By Cheryl Moore
Every November, we are bombarded with articles and social media posts, beseeching us to get along with our family during Thanksgiving dinner. It seems that bringing together people of potentially differing political outlooks is a recipe for disaster. Thankfully, the parts of my family with whom I spend Thanksgiving are quiet and peaceful, simply happy to be together. Besides, I believed that nothing could provoke me to fight with people I love, at a holiday dinner.
Rosh Hashanah? Despite the concerns of the Rabbis who planned to preach about lack of civil discourse and despite the breadth of Jews’ opinions, laid bare by elections in Israel and the United States, I never expected to go to war at my mother’s Rosh Hashanah dinner table. Sometimes, however, we realize after they occur, that some things are inevitable.
At this year’s Rosh Hashanah dinner, the conversation turned to politics. Eventually, someone said, “That Jared Kushner! He is so greedy. Everything he does is about protecting his business interests and his money. He is why people are so antisemitic.” “No,” I responded, “People are so antisemitic because they are ignorant, fearful, and angry, and they are looking for someone at whom to point a finger. Unfortunately, a very entrenched mythology has, for a thousand years, given them a target. There is nothing that any Jew can do to justify an antisemitic response. Antisemitism is Jew-hatred, it is not hatred as a reaction to someone’s behavior.”
At that point, this person dug in, saying, “I totally disagree. I think that the behavior of some Jews justifiably makes people hate us. Jews should be held to a higher standard, but some are totally unethical, which creates antisemitism.” I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. I was literally breathless. I said, “By that logic, if a Black person does something unethical, we are justified in being racist, or if a Muslim does something wrong, we are justified in hating all Muslims.” To which the reply was, “No. Not at all. You are creating a false narrative. It is totally different because Blacks and Muslims are powerless and Jews are powerful.”
“We are powerful?! We are powerful?!” I exclaimed. “To me, power implies the ability to act or to influence action. If we are so powerful, why can’t we get people to stop killing us?! Eleven innocent and vulnerable people were slaughtered a few blocks from here! Six months later, more Jews were killed in a Poway synagogue. Everywhere, all the time, authorities uncover people plotting to kill us. Why can’t we stop them?” “Well,” she replied, “I believe that our power and our abuse of our power makes people angry enough to walk into Tree of Life and kill innocents.” At that point, I had to walk away from the table.
At our Rosh Hashanah table, we heard the views of some on the far left. Sitting in the bedroom fuming, I thought back to when a Jewish friend on the left told me that the Holocaust happened because German Jews were wealthy and were engaging in unethical business practices. I also thought back to October 28, 2018, the day after the slaughter of eleven of my neighbors. On that day, a politically far-right Jewish friend, said, “Well, if liberal Jews were not so opposed to arming themselves, a tragedy like this would not have happened.” A few weeks later, after the KKK placed recruitment posters, containing vile antisemitic messages, around my neighborhood, Squirrel Hill, another of my politically right-wing Jewish friends said, “This is probably the left, maybe even leftist Jews, trying to make the right look bad.”
To the left, we are powerful, greedy, white, capitalist elites. To the right, we are nonwhite, communists, destroying society with our liberal social justice activism. Apparently actually being a Jew does not prohibit buying into this need to make Jewish behavior the cause of evil. Apparently some people love Judaism, but dislike Jews.
Perhaps antisemitism and the violence that is has inspired is so frightening that we search for a way to understand it, for someone to blame. Perhaps we feel more in control when we blame ourselves. We must, however, stop buying into the irrational and hateful arguments, the tortured logic, often antisemitic, of the extremists. If we believe that our leaders’ rhetoric has consequences, we must believe that our’s does too. Of course we must hold ourselves to high ethical standards, as does every human being, but enough with the victim-blaming. We need to be relentless in calling out biased and faulty thinking. We must not help antisemites by propagating antisemitism. Nothing justifies antisemitism or any hateful ideology. We must treat ourselves as gently and lovingly as we treat others.
I think that family is precious and am very sad that our Rosh Hashanah dinner was tense. But, when it comes to antisemitism or an attempt to justify it and violence committed in its service, no one gets a pass. Our very lives are at stake.
Cheryl Moore is a nurse and the Clinic Manager at the University of Pittsburgh Student Health Service. She lives in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.