I just read several articles about the recent outpouring of anti-Semitic vitriol on Twitter from Trump supporters and white “nationalists.”
I am Jewish. My parents were both born in the U.S., but my grandparents were born in Russia or the Ukraine. I grew up on stories from my maternal grandmother about living in a Shtetl, where murderous, anti-Semitic rampages by the Cossacks were commonplace. Jews were not allowed to socialize freely with the gentile population, let alone intermarry. My great-grandfather was a respected Rabbi and one of the rare Jews who was allowed to do business with the Gentiles in the big town of Minsk.
In addition to these stories, I heard a lot about the plight of the Jews in Germany and Eastern Europe as the Nazis came to power. As a child, I used to think about what I would take with me if that ‘knock on the door’ came one night to take me away from my home and my life. I often wondered if I would be the kind of person in a Concentration Camp who shared my bread and tried to help others, or if I would do whatever I had to do to protect myself.
Today, I am terrified when I read some of the anti-Semitic stereotypes and accusations that are used online. They sound just like the propaganda used against Jews, not just in the 30’s and 40’s but all the way back to the Middle Ages in Europe. Romans probably also used similar rhetoric against Jews even before they started hating Christians as well.
Overt and virulent antisemitism has been relatively dormant in America for decades. Jews seemed to have assimilated into the mainstream to the point of almost becoming invisible. Or so I thought. Antisemitism has clearly not been socially acceptable for a while. So it wasn’t expressed openly very often, and I didn’t have to think about it or experience it directly.
I always knew it was still ‘out there,’ but I assumed it was less prevalent, less vicious and irrelevant. Now, I have to face the facts. Large segments of America’s population still hold to the same hatred and stereotypes which have plagued Jews for centuries. Americans are more tolerant and enlightened overall today, but apparently, some things won’t die out.
For now, it’s ‘just words’. My family is testament to the fact that words morph into accepted — even prevailing — attitudes, then actions. Finally into social norms and policies. I don’t think we are poised to become a fascist state. I don’t believe anti-Black, anti-Muslim, anti-Mexican or anti-Semitic language and behavior will be tolerated by most Americans. I certainly want and need to believe that.
Nonetheless, it’s still uncomfortable for me. Having to deal with the hatred I know is there for me because of my lineage or the religion I don’t even practice is disturbing on so many levels. It was better when the haters had to hide under a rocks and were afraid to come out in the open. That’s where they belong. Under rocks.
I hope we can send them back to a place where they are afraid of us instead of us having to fear them.