A Thin Line Between Love and Hate (In Praise of Officer Stephen T. Johns)

June 10, 2009

One of the things that I enjoy most about being a volunteer in the non-profit world is how often I am amazed at the seemingly limitless capacity for individuals to love another individual, a cause, a nation, and even an entire people.  These compassionate and caring individuals, whether they are professionals, volunteers, donors, or even occasional consumers, constantly remind me that love is a powerful source of charity and that the ways that love manifests itself is near limitless.  On one side of a line, love is what drives imagination and invigoration, in Jewish life and in life in general.  Love is, in essence, what drives so many of us do so many amazingly good things.

But there is another side of that line, and on Wednesday, June 10, 2009 events in Washington D.C. reminded all of us that on the other side of the line from love is pure, unadulterated hate.

Unfortunately, just as love is a powerful motivator, so is hate.  The Shoah was a manifestation of hate, an expression of humankind’s capacity for destruction in the name of hate. So often when we speak of the Holocaust we mention the ‘banality of evil’ – how such a monumental expression of hatred was exercised in the most mundane of actions.  But we can’t forget that the hatred embodied in the Holocaust, while not novel, was anything but banal when we consider it in the context of the senseless death of six million Jews and millions of others. There is no way to memorialize that kind of hate; instead we strive to create memorials to the goodness that such hate extinguished.

And one place that jointly houses the recollection of devastating hatred and the remembrance lost goodness is the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, where once again good encountered evil, love encountered hate. When James Von Brunn opened fire at guards protecting a space housing the memory of devastating hate, he created new, all-to-painful memories that hate has not yet abated.  Just as Jews have endured the consequences of hate since the Holocaust, hatred of Jews has endured since then as well.

James Von Brunn reminded us that there is a thin line between love and hate, and that the line has not faded one bit.  It is a line that has not dimmed with the passage of time or the relocation of place.  Just as that line was once drawn between the 22 year-old SS soldiers who operated gas chambers and the 70 year-old righteous gentiles who hid and saved Jewish souls from those very camps, another line has now been drawn between an 88 year-old murderous anti-Semite and a 39 year-old security guard who served in his own way as a righteous protector of a place of memory for six million Jews.

Officer Stephen T. Johns served as a bulwark on that thin line between love and hate.  In a place built to memorialize how at one time hate bled over the line to decimate a people of love, yet again there was blood spilled on that line; blood of a defender of memory and an obstacle to hate.

So once again, all of us who embrace the desire to do acts of loving-kindness are reminded that while we live so fully on one side of the line, there is another side of the line as well. A side that is holds back more than just despair and ignorance, more than just fear and loathing. It is a side of mankind that is dark and it is evil.

Yes, there is a thin line between love and hate. Stephen T. Johns lived and died defending the better side of that line. His death leaves one less defender on that line, one less defender of boundless love against the ferocity of unrestricted hate. We need a lot more Stephen Johns on that line – including every single one of us.

Then, perhaps, the line won’t be so thin after all.



  1. When a man who is not Jewish puts his life on the line, and loses his life, to protect and honor the memories of Jews who were murdered in the Shoah, we must all realize, as Jews and non-Jews alike, that we are all in the same battle against hatred, and we must all work together to make a better world.
    Officer Johns lost his life to make this world a better place for all of us, and at the very least, we owe his memory the honor and respect that he showed that of those who perished in the Shoah.
    We must never forget, and we must never stop working to rid the world of hate.

  2. Officer Johns risked his life and lost his life in order to save others. He is like those who during the Holocaust risked their lives in order to save the persecuted Jews.

    David Marwell of the Museum of Jewish Heritage said, “See what happens when hate and ignorance dominate.”

    We also need to see what happens when ‘hate does not dominate – when caring for others dominates.’
    We need to know what makes people care for others, not kill others, and risk your life for others.

    Elizabeth Bettina

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