Horrific. But NOT the Holocaust.
I had an uneasy feeling.
But I knew that in spite of that feeling, I had to protest. I was devastated, outraged and frightened, and I had to do something with my grief.
I didn’t want to feel powerless, and I was determined to show solidarity.
So, on a freezing Sunday night, I went to Kikar Paris in the center of Jerusalem to protest the Muslim ban.
I went as the daughter of a man who, in the 1970’s, fled Greece illegally due to political turmoil and was able to build a new life in the United States.
I went as the descendent of a long line of immigrants who passed through Ellis Island and worked incredibly hard to successfully build new happy, healthy and safe lives.
I went as the former classmate of an impressively diverse group of students, many of whom were Iranian and known for their above average grades and acceptance at top universities. My Iranian classmates never showed any hesitation to work with me on class projects or let me join them for lunch. In fact, the mother of one Iranian student carried hard-to-find kosher for Passover products in her middle eastern grocery store. And she has an even bigger selection today.
I went as someone who spends several hours a week doing volunteer work for asylum seekers and refugees from African countries, some of whom are Muslim. I care deeply about and respect the people I work with, and my life is better off with them in it.
I went because it felt like the moral thing to do, and I was in such pain about the situation I couldn’t imagine staying home and doing nothing.
I also feel strongly that as a Jew who complains regularly about how the world turned its back on us during the Holocaust and has continued to do so, I shouldn’t be able to accuse myself of being a hypocrite.
And you are to love those who are strangers, for you yourselves were strangers in Egypt. — Leviticus 19:34
But like I said. I had an uneasy feeling.
A few minutes into the protest, when I saw a sign that said “Never Again” and featured a yellow star with the word “Jude” in the center, I knew my uneasy feeling was justified.
The next morning, I saw two different pictures of women wearing yellow stars with the word Muslim in the center. I’d known that was coming, and try as I might, I couldn’t be okay with it.
Soon after, I saw a post from Dan Rather, who I highly respect and whose Facebook posts I’ve been devouring lately, that referred to the St. Louis and Japanese Internment as “twin stains” on American history.
These twin stains on our national history see fearsome echoes in our own time. Whitewashing history to the degree of…www.facebook.com
Of course both events were horrific and both are nasty stains. But they are not “twins.” Only one of those events played a part in the largest genocide in history.
And there was that queasy feeling again, and it’s a feeling I share with many, even with people on the other end of the political spectrum:
I have tried to keep Trump politics off of IsraelB, but these types of photos I have seen on FB from anti-Trump…www.facebook.com
(I’m somewhere in that crowd.)
Yes, I absolutely believe that our history should be used as a cautionary tale.
On the other hand, as much as I detest Trump with a passion that makes me physically ill, I absolutely believe that Hitler has always been and will always be in a class by himself, and no event in history has been as horrific as the Holocaust.
These are beliefs I’ve held for a long time and became even stronger after I studied the history of the Holocaust during my junior year abroad at the Hebrew University, after which I went to Poland on a tour of ten concentration camps. I stood in gas chambers and saw display cases filled with chopped off hair, a lot of which was still gathered with lovingly tied bows and had turned a glowing green from the gas.
But it’s not just the comparison of the horror that bothers me (and believe me, it does).
There is one glaring difference between what’s happening now and what was happening at the beginning of the Holocaust.
First they came for the Muslims,
And we all freaked out and resisted,
Because this is full-on Nazi shit,
And we know better now.
— Zack Bornstein (@ZackBornstein) January 28, 2017
And that’s the fact that people are speaking out:
After the ban was announced, people flew off their couches in the middle of a Saturday so they could protest long into the night and even through the weekend. There were lawyers sitting on airport floors while they worked to free the detainees, politicians and government officials resisting and risking their jobs (thank you Sally Yates), defiant judges, and celebrities showing up at the SAG Awards holding signs and making speeches.
Look at what happened just a few days ago:
Before and during the Holocaust, Jews didn’t have even a fraction of that kind of support.
And now, all these years later, we still don’t.
