This isn’t antisemitism—but, straight talk: It’s really hard to argue that Ann Arbor gives a shit about its Jews

This vexes me.

Just for the record, this isn’t antisemitism. I saw this Saturday, soon after it was painted, while driving past with my kids on the way to the river. I’m one of the chairs of the Jewish safety committee for this area, so it’s safe to say that my anti-Jew radar is exquisitely well tuned.

Fuck Israel” written on a public Rock that, for decades, has been a locus of political speech?  That isn’t hate speech.

The fact is, Israel is a goddamned country.  You can say the nastiest words in the world about Israel, and as long as you keep it about the nation-state of Israel, we’re all good. It’s just like how you can criticize China or the Democratic Republic of the Congo without being racist about it. 

Meanwhile, standing outside a synagogue and holding a sign that reads “Israel Has No Right to Exist”? That is antisemitism. And folks have been doing it just a few hundred feet up the street from the goddamned Rock for 16 years and Ann Arbor has done shit about it: 

anti-Jewish protest in Ann Arbor, MI, around 2019

[source]

Bigots: Please Use Punctuation!

I’ve got no clue if your message is the command “KIKE: FREE PALESTINE 卐!” or the wish for a “KIKE-FREE PALESTINE 卐”, and that’s driving me nuts. Please, parents: Don’t just teach your children to hate Jews; teach them to use hyphens and colons properly!

Vandalized synagogue door, spray-painted: KIKE FREE PALESTINE [swastika]
[This message brought to you by
British Vandals for a Kike-Free Palestine,
and the Letter 卐]

Straight talk, though: If you’re vandalizing a synagogue in England—regardless of what words you paint—it really doesn’t have shit to do with Palestine or Israel or whatever.  Likewise, if you are holding a protest outside a synagogue (as has been the case at the synagogue ~1 mile for my house for the last 16+ years), it has nothing to do with what’s written on the signs. 

Similarly, the extremely high likelihood that right now you’re thinking “My Gosh! That is so clearly and obviously wrong, but you have to admit that Israel blah blah blah…” —that thought, it doesn’t have shit to do with Palestine, either.

The vandalism is anti-Jewish. 

The protest outside a synagogue is anti-Jewish. 

Expecting Jews in England or Michigan or—hell, anywhere OTHER THAN ISRAEL—to bear some special responsibility for Israeli domestic policy is anti-Jewish and, frankly, crazy. It’s literally the same as protesting outside a Black church because you’re upset about the ongoing lack of accountability or reconciliation from the Liberian Civil Wars, or protesting the Xinjiang internment camps by picketing outside of a Chinese restaurant.

The fact that any of what I’m saying maybe makes you uncomfortable, that’s for you to sort out.

But if you’re afraid I’m maybe implying you harbor anti-Jewish sentiment, here’s a test you can do in the privacy of your own head, and never tell anyone the outcome.  Do you agree with the following statements: 

  1. I feel weird acknowledging the 3000+ rockets Hamas fired at Israeli civilians in the past month without also acknowledging the 20x difference in Israeli and Palestinian casualty rates.
  2. When someone mentions the 58+ Palestinian children killed in this latest paroxysm of violence, I don’t even think for one second about the terror of ~3000 rockets coming at you in a single month.

If you answered YES to both, congratulations: You’re pretty much like every other person in the world.  If you’ve ever wondered how something like the Holocaust happens, now you know.  

Sorry to be a bummer, but real talk and then we’re done: Did you feel worse about the thousand rockets, or the 58+ Palestinian kids, or the fact that some Jew in Michigan called you out about it?

You probably feel attacked right now, so I want one last thing to be crystal clear: My answers to those two questions were “Yes”es, too. If your culture has a bias, you have that bias as well—even if, in your heart of hearts, you despise the bias.  Even if that bias contributes to your own destruction.  None of us get to stand outside our culture; there are no free passes in this game.  It’s noble to want to fix Israel, or Liberia, or China—but sorta weird not to give a moment to healing yourself, too. 


