By Jamie Broder, Congregant
I was 18 in 1964, when I took the Southern Railway from DC to Charlottesville for my first year at the University of Virginia – a Jewish Yankee going south of the Mason Dixon Line for the first time. The University was virtually all white and all male, except for a few nursing students. The only black people we came into contact with were maids and groundskeeper. While only 2 hours from DC, I was unmistakably in the South.
As a student, I came to know Thomas Jefferson, founder of the University of Virginia. “Mr Jefferson” we called him, and he was a daily presence in our lives as students.
’64 to ’68 were turbulent times: the Civil Rights Act was passed, the Vietnam War was raging, and change crackled in the air while violent protests and murders of freedom riders in the deep south led the news. The University was an island of respectful discourse in a roiling sea of violence.
We graduated in ‘68 and many of my classmates (including me) went straight into the service.
Some never came back.
When I next returned to Charlottesville, a decade later, the school had joined the 20th Century. It was seriously and honestly integrated; it welcomed men and women, and, I think, everybody there understood why. In the process nobody got killed, nothing was burned down and Mr. Jefferson heartily approved.
Lee and I go back every 5 years for a reunion of my Jewish Fraternity class, and continue to marvel at the peaceful beauty and generous spirt of The University.
The shock of what “Charlottesville” means to the nation after recent events is hard to square with the Charlottesville I knew, and I’m sure the University will lead the way in the efforts to heal the wounds of that horrific day.
We are here in this safe and thoughtful place to try to come to grips with these events.
As a student of history, I have turned to some of the great thinkers of our past to help me think this through: Jedi Master Yoda and cartoon possum Pogo.
Master Yoda said:
“Ignorance leads to fer. Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
He also said:
“A Jedi’s strength flows from the Force, but beware of the Dark Side. Anger, fear, aggression, the Dark Side of the Force they are. Easily they flow, qick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the Dark Path, forever dominate your destiny it will; consume you it will, as it did Darth Vader.”
Finally, Yoda said:
“To answer power with power, the Jedi way this is not.”
We are in a war of power with power. In this war, the danger is losing who we are. And that, my friends, is the greatest risk of all. Become them we will – if we fight hate with hate. Protest we must. Raise our voices we must. Carry signs we must. But clothe ourselves with helmets and shields, and carry clubs and pepper spray while claiming to protest peacefully we must not.
Remember the non-violience of Mahatma Ghandi. Remember the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who brought millions together in love.
Who will carry their message today? I wish I had the answer.
Raise our voices in love, we must.
Hate we must not be. Violent we must not be.
Or, as Pogo once said:
“We have met the enemy, and he is us.”