Posts Tagged ‘anti-Semitism’

“Heil Hitler!” began the voice mail. “I’m going to put you in my concentration camps.” The message rambled on in a high-pitched voice with a fake German accent and ended with these words, “You Jews need to stop stealing our money!” The message was left on my office voice mail the night of April 9, right after our congregation’s Jewish Food and Cultural Festival. I heard it the next morning, when I was at Temple getting some things ready for the first night of Passover. We immediately called the police. The officer was so upset by what he heard, I could see him tearing up. “I am Catholic” he said, “and I am so disturbed by hearing this.”

“Are you aware of this?” the email began. The friend of a Temple member saw a posting on FaceBook by a white supremacist that his group was planning a demonstration at Temple Israel. We had not seen it, but went on line to check the posting and the group. Sure enough, the group was calling for a protest at our building because Israel was not letting in enough Palestinians. They called it a protest for diversity. Yet, in looking at the group’s website, they described themselves as European whites. Their basic demands were exactly what you would expect from a white supremacist group.

We have a pre-school of over 100 families with children enrolled. Eighty percent of the pre-school families are not Jewish. Some of them were beginning to panic, as the protest was scheduled to begin during school hours. Again we called and consulted the police. Again, our police department’s response was excellent, giving us lots of guidance, assuring us they knew and were following the man who made the post. They put in place a plan for police coverage. I was not at all worried about this protest having an impact on us, and in fact, as the police predicted, the group did not show up. But the energy spent on preparations and the angst that the threat caused the pre-school and their families was quite disturbing.

At a local middle school, a young woman I am tutoring for her bat mitzvah is regularly called a “good little Jew.” If she makes a mistake some students call it a “Jew move.” She also has heard a joke that goes like this, “What do you call flying Jewish children?” Answer – smoke. Her mom is now working with the Temple, a local Holocaust education organization and the school district (who is being very supportive) to bring in an educational program from the ADL to address these attitudes in the schools that have been affected by anti-Semitism.

At the high school that students graduating this middle school attend, a group of students have been flying Confederate flags on the back of their pickup trucks. After one student stood on the back of his truck waving a flag, some one got so upset that a threat was made against him online. The school heightened security and communicated with all the parents that any student who wished to stay home the next day would have an excused absence. The students flying the Confederate flags were asked not to bring them, as it was causing a disturbance. They agreed but the next day these students plus a few more brought pickup trucks either flying a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag or a banner stating “Make America Great Again.” Some had the symbol of the Republican party others referred to Trump.

Are all of these incidents connected? Absolutely! Since the primary season preceding the 2016 presidential elections, the atmosphere in our country has shifted. Overt expressions of hate, display of offensive symbols, and the belief there is an impurity in our country that must be eradicated have all become acceptable in ways I have never witnessed in my lifetime. The prejudiced dregs of America feel free to express their hatred more openly than ever. Why?

The political left says it is because of Donald Trump. From the opening event of his campaign, which was based on the despising of Mexican immigrants, he made outright expressions of hatred acceptable. We were given excuses by his surrogates – that he is not a politician so does not speak in a politically correct way, that he is just a truth teller, or that the media is misrepresenting what he is saying. All of this was nonsense. The media just reported what he said and people of any conscience objected to the obvious prejudice being openly expressed. Republicans of integrity, and there were many, walked away from their nominee. But Trump appealed to a segment of the country that rarely voted and squeaked out a victory in an election of the perfect storm to upset our political system.

But that is not the complete story.

The left wing shares the blame for this situation. How? Well, I think Bill Mahrer explains that quite well in this You Tube video from his January 27, 2017 show. Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1r9_tgRgRk

Yes, Mahrer’s language is far more coarse than the language I would use, but his key points are critical. Here is a short summary of his thoughts. Liberals are overly dedicated to political correctness – to the point of placing people whose intent is completely innocent in embarrassing situations. For example, Steve Martin tweeted that when he first met Carrie Fisher he found her beautiful, and then realized how smart she was. He then came under criticism for these comments and issued an apology. Liberals accuse folks of cultural appropriation, of white people taking music, art, and literature of ethnic groups and making them their own. Mahrer points out that America is a melting pot. When did this become a sin?

