In July of 1993, the FBI arrested eight members of the Fourth Reich Skinheads. The group's members had been plotting to attack several racially symbolic targets in Los Angeles, including a synagogue and the First African Methodist Episcopal Church.
After sentencing, the U.S. District Attorney designed a program to challenge the group's racist views. Participants in the program met with their intended targets, including members of the First AME Church, Holocaust survivors, and two rabbis.
The meeting took place at the Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance and I was asked to participate as one of the rabbis. Our encounter started out slow. Eventually the skinheads described how they joined the Fourth Reich while in high school. They claimed they originally formed a group for their own safety and personal identity because whites were a minority in their particular school. Radical and racist views were later introduced into the group.
They appeared to be convinced they were victims and rationalized their hatred as a response to persecution. This became clear during the question and answer period.
Since they were speaking with rabbis, they wanted to know why Jews get preferential treatment and have a special symbol on food products and whites don’t get their own symbol.
My co-rabbi immediately went into an explanation of the details of kosher food and supervision.
Manufacturers hire special kosher-supervising agencies to "supervise" their products and manufacturing processes to ensure compliance with the required standards of Jewish law. Once in compliance the manufacturer is allowed to place a special symbol on the packaging to indicate they have been certified as kosher.
Hundreds of thousands of food products have a variety of symbols including the most well known symbol of a circle with a U in the middle, , known as the OU symbol.” The OU symbol is the trademark of the Orthodox Union. Manufacturers recognize that this certification can increase business and draw diverse customers who have special dietary requirements, including people who keep kosher, vegetarians, and even Muslims who observe Halal.
I noticed how the skinheads were unmoved by this coherent explanation of kosher supervision and decided to take a different approach that would challenge their critical thinking skills.
I posed the following question to them. “Millions of Americans consume Heinz ketchup on a daily basis and never notice the OU symbol on the packaging. How did you skinheads notice what so many others overlooked?”
Their answer was shocking. “We received literature from a white supremacist group that pointed it out to us and stated it was a Jewish plot to control the economy.”
Now I posed a question to force them to think critically. “Now that you know what these symbols really stand for, how do you feel that you accepted what the white supremacists said without questioning or checking out the facts? Do you feel taken advantage of by them?”
The silence was palatable. Alarms started to go off in their heads as they realized they had been misled. During the lunch break they gravitated to me and wanted to know more about critical thinking and thanked me for helping them see things from a different perspective.
I don’t know what eventually happened to these skinheads, but I do know that I made the point to them of the importance of making informed choices based on facts rather than misinformation.
Critical thinking is an invaluable tool. Don’t surrender it for the sake of convenience or ulterior motives.
Rabbi BZ Kravitz is a crisis counselor and chaplain for several police agencies. He is proficient at scuba diving and martial arts. He is also the founder of Be-True.org and Jews for Judaism International, a non-profit organization that promotes critical thinking in response to deceptive cults and missionaries.
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Rabbi BZ Kravitz is a crisis counselor and chaplain for several police agencies. He is proficient at scuba diving and martial arts, and is also a certified firearms instructor. Kravitz is the founder of Be-True and Jews for Judaism International, non-profit organizations that promote critical thinking in response to deceptive cults and missionaries.