“If men repeat often enough their hatreds the evil comes to pass.”
I’ve been (re)reading James Michener’s famous novel The Source, an historical fiction account of the rise of Israel and Judaism from prehistoric times up through the 1960s. In a chapter on Jewish life in 16th century Italy, a rabbi is forced to listen to the haranguing, boiling screed of a local priest who condemns the Jews as the epitome of every awful trait and manner that can be described. Told by the local ruler to ignore these tirades as harmless chatter, the rabbi admits his fear that the priest’s continued rages will catalyze the local Christians’ hate, which will be directed against the Jewish community. He is soon proven correct.
As far as Charlottesville goes these past few days, we’ve been here before, though that doesn’t make it any less tragic. Donald Trump’s befuddled, deliberate frothings have fueled this gathering of cowardly haters whose irrational anger is matched by an utterly incoherent perspective. Their obliviousness is paired, however, with guns and violence and a hair-trigger temper, which it what makes them so dangerous. Those who purport to hate Muslims the most nevertheless have no problem adopting the tactics of Islamic terrorists to ram a car through a crowd, killing and maiming in order to prove a point about absolutely nothing except their own moral rot.
This isn’t just about the Jews, of course, but it is very much about the Jews in a deep way. For at the root of all this demonstrably idiotic hypocrisy is the notion that while the blacks and immigrants and gays and Muslims (and everyone else) are irredeemably criminal, it is the Jews who enabled them. The Jews brought about this great misfortunate to the pure white American race, which is why the Charlottesville cowards are raising Nazi salutes and quoting Adolf Hitler.
For me the shock of Charlottesville is that it’s Charlottesville — it’s here, when as a student of Jewish history I know it’s already been elsewhere for the last thousand years. This pernicious anti-Semitism of the Jews-kill-Christian-children-to-make-matzah variety inspires such inchoate tantrum-throwing that it only ever ends in death and despair. Who needs to burn people at the stake anymore when you can use a made-in-America Dodge Challenger?
We can read a book about medieval hatred and ignorance and see that only the tactics have changed in the last 500 years, not the base lunacy or utterly unintelligible worldview. But the medieval era ended; so, too, will these American Nazi’s lose, of course, along with their small-minded, small-handed uber-angry bestie in the White House. In the meantime, we persevere, because we know that love and history and learning and wisdom are all on our side. Michener’s fictional rabbi well recognized that to wallow in the hate manifests its real-life consequences. But Jewish tradition also teaches us that to save one life is to save the whole world. The cowards are way, way behind.
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