Add to this the effect of excessive political correctness on college campuses, the institution of trigger warnings, the banning of speakers with whom they disagree, the silly anger expressed about certain Halloween costumes. Most Americans are working people of common sense. They are justifiably annoyed by the insistence of liberals that the content of all our language has to be beyond polite, that it has to be pure and without any hint of even a non-intended insult. The left’s focus on excessive political correctness is irritating to many decent people. What makes this exacerbating is that on issues such as health care, income inequality, and gun control, more people agree with the policies of the left than the right. We need to be fighting for life changing issues and not distracted by our perception of hurt feelings.

As a result, Trump was able to appeal to people through his bluntness. He openly criticized political correctness in a way that enabled him to sell his insulting bluntness as truth telling. All of this gave a green light to people who are now expressing outright prejudice and disguising their bigotry as anti-political correctness. We are seeing the result – open anti-Semitism, open racism, open anti-Muslim words and actions.

So what do we do? We must resist. We must be sure our relationships with other institutions and people who do stand for morality are firm and that we work together to fight prejudice. We must be willing to spend resources on education programs in schools to counter this movement. We must create safe spaces for students who are the victims of bigotry to report and talk about their experiences. We cannot be afraid to engage those who demonstrate bigotry. But we must do all of this in a manner that illustrates the higher morality of our position, of our resistance to these trends. Our words must be expressions promoting peace, justice, and love; for as Michelle Obama put it, “when they go low, we go high.” To that I say, amen!


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Anti-Semitism Gets Personal

It had been many years since I had experienced any direct anti-Semitism – all the way back to high school in fact. But on the way home from sitting shiva with Audrey’s family after her father’s funeral, it became very real once again. Our flight into Atlanta was very delayed because of cross winds shutting down the runway in Providence, where our flight originated. Once we took off I realized making the connecting flight in Atlanta would be a very tight squeeze, no more than a 20 minute window. Fortunately, our gate at landing was in the same concourse that our flight to Tallahassee was to leave from, albeit at the complete opposite end of the concourse. My Delta app on my phone would not bring up the boarding pass, as it listed our next flight as already boarding. When we got off the plane it was 15 minutes until the next flight was scheduled to leave.

So I ran ahead of Audrey to get to the desk at the departure gate and have our boarding passes printed. Approaching the desk I saw boarding was just about to begin, so I thought we would be OK. I went to the desk, started to explain to the attendant about our late flight and having to print the boarding passes. He motioned me to the end of the desk, where the boarding passes are scanned as you get on the plane. There, a swee looking young African American woman was waving to me to come over, flashing a big, warm smile. I went up to her station. There was a young man, perhaps in his late 20’s. The Delta attendant asked me my name. As I gave it, standing next to the young man, he turned to me and said, “I know you are a Jew, but take a deep breath man.” I was stunned. Thinking the young woman might have been asking his name and I had butted in front of him I asked her, “Were you asking for MY name?” She said yes, she was. I turned to the young man and said, “You better think about what you are saying.” That set off a stream of invectives laced with the constant phrase, “You’re a Jew.” Finally, out of anger I yelled back at him a very non-rabbinic reply, “You’re an a__hole!”

The young Delta attendant was clearly distressed. She printed our boarding passes and sweetly told me not to worry. As Audrey and I boarded the plane, we saw what we thought was a plain clothes agent taking the young man aside to talk to him. When we were in our seats we were dumfounded by the incident. A number of thoughts went through my head. First, I was embarrassed over losing my cool and yelling back at the young man. Second, I thought about the young African American Delta attendant who was trying so hard to make things right. I realized that she, as well as so many of my African American friends, must face circumstances that can make them angry almost every day.

Prejudice is still very real, constantly burning. I live in a bubble mostly protected from it. But there are many who live with it as a constant reality. They must be unbelievably skilled at anger management. I could not control myself over one small incident. How do others handle constant prejudice? The only conclusion is to resolve never to lose our vigilance in trying to educate to prevent prejudice. We must never stop opposing it in all its forms – racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, Islamophobia – the list seems endless.

On April 16 the Jewish community will not Yom Hashoah, the commemoration of the Holocaust, the most horrifying result of anti-Semitism in world history. More than ever it must stand as a reminder that the work of combating prejudice is far from over.

