When It Comes to Anti-Semitism, Here's Why I'm Not Surprised
Yesterday, someone drew a swastika on the sign-box outside of Klau Library on the Cincinnati campus of the Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion, the principle rabbinic and cantorial training arm of the Reform Jewish Movement.
It was the ugly work of some hateful, anti-Semitic person, someone ignorant and filled with fear who is lashing out in a misguided attempt to feel more in control, more powerful. I imagine this person to be a brutish skinhead – but I know it could have been anyone.
I've seen the picture of this desecration in post after post on Facebook, and almost every single post comes with the comment, “I am speechless; I have no words.” Many comments link the vandalism to the rhetoric of our president-elect and the climate they feel he brings to his upcoming administration – one that gives free reign to Neo-Nazism and intolerance. Defiantly, they ask where he stands in the face of this horror.
But me? I’m not speechless. I am outraged and sickened and saddened. But not speechless.
I was not speechless when residents of sleepy little Ridgefield, CT, found the same hateful scrawl of a swastika on a local playground just before Thanksgiving 2016.
I was not speechless several years ago when a friend’s doorbell rang around 10 pm and, when her husband opened the door, he found a pile of pennies laid out in the shape of a swastika.
I was not speechless when another friend shared that her middle school-aged daughter was being tormented by some boys who called out daily: "Jew! Jew!" They threw pennies at her feet and yelled at her to pick them up; onlookers only laughed. The incident even repeated during registration, in front of parents, administrators, and the principal himself. No one did a thing.
I was not speechless when my own black and Jewish son was bullied and teased, sometimes mercilessly, in grade school. The bullies were the kids, but the collaborators were the teachers and administrators, who remained silent in the face of their ignorance and hatred.
I wasn't speechless when, while driving some staffers out to the field for community organizing back in the 1980s, one of them regaled us with the tale of how he had "jewed down" a street vendor to get a better price on some frippery or other.
I was not speechless when, at age 18, I walked into my synagogue one Sunday morning and found three huge swastikas spray painted on the walls – ugly black spiders against a backdrop of white.
I wasn't speechless when my mother and I spied a bumper sticker on a car that whizzed by us on the highway in 1973, the height of the gas crunch. The bumper sticker read "Burn Jews, not gas."
I was not speechless after any of these incidents, over all these decades, and I am not speechless now.
I am outraged and sickened and saddened by the continuing anti-Semitism that goes mostly unnoticed by most of the world. There are a few news stories that reference this latest crime of hate and reference the Jewish community – as if we were a different community entirely, not part of the same community as everyone else. As if we’re all still consigned to a shtetl away from the rest of the world, not quite as human as the rest of the human race.
Many well-meaning people will shake their heads and say "Terrible!" And then they will go on with their lives, perhaps wondering how in the world this could have happened in their neck of the woods. They thought they lived somewhere good, somewhere where things like this just didn't happen. But still, they think, it didn’t happen to them; it happened to those people over there, to that other group. And life goes on.
There’s more, you know. I was not speechless when a madman terrorist strafed a club in Turkey just this past weekend, or when another madman drove a truck into a crowded square in Germany. I wasn't silent when France, when Miami, when Sandy Hook, when Boko Haram, when Rwanda, when Somalia, when Bosnia, when the Boston Marathon, when Charlie Hebdo, when the Towers, when Oklahoma…
The list, it seems, in infinite. Each tragedy teaches us, as I have taught my son, "Never again!" Never again must we let such hatred and murder and violence occur – and then we shake our heads and act stunned and speechless, every time, the next time it happens. Again.
In the words of the late Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”
I am not speechless. I cannot be speechless. My voice alone may be small, but if we all speak together, as one voice, we will shake the rafters of heaven itself, and we can create a world where no one is terrorized by hate, a world where “Never again” is finally true.