Where are the Jews this time?
August 28, 2020
Let’s go back in time. The 1960s. Hippies. The March on Washington. George Wallace. Viet Nam. The Edmond Pettis Bridge.
Well, I guess that those of us of a “certain age” do. We remember the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. We remember that time. The last time that the racial divide and the struggle for equality and voting rights were in the headlines on a daily basis.
Those of us who were there and lived it saw many similarities to this past year. But, there is one significant difference this time:
Where are the Jews?
There is Black Lives Matter and George Floyd and Rehema Ellis and more.
But, where are the Jews?
In the ‘60s, rabbis and college kids from Jewish fraternities and Jewish student activists were all over the Voting Rights Movement and going into the Deep South to help with voter registration and risking beatings and even death.
This summer? Where are the Jews?
Oh, as individuals, there were Jews protesting, probably peacefully, but the “Voice” of the Jewish Community was strikingly absent from the fight.
Well then, we ask — who or what is the “Voice” of the Jewish Community? Answer: There is none.
“Back in the day” as we “older” Jews are bound to say, there were many “Voices” — from the Fringe like the “Chicago Seven” to prominent rabbis, politicians and “every day Jews.”
Anti-Semitism in the mainstream became the target of Jewish activists as early as the 1950s as the nation recovered from the war. Eventually, laws were passed and “quotas” began to disappear.
Thousands of Jewish War Veterans and thousands of “every day” Jews, as they became aware of the Holocaust took up the cry of “Never Again!”
So, “blatant” anti-Semitism went underground. With the introduction of social media this cancer has a place to hide. So, yes it still exists. And will as long as there is any support from portions of the “mainstream.”
The emphasis this time is on “Black Lives Matter” and the long standing Racial Divide that exists in this nation.
We Jews have one advantage that the Black population does not: We can hide. It is a blessing to see that we do not hide our identity as much as we used to: As long as your nose was not too prominent, as long as you “looked like a goy” you could change your name and go “underground.”
So, Cohen became Kane and Schwartz became Smith. “Nose jobs” were the perfect graduation present for your daughter. Yes, there were those who remained “Proud Jews” but they were not, sadly, in the majority of the “Second Generation.”
Orthodox synagogues gave way to Conservative ones and Conservative congregations to Reform “Temples.” I am not passing judgment on any of this — it is “the way it was” and is today.
Times do change. And after a while when rabid anti-Semitism gave way to fringe groups hiding within the Internet and laws were finally passed that in many cases “outlawed” anti-Semitism — well, anyway the overt kind, Jews felt they could relax a bit.
But as long as discrimination and Anti-anything based on race or religion or political belief is with us, the fight is not over. Black Lives Matter. It is painted on prominent roads and the movement remains strong as the summer plods toward fall. But, where are the Jews? As long as a racist attitude, language or policy is active, our fight is not over.
I have written before that we moved into the lovely Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights in 1950. A town now made famous in the best-selling book “Thousand Little Fires.” Up until a year before we bought our home, Jews and Blacks were not allowed to buy a home within its lovely tree-lined confines.
1950! The fight was just beginning in earnest. Jews made great strides in the ‘50s and ‘60s. It was in the ‘60s that Jews, including our rabbis and our community leaders took up the fight for Civil Rights, recognizing that discrimination in any form was a threat to us as well.
Now? It is obvious that the scale is still tilted. An acceptance of racial bias during the past few years set us back. It also enflamed a backlash that was worthwhile, while at the same time was tainted by bad actors who have always and always will take advantage of any situation that will allow them to damage the purpose while pursuing their own agenda.
A pandemic has clouded the lives and attitudes of just about everyone. We live in an age of instant communication and at the same time, isolation. This is a tough combination.
There are radical changes coming: In our workplace habits, in our means of communication, in our politics and in attitudes. It is a time of change — again. Where are the Jews?