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Some day it will end. The horrifying bloodshed of this Gaza war will end. The rocket fire will cease. Israeli strikes will stop. Israelis will heave a collective sigh of relief for the respite – whatever length it turns out to be. There will be appropriate congratulations over the discovery and destruction of the tunnels that very well could have led to indiscriminate slaughter of Israeli civilians. There will be the declarations of triumph by both sides. Netanyahu will declare that Hamas was dealt a crippling blow. Hamas will crow about its bravery in standing up to Israeli military might. After 5 or 6 weeks of brutal war, the springs that had been so tightly wound will be released. Then, they will begin to rewind once more; tightening ever so relentlessly to the point when violence will inexorably spring forth yet again. It is inevitable. Or is it?

Watching the deadly dance between Israel and Hamas is like watching a bloody version of the movie “Groundhog Day.” The day keeps repeating itself again and again. In the movie, the cycle does not end until Bill Murray’s character learns enough about itself to change his outlook and behavior. That is a great metaphor for what has to happen for both Israel and the Palestinians. They are doomed to repeating the same sequence again and again unless someone learns enough to change their outlook and behavior. What are the possibilities for change? What needs to be learned?

Israelis need to do an honest assessment of how they arrived in a situation of a Gaza being dominated by Hamas. It is a convenient narrative (and not without a measure of justification) to lay the full blame on Hamas. Hamas is a terrorist organization masquerading as a liberation movement. It has radical religious goals that reach far beyond the political goals of freedom for Palestinians. Hamas uses absolutely brutal methods, from employing children to dig the invasive tunnels into Israel (some reports indicate 200 children died doing this) to placing weapon sites in the midst of civilian populations, banking on high casualties from Israeli strikes; to its readiness to just kill Jews. Israelis, however, have to ask themselves: to what degree have their own policies fostered the growth of Hamas?

The blockade of Gaza was seen as a necessary measure to keep weapons out of Hamas’s hands – yet clearly it has failed. Hamas has all the weapons it needs and ever more sophisticated rockets. Instead, the blockade has impoverished the civilian Palestinian population, creating in essence a large, restricted refugee camp, while at the same time providing fuel for Hamas to garner Palestinian support. Further, by not working seriously for a two state solution, Israel has undercut the one Palestinian leader – Abbas – who has shown some willingness to come to the table. Israelis must ask themselves this question. Would a better strategy be to help facilitate a stable Palestinian state that would share an economic future with Israel?   Would it not be better to create some prosperity among Palestinians making it more profitable to focus on peace and growth rather than fostering the despair that leads to support for Hamas? Gideon Levy raises these and many more questions Israelis must face in this editorial in Ha’aretz http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.608118

As hard as it will be for Israelis to break their “Groundhog Day” tendencies, it will be even harder for the Palestinians, who must come to realize exactly what Hamas represents – death, destruction, and radical religious theocracy. However, at the very core of changing Palestinian attitudes is a turning away from the rampant anti Semitism embraced by so many in the Arab world. Arab anti-Judaism is so bad that it is spilling rapidly into Europe, where in France, Jewish stores are being vandalized and the Jewish population intimidated. I must ask the Arab and Muslim communities how Israel can be expected to act with more restraint in the face of such obvious hatred of Jews? The blatant anti-Semitism in the Arab world creates heightened fear not just in Israel, but among all Jews. We have no choice but to support Israel as a rampart against what seems to our community, a continuation of centuries of scapegoating of Jews for the world’s wrongs.

My friend, Dr. Parvez Ahmed has told me that the path for Palestinian freedom lies in the formation of a non-violent peace movement that aligns itself with like-minded Israelis. I totally agree. But in order for this to happen, the Arab world has to confront its anti-Semitism. This would result in a rejection of the radicalism of Hamas and give hope that there might be a path to a peaceful, more prosperous, and most importantly – a shared future.

And isn’t that really the central point? If there is to be any kind of decent, prosperous future, it must be a shared future. There is grand potential in a region that harvests the already successful economic and technical advances of Israel when paired with the creative potential of the Palestinians – one of the most educated groups in the Arab world. The aftermath of the Gaza war is not fated to be a continuation of “Groundhog Day.” Palestinians and Israelis can choose to accept each other –and the world would then indeed wake to a new day.





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