Rising Anti‐​semitism (Not Just vs. Israel) Renews My Boyhood

August 20, 2014 • Commentary
This article appeared on Cato​.org on August 20, 2014.

In a recent article in The Guardian, “Antisemitism on rise across Europe ‘in worst times since the Nazis,’ ” Jon Henley quotes Yonathan Arfi of France’s Jewish organization Crif, who “ ‘utterly rejected’ the view that the latest increase in antisemitic incidents (screaming ‘Death to Jews’) was down to events in Gaza. ‘They have laid bare something far more profound’ ” (The Guardian, Aug. 7).

Arfi refers to what Dieter Graumann, the president of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, tells The Guardian’s Henley:

“ ‘On the streets, you hear things like “the Jews should be gassed” … we haven’t had that in Germany for decades. Anyone saying those slogans isn’t criticizing Israeli politics, it’s just pure hatred against Jews.’ ”

And in the Aug. 5 New York Post, The National Review’s penetrating editor, Rich Lowry, reports:

“Some of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world — Paris, Berlin, London — have witnessed demonstrations airing hatreds associated with Europe’s darkest crimes” (“Europe’s new Jew‐​hatred is same as the old,” Lowry, New York Post, Aug. 5).

He also cites Scotland and Italy, adding: “Even before the Gaza War raised the temperature, the new anti‐​Semitism was making itself felt. Earlier this year, the Israeli immigration ministry did a survey that showed that two‐​thirds of France’s Jews are considering leaving the country.”

And dig this from Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post, citing a story from Israeli news outlet Arutz Sheva:

“In the Netherlands, there has also been an anti‐​Semitic wave: ‘The explosion of anti‐​Semitism in The Netherlands so far has mainly manifested itself in threats and hate on the Internet. Physical hatred has also been seen on the streets. According to a source which deals with the safety of Jewish citizens, cars in South Amsterdam have been vandalized with swastikas.

“ ‘Many Jewish families have removed their mezuzah — a roll of parchment which makes them identifiable as Jews — from their doorposts, in order to avoid becoming targets of violence. Various Jews have told media that they live in fear’ ” (“European anti‐​Semitism surges,” Rubin, The Washington Post, July 31).

The more I hear and feel the pervasiveness of anti‐​Semitism, the more I’m transported back to my boyhood during the “Great Depression” years of the 1930s and 1940s in Boston — then the most anti‐​Semitic city in this country.

In the Jewish ghetto of Roxbury, I was aware, even before I was able to go out alone, that a Jewish kid on the streets, especially at night, could lose some teeth, as youngsters from other neighborhoods came looking for descendants of Christ‐​killers.

I lost some teeth myself. And I was very aware of a teenager in a wheelchair, who, as a young Jew, had been struck in the head with a pickaxe. The neighborhood word was that he’d been warned by his mother not to go out alone at night.

As soon as I could read, and found it hard to stop, I learned what top‐​level Bostonians thought of these Jewish immigrants coming, as my parents had, from such places as Wolkowysk, U.S.S.R. (my father, Simon), and Minsk, U.S.S.R. (my mother, Lena).

As I wrote in my memoir, Boston Boy (Paul Dry Books, 1986): “Senator Henry Cabot Lodge had proclaimed, without fear of political reprisal, that these immigrants and their progeny were ‘inferior.’

“And Henry Brooks Adams, grandson of John Quincy Adams, had written of the ‘furtive Ysaac or Jacob still reeking of the Ghetto … snarling a weird Yiddish … The Jew makes me creep.’ ”

One night, alone on nearby Elm Hill Avenue in the cold, I slipped and fell on the ice and was suddenly surrounded by about eight Irishers, who were 15 and 16 years old:

“ ‘You Jewish, kid?’ There was no change in the tone. Just a friendly question. Before the execution.

I look up, indignant. ‘What do you mean, Jewish? I’m Greek. I don’t live here. I just finished work.’ …

The leader of the Hibernians looks down at me, trying to remember if he’s ever seen a Greek.

‘He’s a Hebe!’ one of his companions snorts.

‘Kid,’ the strapping boy stands over me, ‘say something in Greek.’

If I could give Mr. Winslow, teacher of Greek at Boston Latin School (where I was going to school), eternal life, I would do so right now. The Irisher didn’t say it had to be modern Greek, so I begin (Homer’s) Odyssey for him (in the original).

Naturally he says, ‘That’s Greek to me,’ guffaws, and leaves me on the ground” (from Boston Boy).

I was ashamed, but glad not to have been mugged.

Since then, although there’s still a lot of anti‐​Semitism in this land, I’ve seldom run into it face‐​to‐​face. But I learned back then, growing up an outsider — as I still largely am — that there’s always plentiful anti‐​Semitism. So I’m not shocked at its survival now not only among Muslims (and not all Muslims, by any means, are anti‐​Semitic), but among Europeans and Americans of many different backgrounds.

It’s like undying racism right here.

Reacting to the Jew hatred in the home of the Holocaust, “Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, calls it ‘an attack on freedom and tolerance and our democratic state,’ ” reports Henley.

But, he adds, growing European anti‐​Semitism is becoming more evident “according to a 2013 study by the Technical University of Berlin. In 14,000 hate‐​mail letters, emails and faxes sent over 10 years to the Israeli embassy in Berlin and the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Professor Monika Shwarz‐​Friesel found that 60 percent were written by educated, middle‐​class Germans, including professors, lawyers, priests and university and secondary school students. Most, too, were unafraid to give their names and addresses …”

I wonder if that kid visiting the Boston Jewish ghetto who demanded I say something in Greek still hates Jewish Christ‐​killers?

And how, on the ground, would I answer him if he hasn’t changed?

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