On the day that we watched scenes from the funeral in Jerusalem of four French Jews who were murdered at a kosher market in Paris for being Jewish, I received my copy of the Johns Hopkins Magazine, an excellent publication from my alma mater. As I leafed through it, an article about Professor Earl Wasserman, a legendary figure from the English Department during my student years, caught my eye. It was written by Shale D. Stiller, a student of Wasserman’s in the 1950s, and a trustee of both the university and Johns Hopkins Medical institutions.
What is the connection between four dead French Jews and Earl Wasserman? They were all singled out for being Jewish, although the professor was fortunate just to have been academically challenged because of his religion. My worry is that this murder, not the first in a long list of anti-Semitic attacks in France, is a harbinger of what may come throughout Western countries.
I was lucky to be born just at the end of WWII, at the beginning of what might be called the “Golden Age” for Jews in America. No doors were closed to us because we were Jews. We didn’t face any quotas from colleges nor obstacles to applying for any job after graduation, other than the level of our qualifications. I had vaguely heard about discrimination against Jews, such as the “Jews and dogs not allowed” sign at a local country club, which sounded unbelievable to me, a “real American” who had grown up in a community with many Jews.
Stiller’s article opened my eyes to what had gone on at my own college, just a decade or so before I attended. Below are a few quotes from this illuminating article. Earl Wasserman, a generation older than I, did have obstacles placed in his way. Wasserman, who was somewhat of an “infant prodigy,” had been unable to attend Harvard due to financial straits, but later attended Hopkins in Baltimore, his hometown. Wasserman’s preferred course of studies had been mathematics, but he was advised that Jewish students were unwelcome in that department. He then switched to English and quickly progressed to a PhD in just six years. The department immediately hired him as a substitute instructor, there being no permanent openings at the time.
Wasserman was highly recommended to other universities to which he applied for a permanent position, but with a caveat, i.e.: “Having arrived at this point in my description of Wasserman’s [excellent] qualifications, I am wondering whether they will be obliterated in the mind of your department by the fact that he is a Jew. If you could see and talk with him I have little doubt that this consideration would not weigh heavily with you. He is a fine, alert, clean-cut lad, not swarthy—in fact, almost blonde and neither the brassy nor the over-obsequious kind.”
The University of Illinois (Urbana) hired Wasserman after he “passed” an in-person interview. Following active duty in the Navy during WWII, he was actively courted by Hopkins’ English Department member Kemp Malone for a permanent position, after a thorough, nation-wide search. However, President Isaiah Bowman, an avowed anti-Semite, made the following comments to the Hopkins Provost: “Malone says that the department has not put his name forward any earlier because Wasserman is a Jew. At the time that he graduated and got his PhD there was turmoil hereabout and a few communist brethren were active. Can you find out from the Registrar, or otherwise, if Wasserman was involved in any of these activities? Malone swears that he is anything but a Communist. I am not satisfied with this report and would like more detail.”
A more egregious example of institutional prejudice: “In 1939 Bowman fired one of the most promising young historians on the Johns Hopkins faculty, Eric Goldman, on the grounds that ‘there are already too many Jews at Hopkins.’ Goldman went on to become a professor at Princeton and an outstanding historian of American culture.”
And, quoted by Stiller from Neil Smith’s biography of Bowman, American Empire: “While Bowman was searching for candidates to teach in the geography department at Johns Hopkins, he expressed an interest in Henry J. Bruman, but only after satisfying himself ‘that Bruman is not a Jew.’ Bowman believed that ‘Jews don’t come to Hopkins to make the world better or anything like that. They come for two things: to make money and to marry a non-Jewish woman.’ Worried that Johns Hopkins was ‘becoming a practically Jewish organization,’ in 1942 he instituted a quota on the admission of Jewish students.
Stiller summed up that despite Bowman’s prejudice, Wasserman joined Hopkins’ English Department in 1948 and remained a campus luminary until his premature death at age 59 in 1973. During his tenure and chairmanship, the English Department was one of the university’s most outstanding departments.
Though anti-Semitism in America today (especially the BDS movement against Israel and Jews: boycott, delegitimization, sanction) seems to be mostly confined to some of the most elite colleges and universities and labor unions, it doesn’t bode well for the future of America’s Jews. Take France as an example.
French Jews are an important, vital component of French society, in every aspect of French culture, business, the arts, education, you name it. Yet, despite being only about 1% of the population, the targeting of French Jews has become obnoxious and much worse, deadly. The Jews are being targeted by the Muslim population, who outnumber them by at least 10:1, while also taking shots from both the extreme Left and Right, and the chattering class. It’s no surprise that emigration from France to Israel is accelerating, with more than 1% of the Jewish population immigrating into Israel in 2014. This year’s influx is expected to double, or more.
France’s prime minister, Manuel Valls, recently said: “If 100,000 Jews leave, France will no longer be France. The French Republic will be judged a failure.” Millions of Jews emigrating from the West into Israel is a possible “solution” to anti-Semitism, but not an encouraging one. However, emigration appears the best solution when most of the West’s leaders steadfastly refuse to mention either “Islam” or “Muslim” in the same paragraph with vile terrorism.
I.e.: French President Francois Hollande called the killings “a terrorist attack without a doubt.” Equally politically correct were President Obama (“horrific shooting” / “terrorist attack”) as well as Secretary of State Kerry, UK Prime Minister Cameron, the United Nations secretary general, and the European Union president.
Europe may already be lost for the Jews, and as the French prime minister intimated, not only Jews. Hopefully, the BDS (boycott, delegitimization, sanction) campaign against Israel (and Jews) in America will dissipate in the next few years, especially if the new leadership in Washington D.C. drops the current, politically correct mantra blaming generic “terrorism” for the jihadism that is spreading from the Middle East throughout the world. I’d like to think that my generation’s grandchildren will have the same opportunities in America that were prevalent post-WWII. Or was that relatively carefree era just an aberration in the two-thousand-year history of anti-Semitism?