Incidentally, my source for the image above includes some interesting history (which I’ve touched on before) specific to the town where this happened:

(here’s an easy-to-read “unrolled” version of his eight-part tweet, which is worthwhile)

Don’t wanna get into why I’m reading up on Little “Saint” Hugh of Lincoln Today…

… but for those looking for insights into why the Defeated PotUS is obsessed with an absolutely anti-factual narrative of a rigged election, this is worthy reading, especially the “Royal Intervention” sub-section:

The difficulty remains as to why King Henry and his servant John of Lexington would have believed the accusations in the first place. … While the decision to act belonged to the King, Langmuir believes that he was weak and easily manipulated by Lexington. Langmuir says Henry III has been described as; “a suspicious person who flung charges of treason recklessly, [who] was credulous and poor in judgment, and often appeared like a petulant child. When to these qualities we add his addiction to touring the shrines of England, it becomes easier to understand why he acted as he did…” Langmuir therefore concludes that Lexington “incited the weakly credulous Henry III to give the ritual murder fantasy the blessing of royal authority”. Jacobs on the other hand sees the financial benefits that Henry received as a major factor, conscious or unconscious, in his decision to mass arrest and execute Jews. As noted above, he had mortgaged his income from the Jews to Richard of Cornwall, but was still entitled to the property of any Jew executed, adding that Henry, “like most weak princes, was cruel to the Jews”.

Anti-Jewish woodcut depicting  blood libel child murder
[Popular Anti-Jewish woodcut depicting the blood libel child murder of either Simon of Trent or William of Norwich (which are basically the same story, in either case). Note the dude at the far left who appears to be wearing George Jetson’s house on his head; that’s a “Jew Hat.”]

Note the profit motive, the crushing debt, the love of touring from big public event to big public event, the absolute credulity to believe what is convenient, the tendency to flit and flip-flop from outrage to outrage, and a reflex to accuse sinister cabals composed of largely powerless minorities of master-minding vast schemes against a blameless populace.

If all of this seems long ago and far away, then please note that QAnon, Pizzagate, and a goodly portion of current Trumpery-driven White Violence is just this same story repeated over and over and over again.

Nice prayer at the bottom of that link, though.

Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln

Anyway, Happy Nittlenacht everyone!!!

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?

Free Read: “IN MICHIGAN: A PRIMER, A TRAVELOGUE”

jewishturkeyI wrote this essay a few years back, as a little bonus for the folks kind enough to have subscribed to my newsletter.  A good friend, Chris Salzman, was gracious enough to make something pretty of it, and I’m sharing that with you now.  Every word is both true and factual—which is a harder trick than you’d think. It begins like this:

You’ll be invited to your wife’s Full Family Thanksgiving Feast in Michigan

Attending means driving to the hinterlands around the middle knuckles of the Mitten’s middle finger. Shortly before leaving you’ll learn that this Full Family Feast does not, in fact, exist. Instead you’ll be directed to a somewhat lesser Secondary Family Feast in a somewhat less remote part of the hinterlands, at your in-laws’ cottage in a town mostly known for holding an annual ice fishing carnival on a frozen lake.

You’ve witnessed this carnival. You’ve ridden the ferris wheel atop the ice with your wife and young son, a ferris wheel you were told was unique for its age and direction of spin. You learned this from the man operating it, the man who proclaimed that he’d bolted it together himself, a man with something very clearly wrong with one side of his skull.

These are things you do in Michigan. These are the decisions you make by just letting things keep going the way they go in Michigan. …

And goes on from there. You can read it all free online here:

IN MICHIGAN: A PRIMER, A TRAVELOGUE” by David Erik Nelson

You Can Help Reduce the Hidden Costs of Being a Minority in America

UPDATE 2019-10-11: Yom Kippur was Wednesday, and a guy with homemade guns and bombs tried to kill a few dozen praying Jews in Germany. He was thwarted by his own poor craftsmanship and decent locked doors. I’d really like to know that Jewish congregations throughout America have good doors, good locks, and good trauma kits. All of this is expensive; a small trauma kit—one with supplies to slow the death of one or two gunshot victims—runs ~$50. It would be nice not to have to chose which of my friends, neighbors, or family members dies and which might live. YOU CAN HELP US BUY THESE THINGS.  Heck, here’s the shopping list for a minimal trauma kit.  Buy the parts yourself, and send it to the congregation of your choosing. Concerned they won’t know what to do with it? Have them contact me and I’ll walk them through how to use this trauma kit in an emergency.