Yet 99% of the time, when I share a link to an article about one of these hate crimes on social media, only one or two people (if that) even take the time to respond with a teary emoji.[Update: This has improved in the past week, for which I am grateful.]
Who is speaking about about the four (so far) waves of bomb threats to Jewish community centers? Okay, a haunting photo of empty cribs in the snow went viral. But beyond that, has there been any resistance? Where are the “rings of peace?”
Who’s in the streets to show outrage about this and the Neo-Nazis who are cheering about it:
I’ve been wondering if the now famous twitter account that shares the names of Jewish refugees who once tried to enter the United States had gone live on last year’s Holocaust Memorial Day, would people be paying as much attention? [Update: Muslim activists have raised money to repair the cemetery.]
My name is Joachim Hirsch. The US turned me away at the border in 1939. I was murdered in Auschwitz pic.twitter.com/pfvJtMpIps
— St. Louis Manifest (@Stl_Manifest) January 27, 2017
Don’t get me wrong. I love that Madeline Albright, Jonathan Greenblatt and many others plan to register as Muslims if, G-d forbid, it comes to that.
I was raised Catholic, became Episcopalian & found out later my family was Jewish. I stand ready to register as Muslim in #solidarity.
— Madeleine Albright (@madeleine) January 25, 2017
I love even more that Mayim Bialik, along with her vow to register, has been sharing her family history and leading a conversation on refugees and immigration that we need to have.
With everything going on right now, it felt like the right time to pay tribute to some of my family members who sought…www.facebook.com
These are scary times, and it’s not surprising that people are using the phrase “Never Again.” But let’s not forget the phrase’s strong link to the Holocaust.
Same goes for the yellow star. It’s part of our history.
While it’s true that the many non-Jews were killed during the Holocaust should not be forgotten, we can’t forget that Hitler’s main goal was to exterminate the entire Jewish people.
“The suffering of the Jewish people is not an afterthought, a prepositional phrase to be bolted onto the end of a sentence. The suffering of the Jewish people is the whole reason that the concept of the Holocaust was defined. It became shorthand to explain the unexplainable, the inconceivable — an intentional, transnational campaign to exterminate an entire people perpetrated in broad daylight in front of the entire world.”
If we downplay what happened during World War II, jump to make comparisons and make our tragedy inclusive (as the White House did in its statement on Holocaust Memorial Day), we’re in danger of forgetting the details of the past and the chances of “again” increase.
The same goes for Anne Frank. Her story must remain hers and hers alone.
Which is why I have a really hard time with images like this:
Yes, her story and the stories of way too many Syrian children share parallels. But it’s not fair to Anne Frank or the Syrian children to combine their stories.
Both stories are horrific. Neither story is universal.
My world history textbook in high school had one paragraph and one picture about the holocaust.
My hope is that years from now, history books will give the Muslim ban and today’s islamophobia the spotlight they deserve.
I also hope that the St. Louis, Anne Frank’s story, and the atrocities of the Holocaust get their own, undiluted, chapters.
So please, learn from our history. Listen to warnings from the heroic Holocaust survivors who are speaking out.
If you’re going to use our history to protect and defend others, I beg you to please use it to defend and protect us, too.
I, as a Jew, will proudly and eagerly speak out against and fight the Muslim ban.
After 9/11, I put on a head covering and went to an open house at a mosque to show my solidarity, and I will continue to show my support.
If it comes to it, I will register.
Besides the fact that I feel an ethical and moral responsibility to do so, I want a strong leg to stand on the next time I climb up onto my soapbox and complain that the world is turning its back on us.
Right now, the Jews who are protesting, including the group of rabbis who were arrested, are leading by example. May the world learn from them and follow their lead the next time the lives of Jews or any other group of people are in danger.
During these difficult and painful times, I will vow to learn more about the Holocaust and the plight of refugees, Muslim and otherwise, in our world today.
“Do not stand idly by your neighbor’s blood.” — Leviticus 19:16
And in my heart and mind, I will always keep the Holocaust in a class by itself.