Ethan Wolf
Founder and Executive Director of Jewish Unity PAC

The Authoritarianism of Donald Trump and Jewish Memory

Avraham Infeld once said that, as Jews, we do not have history; we have memory. We do not retell our Passover story-we relive it. We eat charoset to remember the bricks that built the pyramids; we dip karpas in saltwater to remember the bitterness and tears of our people. Indeed, we do not retell our story-we relive it. This is how Jews across the world maintain their identity. Yet the present moment demands that we use our collective historical memory for a different purpose. The Jewish people must use our memory of marginalization to attack the atrocities occurring right before our very eyes in our own nation. The Jewish people must use that memory to understand these atrocities are being exacerbated by an authoritarian Trump regime, and we must stand up against it. We must stand for Joe Biden.

In 1979, my father and my grandfather attended the infamous neo-Nazi rally held in Skokie, Illinois. My grandfather spoke often of the event and made sure to pass his memories of it on to me. As Jews, the passing down of tradition—and of trauma—is something we hold onto. My grandfather sought to instill in me: an unshakable eagerness to fight indecency, injustice and evil at every turn. My grandfather knew the injustices that Jews and other minority groups faced in our world, and from a young age he thought it was important to teach that to his children and grandchildren. He felt it was imperative that his children and grandchildren not only knew this, but fought to be a part of the solutions to make a more tolerant union. Today, I stand in my grandfather’s memory, ready to take up the mantle against injustice. Only this time, the neo-Nazis are, for all intents and purposes, inside our own government. When President Trump described “very fine people on both sides” after neo-Nazi rallies held in Charlottesville in 2017, I felt that sense of duty passed down to me by my grandfather. Indeed, I felt the sense of duty that so many Jews across our country and world feel when they see or hear injustice. I felt the need to fight for what I knew—and now know— is right. 

In the past days and weeks, the so-called “leader of the free world” has ordered “Storm Troopers”—unmarked, unbadged federal agents—into cities across the United States. Today they infiltrated my hometown, Chicago. These “Storm Troopers” are specifically targeting people of color. As Jews, we’re intimately familiar with the implications of “secret police.” We know what it means to be targeted by those supposedly put in place to “keep the peace” or “maintain order.” This state of affairs evokes a painful memory that, quite frankly, no one should have the privilege to ignore.These “troops” have kidnapped protesters without due process and beat American citizens to a pulp. Forty-one years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that neo-Nazis could peacefully assemble in my father and grandfather’s hometown. Today, our government seeks to diminish the rights of peaceful assembly for a group demanding equality. If that isn’t the definition of systemic racism, and racial injustice, I don’t know what is.

While these historical memories are momentarily paralyzing, the Jewish people must snap into action. We must now, more than ever, follow in the actions of the late Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel who marched side by side with Martin Luther King Jr. in his marches on Washington. We must stand with our brothers and sisters of color. We must work alongside them to achieve their exodus. While there is no easy solution to solve systemic racism, the first step must be to vote. Trump’s actions now are merely a prelude. The main story will undoubtedly be a series of larger authoritarian attacks on democracy. We must be prepared to fight. And we must, most importantly, do everything it takes to cast our ballots for a man that will work to fight injustice. We must do everything in our power to elect a leader that will further the efforts of these brave protesters through legislation and policy. That leader is Joe Biden.

There are tangible efforts that we as a Jewish community can take to ensure decency and compassion reenter the White House come January 20th. The first step is easy: Call your siblings, your parents, your grandparents, and make sure they are voting safely by mail. The second would be to phone bank! Call into swing states, and make sure these voters are hearing the necessary messaging to turn out the vote! On top of that, you can get involved with campaign volunteering options or find groups like my own, Jews 4 Joe, to help broadcast your message and your thoughts! Finally, continue protesting, continue fighting for what is right and continue fighting for Joe in every way you know possible.

About the Author
Ethan is the Founder and Executive Director of Jewish Unity PAC, an organization devoted to promoting Jewish values, leadership and Jewish friendly policies in government. He previously founded and served as the chair of Jews 4 Joe, a mobilization of Young Jewish support for Vice President Biden. A former intern with Congressman Brad Schneider (IL-10), Ethan has a passion in public service, foreign affairs, and Middle Eastern Diplomacy.
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