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A Garden Filled with Hate

02/23/2019 08:46:26 PM

Feb23

Rabbi Scott Hausman-Weiss

A friend of mine sent some others and me an email that was a bit alarming, especially coming from her. Some of you may have read about or heard about a short documentary film, A Night at the Garden, which was nominated for an Academy Award. The film runs 7 minutes and is built entirely upon documentary footage of an actual American Nazi rally that took place on February 20, 1939, inside of Madison Square Garden. It was attended by 20,000 Americans.  (Please allow me to repeat that – 20,000!). You can watch the 7-minute film by clicking here. Quite a bit of tumult about this film has erupted, especially regarding broadcast networks, agreeing or disagreeing to allow the promotions for the film to air. As it stands, MSNBC and CNN have agreed to allow the film’s advertisements to run on their networks, and Fox has declined. The rationale given by Fox revolves around their unwillingness to give a platform to the offensive Nazi imagery displayed in the film.

When I received this email, I dug in. I did my research. I read all the articles I could find about the film and the stirring controversy. Honestly, I was confused, not about what made the imagery in the film offensive, but about why a film like this shouldn’t be shown. As long as, of course, it is contextualized such that the viewer understands that:

  1. This is a documentary teaching about a historical moment 
  2. This Nazi imagery is not at all being promoted, but is displayed as a cautionary tale.

 

However, after speaking to my friend, she shared with me her concern that the airing of these images will invite anti-Semitism and pro-Nazism, and I cannot claim that her concern isn’t valid, especially in our day and age. Nonetheless….

Purim is on the horizon in just a few weeks. And more than the silliness and absurdity that flows through Megilat Esther (the Scroll of Esther), its most crucial “through-line” starts with Haman’s opening salvo against the Jews. He tells the King, “There is a certain people, scattered and separate from the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom, and their rules are different from every people’s and they do not observe the King’s rules, and it does not pay for the king to leave them in peace” (Chapter 3:9). Precisely because our tradition has deemed and ordained it not only appropriate but required to call out the enemies of the Jewish people, by way of ritual and ethical mandate, I argue that Purim (and most every other Jewish holiday) provides us the way forward. Animus of Jews and every other “category” of people deemed “worthy” of such animus, must be called out and not allowed to dwell in the dark. It must be recorded and remembered, and it must be treated as toxic: something all are taught to stay away from but also treat with respect – respect for its pollutive and toxic properties if left to its own devices.

Wed, October 23 2019 24 Tishrei 5780