No more silent Jews
I am a member of the first post- “Sha, Still” generations. Those were the generations of Jews in the United States who wanted to remain quiet. “Don’t make a fuss.” That was there mantra. The Jews who came in waves during the latter part of the 19th century just wanted to “Fit In.”
They did not want to be known as “Greenhorns”—a slang term for newly arrived immigrants. So, they did their best to learn English. My grandmother learned how to read and write English when she was 63. They changed their names. Greenblatt became Greene, Shapiro became Smith, Farkas became Fox, etc.
The whole idea was to fit in, to become AMERICAN. It almost worked. But this “Goldenah Medina”—the golden garden—had its weeds. The attitude was the same for all immigrants. While the nation needed them badly to build the railroads, to stitch the clothing, to dig the coal mines; many Americans wanted the immigrants to show up, do their work and disappear.
The results were the tenements of the lower east side of New York; unlivable tiny spaces that bred tuberculosis and influenza and other then deadly diseases. There were areas where Jews, blacks, Orientals were not allowed to live. Employment signs in Boston that read “Irish Need Not Apply.”
There was the Klu Klux Clan. There were “restricted” neighborhoods, clubs with no Jews allowed. And in those years, there was little fighting back. Jews changed their names, accepted the fact that the Ivy League colleges had quotas on Jewish students, that there were neighborhoods where they could not buy a house.
We—the Jews—knew about the Holocaust before it happened. Most American Jews in the 30s had relatives still in Europe. They heard what was about to happen, what was happening. Many did what they could to get their own relatives out and to the safety of the U.S.
But, when it came to going public and demonstrating and demanding action about what was happening to six million European Jews, most of us were silent. “Sha, still, don’t make a fuss. It can’t be as bad as they say.” But it was. It was worse.
Then things began to change. Freeman became Friedman once again. Shapiro kept the name for his kids. Jews became proud of who they were. They became a force for good and for change. They took political stands and were sought after. Why? What happened? What changed?
Israel happened. Suddenly there was a place where we were not newcomers, “Greenhorns.” There was our country. The one we read about in Hebrew School. We had a Jewish army. We fought and we won. We had Nobel prizes. We exported tulips to Holland. We sang and cried “Kol Israel chai!”
So the anti-Semites had a new cry that made them immune from normal criticism. Gave them the room they were looking for when Jew hatred became unfashionable. Their cry today is “I’m not against the Jews, it’s Israel I hate. I hate everything about it.”
Sure. Look, Israel is a country. Like any other country it has its warts. Hey! The place is only 68 years old! Where was this nation on civil rights and many of the things we take for granted in 1841? The civil war was 20 years away. Did the U.S. have African Americans serving in the House or Senate? No, they were slaves.
Israel has Arabs in their Knesset, as judges, as policeman. Gee—you mean it’s not a theocracy? Guess not. Look there are Israelis who wish the Arabs gone. There are Israelis who will throw stones at you if you are a Jew driving on Shabbas. Hey—it’s a free country.
Yes, but a free country under threat. A threat as real and present as any the Jews of Europe faced in the 1930s. The fact that anti-Zionism is rising as an excuse for anti-Semitism is a threat to any Jew.
Two generations ago we were silent. “Sha, still, don’t make a fuss. Not as bad as they say.” Oh, yes it is. Jews cannot be silent anymore. None of us for any reason. Look what happened last time. So then it was the Nazis. But was Poland or Czechoslovakia or Hungary any better than Germany? Now it is the radical Muslims and their philosophy of equal opportunity hate. Sure they kill more Muslims than any other people. They kill Christians. But their war cry? Death to America, death to Israel, death to the Jews.
No my friend, you cannot sit and watch or read whatever it is you do to keep up with this dangerous world of ours. Not passively. No, not any more. This is your fight. Find a way to get in it. Be a proud Jew. The truth is you don’t have a lot of choice.