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anti-semitism

I’m Tired of People Saying They’re ‘Speechless’ When Anti-Semitic Things Happen

Silhouette of beautiful girl standing on dock with bridge in background on sunny autumn day.

Someone drew a swastika on the sign-box outside of Klau Library. Klau Library is on the campus of the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, the principle rabbinic and cantorial training arm of the Reform movement.

I’ve seen the picture of this desecration in post after post on Facebook. Almost every single post comes with the comment, “I am speechless; I have no words.”

I am not speechless. I have many, many words to offer. I am outraged and sickened and saddened. But I am not speechless.

I was not speechless when students at Warren Township High School in Gurnee, Illinois saw the same hateful scrawl of a swastika on their campus earlier in this school year.

I was not speechless several years ago, when a friend, also in Gurnee, posted her shock and rage on Facebook, telling us about something that had happened that night, when her doorbell rang around 10 p.m., and when her husband opened the door, there was a pile of pennies laid out in the shape of a swastika (read about that here).

I was not speechless when another friend shared with me the horrible story of her young, middle school daughter, who was tormented by some boys who called her out, sometimes daily: “Jew! Jew!” They threw pennies at her feet and yelled at her to pick them up. The onlookers only laughed at this. The incident repeated during registration, in front of parents and administrators, and the principal himself. Nothing was done.

I was not speechless when my son was bullied and teased, sometimes mercilessly, when he was in grade school. The bullies were the kids. The collaborators were the teachers and administrators, who remained silent in the face of their ignorance and hatred.

I wasn’t speechless when I was driving some staffers out to the field for community organizing, when one of them regaled us with the tale of how he had “jewed down” the street vendor on Maxwell Street to get a better price on some frippery or other.

I was not speechless when I walked into my synagogue one Sunday morning, when I was 18 and teaching for the very first time, and there were three huge swastikas spray painted on the walls, ugly black spiders against a backdrop of white.

I wasn’t speechless when my mother and I spied a bumper sticker on a car that whizzed by us on the Kennedy Expressway in 1973, the height of the gas crunch. The bumper sticker read, “Burn Jews not gas.”

I was not speechless for all these incidents, over all these decades. I am not speechless now. I am outraged and sickened and saddened by the continuing anti-Semitism that goes mostly unnoticed by most of the world. There are a few news stories that reference this latest crime of hate, that reference the Jewish community—as if we are a different community entirely, not part of the same community as everyone else, as if we are still all consigned to a shtetl away from the rest of the world. As if we are not quite as human as the rest of the human race.

Many well-meaning people will shake their heads and say “Terrible!” And then they will go on with their lives, perhaps wondering how in the world this could have happened in their neck of the woods. They thought they lived in the “good part” where things like this just didn’t happen. But really—did it happen to themselves, or to those Jews, the ones over there, who have that temple and maybe own a business or two in town? For most people, they’re OK. Life goes on.

They teach us (as I have taught my son) “Never Again!” We must never let this hatred and murder and violence happen—ever again. And we shake our heads and are stunned and speechless, every time, the next time it happens. Again.

In the words of Elie Wiesel: “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

I am not speechless. I cannot be speechless. My voice alone may be small. If we all speak together, as one voice, we will shake the rafters of heaven itself, and we will create a world where no one is terrorized by hate, a world where “Never Again” is finally true.


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