• Washington’s Promise to Minorities and its Meaning for our Center


    Washington’s Promise to Minorities and its Meaning for our Center

    by Frank Miller-Small

    It’s now no more that tolerance is spoken of as it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights…

    … the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance…

    Every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be no one to make him afraid.

    — excerpted from George Washington’s letter to
    the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, 1790

    Our country’s rising tide of intolerance toward minorities caused me to wonder about our founders’ values and, if knowing that, might help our Center foster greater tolerance.  I wanted to know if, as some claim, we were intended to be a white Christian nation, relegating minorities to an inferior status.  Or, did our founders envision an egalitarian, multi-cultural America, with different groups living in harmony with each other?  Were Americans, perhaps, of mixed opinions on this issue? My search for answers led me to an insightful collection of essays entitled, “Washington’s Rebuke to Bigotry.”

    This book, written mostly by well- credentialed scholars, educators, and legal experts, explores the significance of our first president’s important, yet relatively little known, 1790 letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island. It further examines subsequent American responses to the intent of the letter.   To better comprehend the letter’s meaning at the time, the volume begins by providing an historical perspective, which I’ll briefly summarize below.

    At the letter’s writing, Rhode Island, founded by Puritan dissident Roger Williams in the mid-17th century, had long granted religious freedom to minorities, much to the disdain of the other colonies.  Concerned that its rights would be trampled upon, Rhode Island delayed ratifying statehood until the Bill of Rights (1791) promised religious liberty.

    Washington celebrated the new country’s unity by visiting Newport, and, while there, several religious groups gave welcoming speeches, the most memorable by Moses Seixas, president of the Hebrew Congregation. Several days later, Washington penned his famous letter, responding to the Jewish hope that America would treat them with greater tolerance than had been their long experience. Washington’s letter, highlights of which are quoted above, assured the Jews that all minorities would have equal freedom of religion under the law.  Moreover, the government, in our current idiom, would provide protection from “hate crimes” and other forms of prejudice. These promises, from a head of a national government, were revolutionary, unprecedented in the Western World.

    However, they didn’t arise in a vacuum. The amazing success of Rhode Island’s religious freedom experiment provided the main inspiration and model.  Enlightenment ideas and the ideals and recent victories of Madison and Jefferson to wean Virginia away from a state-supported Anglican Church also lent support.

    The intention of the letter and the way it was interpreted went well beyond promising religious freedom to the Jews.  Widely circulated, read and discussed, it gave hope of toleration to all minorities.  More than merely a legal doctrine, this letter presented a vision of a moral, idealistic, harmonious national community.

    Although embraced by minorities, many intellectuals, some leaders, and other sympathizers, the struggle for the fulfillment of this vision had just begun.  Several states continued to use tax support to promote the Christian religion.  Many states had religious tests for public office.  Remarkably, the main reason for eventual Church-State separation derived from the plethora of competing Protestant sects, each fearing the other’s government control, and the last government established Church persisted until 1833, in Massachusetts.  It took several more decades to attain full legal toleration of all religions at the state level.

    America’s initial ambivalence toward minorities, shown by the disparity between the letter’s lofty ideals and the states’ stubborn opposition to them, set the stage for subsequent ambivalent development.  This ambivalence began even with the founders’ original vision which contained some striking contradictions. Washington’s statements and the year-later Bill of Rights didn’t mention the rights of women, ethnic or racial minorities, or slaves.  Moreover, the negative ramifications of this ambivalence played out throughout most of US history, where Jews and other minorities were, at best, merely tolerated by the White Protestant majority.

    This conflict between ideals and realities exposes one of the central American moral paradoxes.  Although there has been and continues to be tremendous discrimination toward many minority groups, this co-exists with the ever-present and potent promise of an inclusive America.  This promise has roused the voices of toleration for many compassionate documents  and court decisions as well as fueled minority rights struggles by individuals and groups, such as the Emancipation Proclamation, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Marriage Equality Act.

    Armed with the knowledge of the paradoxical nature of Washington’s original vision and its aftermath, we can use this to help our Center broaden the circle of tolerance. We can use Washington’s promise as a springboard to conversations about our present state of minority rights.  We can hold up the examples of the choices American upstanders, such as George Washington and Martin Luther King, made to promote greater minority inclusion as courageous role models. We can employ the circumstances surrounding upstander and opposition choices to initiate and work through difficult and complex conversations about inclusion.

