By: Dan Leshem, PhD
Director, Jewish Community Council Relations (JCRC)
Multiple Denver City Council members took the opportunity to share moving words, experiences, and solidarity with the Jewish community, many rightly pointing out that the hatred aimed at Jews never ends with the Jews, but instead spreads to hatred of multiple other groups. Among the many speakers, Councilperson Kniech used her remarks to connect the antisemitism to the recent violence against the LGBTQ+ community in Colorado Springs and across the state. Councilperson Sandoval encouraged the broader community to support the development of the Jewish historical district on Colfax and shared her shock at some of the comments she received about the planned district on Twitter, many of which shared antisemitic themes. Councilperson Sawyer who represents District 5 shared a story of the negative community reactions she heard when a synagogue in her district wanted to open a prayer space in a single–family residence.
The full council voted unanimously to pass the proclamation denouncing antisemitism which was accepted by ADL Mountain States Regional Director Scott Levin, Rabbi Emily Hyatt, President of Rocky Mountain Rabbis and Cantors (RMRC), and Dr. Dan Leshem, Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council at JEWISHcolorado in accepting the proclamation.
Denver City Council Member Christopher Herndon presented the proclamation regarding antisemitism to local Jewish community leaders. Pictured left to right: Dan Leshem, Director, Jewish Community Relations Council; Denver City Council Member Christopher Herndon; Rabbi Emily Hyatt, President, Rocky Mountain Rabbis.
(Photo Credit: Scott Levin)
A full recording of the Council Meeting can be found here. The discussion of the proclamation runs from minutes 4-25.
While this proclamation was a response to recent events, it also coincided with the second night of Hanukkah and occurred 5 weeks before
International Holocaust Memorial Day. This year we are marking the 78th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz/Birkenau by Soviet forces in 1945. Hanukkah and Holocaust Memorial Day both speak to Jewish resilience and loss in the face of violent intolerance and hatred. Both occasions remind us that the Jewish community needs to advocate for its needs instead of relying on the aid of external governments or groups as the liberation of Auschwitz was motivated by the desire to evict Nazis more than by any caring for Jewish lives.
And yet, the fact that the City Council proclamation was written, proposed, supported, and approved by multiple non-Jewish members of the council demonstrates powerfully that alliances, friendship, and community partnership are essential to successfully combatting hate at all levels. So many Holocaust survivors insist in their testimonies that what helped them to survive was encountering a non-Jew who saw them as a person even in the midst of the Nazi degradation. Whether that stranger offered them a better job in the forced labor factory, a morsel of bread on their march to another camp, or something as simple as a smile and a nod—being acknowledged as a human being with needs and fears, capable of being traumatized and also capable of remarkable resilience can be as vital to survival as food or shelter.
So, as we thank the Denver City Council for their profound gesture of friendship at a time when our community is under increasing attack, we also remember that the difficult experiences of our past help us understand how we are called to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other communities that are targeted and suffering. This International Holocaust Memorial Day, I invite us all to remember the admonishment of Hillel the Elder and recommit ourselves to ensuring the safety and security of our entire community: “If I am not for me, who will be for me? And when I am for myself alone, what am I? And if not now, then when?” Pirkei Avot 1:14