neighborhood and our community at large, to help us achieve the goal of a community that respects people for who they are, helping people to “just get along”. For if we learn to respect one another then “never again” should never become a concern here in our City.
Thank you Mayor Brainard for having the foresight to establish this Commission and to recognize the importance of recognizing the diversity within the City of Carmel.
I also want to thank Mayor Brainard for deciding to commence and continue holding these annual Holocaust Observance Ceremonies. This isn’t something that the Mayor is obligated to do; nor is it something that the Jewish community pushed him to do. Rather, this ceremony — and remembering the Holocaust — is something that is important to the Mayor. I know that Jewish community of Carmel (and the broader Indianapolis Jewish community) join me in my appreciation of the Mayor for his continued support and hosting of this important ceremony.
Labels: Anti-Semitism, Racism