Joshua Hammerman
Rabbi, award winning journalist, author of "Mensch-Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi"
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(((Pride and Prejudice)))

Jewishness is bound as a sign on foreheads, doorposts, male bodies and, now, on Twitter -- and there's no shame in it

At this past week’s AJC Global Forum, a panel featuring Richard Haas, Jeffrey Goldberg and Julia Ioffe spoke of some of the disturbing trends in online anti-Semitism, which both Goldberg and Ioffe have personally experienced, particularly from white supremacist internet trolls claiming to support Donald Trump.

Goldberg detailed his experiences in an essay for the Atlantic this week, “A Brief Introduction to Pro-Holocaust Twitter.” A similar article, written by Eitan Arom, appeared in the LA Jewish Journal, “Donald Trump’s Anti-Semitic Troll Army.” And Jon Weisman, a New York Times editor, just quit Twitter after being trolled unceasingly by anti-Semites after writing an article defending Ioffe.

One thing that has emerged out of this alarming trend is a new symbol of both viral hate and gutsy pride, the triple parentheses, intended to parody the “echoes” used by anti-Semites to identify and target Jews for harassment on social media. The ADL has added the (((echo))) symbol to their hate list.

The original purpose of the symbol was to single out Jews so they can be harassed by other haters trolling the internet, as explained to Weisman and reported on the site Tec.Mic.

“It’s a dog whistle, fool,” the user responded. “Belling the cat for my fellow goyim.” 

Jeffrey Goldberg takes it from there:

A few days ago, I decided to co-opt one of their Twitter memes, the so-called echo-parentheses they place around Jewish names… I’ve always admired what LGBT activists did with the word “queer”-seize it from haters, and make it their own-but I did this on a whim. It caught on, and the phenomenon was met by Nazi howling, and a doubling-down on oven jokes. 

So the (((echo))) symbol, originally intended to be a Yellow Star, has become a badge of pride, a defiant proclamation of Jewish allegiance, echoing Daniel Pearl’s immortal declaration, “I am a Jew” and mimicking those classic and decidedly low tech outward assertions of Jewish identity, the yarmulke, the mezuzah, the menorah and circumcision.

A Jew is instantly identified when wearing a yarmulke. Some say the name stems from the Aramaic expression “Yiray Malka,” “fear of the king,” based on a Talmudic anecdote that Rav Huna never walked four cubits with his head uncovered, because “the Divine Presence is always over my head.” But although it was intended to be a symbol of piety, the yarmulke in our day is more about identity than humility.

Then there is the mezuzah, the indelible marker of Jewish residence. Several years ago, I visited the Jewish ghetto in Venice, which dates back to 1516. Very few Jews live there anymore, but many once did. You can tell that because the doorposts are made of stone and you can still see which houses once had mezuzahs. There is a long, angular gouge in the stone where the mezuzah was affixed.

That led me to pursue a continent-wide mezuzah hunt, first in the ghetto, then across Venice and then elsewhere. I found scores of gouged-out mezuzah holes in plaster and stone, and telltale indentations in wood. I began to notice different styles — some longer, some thicker, some painted, some plain.

All these houses shared two things: Jews once lived there, and Jews don’t live there anymore.

It was depressing, until it occurred to me that even when the Jew is gone, the memory of Jewish life remains. I imagined some Venetian home-buyer moving into his new home and trying somehow to carve that gouge away, to wipe off the spot like Lady Macbeth; but it won’t go away. Call it the Jewish stain. It’s a history that outlives its own people. While European Jewish numbers continue to dwindle from the Parthenon to Paris, the Jewish presence still remains.

My smile broadened as I realized that I can’t screw up this continuity thing. Somehow the Jews survive even where there are no Jews around. We have the astounding capacity to outlive even ourselves. We just won’t go away. We aren’t merely indestructible, we are inefface-able.

Plus, to achieve this triumph, we do not have to defeat anyone in battle. We don’t need to vilify or demean. All we need to do is openly announce that we are Jews — and that mezuzah we implant on the plaster, like that “Debbie loves Johnny” graffiti carved into the rafters of Bunk 7 at camp, will ensure that our message will live on forever.

I carried that thought around Europe and it emboldened me. I thought about the courage it takes to affix a mezuzah on unfriendly soil and how such acts are paralleled by other indelible signs of Jewishness — like circumcision, the ritual that most threatened those first Europeans to interact with Jews in Maccabean times. It couldn’t have been easy to sport a bris in the gymnasia of the Hellenistic world, where everyone was naked – even worse, I suppose, than I had it as the chubby 7th grader in phys ed.

How much courage did it take for Soviet Jews to dance with Torahs outside the Moscow synagogue on Simchat Torah, knowing that they would be watched and sanctioned?

It’s that kind of courage that gave me goosebumps this week on Twitter. Everywhere I turned, despite all the risks, people were proudly outing themselves as Jews.

My introduction to the (((Echo))) symbol came actually a week ago, when I was checking out my son Ethan’s Twitter feed @Ethanhamm, as a nosy parent is wont to do. Ethan has a significant following. He Tweeted, with his inherited bluntness:

Yes, as I too discovered, the last name “Hammerman” is too long to allow for six extra characters.  I apologize to the haters, who will be unable to brand me properly.  My Yellow Star has only four points.

To this Tweet, one of Ethan’s followers commented “omg this news blew my mind,” presumably referring to the news that Ethan is Jewish (which he never has hidden but evidently this follower didn’t know).

Ethan’s response?

 “lol that I’m Jewish? My dad’s a rabbi, in fact.”

Hard to say, but I think I’ve never been prouder of my son.

And so I immediately added the echo symbol, this cyber-mezuzah, to my Twitter account too. How could I not?

Come what may; let the trolls spread their nastiness. I can take it. I am lucky enough to live in a place and time where I know that my rights will be defended and the goodness that is in most people will prevail. Yes, racism is out there and it has been emboldened far too much of late. But, though haters may hate, I will not allow them to take away my pride.

There is something about being Jewish that goes far beyond our lifetimes and is so much stronger, so much bigger, than the teeny tiny brain of the hater. All we have to do to tap into that unimaginable power is gather the strength to declare proudly, in our hearts, on our heads, upon the doorpost of our homes, on our private parts and on our windowsills — and now on social media — “I am, for all eternity, a Jew.”

About the Author
Award-winning journalist, father, husband, son, friend, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and rabbi of Temple Beth El in Stamford, CT. Author of Mensch-Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi – Wisdom for Untethered Times (HCI Books). Rabbi Hammerman was a winner of the Simon Rockower award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism, for his 2008 columns on the Bernard Madoff case, which appeared first on his blog and then were discussed widely in the media. In 2018, he received an award from the Religion News Association, honorable mention, for excellence in commentary, for articles written for the Washington Post, New York Jewish Week, and JTA. Among his many published personal essays are several written for the New York Times Magazine and Washington Post. He has been featured as About.com's Conservative representative in its "Ask the Rabbi" series and as "The Jewish Ethicist," fielding questions on the New York Jewish Week's website. Rabbi Hammerman is an avid fan of the Red Sox, Patriots and all things Boston; he also loves a good, Israeli hummus. He is an active alum of Brown University, often conducting alumni interviews of prospective students. He lives in Stamford with his wife, Dr. Mara Hammerman, a psychologist. They have two grown children, Ethan and Daniel, along with Chloe, Casey and Cassidy, three standard poodles. Contact Rabbi Hammerman: rabbi@tbe.org (203) 322-6901 x 307
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