This week, there’s a post by Max Goldberg on Facebook which seems to be going somewhat viral. “Fair warning, friends,” the poster (whom I don’t know) wrote. “I have a new standard for letting non-Jewish people in my life, and it’s called ‘Would you hide me?’ If your answer isn’t obviously and immediately yes, you’re not allowed in my life….”
It catalogs a bunch of harrowing anti-Semitism that, I, as a Jew, also find deeply frightening. Honestly, I was already pretty freaked out; I live down the block from the place that hosted anti-Semitic conspiracists and also close to the park named for the late, great Adam Yauch that was sprayed with swastikas just last week. But I’m not only a Jew, I’m also a person of color (I’m South Asian-American). On top of that, I chair the board of an organization antagonizing armed right-wing groups and work for economic justice. So, you know, I worry. Everyone should.
It’s because I was already so worried that I’m also very concerned – and somewhat furious – about the underlying racism and insularity of the message. I don’t know the writer personally; he identifies as a progressive and so do I. I assume we’d agree on a lot. But in his message, I hear an echo of the kind of insular, overheated rhetoric we are seeing from a newly emboldened right wing, which includes but is not confined to neo-Nazis. We don’t need more myopic self-interest coming from our side, or from our community.
If the author meant white non-Jews, he should have been exactly that specific. But even still, it’s not good enough. This a moment where we, as Jews, must harness our legitimate concern to do better, in public and in private, than gatekeeping new friends. It is both a moral and practical imperative that we open ourselves, our communities, our lives to our non-Jewish friends and family.
The people I am most worried about now, post-Trump — people much more vulnerable than I – are mostly not Jewish: DREAMers. Refugees from Latin America, from the Middle East, from Myanmar, from natural and climate-change disasters. Haitians, who are currently being expelled from the Dominican Republic and from the United States. Black people generally (although of course there are Jews of color from all communities). Our GLBTQ and trans friends and family, Jewish and not. And of course, my Muslim neighbors, friends and colleagues are very much in the crosshairs, as are the people of Standing Rock. I’m worried we’ll see an expansion of what already happens to radical environmentalists to so-called “economic terrorists” as well as the more expected criminalizing of [email protected] and Muslims.
I’m worried about poor people, even poor Trump voters, who perhaps are not so worried about me, a brown Jewish leftist woman, who stands firm in our tradition of concern for the stranger. I might not be inviting the last group over, but I see both a moral obligation and a political imperative to make common cause with as many people as possible, including the people with buyers’ remorse about Trump and those who didn’t vote. There aren’t enough Jews alone to stop this wave of hate and violence, but there are enough working people – Jews, non-Jews, white people, people of color –to stop this trajectory. And stop this we must.
Enough with the “who will hide me,” and more with the I-am-Sparticus-style solidarity of “I will register as a Muslim.” That’s a great start and that’s also not how registration worked in 2002 nor was it how the subsequent mass surveillance of Muslim communities (among others) operated. Open your pocketbook if you’ve got extra change, open your congregation, read up on the full panoply of right wing groups (yes, Nazis but not just Nazis), and brush up on your civil disobedience training.
As the first line of the Niemoller poem has it, “First they came for the Socialists…” In this moment, Jews – especially white Jews, must remember that the swastikas are for you (and me) but they are not only for you, they may not even be primarily for you. And like oppressive, murderous, genocidal regimes throughout history and around the world, Nazis came first for the leftists and the organizers.
To stop this wave of anti-Semtiic, Islamophobic, racist, anti-GLBTQ hate and violence before it becomes full-blown authoritarianism, we will need to do better than question our non-Jewish friends about their hiding spots. We will need more leftists and organizers. We, as Jews – and, especially, white Jews –need to do better than this right now – because #neverisnow and #weveseenthisbefore. I invite the four thousand people who have reposted this message in the last few days to look white supremacy squarely in the face and stand up.
I suggest you consider the people in your life and in your congregation. You might remember those of us who have non-Jewish family endangered – arguably more so than Jews – by Trumpist rhetoric. You might remember those of us who have seen this before in the US, Japanese-American Jews, Jews with Muslims in our families, and Jews with family histories that includes a brush with McCarthyism. Those of us who just “look” Muslim (whatever that means to the Jewish and non-Jewish people who have said hateful things to me, assuming that I am). It’s a time to stand for civil liberties and against false charges of “anti-Semitism” or smears in the service of a tiny, right-wing purposes and against broader solidarity. And you might recognize that you may need to educate the non-Jews in our life on what it means to struggle with you as a Jew, just as I educate the white Jews in my life (and my congregation) on how to unlearn racism and relearn solidarity — and to overcome the understandable, but wrong-headed, impulse to prioritize their own safety over others’ (including mine).
Reread your Niemoller, beginning with the first line.