What Comes After the Paint and Swastikas

(N.B. I originally wrote this for my congregation, but I figured some of the rest if you might benefit from the message, too.)

You almost certainly heard about the desecration of a Jewish cemetery in Grand Rapids shortly before the election,“TRUMP” and “MAGA” spray-painted over the names of the honored dead.

[source]

Maybe these pictures worried you.  Maybe they frightened you.  Maybe they embarrassed you—because, let’s be honest: it’s shameful to be bullied, to get the “Kick Me!” sign pasted to your back again and again, century after century.  

Or maybe you didn’t feel much of anything. Maybe you’ve grown numb; one more slap in the face at the tail end of four years of unprovoked suckerpunches, it can all sort of blur together. I get that.

I don’t exactly have words for how it made me feel.

I saw these pictures of the Jewish cemetery in Grand Rapids, and I immediately thought back to the swastikas spray painted on Temple Jacob last winter, way up in the Upper Peninsula town of Hancock.  And I thought about the dozens of swastikas and slurs defacing our local skatepark back in 2017.   

(I go to that skatepark a lot.  It was hard not to take it personally.)

And I thought about the increase in anti-Jewish hate-crimes here in America over the past four years.  I thought about the increasingly violent nature of those crimes.

I thought about the bomb threats. And the synagogue shootings.  And the stabbings.  And the rallies.  And the men with guns in the capitol.  

And so on.

And I felt hopeless. And I was afraid.

So I emailed the rabbi of Congregation Ahavas Israel (who maintain the cemetery in Grand Rapids that was desecrated on election’s eve). I wrote to voice our support and solidarity, and ask what they might need to restore the cemetery.  

Rabbi David J.B. Krishef replied almost immediately:

“Hi Dave — the cemetery was cleaned by a small group of people who live around the corner and took it upon themselves to clean the stones without even letting us know what they were doing, and a few other people, including one from Ann Arbor, who drove in and decided to wash the paint off. We are grateful for all of the love and support and positive notes we’ve received.” 

It dawned on me that this second half of the story is rarely reported, but often the case:

A lone jackass skulks around smearing his petty foulness in the dark; the whole community—not just Jews, but people from all over the community unwilling to let ugliness linger—return in the light to set things right.

That’s what happened in the cemetery in Grand Rapids.  And when I went back and checked, I discovered it’s what happened at Temple Jacob in Hancock.  

And that’s what happened here in Ann Arbor, too; I know, because I saw it:  I went to the skatepark the day after it was tagged. The city had already power-washed away the paint. And unknown members of the community at large had come through with colored chalk and, evey place where there’d been a symbol of hate, replaced it with a message of welcoming and love:

[source]

What I saw in Ann Arbor was not the exception; it was the rule, even now, in this time of widely reported “unprecedented division and unrest.” And maybe it feels like we’re mired in a time of unprecedented division and unrest because we only report the first half of the story—the smeared paint, the thrown punch, the shots fired—and then move on to the next catastrophe, without checking back to see what comes after the paint and the screaming: a nation of folks ready to take it upon themselves to fix whatever any single angry loner chooses to break.

Well, I guess President Trump was right: Illegal immigrants *do* come here to hurt Americans…

… he was just 100% wrong about which border they crossed illegally, and what they looked like:

“Derail some fucking trains, kill some people, and poison some water supplies. You better be fucking ready to do those things.”

Patrik Jordan Mathews, December 1, 2019
Patrik Jordan Mathews: AWOL Canadian Demolitions Expert and neo-Nazi

Accused Neo-Nazis Arrested Ahead of Virginia Gun Rally

This is the age of war. This is the age of entire this is the age of strife, this is the century upon which this current civilizations rotting Jew infested country comes to a collapse. You were born in the wrong century for complacency. That’s all for now.

Patrik Jordan Mathews, on or before December 13, 2019

Feds: White supremacists hoped rally would start civil war

While residing in Georgia, Mathews stated that he “only exists for the White Revolution now.” Mathews further stated that he wanted to remain a “ghost” and oversee safe houses for Base members who need to disappear. Mathews stated that once there are a few “ghosts,” they could begin doing “jobs,” by which Mathews meant targeted violence or attacks.

excerpt from the legal motion requesting Mathews’ detention pending trial

Based on other statements in the legal motion, these targets were likely to be Jewish- or African-Americans. I’ve mentioned Mathews’ had been hiding out in Michigan, yeah? And I live in Michigan? And my family and I, we’re the kinds of Americans he came here to kill?

Contact Your Reps: The PotUS Needs to Stop Sanctioning Bigotry🇺🇸🔥

Here’s the email I sent my reps last night.  Maybe you wanna tell your reps something similar.  It’s been more than a year, and the President is no better at this than he was before he was sworn in. Maybe Congress needs to try something different—’cause all the nothing they’ve done thus far hasn’t had the intended effect (*grumbles* lousy beatniks).

