Be the ‘Righteous Gentile’

I am gutted as I read the news.

This weekend while I was out of town, my neighbors were being plucked from their homes, separated from their families. These are immigrant and refugee families, many of whom have given much more of their lives to this town, this state and this country than I ever have. These families are here legally, having escaped persecution in Indonesia as Christians, and they are being treated like they don’t belong in America.

Watch this video of ICE at the door of Harry Pangemanan,Highland Park, NJ’s 2018 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award Recipient and community volunteer who rebuilt houses after Hurricane Sandy.

I feel paralyzed and helpless. After a year of protesting, calling and letter writing, it looks like things are getting worse.

This week, I feel like we are all the average white christian German or Pole during the very early days of the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party to power. Much has been written on this subject, and it is with no apologies that I invoke the Holocaust at this moment in time. While Jews in pre-war Germany were being interrogated, checked and yes, plucked from their homes, what was going through the minds of their gentile neighbors? The rules were slowly and slyly being changed around them but it didn’t directly effect them, so they went on with their days while things slowly got worse for the Jews. What would I give for them to have helped my family in that time? What can I be doing now to stop history from repeating itself?

I reject the attempts to isolate and sanctify the experience of the Holocaust. If we do that, then their deaths were solely in vain. It is not an insult to the memories of those who perished in the camps and gas chambers to talk about how it all started. Rather, I believe it is our duty and it is an honor to their names to stand up and fight back. My grandfather had a number on his arm, tattooed against his will to keep track of him because he was Jewish. This fact is an inseparable part of my identity. At the age of 17 I went to Poland to bear witness to the atrocities committed against my people in the Holocaust and I took on the very serious commitment of “Never again.” It is not a once-a-year catch phrase or a hashtag to me. It is a pillar of who I am, a promise I made to my ancestors who did not make it out alive and to my grandfather who fought, hid, escaped, ran and scraped by in order to create my family.

To deny the similarities between the persecution of non white, non “normative” people during the rise of Nazi Germany and the xenophobia and persecution of non-white, non-naturalized Americans and refugees today in the Trump era is to be complicit.

Right now, parents are being taken from their homes, families are forced to hide in churches or face deportation– to a country where their lives are in danger. People are being singled out and searched in transit and on the street, outside of their children’s schools. We have got to open our eyes and see it.

The most painful admission for me is that I see it and I do not know how to help. I feel powerless to stop it. I want to be the “righteous gentiles” of our time. I want to stand in the middle of a busy street and make the world stop and listen and change. I want to protest in front of the White House (or Mar a Lago?) all day every day, screaming and shouting. But I can’t. I have a job and a child. I have responsibilities beyond myself and I cannot stop everything I am doing as much as I truly want to. But then I think of the images of prewar Poland- people going to work and sitting at cafes while somewhere, the government was designing yellow arm bands with stars and cordoning off ghettos.

You may be reading this thinking it is an extreme metaphor- it’s not. Visit the detention centers where immigrants and refugees are sitting, with no concept of when they will be let out and what their fate will be, and no clear government policy dictating their rights. I am definitely not saying this ends in WWIII or a genocide. I am saying that this is extreme discrimination and persecution, it is morally and ethically wrong– and this time, we are the bystanders.

We don’t know what changes the Trump Administration is planning to implement in the years to come but we do know that his supporters want to see a white America. And just to be real clear, so that those Jewish white people who voted for Trump can really hear this: Trump’s wealthiest and most demanding supporters do not want Jews in their America. Just look back at the year we’ve had, Nazis are organizing above ground, protesting proudly. That’s not a conspiracy theory, it was televised for all to see. After the ICE raids, the families’ homes were ransacked and vandalized. This isn’t a dramatized metaphor, it’s a news report.

This weekend many of my fellow Jews, including my mom, many community activists and rabbis volunteered to stand watch outside the Reformed Church of Highland Park, together with the Christian community, protecting our neighbors. I thank them with all my heart. To the Reformed Church of Highland Park:  Thank you for being a sanctuary church and for leading the way in this holy work.

To the Jews who voted for this racist, xenophobic President: You must be accountable for what is happening now and what comes next. If you know you made a mistake, then say so and make a change.

To the rest of us, feeling powerless, here are some things we can do in the meantime: Help flip red to blue in November ’18. We can and must take this country back. Keeping making phone calls, keep marching and keep up the hope.

About the Author
Shira Pruce is an activist and communications professional. After living in Israel for 13 years, she has recently moved back to New Jersey. She is former director of public relations for Women of the Wall, and has advanced the work of MASLAN- the Negev’s Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Support Center and the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, to name just a few. She received her BA in Women and Gender Studies at Douglass College, Rutgers University.
Related Topics
Related Posts