Everything old is new again, says the popular song and adage. The old threat of anti-Semitism, which we saw rise to a horrifying degree during the rule of the Nazis in Europe, had never extended to our country’s shores, especially in the modern era that followed World War II. That all became a historical aberration with the deaths of 11 synagogue attendees in Pittsburgh last month.
Many of us who had been born after the Holocaust or who lived during that terrible time, had hoped the kinds of horrific acts that man perpetrated against his fellow man would never be repeated in the U.S. We praised this country for its tacit acceptance of Jews into society, even though there were undercurrents of anti-Semitism that occurred in polite society in cities and towns throughout America until the more enlightened recent times.
It was for these reasons that Jewish federations grew out of necessity and other Jewish institutions like the Anti-Defamation League were created.
In recent years, the need for Jewish hospitals to fight quotas and Jewish institutions of higher education to ensure our student populations would be accepted had diminished. Despite the brutalization of segments of Jewish populations in Europe and the Middle East, America had never allowed Jews to be slaughtered in the streets or in synagogues. That was, until Pittsburgh.
The most horrific episode of sustained violence, dehumanization and depravity perpetrated against the Jewish people began in Germany on November 9, 1938 and became known as Kristallnacht or “The night of Broken Glass.” Historians consider it the real beginning of the Holocaust or Shoah.
On this infamous 80th anniversary, we have a great deal to be concerned about. These turbulent times remind us how tenuous life is and how the darkness of hate can threaten us even in times where we find ourselves basking in the light of religious freedom and civil liberty.
Pittsburgh should be a wakeup call and Kristallnacht should be a reminder that we must take care of ourselves and be vigilant against all enemies. The enemies that wear swastikas and espouse hate are easy to recognize. Those that brandish weapons or hold tiki lights chanting anti-Semitic slogans are also evident. Sometimes, though, other enemies can be found within our own community who in their attempt to protest policies wind up doing the bidding of our avowed enemies.
Jews who attack Israel and propose pro-BDS legislation are brandishing their own kinds of weapons and firing their own bullets into us as a people.
These new bullets could have the same kind of deadly force used against our relatives and ancestors in Europe during Kristallnacht. Perhaps those that chant Jewish songs and rail against the Jewish State should now see that they, too, are creating a horrible schism in Jewish America that can have deadly consequences too. By dividing our people, well-intentioned Jewish activists and protestors are becoming the pawns of those who would destabilize and demonize Israel, our ancestral home and the eternal home of the Jewish people.
Because these efforts can diminish our solidarity as a people, we must recognize that in the long run, these kinds of protests pitting Jews against Jews can be just as dangerous as bullets fired from guns.
On this ignoble anniversary, let us first consider the plight of European Jews 80 years ago and with hindsight where they would end. Also, on this date, we in the United States think about where we are today and where we as a people and a nation should be.