Antisemitism is on the rise throughout the world for many reasons. The Former Guy, who won the election in 2016, made it acceptable to say whatever dark things one might have only imagined in days gone by. People somehow thought it was great that he “said it like it is” – no filter; being rude and uncouth is now in vogue. He has opened Pandora’s Box and it will be difficult to put those hateful demons away again.
Since Hamas invaded Israel on October 7, 2023, hate crimes against both Jews and Muslims have been on the rise in the US; against Jews, around the world. The situation darkens daily.
But antisemitism dates back thousands of years. Jews have always been viewed as “the other” and singled out throughout the millenia for persecution and exile. Queen Isabella of Spain, of Inquisition fame, banished the Jews from Spain and Portugal in 1492. Recently, in Dubrovnik, we saw the second oldest synagogue in Europe. The expelled Jewish population, who thought they would make their way to the Ottoman Empire, stopped in Dubrovnik, an important trading route along the way. There they were allowed to stay by the Catholic population, given their skill sets and knowledge base, and they built their house of worship. The population was eventually decimated by the Fascists during WWII, and today numbers only 30. A rabbi visits only once a year, but the structure remains and is used by the few locals, a reminder of the history and what has passed.
One isn’t born hating others. It is learned from family, community, those around you. As Oscar Hammerstein wrote for a song in “South Pacific” when an American GI falls in love with a native girl on a Pacific island, but is reminded by his colleagues that it won’t work out: “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught”.
You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!
Growing up in suburban Detroit, in the parish of Father Coughlin, the “Radio Priest” of the 30s, who preached antisemitism on the radio during the rise of Fascism, was not always a comfortable place to be. I had a few minor run-ins with ignorant boys in high school. One, sitting next to me in homeroom in 9th grade, noted that I missed school on the High Holidays. The day after Yom Kippur, he asked me where my nose was. I pointed to it: on my face. Later that year, backstage, during a play rehearsal, an 11th grader called me a “kike”. I’d never heard the term. I had to go home and ask my mother what it was before I could get angry at him. He said it without malice. I believe he echoed something he heard at his own home. We actually were friends. Thinking back, I believe he was trying to get a rise from me, an unfortunate way to do it. But that was an example of learning a word without understanding how offensive it was. He didn’t get the reaction he wanted because I didn’t know it. Poor judgement all around.
Many years later, I worked in an office in downtown Chicago in 1978. Famously, the American Nazi party wanted to stage a rally in the suburb of Skokie, which had a large Jewish population. The residents did NOT want that to happen, but the ACLU backed the Nazi’s freedom of speech and assembly, as guaranteed in the Constitution. The case went to the Supreme Court and their right to rally was established, though they never did march through Skokie. Instead, on July 9, they staged their rally in Marquette Park in Chicago. It was a lovely, sunny day. I had lived on the north side of town for about three months. I was working hard to establish myself at my new job and new career in sales. I often went to my office to do paperwork on the weekends, as I was in front of clients during the week and that is how I happened to be downtown on July 9, oblivious to what was going on. In those days, I didn’t read a local newspaper.
I spent a few hours in the office and came out into the sunlight. It was a beautiful day and I decided to walk the three miles back to my apartment. I was always in my head, not paying too much attention to the world around me. Suddenly, I was in the midst of a screaming bunch of angry men, wearing brown shirts and arm bands. I absolutely could not believe that in 1978 I was in the midst of a Nazi rally with these horrid people screaming antisemitic chants in my face as I scurried past them. I was shaken to the core. I took it personally.
I sobbed for the remainder of my walk home.
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.