By Barbara Goldberg Goldman
On the Sabbath just hours before Passover 2019 concluded, four members of the Poway, California Chabad synagogue were shot in cold blood. Three were injured and one was killed. It is no coincidence that this marked the six-month anniversary of the deadliest attack on the American-Jewish community when 11 Jews were killed and seven injured while worshipping in their Pittsburgh synagogue. Perhaps it is no coincidence that on this same day, eight self-avowed white nationalists marched into a local book store interrupting an author’s presentation.
Were these exceptions in otherwise civil, religiously tolerant and diverse communities? I’m no longer certain. Just hours after the Poway shooting, I experienced yet another form of anti-Semitism here in Washington, D.C. while celebrating the end of Passover at one of my favorite upscale restaurants.
Our table was very close to another where two well-dressed and jewel bedecked couples were enjoying a lively, albeit loud, conversation that was impossible to ignore. When I heard the word “Jews” being repeated, my ears began to ring. Two of the people at the table were engaged in dialogue that definitely included anti-Semitic comments and innuendo. One of the women even commented, “Well, I think my husband is an anti-Semite.” The husband looked at her, nodded and they all laughed! Another said, “Why do they get so upset when people talk about what they do with their money? It’s the truth!” They laughed about dubbing a group of “Jewish friends” the “Kosher Nostra.”
The more they drank their fine wine, the more animated became their conversation. They reminisced about growing up in Washington, D.C., and how some of the “Jews who went to school with them now do business with them.” Clearly, these were upper middle-class, if not upper-class, individuals who thought they were in their own bubble. No mention at all was made of the anti-Semitic terror attack at the California Chabad or the storming into their local bookstore. They were oblivious to anyone else around them. I couldn’t help but wonder, would they have continued the conversation if my husband had been wearing a kippah? Would they have made racist comments if they’d been seated next to a black family? Anti-Muslim comments sitting next to a woman wearing a hijab?
I wanted to interrupt and tell them that we were offended by their remarks, and explain why. I did not. I felt uncomfortable. I was stunned. We remained silent, finished our meals, and left the restaurant. I wish I had said something. I should have.
Donald Trump has become the overseer of an epidemic of racism and anti-Semitism in America. In fact, soon after his inauguration, bigotry in many forms began to rear its ugly head with a vengeance. It appears as though license has been given to socially, morally and ethically unacceptable behavior and talk. The values for which many of us fought so hard to maintain during the past many decades once again were betrayed. Our lives have been put at risk. We can no longer underestimate the power of the Oval Office to set the tone for the nation.
Am I politicizing the situation? You bet I am.
There is a reason that nearly 80 percent of American Jews vote Democratic and that Jewish support for Republicans has been declining since Trump hijacked the Republican Party and took office. Democrats vote their values. And the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA), an organization of which I serve as Vice Chair, helps ensure that Jewish and Democratic values mirror one another.
It was inconceivable two years ago that twice in six months, Jews would be targeted and gunned down in American synagogues. Two years ago it was unconscionable that families would be ripped apart by American officials at our borders, and that the president of the United States–less than 80 years after the SS St. Louis was turned away from our shores–would propose banning people from entering the United States based on their religion and refuse to condemn white supremacists, calling them “very fine people.” That the president of the United States of America would praise these bigots for lauding and protecting the statue of Robert E. Lee, a Confederate soldier who waged war against the United States to preserve white supremacy would have been unthinkable.
How many more Jews, Muslims and others targeted for their faith or race will be gunned down before we come to our senses and elect representatives who will fight against bigotry? When will we have common sense gun safety legislation that every other nation in the world has adopted? How long will some pretend that both political parties are the same, and that it makes no difference who we elect?
Who would have thought that we would ever elect a president who is uncouth, uninformed, and cruel? How will the history books retell this hideous anomalous story? That is up to us.
This current environment must never be the new normal. Not in the Oval Office nor anywhere else. This means countering the example set by our commander-in-chief. It means living and advocating for our Democratic values.
As far as I’m concerned, if ever there is a next time, I will speak up!
Barbara Goldberg Goldman serves as Vice Chair of the Jewish Democratic Council of America’s Board of Directors and is President of B&G Regal Domestics, Inc., a national employment placement agency located in Rockville.