Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Sharing Voices in a Chorus


On the eve of the 10th day from Wednesday, April 10, Jews the world over will sit down to a seder commemorating the exodus from Egypt more than 3,000 years ago. It has become a festival of nationhood, a symbol of freedom from oppression and bondage, a reminder that they should treat the strangers among them with dignity and fairness because, as it is written in Deuteronomy 10:18-19, God “befriends the stranger, providing him with food and clothing. You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

How far we Americans—Jews and non Jews—have come from this biblical ideal. 

Days after celebrating Purim, the holiday that rejoices in the foiling of Haman’s plot to annihilate all Jews inside the Persian empire because they were different, and days before the Passover holiday when Jews became refugees seeking a new life, the Trump administration has vigorously renewed its attack on legal asylum seekers. 

Trump has claimed there is no room in the United States for all the asylum seekers. He made that argument before a gathering of the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas (on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, of all days). Of course, his facts were wrong (https://nyti.ms/2UpZ1hF).

Reportedly, the purge of officials at the Department of Homeland Security in favor of those who would implement a more repressive immigration policy has been championed by Stephen Miller, himself a great grandson of a Jewish refugee fleeing pogroms in Belarus. How shameful. Miller is a modern day Torquemada, whose medieval family converted from Judaism to Catholicism. Torquemada became a priest and led the Spanish Inquisition against Moslems and Jews who converted but were suspected of less than complete adherence to Catholic practices.

Facebook and Twitter are enlightening sources. Here’s a post from Jackie Calmes. Above a picture of Jewish refugees aboard the MS St. Louis in 1939, Calmes wrote, “Never thought an audience of Jews would cheer words like Trump’s in NV on Sat against asylum, labeling migrants fleeing violence as threats & saying US is ‘full.’”

Under the picture, a link to an article in Smithsonian Magazine recounting the State Department’s long history of anti-Semitism. The headline: “The U.S. Government Turned Away Thousands of Jewish Refugees, Fearing That They Were Nazi Spies” (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/us-government-turned-away-thousands-jewish-refugees-fearing-they-were-nazi-spies-180957324/#V6QqrCfvfc4Ktrpo.03).

Lee Clark on Twitter wrote, “Trump went to Las Vegas and in front of the Jewish people used the same analogy against the South Americans that the country used against the Jews in 1939, the country was full and could not take in any more refugees. Refusing to let the Jew in sending them away Hitler killed all of them. The same thing Trump is doing to the South Americans.”

Words matter. Why is it that when Trump talks about Puerto Ricans or Jewish Americans it sounds like he does not consider them to be American citizens. Speaking to the Republican Jewish Coalition, he referred to Israeli prime minister Bibi Netanyahu as “your prime minister,” suggesting that the Jews he was speaking to were not American citizens but rather Israelis, that their loyalty was, at the very least, divided.

The case is being made by some Jews that it is in their best interest to abandon the Democratic Party in favor of Republicans. It’s called “Jexodus”  https://nyti.ms/2Yc2yhO. 

I’m not buying it. I’m not turning my back on millennia of Jewish ideals, like support for human rights, equality, equality of opportunity, support for education, civil rights, community, respect for scientific knowledge.  

The noted astrophysicist Carl Sagan, in his 1995 book, “The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark,”  forecast the type of existence we find ourselves in today. Here’s a Twitter post of Sagan’s thoughts from his book from Dan Kaminsky via a Bret Thorn retweet:

“I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time—when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness…

“The dumbing down of American is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance.”

We deserve a leader who would help us reverse the decline, yes, to make us great again, not by dividing us into competitive camps but by uniting us toward a common goal. 

Instead, we are faced with the reality of another Sagan quote from his book: “One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.” 

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