I’m more of a secular Jew than religious. I am married to a Methodist man and we have raised our children Jewish. I’m a native Californian, and I’ve lived in the San Francisco Bay Area most of my life. My mom grew up in San Francisco in the Marina and doesn’t remember experiencing much bigotry. My New Yorker dad was raised in the Bronx of New York City where he thought everyone in the world was Jewish. When he was very young, his filter of the world was shattered one Easter when a gang of Catholic kids crossed a big boulevard and entered his neighborhood with clear intent to hunt for Jewish kids walking alone. My father was beaten up for being a “Christ killer.” He was called many names, including “Kyke.”
I remember my own early Easter experience when I came home from school and asked my mom if the Jews killed Jesus. Being very young at the time and having the kids shove an image of a bloody guy hanging from a cross, these kids made it sound like this was the only person ever killed in this manner.
Like many Jewish parents, mom’s response was, “They are still teaching that lie to kids?” She also explained how crucifying was the common form of punishment carried out on a regular basis by the Romans (and in that region, only the Romans) who were in power.
To quote Author Reza Aslan, “Crucifixion was a punishment that Rome reserved exclusively for the crime of sedition, for crimes against the state. If you know nothing else about Jesus except that his life ended on the cross at Golgotha, you know enough to understand who he was and what kind of threat he posed to Rome.” (http://www.thenation.com/blog/175433/jesus-revolutionary-qa-reza-aslan)
Even Popes have publicly dispelled that myth since in the 1960s. In his book Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI says the Jewish people are not responsible for the death of Jesus.
It has been this false accusation–what this Rohnert Park pastor refers to as the “Jews’ determination to murder Christ”–that has resulted in the justification of cruel acts carried out for too many centuries. In his speech Thursday, President Obama warned against assuming evil deeds are carried out exclusively by people outside the United States. He said, “Remember that during the crusades and inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.” He continued reminding, slavery and Jim Crow laws justified horrible acts in America in the name of Christ.
Many Catholics and other Christians blamed Jews for Jesus’ death for hundreds of years, but the Catholic Church formally repudiated that assertion in the 1960s when it became a church priority to build better relations with the Jewish community. Pope Francis carries on that mission in his own delightful manner as he carries the church into the modern era. I am hopeful every time I read how he addresses contemporary issues as he opens many doors of communication, diversity and acceptance.
I’m always torn by these types of freedom of speech issues. My dad (turning 85 this month) was an attorney before retiring. I always regarded my father as an honorable man, but it was during the heated debate about freedom of speech and the rights of the neo-Nazis marching in the Skokie, Illinois—home to a large Jewish community populated by an abundance of Holocaust survivors—when he became my personified Atticus Finch. I was just stepping into my teenage years when the news of this march spread throughout the country.
Long before my contemporaries knew anything about WWII, I had been thoroughly informed about our Ashkenazi, European Jewish heritage. I knew about the Cossacks’ pogroms and how my ancestors were attacked, killed or forced to leave their homes. In the case of my great-grandfather, the family helped him flee the country after he defended his third-term pregnant wife who was thrown to the ground by a drunken Cossack. And, of course, I knew the impact of the Holocaust. “Never forget.” “Always watch for the signs, and don’t be attached to material “things” that may prevent you from leaving when you can.” My parents raised me and my sisters on those messages; those warnings.
But when these ignorant American Nazis (a sad combination of words) threatened to march and taunt these people who already had suffered indescribable anguish, it was my father who calmed my anger when he explained why their rights must be preserved. You may hate their message and everything they stand for, my father told me, but when one group, one person, is denied the right to speak and protest, your freedom of speech can be taken away just as easily. Today, I thank my parents for inspiring me to speak up when I see wrongs being committed…to Jews, or anyone else.
Having been so young when I learned about the Holocaust and Germany’s active role in WWII and WWI, I remember bulking Germans into a group of people I should despise. My parents quickly dissolved that misconception and seed of intolerance.
Yes, America and world powers learned a harsh lesson they need to keep a sharp eye on this country that repeatedly aggressed against others. But you can’t hate a group of people based on broad terms such as nationality, race, ethnicity, religious beliefs. In my blood, I carry the countries of Russia, Austria and a host of other countries. And yes, I carry German blood. My father’s family was from Germany, as was my maternal grandfather’s family. Now, my children add Scottish blood from their father whose family has documented their lineage back to the sixth century. (I wish my family could do the same.)
Hitler used Joseph Goebbels’s infectious propaganda to disseminate lies and create intolerance and fear. What was true then remains true today: say something/lies enough times, and people begin to believe it as true. The Nazi propaganda machine created enough anti-Semitism to shift the balance of humanity and blind their supporters from the Nazis’ evil intentions and “Final Solution” to exterminate the Jews.
It is when “respected” community leaders preach messages of intolerance that bigotry is perpetuated. Considering January marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, you would think people would begin realizing what can happen when community leaders support a message of hate.
Is there anything that could (or should) be done to enlighten this church and prevent ugly acts of hatred? Will you be a passive bystander while Pastor Smith teaches his flock to hate a people based on faulty information already dispelled by the church? It’s dangerous messages tossed out by people like Pastor Smith that make me worry for the safety of my children and their future as American Jews.