In 1963, I was a young engineer on my first job in the commercial sector working for a bearing manufacturer in Chicago. As December rolled around I was asked to plan and administer the company’s Christmas party and I developed a nice evening at an upscale Italian restaurant on Milwaukee Avenue near Chicago’s Loop.
As the evening wore on the purchasing manager, who had more than a few drinks under his belt, starting talking about the scourge that immigrants brought to the United States and, looking at me, the only Jew in the company, asked me directly why I didn’t go back to my homeland? As a native Bronxite I was more than surprised by the question and responded that I was home, I am an American. He countered with “No, I mean to Israel, where all of you are from!”
All of that came back to me this morning when I heard about the latest tweets from the White House. By now, many have already read them:
“So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly……..and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how….it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough. I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!”
Can anyone read that and not classify it as racist? These are the oldest and most well-known racist memes there are basically telling people to go back where they came from as they are not welcome here. Of course, of the four people to whom the president refers in this rant, three are native-born Americans and the fourth has been a citizen since the year 2000. No doubt such remarks play well to the president’s political base but…..does the end justify the means?
Can we remain silent any longer?
10 days, ago during the week marking 25 years since the passing of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menahem Mendel Schneerson, Chabad put on a happening on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn in front of Lubavitch world headquarters. During the presentation which was a mix of music and former speeches of the Rebbe, one of the excerpts from his talks hit me particularly hard, as what he said so many years ago is so incredibly applicable today as well.
The Rebbe was speaking about the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem and why it remains important even today to observe the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av (the day on which the Temple was destroyed) even though Jerusalem has been rebuilt.
What he posited is that if one goes to bed at night and has not yet rebuilt the Temple, then it is as if that person himself or herself has participated in the destruction itself. It is an incredible insight and a powerful lesson for us even today. If we see things going on around us that need to be corrected, and we do not do anything about them then we too are guilty of the having performed the acts about which we complain.
The analogy draws down on poetic license to be sure. But the message is clear. We human beings are not permitted to stand idly by and do nothing about those events in human history that are obviously antithetical to the values we hold as important, honorable and valuable.
When the leader of the free world, the head of the most powerful nation on earth, utters racist remarks impugning the legitimacy of citizens of the United States, those who go to sleep without having stood up against this outrage are themselves guilty of racism.
Democracy is about means. Dictatorship is about ends. The Rebbe in his words admonished the listeners that by their silence they run the risk of acquiescing to the methods of dictators where the end justifies the means and where anything a leader does is ok as long as the end is achieved. In his logic they share the guilt. The philosophy of the means justifying the ends has never worked for humanity in the past and it won’t work now either. The sooner everyone realizes that the better it will be for everyone.