SOME THOUGHTS ON ANTISEMITISM
This will probably be the most personal piece that I have posted on Medium.com to date. In the past I have written about the injustices, and ongoing issues, faced in our society by people of color, women, members of the LGBTQ community, native Americans, and other groups, but I have not written about antisemitism. I have been thinking about that over the last several weeks as the news media has followed Ye (formerly known as Kanye West), Kyrie Irving, Trump’s dinner with Ye and Nick Fuentes, etc. The question I have been asking myself is why have I been a lifelong voice for others, but I have avoided, apparently, discussing antisemitism despite the fact that I was born Jewish?
The answer to my self-reflection has been a little multi-faceted and complicated. In no particular order, here is what I have come up with: (1) I was raised in a home with two parents who taught my brother and I to take each person as they come, without pre-judging people based upon skin color, religion, sexual orientation, sexual identification, ethnicity or any other characteristic. Importantly, my parents did not just talk the talk, but by their actions they modeled the walk; (2) I grew up attending a very unique multi-cultural diverse school district and had (and still have) very close friends (my Greenburgh family) who reflect the rainbow of humans on the planet; (3) at a young age I began to realize certain advantages I have had because of my gender, skin color, education; (4) a number of my ancestors were gassed in the chambers of the death camps in Nazi Germany; and (5) I have personally experienced antisemitism, as well as that look from some folks when they find out I am Jewish (like they do not know what to do with that or how to respond to that). I think the end result of all of this is that I have shied away from taking a stand when it comes to antisemitism, but no more.
I was born on December 30, 1958, to parents who were ethnically Jewish but who were not religious. As they say, we were “brisket Jews”. That is, we celebrated the holidays as days for family to get together and share meals, but with little actual religious context, with the exception of Passover. A very close friend of my parents, my brother’s godfather, was one of the first Jews to be hired by IBM (they did not hire Jews). He explored Passover as not just the celebration of the Jews’ freedom from bondage from ancient Egypt, but as a basis to discuss the bondage and subjugation of people all over the world. It was powerful and fascinating and had a profound impact on me such that when I began to lead my own seders, I too discussed Jews and others who suffered (and still suffer) from the cruel yoke of slavery and prejudice.
When I was born they gave me the following labels: white; boy; and Jew. I did not ask for any of those labels, they just gave them to me like we are all labeled. When I was very young, my father was a Fulbright Scholar and we lived for a brief period in Montevideo, Uruguay. Things were pretty good until it was found out we were Jewish, and then things got weird at the school I was attending.
Growing up in my area I occasionally got into altercations started by white Catholic boys who had issues with my being Jewish. Point of fact, I never had any issue with anyone of color. One day my younger brother came home crying. His face was swollen. He had been slapped or punched by an older boy in the neighborhood because my brother was Jewish, and the boy had heard in Sunday School that the Jews killed Christ (this was in the late 1960’s).
Over my birthday/New Year’s Eve weekend in 1974, I went with my brother and parents to stay at the Kings Grant Inn located in Gilford, New Hampshire. On New Year’s Eve there was a gathering for guests, employees, etc., in their small ballroom. There were large round tables surrounding the dance floor. One of the tables had kids my age, and I went over with my brother to sit down. All was good until a teenager older than I, out of the blue, started talking about how Hitler was right. Without saying a word, I stood up and motioned to my brother that we should leave. As we walked away from the table, the teenager said, “Hitler should have killed all the Jews including them”, pointing at my brother and me. I kind of lost it. I turned, ran across the floor towards the table, set sail across the table and lunged at the kid, putting my hands around his neck, and we tumbled to the ground with me sitting on his chest banging his head against the floor. People grabbed us, separated us, and threw us outside in the snow. However, here is the real kicker. The next morning my family and I were summoned to the office of the owner/manager. On the way to the meeting, I kept apologizing to my parents. I told them that I should not have let the guy get the better of me, etc. When we got to the office, the owner/manager closed the door. He quietly apologized for what had happened. He then disclosed that although he decorated his place for Christmas every year, went to church on Sundays, etc., he was in fact Jewish. He said that if the locals ever found out, “they would burn this place to the ground”.
