The last few days have been interesting. They point out where we have been heading for some time as a nation. These are not nice markers. They range from ignorance, to book burning, to a national political party denying the horrors of January six and justifying it as valid political speech.
I believe Whoopi Goldberg when she said she was not aware the Holocaust was about race. I am sure she did not realize how much race plays a role even in modern antisemitism. I understand what she told Stephen Colbert as well. In her mind, and I get it if the Klan was rushing her and a Jewish friend, they would leave the latter alone, for the moment. Also, I am assuming that this Jewish friend looks like me, but does not sound like me. Trust me, I open my trap, I will instantly become a target.
Yes, I have an accent. This alone marks me as the other.
However there are Jews around the world, and in the US that looks like Goldberg. This is how much of a stereotype of what is a Jew is part of American culture. No, not all Jews are white, or of Eastern European extraction. And for most of American history Jews were considered a separate race.
It is the last two generations that Jews became white, and like Italians, the Irish and Poles became part of the majority. There has been a cost to this, as well as benefits. Identity is harder to maintain and to be brutal, for a large minority of Americans race matters. This includes Jews who have lost the sense of alarm about this. We saw this with German Jews who considered themselves German.
Ernst Tiller’s words are relevant at this time because we are facing growing antisemitism:
I was born and brought up in Germany; I had breathed the air of Germany and its spirit had molded mine; as a German writer I had helped to preserve the purity of the German language. How much of me was German, how much Jewish? I could not have said . . .
The words, “I am proud to be a German” or “I am proud to be a Jew,” sounded . . . stupid to me. As well say, “I am proud to have brown eyes.”
Must I then join the ranks of the bigoted and glorify my Jewish blood now, not my German? Pride and love are not the same thing, and if I were asked where I belonged I should answer…