Coffin 3-11-2012

My Word: Liberty, justice, anti-Semitism don’t mix

JimCoffin(Orlando Sentinel, March 11, 2012)

By James Coffin

Sixty miles west of Orlando is a beautiful, tree-shaded cemetery. It’s the final resting place of thousands of patriots — men and women who have served in theU.S. military. Their choice of burial grounds wasn’t accidental. They wanted family and friends to know what an honor it had been to serve their country.

The Florida National Cemetery at Bushnell is hallowed ground. The people buried there understood duty, honor, commitment. They put others ahead of self. Simply walking past those silent gravestones should evoke reverence and gratitude. But, as recent news reports reveal, there are some who fail to understand that the United States is all about e pluribus unum. Out of many, one. Out of diversity, unity. One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

But where’s the unity, the liberty, the justice when bigots invade such sacred space and desecrate the gravestones of true patriots simply because those memorials bear a star of David rather than a cross? Are patriot Jews, or patriot Muslims, or patriot atheists any less deserving of our individual and collective gratitude than patriot Christians?

Certainly, those who would engage in such deliberate acts of hate deserve to be prosecuted. But punishment and the fear evoked by it aren’t the solution. Understanding is.

It may well be the work of misguided youth. Such destructive behavior is deplorable. And, if it was youth, something even more deplorable is at work here.

Somewhere — at home, in the public square or (I hate to even suggest it) in some house of worship — the perpetrators were given to believe that Jews are less worthy than Christians.

Mere punishment —though appropriate — won’t fix the underlying problem. The solution involves education. It’s a task of the home. Of the school. Of the media. Of the community. And certainly of our houses of worship, whatever our faith tradition.

I like the words of a public-service announcement drafted recently by the Interfaith Council of Central Florida: “We aren’t first and foremost Anglo or African-American, Hispanic or Asian … Catholic or Protestant, Sunni or Shiite, Buddhist or Hindu, Jewish or Sikh. These are all secondary to the universal brotherhood and sisterhood of all humankind. Only as we appreciate our oneness as humans will the walls of suspicion, alienation and bigotry give way, allowing us to have unity in the midst of our diversity.”

That’s what needs to be understood.

James Coffin is executive director of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida.