Two days have passed since the demonstration outside the main hall the day Ahmadinejad addressed the U.N., but I am still trying to digest the experience. Perhaps it is due to exhaustion from sleeping a mere two hours each night as our delegation tries to maximize our limited time here to meet with as many people as we can and attend every event that we can. But most likely it was my experience, for the first time, of attending a demonstration and being verbally assaulted because I am Jewish.
We followed the loud chants through the hallways of the U.N. that led us to a compact room crammed with groups fighting for the floor waiting for Ahmadinejad's press conference to end. The room overflowed with anger, passion and rage.
Passion met passion as the two divided groups shouted back-and-forth getting louder and louder with each exchange.
"Human rights! Human rights! All human beings are born free and equal!"
"Stop the Holocaust in Gaza! Zionism equals racism!"
We pushed our way into the room to support our cause. And as we did, we saw Elie Wiesel, Jewish writer, professor political activist, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor. He was a tranquil presence juxtaposed against a turbulent backdrop.
As I stood there listening to moderate conversations and some heated debates, I thought about my grandparents, Holocaust survivors, who would be disappointed that a demonstration of this nature was taking place on the eve of Yom Hashoah, and at a conference focused on combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and other related intolerances.
We would soon be attending a Holocaust Remembrance Commemoration to begin at 7:30 p.m. Elie Wiesel would be one of the keynote speakers. My grandparents were on my mind, so I walked up to Elie Wiesel and talked with him. I immediately felt a sense of calm as I observed his reaction to the chaotic and volatile environment around us. He remained diplomatic, speaking articulately and eloquently as people with opposing viewpoints were in his face pressing him to answer their questions.
It was a sobering moment for us all that we felt we must be there to demonstrate, but we were there together to demonstrate on behalf of all races, religions and ethnicities; we were there to express our commitment to human rights.
I asked Weisel if I could take a picture with him, and he said, "yes." I wanted that photo to serve as a reminder of that day, of the many issues we continue to confront about racism and discrimination, of the people who want to be acknowledged for their suffering, of the work we have yet to do to create a world more respectful of differences.
I was uncomfortable that day at the demonstration, and I was uncomfortable in a seminar I attended about racism and genocide when a man sitting next to me left the room when the Holocaust was mentioned. However, it is this discomfort that inspires us to be ambassadors of change.
I have met with some of the most wonderful people at this conference who are open minded and committed to ensuring that all people have the rights to have rights. There are also those here who do not want to engage in conversation and who do not want to listen to other perspectives.
Every year around the world Jews gather together for a Holocaust Remembrance Commemoration to honor the millions who died. But it is also a time to inspire a demonstration of hope for the next generation.