What Good Does This Safety Pin Do?

It started last week, immediately on the heels of the election, or maybe even a bit before: people starting to wear safety pins, as a sign to others that the wearers are those who will guard your safety with them. I hear that it’s an idea adopted from a reaction to Brexit.

In the best Jewish tradition, we can immediately see a special Jewish resonance in this gesture. My first thought was “something we can finally do with those six million safety pins we gathered a few years ago”.

Do you remember that project? Grade school age children set about collecting six million safety pins as a way of trying to envision the enormity of Jewish death in the Holocaust. It’s an unthinkably vast number of deaths, and it’s an incredible number of safety pins. What do we do with them once they’re collected, viewed, and considered?

Now we know.

It has already been suggested that Jews have an opportunity now to “pay it forward” for the kindnesses done for us during World War II. I suggest that the safety pin you might choose to wear is a potent reminder to you that as you reach out in acts that insist upon the safety of those targeted by the incoming U.S. administration, you are lifting up the life of the person – one of the six million – whose soul is carried in that safety pin.

No life is ever wasted, even when it is cut short. Those who died of inhuman cruelty in the Shoah never could know that a day would come when their lives would be carried on in an action as simple and as profound as when you and I choose to wear, and act in the spirit of, a safety pin.

All life is precious for its potential; and life fulfills its potential in supporting and celebrating all life. No life should be cut short of its potential; no life should be lived in fear; all life must be nurtured to rise toward the sun, out of the darkness. If wearing a safety pin will help you remember to reach out and live this truth despite your fear, then it is not at all an empty gesture. It is a yizkor, a way of demanding that we, and G*d, remember those whose lives were cut short in that earlier wave of darkness, and it is an assertion that we will not stand by now, fearing for our own safety, while anything like it ever happens again.

Never Again starts now.

Be aware of what you are saying if you put that safety pin on. Realize that it has a meaning that you cannot edit. Know that it declares that no one is safe unless we are all safe, and that you put yourself at risk. Learn how to effectively intervene in a way that does not make it all worse. You could get killed or injured. This is for real: life and death.

During the time of great racist hatred and fear that led to the Holocaust, the great Martin Niemoller wrote of his own awakening.

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me

It is our time to speak up. Let the safety pin remind you of the life you lift up through your own words and your acts, that such words and acts are necessary and they are sacred mitzvot. Be kind, be active, be awake.

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