How ironic it is that as we mark the end of Passover, celebrating the Jews’ exodus from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land, it is also the week of Holocaust Remembrance Day – Yom Ha Shoah – recalling when Jews were delivered not from slavery but to the killing fields and gas chambers.
As a Jewish teenager in 1950s America, I knew next to nothing about the Nazi genocide that included almost my entire family on my mother’s side in the small town of Volozhin, in what is today Belarus. The grownups didn’t want to talk about it, and I didn’t think to ask. In fact, I was too busy living in the present, which meant being an all-American kid, identifying as Jewish but at a safe distance from the then still recent events that had taken my European great aunts, great uncles and cousins. I didn’t even know their names or relationships, though they included all of my grandmother’s siblings. The subject was just never discussed.
Fast forward more than half a century and the subject is unavoidable, as the slogan “Never Again” is mocked by a shocking increase in hate crimes–aimed at African Americans, Asian Americans, and, yes, Jews, both White and Jews of Color.
Until recent years, many American Jews felt shielded, immune to the toxic hate of antisemitism. Then came the Tree of Life synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh, “Jews will not replace us” and “many fine people on both sides” at Charlottesville, and classic anti-Semitic tropes from “the other guy” and his followers, and Auschwitz summer camp attire worn at the Jan. 6 insurrection.
So, to those Jews who would minimize such threats, please check your White Privilege at the door. There is no vaccine to end this age old existential pandemic. We American Jews remain vulnerable to the outlandish bizarre conspiracy theories of QAnon finding their way into the mainstream and spouted even by a member of Congress.
Gone are the more subtle prejudices of “Gentlemen’s Agreement,” the 1947 film, based on a novel by Laura Z. Hobson, that won the Oscar for best picture of the year. There is nothing the least bit subtle about the vile rhetoric one hears today. Increasingly, it’s us — the besieged minorities–against them, the American heirs of the murderous Nazis who, as my mother put it, “destroyed” our family.
So, as we segue from Passover to Yom Ha Shoah, the Day of Remembrance, let us not allow ritual to substitute for action. Instead, let us stay strong and united, because, in 2021, the struggle continues.