Where Do We Go From Here?
“Jew will not replace us.”
There was a boy at my elementary school who used to talk about the “dirty Jews” as he praised Hitler and the Nazis. I remember the look of sadness and frustration from my 6th grade teacher, Mrs. Levy, when he would go on one of his Hitler Youth rants. What could she do? For the better, this country has freedom of speech yet he terrorized me almost as much as the kid who insisted that KISS was better than the Beatles. Since there were many Jewish kids in the district and the Holocaust was not too far removed from the 70’s, most of us knew about the Nazi atrocities before we figured out that babies didn’t come from storks.
Moving on to high school, a few months ago, I was “reminiscing” about the swastikas that were spray painted on the back door near the student parking lot with a friend. This happened at least once a year. They were drawn on bathroom stalls and lockers, too. I didn’t experience much anti-Semitism when I went to college and since moving to San Francisco, anti-Semitism has been a non-factor in my daily life.
Onto the present, yesterday Trump equated the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville with those who protested the hatred they espouse. I’ve been wondering how Jews who voted for him have been stomaching the events of the last few days (or seven months). Some of them are bigots, too, but think its ok when the hatred is directed toward immigrants and Muslims. I have a hard time wrapping my head around this. “Injustice against one is injustice against all.” I can’t remember who said this and I’m not confusing it with the MLK quote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” though that is equally true.
On Saturday morning I dragged myself out of bed to fetch my 16-year-old cousin from SFO. Thank god she was as tired from her three-week bike trip as I was from seeing my friend play at the Chapel the night before. Since we were both exhausted, a movie seemed like the way to spend the afternoon so we trekked to the Alamo Drafthouse to see The Big Sick. Who with the exception of the grossly hung-over goes to a movie on Saturday afternoon? It was sold out so we shifted gears and saw Detroit.
Detroit is based on a true story, but as admitted in the credits, they took some dramatic license. This said, there may very well have been some heinous things that happened both at the Algiers Motel (where the incident in the movie took place) and in Detroit during the summer of ’67 that didn’t make it into the movie so on balance, it is probably a pretty accurate portrayal of how black people and women were and all too often still are treated in this country. Warning, it’s a two and a half hour film, so use the bathroom before and don’t drink as much water as I do. It has been criticized by Al Jazeera, Salon and others but don’t let that stop you from seeing it. Katherine Bigelow is sure to get an Oscar nomination and the actors, especially Will Poulter, who plays the brutally racist, sexist cop, deserve major props.
My cousin said she never saw anything like it before. We talked about the movie and what happened in Charlottesville earlier that day and on Friday. I gave her my take on it; that those who hold power, i.e. white men, can still get away with the atrocious behavior we saw in the movie. Over the span of 50 years I am not sure how much has changed if you are black, female or even Jewish. There is still a lot of bigotry and misogyny, it has just changed form, and while we may have taken many steps forward, we have also taken some huge ones back. I’m sure we’re still referred to as “dirty Jews” and “kikes” behind closed doors in certain circles.
The next day we went to Golden Gate Park. My cousin had her heart set on checking out the Academy of Sciences and I wanted to go to the ‘Art from the African American South’ at the DeYoung so we split up for an hour and while she looked at the rooftop greenery, I checked out what is one of the best exhibits I’ve ever seen in SF in recent memory. Granted, when it comes to art I’m a plebeian but a lot of the pieces transcend an intellectual ability to appreciate aesthetic works – they got through to me anyway, more than Matisse.
One of the first works you’ll encounter is a photo of Andrew Goodman’s grieving parents. This made me think of Heather Heyer’s parents. Fifty-three years later and your child can still lose his or her life because she dared to say discrimination is not ok, injustice against one is injustice against all.
Max Brooks because anyone who has Anne Bancroft and Mel Brooks’ genes is awesome…
After taking my cousin to the airport yesterday, I listened to Max Brooks on Fresh Air. He discussed what it was like having a Jewish father and an Italian Catholic mother. A couple of things he said have been replaying in my mind, especially this, “When fellow Jews would say you’re not really Jewish because your mother isn’t Jewish I would say to them, “Well, I may not be Jewish enough for Israel but I’m Jewish enough for Dachau.” That should shut anybody up.
I caught a glimpse of the front page of the NY Times yesterday. I usually read it online so I was really struck by the full color photograph. The image was perfect not only because it showed the hideous expression of our füher but also because there was a portrait of George Washington, father of our country and slave owner, in the background. I’m hoping the Times was trying to point out this irony. Later on, Trump asked if we were going to take down statues of Jefferson and Washington too, and, well, he had a point, no matter how nefarious his intention. Puttting Washington or Jefferson on the same plane as Confederate leaders is a false equivalency in most respects but not all. If their slaves were Jews, Italians or Irish instead of black how would those of us who are Jewish, Italian or Irish feel? If nothing else comes out of this nightmare of a presidency, it might force us to have a sobering conversation about our past.
Why Bother Asking Where Do We Go From Here?
Anyway, it has been a really troubling few days and there are bound to be tougher times ahead. How do you explain this to teenagers whose biggest fears should be taking their SATs and figuring out how to get laid? I guess the same way you talk about the Holocaust to elementary school kids…with the truth. I think we need to remind those who are too young to remember that at one point in the not so distant past, we chose a very different leader from the one we have now. Trump would like nothing more than for Obama to become a mere footnote in history. Marginalizing the most powerful black man in American history is David Duke’s wet dream. James Alex Fields took Heather Heyer’s life and Donald Trump has tried to lessen her humanity. As a society, he wants to rob us of our decency. We can’t let this happen.
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” Barack Obama and Nelson Mandela.
That’s leadership. How sad it is we have to look to our former president for comfort.