In the winter of 1975, I went ice-skating at the local rink with my then girlfriend (now wife) and some others, including her favorite cousin. I drove. The cousin was in the back seat. Following the skating, I drove out of the parking lot and up Lake Street. A Jewish man wearing a yarmulka walked across the street in front of us. From the back seat the cousin yelled, “look at that fucking Jew”. I did not respond. It is now 47 years later, and he and I are very close, but the incident is burned in my memory.
Up until the 1960’s my family could not have purchased a home in certain communities in Westchester County, or even in the Laken Ridge section of the town that we live in today.
Over the years there have been other incidents, inappropriate jokes and comments, etc., and I have kept quiet or laughed it off. I guess things really began to change for me when Margorie Taylor Green, an elected official and member of the House of Representatives, said that Jewish industrialists have “space lasers”. At first, I laughed, but the silence that followed frightened me. I do not give a damn if you are a Democrat, Republican, Liberal, Conservative. When someone says something like that there should be an outpouring of voices from all quarters condemning it.
Then, we had Ye go on his tirade wanting to go “death con 3” on Jews. Most recently the former President had a little dinner party at his humble abode with Ye and Nick Fuentes (a well-known white supremacist and antisemite). The same Mr. Fuentes who said, “The Taliban is a conservative, religious force, the US is godless and liberal. The defeat of the US government in Afghanistan is unequivocally a positive development”. The same Fuentes who is a fan of Hitler and a holocaust denier. The same Fuentes who said that a good society looks like one where, “women do not have the right to vote”, “women wearing veils in church” and “women [aren’t] in the workforce”. The same Fuentes who this past October told Jews to “get the fuck out of America,” charging that they “serve the devil” and are “an antichrist”.
I guess my voice was unleashed last night when I watched the 2022 induction ceremony for the Rock and Roll Hall Fame. John Mellencamp was the presenter for famed rock and roll lawyer, Allen Grubman. During his remarks, Mr. Mellencamp became angry. Mr. Mellencamp said that he is Christian, and that Mr. Grubman is his “brother” and his “Rabbi”. He then forcefully said, “fuck antisemitism”. He then called on everyone to stand up to hate of any form.
The fact is that Jews make up only 2.4% of the U.S. population, and 0.4% of the World’s population. The fact is that I have been with my soulmate, a nice Italian-Catholic girl, for 48 years (married for 37 years — she’s the best thing that ever happened to me). The fact is that I have spent my life advocating for the rights of others as a lawyer, Board of Education member, volunteer in prisons, and just someone who speaks his mind when he sees injustice in the world. The fact is that the photograph accompanying this piece is of my father’s father and his family (my grandfather is seated at the extreme left, and my son is named after). The picture was taken in Zdunska Wola, Poland, where the family lived, owned businesses, had kids, and did all of the things that all human beings do, but they just happened to be Jewish. Most of them did not make it out and were killed by the Nazis while the world watched. Earlier this fall, close friends of mine brought “Lucy”, a friend, neighbor and housekeeper, back to Zdunska Wola, her hometown. She has stage 4 cancer and had not been back to her homeland in years. During the visit my friends learned that there had once been a thriving Jewish community there, but those who could not escape were carted off to slave labor and death camps.
So, what does this all mean? When people like Marjorie Taylor Green, Nick Fuentes, Ye, fellow Jews who spew hate, etc., are given a platform and a voice, and when they use that voice to spew messages of hate against any group, it is wrong and people of good will of any political party must stand up and denounce these people. This is not Cancel Culture, this is about being human, having empathy and calling out those who would spread hate for hate’s sake. We have seen throughout history that words of hate can have deadly consequences. We have also seen that silence is complicity, and that silence can be just as destructive.
In closing, fuck racism, fuck anti-LGBTQism, fuck anti-asianism, fuck anti-Latinoism, fuck antisemitism, and fuck all the other isms. I will not be silent. I will not be complicit. One World/One Love. Peace.