Two articles that have crossed my feeds of late both highlight the issue of hatred: one of hatred of Jews, the other of hatred by Jews. Both demonstrate significant failures of our society.
The first was brought to my attention by Rabbi Barry Lutz of our congregation. Titled “Reform is Not a Four-Letter Word“, it describes a problem that is growing in Israel these days: the divide between the “ultra-Orthodox” (note that I do not put all Orthodox in this category) and the more progressive movements within Judaism. I’m familiar with this divide, for it isn’t a new one. Back in the early 1990s I started a mailing list where we explicitly prohibited that device, as the RCO fights (as well called them) were taking over soc.culture.jewish (the Usenet group) with their invective and hatred. It seems this hasn’t gone away: some ultra-Orthodox are using “Reform” as an insult. As the author of the opinion piece writes:
Still, I’d probably not have gotten around to writing this piece had Deri’s remarks not been echoed – almost drowned out – by those of Shlomo Amar, Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem and past Sephardic Chief Rabbi, who proclaimed a few days later that “Reform Jews are worse than holocaust deniers.” You can catch his remarks, word for word, on the ultra-Orthodox Haredi website Kikar Shabbat as he responds to the latest appeal of progressive Jewish groups to the Supreme Court regarding the Kotel (Western Wall). “They don’t have Yom Kippur or Shabbat but they want to pray [at the Western Wall]. But no one should think that they want to pray, they want to desecrate the holy,” was Amar’s take on the matter. “Today there was a hearing on the Kotel on the petition of the cursed evil people who do every iniquity in the world against the Torah,” he added, including both Conservative Masorti Jews as well as the Women of the Wall (original and otherwise) as objects of his wrath as all were party to this litigation.
Did you catch that? Reform Jews are worse than holocaust deniers. Who needs Nazis in the streets when we have the ultra-Orthodox to hate us (without ever knowing what Reform really is, just like many of the Nazis know Judaism only from false stereotypes like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion). Hatred built on fake news and fake information is not new, folks; it has long been the domain of the ignorant, uninformed, and more importantly, those who do not want to be informed.
The current alt-Right and neo-Nazi — hell, Nazi — movements are bringing this all back to America. I met Shmuel Gonzalez when he recently gave a talk to the San Fernando Valley Historical Society on the community of Boyle Heights. This was an ethnically mixed community east of DTLA that — in the days of red-lining — brought together Jews and Latinos and Russians and Japanese and Blacks and all sorts of ethnicities into a loose coalition that worked for the rights of workers and the rights of people. Those Jewish Community Centers you see these days where nice economically advantaged families bring up their children outside of the horrid public schools were once Yiddishist centers fighting for workers and teaching English to immigrants. Shmuel, a very nice and gentle fellow, talks about this history all the time and preserves the Jewish heritage of those communities while celebrating both his hispanic and his Jewish background. Shmuel describes himself as follows in a recent post on his Barrio Boychik blog: “I am an activist historian and community organizer from Southern California; many of you might know me as the author of the Barrio Boychik blog, which is dedicated to presenting our local heritage of civil rights activism, with special focus on the historical and present inter-section of Jewish and Latino civil rights organizing. As a Mexican American of the Jewish faith, I also proudly serve the as teacher of Jewish education and leader in sacred Hebrew ritual, serving Southeast Los Angeles and North Orange County.”
Shmuel was recently at a counter-protest of the America First Rally – an anti-immigrant and anti-refugee rally organized by the so-called “alt-Right” – at Main Beach in Laguna Beach, California on Sunday, August 20, 2017. As he writes on his blog:
On this day I was in attendance to stand with local friends and business people as they stand against hate. Among them my good friend and a father figure to me, Irv Weiser; whose family came to this country as refugees following the holocaust. I came to stand shoulder to shoulder with him as he protested against this nationalist hate rhetoric. There were just a few dozen anti-immigrant/refugee protesters that day, a mixed race group of far right extremists that noticeably even had neo-Nazis and white supremacists participating in the event; while there were several hundred counter-protesters in attendance. After the right-wing protesters group dwindled they started making incursions into the counter-protest, to get in people’s’ face and to agitate the crowd; they caused some minor scuffles and were shooed back by the police. While documenting the event on video, I followed the right-wing group back. By this time the right-wing protesters on the other end were encircled and engaging a crowd. I engaged the right-wing protesters in their rhetoric angering them several times with just verbal rebuttals, while also taking video of the protest.
As I was still documenting this event on video with the camera running, I went in for a close-up shot as we argued, and one of them quickly approached and hit my hand, sending my camera flying. At that point I was immediately arrested by five officers in riot gear from the Laguna Beach Police department. I was arrested, instead of these nationalist extremists who wanted to assault me. And that was just the begin of a long ordeal. I would be arrested, taken to central jail – where I would be subjected to racist and anti-semitic treatment by the jailer.
His blog provides all the details of this, and he has a court date this coming Monday. Why they arrested a counter-protestor, and not the perpetrators of hate is beyond me.
The reason I bring up Shmuel’s story (in addition to bringing it the attention it deserves) is to highlight the hate aspect of it. Both stories — the one from Israel, and the one from Orange County — deal with hatred of Jews. One is from the ultra-Orthodox (many of the same folks who, in America, are still supporters of Trump). One from the alt-Right — again, a supporter of Trump. Further, as I write this, a bipartisan group in Congress has sent a resolution to Trump condemning such behavior . Why did Congress send it? According to the Washington Post: “Trump was roundly criticized by lawmakers of both parties last month after he blamed “both sides” for the Aug. 12 violence that resulted in the death of counterprotester Heather Heyer, as well as his suggestion that some “very fine people” were among the white-nationalist marchers.” Of course, the White House is saying he will sign it but the reason why is unclear: political expediency, or because he really believes in it. I guess we’ll find out in the after-the-fact tweets.
Whether the behavior is from our fellow Jews or from the alt-Right/neo-Nazi groups: we must fight hatred in any form. Further, as in the early days of Boyle Heights, we must remember that our cause is tied up with the immigrant — be they be from South of the Border, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East, or Africa. Hatred of minorities in any form eventually turns to us Jews, and we have to stop it before it starts. Both of these stories are lessons and poignant reminders of where things can go.