    We can relate these difficult conversations to the important idea, implied in Washington’s letter, that democracy can only work if people cooperate, and this can only happen if people feel free from prejudicial fear. Ideally, as John Dewey said, schools should be the training ground for democracy, the place where young people learn peaceful, cooperative living and its connection to the democratic process.  Unfortunately, many schools don’t have the time, interest, or capability to do this.

    Our Center fills this important void.  We make the democratic connection and provide the unique opportunity to have the aforementioned difficult conversations, helping students recognize and resolve differences by working through them in a civil way.  During this process, as Adam Strom, Facing History educator says, we help them “… separate fact from rumor by breaking own stereotypes and countering myth and misinformation.”  This is what our Center does so well and one reason why our Center is so much needed, particularly, in these troubled times.

    If we can integrate the lessons borne of the American struggle toward inclusion with the lessons of tolerance learned from the Holocaust, this dual focus will brighten our torch to illuminate the dark places in our midst.

    To charge our energies for this challenge, we can summon the words of African –American poet, Langston Hughes, to resound in our ears:

    O, yes I say it plain

    America never was America to me,

    And yet I swear this oath –

    America will be!

    May his faith be ours, and may it inspire us, as we go back to the trenches, to carry forth the spirit of Washington’s letter, despite the strong headwinds, and continue our vital work.



  • One Clip at a Time Professional Development Workshop

    One Clip at a Time
    Professional Development Workshop

    Tuesday, July 11, 2017 and Wednesday July 12, 2017
    9:30 a.m. – 4 p.m. 

    Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center 
    Welwyn Preserve, 100 Crescent Beach Road
    Glen Cove, NY 

    Registration is FREE for educators 

    Are you ready to change the world? if you are an educator looking to make a difference in your life as an educator and in the lives of your students, this is the workshop for you. One Clip at a Time is a non-profit organization based in Tennessee that has created an engaging and interactive Social Studies/English/Service Learning program based on the theme of tolerance and diversity and an accompanying educator’s kit designed to motivate and empower students.

    The program crosses the curricula and is standards based. The movement is an outgrowth of the “Paper Clip Project” which brought world wide attention to Whitwell, Tennessee after it was captured in the award-winning film, Paper Clips. Throughout the course of the program, students learn the history of the Holocaust and develop an awareness of the impact it had on the world. Students then discover ways to make positive changes in their own classrooms and communities and are encouraged to continually make a difference.

    At HMTC the two-day session will be conducted by One Clip/Three Village Educators, Irene Berman and Kate Hunter. The first day will include training on the One Clip curriculum and the second day will include action planning and implementation, Survivor testimonies and a museum tour. Lunch is included both days. Attendees will receive their own One Clip Kit, which includes a copy of the Paper Clips film, an informational CD, detailed lesson plans, student journals and primary source documents.

    Space is limited. Register at www.oneclipatatime.org. For more information contact Tracy Garrison-Feinberg at (516) 571-8040 or tracygarrisonfeinberg@hmtcli.org.

  • Adolescent Advocates: Making Change Happen

    The Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County (HMTC), supported by a grant from the Open Society Foundations, as part of the Communities Against Hate initiative, is pleased to announce Adolescent Advocates, a new and unique program to train and empower teens to combat the rise of hate crimes on Long Island.

    HMTC is looking for Adolescent Advocates in grades 7-11 who are committed to bringing change to their communities and adult mentors, such as educators or youth group leaders, who are currently working with young adults to learn how to conduct trainings and be ongoing advisors. After going through the Adolescent Advocate training session, students/youth/graduates will have the tools they need to be effective advocates for themselves and their peers. They will then be able to enact tolerance action plans in their communities, with support from their trained partner adult mentors.

    Training sessions for Adolescent Advocates will take place on Saturday, October 14, 2017 at the Boys and Girls Club, 471 Atlantic Avenue, Bellport NY; and on Sunday, October 22, 2017 at HMTC, Welwyn Preserve, 100 Crescent Beach Road, Glen Cove, NY. Mandatory Training for adult mentors will take place Thursday, August 17, 2017, at HMTC.

    Teens and adults interested in participating in Adolescent Advocates must fill out an online application, which can be found on HMTC’s website at hmtcli.org/advocates. Space is limited. Mentor applications are due by June 30, 2017. Student applications will be accepted through September 1, 2017.

