. . . that it never dawned on me that the dwarves in Snow White, etc., are Jews—especially because I was already familiar with this and this and a slew of earlier print sources (see e.g., the “Lead” section of Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table, Richard Wagner’s descriptions of Jews, etc.) as well as stuff like this, and so on.
Anyway, just no idea where my game was at for this one to have given me the slip for four decades.
In the weeks since Charlottesville there’s been a fair bit of “What can we[*] do about hate?” talk—on social media, in NYT and WaPo and Slate op-eds and think pieces, out on the street and around supper tables.As someone in a class of folks disproportionately on the receiving end of the most resent paroxysm of hate, I have a suggestion:
Take “Awesome Baby Steps”
EXAMPLE: Last week the skatepark in my town—the one my son and I go to, the one lots of kids in this area (and, notably, lots of brown kids) use—got hit with motor oil (intended to ruin the concrete for skating) and dozens of swastikas and slurs.
The city, of course, responded in no time, and had it all clean in hours—God bless ’em.
I went to skate there the next and found two things:1) that the park was uncharacteristically busy for an early Saturday morning, all happy families showing resolve; and 2) it was covered in this new chalk graffiti
It’ll sound dumb, but this made me feel better.This, in fact, moved me to tears. Folks punching Nazis in Charlottesville did not move me to tears or make me feel safer.Neither did folks tearing down statues (although I nonetheless applaud that, and more so applaud the many cities who have covered and removed statues in the meantime—because tearing down the participation trophies handed out to white supremacists, nominally honoring traitors, is what you should do after winning a war).
But kids coming out with chalk to make sure I knew that they continued to welcome me in civil society did make me feel better. In fact, it made me feel better in excess of the amount the defacement had made me feel awful—and that slap in the face had left me livid and enraged and absolutely nauseated with a dread so atavistic that I sorta imagine it’s more akin to what a mouse exposed in vacant stubble feels than to any un-fun emotion an employable White man might know. (This isn’t to say that White men don’t know bad times; it’s to say that there is a very specific flavor to being history’s perpetual prey).
Those kids with their chalk, that was an Awesome Baby Step. It didn’t take much—not much money, not much time, not much risk—but it made me feel a great deal better. The pay-off was totally disproportionate.
Again, I know this likely sounds silly. “Dave,” you’re thinking, “You know us! We see you every day when you’re walking your dog; we nod at each other and wave. You know we’re cool with you!”
Listen: You can never, ever presume that the folks targeted by hate can continue to feel confident that you are OK with them being Americans. Don’t argue with me about it being stupid or paranoid or insulting—it’s just a fact of life. In fact, the ability to look at rank-and-file White people with confidence and feel that this person has your back is the first thing to slip. After all, someone voted for Trump, despite all the things he said. Someone buys those Confederate flag stickers, someone goes to those rallies, someone breaks out the spray-paint, someone dials in the bomb threats. It’s just not a possible state of affairs that every White person I see is one of the “Good Guys” and all the bigots are magically somewhere else—but also close enough to trash my skatepark, flyer my streets, drive through my neighborhoods, vote in our elections, etc., etc., etc.
So, here’s one example of an Awesome Baby Step you can almost certainly do almost immediately:
Start being super friendly to people of color every day
Nothing crazy, just always make a point to smile and acknowledge and greet—like, constantly: When you pass on the sidewalk, walk into a building, at the checkout line, whatever.
The best case scenario is that these folks—who may have taken some hateful shit recently—feel less on the outs with the country. The worst case scenario is people think you are just a super friendly person.Either way, none of us think “This person is coming to hurt us.” It’s either a win-win, or just a win.The odds are with you.
(If this seems disjoint—what with me mostly talking about anti-Semitism to this point, and now I’m talking about people of color, and the Venn Diagram of “brown” and “Jewish” in America is frightfully close to just being a pair of tangent circles—just know this: My lived experience, and that of most Jews I know, is that White people who are shitty to people of color are fairly likely to be shitty to Jews, too.)
