The ghosts of the past

American Jews are nostalgic for the days long gone, when after the Second World War the shadow of the Holocaust created in America the safest environment the Diaspora has ever experienced.

By
August 29, 2017 10:16
4 minute read.
A STATUE of Confederate general and early member of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), Nathan Bedford Forrest,

A STATUE of Confederate general and early member of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), Nathan Bedford Forrest, stands over his grave in Health Sciences Park in Memphis, Tennessee.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

A few hundred Nazis marching through the streets of Charlottesville, a quiet college Virginia town, elicited a “gevalt” only comparable to the excitement around the total solar eclipse that followed a few weeks after. The march was a seminal event for American Jews. A unity of resolve, unseen for at least a decade among the members of the tribe, commenced with the boots of Nazi sympathizers hitting the pavement of that scenic American town. Not a single Jewish organization failed to condemn it in the strongest terms. And rightfully so: the Nazi German regime perpetuated the most vile form of genocide against Jews.

However, does that small group of imbeciles deserve such attention from a community in a state of crisis? Judging by the reaction one might think the Nazis are about to or have already taken power in the US. Are these people the most lethal threat to Jews? Does the strength of the outrage have causes other than the severity of the threat? Is the loud, unified voice of American Jews a sign of strength (as most commentators and Jewish officials tend to claim) or rather a symptom of weakness?

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One would have to use drugs and a very unorthodox definition of “Nazi” to make the claim that the country is facing a Nazi threat of any significance. There are no poll numbers to tell us how widespread support of Nazi ideas is (maybe because no pollster has considered the numbers to be of any interest). What we do know, based on the information provided by The Southern Poverty Law Center, is that the KKK counts between 5,000 and 8,000 members nationwide. We also know recent demonstrations by Nazis and their sympathizers have attracted from a few hundred to a thousand participants.

Currently on the run, The Daily Stormer had around 2.6 million visitors in the month of July (based on Alexa Ranking) with less than half of them coming from the US. In comparison SFGate.com, a local San Francisco website, and The New York Times had 41 and 333 millions visitors respectively. On the other hand, various Left-leaning “pro-peace” demonstrations consisting of tens of thousands of participants with anti-Israel and overtly antisemitic slogans have generated little or no outrage from the Jewish officialdom and press.

Even indisputably antisemitic actions by the organizers, such as this past June in Chicago where three Jewish women carrying Jewish pride flags were kicked out of a march, are considered to be an eccentric performance by a few. Not to mention the situation on many college campuses where a virulent anti-Israel tone is supported and nurtured by numerous activists and the faculty. Clearly it is neither the urgency of the moment nor numerical or ideological strength of a few hundred Nazis that make American Jews unite and sound the alarm. The presence of a myriad of much bigger real threats to Jewish existence makes this fixation peculiar and in need of explanation.

The Holocaust has been the cornerstone of the American Jewish identity for the past half century. At first it augmented other aspects of Jewish existence: language, culture and religion. As the other aspects of Yiddishkeit have with time dissipated, the Holocaust has evolved into the only uniting thread of American Jewish tapestry. According to the Pew Research Center survey, a whopping 73% of American Jews say remembering the Holocaust is essential to their Jewish identities. The next truly Jewish aspect of their Jewish identity, with 19%, is observance of religious laws. Leading an ethical and moral life, hardly a specific Jewish trait, comes in second with 69%.

Thus, the six million killed are the last connection for the living. The trauma of Nazism and strong reaction to anything even slightly resembling it are shared by every Jewish organization in name and spirit, from Jewish Voice for Peace to the Zionist Organization of America. In the times of great divide among fellow Jews such unity of conviction is unique. It creates a precious moment of tribal solidarity everyone tries to prolong. The sad part is that American Jews seem only to succeed in achieving some semblance of unity by appealing to the memories of the Holocaust and artificially inflating the perceived threat of Nasizm in the US.

During the French invasion of Russia in 1812 the First Lubavitcher Rebbe sided with the Russian Tzar against Napoleon Bonaparte. He reasoned the Jews needed hardship and a common enemy to survive as a people. It transpires that that sad realization is as relevant today as it was 200 years ago: “But if our master Alexander will triumph, though poverty will be abundant... the heart of Israel will be bound and joined with their Father in heaven....”

American Jews are nostalgic for the days long gone, when after the Second World War the shadow of the Holocaust created in America the safest environment the Diaspora has ever experienced. With nostalgia comes self pity and tendency to see the ghosts of the past in significant events of today. Nazism must never be condoned. It must always be condemned and exposed for what it is. However, American Jewry should concentrate its limited energies on real threats to its survival. If not, they may engage themselves in a foolhardy battle, only to realize they are fighting the previous war.

The author lives and works in Silicon Valley, California. He is a founding member of San Francisco Voice for Israel.


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