    HMTC was prompted to create this program by the rise in racist, anti-immigrant and antisemitic incidents since Election Day, 2016. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that 40% of all incidents occur in educational settings. HMTC is committed to empowering students with the tools they need to not only react to incidents of prejudice but to be proactive in preventing those incidents in their schools and communities.

    Communities Against Hate is a national initiative to collect data and respond to incidents of violence, threats, and property damage motivated by hate across the United States. The initiative leverages a reporting database (www.CommunitiesAgainstHate.org) that aggregates reports from both victims, witnesses and news accounts of hate incidents, as well as offers legal resources and social services to support people in need. Communities Against Hate aims to aggregate data on hate incidents, providing legal and social support, raising awareness, and educating the public on the prevalence of hate.

    The initiative is led by The Leadership Conference Education Fund, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and partner organizations representing diverse communities that reflect the fabric of America, including: Center for Community Change; Color of Change; Genders & Sexualities Alliance Network (GSA Network); Hollaback!; Muslim Advocates; National Council of La Raza; National Network for Arab American Communities (NNAAC); New York City Anti-Violence Project; Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; The Sikh Coalition; National Disability Rights Network; South Asian Americans (SAALT) and the Transgender Law Center. The Southern Poverty Law Center is serving as a strategic advisor to the initiative.

    For more information about how to apply to be a part of the Adolescent Advocates program contact Helen Turner, Adolescent Advocates Program Manager, at (516) 571-8040 or helenturner@hmtcli.org, or visit hmtli.org.


  • Not in Our Town: A Unity & Anti-Hate Conference

    Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center
    of Nassau County

    and the 

    Town of North Hempstead Supervisor
    Judi Bosworth


    Not in Our Town: 
    A Unity & Anti-Hate Conference


    Thursday, May 4, 2017, 7-9 p.m.

    Clinton G. Martin Park
    1601 Marcus Avenue
    New Hyde Park, NY

    In response to recent hate crime on Long Island, Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth and the members of the Town Board are partnering with HMTC to present Not in Our Town: A Unity & Anti-Hate Conference at Clinton G. Martin Park in New Hyde Park.

    There will be a presentation of a short film by “Not in Our Town,” then hear what steps were taken to combat hate in the Village of Patchogue following the 2008 murder of Marcelo Lucero. Other groups and organizations will talk about what they are doing to combat hate crimes and keep their communities safe.

    The keynote speaker will be Village of Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri. Other speakers include Steven Markowitz, Chairman, HMTC; Tracy Garrison-Feinberg, Director of the Claire Friedlander Education Institute at HMTC; Dr. Isma Chaudhry, President, Islamic Center of L.I.; David Kilminick, Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth; Joselo Lucero, Hagedorn Foundation; and a representative from the Nassau County Police Departement, who will discuss the department’s enhanced security, intensified patrols and response to hate crimes.

    A Q&A session will follow the speakers.

    For more information call 311 or (516) 869-6311.


  • Wonder: The Challenge of Difference – A Professional Development Workshop for Teachers

    Wonder: The Challenge of Difference

    A Facing History and Ourselves
    Professional Development Workshop for Teachers


    December 14, 2016
    9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

    Welwyn Preserve, 100 Crescent Beach Road
    Glen Cove, NY

    How do adolescents respond to difference? What choices do they make to “fit in?” The best-selling young adult novel Wonder by R.J. Palacio explores these questions through the lens of Auggie Pullman, a young man whose craniofacial anomalies have kept him out of public school until the fifth grade. By following Auggie as he navigates school for the first time, students are able to wrestle with the implications of membership and belonging.

    In this workshop you will:

    • Discover new teaching strategies, classroom activities, and multimedia resources aligned with Common Core Standards that will support bringing Wonder into your classroom.
    • Explore topics such as identity, membership and belonging, and choosing to stand up for others.
    • Receive a complimentary copy of the book.

    There is a fee of $10 for this workshop. Register here. Seating is limited so please register by December 5. 

    HMTC is happy to host this workshop on Wonder, which is a great complement to our education programs on tolerance and anti-bias.