Another Baby Step in Being Awesome:
When folks get targeted with words of hate, take a moment to counteract that with words of support
EXAMPLE: Our local Jewish Family Services got a bomb threat last Monday.(In case you don’t know JFS, they aren’t an agency specifically offering services to Jewish families, but rather a non-profit founded by Jewish families to offer services in general, sorta returning the favor for the support many of our families received as refugees in the 20th Century). Our local JFS is the primary agency handling refugee resettlement for Syrians here in Ann Arbor. That particular building is also a food pantry for struggling families in general. So, threatening to bomb them isn’t just an attack on Jews: It’s an attack on the poor in general, and immigrants of all sort.It’s a mean, small-hearted, fucked-up thing to do. (Not for nothing, but if you are a White person pissed off that White families are struggling, I can tell you for a fact that JFS is handing out food support to just those exact White families that you, as a White Supremacist, want to see helped. So, really, what the fuck?! Let us feed your people, OK?)
You probably feel bad learning that some jackass felt the need to totally derail a day of JFS trying to help immigrants and poor people (people who, more so than most, can hardly afford to “come back tomorrow; we’re closed because of a bomb threat.”) Maybe you want to bend the arc of the moral universe back toward justice—but don’t know what to do. Try this:
Call JFS, tell them you support what they do, and make a donation—even a tiny one.Multiples of $18 are a traditional sum among Jews (it’s symbolic of Life), but anything is fine—or just voicing your support: 734-769-0209
As a Jew—as one of the JEWS that was told last week that his skatepark and his wife (a “white woman”) were not for him, that he should DIE—I don’t particularly care what is in any of your hearts, because your heart isn’t going to kill me.
It’s your hands that will kill me.And so I’m watching your hands.I am wary, because wariness is what got my grandfather (Z”L) out of Ukraine before he joined his father in a ditch.Wariness is what got my Aunt Lola (Z”L) through Auschwitz and to these shining shores.
Right now, your fingers dialing the phone, your voice, your words, your eye contact and smile are THE MOST IMPORTANT THING. Use them to take awesome baby steps.
It is 2017:You can take baby steps toward white supremacy, or baby steps away.There’s no standing still anymore—because there never really was.
[*] “We” in this case has disproprtionately—sometimes explicitely, more often implicitely—been White people (and nominally White people, like myself). So I’m addressing that crowd—but let’s be real: These baby steps work for all of us. See also MLK’s 8 Commandments.
I wrote about this via Twitter back in January. I’ll more-or-less re-iterate what I shared then here. I don’t know why I feel compelled to do this (again), apart from the fact that, as the years go on, I realize that this anecdote is, more so than the Torah or Midrash or anything else, the primary text by which I attempt to understand the nature of God. And Judaism is a religion that has, despite poor odds, survived, and it has done so on the basis of repetition: I say the words that my dad said that my grandfather said that his parents said; I teach them to my children to repeat, maybe out in front of a crowd, maybe in candlelight away from windows. But the words are repeated, and we persist, a thin red thread stretching through human history. And when I cannot believe in anything else—as is frequently the case—I can believe in the worthiness of that task, and my fitness toward taking it up: I can persist in the repetition of the words, I can take them a little farther down the road.
I’ve got a lot to say about this but I bet you can guess most of it. And the parts you can’t guess… there’s no room for them here.
Like, for example, here’s a thing: When I was in college I used to participate in this thing in the Diag, where for 24hr we’d read names of…
…Holocaust victims. The names were on these ledger sheets in a big, thick binder. I’d always take an overnight shift, 3 or 4am, reading out…
…into the dark, telling cold air and trees and sleeping crows the names of the dead. The ledger sheets, there were columns for name, number…
…birth place and date, death place and date. Maybe some other stuff. The first time I did this, I hit a patch where there were no names…
…just numbers. The birth and death dates were close together—not much more than a year, as I recall, some much less—and the birth and death…
…places were both camps. These were infants born in camp, numbered, and then taken elsewhere to die or be executed. No names, so I read …
… their numbers, told them to the cold air and the trees and the sleeping crows and the dark and the handful of Jews standing around w/ me…
…I know a lot about the Holocaust. I know numbers, I know places, I know people. I’ve seen pictures and films, I know stories that are…
…published and well known, and others that are between me and the person who no longer remembers them (z”l). I think about all of them…
… often. But I think of those pages of numbers, the empty column for names, those infants, that dark, the crows most often. B/c I feel…
… more than any other, that fact, that moment, has something important to tell me about the Nature of God and the Nature of Humans. And…
… 20 years on, I still have no idea what precisely that is.
