The history of anti-Semitism stretches back many years and has existed more or less just as long as the Jewish people have existed. Our own holy scriptures are replete with stories of our people being persecuted for attempting to live their lives as Jews and it is a story that has repeated itself over and over again — year after year, decade after decade, century after century. Empire after empire, regime after regime have attempted to annihilate the entirety of the Jewish people and failed miserably in their efforts.
One of the more recent groups of people that failed to exterminate the Jewish people from the earth was the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, also known as the Nazi party that took control of Germany by popular vote and erected numerous death camps around Europe for the express purpose of murdering millions of people who did not fit into their ideal master race, or Aryan race — this included but was not exclusive to Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, Soviet Russians, and people with physical or other handicaps that made them, in the view of the Nazis, imperfect. They tried but failed to kill the Jewish people and were so sure of their own longevity that they documented everything meticulously, a fact that makes the existence of Holocaust deniers laughable and perceivable of being anti-Semitic themselves.
Elizabeth, Chaim, and I were reminded that we are still vulnerable to attacks even in the beautifully Jewish community of Kew Gardens. We were walking one Friday in the early evening toward the home of a friend at whose table we would be dining. An SUV stopped at a four way stop intersection and we waved them through — seemed like the polite thing to do. As we walked across the street in the crosswalk, the SUV seemed to slow down just a little bit and a teenage boy popped his head out through the window just long enough to yell, “Heil Hitler!”
My immediate reaction was shock and revulsion. I was the Dunhill Jew all over again. There wasn’t enough time to respond as the SUV drove away as I stood there with my jaw open, dumbfounded. I’m not sure I would have said anything to the person even if I could have done so because a fight (verbal or otherwise) was the last thing we needed on this otherwise peaceful evening. Then I thought of something and I nearly laughed — and I would have had I not been so upset. This boy, who probably knew nothing of the real history of the Nazi party, was sending his respect to a man who was a complete failure. He not only failed to kill the Jewish people but he failed in any long term success and ultimately killed himself rather than be taken.
Elizabeth had a relatively subdued reaction, all things considered. She said, “Is that guy serious?” I told her that unfortunately, he most likely was quite serious — even if he didn’t genuinely know what he was saying. I looked down at Chaim, sleeping peacefully in the wrap my wife was wearing, and wondered what we would ever tell him about this event. We certainly couldn’t just pretend that it didn’t happen. Rather, we would have to — one day when he will be old enough — tell him about it so that he will know that there are people out there who will hate him just for being Jewish.
As you may know, my wife Elizabeth was not born Jewish. However, she has spent the bulk of her life, starting with her childhood, being fascinated by stories of the Holocaust — she was reading dozens of story books about the Holocaust as a child and, at the age of twelve, begged her mother to take her to see Schindler’s List at the local movie theater. When she found out that her family was partially German she asked her Great Aunt if they had any role in the Holocaust and was relieved to find out that her family had been in the United States for many years. Having a strong connection to the Jewish people has always been with Elizabeth — it was certainly one of the things that attracted me to her. I imagine that if something like this were to happen to our young Chaim thirty years hence that his reaction might be a mixture between that of his mother and father. He will live his whole life as a Jew but he will also know that it is possible to not be Jewish and still feel a tie to the people.
We cannot rest easy and think that we are completely safe because it is clear that there is still plenty of hate for the Jewish people and it seems as though there will be hate for the Jewish people for many years to come.