Local call goes out to make ‘never again’ now

Jewish History Museum/Holocaust History Center staff Bryan Davis, left, and Josie Shapiro, center, unfurl a new banner on the fence in front of the museum Aug. 12 while Rabbi Stephanie Aaron, right, looks on. (Debe Campbell/AJP)

In the decades since the Holocaust, “‘never again’ has been the language spoken as an unattainable aspiration,” Bryan Davis told a group gathered Monday at Tucson’s Holocaust History Center. “But now, in this moment, people all over the country are demanding that never again is now and that never again applies to everybody.”

Speaking at a press conference to a group of nearly 50, Davis, executive director of the Jewish History Museum/Holocaust History Center, discussed Holocaust memory as it ties to the current social context of politically motivated acts of violence. “This is the time for the language and the ideals of Holocaust memory to be translated into advocacy, aid, protest, and direct action,” he said. Guests included museum neighbors Rev. Margaret Redmond of Prince Chapel AME Church, and former neighbors Ricardo Pineda, Consul of Mexico to Tucson, and Deputy Consul Enrique Gómez  Montiel.

Davis framed his call to action around the previous day’s Jewish holiday of Tisha B’Av, a day of mourning, and the notion that the 500 block of Stone Avenue has become a multicultural nexus in just four years. He noted that the holiday marked two years since Heather Heyer was murdered while protesting against a neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. “On Tisha B’Av, I thought about our neighbors at the Prince Chapel AME Church … and how a white supremacist murdered nine people worshiping at Emanuel AME Church … in Charleston, South Carolina.

“ … I thought about our neighbors [formerly] across the street at the Consul of Mexico, and how nine days ago a white supremacist drove across Texas with the express intention of murdering as many Mexicans as possible . . . in El Paso, Texas. He murdered 22 the deadliest hate crime in this country in nearly a century.”

Davis also looked back at the historic building that today houses the museum. From 1910 to 1949 it housed Temple Emanu-El. In 1938, it stood while 267 synagogues across the German Reich burned to the ground on Kristallnacht. “I mourned the reality that on Oct. 27 a white supremacist walked into the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and murdered 11 people on a Shabbat dedicated to learning how to support refugees in their community,” he said.

In response to the violence, Davis said many Jewish people are reaching to a communal past, looking to sacred texts for guidance. “Jewish Americans have been inculcated with a particular set of values: ‘welcome the stranger,’ ‘repair the world,’ and ‘justice, justice you shall pursue.’ Today, all across the country, Holocaust memory and Jewish ethics are being activated. That is why it is vital for Jewish institutions and Holocaust museums to assert that Never Again is Now. And, that is why we make that assertion today . . . to transform our sadness into acts of solidarity. Let’s mourn in a way that responds to cruelty by building community.”

Museum Board President Barry Kirschner noted that the “Never Again is Now” movement is gaining momentum. “Those institutions and communities deserve our support in welcoming strangers and doing justice. It is our mission in doing right in our nation,”  he told the AJP.

The event closed with Rabbi Stephanie Aaron blowing the shofar and the unveiling of a banner, citing a quote by Elie Wiesel: “No human being is illegal.’” Davis noted that Wiesel coined this now well-known phrase during a sanctuary symposium in Tucson at Temple Emanu-El on Jan. 22, 1985. The banner now hangs outside the museum on the fence facing Stone Avenue.