Except for maybe that, nowadays, I think of it and, for no particular reason, I think of Malachi 3:18—which you can look up on your own.
I lumped this into my “Take Action” category, not because there is any particular action you should take today, but so that you maybe might meditate on this story further, as you go about your days. Because someday you will need to take action, and all I can do for you is prime you for that not-at-all-good moment.
Actually, on reflection, there is an action to take today: Tell this to your sons and daughters. This is thing, it was a grand—almost inconceivably grand—project humans undertook. Not monsters. Not one Very Bad Man—worse even than Pharaoh or Bashar al-Assad—but just normal human beings—tons of them, whole nations of them, doing their jobs. No more, no less.
The argument looks kosher—there’s a neat graphic, and even footnotes to a reputable, impartial source!But if you actually look at the link indicated for footnote #2, you find pretty much nothing other than this graphic:
While this graph does show 46% of Jews to be in the top 18% of earners (the largest percentage for an identified American religious group), it is not possible to extrapolate what percentage of which religious persuasions occupy the 1% from this graphic (i.e., those earning in the $500,000 to $1.2 million range).
Anyway, just another reminder that on November 8, 2016 me and my kids were fired from being White—again. 🇺🇸🔥
A couple summers back my wife and I watched THE PURGE on Netflix.We weren’t expecting great chops as either sci-fi or horror (it’s sort of the lazier ends of both), but we were both sorta taken aback by how bafflingly racist the whole thing was.
Just to be super-duper clear: I’m not saying that the filmmaker is racist (I don’t really have any clue who the guy is; he looks white-ish in pictures, but who knows—or really cares—what his identity is).I’m not saying the actors are racist.I’m not saying that any aspect of the conscious intent of the film is racist. In fact, it sorta goes out of its way to be tokenishly multicultural and non-racist (the only totally morally uncompromised primary character is the nameless black male, one of the more prominent secondary characters is a black woman, there’s an Asian man in the mix, and all of the villains are white and explicitly upper-class)—which what was precisely what made it so baffling: even though the film worked to be formally racially progressive, both my wife and I (nominally white people) found ourselves queasy with some of the lines these actors were obliged to say (specifically constantly and exclusively referring to the black man as a “pig”) and found ourselves almost simultaneously asking aloud mid-film:
“Jeez!How the hell would a black person feel watching this?”
Or, more to the point, how would a black person feel watching this film knowing what I know?
Because, through a crazy coincidence, I happened to know something about this film not immediately apperent to average viewers, but certainly known to the filmmakers:
The film opens with a montage of faux surveillance cam footage of various violent crimes, establishing the cultural mood of this near-future dystopia (you see some of this montage at around the 26sec mark in the trailer embedded above).The sort of things you’d expect: Liquor store robberies, riots, a woman getting held up at an ATM, a black man with a sawed off shotgun jumping a police station lobby counter and firing at police officers, etc.
But here’s the catch: I recognized that last piece of footage, which I’d stumbled across in 2013 doing research for a client.It was not faux anything; it was actual CCTV footage from a Detroit police station.The black man with the shotgun was 38 year-old Lamar Moore, his motive is still unknown, and he died during that attack. In fact, he was fatally shot just after the piece of footage used in THE PURGE‘s mood-setting montage.
The final, violent minutes of a black man’s life were used to set the mood for a mediocre Ethan Hawke vehicle.Someone found that footage and edited it in.Someone made sure the rights were cleared, so they wouldn’t get stung on copyright infringement later.And that someone didn’t seem to think, in the wake of the killing of Trayvon Martin, that this might plausibly be a sore spot for anyone (for example, 37 million Americans).
This, for me, finally highlighted the bright line difference between “racism” and “white supremacy.”Racism is really about a conscious framework, a deeply seated belief that people of color or Jews or immigrants or whoever have certain essential characteristics that make them unfit.White supremacy is assigning the interests of white people primacy–generally in complete ignorance of the experience of non-Whites, in much the same way that you probably never think about the impact patching a hole in your eaves has on the squirrels who’d set up house in your attic.A racist thinks black people are lazy and Jews are greedy cheats (or whatever), while the vast majority of rank-and-file white supremacists probably don’t think about them at all.While all white racists are implicitly white supremacists, not all white supremacists are necessarily racist.
