Our Opinion: The good fight against fear, hatred

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The shooting attack at the Chabad of Poway Synagogue in Southern California Saturday broke the hearts of the Jewish community in Berkshire County — but didn't intimidate its members. They will continue to practice tolerance and understanding at a time in America when fear and hatred increasingly appear to have the upper hand.

Leaders of the Jewish community from Berkshire County, north to south, acknowledged that they will increase security measures in their buildings, if they had not done so already, as many had (Clarence Fanto, Eagle, April 30). The times demand it. But as Rabbi Levi Volovik, leader of the Pittsfield-based Chabad of the Berkshires, said Monday, "We are not going to cower but we're going to grow and not hide our religious beliefs." Chabad of the Berkshires, in fact, is planning to build a Jewish Center on property it acquired in Lenox.

The California shooting came on the last day of Passover. It claimed the life of Lori Gilbert-Kaye, who was shot while shielding Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein from the alleged gunman, a 19-year-old who is in police custody. The attack came amidst a steady rise in hate crimes in America, according to FBI statistics, with an alarming number directed at places of worship.

At a campaign rally in Wisconsin, President Trump condemned the shooting at the Chabad of Poway Synagogue, declaring, "We forcefully condemn the evil of anti-Semitism and hate, which must be defeated." If only the president had stopped there. He then returned to full campaign mode, at one point falsely accusing Democrats of supporting the execution of babies.

Mr. Trump rode into office on a campaign of fear, attacking Muslims and decrying an immigrant crime wave that didn't exist then and doesn't now. He didn't create the fear, hatred and bigotry that plague America — they have long been part of our history — but he gave license to those eager to bring their biases out of the shadows. The president's after-the-fact condemnations of hate crimes would not ring so hollow if he had been consistently condemning hatred, violence, fear and ignorance since his election.

In the absence of that kind of leadership from the White House, it will have to come from elsewhere. If hatred is to be contained, every American must work toward its end, and the path will be easier if enlightened leaders show the way. Rabbi Rachel Barenblat of Congregation Beth Israel in North Adams told The Eagle that, in speaking to her son about Saturday's tragedy, she assured him ..."we will work toward a world in which these acts of hatred no longer happen." That is a significant challenge, particularly in an America where the hate-filled have easy access to powerful weapons. But it is a worthy goal that should be shared by all who value the fundamental American principles of religious liberty and freedom to worship in peace.

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