Not an ordinary presidential election

I’m sitting here in my hotel room in Tel Aviv packing to go home…back to New York.

I would have stayed in Israel longer, but even though I could have and voted in Tuesday’s election by absentee ballot, I wanted to be home for such a critical election. And home it most definitely is; the only one I’ve ever known.

But being in Israel, a country created by Jews who witnessed the Shoah first hand, has made me think even more (and I’ve thought about it plenty and written about it) about the choices my fellow Americans will be making on Tuesday.

I never doubted that Trump would get this far. The dark forces that have always been a factor in the American body politic rise to the surface in times of change, uncertainty, and strife just as they do in every society. My friends and colleagues will attest to my having predicted a Trump win from the start. Yet I also dismissed the scare tactics comparing his candidacy to Hitler’s as mainly hyperbole. And to some extent, it is.

But what looked like hyperbole in the beginning now is all too realistic. The polls are too close for real comfort, and as we contemplate even the possibility of a Trump win as well as a GOP victory in the House and Senate across the board, the precarious margin of predicted victory for Hillary Clinton has me shaken to my core.

I can live through a victory of those with whom I vehemently disagree; hell I’ve been there before….Nixon, Reagan, Bush père and fils, even LBJ when I was an anti-Vietnam teenager. But this would not be a victory like those. This would be one where the winners want to take away or limit the rights of far too many people because of the color of their skin, their place of birth, their religion, their political beliefs, whom they choose to love, and so on.

As a Jew, I am all too well aware of the fact that what starts out as diatribe and policy against one group, with whom I may have nothing in common, lands right on our heads too.

I am American and a New Yorker through and through. My mother was an immigrant to the United States; my father a second generation American Jew who served in the Army Air Corps in World War II.

But on the eve of election day I am forced to wonder about all those German Jews who witnessed the rise of Hitler, and those who even may have voted for him. They reckoned he would be a flash in the pan, that he would be a bulwark against the Communists and the trade unionists; he would restore Germany’s place in the world following its defeat in World War I; he would bolster an economy that had torn Germany asunder at least as much as the war.

Surely whatever happened within Germany’s government, Germany as a country was far too civilized and modern and cultured for anything really bad to happen. After all, their families had been in Germany for many generations; they had fought bravely on its side in many wars; they were its war heros and its patriots; they were as German as I am American.

It didn’t quite work out the way they expected….it never does.

Others have pointed out that the Shoah didn’t start with the camps or the gas chambers; it started with rhetoric. Yet anyone who read Mein Kampf could not have been surprised about where it ended up.

There is no Mein Kampf to read in the case of this presidential election, but all we have to do is listen to Trump, his supporters, his apologists, and those who will vote for him out of party loyalty or because they just can’t bring themselves to vote for Hillary Clinton. And there are far too many Jews in that camp, so to speak.

History may not be an exact model for the present and future, but it can be a predictor of certain societal trends. And we’ve seen these trends in America and the rest of the world too many times to allow ourselves to believe that this time the outcome will be any different.

And so I sit here in a hotel room overlooking the Mediterranean on a gorgeous day in Tel Aviv, and my thoughts are not only with my countrymen, but with every Jew in the past who looked out on the horizon and wondered if the morning would bring foul weather or fair.

About the Author
Toni Kamins is a writer in New York City. Her work has appeared in such publications as the New York Times, the NY Daily News, the Los Angeles Times, the Jerusalem Post, and Haaretz. She is the author of the Complete Jewish Guide to France, the Complete Jewish Guide to Britain and Ireland, and the forthcoming Complete Jewish Guide to Paris.
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