Home > Uncategorized > A Charlottesville Reaction – posted 8/22/2017

A Charlottesville Reaction – posted 8/22/2017

I grew up in Lower Merion, a largely Jewish neighborhood outside Philadelphia. Both my parents were Jewish. I was raised in the reform Jewish tradition and I was bar mitzvahed and confirmed at Main Line Reform Temple in Wynnewood, Pa.

Like many American Jews, my family was pretty secular. My dad had been raised Orthodox but he rebelled against that. He and my mom felt more comfortable in a reform congregation. Honestly, we did not go to synagogue very often. Still, after ten years of Hebrew School, I had some background and knowledge in things Jewish. I was also a reader, so as I got older, I read widely in Jewish history and literature.

For me, being Jewish is, in part, about identification with the historical experience of the Jewish people. It also ties in with love and appreciation of Jewish culture and tradition.

Growing up, anti-semitism was a seeming distant reality. Philadelphia has a large, diverse and secure Jewish community. My dad had a business friend who was a Holocaust survivor. I remember the concentration camp number tattooed on his forearm. In seventh grade, I got into a fight with a kid who called me “a dirty Jew”. Other than that, anti-semitism was something I read about. It was not part of my daily existence.

So I have to say that the recent events in Charlottesville were jolting. Seeing that many people identify as Nazis and Klansmen, while chanting “Jews will not replace us” was surreal. Not to worry: I would never want to replace the likes of you. It would be impossible to be that gross.

Then to hear President Trump’s unscripted comments after Charlottesville was, without a doubt, the low point of his presidency. Photos of the Charlottesville march show so many in the crowd wearing “Make America Great Again” hats as they apparently dream of that white ethno-state. You now have to wonder: how low can the President go?

Trump mentioned all the “very fine people” who were marching along with the Nazis and Klan. According to Trump, they just oppose taking down those “beautiful” Confederate statues.

These people are Nazi collaborators. Anyone who finds themselves in an alt-right march, carrying tiki torches and chanting “blood and soil”, needs to take a good look at themselves. Whether they have explicitly joined any white supremacist and anti-semitic group or not, they have aligned themselves with hatred. They are not passively going along. They are far worse. They are abetting the evil.

I have seen some people on the internet explain these Nazi collaborators as losers who cannot get a date to save their lives. That seems overly generous to me. They are making an active choice to align with something monstrous.

Supposedly, Trump’s ratings actually jumped from a 34% approval rating to 39% last week. All you Trump supporters out there who love how politically incorrect he is, maybe you need to ask yourselves: did you sign up to collaborate with Nazis?

Going back to Germany in the 1930’s, there were many conservatives who thought they could use the Nazis to advance their ends. History shows that the Nazis ended up using people like that far more than they used the Nazis.

And as for the “beautiful” Confederate monuments, Trump said that taking such statues down was “changing history”. He tweeted that taking down statues of Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson would lead to demands to take down statues of Washington and Jefferson since they also owned slaves.

Given Trump’s earlier comments about Frederick Douglass, you have to wonder what he knows about Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson. Are they also doing a fabulous job?

James Grossman, the executive director of the American Historical Association, said that Trump’s comments failed to recognize the difference between history and memory. Grossman said when you alter monuments “you’re not changing history. You’re changing how we remember history”.

Most Confederate monuments were built in two periods: the 1890’s to 1920’s and the 1950’s. In the 1890’s, Jim Crow was being established and consolidated. In the 1950’s, the South was massively resisting the early civil rights movement.

It is not an accident that Confederate monuments were built then. They were built to commemorate and glorify the Confederacy and white supremacy. They were also built in passionate opposition to the Black freedom struggle. They were sending a message of intimidation to Black people and all civil rights supporters. That message was: get back!

Whatever their merits as military tacticians, Lee and Jackson fought to maintain a vicious social system founded on the institution of human slavery. They were leaders of a secessionist rebellion against the United States government.

After the Civil War, Lee never spoke up against those who lynched Black people. Nor did he ever support black voting rights.

Jackson’s family owned six slaves in the late 1850’s. After the Civil War, he appears to have hired out or sold all his slaves. Jackson’s biographer, James Robertson, wrote that Jackson never apologized nor spoke in favor of the practice of slavery. Robertson felt Jackson probably opposed slavery but he also felt that God had sanctioned slavery and man had no moral right to challenge its existence.

Interestingly, Jackson’s great-great grandsons, Jack Christian and Warren Christian, just wrote an open letter to the mayor of the city of Richmond Va asking for removal of the Stonewall Jackson statue as well as all other Confederate statues there.

There is a big difference between Founding Fathers like Washington and Jefferson and leaders who led a treasonous revolt against the government they helped found. While you can find people who advocate taking down Washington and Jefferson monuments, I think Trump’s comments were simply a red herring. It is only Confederate monuments which are seriously under scrutiny now.

This last week has been the least reassuring week of this bumper-car ride of a presidency. As a Jewish American, I have to say I have never experienced a president in my lifetime who made me wonder if he really was a Nazi sympathizer. Up until now I did not think Trump believed in anything – only money. Now I am not sure.

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