Tuesday night, antisemites on Twitter attacked me in a particularly visceral and disgusting way, and I want you to know about it.
I believe that each of us who shows up for love and justice should be able to come as we are, fully owning our ancestors, our multiple identities, and our personal choices. I’ve been involved in Jewish social action for a long time, chiefly in my role as president of The Shalom Center, led by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, a beloved and inspiring teacher in the prophetic spirit, rebuking injustice and directing attention to the moral grandeur of which human beings are capable. A foundational principle in our work—and in all the interfaith work we engage—is respect for heritage and willingness to renew tradition so that it speaks directly to the present.
So when I stand up for justice, I show up as myself: a first-generation American Jew of Eastern European heritage who takes very seriously the exhortation from Amos 5:24 to “But let justice well up as waters, And righteousness as a mighty stream.” When Dr. Martin Luther King quoted that passage in his 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech, he acknowledged a shared point of connection, evoking a primary text for both Jewish and Christian human rights advocates, a ground to stand together. In my own small way, I have discovered that showing up as myself often opens the possibility of connection with people from other faith traditions—Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Shintoists, practitioners of indigenous traditions and more—who also draw strength from the teachings and traditions they have inherited.
This week, I participated in a national action sponsored by the Jewish organization Bend The Arc. They created a toolkit to guide thousands of participants in posting photos to social media on June 21st, the yahrtzeit—anniversary—of the
1964 murders in Mississippi of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, three civil rights workers whose deaths were punishment for registering Black voters. Each image was to include a downloadable flyer saying “Jews Reject Trump” and a lit memorial candle. Each was to be branded with a hashtag speaking with the voice of history: #WeveSeenThisBefore. For Jews in my generation, whose own families include the disappeared, the exterminated, the survivors, the fear that hashtag evokes—the image of Germans electing Hitler, in essence authorizing the Holocaust at the ballot-box—is intense. Search that hashtag on Twitter to scroll through a very long and impressive array of photos, some depicting one or two individuals, some capturing large public gatherings.
As my husband and I staged our photo, a tiny niggle of unease chafed, a familiar pebble in my shoe. I imagine most American Jews have a collection of stories like those I’ve filed into a corner of my mind I don’t often visit. Slurs delivered with casual ease (“I jewed him down on the price,” “she’s one of the chosen people”). Sincere questions grounded in stunning ignorance put by colleagues on the left (“Why has antisemitism persisted so long?” one activist said to me. “There must be a material basis for it.”) I’ll stop there but, believe me, there’s much, much more. So posting my photo as a Jew who opposes Trump’s hate and supports racial justice felt a little risky, but my desire to do it was much stronger than any hesitation. Our picture appeared on Twitter with this message: “To honor slain civil rights heroes & reject @realDonaldTrump we joined Jews & allies to say #WeveSeenThisBefore.”
When I checked later that night, I found that the action was growing, that people were retweeting our post along with many, many others. But there were some things in my feed I couldn’t comprehend. People had added my name to lists of detested Jews. There was an image of a lamp. I gazed at it for a long time, not understanding. The next tweet contained an image of a bar of soap. As I stared at it, the meaning came to me. My stomach lurched violently. The Nazis had made lampshades of concentration camp victims’ skin. They had collected the fat from exterminated human beings and made it into soap. Tuesday night, these deranged and evil people, affronted by the temerity of a Jew to speak out against hate, had wished the same fate on me.
Donald Trump didn’t invent the vicious racism, antisemitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, misogyny, and triumphalist worship of white supremacy that his statements have unleashed. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “In a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.” Trump is guilty, and should be made accountable for, his spewings and their impact. And we are responsible to ensure that is done.
I blocked the offending Twitter accounts and sent out tweets that Bend the Arc suggested: “To the white supremacist fans of @realDonaldTrump sending me anti-Semitic vitriol: your hate will not silence me. #weveseenthisbefore.” “For calling out @realDonaldTrump’s racial hatred I was targeted by his white supremacist supporters, proving the point. #weveseenthisbefore.” I complained to Twitter and received the response “we could not determine a clear violation of the Twitter Rules.” And now I ask: If Trump is elected President, who will feel safe? Only those whose sense of value is conditioned on the hatred he has authorized.
The nausea I felt when I understood the meaning of that bar of soap still tugs at the pit of stomach. I will think of it every time I see the remarkably disturbing face of Donald Trump. I hope you, like me, will do everything you can to ensure we never see it in the White House.
Solomon Burke, “None of Us Are Free.”
None of us are free.
None of us are free.
None of us are free, one of us are chained.
None of us are free.