After the Apocalypse

I’ve never been afraid to be a Jew in America before.

Tonight isn’t the first time I’ve felt these fears during Donald Trump’s campaign. I’ve felt them ever since Trump told the Republican Jewish Congress they wouldn’t vote for him “because I don’t want your money.” I’ve felt them ever since he and his sons started retweeting posts and images from anti-Jew white supremacists. My fear has intensified, steadily, since Trump retweeted an image of a Star of David emblazoned over money, and reached a peak when Trump used his last campaign ad to decry “a global power structure” represented solely by Jews.

At least, I thought it was a peak. But I was wrong. Tonight, after it became clear Donald J. Trump would become the next President of the United States, I sat in my room and cried for more minutes than I can count. For the first time, I am truly afraid to live in my country.

I haven’t talked about these fears during this election cycle because, of all minority groups, I have the least to fear — and that’s saying something. My terror shouldn’t take away from the sheer dystopia facing all people of color, Muslims, immigrants, LGBTQ individuals, low-income people with government health care, sexual violence survivors, millions upon millions upon millions of people in our country who aren’t safe here anymore. I don’t expect government policy to adopt anti-Semitism, although I write that with some hesitation. But Trump has enabled anti-Semites, brought their bigotry back into the mainstream, and created a space for hating Jews that our country has not seen since World War II.

Again: I’m lucky. I’m white. I’m upper middle-class. But I am terrified for my friends, for my family, for the Jewish children I hope to bear one day. I’ve always known I would be an overprotective mother, that I would find plenty to worry about for my children: bullies, tough schoolwork, heartache. Never before have I worried that my children might be called kikes. Never before have I had reason to fear for their wellbeing because of their ethnicity and religion. Never before have I felt my family would be unsafe not just while living in America, but because we live in America.

I’ve always said with pride before that I look Jewish, and that my dad does, too. I’ve loved that with one look, maybe two, people can recognize the identity I love so deeply. Now I’m terrified. I’m terrified that with one look, a stranger will decide I am less than human. I’m terrified that they will decide the same about other people I love, too.

To my friends of color: I don’t know how you’ve made it this long, with this much fear. I’m so sorry for any way I’ve contributed to that. To however small an extent, I know your fear now. I don’t know if I have your strength to bear it.

All my life, Jewish elders have told me anti-Semitism is a cycle. You don’t know what it’s like, they said, but it’ll come back. It always does. I shrugged it off.

They were right.

I don’t want the Trump voters reading this to unfriend me or distance themselves from me personally. That’s not our way forward as a nation. But I want you to know that you have plunged my life and the lives of millions of others into uncertainty and horror. I want you to know that when — not if — someone calls me a yid, you are to blame. I want you to know that you have wrenched America away from all its claims to democracy and equality. And if you are a Jew, and you voted for a man who exploited anti-Semitism in order to gain votes, you should hang your head in shame. I pray for you, because you need it.

For that matter, we all do.


Donald Trump, Schmuck in Chief

Donald Trump is a piece of drek.

That fact has been clear throughout this entire election cycle, but it became especially obvious yesterday. You know, when Donald Trump tweeted a blatantly anti-Semitic image accusing Hillary Clinton of corruption. The poster had a background of money and a red badge declaring Clinton the “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever” — shaped like a Star of David.

As Andy Borowitz put it, right as always: “Trump doing an anti-Semitic tweet about someone who isn’t Jewish combines two of his signature qualities, racism and inaccuracy.” So meshuge.

Trump deleted the tweet, which seemed almost like an admission of wrongdoing. But of course it wasn’t! A k’nocker like Trump doesn’t apologize. No, instead Trump waited until today to tweet: “Dishonest media is trying their absolute best to depict a star in a tweet as the Star of David rather than a Sheriff’s Star, or plain star!”

That’s because it was a Star of David, Donald. Sheriff’s stars have circles on their points. Plain stars usually have five tips.

As always, Trump deliberately or genuinely just doesn’t get it. Because of that, I realized: why bother writing a column in English for this am horets? He’s earned the language of my people, the language with the best insults in the world: Yiddish.

And here’s the thing: Yiddish is the most appropriate language to write this rant in anyway. Yiddish became the language of Ashkenazi Jews in the ninth century. No matter where in Eastern or Central Europe these Jews lived, their language united them. My grandmother’s family came from modern-day Lithuania, my grandfather’s family from modern-day Ukraine. Those two countries are more than 1,100 miles apart. Yet both my grandparents spoke Yiddish. Instead of Lithuanian or Ukrainian, Yiddish was their families’ native language.

