A March Toward Prevention

The Miller Center at Rutgers has entered into a strategic partnership with the International March of the Living, under which remembrance will become a cornerstone of their program of prevention.

(photo credit: RUTGERS UNIVERSITY)
In commemorating its own 30th anniversary, as well as the 70th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel, this year’s March of the Living honors, through remembrance, the human capacity to rebuild, even to flourish, after unspeakable horrors. But recent events have underscored the March’s corollary purpose; just as the living must march to remember, they – we – must march also in order to prevent.
The evidence of resurgent hate is abundant. Antisemitic incidents increased by 57% in the United States last year, and by 90% in New York City. FBI statistics showed an increase in hate crimes for the second straight year, with Jews targeted in 55% and Muslims in 30% of the hate-motivated crimes. Nor is this trend limited to America. Hate crimes targeting vulnerable populations have swept across Europe. The Community Security Trust in the United Kingdom report- ed an “unprecedented” rise in antisemitic attacks in the first six months of 2017, while Germany’s Interior Ministry reported over 950 hate crimes commit- ted against Muslims or mosques last year.
Underlying the statistics, of course, are the individual tales of violence, terror, menace: a synagogue firebombed in Gothenburg, Sweden; a merchant and his family assaulted at home in Paris; photos of Jewish children from White- fish, Montana, posted online on neo-Nazi websites; openly antisemitic signage posted in the streets of Budapest.
What can be done? Earlier this year, we launched the Miller Center for Community Protection and Resilience at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, to address this question. The center’s establishment is the culmination of three years of fieldwork focusing on how to improve the safety and resilience of vulnerable populations in Europe and the US. Teams from Rutgers were in Paris meeting with security officials when the kosher grocery was attacked, and in Copenhagen the day after the synagogue was attacked there, and in Brussels in the aftermath of the subway and airport bombings. At the invitation of Belgian officials and community leaders, we have conducted police-community roundtables in the Sablon and Molenbeek districts of Brussels, and have offered assistance to communities from Malmö to Whitefish, Montana.
Because vulnerable populations can become easy targets and face common challenges, we have encouraged those of varied religious and ethnic back - grounds to adopt the practices of the most advanced Jewish communities in Europe and the US: conducting candid self-assessments of facilities and personnel; hardening potential targets; adding value to the law-enforcement mission through facilities tours, joint training and the provision of intelligence; networking with other vulnerable populations; forming crisis communication networks and teams; taking responsibility for their own preparation and resilience.
But adoption of best practices, in a world that seems determined to forget its capacity for atrocity, will do nothing to stem the rising tide of hate, intolerance, and determined amnesia that is engulfing global politics. This is highlighted by the growth in popularity of right-wing nativist parties from Italy to Austria and Germany.
Our work in this menacing environment has persuaded us that for the world to protect its vulnerable populations, it must first remember the consequences of leaving them unprotected. And there is no better way to bring those consequences home than to retrace, with the living, the route taken by so many of the lost along the railroad tracks leading from Auschwitz to Birkenau.
For that reason, the Miller Center at Rutgers has entered into a strategic partnership with the International March of the Living, under which remembrance will become a cornerstone of our program of prevention. We will select educational leaders from institutions which do not currently offer Holocaust and Genocide Prevention curricula; we will offer them an immersive seminar on Holocaust history and on current efforts to prevent genocide, and we will take them on the March. The multiplier effect of exposure to this experience will be profound, reaching out into their communities and through their students, to a brighter future.
The task before us can appear daunting. Time is short, resources are limited, and the storm clouds have gathered. The entire project of a global civilization is at risk. But the immensity of the problem cannot paralyze us; we must focus instead on one community, one issue, even one person at a time, just as we the living will take one step at a time on this year’s March, guided by the ancient talmudic wisdom that “he who saves a single life saves the entire world.”
John Farmer is a professor of law and executive director of the Miller Center on Community Protection and Resilience at Rutgers, University.
Paul Miller is an alumnus of Rutgers University and Rutgers School of Law.