Call it what it is
November 30, 2018
I was born into what was known as the “Sha, Still” generation. Jews, who had been in the U.S. since long before the Declaration of Independence, still did not want to call attention to themselves in the 1930s.
The fear of a backlash and stronger displays of anti-Semitism if Jews became too visible, too successful, was the order of the day. Lynchings were still taking place (the last one in Central Florida was in 1941). A Catholic priest by the name of Father Choughlin was preaching anti-Semitism on hundreds of radio stations. As we have pointed out before, there were “quotas” on Jews at law schools and medical colleges.
Even during the war when it became apparent that there was indeed a Holocaust going on in Europe, American Jews for the most part were silent. A personal plea to President Roosevelt to bomb the tracks leading to Auschwitz was ignored. It was said that he confided to one of his intimates: “Can you imagine what would happen if one of our boys got shot down while saving Jews?”
It took the end of the war when the stories became realities seen on movie screens in America to mobilize the Jewish community to action. Jews became somewhat emboldened. Israel declared its independence. Lawsuits and political action brought an end to quotas at universities. But still, under the surface, in whispers and in actual practice the spector of anti-Semitism stayed with us.
More rampant in the South, of course, less subtle there than in the dignified club rooms of the North, still, it lived. In recent years, with the Muslim world chanting its “Death to the Jews”—along with “Death” to most other things, anti-Semitism found new traction and was reflected in the clandestine world of extremist groups in the U.S. and Europe.
The new world of Social Media let all the loonies of the world have a forum to blast their hate to a willing audience. For the most part, anti-Semitism is no longer prevalent in country clubs, executive offices and in college administrations.
However, that fringe element breathes just below the surface. Hate is alive. There is ample evidence that in the past year or so, this nation has become less civil, less polite, less gentle.
We are the most gun-violent nation on earth. All of the mass killings in our nation have been executed by guns—many designed solely for military use but available to the public. Background checks in most of this nation are a joke.
So, when yet another mass killing by gunfire happens, the anti-gun faction rightly calls it out for what it is.
The death of eleven people in Pittsburgh last month was not “yet another act of gun violence.” No. It was a deliberate and deadly attack on the Jewish community. It was a seemingly sane person walking into a synagogue solely to kill Jews. He said so as he pulled the trigger numerous times.
When he was brought into court, he pleaded not guilty. Not guilty? The most probable explanation is that in his mind, killing Jews is not a crime. The city of Pittsburgh understands this. The headline in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette got it right. It was the first words of the Kaddish printed in Hebrew.
Attacks on Jews in the world are headed for an all-time high since the Holocaust.
Statistics are neutral. They have no soul. But when names of the dead are read, statistics become people. Don’t put the dead in the Pittsburgh shul among the others killed by gunfire this year. No. They are in a different category.
This was an anti-Semitic attack. The killer used a gun, true. But had it been a bomb or an explosion the fact is the same. It was an attack on Jews worshiping on a Sabbath morning. More damning—it was a baby naming ceremony.
Incivility, race baiting, “dog whistles” don’t just lie there. They are the dry timber that explode hate crimes. The day of the “Sha Still” Jew is long over. Hate of any group—racial, religious or otherwise—is a threat to us. We are Jews. We are a religion. We are also a people. Our contributions to this world excel almost any other ethnic group.
It is a proud heritage. It is our job to defend it and ourselves. AND to speak out about hatred of any kind. As we have learned, it’s contagious.