Do the makers of THE PURGE think ill of black people?I don’t think so–but I also don’t think they honestly considered the existence of black viewers as sentient entities who might view this film and think “What the fuck are you people doing?!”
’cause Donald Trump is the guy who’s says stuff like this:
“Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day. … I think that the guy is lazy. And it’s probably not his fault, because laziness is a trait in blacks. It really is, I believe that. It’s not anything they can control.”
Meanwhile, I’m a Jew, and even if I’d never met another Jew in my life, I’ve still met me.And earlier today I was hanging out with Brian, and he’s black, and he–likewise–has met himself (as well as his sister, his children, his parents, etc., etc., etc.)Obviously, we’ve met each other.
And I really and sincerely do not believe that Donald Trump is so tremendously stupid or naive that he honestly believes that he is less anti-Semitic than every living Jew and less racist than every living African American.
As such, the only possible way that he could believe the sentence “I’m the least anti-Semitic/racist person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life” is if he either doesn’t conceive of Brian and me as being part of the “you” he is speaking to (which is weird, since I heard him say that in a live presser, and therefore literarily was part of that “you” at the very moment he spoke) or he does not conceive of us as being “people.”
Does this make him a racist or an anti-Semite?No, not at all; he’s a white supremacist, and he really and honestly doesn’t even think about me and Brian existing at all, nor how his words and silences impact our lives.
I imagine some of you are getting damn tired of hearing this, all this whining and “identity politics” that “divide America” by “drawing attention to our differences” because, after all, we’re all the same underneath. I hear you, and I understand. But I’m absolutely terrified that, in the absence of me saying this stuff, then you aren’t thinking about the fact that I exist at all, and might just do things—or fail to do things—that get me and my children killed.
UPDATE: Exactly twenty minutes after posting this I got an email telling me that a bomb threat had been called into my daughter’s daycare at 9:10 AM. They’ve evacuated the building, and my daughter is currently being hidden someplace secure, someplace I do not know where she is, while they sweep the building.
So here we are. This is my day. This is America in 2017.
That number sounds bad—but you don’t really have a benchmark for this, right?I mean, you ask yourself “Well, how often do folks call bomb threats into YMCAs or non-Jewish daycares?”, and the answer is “Basically zero”—so that sounds bad.But then you poke around online, and find that U.S. schools get over a thousand bomb threats every year (in fact, I used to teach at an alternative school, and one of my students—a very sweet and peaceful kid when I knew him—had been kicked out of his last school for making a bomb threat).And how often do schools get bombed?(Actually, bombs are placed at schools more than you think: According to some old ATF numbers, nearly 100 devces are placed each year in schools).
If January 2017 is indicative, then we can expect 600 bomb threats this year.And if bomb threats generally correlate to the volume and volatility of anti-Semitic hate floating around out there . . . well, you can do the math.
I want to talk about why this picture absolutely breaks my heart, but fist I want to talk about that quote in the title. It comes from a “congratulatory address” penned by Rabbi Moses Seixas of the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, and presented to President George Washington. Washington, in his reply, mirrors Rabbi Seixas’s language, but gives us the slightly more familiar formulation, callings ours a government “which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” But I really like the full paragraph, so I offer it now:
It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it was the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily, the government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.
I like that he starts to poke a whole in “tolerance” right from the birth of our nation—I myself am done with being “tolerated,” like a fart in an elevator or a tax you can’t dodge. You can accept me as your fellow citizen, or deride me as a Jew, but I’m not going to be tolerated or indulged. And I like that he finishes by saying “all we want us for everyone—and anyone—to show up and be good citizens to all.” I can pledge my allegiance to such words.
And, yes, America has done a crap job of giving bigotry no sanction over the years, but as a Vision Statement it’s solid, and viewed over the course of the centuries, we’ve pretty steadiy progressed.
Until now, and because of this man. In the last year—and at an accelerating clip—we’ve raced backward. Today—and I’m telling you this as a fact, based on my actual experience of actual events, and a lifetime of actually keeping an eye on actual trends in how folks think of Jews—we’ve slid back decades. The sort of anti-Semitic garbage folks haven’t pulled since I was a kid are back and feisty as ever.
