This story is a shining example of the quote by Martin Luther King Jr. in my Hello World post, about how hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that…
From the New York Times: “Lessons on Love, From a Rabbi Who Knows Hate and Forgiveness“, by Manny Fernandez, January 4, 2009.
I’m quoting excerpts below:
The new rabbi of the Free Synagogue of Flushing began his Friday night sermon with a topic he knew well: hatred’s power, and its antidote.
The rabbi, Michael Weisser, had spoken earlier that day at a Queens mosque. He was warmly greeted by the imam who invited him there. But as he left the mosque, still wearing his tan kipa, the Jewish skullcap that resembles the one Muslims wear, a man driving by who had apparently mistaken him for a Muslim shouted that he should go back where he came from, Rabbi Weisser told the congregation.
“Hatred comes forth from some pre-existing prejudice,” he said, “and only when we create the need within ourselves to hate, do we then develop reasons to justify our hatred.”
In 1991, he was living in Lincoln, Neb., with his wife at the time, Julie Michael, and three of their five children. He was then the cantor and spiritual leader of the South Street Temple, the oldest Jewish congregation in Lincoln. One Sunday morning, a few days after they had moved into their new house, the phone rang.
The man on the other end of the line called Rabbi Weisser “Jew boy” and told him he would be sorry he had moved in. Two days later, a thick package of anti-black, anti-Semitic pamphlets arrived in the mail, including an unsigned card that read, “The KKK is watching you, scum.”
The messages, it turned out, were from Larry Trapp, the Grand Dragon of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in Nebraska, who kept loaded weapons, pro-Hitler material and his Klan robe in his cramped Lincoln apartment. Then 42, Mr. Trapp was nearly blind and used a wheelchair to get around; both of his legs had been amputated because of diabetes.
In a 1992 interview with Time magazine, Mr. Trapp said he had wanted to scare Rabbi Weisser into moving out of Lincoln. “As the state leader, the Grand Dragon, I did more than my share of work because I wanted to build up the state of Nebraska into a state as hateful as North Carolina and Florida,” he said. “I spent a lot of money and went out of my way to instill fear.”
Rabbi Weisser, who suspected the person threatening him was Mr. Trapp, got his telephone number and started leaving messages on the answering machine. “I would say things like: ‘Larry, there’s a lot of love out there. You’re not getting any of it. Don’t you want some?’ And hang up,” he said. “And, ‘Larry, why do you love the Nazis so much? They’d have killed you first because you’re disabled.’ And hang up. I did it once a week.”
One day, Mr. Trapp answered. Ms. Michael, the rabbi’s wife, had told him to say something nice if he ever got Mr. Trapp on the line, and he followed her advice. “I said: ‘I heard you’re disabled. I thought you might need a ride to the grocery,’ ” Rabbi Weisser said.
Then, one night, Rabbi Weisser’s phone rang again. It was Mr. Trapp. “He said, quote-unquote — I’ll never forget it, it was like a chilling moment, in a good way — he said, ‘I want to get out of what I’m doing and I don’t know how,’ ” Rabbi Weisser said.
He and Ms. Michael drove to Mr. Trapp’s apartment that night. The three talked for hours, and a close friendship formed. The couple’s home became a kind of hospice for Mr. Trapp, who moved into one of their bedrooms as his health worsened, and Ms. Michael became Mr. Trapp’s caretaker and confidante.
Mr. Trapp eventually renounced the Klan, apologized to many of those he had threatened and converted to Judaism in Rabbi Weisser’s synagogue.
The relationship later inspired a 1995 book by Kathryn Watterson, “Not by the Sword: How the Love of a Cantor and His Family Transformed a Klansman.”