Upon going to Rome during my year in Israel, my dad said “You have to go see arco tito.” Little did i know that arco tito, the Arch of Titus, was located just outside one of the 7 wonders of the world, the Roman Colosseum. Engraved on the arch, one sees Roman soldiers carrying off booty from the Temple, including the Menorah, and Jews being driven into exile. Upon visiting, I thought ‘Why is one of the most humiliating moments of our people’s history located in such a prominent place in Rome? Why instead can’t we celebrate the continuation of the Jewish people and remember the downfall of the Roman Empire?’
On Thursday we began 3 weeks of mourning, starting with the Roman breach of Jerusalem and ending with Tisha B’Av, when the Second Temple was destroyed. During the summer, when many people are celebrating at the beach or on vacation, we are supposed to enter a period of mourning, not cutting one’s hair or shaving, going to concerts, weddings, and as we enter the final 9 days not eating meat or drinking wine. Some do not even take a warm shower or do laundry. While some are inevitably easier to do this year during the plague that is coronavirus, as a people we communally warm the destruction of our holiest site and our exile from Judea. It is a very difficult time for our people, which makes it all the more insensitive that an arch to celebrate our defeat is prominently on display in Rome.
I use this as a jumping off point for the Confederate statues that many want to take down. These statutes, made to celebrate those who seceded from our Union and to honor those who fought for slavery, have no place on the streets of our country. I wouldn’t melt them down-they can have a place in our museums-but they don’t belong in town squares any more than the Arch of Titus belongs in the center of Rome. Progress is being made to be more sensitive to those things that cause offense-such as the Washington Redskins changing their name-but we still have a long way to go. Moving the Confederate statues is a small but important step in serving the goal of being more understanding of our country’s troubling history and taking steps to make amends for it.
While I believe those statues must go, I feel differently about Mount Rushmore and some other “hotspots of debate.” Past presidents had ideas and policies that we find abhorrent today. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned hundreds of slaves with Jefferson having and affair with one, Andrew Jackson led tens of thousands of Native Americans on the Trail of Tears, and Theodore Roosevelt dishonorably discharged an entire regiment of African American soldiers. While we can take issue with their beliefs and the actions they led to (not to mention Woodrow Wilson) that does not negate that they served as President of our country. Similarly current leaders, as politically correct as some might be, might have policies that future generations will find abhorrent based on new knowledge and developments. That does not negate the good that current leaders can do and the place in history that they will occupy.
There’s no question that it is difficult to draw a line. The line I draw is what was someone’s intention: was it to divide and break away from our great country or was it to lead us as best as they could, recognizing that their views and actions, like all of ours, are imperfect. I believe there is a way to withdraw those things which are most offensive without fully engaging in a cancel culture, pretending that our Founding Fathers’ owning slaves “never existed” or eradicating them because they made indefensible choices. Let us be honest with our past and keep it alive for future generations while concurrently eliminating those elements which are most offensive.