Friday, November 17, 2017

The Terrible Tragedy of Giving Up To Those Who Want To Destroy You

In reading more of Mark Joseph Stern's work at Slate around and as background to this mornings post, I noticed he said something that I've noticed said a lot, something which I've found increasingly disturbing.  In his rather good piece of November 9th, in which he sets out his fears as a gay, Jewish journalist encountering a Nazi-like pushback from Trumpzis, he used a description of his great-grandparents and himself:

As I heard it, my great-grandmother was the one who wanted to stay. After all, they had lived there their entire lives. Why leave now? Everything they knew and loved was there.  It was Poland, 1933. They were secular Jews living a pleasant modern life. They knew about Hitler, of course, and Hindenburg’s pathetic enabling of his rise to power. They read the news. They knew about the Jewish business boycott, then the Nuremberg Race Laws, then the Night of Broken Glass—78 years ago today, as it happens. When Germany invaded, my great-grandmother insisted, we stay. Her Jewish friends panicked, fled, but she said, no, it won’t happen here. Then the soldiers moved them to the ghetto. A wealthy friend offered my family safe passage out, but my great-grandmother said: No. We stay.

Later on, after expressing his understandable unease at being subjected to overt hate at a level he had not experience before, after the rise of Trump he talks about his great-grandmother who wisely fled the Nazis

My great-grandmother on the other side of the family fled. Her family was comfortable, secular; they owned a popular photography studio, and sometimes I look at the portraits they took of themselves shortly before they packed their bags and left forever. There is no panic in their eyes. They knew what they had to do, and they did it. They weren’t especially happy when they came to America, but they were alive. They left their old lives behind, understanding that there would soon be little left of them to salvage. I am thinking of their eyes this morning. And I am thinking of my other great-grandmother, the one I never got to meet.

Do read his article, it carries important information.  Information that could save us.  The most important information of all, that not only can it happen here, IT IS HAPPENING HERE, RIGHT NOW. 

What I noticed was the pains he took to describe both sets of great-grandparents as "secular," something I always feel a little uncomfortable with hearing Jewish people say, as if it is an assurance to other people that they're not all "that Jewish" or something.   

I always feel uncomfortable when people feel the need to explain away their identity or to diminish it.  When it's a Jewish person making sure that people understand they're safely secular it's worse than when an ex-Catholic (as if there's really any such thing) talks about themselves as a "recovering Catholic" because the persecution of Catholics in the United States is far more remote in time and far less likely to become as seriously bad is it has so recently in Central America and elsewhere, I guess.   
In the case of Stern doing it, it reminds me of something especially troubling, that was the talk among the Nazis of how the Einsatzgruppen, the soldier-murderers who murdered hundreds of thousands, probably well over a million Jews by shooting them, found it easier to kill religious Jews, especially those in Poland and the Soviet Union and other places who didn't look or dress so much like non-Jewish Germans or, I'd guess, others who they might think looked too much like they thought they did.   It was one of the reasons they decided to develop a "more efficient" means of committing genocide.  I'm sure that's not something Stern would think he was signaling with what he said, indicating that, somehow, "secular" Jews were .... I don't know, it comes down to superior to religious Jews in some way.   He should certainly indicate what he means by it, especially in the context of that topic. But, as I've experienced, the declaration by Jews that they are safely secular is widespread in the United States.  It's a practice which is a lot more serious and fraught with implications and danger than someone declaring themselves an ex-Catholic or ex-Protestant.   

Having an ever growing appreciation for the depth and knotty complexity but the irreplaceable value of the Jewish scriptures and many Jewish religious thinkers, becoming convinced that it, in fact, is one of the irreplaceable foundations of modern egalitarian democracy and any hope of decent governments, certainly in the West it's horrible that so many Jews think there's something admirable or good or just - in that most superficial and inverted form of value judgement  -"modern"  to walk away from that heritage.  It's worse than tragic.  In some ways it accomplishes a lot of what the Nazis wanted to do.  They hated Jewish moral teaching, the egalitarian justice of it more than just about anything.  It's not for me to decide these things but I can express my profound sorrow at it.   The greatest hope for Christianity is to become more of what it originally was intended to be,  Jewish.  There was a huge move in Catholicism, from Vatican II to introduce more of the First Testament into the liturgy and to incorporate more of its substance into Catholic thought and life.  It would be a tragic irony for, at the very same time, the people with the greatest claim to those traditions to be swindled out of them by the trappings of modernism, the same modernism which, in the forms of Nazism and Stalinism, tried to wipe out the Jewish people and Jewish identity.   To do so just because following the requirements of equal justice and equality, economic justice is harder than being kewl and modernistic and au courant is even worse.  

Stern's justifiable fears of Trumpzi fascism are best answered by the very aspects of Jewish religious morality that should not be given up on.  They overcame other tyrants, from Pharaohs to Antiochus, after all. 


  1. Not to worry -- I'm sure you'll find a way to blame Charles Darwin for Trump's election.

    1. I will blame too much TV for your stupidity and moral deficiency. It certainly made you functionally illiterate. Though pop music and the movies played a big role in that, too.