  • Holocaust Organizations, Scholars and Educators Sound Alarm on Surge in Hate Crimes


    In a powerful statement issued by an array of Holocaust institutions, scholars and educators from around the world, an alarm is being sounded on the rise of groups that promote intolerance and promote hate speech. These 90 institutions and 71 individuals call on lawmakers to condemn white nationalist groups and ask citizens to be vigilant.

    The statement is as follows:

    Recent months have seen a surge in unabashed racism and hate speech – including blatant antisemitism and attacks on Hispanics, Muslims, African-Americans, women, the LGBTQ community, as well as other targeted groups.  Journalists have been threatened.  Places of worship, schools and playgrounds have been defaced with Nazi symbols intended to intimidate and arouse fear.  White supremacist groups have become self-congratulatory and emboldened.

    As Holocaust scholars, educators and institutions, we are alarmed by these trends.  History teaches us that intolerance, unchecked, leads to persecution and violence.  We denounce racism and the politics of fear that fuels it.  We stand in solidarity with all vulnerable groups.  We take Elie Wiesel’s words to heart: “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation.”

    Therefore, we call upon all elected officials as well as all civic and religious leaders to forcefully and explicitly condemn the rise in hate speech and any attacks on our democratic principles.  We call upon all media and social media platforms to refuse to provide a stage for hate groups and thus normalize their agenda.  And we call upon all people of good conscience to be vigilant, to not be afraid, and to speak out.

    This statement is co-authored by members of the Association of Holocaust Organizations, a network dedicated to the advancement of Holocaust education, remembrance and research, and is affirmed by the following institutions and individuals listed on this link:  http://www.mjhnyc.org/documents/HolocaustOrganizationsandScholarsStatementFINAL.pdf

  • Defining and Understanding “Tolerance”




    by Tracy Garrison-Feinberg, Director, Claire Friedlander Education Institute at HMTC

    In 1790, our first president established one of many important precedents for our young nation.  Knowing that every move and step he took as president would influence the actions of those who followed him, George Washington was deliberate in his communication with religious communities who wrote in support of the Bill of Rights.  A conversation in letters between Washington and the Jewish community of Newport, Rhode Island included a passage that provided a foundation for religious liberty, and acceptance in general:

    It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support. [George Washington’s Letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, August 1790]

    Sarah Vowell referenced this letter in a recent New York Times op-ed. Of course Washington’s words didn’t eliminate bigotry and prejudice at the time, but it was a good first step on a path we continue to walk.

    Teaching Tolerance, a valuable resource for educators and a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, acknowledges the “imperfection” of the word tolerance, and offers a definition from UNESCO to explain their own philosophy:  “Tolerance is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human.  Tolerance is harmony in difference.”

    So what do we mean by “tolerance” here at HMTC?  It’s a question we ask young people at the start of their visit to our center, and the answers we get show the complexity of the concept.  We hear answers like “getting along with others”, “acceptance”, “putting up with people we don’t like”, and “ignoring difference”.  We often respond that for us, tolerance is not the end goal, but it can be a means to better understanding.  I think the UNESCO idea of “harmony in difference” relates well to our own philosophy, and we will encourage our young visitors to continue to expand their definitions of tolerance as well.

    We wish a happy new school year to students and teachers, and if you haven’t yet scheduled an education program for 2016-17, please visit our website to sign up.

  • Holocaust Survivor Werner Reich Honored by Long Island Council of Churches

    Werner Honoree 2

    On October 8, 2015, Holocaust Survivor and HMTC speaker Werner Reich was honored by the Long Island Council of Churches. Werner was the Council’s Community Honoree because of his advocacy of interreligious cooperation. His remarks about interfaith dialogue and accepting others, such a central part of HMTC’s mission, follows:

    “Interfaith dialogue, by definition, is the constructive interaction between people of different religions. To many, this is a very deliberate, laborious, activity that requires researched tact, forced sensitivity and the cursory understanding of other people’s beliefs and customs, and without raising eyebrows, accepting those traditions although they, obviously make no sense at all.

    When I was a kid, I lived in a typical European country where religion and government were closely intertwined. This meant that we had, like it or not, once a week compulsory religious education of our choice during our regular school hours.

    Inasmuch as about 80% of the students were Catholic, all the Catholic students of a particular grade were placed into three separate classrooms and the rest of us and a few leftover Catholics, were in one separate classroom. During the hour of religious education, the priests went to the three classrooms and only one classroom had to be broken up and spread throughout the building where teachers of the respective religions were dispensing the basic principles of their faith.

