DemocracyDemocracy Forum

Why I am Jewish

It’s Political

I am Jewish. That statement is not something that comes easily to me. You might think otherwise. I understand that. I could simply say I am Jewish because I was born that way. I am ethnically Jewish and that could be the end of the story. However, I am not talking about my ethnicity. I could say I was raised that way, being brought up in a Jewish household that went from Orthodox to Conservative Judaism as a religious affiliation during my childhood. But for years now, I have not been a practicing Jew, at least not religiously. You could say that culturally I am Jewish because I accept proudly other people’s identification of me as a Jew. I identify as Jewish. I, in fact, prefer that designation when it comes to specifying who I am on various administrative forms. While I reject Caucasian, I do recognize that I am considered white. I do not contest that. Instead, if pushed I will admit to being a white Jew (if there is such a thing). My Jewishness was given to me, it is something I did not fully embrace but it is now something I choose to emphasize.

I do so for political reasons. I feel it is important for all Jews to now stand up and say they will not be intimidated by the hate crimes that are being inflicted on their synagogues and cemeteries, their homes and their persons. For me, proudly proclaiming my Jewish identity is political. For similar reasons, I would choose to identify as Muslim if I could. For a number of obvious reasons, I cannot. But I am Jewish in a sense not dissimilar to my desire to identify with Muslims as an oppressed and denigrated population. I proclaim my Jewish identity to stand with people who are being attacked.

Jews have been treated well in the United States in recent decades. This is not the country it once was. It is in no way like Nazi Germany. Yet, anti-Semitism is on the rise, as is hatred toward Muslims, Mexicans, African Americans and others who are increasingly marked as threats by white nationalists who supported Donald Trump in his campaign to win the White House. People are now being murdered for looking not white. The President has shown himself most reluctant to condemn the acts of violence against these groups, their places of worship, their graveyards, homes and themselves. The President claims to be the hero of “the American people,” but it seems he means only the white, Christians who voted for him. Other than a half-hearted statement given in his speech before Congress the only other time he mentioned the rise in hate crimes was when he was supposed to be speaking on Black History Month at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Instead, he has for the most part assiduously avoided making public statements critical of the perpetrators of these heinous acts. If fact, back during the campaign when he was pressured to disavow support from the infamous former head of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke, Trump simply said “I disavow,” as if to avoid ever being quoted as saying explicitly that he disavows David Duke. Trump is careful to avoid being disloyal to even the most virulent white nationalists in his base. If he can, he goes out of his way to not condemn their acts of violence. As time goes on, he continues to rail against terrorism but his statements increasingly sound incongruous when the only terrorist acts being committed these days on American soil are by white nationalists who he is so reluctant to criticize.

Therefore, if the President is going to be a non-factor in fighting homegrown terrorism it is critical that we, American citizens, stand in for him. We must do what he refuses to do: condemn what is happening in no uncertain terms. We must indicate we will not be intimidated. We must proudly proclaim who we are and we stand united against our attackers. For me, it means I must publicly become more explicitly Jewish. I am proud to be a Jew and will not hide. We are not going away, but we do want to see white nationalists who commit hate crimes to be gone, peacefully of course. We are still a nation of laws. If the President will not act, we can. We can pressure law enforcement to enforce the laws, to prosecute the criminals and make they pay for their hatred by removing them from society for however long their crimes merit.

But it is more their hatred than the people themselves that I want gone. I am not a fan of our counterproductive and overly punitive system of mass incarceration that we have put in place over the last 30 to 40 years. I do not even think hate crime legislation is always an effective response for related reasons. Instead, I prefer simply enforcing the existing criminal code to convict the wrongdoers. Most importantly, I am for mobilizing the great bulk of the American populace to condemn the hatred and to use all legitimate means to repudiate it, including punishing the people who perpetrate these violent acts. We must make it clear that we, as a country, will not stand for this hatred and will stamp it out.

Without presidential leadership, we are left to ourselves. We need to stand up now to be counted and remove the scourge of hatred from our society. We need to express our condemnation, employ moral suasion and enforce the law. We need to do it without the President. For he is not our President. This is more than a catch-cry of the Left. Trump, with his non-actions, has shown himself to be the non-President that he is.

Sanford Schram

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