It’s expensive to be in the minority: You need to take days off that aren’t excepted in the “secular” work calendar; you need to buy things (garments, food, etc.) for which there is lower demand (and thus are correspondingly more expensive to acquire); you need to spend time (often on a daily basis) explaining very simple things over and over and over again to often very well meaning people; you have to swallow your gall over a very large number of very small insults; you have to search around for food or facilities or services that are suitable for you, and don’t oblige you to debase yourself or become an unwilling spectacle (although both are frequently part of your life).

Muslims face this.  Immigrants face this.  Folks whose genders don’t match their sexes in the predominant fashion face this.

Right now, all over America, very small groups of Jews are scratching together very large sums of money in order to buy thicker doors, better locks, security cameras, and bullet-resistant glass.

I know that you don’t wish any of us harm.  And I know how awful it feels to not be able to do anything.

If you’re in the majority, then you never have to sit down in your pew and say “OK: The shooter will almost certainly come through those doors, so I need to clear people this direction.  We’ll designate Person X to sprint down to the childcare room and get the kids out through the fire exit…”

If you never attend religious services, then you aren’t shopping for trauma kits—and so maybe have some shekels to spare.

If you don’t need to be dedicated brain cycles to having a plan for keeping your friends and neighbors alive for the 5 to 7 minutes it takes the police to arrive, then you have bandwidth to spare for some other thoughts—and likely some of those are “How did we get here?  How the hell can we get back?

Me, I’ve got the High Holidays next week; I’m waiting for the supplies for my trauma kit to come in the mail.  I’m reviewing building schematics and Google satellite views and walking perimeters to figure how long it takes to get from a fire door to the tree line.

If you’re bummed about the surge in American anti-Semitism (and the corresponding new fad of shooting Jews in our houses of worship while we pray), there’s something concrete you can do:

Send money

This flyer is for my community, but you don’t have to send us money.  I absolutely guarantee that every Jewish Federation in every part of this country is running a similar drive.  We all are operating congregations and community centers in of old buildings with shoe-string budgets. Google the nearest major city to you and the word “JCC” (for “Jewish Community Center”).  You’ll either get the Jewish Federation for that region, the nearest Jewish Community Center in that town, or that town’s lone lil synagogue (example: I googled “jcc billings, MT” and found these cats Congregation Beth Aaron—who almost certainly need better doors).

Give them a call and say “I’d like to donate to help you increase safety and security in your community.”  Give an amount of money that’s a multiple of 18 (it’s sort of a lucky number; Jewish superstition associates 18 with life and longevity).

 half page ad_Jewish Federation

Xappy Xanukah! ♪♫♪♬

I’m a Jew—born and raised—but I come from a “mixed” family (they say “interfaith” now).  My dad is a Jew, but my mom was raised Christian.  Both my maternal grandparents—with whom I spent a lot of time growing up—were practicing Christians. Far from shockingly, my own marriage is mixed (my wife was raised Catholic, our kids are Jews who end up participating in a lot of Xtian traditions).  Interfaith families are really common now, but were much less so when I was young.

As you’re likely aware, back when I was a kid there weren’t a lot of Xanukah songs for us Jewish kids. There weren’t many songs for Jewish kids, but there were some; there were absolutely zero songs for mixed half-a-Jews with an Xmas tree and a Xanukiah and a cat that managed to catch fire in the Xanukah candles every year and Xtian grandparents who came to town on Xmas Eve specifically to partake in the Jewish tradition of Xmas Chinese food.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but we’re sort of a nation that always wants everyone to be one thing or another thing—black or white, nerd or jock, Jew or Gentile, girl or boy—and doesn’t have much patience for things that are mixed and ambiguous and a lil-o’-both.  I was in my 20s, and in a Women’s Studies class, before I learned what the hell “intersectionality” was, and my identity began to make any sense to me.

This year—for the third year running—my local Jewish Community Center is collecting donations of Christmas presents, to be given to the Syrian refugees relocated here.

On the one hand, that sounds almost too perfectly absurd: Jews giving Muslims Christmas presents.  On the other, it feels like basically the most perfect possible introduction to America.🕎🎄☪🇺🇸

Anyway, there weren’t many mixed kids like me when I was growing up—and there weren’t any songs or holiday specials or children’s books that reflected what I saw and felt and loved about wintertime.

So these are my songs, for all the little intersectional mixed kids out there, who don’t have any holiday songs to sing.

Enjoy!

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.)