During Dave Chappelle’s opening monologue on this week’s Saturday Night Live, the comedian joked that “if I could quit being black today, I’d be out tha’ game.” And in context, it was pretty funny. But as a provocation, it unsettled me.
I had a hard time sleeping that night because for the first time in my nearly four decades on this great planet, I thought about the choice I would make if I had been offered the opportunity to quit being a Jew. To give up this rich tradition I value immensely. To go “full goy.” Again, for the first time in my life, I had thought that yes, I probably would. I would give it all up. And those feelings shocked me.
But it wasn’t because I was inconvenienced by strict kosher regulations. Or that I had lost my appreciation for daily prayer. Or even that I didn’t cherish my observance and how it shapes a moral and meaningful life for both me and my family.
It was because I was scared. Simply put. And the fear was palpable and real and concrete. And it has a name associated with it and it is Steve Bannon.
Before I articulate my inarguably valid concerns, I want to congratulate you on the election win. It’s an incredible thing to be the President of the United States’ son-in-law. I’m sure surreal doesn’t even cover it. Good luck on all that follows.
But platitudes aside, I want to first express just how much I have valued your family’s presence in my life over the years, and to reiterate how deep our mutual history goes. My family was involved for nearly twenty-five years in building and solidifying the prominent reputation of the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy, a school that does profound and wondrous things for your grandfather’s legacy, may he rest in peace. He was an incredible man whose name now boasts an indelible impression on the Jewish community as a whole.
Your own mother and father have opened their hearts to me a number of times over the years with selfless consolation in times of tragedy and generous advice in times of career stagnation. I have even shared a simcha or two with the Kushners. In fact, speaking of smachot, I myself was married in the Puck Building and that magical night could have never happened without your father’s involvement, and for that I am forever in his debt. Incidentally, both he and your mom were there.
Jared, you have always been a mentsch to me whenever I reached out whether it was to wish you a mazel tov on the birth of a child, or when I sought your advice on the media industry. You have always been a consummate gentleman in my presence. Which is why I am so torn apart inside about all that is transpiring right now.
I cannot fathom it. I cannot comprehend it. I cannot accept it.
Now, I know you have been outspoken about your father-in-law’s embrace of you and your religion. You wrote in The Observer, “The fact is that my father in law is an incredibly loving and tolerant person who has embraced my family and our Judaism since I began dating my wife.” And then added, “There’s real racism in the world. There’s real anti-Semitism in the world. These are pernicious, dispiriting truths.”
Steve Bannon is now Donald Trump’s Campaign Chairman. We can argue on semantics as to whether we have the right to label him outright as a racist or not. Whether he is an anti-Semite or not. Whether he is a misogynist or not. But the fact that we’re even having this conversation after months and months of divisive campaign rhetoric? The fact that we’re even having this conversation after your father-in-law has assured the rest of the country that he’ll bring everyone together? The fact that we’re having this conversation about someone who has the undivided attention of the President of the United States of America? This is beyond problematic. This is crisis. This is history on the brink of impending catastrophe.
Steve Bannon courts the alt-right, as you know. He is outspoken about doing so. And while I could never know what it is in his heart, the movement’s platform is built on white nationalism. It resents political correctness. It embraces homophobia. It believes in the age old Zionist protocols of Jews owning the banks and the media. The alt-right’s anti-intellectualism feeds on hate. Its solipsistic leadership encourages the bullying of any detractor with name calling (“cucks”). It is a destructive force to all that is open-minded, progressive and empathetic.
Since Donald Trump won the White House, I have started reading Breitbart News to familiarize myself with this Person Who Is Not Me. It can be argued that the content in of itself, while controversial, is not outwardly racist. The undertones are there, but it’s coy about intolerance. I invite you, however, to read the comments which should scare in a way that the worst horror movie couldn’t.
These are the people your father-in-law has now ennobled and validated. They are the dregs of society who now have a White House ambassador to represent their white nationalistic hate. The message this sends reverberates throughout our country in a pungent and unprecedented way.
Jared, I call on you this time to not just write an editorial defending Donald Trump and his misconceived appointment. I call on you to do more than speak out to news outlets about this threat to our liberties. Not that either of things have been done yet.
No. I call on you to demand of your father-in-law in the strongest terms that you can muster to reverse this appointment. For him to come out and speak against the alt-right’s burgeoning movement of hate. I call on you to remind Donald Trump that your children are Jewish and are at risk of growing up in a society which is now inexplicably reacting to racism and hate with shoulder shrugging apathy and denial. We cannot just give Bannon a chance, as many are saying. We simply don’t have that luxury.
These are scary times indeed. So much so that a proud Jew–the son of a revered Modern Orthodox rabbi and a respected Jewish educator and leader–finds himself questioning his faith, and worse, his fate. This is a moment in time in which we need to stand on the right side of history.
For our children? Kind of.
But more so for our grandparents and their respective memories. Because they all experienced something eerily similar to this in the lead up to the Holocaust.
This is not to say that we are heading toward a Holocaust. I’m not prone to hyperbole. But the unknown of a Steve Bannon appointment to the inner White House council sure does send the mind to some terrible places. Which are now all conceivable.
All best to you and yours.