A friend of mine recently had the opportunity to speak with a Holocaust scholar who keeps an eye on antisemitism in many places. After the conversation, she told me that she was deeply concerned that another violent pogrom against the Jewish people was very close. I was startled at her obvious fear and reassured her that this could not happen. I reminded her that people are more aware than ever of the threat of antisemitism and are ready to stand up with the Jewish people against hate. As we parted she was still concerned, and I could not understand why. Then I read the article. It began:
“Rachel always thought it was best to hide her religion from her high school students. The trouble started a few years ago when she let slip to a student that she was Jewish.
‘I found swastikas scribbled in their textbooks, they drew penises around my name on the blackboard, and they’d yell like ‘Hey, Jew’ at me during class,’ said Rachel, a teacher in Berlin. ‘It became harder… to do my job.’”1
I read further and found that the administrators in the school basically did nothing and the students received little to no discipline. Eventually “Rachel” left the school for a safer teaching position. This incident, and all of the others described in the article, happened in Germany. They took place during the past year. As I read on, my friend’s fears became very, very real.
Once again, in “civilized” European countries, violence against Jews is being met with indifference.
In the past three weeks in Charlotte and the surrounding counties, the Stan Greenspon Center has been called on to deal with three incidents of antisemitism in schools. These incidents occurred between students and involved name calling and a reference to “the ovens.” Unlike in Germany, teachers and administrators are working to address these issues and to bring anti-bias education to their schools. Before we pat ourselves on the back however, I have been told that antisemitic remarks are just another part of life for American Jewish students and are largely unreported.
The phrases “Never Again” and “Never Forget” are well known to educators who teach the lessons of the Holocaust.
We do a fairly good job at remembering the atorcities of the past. However, antisemitism and violence against the Jewish people is happening again in the present.
There is no answer except for us to up our game as teachers. We must be intentional about teaching the reality and danger of contemporary antisemitism. It is no longer an option. It is vitally necessary. Along with education, we must show our students that we will firmly and quickly shut down prejudiced language and behaviors of all kinds. Let us all raise our voices and firmly proclaim, “Not on My Watch!”
If you need help finding resources for teaching about antisemitism, please contact Donna Tarney at firstname.lastname@example.org
This teacher Rachel was terrorized in Berlin. The Greenspon Center responded to some similar incidents in North Carolina in recent days. Does that indicate a pogrom is brewing here? I don’t know. What I have learned from my human rights reading is that harassment of Jews is an early predictor of right wing (fascist ) violence against all persons perceived as different or actively progressive. There are many tendencies in conservative American politics resembling injustices and atrocities in pre-Nazi and Nazi Germany. Some Nazi ideas and financing came from the United States. A smart activist understands that when these crimes and brainwashings are ignored many others besides Jews are endangered. There were many other people rounded up, enslaved, deprived and killed besides Jews in the death camps. And one must also consider war casualties and mass civilian deaths in unnecessary wars. War enjoys a large profit motive today.
Social conditions usually turn toxic when there is a pronounced polarization of wealth, opportunity and power as we suffer today. Failure of the liberal establishment to offer any real programs to relieve this aberration makes fascism attractive to the nativist underclass, and to nihilist opportunists at every socioeconomic level. Fascists will use insurrection, racial and class injustice and war to achieve and maintain power. A society of pent up manufactured violence is useful to such deviants. I admire Queens and Stan Greenspon Center for every critique and advocacy they can muster to mitigate and educate against fascism.
What I mean to suggest is that we can’t assume we can educate and tame a few bad actors and have the problem solved. Someone or something set off, even assisted, the perpetrators described. There are social forces and commercial interests right before our eyes who benefit from a hateful milieu. These interests have gone so far as to organize against peace in our communities. Many politicians are well funded to preserve structural injustices. The fact that the North Carolina Senate and Assembly have no interest in affordable housing is an easy example because that attitude is contrary to human need and popular sentiment. Such woes prove democracy is waning and fascism is waxing.
Until our consensus is that human rights hold priority over profit and wealth all our love and sacrifice will never tame greed and market forces as they coincide with fascist hatred. Israel has to change and the United States has to change before we can expect to survive. What is the advantage of triumph if we end up no better, or worse, than our opponents?
Even climate change will not be overcome without a new co-operative economic order, and the diminishment of useless competition. That’s what racism is, just a frightful merciless meaningless dog eat dog competition: losers murdering over the scraps.