Rachel Wahba

Antisemitism, Then and Now


As a child in seventh grade at a Catholic  International school in Japan, I was told in no uncertain terms that Hitler would go to heaven but my Jewish soul was eternally damned. I was routinely scolded by the nuns about how stubborn we Jews were for not quitting Judaism.

When the Jew Saul of Tarsus fell off his horse and had a seizure of faith and replaced Judaism with Christianity, he expected Jews to move on and get with his program.

The original Christians were Jews. When Saul/ Saint Paul founded the enlightened form of Judaism (Christianity) he expected that Jews, all Jews, evolve into New Jews,/Christians.

There was no room for Jews to keep their traditions and remain Jewish. How dare we refuse to move on, let go and refuse his invitation to disappear?

This is the refrain I grew up with in Catholic schools, and see repackaged today devoid of the “religious” aspect.

The school I went to is now long gone, but the refrain to quit being a Jew  continues in  its new incarnation.  Quit Jerusalem. Quit Israel.

I have been fighting to stay true to myself since elementary school.  I began answering back in Third grade. My favorite teacher, Mother Joan of Arc (true it was her name, Mother Joan with the liquid big brown eyes like mine). She took my hand in mine one afternoon to study the huge Crucifix in he hall,  Jesus in his Crown of Thorns,  “king of the Jews” plastered across  his forehead.

“He was a Jew, just like you.” she said

“But if He was a Jew then why must convert?”

I spent many years being told I and my people killed Christ. There was no punishment big enough to fit the crime.

And then one day we were assigned an oral book report for our Seventh grade history class. Mother Roberts was not Mother Joan, but she was not cruel as some of the others.

In the dusty hole in the wall second hand bookshop at Sannomiya Station, owned by an old (he must have been forty), Japanese man with kind eyes, who saved American comic books for me, a paperback caught my eye.  I was searching for a “history” subject to report on.

I had heard adults talk about the Holocaust, I knew the families who had “lost all their family, lost everything” in Germany. I knew about the Farhud in detail because my mother and grandmother were traumatized by the Baghdad pogrom, and most of the Jewish community in our synagogue in Kobe were stateless Mizrahi Jews from Arab lands.  I listened to adults talk about the Holocaust. I  knew something terrible happened to the Gottliebs and the Melsons, just no details. They were Survivors and it was still too raw.

This book had details. Pictures of Jewish bodies made into soap and lampshades. Skin and bones and torture and ovens. The ultimate horrors of the death camps.

 I thought I finally had a way to combat the prejudice- everyone would see what hate against Jews could and did lead to.

I  got in front of the class and gave my report. Most of the class was not aware of the Holocaust. I was sure  this information  would change minds and hearts. It would raise consciousness. I had the book in my hand. I gave my book report.

When I was done, a classmate shot her hand up as I was walking back to my seat. “My father said Hitler built good roads for Germany.”

My heart sank as my confidence eroded when I heard  Mother Robert answer.  “Yes, Hitler did build good roads for Germany.”

Another hand shot up, “What happened to Hitler, would he go to Hell for killing so many Jews?”

“What if he repented before he died?” a beloved classmate studying to convert, asked.

We were all obsessed with Purgatory, a place to burn off our sins and then go off to Heaven where we belonged,

”Hitler was a baptized Catholic,” Mother Robert explained, “… if at the last moment before his death, he truly repented, sincerely repented, he would eventually (after doing time in Purgatory) go to Heaven.”

The silence was deafening. I the Jew, could never make it to heaven, but Hitler…

Shaken, I heard our teacher explain in depth how Jews will forever be persecuted until we “accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.”

That was then, Christianity is no longer trending.

Today we are assaulted by international campaigns to delegitimize Israel. The old poison I grew up with has morphed into anti-Zionism.

Antisemitism is a very pervasive illness, addiction, an easy “fix”. All that has been changed is what we call it. Today antisemitism parades as anti-Zionism.

Progressives who are Zionists are having a hard time belonging in the Left.

Otherwise intelligent people don’t care that most countries in the Middle East and North Africa were able to do what Hitler could not, that these countries are today virtually Jew-free. Apologists claim we Mizrahim, just “left” – pauperized and stripped of our possessions and ancient communities – that we were stupidly conned by European Zionists.

Jewish groups like JVP are anti-Zionist apologists for antisemitism — The nuns’ old wine  repackaged in shiny bottles too many fail to recognize for what it is.

The BDS camp is the new Catholic Church. Alice Walker, an author I once admired   threatens young artists with “losing their soul” if they perform in Israel.

How different is all this from what the nuns taught me?

About the Author
Rachel Wahba is a San Francisco Bay Area based writer, psychotherapist and the co-founder of Olivia Travel. An Egyptian-Iraqi Jew, Rachel was born in India and grew up stateless in Japan. The many dimensions of her exile and displacement are a constant theme in her professional work as well as her activism as an advisory board member for JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa).
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