That’s because being Jewish added a formative layer to their identity. Both an ethnicity and a faith, Judaism has defined its adherents for thousands of years. It’s not the only thing that defines us: I, for example, am also a white, upper-middle-class woman from Suburbia, USA. But it’s an intrinsic part of our identities — a link that Yiddish, for more than a millennium, exemplified.

Donald Trump can’t understand what it means to be part of a persecuted minority, because he’s not part of one. He particularly can’t understand what it means to be Jewish. The poster he tweeted, whose anti-Semitism he later denied, epitomizes an old Yiddish saying, born from centuries of persecution and mistrust: Dos ken nor a goy. “That, only a gentile is capable of doing.” Only a non-Jew with Trump’s chutzpa could parrot such narishkayt.

Here’s the thing: Trump almost certainly doesn’t think of himself as anti-Semitic. His daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism; three of his grandchildren will receive B’nai Mitzvot. They’re related to him, so in theory he cares about them.

But that doesn’t preclude him from being an anti-Semite. In fact, Trump is anti-Semitic. He may not think Jews’ association with money is a bad thing — he’s tried to cultivate that same association for himself — but he does think it exists.

Let’s look at his great seykhl of the Jewish people:

  • “I’m a negotiator like you folks, we are negotiators. . . . Is there anybody that doesn’t renegotiate deals in this room? This room negotiates them — perhaps more than any other room I’ve ever spoken in.” — Trump, assuming all Jews are money-obsessed hagglers, at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s Presidential Forum in 2015.
  • “Stupidly, you want to give money. . . . You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money.” — There he goes again with the money stereotype at the RJC!
  • “I promise you that I’m much smarter than Jonathan Leibowitz – I mean Jon Stewart @TheDailyShow. Who, by the way, is totally overrated.” — A tweet from The Donald in 2013, with his insinuations about Stewart’s Judaism plain.
  • “Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.”As told to John R. O’Donnell, former president of Trump Plaza Hotel & Casino. Trump probably thought this was a compliment.
  • “I don’t have a message to the fans. . . . A woman wrote an article that’s inaccurate.” — This quote would seem innocuous if Trump wasn’t defending his anti-Semitic supporters, who were sending vile, vulgar death threats to Julia Ioffe, a Jewish reporter who wrote an article about Melania Trump. Wolf Blitzer gave Trump an opportunity to denounce those fans; Trump didn’t take it.

From those five quotes alone, Trump’s record is clear: he believes in the stereotypes about Jews and money, plus a few others. Even worse, he spreads and encourages those stereotypes among his millions of followers. He bears direct blame for the neo-Nazis attacking Jews, journalists or otherwise, online. There’s a reason David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, enthusiastically endorsed him.

Donald Trump is an anti-Semite.

It doesn’t matter that his daughter and grandchildren are Jewish. It doesn’t matter that there are some rich Jews, or Jewish accountants. Trump’s stereotypes about us remain prejudicial khaloshes. They’re garbage, responsible for millions of Jews’ deaths.

And this oyf kapores zhlob wants to be president of the United States.

Happy Fourth of July, everybody. Don’t vote for Donald Schmuck Trump in November.

