For most of us, our daily lives aren’t impacted much, but we can feel the darkness.
It’s a heaviness in the air, pumped in by the anger of those who hate us for nothing.
“It’s just a very sad feeling because of the baseless hatred that someone has for someone they don’t even know,” said President Joyce Placzkowski of Racine’s Beth Israel Sinai Congregation, after the shul was spray-painted with antisemetic graffiti in September 2019.
“When you do nothing but exist … it’s very sad that someone can have that kind of hatred in their body.”
We didn’t know it was dusk in Charlottesville — back in summer 2017 — when a small army of neo-Nazis chanted that “Jews will not replace us.” Our nightfall came more than a year later in October 2018. It was then that an attack killed 11 at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Next, in April 2019, came the Chabad synagogue attack in Poway, California. It left one dead. In December, six people were killed, including the two suspects, at a kosher supermarket in New Jersey.
And those are just the most violent domestic incidents, leaving out overseas horrors.
In some ways, we are not ready for this, because who can ever be? In some ways, we are so ready.
We are the people who have risen to the occasion before.
Now behind us — Jewish gangsters assisting a pre-1948 weapons-smuggling operation for Jews in Palestine. Its operations were run out of a two-room hotel suite in Manhattan.
There was a time when a more militant kind of secular Jewish college student seemed more typical. “The world and the Jewish people must never forget nor forgive,” demanded the winter 1992 edition of the Masada/Tagar Zionist Press, published by students at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. The whole newsletter seethes.
In the world of my childhood, in the 1970s and 1980s in New York, the mantra was “Never Again.” When my elders spoke it, they poured in anger. “Never Again” was not a plea. The Greatest Jewish generation and their children were not asking. These were fighting words. Never again or else. The generations before me were hard. They’d been shaped into warriors for Israel and the Jewish people, like the blasted rock of a mountainside.
No, they were not chitchatting in a Starbucks about whether to be deeply offended or offhandedly offended by a Peloton commercial. Their thoughts were elsewhere.
They had numbers on their arms and whole conversations in Yiddish as their adult children talked of how Israel must live or the whole world can go to … somewhere.
They are us.
Or at least, we will become them if we must.
Remember the first few lines of “City of Slaughter” — the 1904 poem on a Russian pogrom, by the Jewish poet Hayyim Nahman Bialik.
ARISE and go now to the city of slaughter;
Into its courtyard wind thy way;
There with thine own hand touch, and with the eyes of
Behold on tree, on stone, on fence, on mural clay,
The spattered blood and dried brains of the dead.
Our parents and grandparents could remember this, even if they never lived it. The memory was in the bones. At 52, I’m the dividing line. Beneath me, memory increasingly dissipates. Above me, it roils.
There’s both misery and solace in our living the current history. We’ve seen this story before. This situation is different and the same all at once.
I can see us rallying. We’re hardening terrorist targets. We’re living a bit differently. We’re accepting, learning, watching.
What else must we do? What is today’s weapon to smuggle?
We are an industrious people. We’ve been around for thousands of years. There are paths for us. We’ll find them.
Rob Golub is editor of the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle. After the January 2020 Chronicle went to press with this article, a man with antisemitic views stabbed five Dec. 29, 2019, at a Chanukah celebration in New York..