I grew up in a non-religious family, but it was always important to my parents that we knew we were Jews and my family followed traditional certain rituals. My father went to work on Saturdays and the only religious holidays he shut his luncheonette were Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. My younger brother Warren and I were Bar Mitzvahed and attended youth services Saturdays and holidays. The rule in our family was no synagogue Saturday morning, no ball playing that afternoon; no synagogue on Jewish holidays, then you go to school.
My wife and I celebrated both Hanukah and Christmas with our children. For Hanukah, we invited the staff and families from her day care center for a latkes festival in our apartment where I turned 20 pounds of potatoes and four pounds of onions into potato pancakes and told the story of the Maccabees as a freedom struggle. After Hanukah, we set up a Christmas tree with a giant origami peace crane as its crown and presents underneath to be opened on Christmas morning.
As an adult I am a confirmed atheist. I joke that I am an evangelical atheist because I recruit. I cannot support Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands on the west bank of the Jordan River and its treatment of Palestinians in Gaza and Israel proper. I believe Israel has the right to exist but not as a religious state and not as an occupying power and I will not visit the country while these policies are in place. But I always identify as a Jew, a secular Jew, a Jew by birth, a Jew by history, and a Jew by tradition. I call myself a Jew, not Jewish, because I know that in many households in this country the word Jew is still used as a curse.
Today there is a lot of anti-Semitism in the air in the United States and I feel it is important to publicly be a Jew, which is why I am posting this blog. The Republican candidate for Governor in Pennsylvania says he wants America to be a Christian nation and he attacks his Jewish opponent as an “elitist,” but we know he means Jew. In the past, attacks on the “Rothchilds” for controlling global banking, were really claims that somehow Jews secretly ran the world. No one remembers the Rothchilds so now the anti-Semites blame George Soros, another Jews, and claim he is the evil puppet master conspiring with his co-religionists. Kanye West, a Black entertainer and entrepreneur who supports Donald Trump, declared that he was “going death con 3 on Jewish people” and then announced that he wasn’t an anti-Semite because Jews aren’t the real Jews anyway. Basketball player Kyrie Irving, who denies the Earth is round and had to sit out games last season because he refused to be vaccinated against COVID-19, tweeted a link on his Twitter account to a book and movie that also denies that Jews are really Jews. These claims echo positions taken by a small group that calls itself the Black Hebrew Israelites. West and Irving may be nuts, but it is dangerous to dismiss deep antipathy towards Jews as the work of cranks. Donald Trump has been very cozy with anti-Semitic groups and we know what happened in Europe in the 1930s.
Recently I attended a play about the European Holocaust and I suspect very few non-Jews were in the audience. It was a one-actor show about the life of Jan Karski, a Polish Christian who put his life at risk to help European Jews and it was an excellent production. As a teacher, as I sat there with tears in my eyes, I questioned “How relevant is the European Holocaust and the murder of European Jews to American students today who are not?” New York State is pushing for expanded Holocaust education, but this is for political reasons to get Jewish votes and campaign donations during a contested gubernatorial election. The European Holocaust happened over 75 years ago and for students it is ancient history. Since the European Holocaust there have been so many other horrific events, genocides in Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia, and the Congo, wars all over the world, and the forced displacement of populations, that the European Holocaust and the near extermination of European Jewry, no longer stands out, at least for me, as a topic that deserves a special place in the school curriculum.
Politically I am on the left. I can’t support the Israeli occupation and I don’t agree with expanding Holocaust education. But I am a Jew and I know if the anti-Semites take power my family and I will be threatened. I am a Jew, which is why I am compelled to fight for rights for all people – for sexual, ethnic, linguistic, and religious minorities and for immigrants and refugees no matter their legal status. I fight for their rights as the best way to protect my own and my family’s. Shalom.
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Media Watch, October 31, 2022
Hosts Robert Anthony and Eric Tait and guest Alan Singer discuss Far-Right MAGA Insurrectionists, GOP-voter intimidation/suppression, political races/candidates, and kanYE’s “Sturm-N-Drang” “Death-Con” self-immolation.