The swastika burned bright in the evening air, and this was not 1938. It was April 21, 2018, in Draketown, Georgia. The rally was reminiscent of the KKK gatherings, also held in Georgia and other states, wherein a cross was burned. While the gathering was much smaller than the march in Charlottesville, Virginia this past August, the image continued to haunt me this week. Should we be worried? Is this a matter of grave concern? A related digression if I may.
The boy walked home from elementary school with his friends as he had done so many hundreds of times before. As they said brief goodbyes, and planned to meet up in a little while for the usual game of stickball back in the school parking lot, he saw some chalk drawings on his driveway. As he got closer, he saw two swastikas, each about four inches, drawn on his driveway. Atop the swastikas were the words “Jeffrey is a dirty Jew”. What do you mean dirty? I took a bath/shower just about every day? What did this mean? That was my introduction to the swastika and to anti-Semitism, and the image is indelibly seared into my memory. By the way, we never discovered the culprit.
I might seem sensitive to the swastika, but I will not apologize for that, because the anti-Semites are still here. They will not go away, nor do I believe that they ever will. If we somehow forget, they will remind us. You may have read in the news that an Arab was walking with a Jewish friend, and he disagreed and felt that Jews in Berlin were safe. To prove his point, he put on his friends’s yarmulke. Shortly thereafter, he was attacked by a fellow Arab shouting “Death to the Jews”. In response today, Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, recommended that no Jew in Berlin should wear a yarmulke in public. How do we respond? To their credit, other Jews in Berlin are planning a sort of yarmulke rally, to boldly state publicly that they will not be threatened for being Jewish, especially in the not-so-ancient home of the Reichstag.
That is where community comes to the rescue. Our binding together as a Jewish community is how we respond, to let the haters know that any form of hate will not be tolerated, not now, not ever. We cannot ignore other forms of hate either, for to be Jewish means to follow the sublimely uttered Golden Rule of Rabbi Hillel: What is hateful to you do not do to others. When we witness forms of hate, we must respond strongly that it is unacceptable. We who have witnessed hate throughout the centuries and have a lengthy memory of these experiences, must speak out, for hate is un-Jewish. When we fail to speak out against hate, we fail as Jews, and we fail as American citizens. How can we build bridges with others when we fail to walk at least halfway across the bridge? We must continue to strive to build a strong Jewish community, with very strong bridges to other communities paved as a two-way street. United we stand; divided we fall.