Death to the Jews: Leo Frank, Alfred Dreyfus and the Crime of Judaism

     The summer before eleventh grade, I attended Hathaway Brown Theatre Institute, a camp that trained me to perform in one of its two musicals that season. One of our assignments was to pick a new song, practice it with a voice teacher and prepare it as an audition piece. On a staff member’s suggestion, I chose “You Don’t Know This Man” from Jason Robert Brown’s Parade, a 1998 musical about the trial, conviction and lynching of Leo Frank — a man innocent of all deeds except being Jewish.
     Frank, a pencil factory superintendent in Marietta, GA, was accused of murdering 13-year-old Mary Phagan in April 1913. As crowds outside the courthouse screamed, “Hang the Jew!” on August 25, Frank was convicted based on factory janitor Jim Conley’s testimony. That Conley’s story changed between affidavits seemed not to bother the jury, nor did the fact he admitted fabricating parts of his tale. Although Conley was an African-American in the Jim Crow South, the jury considered him more truthful than Frank, a Jew raised and educated in the North. Appeals from Frank’s legal team failed, although Georgia’s governor commuted his original sentence — death by hanging — to life imprisonment.
     However, the commutation did not save Leo Frank. On August 16, 1915, a group of 28 men — including former Georgia governor Joseph Mackey Brown, former Marietta mayor Eugene Herbert Clay and E. P. Dobbs, the mayor of Marietta at the time, as well as lawyers, bankers and county sheriffs — abducted Frank from a prison hospital. The next day — exactly 100 years ago — they lynched him. When townspeople discovered Frank’s swinging corpse, they took proud pictures underneath it: a city united, celebrating that they had finally hung the Jew.
     Today, historians agree that Conley killed Phagan to steal the pay in her pocket. Conley framed Leo Frank, an innocent man condemned less for his alleged crime than for being a Jew in an anti-Semitic society.
     Frank’s sordid tale struck a particular chord with me not just because I am Jewish, but also because of my mother. She was born and grew up as a Jew in the South. Had my mother been born just a few decades earlier, she, too, could have been framed for murder because of her religion. She, too, may have hung from a tree, a rope bruising her breathless neck.
     As I sang the song from Parade at camp, I thought of another anti-Semitic attack. In September 1894, the French army obtained a letter known as the bordereau, written to the German military attaché in Paris, offering French military secrets. Alfred Dreyfus, the only Jew with knowledge of the letter’s promised information, became an instant suspect. The army prosecuted Dreyfus without conclusive evidence as to his guilt. A handwriting expert from the Bank of France said Dreyfus’ penmanship did not match that in the bordereau, so General Mercier hired an anti-Semitic graphologist to disagree. Commandants Henry and du Paty forged a “Secret File” of documents incriminating Dreyfus under military orders. On December 22, the First Council of War unanimously declared Dreyfus guilty. Most Frenchmen believed a Jew could commit treason without question, despite his spick-and-span military career and spotless criminal record. Journalists from the popular, anti-Semitic La Libre Parole, who had felt consoled upon Dreyfus’ arrest “that it [was] not a true Frenchman who committed such a crime,” rejoiced.
     Dreyfus’ legal battle to prove his innocence continued for more than a decade. In 1896, while investigating one Commandant Esterhazy for another treasonous letter, General Georges Picquart discovered Esterhazy’s handwriting matched that in the bordereau. His superiors forbade him from revealing his discovery; when Picquart disobeyed them, giving his report to a lawyer in 1897, the army discharged him.
     Picquart’s report led to a retrial for Dreyfus and a first trial for Esterhazy. However, on Jan. 10, 1898, Esterhazy was acquitted. The crowd roared its appreciation for the verdict: “Death to the Jews!”
     However, Dreyfus and his supporters maintained his innocence. As anti-Semitic disputes roiled France, the military’s case unraveled. Reporters discovered the forged “Secret File” in August 1898; Commandant Henry committed suicide. The next day, Esterhazy fled France. A year later, Dreyfus returned to France for a retrial but, despite the new evidence in his favor, met conviction again. However, President Loubet issued Dreyfus a pardon in September 1899, which he accepted. Dreyfus remained guilty in the eyes of the law until 1906, when the Cour de Cassation gave him a fourth trial. Finally, they declared his innocence.
     Even after the 1906 ruling, however, anti-Dreyfusards and anti-Semites swore by Dreyfus’ guilt. Their sentiments haunted Dreyfus the rest of his life. He could no longer live his former existence as an upright military officer, Jewish but unobservant. Until his death, his faith and its consequences defined him.
     Alfred Dreyfus’ legal battle began 19 years before Leo Frank’s, and he avoided Frank’s grisly demise. However, history casts these two men as brothers. Both were upstanding members of their modern societies; both were framed for crimes they did not commit; both were convicted because they observed Judaism; both have been exonerated by hindsight, the great redeemer. Dreyfus and Frank serve as casualties of anti-Semitism in the Western world, and as warnings of the strife and injustice prejudice can wring.
     A common joke among Jews aims to describe, in one sentence, all our holidays: “They tried to kill us; they didn’t; let’s eat!” Although I laugh whenever someone feeds me that line, I — like all Jews, or at least most — understand the truth at its core. We are among the most persecuted groups in world history. In the Exodus, the Diaspora, the Holocaust, we have faced extinction as a people. Yet we have faced equal threats as individuals throughout history as well.
     We don’t know the name of every Jew targeted for his religion. We don’t know their faces, their families or their fates. However, we do know Alfred Dreyfus and Leo Frank. We know who they were; we know what befell them. We read their names in history books and hear their stories in musicals. We think of their faces when we hear of persecution and bemoan the years they lost because of it.
     Today, the centenary anniversary of the lynching of Leo Frank, remember the factory leader whose innocence could not save him. Remember Alfred Dreyfus, the soldier betrayed by the army he served. And with them, remember every other victim of religious persecution — millions of unknown people killed before their time, millions of unknown people who deal with slurs and violence everyday. We do not know all their names, but we can honor their lives. If we remember and eradicate the prejudice that plagued them, they have not died in vain.
     If observing Judaism is a crime, I am guilty. Luckily, in my life, it is not. We must make that the standard across the world, for all religions. The fact we have not achieved that yet shows what we still must learn from Leo Frank. Until then, his body’s shadow still hangs on a tree in Georgia: limbs tied together, his white nightshirt in tatters, unseeing eyes facing the sky.