This is not social anti-Semitism. I don’t want you in my club. I don’t want you dating my daughter. I don’t want you in my hotel. This is the more murderous kind. I don’t want you to breathe. I don’t want your children to eat. I want you gone. “Jews will not replace us.” Is the call of the rabid wolf in the forest. We have heard it before. The angry faces, the Nazi symbols, intended to frighten, intended to warn away the faint of heart, these we saw a few days ago in Charlottesville. How many of those young men had actually ever met a Jewish person I don’t know, but it seems unlikely that their schools, neighborhoods, and jobs were being overrun by hungry Jews. The Jew is then a symbol of a different America, a tolerant and educated America, an America that still dreams of better lives for all. These white polo shirted torch bearers are the people whose right to bear arms is protected by our government and they want us dead which is the most efficient way to have us gone. I am certainly not the only Jew who has nightmares that cannot be put to rest.
There has been a backlash against Donald Trump’s support of Nazi groups. But in all the talk I have hardly heard the word Jew. And it is important that we say it aloud. It is African Americans they despise. It is Jews they fear. We all know where this talk can lead. We saw it in Germany 1940-1945. We saw it the lynchings and the grim faces of those who tried to prevent small black children from attending decent schools.
As I watched on television the stream of torches and shouts of hatred pass by I thought of the Thanksgiving Day parade with balloons of beloved animals. I thought of the churches and synagogues across America where the services end in a prayer for America, not an America that belonged to one group or another but all of our Americas, bagels and borscht, pork chops and brisket, turkey and yogurt, petit fours and birthday cake. I thought of all the Jewish soldiers fighting in France, in Okinawa, in Kabul. Can it be that we are replacing anyone?
We need Jewish leadership to speak out now. We shouldn’t assume this will pass. It won’t pass because it is buried in the bone of the country. It is not a majority view and no Jew should be packing up just yet, but it is a very unsettling echo of other places and times. We need politicians to say the word Jew, my Jewish friend, my Jewish colleague, my son’s Jewish college roommate. We need to assert our own American presence and not be silent, hoping for the cloud to pass.
Our Rabbis need to write to their local papers. They need to call their Congressional representative. The leadership of the Jewish community should be taking ads in newspapers and television reminding America of where Nazi anti-Semitism leads. Our leadership should be standing vocally strong with Black leadership as well as the Muslim and Hispanic communities. I wouldn’t wait for someone else to speak for us. We might be waiting a long time.
I grew up in America in late forties, and if we said the word Jew, we whispered it. This will not save us in the 21st century. We need to shout it aloud. We need to insist that we are here and belong here, and bring to America our values, our treasures, our understanding and respect for the spark of life in all human beings.
Jewish organizations, Jewish leaders, Rabbis and businessmen, writers and movie makers, painters and jewelers, speak up now. Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, pastors and university professors speak up now. And say the word Jew, or Jewish, so there is no doubt that you are speaking about us.
Anne Roiphe is a novelist and a journalist.