Today is my father’s sixth yahrtzeit (the anniversary of his death). I miss him terribly. He was a tough man who knew how to confront misfortune and despite it follow through to achieve goals. He was also strong-willed and demanding as a father. I think that among his most favorite sayings was “If you are going to do something do it right or don’t do it at all.” Strength and determination were part of his personality, inborn and in bred, but I also believe that it was heightened by his experiences as a survivor of the Shoah. He recounted his experiences in the Nazi slave labor and death camps, initially somewhat reluctantly, and most often at the Passover Seder, which coincided with both the time his family were sent to Auschwitz and later his liberation. As we all advanced in age, he spoke more openly about his life in Europe pre, during and post-World War II. He was both a very pious man, and a modern one as well.
Dad read two newspapers daily and insisted that his children get a good education. He was also a very loving parent and a sensitive member of the community. He taught us the importance of charity and being kind to all.
I write some of these memories not to eulogize my father. Those who knew him remember his smile and how often he would go out of his way to help whoever needed support. I write of my father now because in some ways I am perversely comforted that he is not here to see what is becoming of his beloved America. You see, Dad taught us a lot of things about life. He taught us love, encouragement and nurturance. He taught us to be charitable and engaged. But he taught us about what hatred can do to people and how we must work against it. He taught us, as he believed, that the United States is one of the greatest countries in the world and that this experiment in democracy is what saved him and so many others who were persecuted. That lesson is appearing to fade.
Dad would be pained in so many ways to see what has happened to America in the last few years. He did warn me after 9/11 that the attacks on America could be the signal event that could propel the United States to lose its balance as the guiding light of freedom. If he were alive today, just a few days after the second Synagogue shooting in the US, he would be devastated but he might still retain a level of faith in the good will of those first responders who charged into the attacks to save people. “There are good people everywhere” he would say.
I also know that he would be terribly agitated by the New York Times International’s cartoons of Netanyahu and Trump posted last week. Dad would read the Times, one of the papers he read daily, and often be offended by their lack of balance when reporting about Israel the other country he loved. Still, he felt, for most of his life that while the Times was the paper of record it could be read as a means to “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”
Dad might take some comfort in reading Bret Stephens’ op-ed in the Times in which Stephens takes the Times, his employer, to task for their “despicable cartoon”. But then I might read with Dad some of the over 2000 comments that readers of Stephens article posted in response. Many of them were highly supportive and sensitive to the antisemitic, indeed, Nazi like character of the cartoons that the International Times printed. But far too many of the comments were derogatory and even overtly antisemitic. There is no question, Dad would say, that anti-Zionism is antisemitism and anti-Zionism is simply another tool to attack Jews. He would say that the scourge of antisemitism is all around, both on the right and the left and that hatred knows no specific political affiliation. And we have two responsibilities – to fight against hatred and to strengthen our belief.
Dad taught us to love our Judaism and the responsibility that was placed on us as Jews. He also taught us to love Israel and that is what the anti-Zionists refuse to understand. It is because we have a Jewish state that we can be free. It is because we have a state called Israel that we are recognized as a nation. It is because we are Jewish that we have a place to seek refuge should the need arise. It is fine to criticize a government, but it is a blatant antisemitic trope to demonize an entire people. Or as Stephens wrote “the almost torrential criticism of Israel and the mainstreaming of anti-Zionism … has become so common that people have been desensitized to its inherent bigotry.”
I know when I see antisemitism. I know when I feel it. I am seeing it and feeling it more and more. I wish Dad were here for his strength and guidance.