It used to be that we writers and editors at Jewish newspapers knew what we could say.
We did not use profanity.
We did not use contractions, we did not use slang, we did not use nicknames. We wrote everything out in very long form. We wrote in the third person. (If we could have, we would have written in the 93rd person.) We were pompous, perhaps even ponderous, but we also were polite. Very very polite.
Things have changed. We use contractions. We use slang. We use short sentences. We write in the first person singular (even though here I’m writing in the first person plural — but whoops!). We try not to be pompous. We try not to be ponderous. We might not always succeed, but we try.
Despite all that, we do hope that we’re still polite.
But how are we supposed to report on the world around us?
Yes, this part is about our president.
How do we report on what he said? What do our readers want? We could use asterisks to replace some of the letters in the four-letter word he used, or we could call it the place that a barnyard epithet could fall into (or, in the alternative version, the place where the barnyard epithet lives).
We’re a weekly, so we know that all our readers and all their reading-age children will have read the unvarnished, un-asterisked, un-gussied-up version of what he said, so in some senses our decision matters less. It’s the daily media, the up-to-the-second online news sources, that really have to worry about that decision. And it’s the on-air reporters and podcasters who have to figure out exactly what to say.
So really we could skip it.
But there is something that we really do have to say. That is that our ancestors — our parents, or grandparents, or great-grandparents — came from those s-hole places. They came from obscure villages in the Pale of Settlement, in central and eastern Europe, where life was hard and it coarsened the people who lived there (and yes, Jews could be coarse too).
You look at pictures of some of the Jews of eastern Europe, and you see dirt and desperation. You look at their eyes and you see the same despair that you see now in the unwanted immigrants from Africa; fear and hope fighting hard with each other.
When they got here, they were not welcome. They were among the unwanted who were told dismissively not to bother applying for jobs.
They often brought children with them — those were our parents or grandparents or great-grandparents — who were too young to remember much about the old country, too young to have any choice in where they were taken. Those children grew up to be citizens of the United States. They were the Dreamers of their day, and we should not forget that.
They were the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to be free that the Statue of Liberty welcomes with her lamp.
Had they been sent back, many of us would not be here. That is a simple and incontrovertible truth.
We also think of the irony that it was not one of those s-hole countries that created and carried out the Shoah. No, it was a clean, efficient, well-educated, thoroughly modern state. Germans were welcome here.
It is the immigrants from poor countries, who come here fueled with desperation and hope, who are determined to make their way here, to learn and to earn, and have good lives, or at least give good lives to their children — immigrants like our ancestors — who have succeeded here, and who have given birth to us. It is something we owe them to remember.
We know that the immigration laws need a great deal of revamping. But we look at the attempt to turn away the immigrants who need us, who are drawn by this country’s promise, by its founding ideals, who might not resemble our ancestors physically but who have the same ambitions, needs, goals, and dreams as they had, and we hope that they are allowed to enter and then to stay in this golden, golden land.