The Fourth of July

As a Jewish Confederate Boy Scout in the 1940s and early ’50s, I first learned about the KKK.

By DAVID GEFFEN
July 11, 2019 10:45
4 minute read.
The Fourth of July

Gilad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrah. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Not written on my American ID card, or in my US Army 201 “know-it-all” file is that Moshe David Geffen is a “firecracker lover.”

In my high school, college and summer camp days, my friends knew that I had “cherry bombs, screaming divers, monster fountains,” all illegal in my birth state but easily found just like the “wake up” from the mountain still known as “white lightning.”
I have to be completely honest, on July 3 and 4 I did not see one little sparkle, so Hamas got the message: Take care of Geffen.
 
It was Tuesday, July 8, 2014, around 9:45 p.m. as my friend drove us home from a presentation on life in the old country when the sirens started to blare around Talpiot-Arnona, and other places too. Still in my reveries about US Jewry explained to me so precisely, I did not awaken to the siren-rocket “significance” until I passed the hurdle of the Brazil-Germany World Cup blowout-to-be.
 
Instead, our tiny TV screen was filled with fireworks. “David,” I said aloud to myself, “July 4 is over – these are colorful gifts from our neighbors – being sent for a different purpose than the previous week’s saddle bags of sadness, the murder of three of our wonderful young men – Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrah – and the burning to death of a young Palestinian, Mohammed Abu Khdeir.” 
 
Having experienced these unexpected deaths here in Israel before, I had developed a simplistic reaction – becoming an army brat who could escape mentally into those heady days rather than into the reality all about me.
 
My military madness first captured me in 1941 as a kid while on a ride with my mom, the caretaker, and my dad, judge advocate over a 40,000-man training base in Mississippi. On my pop’s post there was no housing, so we lived with a family in an old style Confederate home.
 
At our fort, the number of warehouses quickly sprung up to house the enormous amounts of live ammunition made by DuPont of Delaware. Mississippi in pre-air-conditioning days could be hotter than hell, killing trainees frequently from heat exhaustion. Also, US weaponry people did not know that the sun could get a building with shells to the boiling point. I saw fireworks from afar, very loud, on many non-celebratory days.
 
After my reverie exploring my military roots and avoiding where I truly was, my mind returned to Israel ready to offer advice. No one needs advice from a “couch potato militarist” whose experiences only cover seven wars and skirmishes in my native land and Eretz Yisrael. So I dipped into my roots again.
 
As a Jewish Confederate Boy Scout in the 1940s and early ’50s, I first learned about the KKK. These were good folks during the day but when the sun set, they donned their white robes and conducted their festivals of hate. The play “South Pacific” focused well on such individuals in the song, “You have to be taught to hate.” Since the noted natural monument to the Confederacy, Stone Mountain, was a great place for Boy Scouting realism known as the “war games” – Marines and Japs on Mount Suribachi, I learned that our militant playground was one of the cross-burning sites of the KKK. At age 16, some of my friends had both a license and a car so on Saturday night we would make our way secretly to the base of Stone Mountain for cross burnings.
 
Clearly, no Jewish boys would ever do any sneak-sightings of the white-sheeters, but for us back then it was “fun.” Listening to those “good old boys” define the parameters of their hatred of “niggers,” “pope’s boys” and “Jew boys” took us far away from the solemnity of our shuls and the Jewish Educational Alliance.
 
I now believe it was a slap in the face we all required. Brewing in the soil of our land of freedom were the “smells of the Nazi burnings of the nation of Israel.” The residuals of this past half-century of my life form a well-styled course in hate, reaching its peak on 9/11 and its instant butchery. Yes, hate can be learned in all its dimensions and then transformed into an action mode – the real “killing” whatever “flavor” it may be.
 
With all the great advances the human mind has made, including precisely planning a landing on the moon and a safe return to Earth, little has been done to remove “hate” from the human mind. I recognize competition can bring new developments which can change the world in a positive sense. But “hate” and its ramifications are still with us with little hope in sight.
 
Enough pontificating. Since we are human beings, Jews and Arabs, we have not been able to “clean up our act” for a sensible future. What anguish we feel for the Israelis and Palestinians and Hamas killed, but no one seems ready to take the bold first step, although the recent Bahrain summit might have been a start.
 
I have no idea what it is, but as Neil Armstrong reminded us as he landed on the moon, it would be a small step for humanity but a great step for humankind. 
 
The writer is a retired Conservative rabbi from Atlanta who lives in Jerusalem

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