At my hotel in Tampa, as a graduate student attending a conference, I was accosted by a young man who eyed me suspiciously. “You are a Jew,” he announced.
“Actually, I am not,” I replied, though my black fedora, black blazer, black pants, white shirt and beard led friends in college to call me “Rabbi” as a nickname.
He glared at me. “I know you are Jewish,” he replied. “You smell Jewish,” he spat.
As we struggle as a nation to respond to the Tree of Life synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh, I am reminded by the words of President Barack Obama. In 2016, he spoke at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, where he had just participated in a special ceremony honoring Americans and Poles for saving Jews during World War II. “An attack on any faith is an attack on all of our faiths,” he told the audience.”
He told the story of Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds, locked away in a Nazi POW Camp during World War II. When given the order to separate the Jewish soldiers from their fellow U.S. captives, Edmonds refused, declaring “We are all Jews.” Fearful of retribution from the American armies, the Germans decided not to shoot.
President Obama’s not alone in his support of Jewish people. Leaders of both political parties, in the past, have taken a tough stand against attacks upon Jews. As President Ronald Reagan said in a speech to Temple Hillel in 1984, “All of us here today are descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, sons and daughters of the same God. I believe we are bound by faith in our God, by our love for family and neighborhood, by our deep desire for a more peaceful world, and by our commitment to protect the freedom which is our legacy as Americans.”
Reagan continued “You know, when you talk about human life, I think that means seeing that the immeasurable pain of the Holocaust is never dehumanized, seeing that its meaning is never lost on this generation or any future generation, and, yes, seeing that those who take our place understand: never again.”
I wish it really were “never again.” But the Pittsburgh shooter got plenty of inspiration by the modern sources of hate, perfectly willing to tolerate another mass killing to satisfy their thirst for political advantage. And it’s not the pathetic explanation Kellyanne Conway gave, where she claimed “late night talk show hosts poking fun at religion” fueled the killings.
One can disagree with George Soros’ support for Medicaid expansion or Michael Bloomberg’s gun control measures. But when some networks and sites falsely accuse such men of financially supporting a caravan from Honduras, simultaneously packed full of gangsters, Arab terrorists, and infectious diseases, it’s easy to see how such lies could motivate a shooter obsessed with such “invaders” to go online and rant on the alt-Right site “Gab” and target the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), first in posts, and then with bullets. Soros is used by the far right as the Jewish boogeyman the same way Nazis used the name “Rothschild” as conspiracy theory and excuse for so many attacks.
But for those of us who reject such hate and bigotry, as Obama Democrats and Reagan Republicans, and independents who reject such anti-religious hate, let us all be like Master Sgt. Edmonds and say “We are all Jews” too.