I know, you thought that would be a post about some long forgotten history, maybe a story of pre -WWII Germany. Sadly, it is not. It is a present-day account of our, so called, free America. On February 28th, someone shot at the Hebrew school classroom window in Mike Pence’s State, Indiana, otherwise known as the heartland. The election of Donald Trump has given free rein to anti-Semites to engage in acts befitting the brownshirts. In case you’ve forgotten, they were members of Hitler’s early militia, notorious for their violence. As much as I hate to bring it up, even Glen Beck has called some of Trump’s supporters brownshirts. Funny, how Mike Pence never noticed them in his state.
While it was pure luck that no child was killed, the incident served its purpose. It exacerbated the fear that every parent in that congregation will feel sending the child to Hebrew class. And what of parents of Hebrew school students in classroom across the US? How comfortable would you feel if your child, grandchild, niece or nephew headed out to such a class? Fear is the product sold by brownshirts and their ilk.
Strangely, this “incident,” though I prefer to call it a terrorist attack, garnered limited coverage. Perhaps because it was overshadowed by the 16 bomb threats and evacuations at Jewish community centers and temples as of February 27th?
And the list on the right is not exhaustive. Seventy bomb threats have been phoned in since Trump moved to the While House.
Within a month of the Presidential inauguration two hundred Jewish graves were desecrated in St. Louis, Missouri, one hundred more Jewish gravestones were vandalized in Philadelphia, and 55 overturned in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Just one month! Anti-Semitic harassment on Twitter has grown exponentially. The Anti-Defamation League reported that 800 journalists have been targeted. As if these facts aren’t shocking enough, New York city—the Jerusalem of the US— the one place where Jews thought themselves to be safe, has experienced a double digit increase in anti- Semitic incidents this year compared to last. As of February 12th, 28 such events have been reported according to the NYPD. And that was only six weeks into the new year.
Recording of hate crimes has primarily been a function of the FBI, but it is said to be slow to report the latest information. However, not for profit organizations such as the Anti- Defamation League, Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Jewish Forward are beginning to collaborate on a more accurate and timely documenting of anti-Semitic and other hate data in a project spearheaded by Pro Publica.
In many ways, today’s anti-Semitic acts should not surprise us. Though no one has been able to pin a specific anti-Semitic act on Donald Trump (after all, “he is the least anti-Semitic person you’ll ever meet” by his own account and one wonders what scale he uses.) According to the Washington Post, “When Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) asked him about the recent threats against Jewish facilities, the president responded by condemning the incidents but then “suggested the ‘reverse’ may be true,” Shapiro said.” I am not going to parse the meaning of this statement. I leave it to my readers.
If we assume for a moment that Trump simply misspoke, there are plenty of his staffers who have more than a faint taint of anti-Semitism in their life history. I imagine that I need not expound on Steve Bannon, but fewer of you may have heard about Sebastian Gorka, the well- spoken, erudite sounding deputy-assistant to Trump.
There’s too much to say about Gorka and beyond the scope of this post about his membership, writing and close association with Nazi elements in Hungary. But I will mention only one egregious demonstration. He found it comfortable and appropriate to wear to Trump’s inauguration ball a Hungarian medal known as Vitézi Rend. It signifies a knightly order of merit founded in 1920 by Admiral Miklos Horthy, Hungary’s longtime anti-Semitic ruler and Hitler’s ally during World War II. More recently, before becoming a citizen in 2012, Gorka had served as an adviser to Viktor Orbán, now Hungary’s right-wing nationalist prime minister. And here I’ll take the liberty of using a zoological metaphor: birds of a feather, flock together.
For those of you who have read my first book, In the Unlikeliest of Places: How Nachman Libeskind Survived the Nazis, Gulags and soviet Communism, you will recall that the prime reason Nachman managed to leave Poland in time was that he was paying attention to the events of the day. Getting stopped in a dark alley by anti-Semitic hoodlums who wanted to check his penis to determine if he was a Jew, seeing an orthodox Jew dragged by a Nazi into the sewer and the sudden hostile attitude of a formerly friendly folksdeutch, Boltz (a German resident of Lodz, Poland) made it evident to my father that it was time to act.
How many incidents will we need to take action against the avalanche of vicious anti-Semitic attacks in the former bastion of freedom, America? Is active shooter training which the Indiana synagogue and others are planning the kind of action we want, or is it something less ominous? Perhaps we have to out the brownshirts in all of our communities—there must be Americans who live next door to these low forms of life, but who themselves, though no fans of Jews or anyone who is different, are themselves not likely to engage in hateful activity. Will these neighbors have the courage to out their brownshirt neighbors, fellow church goers, or even sons? That would be an excellent start because individuals who shoot through school windows, or desecrate the defenseless dead are cowards of the first order. Expose their identity and many will shrivel.
Annette Libeskind Berkovits is an author. Visit her website: annetteberkovits.com to learn more and check the upcoming release date of her newest book, Confessions of an Accidental Zoo Curator.