    Consequently, I went to school with Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Askenazic and Sephardic Jews, Greek and Serbian Orthodox students and had friends in all these faiths. We went to each other’s homes, we participated in their home-centered religious activities, such as lighting Christmas trees or Hanukkah candles, celebrating Epiphany or Kurban Bajram. We ate each other’s ethnic and celebratory foods. We never questioned any of these customs, we never called each other derogatory names, we were just good friends. We really didn’t care about each other’s religion because nobody had told us that we should.

    It was only a few years later, when the Nazis arrived and then clearly explained to us who is inferior and who superior, that the general population, particularly the adults, learned who their true enemy was. We kids were too set in our ways to understand the division and we remained friends. When the war was over, most of my friends were dead.

    Today, some 75 years later, I have to explain to teenagers that, yes I am of a different religion to theirs and no, I am not and have never been a danger to them or society.

    Nobody ever asks you to explain why you chose a particular person as your life’s partner or why you chose a particular profession, information that only you can provide, but everybody seems to have some misinformation about your faith when, in fact, the truth can easily be obtained.

    Interfaith dialogue at its best does not come about by sitting around a table and telling each other how wonderful your or their faith is, it really comes about through acceptance of the other person’s belief and practices. Your religious preference does not shape your character, only your understanding and interpretation of it will.

    And while talking might get you a little bit closer, our behavior and actions are the deciding factors. Let me give you a brief example:

    My temple, just like any other house of worship, collects food which is then donated to food pantries. Several times a year I load up my car and drive to the Riverhead pantry. A few years ago, right after Passover, some congregants had some extra boxes of matzo and donated them to the temple. I was not sure if the Riverhead food pantry had any use for matzo, if their clients would eat it.

    To be sure that I am not wasting my time and the pantry’s space, I asked Carolyn, the manager, if she had any use for it. She vigorously nodded her head in approval and said, “They love it. They crumble it up and use it for breading pork chops.” This to me is a perfect example of religious acceptance, something that we all must strive for. I have done more with the matzo than I could have done with a well written sermon.

    To these clients the origin of the matzo was immaterial; its religious or symbolic significance was unknown and unimportant. To them it was simply Jewish food that had been donated, without conditions, by Jews with a big heart, food that will feed them and for which they are grateful. It was accepted without derogatory remarks or negative assumptions.

    And that’s the way all people should accept each other and each other’s actions. All of us, regardless of the faith we follow, try to live by the basic precepts of not hurting each other and be helpful, however this may be phrased. Or simply put: do the right thing. Which is the essence of every faith. If all of us followed this basic rule we would not have hungry or destitute people. We would not have two and a half million people in jails. We would not have hate and wars.

    2,000 years ago Rabbi Tarfon said, “It is not your responsibility to finish the job of perfecting the world, but you are not free to desist either. ”

    This may be the reason why many of us in this room are devoting part of our life to others. It is the reason why I spend my time in schools fighting prejudice. That’s the reason why I am so grateful to the Long Island Council of Churches and the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center for opening doors for me in an effort to make this a better world. Even if it is just a little.

    I have obviously not reached my goal and never will, but your award gives me some indication that I am on the right path and maybe some day, somebody else will have the chance to finish the job.

    As, ages ago, a member of my tribe so beautifully state: Miracles sometimes do happen, but they take an awful lot of hard work.

    That may be absolutely true, but in our case, it’s worth it.

    Thank you”

    Congratulations to Werner on this honor!

  • 2015 Annual Middle School Conference

    2015 Annual Middle School Conference

    Wednesday, October 28, 2015,
    9:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. 

    Theme: Building Leadership Skills Through Advocacy 

    Maria Cruz Lee

    Guest Speaker: Maria Cruz Lee from Define American

    Location: Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center of Nassau County
    Welwyn Preserve, 100 Crescent Beach Road, Glen Cove, NY

    Due to the heavy volume of schools interested in attending the 2015 Middle School conference registration is now closed as we have reached maximum attendance capacity. However, if there are any schools who wanted to attend but didn’t get to register please contact Tracy Garrison-Feinberg at (516) 571-8040 about scheduling a separate program for your school at HMTC.