SUBJECT: The PotUS sanctions bigotry, assists persecution

Dear [NAME TK],

I was truly and deeply dismayed this morning to read the President’s remarks on the recent NFL decision to fine players who kneel during the National Anthem.  Specifically:

“You have to stand, proudly, for the national anthem. Or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.”

Just to be clear, I don’t particularly care for football, nor for labor practices within the NFL.  If that employer wants to set a weird (to me) rule about how to comport oneself during pre-game musical performances, then that’s for those employers, their employees, those employees’ union, and the courts to sort out.

I’m not even that concerned to hear a President so blithely unaware of existing First Amendment precedent; sure, I learned about cases like West VA State Board of Ed v. Barnette in middle school, but not everyone benefited from my fine education, and not every President can be a noted Constitutional scholar.

But I’m extremely concerned when I hear a sitting U.S. President breezily opine that a group of people who believe differently than he “shouldn’t be in the country.”  I grew up in a community with a very small number of Jehovah’s Witnesses—folks who, for religious reasons, do not pledge allegiance or stand for the National Anthem.  As a Jew, I did not share their beliefs—but I was taught, by my family, my faith leaders, and my teachers, that their beliefs were worthy of my respect.  More to the point, I was taught that their beliefs were due equal protection under the law—just like mine.

President Washington promised us a government “which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”  President Trump, meanwhile, sanctions bigotry and assists persecution—with these words, and with countless other utterances and decrees, tweets and executive orders.  In the decade before Trump my local Jewish Community Center received zero threats. Within 18 months of his nomination, we’d had two.  We hadn’t had run-ins with white supremacists here since the mid-1990s.  Last year our skatepark was festooned with dozens of swastikas and emblazoned with “JEWS DIE” and “WHITE WOMEN NO NIGGERS OR JEWS.”

Violent crime in general is trending down in the U.S., but hate crimes continue to climb—and speaking out against any element of that rising tide of hate and bias seems to run the risk of having a target painted on your back by a big bully, who we inexplicably permit to continue to bludgeon private citizens from his bully pulpit, uncensured.

What the hell are we supposed to do to feel safe?

Sincerely,

David Erik Nelson

SOURCES:

(This "America golem" is Nazi propaganda from WWII, but remarkably apt these days.)
(This “America golem” is Nazi propaganda from WWII, but remarkably apt these days.)

On Micro-agression and Macro-depression and Xmas/Xanukah (with bonus tracks!!!)

Hey All,
I continue to write a monthly column for the Ann Arbor Chronicle. This time around it’s on math and Jews and *The Holidays* and microagression and Thoth and Ganeesh and Hobby Lobby and so on. Somewhere in the later half I say something like this:

The Ann Arbor Chronicle | In It For The Money: Happy Holidays!

. . .
This is incredibly frustrating – because the equivalence, driven by a well-intentioned desire to be inclusive – is so needless. Xanukah isn’t a “Jewish Xmas.” It’s Xanukah – a relatively minor religious holiday celebrating a military victory. If anything, it’s sort of a Jewish Fourth of July – which is more apt, but just as nonsensical. Similarly, Ramadan isn’t a “Muslim Lent,” Diwali isn’t “Hindu Halloween” – or even a “Hindu Xanukah,” despite the fact that Diwali is also the “Festival of Lights.”
Inclusion is nice, but you do it by including others in the stuff you are doing, not by arguing that their things are sub-functions of yours. We’re not idiots; we haven’t failed to notice that the entirely secular “Holiday Break” from school conveniently centers around Xmas and the Gregorian calendar roll-over date, and that “Spring Break” is aimed to coincide with Easter – not Passover.
One of the principal privileges of being in the Majority is that you get to be, by definition, “normal.” You don’t find yourself constantly contradicted by outsiders – well-meaning television shows and well-wishers and folks planning office parties – as to what your holy days mean. You don’t have to wrestle with autocorrect about the spelling of your holidays and well wishes. You don’t have to disclose a lot of personal details to explain why this or that day is no good for a meeting, because no one schedules a meeting for December 25th.
. . .

BONUS GIFT! Back in the day I used to record Holiday Music of my Own Devising, because it was fun, and because when push comes to shove, from a strumming-and-singing-and-programming-sequencers perspective, there are *a lot* of great Xmas songs. Here are my offerings, in reverse chronological order. Enjoy!

(FUN FACT: I wrote this while hanging out with my infant son all day, and have played it annually ever since; my son believes it is an accepted part of the general Xmas Music Canon.)

  • Dreidel Bells (FUN FACT: The beat here is an original GameBoy running an early German Nanoloop cartridge. Both voices are obviously me, but the filters for the robot voice badly overburdened my iBook, causing significant lag–which is why Mr. Roboto struggles so badly to hit his marks.)
  • DreidelDreidelDreidel (FUN FACT: The beat here is a vintage analog Boss DR-55 once owned by POE, crammed through a heavy-metal distortion stompbox.)