And President-Elect Tantrum hasn’t done shit. In the weeks following his “electoral triumph” he literally spent more time hassling actors than he did decrying hate crimes and all-around shittiness being done in his name and on behalf of his team.
And there’s the man himself, draped in a prayer shawl—something I wore at my bar mitzvah, that I wore at my own wedding and while officiating a wedding, that I wear on our High Holy Days—and it kills me. Not just to see something sacred ripped from its context and used as a damned fashion accessory (and apart from the weird vein of quasi-crypto-Judaic cultural appropriation that has long pulsed through Detroit’s black Evangelical communities), but to see it on a man who can’t be bothered to extend the minimum effort toward Doing the Right Thing.
Jesus! His most beloved daughter—the daughter that, bizarely, is I guess going to be First Lady somehow?—is Jewish! (she converted) Yet even then, he can’t be bothered to speak out against anti-Semitism. And if he can’t be bothered to speak out against a rising tide that would like to see his daughter killed, cremated, and scattered to the sea, what the hell can I possibly expect from him when it comes everyone else, the blacks and browns and queers and immigrants and whoevers with whom he seems to have absolutely no personal contact.
George W. Bush—a terrible president responsible for terrible suffering—did the right thing in situations like this. It’s one of the very basic components of presidenting: Being reassuring and calming when the shit hits the fan. Obama has been fantastic at it; both Bushes had their moments, Clinton could do it, Reagan certainly did (sorry. that’s as far back as I personally go with presidents).
And yet this guy won’t. And that’s unforgivable.
So what do I need for this to be good, for us to move forward and me to be able to grit my teeth and say “President Trump”?
When I’m wearing my tallit on Yom Kippur, I’m told that three things “soften the Lord’s harsh decree” as It considers our failings:
And that’s what I want: A president who says “It was a cock-up not to get on this sooner,” gives some evidence of thinking meaningfully and deeply about how he’s fanned these flames and what he needs to do to stop doing so, and takes some sort of action to show solidarity with us, the people of all of the protected classes who are now checking our locks, keeping an eye peeled, and sleeping light every night.
Trump transition team has been publicly mulling over creating/reviving a “Muslim Registry.” The Intercept started calling social media/tech companies and only one—Twitter—said “We’d never help with this!” (FYI, IBM has been down this road before, and yet still somehow doesn’t know the right answer to this question). Yesterday, Facebook finally clearly said “No way! We won’t do it! We’d never build a Muslim Regsitry!”
But here’s the thing:
As I pointed out back in Jan 2015, these companies have already built these databases. They know when you are sleeping, they know when you’re awake, they know if you’ve been bad or good or if you even give two shits about Santa Claus.
More to the point, the abstract threat I wrote about back in Jan 2015, when it freaked me out a little that Amazon had clearly flagged me as a Jew, became real in the Spring of 2016 when a bomb threat was called in to the Jewish Community Center housing my daughter’s daycare. Because I sit on the Board of our congregation (which uses that building regularly for our religious services), I ended up touching base with the local police and FBI agents investigating the incident. As it turned out six JCCs across the U.S. (in locales as far-flung as St. Louis, New York, and Louisiana) received the same threats at the same time—and all had very similar names. When I did some googling, I found that all of us were listed together alphabetically in online Jewish education directories, with our phone numbers and addresses. I.e., someone was just working their way down a list. This time around, it was just to make phone calls and fuck with us and our kids. Next time? Who knows; here’s what said in 2015, and it’s still about the same:
[I]n Amazon’s datacenter, I’m a row in a table. The index on that row is something like “CUSTOMER #2045674” and the cells include “kindle-owner” and “SF reader” and “owl pellet buyer” and “Jew” and my mailing address. Just another row, among millions–until that table gets resorted by the “Jew” column, and then I’m a box waiting to be ticked off by God-knows-who for God-knows-what-reason. Maybe they want to send me free Xanukah candles! Maybe they want to send me a bomb disguised as a printer cartridge! I guess I’ll have to wait for the mail man to come and find out then!
So I guess it’s swell that Facebook and IBM and Amazon and whoever else would never-ever-ever build the Muslim Registry they already built, but what if they maybe entirely accidentally do build a registry (which they already built, which is already being used to facilitate hate crimes and international terror)? What then?