    For over a decade, HMTC has sponsored a conference for middle school students to encourage them to stand up to intolerance and to create a climate in their school that is welcoming and safe for everyone. The theme for this year’s conference is Building Leadership Skills Through Advocacy.

    The guest speaker will be Maria Cruz Lee, strategic operations director of Define American, a media and culture organization using the power of stories to transcend politics and shift the conversation around immigrants, identity and citizenship in a changing America. Maria is responsible for directing the implementation of Define American’s initiatives and developing new programs. She holds a B.A. in media from CUNY Hunter College and served as Special Assistant to former Commissioner Fatima Shama in the New York City Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA) during the Bloomberg Administration.

    Middle school students from Nassau and Suffolk County are invited to attend the conference, which will take place at HMTC. Maximum attendance is 150 participants, so please register early! We recommend that teachers select 5-10 students involved in leadership programs and we encourage you to bring ideas for school and community action groups.

    There is no fee to attend. For questions and more information please call (516) 571-8040.


  • Cast a Wider Net: Making “Good” People Tolerant

    Cast a Wider Net: Making “Good” People Tolerant by Franklin Miller-Small

    “All the people like us are we, and everyone else is they.” – Rudyard Kipling

    “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall/That wants it down.” – Robert Frost, from “Mending Walls”


    As a secular Jewish friend and I walked past a Hassidic man on a bustling Manhattan sidewalk, my friend turned to me with a serious expression and asked, ”What do you feel when you see these guys?”  Startled by the question and wanting to make an authentic reply, I took a few moments before responding, “Mixed.  On the one hand I feel reverence because I see in them the faces of my great-grandparents.  At the same time, I am aware that I disagree with most of what they stand for.”  A stony silence followed.


    “What do you feel?”  I ventured.

    “I hate them.”

    Shocked, I asked, “Why?”

    With assured voice and deliberate eye contact he explained, “Because they are exactly what’s wrong with the world today. They believe they own the truth and everyone else is damned.  These are the people that blow up buildings.”

    “They don’t blow up buildings,” I protested.  “In fact, they mostly just want to keep to themselves.”

    “Well,” he reframed, “ maybe not, but they represent a mind-set that does want to blow up buildings.”

    After a few fruitless rounds of debate, I dropped the subject.  But the shock waves from this  encounter reverberated in my head for hours.  How could this otherwise kind and loving person harbor such disdain toward Hassidic Jews? This disturbing paradox eventually compelled me to ask broader, deeper questions. What is the relationship between good people and tolerance?   How do good people become tolerant or intolerant?  And what happens to the possibility of developing empathy and taking sympathetic action when there is intolerance?   Fueled by my desire to answer these questions, I undertook a journey toward greater understanding.

    That journey began with eminent biologist Franz de Waal’s scientific view of empathy in the animal kingdom, which, I reasoned, would provide a solid framework from which to comprehend our human situation.  According to de Waal, animals have a hard time identifying with those whom they perceive to be different from themselves, and they exclude them from their “circle of concern.”  Mice in a laboratory, for example, will willingly take an electric shock to protect another mouse but only for those who have shared their cage.  If there is no identification with the other, there is little chance for empathy and sympathetic action.

    Next, I sought several human-oriented perspectives.  Daniel Goleman, through his social science lens, sees that when humans relate to each other as “one of them” altruism shuts down.  He explains  that this downward spiral begins by hearsay, negative media coverage, government messages, negative personal experiences,  reading distorted literature, etc.  It deepens by amplifying small features of difference while turning a blind eye to vast similarities.  Goleman’s frequent citing of Martin Buber led me to discover his philosophic approach.  For Buber, intolerance stems from a dysfunctional “I-it” attitude that divides the world into the children of light and of darkness.  Once this distinction has been made, there is disrespect for the others’ humanity which results in treating a person (or group) more like an object.

    But theories and ideas aside, I wanted to know more about what actually helped or hindered people, particularly during the Holocaust, from becoming  tolerant and Upstanders.  For this purpose I consulted Arthur Dobrin, an Ethical Humanist leader, who authored several books based on the Oliners’ and Fogelman’s extensive research on Holocaust rescuers.  Dobrin highlights the researchers’ conclusion  that one of the most significant factors predicting rescuer behavior was having “respect for the differences among people.”   Though I was reassured to know that there was solid research supporting the important role tolerance played in becoming an Upstander, I still yearned to know what blocked the masses of ordinary people from doing this.

