Last Friday, I was among the mourners at the funeral of my first cousin, Jon Felt, a long-time employee of Edelman. Just after the service, I visited the gravesite of my parents for the first time since the passing of my mother five years ago (she died seven months after my father in 2013). On Saturday, I was among the celebrants at the bat mitzvah of my stepdaughter, Tamara. Then I emerged from synagogue to learn of the massacre of Jews in their synagogue in Pittsburgh. To journey from weeping at the gravesite to beaming at the bat mitzvah to utter despair in the wake of the shooting made for a tumultuous 48 hours.
As I have been mourning the senseless deaths of fellow Jews at the hands of a vicious anti-Semite, I have been thinking about what can be done in response. One way to help is to apply our skills as communicators:
- Stand with Those Speaking Up — There is power in working together with groups that have long fought anti-Semitism, such as the Anti-Defamation League. Jonathan Greenblatt, who runs the ADL, has initiated a Digital Vigil, asking people of all backgrounds to stand with the Jewish community of Pittsburgh. He has posted the famous poem by Martin Niemöller: “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.” You can tweet your thoughts to #NeverIsNow.
- Address Fears — When twice as many Americans fear the pace of innovation as welcome it, when immigrants are demonized as destroyers of mainstream culture and when we believe that our children will fare less well than the current generation of adults, we have dry tinder that can be lit. We need to reassure this generation, particularly those who could be displaced by robots, that there will be retraining instead of a guaranteed income for not working.
- Counter Myths — The ugly campaign being waged against George Soros in the United States is reminiscent of how he is being vilified in Hungary. The very idea that Soros is behind the march of migrants through Mexico is farcical. Social networks such as Gab need to be held to account for allowing the use of their platforms by people with intent to harm. Attentive members of the social media community need to correct the record. And law enforcement should be able to confront people engaging in hate speech, preempting violence instead of protecting a false freedom of expression.
- Reach Out, Don’t Punch Back — It is not good for former Attorney General Eric Holder to say, “When they go low, we kick them,” in reference to the best practice for Democratic candidates. Nor is it smart for members of the Jewish community of Pittsburgh to say that President Trump is not welcome in their city until he condemns extremists. Let’s reiterate what we have in common, from love of family to hard work begetting success.
- Talk Outside of the Bubble — I had an unforgettable experience this summer in Idaho with a man who was operating a limestone cavern attraction in the desert. He was preserving bread (actually bagels) for the inevitable apocalypse. We talked for an hour, about religion (a Jew and a Mormon). We found common ground in historical relics (he collected rifles from various wars, including Russia vs. Japan 1905) and wildlife (he had dozens of stuffed animals, which he had shot over the past 50 years, including a huge and scary bear). Pretty much like a trip I took to Dallas 38 years ago to put on a hang-gliding tournament for a client. The organizer, waiting for me at baggage claim, told me, “Mr. Rich, so good to meet you. I have always wanted to meet a real New York Jew."
- Change the Discourse — CEOs can speak out and rally their companies to stand with their Jewish colleagues and with all who are the targets of defamatory speech. Business leaders must make it clear that hate has no home in their workplaces and work to foster speech that reflects inclusion, acceptance and compassion.
When I was in fourth grade at Chicago Latin School, I sat next to a classmate in the lunchroom. She turned to me and said, “You can’t sit here, you dirty Jew.” I thought that time had long gone. Now I am not so sure.
Orlando, Louisville, Charleston, Dallas, Charlottesville — horrific tragedies caused by hatred are now commonplace headlines in the United States. This cannot stand. I have offered communications-based suggestions because that is what I know best. Everyone must do their part, based on their personal expertise, to combat destructive rhetoric that can infect the mind and lead to violence. Now is the time for each of us to step forward and stand up to hate.
Richard Edelman is president and CEO.