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.

9 Comments

  1. Andrew Tobias on April 8, 2021 at 6:53 pm

    Beautifully said.

  2. ALLEN Gene HIRSH on April 8, 2021 at 11:36 pm

    Right on, as usual.

    • Marvin Tupper Jones on April 9, 2021 at 3:26 pm

      Thank you, Gene.

    • Marvin Tupper Jones on April 9, 2021 at 3:28 pm

      Thank you, Gene. I’m reminded how my elders knew little about our families’ role fighting against slavery in the 1860’s.

  3. karen lampert on April 9, 2021 at 12:51 pm

    do you know how many siblings bubbie had?

    • Gene Meyer on April 9, 2021 at 4:00 pm

      There were 5 children total, including our grandmother Rochel (Rose), aka, Bubby, married 1900 to Isaac Lempert, who immigrated to US in 1904, brought her and our aunt Bessie (ne Basia) over in 1907. The others were Chaim, drowned c.1900, in Riga; Velvel (Wolf), owned tannery, killed by the Nazis 12/7/1941; Dvora-Elka, same fate; Yussel (Yosef), also perished in Holocaust. Two siblings, Velvel and Dvoa-Elka, married in Volozhin and had children, most of them killed in Holocaust, though one was in the Polish army and went to Palestine after the war, and two others (children of Dvora-Elka) made it to Palestine before the war. Velvel and his wife Genasia were murdered in Voloshin, as were two of their children and grandchildren. The only survivor of Velel and Genasia was our cousin Simcha, who escaped and joined the partisans. He immigrated to the US in 1948 with his second wife Pescha, whom we knew as Paula.

      • Karen on April 10, 2021 at 4:43 pm

        Remarkable tear jerking recounting. Did our grandpa Isaac have any siblings? Parents? Do you know their fate? Perski came here also with his son Willie…. I’m
        Sending them this story

  4. Bob Frank on April 9, 2021 at 6:32 pm

    It is a conundrum that people can now get away with hateful and mind warping statements on the internet and face no ramifications. They operate under a veil of anonymity or live a life where it does not much matter to them what sane empathic people reply. It seems that both the first and second amendments are being misapplied and abused to enable evil elements to gain and exercise power. The misinterpretation of these amendments is in direct contradiction of the purpose of the Constitution, as described in the preamble, to “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

  5. Tara Rothstein on April 11, 2021 at 1:27 pm

    Thank you Gene for, as ever, writing some very touching, deep and eye opening observations. Not to mention that I love reading about our family history, even though it can get dark.

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