    I recalled an understandable question posed to me by a sixth grader as I facilitated a discussion at a tolerance workshop:  “My parents said the Germans were all very bad people. Is this right?”  “No,” I countered.  The Germans were no better or worse than any other people.  But there were a number of things that caused them to be misguided, and this led to their terrible behavior. “   As I mulled over my response, though, I wondered whether they really were mostly good people, what evidence there was to support this, and if so, how they slid into intolerance.

    To begin my inquiry, I reread the incident in Simon Wiesenthal’s “The Sunflower” where the author  visits the German mother of the dying Nazi , who had beseeched Wiesenthal  to forgive him for his atrocities. Wiesenthal sees her as “clearly kindhearted, a good mother, and a good wife.”  He then says that he knew intimately the lives of many Nazis who committed heinous crimes, but notes “…few of them were born murderers. “   They were mostly ordinary people, he reports, who had received religious instruction in their youth and had no criminal record.

    Arthur Dobrin elaborates on this point, maintaining that in Germany, like other countries, almost all families professed to value love.  In Germany, Christians spoke of Jesus’ love, and the old German myths described a world filled with love.  The difference between most Germans and Upstanders during the Holocaust era, Dobrin points out, was  ”…which people were included in that circle of love.“  For most Germans that love was confined to the family, the neighbor, the country – all defined in specific terms that excluded, for example, those who did not accept Christ or those defined as enemies of the state.  Dobrin contends, however, when that love extended to all people, not just those who shared their political views or religion or blood,  they were the  people who were more likely to act on behalf of those in need.

    Curious to know whether the same values that produced Holocaust rescuers contributed toward sympathetic action today, I looked at a modern day Upstander.  On December 7, 2007, Hassan Askari, a twenty-year-old Bangladesh Muslim, helped to rescue four Jews under attack on a Brooklyn-bound Q train in lower Manhattan.  When interviewed soon afterward by the Jewish Week, Askari credited Islam for teaching him to come to someone’s need  “…no matter what his or her race, religion, or nationality.”  He added that his parents instilled the value of respecting other cultures and religions.

    The essential   difference between Hassan Askari  and my secular friend (introduced at the beginning of the essay) , most Germans during the Holocaust, and indeed, most people in today’s world, with regard to tolerance, boils  down to how wide they cast their net of loving concern:   whom they choose to include and exclude.  Franz de Waal underscores the importance of casting a highly inclusive net in his response to a religious magazine’s query about what single thing he would change about the human condition if he were God.  After painstaking deliberation, he counseled, “I’d work on the reach of empathy.”  He clarified that his greatest desire would be to expand the range of positive fellow-feeling, which he sees as the antidote most needed to heal our world’s festering social wounds.  As globalization, technology, immigration and other factors increasingly cause people to rub elbows with each other, the need to cast wider nets takes on unprecedented urgency.  Starkly put, as the poet W.H. Auden prophesized in the wake of the Holocaust, “Either we learn to love each other, or die.”

    A Second Generation former Rabbinic student, Frank Miller-Small taught in elementary education for thirty-three years and currently helps immigrants learn English at Queensboro Community College.  He has taught Creative Writing and has published essays and articles in the Holocaust Newsletter and other venues. Frank has been a Docent at the Holocaust Center for nine years and has participated in a Second Gen group.  In his spare time, Frank enjoys cooperative recreation, dancing, and taking walks with his wife. 


    Buber, Martin, I and Thou. A New Translation With a Prologue  “I and You” and Notes by Walter             Kaufmann, New York, Scribner, 1970

    De Waal, Frans, The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society, New York:  Harmony Books,              2009

    Dobrin, Arthur, Ethical People and How They Get to Be That Way, New York:  Cross -Cultural     Communications, 1998

    Teaching Right From Wrong, New York:  The Berkley Publishing Group, 2001

    Goleman, Daniel, Social Intelligence:  the New Science of Human Relationships, New York:  Bantam     Books, 2006

    Ruby, Walter, “’Jews and Muslims Are Kissing Cousins’,”The Jewish Week, December 21, 2007

    Wiesenthal, Simon, The Sunflower, New York:  Shocken Books, Inc., 1998

    Sidebar:  “…when that love extended to all people, not just those who shared their political views or religion or blood, they were the people who were more likely to act on behalf of those in need.”