I am a 75-year-old Jewish man.
I haven’t hidden this fact from you over the decades, but neither have I worn my religion on my sleeve nor, as the Bible in Deuteronomy 6 commands, “as frontlets between [my] eyes.”
I was born in 1946 – just after the end of World War II in New York City. Both sides of my family came to the U.S. in the great migration of the first decade of the 20th century; my father’s side from Poland. My mother’s, from what is now Belarus.
I have not been a victim of anti-Semitism in my lifetime, but my grandparents were which is what led them to search for the safety and freedom of America beginning on Ellis Island.
The Eastern European waves of Jews were matched by the Southern European wave of Italians, the Northern European wave of Irish, and the Asian wave of Chinese in their own times.
I am intentionally leaving out immigrants from Africa as they were kidnapped and shipped to the West against their will. For the overwhelming most part they did not, like my grandparents, come to the Americas voluntarily.
The willing immigrants were, individually and severally, met with hostility from those who had beaten them here.
As I have written many times, a good definition of an environmentalist is someone who already owns a beachfront condo and now wants all further development halted.
Same with “real Americans” who oppose new immigrants bringing with them different languages and different religions.
As a child of Abraham, I have not been terribly observant. I grew up in a household that went to synagogue on the High Holy Days, but – barring Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, weddings, and funerals – were not regular attendees.
I grew up on Long Island in what might be called today a working-class neighborhood, but for us it was just home.
A Greek family lived to our left. A Catholic family to our right. Thus we had three different religious calendars and the eight children who grew up in those three houses were very familiar with the foods and customs of the extended holiday seasons.
I went to Hebrew school from the time I was about nine though my Bar Mitzvah year of 13. My attendance wasn’t great as it was after school and in stickball season (any time there wasn’t snow on the ground) my attention was drawn to a sawn-off broom handle for hitting and a pink rubber Spalding ball for hitting.
Jewish kids didn’t just hang around with other Jewish kids. Catholic kids didn’t just hang around with other Catholic kids.
Kids hung around with kids.
For a year before my voice changed, I was the boy soloist in the Temple choir for holiday services.
I am telling you all this because, for the first time in my life I am very concerned about the growing rise and acceptance of anti-Semitism in America.
The Founding Fathers recognized the danger of religious conflict.
The very first clause of the very First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is not freedom of speech or the press. It is not the right to peaceful assembly or to redress grievances.
The very first clause of the very First Amendment to the Constitution reads:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof
That photo of a crowd – a smallish crowd – with their right arms outstretched at a Trump rally in Ohio a few days ago was more than a little chilling.
Just about every book I’ve ever read about the 1930s in Germany contains a section where non-Germans were assured that “good” Germans were only giving Hitler enough rope to hang himself.
By the time World War II was over, Hitler’s use of that rope caused the deaths of some 75 million people around the world including, as we know all too well, six million Jews.
I have never before worried about organized anti-Semitism in America. The KKK has been a joke for my adult life. Q-anon was a bunch of nut cases that no one took seriously. The right wing talk radio of the Rush Limbaugh ilk was policy, not religiously, driven.
Now, we’ve come to the point where Republicans – if not in outright agreement with growing anti-Jewish sentiment – have not been able to gather themselves to denounce it.
Don’t think this applies to you? Remember that anguished poem by Pastor Martin Niemöller:
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
This Sunday marks the first night of Rush Hashanah.
See you next week.