Anti-Semitism isn’t just the stuff of white nationalist Neanderthals. Some of your best friends have anti-Semitic reflexes.
Oh, your friends would never admit to this. They’re too intelligent, too socially conscious. They wouldn’t be caught dead showing bigoted or anti-Semitic attitudes and they’d take great offense to the suggestion that they are unconsciously anti-Semitic. But some things a person can’t control and one of them is the reflex of anti-Semitism learned when they were children.
Who killed Jesus?
It starts there. Every kid in Sunday School learns that ‘the Jews killed Jesus.’ Later, when they grow up, they sometimes sort out who did what with Jesus; grown-up minds can deal with complexity if so inclined. If not so inclined, the original notion that the Jews were to blame for the agony of Christ’s suffering on the cross gets embedded in people’s psyches. Hence, the reflex business. And the Inquisition.
Added to this Sunday School horror story is separateness. Many people live their entire lives without knowing a single Jew, without knowing anything really about Jewish history, Judaism as a religion, or the role of Jews in America and the world. I remember a friend remarking that being a Unitarian was just like being Jewish, you know, because of the lack of focus on Jesus, his death, and resurrection, the implication being that Judaism was a religion notable only for its lack of Jesus. Of course, the truth is that Judaism is extraordinarily nuanced and complex with layers of philosophy and belief dating back thousands of years, the rules of life that governed the life of Jesus himself.
I’ve heard it remarked by a Jewish friend that ‘everyone is okay with hating Jews.’ That seems extreme to me since I rarely see true hatred but then again I’m not the target of people who hate Jews since I’m not Jewish, I just love several Jews, including my husband of 35 years. I can feel it when the hair stands up on the back of his neck because he is walking or talking in an anti-Semitic minefield but I won’t say any more about that because how he has navigated those minefields is his story to tell, not mine.
Black people I respect have surprised me by elevating Louis Farrakhan. When I said something to one of them about Farrakhan’s horrible statements about Jews, I was shamed for not understanding the black struggle and not seeing the powerful force Minister Farrakhan was for the black community. And I stood wondering, okay, can’t he be that force without hating Jews, but then I realized no, he can’t, because getting people to hate other people is such magic when building a base, a phenomenon we are cursed to witness again with our current president.
I am not Jewish but I have been a Jewish wife and mother all these many years. I studied Judaism for a while, took my children to Sunday School and Hebrew class. I sat, the only non-Jew in a sea of Jews, and was made to feel welcome and respected. I stood on the bimah at my children’s Bar/Bat Mitzvahs and I spoke about them to the people we had invited to their celebrations. Last week, I found their old practice tapes – the blessings they had to know, the reading from the Torah they practiced – and I remembered playing the tapes in my car driving them from place to place. I am not Jewish but I know some Jewish things.
I know about thinking it could all happen again.