I am Jewish. My parents were both born in America but my grandparents were all born in Russia/Ukraine. I grew up on stories from my maternal grandmother about living in a Shtetl, where murderous, anti-semitic rampages by the Kossacks were commonplace. Jews were not allowed to integrate freely with the gentile population, let alone socialize or 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.
I am terrified when I read some of the anti-semitic stereotypes and accusations that are used today. They sound just like the propaganda used against Jews, not just in the ’30s and ’40s 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 anti-semitism 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. Anti-semitism has clearly not been socially acceptable for a while. So it wasn’t expressed openly that much and I didn’t have to think about it or experience it.
I always knew that it was still ‘out there’. But I assumed it was less prevalent, less vicious and less relevant. Now I have to face the fact large numbers of Americans, in fact, do still nurse the same hatred and stereotypes that have plagued Jews for literally centuries. Americans are more tolerant and enlightened overall today, but some things just won’t die out.
I never thought that I would have to sit and watch a Nazi rally in an American city, complete with swastikas, arm salutes, and anti-semitic chants. Charlottesville was a wake-up call for many American Jews.
For now, it’s ‘just words’. But my family is a testament to the fact that words can turn into acceptable attitudes than actions and finally into social norms and policies. I don’t think we are poised to become a Nazi state. I don’t think that anti-black, anti-Muslim, anti-Mexican or anti-semitic language or behavior will be tolerated by the majority of Americans.
But it is still uncomfortable for me to deal with the hatred that I know is there for me because of my lineage and/or the religion I don’t even practice. I liked it better when all the haters had to hide under a rock somewhere and were afraid to come out in the open. I hope we can send them back to that place where they are afraid of us instead of us having to be afraid of them.