Boanerges was surprised no one had written about Kristallnacht, which happened eighty years ago Friday. I don’t want to disappoint.
The day before yesterday was the eightieth anniversary of Kristallnacht. It was ostensibly a spontaneous reaction to the shooting of a German diplomat, Ernst von Rath, by a seventeen year old Jewish kid by the name of Herschel Grynszpan. Not too spontaneous, it was actually government ordered. It is named for all the broken window glass from hundreds of synagogues, thousands of Jewish businesses, and God knows how many homes, all of course with no police protection, and also involved nearly a hundred murders.
What kind of backlash was there in Germany (or Austria, which was by then part of Germany)? By then, a backlash would have been dangerous to the point of suicidal. By then, resistance to the Nazis had to be underground.
We’ve seen a rise in antisemitism here ever since Donald Trump became the Republican nominee for the Presidency. The number of hate crimes rose drastically. Antisemitic images were used in Trump’s campaign ads online, mainly taken from antisemitic websites (including a Star of David showing up in an anti-Hillary ad), the march in Charlottesville was in part defended by the President, and two weeks ago we saw the largest mass killing of Jews only in American history.
But this isn’t Nazi Germany, this is America, and here the backlash has been widespread and very broad-based. The guys marching in Charlottesville wearing swastikas, carrying semiautomatic weapons, and chanting “Jews will not replace us” were vastly outnumbered by protesters and, when they went home, many who had been videotaped found themselves in big trouble with their employers, neighbors, sometimes families. The President’s “good people on both sides” comment was vilified very widely, and not only on the Left.
And then the Squirrel Hill Tree of Life Synagogue shooting happened. There was not silence. There was the opposite of silence. Pittsburgh basically mobilized to support the synagogue, including the sports teams. One funeral was attended by the Steelers. Solidarity services were held the following Friday night by synagogues across the country. A go-fund-me campaign was started on behalf of the synagogue and another effort involved collections for funeral expenses; what might be unexpected about both these efforts is that both were initiated by Muslims with a further offer from the Muslim community to escort nervous Jews around Pittsburgh in the aftermath of these - an echo of what synagogues offered to Muslims in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. By the way, when I attended the solidarity service at Temple here, a Muslim couple attended the service.
There is antisemitism here, make no mistake about it, and it’s getting worse. These days the majority of religion based hate crimes in America target us. We’ll have armed protection, often by the police, at major services - in North Carolina, where my congregation was much larger, every Friday night service and every service that used the main sanctuary involved an armed presence at the entrance. For the High Holy Days, the entrances to our parking lot were guarded by police.
But, unlike in Nazi Germany in 1938, we are not alone. There are certainly communities within the United States who don’t get as much support as they should in the face of bigotry but, generally speaking, they’re not alone either. We aren’t yet close to where we should be in terms of civil rights but when a Trayvon Martin is killed the reaction is not remotely restricted to the Black community. We may not have a majority but we have enough that we are not cowed into silence.
Some think an equivalent to the Holocaust could happen here. Discrimination could happen here but nothing like what happened in Nazi Germany. Why? Because the United States does not have a Master Race. Our nationality is not based on ethnicity, whereas Nazi Germany was based completely on ethnicity. (Inaccurately as it turns out - genetically, Germany consists of two separate ethnicities, pretty evenly divided.) A lack of a national ethnicity has another advantage: Because, at least in part, of the citizenship process, minorities can integrate pretty thoroughly within a generation or two.
America is by no means paradise. There are a lot of dangerous things happening here, including economic trends that could, unchecked, turn us into a Third World country. We are not nearly as far along on civil rights as we should be.
But we’re not alone. And that’s the main reason I’m grateful to veterans. We come from places where the economy was bad, where we were unwanted, or both. We had a place to land, a place where while we have to watch our backs sometimes, it’s just nothing like where we came from. It doesn’t matter where we came from, we belong here now. It sounds cliched, it sounds almost 1950’s or wartime propaganda, but it’s true. I’m grateful to the people who protect this. When the President of the United States suggested banning adherents of a particular religion to come here, Dick Cheney’s first reaction was “That’s unAmerican” and he’s obviously no leftist.
It’s eighty years later and I don’t have to worry about my windows. Even with a mezuzah on the doorpost.
Enjoy your Veterans’ Day