Views of a Denton Jew after Charlottesville
It’s been over a week since the events at Charlottesville shocked and appalled so many of us in our nation and our city. I know I’ve spent hours almost every day since locked on my phone or computer watching videos, reading articles, debating with people online, and crying in frustration and fear. Some of that may resonate with you.
However, many marginalized groups have felt this coming. Voices in the Latino community, the black community, and the Muslim community have warned us of such vile outrage for years. But Charlottesville brought something else to the foreground. A people some have forgotten about or dismissed as not being marginalized anymore until Charlottesville.
My people. The Jewish people.
Protesters proudly displayed swastikas, shouted Nazi slogans translated into English, including “Blood and Soil,” and “Hail Victory,” and chanted, “Jews will not replace us,” reminding many people that those marching hate my people as well.
Something I heard encapsulates how Jews can be viewed regarding marginalization and privilege. He called us "Schrödinger’s Minority": affluent and part of the white majority until events like this. Even our potential allies on the Left can push us out, especially when speaking on Israel, not realizing that many American Jews share their opinions.
I also hear that we can simply pass as the majority anyway. To pass means to not wear my Star of David, have a mezuzah on my door, to never tell anyone I’m Jewish or say a prayer in Hebrew before a meal. This is tantamount to lying about my identity, who my people are. And this identity is easy to forget. With all the horrors people of color experience daily, and only a fraction of that spilling over into the news, it takes those chants and Nazi iconography to remind people that we too have spent centuries persecuted.
There are Jewish villages whose names are lost to history, destroyed by pogroms during the Middle Ages. This period of over a thousand years essentially came to a head with the Holocaust. However, that antisemitism didn’t just disappear afterwards. There are people with whom we share a homeland who want us dead. I see them in the comments sections talking about ZOGS, Jewish bankers who control the world government, or in the jokes that aren’t really jokes, but an excuse to disparage Jews—something I judge based on their lack of structural resemblance to any jokes I’ve ever heard. (To be completely honest, I have heard a few funny jokes about our people. Many Rabbis are actually hilarious.)
I recognize anti-Semites when their children tell me I am going to hell, spit on or attack my friends or myself. I recognize them by the sheer amount of things I recount from my childhood as "normal" that my friends have told me are not normal. My mother sitting me down before elementary school to prepare me to deal with the anti-Semitism I would encounter—and for some reason the heaviest of it in elementary school. I guess adults occasionally learn to hide their hate a little better.
Confronting this type of evil and hatred is everyone’s fight, including our fight. This brings me to the odd place I’ve often come to lately. My position on the “punch Nazis, always punch Nazis, punch all the Nazis,” doesn’t exactly align with the position of many of my friends and allies. Not because of free speech or freedom from consequences, but on the subject of advocating violence against other individuals for their views. In some ways, my personal views actually stem from my Jewish heritage and experience.
My mother and my Rabbi both taught me that part of what it means to be Jewish is to stand for both moral responsibility and rule of law. This has repeatedly put me in the position as a Jew of having to say that we shouldn’t attack Nazis based solely on their abhorrent beliefs. (There are of course exceptions. “Fighting words” and self-defense are different matters. Please protect yourself and be safe when out there at protests and other events.)
Not all Jews feel this way. The most respectful and productive conversation I had last week was with a fellow Jew who disagrees with me. After talking to her, I better understand an opposing argument and respect it. However, since this is something I’m currently trying to understand I may not fully comprehend the nuances. She mentioned that associating with Nazi iconography is in itself an act of violence, that being a fascist or Nazi is an incitement to violence and their purpose is to terrorize and kill making their very existence violence.
I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t feel like an attack to me as well. I’ve heard other reasons for advocating violence against individual Nazis regardless of their actions. From what I’ve garnered, some view it as deserved retaliation, communities defending themselves, or that counter-protests and demonstrations have failed, and the time has come for violence. I can understand some of these views better than others, and I now find myself better respecting both the views and those holding them.
Ultimately, I am not swayed. Yes, despite reading the articles on the dangers of fetishizing nonviolence. I don’t believe not reaching a place of violence amounts to that yet. I know there are those out there ready and willing to break the law to enact violence upon Nazis, but I want to see Nazis in jail, not those who oppose them. Even granting such attacks can be gratifying and vindicating, I don’t see them as our only course. It is the time to rise up in greater numbers, to protest harder and louder than ever. It is time to get that silent majority we hear so much about (although obviously not from them) to join our cause.
We need those numbers, especially if we want lasting change. We may even reach out to those who seem further right than many of us find comfortable but who still despise Nazism and White Supremacy. Allies can be found in unlikely places. And no matter how little some of us out there trust the law and governance right now, we can still try to use it as a defense against the White Supremacists. Let them be punished. They want us to attack them, so they can play the victim and act like we are morally equivalent.
We are not and they don’t deserve that justification in their heads or the media. I cannot say for certain what I would do if a Nazi were screaming something like, “Fuck you kike, you dirty Jew, I hope your family dies a painful death.” In the past, I have always sought to make peace and educate. But in the past, it was most often unarmed children making such comments, and it is difficult to get upset with a child for being taught hate by their parents. The time may come when the only rational, moral thing to do is “punch Nazis.”
I was told recently that “we need both types of personalities—warrior and peacekeeper—to fight.” For the time being, I still side with the peacekeepers. I still hope we can work together against the hatred we witnessed and will continue to see in the coming days. I hope we can stand united despite disagreeing on tactics or philosophy. And I beg you not to forget us, your Jewish friends, when talking about the Nazis. Perhaps if they were not using Nazi iconography and spewing anti-Semitic vitriol, this wouldn’t be the case. But this is the world in which we live. Many of us are terrified, but we as a people have encountered this before and would love nothing more than to help defeat that same vile hatred again.
Header image courtesty of Francesca Framer
Header image layout designed by Christopher Rodgers