A timely conversation on reconciliation and peace
November 2023 – Drew University hosted a Dismantling Hatred Colloquium, a timely event jointly sponsored by Drew’s Center on Religion, Culture, and Conflict (CRCC) and the Center for Holocaust/Genocide Study.
The event explored ongoing conversations as part of the CRCC’s New Jersey Institute of Emerging Leaders program, designed for students to learn directly from experienced thought leaders in the world of peacebuilding and conflict transformation. The program prepares young leaders to foster peaceful and pluralistic relations in their communities, using religion as a positive force.
Featured guest speakers were Tamara Meyer NMT, author, therapist, lecturer, and media consultant, and daughter of German Jewish Holocaust survivors; and Arno Michaelis, filmmaker, author, public speaker, and former white supremacist. The two have combined forces professionally to dismantle hate from their unique perspectives and experiences.
As a daughter of holocaust survivors, Meyer learned that reconciliation and peace are possible. But she also learned that the world is not a safe place for a Jewish person and is concerned about the uptick in antisemitism resulting from the Israel-Hamas war. “Because of this, it’s even more important for me to find peace and forgiveness and a way to bridge the chasm of hatred, it has not been an easy path,” she said. “No matter how awful people have been treated, there’s always a possibility of reconciliation.”
Michaelis offered a detailed and open account of his dark past as a former violent racist neo-Nazi skinhead, driven by antisemitism, a direction he took due to self-hatred. “The reason I found it necessary to hate others is because I hated myself,” he said.
Through persistent kindness and welcoming by those he learned to hate, Michaelis turned away from neo-Nazism and eventually found a path working in counter violent extremism. “I was treated with kindness when I least deserved it, but needed it the most,” he said.
“I’ve seen one hate feed another,” he said. “Amongst all violent extremist ideologies, a common thread is antisemitism. Where you see antisemitism, you almost always see racism or homophobia. They co-present.”
“Antisemitism is a bellwether of the resilience and the health of human society,” said Michaelis. “When you see antisemitism, you know human society is having problems. When you have a society that’s free from antisemitism, that’s a sign of society’s health.”
Hate is fed from fear, explained Michaelis. “All violent extremist ideologies depend on fear to function. It’s impossible to hate someone or something if you’re not scared. I saw anyone who didn’t think or look like me as an enemy.”
“The point of dismantling hate is to make some sort of change happen,” he said. ”From my lived experience, kindness, compassion, and forgiveness are the greatest weapons we have against hate in our society. That’s how the hate in my life was dismantled.”
The event concluded with a thoughtful Q&A session.