Would You Take in a Jew?
In Nazi-controlled Europe, there were people who stood up against the regime by taking in their Jewish neighbors. Not everyone was so willing, though: To harbor Jews and keep them from the Nazis meant risking your life, so it is the rare person that became what is known now as the “Righteous among nations” by Yad Vashem.
As the uprising in the Middle East occurs, so does the anti-Semitic language that fuels Europe. Jews having their businesses bombed (as pictured above) and being cornered in synagogues in France. A rabbi beaten in Morocco. A Twitter hashtag, #Hitlerwasright, trending. Protests in Germany with shouts of, “Gas the Jews!”
And when I hear this and read my friends’ criticism of everything to do with Israel, I wonder about if they would ever turn on me. What would happen if we ever had to face persecution and destruction on the scale of the Holocaust? How would my non-Jewish friends respond? Would they be the righteous among nations and take in their Jewish friends… or find that politics are deeper than any friendship that we have promised to each other?
Before Nazi Germany, many of the people who would become loyal to Hitler lived side by side with Jews. They were their intellectual equals, playmates, fellow students and family friends. But then, as the changes began to sweep through from the new government, those loyalties shifted too. It wasn’t sudden, but rather baby steps to get there. It was rare when a person followed their moral standing and housed their neighbors, co-workers, lovers or friends. But as the tension rises in Europe, it makes me wonder who would change their loyalties on the turn of a dime.
I know what I would do if the role was reversed. If I had a Muslim friend who was being persecuted, I would take them into my home and protect them with everything I have. It’s the kind of person I am, and it takes a lot for me to renege on a friendship. For me, it’s better to be doing what’s right according to my conscience than to stand on the right side of the law.
I have learned that people come before politics, but not everyone thinks that way. I feel like as I have gotten older my friends have become more polarized and use their politics as battlegrounds, not as a meeting of minds. They know me as a Jew, but not that kind of Jew — whatever the hell that means. I can’t hide my identity, nor should I have to. Many Jews do, but this is not my choice.
Yet I sometimes wonder, as the politics rise up and we get swept away, who would take me in if I had no place to go? I wonder if they would see me as an “Israeli Zionist pig” rather than a human being who would love them no matter what. We work together, sing together, play together and celebrate together, but it sometimes doesn’t take much to turn us on each other.
It’s interesting, because as many people bring up the Holocaust in terms of the creation of Israel, they don’t bring up a more important case: The Dreyfus Affair, when in 1894 a French military captain named Alfred Dreyfus was convicted for treason for allegedly selling military secrets. He was an easy target, since he was Jewish and considered therefore to be “unloyal.” He was embarrassed publicly, with crowds shouting, “Death to the Jews!”
It was this case that inspired Theodore Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement. He realized that the Jews needed a place to go, where we could be safe and protected. When the Holocaust occurred, there was no place like this, and Jews were turned away from almost every country, including the United States. As a result six million Jews went to their deaths. The righteous among nations stood up, but they were steady rocks of character that don’t often have equals. And now I live in a world where if anything were to happen to my people, I could go and be welcomed into a country with open arms.
I would like to think that most of my non-Jewish friends are people of character who would see me and never let anything bad happen to me simply because I am a Jew. But I can’t help but to question sometimes, as some of my friends hold their politics higher than anything else in their worlds. Would they forget that I am a human who loves them no matter what they believe? Could they remember that we are friends and if, G-d forbid, they were in my situation I would protect them? Would they put their politics aside for one second and see the faces of their friends, lovers and co-workers rather than the blindness of their moral outrage?
You have every right to believe whatever you believe. However, remember that I have two eyes, two hands and a beating heart with blood pumping through my veins. Just like you. Just like everyone else in this saga.