The Origins of None Shall Be Afraid
The Roots of None Shall Be Afraid are found in B’nai B’rith’s Enlighten America program, created in August 2000 in response to violent attacks that had taken place against individuals because of their race, religion or ethnic origin.
The Enlighten America mission is to promote tolerance and equality, respect and responsibility. We stressed equality over prejudice, civic harmony over violence.
The decision to create this program came after an armed man threatened a Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles. This event followed several other attacks that were based on hatred and bigotry that year. We also recalled two horrific murders: James Byrd Jr. and Matthew Shepard, one a black man and the other a gay man, were murdered five months apart in 1998 because of hate. They continue to live on in legislation that bears their names. The passage of the National Hate Crimes Prevention Act was one of the action items of the Enlighten America campaign at that time.
We were frustrated and wanted to act, as individuals and as an organization, to promote tolerance and respect. We expanded our Enlighten America ideals to include a simple call for individual action, promoting a personal pledge promising to respect others.
Readings were created to accompany the pledge, encouraging individuals to take this pledge and to share it with family and friends. We focused on Thanksgiving, a time when families come together. We encouraged families to leave a porch light on Thanksgiving night to symbolize that they had supported this tolerance and respect project.
The pledge provided a tangible way for individuals as well as B’nai B’rith groups to express this important message. Individuals introduced the pledge at many venues and events in their community, from Salem, Massachusetts to the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas. Media took note of the Enlighten America project.
B’nai B’rith created art and essay contests for communities to promote at their schools and youth groups. Promoting tolerance; supporting diversity and inclusion; and combating bigotry, hatred and violence were spotlighted.
The program had at its core one of the most basic concepts of life in America: our appreciation for the freedom we enjoy to live as Jews. We recalled the promise of President George Washington to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island in 1790: “For happily the Government of the United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”
The ability to practice our religion freely is not just a message for American Jews, but one to share with Jews around the world. There are countries where Jews are not able to live without fear of attack. Today, hatred and violence continue a long history of anti-Semitism. We recognize that our fight on behalf of the Jewish people includes the same right for all religious and ethnic groups to live without fear.
Anti-Semitism is even more visible today, with attacks against the Jewish community around the world. B’nai B’rith raises its voice to say that we will not stand by while our fellow Jews are attacked on the street or in their homes or online. The need to act remains, and we continue to remind the world that hatred and violence against our people is not acceptable and indifference to it has dire consequences.
B’nai B’rith’s None Shall be Afraid project is our signature response to the hatred and violence against Jews and others. We have updated the Enlighten America message and added a specific response to anti-Semitism. The quote used in None Shall Be Afraid is also attributed to a message from George Washington to the congregation in Newport, quoting the prophet Micah.
B’nai B’rith communities continue to bring Enlighten America essay contests to their local schools. We are proud of the insight of talented young people who participate.
Families can bring the Enlighten America reading to their Thanksgiving table and Passover Seder. Its message is relevant and meaningful to share with family and friends. Links to these resources can be found here.