How to learn and grow from our past
I have always been a student of history. Of all of the subjects I had in school, history was always my favorite. I enjoyed not only understanding what transpired but also why it happened. What led to whatever occurred was just as important to me as what occurred. As I have gotten older, I have tried to instill that love of history in my daughters. In my mind, the only way to know who a people are and what they value is to look at how they treated people and acted historically.
In the middle of September, Ken Burns’s latest documentary, The US and the Holocaust premiered on PBS. This three-part, six-hour film looked at how the US responded to what was happening in Europe during World War Two and why the US government and leadership made the decisions they did as they became aware of the atrocity Hitler and the Nazis were unleashing on the European Jewish community. This was the first time I was made aware of how prevalent antisemitism was in the US leading up to and during World War Two. For a country I was taught was the champion of freedom and liberty, I was shocked and dumbfounded by what I saw. And yet, seeing how “the other” is being treated today, I should not have been surprised by what I learned from watching the documentary.
As you are most likely aware, hatred of all kinds is on the rise, including antisemitism. What once were privately held thoughts, only shared with like-minded people, have now come to the forefront of American society and are openly shared with no fear of repercussions—case and point Kanye West’s antisemitic rant last month, as well as Kyrie Irving of the New Jersey Nets defending his promotion of a film that is filled with known antisemitic tropes. On the one hand, I am glad to see more and more people call out the hatred and admonish those who promote it when it occurs; the fact that so much attention is being given is troublesome. But on the other hand, this is precisely what needs to happen to make more people aware of how upsetting and unsettling the situation is. We need non-Jews to call the bigotry and hatred out for what it is.
The same is true for the series of Goyim Defense League (GDL) flyers distributed throughout the community that blames Jews for everything from COVID to the latest one that identifies Jews who work in and for Disney.
I wish I had the magic elixir to fix this situation. But I do know a few things we can do. First, we need to continue to report each and every incident that occurs in our community. By reporting, we begin to shift away from this being a Jewish issue to it being a societal issue. And second, we need to continue to confront it and ask those who are not the targets to stand side-by-side with us. We saw what the power of calling on companies like Adidas to break contracts and arrangements with people who espouse hateful rhetoric has to help bring about change. The more we do this, the more I believe we may see the start of a tipping-point.
I know this is not who we are as a society, and I would like to think we can do better. But maybe I am just naïve to think that we have learned from the past about what can happen when hatred goes unchecked. If not, then one of the symbols of America, the Statue of Liberty, does not stand for what we value.
Jason Moss is executive director of the Jewish Federation of the Greater
San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys.