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David Goldenberg Addresses the Crisis Plenary

David Goldenberg addressed the Crisis Plenary at the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, USA.

So this wealthy couple has a bunch of college students over to their home and out back. There’s this beautiful lake and the woman says to these students, “Hey listen, in that lake is a turtle stuck on a stone. If any of you can get to that stone and that rock and pick up the turtle and bring it back to the shore safely we’ll give you anything you want: wealth, a trip. We’ll pay for college whatever you need, but here’s the catch: the lake is filled with piranhas.” So they sit there for a couple minutes and well no one moves so the couple shrugs and they turn around and start walking back into their home when all of a sudden there’s a splash and they turn back and there’s a kid bobbing and weaving in and out away from the piranhas gets to the rock, stands up dripping wet, takes a deep breath, bends down picks up the turtle, jumps back into the lake. Back and forth in between the piranhas finally gets to the shore and the couple comes running around the corner and they say, “That was amazing. What is it that we can give you? What is it that you want?” And the student looks at them, shrugs their shoulders and says, “I just want to know who pushed me in the lake.” Now I know in this room many of us have been pushed into the lake. But I also know that all of us have had to absorb one crisis after another in recent years. 

Houses of worship are targeted by individuals driven by hateful ideologies with violent tendencies. The rule of law and core democratic principles are regularly challenged through preposterous claims that elections are rigged and the targeting and harassment of election workers. Elements of conspiracy theories like QAnon and the Great Replacement Theory rooted in anti-semitism, xenophobia, and hate can now be found in the policies of mainstream political parties. Jewish members of the AAPI and LGBTQ community and others continue to be scapegoated for the problems of the world. Extreme statements made by politicians and elected officials that it would have previously been disqualifying them from holding office instead give them five to ten point bumps in the polls.

The implications are dangerous and even deadly. Vicious rhetoric is no longer an abstract issue. Instead, it is a dangerous and destabilizing force that can manifest in the real world and impels individuals to act violently. Perhaps it is fitting that today we sit literally just a couple blocks away from where the Anti-Defamation League was founded in 1913. ADL’s timeless mission to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all remains as relevant and important today as it did 110 years ago. 

It is and it has always been our belief that you can’t fight one form of hate without fighting them all. Now let’s be clear. None of what we are going through is and none of what we are going through should be normal. Yes, it may feel normal based on the events of the last few years, but it is not. 

Second, the emotions of anger and frustration and helplessness and even fear are reasonable. While victims are often resilient, humans weren’t made to withstand this level of trauma on a daily basis. Third and perhaps most importantly, we have the power to demand and drive change because I truly believe that there are more of us willing to fight hate than those trying to normalize it.

ADL believes that we must respond to the haters with the same intentionality and energy that we see from them and we cannot do this alone. Our approach to fight hate leans heavily on listening and building partnerships, investigating and conducting necessary research, educating and training, and advocating and assisting victims of hate incidents. 

For example, for decades the Black and Jewish communities have been the most targeted communities when it comes to identity -based hate crimes in the United States. That’s why ADL partnered with the National Urban League this year to launch the Community Solidarity and Safety Coalition.

We have built a cross -community alliance of non -governmental and non -partisan leaders working to collectively address common community safety issues, especially focused on communities that have been targeted most by hate -fueled violence and domestic terrorism.

ADL and the National Urban League have also launched Project Code, an acronym for the Collaborative Organizations to End Domestic Extremism. Then, to mark the two-year anniversary of the release of the Biden Administration’s National Strategy to Counter Domestic Terrorism, we held our inaugural symposium in June on political violence and domestic extremism. More than 55 civil rights and democracy protection organizations came together in Washington, D.C., excuse me, came together in Washington, D.C. to assess the effectiveness of the U.S. government’s interagency response to extremism and political violence, to identify gaps and to plan for collaborative action as we prepare for the 2024 election here in the United States.

Now, here in the Midwest, here in Chicago specifically, in the aftermath of the tragic shooting of black grocery shoppers in Buffalo, New York, I called my good friend, and who you’re going to hear from right after me, Karen Freeman Wilson, the leader of the Chicago Urban League. Karen and I decided to launch an anti-hate table to bring together groups affected by ongoing hate crimes and identity-based incidents.

With less than 48 hours notice, nearly 50 groups representing a broad spectrum of communities joined our call. Now we asked everyone two questions. One, what are you most worried about? And two, what can my community do to support yours? To a T, every person answered that first question with, “None of us are safe, and my community could be next.” And to number two, many responded, “I don’t know how you can help me yet, but thank you for asking. That rarely happens.” Because of my job, I’m often asked, “What can someone do to respond to the current environment?” My answer often focuses on three big things. One, speak out when an act of hate occurs. Two, use facts to respond to the lies and misinformation that we know drive hate wherever and whenever you have to. And three, show strength by supporting victims, even when you and your community are not the ones being targeted. The thing is, you don’t need a pulpit or a podium or a TV show, or you don’t have to lead the ADL or another organization or religion that’s here today. You can actually take these actions on your own, at home, with your friends, in your workplace, in spheres and circles where you have influence. Each of us has a responsibility to play a constructive role in the transformational change that is so desperately needed in our world today. And I look forward to seeing the great work each of us will accomplish together. Thank you.

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